South Florida’s two regional opera companies are adding some new things to a lineup heavy in audience favorites, while across the state in Sarasota, the repertory company is returning to an early Verdi masterwork and offering a French rarity.
The country’s largest opera troupes are making moves this season into a much more modern direction, with new works, especially American ones, tackling some of the most urgent issues of our day: Race, technology, sexual orientation. It may be a while before that kind of opera programming comes to pass here, but one of the joys of operagoing in South Florida is discovering fresh new talent on its way to the big time.
Palm Beach Opera: The company opens its season in January with a work sure to draw large audiences at the Kravis Center: Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. This 1904 drama about a teenage Japanese geisha who marries a callow American Navy lieutenant who then abandons her is one of opera’s best-known and best-loved weepies, with a score of well-known arias such as “Un bel di” and the “Stolta paura” love duet that closes Act I. The cast and creatives for the operas had not been announced as of presstime. (Jan. 20-22, Kravis Center, West Palm Beach)
Next up is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, a 1790 comedy to an original story by Lorenzo da Ponte in which an cynical old “philosopher” bets two young men that their girlfriends will not remain faithful to them. He brings them back in disguise (yes, not plausible, but disguise plots were fashionable in the 18th century) after phonily sending them off to war, and they are paired with each other’s paramour. Mozart’s gorgeous music has a way of eliding over Da Ponte’s plot, which now seems overtly misogynistic, and which today’s directors try to ameliorate with clever stage business. (Feb. 24-26)
Palm Beach Opera closes its season with a company premiere: Giuseppe Verdi’s Falstaff, the Italian master’s 1893 retelling of Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor. In it, the knight addicted to sack and sugar gets played for a fool, and young love is triumphant at the curtain. The opera premiered the year Verdi turned 80, and it is considered a miraculous flowering of late style, a remarkable distillation of the composer’s rich melodic gift and his unparalleled knack for musical characterization. (March 24-26)
For more information, call 561-833-7888 or visit pbopera.org.
Florida Grand Opera: The Miami-based company is now in its 81st season, and in recent years has staged such unusual fare as Marvin David Levy’s Mourning Becomes Electra and Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s The Passenger. Last season saw contemporary American opera in Gregory Spears’s Fellow Travelers and Baroque opera in Handel’s early Agrippina, but this year, the company is playing it a little safer.
Opera fans will get to hear Domenico Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto twice this season, once in its original Italian at Sarasota Opera, and at the beginning of the Florida Grand Opera season as translated into Spanish and set in 1980s Miami Beach. Cimarosa (1749-1801) was one of many facile, prolific Italian operatic composers of the 18th century, and this work, the only one of his 80-plus operas to still hold the stage, has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years.This 1792 comedy concerns the secret marriage of Paolino, secretary to the wealthy and prominent Geronimo, to Geronimo’s younger daughter, Carolina. He tries to arrange the marriage of Carolina’s sister, Elisetta, to Count Robinson (the source of the libretto is an English play), but complications ensue. FGO’s El Matrimonio Secreto makes Geronimo the owner of the Hotel Paraiso on Miami Beach, itching to have his daughters married off. Vanessa Bercerra is Carolina, Catalina Cuervo is Elisetta, Joseph McBrayer sings Paolino and Phillip Lopez is Geronimo. Elena Areoz stage-directs, and Marlene Urbay leads the orchestra. (Nov. 12-15, three performances, Ziff Ballet Opera House, Miami)
Next is a clever idea for a double bill: Puccini’s 1918 one-act comedy Gianni Schicchi, and a 2017 sequel by the American composer Michael Ching, Buoso’s Ghost. Schicchi, originally set in medieval Italy, concerns the will of Buoso Donati, whose scheming family is hoping to divide up the best parts of the rich old man’s estate. Upon discovering he has left everything to the monastery, the family calls in Gianni Schicchi, a local fixer, for help. Suffice it to say that Schicchi pulls an epic bait-and-switch. Ching’s opera concerns what happens next: Does the family get its revenge on Schicchi? Schicchi will be sung by Francesco Pomponi, with Charles Calotta as Rinuccio and Page Michels as his lover, Lauretta. Ching will conduct both operas; stage direction is by Mo Zhuo. (Jan. 28-Feb. 11, five performances; three at the Ziff Ballet Opera House, two at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts)
Puccini returns for the third opera of the season in his popular 1900 melodrama, Tosca. This tale of the opera singer Floria Tosca and her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, both of whom are pursued by the evil Roman chief of police, Baron Scarpia, has been a staple of the repertoire since its premiere, with two familiar tenor arias, “Recondita armonia” and “E lucevan le stelle,” and Tosca’s “Vissi d’arte.” Toni Marie Palmertree is Tosca, Arturo Chacon Cruz is Cavaradossi and the veteran Todd Thomas is Scarpia. Jeffrey Marc Buchman directs, Gregory Buchalter conducts. (March 18-April 15; five performances; three at the Ziff Ballet Opera House, two at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts)
Ending the season is the most popular of all opere buffe, Giaochino Rossini’s The Barber of Seville. Premiered in 1816, this is the story of Figaro, Seville’s jack-of-all-trades, who is called on to help Count Almaviva win the lovely Rosina, ward of Don Basilio. Its overture is a classic of the literature, and its most well-known aria, Figaro’s “Largo al factotum,” is at least as familiar in parody as it is by itself. Singing Figaro will be Young-Kwang Yoo; Rosina is Stephanie Doche and Almavivia is Michael Angelini. Anthony Barrese conducts; the stage direction is by Matt Cooksey. (April 29-May 20; five performances; three at the Ziff Ballet Opera House, two at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts)
For more information, call 800-741-1010 or visit www.fgo.org.
