INTERVIEW WITH PELHAM (PAT) PEARCE / A PREVIEW OF THE 2016 CENTRAL CITY OPERA SEASON
“It’s an experience you can’t get anywhere else!”
I had the great good luck of getting to interview Central City Opera’s General/Artistic Director Pelham(Pat) Pearce the other day and I have never seen Pearce so fiery in his description of the upcoming Central City Opera festival season. He was so stoked and animated that what has been in the past a quick half hour interview became one lasting just over two hours. Perhaps it goes without saying that the time flew by.
In the two decades that Pearce has been here, the impresario has allowed us to see American premieres such as that of Benjamin Britten’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” premieres of Chinese operas such as “Poet Li Bai” and American operas such as “Gabriel’s Daughter” and “Susannah.” Pearce has done wonders mixing the classics in the repertoire with contemporary works.
Central City Opera is the fifth oldest opera company in the country and has been in operation since 1932. Besides enthralling Colorado audiences it has attracted national and international attention with its operatic offerings.
Pearce pointed out that “one of the reasons the shows always sound so excellent at CCO is that they have a training program for young opera singers. Where else can you find a chorus made up of thirty-one soloists?”
Here’s what Pearce had to say about this season.
(Photo credits: Preston Utley)
“The Ballad of Baby Doe” plays July 9 through August 6th. This work was commissioned by Central City Opera and premiered in 1956. “It’s the true riches to rags adventure of Elizabeth (Baby)Doe at the pinnacle of Colorado’s mining history. An intriguing epic of love and loss, boom and bust set to beautiful music by Douglas Moore.” This year Baby Doe will be played by Anna Christy. “She’s very effective dramatically and can really deliver the goods vocally. Over the last ten years she’s performed at La Scala, the Met, and London’s Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in such productions as: “Susannah,” “The Crucible,” “Tales of Hoffman” and “Lucia di Lamermoor.” Pat said that she sang the Zerlina in his favorite recording of Riccardo Muti’s “Don Giovanni.” Susanne Mentzner will sing Augusta Tabor. Grant Youngblood will play Horace Tabor. The conductor will be Tim Meyers. (He’s the artistic director of Opera North Carolina and conducted the last “Carmen” presented by CCO.) David Martin Jacques, who has done most of the exquisite lighting designs for the past twenty years at CCO will do the lighting designs for “The Ballad of Baby Doe” and “Tosca.”( Go online and check out this master’s portfolio. It’s amazing!) Donald Hartmann will sing William Jennings Bryan. Sara Jean Tosetti will be creating the costumes for the principals as well as curating those for the ensemble from their 2005 production.
“Tosca” will play from July 16 throughAugust 7. Composed by Giacomo Puccini and with libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, it’s based upon the play by Victorian Sardou. It’s an edge of your seat thriller full of passion and jealously and scandal that takes place in Rome during the Napoleonic era. Filled with your favorite Puccini arias, Alexandra Loutsion will sing Tosca. Pearce said, “She’s a previous apprentice whose career is moving very fast. Ms. Loutsion has a spectacular instrument and is a committed performer.” Cavaradossi will be played by Jonathan Burton. Scarpia, the most infamous villain in all of opera, will be sung by Michael Mayes, who stunned the opera world with his portrayal of Joseph de Rocher in “Dead Man Walking.” Donald Hartmann will play the Sacristan. The conductor will be John Baril. The sets will also be done by director Joachim Schamberger, whose projections were shot while he was in Europe last year.
"The Impresario"(Mozart’s “Der Schauspieldirektor”) has an original German libretto by Gottlieb Stephanie. “This is a charming comedy in which two divas scheme and squabble their way to opening night in a new opera.”
“The Impresario” is set in 1948 New York and will be performed in Boulder on July 28 at 6pm and 8 pm at Nomad Playhouse. It will also play in Central City on Wednesdays July 27 and August 3 at noon at the Gilman Studio at the Lanny and Sharon Martin Foundry Rehearsal Center.
