The WFMT Radio Network is pleased to announce the first batch of operas for the 2023 WFMT Radio Network Opera Series, beginning on June 17 and running through December 2, 2023. This first set of operas spans from June 17 through September 23 (with more to follow), and includes productions from Vienna, France, England, Italy, China, and more.
We begin the Opera Series with a set of operas from abroad. Vienna State Opera kicks off the series with two productions: Beethoven’s Fidelio, and Strauss’s Salome. Vienna’s production of Fidelio stars Brandon Jovanovich as Florestan, alongside a cast that includes Anja Kampe as Leonore. Philippe Jordan leads the ensemble in Strauss’s Salome, with Malin Byström in the titular role, alongside Gerhard Siegel (Herod), Wolfgang Koch (John the Baptist) and more.
First week in July, we’re pleased to present Paris Opera’s production of John Adams’s Nixon in China, with a star-studded cast that includes Thomas Hampson as Richard Nixon and Renée Fleming as Pat Nixon, with John Matthew Myers as Chairman Mao. You won’t want to miss this stunning performance!
Next up, we are beyond thrilled to welcome London-based Opera Rara to the Opera Series. Specializing in lost and forgotten works from composers of the past, Opera Rara works in a unique intersection of opera company, recording label, and live operatic archeologist—through their work, they strive to expand the operatic repertoire and encourage the opera world to explore new and little-known rediscoveries. Found in the archives of the Naples Conservatory Library in 2020 at the height of the pandemic, Opera Rara has restored the score to Saverio Mercadante’s Il Proscritto, a story set in Edinburgh at the time of Oliver Cromwell. Unheard since its premiere in 1842, conductor and Artistic Director Carlo Rizzi leads the Britten Sinfonia and Opera Rara Chorus alongside an exceptional cast including Ramón Vargas, Irene Roberts, Elizabeth DeShong, Iván Ayón-Rivas, and more. We’re delighted to bring this rediscovered work to this year’s opera series, and we know listeners will be enchanted and excited to be a part of this history-in-the-making.
Then we travel to the Prinzregententheater in Munich, Germany to hear a production of Verdi’s I Lombardi alla prima crociata with the Munich Radio Opera, featuring Galeano Salas as Arvino, Andreas Burkhart as Acciano, Nino Machaidze as Giselda, and Réka Kristóf as Viclinda.
After Munich, we travel back to London for an exquisite production of Berg’s inimitable Wozzeck by the UK’s Royal Opera. Christian Gerhaher stars in the title role, with Anja Kampe returning to the series as Marie. Peter Hoare stars as the Captain, Rosie Aldridge as Margret, and more. The illustrious Sir Antonio Pappano conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
The world-famous La Scala returns to the series for another season with a new production of Leonardo Vinci’s Li zite ‘nglera, a part of La Scala’s project to rediscover and reinvigorate Italian baroque repertoire. Written in the Neapolitan dialect with a libretto by Bernardo Saddumente, this engaging comedy is sure to be a hit with listeners. Andrea Marcon leads the La Scala Orchestra and Chorus to support a cast that includes Francesca Aspromonte, Chiara Amarù, Marco Filippo Romano, and more.
Benjamin Britten’s mysterious and spellbinding ghost story-turned-opera The Turn of the Screw is next, presented by the Budapest Festival Orchestra under the baton of Iván Fischer in the Béla Bartók National Concert Hall. With a complex and compelling form, Britten’s work is brought to life by an excellent cast that includes Andrew Staples as Peter Quint, Allison Cook as Miss Jessel, Miah Persson as the Governess, and more.
New to the series this season, Liège, Belgium’s Opéra Royal de Wallonie takes the stage for a stunning production of Bellini’s La sonnambula. This bel canto favorite stars Jessica Pratt as Amina, Marko Mimica as Count Rodolfo, René Barbera as Elvino, and more. We’re delighted to welcome this exceptional company to the series for the first time!
Following our trip to Belgium, we voyage to sunny Barcelona for two productions from the Gran Teatre del Liceu. First up is Massenet’s Manon, under the baton of Marc Minkowski. Performed in May, 2023, this fresh production features Amina Edris, Pene Pati, Albert Casals, and more. Then, we stay to hear Monteverdi’s last opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea led by none other than Jordi Savall, with members of Le Concert des Nations and the Gran Teatre del Liceu Orchestra. David Hansen stars as Nero, with Julie Fuchs as the empress-to-be Poppea, alongside a long cast of exceptional singers. Not to be missed!
From Europe, we traverse continents to land in China to hear four operas from Beijing’s exceptional National Centre for the Performing Arts. Following on their success last season, we’re honored to bring these exceptional productions to listeners across the United States. 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.
For the next opera, we’re delighted to present the premiere performance of George Benjamin’s Picture a Day Like This from the Aix-en-Provence Festival and featuring the composer himself conducting the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, with Marianne Crebassa, Anna Prohaska, Beate Mordal, Cameron Shahbazi, and John Brancy. An ordinary day. A terrible event. The death of her infant child sets in motion one woman’s search for a life-restoring miracle. All she needs to do – in the course of a single day – is find one genuinely happy human being. But when every encounter, however promising, ends in disappointment, she turns finally to the mysterious Zabelle, owner and creator of a magnificent garden.
Music of the Baroque, Chicago’s preeminent baroque performance company presents a stunning production of Handel’s Jephtha. Under the direction of internationally acclaimed British conductor Dame Jane Glover, Music of the Baroque occupies a special place in the rich cultural life of Chicago. Long recognized as one of the region’s top classical groups, Music of the Baroque’s professional chorus and orchestra is one of the leading ensembles in the country devoted to the performance of eighteenth-century works.
