Union Avenue Opera at 25

Inside the Mind of UAO Founder, Artistic Director and Conductor Scott Schoonover

by Anna M. Roach

Who starts an opera company right out of college?

In 1995, a 22-year-old newly graduated piano major had a desire to create a platform for experience in conducting and performing opera. Scott Schoonover, an Illinois native, was searching for a church music job where he could build an opera company. He found the perfect place in St. Louis’ Union Avenue Christian Church, which had an Arts Foundation that supported creative endeavors. Twenty-five years later, Union Avenue Opera is an established opera company and continues to be the only one based and producing operas in St. Louis City.

Maestro Schoonover is a tall, imposing presence with a brilliant mind, but is soft-spoken and gentle in person. Singers and instrumentalists alike love working with him because of his incredible breadth of musicianship, sensitivity and technical expertise. Stage directors and production managers respect him for his willingness to collaborate and allow for artistic interpretation. “He brings out the best in everyone,” a chorus member observed.

As the opera company he founded approaches its 25th season, Schoonover was asked to reflect on how the company began, where it has been, his plans for the company’s continued growth and his hope for its future.

Genesis

In college, part of my work-study job was to play the piano for rehearsals of the opera class,” Schoonover remembers.  “During that time I fell in love with the drama of opera and the incredible ways that different composers used music to amplify the meaning of the words and to help us ‘see’ what the character was thinking and feeling.

When I first started looking for work out of school, I applied for several church jobs and at each one I mentioned that I was interested in starting an opera company.  It was something that I had been thinking about during the previous summer, when I had my first music directing gig at a summer stock playhouse in Wisconsin. The real reason I wanted to start a company was to be able to get conducting experience for myself, and to offer opportunities to singers I had met in college and here in St. Louis get performing experience on their resumes.  At the time, I never envisioned that it would blossom and grow into what it is now. It happened gradually and naturally with the support we've received over these past 25 years. Of course, I'm very proud of our successes.”

The First Production

In the summer of 1995, Schoonover produced his inaugural season’s opera – Dido and Aeneas.

Our first budget was $5,000 and that included EVERYTHING!,” he laughs. “We had 17 people audition and our orchestra was a string quartet. The cast and I built the sets and made the costumes. We had six performances – each with about 50 people attending.

Minutes before the first performance, the lighting system blew and we had to perform with just the house lights. It wasn’t fun at the time, but we laugh about it now.”

Even with the challenges of the first season, Schoonover was able to secure a small grant from the Regional Arts Commission and the production was favorably reviewed in both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Riverfront Times. The company was off and running.

Upcoming Anniversary Season

When asked about the upcoming season, Schoonover’s excitement shines through. “Each season has been one of growth for UAO, not only for me personally, but for our artists, our staff and our board of directors. We are ready to present Season 25!

Leonard Bernstein’s Candide opens our season and is certainly worthy of such an auspicious year. Candide has one of the biggest orchestras we’ve had in recent years, as well as some of the most entertaining, yet challenging music. We’re thrilled to welcome the internationally acclaimed star and local treasure Christine Brewer back to our stage to play the hilarious role of the Old Lady. St. Louis director, Annamaria Pileggi, will make her UAO debut with this production and I for one, can’t wait to see this show come to life.

In July, we turn to the most beloved operatic masterpiece – Puccini’s La bohème. Director Mark Freiman returns to bring his vision to our new production and we are excited to welcome back conductor Elizabeth Hastings to transport us with this masterful score.

The summer closes with an incredibly special work–Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied. This powerful opera tackles the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the struggles of Jim Thompson, the longest held P.O.W. from that time. It’s an intimate portrayal of one soldier and his wife, with accessible music and a riveting storyline. Director Dean Anthony, who has staged several productions of Glory Denied across the country, will make his UAO debut.”

What’s next for Union Avenue Opera?

Schoonover becomes more serious as he describes his plans for the company’s musical direction.

