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Summer Stages: No Rest for the Opera Crowd in the Northeast This Summer

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Soprano Christine Goerke at Mostly Mozart,
Glimmerglass Festival and Cincinnati Opera

Although the solstice doesn't officially appear for another week or so, the summer opera clock is already ticking. There's a plethora of performances going on all over New York City, in addition to interesting, entertaining and fascinating productions that are just a hop, skip and jump away. Among them: Lincoln Center's Lincoln Center Festival and Mostly Mozart and On Site Opera's West Village venue (introducing Marcos Portugal to New Yorkers), to the more bucolic realms of Bard SummerScape in Annandale-on-Hudson in Dutchess County (NY) for Mascagni and Caramoor in Katonah (NY) for Rossini and Beethoven.

An Alternate Opera Universe

In fact, the alternate opera universe started in New York in early May, when the New York Opera Fest opened. The brainchild of The New York Opera Alliance, and presented in partnership with OPERA America, it represents many of New York's smaller companies and uses venues ranging from bars to playgrounds to traditional theaters and lasts till the end of June.

It started with such works as the US premiere of Pacini's MALVINA DI SCOZIA from the Vertical Player Repertory, the Regina Opera's MANON LESCAUT and the Center for Contemporary Opera's first look at THE WILD BEAST OF THE BUNGALOW by Rachel Peters and Royce Vavrek. And there are still at a couple of notable events on the Fest schedule, starting with this week's alternate MARRIAGE OF FIGARO from On Site Opera and, at the end of the month, PATIENCE AND SARAH by Paula Kimper and Wende Persons at the Player's Theatre in Greenwich Village.

This past week, however, things were taken up a notch in the "show to beat" category for sheer entertainment, with the opening of LoftOpera's maniacally funny production of Rossini's last comedy, LE COMTE ORY at the Muse circus school's venue in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

On Site Opera, June 14-17 (www.osopera.org)

One of New York's most imaginative and nimble opera companies, led by General & Artistic Director Eric Einhorn, Music Director Geoffrey McDonald and Executive Director & Producer Jessica Kiger, On Site (OSO) is staging the North American premiere of Marcos Portugal's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO (1799) this week. It's sung in English in a translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray, with dialogue adapted by Joan Holden, in an inventive new chamber orchestration by guitarist Jose Luis Iglesias and OSO's McDonald, based on the new critical edition of the score edited by David Cranmer.

It's the latest installment of OSO's The Figaro Project, with immersive stagings of lesser-known operatic adaptations of the famed Figaro trilogy of French playwright Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, which inspired Rossini and Mozart. Last year's terrific performances of Paisiello's version of IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA make this year's effort a "must." (Indeed, not only is it sold out, but the waiting list has been closed as well.) Portugal's LA PAZZA GIORNATA O SIA IL MATRIMONIO DI FIGARO (THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO), with a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, was written for Carnival season of 1800 at the Teatro San Benedetto, just 13 years after Mozart's Figaro. (That's what I call 'confidence'!)

Presented in partnership with The New School's Mannes School of Music and The Portuguese Consulate in New York, the staging will take place at 632 on Hudson, a triplex in the West Village that will serve as Count Almaviva's summer palace.

Norgard in New York, June 16-18 (http://norgardinnewyork.org/)

Considered Denmark's greatest living composer, Per Norgard, 83, is being celebrated with a comprehensive look at his music, from all stages of his career at Scandinavia House, 58 Park Avenue, New York, NY.

The three concerts reveal his connections to American music and poetry, his vital contributions to the string quartet repertoire, and the influence of the soundscape of the natural world on his music. Highlights include a rare performance of his ravishing Night-Symphonies, Day Breaks plus ten major US premieres. Among the performers: Lost Dog New Music Ensemble, Momenta Quartet, soprano Sarah Joy Miller (who caused a stir in the title role of ANNA NICOLE at BAM) and percussionist Neeraj Mehta. A festival pass is available.

