Utah Opera and Culinary Crafts will wish Park City ‘Bon Appetit!’
Contrary to popular belief, opera is an art form that doesn’t have to be presented in classical theaters and extravagant concert halls.
It can be performed anytime and anywhere, according to Utah Opera Artistic Director Christopher McBeth.
"The world of opera and all the pieces, which is about 450 years of repertoire, has a wealth of personal, and up-close-and-personal pieces that feature only one, two or four people," McBeth told The Park Record. "I think it’s important to include those pieces if you’re going to represent the art form. You have a responsibility to do that in as many facets as possible. And sometimes we need to break out from our home venue of the Capitol Theatre, as beautiful and wonderful as it is, to take the art to people in fun ways."
That’s one of many reasons why the Utah Opera will present a performance at O.P. Rockwell on Saturday.
Victoria Livengood, the Grammy Award nominated mezzo-soprano who is known for her work with the Metropolitan Opera, will perform the one-woman, 20-minute operetta, "Bon Appetit!," written by Lee Hoiby and based on the late Julia Child’s PBS TV cooking program.
"The libretto of the opera is drawn from two actual 1970 Julia Child episodes," MacBeth said. "The librettist went through a bunch of them and got the rights from WNET and even got Julia Child’s blessing before she passed away to move forward on this."
McBeth has long known about the operetta, which premiered in 1985.
"I’ve always looked for the right personality and opportunity to do this and it wasn’t that long ago when we learned this piece is one of Vicki’s signature roles," he said. "Vicki, as many of our patrons know, has sung with us before and made her debut as Herodias in our last production of ‘Salome.’"
The role of Julia Child is perfect or the singer, who hails from North Carolina, McBeth said.
"She describes herself as the Dixie Diva and she has a drawl that is about a country mile wide and a personality that is even bigger," he said. "She also has a long career on the Metropolitan Opera roster, singing everything from Valkyries to the role of Carmen, and has moved and evolved as all singers do into that stage of life where she can perform fun character-type roles."
While McBeth hasn’t seen the opera, he said it isn’t hard to imagine Livengood as Julia Child baking a Le Gâteau au Chocolat L’Éminence Brune, which is a gourmet French dark chocolate cake.
"She has this bigger-than-life personality and a sizable voice," he said.
The opera also makes sense because Child used to liken herself to a performer on the cooking show.
"She has said that part of her job is to entertain as much as it is to inform," McBeth said. "I always thought she was an operatic character in real life when she was on TV." The performance will be a quick turnaround for Livengood.
"Vicki will come and rehearse for four days to rehearse and do this piece," McBeth said.
The Utah Opera selected O.P. Rockwell because of its intimate, speakeasy like setting.
"We knew we needed the right combination of intimate-yet-fun space for this, and I have to credit Natalie Cope in our development department who scoped out a bunch of places," McBeth said.
After looking at places in Salt Lake City and Park City, McBeth was happy they decided on a Park City location.
"We often like to do something up there during the winter for our great fans and patrons of our Deer Valley Music Festival that we do in the summer," he said. "And when we saw that this could happen and that it could happen, oh my gosh, on Valentine’s Day. So, how perfect is that?"
In addition to the performance, the evening will feature a 10-course French dinner created by Culinary Crafts.
Culinary Crafts, founded in 1984 by Mary Crafts-Homer, who also serves as CEO, is a 12-time Best of State winner for catering and is known for catering events for Oprah Winfrey during the Sundance Film Festival.
Crafts-Homer said the menu she has planned for the operetta will include fresh baked bread, hors d’oeuvres, white-wine steamed mussels, veal ragout roasted chicken, and the cake as "the piece de resistance."
"While French food is not our typical MO, because we’re usually about local, seasonal, farm-to-table type of approach, we’re looking forward to taking on this challenge," Crafts-Homer said. "I wanted to create the classic French dishes like Julia, who was, of course, a classic French chef, who liked the rustic approach and not the cutesy stuff."
The biggest challenge is that O.P. Rockwell has a stage, but doesn’t have a kitchen.
"So, we’re turning the coatroom into a kitchen and pulling up our catering truck in the back to make this work," Crafts-Homer said with a laugh.
The idea of creating a dinner for an operetta about Julia Child is a dream come true for Crafts-Homer.
"I was one of those people who read Julia Child’s ‘French Cooking’ from cover to cover and cooked my way through it," she said. "I considered Julia my mentor when I was starting out. I watched her on TV and wanted to be like her and have a PBS cooking show."
That idea came to fruition and Crafts-Homer’s "Culinary Creations" is still airing on KBYU. She also writes monthly columns for Utah Valley Magazine and serves on the Salt Lake Visitors and Convention Bureau Board of Trustees.
While a catering business, Culinary Crafts began doing pop-up restaurants, like the one that will be featured at O.P. Rockwell, last August.
"I was looking for something that would grab my interest again because many of my clients want the same thing over and over again — prime rib and salmon — and try as I might, it was hard to get my patrons out of that mode," Crafts-Homer said. "I decided try doing pop-up restaurants so I could create a unique menu for one night and at one location and invite people to come and enjoy it."
Since then it’s become a monthly thing.
"We sold out our first one in August and then did one in October and November.," she said. "We did a New Year’s Eve one as well and they have been totally successful."
McBeth said he would like to see the Utah Opera do more of these types of performances.
"Years ago, we did small chamber opera at the Egyptian Theatre and one at the Eccles Center, but this is the first time we’ve created a pop-up event," he said. "I love the idea of helping places like O.P. Rockwell to expand their offerings as well, and with any luck, we may bring these pieces to many people who have never seen opera before."
The Utah Opera and Culinary Crafts will present "Bon Appetit" at O.P. Rockwell, 268 Main St., on Sunday, Feb. 14. The event will start at 6:30 p.m. Tickets $175 and can be purchased by visitingwww.culinarycrafts.com/pop-up-restaurants .
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