The Calgary Opera strikes a fine balance with its recently announced 2018/19 season. The company, as of 2018 under the new leadership of general director and CEO Keith Cerny, offers up two selections of what can be called, big, fat opera, surrounded on all sides by leaner productions that boast novelty, boldness, and community integration.
It’s part of Mr. Cerny’s new strategy, which is impressive in its immediacy; complementing its traditional picks, Calgary Opera will make a point of programming works that are smaller and less costly, but which have clear artistic importance - a world or Canadian premiere, or a notable collaboration between Albertan arts organizations. “In my view,” says Mr. Cerny, “that allows us to have a very vibrant artistic offering, while continuing to do some of the larger-scale classics as well.”
The first of the season’s “big, fat operas” is Charles Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette (Nov. 17-13, 2018), the French adaptation of Shakespeare’s staple of star-cross’d lovers. As familiar as the story is, Mr. Gounod’s opera is a relatively rare choice, particularly in Canada, and this production by Jean Grand-Maître, artistic director of Alberta Ballet, is about as Canadian as it gets. A favourite of Canadian podiums, Gordon Gerrard conducts a cast packed with home-grown artists: Soprano Anne-Marie McIntosh sings Juliette opposite tenor Adam Luther as Romeo, joined by Peter Barrett as Mercutio and Stephanie Tritchew in the trouser role of Stephano. This is a solid cast, and particularly exciting are Ms. McIntosh and Ms. Tritchew, two alumnae of Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artist Development Program and both young singers to watch.
Verdi’s Rigoletto (Apr. 6-12, 2019) is the spring’s offering of classic opera, featuring Canadian Nikki Einfeld as Rigoletto’s sheltered daughter, Gilda, opposite Italian-American tenor Leonardo Capalbo as the cad with the famous aria, the Duke of Mantua. The pair are likely to impress, but the meat of this production, directed by Michael Cavanagh, will surely be in the performance of Winnipeg-native baritone Gregory Dahl in the title role. Mr. Dahl is no stranger to Verdi in recent seasons - and his singing of the jester will be a Calgary highlight of 2019.
Mr. Cerny is making his presence as a general director known with the Canadian premiere of Everest (Feb. 2-6, 2019), the 2015 opera by Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer commissioned by Mr. Cerny during his tenure as general director of the Dallas Opera. The work is based on the true story of Beck Weathers’ 1996 trek up Mount Everest, where he was left for dead, frostbitten and blinded from overexposure to altitude and ultraviolet radiation. Bass Kevin Burdette (Beck Weathers) and tenor Andrew Bidlack (Rob Hall) reprise the roles they originated in Dallas; new to this production, and a welcome addition, is Calgary native Andrew Love in the role of fellow Everest climber Doug Hansen.
Also on Mr. Cerny’s to-do list is collaboration, finding projects for Calgary Opera to share with its surrounding arts organizations. The 2018/19 season starts with a presentation of BreakThru Films’ Magic Piano & The Chopin Shorts (Sept. 28, 2018). The animated film, accompanied by a live performance of music by Polish piano-phile Frédéric Chopin, is something for both kids and adults alike. Magic Piano & The Chopin Shorts will be shown as part of the Calgary International Film Festival at the National Music Centre.
On top of music-plus-film partnerships, there’s also opera-plus-puppetry, with May, 2019’s Ghost Opera, collaboratively presented by Calgary Opera, Old Trout Puppet Workshop, and the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity. Old Trout’s “wildly innovative and irreverent style” pairs with the score by composer Veronika Krausas and librettist André Alexis, sung by members of Calgary’s Emerging Artists Program.
A handful of Calgary’s rising talent, the Emerging Artists will also take the stage in December, 2018, for Gian Carlo Menotti’s holiday pick, Amahl and the Night Visitors.
2018/19 is capped off by Opera in the Village, back after a year-long break. At Calgary Stampede’s ENMAX Park, five singers and narrator present Carmen in the Village (August, 2019), an abridged version of the Bizet classic that’s loaded with famous tunes.
In its upcoming season, Calgary Opera is taking some promising mini-ventures outside of the Jubilee Auditorium. Opera can be a slow-moving machine, so it’s significant that the 2018/19 season shows evidence of new artistic management so early in Mr. Cerny’s tenure.
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