Viva Verdi: La Traviata at Rhinebeck High

John Kaneklides in La Traviata (photo by Guy Peifer)

John Kaneklides in La Traviata (photo by Guy Peifer)

The Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra (NDSO) opens its eighth concert season with Giuseppe Verdi’s tragic opera La Traviata, performed at the Rhinebeck High School on October 20. Launched in 2006, the orchestra, which presents four performances a year, will team up with the Delaware Valley Opera, who will provide the singers, including soprano Julie-Anne Humula as Violetta and tenor John Kaneklides as her true love Alfredo. Bard graduate Meredith Hudak will play the part of Violetta’s servant and another courtesan. Accompanying the singers will be a chorus comprised of selected high school students from Red Hook, Hyde Park, Arlington and other school districts.

“I’m excited that these students will get to sing opera and be on the stage with professional opera singers who travel the world,” said NDSO music director Kathleen Beckmann. A retired orchestra director from the Hyde Park School District who has been with the orchestra since its inception – she is the recent recipient of an Individual Artists Arts Award from the Dutchess County executive – Beckmann said the high school chorus’ participation fits in perfectly with the educational mission of NDSO.

The aim of NDSO, which started out as “a group of us sitting around the kitchen table,” is to “provide a high-quality classical music experience that’s a little more affordable for people in a comfortable setting, which is why we perform at the school,” Beckmann said. (The exception is the pops concert in June, which is performed at the Cunneen-Hackett Arts Center in Poughkeepsie.) Tickets cost only $20 general admission, $15 for seniors and $5 for students; and the free parking and lack of steps to the lobby, auditorium and rest rooms make the performances particularly accessible to seniors and people in wheelchairs.


The orchestra itself has a refreshing diversity, noted Beckmann. “There’s a wonderful mix of ages and experience level,” she said. “We have retired New York Philharmonic players, many area musicians who play with the Hudson Valley Philharmonic, Albany Symphony and Newburgh, and full-time public school music teachers.” For the pops concert, talented students from the Curtis Institute, Oberlin and other college music conservancies are hired.

The orchestra members range from 50 for the performance of the symphonic work, which is scheduled for February, and the pops concert, which always has a theme – in 2014 it’s “I’ve got the blues”; it goes without saying that there’ll be a performance of Rhapsody in Blue – to 26 for the opera. The performance of La Traviata will feature rudimentary sets, costumes and most importantly, projected English translations of the sung Italian. Act Two will be abridged to keep the performance time down to just under two hours. “I want people who have never attended an opera to enjoy the experience and avoid the perception it was too long,” said Beckmann.

The NDSO started out just doing two performances, and each year its audience gets bigger, she noted. That said, “We are not as well-known as we’d liked to be. It takes a long time to build a following.” Funding is a combination of fundraisers held by the board, pursuit of grants and corporate and private donations. “In this economy it’s very challenging to keep going. So many arts organizations are bankrupt,” she said. “You’re constantly watching your budget and doing the best you can with the resources you have. We’re the best-kept secret in Rhinebeck, and we’d like to change that.”

Verdi’s La Traviata, Northern Dutchess Symphony Orchestra, Sunday, October 20, 3 p.m., $20/$15/$5, Rhinebeck High School, 45 North Park Road, Rhinebeck; (845) 635-0877,