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Fledgling Hartford Opera Company Launches Fund Drive

Wants To Raise $175,000 by August 31


July 08, 2011

Two Hartford-area opera mavens have started a fundraising initiative in a campaign to bring fully staged opera back to the capital city.

The Greater Hartford Opera Co. project would require $175,000 in seed-money donations by Aug. 31, according to its founders, Hartford attorney Morris Banks, a former board member of Connecticut Opera, and Alan Mann, director of the Clinton-based Opera Theater of Connecticut.

In February 2009, the 67-year-old Connecticut Opera shut down for lack of funds and left many of its 2,000 subscribers with useless tickets and no refunds.

Banks said he has set up an escrow account at Connecticut Bank & Trust, and if he does not raise the desired amount by Aug. 31, all donors will get their money back.

"This is to make people feel comfortable," Banks said. "A lot of people were extraordinarily P.O.'d that they gave credit [card numbers] or a check to the opera, and then it failed. People would be loath to go through that again."

Banks sent out a solicitation letter last month to locals who are known supporters of the opera. He did not say how he compiled his mailing list but said he tried to get an old subscriber list from a Connecticut Opera insider, whom he would not name, but was refused.

The letter says that Greater Hartford Opera has filed a certificate of incorporation as a non-stock corporation with the Secretary of State and an initial charitable organization registration application with the state Department of Consumer Protection.

The fundraising letter states that Banks' and Mann's wish, if the $175,000 donation goal is reached, is to raise $125,000 more by ticket sales, and that amount would "fund two fully-staged productions, with two performances of each production."

"A number of issues must be resolved, such as choice of venue, taking into account cost, seating capacity, acoustics, parking and accessibility; and the number of productions which should be attempted in the first year or two of operation," the letter reads.

Banks said in the interview that most administrative work will done by volunteers, with only Mann as a part-time paid staffer. In interviews, Mann and Banks said that this point is vital, as both believe that high administrative costs doomed Connecticut Opera.

"The problem with Connecticut Opera was never the support from the audience or the attendance. There were problems in the administration and management of the organization," Mann said. "The company got a little too big for what it could sustain. Administratively, it was top-heavy, instead of focusing on the primary goal of producing opera."

In January 2009, Linda Jackson, the opera's managing director, said 800 tickets were sold for the November 2008 production of "Don Giovanni" at the 2,600-seat Palace Theater in Waterbury but that sales were better when the show moved to the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford. Jackson, and artistic director Willie Waters, blamed the failure of "Don Giovanni" on the economy and the timing: "It was too close to the election," Jackson said. "Everyone was focused on Barack Obama, not the opera."

Artistics, Logistics

Banks said he chose Mann to be artistic director of the new company because he was impressed with Mann's work at Opera Theater of Connecticut, which is now in its 26th season.

"Alan has done wonders in Clinton. He puts on an incredibly fine production for a very reasonable amount of money with very little overhead," Banks says. "Alan put on a 'La Traviata' last summer in the town hall, a 400-person facility. He put on a marvelous production."

Banks and Mann say that production specifics are yet to be determined, but they hope to bring young, promising singers to the city and engage top-quality musicians. Banks expressed a fondness for minimalist production design, which would cut down on costs.

"We want wonderful young up-and-coming singers. A few years later, people will say, 'They sang here in Hartford before singing with the Met,' " Mann says.

In one of Mann and Banks' press releases, they explained why they think Hartford should have a resident company rather than hosting a touring company.

"Touring companies don't support the state's artists," Mann writes. "Then, the impact on the state's economy. A touring group passes through and doesn't put a lot of money back into the state, but when you have an independent, resident opera company, it really helps boost the local business and other organizations.

"And finally, just plain old civic pride."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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