Opera is an art form often enjoyed in gilded halls not accessible to all. Yet last Saturday a group of talented performers came together with neighbors in Chelsea to bring it out into the streets where everyone, young and old, could enjoy it – with none other than a performance of “The Old Maid and the Thief” by The Opera Next Door.
Maryam Banikarim, a longtime Chelsea resident, got introduced to Sasha Gutiérrez and The Opera Next Door through her work on NYCNext, a volunteer group supporting the artistic community in NYC. Gutiérrez, a Colombian soprano, began performing arias from her stoop in Bedford-Stuyvesant during the pandemic. Once connected, Banikarim hosted the singer and friends in Chelsea for a Stoop Concert, which neighbors loved, leading to the Saturday’s Stoop Opera.
More than 200 people came out and set up their lawn chairs on one of the DOT’s Open Streets (21st Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenue) to enjoy the performance.
“Coming together in this way brings joy, builds community, and supports our artists,” said Banikarim, “If there is a silver lining to these past few years, it’s that we’ve gotten more connected. Today I know more of my neighbors than ever before, including Jim Saylor whose enthusiasm and help was key in making this possible, and Ron Warren and Betsy Morgan for hosting rehearsals.”
The opera tells a twisted tale of morals about an old maid and a handsome drifter who comes to a seemingly quiet town. It was originally created as a radio opera in one act by Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti for NBC in 1939.
Produced by Sasha Gutiérrez, Santiago Gutiérrez and Zack O’Farril, the opera, which was sung entirely in English, featured Erin Reppenhagen, Juliet Morris, Cassandra Douglas and Daniel Chu in the key roles. The singers were accompanied by a two-piano orchestra performed by Diego Tornelli and Fumiyasu Kawase. Alejandro Zuleta conducted the score.
“I deeply love and respect opera as an art form because it takes a village to make it happen,” said Sasha Gutiérrez, founder and artistic director of The Opera Next Door. “I believe that opera has the power to create a great and positive impact in our society, if we openly invite people to be part of it.”
As one neighbor said, “It was fantastic! Even better than we imagined. A lovely production and a great way to spend time with our neighbors. Even my pup had a good time.”