July 22, 2015

Opera Memphis Plans Ultra-Modern Digs

By Mary Dando
– The Daily News –

Opera Memphis operations are currently scattered throughout the Memphis area, but that will soon change.

Following approval by the Memphis and Shelby County Land Use Control Board Thursday of plans to build a practice hall and general offices, the company will be able to consolidate at one location.

The plans call for an 18,800-square-foot building at the southeast corner of Kirby Parkway and Humphreys Boulevard.

Project manager Sean Bryant of Hnedak Bobo Group said the plan approved Thursday was a revised site plan of a former planned development.

“It’s an entirely new building. The planned development that was there prior to this building being there, we’re keeping most of what they had set up. We’re just adding a new building to what was proposed,” he said.

Architect Alan New has created what he describes as a 21st century design reflecting music within a building evoking the early modernist architecture of the 1920s and 1930s.

As well as facilities for the company’s day-to-day operations, there will be a practice room where members prepare before they perform in the Orpheum Theatre, New said.

“This is a totally new facility for them. It’s unique because a lot of opera companies move into existing space and take over old buildings. What’s unique is that this company is actually building its own building,” he said.

Opera Memphis development director Gloria Callahan said they hope to break ground on the project around April. Coinciding with the plans for a new home, Callihan said the company would soon kick off its capital campaign.

Currently, production offices for Opera Memphis are found on the south campus of the University of Memphis. The box office is on American Way. Costumes are stored on Broad Avenue and rehearsals are at Craigmont High School.

“We are scattered all over town. So for us it will be a fabulous coup – we can all be together at the same time,” she said.

New said what makes the project interesting is Opera Memphis wanted to take opera into the 21st century in the design.

“It’s a very modern building in design. It doesn’t have a lot of historical references – sort of an opera for the 21st century,” he said.

Having just finished the FedEx World Headquarters, New said the emphasis at Hnedak Bobo tends to be on the modernist aesthetic.

“The building is kind of shaped for the music within. That’s what our concept was. It has a lot of angles on it and a lot of geometry. It’s got a lot of glass and it’s very modern,” he said.


The design is as much about the program and function of the building in contrast with a 20th century aesthetic that tended to recreate something from houses in the past, New said.

“It’s about not trying to invoke the memories of the past, but to achieve the vision of the future. It’s kind of balancing it against the tasteful understanding of what doesn’t work because some of the modernists were very brutal in design,” he said.

New said he expects the building to be completed within a year. City-county Office of Planning and Development principal planner Chip Saliba said because the planned development was previously approved unless there is an appeal within 10 days of the LUCB hearing, the plans will go for review to the city engineer’s office and then to construction.

In 1998, the city council approved a planned development for limited commercial and offices uses with access to both Kirby Parkway and Humphreys Boulevard. This plan was never developed.

One possibility for site development was a convenience store, Saliba said. OPD considered the revised plans a very good use of the site.

Because the metal and glass exterior of the new building is somewhat similar to the architectural character of the Beth Sholom Synagogue across the road, the revised plans should be well received by adjoining property owners, he said.