From the Desk of Artistic Director Jonathan Pell, St Louis Part I

by Jonathan Pell

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is celebrating their 38th season, and remains the only American opera company devoted to performing all their productions in English.  The company performs in a theatre that seats about 1,000 people so there is a tremendous sense of intimacy and immediacy which can be extraordinary.

The first production I attended on Thursday evening was the novel pairing of two one act verismo operas more usually seen with other pieces—Puccini’s IL TABARRO (THE CLOAK) and Leoncavallo’s PAGLIACCI.

The three leading roles in the Puccini were taken by artists who have appeared with The Dallas Opera: soprano Emily Pulley (“Woglinde” in our DAS RHEINGOLD many years ago, and an alumna of the University of North Texas), tenor Robert Brubaker (“Laca” in our production of JENUFA opposite Patricia Racette) and baritone Tim Mix (“Baron Douphol” in our LA TRAVIATA two seasons ago, and who was also in our school performances of ROBERTO DEVEREUX.)

The PAGLIACCI also starred Mr. Brubaker and Mr. Mix, but opposite soprano Kelly Kaduce and baritone Troy Cook, neither of whom have yet to sing in Dallas, but perhaps will someday.  The “Nedda”/”Silvio” duet was electrifying.

Friday afternoon I was able to attend the final dress rehearsal of Smetana’s THE KISS, which is an opera I had never seen staged.  A co-production with Ireland’s Wexford Festival, where it was a huge hit last year, it was a charming production of a work not well known outside of the Czech Republic.

The premise is slight.  After the death of his wife, a young widower tries to win back the love of a girl he had originally wanted to marry over his parents’ objections. She still loves him, but out of respect for the dead woman’s memory, the girl stubbornly refuses to kiss the boy until after they are wed.

It doesn’t sound like much of a plot, but it makes for a delightful opera, and it was wonderfully well done.

Conductor Anthony Barrese ( who began his career as an assistant conductor at The Dallas Opera, and recently conducted our family performances of Bizet’s DR. MIRACLE and returns next season for family and school performances of THE ELIXIR OF LOVE), the members of the Saint Louis Symphony  and a first rate cast made a compelling case for this Czech rarity.

The cast was headed by soprano Corinne Winters and tenor Garrett Sorenson (a former winner of The Dallas Opera Guild’s Vocal Competition.) The rest of the singers were solid throughout, and standouts included mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Batton (who has sung in several Dallas Opera productions) and baritone Matthew Worth, who is scheduled to make his TDO debut in a couple of years.

Friday evening’s performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE was extremely well done, and it is always a pleasure to hear this music sung by really fine singers.

The romantic leads were taken by tenor Matthew Plenk and soprano Deanna Breiwick, both excellent singers with appealing stage presence, but baritone Bradley Smoak nearly stole the show as the slightly dimwitted “Pirate King.”

Hugh Russell was wonderful as Major General Stanley, with his impeccably delivered patter song.  Also terrific was Maria Zifchak as “Ruth” (an unforgettable “Suzuki” in Dallas Opera’s most recent production of MADAME BUTTERFLY.)

Tonight is the world premiere performance of Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer’s opera CHAMPION, about welter weight boxing champion Emile Griffith, and the “buzz” about the piece has been that this is something really special.  I can hardly wait until this evening!  I ran into mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves yesterday, who is playing Emil Griffith’s mother, and she said that she felt that this was one of the most exciting projects with which she has ever been involved.

I’ll give you a full report tomorrow.

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