Metropolitan Opera, June 22-July 13 (www.metopera.org)

The 2016 Metropolitan Opera's Summer Recital Series, in collaboration with the New York City Parks Foundation's SummerStage Festival, is back for another year, with six free concerts between June 22 and July 13. It kicks off on June 22 at 8 pm at Central Park SummerStage featuring soprano Angel Blue--a rising star who has a Met debut in the works--tenor Ben Bliss and baritone Alexey Lavrov, joined by pianist Dan Saunders. It will be repeated on June 24 at 7 pm in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Four additional recitals will feature soprano Michelle Bradley, tenor Kang Wang, and baritone Yunpeng Wang (a standout this year in MADAMA BUTTERFLY as Prince Yamadori and in Opera Orchestra's PARISINA D'ESTE), all three of whom are members of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, again featuring Saunders on piano,. These recitals are currently scheduled (weather permitting, of course) for Thursday, July 7 at 7 pm in Clove Lakes Park on Staten Island; Saturday, July 9 at 7 pm in Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem; Monday, July 11 at 7 pm in Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens; and Wednesday, July 13 at 7 pm in Crotona Park in the Bronx.

There will also be some encore presentations of four of the Met's Peabody and Emmy Award-winning Live in HD broadcasts--TOSCA, L'ELISIR D'AMORE, LA BOHEME and COSÌ FAN TUTTE--at theatres across the country, as well as the Met's popular Summer HD Festival on Lincoln Center Plaza, featuring ten consecutive nights of free encore Live in HD screenings, running from August 27 to September 5. On August 26, kicking off the series, there will be a free screening of the Academy-Award-winning film AMADEUS, the fictional biography of Mozart, based on the Peter Schaffer play. No tickets necessary.

New York City Opera, June 22-26 (http://nycopera.com/)

Elizabeth Caballero as Florencia Grimaldi in
FLORENCIA EN EL AMAZONAS at Nashville Opera.
Photo: Nashville Opera

The revived New York City Opera concludes its 2016 season with the New York premiere of FLORENCIA EN EL AMAZONAS by the Mexican composer Daniel Catan with librettist, Marcella Fuentes-Berain, at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center, in Columbus Circle, from June 22-26. The performances of the contemporary opera--about strangers sharing an Amazon voyage in the early 1900's on the steamboat El Dorado, among them the opera singer Florencia Grimaldi--inaugurate City Opera's Opera en Español. The landmark initiative both introduces opera-lovers to a neglected but significant repertoire and reaches out to new and Spanish-speaking audiences.

FLORENCIA was co-commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera and Seattle Opera from Mexican Catan--who died suddenly at 62--and premiered in Houston in 1996. Inspired by the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it was the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major United States opera houses. Staged and conceived by John Hoomes, the production originated at the Nashville Opera (where he is Artistic Director), and will be conducted by Dean Williamson; it features Elizabeth Caballero as Florencia, a role she did in Nashville.

Opera Saratoga, June 24-July 17 (http://www.operasaratoga.org/)

Another work by Catan, IL POSTINO, is the centerpiece of Opera Saratoga's season, July 7-July 16. Directed by Lawrence Edelson, who heads the company, the opera tells the story of a shy postman and his relationship to the famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The composer supplied his own libretto based on the novel by Antonio Skarmeta, and the film by Michael Radford. The role of Neruda was originally written for Placido Domingo, who sang the role at the opera's premiere in 2010 at Los Angeles Opera, just months before Catan's death. Richard Troxell--excellent as the lead in the Rodgers-Sondheim DO I HEAR A WALTZ? last month in New York--will be Neruda. James Lowe conducts.

From July 2-17, Saratoga will do another rarity, the U.S. premiere of THE WITCHES OF VENICE, with music by Philip Glass and libretto by Beni Montresor. This opera-ballet will be directed and choreographed by Karole Armitage, featuring members of Armitage Gone! Dance, and the Capital District Youth Chorale, and will be conducted by Viswa Subbaraman.

Prior to IL POSTINO, Saratoga will do its first LE NOZZE DI FIGARO in 20 years, directed by David Paul and conducted by Andrew Bisantz, from June 24-July 15.

PATIENCE & SARAH, JUNE 23-24 (http://patiencesarah.com/)

From left: Elsa Quéron as Sarah and Nadia Petrella
as Patience. Photo: Maria Baranova.

PATIENCE & SARAH, by composer Paula Kimper and librettist Wende Persons, which had a sold-out run at the Lincoln Center Festival in 1998, returns as a staged concert performance for two performances at the Players Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street, as part of NY Opera Fest, during Pride Week. It was commissioned and developed by American Opera Projects.

