Wednesday, July 8, 2015

SummerFest Opens Season Friday Evening with Four Week Long Menu of Music

Both Susannas and Both Figaros in Summerfest's Productions of "Figaro"  L-R;  Yungee Rhie, Glenn Ayars, Michael Scarcelle, Katarzyna Wilk Photo Credit: Catherine Aceto

For lovers of music, there will be plenty to chose from starting this Friday evening when Opera Theater launches SummerFest, a four week long run of operas, musical theater, a family opera, a world premier, recitals, late night cabarets and production forums.
SummerFest opens with a classic - Mozart’s comic masterpiece, "The Marriage of Figaro," sung in English and directed by Opera Theater artistic director, Jonathan Eaton. This Marriage doesn’t miss a beat – musically or emotionally, and includes a sparkling overture, some of the greatest ensembles ever written, and divine arias that tell a witty tale of the tensions between love and lust, servant and master, wife and lover.
The plot: The Count has his eye on his valet’s fiancée, who happens to be his wife’s chambermaid. Meanwhile, the Countess is pursued by the charming Cherubino - a pageboy disguised as a girl! Upstairs meets downstairs in this glorious romp.
Next: On board the current theater trend of having the audience move to different locations within the auditorium, SummerFest will stage "Figaro Redux," a slightly shorter, modern dress version of  "Figaro, "billed as fresh, edgy and mobile. Music director, Robert Frankenberry, said the format is peripatetic, in that the audience will move into different areas of the auditorium that will serve as the scenic locales.
For the first scene, they will meet in the rehearsal space, then transfer upstairs to the ballroom, which will serve as the Countess’ bedroom, then to the main hall where they’ll face the balcony for another scene, only to turn around and face the stage for the finale.
Accompanying the audience will be a reduced size orchestra made up of a string quartet, winds and piano (There will be a separate piano in each location).
For lovers of musical theater, "Damn Yankees" will  have an interesting twist in that the women will be playing the men and vice versa.  "In the opera world, there are a lot of sopranos as opposed to a lot of male actors/singers in the musical theater world," Frankenberry said. "Jonathan Eaton thought it might be interesting to do the work this way, and the gender reversal decision is therefore both a practical matter and theatrically  enlivening, and we hope it will give out audiences food for thought."

