SARATOGA SPRINGS – Instead of asking audiences to come to the opera, Opera Saratoga is coming to them. Up to six different venues will host the company’s offerings starting on Thursday May 26.
“I’d always looked to other places, and between the pandemic and that the Spa Little Theatre was not available, it was a great opportunity to explore and connect to the community,” said Lawrence Edelson, the company’s artistic and general director. “We’ve matched the performances to each venue.”
For instance, the May 26 concert at the Charles R. Wood Theatre in Glens Falls will feature the 22 singers in the company’s Young Artist Program who were selected from more than 1,000 singers who applied. They’ll be performing arias from 20 different operas.
On June 2 and 3, the company heads to the Round Lake auditorium to perform Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle.”
“The score calls for two pianos and an harmonium,” Edelson said. “But I wanted to use the auditorium’s historic organ. It will be a highlight.”
Musical theatre will be the focus on June 12 in two shows at The Mansion in Rock City Falls. Musical favorites from the 1920s to present day under the direction of Broadway conductor Laura Bergquist will include a tribute to Stephen Sondheim, who recently passed away at age 91. This will be supplemented by drinks and food prepared by Cordon Bleu-trained Executive Chef Rick Bieber. Seating will be at cabaret style table seating.
There are two other June happenings: the gala is June 5 at The Barn at French Mountain in Lake George to honor outgoing company president Martha Strohl; and a Juneteenth Celebration on June 19 at Proctors with baritone Sidney Outlaw, the 2010 Grand Prize winner of the Concurso Internacional de Canto Montserrat Caballe, who has a thriving international career.
Late June and early July will have the the company in full opera mode. Up first is “Sweeney Todd” at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on June 29-30.
“It’s a blessing to work with SPAC. After last year’s ‘Man of La Mancha,’ which was incredibly successful, we considered what would do well in terms of scale and type of orchestra resources. And there’s not any professional musical theater in Saratoga Springs,” he said.
The show was first produced in 1979 on Broadway and won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Considered Sondheim’s masterpiece — he wrote the music to Hugh Wheeler’s libretto — it has seen numerous productions, including a 2007 film with Johnny Depp in the lead role.
“There’s not a baritone in the world who doesn’t want to sing Sweeney,” Edelson said with a laugh.
He knew just who to ask: Craig Colclough, an acclaimed international bass baritone and a regular at the Metropolitan Opera.
“It will be his first Sweeney and he’s excited,” Edelson said.
In the role of Mrs. Lovett is soprano Carolee Carmello, an Albany native, three-time Tony Award nominee and Drama Desk Award winner, who had sung the role before but not with a full orchestra.
“She’s very excited. And I’m excited because there are a lot of roles for the Young Artists,” Edelson said.
This is the first time Opera Saratoga has ever presented “Sweeney Todd” and it’s the first Sondheim opera it has ever performed. Stephen Nachamie directs and choreographs; Laura Bergquist will conduct.
What may be the most meaningful effort of the season is the new opera “Sky on Swings,” which will be presented July 7 and 9 at The Egg. Written by Lembit Beecher with a libretto by Hannah Moscovitch, it premiered in September 2018 with Opera Philadelphia. The opera also was a finalist for Best World Premiere at the 2019 International Opera Awards. It’s a 78-minute musical and theater exploration of what it feels like to live with Alzheimer’s disease.
“I knew of Lembit’s work and since I have a father and three grandparents who had Alzheimer’s, I questioned whether I really wanted to go see it,” he said. “But I was stunned by the work. It spoke to me. I thought it ideal for Saratoga. It showed that life can continue even with a diagnosis like this.”
For the composer, however, researching the disease and talking to caregivers and those who had the disease was revelatory.
“Seven years ago, when I was in residence with Opera Philadelphia, I did a workshop to do little scenes to try things out,” Beecher said. “I did one on Alzheimer’s and remembered that everyone had a personal reaction to it. . .a story to tell. I became more aware. That it cuts across class, race or demographics. I became interested in the different experiences people had and how they viewed the world and to know what it is like and how it would sound musically.”
Beecher decided to use 11 musicians with some different sounds electronically produced and centered his story around two women and how their children best support their mothers.
“The big thing I learned through the entire process of writing the opera is that the disease is individual to the person,” he said. “You cannot disregard the person. There is still so much an interior world about what they do or do not remember. My hope is that the audience will come out with a feeling of empathy.”
Acclaimed contralto Meredith Arwady will sing the role of Martha to Phyllis Pancella’s Danny. Edelson will direct. Emily Senturia will conduct.
The final production will be one of the great traditional operas — Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” on July 8 and 10 at Proctors. It will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
“It’s fun and comic with a lot of virtuoso singing and the company hasn’t done it in years,” Edelson said. “We’ll also have up to a 35-piece orchestra.”
Baritone Sidney Outlaw makes his company debut as Figaro. Eve Summer directs and Dean Williamson conducts.
One of the biggest changes this season will be that Edelson will be leaving the company at its end. He will be joining the University of Houston as professor of practice and artistic director of the Moores Opera Center — a training program for operatic artists. He will continue his work at American Lyric Theater in New York City, a mentorship company for new opera composers, librettists and dramaturgs.
“I feel strongly that I need to prioritize and center my aristic practice,” Edelson said. “I love Opera Saratoga andI have made so many wonderful friends here. But I’m excited about where I’m going. It’s the next step in my career.”
Opera Saratoga season
May 26: 7 p.m.: Stars of Tomorrow: Wood Theatre, Glens Falls
June 2-3: 7:30 p.m.: Rossini “Petite Messe Solennelle” Round Lake Auditorium
June 5: 4 p.m.: Gala. The Barn, Lake George
June 12: 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.: Broadway Cabaret, The Mansion, Rock City Falls
June 19: 2:30 p.m.: Sidney Outlaw, Proctors GE Theatre
June 29-30: 7:30 p.m.: “Sweeney Todd”, SPAC
July 7 (7:30 p.m.) and 9 (2 p.m.): “Sky on Swings”; The Egg
July 8 (7:30 p.m.) and 10 (2 p.m.): “The Barber of Seville”; Proctors
HOW MUCH: Each venue has its own prices.
MORE INFO: www.operasaratoga.org; 518 584-6018