Connecting Across the Centuries

By Patrick Summers, HGO Artistic and Music Director 

Opera plumbs the depths like no other art. We need look no further than HGO’s 2017–18 season to reinforce that point. In Verdi’s La traviata, Bellini’s Norma, and Bernstein’s West Side Story, wrenching conflicts between passion and duty drive protagonists to make the ultimate sacrifice, and smoldering revenge drives the title character of Elektra to commit murder. Fortunately, plenty of opera composers are also fond of happy endings, and we will experience those, too, in Handel’s Julius Caesar, Rossini’s Barber of Seville, and the heartwarming family story on which our next world premiere is based, The House without a Christmas Tree.      

Since it is the music that communicates the emotional trajectory of the characters in opera, the most powerful roles require performers who are more than gifted singers; they must be brilliant singing actors with the stamina to sustain the long periods of intensity that composers demand. Next season we are thrilled to bring back after nearly 25 years two masterpieces that have long captured the imaginations of opera lovers but whose extraordinarily demanding title roles have daunted all who choose to take them on. In sopranos Liudmyla Monastyrska (Norma) and Christine Goerke (Elektra) we have artists whose incendiary gifts connect these roles to the illustrious histories of these two iconic operas, and whose portrayals will be as unforgettable as they are rare. They will be in impressive company; for Norma we are also delighted to welcome back as Adalgisa HGO Studio alumna Jamie Barton, who has become one of the foremost mezzo-sopranos on the global stage. Jamie will also be appearing here later this season in Götterdämmerung. And soprano Tamara Wilson, the HGO Studio alumna who won the prestigious 2016 Richard Tucker Award, will share her enormous talent in the role of Chrysothemis in Elektra.

A great trio of women will illuminate Verdi’s La traviata, which opens our 2017–18 season. The gifted stage director Arin Arbus and debuting conductor Eun Sun Kim will lead this new production, which stars HGO Studio alumna Albina Shagimuratova, who made such an extraordinary impression in the title role here in 2012. Her return promises to be one of the season’s many highlights, particularly in partnership with tenor Dimitri Pittas.

Without question, the most overwhelmingly joyous times I’ve had on the podium in my career have been at the helm of Handel’s operas. One of the remarkable developments of the end of the last century was a renewed interest in Baroque opera, and with it a resurgence of the countertenor, a male voice type similar in range to the female mezzo-soprano. Handel’s Julius Caesar is an exquisite example of the Baroque style and enables us to present the HGO debut of one of the world’s extraordinary artists, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (HGO’s 2017–18 Lynn Wyatt Great Artist), in a delightfully imaginative production that sets the action on a 1930s Hollywood movie lot.         

HGO was the first opera company to present both Porgy and Bess and Sweeney Todd in an opera house, and we are thrilled to continue the tradition of producing great works of American music theater that are particularly suited to the forces of opera. To celebrate the centennial of the musical genius Leonard Bernstein, HGO is proud to present the first major American opera house performances of his iconic West Side Story, which will speak to us with fresh relevance in a new production by director Francesca Zambello. It is always fascinating to me that Bernstein thought of West Side Story as a new kind of American opera, one that tells its timeless story with his typical mastery of all of the classical arts: music, drama, and dance.

The children’s holiday story The House without a Christmas Tree was a favorite of mine growing up, so I am particularly looking forward to a new operatic retelling of this incredibly uplifting tale from our good friends Ricky Ian Gordon, composer, Royce Vavrek, librettist. They are leading figures in the development of an exciting new American opera tradition that is resonating with contemporary audiences.   

Of course, masterpieces that have proven to be timeless reward us in new ways each time we return to them. The freshness of Rossini’s melodies in The Barber of Seville is perfectly complemented by the playful Els Comediants production that we are delighted to bring back to our stage. The marvelous cast includes the rising baritone Lucas Meachem as Figaro in his HGO debut and the long-anticipated return of acclaimed bass Eric Owens, an HGO Studio alumnus who was named Musical America’s 2017 Vocalist of the Year, as the wily Don Basilio.

An opera season is like a great feast, with something for everyone: main courses, side dishes, familiarities, surprises, challenges, comforts, and, of course, desserts. Opera is a unique art, the most delicious of all of the arts, because it takes centuries of emotional connections and sings them back to us so that we each hear and feel these works in our own ways. Nothing, to my mind, could be more relevant than knowing that we are all connected across the centuries—by these characters, of course, but most especially by the composers who brought them all to life.