Christine Goerke is a soprano. An opera singer who has toured the world. She has sung in cities across the U.S. and abroad — her European debut was on the stage of the Paris Opera. She has sung the work of Verdi, Mozart and Wagner.
This summer, as the artistic director of Music at Southampton’s 2008 series Sustainable Treasures Goerke will bring her musical talents and those of many others in the field to East End audiences. The series at Stony Brook Southampton is entering it’s second year and if your knowledge is lacking in the arena of classical vocal music, Goerke says not to worry.
“It’s exactly the kind of audience we focus on. You don’t have to know a thing to enjoy this music.”
Goerke is a Long Island girl, a graduate of SUNY Stony Brook and, incidentally, a huge Billy Joel fan.
“He’s a great storyteller,” she says. “I think that’s one of the things I admire about him.”
Opera is also a form of storytelling and Goerke’s story began in Medford where she grew up with an interest in music, but not, ironically, singing.
“I was not a singer until I was in college. I was a clarinet player. I was interested in going to school and being a high school band teacher. I was so impressed and touched by my high school teacher, I wanted to be inspiring to kids so they’d think it’s cool.”
Goerke explains that as part of the college placement process for music majors, instrumentalists were required to take a sight singing test. At the end of her test, two of the choral directors urged her to consider the choir. In the end, Goerke ditched the clarinet and became a voice major.
“I didn’t have to carry anything,” says Goerke who began her college career at Fredonia and attended Suffolk County Community College for a year before discovering the music department at Stony Brook.
“I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t know about it,” she says. “That’s what makes me happy and sad. I’m excited we have a strong music program there and are starting to use people who are graduates. Makes me sad that for people on Long Island, our first choice is to go away. We don’t push our own schools enough. We urge students to get away from home and be at college and overlook what’s here at home.”
And what’s here at home this summer is a concert series chock full of musical offerings — not just classical vocal numbers, but jazz and cabaret as well. Goerke is charged by the new energy at Stony Brook Southampton. The Avram Theater has been given a long overdue face lift and Goerke has lined up some heavy hitters to come share their talents with East Enders this summer.
The series runs through the end of August and kicks off on Thursday, July 10 with the music of Brahms and Liebeslieder waltzes in a joint concert with PianoFest. In addition to Goerke, performers include soprano Lisa Mandelkorn, mezzo-soprano Sarah Heltzel, tenor Thomas Wazelle and baritone Dominic Inferrera. Goerke is excited about the music — and the musicians — that local audiences will have the opportunity to hear.
“In the beginning when I started doing this [singing], people would say, ‘You don’t have a real job,’” recalls Goerke. “If we do our job right, the audience should think we’re not working. We should all be in a great mood and having fun.”
The idea for Sustainable Treasures began when Goerke, who was on the board of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook and Linda Merians, the university president’s chief of staff, got wind that Stony Brook University was considering acquiring the Southampton campus.
“We had wondered about the theater there,” recalls Goerke. “I said, ‘The thing is, I grew up here, there’s a lot of high end music out there, but no vocal music.’”
“There was a big hole in classical vocal music out there. I felt we could use the theater for it.”
For the inaugural season last summer, Goerke put together a small program to see how a classical vocal series would be received by East End audiences. The response, she notes, was great and this year, she’s doubled the schedule and called on friends and musical acquaintances to lend a hand to build the festival.
“It’s a new festival, they’re all willing to come for nothing.”
Goerke also likes the idea that the festival is helping to build audiences for opera, a style of music that she feels really is for the masses.
“What’s really cool now, over the last 10 years, every opera house has supertitles or titles in the backs of the seats,” she says. “Even when I’m singing in English, you won’t get the words as easily. I think it’s great the words are in front of folks. That’s what the art form was originally about. It was the equivalent of Broadway.”
“We don’t want anything to be elitist.”
The first concert in the series will be in German. Goerke notes that all the text will be available for the audience.
“If you happen to come in from a day on the water in boat shoes and shorts, that’s fine,” she says. “We don’t care about the tux. Come have a glass of wine and cheese, come have a picnic, hear some music. That’s it. No high falootin’ things here.”
“We’re doing three classical recitals and a joint recital with PiaonoFest,” explains Goerke. “The stuff we’re singing for the most part is not operatic, but art song — you don’t get the costumes and scenery. It’s text and music. There’s not a single pair of eyes I couldn’t see from the stage.”
“It’s a kick,” she adds. “I think, ‘What’s this song about? What does it mean to me and how do I make it come across in three minutes?’ It’s a challenge every time you open your mouth and everyone coming is good at it”.
In addition to the classical recitals, this season, Goerke notes there have been some additional musical stylings added to the roster.
“We took an exit poll last year,” she says. “Folks had asked for cabaret and jazz concerts so we’ve added those. I’m a classical singer, I know a lot of people in that end of the business. I also have friends in Broadway and as far as being advisors, I asked them ‘Can we afford them?’ Why not give a shot. We’re a fledgling festival, in the beginning everyone is working on a shoestring. Those who come really want to be there.”
The series will include a concert by jazz tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm on July 17 and a concert by the New Jazz Generation on August 21 as well as a concert of standards from the American songbook on July 24 and a full out evening of Broadway cabaret on July 28.
“We’re big on hearing from folks about what they want to hear,” says Goerke. “We actually got a huge range of folks last season. We asked if they were local, travelers, weekenders. It was unbelievably mixed. Every age was in there too. It made me so happy to see people come out for the first year.”
“The fact the theater is renovated is great,” she adds. “I’m really proud of something that can bring this much high level vocal music out here as well. I’ve dreamed of it.”
Music at Southampton’s 2008 series “Sustainable Treasures” offers eight concerts on Thursday evenings from July 10 to August 28. All concerts begin at 8 p.m. in the Avram Theater at Stony Brook Southampton. Concert goers are invited to arrive early to picnic on the grounds and stay after the performance to meet the artists at post-concert receptions. Tickets are $40 ($25 for Stony Brook University and Southampton College alumni,Â $25 for senior citizens and $15 for students). Tickets for a series of four or more concerts are $25 each. To reserve by phone, call 632-8000. Tickets may be purchased at the Avram Theater beginning at 6:30 p.m. on the night of each performance. For a full concert schedule, visit www.stonybrook.edu/treasures.