Coming Events: Summertide Opera Kicks Up Its Heels

SF Opera offers U.S. debut of Calixto Bieito's 'Carmen'
Summer brings the U.S. operatic debut of bad-boy Spanish director Calixto Bieito and his much anticipated ‘Carmen.’ 
(San Francisco Opera)

DATE BOOK — Travelers in America in search of operatic nourishment may not be faced with the multiplicity of high-prestige options to be found in the major cultural centers of, say, Great Britain, France, Germany, or Austria this summer, but the domestic variety can be every bit as rewarding artistically. What’s more, tickets generally aren’t as hard to come by, and the prices are far less insane.

Here are eight highly recommended U.S. classical music festivals that are presenting opera during the hot-weather months. I base my choices primarily on repertoire and expectations of artistic quality, with local scenic beauty being a major consideration as well.

You will observe that Puccini in general, his ever-popular La bohème in particular, figures prominently in all but one of the eight summer fests I have selected. Make of that what you will.

St. Louis: Opera Theatre of St. Louis premieres Shalimar the Clown

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
A Glyndebourne-style ambience prevails in miniature at Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
May 21-June 26: Full details

A typical Opera Theatre of St. Louis festival season allows you to catch a world premiere, check out talented young American singers before they become household names, and remind yourself of the pleasures of hearing opera sung in English. With its thrust stage, clear acoustics, and good sightlines, the Loretto-Hilton Center, in suburban Webster Groves, makes opera an intimate experience. A Glyndebourne-style ambience prevails in miniature: Following the performances, patrons gather for snacks and libations in a striped party tent on the green adjacent to the theater.

Shalimar The Clown (Salman Rushdie)The 41st festival season will begin May 21 with a new production of Puccini’s La bohèmeconducted by Emanuele Andrizzi and directed by Ron Daniels. May 28 will bring Verdi’s Macbeth, with baritone Roland Wood in the title role and soprano Julie Makerov as his power-hungry Lady; Stephen Lord conducts, and Lee Blakeley directs. Strauss’ Ariadne on Naxos is next, with Rory Macdonald pacing a production both staged and choreographed by Seán Curran (June 5).

This year’s world premiere will be Shalimar the Clown, opening June 11, with music by Jack Perla and libretto by Rajiv Joseph, based on the novel by Salman Rushdie about an ill-fated marriage between Muslim and Hindu entertainers in a folk troupe. OTSL artistic director James Robinson will direct, and Jayce Ogren will conduct.

San Francisco: Calixto Bieito makes U.S. directorial debut at SF Opera

Calixto Bieito production of 'Carmen.'
Calixto Bieito’s steamy  update of ‘Carmen’ arrives in the U.S. this summer.
May 27-July 3: Full details

The venerable War Memorial Opera House does not sit empty during the summer months; rather, it plays host to full-scale productions of standard and not-so-standard repertoire, with interesting (if not invariably name-brand) casts, conductors, and stage directors.

This year’s summer opera fest opens with the U.S. operatic debut of bad-boy Spanish stage director Calixto Bieito and his reportedly steamy production of Bizet’s Carmen, arriving from Barcelona via the English National Opera. Alternating as the gypsy femme fatale will be mezzo-sopranos Irene Roberts and Ginger Costa-Jackson, paired with the Don José of tenors Brian Jagde and Maxim Aksenov, respectively. Carlo Montanaro will share baton duties with SFO resident conductor Jordi Bernàcer (May 27-July 3). The company also will present a free live simulcast of Carmen July 2 at AT&T Park.

SFO music director Nicola Luisotti will conduct a revival of Verdi’s Don Carlo, which includes role debuts from tenor Michael Fabiano in the title part and soprano Ana María Martínez as Elisabetta. Other cast members include baritone Mariusz Kwiecień, bass René Pape, and mezzo-soprano Nadia Krasteva; Pape will cede the role of King Philip II to bass-baritone Ferruccio Furlanetto for the final performance (June 12-29).

