Opera Theater’s SummerFest: Bringing opera to the masses, festival style

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NIGHTMARE—Dennis Robinson directing the cast of “A Little Nightmare Music.” (Photo by Amy Crawford).

 

For more than three decades, Opera Theater Pittsburgh has showcased the best opera performers the world has to offer in a festival-style atmosphere.

And its warm-weather component, SummerFest, showcases the best up-and-coming opera singers the world has to offer.

“We provide a chance to the younger and more seasoned artist to have a go at some very exciting and demanding roles,” said Opera Theater SummerFest Director, Jonathan Eaton. “Every role is learned by at least two artists—of course there is always an understudy—and many of our productions, such as “Hoffman” and “Night Music” featured many of our young artists very prominently. Everyone gets their moment in the spotlight and takes those credits with them for their next auditions and roles.”

And this season, which ran from July 6-21 and held its performances at the 20th Century Club in Oakland, had no shortage of talented performers and rare, rich and delectable shows.

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NIGHT MUSIC—Antonio Watts as Mr. Lindquist with company in “A Little Night Music.” (Photo by Patti Brahim).

Opera at SummerFest is up-close-and-personal with a distinctively modern feel and all performances are sung in English. Opera Theater of Pittsburgh was founded in 1978 by Mildred Posvar and Helen Knox and has been guided by Eaton since 1999. Opera Theater has presented more than 30 Pittsburgh premiers.

This season’s productions included “The Tales of Hoffman Retold,” a story about E.T.A. Hoffman a famous writer and opera composer who attends the dress rehearsal of his newest work, “Undine.”

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DENNIS ROBINSON, director of “A Little Nightmare Music” and “Night Caps International.”

 

The show’s main lady is being replaced at the last minute by Hoffman’s newest love interest, Stella. Stella’s temperamental behavior combined with the producer’s influence turns the dress rehearsal into chaos.

Other operas presented this season included Mozart’s chamber Opera, “The Secret Gardener, American opera “Shining Brow,” which is a biological work of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was presented at Fallingwater earlier this summer. Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” rounded out the season.

“Opera is full of drama: love, hate, life, death, lust, pain and joy. These are all the things which make for great opera and Opera Theater of Pittsburgh has done a great job in its selection of opera as well as artists,” said Errin Duane Brooks, a 28-year-old Michigan native who performed in many of SummerFest’s productions this season. “Opera is basically a live soap opera. There is so much depth, poetry and beauty within which is why I know African-Americans best with opera.”

 

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NIGHT MUSIC—Antonio Watts as Mr. Lindquist in “A Little Night Music.” (Photo by Patti Brahim).

 

By popular demand, SummerFest brought back its Night Caps Theater, which presents short, late night contemporary comedic operas. This season, Night Caps went international with “The French Suite,” which followed two Parisian florists visiting Pittsburgh for the International Home and Garden Show find themselves tangled up in botanical espionage, intrigue and romance.

In the “Chinese Suite,” an international golfer from China finds love, culture and a bit of misfortune after her translator misses the flight to Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Last year’s Night Caps were a complete success, with multiple sold out shows and audiences leaving with a smile after seeing such fun, inventive comedies based in their hometown of Pittsburgh,” explained Opera Theater Pittsburgh’s Dennis Robinson Jr. “This year, I hope that Night Caps International will have the same impact, drawing “opera virgins” and opera lovers to enjoy world premiere comedic operas!”

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