The Classics and a World Premiere: Pittsburgh Opera 2016-2017 Season

Pittsburgh is a 250-mile, four-hour, interstate drive away from DC and stretches my opera coverage of the mid-Atlantic about as far as I can manage.  But it is worth it.  I have been there several times, though not yet for opera.  Actually, I am bummed because I had so wanted to attend The Rake’s Progress there at the end of this month – see sidebar - but have chosen to attend the Ring Cycle of four operas at the Kennedy Center instead, and due to my time commitments can’t do both.  The setting for Pittsburgh is very dramatic: three rivers intersect; the Allegheny and the Monongahela come together to initiate the Ohio River.  The Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team plays close to the intersection, on the north shore of the Allegheny across from downtown.  Directly across the Monongahela, from the relatively flat center center is a line of tall bluffs that dominate the south-western skyline, forming a barrier to the encroachment of the Pittsburgh skyscrapers.  An opera mini-vacation to Pittsburgh is definitely in my queue for next year; and given my love of baseball, I suspect you will be able to guess which production I am targeting.

Pittsburgh Opera has announced its lineup for next year, its 78th season.  It has been reviewed by Elizabeth Bloom, classical music critic, for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; I recommend reading her comments, especially to get details on the world premiere.

Here is the 2016-2017 lineup:

  • La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi, Oct 8 - 16
  • Salome by Richard Strauss, Nov 5 - 13
  • Turandot by Giacomo Puccini, March 25 - April 2
  • The Summer King by Daniel Sonenberg, April 29 - May 7

La Traviata, Salome, and Turandot are, of course, classics in the standard repertoire.  The production of The Summer King by Daniel Sonenberg will be a world premiere.  Sonenberg is an associate professor and resident composer at the University of Southern Maine.  The opera was presented in concert format in Portland in 2014.  His other work appears to be songs and chamber music.  The opera revolves around Josh Gibson, a Pittsburgh native and a catcher in baseball’s Negro Leagues which performed in the first half of the twentieth century.  He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 and was considered the best power hitter of his generation in the Negro leagues.  He died in 1947 at the age of 35, just before the integration of the major leagues.  Had he been allowed to play in the majors, one can only wonder how his statistics would have compared to say, Babe Ruth.  The opera will feature a rare predominately black cast, including highly regarded, long time favorite, Denyce Graves.  Kudos to Pittsburgh opera for giving a new, modern opera a hearing on a major stage.  There is a serious risk the public will not respond and come out for an unknown opera, but hopefully, there of a lot of fans like me yearning for new opera.  This will be an interesting story to follow.

La Traviata gets my vote for best Verdi music, though there a lot of contenders and I may change my mind tomorrow.  Traviata is all about Violetta, the pure-hearted lady of pleasure with health issues who falls in love.  Danielle Pastin, a Pittsburgh resident will play Violetta.  She has appeared in major opera houses including the Met.  My family and I saw a modernized performance at the Met in 2014 with the excellent Marina Rebeka.  My favorite Violetta is Ileana Contrubas.  Check out this youtube video of her and a young Placido Domingo from 1981.  The recording is not of a great quality, but even so, I’m not sure who was prettier, Ms. Contrubas or Mr. Domingo.  I have not seen Salome, based on the biblical story, but definitely intend to at some point.  It is one of Richard Strauss’ psychological operas and merits some preparation; it is probably not one for the newbie.  Turandot is fine for a newbie.  See my comments on the Virginia Opera’s planned performance here. It has a famous tenor aria, Nessun Dorma.  You can listen to the great Luciano Pavarotti singing it here.

Pittsburgh Opera also plans two smaller operas, Frederic Handel’s Richard the Lionheart, circa 1719, and Laura Kaminsky’s As One, circa 2014, in smaller venues as part of the resident artist’s program.

Tickets: Season subscription tickets are now on sale.  Individual opera ticket sales will begin in August.  Season tickets for all four operas range from over $600 to under $50.  Ticket exchange is allowed for subscription holders.