Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 8, 2019

Preview: Panopera, “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street”

Academy of Music, Northampton, MA
January 25 & 27, 2019

The following is an interview with Alan Schneider, one of the co-founders of the Panopera (PO), and one of troupe’s three managers. Schneider has worn many hats, both literally and figuratively: sung leading roles, sung in the ensemble, directed, and made sure the shows broke even. Panopera, a relatively new artist-led opera company based in Western MA, will perform “Sweeney Todd”’ for two performances only.

ITS: How and why did PO start? What is the mission?
PO: The purpose of Panopera since its beginning in 2014 was and is to make use of local artists and local resources to create performances for public consumption. Think of us as a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), but for the arts- a Community Supported Arts organization. The company presents some of the best local talent and resources in full length, high quality opera.

Part of Panopera’s mission is “to create a sustainable model for live opera by employing primarily local talent, cultivating a large and diverse audience, performing a wide variety of repertoire, and sharing profits with artists and other creative partners.”

ITS: How are operas chosen?
PO: We choose repertoire based on a few criteria: scale of the musical forces, since we have yet to present a work with a reduced orchestration (although our string sections tend to be on the small side), whether or not we can cast it with primarily local artists, and, for these first few years, whether or not the orchestra parts are in our library.

ITS: What would you say to potential audience members who “fear” opera?
PO: I would say that opera is theater, plain and simple, and, language barrier aside, if you like musical storytelling of whatever genre, opera will probably appeal to you.

ITS: I’ve noticed in PO photos that the cast members seem to be dressed in contemporary style. Do you think this makes the work more accessible?
PO: We give no thought at all to making a work “accessible” beyond what one does normally to make any production clear and consistent. We believe that the idea that the public needs special help to understand or appreciate a work of art is unnecessary.

ITS: “Sweeney Todd” -- a wonderful musical, is not an opera. Why was “Sweeney” selected?
PO: Interestingly, the very first American company to produce “Sweeney Todd” after the original Broadway production and touring was the Houston Grand Opera, in 1984.

Here’s an interesting anecdote. (courtesy of Wikipedia) It is said that on opening night Harold Clurman, the doyen of American theatre critics, rushed up to Schuyler Chapin, former general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, demanding to know why he had not put it [Sweeney] on at the Met. To which Chapin replied: "I would have put it on like a shot if I'd had the opportunity. There would have been screams and yells but I wouldn't have given a damn. Because it is an opera. A modern American opera."

Also, we’re in a position to present the piece with its original orchestration, which is a rare thing nowadays, 2019 is the 40th anniversary, and we have yet to present a piece in English.

ITS: What are you most proud of about PO?
PO: I am most proud of the group of artists who have assembled to do each of our projects. I am grateful that so many of my professional colleagues are willing to invest their time and effort to expand the theater and music market in the Valley, which will ultimately benefit all of us.

ITS: What are plans for PO?
PO: To continue to find collaborators, as we have with Pioneer Valley Ballet, to present an ever-wider selection of opera to the public.

“Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” will be performed on January 25th at 7:30pm and January 27th at 2pm at the Academy of Music, Northampton. For ticket information contact the Academy box office: 413-584-9032 or