Central Florida Vocal Arts artistic director Eric Pinder discusses ‘A Little Night Music’ and ‘Cocaine Bear: The Opera’

‘I’m going to make the cocaine bear a countertenor.’

click to enlarge The cast of "A Little Night Music," Central Florida Vocal Arts' 11th season opener - image courtesy CFVA
image courtesy CFVA
The cast of "A Little Night Music," Central Florida Vocal Arts' 11th season opener

When Live Active Cultures last checked in with performer-director Eric Pinder in October 2022, Orlando’s most ardent opera and ice hockey enthusiast was in the midst of bringing to life Central Florida Vocal Arts and Opera Del Sol’s post-pandemic production of Hansel & Gretel at the Dr. Phillips Center. Nearly a year later, Pinder has been newly named as artistic director of both organizations, and is returning to the Pugh Theater on Aug. 18-20 for CFVA’s 11th season opener, Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. I recently asked my longtime friend to fill me in about his new role, the season’s stripped-down aesthetic, and his hopes to bring a certain drug-addled ursine to the Orlando Fringe Festival.

What are your goals as artistic director of CFVA and Opera Del Sol?

I’m so very excited to be the artistic director, and to work with people [at] bringing in less-known pieces that are wonderful and for whatever reason haven’t been done in this town. I would love to develop a whole sort of organization where people think, “Oh, I don’t know that show. But everything they do has been great, so I’m going to take a chance and go see it.”

Why is an opera company performing a Broadway musical by Stephen Sondheim?

It’s funny to me that Sondheim, who was such a musical genius, really didn’t care for opera. It’s very complex, difficult music, and to me all of A Little Night Music sounds so simple because a lot of them are waltzes; it’s mostly in three-quarter time, [with] a few exceptions, but the music just sort of flows along. And until you actually study the score, you don’t realize how complex it really is.

And why the stripped-down staging?

We do like to highlight the voice, but there is another practical reason that we don’t have a lot of sets: We don’t have the space to build or store them. Since we’re renting theaters around town, we don’t have a place to store everything, so things tend to be minimal because it’s just easier for us. But I think that works to our strength, in that what we’re doing is highlighting the vocal capabilities and performance capabilities of our singers and actors.

And finally: Are you serious about staging Cocaine Bear [the campy "ripped from the headlines" action thriller released in February]?

It started kind of actually as a joke. Someone said Cocaine Bear: The Musical, and I thought, “No, Cocaine Bear: The Opera.” And when we did Hansel & Gretel, the singer who played the Sandman [was] a countertenor, and I loved working with him. He was a great “stage animal,” meaning that I just had to give him one tiny bit of direction and he took it and surpassed my expectations. … He’s also a very tall man, and I thought, “Here’s our bear.”

I’m going to make the cocaine bear a countertenor, so his music will be more in the Baroque style — things that were written for countertenors, early music like Handel, Haydn, that sort of thing. Then everyone else will sing other bits of opera, famous things we know from Bizet, some Verdi … but I’m going to change all the words; it’ll be in English.

In the movie the bear lives, but our bear is going to die, because of course the bear needs a death scene; in all good operas, there should be a death scene. I think it’s an excellent Fringe idea, but it also kind of suits my mission: I’m trying to get more people to see opera who normally would never go [to an opera]. Sadly, you won’t always have a bear on cocaine in any opera you see, but the music will still be fantastic.

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