For its 2018-’19 season – the company’s 80th – Pittsburgh Opera will offer a variety of productions sure to meet with just about any music lover’s taste. The four Benedum Center stagings will be of tried and true classics, while the Resident Artist Program will again offer the new, including yet another world premiere.
The festivities begin with the 64th annual Diamond Horseshoe Ball, Saturday, September 22, 2018, at the Omni William Penn Hotel. This most elegant of Pittsburgh Opera’s special events is the company’s “signature season kickoff gala,” an evening of cocktails, dinner, dancing, and special entertainment. Live and silent auctions raise funds that enable Pittsburgh Opera to offer special programs such as “Opera Opportunity,” which allows students in grades 7-12 and their teachers from eligible schools to purchase reduced-price tickets to Benedum Center performances.
Puccini’s perennial favorite, Madama Butterfly, will open the season at the Benedum, with performances on October 6, 9, 12 and 14. It’s hard to believe that when the opera premiered in February 1904, at Teatro alla Scala in Milan, it was resoundingly jeered. The composer made revisions (several times), and today the opera, according to “Operabase,” ranks 6th as the most frequently performed works the world over. Loaded with tuneful arias, the opera also includes some of Puccini’s most majestically atmospheric orchestration. The music saves the day – the tragic plot, involving an American naval officer who temporarily takes a Japanese girl of 15 as a “bride of convenience,” would be unpalatable if it weren’t for the fact that no soprano capable of singing the stellar role can pass for that age.
Dina Kuznetsova, the Moscow-born soprano who has sung everywhere from New York to New Zealand, will appear for the first time with Pittsburgh Opera in the title role. Cody Austin, the tenor who made a fine impression in last season’s La Traviata, returns as Lt. Pinkerton, a role which challenges the singer to elicit sympathy. Baritone Michael Mayes, who will make his first appearance with the company next month in Moby-Dick, will return as the kindly Sharpless, and Laurel Semerdjian, well remembered and impressive in her Resident Artist days, returns as Suzuki, one of Puccini’s rare mezzo-soprano roles. Current Resident Artist Ben Taylor and others will fill supporting roles. Antony Walker will conduct the performances.
German works aren’t frequently staged by the company, and Engelbert Humperdinck’s delightful musical setting of Hansel & Gretel will come as a breath of fresh, Bavarian air. Everyone knows the fairy tale; some who might not have heard it before, and may think the opera is for the kiddies only, will be surprised by the amount of beautiful music included in the score – lovely vocal pieces and sumptuous orchestration. The composer’s masterpiece will be performed (in English) at the Benedum on November 3, 6, 9 and 11, again with Antony Walker wielding the baton. Mezzo-soprano Corrie Stallings and soprano Ashley Fabian will sing the title roles. Frequently the part of the witch goes to a “character tenor” in hag drag, but happily that won’t be the case in this production – Marianne Cornetti, well known to local musical audiences, is cast for the role.
The winter months of 2019 will again bring the Resident Artist productions. First up will be another world premiere, David Paul’s afterWARds (“Mozart’s Indomeneo Reimagined”). The work is described as a condensed and reorganized version of Mozart’s music, in which the composer’s tale of the Trojan War “shifts the opera’s focus towards its four protagonists and their timeless struggles for love and peace in a world full of carnage and destruction.” The new work will be performed at the CAPA Theater on January 26, 29, February 1 and 3, and while a conductor has not yet been named, newcomers Terrence Chin-Loy, Hannah Hagerty and Caitlin Gotimer will sing the roles of Idomeneo, Idamante and Elettra, respectively, with Ashley Fabian as Ilia.
For the more intimate production which routinely is done at the George R. White Opera Studio at Pittsburgh Opera Headquarters in the Strip District, Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied will be performed on February 23, 26, March 1 and 3. Based on Tom Philpott’s book, the opera deals with the true story of Colonel Jim Thompson, America’s longest-held prisoner of war. To quote from the company’s press release, “The opera deals not only with Thompson’s suffering in the jungle of southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, but also the tragic aftermath that followed his liberation. Colonel Thompson endured his brutal captivity by doggedly clinging to memories of his loving wife Alyce and their children. Alyce, however, believed Jim was dead. She and her children moved to Massachusetts with another man, leading to a painful reunion after Jim’s release. Glory Denied is, above all, the story of an American family during one our nation’s most turbulent eras.” Conductor, director, staging and a few other particulars are still “in the works,” but Terrence Chin-Loy and Ben Taylor will sing young and older Thompson, respectively, while the same variations of his wife will be sung by Ashley Fabian and Caitlin Gotimer.
Spring will return the productions to the Benedum, as usual, with Puccini’s classic La Bohème performed on March 30, April 2, 5 and 7. So much is known of the work that little needs a rehashing here, but an interesting piece of trivia concerning the opera’s first performances in America, in the late 1890s, is that a touring company, unequipped with a full score, used a simple piano score to make up scratch orchestration that undoubtedly came not even close to Puccini’s unmistakable sound. It comes as no surprise that the opera was received by small and indifferent audiences. Once better-prepared companies began presenting the tale of impoverished Parisian artists – with Puccini’s orchestration – the rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Internationally acclaimed soprano Nicole Cabell is cast as the tragic Mimì. Tenor Sean Panikkar returns to Pittsburgh as Rodolfo. Others in the cast include Craig Verm as Marcello, Sari Gruber as Musetta, and Ben Taylor as Schaunard. Jean-Luc Tingaud will conduct the performances.
Donizetti’s comic Don Pasquale will conclude the season, with performances on April 27, 30, May 3 and 5. The opera premiered in 1843, but the staging will move the music and action to 1930s Hollywood. The wealthy old bachelor Don Pasquale wants to arrange a marriage for his ward and nephew, Ernesto, to a “proper” young lady. But Ernesto already loves a young widow, Norina, and resists his uncle’s wishes. The couple, with the help of Dr. Malatesta, plot to trick Don Pasquale into letting them marry. Gary Wedow will conduct the simple tale set to tuneful, engaging music.
The delightful soprano, Lisette Oropesa, last heard here in The Daughter of the Regiment a few seasons ago, will return as Norina. Kevin Glavin, a familiar face and voice locally, will take the title role, and tenor Javier Abreu will sing the part of Ernesto. The few remaining parts, at this time, have yet to be cast.
We’ll offer more information about the productions as we get closer to the actual performances, but for the most current details, tickets, and more, please visit Pittsburgh Opera