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A Summer of Opera Travels

By Patrick Summers, HGO Artistic and Music Director

This summer I had a lighter performance schedule than usual, which was exactly what was intended and needed after the demanding summit of Siegfried, which will remain one of the most joyous memories I’ve ever had as a conductor. What a masterpiece! I was one of four conductors for David Gockley’s farewell gala at San Francisco Opera, and of course it was a great melancholy pleasure to usher David into his retirement, given our long personal and professional relationship and his never-to-be-underestimated effect on both HGO and the entire operatic art form during his long career. San Francisco Opera threw him a marvelous party, as did HGO a decade ago. 

A lot of this summer’s peregrinations were for meetings around the world with operatic colleagues, to develop future collaborations with HGO. In June I was in Barcelona, London, Glyndebourne, and Vienna, and saw a wide range of performances, with unquestionably the greatest being Joyce DiDonato and Vittorio Grigolo in Werther at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, sweepingly and passionately conducted by Tony Pappano. I’m likely never to experience a finer performance of that enigmatic and moving opera. I also ran up to Cincinnati Opera, always a very sentimental place for me since I saw almost all of my first operas there as a child. Christine Goerke and Russell Thomas soared through a very moving performance of Fidelio, but the highlight of the trip was a new opera with deep HGO connections written by Gregory Spears, a composer who has already written two operas for HGOco, most recently O Columbia. His Cincinnati commission, Fellow Travelers, with a libretto by Greg Pierce and directed by Kevin Newberry, revealed an incredibly gifted composer coming into his full maturity. The opera is one of the most moving and beautiful of recent years. What a thrill!

Next I was in Aspen at the Music Festival and School to conduct and teach for several weeks. Given the dizzying talent the festival attracts, there were daily highlights. Conducting the extremely challenging Roger Sessions Violin Concerto with Gil Shaham, the Mozart Wind Concertante with a quartet of glorious players, and a Haydn symphony (a great passion of mine that can’t be indulged in an opera house!) were certainly among them, but the great renewing and enriching part of the Aspen Festival is the opportunity to teach, and this year I taught nine gifted conductors in opera master classes. Watching them grow and improve is undoubtedly the artistic highlight of the summer, and seeing the future of this great and vast art through their young eyes will be my memory of the summer of 2016.