Fort Worth — When the Finnish-born Tuomas Hiltunen was announced as the new General Director of the Fort Worth Opera, he had lots of work cut out for him. His predecessor, Darren K. Woods, had turned the organization into a company known for commissioning new works, but there was also so financial clean-up to do in the wake of an over-budget world premiere of the opera JFK in 2016.
Hiltunen has gotten off to a great start. After restructuring the staff (and yes, cutting some of it), the 2019 festival season—his first one to pick—at first only featured two mainstage productions, Francesca Zambello’s acclaimed production of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and José 'Pepe' Martínez’s mariachi opera El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished), part of the FWO’s Noches de Opera series, committed to works from the Americas. The season also was to feature a reading of the new Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz opera El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida y Diego), already announced to premiere at Fort Worth Opera in 2020; and the return of the popular program Frontiers, which showcases sections of works in development.
Since that April announcement, the company has made some exciting additions: Namely a fully staged world premiere opera, Rachel J. Peters’ Companionship, as part of the 2019 festival; and a children’s opera production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel in the fall of 2018 at locations in Southlake, Arlington and Fort Worth. Also, they scored a coup by getting renowned New York critic Margo Jefferson to give the keynote lecture on Porgy and Bess as part of the 2019 festival’s opening weekend, on April 27.
“We will continue to make announcements like the world premiere of Rachel J. Peters' Companionship and keynote lecture by Margo Jefferson,” Hiltunen says. “Fort Worth Opera is clear on our mission and purpose. This is a nimble and imaginative company. We are constantly looking for a better way to present opera to our community and bring people together to share their experiences. Companionship is a hilarious piece about baking and obsession. It is the right fit for us. In preparation of our 2019 Festival, I have even signed up for a few baking classes!”
Companionship, which was previously presented in Frontiers, also marks an important moment for the Fort Worth Opera: It will be the first fully staged opera in the organizations history to have been composed by a woman. FWO will double down on that in 2020 with Gabriela Lena Frank’s El ultimo sueño de Frida y Diego (the rest of the 2020 season will be announced during the 2019 festival).
“Rachel Peters has extraordinary talents,” says FWO Artistic Director Joe Illick. “When I reviewed part of Companionship for Frontiers, I didn’t know who had written it, because the judging is a blind process for all of us. All I knew was that I was looking at a terrific opera. Rachel writes wonderfully for the voice, she has an incredible range of musical styles, she has a great sense of humor, she writes her own texts and is very gifted and creative with words, and she has a wildly fertile imagination. In short, I have become a fan!”
This looks good for the future of women in major roles (not just as performers) at Fort Worth Opera.
“We have had several women conduct and direct at Fort Worth Opera, and that will continue, but it’s true that we haven’t represented women composers,” Illick says. “In addition to Companionship, we are giving the world premiere in 2020 of El ultimo sueño de Frida y Diego by Gabriela Lena Frank. I don’t know specifically what other works composed by women will follow, but there will certainly be more. Even opera has caught up with the 21st century.”
Below is the complete 2019 season lineup with dates, followed by the original news release announcing the 2019 season, and then the news release announcing the addition of Companionship.
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2018 FALL PRODUCTION
Hansel and Gretel
Music by Engelbert Humperdinck | Libretto by Adelheid Wette | In English with no supertitles
The Marq in Southlake: November 11
Arlington Music Hall: November 16
Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Lecture Hall Auditorium: November 17
ARTISTIC TEAM: David Gately, Director; Stephen Carey, Music Director, Pianist, Chorus Master
2019 FORT WORTH OPERA FESTIVAL
Porgy and Bess
By George Gershwin, Dubose Heyward, Dorothy Heyward, Ira Gershwin
April 26, 28 (m), 30
Bass Performance Hall, downtown Fort Worth
In English with Spanish and English supertitles
ARTISTIC TEAM: Garnett Bruce, Director; Joe Illick, Conductor; Eric Sean Fogel & Eboni Adams, Choreographers; Mark McCullough, Lighting
Music and Libretto by Rachel J. Peters
May 1, 3, 5
Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Lecture Hall Auditorium
In English with no supertitles
ARTISTIC TEAM: Beth Greenberg, Director; Adam Marks, Music Director, Pianist
New Works Showcase
May 8, 9
Fort Worth Botanic Garden, Lecture Hall Auditorium
El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished)
Music by José 'Pepe' Martínez
Libretto by Leonard Foglia
May 10, 11, 12 (m)
Bass Performance Hall, downtown Fort Worth
In Spanish and English with Spanish and English supertitles
ARTISTIC TEAM: Leonard Foglia, Director; David Hanlon, Music Director
The Last Dream of Frida and Diego (Orchestral Showcase)
Location & singers TBD
Below is the original news release from April, followed by a news releases about Companionship, Margo Jefferson and Hansel and Gretel.
