What’s Happening at the Boston Lyric Opera: Agrippina

(copy of press release–working on article about opera, but it will not be ready by the time their show starts & I want you to have the information)

Oh, the depravity!
Boston Lyric Opera goes Baroque with elegant, insidious Agrippina

Caroline Worra stars in satire of the fall of the Roman Empire, opening March 11

Production features three countertenors: Anthony Roth Costanzo,
David Trudgen and José Alvarez

WHAT: Witness the ultimate stage mother have a major melt-down in one of opera’s most intense “mad scenes,” as she plots to make her son Nero Emperor of Rome in BLO’s production of Handel’s fast-paced Agrippina. This light and frothy opera with insidious undertones is based in historical fact, weaving the twisted tale of a mother’s desperate scheme to remove her husband from the throne and elevate her spoiled teenage son…creating a complicated intrigue of shifting alliances and turning the Imperial court into a nest of elegant vipers.

This classical yet modern production, created by Glimmerglass and New York City Opera, features exciting debuts and is the third in BLO’s 2010-2011 Season; it will be presented at the Citi Performing Arts CenterSM Shubert Theatre. Three countertenors, a five-piece continuo group and an elevated orchestra pit built specifically for the production will immerse the audience in a uniquely Baroque experience.

Critically acclaimed soprano Caroline Worra stars as the devious Agrippina; Worra, who won praise as Elettra in BLO’s 2010 production of Idomeneo will be joined by debuting Metropolitan Opera artist Kathleen Kim as Poppea; Kim will, in fact, commute between Boston and New York as she completes her performances in the Met’s Nixon in China while rehearsing for Agrippina. Bayerische Staatsoper regular Christian Van Horn also debuts as Claudio, along with the three countertenors: Anthony Roth Costanzo as Ottone, David Trudgen as Nerone, and José Alvarez as Narciso. Boston favorite David Cushing returns as Lesbo, and David McFerrin makes his BLO debut as Pallante. Conductor Gary Thor Wedow, internationally known for his affinity for Baroque works, will lead the orchestra and five-piece continuo group, which includes period instruments, such as a harpsichord, theorbo and cello. Reflecting Baroque performance practices, Wedow will also play virginals to decorate and amplify the textures. The orchestra will also contribute to the opera’s Baroque sensibility, playing on a specially-constructed raised platform in the Shubert’s pit.

The opera’s original creative team – internationally-celebrated stage director and playwright Lillian Groag, BLO Artistic Advisor and renowned set designer John Conklin and Tony award-winning costume designer Jess Goldstein – reunite to re-create and re-imagine Handel’s dark comedy for Boston, joined by Tony-nominated lighting designer Robert Wierzel.
Agrippina earned praise from critics for its strong, sexy visuals and twisted humor when it was presented by Glimmerglass in 2001 and New York City Opera in 2002 and 2007. New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini called it an “updated staging with a wit and visual imagination that match the satirical tone of the opera,” and said, “Ms. Groag elicited comically subtle performances from the cast.” Allan Kozinn, also of the New York Times, enthused, “The staging, with sets by John Conklin and costumes by Jess Goldstein, is sleek and up to date, with geometric designs and avant-garde artwork set beside hulking stone pieces meant to suggest ancient Rome.” Ms. Groag, he wrote, “helped the singers develop well-defined characters, sympathetic even in their scheming.” Charles Michener, of the New York Observer, called Agrippina “exhilarating,” and “good sexy fun with a lurid libretto while exalting all that is stirring in Handel’s glorious music… the players each find a wealth of comic gold in the increasingly entangled race for political and sexual advantage.”

WHEN: Opening performance Friday, March 11, 2011 at 7:30pm
Additional performances: March 13m, 16, 18, 20m, 22, 2011.

WHERE: The Citi Performing Arts Center Shubert Theatre, 265 Tremont Street, Boston

TICKETS: Tickets to Agrippina start at $34, with discounts for groups and students, and can be purchased at blo.org or by calling 866.348.9738 (TTY 888.889.8587). Spring subscriptions to Agrippina and A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be purchased by calling 617.542.6772.

Agrippina will be sung in Italian with projected English translation. Each performance is preceded by a half-hour Opera Preview lecture that is free for ticket holders. Additional behind-the-scenes material is available on the opera’s web page at blo.org.

SPECIAL EVENTS: Education and community activities are planned in partnership with the Boston Public Library (BPL) and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA).

February 24, 2011: FREE Opera Night at the BPL. With discussion and mini-performances.

March 6: Special Signature Seminar at the MFA – “Handel, History and Hollywood.” Explore Tinseltown’s fascination with this infamous and extraordinarily dysfunctional mother-son relationship, and the real history behind the myth.

ABOUT THE CAST:

Grammy-nominee soprano Caroline Worra makes her title role debut after covering the role at New York City Opera and Glimmerglass Opera. She has worked with numerous companies nationwide, including the Metropolitan Opera, The Lyric Opera of Chicago and Dallas Opera. Alex Ross, of The New Yorker calls Ms. Worra “a new soprano powerhouse” and David Shengold of Opera News wrote she is “a serious artist destined for international stages.”

