Madison Opera has announced its offerings for the 2013-14 season, an interesting mix of the familiar and the novel, the old and the new. All performances will be conducted by artistic director John DeMain, who is celebrating his 20th season at the organization's helm.
A beloved standby, Giacomo Puccini's Tosca, will open the season. Distilled from the play Victorien Sardou wrote for Sarah Bernhardt, its libretto shows how Floria Tosca's love for the painter Mario Cavaradossi is entangled in politics and crushed by the lustful Baron Scarpia, who is perhaps the most perfectly evil character in all of opera. Puccini's score, which premiered in 1900, is a powerful, propulsive and exciting melodrama laced with treasured solos for the two lovers. It also captures the ambience of Rome.
Tosca's title role will be sung by soprano Melody Moore of Madison Opera (the Countess in Mozart's Figaro), and Cavaradossi will be portrayed by tenor Scott Piper (a veteran of Opera in the Park). Baritone Nmon Ford will be the villainous Scarpia. A. Scott Parry will direct the staging. Performances will be on Nov. 1 and 3 at Overture Hall (in Italian, with English surtitles).
For its "smaller" mid-season production in Capitol Theater, Madison Opera will present Gaetano Donizetti's frothy French comedy La fille du regiment (The Daughter of the Regiment), which had its premiere in Paris in 1840. Under the devoted eye of Sergeant Sulpice, the homeless waif Marie has been raised as the adoptee of an army regiment, whose ranks include her aspiring sweetheart, Tonio. When her true parentage is discovered, Marie is whisked away by her cranky aunt, the Marquise of Berkenfield, for a "proper" education. But Tonio and the regiment intervene to set things straight.
Two of Madison's musical products will be the female leads: high soprano Caitlin Cisler (who delighted us as Oscar in last season's Ballo in maschera) will sing Marie, and a favorite for character roles, mezzo-soprano Allisanne Apple, will play the Marquise. The male leads will both make their Madison debut. Tenor Javier Abreu will tackle the daunting role of Tonio (notorious for its high-C leaps), while baritone Kim Josephson will sing Sulpice. Performances will be Feb. 7 and 9 (in French, with surtitles).
Born in 1961, Jake Heggie burst into the opera world in 2000 with his Dead Man Walking. Subsequent operas have included The End of the Affair, which premiered in 2004 at the Houston Opera. DeMain conducted that and soon brought the work to Madison Opera. Now, for the final offering of the season, the company will present Dead Man Walking itself.
Terrence McNally based his libretto on the 1993 book by Sister Helen Prejean, the Louisiana nun who has committed herself to opposing the death penalty, and above all to counseling convicts condemned to it. The book, soon made into a striking movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn, recounts her first venture in this direction. Its title is the prison expression for the condemned convict going to the execution chamber. The onstage representation of death by lethal injection is simply gripping.
The convict, Joseph De Rocher, is condemned for the killing of a teenage couple, having raped the girl (a scene enacted as the opera's prologue). When Sister Helen tries to establish contact, De Rocher is arrogant, hostile and in denial of his crime. He admits guilt to her during the 11th hour. The opera is not a simple protest against the death penalty but a probing exploration of what the crime and punishment mean for the perpetrator, his mother and the parents of the two victims.
The role of Sister Helen (created by Susan Graham in the San Francisco premiere) will be sung by Daniela Mack, and that of De Rocher by Michael Mayes. Mrs. De Rocher, the killer's mother (written for Frederica von Stade), will be portrayed by renowned Metropolitan Opera mezzo Susanne Mentzer. Kristine McIntyre will direct. Performances (in English, with English surtitles) will take place in Overture Hall on April 25 and 27.
Of course there will also be Opera in the Park, but it's not until July 26, 2014.