Fall Arts: Pittsburgh Opera expands from five to six shows

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 4:51 p.m.

Opera fans will rejoice that Pittsburgh Opera's celebration of its 75th anniversary in the 2013-14 season will include expansion of its productions from five to six operas.

The art form originated in Italy more than four centuries ago as an attempt to re-create ancient Greek drama, and evolved through baroque, classical, romantic and modern eras. Grand opera is an extravagant proposition, requiring expensive singers in leading roles, other solo singers, chorus, orchestra, and all the expenses of staging — from costumes and sets to lighting.

Although there will be other operatic presentations worth consideration, Pittsburgh Opera is the place to start, whether or not you're new to opera.

Pittsburgh Opera's season opens with “Aida” by Giuseppe Verdi, Oct. 4 to 12. A grand opera if ever there was one, it also features intimate scenes, none more haunting than the lovers' tomb scene at the end.

The cast features Latonia Moore as the Ethiopian princess Aida, torn between love of country and love of Egyptian general Radames, who will be sung by Carl Tanner. Elizabeth Bishop will portray Egyptian princess Amneris, who loves Radames. Music director Anthony Walker will conduct.

The second fall production will be “The Magic Flute,” Nov. 9 to 17. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera is a unique blend of earthy humor and sublime spirituality. The cast features Sean Panikkar as Tamino and Layla Claire as his lady, Pamina, Craig Verm as birdman Papageno, Audrey Luna as the Queen of the Night and Oren Gradus as Sarasatro.

Giacomo Puccini's “La Boheme,” March 29 to April 6, is an ultra-popular work that casts its spell from the first notes. The love story is set among impoverished young artists in Paris, focusing on Mimi and Rodolfo, who will be sung by Leah Crochetti and David Lomeli, but the biggest tune goes to Musetta, who will be sung by Sari Gruber.

The main-stage productions will conclude with “Orphee” by Philip Glass, April 26 to May 4. Glass, who, early in his distinguished career, taught music in Pittsburgh public schools, was inspired by French poet Jean Cocteau's version of the story. Matthew Worth will sing Orphee, who travels to the underworld to retrieve his lover Eurydice, who will be sung by Caroline Worra.

The other two productions will feature the opera's resident artists. Nico Muhli's “Dark Sisters,” Jan. 25 to Feb. 2, took inspiration from stories of raids on polygamist compounds and will star Jasmine Muhammed as the rebellious sister-wife Eliza.

The added production, which replaces Cabaret concerts, will be of “Paul's Case” by Gregory Spears, Feb. 22 to March 2. The New York Times called “Paul's Case” “astonishingly beautiful.

Opera lovers have other options, including university productions. Carnegie Mellon University will present operas for the adventurous: Benjamin Britten's “Albert Herring,” Oct. 23 to 26, and Emmanuel Chabrier's “L'Etoile,” Jan. 23 to 26.

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877.

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