2012-13 IU opera season features new shows

2012-13 IU opera, ballet seasons feature three new shows

By Peter Jacobi H-T Columnist
April 8, 2012

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Three new productions are in store for us during the 2012-13 season planned by IU Opera Theater, including two for operas by Georg Frideric Handel and Phillip Glass never before staged here.

IU Ballet Theater, meanwhile, promises not only its annually awaited “Nutcracker,” but fall and spring shows featuring a wide range of works created by some of the most illustrious choreographers dating from the 19th to the current centuries.

The opera portion of the just-announced schedule also contains the music of Mozart (to start with), Lehar, Massenet and Verdi (to conclude).

“What we’ve been trying to do the last few years,” says Gwyn Richards, Jacobs School Dean and general manager of the two companies, “is to develop seasons that are a bit more diverse and less dependent on existing productions. We always have to consider what is right for our students to perform, at this stage of their development. We try to find new works that we feel should be done. We think about what our orchestras can learn from the experience. We think about choral and technical aspects. We look for balance. We seek collaborative opportunities with professional companies to reduce costs. And we always want to please our audiences, too.”

Timothy Stebbins, who, as director of productions oversees everything that happens behind the scene, calls the season ahead “compelling, with a blend of traditional and new elements, a lot of variety, and some outside-the-box attractions.

“Our biggest challenge,” he notes, “is doing a season without David Higgins on site. We have no resident set and costume designer now that he’s retired. We’re working with people from elsewhere who come and go. And even though technology helps us bridge geographical gaps, distance still can be difficult. But, that will just make us work harder, and we have really excellent people lined up for the various productions.”

The season opens with Mozart’s “Don Giovanni,”last performed here in 2006 and the 10th time it has been staged by IU Opera Theater. The previously used Higgins production will be seen. The Jacobs School’s highly experienced Arthur Fagen conducts. James Marvel, who recently staged “Lucia di Lammermoor” and “Albert Herring,” returns to direct.

“Arthur has agreed to coach the cast this summer so we can hit the ground running,” says Richards. (Sept. 14, 15, 21, 22)

Next comes the Fall Ballet: “Light and Shade”(Sept. 28, 29). A quartet of pieces comprise this show: “Sweet Fields,” choreographed by Twyla Tharp to 19th century Shaker hymns, performed in collaboration with the IU Choral Department and William Jon Gray; “Eight Easy Pieces,” choreographed by Peter Martins to music for piano by Stravinsky; “Eight More,” again with a Martins-Stravinsky origin, but with scoring for chamber orchestra; and “Appalachian Spring,” the renowned Martha Graham creation set to music by Aaron Copland.

“I love to do Twyla Tharp,” says Ballet Theater artistic director Michael Vernon. “Her work is so contemporary, cutting edge, inventive and, in ‘Sweet Fields,’ so spiritually tuned to the music. The Graham is, of course, an acknowledged masterpiece. And we’re honored that Peter Martins has allowed us to do his ballets.”

Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow”returns to the repertory after an absence of nine years, having been staged six previous times. The production, by the “Rosenkavalier” team of William Forrester (sets) and Linda Pisano (costumes), is new. Dale Rieling is the guest conductor (last here for “Most Happy Fella” in 2009); the resident Vincent Liotta stages. The music will be sung in German, the dialogue spoken in English.

“We did that with ‘Magic Flute,’” says Richards, “fearing first that would be jarring. It wasn’t. It worked well with the German in supertitles and the English helping the audience grasp the humor.” (Oct. 18, 19, 20, 21)

Jules Massenet’s “Cendrillon,”a charming French version of the Cinderella story first staged here just three seasons ago in a new production by David Higgins, comes along next (Nov. 8, 9, 10, 11). Two Belgians will prepare it: conductor Ronald Zollman (who conducted it in 2009 and also “Romeo and Juliet” more recently) and a new-to-us stage director, Albert-Andre Lheureux.

“We like the artistic team,” says Richards, “and are delighted to bring the opera back quickly, giving audiences a second opportunity to become familiar with the opera and its lovely fantasy.”

“The Nutcracker”fills its usual holiday season niche (Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 2). The choreography is Vernon’s. The lavish sets are Higgins’. The conductor is Andrea Quinn, a British maestra “we’ve been hearing much about,” says Richards, “and we’re glad she’s found a place in her schedule for us.”

The winter/spring half of the season begins with an Opera Theater first, Handel’s “Xerxes,”a comic opera that contains one of classical music’s most famous tunes, the “Largo” to which countless of us graduated from high schools and universities (Feb. 1, 2, 8, 9).

IU alum Gary Thor Wedow, a Baroque specialist who conducted Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” for Opera Theater, returns. So does the Canadian opera and theater director Tom Diamond to do the staging. Sets and costumes are by award-winning designer Robert Perdziola, whose work has been seen at the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago and San Francisco Opera.

“‘Xerxes’ is becoming increasingly popular because of its mixture of comedy and drama,” Richards says

Of very different vintage is the next attraction, “Akhnaten,”by minimalist/modernist composer Philip Glass, a contemporary opera about an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, a monotheist when such a viewpoint was rarely shared. This is the first production of any Glass opera that IU Opera Theater has produced. Arthur Fagen will conduct. Candace Evans, stage director for “Candide,” will be stage director. The design particulars are still to come.

“Many consider ‘Akhnaten’ to be Glass’ finest,” says Richards. “We think it’s important to give this important composer a place in our repertoire. It’s something our students should be exposed to.” (Feb. 22, 23, March 1, 2)

The “Spring Ballet: Old World/New World”focuses on the seminal 19th century Danish choreographer August Bournonville (“Bournonville Suite”) and the 20th century’s premier choreographer, George Balanchine (“The Four Temperaments,” music by Hindemith, and “Western Symphony,” with traditional American melodies orchestrated by Hershey Kay). (March 22, 23)

“Bournonville’s is the oldest known technique that’s come down to us,” says Vernon. “For our students to engage with his classic form is an experience they will learn so much from. We’ve done ‘The Four Temperaments’ before. It’s an iconic piece. ‘Western Symphony’ is real fun, and we’ve not done it here.”

The season ends with Verdi’s “Falstaff,”most recently staged at the MAC in 2003; this will be the seventh season in which this final Verdi opera has been performed. And it comes during 2013, the 200th anniversary year of the composer’s birth. The Robert O’Hearn sets will be used. Constantine Kitsopoulos, who most recently conducted “Fledermaus” here two years ago, will musically direct. Vincent Liotta stages. “It’s an appropriate way to end the season, with birthday greetings to Verdi,” says Richards. (April 5, 6, 12, 13).

We have some goodies to look forward to.

Reach Peter by emailing features@heraldt.com with “Jacobi” in the subject line.

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