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Get ready for Operapalooza

July 16, 2009
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IBJ reporter Kathleen McLaughlin guest blogs today.

The Indianapolis Opera is adding another event to the busy fall festival scene, but it’s definitely striving to carve out a distinct niche. Operapalooza, planned for Sept. 11 and 12, will mix sets by regional rock bands and opera singers. Perhaps Lou can invent the name for that particular mix of musical genre.

In the meantime, I talked to opera executive director John Pickett about how this unique festival came to be. “This was really pushed by the neighborhood,” Pickett said.

The professional opera company’s new headquarters at 40th and Pennsylvania streets in the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood is the former home of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

Pickett said neighbors asked the opera to pick up where the church left off with its popular festival. “The Greek fest becomes a real community-building experience for the neighborhoods.”

The Indianapolis Greek Festival, by the way, is still alive and well. Holy Trinity built a new church in Carmel and its planning its event at the new location Sept. 11 and 12.

Pickett said the Meridian-Kessler neighbors insisted that the opera hold a festival the same weekend as the Penrod Arts Fair. The art fair takes place Sept. 12 on the grounds of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

Pickett said the neighborhood had a tradition of attending both Penrod and the Greek fest, and he hopes it continues with Operapalooza.

The masterminds behind Operapalooza are a group of young professionals recruited by Angie’s List CEO Bill Oesterle. Oesterle lives next door to the former Greek church and bought the building for the opera company. Pickett said Oesterle and other sponsors are covering the cost, about $30,000, and net proceeds will go to the opera.

“I don’t think it would’ve happened, because we’re so lean right now, if it weren’t for Bill’s offer,” Pickett said.

The opera has reduced its budget for 2010 by 7.5 percent, from $2.3 million to $1.7 million. The new budget, which began July 1, will include just three main stage productions.

The line-up for Operapalooza is still being finalized. The event will run from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday evening and from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets will cost $5 in advance and $10 at the gate.

Pickett hopes the opera will make a little money, about $50,000, from the event, and reach a new audience. “We’ve been here 33 years, and I’m always surprised people don’t realize there’s a fully professional opera company in the city.”
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