Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

A crowd takes in a performance at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
Courtesy Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Forty years ago this week the lights went down on the Loretto-Hilton Theatre in Webster Groves. A special brand of illumination radiated that first night, shining optimism, hope and artistic authority on a new opera scene. It rose like a fiery dawn in late Midwestern springtime.

This week, that light continues to shine on Opera Theatre of St. Louis, which opens its new season Saturday with Giacomo Puccini’s “La bohème.”

David Gonsier as an owl and Levi Hernandez as Papageno in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis 2014 production of The Magic Flute.
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Today was a good day for St. Louis arts organizations. PNC Bank’s Arts Alive funding initiative announced it will distribute $250,000 to nine local groups.  The National Endowment for the Arts also announced it would split $120,000 among three other groups.

The PNC funding will support innovative programming and improved accessibility to the arts. One recipient, the St. Louis Symphony, will use its $40,000 to create an app that teaches kids about classical instruments.

(Mark Kitaoka, Courtesy: Opera Theatre of St. Louis)

Famed writer Salman Rushdie was born in 1947 in India. In 2005, he published a sweeping work about the beleaguered but beautiful territory of Kashmir, a place with ancestral ties. As of 2016, that novel is becoming an opera of the same name—to be premiered by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in June.  

The opera’s composer, Jack Perla, and librettist, Rajiv Joseph, joined “St. Louis on the Air” contributor Steve Potter to discuss the opera and how it came to be.

Stephen Lord, Tim O'Leary, and Aubrey Allicock joined "St. Louis on the Air" in studio.
Áine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

In 1976, a small group of dedicated opera aficionados brought eleven performances of four operas, ranging from Mozart to Britten, to St. Louis.

The repertory was unconventional, and all the operas were performed in English rather than their original languages—unusual choices for traditional opera festivals, but choices that continue, 40 years later, to draw curious locals and dedicated foreign followers to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

Ken Howard

Although Tobias Picker’s “Emmeline” received great accolades for its Santa Fe Opera premiere in 1996 and again in 1998 when that production was staged at the New York City Opera, it hasn’t been mounted since. But that will change on June 13 when Opera Theatre of Saint Louis opens its production of the American saga.

Susannah Biller as Costanza and Tim Mead as Richard the Lionheart in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s 2015 production of Richard the Lionheart.
Ken Howard

Anyone who’s been a regular visitor to Opera Theatre of St. Louis in its 40-season history knows there’ve been no shortages of memorable productions on its stage. George Frideric Handel’s “Richard the Lionheart,” given its American premiere here his year, will be the crowning achievement of this special-anniversary season, and will lodge itself as a touchstone in history and memory, as are Jonathan Miller’s “Cosi fan tutte” (1982) and Colin Graham’s “Beatrice and Benedict” (1983) and other operas one might choose.

 Corinne Winters as Magda in 'La rondine,' her exulting performance is worth the price of the ticket.
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

By the time the opera “La rondine” finally was given its première in Monte Carlo in 1917, the world as the West had known it for centuries had begun to fall to pieces inexorably.

Cleopatra, left, and Antony, second from right, battle Rome and, at times, each other.
Provided by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

The evening was crisp. Chairs and blankets were spread out as feasts appeared from baskets. On one hill, Juggling Jeff escaped from a straightjacket. On another, young players trod literal boards previewing what was to come. And in the second act was a tribute to a heroine and the performing arts in St. Louis in the summer: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety.”

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis opens its 40th anniversary season on May 23 with a production of Rossini’s comic opera “The Barber of Seville.” Conducted by St. Louis native Ryan McAdams, the production features the Opera Theatre debut of mezzo-soprano Emily Fons in the role of Rosina.

The season continues with Puccini’s romantic opera “La Rondine” opening on May 30. Former Gerdine Young Artist, soprano Sydney Mancasola sings the role of Lisette.

Christine Brewer is inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Soprano Christine Brewer has joined such other St. Louis greats as Chuck Berry, William Burroughs and Kate Chopin on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. At the ceremony, she said Opera Theatre of St. Louis and the city contributed greatly to her success.

Soprano Sydney Mancasola, left, and conductor Ryan McAdams talk to 'Cityscape' host Steve Potter about the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis' Opera Tastings program on March 27, 2015, at St. Louis Public Radio in St. Louis.
Alex Heuer / St. Louis Public Radio

Interested in having a little food and wine with your opera? No problem.

The Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ Opera Tastings pair music with food and wine samples.

“It’s an opportunity for people who maybe haven’t been in direct contact with opera singers to experience it for the first time in a very intimate and very sort of delicious setting,” conductor Ryan McAdams told “Cityscape” host Steve Potter on Friday. “I’m still glowing from the indecent amount of fun we had last night.”

Elizabeth Futral as Alice B. Toklas and Stephanie Blythe as Gertrude Stein
Ken Howard | OTSL

Opera Theatre of St. Louis’s “27” is the work of two men obsessed.

“I burrowed myself into a hole and completely allowed the life of Gertrude Stein to wash over me and to become part of my chemistry,” “27” librettist Royce Vavrek said on “Cityscape.”

