The coming season at the three regional opera companies has no milestones like last season did, with the wrap up of Sarasota Opera’s 28-year Verdi Cycle project or Florida Grand Opera’s staging of Mieczysaw Weinberg’s The Passenger, but the season has some very interesting events nonetheless, and savvy operagoers will find much to enjoy.
Palm Beach Opera: The company enters its 56th year with two box-office certainties and a surprising third production in the return to area stages of English comic light opera in the persons of William Schwenk Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan. The company, newly ensconced in new digs on Australian Avenue, will also perform its fourth free waterfront concert at the Meyer Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach in December and welcome tenor Michael Fabiano as its special guest for a fundraising gala in February.
The troupe opens its mainstage productions with a box-office certainty, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, one of the world’s most popular operas, and always a tour de force for its lead soprano. In this case, it’s the Moldovan singer Inna Los; the Butterfly in the single second-cast performance is the American Alexandra Loutsion. Scott Quinn (Friday and Sunday) and Adam Diegel (Saturday) share the Pinkerton duty; the young Latvian mezzo Zanda Svede is Suzuki. House music director David Stern leads the orchestra; Sam Helfrich stage-directs. (Jan. 27-29, Kravis Center)
In the second slot is Verdi’s 1851 tale of a ducal jester, his daughter and a curse: Rigoletto. Baritone Michael Chioldi returns to the Kravis Center stage in the title role; Alexander Krasnov sings the part Saturday. In the role of Gilda is the young American Andrea Carroll, while Russian tenor Alexey Tatarintsev and the Indian-born American tenor and attorney Alok Kumar (Saturday) trade off in the role of the lecherous Duke of Mantua. Italian conductor Antonello Allemandi makes his company debut; veteran director Jay Lesenger handles the stage action. (March 10-12, Kravis Center)
The season closes with a rarity for this company, Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert’s The Pirates of Penzance, with the Metropolitan Opera mezzo standout Stephanie Blythe in the role of Ruth, Frederic’s maid. Andrew Stenson is Frederic and Sarah Joy Miller is Mabel, while the Canadian baritone Hugh Russell is Major-General Stanley. Michael Todd Simpson is the Pirate King, and Mark Schnaible is the police sergeant. Bill Fabris, who heads the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, directs the show in his first appearance with Palm Beach Opera, and Stern leads the orchestra. (April 7-9, Kravis Center).
The waterfront concert, set for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 10, at the Meyer Amphitheatre on the Intracoastal Waterway, will feature members of the Young Artists Program along with to-be announced special guests, accompanied by the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra and Chorus. Fabiano will give a recital at during his appearance at the dinner gala, planned for the Flagler Museum on Feb. 2. (Palm Beach Opera; 561-833-7888, or pbopera.org).
Florida Grand Opera: The Doral-based company reoriented itself last season with The Passenger, taking a risky forward step by mounting this Russian opera, which had its belated premiere in 2010 at the Bregenz Festival in Austria. This season, the company offers a contemporary American opera as part of its four mainstage shows, and had planned another, Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, with Deborah Voigt as Mrs. Lovett. But Voigt has taken a teaching job at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and that production has been canceled.
The company opens its 76th season with its 10th production of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, and its third in 11 years. The French composer’s final work, which premiered three months before he died in 1875, remains among the most popular operas ever written, in large part because of its abundance of wonderful tunes. It has double-cast the opera, and this year is distinguishing the casts by color (Red Cast and Purple Cast) so as to avoid the idea that the second cast is a runner-up cast. Spanish mezzo Maria José Montiel sings the title role opposite the Puerto Rican tenor Rafael Davila as Don José (five performances); American mezzo Tara Venditti sings the part opposite Alok Kumar for two performances. Bass-baritone Ryan Kuster, who hails from Jacksonville, is Escamillo, and soprano Hailey Clark, a former member of the company’s Young Artists, sings Micaëla. Veteran director Bernard Uzan handles the stagecraft, while FGO’s music director, Ramón Tebar, leads the music. (Nov. 12, 13, 15, 18 and 19 at the Ziff Ballet Opera House, Miami; Dec. 1 and 3 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale.)
Next up is Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s most popular opera, Eugene Onegin, in the second-ever mounting of the work at FGO (its first and only other production was in 2000). This 1879 opera based on Pushkin’s drama of a young rake who realizes too late that he has passed up a great love inspired some of the Russian composer’s most heartfelt music. The Russian-American soprano Dina Kuznetsova is Tatyana for four performances opposite the American baritone Franco Pomponi as Onegin; Russian soprano Lyubov Petrova takes the role for three performances with American baritone John Brancy. American tenor Chad Johnson and Uruguayan-American tenor Martin Nusspaumer, a familiar FGO face, share the role of Lensky, while the celebrated American mezzo Denyce Graves sings Filipievna; Philippine-American mezzo Melissa Fajardo handles the role for the Purple Cast. Courtney Miller is Olga and Alex Soare is Prince Gremin in a production led by the Russian conductor Alexander Polianichko and directed by the veteran Jeffrey Mark Buchman. (Jan. 28, 29, 31, Feb. 3, 4, Miami; Feb. 9 and 11, Fort Lauderdale).