Soprano Kathleen Kim (Poppea) was heralded by Opera News as “spectacular,” by the Chicago Sun-Times as “a revelation” and “tiny dynamo,” and the Chicago Tribune noted that Ms. Kim “nailed her stratospheric coloratura aria with a precise, penetrating soprano.” Last season’s performances included Olympia in the Met’s new production of Les Contes d’Hoffman and this season, she appears as Madam Mao in the Met’s premiere of Nixon in China, directed by Peter Sellars and conducted by John Adams.

Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn (Claudio) is a Bayerische Staatsoper regular who has performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago and other companies nationally. Opera News hailed his “ringing vocalism, superb diction and emotional verity,” and the New York Times said his “booming bass-baritone brought chilly gravitas and credibility to Karenin.”

Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo (Ottone) began performing professionally at the age of 11 and has since appeared in opera, concert, recital, film, and on Broadway. Opera News wrote he is “a star in the making” with his “stunning, secure countertenor.” Among his many notable awards, Mr. Costanzo is the first countertenor ever to win First Place in the Opera Index Competition. Canadian countertenor David Trudgen debuts as Nerone; Mr. Trudgen won high praise for his performance as Medoro in the Chicago Opera Theater’s Orlando. He also appeared at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., where he sang scenes from L’incoronazione di Poppea by Monteverdi for the Kennedy Center Conservatory Project. A third countertenor, José Alvarez will sing Narciso. This season, Mr. Álvarez debuts with the Fort Worth Opera as Tolomeo in Handel’s Giulio Cesare and will also join The Juilliard School as a guest artist for its production of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea. Next season, he will debut with Portland Opera as The Oracle in Philip Glass’s Galileo Galilei. Recent performances include an unscheduled debut with Chicago Opera Theater in the title role of Handel’s Orlando under the baton of Raymond Leppard.

Local favorite bass baritone David Cushing returns as Lesbo; Mr. Cushing first debuted with BLO as Count Monterone in Rigoletto, and has returned as Angelotti in Tosca, Palèmon in Thaïs, and Raymond in Lucia di Lammermoor, among many other appearances. Of a recent buffo performance, the Boston Herald wrote, “his portrayal of hoodwinked old Pasquale, filled with pathos and unself-conscious humor, was a revelation. He could easily specialize in Italian opera’s wealth of foolish-old-man roles and become the basso buffo of his generation.” David McFerrin makes his BLO debut as Pallante. Praised by the New York Times for his “appealingly textured sound,” Mr. McFerrin also made what The Seattle Times called a “highly impressive company debut” last season with Seattle Opera as Paul in the world premiere production of Daron Hagen’s Amelia. In 2008, Mr. McFerrin received a Richard F. Gold Career Grant for aspiring American opera singers.

Gary Thor Wedow, a faculty member at The Julliard School and former Associate Conductor of Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society, conducts. He recently led the Seattle Symphony in a Baroque program of Rameau, Handel and Marcello to rave reviews and following his Rinaldo for the Berkshire Opera, the Boston Globe’s Richard Dyer wrote: “The opera was delightfully played by a first-rate chamber orchestra under the direction Gary Thor Wedow. Years in opera houses have taught him how to make this music theatrical – and how to accommodate singers while challenging them.” This season he conducts Die Zauberflöte for Seattle Opera and an Opera Highlights Festival with the Seattle Symphony. In Boston, he has worked with the New England Conservatory, the Boston Conservatory and Boston University. The New Yorker wrote, of his 2009 lead of Don Giovanni, “Gary Thor Wedow meets the challenge of Mozart’s jocular drama with orchestral colors that are sometimes dark, sometimes laughing and ultimately transcendent.”

Stage director Lillian Groag is a writer, actress and director who has directed at New York City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Chicago Opera Theatre, and The Julliard School of Music. She last directed for BLO’s Idomeneo in April 2010, preceded by Lucie de Lammermoor in 2005. Her plays have been produced by the Old Globe Theatre, where she is an associate artist, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, The Kennedy Center and Yale Repertory. Ms. Groag has also worked in Mexico City, at the Junges Theatre in Bonn, Germany, and Tokyo.

Internationally-renowned designer John Conklin will set the stage; Mr. Conklin is Artistic Advisor for BLO and has worked with the Company on numerous productions, most recently Idomeneo, Carmen and Lucie de Lammermoor. He has designed for the Met, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Bastille Opera in Paris, and the opera houses of Munich, Amsterdam, and Bologna, among many others. Mr. Conklin will also design for BLO’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream this season. He teaches at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and served for many years as Associate Artistic Director for Glimmerglass Opera. Tony-award winning costume designer and Yale professor Jess Goldstein (Lincoln Center Theatre’s The Rivals) debuts, while Tony-nominated lighting designer Robert Wierzel returns for both Agrippina and A Midsummer Night’s Dream this season.

Cast photos for Agrippina can be found at blo.org/press_photos_agrippina.html.

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Boston Lyric Opera (BLO) is New England’s largest opera company. Founded in 1976, BLO is recognized for its artistically excellent productions of a diverse repertoire that entertain and inspire audiences and feature emerging operatic talent. BLO produces five productions each season: three at the Citi Performing Arts CenterSM Shubert Theatre in Boston, an Opera Annex production in a found space, and a fully staged, one-hour production in English of a popular Opera for Young Audiences throughout New England. BLO’s programs are funded, in part, by a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. blo.org.

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