A distinguished former exponent of the titular heroine in Janáček’s Jenůfa, soprano Karita Mattila will make her role debut as Jenůfa’s domineering stepmother Kostelnička in a production of the opera that stars soprano Malin Byström as Jenůfa, tenor William Burden as Laca, and tenor Scott Quinn as Števa. Jiří Bělohlávek is the conductor, Olivier Tambosi the stage director (June 14-July 1).

Cincinnati: Fellow Travelers recalls McCarthy era at Cincinnati Opera

June 16-July 29: Full details 

With presidential politics gobbling up the headlines this year, the nation’s second-oldest opera company is right in step with the zeitgeist as it unveils a world premiere set in the nation’s capital and rife with political intrigue. Fellow Travelers, with music by composer Gregory Spears and libretto by playwright Greg Pierce (based on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel), takes place at the height (nadir?) of the McCarthy era, in 1950s Washington. A young college graduate’s forbidden love affair with a State Department official devolves into deceit, betrayal, and worse. Aaron Blake, Joseph Lattanzi, and Devon Guthrie star. The first of eight performances is June 17.

Playing in repertory will be more familiar fare: Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, with Nicole Cabell, Nicole Haslett, and Zach Borichevsky (opens June 16); Beethoven’s Fidelio, with Christine Goerke, Russell Thomas, and Nmon Ford (July 7), and Puccini’s Tosca, with Evelina Dobračeva, Marcello Giordani, and Gordon Hawkins (July 23). Performances will be given at the company’s temporary venue, the Aronoff Center for the Arts, while its regular home, the venerable Music Hall, undergoes renovation. Stars from the 2016 season will present a free Opera in the Parks concert of opera and musical theater favorites, June 26 at Washington Park.

Indianola, Iowa: Orphée et Eurydice bows at Des Moines Metro Opera 

Blank Performing Arts Center, Des Moines Metro Opera
The Blank Performing Arts Center is home to the Des Moines Metro Opera.
June 24-July 17: Full details

Ordinarily one would not expect opera to thrive amid the Iowa cornfields, but DMMO is no ordinary opera company, and it is thriving just fine, thank you. One of the heartland’s leading summer opera festivals has earned distinction for presenting big works on a relatively small scale, with mostly American casts, conductors, and production teams, in a cozy, 467-seat theater at the Blank Performing Arts Center on the Simpson College campus just outside Des Moines.

DMMO presents at least one opera new to its repertory each season. For the 44th festival summer, that opera is Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, presented in its French version, with Gary Thor Wedow conducting (opening July 2). Verdi’s Falstaff opens the season June 24 with baritone Wayne Tigges as the fat knight, led by conductor David Neely. Soprano Sydney Mancasola will portray the pleasure-loving heroine of Massenet’s Manon, under Neely’s baton (June 25). DMMO will go off-site to the Science Center of Iowa in Des Moines for performances of Philip Glass’ one-act opera Galileo Galilei, July 7 and 10.

Aspen: In jest, William Bolcom’s A Wedding at Aspen Music Festival

June 30-Aug. 21: Full details

There is more than one secret at Robert Altman's 'The Wedding.'High in the Colorado Rockies, opera performances play a relatively minor role in this jam-packed classical music festival that is a mecca for performers, pre-professional music students, and audiences alike. Still, the artistic level requires no apologies, and the repertoire is nicely varied.

Opera Center director Edward Berkeley will stage Puccini’s La bohème (opens July 14) and Berlioz’s Béatrice et Bénédict (Aug. 16). Representing contemporary American opera will be William Bolcom’s A Wedding, a comedic drama from 2004 based on the 1978 Robert Altman film, with libretto by Altman and Arnold Weinstein (July 28). The conductors will be Ramón Tebar, Johannes Debus, and Patrick Summers, respectively.

Santa Fe: Vanessa bows in Santa Fe Opera’s 60th anniversary season

Open air Santa Fe Opera (Robert Reck)
The evening vista is spectacular from Santa Fe Opera’s amphitheater in the high desert.
July 1-Aug. 27: Full details

Santa Fe Opera’s summer festival seasons attract opera lovers from all parts of the planet, as much for the diverse repertoire and top-level performances as the magnificent setting: an alluring aerie of an amphitheater perched atop a mesa in the mountains of northern New Mexico. A stage house open at the back affords breathtaking views of high-desert sunsets that more than one stage director has worked into his or her show.

