Bill Furbee

Transformation and tradition are cornerstones of the Cincinnati Opera, and the organization is gearing up for a 2019 season that offers redemptive glory and standing ovation-worthy performances.

It’s been a part of the Cincinnati Opera story since the beginning – it was in 1920 that the Cincinnati Opera began to present acclaimed works here in Cincinnati. It’s the second-oldest opera company in the country, and recently our Cincinnati Opera was awarded the International Opera Award. That award, presented by The Opera Awards Foundation, “promotes excellence in international opera and supports aspiring talent.”

And, this year, the organization promises “your summer, and maybe even your life, will never be the same.”

It’s for good reason: themes for the 2019 season are timeless, and include betrayal, romance, tragedy and love. It’s all in a day’s work for our Cincinnati Opera.

Reflecting on the company’s past, Artistic Director Evans Mirageas speaks to the importance of Jewish culture to opera itself. “Without Jewish artists, there would be no opera,” he shares, quite matter-of-factly. He also notes how events of the 1930s shaped Cincinnati Opera, directly.

“With the rise of national socialism in Europe, what began to be very interesting as I look at the seasons of 1935 onward, we see more and more prominent Jewish artists – performers and conductors – who were either American or European, who either at first of course felt uncomfortable about going to Europe, particularly to perform in Germany or Austria, and then of course (it was) impossible.” He continues, “as the 1930s stretched into WWII, our company’s roster of prominent Jewish great performers (began to grow). Jan Peerce for example, the phenomenal Jewish American tenor, had some of his very first professional opera engagements with the Cincinnati Opera.”

It was a trend that continued here in Cincinnati. “Jewish artists and Jewish philanthropists felt very comfortable and very welcome coming to the Cincinnati Opera,” he says, “from then until today. We are very indebted to the Jewish love of culture, particularly the love of this art form.”

Works slated for performance on the stage of Music Hall’s Springer Auditorium include “The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, “Romeo and Juliet” by Charles Gounod and the Gershwins “Porgy and Bess.” Additionally, “Ariadne auf Naxos” by Richard Strauss will be performed at the School for Creative and Performing Arts.

“Our very first opera (“The Marriage of Figaro”),” Mirageas points out, “has something of a Jewish connection. The libretto – the words – were written by a very celebrated Italian poet by the name of Lorenzo Da Ponte. This is one of three operas that he wrote with Mozart. (But) Da Ponte was actually born Emanuele Conegliano ... he was born Jewish.

“Of course, we close the season with George and Ira Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” probably the greatest American composer and lyricist of any century, still regarded as the greatest American opera and, you know, (the Gershwins) were nice Jewish boys from Brooklyn, sons of immigrants.”

There’s also an already sold-out run of performances at Music Halls Wilks Studio of the world-premiere “Blind Justice.” That one’s a collaboration with the Ohio Innocence Project and the Young Professionals Choral Collective, which shares the stories of six men and women wrongly convicted and then exonerated by the Ohio Innocence Project. “Librettist David Cote has brilliantly captured their spirit and asked the question, ‘How can this happen?’” Robin Guarino has said. Guarino is directing this production and oversees the opera department at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

The Cincinnati Opera’s seen a lot of changes over the past 99 years,  and many fondly remember when performances took place at the Cincinnati Zoo. Notable opera singers during those years include Placido Domingo, Norman Treigle and Beverly Sill. The performances at the Cincinnati Zoo Pavilion would continue for more than 50 years.

The organization moved to its current home of Music Hall in 1972, allowing more production space on a bigger stage, and with seating for over 3,000 patrons.

The mission of the Cincinnati Opera is one of community engagement, “to enrich and connect the community through diverse opera experiences.”

To that point, the “Opera Campus” concept allows the company to present performances beyond the renowned stage of Music Hall’s Springer Auditorium in locations like Washington Park and the Corbett Theater at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. In fact, Cincinnati Opera kicks off the 99th summer season in Washington Park on Sunday, June 9, with a free concert featuring opera selections like “The Marriage of Figaro,” “Ariadne auf Naxos,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Porgy and Bess,” “Kiss Me Kate” and “West Side Story.”

Of course, the organization is also already at work planning their 2020 season, marking 100 years of Cincinnati Opera, which will include “The Barber of Seville,” the world-premiere of “Fierce!,” “Rusalka,” the world-premiere “Castor and Patience,” and Verdi’s “Aida.”

But for now, the 2019 season guarantees to captivate thousands. In announcing their programming, the Cincinnati Opera invites us to “lose yourself in our stories of inflamed passions, bitter betrayals, and redemptive glory. Soar sky-high, feel deeply, and be transformed.”

Transformation, indeed. It’s a Cincinnati tradition, and it’s part of our cultural heritage. It’s the Cincinnati Opera.

“The (Jewish) thread runs throughout the company, in every aspect of our fabric, from our history to the operas we present to the artists that we welcome,” Mirageas says, “and it’s terrific.”

Music Hall Springer Auditorium performances for the Cincinnati Opera’s 2019 season include “The Marriage of Figaro” (June 13 and 15), “Romeo and Juliet “(June 27 and 29), and “Porgy and Bess” (July 20, 25, 27 and 28). Performances at the School for Creative and Performing Arts include “Ariadne auf Naxos” (July 6, 11, 13 and 14). Music Hall’s Wilks Studio will feature “Blind Injustice” (sold out) on July 22, 23, 24, 26 and 27).

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