The Fort Worth Opera announced its 2013 Festival Season today and it holds a few surprises. Unlike the 2012 season beginning Saturday, which has two operas in the standard repertoire and two contemporary works, 2013 will bring three standards and only one modern opera. The contemporary opera, in an alternate location to Bass Hall, will be singled out of the season and into a category all its own: Opera Unbound. Also, the festival will take place one month earlier than this year, opening on April 20 and running through May 12.
From the standard opera list, the FWO picked three very standard ones that are audience favorites. First and foremost is Puccini's La Bohème, the second most frequently performed opera in the world (according to operaworld.com's list of the 20 most performed works). Boheme's popularity is well deserved and in the hands of Music Director Joe Illick, it should be perfectly played musically without the sentimentality that can cloy.
Mary Dunleavy, who has major opera house credits including the Metropolitan Opera on her résumé, will play the ill-fated Mimi. Sri Lankan tenor Sean Panikkar, who impressed greatly as Cassio in the Dallas Opera's production of Otello, which opened the Winspear Opera House, will be her conflicted lover, Rodolfo. Puerto Rican soprano Rosa Betancourt, who everyone said was terrific last season in Hydrogen Jukebox, will sing the incorrigible Musetta. Wes Mason, who received international praise for his leading role performance in the premiere of Before Night Falls, will play her long suffering loved, Marcello. This is a cast of attractive young singers, perfectly suited to their roles.
The other two operas are much farther down the list of the most performed, but are still in the top 50: Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos and Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment. Both are comedies, although Ariadne is more amusing than funny, but the Donizetti is a laugh-out-loud knee-slapper.
Illick will also conduct Ariadne, which bodes well for its success. This is a chamber opera by Strauss standards, but it still requires outstanding singers in order to pull it off. All of the roles are famously difficult and strenuous; even large opera houses have trouble finding a cast that can sing it.
FWO appears to have done quite well in this regard. Soprano Marjorie Owens, who by all reports was impressive in last season's Il Trovatore, will take on the title role. Corey Bix, a young heldentenor destined for the big Wagner roles, will sing Bacchus. Soprano Audrey Luna makes her company debut as Zerbinetta, whose wild flights of coloratura fireworks are the terror of sopranos everywhere. Mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall will sing the pants role of the young composer. David Gately, who is directing this season's production of Lysistrata, will direct.
Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment will feature the divine Ave Pine, a favorite of both the Dallas and Fort Worth Operas, in the leading role of Marie. She was just breathtaking in the recent Dallas Opera's production of Mozart's The Magic Flute and will soon be heard in this season's FWO production of Lysistrata. The role of Tonio will be sung by tenor David Portillo who was a hit in the FWO's production of Don Giovanni in 2010. Bass-baritone Rod Nelman, who has appeared with the company many times, will sing Sergeant Sulpice, However, the most intriguing member of the cast is the fabulous character mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle, who last appeared with the FWO in The Turn of the Screw in 2003. She will sing the role of the Marquise of Berkenfeld. This production will also feature Fort Worth Opera General Director Darren K. Woods as the butler Hortensius. Conductor Christopher Larkin, who also conducts this season's Three Decembers, will be in the pit, with stage direction by Broadway and Hollywood veteran Dorothy Danner.
The newly named Opera Unbound will be composer Tom Cipullo's opera Glory Denied, based on book by journalist Tom Philpott. The opera tells the story of Colonel Jim Thompson, America's longest-held prisoner-of-war from the Vietnam War.
I am unfamiliar with either the opera or the composer, so this production will be eagerly anticipated. As to the musical voice of the composer, The New York Times said this: "Tonal, melting into aching lushness…with a bite to its harmonies where different versions of the same truth converge." This sounds promising.
The opera, which will be performed in a new venue for FWO, McDavid Studio next to Bass Hall, has four singers playing the two roles of Thompson and his wife–one when they are young and another when they are old. Texas baritone Michael Mayes, who is currently singing the role of Kinesias in this season's production of Lysistrata will be the older Thompson. Tenor David Blalock, a young singer just starting his career will play his younger self. (Although the press release doesn't mention it, David's older brother Jonathan has appeared with the FWO many times, including a leading role in the highly successful premiere of Martín's Before Night Falls.) Caroline Worra, another young singer with a bright future makes her company debut in the role of Older Alyce, Her younger self will be played by soprano Sydney Mancasola, a resident artist with Philadelphia's renowned Academy of Vocal Arts. Tyson Deaton, the longtime FWO pianist, makes his FWO conducting debut and Dean Anthony, best known as a character tenor, will direct.
Creating a separate category for the new and experimental operas is an idea that bears watching. The reason for doing this, making it something different from the festival, is not readily apparent. The company has made its reputation by presenting new and experimental operas in a mix with the standard repertoire. Time will tell if the new Opera Unbound concept will grow into multiple offerings running in parallel with the festival or remain in the more dangerous position of being something outside of that.
In 2013, we'll also hear bits of the winning submissions from the FWO's first Frontiers contest, in which the organization has asked for submissions of new, unpublished or self-published works, hoping to discover new voices and work. Portions from six of the selected works will be heard. Works are being submitted through May 31 of this year, and the winners will be announced later this year.
TICKETS: Tickets for the 2013 Festival can be purchased online, by phone, or in person at the Fort Worth Opera Box Office inside the Fort Worth Community Arts Center at 1300 Gendy St., Fort Worth, Texas, 76107. Season subscriptions range from $47 to $397 while single tickets range from $25 to $200 (prices subject to change). Subscriptions are available now and single tickets go on sale August 1. For more information, please visit www.fwopera.org or call 817-731-0726 or toll-free at1-877-396-7372.To purchase tickets online, go to www.fwopera.org.
Schedule of 2013 Festival Performances
Saturday, April 20 7:30 p.m. Bass Hall La Bohème
Sunday, April 21 2:00 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Tuesday, April 23 7:30 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Wednesday, April 24 7:30 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Saturday, April 27 2:00 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Saturday, April 27 7:30 p.m. Bass Hall The Daughter of the Regiment
Sunday, April 28 2:00 p.m. Bass Hall La Bohème
Tuesday, April 30 7:30 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Wednesday, May 1 7:30 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Friday, May 3 7:30 p.m. Bass Hall La Bohème
Saturday, May 4 2:00 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Saturday, May 4 7:30 p.m. Bass Hall Ariadne auf Naxos
Sunday, May 5 2:00 p.m. Bass Hall The Daughter of the Regiment
Tuesday, May 7 7:30 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Wednesday, May 8 7:30 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Thursday, May 9 time TBA McDavid Studio Frontiers Showcase 1
Friday, May 10 time TBA McDavid Studio Frontiers Showcase 2
Friday, May 10 7:30 p.m. Bass Hall The Daughter of the Regiment
Saturday, May 11 2:00 p.m. McDavid Studio Glory Denied
Saturday, May 11 7:30 p.m. Bass Hall La Bohème
Sunday, May 12 2:00 p.m. Bass Hall Ariadne auf Naxos