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Hawai‘i Opera Theatre: Rebound & Reboot


Building on a history that dates back to the monarchy, today, opera is finding a new footing in Honolulu.  Hawai‘i Opera Theatre’s longtime Artistic Director retired last year and HOT’s General Director left suddenly in April.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports, change is in the air.

Interim General Director Karen Tiller surveys the landscape

Hawai‘i Opera Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet runs October 12, 14, and 16 2018 at the NBC Concert Hall.  

Hawai‘i Opera Theatre’s General Director Simon Crookall left amid claims of sexual harassment which HPR has independently confirmed.  Former HOT Executive Director Karen Tiller, who will fill his position temporarily, says upon Crookall’s departure, the company found itself 1.5 million dollars in debt, and therefore decided to postpone the Marriage of Figaro to next season. 

Tiller:  When we did that, we promised our subscribership and donor base that we would take the time of that production and really dig deep into a vision for the future for HOT.  Where that is going to be, what that is going to look like, what kind of productions we’re going to be doing, all that is in question because we won’t be at Blaisdell and we won’t be doing our typical large scale opera performance for a couple of years at a minimum.  So what does that look like and who is the right person to lead that charge?  That’s what we’re really going to spending time on in the next couple of months.

Tiller is referring to the temporary loss of Blaisdell Concert Hall as a venue.  City officials estimate it will be closed from 2020 to possibly 2023 for the NBC redevelopment.  Arts organizations are looking at other venues in the community, and designing their seasons to fit much smaller venues.  The NBC concert hall seats about 2000, most other venues average 1200-1500.

Smaller venues may, in fact, be part of a strategy for wooing new opera goers, as the art form faces the future.

Tiller:  Not just for HOT but across the opera spectrum we’re all talking about it.  In the field, at large, this is the conversation:  Is the era of the three hour opera in a big old hall coming to an end? 

Tiller:  Maybe it’s not completely coming to an end but we have to do other things.  Things that are maybe smaller venues, shorter duration, maybe more experiential connection as it relates to the music itself.  Yeah, it’s a big transition but it’s exciting. I think it’s in some ways made us look right in the face of the things that challenge us, and figure out how to turn that into a positive.

Tiller says she has never found a more committed board, or a more determined staff.  Longtime Hawai‘i Opera Theatre Board Chair Jim McCoy will be stepping down next year.

Tiller:  This is hard.  We are tightening belts in ways that really hurt.  But we are making it work because we know there are larger issues here.  This is a cultural institution that must, MUST, not only survive, but thrive.  That is why everyone is working as hard as they are.  I would say the prevailing feeling is, We can do this.

Meanwhile, this weekend, two lovers wrestle with destiny in a contemporary Romeo and Juliet.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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