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Emerging From the Pandemic, Hawaiʻi Opera Theatre Unveils Upcoming Season

HOT Oaklea Rowe Vissi D'arte
Courtesy Hawaiʻi Opera Theatre
Oaklea Rowe from HOT’s digital production of "Vissi D’Arte"

Normally, fall brings the unveiling of a new arts season. This year, arts organizations have been feeling their way along, especially in the performing arts. Hawaiʻi Symphony is opening its 2021-2022 season at Hawaiʻi Theatre in November. And now, after much deliberation, Hawaiʻi Opera Theater is announcing how it plans to proceed.

"Vissi D'Arte," Live for Art, is the name of Puccini's classic aria. It's Hawaiʻi Opera Theatre's theme as they announce their 2021-2022 Season.

"So, we're doing okay," said Andrew Morgan, General Director for Hawaiʻi Opera Theatre, HOT. "We miss our audiences but we're surviving."

Morgan says it's taken generous donors, two rounds of federal paycheck protection money, the shuttered venues grant, and NEA CARES Act funds to stay afloat.

"We have sufficient cash operating reserves to get us through the next fiscal year at least and beyond, we hope. We have a very strong endowment with over $5 million, plus, we own the building we're in."

HOT's storefront on Beretania is now a rehearsal space and a video production lab for their channel, HOT Digital, along with all their educational content. Most of this is still available, much of it free, on the HOT video channel. HOT did three school residencies last year.

"We go into schools and create an opera based on subjects kids come up with. They write the lyrics and it's set to popular opera music like from Aida, or Carmen and Boheme or something like that. Those projects got done, digitally."

HOT La Traviata.jpg
HOT's last full season closed with Quinn Kelsey and Pene Pati in "La Traviata" -- no one thought it would be years before another production.

HOT staff has gone from 14 to 10, by attrition, a couple of openings are close to being filled. Like other organizations across the community, Morgan says HOT survived through relentless adaptation.

"The key to that was every single person wore multiple hats to get this digital season together."

Nonprofits and businesses know the feeling. HOT's next production will open their season in the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall. "Re-Emerging" is a pared-down concert-style setting of opera favorites set for the end of January.

"I do think the arts will come back stronger than ever. We've all had to learn to pivot and learn to live within smaller means. And we're all ready to come back out in a gradual process. Our season reflects that."

"The Tragedy of Carmen," a 90-minute distillation of Bizet's blockbuster is set for February.

"So we're trying to stage it in ways that we can build the confidence back up, the trust, with the community. So that they know that the opera house is a safe place to come back to," Morgan said.

The post-COVID season finale is a new production of "Madame Butterfly" in May 2022.

"That really is the metaphor for our season, right? The butterfly emerging from its cocoon."

Noe Tanigawa covers art, culture and ideas for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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