Considered the first opera to portray an openly romantic relationship between two self-affirming women, PATIENCE & SARAH is based on the novel of the same title by Isabel Miller and based on the true story of painter Mary Ann Willson, who lived with her companion Miss Brundage as a farmerette in the early 19th century in Greene County, New York. Kimper is conducting with Douglas Moser directing.

Here's the final duet from PATIENCE & SARAH, at a 2011 performance at the Galapagos Art Space, which was produced by American Opera Projects. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OwRKB7haVdI

Caramoor, June 18-August 7 (https://www.caramoor.org/)

This summer, Caramoor is presenting semi-staged productions of two near-contemporaneous operas by composers who couldn't be more different--Rossini and Beethoven--showing how these two great musicians approached musical theater in the age of bel canto.

The centuries-overdue American premiere of Rossini's AURELIANO IN PALMIRA (July 16) takes place under the baton of Caramoor's Director of Opera Will Crutchfield. He is well known for breathing new life into long-neglected operas, and this one takes some extra care, since it is one of only three Rossini operas for which no original manuscript survives. It stars young American tenor Andrew Owens.

Caramoor complements this historic revival with Beethoven's only opera, FIDELIO (July 31), the fruit of Beethoven's decade-long struggle to bend operatic forms to his own personal vision. It premiered in its final form (after an earlier failure as LEONORE) during the same season as AURELIANO. It features South African soprano Elza van den Heever, who made a splash as Queen Elizabeth in Donizetti's MARIA STUARDA at the Met, opposite both Joyce DiDonato and, this season, Sondra Radvanovsky.

Both productions feature the resident Orchestra of St. Luke's, whose Principal Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado takes the podium for FIDELIO.

Lincoln Center Festival, July 13-16 (www.lincolncenterfestival.org)

At Lincoln Center Festival, acclaimed Kun opera soprano Qian Yi
sings the leading role in Huang Ruo's PARADISE INTERRUPTED,
designed by Jennifer Wen Ma. Photo: Lihe Xiao.

A 16th-century Ming Dynasty romance inspires an empowering tale of self-actualization in Lincoln Center Festival's PARADISE INTERRUPTED, created by Chinese American composer Huang Ruo and designed by visual artist Jennifer Wen Ma, known worldwide for her work on the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. It will have three performances in the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, July 13, July 15 and July 16 at 8 PM.

The one-act, 80-minute opera, a Lincoln Center Festival co-commission, fuses and reimagines the biblical story of Eve's search for utopia after being expelled from the Garden of Eden, with an episode from the Kun opera, THE PEONY PAVILLION, which dates from 1598. The woman's passionate search triggers the proliferation of a lush, interactive garden made from cut paper sculptures and illuminated by stunning visual effects.

Musically, it is a continuation of Kun opera tradition and yet entirely new, using a chamber orchestra mixing Western and Chinese instruments, led by Wen-Pin Chien. Acclaimed Kun opera soprano Qian Yi, who made a memorable New York debut in the marathon production of The Peony Pavilion at Lincoln Center Festival 1999, sings the leading role. Joining her onstage is a vocal quartet, who sing in a tonally-based Western idiom, consisting of tenor Yi Li, countertenor John Holiday (who was a standout in Vivaldi's CATONE IN UTICA last year), baritone Joo Won Kang and bass baritone Ao Li.

The opera was co-commissioned and co-produced by Lincoln Center Festival, Spoleto Festival USA, National Kaohsiung Center for the Arts, and Singapore International Festival of Arts with the generous support of Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang--Tang Family Foundation,

Bard SummerScape, July 22-31 (http://www.fishercenter.bard.edu/summerscape/)

Mascagni's IRIS will be performed at Bard Summerscape,
in the Frank Gehry-designed Richard B. Fisher Center
for the Performing Arts-Sosnoff Theatre. Photo: Noah Sheldon.

While Pietro Mascagni is best-known as composer of CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA--and a version of LA BOHEME that unsuccessfully tried to compete with Puccini's--he wrote 15 operas in all. These include L'AMICO FRITZ, which has had some success (mostly in Italy), and this year's rarity at Bard SummerScape, IRIS, from 1898, predating Puccini's version of Japonaiserie, MADAMA BUTTERFLY (1904). Mascagni tells the story of Iris, a young girl tricked into leaving her blind and elderly father for a brothel in Tokyo's notorious red-light district. Discovered and denounced by her father, she throws herself into the city sewers, where she eventually dies.

