The Florentine’s 80th season, 2013-14, revealed
With Verdi’s La Traviata as an opener and Puccini’s La Boheme as a closer, the Florentine Opera’s 2013-14 season looks very conventional for a company that has busily broken its own molds over the last few years.
But general director William Florescu — the stage director for both Italian chestnuts — noted that his company had done neither of these operas in nearly 10 years.
“I don’t mind going back to the standard rep after we’ve had a chance to clear our palate with other things,” he said, in an interview Tuesday.
He referred, among other new-Florentine efforts, to the remarkable Baroque double bill of 2011, the new operas Elmer Gantry and Rio de Sangre in past years and, this season, Benjamin Britten’s Albert Herring. But these haven’t really been radical seasons — 2012-13, for example, opened with Carmen and will end with The Marriage of Figaro.Florescu sees it as a matter of balance.
“We’ve had a lot of catching up to do,” he said, noting the particular success the company has had with its Baroque operas, starting with Semele in 2009. Baroque opera had come back big to the rest of the world 30 years ago, but prior to Semele the Florentine stuck with a narrow rotation of top hits, most of them 19th-century Italians, for decades.
Even in the upcoming 80th anniversary season, specifically designed to honor the Florentine’s Italian heritage and founding father John-David Anello, Jr., Florescu has found a way to bring the company more into both the 21st and the 18th centuries.
Handel’s Giulio Cesare will stand between Traviata and Boheme in 2013-14. The opera, about intrigues in the court of Cleopatra and her brother, Ptolemy, during the Roman invasion of Egypt, dates to 1724 and was among Handel’s most popular operas then and now. Though staged originally in London, the opera’s libretto is in Italian, the language of Handel’s imported singers. So it fits the Florentine’s 80th anniversary theme.
“Giulio Cesare is the standard bearer of Italian Baroque opera,” Florescu said.
Florescu noted that the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra gives him a special resource for Baroque music. The MSO has worked frequently with guest conductor Nicholas McGegan over the years and is well-schooled in Baroque style. Without that, Florescu would have to think twice about these operas. (It happens that McGegan was just here and led a smashing MSO concert featuring countertenor David Taylor and soprano Yulia Van Doren.)
The Florentine will build the Handel production. That decision, Florescu explained, was partly creative and partly pragmatic. Very few productions of this opera are available for rental, and the Florentine can profit from the sets and costumes it can build for this show. On the other hand, scads of Traviatas and Bohemes are out there, so the company will rent those productions.
Baroque operas, especially, are often updated in their theatrical treatments. The current Metropolitan Opera/Glyndebourne version of Giulio, for example, recasts the Romans as 19th-century British imperialists. Florescu’s production team, comprising director Eric Einhorn, set and lighting designer Noele Stollmack, videographer Kathy Wittman and costume designer Christianne Myers are consulting on a high concept, with Florescu “supervising from 30,000 feet.” Wittman made the video projections for the Florentine’s Idomeneo. Stollmack, the company’s production manager, has designed many striking sets for the Florentine. Myers created the stunning costumes for the Baroque double-bill.
Florescu, in his eighth year leading the company, has made a special effort to maintain the Florentine’s profile in the community between main stage productions. He revived the Florentine Studio Artists program six years ago. This gives him four young singers year-round to keep the Florentine in the public eye and ear. In addition to their work in schools and in comprimario roles in main productions, the Studio Artists sing throughout the summer at concerts at Alterra by the Lake and put on a show of their own at Marcus Center Vogel Hall each season. Next year, the Studio Artists will perform Fiesta Fiorentina, an evening of Italian and Italian-American songs and arias.
They will surely play a role in a new initiative that Florescu will shortly announce: A series of five or six public performances at the company’s Riverwest production center. The ad hoc events the company has put on in the spacious studio at Burleigh and Weil Streets have attracted large audiences. This series will also heighten awareness of the Florentine between main stage productions.
One of the events on that series will likely be workshops of Sister Carrie, an opera in progress by Robert Aldridge. Aldridge, you’ll recall, composed Elmer Gantry, which won the Florentine its first every Grammy Award. At the Florentine, time continues to march on.
And now, the details of the 80th Anniversary Season:
November 8 and 10: La Traviata, Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, noting the 200th anniversary of the Giuseppe Verdi’s birth. Soprano Elizabeth Caballero (Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni 2006) returns as the wayward Violetta, Rolando Sanz makes his Florentine debut as her one true love, Alfredo, and Mark Walters debuts as his father, Giorgio Germont. Florentine Opera General Director William Florescu directs as Maestro Joseph Mechavich (Susannah 2012) conducts the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Florentine Opera Chorus. Performances will feature choreography and performance by dancers from Milwaukee Ballet.
February 14, 15 and 16, Marcus Center Vogel Hall, Florentine Opera Studio Artists perform Festa Fiorentina.
March 28 and 29, George Frideric Handel’s Julius Caesar – Soprano Ava Pine (Pamina in The Magic Flute 2009; Blanca, Río de Sangre, 2010) returns to the Florentine Opera stage as the seductive Cleopatra opposite mezzo-soprano Deanne Meek (Teatro alla Scala and Metropolitan Opera), in her Florentine debut as Caesar. Mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala (Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, 2013) sings Sextus, and counter-tenor Ian Howell (Cupid/Spirit in Venus & Adonis/Dido & Aeneas 2011) returns with newcomer bass-baritone Derrick Ballard in this production, directed by the Metropolitan Opera’s Eric Einhorn (Turandot 2011). Maestro William Boggs (two-time Grammy-winning Elmer Gantry, 2010) conducts the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in this new Florentine Opera production featuring sets and lighting by Noele Stollmack and costume design by Christianne Myers (The Magic Flute 2009, Rigoletto 2010, Venus/Dido 2011).
May 9 and 11, 2014, Marcus Center Uihlein Hall, Puccini’s La Bohème. Alyson Cambridge will make her Florentine Opera debut as Mimi, opposite tenor Noah Stewart (Don José in Carmen 2012) as Rodolfo. Katrina Thurman (Musetta), Corey McKern (Marcello), Matthew Treviño (Colline) make their Florentine
debuts as Maestro Joseph Rescigno conducts the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra and the Florentine Opera Chorus. General Director Bill Florescu will direct.
In addition, the Florentine Opera will premiere a new community based performance series in the Riverwest neighborhood. The @the Center series will launch in the Fall of 2013 – this innovative, neighborhood series will provide a variety of intimate performances including: workshop performances of new works and staged scene revues. The @the Center series will be held at the Wayne and Kristine Lueders Florentine Opera Center. More to come, on this new series.
Tickets and Subscriptions. Single ticket prices begin at just $30 with Friday Evening and Sunday Matinee season ticket packages from $94-$307. Flex Packages are also available (allowing you to choose the dates and times that work best for you). New subscription sales begin May 1; and single ticket sales begin Sept. 16. For more information on ordering ticket packages visit the Florentine Opera’s website or call (414) 291-5700 ext. 224.