Like many other events, Cincinnati Opera’s 2020 centennial celebration was a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. But for the 2022 season, the opera will finally return to Music Hall after two years away. Even better: much of the original 2020 program remains intact.
There’s plenty to celebrate. Five operas range from classic grand opera to chamber works and slapstick comedy. Three operas from the 2020 season are on the roster, including two world premieres. The casts feature internationally renowned artists and some of today’s hottest young singers accompanied by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under the direction of acclaimed conductors. And the production teams bring together local creatives and designers joined by colleagues from around the world.
The season opener, Puccini’s La Bohème, “makes it official that we’re back,” Cincinnati Opera artistic director Evans Mirageas tells CityBeat via a Zoom interview. “It’s familiar and it’s a favorite.”
Bohème’s romantic and poignant story of love found and lost in Paris contrasts intimate emotional moments with rowdy comedy in Puccini’s exquisite score. The cast features soprano Talise Travigne, tenor Ji-Min Park and Raven McMillon, a Metropolitan Opera audition winner and alum of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Comic relief arrives when The Pirates of Penzance sails into Music Hall. William S. Gilbert’s lyrics and Arthur Sullivan’s brilliant score slyly deflate respectability, rectitude and grand opera with dazzling coloratura arias and rousing choruses.
Gilbert and Sullivan were the Victorian era’s hottest theatrical team with a string of hits over two decades. Pirates’ dialogue is loaded with outdated barbs at British social and political targets, so Mirageas and production director Sean Curran are creating more Cincinnati-centric lines.
“There are no sacred cows,” Mirageas says.
Tenor David Walton, who sang roles in the 2019 production of Ariadne auf Naxos, returns as Frederick, the dutiful pirate apprentice. Zachary James, featured in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Philip Glass’s Akhnaten, is the swashbuckling Pirate King, and in a feat of luxury casting, renowned Wagnerian mezzo Amber Wagner sings the role of Ruth, the older woman infatuated with Frederick.
Two world premieres originally scheduled for the 2020 season finally make their debuts, with both slated for the School for Creative and Performing Arts’ Corbett Auditorium and both addressing issues facing contemporary audiences.
Fierce presents four teen-aged girls challenged by sexuality, love, parental expectations and the devastation wrought by cyber trolls. Northern Kentucky novelist Sheila Williams based her libretto on conversations with ten girls 13-18 years old. “We talked about everything from our favorite tv shows to our favorite makeup and then how we defined ourselves as artists,” Williams tells CityBeat. “They blew me away with their honesty and insights.”
Acclaimed pianist, conductor and educator William Menefield was tapped to compose Fierce after dazzling audiences at Cincinnati Opera’s popular “Opera Goes to Church” series. Menefield is an alumnus of CCM and the School for Creative and Performing Arts, where Fierce will be performed. Ensemble Theater’s Lynn Meyers directs the production, her first for the company.
Castor and Patience takes on family, the festering wounds of racism and the impact of the 2008 recession. Tracy K. Smith, the 2017-2019 U.S. Poet Laureate, based her libretto on her story about two members of a Black family confronting poverty and legacy. Gregory Spears is the composer, following Cincinnati Opera’s successful 2016 premiere of his opera Fellow Travelers.
The season concludes with Giuseppe Verdi’s Aïda. Verdi’s story of love, loyalty and vengeance set in ancient Egypt contrasts the Triumphal March’s grand choruses with passionate, intimate duets. For Mirageas, the production pays tribute to Cincinnati Opera’s resources enabling the company to stage grand opera on a scale unmatched by other American summer opera companies.
Soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams is the enslaved Ethiopian princess Aïda and internationally acclaimed tenor Gregory Kunde is her lover Radames. Mezzo Tichina Vaughn makes her company debut as the vengeful Egyptian princess Amneris. Cincinnati Opera artistic advisor Morris Robinson is the high priest, and Gordon Hawkins returns to sing Aïda’s father Amonasro.
Cincinnati Opera will kick off its 2022 season with a free public concert at 7:30 p.m. June 12 in Washington Park. It will feature cast members from La Bohème and Pirates.
And at 7:30 p.m. July 27, at Music Hall, Robinson will host an evening of opera, gospel and musical theater with friends and colleagues. The event will feature soprano Talise Trevigne, tenors Larry Brownlee and Russell Thomas and baritone Will Liverman, who tore it up in Terence Blanchard’s Fire Shut Up in My Bones. They will be joined by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a chorus of singers from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“Expect the unexpected,” Mirageas says.
The 2022 Cincinnati Opera season runs June 18-July 31. Info: cincinnatiopera.org.
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