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High Culture Meets the High Desert with Fire Island Opera Festival

New York-based opera singer Jeremy Hirsch organized a makeshift vocal orchestra at Mimms Ranch. He is a member of the Fire Island Opera Festival that came to Marfa for three days of celebration of and education about opera. (Lorne Matalon)

The high desert of West Texas was the stage for high culture over the weekend.

The Fire Island Opera Festival from New York and Marfa Live Arts teamed up to hear and celebrate opera, an art form that combines, poetry, music, live theatre and dance.

Operatic sounds echoed across Mimms Ranch in Marfa Sunday afternoon. A circle of people surrounded Amy Shore-Obr, a soprano from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and Samantha Malk, a South African mezzo-soprano.

That followed two days and nights of performances that included arias from classics like Carmen and The Marriage of Figaro. The crowd also got into the act themselves out at the ranch.

Singer Jeremy Hirsch organized the crowd into sections of an ad hoc acapella orchestra.

We spoke with the Artistic Director of the Fire Island Opera Festival, Edwin Cahill - who explained his vision of opera.

“Less as a grand art form, but as something that’s similar to around the campfire to tell the age-old stories of our humanity," he said.

"And in the age of iPads and high definition television, I think what opera in particular can offer is a three dimensional experience, the unaided sound of the human voice.” 

The opera festival also had a West Texas connection: part-time Marfa resident and artist Charles Mary Kubricht designed some of the opera group’s sets.

Lorne Matalon contributed reporting

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.