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FAMILY AFFAIR

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The Regina Opera Company, a popular Dyker Heights venue for both opera fans and performers, has been one family’s labor of love for two generations.

"My mother Marie founded Regina Opera in 1970 as a neighborhood opera company," director Linda Cantoni tells GO Brooklyn. "I was 11 at the time and was involved from the get-go, singing and doing things backstage. Then, in 1986, I started directing."

Today, Marie Cantoni is on the board of directors and Linda still directs productions at Regina Opera, helming its first staging of the 2002-2003 season: Mozart’s "The Marriage of Figaro," which runs consecutive weekends beginning Nov. 23 at 7 pm at Regina Hall (12th Avenue at 65th Street). In keeping with the all-in-the-family theme, Cantoni’s husband - and regular Regina Opera conductor - Jose Alejandro Guzman, will lead the orchestra.

"The Marriage of Figaro," one of the glories of the standard operatic repertory since its premiere in 1786, is another of Mozart’s fabled collaborations with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. The enchanting blend of comedy, drama and romance not only beguiles through its story - based on a play by French writer Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais - but, of course, through Mozart’s magical music, which allows singers the chance to convey some of the most complexly emotional music to ever grace the opera house.

For Cantoni, the fact that Mozart’s opera is so well-known to many in the audience is no reason to (as many would-be innovators have done elsewhere) deconstruct the work, reshaping it out of all familiarity.

"My style as a director is to let the work speak for itself. I don’t do anything that’s unusual - I try to get at what the composer and librettist intended. I know I’m not smarter than Mozart!" she says with a laugh. "[Mozart and da Ponte] had some modicum of wisdom, so I just ask, ’What did the composer intend: to [have audiences] laugh, cry or think?’ That’s what I try to get at."

For Cantoni, who directed a Regina production of "Figaro" back in 1994, revisiting this classic was an enlightening experience.

"It was much easier this time around because I’d already done it before. So I was able to get to accentuate many of the details more easily than before," she says. "It allowed me to paint a more subtle picture."

Cantoni also decided to ensure that her singers were in the proper frame of mind for performing in this seemingly easy work.

"The singers must be aware of what others are saying to them, so they can genuinely respond to that while they’re onstage," she explains. "A lot of singers are most worried about themselves, as opposed to the others acting with them. And I’m getting better results now because I’m more of a stickler. ’Understand what you’re singing and what others are singing to you’ is what I’m trying to convey."

Regina Opera sticks to the most familiar operas - later this season, there’s Puccini’s "Madame Butterfly" and Verdi’s "La Traviata," as well as several concerts’ worth of favorite arias and show tunes - but Cantoni sees no problem with that. There are other venues, she says, for the many unheard works out there.

"Our niche is the standard repertoire," Cantoni says, noting that "part of the reason why singers love to come to us is because we do repertory operas in the original languages," which, aside from the Met and (occasionally) New York City Opera, isn’t as common as one might think.

As for the singers who perform with Regina Opera, Cantoni is justifiably proud of their professionalism and experience.

"All of the singers have irons in the fire, doing several professional gigs elsewhere," she says. "At this time, we are the ones in demand by the singers. As recently as 10 or 12 years ago, we had open-call auditions, but now we are able to invite the singers to come audition for us, and we are sent many resumes."

After 32 years, Regina Opera is comfortably positioned as a local leader in the arts, as Cantoni happily points out.

"Our company is well known in the local neighborhoods because we’ve been around so long. And based on our reputation, people are going to come to our performances," she says. "People tend to come from all over the city, although obviously Brooklyn is where most of our audience comes from.

"We can’t reserve seats because we play in a school auditorium with wooden folding chairs, so there isn’t much room to fit everybody in," adds Cantoni. "Awhile ago, our guild got so overbooked that we stopped having new guild memberships because then the public couldn’t get in!"

In what may be the operatic understatement of the year, Cantoni concludes, "We have a loyal following."


Regina Opera’s production of Mozart’s "The Marriage of Figaro" will be performed Nov. 23 and Nov. 30 at 7 pm, and Nov. 24 and Dec. 1 at 4 pm, at Regina Hall, 12th Avenue at 65th Street in Dyker Heights. Admission is $15; $10 for senior citizens and college students; $5 for high school and junior high students. For more information, call (718) 232-3555 or visit the Web site at www.reginaopera.org.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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