It’s hard to imagine losing a theater in any neighborhood. But that’s precisely what happened to the McCaddin Memorial Theater, on Berry between South 2nd and South 3rd. The auditorium was once part of the school at St. Peter and Paul’s Parish, but it has lain largely unused since the school closed in 2002. In a neighborhood expanding as rapidly as Williamsburg, spaces as big as the theater cannot remain empty for long, so it was only a matter of time before someone discovered it.
That distinction fell to Thomas Lawrence Toscano, who spent the summer looking for spaces in which his budget-less opera company, OperaOggiNY, could perform. The church seemed like a natural choice, but then the church’s pastor, Father Richard Reuther, showed him the theater. Toscano knew the space was perfect, and spent the following months renovating the theater himself. The McCaddin Theater officially reopened this past weekend, when OperaOggiNY staged their production of the opera L’Oracolo, by Franco Leoni, on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Attendance at the theater was sparse Friday night, but this is no surprise considering that OperaOggi is itself only one year old. An enormous arch, elaborately ornamented with leaves, garlands and columns, dominates the theater, which was built in 1898. Bare fluorescent bulbs had been installed in the fans that hung from the ceiling, a reminder of the space’s more recent neglect. The set consisted of little more than a few silk scarves and a paper parasol arranged on the stage. OperaOggi’s music director, Michael Lewis, provided the only accompaniment, on piano.
But from the first note any thoughts of this being an amateur performance quickly scattered. Every member of the all-female cast sang impressively. Casey Hutchinson, who played the tragic hero San-Lui, and Jennifer Lindshield, as the nefarious Cim-Fen, both performed with particular force and grace. The opera’s slightly hokey plot centers around the machinations of Cim-Fen, who owns an opium den in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the turn of the century. Unhindered by the minimal sets, the singers of OperaOggi proved that the company needs little beside its own talent to deliver a memorable performance.
At a reception after the opera, Thomas Toscano said the theater would soon be used for a variety of events, including children’s theater. L’Oracolo, written in 1905 and now rarely performed, was chosen in collaboration with OperaOggi’s singers, mostly because it fit the abilities of the cast. Toscano said the company always collaborates to choose its productions.
Speaking before the opera began, Toscano had likened the theater to a venerable instrument that “needs to be used more” to restore its full potential. “I found a theater when I was really just looking for a church,” he added. “Not to say that some divine force was involved would be a mistake.”