Pt 1 Brandon Gryde Director of Presenting and Multidisciplinary Works -- Pt 2 Peter Szep Founding director of New York Opera Fest and co-founder of New York Opera Alliance
Music Credit: “NY” written and performed by Kosta, from the album Soul Sand. Used courtesy of the Free Music Archive.
“Make Our Garden Grow” from Candide. Lyrics by Richard Wilbur, music by Leonard Bernstein, performed by Heartbeat Opera
Peter Szep: Once this coronavirus hit and we canceled the festival, we realized "You know what? We could have a Virtual Opera Festival." Every week, there's at least 11 live-streamed events that you can participate in, and they are wonderful. I feel more a part of my community now because I'm actually every day able to see something that one of the companies is doing right there online.
Jo Reed: That was Peter Szep. He's Founding Director of the New York Opera Fest, and this is "Art Works," the weekly podcast produced by the National Endowment for the Arts. I'm Jo Reed. As we know, COVID-19 and stay-at-home instructions are having an enormous impact on all the performing arts including festivals, which may be particularly vulnerable to the pandemic, and that's the focus of today's podcast. This week is going to be a little bit different. Later on in the show, I'm going to speak to Peter Szep from the New York Opera Fest. He's going to talk about recalibrating an opera festival to a virtual festival. But before we do that, I thought it would be a good idea to get a sense of the entire field of festivals, so I turned to the Arts Endowment's Director of Presenting and Multidisciplinary Arts Brandon Gryde, who has festivals as part of his portfolio. Brandon is new to the agency-- so new we haven't actually met because we've all been teleworking since he started. But coming from Opera America and Dance USA, Brandon has many contacts in the field, a lot of experience with performing arts, and he's given the landscape of festivals a great deal of informed thought. Here's our conversation.
Jo Reed: Well, welcome to the Arts Endowment, Brandon.
Brandon Gryde: Thank you. I'm really excited to be here.
Jo Reed: We know that festivals are deeply impacted by the pandemic with many, many cancellations, and I'd like to begin with you talking about the vital role that festivals play in the cultural landscape.
Brandon Gryde: Sure. Yeah. And you're right. There is such a huge impact that COVID-19 is having on festivals and so many of the performing arts activities that are happening around the country. Festivals have such vastly different tones. Some are bringing in nationally and internationally known artists, bringing in huge tourism opportunities, and have enormous profiles in their cities, and other festivals are really focused on local artists, talent that is drawn in and really representative of the community where they exist, and both are hurting. Artists can't travel, communities can't come together, and it's just really hard to support the artists that are trying to make a living out of doing their work and bringing together the communities, and so they're just facing some devastating losses.
Jo Reed: While certainly the arts are suffering and live performances are suffering most particularly, I do see some challenges that are unique to festivals, not the least of which: Crowds are key. They are the premise of a festival.
Brandon Gryde: Oh, gosh. Yeah. Even from the Survey of Public Participation in the Arts that the National Endowment for the Arts has put every several years, we've actually even seen from the 2017 data that 40 percent of adults attended festivals that featured crafts, visual arts, or performing artists. The data also highlighted that it's the higher percent of adults who attended an outdoor festival that featured performing artists than attended any other performing arts activity. This is something that brings people together in so many different cities, and when we don't have a chance to come together we really lose out on that communal aspect, that opportunity to share experiences with each other.
Jo Reed: Well, I think another unique aspect about festivals is that they're yearly. They happen once a year, and so if it's canceled it means that an entire year's income is lost.
Brandon Gryde: It's true. There's no one right way to respond to this. I think events such as AthFest in Athens, Georgia, and the National Queer Arts Festival in San Francisco, they postponed their festivals. Other festivals are taking really unique steps to be able to continue to highlight their artists. The Youth of Utah Arts Festival is launching Festival Vibes Fridays. They're taking the festival online in June and featuring the very artists who would have participated in an in-person festival, and the New Haven International Festival of Art Ideas is doing the same thing. So there's just a wide range of responses, and different organizations have different capacity, different artists have different types of contracts, so so many different organizations and festivals are doing the best they can to be responsive in the best way to their artists and community.
Jo Reed: I think certainly when South by Southwest canceled, that sort of rocked the world of festivals because it's so big.
