Interview with Pelham (Pat) Pearce
A preview of the 2017 season at Central City Opera
Central City opera house
Today I had the great pleasure of interviewing Pelham (Pat) Pearce about the upcoming Central City Opera season at his administrative office in Glendale. Pearce, who has been the general/artistic director of Central City Opera for the last two decades, was relaxed and articulate about this summer’s opera productions.
Since Pearce has been here, the impresario has brought us American premieres such as that of Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” 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.
This year Colorado operagoers will be treated to Bizet’s “Carmen” and Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte.” Besides these two beloved classics there are also some one-act operas including: Benjamin Britten’s “The Burning Fiery Furnace,” Douglas Moore’s “Gallantry” and Amy Beach’s “Cabildo.”
Pearce said: “It’s our job to tell you a story. You don’t need ‘splainin’ to figure out what’s going on. Whenever I hire a stage director I always say that his job is to clarify the story and not obfuscate it. We should not have to have a full page in the program to help an audience know what’s going on. Everyone has a POV and a prism through which he tells the story. You have to tell a very clear story to have honest communication between the stage and the audience.”
“The gateway drug to opera is ‘Carmen,’ said Pearce. “It’s got all those spectacular tunes everybody already knows and loves because he or she has heard them so often on the radio or in cartoons.
This ‘Carmen’ stars Emily Pulley, who played Julie in our ‘Showboat’ a couple of seasons ago, said Pearce. “She also played Bea in ‘Three Decembers,’ and was in our Fledermaus in 1999. Pulley, who has now sung at the Met, was in our Young Artists Program in the early 1990s.’
Don Jose will be played by Adriano Graziani.
Michael Mayes, who played Scarpia in last season’s “Tosca” and was the star of “Dead Man Walking” the previous season, will sing Escamillo.
Angela Mortellaro, the “house favorite” in Minneapolis, will make her CCO debut in the role of Micaela.
The conductor for “Carmen” is Adam Turner who conducted “Man of La Mancha” two seasons ago.
The stage director is Jose Maria Condemi who directed “Florencia en el Amazonas” for Opera Colorado.
COSI FAN TUTTE
“‘Cosi fan tutte’ is chock-full of some of Mozart’s most glorious music,” Pearce continued. The title translates to: ‘Women are like that.’ The subtitle is ‘The School for Lovers.’ So we’ve decided to set it at a university in the first decade of the twentieth century. Hopefully setting it in a school will freshen and give it more structure. In fact the scenic design will be the interior of a Cambridge lecture hall and Act Two will be an English garden. That first decade of the last century was so important in that the role of women changed so dramatically. Women got the vote and so many other things were changing in Western civilization. It’s that time so many have come to love because of watching “Downton Abbey.”
Pearce added that the costume design will reflect the styles and fashions of “Downton Abbey” as well.
John Baril will conduct and Stephen Barlow will do the stage direction.
Hailey Clark will portray Fiordiligi and Tamara Gura will perform the part of Dorabella. Matthew Plenk and David Adam Moore will play Ferrando and Guglielmo respectively.
Megan Marino will play Despina.
Patrick Carfizzi, who is onstage at the Met a lot, will play Don Alfonso.
THE BURNING FIERY FURNACE
The third and final entry of the three Parables for Church Performances is Benjamin Britten’s “The Burning Fiery Furnace.” In this one-act opera, three young Israelites are saved from the wrath of King Nebuchadnezzar who wanted them dead for not worshiping his golden image. I am told that both other Britten “Parables” presented in the past two seasons sold out well in advance. So get your tickets early!
This opera will be presented at The Foundry in Central City.
“Gallantry” is a one-act opera by Douglas Moore (“The Ballad of Baby Doe”), that’s a parody of soap operas. It even includes the intrusions of commercial breaks. The list of characters includes: The Announcer, The Nurse, The Patient and Doctor Gregg. The guy getting surgery is the nurse’s boyfriend and the doctor is hitting on the nurse. This one-act will be performed in the Williams Stables Theater across the street from the opera house.
“Cabildo,” Amy Beach’s only opera, is a one-act offering set in New Orleans that incorporates folk songs and Creole tunes. Famous for her symphonies and chamber works, Beach is the only female opera composer ever performed at Central City Opera in eighty-five years.
The Cabildo was the old seat of Spanish government in New Orleans, and it’s the story of the Lafitte brothers. It’s the only opera this lady wrote. Her composition makes each of the instruments –piano, cello and violin-speak soloistically. Besides the great voices in this one, there is big and arching romantic music.”
The piece has never even been published so the powers that be at CCO had to go to her estate and petition to do it. The show will be presented in the Williams Stables Theater in Central City.
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.
“You get to see this in the smallest professional space in North America. The opera house seats five hundred fifty people. So you get this incredible intimacy with this art form so full of emotion that can’t be found anywhere else in this country.
Coming up the hill to Central City Opera is an experience that is uniquely Colorado. Whether coming up the canyon or travelling I-70, it’s a glorious drive. The gorgeous vistas are just spectacular.
“Before air conditioning, people came to Central City because of the cool mountain air. Many bought houses up here for the summer. The Penroses, the Broadmoors and Ellie Wechbaugh all had houses here. They later donated all the houses and we can now house one hundred twenty plus each summer.”
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 for a small fee 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!
In closing Pearce said “there is nowhere on earth that you can 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