Almost every Santa Fe Opera season comes with a world premiere, but not this time around. Even so, the 60th-anniversary schedule offers a canny combination of standard repertory and less-often-performed operas, and the roster is full of performers worth hearing.

Barber’s Vanessa and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette will receive Santa Fe Opera premieres. Vanessa’s libretto (by Gian Carlo Menotti) may be slushy hokum, but the score is prime lyrical Barber, and soprano Erin Wall should be entrancing in the title role; Leonard Slatkin conducts, and James Robinson directs (opens July 30). Soprano Ailyn Pérez and tenor Stephen Costello portray the star-crossed lovers in Gounod’s Gallic tragédie lyrique, with the company’s chief conductor, Harry Bicket, presiding (July 16).

Puccini’s spaghetti western, La Fanciulla del West (The Girl of the Golden West), will open the season July 1, in a co-production with English National Opera that stars soprano Patricia Racette as the pistol-packing Minnie; Emmanuel Villaume is the conductor. Rounding out the season will be a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, conducted by John Nelson and directed by Ron Daniels (July 2), and Richard Strauss’ “conversation piece with music,” Capriccio, conducted by Leo Hussain and directed by Tim Albery (July 23).

A footnote to the Strauss: Capriccio had its American premiere at Santa Fe Opera one year after the company’s maiden season in 1957. Founding director John Crosby remained a tireless champion of Strauss’ music throughout his tenure, conducting every one of the composer’s operas save Die Frau ohne Schatten. 

Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Bard SummerScape eyes the Puccini paradox

Fisher Performing Arts Center, designed by Frank Gehry, at Bard College.
The Fisher Performing Arts Center was designed by Frank Gehry for Bard College.
July 1-Aug. 14: Full details

Opera is always a prime component of this ever-ambitious, seven-week cornucopia of culture at the gleaming, Frank Gehry-designed Fisher Performing Arts Center at Bard College in bucolic Annandale-on-Hudson in New York’s Hudson Valley. “Puccini and His World” is the theme of the 27th Bard Music Festival, its final two weekends devoted to exploring the Puccini paradox – 11 concerts of orchestral, choral, vocal and chamber music in all.

The big highlight will be a rare revival of Iris, by Puccini’s sometime rival, Pietro Mascagni, which ushered in a wave of fin-de-siècle operatic exotica; Leon Botstein, the festival’s co-artistic director and indefatigable repertoire adventurer, will conduct. Other Puccini-era operas will be given – some complete, others in excerpts – including Jules Massenet’s La Navarraise, Arrigo Boito’s Nerone, Alfredo Catalani’s Loreley, and the final act of Puccini’s Turandot (in the Luciano Berio completion), paired with Ferruccio Busoni’s setting of the same tale.

Cooperstown, N.Y.: Glimmerglass captures Rossini’s Thieving Magpie

Glimmerglass Festival's Alice Busch Opera Theater (Karli Cadel)
Glimmerglass mixes classic American musical theater with opera favorites.
July 8-Aug. 27: Full details

Best known as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, this sleepy village in Otsego County in upstate New York comes alive every summer with opera and song, courtesy of the redoubtable Glimmerglass Opera. Performances in the Alice Busch Opera Theater include classic American musical theater works along with operatic favorites old and new: it’s small-town opera with big-town class.

A new production of Puccini’s La bohème in the style of the Belle Époque will launch this year’s Glimmerglass season. Christopher Alden will direct Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, with baritone Greer Grimsley dispensing close shaves as the demon barber. Rossini’s comic opera The Thieving Magpie will receive a rare U.S. staging. A new production by artistic and general director Francesca Zambello of Robert Ward’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Crucible will complete the mainstage offerings. Season add-ons include Sondheim in conversation with Jamie Bernstein (July 30), and recitals by soprano Deborah Voigt (Aug. 5) and mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton (Aug. 12).

John von Rhein has been the music critic of the Chicago Tribune since 1977, making him one of the longest-tenured classical music critics at any publication in the U.S. He contributes articles about the arts to a variety of national and international publications.

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