Opera season features oldies, goodies and newbies

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Sometimes, an opera doesn't have to be contemporary to be new to audiences. The upcoming Pittsburgh Opera season features a combination of oldies, goodies and newbies -- and maybe some that fall under all three categories.

"I was interested in tackling pieces that hadn't been seen in Pittsburgh in some time," said general director Christopher Hahn.

Pittsburgh Opera's 2014-15 season
Where: All productions at Benedum Center, Downtown, unless noted.

• "Grand and Glorious" gala, Oct. 18.

• "Otello," Nov. 8, 11, 14, 16.

• "Carmen," March 21, 24, 27, 29, 2015.

• "Daughter of the Regiment," May 2, 5, 8, 10, 2015.

Resident artists:

• "Rising Stars," Pittsburgh Opera headquarters, Strip District. Oct. 5.

• "Rodelinda," CAPA Theater, Downtown. Jan. 24, 27, 30, Feb. 1, 2015.

• "Sumeida's Song," Opera headquarters. Feb. 21, 24, 27, March 1, 2015.

The 2014-15 season, announced today, features three operas at the Benedum Center -- Verdi's "Otello," Bizet's "Carmen" and Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment" -- along with a gala concert, two operas performed by its resident artists, and a variety of smaller events.

The three mainstage productions signal a reduction from the company's usual four. That choice, said Mr. Hahn, has more to do with shoring up finances for the future rather than scaling back. In lieu of a fourth opera at the Benedum, the season opens with "Grand and Glorious," a gala concert on Oct. 18.

The company plans to return to four productions next year, said Mr. Hahn, and he expects the organization to be in the black at the end of this fiscal year. This season is the first of a three-year 75th anniversary campaign.

"We just want to be careful this year. We've had a spectacular 75th year," Mr. Hahn said.

Verdi's "Otello" opens the season with tenor Carl Tanner in the lead role and former resident artist Danielle Pastin as Desdemona. Pittsburgh Opera last staged "Otello" in 1990 and needed a particularly strong tenor to produce it once again. Mr. Hahn said the company found him in Mr. Tanner, who played Radames in "Aida" here in 2013 and at the Metropolitan Opera in 2012.

The second Benedum production, Bizet's "Carmen," made a more recent Pittsburgh Opera stop, in 2010. The traditional production by Austin Lyric Opera will feature Rinat Shaham in the title role and the Pittsburgh Opera debut of baritone Morgan Smith as Escamillo.

Finishing off the big three is Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment," which the company hasn't staged since 1986. Bel canto tenor Lawrence Brownlee makes his Pittsburgh Opera debut as Tonio, a role he played at the Met in 2011. Lisette Oropesa returns to Pittsburgh as Marie. The new production by Pittsburgh Opera and Washington National Opera will be sung in English, with details announced at a later date. Music director Antony Walker will conduct the three Benedum operas.

"Grand and Glorious," the gala concert, will showcase Mr. Tanner, soprano Angela Meade, mezzo-soprano Marianne Cornetti and resident artists in a one-night-only event. Compared to the two weeks necessary to put on a full opera, renting out the Benedum for one evening significantly reduces expenses, Mr. Hahn said, and the setting allows the company to feature pieces from operas that it wouldn't easily produce. Selections will be announced at a later date.

Resident artists once again will take the CAPA Theater stage, this time Handel's "Rodelinda." Soprano Jasmine Muhammad returns for a third year as resident artist and will play the title role in a new production. The historically informed ensemble Chatham Baroque will perform in the orchestra. Mr. Hahn said the company plans to alternate between early and new operas for the CAPA Theater performances.

Mohammed Fairouz's "Sumeida's Song," which premiered in January at New York's Prototype Festival, will be the company's annual Second Stage Project, which features contemporary works and resident artists at the Pittsburgh Opera headquarters in the Strip District. Blending American and Arabic music, the chamber opera takes place in Egypt and deals with the story of a son who refuses to honor his mother's demand that he kill his father's assassin. Details of the new production will be announced.

In addition, Friday productions next season will start at 7:30 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. That decision was based on a survey of Friday subscribers and single ticket buyers. It also marks the return of "Auld Lang Syne," the company's New Year's Eve celebration at Carnegie Music Hall.

Subscriptions for the three Benedum Center operas and gala are $43-$607.50. Single ticket prices are $12-$155. For more information, visit www.pittsburghopera.org or call 412-281-0912.


Elizabeth Bloom: ebloom@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. Twitter: @BloomPG.

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