From July 6 to July 22, Pittsburgh Festival Opera will fill the region’s opera table with three classic operas, a children’s opera, lectures, recitals, concerts, and parties. There will be 37 presentations/performances in all, with literally something for everyone. There will also be a preview event titled Opera in Bloom on Saturday, June 23 that will feature many of the opera performers singing arias and songs from the upcoming productions. These will not be the standard versions of the operas to be performed; rather, they are arranged to be more accessible to American audiences; where else can you hear Wagner sung in English. More on that later, but what better time to try something new or at least embodying a new approach than the summer; after all, this is a festival. If you are an opera fan or just curious, you should be getting excited, and if out of town, consider Pittsburgh for an opera vacation.
Schedule for staged operas:
July 6, 8, 12. 14, 19 - La Boheme Warhola by Giacomo Puccini, Falk Auditorium
July 7, 14, 21 - Goldie B. Locks and the Three Singing Bears by John Davies with music by Mozart and Offenbach (a children’s opera), Hilda Willis Room
July 13, 15, 21 – Rhinegold by Richard Wagner, Falk Auditorium
July 20, 22 – Arabella by Richard Strauss, Falk Auditorium
The Parous preview of the PFO season provides an excellent overview of these productions and I recommend it to you. Additional information can be found on the PFO’s extensive website; click on the What’s On tab and then select the event of interest. I will make a few comments about the nature of these productions and how they fit with the mission of Pittsburgh Festival Opera.
When you saw the first opera in the list, I bet you paused – what is “Warhola” doing in the title? Suppose I also told you that the setting will be the New York art scene of the sixties as inspired by the art of Andy Warhol and that it will be a new arrangement and the opera will be sung in English? And that there is also a connection to Pittsburgh which has the Andy Warhol Museum. What is going on, you say? Mission inspired opera, that’s what. Pittsburgh Festival Opera wants to bring new American productions and updates of classic works using innovative methods to increase the audience for opera in all demographic categories; for example, the Goldie Locks opera for kids. Voila, PFO productions will not be of the traditional variety. They will be known works, but shortened, and they will be sung in our native tongue, English. They will also be presented in smaller venues that place the singers and the audience in close proximity, which PFO terms “intimate opera theater”, which I feel adds to the excitement and enjoyment.
Kenneth Shaw as Wotan; Hanna Brammer, Kathleen Shelton, and Emily Hopkins as Rhinemaidens in Rhinegold. Courtesy of Pittsburgh Festival Opera.
One of PFO’s goals made explicit last year was to bring back Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle to Pittsburgh. Making good on that commitment, this summer’s program features Rhinegold, the first entry in the Ring in a version shortened to 2 hours with reduced orchestration which will be sung in English. I attended Washington National Opera’s Ring Cycle a couple of years ago and loved every minute of the 18 hours it required, but that was after dauntingly having prepared myself to take on Wagner. The PFO version of Rhinegold might be a good way to give him a try; it is highly likely you will be hooked. PFO states the remaining three Ring operas will be produced over the next three years: The Valkyrie in 2019, Siegfried in 2020, and all four, adding The Twilight of the Gods in 2021, which will require ten hours viewing time in all.
Arabella is the final staged opera of the Festival and continues the PFO tradition of staging one of Richard Strauss’ less often performed masterpieces. Arabella with libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal is said to be the most romantic Strauss opera, involving love at first sight, a family ploy presenting one daughter as a boy, and a comedy of mistaken identity. It will also be sung in English, but otherwise follows the original. And there will be waltzes.
Pittsburgh Festival Opera wants to make it easier for you to get to know the beauty of opera. Looking at the leadership and creativity being shown by Pittsburgh Festival Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, and Opera Philadelphia, I get the feeling that the rebirth of opera is beginning, centered in Pennsylvania.
The Fan Experience: The best overview of the Festival and its many events can be gained by viewing the PFO performance calendar at this link. Ticket prices are set at modest levels to encourage as wide an audience participation as possible, starting as low as $5 to as high as $65. Package discounts are available and a student discount of 50% from full price is offered. The performances include projected titles in English as well as being sung in English. I have made opera trips to Pittsburgh a couple of times now and it scores high with accommodations in all price levels, excellent restaurants, and many tourist attractions as well as an extraordinary geographical setting.