The Flickers G&S Ensemble...
Celebrating the Lost History of Ocean State Light Opera
• For more information about the touring company and its current programming, please click here...
• See Photos from the Premiere Concert, April 4th, click here
• OSLO Photo galleries • A • B
The history of opera in Rhode Island is littered with the stories of companies that, for various reasons, have disappeared. We are very proud to celebrate one company (and its two founders) that, for almost a decade, “got it right.”
Beginning in 1990, Ocean State Light Opera (OSLO), had an artistically and financially successful eight-year run of critically acclaimed and often sold out performances. In fact, the company now known as Opera Providence grew from the success of its earlier incarnation, OSLO.
Before OSLO, many Rhode Islanders may remember the G&S productions of Cabot Street Players (CSP), a popular community theater group that produced 15 seasons of shows between 1972 and 1990. Judy Shroeder, CSP Artistic Director, decided to retire her company and mounted its final production in the summer of 1990. That very same summer, Cabot Street founding member Ted Tuttle and Scott Withrow formed a new and separate company, Ocean State Light Opera, with Ted as artistic director and Scott as music director. OSLO’s maiden voyage, “Iolanthe,” was embraced by enthusiastic audiences and critics alike.
With its home performance base in the theater of the Wheeler School on the East Side of Providence, OSLO continued for nearly a decade, performing G&S as its primary staple, along with occasional works by Strauss, Offenbach, Menotti, and Puccini. In later years, OSLO productions regularly toured to theater festivals in Newport, Martha’s Vineyard and Wolfboro, NH.
As conceived by Ted Tuttle and Scott Withrow, OSLO celebrated Rhode Island’s professional classical singer community, casting leads from among the state’s prominent singers and voice teachers. Minor roles and chorus parts gave aspiring music undergraduates and community singers a chance to perform onstage. Indeed, many of the lead performers in OSLO’s later years began in the chorus of earlier seasons. Each summer season of OSLO brought the Rhode Island classical singer community closer together, as teachers and students embraced the unique opportunity of working together as peers.
Also essential to Ted and Scott’s plan was that all members of the cast were paid for their artistic contributions. Performers were compensated in a profit-sharing co-op system. Once expenses were covered, cast members received shares (e.g. leading roles at three shares, secondary roles at two shares, and chorus members at one share).
In 1993, the company lost one of its leaders when music director Scott Withrow died of cancer. Co-founder Ted Tuttle passed the artistic director mantle to company member Marilyn Levine. Under Ted’s direction, productions were very traditional, incorporating time-honored D’Oyly Carte conventions and humor. Marilyn brought a fresh eye to the standard repertoire. She used creative concepts and unexpected settings to highlight Gilbert’s timeless themes and wit. After two seasons of ad-hoc music directors, Marilyn appointed conductor Ann Danis to serve as company music director. Under Ann’s guidance, the accompaniment increased from a single piano to a small chamber orchestra.
As OSLO’s success grew, Marilyn took advantage of the growing roster of professional singers to expand the company repertoire to include opera scenes concerts and one-act works by Menotti and Puccini. This began the transition from Ocean State “Light” Opera to Ocean State “Lyric” Opera. Eventually, Ocean State Lyric Opera changed its name to Opera Providence. Marilyn Levine stepped down in 1998. Since then, the company has operated under the leadership of Kathryn Jennings, then Loriana De Crescenzo, and now Robert DeRobbio.
Under Kathryn Jennings’ leadership, the company mounted critically acclaimed grand opera productions with full orchestra at Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium in Providence from 1998 to 2003. With Maria Spacagna as artistic advisor, Kathryn’s direction evolved OSLO from a state company to a regional one. This change shifted focus to booking singers with national careers, bringing in out-of-state talent for most roles, and casting the chorus with local singers. During this time, Ocean State Lyric Opera changed its name to Opera Providence (OP).
When Kathryn Jennings resigned, Loriana De Crescenzo assumed executive directorship of the company. Loriana had been a performer in the original “Light” OSLO company, and directed the educational programs of the “Lyric” OSLO, and eventually OP. Under Loriana’s direction, the company focused on community outreach, reconnecting with local professional singers, and fundraising to pay down the accumulated debt from the grand opera years.
According to the Providence Journal reporting an interview with OP Board Chairman Robert DeRobbio (Bryan Rourke, 1/25/07), “In 2004, after years of over-ambition, where expenses exceeded revenues, Opera Providence was $250,000 in debt.”
Under Loriana De Crescenzo’s direction, OP paid off nearly half of its debt. With many school, neighborhood and special occasion concerts, the company eventually raised enough money to begin mounting modest productions again, with the Columbus Theatre as its primary performance venue. According to the Providence Business News (Natalie Myers, 11/13/07), Loriana fostered OP’s collaboration with many state arts organizations and rebuilt the company’s audience attendance by 200 percent. When Loriana De Crescenzo resigned in 2007, the leadership of Opera Providence was taken up by Robert DeRobbio.
Through all of these changes to the company over the years, the memory of the original Ocean State Light Opera, its founders, and its eight years of success seems to have been lost. It is our wish that though OSLO is “gone,” it “not be forgotten.” We present this program in loving memory and celebration of Ted Tuttle and Scott Withrow, and all those who shared in the joy of what was once Ocean State Light Opera.
OSLO Production History
(We’ve tried our best to reconstruct this lost history. If you know of any production we’ve overlooked, please let us know.)
The Pirates of Penzance
The Yeomen of the Guard
Amahl and the Night Visitors
The Pirates of Penzance (Newport & Martha’s Vineyard)
Sister Angelica/Trial by Jury
Amahl and the Night Visitors/Jacob’s Grace
A Spring Musicale: Songs and Scenes from Opera and Broadway
Ruddigore (Newport & Providence)
Cox & Box/Ballroom Scenes from Operas
HMS Pinafore (Newport & Martha’s Vineyard)
OSLO at First Night Fall River
A Gilbert & Sullivan Revue (Newport & Wolfboro, NH)
The Mikado (Providence & Martha’s Vineyard)
(Ocean State “Light” Opera becomes Ocean State “Lyric” Opera)
The Pirates of Penzance (Operatunity)
Ocean State “Lyric” Opera becomes Opera Providence