Thursday, September 19, 2002

Opera season a showcase for sopranos

By Janelle Gelfand,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A Midwest premiere, an intriguing double bill, a Verdi favorite and a bel canto gem all add up to a season tailored for the five renowned singing actresses who will perform with Cincinnati Opera in 2003.

        When the season opens June 19, , 21 and 27, Cincinnati Opera will present the Midwest premiere of a new version of Puccini's Turandot (continuing June 21 and 27), completed by the distinguished composer Luciano Berio. A new double-bill production of Francis Poulenc's La Voix Humaine and Kurt Weill's The Seven Deadly Sins will follow (June 26 and 28).

        The third production will be Verdi's La Traviata (July 10, 12 and 18). The season concludes July 17 and 19 with the company's first mounting in nearly 20 years of Bellini's Norma.

        The widely hailed American soprano Catherine Malfitano will return to Cincinnati after a 25-year absence to take the leading roles in the Poulenc/Weill double bill.

        Artistic director Nicholas Muni will direct the double bill, a contemporary production he characterizes as “our stretch piece,” as well as the season-concluding Norma.

        The double bill will be designed by Dany Lyne with lighting design by Thomas C. Hase, the team that designed Elektra this year. Lucinda Childs, one of the big names in post-modern dance, will choreograph.

        Czech soprano Eva Urbanova makes her Cincinnati Opera debut in the title role of Turandot. In January, she sang the world premiere with Mr. Berio's completion at the Festival de Musica De Canarias (Canary Islands). The new version is an alternative to the traditional ending by composer Franco Alfano, crafted after Puccini left the opera unfinished at his death in 1924.

        “It sounds like what one would imagine Puccini would have written, had he continued in the direction he was going,” Mr. Muni says.

        Alessandro Siciliani, music director of the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, will conduct. Turandot was designed by James Robinson for Minnesota Opera. Tenor Gabriel Sade (Radames in 2000's Aida) will sing the role of Calaf.

        Soprano Hasmik Papian (Aida in 2000) returns to sing Violetta in La Traviata, a lavish production designed for Lyric Opera of Chicago. Tenor Miroslav Dvorsky sings Alfredo. Thor Steingraber will direct, and Cincinnati Ballet's Victoria Morgan will choreograph the party scene.

        To conclude the season, the acclaimed American soprano Lauren Flanigan will make her much-anticipated role debut as Norma in the bel canto classic.

        “Everything Lauren does is controversial in some way, so it's not going to be universally loved,” Mr. Muni says. “But what she brings to it is a tremendous vocal agility, the range and the temperament which is often lacking with Norma — a sort of (Maria) Callas intensity.”

        Another highlight will be hearing mezzo-soprano Kristine Jepson sing her first Adalgisa, in Norma. The production was created by Mr. Muni and designed by John Conklin for Seattle Opera in 1994. Italian maestro Marco Zambelli will conduct.

        Cincinnati Opera will again present two “festival” weekends, offering two operas on one weekend. The first weekend, June 26-28, featuring the double bill and Turandot, will be part of Cincinnati's Festival of the New, a citywide celebration honoring the opening of the Lois & Richard Rosenthal Center for Contemporary Art. The second weekend, July 17-19, will pair La Traviata with Norma — “all bel canto, all weekend,” Mr. Muni says.

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