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Something New in Something Old from Odyssey Opera

Conductor Gil Rose discusses Donizetti's "Siege of Calais," and the thrill and value in dusting off this unknown work by one of the opera world's most well-known stars.

When it comes to Donizetti operas, there are two piles: the small pile of longstanding favorites, like Lucia di Lammermoore and The Elixir of Love, and the far larger pile of operas that rarely, if ever, get performed. To this second pile belongs L'assedio di Calais (The Siege of Calais).

But on October 26th and 28th, Odyssey Opera endeavors to move this fine work, first performed in 1836, off the latter pile and toward the former. Artistic and general director Gil Rose chatted about bringing this old opera to new ears, and how it fits into Odyssey's mission.

Odyssey Opera is never about convention. Let the other opera companies do that. Instead, Odyssey will seek to "advance the operatic genre beyond the familiar and into undiscovered territory".

This year, that advance takes shape in "Trial by Fire", a series of five operas about Joan of Arc*, most of which have never been seen in Boston before, and many of which haven't been seen anywhere in the world in several decades.   

It's heartening to see Odyssey Opera present seasons like this, because most institutions wouldn't begin to consider the idea of featuring almost exclusively unknown works. But Odyssey is different, and continues on its own unique path. Not that it's an easy path, to say the least, but Gil Rose wouldn't have it any other way. 
"Why wouldn't you do it? I always think why would you do the opposite? Why would you play the same things over and over again?

"Advocating for things that are valuable and beautiful and important while going upstream takes a lot of courage, [but] how can we let our culture become so monochromatic when we have so much beauty and theater and drama at the hand of master composers, and writers, and artists. Why would we limit ourselves?"

Odyssey Opera performs Donizetti's L'assedio di Calais at the Huntington Avenue Theatre (formerly the BU Theatre), Thursday October 26 and Saturday October 28 at 7:30pm. For ticket information, visit Odyssey Opera.

*Donizetti's L'assedio di Calais is actually the odd-man-out in the "Trial by Fire" series, because it is not based on the life of Joan of Arc. Other than that, however, it fits very nicely into the theme of season: the story of six noblemen of Calais agreeing to sacrifice themselves to end the English siege of their city and save the lives of their fellow citizens, as depicted in the sculpture by Auguste Rodin pictured above. What is Joan of Arc if not a tale of sacrifice and courage in the face of overwhelming odds during the Hundred Year's War?

Chris Voss is the Weekday Afternoon Host and a Producer for CRB.