Tonawanda News — All right, try building a cultural organization, from scratch, and make that an opera company, in a community where fledgling opera troupes have come and gone. A community with plenty of opera fans, but plenty of others who have never experienced a full-scale, start-to-finish opera.
The Nickel City Opera, headquartered in a perfect place for it, North Tonawanda’s Riviera Theatre, turns five this year with something funny: Gaetano Donizetti’s 1842 comic opera “Don Pasquale.” More to the point is that the company has taken root as one of Western New York’s cultural attractions and treasures.
Opera here, prior to the establishment of Nickel City, was a little like baseball; the local fan appreciates what he or she has, but for a dose of the serious stuff, a trip to New York, Toronto or Cleveland is in order. The area now has a serious and dedicated opera company, one for the opera enthusiast to admire but equally accessible for the first-timer, the couple on a date or the young and aspiring music major.
Wearing a plaid shirt and jeans in a Tonawanda coffee shop, Nickel City impresario (and executive director, globetrotting opera basso and former West Seneca boy) Valerian Ruminski demonstrates how to sell opera tickets. It’s called guerilla marketing. Table to table, introductions followed by handouts. Never been to an opera? Your father liked opera? Don’t like opera? Well, you’re missing something great. Each potential ticket buyer gets a brochure and a little chatter, and likely does not know he or she is talking with the opera’s star.
“We’re marketing ‘Don Pasquale’ as a comedy, and I’m doing the lead,” Ruminski says about the next production at the Riviera Theatre, the golden age North Tonawanda movie house that neatly resembles a European opera house. “It’s the hardest role I’ve ever done. I did it with the Hawaii Opera Theater last year. I’m on stage, 80 percent of the time.”