From the 2012 Opera on the Go program that worked with "Marriage of Figaro."
Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Many St. Louisans know about “The Pirates of Penzance” because of the 1983 movie version starring St. Louis native Kevin Kline or its more recent iterations on The Muny stage.

This month, Opera Theatre of St. Louis is using the Gilbert and Sullivan opera of the same name to introduce elementary, middle- and high-school students to a genre they may not be as familiar with.

Timothy O'Leary, left, Duane Foster and Jermaine Smith discuss #WithNormandy, Sunday's community concert at Normandy High School.
Erin Williams / Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

“We are all one in song,” said Duane Foster, which is the idea behind Sunday’s #WithNormandy: A Concert for Peace and Unity.

The Normandy High School Choir, directed by fine arts teacher Foster, will participate in the concert at the school, along with an all-star cast of performers that includes Denyce Graves, Christine Brewer, Julia Bullock, Erika Johnson, Derrell Acon and Jermaine Smith.

For four years, the Missouri Chamber Music Festival has offered a series of chamber music concerts in the month of June at the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves. But for the first time, the festival will conclude with a grand finale at The Sheldon Concert Hall in Grand Center.

Ken Howard | OTSL

Thirty-one years ago, Opera Theatre of St. Louis pulled off a season that resounds in memory as an artistic volcano, a bonanza, an operatic gold mine, a tour de force. It followed the defining 1982 season, one crowned with Jonathan Miller’s “Così fan tutte,” a show conducted by Calvin Simmons, who died the summer following his and Dr. Miller’s triumphant achievement.

Power of Poulenc

Ken Howard

When Opera Theatre of Saint Louis approached Ricky Ian Gordon about writing an opera for mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, he was thrilled. “Stephanie is sort of a phenomenon. She’s probably the only singer that makes the Met feel too small,” said Gordon to Cityscape host Steve Potter. “It’s very exciting writing for a singer that bears that kind of vocal stature on the stage.  And the minute her name was mentioned to me as someone to write an opera for, I said ‘Gertrude Stein’ because I thought the personality has to match the voice.”

It’s safe to say that the life of every person is at some time touched by cancer. That is the unifying factor in the 5th Annual “Sing for Siteman” benefit concert. Eight principal singers from Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ 2014 season will perform in a concert directed and accompanied by pianist Carol Wong on June 9 to benefit Siteman Cancer Center’s Discovery Fund. The emcee will be St. Louis Post-Dispatch Classical Music Critic Sarah Bryan Miller.

Rene Barbera as Tonio in "Daughter of the Regiment."
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Night after night, St. Louis opera lovers gave Rene Barbera standing ovations for his expressive, lyrical, tenor voice. That was three years ago at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, when Barbera smoothly delivered an aria's nine high Cs as Tonio, in Gaetano Donizetti's "Daughter of the Regiment." He made the joyful high notes seem effortless.

Before the Texan left St. Louis that season, the Opera Theatre's leadership decided to stage another Donizetti opera, specifically to bring back Barbera's expressive voice.

Ken Howard

A new production of an old favorite opens Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ 2014 season.  Fashion icon Isaac Mizrahi returns as director and designer of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Opening May 24, the production features tenor Sean Panikkar in the role of Tamino and noted Mozart expert Jane Glover conducts.

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

"The Very Last Green Thing," an opera aimed for young audiences and performed by children ranging from nine to 16, opens next week at the Touhill. It will be the third production of the work by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis since the organization commissioned it in 1992.

"The inspiration for the opera actually came from kids," said Allison Felter, director of education and community engagement at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. "We wanted to know back then what was important to them, and it was the environment."

Lisa Mazzucco

When mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano enrolled in Webster University, her goal was to be a choral conductor.  But Webster’s Director of Vocal Studies Carole Gaspar had other ideas. At the end of Cano’s sophomore year, Gaspar suggested that she should pursue a career as a singer. Cano had already been in her first opera scene at Webster and had enjoyed it.  “So I changed my major,” said Cano, “and started really focusing my energy on practicing and learning more of the craft of what singers need to know to be successful.”

Robert Orth as Howie Albert and Aubrey Allicock as Young Emile Griffith
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

On Saturday, June 15, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis performs the world premiere of jazz trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard’s first opera, Champion. Set to a libretto by Michael Cristofer, the opera tells the true story of Emile Griffith, a gay boxer who became the Welterweight Champion of the World. But in a boxing match, he kills his opponent through no fault of his own, and then has to live with the guilt for the rest of his life.

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

The tents are up on the lawn of the Loretto Hilton Performing Arts Center as Opera Theatre of Saint Louis prepares to open its 2013 Festival Season with Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic masterpiece The Pirates of Penzance. Directed and choreographed by Sean Curran and conducted by Ryan McAdams, Pirates is the first of four productions that will be staged in repertory from May 25 until June 30.

Eric Woolsey

As a world-renowned jazz trumpeter, composer and band leader, Terence Blanchard has received five Grammy Awards and has written jazz pieces for small ensembles, symphonic settings, film and stage. But when he was contacted by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Artistic Director James Robinson about writing an opera, his first question was “are you sure you have the right guy?”  Robinson knew exactly what he was doing.