Opera aims for innovation

Annapolis group seeks wider appeal in season

Preview

June 25, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Annapolis Opera will present an innovative 2008-2009 season, including two concerts featuring the Annapolis Opera Chamber Orchestra and widening the scope of its popular December candlelight concert beyond an all-Mozart repertoire.

To steer this new course, the Annapolis Opera board has elected a new president, Greg Stiverson.

Stiverson succeeds Leah Solat, who presided over the most successful season in Annapolis Opera's 35-year history: the only one to celebrate two sold-out presentations of its fully staged opera (Carmen) along with some fully attended concert events to open the season and close it.

"We had a wonderful year, and from the beginning I'd promised my husband I'd serve only one year so we could take time to enjoy travel," she said.

Solat added that the opera is fulfilling its mission of offering quality productions at affordable prices, but it hopes to attract a wider audience, especially young people, with the new concert opera programs at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts.

"Annapolis Opera is an incredible resource, and we hope to de-mystify opera with our outreach program," said Stiverson, best known as the former president and chief executive of the Historic Annapolis Foundation. "With opera you get the whole shebang - opera with surtitles, drama, great music and imaginative staging. And we'll present great moments of opera in concert at reasonable ticket prices of $48 and $40 and only $30 for the expanded bel canto December program."

In previous seasons, the December program was called "Mozart by Candlelight," but now the program will be expanded to include additional composers of the bel canto style exemplified by Gioacchino Rossini, Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti. As usual, Annapolis Opera's artistic director, Ronald J. Gretz, will provide piano accompaniment and commentary.

This season's twin bill of Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci will give subscribers two operas for the price of one, and Solat and Stiverson would like to see at least one more fully staged opera become part of the regular Annapolis Opera season.

"To move up to the next level requires caution," Stiverson said, adding "Don't try to do all things at once. To do this will require moving beyond the all-volunteer staffing of the past."

Stiverson has taught at Anne Arundel Community College and the University of Maryland and served as consultant to Maryland Public Television.

He has served as president of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra and now serves on a number of boards, including those of the Anne Arundel County Library, the Charles Carroll House of Annapolis and the Kunta Kinte-Alex Haley Foundation. He is the president of Envisioning Annapolis, the organization that has sponsored a series of seminars for planning the future of Annapolis. He lives in Annapolis with his wife, Cynthia. The couple have three adult children.

Annapolis Opera's 36th season opens Nov. 2 at Maryland Hall with a selection of arias celebrating opera's greatest tragic scenes and villainous deeds in "Dying Divas and Dastardly Dons" performed by a group of rising young stars supported by the Annapolis Opera Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Gretz.

Dec. 7 brings "Bel Canto by Candlelight" to the First Presbyterian Church at Annapolis. The 21st annual Vocal Competition Finals will be presented Feb. 8 at Maryland Hall, with young singers competing for cash prizes and scholarships.

Fully staged productions of the twin Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci bill will be presented March 13 and 15 at Maryland Hall. Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana (Rustic Chivalry) deals with a verismo love triangle in Sicily where the sweetheart left behind by her lover gets even by informing the husband of his new love to precipitate a duel. Ruggero Leoncavallo's Pagliacci tells the story of a jealous husband in a traveling comedy troupe. Both operas are sung in Italian with English surtitles and will be conducted by Gretz with the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.

The Three Billy Goats Gruff, a Baltimore Opera production, will be presented April 18 at Maryland Hall to introduce children to opera.

The 36th season ends May 9 with a concert of opera's greatest romantic moments called "Romantic Divas and Amorous Dons." Again, Gretz will conduct the Annapolis Opera Chamber Orchestra to accompany a cast of budding young opera stars.

To obtain a brochure of the 2008-2009 season, call the Annapolis Opera office at 410-267-6440. For information about the season, visit www.annapolisopera.org.

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