Bard's original production, at the Sosnoff Theater in the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, is by Los Angeles-based director and Chromatic founder James Darrah, Musical America's New Artist of the Month for December 2015. It headlines Grammy-nominated soprano Talise Trevigne and Austrian-Australian tenor Gerard Schneider as the rich young man responsible for Iris's downfall. With Botstein leading the American Symphony Orchestra, Iris will run for five performances between July 22 and 31, with an Opera Talk, free and open to the public, before the matinee on July 24.

Bard is also offering a series of programs about "Puccini and His World" (August 5-7) and "Beyond Verismo" (August 11-14). See http://fishercenter.bard.edu/bmf/ for more information.

For information on the SummerScape coach from Lincoln Center for elect performances, call the box office at 845-758-7900 or visit http://fishercenter.bard.edu/visit/transportation/.

Mostly Mozart Festival, July 25-August 27 (http://mostlymozart.org/)

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mostly Mozart--America's first indoor summer music festival, launched in 1966--there will be several full-length operas, along with a fully staged operatic evening to open the Festival on July 25 (repeated the next evening), in David Geffen Hall, with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra conducted by Renée and Robert Belfer Music Director Louis Langree.

Baritone Peter Mattei will be at
Mostly Mozart's opening night.

Titled THE ILLUMINATED HEART, with specially designed and commissioned staging from director Netia Jones, the program features selections of Mozart's operas performed by a wonderful cast of singers, including Christine Goerke, Sasha Cooke, Matthew Polenzani and several notables making their Mostly Mozart debuts: Ana Maria Martinez, Nadine Sierra and Peter Mattei, among others.

The acclaimed period-instrument ensemble Freiburg Baroque Orchestra will take up residency at the Festival with staged concerts of COSI FAN TUTTE (August 15), led by Langree and based on an original production presented in collaboration with the Festival of Aix-en-Provence 2016 in co-production with the Opera de Lille and Edinburgh International Festival. Next comes IDOMENEO (August 18), led by conductor René Jacobs in a rare New York appearance. Both presentations will offer a pre-concert lecture at 6:15 pm at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse.

In addition, Lincoln Center has commissioned a major new work by Pulitzer Prize-winning and Academy Award-nominated composer David Lang, titled THE PUBLIC DOMAIN--a joint project with acclaimed British choral director Simon Halsey, who will lead the performance. Made possible by the generous support of The Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, it will receive its world premiere outdoors at Lincoln Center on August 13, and featuring a chorus of up to 1,000 volunteer amateur and professional singers recruited from all five boroughs of the city and the metro area. It offers Festival newcomers and longstanding enthusiasts alike the opportunity to participate in this special anniversary season and make their singing debut at Lincoln Center. Further details about the work and registration to participate are available at MostlyMozart.org/thepublicdomain.

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For those wanting to go further afield, there's always the Tanglewood Festival in Lenox, MA, and the Glimmerglass Festival, in Cooperstown, NY--and a newcomer in Pittsfield, MA.

Tanglewood, July 9-August 28

Though Tanglewood--the summer home of the Boston Symphony (BSO)--offers no full opera productions, it will give a good taste of Verdi, Orff, Strauss, Berg and other vocally oriented composers .

On Saturday, August 20, the BSO's Music Director Andris Nelsons leads the first half of AIDA, with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus and his wife, the formidable soprano Kristine Opolais, as Aida, along with mezzo-soprano Violeta Urmana as Amneris and other soloists.

Some other notable vocal performances at Tanglewood include:

- A pair of programs starring soprano Renee Fleming: On July 13, she does Berg's Lulu Suite with the Emerson String Quartet, while a July 16 concert with the BSO, under Christoph von Dohnanyi, features Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, along with Ives and Tchaikovsky.

- An August 8 concert with the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra, Conducting and Vocal Fellows features Kurt Weill's THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS, with the great soprano Dawn Upshaw and baritone Sanford Sylvan. (Nicholas Muni is the stage director.) Shostakovich's Symphony No. 14 rounds out the program.

- Charles Dutoit leads the BSO in Rossini's STABAT MATER on August 19, featuring tenor Matthew Polenzani among the vocal quartet. Menahem Pressler play Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A, K.488.

