Madison Lyric Stage gets serious about high art

Tenor Marc Deaton performs in "The Swan Knight."
Tenor Marc Deaton performs in "The Swan Knight." Photo by Michael Marsland

If you build it, they will come, and if you raise the bar, they will rise to meet it, according to Marc Deaton. The veteran opera star, who splits his time between Madison and New York City, has created Madison Lyric Stage with a mission to bring high culture to the shoreline.

Deaton is quick to admit that there are plenty of organizations across the shoreline that provide entertainment to residents. What's missing, he believes, is "the kind of serious music, serious art, serious theater and serious dance that provokes thought...It's the difference between a musical comedy and a piece by (Eugene) O'Neill.

"I think there's a place for all types of entertainment, but I feel like high culture has been left behind," says Deaton, who has enjoyed a 24-plus-year career in opera, performing extensively and internationally as a dramatic tenor. "I don't think the audience on the shoreline needs to be pandered to...You have to know your audience, but you also have to push your audience."

Deaton did just that with a recent performance in New Haven of "The Swan Knight" by Glen Cortese with libretto by Deaton. An original musical mono-drama for tenor, piano quintet and film, "The Swan Knight" featured Deaton, the Oneiros Quartet and pianist Lucas Wong, as well as a live-action film by M80 Productions. It was staged by Opera Theater of Connecticut Artistic Director Alan Mann and was followed by a performance of Tennessee Williams's one-act play "Talk to Me Like the Rain and Let Me Listen." The event marked Madison Lyric Stage's debut.

"I had wanted to see if there is an audience for the type of high culture" Madison Lyric Stage will bring, "and there seems to be," says Deaton. "The reaction was really terrific, and it was an extremely heavy program."

The audience was fairly diverse, too.

"I would love to say that it was mostly an older demographic, but I don't think that is true. I think the types of things that we're producing will also interest young people," says Deaton.

Though establishing non-profit status for Madison Lyric Stage is currently occupying much of Deaton's time, he says there is at least one event in the burgeoning organization's immediate future: a "barn dinner" that will be staged in Deaton's circa-1820s barn in conjunction with his food company, Liana's Table.

"The theme will be the Tuscan and French countryside and there will be a concert with (one of Deaton's colleagues), probably of Italian and French opera duets," says Deaton.

Marrying food and fine art to further Madison Lyric Art's mission seems natural to Deaton, who admits, "singing's my job, and cooking's my passion." The barn dinner's emphasis on ambiance also dovetails nicely with Deaton's desire to keep Madison Lyric Stage productions on a smaller scale.

"We're very interested in doing intimate theater...I do most of my singing in 2- and 3- and 4,000-seat halls," and smaller venues "bring a whole different type of level (to performances) I don't see in a stadium format."

That doesn't mean that arts-lovers shouldn't expect Madison Lyric Stage events to have some touches of the big city. Deaton plans to use his considerable connections to bring talent to the area. He's also open to showcasing the talent that already exists here.

"There's a lot of talent here...Whether or not they've worked professionally is neither here nor there...My hope is that it will be a hybrid of both," he says of potential performers.

Madison Lyric Stage will be similarly flexible when it comes to venues.

"I don't think we're going to be nailed down to a space any time soon," says Deaton. "There's quite a trend now to perform repertoire in surroundings that are" germane to the works, like performing the classic play "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" in an old house. Some type of immersive theater may be in Madison Lyric Stage's future.

Regardless of exactly what lies in store for the area's newest arts organization, one thing is certain. With Deaton at the helm, Madison Lyric Stage will strive to make performances universally appreciated.

Deaton says, "If you get people out of the house and away from the television set-which is a comfortable place to be-and you get them in front of something you really believe in and it's good quality, they'll know it."

For more information about Madison Lyric Stage and its upcoming productions and events, visit www.lianastable.com.

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