Sarasota Opera: This repertory opera company just a daytrip away on Florida’s southwest coast is a must-do for opera lovers on this side of the state. One of the draws is the beautiful Opera House, with its resonant acoustic, on artsy Pineapple Avenue. And Hurricane Ian spared it: “Fortunately, our Opera House weathered Hurricane Ian well and is in good shape. No damage and a dry pit,” the company wrote in a Facebook post. Another reason to make the trip is the quality of the productions inside, at a house that hosted one of the only complete surveys of the operas of Giuseppe Verdi that has ever been successfully completed.
The company’s short fall season opens Oct. 28 with Cimarosa’s Il Matrimonio Segreto, also scheduled in Spanish translation later in the season at Florida Grand Opera. Sarasota’s version, as productions helmed by longtime Sarasota Opera chief Victor DeRenzi always are, will be faithful to the setting and language of the original opera. Hanna Brammer sings Carolina and Levi Hamlin is Paolino, while Brenna Markey takes the role of Elisetta. Stefano De Peppo is Geronimo, Liza Chavez is Fidalma, and Filippo Fontana is Count Robinson. DeRenzi conducts a staging by Stephanie Sundine, his wife. (Five performances from Oct. 28 to Nov. 12 at the Sarasota Opera House, 61 N. Pineapple Ave.)
Also part of the fall season is a children’s opera, Dean Bury’s The Secret World of Og, which Sarasota Opera premiered in 2016. The opera is based on a classic Canadian children’s story from the 1960s by Pierre Berton. In it, three siblings and their cat are captured by the subterranean green people known as the Ogs and have to be rescued by two of their other siblings and the family dog. (Nov. 5 and 6)
The company’s winter season opens Feb. 18 with Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, also Palm Beach Opera’s season-opener the month before. Soprano Raquel Gonzalez is Cio-Cio-San, Christopher Oglesby is Pinkerton, and Heather Johnson is Suzuki, Cio-Cio-San’s faithful servant. Filippo Fontana sings Sharpless, the U.S. consul. DeRenzi conducts; Sundine directs. (Ten performances from Feb. 21 to March 24)
The second opera of the season is Don Giovanni, Mozart’s edgy 1787 tale of a lustful young nobleman who lives for sexual conquest. The opera follows him as he kills a commandant defending the honor of his daughter, then tries to seduce a country girl on the eve of her wedding. His comeuppance comes in the memorable form of a statue of the slain commandant, which comes to life and orders him to repent. Bass-baritone David Weigel is Giovanni, Erica Petrocelli is Donna Anna opposite Brian Vu as Don Ottavio. Caitlin Crabill sings Donna Elvira, Stefano De Peppo is Leporello, Anna Mandina is Zerlina, and Young Bok Kim is the commandant. Marcello Cormio conducts; the stage direction is by Mark Freiman. (Eight performances from Feb. 25 to March 25)
A Sarasota Opera season is hard to imagine without Verdi, so for the third opera of the season, the company has chosen Ernani, one of Verdi’s “galley years” works before his big successes in the 1850s. This exciting score from 1844 is set in 16th-century Spain and tells of the bandit Ernani, who is in love with Elvira. She, in turn, is the ward of the elderly Silva, who plans to marry her. Elvira is also sought by Don Carlo, soon to be Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Obviously, complications ensue, including an assassination attempt and a suicide pledge. But the music of Verdi, who had just entered his 30s, is full of fire, imagination and wonderful melodic inspiration. Rafael Dávila sings Ernani, with Anna Fortunata as Elvira. Ricardo Jose Rivera is Carlo, and Mariano Buccino sings Silva. Stage direction is by Martha Collins; DeRenzi conducts. (Six performances from March 11 to March 26)
Sarasota’s final opera is a true rarity, Jules Massenet’s Thérèse, a relatively short two-act work from 1907 set in the French Revolution. The title character is the wife of André, a member of the Girondist faction then directing the activities of the Revolution. She is secretly in love with Armand, the Marquis de Clerval, a friend of André’s who has fled the growing danger in Paris to hide out in André’s country chateau. Before too long, the Revolution catches up to them, and Thérèse must decide whether to choose love and freedom, or duty and the guillotine. Massenet’s gentle late Romantic idiom is an effective vehicle for this story of ardor and politics. Lisa Chavez sings Thérèse, with Sean Anderson as André and Andrew Surrena as Armand. Katherine M. Carter is the stage director, and Louis Lohraseb conducts. (Five performances from March 17 to March 25)
For more information, call 941-328-1300 or visit www.sarasotaopera.org.