To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the ambitious Opera Theater of Pittsburgh has rebranded as “Pittsburgh Festival Opera,” and will continue to offer musical innovations and rarities that have been steadily growing in quality over the past few summers. This summer’s performances start June 15, and will run through the greater part of July, so the company’s capacity for work hasn’t diminished, and there is every reason to believe that the quality of its work will equal or surpass what it has offered for a number of years.
“While our main productions take place in an extended summer season,” Jonathan Eaton (the company’s Artistic and General Director) stated in a recent press release, “our commitment to the next generation of both artists and audiences is maintained year-round with our education programs. We are thrilled that audiences and critics support us as a cherished addition to the summer cultural calendar. We continue to produce our mix of new operas, rarely-performed works, and reinvented classics with passion and commitment. We realize that it has come to define our company more and more – so we feel it is now time to change our name to Pittsburgh Festival Opera to better reflect our activities.”
This season promises all of the above, and begins with the second commissioned work in the company’s “Music that Matters” series of new operas taking on contemporary issues. A Gathering of Sons, outlined in detail by our writer Jacob Spears in February, will start this summer’s productions on June 15. This world-premiere is a new “social justice opera,” composed by Dwayne Fulton, set to a libretto by Tameka Cage Conley, and in music with jazz, gospel and modern classical influences, tells the story of a young black man, a white police officer, parents of a newborn child, and “a collection of spirits who watch over the world.” Several performances will be given “on tour” in a few local venues before its first performance at the Falk Auditorium of Winchester Thurston on July 1. For a closer look at A Gathering of Sons take a look at Nicole Tafe’s article here.
Stephen Sondheim’s and Hugh Wheeler’s Tony Award winning Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is this summer’s “musical,” and will receive five performances beginning Friday, July 7, at the Falk Auditorium, running through the month until Saturday, July 22. The popular work is staged by international director Tomé Cousin, conducted by Douglas Levine, and will feature well known local singers, such as Anna Singer (Mrs. Lovett) and Robert Frankenberry (Beadle), with baritone Andrew Cummings in the title role. The production seems sure to provide a little ghoulishly fun musical entertainment.
Since Pittsburgh Opera Festival has for the past couple of summers educated me to the fact that I genuinely, deeply appreciate the very old operas of Georg Friedrich Händel – something I never knew before – his masterpiece Xerxes on the list this year pleases me greatly. A combination of the comic and romantic, the opera will star Metropolitan Opera counter-tenor Andrey Nemzer as Xerxes, the King Persia. Still more Metropolitan Opera Company influence will be brought to the front in these performances, as the work will be staged by that company’s director, Dan Rigazzi. Three performances will commence on Friday, July 14, with repetitions on Sunday, July 16, and Saturday, July 22. Walter Morales will conduct the orchestra, augmented by the always magnificent Chatham Baroque ensemble. The cast will also include singers (Lara Lynn McGill, to name but one) who have lent their abundant talent in previous summers.
Richard Strauss’ Intermezzo will be the fourth in the company’s series of rarely-performed works by that German master, and will be directed by Jonathan Eaton, with Brent McMunn conducting. It’s a semi-autobiographical treatment of a troubled marriage; Paul Thomason wrote an interesting history of the real life events which led up to Strauss’ composition of the work, which premiered in Dresden in 1924. It was slow to reach the United States, the first professionally staged performance done by Santa Fe Opera (also in an English translation, as will be Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s) in 1984. It was performed in a concert version at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1986, but was never done in a fully staged version in that city until New York City Opera produced it in 1999. Pittsburgh Opera Festival’s revival of the rarity will mark its premiere in Pennsylvania. It will receive only two performances, at the Falk Auditorium – Friday evening, July 21, and Sunday afternoon, July 23. Eaton and McMunn accomplished wonders with last summer’s The Silent Woman, so there’s every reason to expect the same results this year.
Hansel and Gretel will be this summer’s “family friendly” kiddie opera. Engelbert Humperdinck’s masterpiece (and, yes, there was a famous German composer of that name long before the pop singer of the 1960’s), will be heavily cut to 40 minutes of the opera’s best moments, so as not to tax the attention span of its little patrons. In the early decades of the last century, the full, magnificently orchestrated version of the opera was a popular Saturday matinee at the Metropolitan, frequently with the famous Pittsburgh-born contralto Louise Homer in the role of the Witch. The opera will be performed in the more intimate Hilda Willis Room at Winchester Thurston, on Saturday mornings at 11:00, July 1, 8 and 15, with more than reasonable admission prices.
This summer’s Recital Series, Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s tradition of one-night concerts and special musical events, looks particularly appealing, and will include the “Three (Counter) Tenors,” with Metropolitan Opera star Andrey Nemzer, on Friday, June 30, followed by an opening night party. Daphne Alderson will provide the next entertainment, with “Leonard Cohen: A Hallelujah at Love Café,” on Thursday evening, July 13. Next up is “Mozart by Moonlight: a Garden of Operatic Delights,” with two full acts from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” performed in a moonlit garden, at the Falk Auditorium on Wednesday, July 19. Concluding the series will be “Songs of Richard Strauss,” featuring singers from the Young Professional Artists company on Saturday, July 22. All of the events, with the exception of “Mozart by Moonlight,” will take place at the First Unitarian Church, Shadyside.
Other features of this summer’s doings will be a “Discover Strauss Series,” and “If I Loved You,” a new “dramatic revue of star-spangled songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein” performed around the July 4 holiday weekend at Snuggery Farm in Sewickley Heights, and at the Falk Auditorium July 9 and 16. There will also be cabarets, opening night parties and other attractions, as usual.
For full details of Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s busy summer, tickets, more detailed information on special events and much more, please visit their new and colorful website. This ambitious, capable company is quite a summer musical treat, so drink up as much of it as you can! You won’t be disappointed.
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