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Does size matter?

Last updated Dec 19, 2019 | Published on Oct 13, 2015

Winner of a fellowship at the Bayreuther Festspiele, Mr. Griglio’s conducting has been praised for his “energy” and “fine details”. Mr. Griglio took part in the first world recording of music by composer Irwin Bazelon and conducted several world premieres like "The song of Eddie", by Harold Farberman, a candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. Principal Conductor of International Opera Theater Philadelphia for four years, Mr.Griglio is also active as a composer. His first opera, Camille Claudel, debuted in 2013 to a great success of audience and critics. Mr. Griglio is presently working on an opera on Caravaggio and Music Director of Opera Odyssey.
Who says opera should only be staged and performed by big opera houses? When it comes to small opera companies there is a certain preconception – coming from a pure comparison of budgets – in looking at them as second rate producers: what the Met or La Scala spend on one production, a small opera company spends on its whole season, hence their shows must be inferior in quality.

This is not quite correct: true, there is quite a number of small companies that disgracefully sell low budget productions of Elektra or Aida by simply cutting off on the number of players or eliminating the choir. But others, with some well planned budgeting and smart choices, are able to put on great productions.

Take the recently defunct Gotham Opera in NYC: the company sunk probably due to some bad management, but the productions they had were far from amateurish. LoftOpera went head to head with the Met with a production of Barber and they got praised by the New York Times not only for their effort but for the high level of the outcome. Peter Gelb himself had nothing but good words for them. On this side of the ocean, OperaUpClose in London is getting rave reviews for its bold take on classics as well as new works.

In a way, small opera companies have most chances of succeeding than their bigger sisters (look at what happened to New York City Opera), mostly due to the fact that their budgets are more sustainable and they often present niche products, whether they do traditional operas in unusual spaces or less known/contemporary works. Audiences are often attracted by their shows because of the less-formal-feeling and the idea that they are more part of the show instead of just looking at it from a distance.

The real worth of small opera companies is their capacity to refuel people’s attention on this art: they know they have to rethink the concept of traditional opera in order to survive, break the rituals and engage new and old audiences in a time in which it seems to be needed the most. Something the big theaters way too often delegate to weird and unimaginative staging, hoping to create some buzz and sell some more tickets. 

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Gianmaria Griglio is an intelligent, exceptional musician. There is no question about his conducting abilities: he has exceptionally clear baton technique that allows him to articulate whatever decisions he has made about the music.

Harold Farberman

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