The Magic Flute
Superb singing and acting made the Piedmont Opera production of The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s last opera, a “must see” event at the Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem. A large audience of all ages filled the hall – this is a great opera to include the children, being full of magic, comic situations, flashy staging, and all sung in English! Several innovative special events introduced opera to a new audience. The What’s Your Story Art Contest inspired young authors to write fairy tales then local artists from Associated Artists of Winston-Salem and the Hispanic Arts Initiative turned the stories into life. The company also hosted a Dragon Slayer and Princess Party after the matinee performance to give children the chance to meet the cast. More than 200 families attended.
Piedmont Opera opened its 37th season with the tragic love story of a young Geisha who gives up her life for love. Local favorite Jill Gardner sang the doomed title role. Opera Lively described her performance, “There is no way to sing and act the role of Cio-Cio San any better than Jill Gardner did. She was able to accurately portray with voice and body movements both the juvenile enthusiasm of the young geisha, and the bitter sorrow of the betrayed wife, as well as the heartbroken mother.” The Winston-Salem Journal proclaimed, ““The only thing wrong with Piedmont Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” is that there are too few performances of it.” Pinkerton, sung by Isaac Hurtado, was praised for his warm tenor voice, which was youthful and convincing in the role of Pinkerton. The audience could believe that he is infatuated with Butterfly, but no effort to portray him as an innocent himself could succeed, not when his lyrics proclaim that, as a Yankee, he has the right – and the means – to have a girl in every port.
The Spring saw another first in PO’s history, the staging of a title from Broadway’s golden age. A large cast was assembled for performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. This highly successful production featured Bass-Baritone Branch Fields, who covered the role of Emile de Becque in the recent Broadway revival of this classic. He brought all his experience to bear for the success of our production. Making her role debut in this production was internationally acclaimed Dramatic Soprano Susan Neves as Bloody Mary. Ms. Neves has performed not only in this country’s leading opera companies, but for the Opera Bastille in Paris, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Vienna State Opera, Gran Teatro del Liceu in Barcelona, and the Arena di Verona. Of the production, the Winston Salem Journal said, “[Piedmont Opera] has found a cast that sounds good, looks good and can act. This is a show that you can get lost in, can absolutely go live in for three hours and not regret one second of it.”
The Flying Dutchman
This season was a successful season of firsts for Piedmont Opera. To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of composer Richard Wagner, the company produced its first opera by this genre changing composer. Our new production of The Flying Dutchman, created in conjunction with the Princeton Festival, confronted the challenges of producing Wagner’s work in the 21st century. A production worthy of the City of the Arts and Innovation, it used the latest in theatrical computer technology to create the scenic world in which the composer’s characters live. The Winston-Salem Journal remarked, “Wagner was a 19th century composer with 21st century ambitions. The ancient archetype of the wandering soul and ghost ships with blood red sails that come from under the sea and fly off into heaven are impressively rendered by modern technology.”
The artists who populate the stage of Piedmont Opera hail from across the Triad and throughout the country. This season, Bass-Baritone Jake Gardner performed the title role in our production of The Flying Dutchman. Jake has performed with leading opera companies nationwide, but recently made his home in Kernersville. Reporting on the performance, the New York Wagner Society said, “What was special about the performance I saw in Winston-Salem was the high quality of the singing. Jake Gardner, the Dutchman, was a particular standout. There was no holding back his powerful baritone as he conveyed the strength of the hero.”
Other artists engaged for this production included Carter Scott making her role debut as Senta. Carter has sung internationally and continues to be in demand, particularly for her portrayal of Puccini’s Turandot, a role she essayed for Piedmont Opera in 2010. Two members of the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute were also featured in this production, confirming Piedmont Opera’s long standing relationship with this nationally recognized Young Artist training program. Jonathan Johnson and Kate Farrar added this production to their growing resumes, as their careers take them to the Chicago Lyric and Chautauqua Opera Companies, respectively.