Thursday, March 26, 2015

Opera maestro James Caraher resumes his place before the local public with new connection to Butler University

The disturbing episode that ended his long tenure with Indianapolis Opera last May is not something James Caraher wants to spend any time focusing on now.

"Everything was busy for a while," he said laconically of the brouhaha that shook the small, interconnected world of American regional opera in light of a planned demotion he was unwilling to accept after a long tenure as artistic director. "It's old news now. I don't hear about it anymore."

James Caraher was brought on board to broaden students' training and to increase public exposure to Butler's opera program.
In his quiet, determined manner, Caraher firmly turned this interviewer's attention to his association with the Butler University opera program.

That association became official this semester and will first show results to the public this weekend.

The Schrott Center will be the site of three performances of Butler Opera Theater's Scenes Program:  a collection of opera excerpts — from overtures through arias to ensembles, including a finale — conducted by Caraher, with student singers and the Butler Symphony Orchestra in the pit. Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. March 27 and 28 and 3 p.m. March 29. Tickets are $15 for adults, $8 for seniors and students; go to

Interviewed last month before rehearsals with the orchestra had started, Caraher offered this comparison of getting professional and student singers ready for public performance: "In some ways it's no different at all," he said, "but when the pros hit town they had nothing else to do but work on that opera for five to eight hours a day for three weeks."

Students have other demands on their time over the course of a semester: "They work really hard, but there's a little more need to be patient. It's still a matter of how do I get someone to accomplish what I'm after. I spend more time explaining things, and there's a variety of experience levels and varying degrees of talent. Not everyone there is looking for a career."

Thomas Studebaker, Butler opera director
"We're excited to have him," said Thomas Studebaker, an operatic tenor with an active career and director of Butler Opera Theatre. Caraher's three-plus decades of professional experience also provides the program with the benefit of preparing singers to work with an orchestra instead of just piano accompaniment. "Everybody has such respect for him," Studebaker added. "He's so amiable and such a fine musician."

Butler and Indianapolis Opera had enjoyed a solid association when Caraher was artistic director of the professional company, which recently hired Kevin Patterson as general director. (Caraher last conducted for Indianapolis Opera last March — two performances of Puccini's "Girl of the Golden West." Last season's final scheduled production, Britten's "Albert Herring," was canceled as the organization went into crisis mode.) Caraher had already been scheduled to conduct this scenes program, Studebaker pointed out.

When Caraher's break with Indianapolis Opera came, Studebaker started thinking: Wouldn't it be nice if we had him on staff? With Caraher's hiring as music director, Studebaker hopes to guide the program to greater public recognition and the eventual presentation of fully staged operas.

Caraher, who had been searching to sustain his career locally ("I would hate to leave Indianapolis; the more I can find here, the better"), readily accepted the position, while staying alert for guest conducting opportunities. "I'm still hoping to pick up some freelance things in places I've been before," he said.

Last July,  for instance, he continued a summertime association with the International Opera Performing Experience in Pesoro, Italy, which focuses on training in Italian opera and language. He conducted "La Traviata" in Florida in January, and (as a pianist) repeated a recital there that he had first performed in Minnesota with tenor Mark Thompson at a reception in 2013 for the visiting King and Queen of Sweden.

The three Butler Opera Theater concerts will include solo arias from "La Boheme," "Giulio Cesare," "L'elisir d'amore," "The Merry Widow," "Susannah," and "T'he Magic Flute," trios from "Cosi fan tutte," "The Mikado," "La Rondine," and "L'elisir d'amore," and duets from "Hansel and Gretel" and "Lakme."

The third-act quartet from "La Boheme" will be performed, plus the finale of Mozart's early opera, "Mitridate, Re di Ponto." The full company will sing the chorus "Va, pensiero" from Verdi's "Nabucco" to conclude the program.  Caraher will conduct the orchestra in the Bacchanale from "Samson and Delilah," the Overture to "William Tell," and the Intermezzo from "Cavalleria Rusticana."

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