It’s not everyday that an opera company turns 75. In fact, there is only one such group in New England that can boast such a lengthy continuous run: the Lowell House Opera. This group, which mixes Harvard students with professional performers and a production team from the Cambridge and Boston communities, has been performing in the Lowell House dining hall since 1938.
“Working with LHO is very difficult and exciting because it’s totally different from what goes on in the rest of the theater community at Harvard. You’re working in a company that has a history and a future, and you’re working with donors and alumni,” says student producer Nicholas T Rinehart ’14, a Crimson arts editor.
There is a definite sense of professionalism at the Lowell House Opera, created by the integration of the larger arts community into the performing company, says LHO alumn Anh M. Le ’12. “It’s a place where students learn from professionals, and there’s really a professional aspect to it,” she says. “We bring in outside singers, outside instrumentalists; we really try to utilize the amazing talent that is in the larger Boston region.” The company has throughout its history synthesized the talents from both inside and outside the Harvard gates, but recently there has been a push to encourage even more student involvement. One aspect of this push was the creation of a new student production fellowship—Rinehart now holds this position.
In this capacity, he has already started revamping the company in honor of its 75th anniversary by initiating the creation of a new website and logo. “I’ve taken it upon myself to totally rebrand the company,” he says. This year will also mark the start of the James Laurence Michel Memorial Lecture Series, named after the late Dr. James L. Michel ’76, a longtime supporter of the LHO. These lectures will feature members of the Boston community, like Harvard music professor Carolyn Abbate and various graduate students at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
The 75th season has a certain air of innovation, but in a house full of traditions, many aspects remain the same. Perhaps the greatest point of consistency over the 75 years has been the unique and challenging performance venue. “A giant chandelier is a part of your stage no matter what, and it may make sense for the opening act of “La Traviata,” but there aren’t many of other operas where a giant chandelier remains on the stage for the entire production,” LHO stage director Roxanna K. Myhrum ’05 says. “It’s funny to think of generations of other people being like, ‘All right, how do I do “Turandot” with a giant chandelier? How do I stage “Madame Butterfly” and “Candide”?’…. That chandelier exists through time for everyone.”
While performing in a dining hall has its setbacks, it’s the opera’s connection to Lowell House that music director Lidiya V. Yankovskaya believes has allowed the opera to perform continuously for so long. “The people who have been in charge of Lowell House through these years…have been so supportive of the opera and have recognized what an important part the opera is not only of the Lowell and the Harvard community, but of the Boston community as a whole,” she says.
And the Lowell House Opera has contributed to the community—not simply through its performances, but also by exposing its members to the world of theater. “When I came into Harvard freshman year, I just really liked listening to opera… I knew nothing about theater,” says Le, who is now a student at the Yale School of Drama. “It was really because of Lowell House Opera that I now have this professional goal and have this kind of career dream, so it’s been a huge impact on my life.” She is studying theater management with the goal of becoming an opera producer and is only one of many alums who have pursued a career in the opera community. Along with its other accomplishments, Lowell House Opera can celebrate inspiring its members, another tradition that the historic company plans to continue for many years to come.