BUFFALO, N.Y. — Opera may not be that familiar to you for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps it's the fact that you're trying to understand a story in a different language, or maybe you didn't know where to go see one.
In Western New York, one company, Buffalo Opera Unlimited, has been captivating audiences for 37 years.
For Tim Kennedy, it all started with the piano and being involved with the church in his hometown of Philadelphia. His father was the superintendent of Sunday School and being part of the church was a must. His siblings also started on piano, but he was the only one that stuck with it.
His exposure to music in church was what was a constant in his life, and as he continued his education, he had opportunities to learn more about different types of music, including opera. His first experience with opera was through a discovery program in high school.
Kennedy was captivated by the operas and everything that went into putting the production together. He was so enthralled, and loved opera so much, that he even won an award for attending every opera in a year through the discovery program.
Kennedy attended the Philadelphia Musical Academy and studied piano at first, but then made the transition to being a singer. Following graduation, Kennedy was off to pursue the dream of being an opera singer. He had opportunities to sing in the Rome Opera Festival in the early 80s and sang with Porgy and Bess in the late 80s.
As an opera singer, each audition has the ability to fast track your career. Singers take them, perform, and then do it all over again. Kennedy mentioned that it was, and still is, so important to win the right auditions. However, after chasing that dream, he decided that it was time to pursue something else after a moment of self-reflection and being in Buffalo. He wanted to stay connected with opera by starting his own company, which he did in 1985.
Buffalo Opera Unlimited started like most nonprofit arts organizations do: with very little. The company, in its early days, would perform with only semi-staged productions.
However, that changed in 1999, when they were able to perform Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah" at the Riviera Theatre with a full orchestra. This was a turning point for Kennedy and after that, he never looked back and the company continued to grow.
Buffalo Opera Unlimited has performed so many of the standards in the opera repertoire like Bizet's Carmen, Mozart's "The Magic Flute," Humperdinck's "Hansel & Gretel," Puccini's "Madama Butterfly," Puccini's "La Bohème," and so many more.
However, the company did not shy away from taking on more challenging and contemporary productions like Kevin Puts' "Silent Night" and "The Fall of Stag Lee" by Darryl Glenn Nettles.
Buffalo Opera Unlimited will be performing an opera in December that they have never performed, in their 37 year history. Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera" (translated to The Masked Ball) will be performed at Rockwell Hall at Buffalo State College on Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 4 at 2:30 p.m. The production will be led by conductor and Interim Artistic Director Nicholas DelBello.
Thirty-seven years ago, if you told Kennedy that this would be the company he's built, with the support of his wife, Ellen, and his board of directors over the years, he had one simple answer.
"Never. I mean, I was so involved in doing what it takes, put on a particular production. I never knew it would grow, grow like this. It's amazing. I'm very happy," Kennedy said.
And now Kennedy retires from the company and has been named Artistic Director Emeritus. He is now spending his time volunteering for other arts organizations will still being connected to the company he founded.
A celebration titled "Bravissimo, Tim Kennedy!" honoring his career will be held on Friday, Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Lafayette Hotel. Tickets can be purchased on their website for $100 each.