Victoria's comment about attending Florida Grand Opera reminds me of the bracing joys of regional opera. Here, as abroad, there are (a very few) big companies, some wannabe-big companies, and, well, everyone else. Having tasted a bit of each, all I know is that I don't much care for #2. (Because, do I want to see every star's vanity project? No. Well, OK, maybe if Sondra Radvanovsky's in it.)
"Everything else" varies, but it's an entirely different experience for a Met-goer. Singers and production, of course, but these can often be surprisingly effective. More interesting is that the audience in "regional" venues isn't so self-evident; that monster "the public" isn't omnipresent as it is in New York. So it's a more private communion.
Until recently I enjoyed a very good local company in nearby Princeton, the "Opera Festival of New Jersey". It went defunct in November 2003, but the last (summer) season provided a memorably produced and brilliantly characterized Onegin. I saw the visting Mariinsky production in the city a week or so later; it was also successful, with better singing (an excellent Tatyana, IIRC), but somehow less affecting. Intimacy helps.
Other people seem to have missed OFNJ as well. Already two would-be successors have sprung up: NJ Opera Theater and The Princeton Festival. The former looks to be a vocal-arts potpourri with peripatetic tendencies, while the latter is, like OFNJ, at one venue (the Lawrenceville location at which OFNJ started before moving to Princeton) and promises "to expand its offerings in future years to attract a wider audience of lovers of the performing arts with operetta, musical theater, ballet, oratorio and orchestral and chamber concerts." The first Princeton Festival program is "Sweeney Todd" -- targeting, I suppose, the more middlebrow "performing arts center" crowd, while leaving the canary-fancier-programming to NJOT. (An interesting article on the two organizations is here; it seems to me that between the two, the Princeton Festival is developing the more marketable and focused brand identity, but survival may come down to fundraising skills anyway.)
Anyway, FGO. Vic, I don't know if Magic Flute (opening Saturday) will be worth seeing -- I found even the Met's acclaimed new production somewhat rough going beyond Röschmann -- but I do suggest seeing Lucia in March. Like many regional companies, FGO seems to rely heavily on young as-yet-unknown singers, which at least looks good but sounds variable. (Mind you, I have enormous respect for those pursuing the rough life of an unestablished opera singer, so no knocks are intended.) But they seem to get a pretty good pick of the crop; many of the leads have won various young singer competitions.* One of these -- the tenor lead in Lucia, James Valenti** -- made a huge impression on the audience as one of the winners of the 2002 Met Council Finals.*** A tenor star-in-the-making, with power and clarity -- surely that's worth catching.****
* The female lead in Magic Flute, Christina Pier, was also a Met Council Final winner. I can't remember what I thought of her, though, and if one of my friends out there has my report of the event's 2003 edition I'd be glad for a copy.
** I also saw him in a bit part at OFNJ.
*** Nevertheless, he was only the second-most impressive singer at the event. Soprano Twyla Robinson -- actually now an FGO alum! -- brought down the house that memorable day.
**** Caveat: you never can tell with young singers.