Cincinnati Opera returns to Music Hall for its belated 100th anniversary

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It’s time for the Cincinnati Opera to come home. After a pandemic-induced trip that brought it cancellations to a socially distanced outdoor festival in Blue Ash, the company will finally return to Music Hall greatness on June 18.

Opera season in Cincinnati only lasts a few weeks. But those weeks are an ever-precious slice of Cincinnati’s cultural landscape. It’s not just because opera has been around for so long – it was founded in 1920. Rather, it’s because opera gives us such a broad view of the life around us.

At the opera, love stories become great passions. Sad stories turn into epic tragedies. In the hands of musical masters like Puccini and Verdi, emotions are magnified to a deliciously excruciating tone.

Not convinced yet? Here are a few more reasons why you should consider attending the Cincinnati Opera this summer.

1. “La Boheme”. Obviously

The Cincinnati Opera will open its 2022 Summer Festival on June 18 with Calgary Opera's production of

For many people, “La Bohème” is the pinnacle of opera. Puccini’s music is exquisite. Just when you think it can’t get any better, another amazing tune arrives. And the story? From the moment a penniless poet named Rodolfo answers the door of his Parisian attic to a fragile seamstress named Mimì, you know you’re in for a soulful ride. Great tunes, doomed love and – of course – a heartbreaking story. Keep tissues nearby.

  • “La Bohème” by Giacomo Puccini – June 18, 23 and 25, Music Hall.

2. A “fierce” and unusual first

Many years in the making, “Fierce” is as unusual an opera as you are likely to encounter. And I say that before I even heard of it. Most new operas have their roots in literature or tales from history books. Not “ferocious”. Composer William Menefield and songwriter/librettist Sheila Williams have spent countless hours with Cincinnati-area teenage girls from three organizations that nurture their creative lives: WordPlay, Music Resource Center, and i.imagine. Williams and Menefield have spoken. And more importantly, they listened to young women as they revealed aspects of their personal and creative lives and turned it all into an intimate, in-depth opera about the complexities of youth.

  • “Fierce” by William Menefield and Sheila Williams – July 6, 9 and 10, SCPA’s Corbett Theatre.

3. Without forgetting, a remarkable start

As Artistic Director Producer of Ensemble Theater Cincinnati, D. Lynn Meyers left a memorable and significant mark on the local theater community. But with “Fierce”, she will make her debut in opera staging. There’s not much Meyers hasn’t done before. But directing an opera is one of those things. She shaped ETC into a place dedicated to the theater that matters, a theater that is not afraid to go on a crusade. With “Fierce”, she found an opera invested in the same objectives.

4. A Towering Pirate

One of the highlights of the 2022 Cincinnati Opera Summer Festival is the delightfully campy

Opera or operetta? Or musical theatre, perhaps? Gilbert and Sullivan’s deliciously light musical offerings have been at the heart of many heated musicological discussions over the years. But if you’re like me, the definition is less important than the entertainment value of these pattern-filled shows. Finally – lyrics you want to understand.

The Cincinnati Opera hasn’t staged “The Pirates of Penzance” in over 40 years. When it returns this summer, the show will feature 6’6” bass Zachary James as the Pirate King. A few non-lyrical anecdotes about this physically intimidating swordsman: He originated the role of Lurch in “The Addams Family” on Broadway.

  • “The Pirates of Penzance” by Gilbert and Sullivan – July 7, 8 and 10, Music Hall

5. The grandest of grand operas

When people usurp the concept of “grand opera”, they often refer to “Aida”. You know the epic tale set in ancient Egypt? The one where elephants sometimes appear on stage. It’s a bit unfair, but Verdi’s tale is truly filled with beautiful music. Certainly, the Cincinnati Opera’s production will be huge – up to 128 people on stage at any one time. For comparison, the active roster of the city’s other big show, the Cincinnati Bengals, is no more than 53. Get ready for one of the biggest of all big operas. One note: no elephants this time.

  • “Aida” by Giuseppe Verdi – July 22, 26, 29 and 31, Music Hall.

6. A collaboration of masters

The name of the opera is “Beaver and Patience”. Excuse the pun, but we had no idea how patient we’d have to be when the pandemic postponed the world premiere of this highly anticipated work to 2020 and again to 2021. The premiere featured composer Gregory Spears (“Fellow Travelers”) and former American Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, who wrote the libretto.

  • “Beaver and Patience” by Gregory Spears and Tracy K. Smith – July 21, 23, 24, 28 and 30, SCPA’s Corbett Theatre.

7. Morris and Friends

Morris Robinson is a longtime friend of the Cincinnati Opera. And a Cincinnati crowd favorite. So it seems only fitting that the company end the season with a Morris-centric one-night extravaganza on the Music Hall stage. It will bring together a group of musical friends, a 48-voice HBCU alumni choir and fill the room with, as the promotion promises, opera, gospel and musical theater. A must see indeed.

  • “Morris and Friends” – July 27, Music Hall.

8. 100, finally

There have been few heartbreaks as deep as the Cincinnati Opera having to cancel its 100th anniversary season in 2020. They held a few of those anniversary shows last season. But this year, it’s time to party like in 2020.

View the full season schedule and purchase tickets at cincinnationopera.org.

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