What to do This Weekend: Opera Theater of Pittsburgh offers SummerFest

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You might be a fan of opera and not even realize it.

The perfect way to find out is to experience SummerFest, presented by the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh this weekend in Oakland.

Tonight at 7:30 it's Stephen Sondheim's "A Little Night Music," featuring Anna Singer, Daniel Teadt and Robert Frankenberry, among others. Scott Wise, an assistant professor in the theater department at Point Park University, is the director.

So you say to yourself, "Wait a tic. I don't recall 'A Little Night Music' being an opera."

"These are pieces that reach out to musical theater lovers, Broadway lovers, who might not necessarily be operagoers," said Mr. Frankenberry, the company's music director, who will be on stage in the role of Carl-Magnus. (Apparently, in addition to coordinating and conducting, he also can carry a tune.)

"This is music that anyone would be very interested in. We offer the approach that focuses on that kind of singing, which puts the music in the foreground. And we have strong performers who have done a lot of musical theater and they bring their operatic vocalism with their musical theater experience."

Yvonne Hudson, marketing director for Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, said SummerFest serves two purposes: In addition to growing Pittsburgh's opera audience, it cultivates young opera singers.

"We have a very vibrant young artists program, similar to what a lot of other companies do, to train young singers and offer them a very intensive opportunity," Ms. Hudson said. "So the singers audition and come to us and receive not only performance opportunities but training and workshops and are featured in a lot of different pieces and roles.

"You'll see a cross-section of experienced professionals and a number of guest artists and members of our young artist program. People who are in the chorus roles, for example, are often members of our young artist program. But in this particular show they are featured really prominently, they have a lot of solo bits and really get to be showcased."

Imagine, Pittsburgh going for Baroque.

"Pittsburgh is a terrific place for all the arts," Mr. Frankenberry said. "I know, I sound like a marketing person, but we actually have five opera companies of different sorts in this town. There's so much singing in this city.

"With SummerFest, we create this opportunity for a concentrated series of events that music and opera lovers can go to during a season when we don't normally have a lot of opera. And the pieces are contemporary and in English and performed in intimate venues."

Last year -- SummerFest's first -- the shows went on in Fox Chapel. This year, they're being presented at the 20th Century Club, 4201 Bigelow Blvd. in Oakland.

"You walk into this beautiful stately mansion and you're immediately sort of in a different atmosphere," Mr. Frankenberry said. "The art deco nature sort of takes you back and slows you down a little bit.

"Then there are all these comfortable nooks to sit down in. There are several bars, where you can get wine, beer, cocktails, water, whatever suits your fancy. You relax and then you enter the auditorium space with beautiful chandeliers. There's a rich-sounding orchestra."

And the singers, who mingle with the audience after the show.

"I'm seeing a lot of people that I haven't seen before," Mr. Frankenberry said. "And they seem to love it. Of course, we have our core subscribers and people that come in regularly, our main supporters. But this year I'm seeing a lot of different people from all demographic groups."

But wait! There's more! Just when you thought the SummerFest fat lady was preparing to sing, you'll be treated to a free additional post-opera performance they're calling "Night Caps International," mini-operatic vignettes.

"They were conceived last year," Ms. Hudson said. "We received an Opera America grant for audience development, for bringing audiences to opera in new and accessible ways. To attract people to opera through something intentionally comic.

"There are four different ones. They're all set in the same hotel. The 'Chinese Suite,' 'French Suite,' 'Penthouse Suite' and 'Gospel Suite.' They feature the kind of situations that people encounter when traveling: language difficulties, romantic encounters. They're intended as light grown-up opera at the end of the evening. A little music and comedy after the main event. They're not long, but it's a lot of fun, and it provides an opportunity to see our young artists up close because the stage is very intimate."

Tonight's Night Cap is the "French Suite."

Saturday's show at 7:30 p.m. is "The Tales of Hoffmann," followed by the "Penthouse Suite" Night Cap.

Sunday at 2:30 p.m. is "The Secret Gardener."

SummerFest continues through July 21. Admission to shows ranges from $20 to $70.

More information is at www.otsummerfest.org.


This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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