Jeff Houghton, host of the Mystery Hour TV show, contacted Springfield Regional Opera artistic director Michael Spyres to help with a special project earlier this week at several area independent and assisted living and nursing facilities. Michael, a major tenor soloist at opera houses around the world, is currently at home near Rogersville, and we talked on the phone yesterday about his nursing home concerts.
“That was actually Jeff's idea, and he had realized that there was a need for this, Spyres said. “And I mean, I don't have anybody in rest homes, but we regularly did that as a child. And it just seemed like the right thing to do, because that's basically how I grew up. On weekends, my parents would take all of us kids to the rest home in Mansfield and we would perform for people once a week. And I hadn't done it in such a long time. And that was one of the initiatives that we wanted to do with the Springfield Regional Opera, is to go to nursing homes and put on free concerts and things. But I was so happy when Jeff reached out to me and said, ‘Hey, we should make a video of this and get people to realize that this is a this is a need in our community.’
“And I hadn't realized how bad it actually was until I talked to one of the workers there,” Spyres continued. And they told me that, yeah, they're in complete lockdown, and even in the common areas (the residents) are not able to interact with each other. So they're even more isolated than normal. So I was so happy to be able to be a part of this, and, you know, bring some joy to people who really need it.”
On Jeff’s video, which is posted at www.facebook.com (search for “Nursing Home Lawn Opera), Michael stands on the lawn of one of the local assisted-living facilities and tells a resident listening inside his apartment, "I hope you like opera!" The resident answers "Crazy about it!" And Michael sings the classic Neopolitan song "O sole mio."
“The thing is that Jeff Houghton coordinated at all,” Michael Spyres told me. “He called all the different assisted living places.” They visited four facilities. “And it was fantastic because, well, obviously had we had to get releases from everybody, and the nursing homes had to call the families involved and say that we would like to come and perform--and if they wouldn't mind that we videotaped. And they said that would be fantastic. And so Jeff's the one who coordinated it on short notice. And then we brought it up there and people absolutely loved it. All of the coordinators and the facilitators of the nursing homes were so appreciative and just so happy. They said that they hadn't seen some of these people smiling in a long time, you know.
Spyres continued, “And it's amazing to get that instant gratification. When you get to go back to why music is so important to us as humans, and get to see it immediately, it just brings you to tears, happy tears. And everyone was just elated, really, hearing everyone clap and be happy because they were affected by the actual power of music. You know, when you get to really witness how you can change people's lives and make them happy just through singing, it's an indescribable feeling. And it's the whole reason that all of us go into the arts and music. It's this connection between people.”
Michael Spyres was planning on being back home for several weeks, as he was going to sing the lead in Springfield Regional Opera’s production of “Pagliacci.” It was to have been April 3rd and 4th at the Gillioz Theatre—hot on the heels of Spyres’ Metropolitan Opera debut in February in the title role of Berlioz’s “The Damnation of Faust.” Of course, SRO had to postpone the production until after the Coronavirus pandemic has settled down. Spyres says the company definitely plans to reschedule the production. “The only possibility in my current schedule is September 4th and 5th. Well, let's hope that the world goes back to spinning the way it was, a little bit before.”
SRO is just one of hundreds of performing organizations and venues around the world that have had to put their seasons on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic—which will impact Michael Spyres’ international career in addition to his local one. He said, “right now it looks that the next couple of months are probably going to be all cancelled of my contracts in Munich and Vienna and Switzerland. But the good thing is, is that the Salzburg Festival, they still have not cancelled.” It usually takes place in July and August, and Spyres said, “Salzburg is going to be waiting until May to make a decision (about whether to cancel their season and reschedule). But to be honest, I mean, Switzerland is, I believe, canceling everything until the end of June. And Germany has said that it probably won't open anything until August. So Austria, they all play by different rules, and whatever they want to do.
“But more than likely, I'll be home here in the Ozarks for the next five months, which is an amazing godsend, actually. It's funny, and it's weird circumstances that we have, but I'm getting to kind of be like a normal person and actually stay in my own home for more than a week or two at a time.”