The Founding of
Light Opera Works
Philip Kraus developed an early interest in the wonderful operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan in his youth. The interest was largely laid aside during his undergraduate years at Northwestern University until a close friend convinced him to audition for a role in the Northwestern Gilbert and Sullivan Guild production of The Gondoliers in 1972. Kraus was awarded the part of Don Alhambra del Bolero and his life would be forever changed in the process. Continuing into his Masters and Doctoral degrees, Kraus became an avid player and stage director in the Northwestern organization directing productions of Patience and Iolanthe and appearing in several others. It kindled an avid interest in operetta as an art form.
In the late 1970's it became clear to Kraus that operetta was suffering as an art form in the United States due mostly to the fact that it had been relegated to well meaning but often mercilessly amateur theatrical and musical societies. Operetta was not such a distant relative of opera itself and demanded the same kind of musical and production values that major and regional companies were lavishing on the standard repertoire. Since many of these companies rarely did operetta (or looked down upon it altogether), it seemed a logical course to start up a professional company devoted to the art form in the Chicago area, which at the time had no professional troupe devoted strictly to light opera.
In 1980 after finishing his Masters of Music at Northwestern and while in residence for his Doctorate, Kraus met with some Northwestern theater alumni at the The Third Rail restaurant in Evanston to discuss the possibility of forming a professional light opera company. The recent success of Opera Midwest, a new apera company on Chicago's north shore, had made the notion of actually founding a company look rather easy. Little did they know that Opera Midwest had mostly been funded with embezzled money and that in actuality, founding an opera company from virtually nothing was a rather difficult and in some ways, ludicrous task.
Kraus and his cohorts decided to form a board of directors and start the company with absolutely nothing in the bank. The name Light Opera Works was cooked up by Kraus. There was a desire not to regionalize the company with names that included Evanston, Chicago, or the North Shore. To raise money to start the company, friends and families were solicited and several benefits were planned. Curiously, the first full production of an opera done by the fledgling company was Pergolesi's intermezzo La Serva Padrona which was done in full costume and minimal sets at Monastero's Restaurant in 1980 conducted by the company's first music director Barnard Jones and featuring Kraus as Uberto, Nancy Ricker as Serpina and Robert Fitzgerald as Vespone in the three character work.
Serpina (Nancy Ricker), Vespone (Robert Fitzgerald) and Uberto (Philip Kraus) in the La Serva Padrona fund raiser
Serpina (Nancy Ricker), Vespone (Robert Fitzgerald) in La Serva Padrona
Thus the company began. With very little money in the bank, the new arts organization moved into a closet sized space in the then new Noyes Cultural Arts Center run by the City of Evanston. Further monies were raised, but certainly not enough to fund the first season. It was hoped that ticket sales would be brisk and that a private financial "angel" might be found. Undaunted, Kraus and his company moved forward regardless of the financial hurdles, announced a first season, produced a brochure, hired artists and production staff and then proceeded to lose alot of money!!!
The new professional company would start with two mainstage productions a year presented in Northwestern's Cahn Auditorium. By the the third season, this would be increased to three. Musical fidelity to the operetta genre was one of Kraus' main concerns and a full pit orchestra would have to be engaged to execute the composer's original orchestrations. The company would have gotten nowhere were it not for the many talented local vocal artists and musicians who agreed to perform with the company both as leads and in the chorus and orchestra for less than stellar fees.
Somehow, it all came together through the energy and self sacrifice of everone concerned. It is to all those wonderful men and women that this website celebrating the golden years of Light Opera Works is dedicated.