By Gary Murphy
With current travel restrictions still in flux, summer vacation plans remain a challenge for all opera festival lovers. For many, it would not be summer without a deep dive into European opera festivals across the continent. While that still may be possible, ever-changing health protocol hurdles may prove a bit too high to jump.
Rather than mope about pining for where we can’t go, let’s consider the summer of 2021 as a time to be creative and discover an opera festival a bit closer to home. For example, if you can’t go on a German opera tour this year, then consider spending a few days visiting Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood. This well-preserved former working-class German neighborhood is now home to craft breweries, hip gastropubs and trendy bars and not far from Summit Park, this year’s home to Cincinnati Opera (July 11-29). A stellar lineup of talent will perform including many known to Opera League members: Janai Brugger, Ana María Martínez, Russell Thomas, Morris Robinson, who also serves as CO’s Artistic Advisor, J’Nai Bridges and more. And while you’re there, stop by and say hello to former LA Opera stage Manager Lyla Forlani who now helps run the show as Cincinnati Opera’s Director of Production.
Here are a few more of our suggestions:
Pacific Opera Project
June 4-6, 2021 | Los Angeles, CA
In June and a bit closer to home, we have the ever-resourceful Pacific Opera Project dusting off a little-known bel canto comedy by George Bizet created in 1859 when the composer was just 21 years old. Don Procopio, which shares a similar plot line with Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, tells the story of Donna Bettina, in love with Odoardo but forced to wed her miserly uncle’s miserly friend Don Procopio. However, Bettina, with the help of her aunt Eusebia and brother Don Ernesto, manages thwart those plans so she can wed the one she loves.
All three showcases will feature socially-distanced audiences. The showcase will feature Ben Lowe in the title role alongside Rachel Policar, Jon Lee Keenan, Armando Contreras, E. Scott Levin, Jessica Gonzalez-Rodriguez, and a four-person chorus. Maggie Green will supply costumes with Josh Shaw directing. Charlie Kim will conduct.
West Edge Opera
July 24-August 8, 2021 | Orinda, CA
East of San Francisco you’ll find Orinda, home to the always intriguing West Edge Opera which presents early and contemporary works, and re-imagines opera tradition to engage and entertain a diverse audience. Located between Berkeley and Walnut Creek, West Edge Opera gets edgier this summer as they move outside for Festival 2021 and offer Katya Kabanova by Leos Janâcek; Elizabeth Cree by Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell; and Eliogabalo by Francesco Cavalli.
Santa Fe Opera
July 10 – August 27 | Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe Opera has been called “the Rolls Royce of American summer opera festivals” (WSJ) and remains popular with opera-loving Californians who make the annual pilgrimage to the Land of Enchantment. This year’s high desert opera celebration includes The Marriage of Figaro, The Lord of Cries (new commission), Eugene Onegin, A Midsummer Night's Dream and L.A. favorite, soprano Angel Blue, in concert.
Ticket sales begin June 1 as the company prepares to return to live performance this summer. Health and safety protocols for staff, artists, patrons and the entire Sant Fe community will be top priority.
July 8 - August 22 | Annandale-on-Hudson, NY
You will find SummerScape idyllically nestled at Bard College, located just north of New York City along the dreamy Hudson River.
This July and August, Bard SummerScape returns with a full season of live music, dance, opera and performance, culminating in the 31st annual Bard Music Festival, Nadia Boulanger and Her World, the pioneering French composer, conductor and teacher.
SummerScape will also present the North American premiere of King Arthur (Le roi Arthus), by Boulanger's compatriot Ernest Chausson, and the world premiere of I was waiting for the echo of a better day, choreographed by Pam Tanowitz with music by Jessie Montgomery.
The Glimmerglass Festival
July 15 - August 17 | Cooperstown, New York
No summer New York opera tour is complete without stopping in Cooperstown for the annual Glimmerglass Festival. This year, productions will move outside for Glimmerglass on the Grass, an outdoor festival of 90-minute re-imagined performances of: Mozart's The Magic Flute, Verdi's Il Trovatore, Offenbach's Songbird (La Périchole) and the world premiere of playwright Sandra Seaton's The Passion of Mary Cardwell Dawson, about the founder of the National Negro Opera Company, with original music by Carlos Simon. The season will also feature "Gods and Mortals," focusing on the works of Wagner, and" To the World," a concert of musical theater favorites.
Central City Opera
July 3 - 28 | Central City, Colorado
Did you ever want to travel through the Rocky Mountains in the summertime? Well, perhaps this is the year to explore and visit Central City Opera located just west of Denver.
