Notes from the Board Room

a blog series sharing insights from On Site Opera’s Board of Directors
Chorus master Michael Ciavaglia (left) coaches members of the community chorus from Breaking Ground.

“It Takes A Village To Raise An Opera!”

by Miriam Sondag, Board Secretary

As a board member, opera fan, mother of a young child, and attorney working for affordable housing in NYC, I am extremely proud of On Site Opera’s upcoming production of Amahl and the Night Visitors. I remember the excitement in the room when Eric presented his idea to the board to modernize this classic holiday opera by presenting it in a soup kitchen with a chorus of singers from the homeless community. The concept of making opera resonate with important social themes was inspiring, but also daunting as we wondered: Can we find community partners from the homelessness services sector that will be interested in collaborating on an opera project?

Being the resident lawyer on our board, I reached out first to our friends at the Lawyers Alliance for New York (a nonprofit legal organization that has been instrumental in guiding OSO through paperwork and legal questions during OSO’s formative years) to ask if they knew of any community organizations that would be interested in an artistic collaboration. They connected On Site Opera with a truly wonderful organization, Breaking Ground, which provides permanent supportive housing for homeless and housing-vulnerable people in NYC. From the first introductory meeting, the Breaking Ground staff has been thrilled to bring this artistic experience to their constituents, and have been wonderful partners by helping to recruit chorus members and providing rehearsal space in one of their facilities. Our venue partner, Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen has likewise been an eager partner by welcoming us into their space, as they do to the more than 1,000 people that they feed each day. In order to deepen On Site Opera’s connection with the Soup Kitchen, our board swiftly agreed with Eric’s recommendation that, in lieu of generating ticket income on these performances, we would ask audience members to bring food donations to support the work of the Soup Kitchen.

We are also extremely proud of the support that the Board has thrown into this production. Our Board President, Jane Gross, introduced Eric to mezzo-soprano Aundi Moore, whom Jane had sponsored as a Young Artist earlier in her career. Another board member, Mark Newhouse, contributed a generous matching donation to the grant OSO received from OPERA America in support of this production.

At each turn, the process of preparing for this production of Amahl and the Night Visitors has been a team effort involving On Site Opera’s artistic leadership, its board, and new community partners doing great work in NYC. I am so excited to bring my young daughter to a performance and show her the power of opera, not just as an inspiring artistic experience, but as a way to connect with important community causes.

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