Besides welcoming the first day of spring yesterday, Madison Opera celebrated a milestone: the groundbreaking ceremony for the Madison Opera Center, the company's new office space located on the ground floor of Metropolitan Place II condominiums at 335 W. Mifflin St.
About 30 of us, in wintertime gear, made our way through the loading-dock doors in the rear of the building just off Broom Street. Donors, trustees and members of Madison's business community joined general director Kathryn Smith and artistic director John DeMain, in what will be the rehearsal hall for the new space.
We had to use our imaginations to envision how the center will look when it's finished this summer. The front doors weren't in yet, the floor was mostly dirt, and no interior walls separated the office space from the rehearsal hall or the music library from costume shop. But one thing was evident: It's going to be big.
"It would be easy to put the Madison Symphony Orchestra in here," said DeMain. "Maybe we can even put Aida in here." Verdi's Aida, set in ancient Egypt, is a huge opera in which there can be as many as 2,000 people on stage, plus elephants and camels.
When Smith was hired as general director of the Madison Opera in 2011, one of her jobs was to find new office space for the company, a task that seemed alien for someone whose main goal is to deliver high-quality opera to the public. But she softened to the idea over time.
"When we walked in here, we were blown away by the windows, the space and the 88 covered parking stalls," she said. "The Madison Opera will be a different company after we move in, and a year from now we'll wonder why we didn't do this sooner."
This will be the first time in the company's 52-year history that all opera activities can be performed under one roof. Over the years, rehearsals have been scattered, with the opera chorus rehearsing in one space while the rest of the company rehearsed in another. It will also move the company from its present location, on Madison's near west side, to the heart of downtown. The center will be just a few blocks away from Overture Center, where its operas are staged, and the new Central Library.
If you're strolling down Mifflin Street, you can even look in through the building's large picture windows and see a rehearsal of an opera in process. It's a place where people on the go can enjoy a little culture.
After the groundbreaking ceremony the group walked to Capitol Lakes Retirement Community for a toast. In the Grand Hall, we raised our glasses to all the people in the Madison Opera's history who would have loved to see this moment, like the late Ann Stanke and the late Roland Johnson, the company's co-founders. Another toast went to all the angels in the community and to a special anonymous donor whose generous gift made this moment possible.
"The first offices for the company were in Ann Stanke's living room," said DeMain. "Now the offices and the art are in the same place. At last, Madison Opera has a home."