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Louis Burkot

Resident Artists core to Opera North from the start

A conversation with Artistic Director and Founder Louis Burkot

What keeps Opera North going after 40 years? Perhaps the best answer is “defying expectations.”

In a recent conversation, Louis Burkot, Opera North’s founder and Artistic Director, explained how realizations that dawned in 1982 turned into the Opera North with global impact, today.

“I had just come to Dartmouth [to teach],” Louis recalled. “And Hanover was my first exposure to living outside an urban area. At first, I feared that the audiences might be too small in the Upper Valley to support anything more than imported arts performances at the Hopkins Center. But I quickly discovered the area was consumed by people enjoying arts of all kinds.”

The only thing missing was opera.

“At Dartmouth and in the Upper Valley community, I was seeing a number of professionally trained, talented singers,” Louis recalled. That observation led him to produce a scene program and to making connections with LOON, Light Opera of Norwich, which produced high energy Gilbert & Sullivan, in the town auditorium at Tracy Hall.

“The director of the company, David Strohmeier, had been part of that scene program and invited me to conduct a LOON production of Pirates of Penzance with soprano Katherine DeBoer – a person many of us considered one of the ‘seven wonders of the world’ because she could sing anything.”

Louis also started thinking about some of his instrumentalist colleagues at Dartmouth who were willing to play for the nascent Opera North orchestra. “After that, everything moved along really quickly.”

And things moved almost immediately to what was one of the pivotal, unstereotypical decisions. “I wanted all the secondary roles to be young artists,” said Louis. “Having been one myself, and remembering how that experience shaped me. Our extraordinarily talented Resident Artists—and their successes on our stage and after their time at Opera North— have put us on the map.”

At first the Resident Artists, as they’ve been known since 2015 – all 700+ of them – came from local campuses – Dartmouth, Plymouth State, UNH and UVM -- but then interest expanded to Boston and beyond. Way beyond.

This year, Opera North has received more than 829 applications for the dozen or so places in the Resident Artists Class of 2022 and they hail from all around the world: Russia, China, New Zealand, and a large contingent from the UK. “There’s another Opera North based in Nottingham, England,” Louis laughed. “I had to check that the applicants knew where they had applied. They all said, ‘Yes, yes. You’re the one in New Hampshire.’ Opera North is known as something different and special. When I ask ‘How did you hear about us?’ The answer is often, ‘A colleague told me about you.’”

That decision was an essential point of differentiation, and inspiration for everything that has happened since.

“I had no idea I’d be good at mentoring younger singers,” Louis said. “As a grad student in voice and conducting, I had offered tips to colleagues who’d asked and I guess I’m good at getting to the heart of things.” And that focus on the Resident Artists has very much appealed to audiences. “I find the public enjoys hearing professionals who were still in the formative stages of their craft. The artists also know they will be working on a complete role, with an orchestra and in a nurturing setting, but one that tests their mettle.”

That difference stands out for the Resident Artists who prior to their time at Opera North may not have been getting pivotal audition opportunities. “Our reputation is really solid,” Louis said. “And not just with singers but conductors and directors, as well, who have gone from Opera North to the Met, to companies all over the world, their own companies, and done very important work.”