The local “Intimate Opera Theater,” Pittsburgh Festival Opera, will begin its summer offerings the evening of Friday, July 6, at the Falk Auditorium of Winchester Thurston in Shadyside. For three weeks, the company will offer an eclectic assortment of staged productions, one-off concerts, and recitals, cabarets, opening night parties and other events. The first week will fill the weekend with performances, while the second two weeks will extend from Wednesdays through Sundays.
The festival begins with La Bohème Warhola – a “re-imagined” version of Puccini’s standard in which the action is moved to the 1960’s New York art scene. Daniel Schlosberg has arranged the work and will conduct the orchestration that was co-commissioned with Heartbeat Opera, New York. Louisa Proske will direct, and the cast will include Jonathan Tetelman (Rudolph); Jessica Sandidge (Mimì); Joshua Jeremiah (Marcel); Nicolette Mavroleon (Musetta); Joel Balzun (Schaunard), Matthew Scollin (Colline), and others, singing in an English translation by Amanda Holden. The first performance begins at 7:30 p.m., Friday, July 6, at the Falk Auditorium, preceded at 6:30 by an Art Exhibit Opening and followed at 10:30 by an opening night party, both in the Cabaret Lounge space at Falk. All of the remaining performances will take place at the same venue – Sunday, July 8 at 2:00 p.m. – and Thursday, July 12; Saturday, July 14 and Thursday July 19 – all at 7:30 p.m.
Another feature of the opening weekend will be the first performance of Bernstein on Broadway, a celebration of American composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein’s centenary. Music Director Robert Frankenberry has arranged a one-hour program of excerpts from Bernstein’s musicals to be performed by members of the company’s Young Professional Artists, and the first presentation will take place on Sunday, July 8, at 8:00 p.m. in the Snuggery Farm in Sewickley Heights. A separately ticketed “Gourmet Barbecue” will precede the performance at 6:00 p.m., and all repetitions of the program will take place in the Hilda Willis Room at Winchester Thurston – Wednesday, July 11, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, July 14, at 10:30 p.m., and Saturday July 21, at 10:30 p.m. The Hilda Willis Room will also be the venue of all performances of this summer’s “kiddie” opera, Goldie B. Locks and the Three Singing Bears. Using music by Mozart and Offenbach, John Davies has created and adapted this contemporary take on the beloved fairy tale, which runs just 40 minutes. Performances will be Saturday matinees at 11:00 a.m. on July 6, 14 and 21.
The highlight of the second week will be the return of Richard Wagner’s Rhinegold (Das Rheingold), in composer Jonathan Dove’s condensed, English-language version, first presented when the company was known as Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, in July 2005. At that time, none of the four music-dramas of Wagner’s epic Der Ring des Nibelungen saga had been heard locally since 1930 – and Das Rheingold, considered the prelude to the works which follow, had not been heard since Pittsburgh’s first and only complete, fully staged “Ring Cycle” in 1923. This one act prelude, loaded with gods, goddesses, mermaids, giants, and gnomes, is, for the most part, the exchange of sung dialogue between the many characters, with just a few spots of what could be considered sustained singing – perhaps the most famous and impressive of these being the warning Erda, the primeval earth goddess, addresses to Wotan, ruler of the ancient Norse gods. With reduced orchestration and sung in Andrew Porter’s English translation, Rhinegold runs for two hours – meaning approximately forty minutes of Wagner’s music is omitted, to give an idea of the size of these colossal works which unravel the downfall of the mythical gods. It is undeservedly the least appreciated of the “Ring” music-dramas, and abounds with some of Wagner’s most majestic orchestration.
Conducted by Walter Morales and directed by Jonathan Eaton, the Rhinegold cast includes Kenneth Shaw as Wotan; Robert Frankenberry as Loge, the god of fire; Barrington Lee as Alberich, the Nibelung dwarf; Mary Phillips as Fricka, wife of Wotan and the goddess of marriage and morality; Demareus Cooper as Erda, the all-knowing “Earth Mother”; Adam Cioffari and Andrew Potter as Fasolt and Fafner, the giants who built Valhalla; Alexander Boyd as Donner, the god of thunder; Brooke Dircks as Freia, the goddess of youth, beauty and feminine love, and Hanna Brammer Dillon, Emily Hopkins and Kathleen Shelton as the three Rhine Maidens, guardians of the “Rhine Gold.” Three performances will be given at the Falk Auditorium – Friday, July 13 at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, July 15 at 2:00 p.m., and Saturday, July 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Week three will once again bring a Richard Strauss rarity – Arabella, the last opera Strauss created in collaboration with librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Set in Vienna in the 1860’s, the action revolves around a Shrove Tuesday Carnival, and the romantic comedy of mistaken identities and the secret love letters so often found in opera. Matthew Scollin will take the part of the aging Count who can afford to launch just one of his two daughters, Arabella (Melinda Whittington), into “society.” Brent McMunn will conduct and Dorothy Danner will direct the cast in John Gutman’s English translation, and the vocal talent will also include Katie Manukyan (Zdenka); Danielle Wright (Adelaide); Andrew Cummings (Mandryka); Mark Tempesta (Matteo); Robert Chafin, Rob McGinness and Adam Cioffari as the Counts Elemer, Dominik, and Lamoral, among others in the large ensemble.
Standing out in the concert offerings of this summer, Jane Eaglen in recital, billed as “A Wagnerian Idyll,” will be heard at the First Unitarian Church at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday evening, July 7. From 1996 to 2004, the English-born soprano appeared in over fifty Metropolitan Opera performances – as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, the title roles in Bellini’s Norma and Puccini’s Turandot, all three Brünnhildes in Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen saga, and most notably as Isolde with Ben Heppner in Tristan und Isolde. In this repertory and other roles, she has performed in Seattle, Barcelona, Chicago, San Francisco, Milan, London, Vienna, Los Angeles, Munich, Bologna and elsewhere. Her extensive work on the concert stage is equally impressive, including guest soloist appearances with Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Zubin Mehta and the New York Philharmonic, and with Claudio Abbado at the Salzburg and Edinburgh Festivals, to name but a few. Ms. Eaglen will also serve as artistic director of the Mastersingers Project for Young Dramatic Voices, which will perform semi-staged scenes from Richard Wagner’s music-dramas at the First Unitarian Church on Saturday July 14, at 8:00 p.m.
Other concerts, lectures, and events will round out the month. For a full performance calendar, detailed production information, tickets and more, please visit Pittsburgh Festival Opera.