New opera house opening at converted church in Southold
A blue banner hangs above the door of the former Southold United Methodist Church advertising something new for the space: opera, violin and piano lessons.
Purchased last July by professional opera singer Anne-Julia Audray and her husband, Olivier Chazareix, the former house of worship is now The Southold Opera Company, which will host performances, master classes, individual lessons, costume workshops and more.
“Singing helps people,” Ms. Audray said. “It helps people have straighter posture, breathe better, be joyful. It brings a special energy and cleans the body, it brings a new enthusiasm.”
Entering through the front doors, a visitor stands in the performance room. The altar has been repurposed as a stage with an organ in a back corner and pews have been rearranged as audience seating, surrounded on three sides by the original stained glass windows.
To the right of the stage, the couple added a wall with large windows that can be removed when audiences exceeds the front room’s maximum capacity of 230 people. The removable windows will enable additional guests to sit in a separate room and still enjoy the full opera experience, Ms. Audray said.
The space will also be used as a master classroom.
“A master class is when a master in their craft gives a lesson to the group,” she explained, adding that she has invited teachers from the Metropolitan Opera and The Juilliard School to give classes. “Every student has to go on stage by themselves and sing for the class while the master gives advice.”
Connected to the reception room are two smaller spaces, also to be used for instruction. Ms. Audray said classes would be offered for children and adults, and she emphasized that although she’s taught professional opera singers in the past and will continue to do so in Southold, no experience is required to enroll in certain classes and performances. Programs will include individual, duet, small group and large group options.
Additionally, she’s hoping to create an opera company to perform throughout the year. She’s looking to have the first performance be a holiday show in December followed by a production next summer adapted from operas based on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
The Southold Opera Company owner will be on location Wednesday through Sunday, she said. Monday and Tuesday she’ll spend in Manhattan, where she runs The Audray School for Singing at Lincoln Center and serves as executive director and president of the Long Island Opera Company.
Ms. Audray began singing opera around age 14. She had played piano since age 5, and her grandmother gave her opera scores to practice at around age 12, the French-born singer said.
“I was singing in south France and the windows were open and someone rang my bell,” she said. “It was my neighbor and she said ‘I’m an opera singer; you’re so talented you have to go to conservatory.’ I went the following day … once I started, I never stopped.”
She said classes at the Southold Opera Company are set to begin in about two weeks and renovations should be completed in October.
Ms. Audray will host an open house there this Saturday, Sept. 17, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The company’s violin teacher, Chloé Kiffer, and piano teacher, Paolo Bartolani, will also be on hand to demonstrate what they’ll do in class.
Photo: Anne-Julia Audray outside the former Southold United Methodist Church. (Credit: Nicole Smith)