Ad man Jack Front (Christopher Scott) tries to convince his well-informed wife Alice (Lara Lynn Cottrill) that scientist Rachel Carson is a "nutcase," knowing adverse PR about DDT could put his company out of business. Photo by Patti Brahim from Carrie Furnace Performance 
Another highlight is a world premier commissioned by Opera Theater titled "A New Kind of Fallout." Inspired by the writings of Springdale native, Rachel Carson, whose childhood home lies a few miles up the Allegheny from Pittsburgh, the opera features music by acclaimed New York-based composer Gilda Lyons and a libretto by award-winning Pittsburgh playwright, Tammy Ryan.
"Jonathan [Eaton} is always interested in engaging the Pittsburgh community and thought for years of commissioning an opera based on Rachel Carson," Frankenberry said.
While reading her momentous and best-known work, "Silent Spring," Frankenberry said Ryan was inspired by the story of a young woman concerned by the spraying of DDT by airplane to combat the spread of the gypsy moth infestation and came up with the idea for her operatic character, Alice.
The plot: Recently married to an ad man who writes jingles for Better Life Chemists, a DDT manufacturer, Alice is confronted with the challenge of finding out more about the environmental effects of DDT after reading an article about "Silent Spring" and gets her book club to read Carson’s opus.
The opera follows Alice’s voyage of making a life-changing choice - answering the call to action to preserve the world in which her child will live or supporting her husband in his work for the very company manufacturing poisonous pesticides.
"In addition to producing good opera, Opera Theater also wants to inspire its audiences to get involved in the issues of the day," said Frankenberry, who will conduct the work with an orchestra of 14 and a large cast and ensemble. "Hopefully, ‘A New Kind of Fallout’ will do that."
The conductor and composer have a personal connection and professional relationship. After meeting Lyons while she was completing her graduate work at the University of Pittsburgh, Frankenberry’s performed in quite a few of her pieces, including several appearances in her The Phoenix Concert series in New York City.
He describes the score as "beautiful, breathtaking, moving, and powerful in a way that will simultaneously seduce and challenge, not unlike Carson’s ‘Silent Spring’ did in 1962."
"Those familiar with the choral works of Eric Whitacre will discover similarities of style in ‘A New Kind of Fallout,’" he said. "There’s also a lot of wonderful textural elements in what the singers and ensembles do, the big vocal moments have a Puccini-like quality and some of the music will ring a bell for those familiar with ‘West Side Story’ and Bernstein’s symphonic pieces."
"A New Kind of Fallout’ has undergone some revision over the course of at least seven presentations and workshops during the past year, and Frankenberry said he’s still discovering new things about the piece and looks to discover more with audience feedback from the Sumerfest productions.
Another SummerFest offering, Richard Strauss’ luminous final opera, "Capriccio," contains ravishing music that belies its composition in the midst of war in October, 1942. The plot centers around the gorgeous countess Madeleine, who’s courted by both a writer and a composer as her home fills with birthday party-goers and beguiling melody.
"The Countess is a strong and powerful woman who’s coming to terms with aging," Frankenberry said. "The older Alice in ‘A New Kind of Fallout’ is equally strong as she comes into her own during an era when women were questioning their roles in society."
Continuing Opera Theater’s tradition of sold-out recitals, SummerFest includes an expanded array of concerts, featuring world-class singers, emerging international talent and special programs to celebrate music from around the world.
A six-concert series kicks off with Andrey Nemzer in Recital on Sun., July 12 at 6 p.m. The winner of the 2012 Mildred Miller International Voice Competition, Pittsburgh’s celebrated countertenor has wowed audiences regionally and at the Metropolitan Opera. Savor favorites drawn from the Russian repertoire.
Daphne Alderson performs Piaf Under the Stars on Wed., July 22 at 7:30. The acclaimed chanteuse and her band of accordion, cello, and guitar enchant with songs of Edith Piaf – Leonard Cohen!
Young Artists recitals take a tour around the globe, making stops in: the U.S., Wed., July 15 at 7:30 p.m.; Belgium, Sun., July 19 at 6 p.m. featuring the winners of the SummerFest Europe’s International Voice Competition; Italy, Sun., July 26 at 6 p.m.; and Germany, Wed., July 29 at 7:30 p.m.
For family friendly entertainment, SummerFest is staging "The True Story of the Three Little Pigs " at 11 a.m. on four consecutive Saturdays beginning on July 11.
"The family-oriented productions are a good way to introduce younger audiences to opera," Frankenberry said. "Those in elementary school should be most engaged by the work, although tweens should also enjoy it, not to mention adults with a taste for Looney Tunes cartoons. Adult fun comes from watching the characters do different things from what they remember from the story but ending on a familiar note."
This season’s singers come from a large range of experience - professionals both regional, national and international, those stepping out of school into their professional life, undergraduates, even a few high school students.
They’ll be supported by orchestras of various sizes ranging from 25 for "Figaro’ to smaller, scaled down ensembles. "The musicians enjoy working with us, and we try to be loyal to them," Frankenberry said. "Many are returning from previous seasons and are definitely part of the Opera Theater family."
In keeping with the festival spirit, SummerFest again features pre-show talks in the elegant Twentieth Century Club before performances, and free Late Night Cabarets after selected main stage productions. For each opening night, SummerFest provides a show and party package. For further details visit
The setting: The Twentieth Century Club, one of Pittsburgh’s hidden jewels, features a glorious Art Deco auditorium along with its handsome ballroom and elegant dining space. It provides a singular environment for innovative and intimate performances, for which Opera Theater is known. The 121-year-old club is located in the heart of Oakland, adjacent to the University of Pittsburgh’s campus near Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and convenient parking options.
 Tickets for all events start at $25, with Pigs tickets at $5-10. Groups of 8 or more save 10%. 20 or more save 20%. Student Rush tickets (half price) available with a valid student ID an hour before each opera or musical performance. Students with ID are admitted to recitals at no charge. Order tickets online at or by phone at 412-386-9687.

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