Cincinnati Opera 2013 Season Preview

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Cincinnati Opera Aida 2007 Photo: Philip Groshong
Cincinnati Opera Aida 2007 Photo: Philip Groshong

Cincinnati Opera is the second oldest opera company in the United States, after the Metropolitan Opera. Since Evans Mirageas’ first season in 2006 as its Artistic Director, the company has produced adventurous programing, including regional or American premieres of works such as Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas, Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, John Adams’s A Flowering Tree, Astor Piazzolla’s María de Buenos Aires, and this year’s Galileo Galilei by Phillip Glass. 

The company also does its share of standards—the upcoming Don Giovanni and Aida—and slightly off-the-beaten-path classics, such as this season’s Der Rosenkavalier. Ancillary programs encompass lectures, film, recitals, outreach performances in parks around the city and an ongoing collaboration with the College-Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati, which seeks to develop new American operas in a workshop environment.

The 2013 season kicks off with an open-air, free performance in the recently-refurbished Washington Park on June 9. Participating artists are yet to be announced but it would not surprise me to see some of the first-tier stars from the Don Giovanni cast, already in town for rehearsals, make an unannounced appearance.

The announced big news that’s creating a buzz around the Queen City’s opera lovers is the Cincinnati Opera debut of Met super-star soprano Angela Meade in the role of the avenging Donna Anna in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Meade, best known for her bel canto and early-Verdi heroines will assay the role of the offended Spanish lady opposite baritone Lucas Meachem (also in his Cincinnati debut).

Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier pops up in the company’s repertory every few years. This writer remembers—with a mixture of nostalgia and awe—the farewell performance of the late Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in the role of the Marschallin on the stage of the old Cincinnati Zoo Opera, where back in the 1960s, the roar of lions often mixed with the high C’s of tenors, much to the chagrin of visiting artists and to the amusement of the many.

This year’s cast is singularly interesting thanks to the presence of two debuting artists who have been making news around Europe in their still-young careers. Rumanian Ruxandra Donose, now in the second decade of hers, will take on the pants role of Octavian. The lovely mezzo-soprano has carefully cultivated the bel canto and Mozartean repertoire, only recently moving into the heftier parts of Carmen and Marguerite in Berlioz’s Damnation de Faust. Most Cincinnatians await her local debut with great anticipation (although this writer will not be able to see one of his favorite singers because of an extended stay out of the country).

Also of note is the Faroese basso Rúni Brattaberg, who not long ago stepped in for the late Kurt Rydl in the role of the oafish Baron Ochs and made a huge impression. The basso makes a youngish Ochs—actually not bad looking at all—which should make for an interesting frisson in his interactions with the young maiden he meets for a little tryst in Act II of the Strauss comedy. The sopranos in the cast are the estimable Twyla Robinson as the autumnal Marschallin and Cincinnati audience favorite Sarah Coburn as the virginal Sophie.

The season will continue with a company first: a festival format where both Aida and Phillip Glass’s Galileo Galilei will run concurrently—one at the well-worn but still venerable Music Hall and the other in the intimate confines of the Corbett Theatre at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. This sort of flexibility bodes well for the future of the very fine 93-year-old opera company. The Aida cast boasts the indispensable Morris Robinson as Ramfis, the fine dramatic baritone Gordon Hawkins as Amonasro, the company debut of Italian tenor Antonello Palombi as Radames and, opposite him, the powerhouse duo of Latonia Moore as the Ethiopian princess and Michelle DeYoung as her nemesis Princess Amneris.

The regional premiere of the Glass Galileo Galilei is much looked forward to especially by those who never fail to complain about the quantity of tried-and-true cornerstones of the operatic repertory. They will also be pleased to know that scheduled for 2014 are Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto and Kevin Puts’ Silent Night, and 2015 will see the reopening of a refurbished Music Hall with Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick.

Cincinnati Opera’s Mirageas  cautiously but steadily paces his company into the realm of the big leagues—not with the largest of budgets but with unfailing imagination, taste and common sense in what is a musically-rich but highly conservative community. We all wish him well.

Complete schedule and casting:

Don Giovanni (June 13 and 15)

Music by Wolfgang A. Mozart. Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte Don Giovanni – Lucas Meachem; Donna Anna –  Angela Meade; Donna Elvira – Nicole Cabell; Don Ottavio – Aaron Blake; Leporello – Burak Bilgili; Zerlina – Alexandra Schoeny; Masetto – Ryan Kuster; Commendatore – Nathan Stark Conductor – Roberto Minczuk; Stage Director -Tomer Zvulun

Der Rosenkavalier (June 27 and 29)

Music by Richard Strauss Libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Marschallin - Twyla Robinson; Baron Ochs - Rúni Brattaberg; Octavian - Ruxandra 
Donose; Sophie - Sarah Coburn; Herr von Faninal - Hans-Joachim Ketelsen; Italian 
Singer - Marco Panuccio; Marianne - Meghan Tarkington; Valzacchi - Richard 
Clement; Annina - Fredrika Brillembourg
Conductor - Christof Perick; Stage Director - Chris Alexander

Galileo Galilei (July 11, 14, 17, 19 and 21)

Music by Philip Glass. Libretto by Mary Zimmerman with Philip Glass and Arnold 
Maria Celeste - Alexandra Schoeny; Young Galileo - Andrew Garland; Old Galileo - 
Richard Troxell 
Conductor - Kelly Kuo; Stage Director - Ted Huffman

Aida (July 18, 20, 26 and 28)

Music by Giuseppe Verdi. Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
Aida - Latonia Moore; Amneris - Michelle DeYoung; Radames - Antonello Palombi; 
Amonasro - Gordon Hawkins; Ramfis - Morris Robinson; The King of Egypt - Gustav
Andreassen; High Priestess - Alexandra Schoeny; Messenger - Ric Furman 
Conductor - Carlo Rizzi; Stage Director - Bliss Herbert; Scenic & Costume Designer - 
Allen Charles Klein

Rafael de Acha