Thursday, September 18, 2003

Opera to stage 'Carmen,' 'Maids'

By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The potentially steamy combination of Denyce Graves and Richard Leech in the lead roles of Carmen is just part of the news of Cincinnati Opera's 2004 Summer Festival season.

The company's 84th season also will include the U.S. premiere of The Maids, an opera by Peter Bengtson; a new partnership with Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati; an added Sunday matinee performance; and the commissioning of a youth opera, How Nanita Learned to Make Flan, targeted to multicultural families.

The Daughter of the Regiment, June 17 and 19

The Maids/The Fall of the House of Usher, June 24 and 26

Don Giovanni, July 8, 10 and 16

Carmen, July 17, 20, 23 and 25

Tickets: Subscription renewals will be sent this month. New subscriptions will be available in March; single tickets go on sale in May. 241-2742 or visit

Continuing the strategy of "provocative new works and thrilling performances of traditional favorites," artistic director Nicholas Muni will open the season with Donizetti's bel canto comedy, The Daughter of the Regiment. It returns after a 31-year absence, when Beverly Sills sang the role of Marie in 1973. (No word yet on casting for this production.)

A chilling pair

An intense double bill follows: The U.S. premiere of Swedish composer Bengtson's one-act opera The Maids, paired with The Fall of the House of Usher (1988) by Philip Glass. Both will be sung in English.

Glass' chamber opera, a "psychological drama," is based on Edgar Allan Poe's horror story. Arthur Yorinks wrote the libretto.

The Maids received its world premiere in 1994 at the Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm, and has been performed several times in Europe. It is a thriller, based on the 1947 play Les Bonnes by Jean Genet.

Genet found his inspiration in the horrific 1933 case of the Papin sisters in France, maids who brutally killed their employers, a story that has been interpreted in paintings, novels and films, including the 1975 film The Maids, directed by Christopher Miles. The opera, which has a libretto by Ragnar Lyth, focuses on the power play between the sisters.

Muni, who will direct the double bill, says it will be "a stimulating challenge for our audience."

The Maids will be the company's first U.S. premiere since it presented the English translation of Franco Alfano's Resurrection in 1983.

Mozart's Don Giovanni will make three appearances with New Zealand star bass-baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes in the title role. (One of his upcoming roles is Bendrix in the March world premiere of Jake Heggie's new opera, The End of the Affair, in Houston.) In the pit, Xian Zhang, faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, returns after her debut in La Traviata in the 2003 season.

The season concludes with Carmen, starring the mezzo-soprano Graves as the gypsy seductress and Leech as Don Jose, his first role here in a decade (Romeo et Juliette in 1994). French-Canadian soprano Frederique Vezina will sing Micaela and Uruguayan bass Erwin Schrott will make his role debut as Escamillo. Conducting will be Stephane Deneve.

Carmen, to be directed by James Robinson, is a new co-production with four other opera companies: Seattle Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Florida Grand Opera and Opera Colorado.

Weekend treats

Carmen's four performances include a Tuesday evening and a Sunday matinee, expanding the season to 11 performances.

Last year, opera tourists from 33 states came for the company's "festival weekends." The 2004 "festival weekends" will include a July weekend, when opera fans can see Don Giovanni and Carmen back-to-back (July 16-17).

A June festival weekend (June 25-27) will be anchored by the double bill and include an evening of Jean Genet plays presented by Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, directed by D. Lynn Meyers.

"Genet is one of the literary and dramatic geniuses of the 20th century, so it seems natural to team up with a theater company to explore his work in a multidimensional way," Muni says.

Also this season, Cincinnati Opera is commissioning How Nanita learned to Make Flan, based on the book by Campbell Geeslin. Mexican-American composer Enrique Gonzalez-Medina has partnered with the author to adapt the tale to the opera stage. Its world premiere will be Jan. 31 at the Fitton Center for Creative Arts in Hamilton, as part of the Cincinnati Opera Education Family Series.


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