Update: Opera Boston shuts down

CURTAIN CALL Opera Boston is the latest in a long and distinguished line of failed opera companies in Boston. Despite productions like this past year's Cardillac, above, it closes next week after a final performance at First Night.

Over the past century, Boston has occasionally been a world center for great opera. But Boston has had a hard time supporting its opera companies. The legendary Boston Opera Company lasted only from 1909 to 1915, and the Opera House was finally torn down, unused, in 1958. Neither Sarah Caldwell's brilliantly erratic Opera Company of Boston nor Peter Sellars's Boston Opera Theater (shuttered after one hit production) have survived. Now Opera Boston, Boston's second-largest opera company - Boston's Avis - has announced that it's closing shop on January 1.

Starting life in 1980 as the Boston Academy of Music, an estimable alternative company under the direction of singer/director Richard Conrad, it became Opera Boston in 2002, when the board of directors dismissed Conrad. This year, Lesley Koenig, "assistant manager and director of production" at the Met (she may be the only stage director with an MBA), took over as general director. Its artistic director has been Gil Rose, who is also music director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Between 2003 and 2006, Rose directed the exciting collaboration between Opera Boston and BMOP known as Opera Unlimited, presenting an outstanding series of operas by such notable contemporary composers as John Harbison, Thomas Adès, and Peter Eötvös (specifically, his ambitious operatization of Angels in America).

Opera Boston has had a distinguished if inevitably uneven history. Its productions have not always lived up to the promise of its extraordinarily varied and exploratory selections of operas, but a handful of its productions (all conducted by Rose) - among them Kurt Weill's Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, Offenbach's La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (a brilliant star vehicle for mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe), the first Boston revival of John Adams's Nixon in China, and most exciting of all, its breathlessly inspired version of Shostakovich's The Nose, among notable revivals of overlooked bel canto operas - have given Boston some of its most memorable operatic experiences since the glory days of Caldwell and Sellars. Others might also add Osvaldo Golijov's Lorca opera, Ainadamar (with Dawn Upshaw), and the world premiere of Zhou Long's Madame White Snake, which won the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for music.

The brief announcement from the company cites "an insurmountable budget deficit" and "lackluster fundraising in a tough economic climate," and has sent shockwaves of disappointment through the entire arts community.

Still, one of the driving forces of Opera Boston, artistic advisor, season sponsor, and co-founder Randolph J. Fuller, president emeritus of the board of directors, assures me that he is "far from finished with opera in this city, and neither is our remaining board. Something new and exciting will re-emerge. So have faith and stay tuned."

Opera Boston's final performance will be a First Night presentation of Mozart's Bastien und Bastienne, featuring some of the company's younger singers, on December 31.

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