08/28/2012 09:41 am ET Updated Oct 28, 2012

The Dicapo Opera Theatre and "The Miracle of E. 76th Street"

In a city that has less and less truly artistic venues, The Dicapo Opera Theatre is an example of the finest New York has to offer for both the uninitiated and the connoisseur. The size of the theater is intimate and comfortable, yet spacious enough with its 200 crimson red velvet seats, excellent acoustics and state of the art lighting and stage equipment.

Co-founded in 1981 by General Director Michael Capasso and Artistic Director Diane Martindale, Dicapo Opera Theatre has annually offered repertoire ranging from the operatic classics by such masters as Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, and Tchaikovsky to the 20th century works of Menotti, Thomas Pasatieri, Tobias Picker, Robert Ward and many others. It has also had the distinction of performing all of Puccini's operas and instrumental music.

One of the most impressive things is that this theater was literally built "by hand" by Michael Capasso -- who conveniently at the time was also a contractor. With residency that began in 1991, the church basement was radically transformed into an elegant, effective, and modern theatre during the 1995 renovation.

A lovely 15 minute film of the process can be checked out on Youtube. This little gem is both funny and moving, making an irresistible case for the company.

The helpful conviction supplied from the folks at St. Jean Baptiste Church adds to what a friend calls the "Miracle on E. 76th Street."

Dicapo Opera Theatre is the only opera company in New York, after the Metropolitan Opera and the City Opera, to present an entire season of opera productions, musical theater, concerts, family fare, and other events.

Logistics aside, Dicapo delivers in the most important of ways -- the repertoire and the execution of such.

For example, although I have seen Pagliacci numerous times, I found myself much more involved in the action, thus having more compassion for "the clown," Canio. When he was carefully preparing himself for the "show," applying makeup and singing "Vesti la giubba", I was moved to tears by the intimate emotion I was able to feel projected by a fine artist in a reasonably sized theater. Another example is the company's Norma. Sure, I had always been spellbound by the music, but this time the drama of the piece was just as compelling as the aural experience.

While it is not uncommon for some opera companies to offer musical theatre, Capasso does it in a way that is quite seamless between opera and the above.  It has been said by some (and I heartily agree) that musical theatre is very close to opera and even fills some gaps left after the great melodic composers reached their apex. Along with the great operetta composers came along Kern, Gershwin, Rodgers etc. Earlier opera (Mozart, etc.) used speech as well as music and immortal gems such as Showboat and later Oklahoma seem to follow the great tradition -- leading up to works such as Sondheim's towering Sweeny Todd and the sublime A Little Night Music.

Capasso's 2012's bounteous production of Frank Loesser's Most Happy Fella exemplified the marriage between formal opera and musical theatre. The capable cast featured two really shining stars -- baritone Michael Corvino as Tony and Lauren Hoffmeier as Cleo.

The score and dramatics of Loesser's unforgettable melodic musical dramedy were showcased with care, soaring excitement and more than a touch of humor. I hope he brings it back for another look.

This brings us up to taking a preview of Dicapo's diverse and exciting 2012/2013 season. Opening with the tried and true Pagliacci, directed by Capasso and conducted by Music Director Pacien Mazzagatti, starts Thursday evening, Oct. 11, at 7:30 p.m., with performances to follow on Saturday evening, Oct. 13, 8 p.m.; Friday evening, Oct. 19, 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, Oct. 21, at 4 p.m. Dicapo takes its production of Pagliacci to the Tilles Center for the Performing Arts on Long Island for a performance on Friday, Nov. 2, 2012.

The season's second offering is the world premiere of Thomas Pasatieri's The Martyrs, with a libretto and direction by Daphne Malfitano, starring the world-renowned Catherine Malfitano as Marianne and Zeffin Quinn Hollis as Percy. Performances take place on Thursday evening Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday evening, Nov. 10, 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 11, 4 p.m., followed by performances on Thursday evening November 15, 7:30 p.m.; Friday evening, Nov. 16, 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, Nov. 18, 2012, at 4 p.m.

The Martyrs will be followed by yet another Dicapo world premiere -- Marrying Mozart, a play with music by Mozart, libretto by Michael Capasso and the noted writer Bill Van Horn. Based on a best-selling novel by Stephanie Cowell, Marrying Mozart offers a believably appealing portrait of the young Mozart in Vienna struggling to find work as a composer. Mr. Capasso directs. Performances are scheduled for Thursday evening, Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m., Friday evening, Dec. 14, 8 p.m.; Saturday evening, Dec. 15, 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, Dec. 16, 2012, at 4 p.m.

The season's fourth production, The New York premiere of The Letter, an opera noir by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec and libretto by noted critic-playwright-biographer Terry Teachout is next. The Letter is based on the classic Somerset Maugham play and short story filmed by Hollywood in 1940. Michael Capasso will direct, with performances scheduled for February 2013 on Thursday evening, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday evening, Feb. 9 at 8 p.m., Friday evening, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, Feb. 17 at 4 p.m.
Dicapo Opera Theatre's season continues with a classic of the 19th-century operatic repertoire, Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. Performances are on Thursday evening April 4, 2013, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday evening, April 6, 8 p.m., Friday evening, April 12, 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, April 14, at 4 p.m. Dicapo takes this production to the Tilles Center on Friday, April 19, 2013.
Kismet, the exotic and melodious show with lyrics and musical adaptation (as well as some original music) by Robert Wright and George Forrest, is adapted from the music of Alexander Borodin with a book by Charles Lederer and Luther Davis, based on an 1911 play by Edward Knoblock. Performances are scheduled for Thursday evening, May 16 at 7:30 p.m., Friday evening, May 17 at 8 p.m., Saturday evening, May 18 at 8 p.m., and Sunday afternoon, May 19 at 4 p.m.
A happy addition to the regular season is the Opera for Kids.

The complete schedule for this series follows:
Pagliacci Oct. 20 & 21, 2012
Beauty and the Beast Dec. 2 & 3, 2012
Gianni Schicchi Jan. 19 & 20, 2013
La Cenerentola March, 2 & 3, 2013
Lucia di Lammermoor April 27 & 28, 2013

While having the pleasure of speaking to Michael today regarding the riches of his company we eventually also reached a point where economics reared its hungry head.

There is good news, worrisome news and hopeful news. Happily Dicapo has maintained a steady stream of earned income, even since the downturn of 2008. But like many American opera companies, Dicapo has suffered greatly during this economic downturn and has experienced a drastic reduction in contributions -- more than 60 percent over the past four years.

As a result the company has entirely revamped the Board of Directors, and the new Chair, Judith Iovino has put together a group of supporters and new members who have pledged to match contributions, dollar for dollar, up to $250,000, resulting in what the directors hope will be an infusion of $500,000 this season -- so as to stabilize the financial health and future of Dicapo Opera.

"We are encouraging existing supporters to give more and to generate new donors. Without this effort we know that our future is at risk," said General Director Michael Capasso.

I urge visitors, to put this on your travel schedule and New Yorkers, longing for a cathartic operatic/theatrical experience to attend as many of Dicapo's shows as possible. Enjoy!

For tickets to all events please contact Smarttix at 212-868-4444 or visit The Dicapo Opera Theatre is located at 184 East 76th Street (at Lexington Avenue) on the lower level of the St. Jean Baptiste Church