The Southold Opera Company hosted its first performance Sunday: a standing-room-only concert of holiday music in the former Southold United Methodist Church, which has undergone renovations since this past summer. The program featured the Southold Opera Choir, a local children’s choir and members of the French American Choir of New York.
Professional opera singer and teacher Anne-Julia Audray and her husband, Olivier Chazareix, purchased the church in July 2015 with plans to turn it into the opera company’s new home. When it came to redesigning the building, Audray said it was important for her to preserve much of the structure’s features.
“The original building was beautiful,” she said, adding that she was particularly drawn to the former church’s acoustics, which are perfect for opera performances.
“In France, we always keep things,” she said. “We conserve and we don’t tear down things.”
As soon as Audray saw the building, she recognized its potential. In the former sanctuary, a rectangular stage now takes the place of the altar. The pews and stained-glass windows remain. Adjacent to the concert space, in what was once the parish hall, there are higher ceilings and new light fixtures, and the kitchen has been renovated.
Audray said the opera house can be used in endless ways. The side room, which has new hardwood floors, a seating area and a piano, can be used as a practice space by small classes or groups or to host performance receptions and other events. During a New Year’s Eve production of the operetta “The Merry Widow,” a French dinner will be served there.
Audray said the building’s kitchen retains its original layout, with a large center island and all of the counter space, but she changed the colors of the cabinets. She also added white tile countertops and white and silver decorations. Additionally, each of the building’s main rooms has one or more chandeliers, which Chazareix assembled himself.
Audray said she’d also like to book special events like small weddings or anniversary dinners at the opera house. She began teaching voice classes there in October and thinks the open space is helping her students break out of their comfort zone.
“[This space] gives us a lot of freedom for the voice, and it’s very cool,” she said.
Although considerable work has been done at the site, there is still more to do. Audray and Chazareix plan to turn the basement into a space suitable for dance classes.
“There are more exciting things to come,” Audray said.