Larry Edelson, artist and general director for OperaSaratoga, has developed the reputation for bringing contemporary American operas to the Spa City. — Submitted photo
BETHLEHEM — Before school let out last week, 12-year-old Oliver Nathanielsz already knew his summer was going to be something spectacular.
The soon to be Bethlehem Central eighth grader is rubbing elbows with opera and dance elite as he prepares to star in Opera Saratoga’s premier of “Witches of Venice.” The production is composed by none other than Philip Glass, and choreographed by Karole Armitage — two names well established in the world of arts, but within the halls of Bethlehem Central Middle School? Not so much.
“It’s one of those things you can’t fully understand until you’ve seen it, or done it,” said Nathanielsz. “Well, I think it’s a little odd for me, especially since I’m a 12-year-old boy who sings more than most kids of 12-years of age do. I (will) say, ‘Oh, I’m in this show.’ And, most of the time, they will say, ‘Oh, that’s cool.’”
“The Witches of Venice” is one of Glass’ family-friendly operas featuring inventive songs, exhilarating dances and fantastical music, complete with monsters and fairies. His minimalist signature is paired with the Armitage’s choreography to share a whimsical tale of a boy who was grown from a plant as he traverses his way through the struggles of life.
“Witches” also marks Armitage’s return to Saratoga, following the success of last year’s “Dido and Aeneas.” The world renowned dancer and choreographer is a recipient of France’s prestigious Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. She is often known as the “punk ballerina,” sporting a rebellious hairstyle that pairs with her propensity for contemporary styles of dance, music and art.
This production opens Saturday, July 2, and highlights performances of players from Armitage Gone! Dance, The Capital District Youth Chorale and The School of the Arts at The National Museum of Dance.
“So, to me, it means a lot,” said Nathanielsz. “It probably doesn’t means so much to them, as much as it does to me… I have friends who do musical theater and that kind of stuff. … I think they appreciate that a little bit more.”
Nathanielsz has been singing for five years. Most of that time has been with the prestigious Cathedral Choir for Men and Boys in Albany. Established in 1872, the troupe is the oldest continuously performing choir of its kind in the country. Choir members are known to possess uncanny discipline to the craft of singing, and as a result, enjoy an international reputation. It regularly performs in concert with The Albany Symphony, The Boston Symphony, and at The Tanglewood Music Festival. And, in recent years, the choir has toured England, twice.
Based on Opera Saratoga’s reaction to Nathanielsz’s signing abilities, the youngster has only added to the choir’s reputation.
“When he sang for me, I thought he was absolutely perfect,” said Lawrence Edelson, Opera Saratoga’s artistic and general director. “When Oliver stood up to sing his solo, you could see every jaw in the room drop to the floor. … He’s giving some of the professionals a run for their money.”
For tickets and more information, visit operasaratoga.org.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.