Wichita Grand Opera is something special.
Luciano Pavarotti appeared at its inaugural gala in 2002. Placido Domingo has also made an appearance with the company, and for more than a decade it’s been producing world-class opera for Wichita and other cities and towns in Kansas.
For the first time, Wichita Grand Opera is coming to the Kansas City area with a performance at 3 p.m. Sunday at Johnson County Community College’s Yardley Hall.
The company will present a fully staged and costumed production of Giacomo Puccini’s opulent “Turandot.” .
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The high standards of excellence for which the WGO is known can be attributed to its founder and artistic director, Margaret Ann Pent, and her husband, the company’s president and CEO, Parvan Bakardiev.
Both have a rich background in opera. Pent was a soprano and has appeared with opera companies and performed as soloist with orchestras around the world, and Bakardiev also has had a stellar international opera career.
“My route was being born in Sofia, Bulgaria, educated in Vienna, Austria, starting my career in Italy and eventually becoming artistic administrator of Houston Grand Opera and holding executive positions with opera companies in Tennessee and Florida,” Bakardiev said. “In 2000 my wife needed an operation, and we came to Wichita where her cousin was a radiologist. Since Kansas was without a professional opera company, several physicians urged us to start one. So we traveled throughout the state and did a feasibility study and the rest is history.”
The husband-and-wife team have created a stable company that not only produces its own operas but also presents international ballet companies.
In addition to Wichita, the WGO regularly gives performances in McPherson and Salina, Kan., serving the cultural needs of the central and western parts of the state.
Bakardiev promises that the WGO will not skimp on any of the razzle-dazzle.
“From a purely musical standpoint, ‘Turandot’ is spectacular,” Bakardiev said. “It’s a visual extravaganza. I call it a Ziegfeld show. The role of Turandot is not easy to sing, and most of the Turandots are what people think of as the fat lady with the horns. We have a gorgeous singer who is debuting in the role. She’s gorgeous to look at, and, of course, the voice is extraordinary.”
Bulgarian Soprano Zvetelina Vassileva, who sings the role of Turandot, will be joined by Brazilian Tenor Ricardo Tamura as Prince Calaf and Kansas native Samuel Ramey as Calaf’s father, Timur.
“Samuel Ramey is an institution, and we don’t know how much longer he’ll be singing,” Bakardiev said. “He inspires the cast with his artistry and persona and stature. Yet he’s a very humble man. That’s the impressive thing about him. Nowadays there are a lot of so-called stars and legends in their own opinion. There are very few real ones, but Samuel Ramey is the real thing.”
Based on a story from “The Seven Beauties” by the 12th century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi, “Turandot” takes place in China, where the title character, an aloof princess, requires that her suitors solve three riddles before they can ask to marry her.
Bakardiev said tradition is especially important when it comes to a beloved masterpiece like “Turandot.” He notes that Puccini’s exotic opera contains one of the most popular arias ever written, “Nessun Dorma.”
“Pavarotti had the largest audience of any singer ever in the history of classical or pop music when he sang ‘Nessun Dorma’ during a soccer championship in Italy in the ’90s,” he said. “Three billion viewers. And before that was the Three Tenors concert. Then everybody tried to copy him, including Michael Bolton, Sarah Brightman and Charlotte Church. At least five or six movies have used ‘Nessun Dorma,’ including the most recent, ‘Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation.’ NPR said the best five minutes of the movie was ‘Nessun Dorma,’ and I kind of agree with that.”
With a magical setting, a fairy tale love story and sumptuous music, “Turandot” has established itself in the hearts of opera lovers. It’s exactly the kind of opera Bakardiev wanted his company to perform for its first production in the Kansas City area. He’s hopeful that those who attend the Lyric Opera of Kansas City will give Wichita Grand Opera’s “Turandot” a try.
You can reach Patrick Neas at email@example.com.
The Wichita Grand Opera presents “Turandot” at 3 p.m., Sunday at Yardley Hall, 12345 College Boulevard, Overland Park. $24-$58. 913-469-4445 or www.jccc.edu/theseries. William Everett, Curators’ Professor of Musicology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, will give a preshow talk at 2 p.m.