Ashley Faatoalia

Ashley Faatoalia is at the forefront of modern opera, changing the game.

For the second installment in its summer performance series, Sun Valley Opera has recruited the versatile acclaimed tenor Ashley Faatoalia for a Signature Salon concert on Thursday, July 25.

Faatoalia’s program for the Sun Valley Opera will mosey through the art form’s history, featuring a few arias and some operatic favorites from the likes of “Carmen” and “L’elisir d’amore.”

The tenor will also branch out to demonstrate his full artistic range. Art songs, spirituals, some pop and some gospel will diversify the lineup before he concludes with some George Gershwin classics.

Diversity is the spice of life and art alike for Faatoalia, and he believes opera can be a progressive, ever-developing medium. For Faatoalia, opera need not remain an Old World, European art form. To him, that history forms a steady base and a reliable jumping off point, rather than a strict set of artistic boundaries.

“The traditions of the art form are deserving of respect, but I also think it’s really cool to go beyond them, to evolve, to include other people. I’m very much a rebel in that sense,” he said with a chuckle. “I show up at the opera house in flipflops for rehearsals.”

If anything, Faatoalia feels this philosophy is in keeping with the core principles of early opera. Speaking of the mode’s forerunners, he said, “Those guys back in the day were rock stars and rebels. They were doing something new, something edgy. It’s up to us to keep doing that.”

With recent shows in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the country, Faatoalia has carved out a position for himself at the forefront of contemporary opera. New operas like “Invisible Cities”—based on the novel by Italo Calvino—and Anthony Davis’ “The Central Park Five”—which just premiered last month—are pushing the envelope on what opera can mean.

Faatoalia starred as Marco Polo in “Invisible Cities,” which was performed in Los Angeles’ Union Station. The Pulitzer-nominated opera defied traditional staging as actors engaged directly with audience members and passersby, using the full acoustical range of the architecture.

“The Central Park Five” subverted and upended many stereotypes of the operatic form. Its subject material—the true story of a 1989 rape case and its continuing fallout—challenges the limits of what this typically grandiose art form can achieve, and the music incorporates notes of hip-hop and jazz.

By diversifying subject matter, music, production techniques and more, Faatoalia has noticed his audiences broadening as well.

“Modern opera is opening doors and diversifying audiences,” he said. “We’re pushing the whole thing forward and reaching a whole new group of people. That’s how a thing survives.

“Composers like Anthony Davis and others are moving towards political statements, social justice and historical tales. They’re changing the game, but I most like the newer trend of trying to make a real impact with the audience in the moment.”

In “Invisible Cities” especially, Faatoalia and his colleagues were able to witness firsthand the effect they were having on their audience.

"It’s not confrontational,” he said. “It’s basically the idea that the audience is the other player in the show, the previously missing element.”

As such, he favors performances in intimate settings, like the one he has coming up for the Sun Valley Opera.

"That’s what I really like,” he said. “Relating to the audience in a setting like that, if the room is really intimate and engaged, then I’m even more engaged. I love it.”

The Signature Salon concert on Thursday, July 25, will begin with a cocktail hour at 6:30 p.m., followed by Faatoalia’s performance at 7:30 p.m. The event will be held in a private home nearby, the location of which will be disclosed upon ticket purchase.

For more information or to acquire tickets, visit sunvalleyopera.com.

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