History of Opera in Focus

[Maestro Tosci] OPERA IN FOCUS Collector's Poster #1
Opera in Focus opened in its present home at the Rolling Meadows Park District headquarters on December 3, 1993. We are proud to say the following year Opera in Focus won the prestigious Dorothy Mullen Award from the National Parks and Recreation Association for Fine Arts Programming.

Our uniquely articulated rod puppets, the only ones of their kind, are the invention of William B. Fosser, who began work on their design in the late 1930's. Because of their great cost, the puppets would not be built until 1956. Their first performance stage would not be built until the following year. In September of 1958 Opera in Focus was first presented in a rented store on Chicago's north side.

Mr. Fosser had already begun a career as a motion picture art director and set decorator, as well as frequently designing for the live theater. His free time was devoted to improving the puppets, settings and stage. Because of his work, regularly scheduled public performances were infrequent, except in 1962-63 and again in 1978-79. The invitation to install Opera in Focus here in Rolling Meadows prompted his decision to retire from film and stage design and devote all his time to his life-long dream.

For many of the Opera in Focus audiences, our performances bring back memories of the old KUNGSHOLM, where Mr. Fosser worked - first when he was 14 years old in 1943. The Kungsholm Miniature Opera was just two years old at the time. He returned for a few years in 1950 and then later as Artistic Director in 1963.

The miniature grand opera that would eventually find its way to the KUNGSHOLM was begun in the early 1930's by an avid operatic recording collector, Ernest Wolff, who had built a rather complete miniature opera theater in the basement of his home. His mother Esther and a family friend Fred Stouffer devised puppets that would move on the tiny stage in slots and be operated from below by wires. Their efforts were greatly refined under the sponsorship of the Victor Recording Company for presentation in the Gas Pavilion at the Worlds Fair in 1938-39. After the close of the Fair their puppet opera began a tour of the mid-western United States. The last stop of this tour was Chicago, where it was seen by Fredrick Chramer, who had purchased one of the McCormick mansions, located at Rush and Ontario streets, and converted it into a very successful restaurant called the KUNGSHOLM.

Mr. Chramer negotiated an agreement with the Wolff's to install their puppet opera in the fourth floor ballroom of the one-time mansion. In the meantime, hostilities in Europe had begun - and Ernest Wolf was serving in the U.S. Navy. In November of 1941 Fredrick Chramer along with Mrs. Wolfff opened what was to become world famous as the "KUNGSHOLM MINIATURE GRAND OPERA." Tragically, in February of 1947, fire destroyed the KUNGSHOLM PUPPET OPERA. Mr. Chramer began plans at once to re-build the puppet opera on the street level in the space once occupied by the mansion's carriage house. Later that year, Ernest Wolf decided to re-build his own puppet opera, which he called the "TIVOLI THEATER." His mother once again joined him in his efforts having parted company with Chramer and his Kungsholm in a dispute - shortly after the opening in 1941. Mr. Fosser was available and worked with the Wolffs on this project which ultimately was not successful.

In the meantime Fredrick Chramer rebuilt the Kungsholm puppet opera creating an exquisite 208 seat theater with a mezzanine and box seats. Mr. Fosser returned for the opening in January of 1950 and would remain for three years.

Mr. Chramer's health began to fail in 1957 and the Kungsholm was leased to the Fred Harvey Group. After Mr. Chramer's death, Mr. Fosser was asked to return to the Kungsholm as its artistic director - a post he held for another three years.

In 1971 the Kungsholm closed. Some of the puppets and their scenery found their way to the Museum of Science and Industry. The delicate manipulation mechanisms of many of the original puppets were destroyed by the museum when they made the ill-advised decision to create automated performances using the original puppets and transformed them into automatons. The Museum of Science & Industry's Kungsholm exhibit permanently closed in 2005. Fortunately, the puppets that were housed in their collection-nearly 400 puppets in total-were acquired by the Swedish American Museum in Andersonville and are now a part of their permanent collection, which also contains original scenery and props from Kungsholm, making it the largest collection of Kungsholm artifacts in the world. Opera in Focus maintains a close partnership with the Swedish American Museum, regularly participating in special events at the museum commemorating the art and legacy of the Kungsholm Miniature Grand Opera.

When the title of our production "OPERA IN FOCUS" was selected, the idea of a stage opening in the shape of a camera lens was chosen. Over the years, this design has been modified to a semi-circular opening set behind a traditional, ornate Italian style proscenium arch.

When Mr. Fosser was Artistic Director of the Kungsholm, he met the gifted 17-year-old puppeteer Paul Guerra with whom he went on to create over one-hundred puppet opera productions. Mr. Guerra was also a brilliant designer who conceived and executed all of the beautiful and intricate costumes used in our productions until his passing in 2007. The remarkable stage settings were designed, built and painted by Mr. Fosser until his passing in 2006. Since then, Fosser's proteges, the Snyder brothers, have taken over designing and building all of the puppets, scenery, and props.

Opera in Focus is the expression of a lifetime of involvement with puppets and opera. The format of presenting several scenes from well known operas in a performance of about an hour was developed to appeal to audiences of young people as well as adults who might not otherwise experience a musical drama.

[Maestro Tosci] OPERA IN FOCUS Collector's Poster #1

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