Opera Saratoga partners with Caffe Lena to promote artists of color

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Opera Saratoga operates on another playing field of talent. Its programs are exceptional, its talent exquisite, its presence revered.

The one thing it wants to improve? Diversity within the program and its audience, said Larry Edelson, artistic and general director of Opera Saratoga.

“Opera in our country is generally white lead, and we’re no different, as I am a white man,” Edelson said, “but we want to serve audiences that reflect the diversity of our community.”

Starting on Thursday, Opera Saratoga will be teaming up with Caffe Lena to perform “America Sings,” a monthly concert promoting black, indigenous and artists of color. All shows will be streamed from Caffe Lena for free. Thursday’s concert features mezzo-soprano Deborah Nansteel, a renowned talent who has performed with almost all leading opera companies in the United States, including the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall. To view the live stream, visit their website here. When George C. Wolfe took over leadership of The Public Theater, he said he wanted the audiences, staff and artists at The Public to be as diverse as the people you would see in a New York City subway station.

“Wolfe’s quote really resonated with me and since we’ve had this major awakening in the United States, Opera Saratoga is asking itself what we can do to amplify BIPOC voices and artists,” Edelson said.

Edelson was the one who facilitated the connection between Opera Saratoga and Caffe Lena. Calling Caffe Lena a “treasure,” the venue is beloved for its contributions to the folk scene, a legacy that has been continuous since its opening in 1960. Despite its reverence in the folk industry, the venue is known for more than being Bob Dylan’s step stool into the mainstream.

“Caffe Lena has always emphasized elevating diversity with our music selection,” executive director Sarah Craig said, “and Opera Saratoga brings a connection that we didn’t have.”

Previous live streams have served Caffe Lena well. Virtual concert tip jars have been one of the venue’s main sources of income since the pandemic hit, shuttering local businesses and venues with choking restrictions.

“We’re so honored to be working with an organization as talented as Opera Saratoga and we can’t wait to see this incredible line-up perform,” Craig said.

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