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Commentary

Ava Pine as The Angel in Angels in America (Photo: Ellen Appel)
09 May 2008

Fort Worth Opera Festival features “Angels in America”

In 2007 it was an experiment; now it’s a new summer festival firmly rooted in fertile Texas turf with a bright view of its second season and of the more distant future as well.

Above: Ava Pine as The Angel in Angels in America
All photos by Ellen Appel

 

Traditionally, the Fort Worth Opera had spaced four productions throughout the usual music season. In 2007 the company grouped them in a four-week May-June festival that’s out to make Fort Worth a destination city for opera buffs. And it worked — it worked magnificently!

“Our model was the St. Louis Opera Theater,” says Darren Woods, FWO general director since 2001. “We wanted to make this a place that people like to visit — and where they can see four operas in only three days!” The festival gives Fort Worth an identity that sets it apart from neighboring Dallas. “We no longer have to avoid conflicts in dates,” Woods says. “We found last summer that people came over from Dallas and stayed. “They enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of downtown Fort Worth and appreciated the ease with which they could walk from good hotels and great restaurants to Bass Hall, our major venue.” (The city’s many museums, including the Amon Carter and Kimbell, make Fort Worth an antechamber of paradise for art lovers.)

Adding to the allure in 2007 was FWO’s very first world premiere: Frau Margot, a work that returned Thomas Pasitieri to composition for the first time in 15 years. The festival format encourages Woods to do the kind of programming that will enhance the reputation of his company. “With four operas in repertory we can mix the traditional with the unusual,” he says. “It makes the season easier to market, for we can sell the four as a package.” Only two of the four 2008 operas qualify as traditional: Puccini’s Turandot and Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti. The other two lay equal claim to the “unusual” label.

Some consider Of Mice and Men to be Carlisle Floyd’s finest opera. Yet, although it was premiered in 1970, it is not often encountered on stage today. “People don’t like the novel,” Woods says of John Steinbeck’s 1937 story of two migrant farm workers. “But it’s a very American work, and an American company should do it. “It’s breathtaking!” Woods’ pride is that he has been able to cast Anthony Dean Griffey as Lennie, the child-like innocent at the heart of the story. Tenor Griffey‘s portrayal of Peter Grimes in the Benjamin Britten masterpiece was a major event of the current Metropolitan Opera season. Canadian baritone Phillip Addis sings George.

But for Woods the coup of the season is this country’s first fully-staged production of Peter Eötvös’ Angels in America, premiered in Paris, where the Hungarian composer lives, in 2002. “It’s been done in a small house in Boston,” Woods says, “but this will be the first full-blown American production!” When he saw Angels in Paris Woods loved the opera, but he was not impressed by the production. “It was a European ‘take’ on a very American subject — AIDS in this country in the age of Ronald Reagan,” he says. “And no one really understood it. They just didn’t know how to tell the story.”

Eötvös’ will be in Fort Worth to work with the FWO during rehearsals of Angels. Turning to the two traditional works programmed for the summer, Woods points to the “dream team” he has engaged for “Lucia:” Elizabeth Futral in the title role and brilliant, young tenor Stephen Costillo, who sings Edgardo. “It’s a signature role for Elizabeth,” Woods say, “and Stephen has sung Edgardo at the Met.” Woods considers Costrllo his “personal discovery.” “We engaged him as Rodolfo in ‘Boheme’ in ‘06,” Woods says. “He’s one of the most promising young tenors of today.”

\Woods finds it ironic — and regrettable — that although the FWO stages the McCammon Voice Competition, a leading program in the field, the company has never cast winners in its productions. That’s being corrected this summer when Iowa’s Elizabeth Bennett and Korean-born Dongwon Shin sing the title role and Calif in “Turandot.” “They have big, gorgeous Wagnerian voices,” Woods says. “And Shin sang Calif’s ’Nessun dorma’ for our competition. “They have both sung these roles several times elsewhere.”

“Angels in America” will be staged in the intimate Scott Theatre in Fort Worth‘s downtown theater district; the other three operas, in Bass Hall for the performing Ars, the major home of the Fort Worth Opera. The Forth Worth Opera Festival opens with Angels in America on My 18 and concludes with the final performance of Of Mice and Men on June 8. The company has arranged a number of concurrent events to focus attention on the subject matter of Angels in America.

Woods_Darren.pngDarren K. Woods

More Life: The Art & Science of AIDS, involves a multitude of Fort Worth organizations in a community wide effort to focus attention on the current U.S. AIDS epidemic. On the calendar are performing and visual arts events, along with educational programs from AIDS service organizations. Participating social service organizations include AIDS Outreach Center, AIDS Resources of Rural Texas, Tarrant County AIDS InterFaith Network and Samaritan House. The HBO production of Angels will also be shown during the festival.

For information on the Forth Worth Opera 2008 Festival and season tickets from $50 to $412 each and single tickets from $17 to $145, call 817-731-0726 or toll-free 1-877-396-7372 or visit www.fwopera.org.

Wes Blomster

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