Friday, January 29, 2016

Indianapolis Opera lifts its voice to proclaim financial, artistic health in the 2016-17 season

A work that its author yearned to see turned into an opera will reach that status posthumously next September when Indianapolis Opera premieres "Happy Birthday, Wanda June."

Indianapolis native Kurt Vonnegt wrote the libretto based on what started life as a 1971 stage play. After Richard Auldon Clark, director of instrumental activities at Butler University, befriended the fellow New Yorker late in the author's life, the two talked frequently of imbuing the story with music. Vonnegut died in 2007.

Scheduled for production in the Schrott Center for the Arts on campus, the opera will be directed by Eric Einhorn, heading a production team including Cameron Anderson (set design), Shawn Kauffman (lighting), and Candida Nichols (costumes).

"Happy Birthday, Wanda June" was motivated by Vonnegut's opposition to the Vietnam War. It is loosely based on "The Odyssey," the epic poem by Homer, with an American soldier of fortune as the Ulysses character. He returns home to his wife, Penelope, finding her much changed while he was away, lost in the Amazon Basin.

"He had talked many times about 'Wanda June' being good as an opera," Clark told a season-announcement gathering at the Schrott Center Thursday night. "The story and words were most important to him," and Vonnegut thought new music would serve the text well:  "Kurt thought that as soon as it had music, everyone would  understand the characters of 'Wanda June' better," Clark said. "This man knew music like you wouldn't believe."

Indianapolis Opera plans to set up a small Vonnegut festival in the week before the opera premieres Sept. 16-18. Details have yet to be concluded

The rest of the season:

* "The Barber of Seville," by Gioacchino Rossini (Nov. 18-20), the Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts, Carmel. It's one of most produced comic operas.

* "The Jewel Box,"  (March 24-26, 2017,  at the Schrott Center), a pastiche fully scored by W.A. Mozart and put together by music critic Paul Griffiths. Concert arias are used, given new English texts and linked with spoken dialogue. The piece fancifully puts the composer inside the action with the goal of creating a new kind of operatic genre.

Reginald Smith Jr.
Sydney Mancasola

Yi Li
Margaret Mezzacappa
The current season will end March 18-20 with the American premiere of Jonathan Dove's opera based on Jane Austen's "Mansfield Park." This weekend the company presents "Opera's Rising Stars," a program of highlights from the opera repertoire featuring four recent winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. They will be accompanied by the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra conducted by Matthew Kraemer, its music director. Both programs are at the Schrott Center.

Heard in rehearsal Thursday night, they proved to be four capable singers of thrilling potential. They are soprano Sydney Mancasola, mezzo-soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, tenor Yi Li, and baritone Reginald Smith Jr. The Indianapolis Opera Chorus is also on the program, which will be performed twice this weekend.

Before the season announcement, IO general director Kevin Patterson summed up the company's achievements over the past year since he was named to head it.

A new matching gift program of $25,000 for the endowment has raised $11,000 so far. Its educational component performed 78 shows in 18 Indiana counties for audiences totaling 25,574. On the way to having seven resident companies at its home, the Basile Opera Center, 4011 N. Pennsylvania St., it now has Motus Dance, Encore Vocal Arts and the Indianapolis Film Festival as tenants. "We intend to establish the Basile Center as a midtown destination for the arts," Patterson said.