Good ideas don’t always translate into success, but Fort Worth Opera’s festival format, alternating performances of four productions in a month-long residency, mostly at Bass Performance Hall, has been a bell ringer from the beginning six years ago. Not only does it ease the annual struggle of lining up Bass Performance Hall dates with the availability of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra and singers from around the country, it allows general director Darren Woods to indulge his personal commitment to contemporary opera.
Left on their own in solo appearances, new operas often wither on the vine. Surrounded by older, popular works, they tend to find an audience.
This year’s festival opens Saturday at the Bass with Puccini’s Tosca, one of the pillars of Italian grand opera, last performed here in 2005. Soprano Carter Scott sang the title role then and will be heard again as Tosca in four performances this year. Baritone Michael Chioldi will reprise the role of Baron Scarpia, which he sang here in 2005, and Cavaradossi will be sung by tenor Roger Honeywell, the Don José for Fort Worth Opera’s 2009 production of Carmen.
The sumptuous production that includes a Roman cathedral and palace interiors as well as the ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo was designed by Andrew Horn for the Baltimore Opera. FWO was lucky enough to buy the scenery for a few thousand dollars at the Maryland company’s bankruptcy sale in 2009. The next year the Fort Worth company recouped its investment by renting the show to the Michigan Opera.
Those who remember the stunning Turandot that Daniel Pelzig staged here three years ago will look forward to his directing ideas for Tosca. Joe Illick, company music director, will conduct the FWSO.
Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers, one of two contemporary operas scheduled this year, will open Sunday in Scott Theatre, with five additional performances scheduled through Saturday, June 2. Based on the Terrence McNally play Some Christmas Letters, the opera premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in 2008. Gene Scheer wrote the libretto, which explores the anguished family of a famous actress who communicates over the years in letters with her adult children rather than making personal visits. The 80-minute one-act opera comes to a surprising and dramatic finale and in the process airs some dirty linen not recommended for young opera-goers. Soprano Janice Hall, who has appeared here in a number of contemporary works, will sing the actress. Mezzo-soprano Emily Pulley and baritone Matthew Worth will be heard as her two offspring.
FWO presented the area premiere of Heggie’s Dead Man Walking in 2009, with a libretto by McNally, the play’s author, and Dallas Opera premiered the composer’s highly acclaimed Moby-Dick in 2010. Christopher Larkin, one-time associate conductor of Houston Grand Opera, will lead a chamber ensemble here. Scenery and special effects that meet the unique stage arrangement of the Scott have been designed by Bob Lavallee, a regular contributor to Dallas Theater Center. The costumes were created by TV and film designer Rondi Hillstrom Davis.
Mozart’s always-welcome Marriage of Figaro opens Saturday, May 19, for three performances with baritone Donovan Singletary in the title role. He appeared here last season as Achilla in Julius Caesar. A musical setting of the second play in the Figaro trilogy written by Pierre Beaumarchais, the opera picks up where The Barber of Seville, made famous by Rossini, ends. Figaro returns with Count Almaviva and his new countess, Rosina, to their country estate, where Figaro prepares to wed the countess’ maid, Susanna. But the count has a roving eye and announces he intends to invoke his “right of seigneur” and bed Susanna the night before the wedding. How the servants tiptoe around their aristocratic employers and triumph in the end is the meat of the comedy, which had many problems with 18th-century censors, who thought the shenanigans subversive, making the upper class look ineffective and silly, which isn’t quite true. It makes ineffective and silly people look ridiculous, no matter their status in life.
The rest of the cast will be making their Fort Worth Opera debuts, including soprano Andrea Carroll as Susanna; soprano Jan Cornelius, recent winner of the Fort Worth Opera Guild’s Marguerite McCammon Voice Competition, as the Countess; and mezzo soprano Wallis Giunta as Cherubino. Stewart Robertson, director emeritus of the Glimmerglass Opera in New York, will conduct.
Mark Adamo’s operatic take on Aristophanes’ 5th-century anti-war play Lysistrata rounds out the festival with two performances in Bass Hall beginning Saturday, May 26. Soprano Ava Pine, last season’s Cleopatra in Handel’s Julius Caesar, will return to sing the title role of Lysia. The original bawdy comedy pits the Greek women, who are tired of war and its endless devastation, against the men, who always seem to have an issue that can’t be resolved except by fighting. Lysia leads her sisters to the Acropolis, where they lock themselves in and refuse all contact until peace is declared, reasoning that after a while “no sex” will win the day. Adamo uses this more as a backdrop to comment on the differences between men and women rather than as a literal setting for the tale. Joe Illick will conduct.
Fort Worth Opera Festival
Tosca 7:30pm Sat at Bass Hall, 555 Commerce St, FW. $18-180. 817-665-6000. • Three Decembers 2pm Sun at Scott Theatre, Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy St, FW. $45-90. 817-665-6000.