DATE BOOK — With many of the highest-profile classical-music festivals spread across the Rocky Mountains and up and down the East and West coasts, similar events in the Midwest can sometimes get overlooked. But these heartland series can more than hold their own in terms of quality, and many have distinctive offerings in their lineups that can’t be found anywhere else. Here are highlights from Midwestern festivals getting a head start on the summer:
Cincinnati: May Festival innovates amid renovation, leadership change
May 19-27: Full details
Unlike most summer festivals, which are devoted to operas or chamber music, the May Festival focuses on the world of choral music. The inaugural season was led by famed conductor Theodore Thomas, and the event has been going strong ever since, with the 130-voice, all-volunteer May Festival Chorus and Cincinnati Symphony at the heart of its offerings. James Conlon stepped down last year after 37 years as music director, and Juanjo Mena was recently named as the festival’s principal conductor effective in 2018. Guest conductors this season include Harry Bicket leading Bach’s Mass in B minor (May 27). Performances are at various locations while the city’s iconic Music Hall completes restoration and improvements.
Rarity: Opening night (May 19) will pair an excerpt from a Te Deum by the early-20th-century German composer Walter Braunfels, who wrote it on his return from the First World War front line, with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony led by Markus Stenz.
Special project: To launch what the festival calls its Dream Project conceived by newly appointed creative partner Gerard McBurney, visual enhancements and actors will be featured in Mendelssohn’s incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream (May 20) and Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius (May 26).
St. Louis: Classics of Steinbeck, Kafka find operatic voice
May 20-June 25: Full details
The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis ranks among the most adventurous summer festivals in the country. Typical of the company’s offerings, this season includes an American premiere and a new performing version of Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath, which debuted in 2007, along with two familiar works.
American premiere: Philip Glass’ The Trial, based on the novel by Kafka, with a libretto by British playwright Christopher Hampton. It is a co-production with London’s Royal Opera House, Scottish Opera and Theater Magdeburg. (June 4-23). The dark comedy depicts one man’s bizarre legal complications as he finds himself arrested on his 30th birthday for no apparent reason.
New performing version: Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie’s The Grapes of Wrath (May 27-June 25), based on Steinbeck’s novel about the Joad family’s flight from the Dust Bowl and attempt to find a new life in California. The Minnesota Opera premiered the three-act grand opera in 2007. Christopher Allen conducts and James Robinson directs this slimmer two-act version (May 27-June 25).
Puccini’s Madama Butterfly (May 20-June 24) and Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito (June 10-24) round out the season.
Northbrook, Ill.: Boutique chamber festival commissions clarinet trio
June 7, 9 and 10: Full details
In 2011, famed Israeli violinist Vadim Gluzman and his wife, pianist Angela Yoffe, founded the North Shore Chamber Music Festival, a top-flight, three-day event that continues to fly a little under the radar. They invite some of their many musical friends to join them each June for concerts that take place at the Village Presbyterian Church in Northbrook, where they reside. This year’s edition will feature the ProMusica Chamber Orchestra from Columbus, Ohio, with its music director, David Danzmayr.
World premiere: Gluzman, Yoffe and Ukrainian-American clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg will give the world premiere of Adam Neiman’s Trio for Violin, Clarinet and Piano (June 9). Chicago-based Neiman is also the artistic director of Vermont’s Manchester Music Festival and CEO-founder of the Aeolian Classics label.
Rarity: Czech composer Vilém Tauský’s Coventry: A Meditation for Strings, written for string quartet in 1941, arranged for string orchestra in 2001 (June 10).
Special project: The festival will present Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat (The Soldier’s Tale), a theatrical work for three actors and a septet of musicians. Among those taking dramatic roles will be Henry Fogel, former CEO of the Chicago Symphony (June 7).
Cincinnati: Opera celebrates inner world of Frida Kahlo
June 15-July 23: Full details
The company marks its 97th season with three mainstage operas. The performances will take place at the Aronoff Center for the Arts while the $135 million renovation continues at Music Hall, the company’s home.
Rarity: Robert Xavier Rodríguez’s surreal 1991 opera Frida, based on the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, will feature Michigan Opera Theatre’s 2015 production with Colombian soprano Catalina Cuervo in the title role (June 23-July 8).
Indianola, Iowa: Des Moines Metro Opera explores Piazzolla’s tango operita
June 23-July 16: Full details
This company is not only Iowa’s largest performing arts organization, but it also embodies one of the country’s major summer opera festivals. It presents three mainstage productions each year in the 467-seat Pote Theatre at the Blank Center for the Performing Arts in Indianola, Iowa – 18 miles south of Des Moines.
Special project: As part of its its 2nd Stage Series, which showcases contemporary and offbeat works in sometimes unconventional spaces around the Des Moines area, Metro Opera will present Astor Piazzolla’s 1968 tango operita, María de Buenos Aires (July 6 and 13) at Des Moines’ Temple for Performing Arts.
Wooster, Ohio: Light Opera revives an early Gershwin hit
June 17-Aug. 12: Full details
In 1979, the Ohio Light Opera presented its first five-week season as resident professional company at the College of Wooster. Initially dedicated to the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, the mission has since expanded to include all kinds of light opera, including works from the American, Austrian, French, German and Hungarian repertoire. Along with familiar titles, the company also makes a point of reconstructing and presenting worthy works that have receded into the past.
Rarities: George Gershwin’s Primrose (1924), first fully staged production in nearly a century, written for London but never brought to Broadway (July 26-Aug. 9); and Victor Herbert’s The Lady of the Slipper, or A Modern Cinderella, the second-longest-running musical of 1912 and source of the duet “Meow! Meow! Meow!” for Cinderella and the cat. (July 26-Aug. 11).
Special project: The company, which has produced twelve operettas by the Hungarian composer Emmerich Kálmán, offers a reprise of his Countess Maritza this season (July 27-Aug. 10).
Also featured in the complete line-up are The Music Man, Anything Goes, HMS Pinafore, and The Student Prince.