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Four different operas – 3 chamber operas and one gala – coming soon this summer

“All in all, isn’t life simply grand? I’m so awfully glad I showed up for it.” (Madeline Mitchell in the opera THREE DECEMBERS)  

This is a preview or heads up about three chamber operas and one opera gala in the Buffalo area that invite you to “show up” this summer.  In the order to be presented on area stages, they are 

Jake Heggie’s THREE DECEMBERS (Buffalo Opera Unlimited, Friday and Sunday June 21 and 23 at Shea’s Smith Theatre downtown) Tickets here.

Puccini’s SUOR ANGELICA (Sotto Voce, Friday and Sunday, June 28 and 30 at St. Joseph’s University Parish) Tickets here.

THE FALLING AND THE RISING (produced by the U.S. Army Field Band with Nickel City Opera, Saturday, June 29 and Sunday, June 30 at Nichols Flickinger Performing Arts Center, 1250 Amherst Street in Buffalo) It’s FREE but you need tickets.  Get them here.

PUCCINI’S GREATEST: A GALA OPERA CONCERT (Buffalo Philharmonic, chorus, soloists, conducted by Gil Rose, Saturday, July 14 at 2 pm on the Artpark Main Stage in Lewiston) Tickets here.

So, let’s start at the beginning, a very good place to start.  


Three Decembers | Photos by A Ellis Cairns 

It’s not a “grand opera” but rather a smaller “chamber opera” and you can enjoy it either this Friday night or Sunday afternoon (details below) when Buffalo Opera Unlimited presents THREE DECEMBERS, a chamber opera with music by Jake Heggie (of DEAD MAN WALKING) with a libretto by Gene Scheer, based on an unpublished play originally titled SOME CHRISTMAS LETTERS (AND A COUPLE OF PHONE CALLS, TOO) that Terrence McNally (DEAD MAN WALKING, ANGELS IN AMERICA) had created in 1999 for a Christmas concert to benefit Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.  The work was originally co-commissioned by the prestigious Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera companies.

THREE DECEMBERS is a poignant opera about a dysfunctional family grappling with secrets, lies, and a longing for connection. The opera follows the lives of Broadway actress Madeline Mitchell and her two adult children, Bea and Charlie, as they navigate through three crucial holiday seasons over three decades.

The two shows this weekend are Friday, June 21, 7:30 pm and Sunday, June 23, 2:30 pm at Shea’s Smith Theatre 660 Main Street in the Buffalo downtown Theatre District.  Visit www.buffalooperaunlimited.org for details.

The composer, Jake Heggie, wrote: “Shortly after the premiere of my first opera, Dead Man Walking, in 2000, the librettist — the great American playwright Terrence McNally — mentioned a short script he’d written for an AIDS benefit in 1999. He gave me a copy of Some Christmas Letters (and a Couple of Phone Calls) and from the first words, the story sang to me. It felt true, honest, emotionally big, and exactly what I was looking for as a chamber opera.

“It is a play about identity and family, discovering the truth of who we are and who our parents are. Hovering over it all is the difficult, tense history of the AIDS crisis in America. Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera co-commissioned the piece as a chamber opera that could be done in different-sized venues with three singers and 11 instrumentalists all onstage together.  

“A brief but powerful fourteen pages long, the script is about the stormy, emotional lives of a famous stage actress named Madeline Mitchell and her two adult children, Bea and Charlie. Told through letters and phone calls, the story follows these characters through three decades of their lives. 

“Taking this 14-page script and turning it into a viable opera was a big leap requiring imagination, invention and vision, all of which Gene Scheer has in spades. 

“He enlarged the story and gave it dramatic conflicts and actions not found in the original script; he also invented the big family secret at its core…. The flavor of musical theater heard throughout is due to the dominance of Madeline Mitchell, the famous Broadway star who is also the matriarch of this family. Though Bea and Charlie each have their own musical personalities, Madeline’s influence and gravitational pull is inevitable.”  

For the production this weekend Friday, June 21, 7:30 pm and Sunday, June 23, 2:30 pm at Shea’s Smith Theatre 660 Main Street in the Buffalo downtown Theatre District Mezzo-soprano Jessica Ann Best sings the role of the matriarch Madeline as well as providing stage direction. 

With a background in Broadway, jazz, and opera she has appeared with the Buffalo Philharmonic and recorded on the Naxos label. She has her MM (Master of Music in Vocal Performance) from Northwestern, and she’s back with Buffalo Opera Unlimited after singing the title role in Carmen in 2021. 

Baritone Patrick Connolly sings Charlie, Madeline’s adult son (whose unseen partner is dying from AIDS).  Connolly has also appeared with the Buffalo Philharmonic, he’s a passionate fan of contemporary opera, and will be pursuing his graduate degree from SUNY Fredonia. 

Soprano Mary Fetterman is steeped in operatic performance and is pursuing her MM at Eastman. She’ll sing the role of Madeline’s adult daughter, Bea.   And Conductor Matthew Marco, finishing his first season with BOU, still performs with the BPO in both classical and pop concerts.

Again, the two shows this weekend are Friday, June 21, 7:30 pm and Sunday, June 23, 2:30 pm at Shea’s Smith Theatre 660 Main Street in the Buffalo downtown Theatre District. Tickets $35 General/$25 Seniors/$10 Students available at buffalooperaunlimited.org or go directly to TicketMaster here.

