Opera and ballet lovers who want to expand their horizons might consider a jaunt to Wichita.
The largest city in Kansas, less than a three-hour drive from Kansas City, is home to Wichita Grand Opera, which not only produces operas but also presents international ballet companies.
Some of the stars who have performed with the WGO since it was founded in 2000 include Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Joyce DiDonato. No doubt about it, it’s a very fine company and well worth discovering.
Wichita Grand Opera has dubbed its new season, which begins April 25, Season of Royalty, and it’s an apt moniker. The company will perform three operas that explore the world of royalty, from its sumptuous splendor to its all-too-human foibles. The Russian National Ballet Theatre will perform two classics.
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All performances are at the Century II Performing Arts Center, which is part of the Century II Convention Center. The Century II Performing Arts & Convention Center is surrounded by parks which provide an urban oasis of walkways and waterfalls.
The season begins April 25 with the Russian National Ballet performing “Cinderella” by Sergei Prokofiev. The work was first performed at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1945 at the height of the Stalinist era, but “Cinderella” hearkens to the grand ballet of Czarist Russia. Prokofiev’s romantic telling of the beloved fairy tale is the farthest thing from socialist realism claptrap.
A week later, on May 3, the same ballet company will perform Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” This is a cornerstone work of classical ballet, and the Russian National Ballet can be expected to mount an authentic production.
After a summer hiatus, the season will resume Aug. 28 and 30 with Wichita Grand Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Turandot.” Set in the Chinese imperial palace, “Turandot” is opera at its most luxurious, with opportunities for lavish set design and a score drenched in sensuality. The Aug. 30 production will be at 3 p.m. in Carlsen Center at Johnson County Community College.
On Sept. 25 and 27, WGO will present Giuseppe Verdi’s “Don Carlo,” another opera rich with heart-stopping melodies. The plot, however, is incredibly byzantine with complex relationships and court intrigue. But while “Don Carlo” is not the easiest opera to follow, it rewards the audience’s effort with dramatic scenes like the burning of the heretics and some of Verdi’s most transcendent music.
Season of Royalty concludes Oct. 10, 16 and 18 with a lighter look at the aristocracy. “The Grand Duchess,” opera bouffe by Jacques Offenbach, centers around a spoiled young duchess and satirizes Europe’s various monarchies and militaries. This operetta also has some of Offenbach’s catchiest tunes.
Many of the crowned heads of Europe attended performances of the operetta, and, according to all accounts, thoroughly enjoyed it. Otto von Bismarck, prime minister of Prussia, is reported to have remarked, “That’s exactly how it is!”
▪ April 25: “Cinderella” by Sergei Prokofiev, performed by the Russian National Ballet Theatre
▪ May 3: “Swan Lake” by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, performed by the Russian National Ballet Theatre
▪ Aug. 28 and 30: “Turandot” by Giacomo Puccini, performed by the Wichita Grand Opera
▪ Sept. 25 and 27: “Don Carlos” by Giuseppe Verdi, performed by the Wichita Grand Opera
▪ Oct. 10, 16 and 18: “The Grand Duchess” by Jacques Offenbach, performed by the Wichita Grand Opera
All performances at Century II Performing Arts Center, 225 W. Douglas Ave., Wichita. For more information, call 316-262-8054 or visit www.wichitagrandopera.org.