Fort Worth Opera (FWOpera) announced today details of the company’s line-up of productions scheduled to take the stage during the 2019 season, following the recent launch of the company’s future-forward, two-year matching donation challenge, Thanks-a-Million! Next year’s season will include internationally renowned opera director Francesca Zambello’s critically acclaimed production of Porgy and Bess, the first mainstage production in Fort Worth Opera history to feature the vision of a female director; an emotionally stirring mariachi opera set on the eve of the Mexican Revolution, El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past Is Never Finished); and an exciting public showcase of the company’s 2020 world premiere El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego). The season will also usher in the seventh year of Fort Worth Opera’s acclaimed new works showcase, Frontiers. Porgy and Bess, El Pasado Nunca se Termina, and Frontiers will be performed during the Festival (April 26 – May 12), with the showcase of El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego to be held during the final week of May 2019.
In addition to Fort Worth Opera’s season announcement, the company recently launched a Board of Trustees-driven campaign, Thanks-a-Million! This two-year matching donation challenge by Trustee Mr. Ed Schollmaier offers new, lapsed, and increased gift donors an opportunity to double their investment. As FWOpera enters its 73rd year, the company is dedicated to building its community footprint based on sustainable partnerships with leading businesses in North Texas, so that the creative class continues to grow and deliver more value to Fort Worth’s diverse arts scene. Thanks-a-Million not only strengthens FWOpera’s financial health and supports its community-driven educational outreach programs, but it is a long-term investment in the cultural and economic vibrancy of Fort Worth.
“I’m very excited about our 2019 season! We will bring Francesca Zambello’s vibrant production of Porgy and Bess that has been a sensation in Washington D.C. and Chicago.” said FWOpera Artistic Director Joe Illick. “In addition to featuring some of the best-known songs of all time, this is a rich and complex love story with gigantic heart. Our other mainstage Bass Hall production next year will be El Pasado Nunca se Termina with music by the late José “Pepe” Martínez and a libretto by opera director Leonard Foglia.
Frontiers promises to deliver more wonderful new pieces, operas-in-progress that are often thought-provoking, funny, moving, and always entertaining. At the end of May 2019, in anticipation of our 2020 world premiere, El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego, by Gabriela Lena Frank and Nilo Cruz, we will present an orchestral showcase of scenes from the opera with the Fort Worth Symphony and four singers. Gabriela is a former composer-in-residence of the Fort Worth Symphony, and this is a reunion to celebrate!”
Considered one of the most important operas written in the 20th-century, George Gershwin’s beloved Porgy and Bess has captivated audiences across the globe for over 80 years. Next season, opera director Garnett Bruce brings Zambello’s acclaimed revival to life on the stage of Bass Performance Hall, with spectacular new scenery created by British set designer Peter J. Davison. Based upon DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel Porgy, the opera follows the impoverished residents of the neighborhood of Catfish Row on the shores of Charleston, South Carolina.
This tragic love story, featuring iconic arias like “Summertime” and “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” centers on a disabled beggar named Porgy and his efforts to save the troubled Bess from a life of shame, addiction, and ruin. This audacious work, with its masterful blend of opera, jazz, blues, spirituals, ragtime, and folk will be presented in English, in its original version with restored orchestrations and recitatives.
During the 2019 season, FWOpera will continue its ongoing series, Noches de Ópera, a celebration of contemporary Spanish-language operas and engaging community outreach programs. Following this season’s tango opera, María de Buenos Aires, and the 2017 Festival production of Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, the company will present the world’s second mariachi opera, El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished).
Set on the eve of the Mexican Revolution in 1910, this stunning bilingual family drama follows a forbidden relationship between a wealthy European landowner’s son and an indigenous Mexican girl whose family works and lives on the estate. As the violent bloodshed rises around them, their passionate love will alter the destiny of their families forever. Some will emerge to change the face of Mexican history, while others will become the new face of the American Dream. Featuring the same exciting creative team as Cruzar, the plot of El Pasado is as poignant as any classic opera with stirring melodies that linger long after the curtain has fallen.
In the spring of 2020, FWOpera will present the world premiere of El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego), a Spanish-language opera exploring the passionate relationship of iconic Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz and Latin Grammy winner, pianist, and classical composer Gabriela Lena Frank, this celebratory new work is set in 1957 during the Mexican holiday of El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).
The first full libretto reading of the opera was held on August 24, 2017, at Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and this fall, co-commissioner San Diego Opera will conduct a piano-vocal workshop to further develop the piece. In May of 2019, following FWOpera’s spring Festival, the company will hold a weeklong orchestral-vocal workshop, culminating in a showcase of scenes from the opera for the entire community to enjoy. Audiences will receive an exclusive sneak peek of this exhilarating new work, the first opera written by a woman to be produced by the company.
Next year will also include the seventh season of Frontiers, the company’s popular showcase for new operatic works. Six to eight selected composers and librettists will present their works in 20-minute performances sung by young artists of the 2019 Festival. Each creative team will attend the showcase and participate in an enlightening discussion. Composers will receive feedback on their work through private meetings with the Frontiers jury panel. In addition, the workshops will be recorded, so the composers can subsequently study the recording to assist in the completion of their compositional process. Final performances will be offered in two separate showcases. Times, dates, and locations to be determined.
