OPERA SEASON TAKES A BIG LEAP
OPERA SCENE- 2018 SEASON
First impression of the upcoming San Diego Opera season is “different.” That’s the way General Director David Bennett planned it. It is the first repertory that is entirely his creation. His first two seasons had productions and artists under contract by former management that had to fit around any of his planning.
So what is so different? For openers, and I mean for the opera season, Bennett scheduled the first Gilbert & Sullivan ever produced by SDO for opening night in October 2017. There has been a long demand in San Diego for G&S, successfully produced for 32years by the Lyric Opera San Diego that closed its doors in 2011.
The season continues with two Detour Series chamber operas and a recital while the main stage at the Civic Theatre presents a popular grand opera and a contemporary opera staged on an Amazon river boat. The variety of composers and libretti could not be more complex.
That’s why I am stumped how to identify a common theme as I have in past seasons of more standard repertory. So many opera classics follow a pattern of an anxious tenor in love with a desperate soprano and a baritone trying to prevent the affair.
So without a common theme, let’s examine the broad variety of productions for next season.
The opera season opens with a frolicking lampoon about pirates having a good time. Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” with its tuneful arias and stage antics has delighted audiences for over 100 years. The star-quality of the Pirate King, Greer Grimsley returning to SDO, adds more to the family-friendly performances with his own family in the cast. Grimsley’s real-life wife, Luretta Bybee, and their daughter, Emma Grimsley, fill the other key roles.
With the demise of Lyric Opera San Diego, it’s time for popular light opera to return with this whimsical, grand-scale production from Atlanta Opera.
The innovative Detour Series kicks off in November with a compassionate look at the social issue of a transgender man seeking his real identity. The chamber opera “As One” has been the most performed American opera since its premiere in 2014.
There are two performers in the cast playing the same character, Baritone Kelly Markgraf and mezzo soprano Blythe Gaissert. The story takes a confused young American boy on an emotional journey through college and finally to Norway to find his inner-self and peace.
“As One” is also an innovative venture for SDO to be the first production performed away from downtown to reach a new audience in an outlying neighborhood. The intimate Joan B. Kroc Theatre is in the Salvation Army community center near La Mesa
After the holiday break, another Detour Series chamber opera is performed at the Lyceum Theatre in Horton Plaza. “Maria de Buenos Aires” is a surrealist Spanish-language opera dealing with gritty street life of Argentina’s capital where tango dancing is a way of life. The unusual cast consists of a spoken-word chorus, two singers and two tango dancers.
Composed by Argentine Astor Piazzolla for a 1968 premiere, “Maria” was an early success in the classical repertory for the creator of Nuevo Tango, a style mixing jazz with new rhythm to the classic tango of the streets. Piazzolla’s early concert pieces caused riots in the audience similar to those rejecting early works by Stravinsky who was Piazzoila’s teacher.
Returning to the Civic Theatre in February, the grandest of grand opera is scheduled with a star cast led by Lise Lindstrom. Puccini’s “Turandot” is a powerful story of a frigid Chinese princess who beheads any suitor failing to answer her three riddles. There have been many losers until a determined prince comes to claim a bride. He answers the riddles and brings love to the astounded princess.
Puccini incorporated several traditional Chinese music themes into his score giving the opera an exotic sound to match the elaborate set and costumes of the Imperial Chinese Court.
The main stage at the Civic Theatre features another Spanish-language opera in March. Mexican composer Daniel Catán, last heard here in the 1994 production of “Rappacini’s Daughter,” set this opera on an Amazon River steamboat. The plot of “Florencia en el Amazonas” takes a famous opera diva on a jungle journey in search of her missing lover.
Fantasy and reality become mixed in the jungle where nature merges with the supernatural. Florencia is transformed by the mystical sounds of wilderness as reflected in Catán’s score that recalls Puccini and Debussy.
Concluding the 2018 season is a gala concert with two popular artists in San Diego. Soprano Lise Lindstrom, our Turandot in February, returns to join tenor René Barbera for an evening of operatic favorites at the Balboa Theatre in May. Barbera was an instant hit at a concert in the 2015 season and quickly took leading roles with Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Seattle Opera in the bel canto repertory.
Season subscriptions are on sale at San Diego Opera. For ticket information, call (619) 533 7000 or visit http://www.sdopera.com
Ford is a past president of San Diego Opera and supports the opera archive at San Diego State University