In terms of repertoire, we've begun a trend over the past few years of producing more contemporary operas as well as experimenting with "Golden Age" Broadway hits.  Those contemporary shows often feel more relevant to today's issues, as they tell the stories of subjects that people are living today and therefore, offer a different type of experience for the opera goer.  These operas also give UAO more outreach opportunities into different audiences and offer collaborative partnerships that aren't as easily found with classic opera.

For example Glory Denied, our third production this season, allowed us to secure funding through PNC Arts Alive, for significant outreach to the St. Louis veteran community, as well as develop partnerships with the Soldiers Memorial Military Museum in downtown St. Louis and other veterans’ organizations.  I see UAO continuing that trend, while at the same time striking a balance with excellent productions of classic, beloved operas that this company was built upon. “ 

Hope for the future and lasting legacy

The final question requires more introspection. Schoonover sits back and furrows his brow.

My desire is to be able to continue increasing the quality of our operatic offerings, as we have over the past 25 years. In terms of artists, production and the administration of the company, we simply need more resources. We need to be able to hire more staff, and to increase the compensation of those who are already employed.

When the company first began, I personally knew every donor to UAO and most of the ticket purchasers as well.  Today, support is wide-based, from individuals, foundations and even a few corporations. What we really need to further this growth is the funding of an endowment, which would provide guaranteed revenue for the future.

From season one to season 25, our budget (and support) has grown literally 1000 times.  Who can say what the next 25 years will bring? Somewhere down the road, I'd love to leave to St. Louis a flourishing, solvent, stable, well-run company that continues enriching the fabric of St. Louis long after I’m gone. 

We are the ONLY opera company producing operas in the actual city of St. Louis and we have been doing it and doing it well for 25 years! To me that is already legacy enough, but to have it continue on would be incredible.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saint Louis Visionary Awards is proud to recognize the 2018 visionary honorees: Lana Pepper (Major Contributor to the Arts); Asha Premachandra (Outstanding Teaching Artist); Allison Felter (Outstanding Arts Professional); Antionette Carroll (Community Impact Artist); Yvonne Osei (Emerging Artist); Cheeraz Gormon (Outstanding Working Artist).  The Saint Louis Visionary Awards is one of the most prestigious recognitions in the local arts community. Saint Louis Visionary Awards celebrates the numerous contributions and achievements of women who work in or support the arts in St. Louis.

“There are so many women in the region doing transformational work in the arts. We couldn’t be more impressed with the 2018 honorees said Sara Burke, Co-Chair of the Saint Louis Visionary Awards. “They truly deserve this recognition.”

The 2018 Saint Louis Visionary Awards Ceremony is scheduled for Monday, April 23, 2018 starting at 6:00 p.m. at the Sun Theater. Susan Sherman and Marcela Manjarrez-Hawn are the co-hosts for the evening.

For additional information about the Saint Louis Visionary Awards sponsorship opportunities and ticket information, visit www.vizawards.org.  Individual tickets are available for $50.

About the Saint Louis Visionary Awards:

The Saint Louis Visionary Awards has been reimagined by an independent committee of women (many past Visionaries) to celebrate the numerous contributions and achievements of women who work in or support the arts in St. Louis.  The Saint Louis Visionary Awards is now a 501(c)(3) organization and has a committed board of directors who take great joy in honoring women working in the arts ranging from established arts professionals and arts educators to emerging artists and community impact artists.  The board of directors also offers angel fund tickets to members in our community who may not otherwise be able to attend the celebration.

The Celebrating Art for Senior Engagement Festival presents over 80 art-related projects and programs during the Festival, which runs April 20 – April 30, 2017. The local nonprofit Maturity and Its Muse, dedicated to improving the life of seniors through the arts, brings St. Louis 10 days of exhibits and art-related events to highlight how art improves the aging experience. This is the only area-wide festival dedicated to the St. Louis region's older adult population. From St. Louis Art Museum to area galleries, libraries, Laumeier Sculpture Park, Missouri Botanical Garden and more, arts events and programs can be found for people of all abilities.

