For cast lists and playlists, please visit the Opera Series Overview.
Beijing’s National Centre for the Performing Arts Opera Company returns to the WFMT Opera Series as a part of our ongoing partnership with the world-renowned Chinese arts organization. The set of four operas marks a midpoint in the season, presenting three well-known Western masterworks and a contemporary Chinese opera never before heard on US radio.
First up is Wagner’s audience-favorite Tannhäuser! Endrik Wottrich stars as Tannhäuser, with Barbara Haveman as Elizabeth, Giuseppina Piunti as Venus, Markus Werba as Wolfram, and many more. Next up is an exciting production of Chinese composer YIN Qing’s The Ballad of the Canal, presented here for the very first time on US radio. This beautiful opera celebrates the ups and downs of life on the canal, full of joy and sorrow, life and death, righteousness and evil—all sung in a virtuosic and stunning style.
La Fille du Régiment, Donizzeti’s light-hearted and humorous story features another fabulous cast that combines the talents of Western and Chinese artists. Sabina Puértolas stars in the role as Marie, with Giovanni Romeo as Sulpice, SHI Yijie as Tonio, WANG Hexiang as Hortensius, and ZHAO Denghui as Un Caporal. And finally, the first part of the 2023 Opera Series ends with a bang, featuring an epic production of Puccini’s La fanciulla del West staring Amarilli Nizza as Minne, Claudio Sgura as Jack Rance, Marco Berti as Dick Johnson, and KOU Jing as Nick. Acclaimed conductor LÜ Jia leads the NCPA Orchestra and Chorus for these exciting productions from China’s leading opera house.
NCPA Production, the organization’s Opera Company, is at the heart of NCPA’s artistic creation and is an important embodiment of the organization’s mission. Since its inception in 2008, the Opera Company has produced a great number of high-quality operas popular with audiences, showing its vitality and unique characteristics as an art production institution. In addition to masterworks of the Western canon, a cornerstone of NCPA Production’s identity is promoting the development of new and traditional Chinese opera art.
The training and performance programme of NCPA Resident Singers was launched on October 21st, 2011. Adhering to the NCPA principle of “for the people, for art, for the world”, NCPA resident singers have performed in many operas, winning high acclaim from conductors and directors at home and abroad. So far, NCPA resident singers have put on over 60 operas in collaboration with many well-known Chinese and Western artists.
Please Note: the Chinese family name comes first and is in uppercase. The first name is in sentence case and comes second in the listings above.
After months spent as a willing captive of Venus, the poet and singer Tannhaüser begs the goddess to let him leave. Venus tries to prevent him from going, but gives in to Tannhaüser when he evokes the Virgin Mary.
A group of knights discovers Tannhaüser at the foot of the fortress of Wartburg. Among them are Hermann, the landgrave, and Wolfram von Eschenbach, Tannhaüser’s friend. The poet refuses to join them at first, but when Elisabeth’s name is mentioned, he decides to follow them to the castle and take part in a singing contest.
In the Hall of Wartburg, Elisabeth momentarily forgets her sorrow and joyously sings of her happiness at Tannhaüser’s return.
During the singing contest, Wolfram evokes pure love, but Tannhaüser retorts with an ode to the pleasures of the senses. Before an audience horrified by his daring language, he reveals, in his excitement, his passionate experience in Venusberg. As the knights draw their swords, Tannhaüser is protected by Elisabeth. Banished from Wartburg, Tannhaüser must join the pilgrims bound for Rome and obtain the Pope’s forgiveness.
Several months pass. The pilgrims return from Rome.
Elisabeth, who has never stopped praying for Tannhaüser’s redemption, does not find him among the pilgrims. She is broken-hearted. Wolfram confesses his sadness to the evening stars, in a romance full of devotion and nostalgia, announced at first by the violins.