And the news release about Companionship:
Fort Worth Opera (FWOpera) announced today the casts and creative teams for the 2019 Festival season, including the world premiere of composer-librettist Rachel J. Peters’s delightfully wicked opera, Companionship. Adapted from the short story by internationally bestselling author Arthur Phillips, this deliciously dark comedy about an obsession with dough, mirrors our modern world, where what we consume becomes all-consuming. Selected as a winner of the 2018 FWOpera Frontiers showcase, the work will receive a fully staged production next spring at theFort Worth Botanic Garden, as part of FWOpera’s alternative venue series, Opera Unbound, and is the first opera written by a woman to be produced by the company in its 73-year history.
Led by acclaimed opera director Beth Greenberg, who started her career at the Deutsche Opera Berlin, Companionship stars soprano Maren Weinberger(The Barber of Seville, Buried Alive | Embedded) as an aspiring baker named Leslie Sinclair, living in present-day Waukesha, Wisconsin. Recovering from a nervous breakdown, she sets out to bake the perfect baguette when the 207,345th one suddenly comes to life. The ambitious and tyrannical Dough, played by mezzo-soprano Kate Tombaugh (Brief Encounters), promises to reveal a mysterious “great wisedom,” if only she will comply with its wishes. BaritoneSamuel Schultz (Brief Encounters) returns to Fort Worth as Leslie's retired police detective father Gene, with mezzo-soprano Hilary Ginther and bassBenjamin Sieverding as her overbearing mother Judy and the Dough’s Mate. Soprano Jeni Houser (Ariadne auf Naxos) and tenor David Walton will portray Leslie’s fraternal twin sister Viv and her exterminator boyfriend, Tom. Called a "titanic force" by The New York Times, versatile performer Adam Marks music directs and accompanies at the piano.
“This project began on a whim in 2011 with scenes for a concert featuring Brooklyn Book Festival authors, and I just couldn’t let it go. I felt as if Arthur had written this story specially for me; it was already so full of music and crying out for adaptation,” said Brooklyn-based Peters. “The opera has been developed in fits and starts over the years by American Opera Projects, Manhattan School of Music, and the John Duffy Institute for New Opera. I’m thrilled to finally bring the entire piece to life at Fort Worth Opera.”
News release about Margo Jefferson:
Fort Worth Opera proudly announced today the news that distinguished author, cultural critic, and academic Margo Jefferson will deliver a keynote lecture on The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess at Bass Performance Hall, Saturday, April 27, as part of the opening weekend of the 2019 Fort Worth Opera Festival. Winner of the 1995 Pulitzer Prize in Criticism for her work at The New York Times, Jefferson’s essays and reviews have appeared in numerous publications such as The Guardian, Harper’s, The Scholar, and New York Magazine. Currently serving as a professor of writing at Columbia University, she was once an arts criticism contributing editor to Vogue and an associate editor for Newsweek and is the award-winning author of Negroland: A Memoir and On Michael Jackson.
“I grew up with Porgy and Bess,” said Jefferson. “I’ve been watching and listening to some form of it since 1959 when the movie came out. I know it as a musical; I know it as an opera. I’ve charted its course as a much-debated racial and cultural document. I‘m very excited about the coming Fort Worth production. Porgy and Bess demands that we, its American audience, live with its contradictions and live up to its complexities. When we do that, it rewards us with its musical glories.” As Fort Worth Opera enters our 73rd season here in North Texas, we are honored that Professor Margo Jefferson will be joining us to discuss the enduring legacy of this 84-year-old, American operatic masterpiece.
About Hansel and Gretel:
Fort Worth Opera (FWOpera) is thrilled to announce today the addition of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel to the 2018-2019 season, and elementary student performances of Three Pigs Remix, presented through the company’s acclaimed Children’s Opera Theatre program. A fully staged, 60-minute, pop-up production of the enchanting fairy tale opera, Hansel and Gretel will be presented at The Marq in Southlake, Arlington Music Hall, and the Fort Worth Botanic Garden in November and December of 2018. Based upon the beloved Brothers Grimm story, this family-friendly classic in English explores the perils of growing up and reminds children of all ages to beware the witchy woods and never judge a book by its candy-coated cover. Cleverly reimagined for 21st-century audiences, FWOpera’s innovative update features a witty, contemporary design, exhilarating performances from the immensely talented FWO-TCU Lesley Artists, and a delightful chorus of gingerbread children.
Since 1966, Fort Worth Opera has opened millions of young minds to the colorful and exciting world of opera, and each season our Children’s Opera Theatre (COT) program offers educational performances to over 35,000 elementary school students across North Texas. These professionally trained opera singers perform fully-costumed, 45-minute operas based upon well-known children’s fairy tales. This season, COT is proud to present composer Michael Ching’s “remix” of the classic folktale about three friends who work together in the face of adversity. Three Pigs Remix features three little pigs, one big, bad wolf, and multiple exciting outcomes. Not only is this wonderful opera an engaging and entertaining hour of theater, but it serves as an inspiring introduction to classical music and literature as Fort Worth Opera brings the magic of opera to students and cultivates the next generation of art lovers.