The goal of Celebrating Art for Senior Engagement is twofold:

• To harness the power of the arts to energize and transform the quality of life for the region's older adults and

• To attract and help build audiences for the venues involved

Events are continuously being added, so visit www. maturityanditsmuse.org/ to keep updated. About Maturity and Its Muse: The mission of Maturity and Its Muse, a 501 (c)(3) not-for-profit organization, is to promote positive, productive aging through the arts.

 

Musings from an Opera Singer

Union Avenue Opera Hits all the Right Notes
by Anna M. Roach

 

Union Avenue Opera, the vision of Scott Schoonover, a young musician who wanted more opportunities for singers his age to perform substantive roles in major opera productions, debuted its first season in 1995. Twenty three seasons later, the company is thriving. More than 30 artists will make their Union Avenue Opera [UAO] debut during its 23rd Festival Season this summer.

Visual Arts

Spring 2017 exhibits at the Contemporary Art Museum include works by Katherine Bernhardt, Deana Lawson, Nicola Tyson and Louis Cameron plus a special exhibit in the Education Gallery “ArtReach: I Am.” The exhibits are on view through April 16, 2017. CAM is located at 3750 Washington Blvd., St Louis, MO 63108 and is open Wednesday, Saturday and Sundays 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Thursday and Friday through 8 p.m. Information: http://camstl.org/ or (314) 535-4660.

The St. Louis Art Museum presents Textiles: Politics and Patriotism through March 5.Through May 7, Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade features a collection of period hats and 60 paintings and pastels, including key works by Degas that have never been exhibited in the United States. March 30 through July 7, Learning to See brings together prints, drawings, and sculptures that explore intellectual and spiritual currents of European culture in the 15th-17th centuries. SLAM is located on Fine Arts Drive in Forest Park. For more information, visit www.slam.org

Featured exhibits at the Missouri History Museum include “Route 66: Main Street through St. Louis” (through July 16), and “Capturing the City: Photographs from the Streets of St Louis 1900-1930” (through March 12). The exhibits are free and the museum is located at 5700 Lindell Blvd in Forest Park. For more information call 314- 746-4599 or go to www.mohistory.org

Green With Indie Craft Show takes place on March 11, 1- am to 5 pm at Grant’s Gym on the Webster University campus. For more information, visit www. facebook.com/greenwithindie. Music Winter Opera St Louis presents Bizet’s “Carmen” on March 3 at 7:30 and March 5 at 3:00 at the Skip Viragh Center on the Chaminade campus, 425 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63131. For more information and tickets, 314-865- 0038 or www.winteroperastl.org.

Cathedral Concerts present the last two events of their 24th season. On March 26 at 8:00 pm, The Tallis Scholars, leading performers of Renaissance sacred music, are in concert. On April 21 at 8:00 pm, the Organ & Brass Spectacular is performed. Concerts are at the Cathedral Basilica, 4431 Lindell Blvd., St Lois, 63108 To find out more information about the Cathedral Concerts go to www.CathedralConcerts.org.

The Chamber Music Society St. Louis presents “All Beethoven, All the Time” on April 24-25, 7:30 P.M. in the Sheldon Ballroom and “Modern Classics” a program of Ravel, Stravinsky and Prokofiev May 1 in the \ Sheldon Concert Hall. Both venues are at 3648 Washington Ave, St. Louis, 63108. For tickets and more information, visit http://chambermusicstl.org/

Theatre

Clayton Community Theatre presents Arthur Miller’s “A View from the Bridge” March 2 through 4 at 8 PM and March 5 at 2 PM. Performances are at the Washington University South Campus Theater at 6501 Clayton Road, St Louis, MO 63117. For information visit: http://www. placeseveryone.org; reservations, 314- 721-9228 and tickets http://ViewFromThe- Bridge CCT.brownpapertickets.com.

