Pittsburgh Opera, shortly after announcing that its Education and Outreach programs have earned the company a prestigious spot as a finalist in the 2019 International Opera Awards, has released details as to repertory and production information for its upcoming 2019-2020 season, the company’s 81st. In keeping with recent seasons, the lineup includes old standards and novelties, and is an attractive combination sure to have something for everyone–be they opera veterans or newcomers to this magnificent art form. As usual, all productions will receive four performances, opening Saturday evenings at 8, with repetitions the following Tuesdays at 7:00, Fridays at 7:30, and Sundays at 2:00.
First up at the Benedum, Saturday night, October 12, will be Mozart’s Don Giovanni, the tuneful Italian classic that has been entertaining audiences since 1787. Last presented by Pittsburgh Opera in 2012, next season’s performances, directed by Kristine McIntyre, will be of a period production owned by Lyric Opera of Kansas City. Antony Walker will conduct, and the promising cast will be led by former Resident Artist Craig Verm in the title role. Musa Ngqungwana, who made an excellent first impression with his company debut in Moby-Dick, will return as Leporello, the Don’s “partner in crime,” and Kang Wang will be heard here for the first time, in the role of Don Ottavio. The crucial role of Donna Anna has yet to be cast, but a first-rate former Resident Artist, Corrie Stallings, will be heard as Donna Elvira. Brian Kontes, first heard with the company in 2017’s Le Nozze di Figaro, another Mozart standard, will be the “Commendatore,” and Resident Artists Antonia Botti-Lodovico and Tyler Zimmerman will take the roles of Zerlina and Masetto.
A novelty in every particular will be Florencia en el Amazonas, the second Benedum production, opening Saturday night, November 9. Operas in Spanish are scarce, and this work, with music by Daniel Catán set to a libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, first produced by Houston Grand Opera in 1996, and since revived by Cincinnati Opera, Opera Colorado, Utah Opera, Washington National Opera, Nashville Opera, Arizona Opera, New York City Opera and other venues, will be a Pittsburgh first. Stephanie Havey will direct a revival of Jose Maria Condemi’s original production, owned by Florida Grand Opera, with Antony Walker at the podium and a cast including Alexandra Loutsion and the renowned Nathan Gunn.
Like Tosca, Florencia en el Amazonas is an opera about an opera singer. “Florencia Grimaldi” is a famous early 20th century singer traveling the Amazon River by steamship for performances at the Manaus, Brazil opera house, hoping to find her long-lost lover, who has disappeared into the jungle, along the way. Judging from the performance available on You Tube, the vocal and orchestral writing are contemporary, but penned by a composer not afraid of the traditional “grand opera” idiom. “Inspired by the magic realism of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel Garcia Márquez and his novel Love in the Time of Cholera,” the press release tells us, “Florencia en el Amazonas features lush, melodic music and ever-changing backdrops of mysterious beauty.”
Once winter returns, the first Resident Artist production Alcina, Händel’s baroque masterpiece, will open at the CAPA on Saturday night, January 25, 2020. The ancient tale of sorcery on an enchanted island, directed by Matthew Haney, will again have Antony Walker as conductor, with Caitlin Gotimer in the title role, Antonia Botti-Lodovico as Ruggiero, Natasha Wilson as Morgana, Terrence Chin-Loy as Oronte, Tyler Zimmerman as Melisso, and, in a piece of “luxury casting,” former Resident Artist Laurel Semerdjian as Bradamante.
The Last American Hammer, with music by Peter Hilliard and an English libretto by Matt Boresi, has been chosen as the Second Stage Project at the George R. White Studio at Pittsburgh Opera’s Headquarters in the Strip. Commissioned by UrbanArias, the work tells in music the tale of Milcom Negley, a one-man militia, raging against the tyranny of federal overreach, and will open Saturday, February 22. That Matthew Haney will direct Resident Artists in the three roles included in the piece is about the only information certain at this early date.
Spring, and the return to the Benedum, will bring another chance to hear Bizet’s Carmen, the deservedly popular, perennial favorite of the French operatic genre. The performances, conducted by Timothy Myers and directed by Garnett Bruce, will open Saturday, March 28. The production will be especially interesting in that three of the leading roles will be taken by singers new to Pittsburgh Opera. Latvian mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde will be heard as the flirtatious, hard-hearted gypsy, Scott Quinn, praised by the Twin Cities Pioneer Press for his “brilliantly clear, emotion-laden tenor voice,” will be the obsessed Don José, and baritone Michael Todd Simpson, who has sung the part of Escamillo at the Metropolitan Opera, will sing it here. Danielle Pastin, a local favorite and always a delight, will appear in the charming role of Micäela, and those familiar with her voice and style will look forward to the treat of hearing her again. The supporting roles will be taken by Resident Artists.
The season will end with a return to the Italian bel canto genre, when Bellini’s Norma, not done by Pittsburgh Opera in over twenty years, opens at the Benedum on Saturday, April 25. The period production, owned by Cincinnati Opera, will be directed by Crystal Manich and conducted by Antony Walker. Virtually a one-woman showcase for the soprano, the role of the tragic Druid priestess in ancient Gaul, who falls in love with a Roman invader, will be sung by Leah Crocetto, last heard here in Tosca in 2017. The role is such a challenge that Lilli Lehmann, a famous singer of the late 19th century, once was quoted as saying she found the part more difficult than the three Brünnhildes in Wagner’s “Ring Cycle” combined, and all four roles loomed large in her vast repertory. This might have been a slight bit of prima donna hyperbole, but the role is daunting, the music beautiful, and it will be a pleasure to see the opera on the local stage again after such a long absence. Jennifer Johnson Cano will make her company debut as Adalgisa. The tenor role of Pollione has yet to be cast.
The current season may still be in progress, but it’s never too early to get a head start on ordering tickets for the next. Visit Pittsburgh Opera often for additional details on 2019-’20 as they become available, tickets for the remaining performances of this season, information about the 65th annual Diamond Horseshoe Ball, “Maecenas,” the company’s annual fundraiser gala, Pre-Opera Talks, “Meet the Artists” Tuesdays, the free Rising Stars Concert, other low or no cost events and much more. The Pittsburgh Opera website is one of the most graphically appealing and informative ones of its kind online.
(A special note: all photos are of past stagings by other companies of the shows to be seen next season at Pittsburgh Opera. They are not of Pittsburgh Opera’s casts.)
A Pittsburgh native, George B. Parous began his studies of music and the ‘cello in grade school before his interests turned to opera, its performers and history while in his teens. He has been acknowledged as a contributor or editor of several published works (the first being “Rosa Raisa, A Biography of a Diva,” Northeastern University Press, 2001), and is currently working on his own biography of the German-American dramatic soprano, Johanna Gadski, who sang at the Metropolitan during the “Golden Age of Opera.” A retired IT Analyst, he is an avid genealogist, and has traced his maternal line to 8th century Wessex, England. He’s been a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round since 2014.