Sarasota Opera director of audience development Sam Lowry jokes that the 2017-18 opera season is a “femme fatale season, and not one of the operas ends well” for the women involved.
It’s premarital sex that does for them, in most cases, so let that be a lesson. Or, think about the season in terms of “women who are all very strong, but affected by their circumstances,” Lowry adds. “You see what they try to do to overcome” the situations in which they are placed.
For starters, Verdi’s back this season (after a hiatus from the composer’s work last year), and that means the fall opera production of La traviata, about courtesan Violetta, who falls in love for real with Alfredo but does the right thing and gives him up to save his family’s honor. Soprano Elizabeth Tredent, who made her Sarasota Opera mainstage season debut last year as Fiora in The Love of Three Kings, returns to make her role debut as Violetta, while tenor David Guzman makes his Sarasota Opera debut as Alfredo. Artistic director Victor DeRenzi conducts and Stephanie Sundine directs La traviata, onstage Nov. 3, 5, 8, 14, 16, 19 and 21.
The Sarasota Youth Opera comes next, in a world premiere by Rachel J. Peters called Rootabaga Country that’s based on Carl Sandburg’s 1922 book Rootabaga Stories, “American fairy tales” to match American childhood. No wayward women here, unless you count the missing mother of two children named Please Gimme and Ax Me No Questions, who are on a journey with their father, Gimme the Ax, to a land in the sky. Onstage Nov. 11 and 12, conducted by youth opera music director Jesse Martins and directed by Martha Collins.
But it’s back to women in trouble with the Sarasota Opera premiere of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut. This brand-new production about Manon, who’s on her way to a convent when she meets and falls for the Chevalier Des Grieux and flees to Paris with him, allows two artists to make their role debuts: soprano Sandra Lopez (from last year’s Dialogues of the Carmelites) will sing the title role, and tenor Matthew Vickers (The Love of Three Kings, The Battle of Legnano) will sing her lover the Chevalier. Making his U.S. debut will be Italian baritone Filippo Fontana in the role of Manon’s father. Onstage Feb. 10, 14, 18, 20, 24 and March 1, 4, 17, 23 as part of the opera’s “Beyond Verdi: Italian Masters Series,” this opera is also conducted by DeRenzi and directed by Sundine.
The famous story of a passionate gypsy and her corporal returns to the stage after a sold-out run in 2012 with Bizet’s Carmen, onstage Feb. 17, 22, 25 and 27, and March 2, 7, 9, 13, 16, 22 and 24. Mezzo-soprano Lisa Chavez, who also sang in last year’s Dialogues, will return to town in the role of the fiery Carmen, and tenor Cody Austin makes his Sarasota Opera bow as her ill-fated lover, Don Jose. Baritone Steven LaBrie, also making his Sarasota Opera debut, is toreador Escamillo. John F. Spencer IV, new to the Sarasota Opera, conducts and Martha Collins directs.
You haven’t seen works by Bellini on the Sarasota Opera stage before, because, as Lowry explains, “His work is too close stylistically to Verdi’s,” and Verdi won out. But with the Italian Masters Series this season, Bellini’s Norma (onstage March 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 17, 20 and 24) has its Sarasota premiere. Soprano Joanna Parisi (from last season’s Madama Butterfly) will make her role debut as the Druid priestess Norma, and fellow returnees Jennifer Black and Young Bok Kim sing Adalgisa and Oroveso, respectively. Making his Sarasota debut in the role of Roman official Pollione is Cameron Schutza. DeRenzi conducts, Mark Freiman directs.
Last but not least is the Sarasota Opera premiere of Eugen d’Albert’s Tiefland, one of those works that was quite popular for a while but then disappeared from most repertoires for years. (There have been only two U.S. productions in more than 100 years.) Here the woman of woe is Marta, the unwilling mistress of a wealthy landowner who gets married off to a shepherd. She’s played by soprano Kara Shay Thompson, who takes the stage with three performers making their local debuts: Russian-American baritone Aleksey Bogdanov, tenor Ben Gulley and bass Branch Fields. David Neely, a specialist in the German repertoire, returns to conduct; directed by Michael Unger and onstage for just five performances, March 10, 15, 18, 21 and 25.
Because each opera this season requires a large chorus, the usual spring concert featuring Sarasota Opera artists will not take place (too much demand on the vocal cords). But for complete season info, head to sarasotaopera.org, or call the box office at (941) 328-1300 for tickets.