More than a year after the stunning collapse of Opera Boston, a new company is set to emerge from its remnants with plans to emulate the ambitious programming of that critically acclaimed but perpetually cash-strapped institution.
While Odyssey Opera will be much smaller than its predecessor, it will be spearheaded by two familiar faces. Gil Rose, Opera Boston’s artistic director, will be the general and artistic director, and Randolph Fuller, the mercurial millionaire and Opera Boston cofounder, will be its only named funder.
It was Fuller’s decision to pull his support from Opera Boston, in addition to board disputes and increasing debt, that led to the company’s sudden closing in December 2011.
The new opera company’s philosophy of playing a blend of underappreciated classical works and contemporary operas is very much in line with that of Opera Boston.
Odyssey Opera’s first program is meant to make a statement, offering a five-hour concert performance of Wagner’s rarely heard opera “Rienzi” on Sept. 15 in Jordan Hall, with top ticket prices approaching $200. This comes in contrast to the larger Boston Lyric Opera, which will be producing more familiar fare during its 2013-14 season, such as Verdi’s “Rigoletto” and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
“I want to make sure the repertoire is made up of pieces that really haven’t been played in Boston before but are important pieces to be heard,” Rose said. “But this is not Opera Boston. This is a different company. We’re going to be smaller and leaner — a speedboat.”
The plan following the September production is to present three staged operas during the spring of 2014, Rose said. The new company will also include former Opera Boston production director Linda O’Brien as general manager and pianist Linda Osborn- Blaschke as artistic administrator.
“I think it’s great,” said longtime Boston opera singer David Kravitz of the news of Odyssey’s formation. “Opera Boston was a great company. Everyone in Boston, from the mayor on down, was really sad and disappointed to see what happened. If Gil’s able to bring more opera back into town, that’s fantastic.”
Jim Marko, Opera Boston’s former development director, said he was not surprised by the news, other than that it took so long. He noted that Fuller, difficult for some to deal with, has always had a strong relationship with Rose. Fuller sponsored one of Monadnock Music’s productions last year after Rose was made artistic director of the New Hampshire summer festival.
“I think what’s true here is that Randolph really likes Gil and likes supporting Gil and his work,” Marko said. “That’s what it boils down to. I don’t see anything nefarious. And welcome back to the fray. It’s nice to have somebody doing opera.”
Fuller’s history of supporting opera dates back decades. In 1976, he helped found Boston Lyric Opera but, frustrated with its direction, left in 1998 and joined the smaller Boston Academy of Music. Fuller led an ousting of academy founder Richard Conrad four years later, with the remaining assets turning into Opera Boston in 2003.
Opera Boston grew into a company with a $2.5 million annual budget and presented Kurt Weill’s “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny,’’ Shostakovich’s “The Nose,’’ and the US premiere of Peter Eotvos’s “Angels in America.’’
The company’s collapse occurred only months after the Pulitzer Prize for Music was awarded to composer Zhou Long for “Madame White Snake,’’ a production commissioned and premiered by the company. Fuller did not return calls Thursday and declined, through Rose, to comment for this article.
“For me, it was a hard experience,” Rose said. “I really loved Opera Boston and put a lot of heart and soul into it. But I needed the smoke to clear a little bit. I needed things to calm down.”
In November 2012, Rose decided to talk to Fuller about the idea of trying again with a new opera company, and they agreed to launch it the next September. Rose said he still does not know where rehearsals will take place, though he has selected the singers for the concert, which will feature Lithuanian tenor Kristian Benedikt, singing the opera’s title role.
“Rienzi,” Wagner’s third opera and one of his most popular in the 19th century, is rarely performed now because of its length and the many musicians required for the production. Rose will make cuts to bring the concert down to five hours, then split the Jordan Hall performance with a two-hour dinner break.
“Those hearty of soul will return,” he joked. “The ones who aren’t will stay at the bar, I guess.”
Rose does not know where future productions will take place and mentioned Harvard’s Sanders Theatre as a possibility. Opera Boston performed regularly at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.
Fuller is the only Odyssey funder Rose would name. He said Fuller is paying for more than half of the “Rienzi” concert, which Rose estimates will cost about $200,000. Rose, O’Brien, and Boston attorney Sam Mawn-Mahlau will serve as Odyssey Opera’s only board members.
Mawn-Mahlau is also on the board at the Boston Modern Orchestra Project, which Rose founded in 1996.
Though they offered praise for Rose, former Opera Boston board chairman Winifred Perkin Gray and board president Gregory Bulger said they are not involved in Odyssey.
Opera Boston’s fan base did show that the city’s opera lovers are eager to hear works that fall outside the mainstream, they said.
“There is interest out there, certainly, but it remains to be seen what they’re going to do with it,” Gray said.
Stephen Lord, artistic director of the opera studies program at New England Conservatory and, from 1992 to 2008, the music director of Boston Lyric Opera, said he wishes Rose luck.
“The more the merrier,” he said.
As for Fuller, of whom Lord has been critical in the past, he said he will keep an open mind.
“From one single seed a tree can grow,” said Lord. “One can only hope.”
Geoff Edgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.