A local group of singers is breaking down barriers by inviting the public to enjoy opera…for free. The West Michigan Opera Project (WMOP) will be performing Carlisle Floyd’s “Susannah” with the Kalamazoo Philharmonia on Saturday, Nov. 3 at Fountain Street Church. The opera follows the story of a young woman who suffers from the judgment and abuse of others.
Sarah Faasse, founder of WMOP, can’t wait to bring the lesser-known narrative to life and share it with the community.
“When I chose this, I chose it about a year and a half ago, it was one that I had always wanted to do,” she said. “I had no idea all the stuff with Trump and with all this political stuff going on and the ‘Me Too’ movement just taking off in such a huge way… I feel like I’m just super excited to be able to do this at this time and this place.”
Faasse said the show, based on the biblical Apocrypha “Susanna and the Elders,” moved her deeply when she first saw it at the Santa Fe Opera years ago. She felt the story needed to be told.
“What I love about the opera that’s different than the story in the Bible, is that in the Bible, there’s a moral,” she said. “In the opera, there’s no moral, really. So, it’s my vision for this show that when the audience is done experiencing this story, they will be moved to make the ending for themselves,” she continued.
“I’ve invited the Mental Health Foundation to come and I have Women at Risk that are going to be setting up a table in the back. I wanted to provide a way for the audience to feel that they could make a difference.”
After graduating from Calvin College with a music and education degree, Faasse traveled the world to perform. She returned home to raise her family and, to her surprise, she discovered untapped vocal talent right in her own backyard. Shortly after, she founded WMOP.
“I created the West Michigan Opera Project to give local singers opportunities and also for the audience to be exposed to operas that they may never have heard of before,” Faasse said. “When you don’t have a large budget and you don’t have to worry about ticket sales, I feel like you can be more creative with what you’re able to present.”
The nonprofit provides workshops, musical education and vocal opportunities for singers of all ages. Faasse also hopes to use the accessibility of the West Michigan Opera Project to dispel perceptions about opera being an art form only the wealthy can appreciate.
“I just feel like opera’s got such a stigma of high-end taste, but it’s really an amazing way to tell a story,” she said. “When you have the orchestra, you’ve got an incredible story to tell and you add that with the theater and the human voice… it’s for all people, it’s not just for people who can afford a $95 ticket.
“We have a strong belief in providing free performances,” she continued. “We never charge the audience because we want to be open to all. Our motto is ‘opera for all.’”
The WMOP and Kalamazoo Philharmonia will be giving an encore performance of “Susannah” on Saturday, Nov. 10 at the Dalton Theater at Kalamazoo College.
Learn more at West Michigan Opera Project.
*Photo by Robert Stone