The singers are doing it for themselves!
The Regina Opera, now celebrating its 46th season, began in 1970 with a group of performers and opera lovers who were tired of leaving their southern Brooklyn neighborhoods for quality operatic performances. Instead, like any do-it-yourself garage maker, they built their own company.
The pastor at Regina Parcis Church in Dyker Heights allowed the group to perform inside the gym at the attached school, and Regina Opera had its name. The shows were a hit from the start, said the company’s president.
“Many of the people at the beginning were Italian-Americans, so opera was part of their heritage and it was very well-received,” Francine Garber-Cohen said. “They had a lot of community support — people came to see the shows, to join and sing, build scenery, donate money, and it’s been continuing ever since.”
In 1976, the company moved from the gym to the school’s auditorium, where it stayed there until 2012, when the school converted the space into classrooms. Now the company performs at the 600-seat auditorium at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Academy in Sunset Park.
Unlike many companies, Regina Opera does not charge performers to audition or perform in any of its thrice-yearly full-length operas. That makes the shows extremely attractive to young conservatory grads and to experienced performers looking for experience with particular plays, Garber-Cohen said.
“We don’t charge for costumes, coaching or anything — all they have to do is learn the music,” she said.
And lucky audience members might catch a future superstar. In 1980, a young Dolora Zajick, now considered one of the greatest mezzo-sopranos in the industry, auditioned and won a part in the Regina Opera’s production “Cavalleria Rusticana.”
“The day that Ms. Zajick auditioned for the role, there were many other mezzo-sopranos in our auditorium who wanted to be considered for the role,” recalled Garber-Cohen. “After hearing Ms. Zajick’s fabulous voice, they all walked out of the auditorium, figuring that they didn’t have a chance at the part.”