Brandon Gryde: Yeah. It's interesting. When that happened-- because that happened really early on if I remember correctly. I was actually still in my maybe second-to-last week of my previous job as an advocate and lobbyist for Dance USA and Opera America; I hadn't even started this current position at the National Endowment for the Arts. And that just felt like a signal of what was to come.
Jo Reed: Yeah. I agree. When South By canceled, it really was an indication of the serious impact that this pandemic would have on the arts world.
Brandon Gryde: Yeah. I know. I think-- even as we sit at home, I think it even took two weeks of teleworking to realize, "Oh. This is not going to be a short-term event that's happening in our lives. This is a long-term event." And it was fascinating to see, as a variety of arts and cultural events started announcing cancelations, just the wave [ph?] that that happened. The fests that were scheduled to happen in early spring canceled fairly early, and yet it was just so interesting to see the wave that happened as events were scheduled for May and for June and July and to see the response that organizations were taking to those. It was just-- it was just so deflating at the time, and yet also really invigorating to see how some of the creative responses that organizations were having in terms of taking care of their artists or providing some of the artwork online so that we could all participate as well.
Jo Reed: I was curious about that because I know some festivals are putting content online, and I wonder how is that being monetized, and are artists getting paid?
Brandon Gryde: Yeah. I think that there are a range of responses to that. My hope is that the artists are getting paid. There are some sites online that are providing some details around the ethical handling of cancelation of events, and I really do hope that organizations are reading through those and following some of those guidelines for ensuring that artists are being recognized for the work that they're creating. What's been really rising to the top for me is how vulnerable the artists have been already, and that to me has just been really top of mind and highlighting how so many artists have little access to healthcare, artists don't have as much of a safety net. This also impacts artists of color in a very different way, and it impacts artists with disabilities in a different way, and thinking through how do we make sure that we're supporting this community-- ensuring that we are ethically supporting the creators of the content is super important. And I don't have any data on which organizations are doing that, but I really hope organizations are looking for opportunities to continue to support those artists.
Jo Reed: I guess the other thing is-- and believe me, I'm all for things being online. It's great. I've been seeing extraordinary things. But that sense of community that comes with the festival-- it's a temporary community, but anybody who's been to a festival will tell you it's real, and it's strong.
Brandon Gryde: It is, and I think-- I don't think we're ever going to go back to the way things were before. Even as our own cities reopen, we're going to be learning new ways of developing community. I know that for me, just one example-- I don't know if you had a chance to watch that Sondheim birthday special that was streaming online.
Jo Reed: That's what I was thinking of when I said, "I've seen some extraordinary things online."
Brandon Gryde: When that "Ladies Who Lunch," and it was Christine Baranski and Meryl Streep and Audra McDonald, the shrieks in my household between my partner and I just got progressively louder as each artist came up. And as we talk about community and I went online, it was a shared experience between me and so many other friends. So we find ways of creating community that fill the gaps for what we have always considered the traditional ways. And I very much look forward to going back and being with friends and going out to dinner before going to see a performance, or being in a dark space as the lights go down and you're with other audience members getting ready to experience the same thing, or going to an outdoor festival where you're just walking from stage to stage and experience to experience, getting a chance to take in a wide range of arts activities. But I am also appreciating the fact that we are building new muscles, and as we talk about some of the ethical treatment of artists, it's also really been top of mind to me about the increased accessibility to art within our home. And how will that convey into the future as well? It blows me away how much art is out there <laughs>, and I want to make sure that we are supporting the artists who are creating it, and-- and this is not a "but," but an "and"-- I'm excited about how much is actually available right now, and I don't want to lose that. I think about [ph?] people who can't afford to festivals, who have financial restrictions, who maybe have health or physical restrictions from attending different arts events, or people who just don't feel comfortable going into different spaces where art is presented, and I want to make sure that this newfound accessibility that has been created continues and somehow we're able to create a really wonderful balance between the in-person and the access.
Jo Reed: Yeah. Exactly. Let me ask you this. If you were going to put on your predictive hat, do you think smaller festivals-- because a) they're smaller, but they're more agile-- actually might have an easier time adapting to whatever the new normal is than larger festivals?