Max and Louie Productions present “Lady Day at the Emerson Bar & Grill,” a moving portrait of Billie Holiday’s struggles with addiction, racism, love and loss, Show stopping musical numbers are interlaced with salty, often humorous, reminiscences to project an unforgettable portrait of the lady and her music. Performances are through March 4, 2017 at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand Blvd. St Louis, MO 63103. For tickets and more information, visit http://maxandlouie.com/

The Repertory Theatre of St Louis presents “To Kill a Mockingbird” through March 5, “The Royale,” March 8 through 26 and “Million Dollar Quartet” March 15 through April 9. The theater is located at 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves, Missouri. For information visit http:// www.repstl.org/season/tickets/

The Fontbonne University Fine Arts Department performs “The Trojan Women.” Set in a modern-day refugee camp, this adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy will explore patterns of human behavior that seem to inevitably lead to betrayal, murder, chaos and grief. Performances are March 9-12 at the Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd., Clayton, MO 63105. For tickets, call 314.719.8060 or visit https://mustardseedtheatre. thundertix.com/events/85547.

The New Jewish Theatre presents “Never the Sinner” – March 16-April 2, 2017. The play is based on the Leopold and Loeb murder case of 1924. Performances are at the Wool Studio Theater, A&E Building, JCC Staenberg Family Complex, 2 Millstone Campus Dr, Creve Coeur, MO 63146. For tickets and more information, call 314-442-3283 or visit http://jccstl. com/arts-ideas/new-jewish-theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre presents “Dancing at Lughnasa.” Performances are April 13 through 30 at Fontbonne University Fine Arts Theatre, 6800 Wydown Blvd., Clayton, MO 63105. For tickets, call 314.719.8060 or visit https://mustardseedtheatre.thundertix. com/events/85549/performances

Kids and families

Laumeier Sculpture Park is accepting enrollments for spring and summer programs for children, teens and adults. Summer Art Camps for children ages 4-6 and 6-15 run early June through early August. Visit www.laumeier.org/ summer-art-camps for more information. Family programs (adult + child) are offered on Saturday March 25 and Saturday, April 22. In addition, youth, teen and adult workshops are offered beginning in March. Visit www.laumeier. org for more information. Laumeier Sculpture Park is located at 12580 Rott Road, Saint Louis, Missouri 63127.

Literature and Readings

The Observable Reading Series, brought to you by St. Louis Poetry Center, welcomes poets to Dressel’s Public House (419 N. Euclid, CWE) on Monday, March 6th, 2017 7:30 p.m. Poets featured are Elizabeth Arnold and Alison C. Rollins. For more information, visit http:// stlouispoetrycenter.org/observable/..

Fundraisers

 

Live and Learn

On Thursday, March 2, ProgressWomen presents: “#GOV101: How You Can/Must Play a Vital Role with the Missouri State Legislature.” The program is at Clayton High School Theatre, #1 Mark Twain Circle in Clayton. Doors open at 6:30 pm; program begins at 7:00 pm. For information, visit www.progresswomen.com; for tickets visit https://secure.actblue. com/contribute/page/gov101stlmar2.

The Missouri Department of Conservation presents an intensive workshop on native landscaping March 4, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm at the St. Louis Community College Meramec Campus, 11333 Big Bend Blvd. in Kirkwood The workshop will provide information and resources on ways homeowners can landscape their property with native plants. New this year will be a series of workshop breakout sessions that will explore topics in greater depth such as developing rainscaping features and gardening for wildlife. Registration is available online at http://stlouisaudubon.org/PNL/PNL- 2017.html. For questions about the event, call (314) 599-7390. The workshop is sponsored jointly by MDC, Shaw Nature Reserve, St. Louis Audubon Society’s Bring Conservation Home Program, Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, St. Louis Community College, the St. Louis Chapter of Wild Ones, and Grow Native