In 2006, vocal music teacher Eve Kochen Budnick ’84 and a Ph.D. student named Rebecca Grimes decided to stage an opera in the Metro West suburbs of Boston. The working name for their company was “two chicks and a piano,” Budnick jokes, but they eventually settled on Opera del West — drawing on both their locale and the title of a Puccini opera, La Fanciulla del West.
The company found a venue (The Center for Arts in Natick, located in a converted fire house), auditioned performers, and rehearsed its inaugural performance, a collection of scenes from famous operas. To the creators’ surprise, Budnick says, opening night drew a line of patrons that stretched out of the door. And seven years later, the little-company-that-could is still chugging along, staging two productions each year. Grimes has moved out of the area, but Budnick, the company’s music director, has managed to draw collaborators from Boston’s well-stocked arts community.
On Feb. 10, Opera del West will perform a pair of one-act operas, one old and one new — “Coffee Cantata,” one of Bach’s few secular works; and Dan Shore’s “An Embarrassing Position,” the recent winner of the National Opera Association’s Chamber Opera Competition.
Budnick, a music major at Princeton, has worked in the field since graduation. She is on the vocal music faculty at Boston University and also teaches at the Rivers School Conservatory. While her undergraduate major was important, she says that she often finds herself drawing on the other subjects she studied at Princeton, such as foreign languages (Opera del West performs each work in its original language), drama, and poetry.
Opera has found a niche in Natick, according to Budnick. Performers seem to enjoy the experience, and audiences appreciate the intimate setting and fresh productions. But in many ways, the company remains as it was at its beginning. “It’s still a labor of love,” Budnick says.
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