Brandon Gryde: It's possible, and I really don't know the answer to that. I know that just having worked in the opera field, it was fascinating to see how many of the larger budgeted opera companies really turned to smaller budgeted opera companies who like you said were more nimble, might look to them for ways that they could pivot and be responsive to the needs of their own audiences in ways that the larger institutions couldn't. So I think there's always that incredible opportunity to learn from organizations that are more nimble. On the other hand, those smaller organizations might have a harder time getting through this crisis. So we really have to look to each other, to funders, to patrons of these activities to make sure that all organizations of all budget sizes and serving a wide range of communities are supported during this time so that we can come out on the other side and learn from each other and continue to be able to figure out how we are going to navigate the situation once we're open again.
Jo Reed: I'm sure the way you're thinking about your job now has to be different from the way you thought about your job going into it. The pandemic is just so encompassing, and I wonder what shifted when you think about what you want to accomplish looking ahead.
Brandon Gryde: That's a good question because like you said earlier, I came into this job after the pandemic had already started, so I've never been in the office at the Arts Endowment as an employee, and so I started this job working remotely. Again, reconnecting to what we said earlier, what's really been on my mind is the way that this pandemic is impacting artists and organizations that have traditionally been underserved. And how do we elevate the conversations around artists and communities of color and making sure that those organizations are supported? How do we make sure that resources are created to direct funding opportunities towards those types of organizations? And I know that that's not always something that the Arts Endowment can advocate for on its own, but how can we help convene those conversations? How can we bring communities together to ensure that we are having a dialogue around the very specific needs that communities of color are facing broadly, but also the impact that it's having on the arts making as well.
Jo Reed: I think that's a good place to leave it. Brandon, thank you so much.
Brandon Gryde: Thank you.
Jo Reed: And thank you for giving me your time. I really appreciate it. And I know we'll meet one day.
Brandon Gryde: Thank you.
Jo Reed: That's Brandon Gryde. He's the director of presenting and multidisciplinary arts at the National Endowment for the Arts. You're listening to "Art Works." I'm Josephine Reed.
Jo Reed: And now we’re going to take a look at a specific festival, the New York Opera Fest, and how it transformed itself into the New York Virtual Opera Fest. The New York Opera Fest is hosted by the New York Opera Alliance, which is a community-driven consortium of opera companies and producers. My guest is Peter Szep. He’s founding director of the New York Opera Fest, cofounder of the New York Opera Alliance and cohost of Indie Opera Podcast. Welcome, Peter.
Peter Szep: Thank you so much.
Jo Reed: Peter, you’re a founding member of the New York Opera Alliance. Tell me what you’re hearing from the members.
Peter Szep: So obviously live-performance activity has ceased, but a lot of companies have jumped into creating virtual content and a lot of them are doing more than that; some are actually holding seminars and discussions on how to deal with the coronavirus or how to deal with careers. So people really have switched gears, which is a little bit of an advantage being a small company as you can be very flexible, and they jumped into action and they’re making sure that performances are online and that things are happening, so there’s a very fast switch. Especially-- some companies are so fast, the first week they automatically jumped onto it, and more and more companies are realizing, "Hey, we have something to offer," so they’re getting organized as well, but as you know being an artist in New York City, sometimes being an artist isn’t your main source of income because it doesn’t pay very well, so you have a second job like waiting tables or doing something else, and all of those jobs are gone so it’s pretty dire.
Jo Reed: That’s exactly right; it’s very, very difficult. Let’s have a little bit of history about the New York Opera Alliance. Tell me about the organization and when and why you began.
Peter Szep: I’ve been involved with small opera companies in New York since the ‘90s, and there were some really strong players, and as you know in any arts organization, we’re pulling from the same pool of opera performers, opera singers, directors, and a lot of us were wondering if there’s a way for us to be able to communicate better and work better as a group, so that was sort of in the air and I wanted to know more about what was going on. I knew about a dozen companies so I started a podcast hoping that, gee, I’ll force myself to find out what’s going on, and so I started interviewing people in the community and other artists, and while interviewing Gina Crusco they were doing the opera “Clarence and Anita” about the Clarence and Anita Thomas trial. <laughs>
Jo Reed: I think you mean Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas.
