Opera Theatre of St. Louis | St. Louis Public Radio

Opera Theatre of St. Louis

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 2, 2012 - Continuing its tradition of being the foremost American opera company to present new work, Opera Theatre of St. Louis' general director Timothy O'Leary and his staff have obtained a $1 million grant to add three new works to the world of opera's roster. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation challenge grant has enabled the company to commission and plan to present a three-year cycle of world premieres by American composers.

Julia Bullock and Davóne Tines in "Fire Shut Up in My Bones." [6/14/19]
Eric Woolsey

Terence Blanchard knows from experience that an opera that sounds and looks different from the classic repertory can bring new audiences to an old art form.

“An elderly African American man came up to me” after a performance of Blanchard’s jazz-infused opera "Champion" in 2013, the trumpeter/bandleader recalled, “and he said: Man, if this is opera, I will come.”

With his latest magnum opus, Blanchard wants to continue changing popular perceptions about opera — particularly, what stories it can tell, and who does the telling.

“Fire Shut Up In My Bones,” based on the memoir of New York Times columnist Charles Blow, makes its world premiere Saturday at Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

Terence Blanchard, photographed at St. Louis Public Radio in March. [6/14/19]
File | Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

The name Terence Blanchard is well known in the worlds of jazz and opera. The Academy Award nominee and Grammy Award-winning composer/trumpeter scored a big hit a few years ago with “Champion”, a joint co-commission by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) and Jazz St. Louis about boxer Emile Griffith.

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Don Marsh talked with Blanchard about his latest OSTL commissioned production, “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” as well as his work on the recent Spike Lee film, "BlacKkKlansman."

Timothy O'Leary concludes ten years of leadership at Opera Theatre of St. Louis.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Timothy O’Leary, general director of Opera Theatre of St. Louis, is concluding a 10 year run in St. Louis as head of the city’s premier opera theater company.

“I’m getting very nostalgic about St. Louis and how much I love it here,” O’Leary told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Tuesday.

O’Leary is heading east to lead the Washington National Opera, an organization that’s part of the Kennedy Center and that enjoys more than twice the budget of OTSL.

Andrew Stenson as Private Danny Chen, in the new opera "An American Soldier."  6/1/18
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

U.S. Army Private Danny Chen died at his guard post in Afghanistan in 2011 — not in combat, but from a self-inflicted gunshot wound after enduring racially motivated hazing by his fellow soldiers.

A new opera opening at Opera Theatre of St. Louis on Sunday looks at Chen’s life and death. The creators of “An American Soldier” say it asks basic questions about the nature of identity and belonging in this country.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis' upcoming production of "Regina" will feature (from left) James Morris, Susanna Phillips and Susan Graham.
Opera Theatre of St. Louis

In 1988 mezzo-soprano Susan Graham sang her first leading role in Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ production of Barber’s “Vanessa.” Thirty years later, she returns to sing the title role of Regina Giddens in Marc Blitzstein’s “Regina.” This second production in OTSL’s 43rd festival season opens May 26.

Opera Theatre of St. Louis premiered Champion by Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer in 2013.
Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Opera Theatre of St. Louis’ departing general director and his replacement may very well pass each other on the way to their new jobs.

The St. Louis organization has announced that Andrew Jorgensen will become its new general director. Jorgensen comes to St. Louis from the Washington National Opera in Washington, D.C., where he directs artistic planning and operations. It’s the same organization where current Opera Theatre general director Timothy O’Leary is heading July 1 to become general director there.

Stephen Lord, retiring music director at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, joined St. Louis on the Air on Monday.
Kelly Moffitt | St. Louis Public Radio

Stephen Lord has been coming to St. Louis for 37 seasons of Opera Theatre Saint Louis in some sort of role with the company. For the last 25 years, he’s been music director, but after this season closes at the end of this month, he’ll step down from that position.

File photo: St. Louisan Chris Akerlind won a 2017 Tony Award for his lighting work in "Indecent," featuring Adina Verson. right, and Katrina Lenk, as Rifkele and Menke.
File | Provided | Carol Rosegg/Courtesy of Sam Rudy Media Relations

A St. Louis theater professional took home a Tony Award Sunday night.

Chris Akerlind, resident lighting designer for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, won the Tony for Best Lighting Design of a Play for his work in the Broadway show, “Indecent!”

Akerlind has been with Opera Theatre since the early 1990s. This is his second Tony Award. In 2005, he won in the same category for “A Light in the Piazza.”

"The Trial" will have its American Premiere with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis on Sunday, June 4.
Kelsey Nickerson | Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ 42nd season started last month with a production of “Madame Butterfly” and runs through the end of June. This Sunday, it adds the American premiere of famed minimalist composer Phillip Glass’ opera “The Trial.”

