by Robert Hirtle

Lunenburg mezzo-soprano Nina Scott-Stoddart is the founder of Maritime Concert Opera.

It may seem hard to believe for a town that once staked its claim to fame on wooden ships and iron men, but opera has now been a staple in Lunenburg for a decade.

That’s all thanks to the town’s resident mezzo-soprano, Nina Scott-Stoddard, who got the idea of forming her own opera company, Maritime Concert Opera (MCO), way back in 2002.

“That’s kind of spooky,” Ms Scott-Stoddard laughs. “When I launched the company, the first thing I did was an evening of sort of opera’s greatest hits and that was my way of introducing myself to the community and just testing the waters to see if there was enough interest in forming a board and actually starting a proper company.”

Out of that came MCO, led by its first board chairman, Topmast Motel owner Don Wilson, “and everything got going from there.”

As a tribute to that concert, the group is opening its 10th season with a special presentation entitled “Opening Night at the Opera,” which will take place at Central United Church in Lunenburg November 3 at 7:30 p.m.

The program will feature the talents of Ms Scott-Stoddard, soprano Mary Knickle, tenor Leonard Whiting and baritone Andrew Tees accompanied by the MCO chorus and pianist Tara Scott.

“This concert will be an evening of operas, operettas and musical theatre’s greatest hits,” Ms Scott-Stoddard explains. “I think it’s cool because for me what it represents is how far we’ve come and how we’re true to the founding principles of it.”

She says the chorus is not only all local, but are “fanatically loyal” even learning to sing in a variety of foreign languages as is necessary in the case of most operas.

“They always looked at it and say, ‘Gosh, how are we ever going to do this?’ but by now they’re all like old pros,” she laughs. “It’s like, ‘Eh, we’ve done German, we’ve done Italian, we’ve done French. Let’s do Czech opera next, that’s our next challenge.’”

Ms Scott-Stoddard believes that the most successful groups in any area are ones that are rooted in the community, and that is primarily what has led to MCO’s success.

“We are utterly and completely community-based,” she says. “The heart of it are the people in the chorus, the people on the board, volunteers. The young people we’ve encouraged to sing with us from the beginning has been a huge part.”

That inclusion of youth involved doing operas such as “Hansel and Gretel” and “Carmen” which include a traditional chorus of children.

“For people in the community, there’s something about seeing your children and your grandchildren up there,” she says. “It’s really powerful. And now I have kids coming to me and saying, ‘I really love opera,’ and that for me is the coolest thing ever.”

While Ms Scott-Stoddard believes opera has a reputation among some individuals as being somewhat “elitist and snobby … [and] not for folks like us,” she says that misconception can be overcome simply enough through a little bit of exposure.

“I think opera is the greatest art in the world. It has everything in it — it’s got drama, it’s got music, it’s all of human life and it’s big,” she says, adding that MCO tries to make their presentations “a South Shore experience.

“So that it’s friendly, accessible and welcoming. You take away all the layers of crap and what you’re left with is really good music, and one thing I know about Nova Scotians is they know good music when they hear it,” she says.

For more information on MCO’s presentation of “Opening Night at the Opera,” call 634-4280.

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