The new arts group that aims to make Arlington the premier opera town debuts Friday at Tate Springs Baptist Church.
Six vocalists will sing arrangements of carol classics, including “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World,” as well as other songs.
“We intend to showcase repertoire all the way back from medieval to modern,” says Bree Nichols, Opera Arlington’s founder.
The performance is the troupe’s first public introduction, but not the troupe’s first introduction to the city. Members of Opera Arlington have been performing at private shows, or “salons,” and the group has been fundraising for months for its first season in 2023.
Likewise, Nichols is no stranger to kick-starting local opera organizations. She founded the Stafford Opera Troupe in 2016 with much the same goals: to make opera performances accessible to a wider audience, and to make operatic careers attainable for people trying to break through a selective industry.
“We have a tremendous population of very, very gifted singers in this area, and we have the opportunity in Arlington, which is such a wonderful arts town with such a thriving cultural center downtown, to make this a place where artists can get their start and not have to pay a lot of money for that opportunity, says Nichols.
Nichols, who received her doctorate in musical studies from the University of North Texas, saw better functioning programs and opportunities for emerging vocalists in Europe while receiving a Fulbright grant in the Czech Republic.
European countries, she says, have state and cultural support for the arts, which makes it easier to start a career. She described the return to the US as a “sad wake-up call” because the industry’s selectivity creates a higher barrier to entry.
“If you don’t fight and fight to get your name out there, no one is going to call you,” Nichols says.
She wants to lift the curtain so that performers can be treated and paid as professionals. Nichols says she is encouraged by the environment for the arts in Arlington, including the city’s 2020 designation as a music-friendly community by the Texas Music Office, Theater Arlington and the Levitt Pavilion.
“For a city of Arlington’s size, there’s a really big arts presence and cultural presence,” Nichols says. “I can see this as a place where our organization will really fit right into that scene and bring this element of opera that isn’t there yet in this city.”
Nichols and five other vocalists will perform Friday, including husband Jason Nichols. He says the events — priced at $15 plus tax for those 13 and up, and $7 for those 12 and under — are part of Opera Arlington’s accessible arts ethos, and one of the more affordable professional holiday shows in Arlington.
The repertoire also consists of works by iconic composers including Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Gustav Holst and Felix Mendelssohn.
“People said, ‘This is where you have to price it,'” says Jason Nichols. “We heard them, but then we also talked to real people and talked to them about what they can afford, especially considering everything that’s happened ?You know, realizing that this is where people are.”
Megan Koch, a soprano and board member, says she wants attendees to leave Friday’s performance knowing Opera Arlington’s goal — to become part of the community.
“We want to include people in the music and we want to expose them to some really beautiful art that they might not have been exposed to before,” she says.
Erica Vernice Simmons, a featured soprano soloist in the Christmas concert, says Opera Arlington has the potential to become another Fort Worth or Dallas opera.
“It’s about the community investing and wanting it for themselves and supporting it,” she says. “It can be as great as we want it to be.”
Future Opera Arlington performances
Fundraising efforts will go toward production costs, operations and artist fees for a variety of performances around North Texas and beyond.
Scheduled shows include a “pocket opera” or mobile production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Così fan tutte,” or “Women are like that.” Opera Arlington’s mainstage production of Antonin Dvořák’s “Rusalka,” based on HC Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” is scheduled for fall 2023. The group also plans to host artist concerts and concert and gala performances.
Nichols says the group is still looking for homes to host lounges, where hosts provide the piano and party and artists take it from there.
“We’re bringing it to life in a modern context,” says Nichols.
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