Even in the context of central New Jersey’s rich landscape of world-class musical offerings, the Opera Festival of New Jersey still managed to shine. (And perhaps the competing demands of this musical fecundity contributed to its downfall.)
On Thursday, November 6, the board of trustees of Opera Festival of New Jersey announced that, after 20 years of good work, the festival will close. Faced with a debt of around $700,000, board co-chair Markell Shriver said the decision was the only responsible one.
"We have concluded that the accumulated liabilities could not be overcome while maintaining the quality of opera to which we are committed," said Shriver.
Founding chairman Jack Ellis, who had taken England’s lovely Glyndebourne Festival as the model and inspiration for OFNJ, added that the board felt that if it could not afford to maintain its high standard "then we were not willing to go backward with a program of less quality."
Since its founding in Lawrenceville 20 years ago, Opera Festival of New Jersey has fulfilled it claim to being a true oasis of summer music. All its supporters have had their favorites: ours have included Stravinsky’s "The Rake’s Progress," Dominick Argento’s "Postcard from Morocco," and Britten’s "Rape of Lucretia" — to name just a few.
"In 14 years of staging summer performances at Lawrenceville School, the Opera Festival of New Jersey has turned every apparent disadvantage into an advantage," wrote U.S. 1’s Elaine Strauss in 1998, the year the festival moved to McCarter Theater (where its ticket sales grew significantly). "Remote location? It offered bucolic pre-performance picnics on the campus designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. Limited backstage facilities? Its set designers reached new levels of ingenuity. Small seating capacity? Audiences extolled the virtues of the intimate hall." OFNJ had it all.
Clearly our summer music landscape is significantly diminished. U.S. 1 salutes the inspiration and hard work that went into Opera Festival’s 20 significant seasons — and mourns its loss.