It’s a young composer’s opera about young love, performed by young singers, to welcome the start of a new year. But for all its optimism, the production also represents a sad and unexpected ending.
Mozart’s one-act “Bastien und Bastienne,’’ written when he was just 12, tells the story of a young shepherd and shepherdess whose romance gets a boost from the village magician. Opera Boston will present it twice at First Night on Saturday in semi-staged, 40-minute performances at Emmanuel Church, promising fun for all ages.
But these will be the last performances for Opera Boston, whose board announced Dec. 23 that it was shutting down at the end of the year due to a $500,000 budget deficit. The demise of the city’s second largest opera company came as a shock to most of the staff and singers.
“I was really shocked and very sad to hear the news,’’ said soprano Kimberly Soby, 26, who will sing the part of Bastienne. Soby said she heard the news almost simultaneously via a post on Boston.com and an e-mail from conductor Gil Rose. Now she’s going to become a part of Boston music history, but not necessarily the way she would have liked.
“It’s a little daunting, but at same time I feel in a way it’s going to be even more special than it would have been previously, just it being the last Opera Boston performance and being a part of that,’’ Soby said.
For Boston opera lovers, the closing means losing a company with an often-daring repertoire of new works and neglected masterpieces. “It’s going to be a shame that that won’t continue. Hopefully in future there will be a [new] company or the other large companies will decide to take more risks,’’ Soby said.
But for the performers and staff of Opera Boston, the losses are also direct and personal.
Soby, 26, is in her third year of performing with the company, singing in the chorus and covering (opera-speak for understudying) roles in main stage performances as well as special productions like First Night and the company’s outreach programs. But as promising as her career is, she still works a day job, and the closing is a setback.
“It is a big loss - working really hard to further my career and further myself with the company and then to have that taken away is very hard,’’ Soby said. Also difficult, she said, is losing the sense of community she has with her fellow Opera Boston performers and crew, many of whom are transplants from elsewhere, like Connecticut-native Soby.
“This opera is about new beginnings, which I think is really appropriate for the new year,’’ director Adrienne Boris said a week ago, before the announcement. “It’s about love and trust and having a sense of humor in the face of obstacles.’’
All of that still applies now, if not more so, Boris said this week, even though she is also Opera Boston’s artistic administrator, and the closing puts her out of a job.
“We’re really going to work hard over the three rehearsals we have . . . to knock it out of the park and make sure it’s really one to go out on,’’ Boris said. “And that’s the truth, because we feel so strongly about the company and our responsibility in terms of closing it out.’’
“I was really shocked and saddened by the finality of the news,’’ said Boris, who heard with the other staff members on Thursday. “I was writing e-mails to the chorus and it was business as usual, and then it wasn’t.’’
The closing will be both a setback and an opportunity for Boris. She’ll be able to turn her full attention to a side project, the Exquisite Corps Theatre, which she serves as managing director. She’s directing their March production of Edward Albee’s “The Play About the Baby’’ at the Boston Center for the Arts. She’ll continue to look for freelance directing jobs. And she’s considering getting a master’s degree
First though, there is “Bastien und Bastienne.’’
In addition to directing, Boris chose and cast the piece and adapted the translation from various sources. While there won’t be lights and sets and elaborate costumes, as in a full production, “semi-staged’’ means the performers won’t be singing from scores, and they will move about.
“Because it’s a young work for Mozart, it’s a really good piece for young singers. . . . It’s very comfortable for them, but also showcases a lot of great things about their performance abilities,’’ Boris said last week.
Bastien is sung by tenor Jonas Budris, 28, while Colas, the magician, is sung by baritone Jacob Cooper, who is 37. Boris is 27. Michael Sakir, 27, is music director and pianist for the performances.
The singers “are three excellent young artists who are all regular performers with the Opera Boston chorus,’’ Boris said. “I’ve seen their careers change and grown over the last three or four years, since I’ve been here.’’
Soby actually sang Bastienne with Opera del West in Natick in the original German, she says, so at least the music is familiar, although this time she’ll be singing an English translation. She performed a smaller part in last year’s Opera Boston First Night production at Emmanuel Church, Salieri’s “First the Music, then the Words.’’
“Just singing for this sheer number of people is pretty exciting,’’ Soby said last week. “it’s a good learning experience, because nerves come into play, but when you’re in front of a big crowd you get a different kind of energy.’’
At the time, she just didn’t know how different.Joel Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.