With a broad smile, Artistic Director Jose Maria Condemi immediately radiates the confidence of a seasoned professional; illustrating the very characteristic that makes him such a wonderful new addition to Opera Santa Barbara. His resume of creative achievements and innovative ideas pay testament to the eloquent man who aspires to rejuvenate opera in Santa Barbara.
The idea of making opera accessible to wider audiences is a theme that crops up regularly. Opera Santa Barbara’s (OSB) General Director Stephen Sharpe says that “Mr. Condemi brings a fresh approach to the field, and we are confident that his talent, skill and vision will enable us to create productions and programs which will appeal to a broad and diverse audience.”
Originally from Argentina, Condemi comes to OSB with a wonderfully extensive resume. He has vast experience and awards commemorating his skills in artistic and stage direction, collaborating with new opera composers, and he is in high demand to teach young opera singers. He has a passion for teaching, and is currently leading OSB into bold new territory with his Opera Labs, an experimental interactive school program where singers visit schools and improvise skits based on student suggestions, thereby creating their own opera on the spot. This program not only represents a strong effort in building future opera audiences, but “gets [students] excited about the art form,” he says.
In the surprising double-billing choice of La Serva Padrona by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, and Trouble in Tahiti by Leonard Bernstein, pairing an 18th century Italian comedy with a 20th century American character drama, Condemi embarks on a journey exploring the notions of power in relationships in a charming new way. Unifying these two seemingly disparate operas are a common theme and a talented director, Joe Goode. The first act will be the comic opera, La Serva Padrona, which showcases a cunning and beautiful maid, who tricks her master into marrying her, as the tables are turned and ‘the servant becomes the master.’ The second act is a bittersweet tale by Leonard Bernstein set in the 1950’s, focusing on the decline of a suburban marriage set to the backdrop of jazz and Top 40 radio shows.
While designing the 2010-11 season programming, Condemi chose to produce an opera at both the Lobero and the Granada, highlighting each venue’s respective strengths while showcasing operas from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Describing his enthusiasm for the April performances at the Lobero, he says of the pairing, “[they] are perfect for the Lobero for several reasons. [Since] it is small, the audience will get a close relationship with the performers. And it’s an opera from the 20th century which will provide a different sound for modern audiences, in addition to the comedy. So it’s very accessible.” Though Condemi is not directing these pieces himself, he is intimately familiar with both shows and continuously compliments the wonderful performers from the San Francisco Adler Fellowship who will be playing the roles.
Condemi has been pleased with his reception in Santa Barbara, and hopes to build on this momentum. “I’m looking forward to hopefully making opera something that people will come to Santa Barbara to see,” he says, referencing existing summer programs like Glimmerglass Opera in upstate New York, or Opera Theatre of St. Louis. “Hopefully opera will become part of the life of the city.” He summarizes the spirit of his efforts to get audiences excited about renewing an art form dating back hundreds of years. “We have big plans, but we need people to come and support us, and be with us for the performances. [To] just kind of experience it.”
– by Angie Bertucci