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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Revolution and Freedom in the 55th Season

A conversation with Skylight’s new Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman

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Viswa Subbaraman (pronounced VISH-wah Soo-buh-RAH-mahn) begins his tenure as artistic director for the Skylight Music Theatre during the 2013-2014 season. The 36-year-old West Texas native recently moved to Milwaukee and will kick off SMT’s 55th season with an innovative and eclectic choice of shows ranging from classic opera to cutting-edge musical theater. Off the Cuff recently caught up with the Fulbright scholar and founder of the Houston-based Opera Vista to discuss art, opera and his first ever Wisconsin winter:

 

How did you go about choosing such an adventurous season?

I set about to find and develop a conversation with the audience that focused on one aspect of our shared humanity. That conversation will revolve around revolution and freedom. I then tried to select shows that would both fit the Skylight’s mission of performing all types of music theatre and progress our conversation while maintaining variety in the season.

 

What factors did you consider in choosing shows such as Les Misérables? Hydrogen Jukebox? El Cimarrón?

Well, Les Misérables is a classic music theatre piece that I felt we could bring a new angle [to] and take on. Because of the Skylight’s more intimate setting I feel that we could truly focus on the drama and story of the work in a way that other companies perhaps wouldn’t.

Hydrogen Jukebox is a piece I have loved for years. I was excited when I realized that it would be a perfect piece for the season. The Skylight has also never programmed a work by Philip Glass, so it is a really exciting prospect for our company.

El Cimarrón is a wonderful collaboration between the Skylight and the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York City. The work is not an easy one as it looks at one of the more despicable aspects of our own humanity—slavery. While I believe art can and should be entertaining, it should also be thought provoking.

 

For those shows new to your repertoire, which have been a personal or professional goal to stage? Why?

I would say Fidelio. Beethoven is a composer close to my heart. He was a true humanist and believed in the brotherhood of man. Fidelio is a story of freedom, revolution and redemption through love. I guess I’m a hopeless romantic at heart.

 

You’ve previously talked about partnerships with other companies, such as Opera Vista, which you recently left for Skylight. How do you envision those partnerships working?

Our first one is happening this season with New York’s Center for Contemporary Opera. I think the smart way to approach these partnerships is to keep an open mind to the needs of each partnering company. It will work differently with each group. I knew CCO was interested in El Cimarrón, and it was simpler for them for us to produce the work in Milwaukee, so we structured the partnership that way.

 

You’re quite the cyclist. Since you’ll now have to deal with our Wisconsin winters, any thoughts on how you’ll bike during the frigid months here?

Hah! I'm looking into buying a trainer to put my bike on for the winters. They are expensive, though!