In this May 24, 2017 photo, Robert Orth as Uncle John and Katharine Goeldner as Ma Joad tangle with each other in "The Grapes of Wrath."
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre St. Louis

St. Louisans can experience a musical makeover of the classic Depression-era tale of a poor Oklahoma family when Opera Theatre of St. Louis debuts a new rendition of “The Grapes of Wrath” on Saturday.

Drought and desperation drive the Joad family of tenant farmers off the plains to California for the promise of a better life. It’s a story of good intentions and bad outcomes that resonates today, said Katharine Goeldner, who sings the role of Ma Joad.

“All they were trying to do was feed their families,” Goeldner said.

In this April 12 photo, arts advocate and law professor Adrienne Davis looks upon a piece by artist Lorna Simpson in her home collection.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

Adrienne Davis teaches law but she regularly cross-examines the status quo in a completely different field: the arts.

The Washington University law professor will receive an Arts Advocacy award from the Women of Achievement of St. Louis in a May 16 event at the Ritz-Carlton. The honor applauds her service on various boards including that of the St. Louis Art Museum and Opera Theatre of St. Louis.

But it also extols her efforts to infuse more racial diversity into the artistic pipeline, from art-makers to gallery attendants to curators to institutional leaders. In our latest Cut & Paste arts and culture podcast, we talk with Davis about her advocacy and why it matters.

(From left) Arthur Woodley as Emile Griffith, Jordan Jones as Little Emile Griffith and Denyce Graves as Eelda Griffith
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

Update 4:17 PM: this piece was updated to better reflect the use of NEA/NEH funding at the Missouri History Museum.

When acclaimed trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s jazz opera opened at the Washington National Opera last month, it was heralded as new hybrid in contemporary opera that fused musical traditions and audiences. 

This collage of new RAC Fellows includes, clockwise, Agnes Wilcox, Jess Dugan and Robert McDonald Jr. and Damon Davis.
Provided and file photos

The Regional Arts Commission has chosen its 2016 Artists Fellows, who will each receive $20,000 checks to help with their work.

This is the fourth year RAC has presented the awards. Winning artists do not have to designate a specific project; they may use the money in any way that helps make their work possible.

The new group of 10 features literary, visual and performing artists, including a local performer who wants to spread his love of opera.

Marjorie Owens is The Prima Donna/Ariadne in Richard Strauss’ “Ariadne on Naxos at Opera Theatre” presented by Opera Theatre St.  Louis during 2016, its 41st season.
Ken Howard | Opera Theatre St. Louis

Opera Theatre of St. Louis is celebrating important gains in financial support and audience growth.

On Friday, the company released numbers for record-breaking fundraising as well as increases in diversity and opera-goers under the age of 50. Luring younger audiences is a crucial component for a successful future, according to general director Timothy O’Leary.

Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company

PNC Bank will distribute $1 million over the next four years to help fund arts groups in the St. Louis region.

The grants, part of PNC's Arts Alive funding initiative, have a larger focus than just keeping organizations afloat in the short term.  They aim to inspire lasting programs that reinvigorate arts organizations.

Since 2011, the Arts Alive program has distributed $2 million to established theater companies, museums and dance companies. Recipients include Dance St. Louis, Opera Theater of St. Louis and The Muny. 

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.”

PNC Bank, NEA give St. Louis arts groups thousands in grants

May 10, 2016
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.

Sculpture of David Mesker by Dorothy Haase
Provided by the family

David Mesker, a civic leader and financier who died of cancer on Sunday morning, two days after his 84th birthday, impressed an acquaintance as being an encyclopedia on two feet, a fountain of information on subjects he held in esteem. There was that, and then there was his generosity of treasure, time and spirit.

He was a gentleman, too, a person of grace and generosity, distinguished by splendid talents and decided tastes, a fellow who cared deeply for many people and many things, and loathed others, and had no compunction about allowing his loves and loathes to be known.

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.

Richard Gaddes introduces Christine Brewer at the Walk of Fame ceremonies Wednesday.
Willis Ryder Arnold | St. Louis Public Radio

On Wednesday, Christine Brewer was properly awarded a star on St. Louis' Walk of Fame in the Delmar Loop. To think about her journey there, it is useful to go back 34 years, when Opera Theatre of St. Louis had become the regional American opera company to watch. And that dates to 1976, when Richard Gaddes, a fearless young British impresario, was brought to town to establish the company.

Christine Brewer inducted into St. Louis Walk of Fame

Apr 29, 2015
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.

New to opera? Try it with a little wine

Mar 27, 2015
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.”

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis releases world premiere recording

Feb 19, 2015
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.”

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