SARATOGA SPRINGS — When Opera Saratoga’s performances hit the boards of the Spa Little Theatre beginning June 29, fans will note how diverse the season is. Yes, it follows the expected pattern of traditional, new and something for the kids, but the range this season is unusually wide.
“We had the obligation to do new opera with traditional, but when I heard that Ricky Ian Gordon was doing an opera I suggested we collaborate,” said Lawrence Edelson, the company’s artistic and general manager.
That was many months ago. Edelson had already decided to offer Gaetano Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment,” an 1839 comic hit that Opera Saratoga had last performed roughly 17 years ago and which will open on Saturday. It will feature two debuts: soprano Keely Futterer, an alum of the company’s Young Artist Program in her first company principal role, as Marie (the daughter); and Argentinian tenor Santiago Ballerini as Tonio (the handsome soldier), who must sing the opera’s most famous aria that has nine high C’s. Edelson will direct and Andrew Bisantz will conduct a 20-piece orchestra sung in French with English supertitles.
Gordon’s opera, “Ellen West,” is a complete contrast. It is based on a poem by Pulitzer Prize-winner Frank Bidart, a work that in turn is based on psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger’s case study of a real-life American woman who suffered from anorexia and bulimia, and eventually killed herself with poison in 1921. Bidart also wrote the libretto.
“The poem haunted me. It lived inside of me for 20 years,” Gordon said. “It had resonance for me personally. I have struggled with identity, how I looked. Writing the piece was trance-like. I’d get up at 4 a.m. and work on it. It was otherworldly. I felt I’d been guided. It was like going on a pilgrimage to find myself.”
Gordon said he saw the poem as a script and set every word, then added a prologue and epilogue much like framing the piece, which comes in at 88 minutes. It’s a tour-de-force for the singer, soprano Jennifer Zetlan, in her company debut. Baritone Keith Phares sings as the poet and psychiatrist.
While the subject matter is difficult, Gordon said he never forgets he’s a theater writer.
“I always try to keep the audience in their seats,” he said. “They will hear gorgeous singing, even with some themes from ‘Tosca.’ It will surprise the audiences.”
The orchestra is only a string quartet, bass and piano and a C bell from a glockenspiel. The show opens June 30 and will be sung in English.
Kids of all ages will be delighted with Englebart Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel,” which the internationally known Manual Cinema will perform opening July 5. They’ll use overhead projectors, handmade shadow puppets, a movie screen, cameras, actors and singers, and orchestra to create almost a new art form in which the audience is part of the show. Unlike anything most people have seen, it will be sung in German. Members of the Children’s Chorus of the Glens Falls Symphony will guest.
“I saw the show in Brussels in 2015 [on video],” Edelson said. “I thought it unique, with beautiful silhouettes. It was fascinating, and I always like to bring a different style of storytelling to Opera Saratoga.”
Sarah Fornace, Manual’s co-founder, said this is just the second time the show has been done in this country and only the third time in the world.
“We usually write and compose our own shows with our own band. This was the first time we took an opera and worked with an orchestra,” she said.
“Mozart and Salieri” will get a one-night stand July
11. The first half will be scenes from Mozart’s and Antonio Salieri’s operas. The second half will be the concert setting of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera “Mozart and Salieri,” the company’s first Russian opera.
Pre-performance talks are one hour before each show, with post-performance gatherings at the Reflecting Pool’s arcade.
› Donizetti — “The Daughter of the Regiment”: 7:30 p.m. June 29, July 13; 2 p.m. July 1, 7
› Gordon — “Ellen West”: 2 p.m. June 30, July 6; 7:30 p.m. July 12
› Humperdinck — “Hansel and Gretel”: 7:30 p.m. July 5, 10; 2 p.m. July 8, 14
› Mozart/Salieri — “Mozart and Salieri”: 7:30 p.m. July 11
HOW MUCH: $95-$50
MORE INFO: 518-584-6018; www.operasaratoga.org