11 May 2012

Fort Worth Opera Festival 2013 to Include Me

In last year’s production of Ariadne at Houston Grand Opera,
Jon Kolbet (left) played the Major-Domo. Here, he’s joined by
Rodell Rosel as the Dancing Master and, as the Composer,
a certain Miss Susan Graham.

Fort Worth Opera begins its 2012 Festival this weekend with an exciting quartet of works both old and new — on which I’ll be reporting at the end of the month, when I fly to Texas for the final weekend of the Festival. But because the company’s general director, Darren Keith Woods, is a believer in strategic long-term planning, today also marks the official announcement of next year’s Festival offerings.

For 2013, Fort Worth Opera will present Puccini’s La Bohème, Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment, and Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos, as well as a contemporary work, Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied, in keeping with the company’s commitment to the music of our time. And that commitment will be extended next year, as Fort Worth Opera inaugurates its Frontiers program, a showcase for short excerpts from larger works by emerging composers, to be selected by a panel of experts from a variety of fields related to opera. Frontiers performances will be free of charge, and — rather unusually, to say the least — an integral part of the program will be the opportunity for the public to offer feedback to the composers.

So often it seems to this observer that fledgling composers are left to their own devices: they have to figure out on their own (and sometimes very far from the opera house) what audiences will and won’t like, and once new work has been performed, composers are cut loose with little guidance or analysis of their successes and failures. Fort Worth Opera aims to change all that.

Joyce Castle as the Marquise, with John Stephens as Sulpice and Robert Gibby Brand as Hortensius, in Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s Daughter of the Regiment.
Who wouldn’t want to get in on the fun?
Photo by Cory Weaver.

For those of us who have been coming to Fort Worth repeatedly over the years, the casts for these works are a real treat, featuring many returning artists who are local favorites, as well as some distinguished first-timers in the area. Those of us who marveled at young baritone Wes Mason’s tour-de-force performance in Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls will be eager to see him as the painter Marcello in Bohème, for example, and soprano Ava Pine will add to her radiant Fort Worth résumé the title role of Marie in Daughter of the Regiment, opposite no less than the great Joyce Castle as the Marquise of Berkenfeld and Darren Woods himself, making a rare return to the stage as Hortensius, the Marquise’s butler.

Other returning favorites include soprano Marjorie Owens as Ariadne and baritone Michael Mayes, taking the lead in Glory Denied. Among the company debutants are star soprano Mary Dunleavy as Mimì and rising tenor Sean Panikkar as Rodolfo in Bohème — and I’m eager to hear the always impressive soprano Caroline Worra once more (in Glory Denied).

There’s one name you won’t find in the season announcement, though it’s of immense potential interest. It’s mine.

Donovan Singletary as Figaro, Andrea Carroll as Susanna.
Fort Worth Opera Festival 2012.
Photo by Ellen Appel.

Meine gnädige Damen und Herren, it is my great pleasure to announce that I’ll be returning to the stage after an inexplicable absence of 30 years, to play the speaking role of the Major-Domo in Ariadne auf Naxos. Mine is the responsibility to tell the young Composer (mezzo Cecelia Hall) that his dead-serious opera must be performed at the same time as a boisterous commedia dell’arte routine, because the wealthy patron (inspired by Molière’s Bourgeois Gentleman) wants to hurry up and get to the fireworks display he’s planned for the end of the evening.

Oh, and one more thing — I will be saying all of this in German.*

As Anna Russell would say, I’m not making this up, you know.

Fort Worth’s Three Decembers cast: Janice Hall (seated),
Emily Pulley, and Matt Worth.
Fort Worth Opera Festival 2012.
Photo by Ellen Appel.

While I’m trying not to throw the tempo off the track, everybody else will be singing, of course, including tenor Corey Bix in the heroic role of Bacchus and soprano Audrey Luna as the singing acrobat Zerbinetta (both making their company debuts), under the baton of Fort Worth Opera Music Director Joe Illick. Stage director David Gately, who’s guided some of the company’s most memorable productions, will tell me where to go.

