Since March of 2020 and both in Cincinnati and across our country, the performing arts had been in a kind of deep-freeze. Large organizations bled enormous amounts in lost ticket revenues with no end in sight, while artists and administrative personnel barely scraped by financially, some relocating outside of New York, others moving in with parents, while waiting for it all to be over. As the 2021-2022 season kicked off, the nightmare appeared to be over.
In Cincinnati, a microcosm of the larger national arts debacle, live theatres remained closed, while the larger and financially resilient arts organizations, such as the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra returned to business as usual, after having played a limited number of performances to socially distanced audiences with reduced orchestral forces, in shorter, intermission-less concerts.
Summer-arts organizations forged ahead. The Cincinnati Opera and the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, both moved their operations back indoors. The Cincinnati Art Museum reopened, while the Taft Museum underwent a major renovation, reopening in June of 2022.
The College-Conservatory of Music – in its heyday the largest presenter of live arts events in the State of Ohio – had been presenting digital performances with carefully-distanced student musicians and dancers, while its ensemble-centric programs – musical theatre and opera – remained on hold until 2020.
Audience members managed to get their arts fix by watching on-line performances at home, even though everyone ached for the return of the unique and irreplaceable in-person experiences of sitting in a concert hall or a darkened theatre as great art unfolds before our eyes and ears.
We bid farewell and good riddance to a difficult couple years in which the resilience of the arts and the artists who create them filled us all with hope. Here, in random order is a list of highlights at the halfway point of the year 2022:
· The season saw the return of live performances. It was a cautious one-step-at-a-time rebirth of concerts, operas, recitals and plays in front of live audiences. It soon came to be the “new normal”, one sometimes calling for proof of vaccination and the wearing of masks before gaining admittance to venues, as was the case at Memorial Hall for concerts of Matinee Musicale Cincinnati.
· At the College-Conservatory of Music live performances returned little by little, including a superb Marriage of Figaro where all the singers could be heard despite being masked.
· There were several people we said goodbye to over the past couple of years, all connected in one way or another to the arts. The untimely death of Stephen Sondheimleft a void with so many who in various ways were connected to his music and lyrics, among them our friend Pamela Myers, who shone in the original cast of Company with her warp-speed delivery of “Another 100 people just got off of the train.”
· There were changes in Academia and in several arts organizations. Two Opera notables were recruited by CCM to join its Voice faculty: tenor Stuart Skelton and baritone Elliott Madore. LeAnne Anklam and Ann Stewart both members of the management triumvirate that had successfully run the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra for several years resigned within weeks of each other
· The choice of artists and repertory from several national arts organizations broadened in significant ways. The Metropolitan Opera opened its current season with the first opera by a Black composer in its history: Fire Shut Up My Bones, Terence Blanchard’s adaptation of Charles M. Blow’s memoir of the same title. The MET took a chance and scored an artistic and box office success. Ditto for our Cincinnati Opera who delivered a world-class production of the world premiere of Gregory Spears’ Castor and Patience.
· In Cincinnati the Cincinnati Matinee Musicale continued to welcome artists of color to its seasons, whereas several of the other arts institutions in town continued to move at a snail’s pace when it came to programming works of minority composers and hiring minority artists.
· Starting a new season in its very own space – a flexible black box in which the audience sits just a few feet from the performers – Mutual Dance Theatre the recently renamed brainchild of artistic director Jeanne Mam-Luft brokered an artistic marriage between it and the Jefferson James Contemporary Dance Theatre, bringing back first-class modern dance to Cincinnati.
Rafael de Acha © 2022