Martha’s Vineyard libraries delve into opera

Susan Grunthal, a longtime opera fan, opera singer, and teacher, will launch two multiple-session courses on her favorite topic at local libraries this month.

This Thursday, Sept. 13, the Vineyard Haven Library presents the first of 12 sessions covering the history of opera from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which premiered in Italy in 1607, to the work of Philip Glass, and other contemporary composers.

Starting on Sunday, Sept. 16, the Edgartown Library will host Ms. Grunthal’s series dedicated to the operas of 19th century composer Giuseppi Verdi.

Both programs will run through this month and then continue in May 2013 and possibly into next fall. The 90-minute sessions will feature recorded music in a format described by Ms. Grunthal as “half speaking, half music, and time for questions as I go along.”

Ms. Grunthal, who divides her time between the Vineyard and Westchester County, N.Y., has been offering courses in opera at venues around her winter home for six years. During the school season, she teaches at the Westchester Collegium — the lifelong learning branch of Westchester Community College — as well as at local libraries and senior centers.

Seeking an excuse to extend her summer stay on the Vineyard into the shoulder seasons, Ms. Grunthal this past summer offered her expertise to the Vineyard Haven and Edgartown libraries. The multi-week series will be split between the fall and spring when Ms. Grunthal and her husband, Peter, will be staying in their Edgartown home.

Of the history of opera program, the former teacher and administrator says, “This is a course that I try to design for people who know a lot about opera and people who know nothing. I try to find a way that will please everybody.” The “Viva Verdi” series in Edgartown reflects Ms. Grunthal’s particular fondness for that composer, who wrote 28 operas in all.

She notes that people can show up on a drop-in basis for one or a few sessions. However, Betty Burton of the Vineyard Haven Library encourages people to sign up in advance to allow for adequate supplies of course materials.

Ms. Grunthal hails from Manchester, England, where she majored in education and music. “While I was studying, I became more and more interested in opera,” she says. Upon embarking on a teaching career in London, she took every opportunity to attend performances at the Royal Opera House in Covent Gardens.

A proposed move to New York City with her husband was only agreed upon by Ms. Grunthal under the condition that she could go to the Metropolitan Opera whenever possible. Eventually Ms. Grunthal completed a Masters degree and became a nursery school director in Tarrytown, N.Y. She also began singing alto in the chorus of the Taconic Opera, Westchester County’s premiere professional opera company.

During her last year at the nursery school, Ms. Grunthal found a way to combine her two interests when she started teaching opera at the local community college. “My encore career was launched,” she says. She has now created eight to ten different courses focused on opera, which have proven very popular in the Westchester area. “I’ve been doing it for six years and I get called back every single year,” she says.

“The best thing that happens is that people who say they’ve never been interested in opera are now going to the opera and renting operas on video,” she says. “My enthusiasm comes through in my teaching.”

The History of Opera with Susan Grunthal Session 1: Monteverdi, Lully, and Purcell, Thursday, Sept. 13, 7 pm, Vineyard Haven Library. Session 2: Handel and Gluck, Saturday, Sept. 15, 11 am, Vineyard Haven Library. Free. Pre-register: 508-696-4211; vhlibrary.org.

Viva Verdi! Opera class with Susan Grunthal, Sept. 16, 18, 23, Sundays at 1 pm, Tuesday at 6:30 pm, Edgartown Library. Free. Pre-register: 508-627-4221.