Peter Szep: Yeah, and so I’m interviewing her and Ben Yarmolinsky, and when we’re done she goes, “So what are you going to do with this podcast?” and I said, “Well, what do you mean?” -- says, “Well, have you ever thought of doing a festival or doing something else?” I said, “Well, it’s been in the back of my mind, but no,” and she said, “Why don’t we start a group of small opera companies so we can talk to each other?” So Gina brought-- spoke with Cori Ellison, who is a dramaturge, and the three of us got together and said, “Let’s make a list of all the companies we know and get us in a room and just start talking and see where it can go.” So we got 12 of us together, and while we were in a room we realized, "Wait, there’s more," so we started to gather a list and inviting people, and we at first had 30 companies sign on. We made a list; we-- it kept growing. There are 80 companies at least in the city, and 50 have joined the New York Opera Alliance at this point.
Jo Reed: I had no idea there were so many opera companies in New York.
Peter Szep: Yeah. Who knew? <laughs> I mean we didn’t know. <laughs> Well, that’s what’s really interesting about it, is instead of just being a communication tool we all of a sudden realized we’re a community and we didn’t know-- we couldn’t act as a single unit, we weren’t communicating with each other, and this really started collaborative efforts. We started an opera festival; we would be in our fifth year if it wasn’t postponed this year. We’d be doing a festival every year plus we get together and talk about business issues, all sorts of things, and once this coronavirus hit and we canceled the festival, we realized, "You know what? We could have a virtual opera festival." So what we’ve done is we’ve built a website, and we’re putting everyone’s virtual content on there so there’s one spot. If you want to find out what little opera companies in New York, big opera companies in New York are doing, go to our website and we have information.
Jo Reed: What’s the website?
Peter Szep: It’s called nyoperafest.com, and there’s a calendar of events; every week there’s at least 11 live-streamed events that you can participate in, and they are wonderful. I feel more part of my community now because I’m actually every day <laughs> able to see something that one of the companies is doing right there online.
Jo Reed: That's extraordinary.
Peter Szep: Yeah. It’s really, really wonderful.
Jo Reed: When you say it’s live streamed, are people performing from their homes? How is this working?
Peter Szep: So there’s different ways. Each event is slightly different. Something like HERE Arts Center, which is downtown and has been producing for a while, has a huge library of performances, and what they’re doing is they’re calling them 'watch parties,' so on Facebook they’re streaming some of their larger performances, like the “Symphonie Fantastique,” that was Basil Twist, the puppeteer; “Thomas Paine in Violence"; “Looking at You,” which is a Kamala Sankaram opera. They keep streaming these and they’re calling them 'watch parties.' The thing that I like, really, the most <laughs> is-- Opera on Tap, every single day at 8 p.m. on Facebook, are doing a quote/unquote cabaret called “Emmie and Harry’s,” and it’s wonderful. Annie Hiatt will host, and the first one I watched, she actually sang right there from her desk, an aria, and then she sort of plays video disc jockey and people record things, and she’ll play it, so it’s almost like watching a little opera MTV every day.
Jo Reed: That’s amazing. So many people, I think, who aren’t involved in opera per se, we have the idea of opera as grand and spectacular with dozens of people and elaborate costumes on a stage of a great hall, and while that certainly is some opera, that’s hardly all opera.
Peter Szep: Right. Well, that’s really a twentieth-century thing that’s actually relatively recent in opera history. If you really go back and look at it, opera was being done in smaller places for less people. Chamber operas, the Baroque operas-- they weren’t being done in these huge concert halls; that’s really a construct of the twentieth century, and the voices got bigger because the halls got bigger and bigger and bigger, right, but that’s recent; that’s a new thing. Opera hasn’t been that until the past hundred years. If you go back 200, 300, opera’s been around for a while; it wasn’t like that at all. So opera’s been now changing how it’s being presented, being done in bars, being done in cafes, being done in parks; I mean, I’ve seen productions on boats. <laughs> There’s just a lot going on, especially here in New York. One of my favorite things is that in New York it’s-- these organizations aren’t just opera companies. There’s also American Lyric Theater and American Opera Projects; they both work on making sure it goes through the process, bring the librettists and the composers together, because there’s a lot of really wonderful work being done right now in New York.
Jo Reed: Well, I was looking back at previous Opera Fests that you had put on. Give us an idea of how many performances you guys would mount and over what period of time; it’s quite a long festival.
Peter Szep: Yeah. We did a eight-week festival. Almost every year we’ve had about 40 different performances, and there’s been a trend over time. At first it was sort of in unusual locations, that was sort of the beginning of it, and over time the productions have gotten bigger, they’ve gotten more planned because people can plan further ahead, and they’re becoming more like staged operas, but some of them are just very, very, very intimate, very small gatherings, because opera isn’t just that one big thing.
