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Opera North Expands Its Reach

  • Raye Brevdawells makes a vinyl floor at Opera North's scene shop in Windsor, Vt., on July 11, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • At the Opera North scene shop in Heritage Hall in Windsor, Vt., Grace McCurley, left, the props master speaks, with painter Sage Neighbors on July 11, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

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    At Opera North's scene shop painter Sage Neighbors paints on July 11, 2017. Neighbors was working on a piece for "La Belle Helene" (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Naomi Louisa O’Connell will play Lilli Vanessi /Kate in Opera North’s production of Kiss Me, Kate, which opens the company’s season at Lebanon Opera House on July 29. Courtesy Opera North

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/13/2017 12:06:25 AM
Modified: 7/13/2017 12:06:31 AM

If the primary objective of any performing arts organization is to transport an audience to worlds and cultures very different from that audience’s familiar surroundings then this summer’s Opera North season, which opens on July 29 at Lebanon Opera House, achieves that goal.

Cole Porter’s effervescent Kiss Me, Kate, a musical within a musical that opens on July 29, is set off and on Broadway. Jacques Offenbach’s 19th century comic opera La Belle Hèléne, opening on Aug. 1, is a satire of the Trojan War, while Madama Butterfly, Puccini’s timeless tragedy, which opens on Aug. 4, is set in Japan at the turn of the 20th century.

Artistic director Louis Burkot conducts Kiss Me, Kate and La Belle Hèléne, while Fillipo Ciabatti, who made his Opera North debut last year with a sensational interpretation of Tosca, returns to conduct Madama Butterfly.

“My goal and Louis’ goal, when people come to us, is that they put aside all preconceived notions of what they think opera is, and they come and see just an evening of magic, storytelling and great beauty on the stage,” said Evans Haile, Opera North’s general director, in a phone interview.

Kiss Me, Kate, Porter’s inspired take on Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, stars Naomi O’Connell, an Irish-born, New York-based soprano as Lilli, and George Dvorsky, a Broadway veteran, as her ex-husband, Fred. Lilli and Fred have been hired to play Petruchio and Kate, and, predictably, sparks fly. Brothers Jim and Bob Walton, also longtime Broadway, film and TV vets, are on hand to sing the immortal tune Brush Up Your Shakespeare.

The director is Evan Pappas, who has previously staged Evita, West Side Story and Daughter of the Regiment for Opera North. Michael Schweikardt, who won a Broadway World Award for best scenic design for a 2012 production of Showboat at the Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut, is the set designer.

La Belle Hèléne is being directed by Andreas Hager, who was an assistant director for Opera North a few years ago, said Haile. It is part of the Opera North tradition that the singers, directors, conductors and other theater professionals who have gone through its Resident Artists program often return to the company as more seasoned professionals. The set designer is David Arsenault, who has done sensational work for other Opera North productions, including Tosca and Abduction from the Seraglio.

Offenbach’s opera is being updated to a 1920s seaside resort. The Jazz Age, with its vogue for youth and novelty, echoes today’s internet age. “We live in this age of selfies and the internet and Facebook. Belle Hèléne really points fingers to that sense of self-awareness. It’s very relevant today,” Haile said.

Mezzo-soprano Augusta Caso, who has recently performed at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina, and earned plaudits from the New York Times for her lead role as Anais Nin in the eponymous opera, will sing the lead role of Hélène. Tenor Peter Lake will play Paris and Eric Lindsey, who appeared in last year’s Opera North production of Tosca, will sing the role of the high priest Calchas, who is asked to intercede for Paris in his pursuit of Helen.

Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, with some of the most achingly poignant music ever written for opera, is one of the great works in the repertoire. Lt. Pinkerton, a callow American naval officer, visits Japan on a tour of duty and seduces the young Cio-Cio San, or Madama Butterfly, promising her he will return one day. Butterfly believes him and bears his son. Needless to say, Pinkerton’s promise isn’t kept in the way that Cio-Cio San hopes.

Opera North has cast Jinwon Park, a South Korean soprano who has sung in Europe and Asia as Cio-Cio San. Michael Brandenburg, who recently played Pinkerton for the Opera Theater of St. Louis, and has sung at Glimmerglass in Upstate New York and at Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C., takes on the role again for Opera North: Haile calls him a rising young American singer. Caso, who sings Hélène, will also sing Cio-Cio San’s closest confidante Suzuki.

The conducting and directing team of Fillipo Ciabatti and Russell Treyz, who gave us last season’s Tosca, are back at the helm for Madama Butterfly, as is Arsenault.

John Bartenstein is the lighting designer on all three productions.

For the first year, the company is building and storing its own sets at Heritage Hall in Windsor, an opportunity that arose, Haile said, and one which extends the company’s reach beyond Lebanon.

That expanding reach is seen also in the audience, Haile said.

The Opera North summer season attracts people from 46 states and five foreign countries, he said. The visitors “contribute to the economic fabric of the area, and Opera North is part of that.”

But more to the point, Haile said, “this is as good singing as you will find anywhere in the summer and we are very proud of that.”

For information go to the Opera North website, operanorth.org, or call the Box Office at 603-448-0400.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com.




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