- The BSO gets a night off on August 25, when the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under Nicholas McGegan does Scarlatti's "party piece," LA GLORIA DI PRIMAVERA, written to celebrate the birth of John Leopold, the heir to the Roman Emperor, Charles VI. It's sung in Italian with English supertitles.

- Von Dohnanyi's back with the BSO and the Festival Chorus at the August 28 matinee a Beethoven's 9th, featuring soprano Rachel Willis-Sorensen, mezzo Ruxandra Donose, tenor Joseph Kaiser and bass Günther Groissbock.

Berkshire Opera Festival, August 27-September 2 (www.berkshireoperafestival.org)

A new destination this year is the Berkshire Opera Festival, with Puccini's MADAMA BUTTERFLY at the historic Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA on August 27, 30, and September 2 at 7:30pm, offering the first fully-produced opera in the Berkshires in years. General Director and Co-Founder Jonathon Loy, a frequent guest director at The Metropolitan Opera in New York, and Co-Founder, Artistic Director and conductor Brian Garman head the effort.

The Festival will also include two recitals: BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS (August 10 at 7:30pm at Ventfort Hall in Lenox), with songs by female composers of Puccini's day, largely overlooked during their lifetimes; and THE "UNKNOWN" PUCCINI (August 16 at 7:30pm at Saint James Place in Great Barrington), with rarely heard Puccini songs for voice and piano.

The Glimmerglass Festival, July 8-August 27 (https://glimmerglass.org/)

While the Festival features four interesting, fully staged productions this year--including a Belle Epoque LA BOHEME (directed by E. Loren Meeker and conducted by Joseph Colaneri), THE THIEVING MAGPIE (a Rossini rarity known best for its overture, directed by Peter Kazaras and conducted by Joseph Colaneri), SWEENEY TODD (with powerhouse Greer Grimsley, directed by Christopher Alden and conducted by John DeMain) and the Pulitzer Prize-winning operatic version of Arthur Miller's THE CRUCIBLE by Robert Ward (directed by Francesca Zambello and conducted by Nicole Paiement)--it's some of its other offerings that seem the most tantalizing, to me at least.

- Stephen Sondheim in conversation with Jamie Bernstein, Saturday, July 30@5:00 pm. Need I say more?

- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Friday, August 26@3:00 pm, with the Supreme Court Justice sharing her passion for opera and her perspective on law in the arts. The program features a lively balance of performance and commentary, with members of the Young Artists Program enacting selected scenes that deal with law and justice, followed by Justice Ginsburg's engaging insights.

- Jamie Barton In Concert, Friday, August 12@4:30 pm. I'd walk a mile for this one: The wonderful Barton, winner of the Richard Tucker Award (2015) and Cardiff Singer of the World (2013), follows a selection of art songs with a presentation of BON APPÉTIT!, Lee Hoiby's one-woman opera inspired by Julia Child. Run! (PS: She's also Elizabeth Proctor in THE CRUCIBLE.)

- Christine Goerke's Master Class on July 31@4:30 pm. (Hopefully she'll sing.)

- Heldentenor Jay Hunter Morris, 2016 Artist in Residence, sharing some of his musical inspirations--guitar, jazz, Wagner, Puccini and more, plus a few tales from the operatic trail on August 7@5:00 pm. (He's Judge Danforth in THE CRUCIBLE.)

One last thing...

If you've really got your traveling shoes on this week, head for the Cincinnati Opera for the World Premiere on June 17 of FELLOW TRAVELERS, the new work from composer Gregory Spears and librettist Greg Pierce, directed by Kevin Newbury and conducted by Mark Gibson. It's a somber yet uplifting saga of the Lavender Scare during the McCarthy Era; the company describes it as having "the style of Mad Men and the political intrigue of House of Cards." Further performances on June 21, 23, 25, 28, 30, July 6 & 8 @ 7:30 pm, June 19 & July 10 @ 3:00 pm. (http://www.cincinnatiopera.org/performances/fellow-travelers). The Opera is also performing DIE FLEDERMAUS, FIDELIO (with Christine Goerke!) and TOSCA, between June 16 and July 29.

Needless to say, this list is not all inclusive. Check your local companies to see what may be happening in your neck of the woods.


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