“A highway, a Walmart, and one of the most exciting Summer Opera Festivals in United States.” It is the line I often use when questioning friends marvel at my travel plans as we fill our modest backpacks with all essentials and head to Indianola, Iowa, to attend another season at Des Moines Metro Opera. While New York, Chicago, and San Francisco do feature prominently in our yearly operatic calendar, Des Moines is slowly beginning to attain similar importance to your friends at newoutpost, due solely for its fine musical profile and exciting programing. Traveling to Indianola is certainly not an experience one would suffer if not for DMMO. Following this fourth visit, we can honestly state with some authority that there’s truly not a lot going on in Indianola. The lodging options are minimal, and if you cannot withstand the offerings of what must be some of the saltiest Mexican food to be found in the Midwest, gas station pizza may end up being the next best thing. One imagines Indianola as a perfect location for a remake of Stephen King’s classic “Children of the Corn” after a casual morning stroll through the deserted town square, and for the standard city dweller it takes a bit to adjust. While a pilgrimage to DMMO may be low on glamour, it makes a special call to the operatic nomad not afraid to rough the conditions to experience some of the greatest opera one could hope for from a regional company in the United States, and this is exactly what DMMO manages to present. The brain child of Dr. Robert L. Larsen, the company has made a name for itself by featuring some of the most exciting singers in the country, and paired them with the most promising young talent via its excellent apprentice artist program. At a time when regional companies are either folding or compromising their programing, this courageous company is anything but thriving, all the while propelling each festival season through bold and exciting repertoire which more established companies would struggle to present. Now in its 43rd season, the company presented another crackling lineup: Puccini’s rare gem La Fanciulla del West, Mozart’s delightful Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, and Janacek’s searing Jenufa. Spoiler alert: This may rank as one of the company’s most solid seasons to date.
Moving past the tragedy of Verdi’s Rigoletto, the Atlanta Opera changed gears and delighted audiences with performances of Mozart’s masterpiece “Le nozze di Figaro”, and the company should pride itself in the big success that it proved to be. The dimensions of the piece, though a mainstay of the standard repertoire, are surely daunting for any company: It is a very long opera with a large cast, filled with sprawling dramatic complications and musical pitfalls. Thus it was to the Atlanta Opera’s credit that so much of this presentation struck the right chord, and between the hours of 8 pm and midnight on the performance of April 10, there were many long stretches of time where Mozart lived. The credit belonged to a rather unlikely cast comprised of both young and veteran singers, who were able to bring forth the score’s vitality through their elegant declamation.
Before I embark in this review of Capitol City Opera’s presentation of Mozart’s Die Entfuhrung aud dem Serail, a story. This is not my first brush with Atlanta’s most notorious fringe opera company. For that we must go back to 1992, a time when I, a self-prescribed boy dramatic soprano, found one of the company’s audition flyers in suburban Dunwoody. I was fifteen, all too aware of my brilliance, and you could not tell me differently. Armed with the unstoppable daring made possible by extraordinary ignorance, I dialed the printed number, only to find myself speaking with Capitol City Opera’s founder herself, Ms. Donna Angel. She listened as I explained my plight as the undiscovered second coming of Salomea Krushelniski (plus the e-flat), and before Ms. Angel had a chance to intervene, I proceeded to back up my statement by letting out a howl that would have silenced the Misippipi Mass Choir. A grave silence was followed by: “I think we could use you. Swing by and audition for us.” Alas, my path to lyric glory would eventually be thwarted by my mother’s inability to locate Wieuca Road on a map (#suburbanissues), yet the story illustrates (as the following review also will), that one never knows what to expect with such fringe companies, and Capitol City Opera is no exception.
Against the forecast of five snow flurries that threatened to subjugate the Olympic city, the Atlanta Opera braved on, and despite having cancelled an important orchestra rehearsal per the mandatory Mayoral city shutdown, Rigoletto opened to a full house this past Saturday February 28. While uneven, the presentation was still an exciting one, and introduced a new wave of talent that promises much for the future of opera in America.
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.