Townsend Opera's latest classical-for-the-masses program showcases pop hitmakers along with social networkingBefore most performing arts events, audiences are sternly asked to put away their cell phones. At Townsend Opera's Opera Remix concert Oct. 5, the opposite is true. The company wants audience members to tweet comments about the music throughout the show.
The company will be posting its own comments, including music trivia and fun facts, and showing them on a live Twitter feed on a screen behind the performers. The goal is to create a relaxed atmosphere that will be comfortable for the younger generation and others who might not normally attend an opera concert.
"We're trying to break down barriers that exist in the performing arts," said Matt Buckman, Townsend's managing director.
This is the company's second annual Opera Remix concert, part of a new initiative funded by the James Irvine Foundation to expand Townsend's audience.
This year's show traces the evolution of 20th century composers in both the pop and serious music worlds. Featured composers include Elton John, Billy Joel, Tom Waits, Bjork, George Gershwin Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, John Adams, Sara Bareilles, Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson.
The show is humorously titled "Grabbing the Third Rail," a reference to the electrified subway rail that connotes doing something suicidal.
The music will be performed by eight singers four of them professional and four students at California State University, Stanislaus. The professionals are Shira Renee Thomas (Los Angeles), Jessica Mamey (Los Angeles), Gregory Pyatt (Modesto) and Zachary Gordin (Oakland). The students are Chris Withrow, Laura Jensen, Rafael Delsid and Kat Bryant. They will be accompanied by an orchestra that will mix strings and woodwinds with electric guitars, bass and drums.
Buckman said he hopes the show also will show classical music fans that there's a lot to appreciate in the modern pop music world.
The show kicks off with a George Gershwin song from his 1935 opera "Porgy and Bess," which incorporates American popular music forms of the time. "Gershwin showed us you can take American musical idioms from country, pop and jazz and use them in serious music," Buckman said.
He pointed out that "Porgy and Bess" was shunned by most of the serious music world until 1976 when it was staged by Houston Opera and became accepted as a standard part of the opera repertoire.
"What other music is out there like 'Porgy and Bess' that we've shunned for 50 years?" Buckman said.
Audience members who want an advance look at the program can check out www.operaremix.com. The playlist is posted, with accompanying YouTube links of performances.
"We want to show the opera crowd that there's music that's very well done that should be considered fine art too," Buckman said.
WHAT: Townsend Opera's Opera Remix: "Grabbing the Third Rail"
WHEN: 8 p.m. show Oct. 5
WHERE: State Theatre, 1307 J St., Modesto
TICKETS: $25 ground floor, $10 balcony
CALL: (209) 527-4697