As is customary once its current season is at the midway point, Pittsburgh Opera has made public details on the works to be presented during the next season – the company’s 82nd. The list shows that the company remains committed to a mixture of the time-honored classics and innovative novelties, so as to provide an attractive combination sure to have something for everyone, opera veterans and newcomers alike. As usual, all productions will receive four performances, opening Saturday evenings at 8, with repetitions the following Tuesdays (the “Meet the Artists” dates) at 7:00, Fridays at 7:30, and Sundays at 2:00. The venues remain the same with one very interesting exception, while four of the six operas to be staged will be “firsts” for Pittsburgh Opera.
First up, and a company premiere, at the Benedum – Dvorák’s classic Rusalka, sung in its original Czech language. Opening night is Saturday, October 10, and the period production, owned by Minnesota Opera, will have Antony Walker conducting and Kristine McIntyre directing – always a winning combination. Soprano Ekaterina Siurina returns for her second Pittsburgh Opera production, as Rusalka, the water nymph who longs for a human prince. Marianne Cornetti, well known to local opera audiences, and last heard as the Hansel & Gretel witch, will be Ježibaba, the witch who prefers making pacts with Czech mermaids to trapping German children. Hao Jiang Tian is cast as Rusalka’s father, Vodnik, the water goblin, and Evan LeRoy Johnson will be the Prince. Julianna di Giacomo will be the Foreign Princess, and Resident Artists, current and newcomers, will round out the cast – Yazid Gray (the Hunter), Natasha Wilson, Madeline Ehlinger and Maire Therese Carmack (the three “Wood Sprites”). As always, English projections above the stage will be provided, but many eyes – and ears – will never leave the stage.
Mozart’s phantasmagorical and beautifully melodious The Magic Flute, which has enchanted and bewildered audiences since 1791, will be the second Benedum production, starting Saturday evening, November 7. The promising cast will bring back singers who have made excellent impressions as Resident Artists in past seasons – Eric Ferring (Tamino), Adelaide Boedecker (Pamina) and Benjamin Taylor (Papageno). Kathryn Bowden will make her first Pittsburgh Opera appearance in the famously demanding role of the Queen of the Night. The production, owned by Utah Opera, will be offered in an English translation. German language works remain few and far between, and given in English when they are heard, but the exquisite music of this masterpiece sweeps all before it. Tom McNichols is cast as Sarastro, a role which presents the bass voice challenges fairly equal to those faced by the Queen of the Night. Well, almost. There are other production details in the works, but all information will be available long before we do our preview, closer to November.
With winter comes the first Resident Artist production, at the CAPA Theater, and by this time next year we will have heard Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy’s Emmeline, an American work commissioned by the Santa Fe Opera and premiered in 1996. The story of this opera, tragically true, is based on a book of the same name by Judith Rossner, about a 19th-century Maine teenager who has an illegitimate son whom she gives up for adoption with the help of an aunt who doesn’t even tell the 13-year-old whether she had a boy or girl. Twenty years later Emmeline meets – and marries – a much younger man, and the rest is gut-wrenching history. Crystal Manich will direct a production designed and built specially by Pittsburgh Opera. Natasha Wilson has been cast as Emmeline, and Angel Romero as Matthew, the son; Yazid Gray as Mr. Maguire, Maire Therese Carmack as Aunt Hannah and Jeremy Harr as Henry Mosher. Full cast and production details will be available soon. The first performance will be Saturday evening, January 23, 2021.
The Second Stage Project, performed in the George R. White Opera Studio of the company’s Strip District headquarters, will be David T. Little’s Soldier Songs. Described as a mixture of theater, opera, rock-infused-concert music, and animation, the piece was originally commissioned by Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, which premiered the work in 2006. Quoting the press release: “The libretto was adapted from recorded interviews with veterans of five wars. Soldier Songs traces the shift in perception of war from the age of 6 to the age of 66. We follow the abstract character through the three phases of life: Youth (playing war games) Warrior (time served in the military) and Elder (aged, wise, reflective). Each of the eleven songs in the production explores a different aspect of the soldier’s experience, ranging from rage, to fear, to joy, to grief. Multi-media is employed as a critique of the media’s ability to both glamorize and falsify the truth of combat. Soldier Songs asks tough questions and tells tough stories through its poignant libretto, driving and devastating music, and surprising visual counterpoint. The tension between the visual and aural experience works to dispel any potential numbness felt by those lucky enough to only experience war through the comfort of their living rooms.” Yazid Gray will be the Soldier in a production directed by Kaley Karis Smith. Saturday evening, February 20, 2021, will mark the first performance.
Spring and a return to the Benedum will bring back Verdi’s perennial favorite, Aïda, a work that possibly underlines the “grand” in Italian grand opera better than any other. Pittsburgh Opera has a long and colorful history of producing this majestic piece, and Antony Walker, who will again conduct, has astonished with his handling of the work on past occasions. Alexandra Loutsion returns to Pittsburgh Opera in the title role, as will Marianne Cornetti in the role of Amneris, daughter of the Pharaoh and Aïda’s mighty rival. Another welcomed return will be that of Musa Ngqungwana, as Amonasro, Aïda’s father and the King of Ethiopia. The pivotal roles of Radamès and Ramfis are not yet cast. Resident Artists Jeremy Harr, Natasha Wilson and Angel Romero will appear as the King of Egypt, the High Priestess and the Messenger. Crystal Manich will direct, the first performance being Saturday evening, March 20, 2021.
The season will conclude with another company first – Charlie Parker’s Yardbird, with music by Daniel Schnyder set to a libretto by Bridgette A. Wimberly. The August Wilson African American Cultural Center will be the venue rather than the Benedum, and opening night is Saturday, May 8, 2021. Based on the brief, troubled life – and death – of Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, the legendary jazz saxophonist (and composer) who flourished for too short a time in the middle of the last century, the opera begins with his ghost traveling back in time in an attempt to right the wrongs which brought about his early demise. “With the aid of his strong mother Addie, three of his four wives, and his partner in the bebop jazz revolution, Dizzy Gillespie,” the synopsis tells us, “Charlie will struggle to calm his demons and write his new masterpiece before his body is identified in the morgue and this gig is up forever. Can he do it, or will the demons of his past rear their ugly heads? Join us on a freeform expedition into the mind, heart, and personal purgatory of the man they called Yardbird.” Antony Walker conducts; Ron Daniels directs, and Martin Bakari will sing the role of Charlie. Among others in the cast are Yazid Gray, Natasha Wilson, Maire Therese Carmack and Madeline Ehlinger.
As usual, there will be other special, low-cost and free events throughout the season, which promises to be an impressive one. Watch the calendar of events and other announcements, see additional production information as it becomes available, and most important of all – GET TICKETS – at Pittsburgh Opera.
We’ll see you there!
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.