Utah Opera is celebrating its 40th anniversary during the 2017-18 season, which includes a lineup of productions intended to pay tribute to the company’s past and point toward its future.
“It is with excited anticipation that we at Utah Opera look forward to celebrating 40 fantastic years with our audience,” Utah Opera artistic director Christopher McBeth said in a news release. “This will truly be a season to remember.”
The opera company was founded in 1978 by world-famous tenor and Utah native Glade Peterson, who had an “unflappable” vision for the future, McBeth said in an interview with the Deseret News.
The 40th anniversary season will open with a production of Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème,” which was the first opera the company performed 40 years ago. The season will also include new productions of the contemporary opera “Moby-Dick” and the one-act operas of “Pagliacci” and “Gianni Schicchi.” Concluding the season will be “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss II.
“That’s unusual for us to do that much new work,” Paul Meecham, Utah Symphony and Utah Opera president and CEO, said in an interview. “It will be a busy season."
Meecham and McBeth both said the season highlights the world-class work of the Utah Opera costume and scenic departments, which build sets and costumes for use by not only Utah Opera but also for other companies around the world.
“The fact that we have one of the best-known costume shops in the country for our art form and our industry is a testament to Glade, that was part of his vision for this,” McBeth said. “Because of the success of his vision with the costume shop, that’s why we were also able to add the scenic shop component as well.”
“La bohème”: Puccini’s “La bohème” will kick off the Utah Opera season at Capitol Theatre in October. In addition to commemorating the company’s first production, the opera was selected for its “huge box-office draw” and because it allows the company to bring back a set that was originally produced by Utah Opera’s scenic department, McBeth said.
“While owned by another company, (the set) was one of the first jobs we did building a set for another company,” he said. “It’s coming home.”
In addition to highlighting the set, McBeth also pointed out that Utah Opera’s production of “La bohème” allows the company to bring back two Utah favorites: veteran Utah Opera star and native Utahn Celena Shafer and guest conductor Robert Tweten, who will conduct the music for the opera for his first time as part of the Utah Opera production.
“Moby-Dick”: American composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer’s “Moby-Dick” will see a new set and costumes at Capitol Theatre in January 2018.
According to the news release, the operatic adaptation of Herman Melville’s novel was commissioned by Dallas Opera and four other opera companies in April 2010.
“It’s probably the most popular contemporary opera of the last 10 years, but medium-sized opera companies are unable to do that production because our houses aren’t big enough (for the original set),” Meecham explained. “Christopher McBeth, our artistic director, decided and took the initiative and said, ‘What if we could create our own production that fits our Capitol Theatre but also will fit other medium-sized opera houses around the country?’”
McBeth said world-famous set designer Erhard Rom will design the company’s new production, which he hopes will further solidify Utah Opera’s reputation as a set production company.
“We are building on the already proven success of the opera by building a new set and costumes for the piece that will frankly give this fantastic opera even more life, not only here but all around the country,” he said.
Additionally, director Kristine McIntyre will collaborate with Ririe-Woodbury artistic director Daniel Charon “to inject drama and dance to the production” as they did with Utah Opera’s 2015 production of “The Pearl Fishers,” according to the news release.
“Pagliacci” and “Gianni Schicchi”: In March 2018, Utah Opera will mount a double bill program featuring two one-act operas: Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” and Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi.”
“Pagliacci” is another tribute to Peterson, the company’s founder, as one of his signature roles was the opera’s Canio, McBeth said. He added that pairing the tragedy “Pagliacci” with the comedy “Gianni Schicchi” creates a nice contrast.
“It’s sort of a nod toward what you often see in theaters the masks of tragedy and comedy paired next to each other and that’s what that double bill represents for us,” he said.
The double bill will also feature the talents of Utah native soprano Marina Costa Jackson, who will perform Nedda in “Pagliacci” and Lauretta in “Gianni Schicchi,” according to the news release.
“Die Fledermaus”: Utah Opera’s 40th anniversary season will wrap up with a production of “Die Fledermaus” in May 2018.
“It’s neither a nod to the past nor the future, but in a season of celebration, there are few operas that are about celebration more than ‘Die Fladermaus,’” McBeth said. “It’s basically a big party.”
Other programming: In addition to the four main stage productions, Utah Opera’s 2017-18 season will also include a gala Sept. 13 that will feature world-renowned soprano Renee Fleming in a performance of Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” with Utah Opera and Utah Symphony.
“Everything added up to a woman who is sought after all around the world being available to help us begin our 40th anniversary season,” McBeth said. “I’m just tickled pink she can join us for that.”
The company will also offer a 40 Days of Opera program, which will launch after Labor Day and continue through the run of “La bohème,” which McBeth said adds up to approximately 40 days.
“Every day in that period, Utah Opera will be doing something to bring the operatic art form to the community of Salt Lake City and larger, up and down the Wasatch Front,” McBeth said.
The program will include performances by Utah Opera at sporting events and “random acts of culture” where the company will offer pop-up performances at different locations, McBeth said.
For additional information about Utah Opera’s 40th anniversary season and for tickets, visit utahopera.org.