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Cincinnati Opera Festival Format Expands

Mary Ellyn Hutton
Posted: Jun 18, 2004 - 9:30:26 PM in news_2004

(first published in The Cincinnati Post June 17, 2004)

Cincinnati Opera has found another way to attract listeners.

That’s in addition to those eye-catching posters of "Carmen" dangling a flower from her lips and the world’s most popular opera itself - i.e. "Carmen," – to be heard in four performances in July.

To help hook you, the opera is offering a series of interdisciplinary events keyed to its 2004 programming. There’ll be theater, concerts, film, lectures and an exhibit of works by the creator of that "Carmen" poster, "Harry Potter" illustrator Mary GrandPre. Partnering with the opera are Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, the Cincinnati Film Society and the Ethics Center at Hebrew Union College,

The 2004 summer festival opens at 8 p.m. tonight at Music Hall with "The Daughter of the Regiment" by Donizetti (repeat is 8 p.m. Saturday). To come are "The Emperor of Atlantis" by Viktor Ullmann paired with "The Maids" by Peter Bengtson (in its U.S. premiere), Mozart’s "Don Giovanni" and "Carmen.".

The idea of spicing the season with special events is to create "a fuller experience" for local patrons and to provide more incentive for out-of-towners to sample Cincinnati Opera, said opera artistic director Nicholas Muni,

The closest model, he said, is the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. "They have a very broad range of artistic expressions, painting, sculpture, folk music, opera, chamber music. They really take over the town."

The opera began moving toward a festival format in 2000 by pairing "Aida" and "Pelleas and Melisande" during the last weekend of the season. The practice was expanded to two weekends over the next three seasons and traffic at Music Hall picked up. Over 400 cultural tourists from 33 states came to hear the opera last summer.

Muni decided to broaden the concept this year when he found that scheduling issues did not permit festival pairing during the first half of the season. "We thought, what else could we do to continue the idea of a festival weekend and maybe put a little spin on it? I talked to Lynn Meyers (ETC producing artistic director) about ‘The Maids’ and she was very excited."

ETC will present a professional reading of Jean Genet’s play June 23 and 26. It’ll be kind of like wanting to see the film if you’d read the book, Muni said. "A lot of people love opera, but it’s not everybody’s cup of tea. We’re hoping that people who love the theater will go to Ensemble Theater and see the play version of ‘The Maids.’ They might not normally go to an opera, but they might say, ‘You know, I’d like to compare them.’"

Getting people to try different venues is another festival bonus.

"We’ve found that a lot of people in our audience don’t go to CCM to see opera. We’re hoping some of our audience will be intrigued to go up there (for a concert of "forbidden" opera June 25 and 27) and some of their audience who haven’t been to Cincinnati Opera will come here."

The program at HUC, a discussion on the artistic treatment of inhumane events to take place Sunday in HUC’s Scheuer Chapel, was inspired by the Ullmann/Bengtson double bill, Muni said. "The Emperor of Atlantis" is a thinly veiled allegory on The Third Reich by a victim of the Nazi death camps. "The Maids" is a psychological drama based on a real life crime.

Offering opera in conjunction with other forms of expression "creates a different kind of energy and reaches out to the community in all kinds of ways," Muni said. And it reflects the nature of opera itself. "We’re always collaborating, just in the art form. We want to collaborate with the community as well, because there are great partners in the city to work with."

The Cincinnati Opera 2004 Summer Festival.

Tonight, Saturday. Donizetti, "The Daughter of the Regiment." Marie, Celena Shafer. Tonio, Lawrence Brownlee. Sulpice, Timothy Nolen. Director, Dorothy Danner. Conductor, Christopher Larkin.

June 24, 26. Ullmann, "The Emperor of Atlantis.". Emperor, Brian Leerhuber. Death, Andrew Gangestad. Soldier, Ray M. Wade, Jr. Bubikopf, Nancy Allen Lundy. Loudspeaker, Thomas Goerz. Drummer, Allyson McHardy. Harlequin, Mark Panuccio. Bengtson,"The Maids" (U.S. premiere). Claire, Lundy. Solange, McHardy. Madame, Stephanie Novacek. Director, Nicholas Muni. Conductor, Patrick Summers.

July 8, 10 and 16. Mozart, "Don Giovanni." Giovanni, Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Donna Anna, Alexandra Deshorties. Donna Elvira, Dana Beth Miller. Leporello, Michele Bianchini. Don Ottavio, Shawn Mathey. Zerlina, Sarah Fox. Masetto, Thomas Goerz. Commendatore, Gustav Andreassen. Director, Josemaria Condemi. Conductor, Xian Zhang.

July 17, 20, 23, 25. Bizet, "Carmen." Carmen, Catherine Malfitano. Don Jose, Richard Leech. Escamillo, Erwin Schrott. Micaela, Frederique Vezina. Director, James Robinson. Conductor, Stephane Deneve.

All operas are sung in the original languages with projected English titles and are at 8 p.m. at Music Hall, except July 25, which is at 3 p.m. Subscriptions are $185-$453. Single tickets are $25-$130. Call (513) 241-2742 or order online at www.cincinnatiopera.org.

Interdisciplinary Events.

"The Musicality of Violence: The Aesthetics of Terror," a dialogue between "Maids" composer Peter Bengtson and Columbia University professor Lydia Goehr, sponsored by the Hebrew Union College-University of Cincinnati Ethics Center. 5 p.m. Sunday. Scheuer Chapel, HUC. Free. Reservations requested at (513) 221-1875, ext. 367.

"The Maids." A professional reading of the play by Jean Genet. 7 p.m. June 23, 2 p.m. June 26. Ensemble Theater of Cincinnati. $15. (513) 421-3555.

"The Emperor of Atlantis." Workshop reading of a new play by Stephen Massicotte. 6:30 p.m. June 25, 1:30 p.m. June 27. Patricia Corbett Theater, University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. Free. Reservations at (513) 241-2742.

"Beautiful and Forbidden: A Concert of Censored Opera." 8 p.m. June 25, 3 p.m. June 27. Patricia Corbett Theater. $15. (513) 241-2742.

"Orchestral Spectaculars from the Opera." Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. John Morris Russell, conductor. 7:30 p.m. June 27. Riverbend Music Center. Opera patrons half-price. (513) 381-3300.

"Karmen Gei." A film from Senegal based on Bizet’s "Carmen." 7:30 p.m. July 7. Cincinnati Art Museum auditorium. $8. (513) 721-2787.

Works by Illustrator Mary GrandPre. 5 p.m. July 9. Closson’s Phyllis J. Weston Art Gallery, Hyde Park. Free.

Panel discussion by cast members of "Carmen." 7 p.m. July 21. Corbett Tower, Music Hall. Free. Reservations (513) 744-3511.