The 2021 Summer Festival opens on July 3 with Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel, followed by Verdi's Rigoletto and Purcell's bewitching opera, Dido and Aeneas. The first two will be staged in The Hudson Gardens & Event Center's beautiful outdoor amphitheater with socially distanced seating. Additional outdoor performances are planned.
Des Moines Metro Opera
July 2 - 15 | Des Moines, Iowa
The 2021 Summer Festival features the long-awaited return of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd alongside Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades, Rameau's Platée and Gregory Spears/Greg Pierce's Fellow Travelers. Principals include Taylor Stayton, Zachary James, Zoie Reams, Elizabeth Sutphen and John Brancy in Platée; Jonathan Burton, Sara Gartland and Joyce Castle in The Queen of Spades; Zachary Nelson, Lucy Schaufer, Ben Edquist, Grace Kahl and Wayne Tiggis in Sweeney Todd; and Joseph Lattanzi and Christian Sanders in Fellow Travelers.
Opera Theatre of St. Louis
May 22 - June 20 | St. Louis, Missouri
This year’s 2021 festival season includes Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, William Grant Still's Highway 1, U.S.A, Poulenc's La voix humaine and the world premiere of three 20-minute commissions by the composer/librettist teams of Damien Sneed & Karen Chilton, Laura Karpman & Taura Stinson and Steven Mackey & Rinde Eckert. Other events include the annual "Center Stage" concert, highlighting the talents of OTSL's highly selective young artist programs, and "I Dream a World," the company's first ever concert celebrating Black Music Month, co-presented with the Missouri History Museum.
The Ojai Music Festival
September 16 - 19 | Ojai, California
In a normal year, the summer season really begins the second weekend in June at the Ojai Music Festival. However, this year September becomes the new June as the 75th annual Ojai Music Festival moves to September 16-19 and will close out the summer with four days of exhilarating musical brainstorming among hills and orchards of Ojai Valley, 75 miles north of Los Angeles. The 2021 artistic director Ara Guzelimian, Provost and Dean of the Juilliard School in New York City, will focus the program around the work and influence of composer John Adams. This is one festival not to be missed!
Most European opera festivals will perform this summer with modifications due to ever-changing health protocols. So, if your opera excursions extend to Europe, here are a few of our suggested highlights to consider.
July 23 - August 21 | Torre del Lago
The Puccini Festival of Torre del Lago is one of the most important festivals in Italy and the world's only festival dedicated to the composer Giacomo Puccini that takes place every summer in the places that inspired Puccini to master his immortal melodies. The 67th Festival takes place July 23 to August 21 in the Gran Teatro all'aperto Giacomo Puccini and includes opera, concerts and recitals. Scheduled this summer are Tosca; Turandot, with the finale by Luciano Berio (which received its world premiere at LA Opera); La Bohème; Pierot Lunnaire; and themed orchestral concerts around the music of Puccini.
Verona Opera Festival at the Great Arena
June 19 - September 4 | Verona
Riccardo Muti and Plácido Domingo will headline the 2021 Verona Arena Opera Festival, essentially last year’s season revived as a sign of “great optimism and utmost seriousness.” After an abbreviated 2020 season of concerts due to the pandemic, operas will be fully staged with a complete cast and chorus. But the Arena’s elaborate sets, including a full pyramid for Aida, will be substituted by technology, including projectors and holograms, to reduce the number of people onstage and backstage, and maintain distancing requirements.
Seating will be limited to 3,200 at the start of the season, but organizers said they hoped the vaccine campaign will advance in a way to allow more seating as the season progresses.
Maestro Muti will open the season on June 19 and 22, conducting a concert version of Aida to mark the 150th anniversary of the Verdi title whose pageantry has made it a festival mainstay. The summer festival will also include Cavalleria Rusticana, Pagliacci, Nabucco, La Traviata and Turandot.
Maestro Domingo will headline one of five gala events, which also include Verdi’s Requiem, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, an opera gala featuring German tenor Jonas Kaufmann and a ballet gala starring Roberto Bolle.
August 9 - 22 | Pesaro
The Rossini Opera Festival has taken place in Pesaro, Italy – Rossini’s birthplace and UNESCO Creative City of Music – since 1980. It is the only festival entirely dedicated to the Italian composer. Famous and lesser-known operas and concerts are performed in the Adriatic coastal town, reviving the musical heritage connected with Gioachino Rossini.
