Pittsburgh's SummerFest 2016: Opera to the People

Pittsburgh Opera’s 2015-2016 season wound down recently with their last production, Igor Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress; the libretto was written by W. H. Auden and the sets, now the property of Pittsburgh Opera, were designed by artist David Hockney.  It appears to have been a big hit; see Robert Croan’s review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for background on the opera and critical comments on the performance.  Only my attendance at the Washington National Opera’s American Ring kept me from attending Rake.  I hope it is repeated before too many years pass.

I reported on Pittsburgh Opera’s upcoming season in my blog post of April 5, which will include a world premiere of the opera, The Summer King by Daniel Sonenberg.  But the 2016-2017 season does not kick off until October.  What will keep the Pittsburgh opera fires stoked until then?

It turns out that not only will the fires be stoked, but the dishes being served are seasoned and offered in venues to make them more accessible to the community.  I sent an email to Elizabeth Bloom, classical music critic for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, telling her that in the Washington area we have Wolf Trap Opera to make our summers more fun and asking her what folks in Pittsburgh do.  She was kind enough to send the follow information:

"Opera Theater of Pittsburgh is a small company started by Mildred Miller Posvar, a former Met singer, almost four decades ago.  It prides itself on making opera accessible to everyone - via operas sung only in English, new work about contemporary issues, performances in bars and so on.  The productions are staged only over the summer, hence the (somewhat) recently added name "SummerFest"."

Take a look at their website, otsummerfest.org, and the ambitious and entertaining program for SummerFest 2016 here.  OT describes its program thusly:

 SummerFest logo, courtesy of SummerFest

SummerFest logo, courtesy of SummerFest

“SummerFest 2016 is five weeks of operas and musicals sung in English, a children's opera, vocal recitals, and more! The season begins June 22nd with performances of Carmen the Gypsy in unique and intimate venues in Oakland, West End, and Sewickley, and then continues in the newly-renovated Falk Auditorium on the campus of Winchester Thurston School in Shadyside from July 7–24.”

Sounds appealing, doesn’t it, reaching out to the community?  One of the first offerings is a touring production of Carmen the Gypsy, a new adaptation of Georges Bizet’s Carmen, scaled back and more intimate, but from the looks of the attached photo from SummerFest, retaining all the passion. 

  Carmen the Gypsy  photo by Patti Brahim.  Kara Cornell as Carmen and James Flora as Don Jose.  Photo courtesy of SummerFest.

Carmen the Gypsy photo by Patti Brahim.  Kara Cornell as Carmen and James Flora as Don Jose.  Photo courtesy of SummerFest.

Parents take note - one of the offerings is a children’s opera, Little Red Riding Hood.  Handel’s

  Little Red Riding Hood ; Valerie Hosler as Red Riding Hood and Jesse Davis as the Wolf/Huntsman.  Photo by Mark Ambramowitz.  Photo courtesy of SummerFest.

Little Red Riding Hood; Valerie Hosler as Red Riding Hood and Jesse Davis as the Wolf/Huntsman.  Photo by Mark Ambramowitz.  Photo courtesy of SummerFest.

Julius Caesar is another of the offerings, a relatively rare chance to see a baroque opera. Also being produced is A Silent Woman by Richard Strauss; this is a comic opera, but has a dramatic back story involving Hitler and the Nazi's that deserves delving further into at some point.  This is the third opera of Strauss performed at Summerfest over the last three years and a fourth is planned for next year.  

These performances have been added to the sidebar on the right.  SummerFest also offers a number of concerts around town, some free.  They also produce an annual voice competition in the fall.  Note that a number of venues around Pittsburgh are used in an attempt to bring opera to the community.  Please check with the SummerFest website to confirm dates and venues and to purchase tickets; you can also call the box office at 412-326-9687 for assistance.  Ticket prices range from $25 to $75 with discounts available for subscription purchases.

Summer is a great time to take a vacation in Pittsburgh, and if you are thinking of going to try some new restaurants, visit the museums, enjoy the scenery, and take in the Pittsburgh Pirates, also take a look at the fresh opera offerings from SummerFest.

Addendum:  Also a reminder for fans in the Washington DC area - Wolf Trap Opera kicks off its summer season on Friday with the first of four performances of The Rape of Lucretia at the Barns - see link in the sidebar.