Two operas that will be performed in Tulsa for the first time, along with one of the most popular operas of all time, make up the 75th anniversary season of Tulsa Opera.
“For 75 years, Tulsa Opera has been inspiring the people of our city through powerful productions of the best our art form has to offer,” said Ken McConnell, the company’s general director. “This landmark ‘diamond jubilee’ season will be a time of celebration but also a time of appreciation for those who, over the years, helped make the company what it is today.”
Tulsa Opera began with a modern-dress performance of Verdi’s “La Traviata” in 1948, and in the ensuing years has developed into one of the country’s major regional opera companies.
Artistic director Tobias Picker said the upcoming season will offer “Tulsa audiences something new, something familiar, and something long promised now finally delivered.”
That “something new” will be Rossini’s comedy “L’italiana in Algeri,” or “The Italian Girl,” which will be performed at the VanTrease PACE, on the Tulsa Community College Southeast campus, 10300 E. 81st St. It will be the first time the company has performed in this venue.
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Singing the role of the title character, Isabella, is mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita, who made her Tulsa Opera debut as Maddalena in the company’s momentous “baseball ‘Rigoletto’” in October 2019. Bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam, who has been heard at the Metropolitan, Minnesota, San Diego, and Seattle operas, among others, stars as Mustafà.
The cast also includes tenor Aaron Crouch in his Tulsa Opera debut as Lindoro and New York-based, Tulsa-native soprano Abigail Raiford as Elvira. Kimille Howard, assistant stage director at the Metropolitan Opera, is the stage director, with veteran conductor Leslie Dunner leading the Tulsa Opera Orchestra.
The “familiar” something this season will be “Aida,” Verdi’s epic tragedy set in ancient Egypt. This grand opera, last performed in 2013, will be presented in a gala concert version, Feb. 25, 2023, in honor of the company’s 75th anniversary.
The cast is headed by renowned Verdi soprano Michelle Bradley, who has performed the title role most recently with the San Diego Opera and the Prague State Opera. Tenor Brian Jagde, whose career has taken him to the major opera houses of the world, will sing the role of Radames. Tenor Todd Thomas, who sang the title role in Tulsa Opera’s “baseball ‘Rigoletto’,” and bass Morris Robinson, who portrayed Sparafucile in the same production, return to Tulsa to play the roles of Amonasro and the High Priest, respectively.
Three-time Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung is cast as Amneris, and soprano Victoria Lawal sings the role of the High Priestess. The performance is led by Daniela Candillari, newly named Principal Conductor of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Principal Opera Conductor of Music Academy of the West.
Closing out the season will be the Tulsa debut of Picker’s own opera, “Emmeline,” which was originally scheduled to be performed in early 2020. The opera, which premiered in 1986, was hailed as “arguably, the greatest American opera of the 20th century” by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Like everything planned for that spring, it was called off due to the pandemic, and subsequent reschedulings were themselves postponed — such is life in the era of COVID,” Picker said. “So this spring, we not only look forward to celebrating our 75th anniversary, but also ‘concluding’ our 2020 season. Better late than never!”
Based on the novel by Judith Rossner, the version of “Emmeline” Tulsa audiences will see is a new production created by director Tara Faircloth, which moves the story — about a young woman whose long-held secret ultimately makes her an outcast in her community — from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century.
Soprano Ann Toomey will make her Tulsa Opera debut as Emmeline, as will Grammy Award-winning baritone Kenneth Overton, who will perform the role of Mr. Maguire, and tenor Martin Luther Clark, who portrays Matthew Gurney. Soprano Leona Mitchell, an Oklahoma Hall of Fame inductee who performed in Tulsa Opera’s “Greenwood Overcomes” concert, sings the role of Aunt Hannah Watkins, rewritten by Picker specifically for Mitchell’s lower register. Francesco Cilluffo will conduct the Tulsa Opera Orchestra.
This production marks the first time that an opera composed by Picker will be presented by Tulsa Opera, which he has led since 2016. It will also be the first time the opera will feature Black singers in the principal roles of Matthew Gurney, Mr. Maguire and Aunt Hannah.
“As a composer, it is always fascinating to view your work through the lens of a new production,” Picker said. “We wanted this production to be inclusive to reflect that Emmeline’s story is about archetypal and universal themes. By setting the story in the 1930s and 1950s — which was the Jim Crow era — with a color-conscious cast, we believe this will be a production that amplifies the intrinsic themes of identity and power, and also interracial families and relationships, in a way that will resonate deeply with a contemporary audience.”
Single tickets are now on sale and start at $65. To purchase, and for more information: 918-582-3133, tulsaopera.com.
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