Cultural inroads; Internationally known soprano returns to hometown for performance at Eagle Hill.
International opera soprano Darlene Ann Dobisch believes in overtly trying to overcome some of the obstacles that can get in the way of people being exposed to and enjoying classical music.
Dobisch was in a production of "The Magic Flute in the Subway" that was literally put on at a subway station in Berlin, Germany. Meanwhile, she has devised her own recital program titled "A Colorful Collage of Classical Composers," which seeks to engage the audience more personally with the composers in question.
In between performing works by Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi and others, Dobisch has written a narrative placing each piece in context.
"A little description of the composers themselves and what was going on in their lives so people can connect to it and know what's going on as opposed to just saying, `That's nice,'" Dobisch commented. "It is a concept of breaking down barriers."
Hopefully, someone attending such a recital might say, " `Oh, that was interesting. Maybe I'll go to another one,' " she said.
Still, Dobisch, who was raised in Hardwick, might have never thought that she would be presenting her collage and knocking down walls in a concert in her hometown. Hardwick is a nice small town (population just under 3,000), and Dobisch, who has lived in Germany for the past few years, likes it a lot. "Small as it is, it is a very beautiful town," she said. But giving a full recital there?
Make that her first recital in the United States in 11 years?
"No, absolutely not," she said.
But during visits back to the area (her parents now live in Barre) Dobisch did notice that something was going on at the Eagle Hill School in Hardwick. "I was very excited to see that there was a cultural center going up when I visited home," she said.
So it is that Dobisch, accompanied by local classical pianist legend Sima Kustanovich, will present "A Colorful Collage of Classical Composers" at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at The Cultural Center at Eagle Hill in Hardwick. Since it opened in 2008, the center has hosted concerts featuring an array of musical styles and genres, and has a "Classical Celebrations" series (which the Jan. 20 concert is part of).
"I'm very excited to be there," said Dobisch, who will also take her recital to some other area venues during her latest return journey Jan.16 to 29.
Germany has become her personal and professional home as she has established a full-time professional singing career. She has performed with the NDR Chorus, been a soloist at Theater Neustrelitz, was a regular with the Mecklenburg State Theater, and most recently has been a singer with Opernloft in Hamburg, where roles have included Violetta in Verdi's "La Traviata" and Queen of the Night in Mozart's "The Magic Flute" (about which role/aria more later).
She is also active with the baroque group Brockwerk Hamburg. Upcoming performances include the role of the Countess in Mozart's "The marriage of Figaro" at Berlin's Bode Museum.
Dobisch - who lives in Hamburg with her husband and daughter - is her married name. She grew up in the Wheelwright section of Hardwick as Darlene Ann Patterson.
Her family background was not musical, but something happened to her as a girl when she heard an orchestra and a singer on the TV in her home. "I would run to the television as a 5-year-old, (imaginary) microphone in hand, performing in front of my parents," she recalled during a recent telephone interview from Hamburg.
She graduated from Quabbin Regional High School, and studied voice at Clark University and the University of Michigan. Among her teachers was Worcester soprano Maria Ferrante. In Germany, she received an artist's diploma with honors at the Lubeck Conservatory.
However, a defining moment for Dobisch occurred back at Clark when she was taking a music history class. The class watched a video of "The Magic Flute," with the Queen of the Night singing her famous aria "Der Holle Rache."
"I said, `That's it.' It was really like falling in love. I said `I have to do that someday.' "
The first time she did was in a performance at the University of Michigan. She was again Queen of the Night in "The Magic Flute in the Subway," the underground 2008 production in Berlin (she also alternated with the role of Papagena). The location was a new subway station Bundestag, not scheduled for use until 2009, located in the center of Berlin. The "auditorium" was the entire railway station, the rail tracks on one side filled up by seats. Christoph Hagel directed, and the production got a lot of favorable press. "It was kind of a (career) breakthrough," Dobisch said.
Living in Germany, a classical singer can make a living, Dobisch said. "I am. Not an extremely impressive living. But it's going ...
"The key in Germany is you can take a position and live from music. I wanted to earn a living (singing) and not sing on the side."
A lot of opera houses are subsidized by the government, but in these economic times subsidies have been reduced, she noted. "Things are changing."
Still, "In Germany there is a large amount of culture in small places. They might have a small town, but they have a beautiful church" - and at that church they might have a lot of cultural programming, Dobisch said.
Almost sounds like ... Hardwick, a small town now with a vibrant cultural center that's going out of its way to introduce people to classical music (in March the Worcester Chamber Music Society will be part of the "Classical Celebrations" series).
"One can never predict," Dobisch said of her return journey performance, "but I have a pretty good feeling for it."
"A Cultural Collage of Classical Composers" - Darlene Ann Dobisch, soprano
When: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 20
Where: The Cultural Center at Eagle Hill, 242 Old Petersham Road, Hardwick
How much: $15; $13 students and seniors. For more information, call (413) 477-6746; www.centerateaglehill.org
CUTLINE: Opera soprano Darlene Ann Dobisch grew up in the Wheelwright section of Hardwick but now lives in Germany.
PHOTOG: SUBMITTED PHOTO