Three new operas highlight Pittsburgh Opera's 2017-18 season
February 10, 2017 12:00 AM
Photography by Lynn Lane/HGO
Pittsburgh Opera will present Donizetti's "The Elixir of Love" next spring.
David Bachman for Pittsburgh Opera
Pittsburgh Opera last staged Puccini's "Tosca" in 2012.
David Bachman for Pittsburgh Opera
Pittsburgh Opera will once again stage Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro," which the company last produced in 2010.
By Elizabeth Bloom / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Is any entity in this city doing more to present works by living composers than Pittsburgh Opera?
Outside of new-music groups, almost certainly not. Next season, the company continues its tilt toward contemporary music, staging three pieces by living composers, including a world premiere and mainstage production of Jake Heggie’s “Moby-Dick” (March 17-25, 2018).
Mr. Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer’s 2010 opera is based on the epic Herman Melville novel. Pittsburgh Opera will present a new production by Erhard Rom at the Benedum Center.
The company has a special relationship with Mr. Heggie, who is known for his tuneful, lyrical compositions. In 2004, his “Dead Man Walking” was the first contemporary opera Pittsburgh Opera performed at the Benedum, and it marked a turning point for the company, general director Christopher Hahn said.
“Moby-Dick,” which takes place entirely on a whaling ship, has just one female role, the pants role of Pip, portrayed by soprano Jacqueline Echols. Other performers include tenor Roger Honeywell, former resident artist Sean Panikkar and bass-baritone Musa Ngqungwana, making his company debut.
In the winter, the company’s resident artists will be showcased in two new chamber operas. Jeremy Howard Beck’s “The Long Walk” (Jan. 20-28) follows an Iraq War veteran’s struggles to acclimate to life back home. The opera, which will be performed at Pittsburgh CAPA, is based on Brian Castner’s memoir of the same name.
“It’s actually a tough story and it delves into the psychological stress and dissonance of his psychological stage,” Mr. Hahn said.
Then the company will give the world premiere at Pittsburgh Opera headquarters of Douglas J. Cuomo’s one-man opera, “Ashes & Snow” (Feb. 17-25, 2018). The piece, scored for electronics, electric guitar, trumpet, keyboard and voice (tenor Eric Ferring), is an English translation of poems from Schubert’s “Winterreise.” The work, which will later appear at Brooklyn Academy of Music, follows the interior state of a man who wakes up in a desert motel, plunging toward rock bottom.
“It’s the journey of the mind through the solo voice and the small instrumental complement,” Mr. Hahn said.
Between the three contemporary operas, Pittsburgh Opera is building a formidable operatic core.
“The hope is it will continue to wave the flag to our interest and devotion to new work,” Mr. Hahn said.
Those unfamiliar works will be surrounded — “lovingly,” Mr. Hahn quipped — with three standard Italian operas: Puccini’s “Tosca,” Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” and Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love.”
“Tosca” (Oct. 7-15) features soprano Leah Crocetto in the title role and company favorite Mark Delavan as Scarpia. The title character has yet to be announced in “Figaro” (Nov. 4-12), which also will feature debuting soprano Joélle Harvey (Susanna) and former resident artists Danielle Pastin (Countess Almaviva) and Corrie Stallings (Cherubino).
While most of the mainstage operas will be period productions, “Elixir” (April 21-29, 2018) is set in 1950s Italy. Directed by Daniel Slater, the production will feature debuting soprano Ekaterina Siurina as Adina and Dimitri Pittas as Nemorino.
I often praise Pittsburgh Opera for doing much with a limited budget, in particular producing operas from different time periods and deploying its resident artists to great effect.
So, what else could they do? Keep going. The company would do well to commission and produce operas by more women and people of color; stage works rarely seen in Pittsburgh, or anywhere else for that matter; and experiment with unusual ways to stage familiar pieces.
Given how far the company has come, it will be exciting to watch its evolution. The world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s “Bhutto,” originally planned for next season, is now scheduled for November 2018 due to timing issues. Along with On Site Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago, Pittsburgh Opera co-commissioned John Musto and Eric Einhorn’s “Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt,” a family-friendly opera that is likely to debut here in two seasons.
I expect there is more to come, and I hope audiences give these fresh works a chance, discovering the satisfaction of experiencing the music of our time.
Elizabeth Bloom: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1750 and Twitter: @BloomPG.
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