Although Opera North has already begun to stage concerts this month as part of its Summerfest, its mainstage productions, the “opera” in Opera North, are yet to come.
“Passion, power and pride” are the three words that Evans Haile, Opera North’s general director, uses to describe the company’s 34th season, which begins July 29 with the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice rock opera Evita, continues with the opening on July 31 of the comic opera Daughter of the Regiment, sung by the company’s Resident Artists, and ends with the classic Puccini opera Tosca, which has its opening night on Aug. 5.
That the three productions feature three vital, strong women as protagonists is not entirely coincidence, said Haile, who, together with Artistic Director Louis Burkot, looks for themes to unify each season.
Tosca is the passion, Evita the power and Marie, the heroine of Daughter of the Regiment, the pride, said Haile.
But really, the words fit any of the women, all of whom live during periods of intense, unpredictable political upheaval. The echoes from then to now are uncanny, proof that great art (and entertainment) resonates long past the era in which it was made, Haile said.
There’s Tosca, the opera singer who, in early 19th century Rome under French occupation, vows to save her lover Cavaradossi, an escaped political prisoner, from the brutal machinations of the Roman chief of police Scarpia, who’s intent on making Tosca his own. There’s Eva Peron, who helps her husband Juan Peron rise to power in late 1940s Argentina and who becomes a polarizing, mesmerizing figure in her own right. And there’s Marie, a canteen girl in a French regiment occupying the Swiss Tyrol during the Napoleonic wars, who falls in love with Tonio, a Tyrolean who becomes a prisoner of the regiment.
“This is one of the summers that if you like musical theater at all, all three of these pieces have something for you: familiar tunes, powerful characters and great stories,” Haile said.
And great singers, Haile said. The principals in Tosca (Sandra Lopez, Jeffrey Gwaltney and Aleksey Boganov) all got their start at Opera North and have gone on to sing with major companies across the world, including Washington National Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Finnish National Opera, Glimmerglass Festival and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
“We’re proud that not only are these our principals, but they have all been with us before and have major international careers — and they’re coming back and that says a lot,” Haile said.
The production of Evita, which stars Jenny Ashman as Evita, Mark Womack (seen at Opera North two years ago as Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady) as Juan Peron and Brandon Rubendall as Che Guevara, brings in Broadway theater veterans.
Daughter of the Regiment will feature two casts from Opera North’s nationally respected Resident Artists program, which attracts thousands of applicants annually.
The performance side is not the only part of Opera North that has seen expansion and development. Haile and Burkot have brought in talent to cast fresh eyes on the stage and musical direction, and scenic design.
This season a young Italian conductor, Filippo Ciabatti, leads the orchestra for Tosca. The company has turned to Broadway veteran David Arsenault, who designs the sets for Daughter of the Regiment, and rising star designer Paul Tate dePoo III, who designs Tosca and Evita. Actor and Off-Broadway director Evan Pappas, responsible for last year’s Opera North production of West Side Story stages both Evita and Daughter of the Regiment. And Russell Treyz, who directs Tosca won a New York Drama Desk award for directing his first off-Broadway play Whitsuntide.
Staging such classics of musical theater as West Side Story and Evita in what had been for many years a venue for high opera was a gamble that paid off, said artistic director Louis Burkot.
“One of the things we did that has been so beneficial and has reaped rewards much more than we thought it would was introducing musical theater into the repertoire. It has increased the audience of new people,” Burkot said.
Bringing new audiences to Opera North is an integral part of the company’s longterm objectives, both Haile and Burkot said.
In recent years the company has expanded its offerings to the community with concerts throughout the Upper Valley that precede the August performance schedule, and has sought to attract more patrons from outside the area, positioning itself as a regional attraction.
“We are as much out there and part of the community in our collaborations with other organizations, as we are in terms of producing our own shows at the Opera House,” said Haile.
“We are proud of not only the people we attract from all across the country, but we also want to make sure that people who live here are aware that this is a major entertainment source for us throughout the summer,” Haile added.
As part of its Summerfest 2016 the company scheduled four public performances outside the opera house. There were recitals last weekend at the Lebanon United Methodist Church and the Fells Historic Estate and Gardens in Newbury, N.H.
This weekend, the company will celebrate in song the National Park Service’s centenary on Saturday, at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historic Park in Woodstock. On Thursday, July 21, there will be a jazz concert at the Enfield Shaker Museum.
And on Monday, Aug. 8, Peter Fox Smith, host on Vermont Public Radio of the show Saturday Afternoon at the Opera will give a talk at 6:30 at the Woodstock Historical Society.
Something for everyone, in other words.
“Whether you love George Gershwin or whether you love Puccini, Opera North is here as a professional company to fulfill the potential of what we can bring to the area,” Haile said.
For complete schedules and ticket information on the 2016 Opera North Season go to the ON website, operanorth.org. To order tickets go to the Lebanon Opera House website at lebanonoperahouse.org or call 603-448-0400.
Box office hours are Monday through Friday, noon to 5 p.m.
Nicola Smith can be reached at email@example.com.