Guild Presents James Bond Inspired Gala

The Shreveport Opera is throwing a once-in-a-lifetime birthday bash to mark its 70th season. “Casino Royale: A 0070th Secret Agent Gala” will whisk guests to the glamourous, high-stakes world of James Bond with a night of dancing, dining and — of course — games of chance on March 15.

“We are proud of the legacy of the Shreveport Opera, which is one of the oldest opera companies in the country,” said Shreveport-Bossier Opera Guild President Lara Yerger. The Shreveport Opera debuted in 1949 and is the longest continuously operating arts organization in Shreveport. It has brought some of the world’s greatest performers, including Franco Corelli, Leontyne Price and Sherrill Milnes to Shreveport, and has offered concerts with well-known singers like Beverly Sills and Plácido Domingo.

In the first few years, the opera offered a single production each year. Seven decades later, the organization puts on as many as three mainstage productions each year. Its 70th season features Madama Butterfly, a joint production with the Shreveport Symphony in April at the Strand Theatre.

Opera Executive Director Jennifer McMenamin emphasizes the productions always rely on local singers and musicians. “We are a professional opera community. These are professional singers. We’re not a touring company,” she said.

Scores of aspiring opera singers and pianists have launched their careers in Shreveport through the opera’s resident artist program. Each year, five performers — four singers and a pianist — take part in the company’s mainstage productions and have a chance to perform with other groups in the community.

“Every year, hundreds of people go to New York and audition for a chance to have one of these places,” said Adrienne Frierson, a member of the Shreveport-Bossier Opera Guild. “I think it’s a lot to be proud of to be able to attract this kind of talent.”

The resident artists give thousands of northwest Louisiana students a glimpse of opera through Shreveport Opera Express, or SOX for short. The donor and grant-supported program is the only one of its kind in Louisiana. “This is really the heart of what we do,” said McMenamin. “We see about 30,000 kids a year through 130 performances. The performances are about 45 minutes long and there’s a social or moral lesson in each.”

Operatizer, another SOX program, offers a taste of the genre with 30 to 45-minute programs that include arias and musical theater tunes. The SOX company puts on Operatizer at community centers, private functions and schools. “A lot of these kids wouldn’t have any kind of musical program otherwise,” Frierson said.

Photos by Clint McCommon/Fairfield Studios

The opera also nurtures talent by hosting The Mary Jacobs Smith Singer of the Year Competition, Shreveport’s only national singing competition. Opera singers from across the country vie for the title and the $7,500 prize that goes with it. About 150 singers go through the preliminary application process of the competition and up to 26 are chosen for the live semifinals in Shreveport. Judges from opera companies across the country name the finalists and winner.

Proceeds from gala tickets and sponsorships will support the opera’s mainstage productions and the community outreach programs like SOX. “It is important to ensure that the children in our community don’t miss out on these opportunities,” Yerger said.

This year’s SOX singers — Flora Wall, Kaitlyn McMonigle, Mark Tempesta and Spencer Reichman — joined by pianist Ah Young Kim, will entertain gala-goers with renditions of James Bond theme songs and Broadway show tunes. Their performances will complement a piano bar room where guests can mingle with martinis and a signature cocktail that will be unveiled at the gala. “We’re going to have three different vibes,” Frierson said. “All your senses will really be stimulated.”

Party band The Good News will play hits from the ‘80s and ‘90s in another room for the gala-goers who want to get down on the dance floor.  A full-fledged casino where guests can court Lady Luck is the gala’s centerpiece.

“People will receive (casino) tokens with their tickets, and they can buy more,” Frierson said, noting that everything spent at the casino will raise money for the opera. “They’ll be playing for prizes and some of the prizes will be really top-notch.”

McMenamin is grateful for the Opera Guild’s unwavering support and said the opera’s administrative team stretches those dollars.“We run a solid organization. Whether we have a boom or a bust, we’ve been responsible for what we have,” she said.

That included keeping a close eye on costs while the Opera relocated to the Strand Theatre temporarily during the renovations at Shreveport’s Riverview Hall. McMenamin says the opera plans to offer three mainstage performances — two traditional operas and one musical theater program — once it’s back in Riverview Hall.

The Shreveport Opera and professional opera companies around the world face other challenges as its traditional audience ages. “In a lot of ways, it’s not a growing art form. That’s why you’ll see Shreveport Opera producing musical theater selections. We’ll try to do one or two of those a year,” she said. 

Last year the Shreveport Opera started Art after Dark, a series of one-act operas in a laid-back venue. This year’s offerings — all sung in English — touches on taboo topics while focusing on the longing to connect with others. “Opera is really much cooler than you think,” McMenamin said.

IF YOU GO

What: Casino Royale: A 0070th Secret Agent Gala
When: 7 – 11 p.m, March 15
Where: Petroleum Club, 416 Travis St., Shreveport
Tickets: $200 per person. Sponsorships ranging from $500 to $4,007 also available.
Details: Black tie optional; open bar; live music