Jo Reed: Opera has so many moving parts, which can be quite challenging, and I would think coordinating an opera festival has a lot of moving parts. What goes into making an eight-week-long festival happen? Then I want you to talk about when you have to recalibrate to put it online.
Peter Szep: Yeah, I know it sounds really complicated but it’s not. The thing that I think that makes this festival special is that it’s not curated like most festivals where you have a single producing entity who then chooses from a large selection a few operas to do. In this case, we have a lot of opera companies choosing what they want to do and then just becoming part of the festival, which actually makes it unique because the minority voices in opera, early composers who are just starting out, no one is being silenced or being left out, so this is a real survey of what’s going on at the grassroots level of opera instead of some opera company’s curated, synthesized vision of what opera is, so it’s actually pretty simple. <laughs>
Jo Reed: I get that part, but it can’t be simple figuring out 40 performances so people aren’t stepping on each other’s toes and that there can even be a collaboration so if people need to use sets or designers or singers or musicians, they can all work together. If you think that’s easy, I am inviting you to my house to help me organize my study because I think it’s pretty daunting.
Peter Szep: <laughs> Well, fortunately I’m not the one who’s making the artistic decisions. <laughs> Really it’s an open door. It’s more like the Fringe Festival, so those sort of decisions aren’t the difficult ones. It’s really every-- anything goes. If someone wants-- who is a member of the New York Opera Alliance wants to host an event that’s part of the festival, the only rule we have is that it isn’t some gala fundraising event, so it can be a discussion about opera; it can be a film. I mean, some of these companies produce films. Experiments in Opera often produce films and it’s more like a film festival; you come and they premiere their five short operas that are filmed so--
Jo Reed: Interesting.
Peter Szep: Yeah. They’re a wonderful group. So on our end, the complicated part is making sure we have all of the information so that we have a website so that everyone has a single place to go to to find out what’s going on and make sure that we speak with a single voice, so that we come up with whatever theme it would be for the year just so that we can get our voices heard. This year it was going to be "Five Years, Five Boroughs" because it was our fifth year and we have five boroughs and we wanted to make sure that something was happening everywhere in the city, so it was going to be geographic. So ironic that this year no one can move. <laughs>
Jo Reed: Yeah, that is ironic, isn’t it? So you set up the website and then people post whatever it is that they’re producing.
Peter Szep: The issue with the festival this year is people automatically were going to create virtual content, and everyone’s creating different kinds of virtual content, so the challenge this year was to figure out, well, how do we find a place where it all can be served together? So basically what we’ve done is we’ve created a single page that has a calendar with links to the actual live events so that people can-- will know exactly when the live events are happening and then a list of each company who is producing digital content and a link to whatever page it is that they have the digital content. Everything this year is being done by hand. I talk with an individual company; we get it and find out where it would fit. No, there’s nothing automatic this year because it’s all different, you know, live streams, old content, new content, trying to figure out how it works together.
Jo Reed: What I was just listening to before I spoke to you was Heartbeat Opera online with their “Make Our Garden Grow.” Oh, my God. It was gorgeous, and I love “Candide.” I love “Candide.” I don’t want to sit through a performance of “Candide” because-- really, let’s face it, but I just love the music from “Candide” and to hear this singing-- it was glorious.
Peter Szep: Yeah. When they--
Jo Reed: It was just glorious.
Peter Szep: The way they handle it, there's not only singers, they’ve included dancers, so dancers are involved with this and it’s sort of like a Zoom meeting; when someone comes in, all of a sudden their picture arrives and then it’s this ensemble. It's a whole grid of human beings singing this song together. It’s so uplifting and hopeful. I loved it.
Jo Reed: It’s so lovely. It really made me very happy. I think we know that things can take time to get back to something-- whatever the new normal is going to be, but I think we also know that concert halls and theaters are going to be among the last places to recover; sporting arenas as well. I wonder what your thoughts are about this. You are the cohost of the “Indie Opera Podcast” so you’re clearly involved a lot with members of your community, and what are you hearing as they’re thinking about what could possibly be on the other side of this?
