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For Opera Theatre of St. Louis, this spring brings 2 world premieres

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Macy White
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Opera Theatre of St. Louis
Opera Theatre of St. Louis Artistic Director James Robinson (far right, shown in rehearsal for "Awakenings") is helming two operas making their world premieres this spring.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis has long prided itself on debuting innovative, and even important, new operas. Terence Blanchard’s “Champion” opened here in 2013. The company put Salman Rushdie’s “Shalimar the Clown” to song in 2016. Its 2019 premiere, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” went on to the Metropolitan Opera — and became the Met’s first-ever performance of an opera by a Black composer.

But this year is something special even for Opera Theatre of St. Louis: Its 2022 festival season features not one, but two, world premieres. “Awakenings,” based on the memoir by Oliver Sacks, was originally scheduled to debut in summer 2020, but COVID-19 disrupted those plans. “Harvey Milk,” an opera based on the life of the slain San Francisco politician, was originally mounted by the Houston Grand Opera in 1995 but is being reworked significantly for St. Louis.

All told, it’s a high-profile, high-stakes return to the Loretto-Hilton Center for the opera company, which mounted an outdoor season of shorter operas last year. And no one may be feeling the pressure more than Artistic Director James Robinson: He is at the helm of both world premieres.

On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, Robinson credited his co-director on “Harvey Milk” (Sean Curran) and noted that both shows got their start in previous seasons.

“It looked good at the time,” he joked of the back-to-back premieres, before adding, “Actually, no, we’re really excited, because it’s a good way to come back to the theater.”

Robinson noted that “Awakenings” makes its debut with greater resonance than anyone could have foreseen when it was first commissioned: The opera has as its jumping-off point a real-life pandemic that ravaged nearly a million people from 1917 to 1927.

“It is very timely, and we didn’t plan it this way,” he said.

Listen to Robinson’s conversation on St. Louis on the Air for more about these two operas, the company’s return to the Loretto-Hilton Center, and his work directing “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” for the Met.

James Robinson discusses his work on St. Louis on the Air

Related Event

What: Opera Theatre of St. Louis 2022 festival season
When: May 21-June 26
Where: Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road, St. Louis, MO 63119

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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