By Rabbi Rachel Esserman
Jenni Bank, the daughter of Barbara and Les Bank of Binghamton, has been named the new artistic director of the Tri-Cities Opera. Bank, a mezzo-soprano, played the role of Mrs. Lovett in the opera’s 2016 version of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.”
Her decision to take the position was due to a meeting of the minds. “I met John Rozzoni, the current general director of TCO many years ago and I happened to be in town when he was named to the position,” Bank said. “We met to have a celebratory drink and started talking about opera and what we want to see happen in the industry and ideas just started flowing! Eventually he was able to ask me to be a more official part of things and I was thrilled to work with him and the rest of the amazing staff at TCO. It’s my hometown company where I saw some of my first operas – anything I can do to keep opera thriving here is important.”
Bank’s role with TCO takes a variety of forms. “I am working in an advisory capacity on anything that needs a singer’s take,” Bank said. “I sat in on our auditions last year, have helped with social media and content creation for the company’s marketing, and am helping plan seasons and productions. I also hope to be a mentor and resource for the Young Artists [program] at the company when we are able to have them here full-time again. As someone currently actively working in the opera world, it helps to have my voice – no pun intended – in the mix.”
That doesn’t mean that Bank has given up her singing career. “I certainly plan to continue singing and performing,” she said. “Currently, everything is a bit up in the air, as all of my work was postponed or cancelled for the 2020/21 season due to the pandemic. Some companies are rescheduling gigs, but it’s all very uncertain. I know I am going to be singing with the Binghamton Philharmonic soon and I’m sure I’ll collaborate with the musicians at TCO at some point. Right now, it’s a very tough time for those of us who have careers that rely on large gatherings of people and close contact with fellow artists. Many in the arts community have been out of work since March and have no idea when they will ever be able to return to work. My main message for everyone is: if you want to see any live theatre or music again, please, please, please wear your masks and distance!”
Bank believes that it’s possible to hold artistic performances during the pandemic and notes that the TCO has managed to do so in creative ways. Plus, she has great hopes for TCO’s future. “I think the future looks bright!” she said. “Tri-Cities Opera has taken the challenges of being unable to produce live theatre during the pandemic and turned it into new and exciting digital opportunities. We recently collaborated with LUMA, Opera Omaha and Enhance VR to produce a live virtual reality opera called ‘Miranda’ that was viewable from anywhere in the world. We are in the midst of ‘TCO Next: A Virtual Vocal Competition,’ for which I am a judge for the first two rounds. Additionally, our educational outreach to schools, called ‘Opera Go Round,’ was recorded digitally and will be available along with supplemental education materials for teachers and schools to access and view online. It’s called ‘Monkey and Francine in the City of Tigers’ and it’s adorable!”
In fact, Bank thinks that smaller companies are able to be more flexible during difficult times and that going digital offers them great opportunities. “The beauty of going digital has been expanding our reach and being able to showcase to people outside of the Broome County area what we have always known here: that a small company and community like ours has great art to offer to the world,” she added. “While major institutions like Broadway and The Metropolitan Opera have fully cancelled their seasons despite significantly larger budgets, it is small companies like ours that are creating and innovating to fit the current reality. Nothing can replace the thrill of a live performance – we can’t wait to provide that for the community again and I can’t wait to perform again! – but we feel proud of how we have shifted gears.
The pandemic has also affected Bank in a personal way. “I was in the middle of a rehearsal period for a gig in Orlando when we were sent home due to COVID-19 shutdowns,” she said. “I’d previously happened to meet my boyfriend here in Broome County when I was visiting between gigs and decided to come and quarantine with him. During that time, my lease on my New York City apartment ended, I officially moved in with him, and we got engaged sooooo....I think I’ll be sticking around!”