Whether you’re happy with the operatic classics or want to dig deeper and perhaps discover a hidden masterpiece, you should find much to love about the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s 2015-16 season.
There will be a smoke-filled version of “Don Giovanni” with a fedora-wearing title character; a Czech opera never performed before in Kansas City; an “Elixir of Love” set in small-town America; and a “Carmen” starring a fiery new talent.
Deborah Sandler, the general director and CEO of the Lyric Opera, says that every year the Lyric strives to please various constituencies while not breaking the Lyric’s budget. It’s a challenge, but one that Sandler relishes.
“It’s kind of like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle,” Sandler said. “There are certain things that we always try to do, and we’re mindful of a variety of factors, always asking what can we bring that is truly spectacular and innovative and creative. In each season we try to meet the very specific demands of two distinct audiences.
“You have one audience who, for the most part, only wants to see things it knows and likes. Then you have another audience that only wants to see new things. In crafting four separate productions, we try to satisfy everybody to a certain extent.”
Next year’s jigsaw puzzle has been assembled in a very satisfying way.
For those who love the standards of the repertoire, the Lyric will perform three time-tested audience favorites: “Don Giovanni,” “The Elixir of Love” and “Carmen.”
But even those weary of the chestnuts should find the Lyric’s approach to these operas fresh.
For example, the first opera of the season, “Don Giovanni,” will receive the film noir treatment, which seems pretty brilliant to me.
“‘Don Giovanni’ is a mystery,” Sandler said. “Don Giovanni is a very dark character, and it’s a very dark story. I think it lends itself to a film noir interpretation. This will give a fresh look to the show while maintaining the integrity of the piece.”
The Lyric is creating this production with director Kristine McIntyre and its longtime scenic designer, R. Keith Brumley. To set the mood, on Sept. 10 the Lyric and the Tivoli Cinemas in Westport will present “Film Fatale: A Film Noir Experience.” Three classic films of the noir genre will be shown, and there will be talk-back sessions with McIntyre and Brumley.
For me, the highlight of the season is in November. The Lyric has never done Antonin Dvorak’s fairy tale opera “Rusalka” before. In fact, it has never done any Czech opera. It’s high time the Lyric explores this rich repertoire.
The story of Rusalka has elements of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and other fairy tales, and Dvorak’s rich, romantic music is the perfect complement. “Song to the Moon” from “Rusalka” is a familiar aria, showing up in countless vocal recitals and movies such as “Driving Miss Daisy.”
“The tale of the mermaid who wants to be human so she can realize human love is a story that lots of people are familiar with,” Sandler said. “This production originated with the Minnesota Opera and uses projections. It is a very beautiful show. The part that takes place in the everyday world will be more familiar, but for a lot of the opera you’re in the world of people who live under the sea. It has a magical, mystical look to it. I think our audiences will love it.”
Another sure-fire crowd-pleaser is Gaetano Donizetti’s comic opera “The Elixir of Love.” The Lyric’s production will set the bel canto classic in small-town America at the turn of the last century. As with the “Don Giovanni” update, this seems perfectly natural, unlike so many forced interpretations beloved by European avant-garde directors.
The Lyric’s production, which comes from Opera Colorado, will have a look reminiscent of Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton.
“It’s a light, funny, lovely production that screams small-town Americana,” Sandler said. “It’s tweaked with modern references. There are ice cream trucks and motorcycles and a gazebo. The scenery is painted, and that’s where you get the look of the artists with the Kansas City connection. It takes place before World War I, and the images will be very familiar from our history.”
To conclude the season, the Lyric will present everyone’s favorite passionate Gypsy, “Carmen.”
With its brilliant outpouring of melody, atmosphere, color and tragedy, “Carmen” is perhaps the most popular opera of all time. Starring in the title role will be a singer who made a splash at the Vinson Cole tribute a few weeks ago, Zanda Svede.
“She’s a Latvian mezzo-soprano who had jaws dropping at the Vinson Cole benefit,” Sandler said. “She’s a major talent. She’s currently completing her study and involvement at the San Francisco Opera in the Merola opera program.
“We believe she’s a major find and is going to have a major career. This will be her first major role in this country. At the benefit somebody told me, ‘Wow, she’s fabulous. She would make a great Carmen.’ I just turned around and winked and said, ‘Stay tuned.’”