Sunday, August 17, 2003

Middletown's struggling Sorg has a few treats for opera lovers



By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

First the good news: Sorg Opera, which has presented high-caliber opera in Middletown's charming - though rundown - Sorg Opera House for 14 years, is bringing an inventive mix to opera lovers this season.

Menotti's The Medium (for Halloween), Puccini's Tosca and the company's first performance of Pagliacci will grace the 2003-04 season.

The company will commission a new opera by artistic director Curtis Tucker and librettist Nelson Sheeley, to be performed in a "workshop" production - with audience input - next spring.

But financially, Sorg cannot afford another bad year. This season ended with a deficit of $145,000 on a budget of $315,000.

The company has struggled since its sister company, Whitewater Opera, folded last year, despite the windfall of an unexpected bequest.

"It's been a roller coaster, and that makes the coming year even more important," says Tucker. "Although this is our 14th season, there are still a lot of opera lovers in Cincinnati who don't know we're here."

If last season's engaging Ariadne auf Naxos is any indication, opera lovers could be in for some treats this year.

Scares up new season

The coming season includes talent from New York, as well as graduates of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

The season will open Nov. 1-2 with A Little Nightmare Music, a family-friendly production including a curtain raiser by P.D.Q. Bach (alias Peter Schikele), Menotti's The Medium and appearances by ghouls in "Monster Monologues." (It's not for very small children; Halloween costumes are encouraged.)

The company's February production (Feb. 20-21) is a traditional staging of Tosca, starring Deborah Anne Faw, a New York soprano who was Mimi in last season's La Boheme.

The spring production (April 30-May 1) is a double-bill of Pagliacci paired with Tucker's one-act chamber opera, "A Stranger's Tale."

The latter will be a "first draft" airing. Tucker hopes the audience will stay after Pagliacci to see the new work-in-progress and even offer suggestions.

Tucker's opera is a companion piece to Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale, a Faustian tale in which the soldier sells his soul to the devil. Its world premiere is in 2005.

"If Faustian tales involve an attractive figure who turns out to be evil, ours reverses that," says Tucker, who brings to the table his experiences as a singer, conductor, composer and a lawyer.

"I'm trying to avoid using the word accessible," he says. "It's my intention to make the music support the drama and emotion, but I want it to be listenable and singable."

Promising partnership

Although the company has challenges, it also has a promising new partnership with Cincinnati Opera in educational programs.

Tucker is optimistic that the 700-seat Sorg Opera House, a jewel box built in 1891 by industrialist Paul J. Sorg and designed by Music Hall architect Samuel Hannaford, will eventually undergo some much-needed renovations.

Parking is free. Subscriptions, $50-$125; student and group rates are available. (513) 425-0180 or visit www.sorgopera.com.

E-mail jgelfand@enquirer.com




PROFILE: OVER THE RHINE
Over the Rhine under Cincinnati's influence
2-CD idea defies convention
Larry Nager review of CD

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Ex-Backstreet Boy opens music academy
Demaline: The arts
Schuster Center gives Dayton Opera big boost
Sorg has a few treats for opera lovers

BEST OF THE BATS
Medussa goes a little batty

SUNDAY PEOPLE
Online physician has all the answers
Encyclopedias open a 'different world'
Teen designer keeps sewing machine busy
Kendrick: Alive and well
Daugherty: Every day

SUNDAY TASTE
Serve it this week: FIGS
Make a meal of Taste of Blue Ash

PLANNING AHEAD
Get to it!