Valley Light Opera is a community theater group based in Amherst. They draw participants from all over the Pioneer Valley and beyond, and each fall they present a fully staged opera at the Academy of Music in Northampton.  

Producer Dave Fraser attended the show to learn more about this group that has been around for nearly 50 years.   

Read the full transcription:

Dave Fraser, Connecting Point: On a recent November evening inside the Academy of Music, members of the Valley Light Opera were rehearsing for their upcoming fall presentation of “Die Fledermaus,” one of the most popular light operas around.

The group has been performing at the Academy since 2011, but their history goes back well beyond that. Michael Greenebaum is a founding member.

Michael Greenebaum, Valley Light Opera: Only Linda Greenebaum and I remain from the dozen or so who gathered in Bill and Sally Venman’s living room on a cold March day in 1975. Bill and Sally Venman are rightfully known as the founders of Valley Light Opera.

Dave Fraser: It was Gilbert and Sullivan operas that really struck a chord with the founding members.

In the early years, the group held their performances in the auditorium of Amherst Regional High School, using classrooms as dressing rooms.

Phyllis Jordan, Valley Light Opera: And we were able to perform, to rehearse, to build sets, to build costumes, right there in that one location, which was wonderful. We were all together, a very cohesive group.

Kathy Blaisdell, Valley Light Opera: It started pretty much focused on Gilbert and Sullivan, but there are only 12 Gilbert and Sullivan shows. And so, as time went on and we were repeating the shows several times, we also started thinking about what also fits with the kind of shows that we like to do.

Dave Fraser: VLO shows include active choruses, a live orchestra, comedy and fun, all staying true to the best traditions of community theater. And that community feel is at the heart of their productions.

Claire Kenny, Valley Light Opera: It feels like people appreciated the stuff that we shared with them and that they value music and that they had a good time and that we also had a good time.

Paul Peelle, Valley Light Opera: I enjoy being on stage. I mean, I love light opera, musical comedy. It gives me an opportunity to make a fool of myself without being — and without embarrassing my wife!

Dave Fraser: One of the reasons Die Fledermaus was chosen for this year’s show was that it has an appeal for younger performers, something the group has aimed to attract more of in recent years.

Matthew Taylor is a music education major at UMass Amherst. He has performed in other operettas in the region, but this is his first time performing for Valley Light Opera.

Matthew Taylor, Valley Light Opera: Become somewhat of a path in life that I’m wanting to start to head down. So, trying to find any every — any and every opportunity I can to perform opera.

Dave Fraser: Costume design is what attracted Phyllis Jordan to the VLO. She has been part of the group since 1994.

Phyllis Jordan: Most of the shows, we do make the majority of the costumes new. We do have a very large costume collection from which we can pull and use costumes from previous shows, maybe remodel them a bit, make adjustments on them.

This particular show, we made all of the women’s gowns from scratch, and most of the men’s costumes were pulled from stock.

Dave Fraser: Counting cast, chorus, orchestra, costume and set designers, builders and volunteers, they say as many as 100 people can be involved in putting on a show.

Kathy Blaisdell: There are so many different places that people can help, and it’s lovely to see those areas that, even if they don’t want to be on stage, they can really think that community theater matters and that there’s a real place for this and that the company itself is a is a place that they want to spend their time.

Matthew Taylor: It’s kind of like a chill runs down here on your body, like, the audience is cheering and you’re standing up there. You’ve just finished singing a note and the orchestra’s played their final chord and it’s just exhilarating!