Traditional ‘Pirates of Penzance,’ updated ‘La Traviata’ among productions at Spa Little Theatre

When the Lake George Opera season opens Thursday at the Spa Little Theatre with Gilbert & Sullivan’s

Lake George Opera general director Curt Tucker knows his audience.

“The primary audience is faithful, loyal and appreciative but they like traditional works. There is also a strong audience for light opera, and there is clearly an audience for new works, especially audiences from farther away,” Tucker said.

When the season opens Thursday at the Spa Little Theatre with Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance,” audiences will see that Tucker has skillfully walked a narrow line to choose three very different productions. Besides “Pirates,” there will be Verdi’s “La Traviata” and a double bill consisting of Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi” and Michael Ching’s “Buoso’s Ghost.” “Pirates” was last done in 1989, the Verdi in 1998 and the Puccini in 1995. The Ching work is new to the company.

Traditional setting

The Gilbert & Sullivan comic operetta about love and duty will have a traditional 19th century English setting. The show opens Thursday and will be sung in English. Tucker will conduct the 32-piece orchestra.

The Verdi opera, however, will have a new look.

Lake George Opera

WHERE: Spa Little Theatre, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga Springs

WHEN: Performances at 7:30 p.m., matinees at 2 p.m.; “Pirates of Penzance” on July 3, 6 (matinee), 9 (matinee) and 12. “La Traviata” on July 5, 8 (matinee), 11 and 13 (matinee). “Gianni Schicchi” and “Buoso’s Ghost” on July 10 and 12 (1 p.m.)

HOW MUCH: $80 to $50. Subscriptions are available.

MORE INFO: 584-6018 or 584-9330

“Last season, all the company’s operas were in Paris. So I thought, maybe we should do another town,” Tucker said. “When I think of ‘Traviata’, I think big chandeliers and elegance. But the size of the theater’s stage doesn’t go with those.”

Tucker chose Las Vegas.

“I put the opera in a setting that audiences could connect with and recognize. It’s not the current day Las Vegas and not a sleazy Las Vegas. It’s more a 1960s, Rat Pack, high rollers Las Vegas,” Tucker said. “I hope audiences will be captivated by the story told through the music and not be distracted by its setting.”

Tucker chose soprano Elisabeth Andrews Roberts, a former LGO apprentice artist, to sing the role of Violetta in her mainstage debut. Tenor Marc Schreiner will sing the role of her lover, Alfredo.

The story is based on Alexandre Dumas’ novel and play, “La Dame aux Camelias.” Violetta, a successful courtesan in the first stages of consumption, throws a party and meets Alfredo. They fall in love and move to the country where Alfredo’s father visits Violetta when Alfredo is out. He pleads with her to give Alfredo up. She insists her past life is behind her, but she agrees and returns to town to party. A distraught Alfredo confronts her, a duel ensues, Alfredo leaves Paris, and Violetta is soon dying. Alfredo returns now knowing Violetta’s sacrifice and they reconcile, but it’s too late and she dies.

“La Traviata” opens Saturday and will be sung in Italian with English supertitles. Mark Flint of Augusta Opera will conduct.

More uplifting

The double bill, which opens July 10, will be on a more uplifting note. “Gianni Schichi” will feature baritone Robert Orth in the title role about the colorful Donati family’s plots to obtain their departed Uncle Buoso’s wealth. It will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.

Orth will also sing in English in “Buoso’s Ghost,” which is a sequel to “Gianni.” The opera’s composer/librettist Michael Ching will conduct.

“The idea of a sequel came up at a breakfast and it turned out to be a good one,” Ching said from Memphis, where he’s been Opera Memphis artistic director since 1992. “I have to shoe-horn my composing with running the company.”

He’d written one-act operas before, he said, and for this one, which is about 45 minutes long, he put words with music that he was comfortable with.

“I hope the lyrics will be funny,” Ching said. “Ninety-nine percent of the opera is sung, and there are some distinct ensembles.”

Ching included quotes from other operas, such as “Madama Butterfly” and “La Gioconda,” in the libretto, as well as some gospel and Gershwin, he said.

This will be Ching’s LGO debut and only the second time he has conducted his opera since it premiered in 1996. The opera has received about 10 productions nationally since then.

“It feels unusual to be conducting it,” he said. “I wrote the opera 12 years ago. It feels like a different me.”

Ching is also excited because he has worked with Orth before at Indianapolis Opera, which is where Tucker heard Orth sing 10 years ago.

“Most of the singers this season come from my having heard them in an opera,” Tucker said, adding that he spends several weeks early in the season to travel to other opera companies to listen and watch. Sometimes, mainstage singers from previous seasons return and apprentice singers from other opera companies or from the LGO program, who have made a lot of progress in their careers, will be invited.

The apprentice singers, who make up minor roles and the chorus, go through a rigorous audition process.

Of the 560 singers who applied, Tucker heard 300 of them live, and most of those only after he listened to a tape of their singing. Only 12 were selected to sing the several supporting roles.

In addition to his administrative and conducting duties, Tucker will give a free opera talk one hour prior to each performance.

Categories: Life and Arts

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