For information email office@buffalooperaunlimited.org or call (716) 217-0895.

Jessie Downs as Suor Angelica | Photo credit Alex Huddleston

Puccini’s SUOR ANGELICA will be presented by the Sotto Voce opera company, Friday June 28 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, June 30 3:00 pm at St. Joseph’s University Parish. For tickets click here.

It’s not billed as a “chamber opera,” but SUOR ANGELICA (Sister Angelica) is a one-act opera, the second opera in the triptych “Il Trittico” by audience favorite and master of melody Giacomo Puccini (MADAMA BUTTERFLY, LA BOHEME, etc.). It centers around a nun who had a child out of wedlock and was forced to join the convent. Years later, she learns of her son’s death and descends into grief. As always with Puccini, you get soaring melodic arias and a poignant story.  SUOR ANGELICA explores themes of shame, redemption, and a mother’s love.  After Opera Sacra ceased producing operas at St. Joseph’s University Parish, a lot of us missed them, so this is great news.  In the past, Sotto Voce opera company has presented at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo, but this change of venue should bring some new fans who are accustomed to well-presented operas at “Saint Joe’s University.”

THE FALLING AND THE RISING (produced by the U.S. Army Field Band with Nickel City Opera, Saturday, June 29th at 8:00 pm and Sunday, June 30th at 4:00 at Nichols Flickinger Performing Arts Center, 1250 Amherst Street in Buffalo)  It’s FREE but you should get your tickets here.

Nickel City Opera, now in Season 15, presents a new American opera, the fully-staged, 90-minute chamber opera performed by five principal singers and chorus, all members of the U.S. Army Field Band Soldiers’ Chorus and a 10-piece orchestra provided by Buffalo Musicians’ Association Local 92.  The production is 100% Army while Nickel City Opera provides the logistics.  So the Army has opera singers?  Who knew?

With music by Zach Redler and a libretto by Jerre Dye, it’s based on a series of interviews with wounded warriors, active-duty service members, and veterans all seeking to share the camaraderie and values of soldiers serving in America’s Army.  The production will be presented FREE (with reserved tickets) and is open to all in our community with reserved tickets. 

As stated: “The mission of the U.S. Army Field Band is to serve and inspire the American people by telling the Army story and honoring our Soldiers and Veterans at home and abroad.  In 2015, Master Sergeant Benjamin Hilgert of the Soldiers’ Chorus conceived of a way to carry out that mission more effectively than ever: an opera based on the true stories of active duty Soldiers.”

And they continue with: “THE FALLING AND THE RISING … follows the journey of a Soldier, posted in a conflict overseas, whose world is forever changed by an IED (improvised explosive device). Her path home is one of struggle, resilience, community and resounding strength. The opera resonates through stunning music and the authentic portrayal of heroes who serve, whose real experiences are artfully woven into this remarkable new American opera.”

Nickel City Opera, Inc., a 501 c3 nonprofit arts organization, was founded in 2003 by Valerian Ruminski and has produced over 25 operas, concerts, and events, including the world premiere of SHOT! by Persis Vehar in 2016 at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre.  Other productions include La Boheme, The Barber of Seville, Tosca, Don Pasquale, The Marriage of Figaro, Il Tabarro staged on the USS The Sullivans at the Buffalo Erie County Naval & Military Park and Echoes of Opera at Silo City.  NCO’s mission is to bring high-quality opera and events to WNY and looks forward to expanding the arts in WNY and beyond.

PUCCINI’S GREATEST: A GALA OPERA CONCERT (Buffalo Philharmonic, with a chorus, and soloists, all conducted by Gil Rose, one show only Saturday, July 14 at 2 pm on the Artpark Main Stage in Lewiston) Tickets (indoor seating available) here.

While originally Artpark had plans to mount Puccini’s full-length opera TOSCA, they’ve pivoted and come up with what might be a more “accessible” opera experience for this summer.  Crafted by Michael Capasso, Director of the New York City Opera, this performance is a tribute to the timeless works of Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, showcasing renditions of his most beloved arias from TOSCA but also LA BOHÈME, MADAMA BUTTERFLY, TURANDOT and more.  The soloists are all stars of The Metropolitan Opera in New York and include three-time Grammy Award-winning soprano Latonia Moore, Baritone Michael Chioldi, and Tenor Won Whi Choi, all guided by Grammy Award-winning conductor Gil Rose (whom you might have heard conduct CARMINA BURANA at Artpark a few years back).

I’m very much interested in hearing soprano Latonia Moore live.  She’s the real deal, an international opera star in famous European venues and a frequent performer with the Metropolitan Opera where she was Billie in Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons’s FIRE SHUT UP IN MY BONES under Yannick Nézet-Séguin and as Serena in Gershwin’s PORGY AND BESS under David Robertson.  And she’s sung in all the major Puccini operas.  I’ve seen her in HD productions and getting her is a major coup as is getting Michael Chioldi and Won Whi Choi.

So, there you have it.  Four opera productions this summer, all pretty affordable ranging, as far as I can tell, from FREE (courtesy of the U.S. Army to $39 (for the Puccini Gala at Artpark).

The post Four different operas – 3 chamber operas and one gala – coming soon this summer appeared first on Buffalo Rising.

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