A BOLD STATEMENT
By Peter Jacobi
We’re asked to “Go Boldly” in the brochure that trumpets the 2014-15 season of IU Opera and Ballet Theaters. “Every one of the offerings you’ll enjoy is a masterwork,” we’re told, “a bold artistic statement. All will be interpreted by world class conductors, directors, and designers.”
To that, Gwyn Richards, dean of the Jacobs School of Music and general manager of the Opera and Ballet Theaters, adds: “Our aim is to serve our students and our audience. We’ve put together a mix of works, both the operas and the ballets, that spells diversity, and we’ve worked very hard to bring in artistic teams that have the talent and the vision to make our productions successful.”
Two of the works on the opera schedule have never been done by IU Opera Theater: Gian-Carlo Menotti’s “The Last Savage” and George Frideric Handel’s “Alcina.” In addition, we are to get revivals of Rossini’s “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” Puccini’s “La Boheme,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific” and Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.”
The Ballet Theater contingent, in addition to the ever-present “Nutcracker,” offers Fall and Spring Ballet programs featuring a strong lineup of choreographers: Georg Balanchine, Antony Tudor, David Parsons and Merce Cunningham.
The season opens with “The Italian Girl in Algiers,” Rossini’s first comic triumph, a delightful opera buffa filled with hijinks and bubbling melodies last staged here in 2009.
“We have an international duo to prepare our opener,” says Richards, “Marzio Conti, music director of Spain’s Oviedo Filharmonia, to conduct and Julia Pevsner from Israel to direct. We’ve heard wonderful things about Conti. As for Julia, she’s known for her innovative spirit, always welcome in Rossini stagings, the right action to go along with the music.” (September 19, 20, 26, 27)
The Fall Ballet features three pieces: “Emeralds,” choreographed to music of Gabriel Faure by George Balanchine; “Dark Elegies, Antony Tudor’s ballet, inspired by Mahler’s “Kindertoten Lieder,” and “The Envelope,” a comic escapade featuring music of Rossini. “We’re excited about this mixture,” says Richards. “It will challenge and show off our talented dancers.” (October 3, 4)
In a quick turn-around, we get Puccini’s “La Boheme,” done as recently as the fall of 2011. “For it,” says Richards, “we have David Higgins’ stunning sets. Paul Nadler, who conducted an orchestra concert here last fall and pleased our students, returns for opera, another of his specialties. He’s conducted frequently at the Metropolitan, and we’re pleased to have lured him back. Staging will be handled by Jeffrey Buchman, here right now for ‘Traviata.’ It was Jeffrey, three years ago, who took over direction of ‘Boheme’ when Tito Capobianco had to leave, and he did a wonderful job, staying faithful to Tito’s concept, while showing an ability to be his own man and get things done.” (October 17, 18, 19, 24, 25)
Menotti’s “The Last Savage,” a satire on modern civilization, is not among the composer’s most popular works. “But we’re anxious to do it,” says Richards. “We received fantastic reports from Santa Fe, where a creative team revived the opera and it was very well received. In fact, it was a hit. We’ve pulled together as much of that team as possible, including stage director Ned Canty and set designer Allen Moyer. The musical elements will be handled by Constantine Kitsopoulos, whom we’re very fond of. He does such a good job with our casts and the orchestra.” (November 14, 15, 20, 21)
“The Nutcracker,” as choreographed by Michael Vernon, IU Ballet’s artistic director, fills the holiday slot in early December. “We’re still looking for a conductor,” says Richards, “but, of course, David Higgins’ familiar and well-loved sets will again grace the stage of the Musical Arts Center.” (December 4, 5, 6, 7)
Since Handel’s “Alcina” has not previously been offered by IU Opera Theater, a new production is required. Invited to provide it is Robert Perdziola, an award-winning designer who created the sets for the Opera Theater’s most recent Handel production, “Xerxes,” in 2013. IU’s Arthur Fagen will conduct, and Baroque specialist Chas Rader-Shieber directs. His website lists 92 productions in theaters all over, and many of operas from the Baroque era and earlier. Says Richards: “We’re doing ‘Alcina’ as part of a Handel project supported by the Joshi Foundation, in memory of Georgina,” one of the five Jacobs students tragically killed in an airplane crash five years ago. “Alcina” is all about sorceresses engaged in naughty tricks. The music is stunning. (February 6, 7, 13, 14)
“South Pacific” was last staged here in 1995. “We’ve been wanting to do it again and finally decided to give it another go. It’s one of the most important of American musicals, with a story and score that still resonate,” says Richards. “The production will be new, with a design by William Forrester, who did ‘Rondine’ and ‘Merry Widow’ and ‘Most Happy Fella’ for us. Linda Pisano will do the costumes, and she’s beloved by us all, and brings to each assignment amazing knowledge of styles and periods.” Constantine Kitsopoulos gets a second conducting gig of the season. The Jacobs School’s resident director, Vincent Liotta, stages. (February 27, 28, March 1, 6, 7)
Spring Ballet features three works of distinction: Act 2 of “Swan Lake,” with choreography by George Balanchine to music of Tchaikovsky; Merce Cunningham’s “Duets,” to a score by John Cage, and Balanchine’s “Rubies,” music by Stravinsky. Together, they mean variety. (March 27, 28)
C. David Higgins’ fanciful production for “The Magic Flute” winds up the season in April. IU’s David Effron conducts. Stage direction is by Helena Binder, who is both an actor and director; her directing history includes numerous productions at the New York City Opera. “We’ve been trying to get Helena and are pleased to bring her professionalism to Bloomington,” says Richards. “With David and Helena in charge, we should get a lovely season-ender.” (April 10, 11, 17, 18)
And there it is. Time to make your plans. The plans look promising.
© Herald Times 2014