Welcome to the Puccini’s Toaster Blog! The goal for this space is to give you a bit more behind-the-scenes access to what is going on at Puccini’s Toaster. We will post project updates and hopefully have the chance to interact with you through the comments section. While someday I hope this blog can be written in German, right now my most authentic voice is in English, so that is where I will start.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Sarah Ring, and I am the Intendant of Puccini’s Toaster and a Co-Managing Diva of Opera on Tap Berlin. Puccini’s Toaster grew out of a collaboration between Caroline Staunton and me while we were working together on Opera on Tap Berlin’s First-Anniversary production of Les Contes d’Hoffmann. The production was relatively successful (you can read about it in Opera Magazine’s June 2016 edition), and shortly after it was over it became apparent we’d both been energized by the experience and wanted to do more projects like it.
People often ask where the name comes from, so I’ll tell you. When we were brainstorming, we wrote our favorite words down on slips of paper for inspiration. “Toast” was one of Caroline’s. “Toast” grew to “Toaster” and after trying a few different composer combinations, “Puccini’s Toaster” is what stuck. It was the last name I ever thought we’d pick, but once it popped up it wouldn’t go away. I like that it is a bit ridiculous because it allows us to take ourselves seriously… but not so seriously that we overestimate what we are, which is a small independent group with zero money in the bank, attempting to make a place for ourselves in a crowded field that includes three of the best opera houses in the world. Despite all that, we are soldiering forth because we love opera. We believe even with the abundance of great music in this city, there can never be enough.
It occurred to us in hindsight how a toaster is a good metaphor for how we will produce our shows. We joke that toasters “take something old & stale and turn it into something hot, fresh & delicious”. It’s a good image, but I realize it could be interpreted we are implying what is happening in traditional opera houses is old and stale. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Some of the most electrifying stuff in opera is happening on the stages of the big houses right here in Berlin nearly every day of the week, all year round (save for about a month and a half pause in the summer). Exciting productions include Barrie Kosky’s production of Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Claus Guth’s interpretation of Martinů’s Juliette, and the Deutsche Oper’s highly anticipated premiere of Gianni, a collaboration between them and band Brandt Brauer Frick; all are examples of how the houses of this city are pushing the boundaries of opera on a regular basis.
Even with all of this tremendous work happening in Berlin, there is still a large group of people in this city who have never been to an opera. It is a big discussion in the opera community worldwide as audiences age and ticket sales drop. The question on everyone’s mind is how to get the younger generation interested in opera so that the art form does not meet an untimely end due to lack of interest.
Perhaps the only thing “old and stale” about what is happening in opera today is the way in which it is consumed. Young people do not seem to want to go to the opera house, so the solution seems to be to bring opera to where young people want to go. Opera on Tap Berlin was recently mentioned in an article in the International New York Times about a phenomenon they dubbed “classical clubbing”. The author explores a growing movement of classical groups that are performing in places like bars and clubs with great success in drawing in new audiences that do not often frequent traditional performance venues. Graham Vick, the artistic director for Birmingham Opera Company, has another interesting take on independent opera, which you can read about here. Puccini’s Toaster is part of an existing movement of groups whose goal is to offer alternative ways to interact with classical music and show people there is nothing old and stale about an art form founded in 1598.
There you have it, my musings on who we are, where we came from and what we hope to achieve. We would love to see you at our inaugural production of Dido & Aeneas! You can also support us by becoming a Toaster Team Member. The party is just getting started.