How does an opera company follow up a 90th anniversary season? For starters, it returns to the usual four-work schedule, which this year includes a company premiere. Top singers, conductors and directors are scheduled as well as rising stars. The pit band is the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. And so far only one singer has cancelled.
The season features two chestnuts, a work not performed since 1984 and an opera written in 2006. Verdi’s Rigoletto opens the season, followed by American composer John Adams’ A Flowering Tree. In July, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin takes the stage, followed by Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
“There’s no overarching theme that ties it all together,” Cincinnati Opera Artistic Director Evans Mirageas says, “but two operas are interrelated.”
That would be A Flowering Tree and The Magic Flute. Mirageas explains that as part of a celebration commemorating Mozart’s 250th birthday, the acclaimed director Peter Sellars commissioned his longtime collaborator, composer John Adams, to write “a modern Magic Flute” for the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna.
In a departure from contemporary political hot buttons that inform his other operas, Adams found his inspiration in a 2,000-year-old South Indian tale of a young woman who possesses magical powers and her lover who must undergo a series of trials before being redeemed by love. The opera premiered to rave reviews in Vienna in 2006 and has since been staged in Europe, Japan, New York and Chicago.
The score is deeply intense, disturbing and immensely moving. Cincinnati will have an all-new production staged by a homegrown team. Northern Kentucky University faculty member Brian Robertson directs, with video projections and lighting designed by Jennie Chacon and Paula Rakestraw, who have produced music videos and video productions for business and religious organizations.
“It is almost impossible to create this amazing world in hard scenery, so we’re developing it ourselves,” Mirageas says. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful new production.”
Three singers from the world premiere cast will re-create their roles, including luminous soprano Jessica Rivera, who captivated audiences in 2009’s Ainadamar, the magnificent bass Eric Owens (who’s had a string of triumphs at the Met) and tenor Russell Thomas, also a Met veteran who blew away the audience at last year’s CO gala and as Cassio in Otello. Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro, recently appointed director of the Berkeley Symphony, makes her CO debut.
Adding to the excitement, John Adams will be on hand for the first night’s performance.
Mozart’s version of trials by fire and water, The Magic Flute, is touted as the family-friendly offering even if its libretto is not the most politically correct. With a prince and princess, a dragon, forces of good and evil and a score that is both fanciful and deeply emotional, the misogynistic bent isn’t too overbearing — especially when the villainess gets the best music.
Acclaimed soprano Nicole Cabell returns to sing Princess Pamina, but watch out for CCM alum Audrey Luna, who sings the Queen of the Night’s scene-stealing stratospheric coloratura arias. After a three-year absence, tenor Shawn Mathey is back to sing Prince Tamino, while Canadian Bernard Labadie conducts.
Rigoletto is the season’s warhorse — a Verdi classic, a melodramatic plot and some of the most famous solos and ensembles in all of opera. The production was first seen in 2005, updating the setting to 1930s Mantua where vengeance is a way of life, decay is visible “and there’s clearly a fascist air.” The sleazy Duke is a Mafia don and his court jester Rigoletto is more like a pathetic Gilbert Gottfried.
Stephen Powell makes his company debut in the title role.
“A fantastic American baritone,” Mirageas says of Powell. “Stephen’s voice has been growing, maturing and darkening, and he’s an incredible actor in terms of his range. He has a warmth to his sound and a fatherly air about him.”
Soprano Sarah Coburn, who dazzled audiences in her previous CO appearances, returns as the jester’s daughter Gilda.
“Sarah’s voice grows richer and has more colors every time I hear her,” Mirageas says. “I’m particularly proud of Sarah’s career. She was here in my first season in two small roles and her career has absolutely taken off.”
Cincinnati favorite Rodrick Dixon is the licentious Duke of Mantua, the cad who sings the signature aria “La donna