The season’s third production is the Cuban-American composer Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls, which premiered in 2010 at Fort Worth Opera. It’s based on the memoir of the gay Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas, who was persecuted for his sexual orientation and his resistance to the Castro regime. It will be presented for five performances at the Ziff Ballet Opera House with a single cast. Canadian baritone Elliot Madore stars as Arenas, with tenor Dinyar Vania as Ovidio, Calvin Griffin as Victor, Michael Kuhn as Lazaro, Javier Abreu as Pepe, and the Cuban-American soprano Elizabeth Caballero returns to the house in the dual role of Mother and The Sea. The eminent stage director David Gately heads the production, with the Cincinnati Opera’s Christopher Allen in the pit. (March 18, 19, 21, 24, 25, Miami).
FGO wraps its season with Giuseppe Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, last seen here in 2005. This production will restore the libretto to its original story, which describes the events leading up to the assassination of King Gustav III of Sweden in 1792. The Brazilian-German tenor Martin Meuhle and American tenor Jonathan Burton share the role of the ill-fated king; the American sopranos Tamara Wilson and Alexandra LoBianco alternate as Amelia. In supporting roles are Todd Thomas as Count Anckarström, Elena Galvan as Oscar, and Dana Beth Miller as Ulrica. Tebar conducts a production directed by Marco Pelle of the New York Theatre Ballet. (April 29, 30, May 2, 5, 6, Miami; May 9 and 11, Fort Lauderdale; 800-741-1010; fgo.org.)
Sarasota Opera: Victor DeRenzi’s company, having presented the entire works of Verdi over a period of almost three decades, for its 2016-17 season gives the composer a well-deserved rest, but sticks largely with Italian music.
Sarasota presents one fall opera, and then four operas in repertory during the winter season. Its fall opera this year is Gaetano Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, which was presented last season by both the Palm Beach and Florida Grand troupes. This delightful comedy, about an older man who gets more than he bargained for when he marries, unknowingly, his nephew’s girlfriend, stars Italian-born baritone Marco Nisticò, who has appeared frequently at Sarasota and Florida Grand Opera, as Pasquale. American soprano Angela Mortellaro is Norina, Korean-American tenor Hak Soo Kim is Ernesto, and American baritone Gideon Dabi is Dr. Malatesta. DeRenzi conducts a production directed by his wife, Stephanie Sundine. (Oct. 28, 30, Nov. 2, 7, 10, 13, Sarasota Opera House)
The winter season opens with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, starring the American soprano Joanna Parisi as Cio-Cio-San, the American tenor Matthew Vickers as Pinkerton, and the American mezzo Laurel Semerdjian as Suzuki. Noted Shakespearean director John Basil handles the stagecraft; DeRenzi conducts. (Feb. 11, 16, 19, 22, 25, 28, March 5, 10, 17, 21, 25, Sarasota Opera House)
Giaochino Rossini’s comedy L’Italiana in Algeri is up next, giving local opera fans a chance to see something other than the Barber of Seville or La Cenerentola from this composer. Hak Soo Kim is Lindoro and Tara Venditti sings Isabella; the Italian baritone Bruno Taddia is Taddeo, and the American bass Harold Wilson is Mustafa, the Bey of Algiers. Anthony Barrese, who led The Pearl Fishers last season for FGO, conducts a production directed by the bass and stage director Mark Freiman. (Feb. 18, 21, 23, 26, March 3, 8, 18, 25, Sarasota Opera House).
French opera makes an appearance in the third winter production, with Francis Poulenc’s beautiful Dialogues of the Carmelites, a story of faith amid the Reign of Terror excesses of the French Revolution, with one of the most unforgettable endings in operatic history, as the voices of the nuns are cut off, one by one, as they mount the guillotine. Sandra Lopez sings the role of Blanche de la Force, mezzo Leann Sandel-Pantaleo is Madame Croissy, Michelle Johnson (last season’s Aida) is Madame Lidoine, and mezzo Olivia Vote is Mother Marie of the Incarnation. David Neely of the Des Moines Metro Opera conducts; Martha Collins handles stage direction. (March 4, 7, 12, 15, 18 and 24, Sarasota Opera)
The company concludes its season with a rarity, Italo Montemezzi’s L’Amore di Tre Re, which was a popular opera everywhere from its debut in 1913 until just after Montemezzi’s death in 1952, when it vanished from the world’s stages and has made infrequent appearances since. But there have been revivals in the past five years, and its score, a brilliantly orchestrated amalgam of Wagner, Strauss, Puccini and Debussy, is well worth hearing. The story, set in 10th-century Italy, involves a blind king, a faithless wife, murder and poison; sure-fire elements for a compelling opera. Bass-baritone Kevin Short is King Archibaldo, soprano Elizabeth Tredent is Fiora, tenor Antonio Corano sings Avito, and as Manfredo, it’s baritone Marco Nisticò. Sundine directs, and DeRenzi conducts. (March 11, 14, 16, 19, 22, and 26, Sarasota Opera House; 941-328-1300; www.sarasotaopera.org)