“Opera is the ultimate art form. It has singing and music and drama and dance and emotion and story.”— Diane Paulus, Artistic Director
American Repertory Theater
By Kami Nguyen
The creation of the Mystic Side Opera is bringing attention to an art form underrepresented in Malden’s arts and culture scene. Currently hosting concerts, salons and performances of other musical genres in the historic Wilbur Fiske Haven House, the new company plans to stage full-scale opera productions in other venues around the city.
Mystic Side Opera was founded by Malden resident Gene Sticco after his retirement from a career in military and government contracting. The idea was inspired by his lifelong love of the genre, as well as by his wife Natalja Sticco, a mezzo soprano singer who has appeared on stages all across Europe and the U.S. They plan to put on Georges Bizet’s Carmen as their first full-scale opera with Mrs. Sticco playing the iconic titular role. A concert performance version will be showing in August.
“I probably couldn’t have been more worlds away from ending up in the arts,” Mr. Sticco said.
However, after conducting four years of industry research, he optimistically created Mystic Side Opera with hopes of addressing the gaps often found within other opera companies, such as a lack of artist support and community engagement.
Along with producing performances and events, the company provides singers with training through a partnership with Studio Lirico in Milan, Italy. They also offer professional business and agency services through a project called the New England Opera Center.
“Our goal is to make sure all the singers in our organization are able to pursue singing full time, so they don’t have to do any day job,” Mrs. Sticco said.
Mr. Sticco shared that aspiration saying, “I love people who love what they do for work and if I can be some small part of opening the doors or helping them on that journey, or giving them that little bit of encouragement, that’s more reward than anything I could ever say if I took a salary.”
Mystic Side Opera also provides free show tickets to members of the community who are on SNAP, WIC or Connect Care. This community outreach initiative is in collaboration with the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
They also hope to contribute to Malden’s emergence as an arts and culture destination, bringing outside dollars not only into the arts industry, but also to restaurants and other small businesses in the area.
“You don’t need to be a fan of opera, you need to be a fan of Malden, and see what we’re doing and the value that this can bring to the community,” Mr. Sticco said.
Prior to settling down in Malden, the company performed at fringe festivals all around the country. It was in April of this year that they moved into the Wilbur Fiske Haven House on Pleasant Street, which had been used as a private office building for several years.
“We love the space we’re in now,” Mr. Sicco said. “It’s a nice intimate space to build relationships with audiences.”
The beauty of the house inspired him to showcase other forms of art there. He hopes to eventually bring visual art, dancers, and poets into the space.
Donna Denoncourt is a Malden resident and casual opera fan who frequents shows at Berklee College of Music. She has been an enthusiastic patron of Mystic Side Opera since their earliest concerts held in Malden back in February. To her, the intimacy of the Wilbur Fiske Haven House adds to the impact of the music in particular.
“There’s so much to learn about opera but you don’t have to be knowledgeable of opera to appreciate it,” Denoncourt said. “Oftentimes it’s sung in different languages. You don’t even know what they’re saying but the music itself kind of carries you. So you can almost suspend time and place for a little while and just be with the music.”
The international nature of the opera industry is also helping to bring a diverse range of artists and audience members to Malden. Mystic Side Opera’s roster of performers includes people who come from all over Europe, Asia and the U.S.
Mrs. Sticco herself is Latvian and has been trained by vocal teachers of several different nationalities. She began her extensive music education while studying in her home country and in the Netherlands.
“Music is an international language” she said, “and probably this is what connects us. This is what makes us a great family. This is what makes us pursue our dreams.”