Tannhaüser has in fact returned from Rome. But his only desire is to find his way back to the cavern of Venus. In Rome, the Pope refused his plea for redemption, declaring he had no more chance of being absolved than the Pope’s staff had of sprouting leaves. Tannhaüser tells Wolfram about his journey. As he is about to depart for Venusberg, he notices a funeral procession descending the hill, bearing the corpse of Elisabeth to her grave. He collapses on her coffin, calling out “Holy Elisabeth, pray for me”. The Pilgrims appear and announce that there has been a miracle in Rome: the Pope’s staff has sprouted leaves. Tannhaüser has been redeemed.
The Ballad of the Canal
During the Ming Dynasty, scholar QIN Xiaosheng is captured by the police for exposing an official’s corruption cases in Hangzhou. The folk singer SHUI Honglian, resisting being a concubine, also flees to the banks of the canal. The two meet up at a sacrifice ceremony for the Dragon King of the river, where there is a song and dance tournament. QIN and SHUI pose as performers on the dragon boat and escape. QIN wears sailor LI Xiaoguan’s abandoned uniform and poses as a sailor. They take the boat of ZHANG Shuiyao and head north along the canal in exile.
Meeting in these troubled circumstances, they fall in love with each other—but the ship owner ZHANG also has a jealous love for SHUI. Over Suzhou pier, the ship encounters the woman GUAN Yanyan, who, due to the romantic sailor Li’s tricks and deceit, gave birth to a child and cried her eyes out, becoming blind in her sorrow. ZHANG announces QIN to be the deceitful LI Xiaoguan. To avoid arrest from his previous warrant, QIN has no way to speak up and is forced to live together with GUAN. If the truth is told, GUAN will resort to suicide; QIN and SHUI are in immense grief at not being able to be together.
ZHANG finds out QIN’s true identity and informs the police. In danger, SHUI asks QIN to take the blind GUAN to go first, staying behind to stall for time. ZHANG binds SHUI with rope in an attempt to lure QIN to come back. To save her love and to prevent him from trying to save her, SHUI ignites the lamp on board and burns the boat with herself on it.
In his grief, QIN wants to follow SHUI away to the next life. But GUAN implores him to finish the uncompleted cause of SHUI, and QIN is moved to take action. QIN and GUAN travel to Beijing to denounce the corrupt officials of the Emperor’s court.
La Fille du Régiment
The orphan Marie, adopted by Sergeant Sulpice, and brought up in the army at an early age, is a bright, cheerful young girl, who loves singing. Everyone calls her the daughter of the regiment. She falls in love with Tonio, a young man who saved her from the edge of a cliff, and enlisted in the army on account of her. At the camp site, they share their true feelings for each another. When Marie hears that Tonio is to be executed as a spy, she pleads with the soldiers with all her might hoping to spare her lover. Just as the two had confessed their affections and had fallen under the spell of love, the Marquise of Berkenfield recognises Marie as her niece and decides to take her back to the family castle in Paris. When the soldiers arrive at the palace, Tonio has already been meritoriously promoted to serve as officer. Marie, Tonio and the Sergeant feel so happy to be reunited. Marie introduces Tonio to the Marquise, who announces that Marie is to marry the Duke of Crakentorp and Tonio must depart immediately. Unwilling to submit, Marie and Tonio hatch a plan to elope. Seeing no other alternative, the Marquise reveals the truth that Marie is actually the illegitimate child of her and her paramour. On discovering this, Marie is loath to disobey her mother and remains obliged to sign the marriage contract. But the soldiers are fiercely opposed to the Marquise’s arrangements. Tonio storms in with the soldiers singing “Au secours de notre fille”, and shouting, “We won’t allow her to become a victim of this marriage.” Marie recounts her experiences growing up with the regiment. Ultimately, the Marquise acquiesces, accepts Tonio and the two lovers as a couple who deserve to be with each other.