The season, which will open on August 9, will feature four new productions and include Il Signor Bruschino, Moise et Pharaon and Elisabetta, Regina d’Inghilterra. Joining these operas will be the annual revival of Il Viaggio a Reims, eight concerts and the final Gala Rossini on August 22.
The season will also feature the Stabat Mater, Concerti di Bel Canto and Concerti Lirico-Sinfonici, and a Juan Diego Florez concert celebrating the 25th anniversary of the tenor’s stunning debut at the Festival in 1994.
May 20 - August 29 | Near Lewes, England
The Glyndebourne Festival has announced a revised 2021 season that will run from May 20 to August 29. Kát’a Kabanová will open the festival in a new production by Damiano Michieletto. The cast will include Kateřina Knĕžíková, Aigul Akhmetshina, Katarina Dalayman, Nicky Spence, Alexander Vassiliev, David Butt Philip, and Thomas Atkins. Other performances include Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia, Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte, Verdi’s Luisa Miller (featuring L.A.’s own Charles Castronovo) and a semi-stage performance of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
Even in post-pandemic times, the Festival continues its tradition of formal dress where the audience members relish the opportunity to dress up for a day. A key part of the Glyndebourne Festival experience is the 90-minute interval – a chance to enjoy a picnic in the gardens or dinner at one of the three on-site restaurants.
Munich Opera Festival
June 25 - July 31 | Munich
The Munich Opera Festival 2021 opens this season with the festival premiere of Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde under the musical direction of Kirill Petrenko. The leading roles are starring Jonas Kaufmann and Anja Harteros. In addition, director Antú Romero Nunes, together with conductor Constantinos Carydis, will work on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's opera Idomeneo, which will be performed in the intimate atmosphere of the Prinzregententheater. The Bayerisches Staatsballett will again present new creations in Today is Tomorrow.
July 25 - August 25 | Bayreuth
For many an opera fan, there is no summer opera festival more revered than Bayreuth, an annual music festival where performances of operas by the 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner are presented. Wagner himself conceived and promoted the idea of a special festival to showcase his own works, in particular his monumental Ring Cycle and Parsifal.
Performances take place in a specially designed theatre which contains many architectural innovations to accommodate the huge orchestras for which Wagner wrote as well as the composer's particular vision about the staging of his works. The Festival has become a pilgrimage destination for Wagnerians and classical-music enthusiasts. This season’s program includes Der Fliegende Holländer, Tannhäuser, Der Walküre, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg and a concert version of Parsifal.
July 21 - August 22 | Bregenz
The Bregenz Festival returns with Verdi’s masterpiece Rigoletto, a compelling, blood-curdling and beautiful opera performed on the stunning open air lake stage. The giant clown’s head whose peaceful expression can change into the leer of a misogynist and a screaming grimace; the illuminated captive balloon which Gilda is abducted from after singing of her love in the aria “Caro nome”; the unscrupulous but seductive duke with his entourage of daring acrobats – spectacular images from Philipp Stölzl’s staging have been shared all round the world since the premiere. The opera and film director makes Giuseppe Verdi’s stirring music visible. The Rigoletto he presents on the Bregenz lake stage is a gripping drama that combines the thrills of the circus with the subtleties of a chamber play.
July 17 - August 31 | Salzburg
For many opera fans, summer is not complete without a trip to Salzburg, Austria for the annual music festival. The Opera League’s Brita Millard is already planning for a group trip in 2022. To whet our appetite, here are selected highlights for this year.
Handel's Il Trionfo del Tempo del Disinganno, directed by Robert Carsen and starring Cecila Bartoli; Strauss's Elektra; Mozart's Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte; Puccini's Tosca starring Anna Netrebko, Ysif Eyvazon and Ildar Abradrazakov; Luigi Nono's Intolleranza 1960; Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust in concert; Morton Feldman's Neither; and a public master class with Christa Ludwig,
June 30 - July 25
The Festival International d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence has been held each summer since 1948. Devoted mainly to opera, it also includes concerts of orchestral, chamber, vocal and solo instrumental music. Performances are given in a variety of locations, including the Théâtre de l’Archevêché (in the courtyard of the former Archbishop’s palace), the Jeu de Paumes (a restored 18th century theatre) and the Théâtre du Grand Saint-Jean, on the grounds of a chateau.
With the hope of rebounding from last year’s cancelation, there will be more performances than usual at this year’s festival, including Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro; two Barrie Kosky productions—Verdi’s Falstaff and Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Golden Cockerel; a concert version of I Due Foscari and Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde conducted by Simon Rattle and featuring Nina Stemme, Jamie Barton and Stuart Skelton.