Peter Szep: Yeah. Well, the opera community has really had an explosion lately, and I’m really hoping that it somehow picks up and continues after this. What is scary for us is a lot of these opera companies-- we really have this pool of talent that is living in New York that may have had to move home with their parents, may be losing their money and not be able to move back, so the whole landscape is going to change. The question is: “What does it take, what sort of milestone do we have to pass before people feel comfortable coming back and sitting next to other human beings in a tightly cramped space?” I’m hoping, I’m an optimist, that once the-- once someone says it can happen, people are going to rush to the theaters. What will happen every week seems like a completely different future. You know what I mean? Two weeks ago the future seemed different, last week-- this week it seems really different, but I’m an optimist; I’m hoping that next week the future will not be as dark as this week.
Jo Reed: In a time of pandemic, why opera? Why is opera important?
Peter Szep: That’s a easy question. <laughs> It’s amazing how elemental and central to the human condition that singing and storytelling is. The moment a crisis occurs, one of the very first things that we do is we gather together and we sing. 9/11, even the Congress got together, and they were not getting together on almost anything, but they got together, they had a moment of silence, and then they sang “God Bless America.” If you were here in New York, you would go to Union Square and people would stand up and sing a song because when our emotions are great, one of the first things that we run to is music and storytelling, and that’s exactly what opera is. There’s something about when our emotions are high that music can take our emotions and put it in a format to share that’s really impactful, so I’m really hopeful-- well, I mean at times of stress the arts are a way for people to share, to be part of a community and to express themselves when things are down. And the moment this crisis started hitting, these opera companies instantly jumped into action and said, “How can we reach out to the community and give them something to make it through this?” I’m very hopeful for opera and I don’t think you can keep opera down. I mean, since the beginning of time we’ve been singing; we’ve been telling stories. If you go to the most ancient cultures, that’s what we do. So I’ve never been worried about that whole, you know, opera dying. It won’t die; it can’t die. We’re always going to tell stories and sing.
Jo Reed: Peter, first, thank you and thank you for all the work you’re doing; it’s wonderful for all of us, so I really appreciate everything that’s being offered. Give us the website for Opera Fest one more time.
Peter Szep: It’s nyoperafest.com.
Jo Reed: That’s pretty easy.
Peter Szep: And from there, there are links to COVID resources and other things for people. I encourage people to act as a community no matter where you are, whether it’s with opera or dance or even just talking to each other. We want to encourage people to feel like one community because we’ll make it through this.
Jo Reed: Absolutely. Peter, thank you.
Peter Szep: Thank you so much.
Jo Reed: You’re welcome. Thank you.
Peter Szep: It’s such an honor to be on your show.
Jo Reed: Oh, my God. It’s a pleasure.
Jo Reed: That was Peter Szep. He’s founding director of the New York Opera Fest, cofounder of New York Opera Alliance and cohost of Indie Opera Podcast. The New York Virtual Opera Fest is running through June. Again, the website is newyorkoperafest.com, and you can find glorious music there, including Heartbeat Opera's gorgeous version of “Make Our Garden Grow.” You’ve been listening to “Art Works,” produced at the National Endowment for the Arts. Subscribe to “Art Works” wherever you get your podcasts, and then tell your friends about us and leave us a rating on Apple because we really want people to find us. For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe, stay kind, and thanks for listening.
This week is a bit different: the podcast is divided into two parts with one subject-- Festivals. We begin by taking a broad look at festivals, their place in the cultural landscape, and their adjustments to the shut-downs caused by the pandemic. Our guide to this is Brandon Gryde our new director of Presenting and Multidisciplinary Works. Having come from Opera America and Dance USA, he’s extremely knowledgeable about the many types of festivals and their various responses to the uncertainty caused by Covid 19.
In part 2, we look at single festival—the New York Opera Fest which is hosted by New York Opera Alliance a community-based consortium of independent opera companies and producers. Fairly early on, New York Opera Fest moved their eight week festival online and reinvented itself as New York Virtual Opera Fest. Founding director of NY Opera Fest and co-founder of NY Opera Alliance Peter Szep explains the transformation of the five-year old festival and the range of work the festival is offering (including a discussion of Heartbeat Opera’s incandescent virtual performance of “ Make Our Garden Grow” featuring over 30 Heartbeat alumni including singers, dancers, instrumentalists, and a gardener.) And because it’s impossible to talk about an opera festival without talking about the innovative work being done by independent opera companies in NY, (and there are over 80 companies in NY!), you’ll hear about the exciting music that continues to be created!