A Conversation with Janet Polk, Opera North Orchestra Bassoonist
When Janet Polk, professional musician and seasonal bassoonist with the Opera North Orchestra, sent us this image, we knew there was a dimension to the reimagined Summerfest 2020 we had not yet shared. It seems EVERYONE can’t wait to get back to Blow-Me-Down Farm to hear live music, performed by singers and instrumentalists before our eyes and under the stars.
We caught up with Janet between demands on her virtual schedule from teaching at UNH and other assignments to learn more about her connection to Opera North.
It turns out this will be her Silver Jubilee with the orchestra! In 1995, artistic director Louis Burkot finally cajoled Janet and fellow Dartmouth colleague Susan Thomas (flutist) to join Opera North. “He ‘twisted our arms’ so magnificently,” she said and held out The Barber of Seville. “I hadn’t played opera before, though I’d been playing for a long time.” [She took up the bassoon when she was 12, in fact, played in bands through high school and orchestras in college, and joined the Vermont Symphony, professionally, at 22.] “I fell in love with opera – it’s so alive and there’s so much stuff going on!”
She can’t wait to work again with the orchestra – “It’s the highlight of my summer. Mozart [The Magic Flute] is such a treat and I’m really looking forward to working with Louis again.”
Janet said whenever she’s talking to someone who is not sure they will like opera, she points out all the other elements that go into a production. “There’s a story line to follow, plus the sets and costumes. You can just listen to the orchestra. ‘Opera is a non-stop sensory input,’ I say. ‘It’s all-encompassing. You should give it a try.’”
This year’s performance of The Magic Flute will be sung concert-style and in English, so it’s totally approachable. Janet is intrigued by the new format of the band shell stage, with performers maintaining their 6-foot distance, with the recommended 20 feet between them and the audience who are seated in patron pods on the grass. “Music is such a healing experience,” she said. “I think the audience is so ready for this, and eager to hear and feel live performance again. Being outdoors in such a spectacular location as Blow-Me-Down Farm and having the music. It will be a great experience.”
It certainly will be for her, to perform. The last time she did that was March 8th. Clearly the muse was at work when she read about how to make a face mask from a bandanna, then, and remembered the one she had from Opera North.
Janet likens the sense of arrival at Blow-Me-Down Farm to playing with the Vermont Symphony at Shelburne Falls. “I have the same visceral experience, just coming up the drive.”
And she is highly complimentary of the Opera North team. “I take my hat off to Opera North. A lesser organization might throw up their hands and say ‘we just can’t do it.’ Opera North used their creative imaginations to figure out a way to make it work. When I heard Summerfest 2020 was going to happen, I was thrilled. I jumped out of my chair.”
She’s looking forward to seeing the audience – and the smiles on people’s faces, again.