By Greg Stepanich
South Florida’s two chief opera companies mostly played it safe at the box office last season when it came to repertoire, with dueling productions of Bizet’s Carmen closing both companies’ offerings.
But Palm Beach Opera and Florida Grand Opera also took some risks with staging, including a bold vision from Stefano Poda for Palm Beach of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and André Barbe and Renaud Doucet’s sometimes wonderful, sometimes risible mounting of Carmen for Florida Grand. Things are likely to be safer staging-wise this year, but the operas are somewhat more adventurous, and that should make opera-going in 2010-11 a richer experience.
Palm Beach Opera: The group opens its 49th season with the work that made Giuseppe Verdi’s career in 1842: Nabucco. Based on the Biblical story of the power struggle and conversion of King Nebuchadnezzar, it contains the great choral song Va, pensiero, which was an instant smash in the Italian states of its time and remains beloved today. For its first staging of the opera in about 25 years, baritones Mark Rucker and Sebastian Catana sing the title role on alternate nights, with sopranos Paoletta Marrocu and Susan Neves as daughter Abigaille. Adam Diegel is Ismaele in all four performances, and company artistic director Bruno Aprea leads the orchestra (Dec. 10-13).
The company reduced the number of productions from four to three last year, and added a concert performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on two nights. This year, a semi-staged version of Gluck’s 1762 classic, Orfeo ed Euridice, is heard for two nights, with a very young all-American cast including countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, a recent Grand Finals winner, as Orfeo, Fort Lauderdale’s own Nadine Sierra as Euridice, and mezzo Irene Roberts as Amor (Jan. 21, 23).
Mozart’s Così fan Tutte wraps up the company’s survey of the three Mozart-Da Ponte collaborations as it presents this brilliant 1790 work about love, jealousy and infidelity. Slovenian soprano Sabina Cvilak, last year’s Desdemona in Otello, returns as Fiordiligi, alternating with American soprano Caitlin Lynch, also a recent Grand Finals winner, with Lithuanian mezzo Jurgita Adamonyte and American mezzo Patricia Risley as Dorabella. Norman Shankle and Joel Prieto sing Ferrando, and David Adam Moore and Andrew Schroeder trade off as Guglielmo. Gianluca Martinenghi conducts a production by Stephen Lawless (Feb. 25-28).
Ending the regular season is Puccini’s 1900 “shabby little shocker,” Tosca, a red-blooded exploration of love, politics and evil that contains some of the composer’s most powerful music. Sopranos Chiara Taigi and Tiffany Abban take the title role of the singer who lives for her art, with tenors Riccardo Massi and Warren Mok as artist Mario Cavaradossi. Baritones Claudio Sgura and Stephen Powell sing Baron Scarpia. Massimo Gasparon directs; Aprea conducts (March 25-28).
The biggest names coming to the opera this season arrive Jan. 16 for a one-night-only presentation of Verdi’s Requiem, written in 1873 and one of the composer’s greatest works. Mezzo-soprano Dolora Zajick, one of the very best Verdian mezzos singing today, takes the part here with soprano Angela Meade, tenor Carl Tanner (last season’s Otello) and bass Morris Robinson. Aprea and the orchestra will be joined by a 150-voice massed choir made up of the company’s chorus and members from other regional choral ensembles.
That promises to be a stellar night, and the season will end in its usual American Idol-style fashion with another Grand Finals vocal competition, in which at least a dozen young singers will compete for prize money. Last year’s contest was especially good, with fine new voices on display and an expert orchestral performance led by the Metropolitan Opera’s David Jackson (April 10).
Florida Grand Opera: The Miami company’s 70th season opens with what is by common consent the last opera to become a standard repertory piece, Turandot, the 1924 swan song of Giacomo Puccini. The composer died before completing the last 10 to 15 minutes of the opera, which were finished by composer Franco Alfano from Puccini’s sketches. The celebrated aria Nessun dorma is only the best-known aria from this magnificent work, set in a mythical ancient China. Soprano Lise Lindstrom sings Turandot, the cruel princess, and Frank Porretta sings Calaf, the exiled prince who wins her love. But the tenderest music belongs to the slave girl Liu, sung here by Miami native Elizabeth Caballero. Ramón Tebar conducts a Bliss Hebert staging (Nov. 13-Dec. 4, eight performances).
Another unfinished final work, Jacques Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann, left unfinished at the composer’s death in 1880 (and finished by Ernest Guiraud the next year), comes next, and brings the team of Barbe and Doucet back. Based on the stories of the Romantic era author E.T.A. Hoffmann, its story of frustrated desire and evil offers numerous opportunities for extravagant staging. David Pomeroy sings the hapless Hoffmann, and Elizabeth Futral handles all four of the women’s roles. Bradley Garvin sings all four of Hoffmann’s nemeses. Cuban-American conductor Lucy Arner conducts in her company debut (Jan. 22-Feb. 12, eight performances).
