Preview: Pittsburgh Opera celebrates past and present in new season

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The Pittsburgh Opera has steadily grown in size and stature in its 75 years. Its 2013-14 season reflects that growth with the grand opera "Aida" and classics "The Magic Flute" and "La Boheme." But it also signals the company's relevance today with the staging of two contemporary operas by the iconic Philip Glass and red-hot composer Nico Muhly.

Mr. Glass, who had a stint in Pittsburgh in his formative years, is represented by "Orphee," based on an acclaimed film by Jean Cocteau that recasts the Orpheus myth. Mr. Muhly's "Dark Sisters" explores a woman's questioning of her life as a sister-wife in a polygamist culture.

"I planned this 75th anniversary season with a view to celebrating both the past and the future," says general director Christopher Hahn. "Through this combination, we firmly proclaim that opera, with its great and honorable past, also has an intriguing and encouraging future."

Formed in 1939 as the Pittsburgh Opera Society, the company is the seventh oldest operating today, with only three major houses ahead of it: Metropolitan Opera (1883), Cincinnati Opera (1920) and San Francisco Opera (1923). It is clear it is time to celebrate.

"I wanted to start the season with as big a bang as possible, and 'Aida' is that in everyone's mind. It is grand opera at its most spectacular," says Mr. Hahn. "This time we plan to have a number of animals in the triumphal scene."

Singers are still the most important mammals and the Pittsburgh Opera will present the debuts of two major talents, Latonia Moore as Aida and tenor Carl Tanner as Radames. Last spring, Ms. Moore stepped in at the last minute to sing the role at the Metropolitan Opera to acclaim. The cast is rounded out by Betsy Bishop as Amneris, Hao Jiang Tian as Ramfis and Lester Lynch as Amonasro.

Mozart's comic masterpiece, "The Magic Flute," returns in a production out of Toronto. Audrey Luna sings the Queen of the Night, a role for which she has already proven herself a natural, and rising star soprano Layla Claire debuts as Pamina. Just as proven at the Benedum Center and beyond is tenor Sean Panikkar, cast as Tamino. In part, the "La Boheme" production will be a vehicle for Mexican tenor David Lomeli.

"I very much wanted to find something to bring back the exciting young tenor after his impressive debut in 'Lucia' here in 2010," says Mr. Hahn.

His Rodolfo will be paired with soprano Leah Crocetto's Mimi. They should have good rapport: "They're very good friends from their days together at San Francisco Opera, and they jumped at the opportunity to sing together," says Mr. Hahn.

The Benedum Center season closes with a production of Mr. Glass' "Orphee" in a production from Glimmerglass designed by Sam Helfrich. Matthew Worth, infectious as Figaro here in 2010 in "The Barber of Seville," takes the lead, with former resident artist Caroline Worra as Eurydice. The couple's journey to the Underworld gets stranger yet when an enigmatic princess (Heather Buck) appears. Music director Antony Walker leads the orchestra in all four Benedum productions.

American composer Nico Muhly, who is conversant in pop as well as classical music, delves into the culture of polygamy in "Dark Sisters." This production featuring its Resident Artists will give the only the third staging of the retelling of a Texas-based Mormon splinter group whose children were taken by the U.S. government after a raid in 2008. The opera focuses on the charismatic "prophet" of the sect and "his sway on the women in his community," says Mr. Hahn.

Jasmine Muhammad plays sister-wife Eliza and Joseph Barron is cast as the prophet. Daniel Rigazzi will create a new production and Glenn Lewis will conduct. Mr. Hahn will offer another production to the Resident Artists in late February with a yet-to-be-announced "Second Stage Project" at the Pittsburgh Opera headquarters in the Strip District.

Ultimately, Mr. Hahn wants this coming season to reflect the regional community that has been "determined enough to create, build and nourish an opera company for so long, [with] a desire for excellence and a pride in supporting the highest possible level of classical music. It says a lot about Pittsburgh."


Pittsburgh Opera 2013-14 Season

Where: All productions at Benedum Center, Downtown unless noted.

"Aida," Oct. 12, 15, 18, 20.

"Magic Flute," Nov. 9, 12, 15, 17.

"La Boheme," March 29, April 1, 4, 6, 2014.

"Orphee," April 26, 29, May 2, 4.

Resident artists:

"Dark Sisters," CAPA Theater, Downtown). Jan. 25, 28, 31, Feb. 2, 2014.

"A Rising Stars," Opera headquarters, Strip District. Sept. 21.

"Second Stage Project," (Opera headquarters) Feb. 25 to March 2.

Tickets: Subscriptions range from $48-$623 for the four Benedum operas; single tickets start at $12. 412-281-0912 or www.pittsburghopera.org.

music

Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. He blogs at www.post-gazette.com/classicalmusings.


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