The Atlanta Opera opened its 2014-15 season with an enthusiastically received presentation of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. The opening of the season marks the turning of a new leaf for the company, it being the first planned season by its new General Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun. Mr. Zvulun, whose prior work with the Atlanta Opera found him in the director’s chair, is a champion of applying new technologies to the operatic stage seldom seen in Atlanta prior to his arrival. Indeed, before the curtain’s rise, Mr. Zvulun addressed the audience, and in addition to the traditional salutations and contribution acknowledgements, he praised the Atlanta Opera audience for its sophisticated taste, declaring it ready for more adventurous presentations from this point forward.
This October, Opera Carolina inaugurated its 2014-15 season with a run of spectacular presentations of Verdi’s first hit, Nabucco. Encouraged by the promise of such inspired casting, your friends at Newoutpost made sure to be present for the event. In fact, the opening night presentation of October 18 proved to be such an artistic success, your editor was obliged to endure the horrors of Megabus in order to attend the opera’s final performance on October 26. With Nabucco, Verdi experienced his first taste of international success, and while the opera lacks a the voice the world would hear even in his immediate later works, such as I Lombardi and Ernani, it retained prime importance for being the opera that allowed the great master to become the premier voice of Italian opera the world over.. While it never fully left the international repertoire, it hardly maintained a prominent place within it, and thus its presence in the repertoire of a regional company is rare. The North Carolina company deserves much credit for choosing Nabucco as the opener for its 66th season.
With the recent uproar hovering over San Diego Opera’s unexpected closing and its subsequent backlash, the unquenchable thirst to support the efforts of regional companies which soldier on despite overwhelming odds took over your friends at newoutpost. Our attention was drawn towards Nashville Opera, a regional outfit which last year earned a Grammy Award through the strength of its premiere recording of Robert Aldridge’s opera Elmer Gantry. We admit it a veritable shame to have ignored the neighboring company for as long as we have, but last week we sought to correct the error of our ways by covering the company’s production of Verdi’s Otello.
The Atlanta Opera’s take on Gounod’s Faust was warmly received on its opening presentation on March 8, and with good reason: Gounod’s popular masterpiece can be nothing other than a surefire success when the intentions of the composer are honored. Though the evening was not free of the inevitable glitches that keep this art form interesting, the southern company’s effort managed to carry off a spectacle for both the eyes and the ears.
Minnesota Opera’s world-class production of Verdi’s Macbeth proved the perfect accessory to the harsh winter conditions that befell the Twin Cities at the time of its premiere on January 25th. The icy precipitation that shut down the Minnesota public school system did not thwart attendance to the ShakesVerdian piece at St. Paul’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, which remained more than well attended throughout its dazzling run. Thankfully for the patrons, it was all well worth the hassle, for in terms of production and musical values the regional company could once again boast a night at the opera which more prestigious companies would be hard pressed to provide.
Change was in the air last Saturday when the Atlanta Opera unveiled its 2013-14 season opener, Puccini’s Tosca, to an enthusiastic reception. The performance also marked a relatively sudden changing of the guard: The ascend of Tomer Zvulun as the new Artistic Director, officially signaling the end of Zurich General Director Dennis Hanthorn’s tenure. For those Atlantans keeping count, this is the second major change in administration since the company’s first major champion, William Fred Scott, left the position back in 2005. With the promise of new leadership comes the burgeoning hope that the company will move past the wallowing state of transition it has found itself in the past 5 or so years. I cringe when I recall an event held at another regional company, where a rather sassy gentleman reacted to the mentioning of my home city with “Oh, I hear they do a lot of Don Giovannis there”. Burn. Change may do some good for the Atlanta Opera, and while fans of the former administration abounded in the auditorium (newoutpost not being one of them, for the record), Mr. Zvulun’s reception on opening night was universally warm and welcoming. It should be noted that, though Mr. Zvulun directed this production of Tosca, we must really look towards the 2014-15 season for a true assessment of his leadership, since the current season was planned well before he took unto this his new role.
There isn’t much going on in Indianola, Iowa, and its residents (ie: a handful of grindr chatters) will be the first to remind you of their bleak existence. Tallying up their stories against a quick drive around town, and their complaints are not without basis. There’s the Super Walmart on Jefferson Way, a super salty Mexican restaurant (La Casa, just drink more water,) and a stroll further down Highway 65 offers a Hot Air Balloon Museum. That really is about it. Happily, there’s also Simpson college, a quiet institution which houses the Blank Performance Center, venue were Des Moines Metro Opera stages its summer festival productions and the sole reason why Indianola figures prominently in the nation’s operatic map. Now in its 41th season, the company has maintained a consistent excellence under these unlikely conditions, and has conjured an unapologetic lineup comprised of Britten’s Peter Grimes, Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, and Strauss’ Elektra. It is no surprise that this summer’s program has attained the company national recognition and provided the reason for newoutpost’s current report.
Atlanta closes its 2012-13 season with a double whammy. On the eve of the unveiling of its season closer (Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri”), the company officially announced the appointment of its new General and Artistic Director Tomer Zvulun, following the awkward resignation of Zurich General Director Dennis Hanthorn last July. The news came as a big relief to the local opera scene, as the lack of steady artistic vision would have spelled disastrous to the company as it enters its 35th season. Mr. Zvulun thus becomes the fourth Artistic Director to steward the company, and if his work as a director is any indication, his reign promises to bring striking visual productions of tried and true selections from the standard repertoire. If the lineup for next season is any indication, it is also likely to ensure repeats of the same twenty operas the city has been resigned to memorize for the past 34 years. Since your friends at newoutpost are barely middle class and would love to avoid those pesky travel expenses, we are rooting for our home city’s opera company and wish Mr. Zvulun the greatest success.
Conductor Eve Queler has a particular affinity for Verdi’s early masterpiece “I lombardi”. She also has a way of sniffing out the right mix of talent for this opera: The first go about featured the then reigning diva of Italian opera Renata Scotto, singing alongside the 24 year-old Jose Carreras. In the late 80s she revisited the work, pinning the legendary Carlo Bergonzi against the talents of a baby Aprile Millo, then the hottest Verdi rookie in the world. For this performance, Ms. Queler has once again found four outstanding principles to bring to live this gorgeous early Verdi gem, including the pairing of two AVA graduates who have been the talk of the American opera scene as of late. What ensued on the evening of April 8th was the equivalent of an operatic block party.
On April 7th, amidst the noise of a rowdy outdoor concert held by students of George Washington University sipping into the halls of Lisner Auditorium, the delightful baton of conductor Antony Walker led the orchestra and chorus of the Washington Concert Opera in a performance of Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. I say delightful because, while some conductors have been known to dismiss the conducting of bel canto repertoire as an unsavory gig, maestro Walker seemed to relish with delight as he waved to his orchestra throughout the duration of the performance. There were even moments where he seemed to be doing a can-can as the orchestra exploded under his command. It is this love of music making that keeps Washington Concert Opera in the newoutpost calendar, forcing us to be on the constant lookout of travel deals to our nation’s capital.