Leah Podzimek opens access to opera at the Original Thinkers festival


Léa Podzimek, a Denver-based opera singer who forges unique partnerships with other artists to create unique sonic interactions that blend, for example, sculpture with operatic storytelling, says “opera is for everyone”.

“Society is increasingly, what’s the word I’m looking for, distracted. So it can be difficult for people to just sit down and listen, especially if they don’t understand the language,” says Podzimek “Giving people art that they can see in front of them, it gives them another point of contact for the emotion that the music expresses.”

Its mission is to make opera more accessible.

“I want to demolish these preconceptions about what a person believes opera is and what they have to be to enjoy it,” says the soprano singer. “If you can relate to a story being told, then opera is for you.”

Later this month at Original Thinkers Festival in TelluridePodzimek will join several local artists in a mix of physical art and opera, hoping to connect new audiences to the resonant storytelling of opera.

“All you need is to be open and willing to experience something a little different and if we can bring that kind of openness to other parts of our lives, we can improve the quality of our lives. and see across all kinds of cultural borders,” she says.

That’s pretty much the mission of Original Thinkers, who will hold their fifth festival in Telluride from September 29 to October 29. 2. Festival founder David Holbrooke brings together diverse artists, scientists, activists, authors and filmmakers to help broaden perspectives around some weighty issues – like bereavement, climate change, holistic healing, cancer treatment and women’s rights – through storytelling.

“Every challenge, every problem can be summed up in one person’s story. Perhaps through these stories we can more easily access some of the seismic upheavals we have seen in recent years,” says Holbrooke. “Maybe in these stories we can find something we can relate to and we can make the changes we need.”

Last fall, at the base of the Highland Bridge on Interstate 25 in Denver, Podzimek joined musicians and more than 30 visual artists in a multimedia display of color and sound. The musicians performed movements that inspired the artists’ pieces, creating a visceral connection between art and music.

She brings this project – she calls it Interplay – to Telluride for Original Thinkers. She has sent recordings and context of her music to a handful of local artists who create paintings and sculptures inspired by her music, which reflect themes of love, lust, loss and grief. The artwork will be displayed in a gallery while Podzimek and his fellow musicians perform.

“It’s very visceral,” she says of her job. “It’s a very physical process to sing operatically.”

When she sings in a smaller venue, with onlookers and performers mingling with music-inspired artwork, “it creates emotional reactions — goosebumps — even when you don’t understand the words we sing. You feel the vibrations of the music and you feel the connection the artists had with the music when they created their art. And we will see art for the first time too. So there’s this tremendous feedback loop.

This vibration is carefully cultivated by Holbrooke and her Original Thinkers team. They’ve built something more than a film festival, hoping to inspire audiences and open up new ways to tackle tough challenges and problems.

Filmmakers, performers and panelists at this year’s festival include Dasha Navalny, the daughter of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny who is imprisoned in a penal colony in his native country. Immunologist Dr. Carl June will talk about his breakthrough immunotherapies documented in the film “Medicine and Miracles.“The Janes – a group of valiant women who, 50 years ago worked to provide safe access to abortion around Chicago when the procedure was illegal – will share their perspective as abortion protections fade.

Other filmmakers and advocates will be at Original Thinkers to discuss comeback efforts Americans held hostage by foreign governmentshow nature and mindfulness can help recover from trauma and how community journalism illuminates the get out of homelessness in Washington, D.C.

There are a few existential crises on the agenda for this year’s Original Thinkers.

The hope is that the accessibility of filmmakers and their subjects over the four days of the festival will provide the intimate moments needed to break big ideas down into directions that are accessible, digestible and, above all, achievable.

“They are villains who have achieved so much, but they are here with us, enjoying this beautiful place. The impact of this can be profound,” says Holbrooke. “It sounds so noble, but I truly believe what we do here can be transformative – for our guests, for our audience and for ourselves.”

The festival schedule is determined. The festival season ended at the end of September in the box canyon of Telluride. Locals are preparing for a well-deserved break after a busy winter and summer. Accommodation prices are low – well, below the astronomical prices visitors were paying during the height of winter and summer.

While the topics can be intense, Holbrooke hopes the conversations and beauty of Telluride will leave attendees “energized and inspired.”

“One of my former teachers told me that my work was hopeful but not naive. I love this space. I like to think there is a space where we can have hope and work towards a real, livable future,” he says.

The Colorado Sun has been an Original Thinkers sponsor since 2019. festival pass here.


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