Technically, this isn’t my opera debut, since I played a soldier in the firing squad in Providence Opera Theatre’s production of Puccini’s Tosca, many years ago. This new assignment is a good deal more demanding, however: the entire plot hinges on what I say, and I have to remember not to shoot the tenor this time.

E avanti a lei — tremo! Carter Scott as Floria Tosca.
(Really. She doesn’t usually dress like this.)
Fort Worth Opera Festival 2012.
Photo by Ellen Appel.

No less an Ariadne authority than Susan Graham has warned me to waste no time in learning my lines. I’ve already gotten in touch with Terry Quon, an estimable opera buff herself and my German teacher back at J.J. Pearce High School in Richardson, just down the road from Bass Hall.

I have also bluntly and without shame asked Darren to find money in the costume budget that would allow for an extra supernumerary in Daughter of the Regiment. Really. I could be a soldier, a valet, a villager, an ottoman or an end table. I’m not choosy. I’m not even greedy. I just want to be part of the fun when Joyce and Darren reunite.

Thus far, Darren has demurred most politely, but perhaps if some of my faithful readers make a contribution to Fort Worth Opera, he will move beyond this highly uncharacteristic indecision and embrace my participation in a second production next season.

Houston Grand Opera’s world premiere of Adamo’s Lysistrata.
Not sure who everybody is, but the great Myrna Paris is at left.
Photo from FWO, courtesy of Brett Coomer.

But even if that dream goes unfulfilled, this will be an extraordinary opportunity. Since my first sampling of Fort Worth Opera’s work — a performance of Britten’s Turn of the Screw starring Janice Hall and Joyce Castle, in 2003 — I’ve been captivated by the company’s dynamic approach, wide-ranging repertory, and outstanding musical and theatrical values. Over time, Darren and I have grown to be close friends, not because he was trying to co-opt a critic but because he spotted that I care about what he cares about.

Through him, I’ve gotten to know some other remarkable artists, and I’ve attended some of the most thrilling performances of my career as an audience. Now I’m going to be able to see, up close, how Darren and Joe and David make their magic. You can expect me to write quite a lot about this experience.

Beyond that, I’m grateful to Darren for taking a chance on me. He put something out into the universe when he offered me this gig, and it’s no coincidence that, shortly thereafter, the long wait ended and I found a publisher for the Madeline Kahn biography. That’s powerful friendship — and I thank him.

Photo by Ellen Appel.

So as not to confuse you, I’ll stop talking about the 2013 season now and remind you of this year’s operas. Evening performances are at 7:30, matinées at 2:00. Three Decembers plays at the Scott Theater, the rest at Bass Hall in downtown Fort Worth. Go to www.fwopera.org now to order your tickets!

Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro
Featuring Donovan Singletary, mezzo Wallis Giunta, and other fresh young singers.
May 19, 27 matinée; June 1.

Puccini’s Tosca
Starring soprano Carter Scott, who blew me away as Fort Worth’s Turandot a few seasons ago, alongside tenor Roger Honeywell and baritone Michael Chioldi, who is guaranteed to take the tedium out of the Te Deum.
May 12, 20 matinée, 25; June 2.

Mark Adamo’s Lysistrata
A comedy written by another friend of mine, reuniting native Texans Ava Pine and tenor Scott Scully (Angels in America).
May 26; June 3 matinée.

Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers
A chamber opera about love and tensions in one family, starring my beloved Janice Hall.
May 13 matinée, 18, 20, 26 matinée, 31; June 2 matinée.
(At the Scott Theater, Fort Worth Community Arts Center.)

*NOTE: How German is it? Well, my character is most often called not a “Major-Domo,” but a “Haushofmeister.” Try saying that with a mouth full of Saltines.


Anne said...

Das wird ein spass!

William V. Madison said...


Alex said...


Mikebench said...

Ich kann's nicht fassen, nicht glauben... :-)
Your Ariadne will be Marjorie Owens, whom I represent! Yay!

William V. Madison said...

As a matter of fact, one of the first things I thought when I heard that Marjorie Owens would be singing Ariadne was, "Say, Michael represents her!" I hope this improves the likelihood that you'll come to Fort Worth to hear us.