Cover Story: Hot Voices

Attracting the Opera World's Best

May 31, 2001 at 2:06 pm
Jymi Bolden

Nicholas Muni

Nicholas Muni travels the world to entice opera's top performers, directors and conductors to perform for his Cincinnati Opera. Things will soon heat up for four productions in the Summer Festival.

The season opens with Madame Butterfly (June 21, 23, 29), Puccini's classic tale of forbidden love between an American naval officer and a Japanese girl. The Opera staged Butterfly just five years ago, but this production uses Asian talent in Asian roles, promising greater impact to the story of clashing cultures. Chinese soprano Chen Sue plays Cio-Cio San (Madame Butterfly). Muni hopes racially appropriate casting will separate this Butterfly from the crowd.

Chen Sue isn't the only world talent to play Music Hall this season. Danish soprano Inga Nielsen makes a rare American performance in a double billing of Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle and Schoenberg's Erwartung, the season's second production (June 28, 30), brought to life by Robert Lepage, the critically acclaimed film and stage director.

Next up is Mozart's The Magic Flute (July 12, 14, 20), in a production by children's author Maurice Sendak, featuring some of opera's hottest young stars. At 25, tenor Charles Castronovo is considered one of the most promising lyric tenors, and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, 26, is already setting the opera world on fire. Joining them is the U.K.'s Cara O'Sullivan, in her U.S. debut.

Georgian Baritone Lado Ataneli stars in Nabucco, the season's final production (July 19, 21), having sung the role with the Paris Opera earlier this year. His strong presence will balance out the soprano playing his daughter, American operatic actress Lauren Flanigan, known worldwide for memorable and moving characters. (Cincinnati audiences will remember Flanigan from 1999's Don Giovanni.)

Muni's international scouting efforts are paying off. Last season, subscription sales were the highest ever, and this season the opera is adding performances to Madame Butterfly and The Magic Flute, so non-subscribers can purchase prime seats.

WHO: The Cincinnati Opera. · WHEN: June 21-July 21.· WHERE: Music Hall. · TICKETS: $12-$90. · INFO: 513-241-2742.