Mozart’s Don Giovanni is next, the 1787 tale of the lecherous Spanish nobleman who meets a very bad end indeed at the hands of a stone guest: the ghost of the Commendatore he has slain in the first moments of the opera. John Pascoe, whose Carmen for Palm Beach last season featured a most effective fourth act, directs; David Pittsinger sings the Don, Jacquelyn Wagner is Donna Anna and Ana Maria Martinez is Donna Elvira. Tom Corbeil is Leporello, Andrew Bidlack is Don Ottavio, and Jonathan Michie is Masetto. Morris Robinson sings the Commendatore. (April 16-May 14, eight performances).
Florida Grand closes its season with a local premiere, mounting David DiChiera’s Cyrano, which premiered in Detroit in 2007. The American composer’s work is set to a libretto in French by the veteran stage director Bernard Uzan, and it’s based on the familiar Edmond Rostand play about the 17th-century French courtier with the literary gift and the unfortunate nose who is hopelessly in love with his cousin, Roxane. The opera, which sounds heavily reminiscent of Massenet, stars its original cast in the ledes: Romanian baritone Marian Pop as Cyrano and the American soprano Leah Partridge as Roxane. FGO’s shows play at the Ziff Ballet Opera House in downtown Miami and at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale, but not Cyrano: Its six performances are set for the Ziff alone. (April 23-May 7).
Sarasota Opera: Victor DeRenzi’s impressive company returns with one fall production and four winter productions, one of which is a revival of a mid-20th-century American opera, and the other is another in the company’s complete Verdi cycle, which will wrap in 2013.
Rossini’s 1817 telling of the Cinderella story, La Cenerentola, is one of the composer’s most popular works, and it opens Sarasota’s season as its fall production. Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson stars as the title character. Hak Soo Kim is Prince Ramiro, Abla Lynn Hamza is Clorinda and Melissa Treinkman is Tisbe, while Stefano de Peppo is Don Magnifico. (Oct. 29-Nov. 10, six performances).
The winter season begins with Puccini’s La Bohème, perhaps the most popular opera in the world. For this production of the 1896 classic, Maria D’Amato sings Mimi to Harold Meers’ Rodolfo, and Carelle Flores sings Musetta to Grant Clarke’s Marcello. Stephanie Sundine stage-directs, and DeRenzi conducts (Feb. 5-March 16, 11 performances).
Sarasota, too, will tackle Don Giovanni, with Lee Poulis as the Don. Christina Pier is Donna Anna, Danielle Walker is Donna Elvira, Joshua Kohl is Don Ottavio, and Andrew Gangestad is Leporello; Sarah Asmar sings Zerlina to Patrick McNally’s Masetto (Feb. 12-March 18, nine performances).
The Verdi Cycle opera follows; it’s I Lombardi, written in 1843 as the follow-up to Nabucco. Giselda is Abla Lynn Hamza and Rafael Davila (last year’s Don José in Palm Beach’s Carmen) is Oronte, and Kevin Short is Pagano. (Feb. 26-March 20, seven performances).
The season closes with The Crucible, Robert Ward’s 1961 setting of the Arthur Miller play about the Salem witch trials, as part of a new series called American Classics. The cast includes Heather Johnson (Elizabeth Proctor), Mathew Edwardsen (Judge Danforth), Sean Anderson (John Proctor) and Jeffrey Tucker (the Rev. John Hale). (March 5-19, six performances.)
Teatro Lirico d’Europa: The Maryland-based touring company brings single nights of opera to various area venues each season under the rubric of Joseph Ferrer’s Sunset Entertainment. The three operas coming to South Florida this year are Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor (Jan. 24-27), Puccini’s Turandot (Feb. 21-24), and Puccini’s Madame Butterfly (March 21-24).
Palm Beach Light Opera Company: Joseph Rubin runs this company devoted to operetta, and it’s a sister company to his light opera company in Canton, Ohio. Last season’s Naughty Marietta was decidedly uneven, but it was fascinating to hear its 1910 libretto in all its creaky, politically incorrect glory, which provided real insight into what early 20th-century American theater was actually like.
This year, the company is producing a concert version of Little Johnny Jones, George M. Cohan’s 1904 musical that introduced Give My Regards to Broadway and Yankee Doodle Boy to the American Songbook (Jan. 16, Eissey Campus Theatre, Palm Beach Gardens).
Earlier in the season, the company presents Memories of Old Broadway, a concert of songs from 1890 to 1928, including music by Rudolf Friml, Sigmund Romberg and Victor Herbert. The concert is set for Oct. 16 at the First Presbyterian Church of North Palm Beach.