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We Take Opera to Another Place

Vertical Player Repertory creates ensemble-driven opera theatre in extraordinary venues, bringing theatrical integrity and an unconventional spirit to an eclectic mix of repertoire. Working in locations that have ranged from a factory courtyard on the Gowanus Canal to the last active shipping port in Brooklyn, VPR’s unique vision and adventurous use of place invite both performer and audience to re-imagine the great possibilities of opera.

"Vertical Player Repertory has developed a following for its intense performances of unusual works." The New York Times


Founded in 1998 by Judith Barnes, Vertical Player Repertory is a pioneer of the alternative opera movement in New York City. VPR began life in a storefront in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, bringing an ensemble-theatre aesthetic to intimate performances. The 2003 world premiere of composer Yoav Gal’s comic opera The Dwarf brought the company notice in The New York Times feature article "Never Say Die in Indie Opera" by opera critic Anne Midgette.

At the invitation of Sal Catucci, CEO of American Stevedoring Inc., VPR created two site-specific productions outdoors at the Red Hook Container Port in 2007 and 2008. Il Tabarro was performed on the deck of the oil tanker The Mary Whalen, and Les contes d’Hoffmann was staged atop tons of raw lumber in an amphitheatre made of stacked shipping containers. These productions brought thousands of people to a spectacular location usually inaccessible to the public. 

In 2009,  new Homeland Security regulations drastically restricted port access, as VPR was preparing for a site-specific staging of A View from the Bridge, William Bolcom’s powerful opera about Brooklyn longshoremen, to be set on the very Red Hook docks where the story takes place. VPR returned to its intimate storefront venue with a new chamber arrangement of the opera, created in collaboration with the composer. 

 In 2011, VPR brought Francesco Cavalli’s bedroom comedy of the Gods, La Calisto, to life in a post-industrial factory courtyard on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, and in 2012 the company offered a free series of performances at water's edge in the developing Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Repertoire at VPR has included works as varied as Handel’s Alcina, Mozart’s Idomeneo, Janácek’s Jenufa and Milhaud’s Médée. The world premieres of Yoav Gal’s opera The Dwarf and Isidore Elias’ original vaudeville act Bucky and his Friends, and the development of Opera Feroce’s baroque pasticcio opera Amor & Psyche under the auspices of VPR’s In the Works Development Series reflect VPR’s interest in new works of all stripes. Other pieces VPR has developed include Der Rosenkavalier: The True Story, a hybrid opera-theater reworking of Strauss’ classic with a speaking role for Baron Ochs created by Isidore Elias for veteran actor Paul Hecht. 

VPR’s first commission, The Peace, by composer Nizan Leibovich and librettist Isidore Elias, based on Aristophanes’ stinging social satire, is currently receiving its first workshop performances and is planned for premiere in 2014. The Dwarf, a comic opera by Yoav Gal, which VPR premiered in 2003, returns for a 10th anniversary production in 2013, directed by Doug Fitch. In addition to full operas in varied locations, VPR continues to give intimate performances of opera and recital repertoire as part of its In Your Lap Atelier Series in its storefront venue, Behind the Door.

VPR has received grants from the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC), the Independence Community Foundation, The New York Community Trust, BRIC/Rotunda, The Field, the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and many generous contributions from private donors.


Reviews for VPR consistently reflect the high quality of the company’s work. VPR has been noted for “intense performances of unusual works” by The New York Times, “thrilling theater” by Opera Today, called “a company worth following” by Backstage Magazine, “edgy” and “idealistic” by The New Yorker, and “consistently innovative” by Time Out New York.

La Calisto

“dazzling musical theater…utilizing the al fresco urban space with matchless and unending imagination,”  (ConcertoNet); “wonderfully smart and simple” (Seen and Heard International); “full of witty touches to warm a classicist’s heart” (Parterre); Best Opera of 2011 List (Superconductor, Seen and Heard International)

A View from the Bridge 

“Thrilling theatre…a riveting account of the play…all the voices were big and in tune and hardly seemed 'operatic,' so natural and intense was the acting" (Opera Today)

Les contes d’Hoffmann

“Judith Barnes clearly hit on something that sets her group apart” (The New York Times); “visionary” (The New York Theatre Wire); “unforgettable” (The Italian Tribune); “a company worth following” (Backstage); New York Magazine Critic’s Pick.

Il Tabarro

“exhilarating…the audience was completely drawn in to Puccini’s melodrama”  (Opera News); “I was in awe watching the grim action of Puccini’s opera taking place on a huge tanker… exhilarating and gritty” (The Daily News)

Der Rosenkavalier: The True Story

“Count on Judith Barnes’s edgy little company to give the old scenes-and-arias formula a twist” (The New Yorker) 


“a propulsive operatic tragedy of the first order… an intensely dramatic…tremendously affecting account of this difficult work” (The Brooklyn Papers); “a very effective and moving evocation of Euripides’ tragedy” (The New York Theatre Wire)


“just splendid…it would be hard to think of any group anywhere creating greater delight out of an 18th century opera” (Brooklyn Heights Press)


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