La fanciulla del West
A miners’ camp in California, 1849–50. At sunset at the Polka Saloon, Nick, the bartender, prepares for the miners’ return from the hills. Jake Wallace, a traveling minstrel, sings a sentimental song that causes Jim Larkens to break down in tears. The men collect money for his passage back home. Trin and Sonora both bribe Nick to help them win the heart of Minnie, the owner of the bar, with whom all the men are in love. Sid cheats at cards, and Jack Rance, the camp’s cynical sheriff, marks him as an outcast. The Wells Fargo agent Ashby arrives with news of the imminent capture of the Mexican bandit Ramerrez and his band. An argument breaks out between Rance and Sonora, each claiming Minnie will be his wife. Things almost get out of hand when Minnie herself appears. The men calm down and sit to listen to Minnie’s bible teaching. Later, alone with her, Rance confesses his love to Minnie (“Minnie, della mia casa”). But she is not interested and, recalling her happy childhood, paints a different picture of her ideal love (“Laggiù nel Soledad”).
A stranger appears in the bar, introducing himself as Dick Johnson from Sacramento. Minnie recognizes him as a man she once met on the road. The jealous Rance orders Johnson to leave town, but when Minnie declares that she knows him, the others welcome Johnson. As he and Minnie dance, the miners drag in a man named Castro, one of Ramerrez’s band. Castro pretends that he will lead them to their hideout. He then whispers to Johnson—who is in fact Ramerrez—that he let himself be captured to lure the miners away from the saloon, in order for Johnson to rob it. The men depart with Castro, and Minnie and Johnson are left alone. She tells him about her simple life and that she is still waiting for her first kiss. When she shows him the hiding place where the miners keep their gold, he replies that as long as he is nearby, nobody will harm her or touch the gold. She shyly invites him to visit her in her cabin later that evening.
In Minnie’s cabin in the mountains, the Indian woman Wowkle sings a lullaby to her baby and bickers with the child’s father, Billy Jackrabbit. Minnie arrives and excitedly prepares for her meeting with Johnson. Alone with him, she gives in to his declarations of love and they kiss. Johnson, full of doubt as to how to tell her about his true identity, is about to leave, but she asks him to stay for the night as it has begun to snow. When several shots are heard, Johnson hides in the closet. Rance appears with some of the men and tells Minnie that they are concerned for her safety—they have discovered that Johnson is Ramerrez. Minnie claims to know nothing and the men leave. She then angrily confronts Johnson, who makes excuses about his past and declares that when he met her he decided to give up his former life. Deeply hurt, Minnie sends him away. Another shot rings out. Johnson, wounded, staggers back into the cabin and Minnie hides him in the attic. Rance returns, certain he has found his man, and demands to search the room. Minnie refuses and the sheriff is about to give up when a drop of blood falls on his hand from above. Johnson is forced to surrender, but Minnie has an idea—she challenges Rance to a game of poker. If he defeats her, she will give herself to him; if he loses, Johnson goes free. Minnie cheats and wins. Rance leaves.
Johnson has been nursed back to health by Minnie. Again on the run from Rance and his men, he is eventually captured in the forest. As the miners prepare to hang him, Johnson asks for one last mercy—that makes Minnie believe him free and far away (“Ch’ella mi creda”). Rance is enraged, but the men hesitate. At that moment, Minnie rides in, wielding a pistol. When her pleas to spare Johnson prove fruitless, she reminds the men how much they owe her. The miners finally give in and release Johnson. He and Minnie ride away to start a new life together.
Summary and synopsis courtesy of NCPA.
About the Host:
Lisa Flynn has been a program host and producer for WFMT since 1991. She presents The New Releases and has hosted many programs for the WFMT Radio Network, including War Letters (which won the 2002 Peter Lisagor Award) and a series of live broadcasts from Salzburg to celebrate Mozart’s 250th birthday in 2006. As WFMT’s midday weekday announcer, Lisa hosts live studio performances and interviews guest artists including Renée Fleming, John Adams, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, John Eliot Gardiner, and many others. Before coming to Chicago, Lisa presented classical music at WOSU in Columbus, Ohio, and at WMFE and WUCF in Orlando, Florida. She holds a music degree from the University of Central Florida.
This program is a part of the WFMT Radio Network Opera Series, a series designed to complement the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts to fill out the year with great Opera content. The series begins in June and lasts until December.