“Later the Same Evening” will play Saturday July 30 at 8pm at The Denver Art Museum and on Friday, August 5 at Central City at 7pm in the Atwill Gilman Studio at the Lanny and Sharon Martin, Foundry Rehearsal Center, 212 Eureka Street. A lullaby to New York inspired by Edward Hopper’s classic American paintings, this one act opera was written by contemporary composer, John Musto. The story reveals the hopes and dreams, longings and loves of characters in five Hopper paintings as they step out of their frames and come to life one night in 1932 New York. Music is by John Musto and libretto by Mark Campbell.
“This season we’re going to play in the realm of projections.”
Pearce said “the first sets created for “The Ballad of Baby Doe” were drop painted sets in the 50s. It was really problematic because some operas had a godzillion scenes. The set for “Baby Doe” in ’96 and ’06 was a monster. There were a godzillion scene changes requiring moving scenery in and out on palettes. Trying to get the magnificent Clarendon Hotel on and off required a Herculean effort.”
Pearce went on to say, “Ken Cazan wanted to do set design using visual projections in order to allow the operas to be more cinematic.
Ken and David Jacques shot all these projections in the mountains last year for “The Ballad of Baby Doe.” Joachim Schamburger shot the projections for “Tosca” in Europe.
Both sets of projections were shot with an eye to the fact that although these are contemporary productions, we have to keep the time frame in mind. “Tosca” needs the Napoleonic period look to succeed and “The Ballad of Baby Doe” needs the feel of Gilpin County during the mining boom.
Costuming will be period for both shows. The most important thing is that you have to tell the story in a flow that is easily consumed. The audience doesn’t need a road map.There will be a full orchestra for both.”
The Central City Opera House was built in 1878 by Robert Roeschlaub, the architect who also built the Trinity United Methodist Church in Denver. It’s graced by the magnificent trompe l’oeil murals by San Francisco artist John C. Massman. This venue provides an intimacy that’s hard to come by. When it first opened its doors there was no such thing as air conditioning. As a result many famous actors chose to leave the heat of New York City’s asphalt jungle to perform in plays in the fresh, cool atmosphere of Central City, Colorado.
Lillian Gish christened the newly restored opera house with “Camille;” beginning the tradition of the annual summer festivals we have today. Some of the other stars who, have played at Central City summer festivals are: Beverly Sills, Helen Hayes and Samuel Ramey. Walter Huston played Othello with his wife, Nan Sunderland as Desdemona at the opera house in 1934.
There are numerous hauntings reported in the area; so if you happen to be a Ghostbuster you have a whole new world to explore when you’re not at the opera.
If you’re a history fan there’s lots to learn about this town. After gold was discovered at Gregory’s Gulch in 1859 there was a gold rush that added 10,000 people to the little town.
In 1871 the Republican convention found its way to Central City and the rowdy participants (200 of them) found themselves unceremoniously dumped into an office on the first floor. Luckily nobody was injured.
In an interview some fifteen seasons ago Artistic Director Emeritus John Moriarty told me that Meredith Willson got the inspiration to write “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” while having a cocktail at the Teller House right next door to the Opera House.
And don’t forget to check out Herndon Davis’ stunning 1936 painting now known as “The Face on the Barroom Floor” while having your own cocktail at The Teller House. Ever since the Gold Rush of 1859, Central City, Colorado has been known as “the richest square mile on earth.” Now however, the mother lode is Central City Opera. The gems are its glorious productions.
There is the usual parking available in the Opera Company’s parking lot as well as free parking in the garage at Century Casino.
Kevin Taylor is serving dinner upstairs next door to the opera house and there is the usual light fare at the Teller House and in the casinos. Get your rezzers early because they fill up early on opera evenings!
“Nowhere on earth can you get the combination of the bracing Colorado fresh air, the gorgeous scenery, the experience of the once booming mining town and the very best of world-class opera.”
The intimacy of Central City opera provides an up close and personal delivery of the repertoire of Grand Opera as well as the very best gems of American opera.
Whether you’re an opera virgin or a jaded culture vulture, it’s this reviewer’s not so humble opinion that Central City Opera is the most consistently excellent producer of operas in Colorado.
See you at the opera!
For more information regarding the specific dates and times of the operas and scheduling of the events go online to centralcityopera.org or call 303-292-6700.Marlowe's Musings