Following this, we stay in Chicago for two productions from Opera Festival of Chicago with two stunning productions: Pizetti’s Assassinio nella cattedrale and Verdi’s Attila. From the writing of T. S. Eliot’s 1935 play, Murder at the Cathedral remains one of Ildebrando Pizzetti’s most celebrated compositions. This dramatic opera portrays the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral during the reign of Henry II in 1170. Starring Andrea Silvestrelli in the role of Thomas Becket, alongside a fantastic cast including Maria Kanyova, William Powell III, Patrick Blackwell, and more. Next is Verdi’s popular 1846 opera Attila. In a prologue and three acts, the work takes us to the mid-5th century near Rome following Attila, King of the Huns. A story of Power, Glory, and Betrayal, Attila was Verdi’s 9th opera and has been one of his most popular earlier works with soaring melodies, giant choruses within this epic tale.
Opera Southwest has built a reputation among opera aficionados as an under-the-radar destination for exceptional performances of rarely performed operas. Two Opera Southwest productions feature in the 2023 WFMT Opera Series – Rossini’s Le comte Ory, and Héctor Armienta’s Zorro. Music Director, conductor, and composer Anthony Barrese leads the group.
Premiered in 1828 in Paris, Giaochino Rossini’s Le Comte Ory is one of the Pesaro master’s greatest comedies. Carefree, silly, and brimming with melody, this production is sure to delight listeners. The eponymous Count Ory is a wily fraud and womanizer. While all the men in town are called away to war, Ory seizes the opportunity to pursue the now unguarded women of the village. But they’ve all taken a vow of chastity – even the Countess Adèle, who has the misfortune to have caught the Count’s eye. With increasingly silly ploys and schemes, including disguising himself as a nun, the Count attempts to seduce the Countess. All is for naught, and just as a case of mistaken identity comes to a hilarious climax, the rascal is left frustrated. Starring a veritable who’s who of Opera Southwest’s favorite singers, this will be the eleventh Rossini opera presented by Opera Southwest and conductor Anthony Barrese. Based on and inspired by the masked vigilante of pulp fiction fame, Zorro is a swashbuckling adventure opera. Set in Los Angeles when it was still a colony of Spain, this re-telling of the Zorro legend naturally follows Diego de la Vega, esteemed swordsman and Spanish nobleman, as he fights for the poor and enslaved. Filled with all the romance, swordplay and humor that is a trademark of the Zorro universe.
Next, we take a brief detour to Germany for the Bayreuth Festival for a production of Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, featuring Georg Zeppenfeld, Elisabeth Teige, Tomislav Mužek, Nadine Weissmann, Attilio Glaser, and Michael Volle as the Dutchman. Oksana Lyniv conducts.
Haymarket Opera Company brings us back to the US for the Chicago premiere of Johann Adolph Hasse’s Neapolitan serenata Marc’Antonio e Cleopatra – a lavish operatic event featuring superstar countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim and contralto Lauren Decker. Virtuosic music and high-baroque drama collide as history’s star-crossed lovers Mark Antony and Cleopatra contemplate their bleak political future—and ultimately their suicide—after their defeat in the Battle of Actium. Eavesdrop on the final declaration of undying love between Roman hero Mark Antony and his tragic Egyptian queen Cleopatra as they brace for their double suicides. Haymarket highlights the gender-bending traditions of baroque opera, featuring countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim as Queen Cleopatra and contralto Lauren Decker as Mark Antony. Hasse’s original cast took opposite gender roles with Carlo Broschi, the famous castrato called “Farinelli,” singing Cleopatra, and the renowned contralto Vittoria Tesi Tramontini, known as “La Fiorentina” or “La Moretta,” singing Marc’Antonio. Haymarket preserves and celebrates Hasse’s original gender-fluid arrangement.
And finally, closing out the 2023 WFMT Opera Series are two exceptional productions from longtime Opera Series favorites LA Opera–Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Omar by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels.
Pelléas et Mélisande brings together a phenomenal cast and exquisite performances. Lost in the forest, a prince encounters an ethereal beauty with a mysterious past (and lush locks that would make Rapunzel envious). But after she’s brought home to his family, she begins to grow increasingly close to his handsome younger brother.
Omar tells a rarely-heard story, with a magnificent libretto and stunning music. In 1807, a 37-year-old scholar living in West Africa was captured and forced aboard a ship bound for Charleston, South Carolina. Omar Ibn Said’s life and Muslim faith are remembered and retold in this inspirational West Coast premiere inspired by his remarkable 1831 autobiography (the only known surviving American slavery narrative written in Arabic). Set in the shifting darkness of memory and imagination, Omar follows his compelling journey from a peaceful life in his homeland to enslavement in a violent, foreign world. Reflecting on his life journey, he’s haunted by memories of his family and the people he encounters along the way. Through it all, he somehow remains true to himself and his faith, against all odds. The luminous score—composed by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels—incorporates distinctive West African traditions with traditional opera instrumentation. Tenor Jamez McCorkle makes his company debut in the title role, with bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch in a double role as two very different enslavers. Norman Garrett makes his company debut as Omar’s brother, with Barry Banks as the auctioneer and Jacqueline Echols as Julie, an enslaved woman who gives Omar the key to a better life.
Stay tuned for the next season of the WFMT Opera Series, with more information to be released in 2024!
The WFMT Radio Network Opera Series is designed to complement the Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts, filling out the year. WFMT Radio Network Opera Series begins the week after the MET season ends, and ends the week before the MET’s season begins. The 2023 WFMT Opera Series will begin in Spring/Summer 2023. Stay tuned for updates later in the year!