Daniel Montenegro (right, above) reprises his role as Mario,, The postman in “Il Postino,” directed by Opera Saratoga’s General Director Lawrence Edelson (far left.).
SARATOGA SPRINGS — In the two years since Lawrence Edelson was named Artistic and General Director of Opera Saratoga he’s developed the reputation of bringing contemporary American productions to the stage.
So, doesn’t he throw everyone for a loop by starting the summer program with Figaro?
“I really feel it is important we do contemporary work, but I also found it important we don’t abandon the classics.”
Three major productions highlight the 2016 Summer Festival Program. Opera Saratoga’s annual festival also promises art lovers recitals, concerts and master classes during its seven-week run that started May 28.
The line-up of players involved with this year’s festival makes it difficult to choose which of the three productions to attend, if limited by just one.
The first of the three starts with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s classic “Le nozze di Figaro” on Friday, June 24. Since it was first composed in 1786, Mozart’s four-act opera buffa has become synonymous to classic opera itself. Yet, to Edelson’s recollection, this is the first time in 20 years since the opera house has staged Figaro. With any piece, the director said, “we really only do it when we have the right singers and the right players.”
Peixin Chen is one of those singers Edelson considered right for the role.
Edelson crossed paths with Chen at the Houston Grand Opera Studio as the latter sang an audition for the director he said, “just blew me away.”
“He is really a rising star,” Edelson said of the recent graduate of the Houston Grand Opera. It will be Chen’s debut performance at Opera Saratoga, in a role he has yet to perform — Figaro. Chen played Bartolo in the same work earlier in the season at Houston. But, to Edelson, Figaro is “a role that will clearly be a part of his repertoire.”
The production also features the company debuts of Katherine Whyte as the Countess and Keith Phares as the Count. Andrew Bisantz makes his conducting debut with the company, along with director David Paul who helms this new production. And, Chelsea Basler — an alumna of Opera Saratoga’s Young Artist Program previously seen as Josephine in “H.M.S. Pinafore” – returns as Susanna, Figaro’s bride-to-be.
Figaro is then followed by the American premiere of “The Witches of Venice,” featuring music from one of opera’s most important modern-day composers, Philip Glass. His minimalist signature is paired with the choreography of Karole Armitage to share a whimsical tale of a boy who was grown from a plant as he traverses his way through the struggles of life.
“Witches” marks Armitage’s return to Saratoga, following the success of last year’s “Dido and Aeneas.” The world renowned dancer and choreographer is a recipient of France’s prestigious Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. She is often known as the “punk ballerina,” sporting a rebellious hairstyle that pairs with her propensity for contemporary styles of dance, music and art.
This Armitage directed production opens Saturday, July 2, and highlights performances of players from Armitage Gone! Dance, The Capital District Youth Chorale and The School of the Arts at The National Museum of Dance.
The pairing of dance with opera is yet another factor, Edelson said, separates Opera Saratoga from other opera houses. Whereas dance may be seen as an addition, and unnecessary expense to houses across the country, Saratoga’s strong ties to the art makes it not only necessary, but possible.
“I have worked to put together a season that reflects the incredible power of opera to tell vivid and compelling stories through music in very different ways,” said Edelson.
“I am very excited to introduce our audiences to the music of Daniel Catán with our new production of ‘Il Postino.’”
The plot of “Postino” involves the maturation of a young postman who finds a passion for writing poetry after his daily deliveries to esteemed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
This opera was originally composed in 2010, based on the Academy Award-winning 1994 Italian film and the 1985 novel “Ardiente Paciencia” by Antonio Skármeta. Catán wrote the opera for Plàcido Domingo, who sang the role of Neruda at the opera’s Los Angeles Opera premiere shortly before the composer’s death at age 63.
Daniel Montenegro, who shared the stage with Domingo for “Postino,” will sing the title role of Mario Ruoppolo — the postman — a role he recently sang in Paris at the Théâtre du Châtelet. Richard Troxell sings the role of Pablo Neruda; and Sandra López sings the role of Matilde Neruda, the poet’s third wife. James Lowe also makes his company debut conducting the production, all under Edelson’s direction.
“If you love music of (Tosca) Puccini, you will love this opera,” said Edelson.
For tickets and information on the 2016 Summer Festival, visit operasaratoga.org.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.