Performing Arts

The Classical Beat: Lyric Opera to bring Mount Everest to the stage in 2017-18 season

The opera “Everest” tells the story of a harrowing 1996 Mount Everest expedition in which eight people died in a blizzard. Be prepared for the musical equivalent of an IMAX film, an official says.
The opera “Everest” tells the story of a harrowing 1996 Mount Everest expedition in which eight people died in a blizzard. Be prepared for the musical equivalent of an IMAX film, an official says.

The Lyric Opera of Kansas City is bringing the mountain to the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

A recently composed opera about a tragic 1996 expedition to the top of Mount Everest is a highlight of the just-announced 2017-18 Lyric Opera season. Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin” is also on the schedule as well as two certifiable opera hits: “Rigoletto” and “The Barber of Seville.”

Not presented by the Lyric since 2000, “Eugene Onegin” opens the season Sept. 30. And the Lyric has a brand new production in the works. Erhard Rom, the designer of the Lyric’s memorable production of “Nixon in China,” is designing the sets.

“Get ready for some trees,” said Deborah Sandler, general director and CEO of the Lyric. “We don’t do a lot of Russian opera, and I think we need to reconsider that. We have in ‘Onegin’ a lot of very, very beautiful melodies that people will recognize. You have some beautiful dance music, an exotic setting. It’s a wonderful love story.”

In November, the Lyric will embark on one of its most ambitious productions, “Everest.” The opera, with music by Joby Talbot and libretto by Gene Scheer, tells the story of the harrowing 1996 Mount Everest expedition in which eight people died in a blizzard.

When Dallas Opera presented the premiere in 2015, The Wall Street Journal called it “a remarkable opera. This 70-minute juggernaut makes you feel disturbingly in the moment, living — and dying — along with the characters.”

Sandler says to be prepared for the musical equivalent of an IMAX film.

“The orchestra will be so big that it won’t fit in the pit,” Sandler said. “It has colors to re-create the Himalayas and the climb. ‘Everest’ is about what makes one want to undertake such a journey. Do you climb a mountain because it’s there? Do climb a mountain to prove something to yourself? Do you climb a mountain to find yourself? Then you get into the issue of the people whose job it is to safeguard the climbers. It’s a psychological story, and the music really helps us paint emotions.”

And the production and sets, according to Sandler, will give the sense of being part of the expedition.

“You get a sense of the immensity,” she said. “I’m telling you it’s an incredible work. This undertaking is our own Everest, but we intend to make it to the top and back in one piece.”

A more down-to-earth but no less dramatic work is “Rigoletto,” which the Lyric will present in March 2018.

Giuseppe Verdi’s opera about a licentious egotistical duke, his hunchbacked court jester, Rigoletto, and Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, must rank as one of the most performed operas in history.

“It’s vintage Verdi,” Sandler said. “Everyone knows the tunes. They’ve been used in advertising for years and years. And it’s a heartbreaking story. It’s what many people think of as opera. It’s what makes Verdi Verdi.”

Nicole Haslett, who sings the role of Gilda, and Leo Ann in the title role will both be making their Lyric Opera debuts, but they both have extensive experience in their roles. Mezzo-soprano Zanda Švēde, who starred as Carmen in last year’s Lyric’s production and whose career has been nurtured by Sandler and the Lyric, is also part of the cast.

“She’ll have a less principal role (Maddalena), but we’re very happy to have her with us,” Sandler said. “Her career is really starting to take off.”

The final opera of the season, Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville,” is another certified platinum operatic hit and the Lyric has lined up a sterling cast to do it credit. The production sounds intriguing, too. Sandler says it’s inspired by the films of Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar.

“You don’t always get to see ‘Barber’ with roosters, and I won’t say anything more,” Sandler said. “Almodovar is thought of as working magical realism, and this story lends itself to that. It’s a very vibrant, colorful production for an opera that was meant to be funny and it’s going to be a fun time for everyone.”

The Lyric’s Exploration Series is returning for it second season. This is a series of recitals and chamber operas intended to bring vocal music to a non-traditional crowd. The Explorations programs are presented in the Lyric’s funky and intimate Michael and Ginger Frost Production Arts building or the atmospheric Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.

“It’s the beginning of our 60th anniversary season, and this company from its founding by Russell (Patterson) always did a great variety of different kinds of works, and I think we’re holding true to that,” Sandler said.

Sept. 30-Oct. 8: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: “Eugene Onegin”

Nov. 11-19: Joby Talbot and Gene Scheer: “Everest”

March 3-11, 2018: Giuseppe Verdi: “Rigoletto”

April 28-May 6: Gioachino Rossini: “The Barber of Seville”

Exploration Series

Sept. 24: Meet the resident artists. Michael and Ginger Frost Production Arts Building, 1601 Broadway.

Oct. 14: The Bernstein Songbook with the New York Festival of Song. Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415 W. 13th St.

Jan. 27 & 28: “As One.” Chamber opera for two singers and string quartet by Laura Kaminsky. Michael and Ginger Frost Production Arts Building

March 24 & 25: American Voices — Art Songs and Arias. Michael and Ginger Frost Production Arts Building.

For more information, call 817-471-7344 or KCOpera.org.

Jan Kraybill Super Bowl show

For organ aficionados and anyone who enjoys a sonic spectacular, Jan Kraybill’s annual Super Bowl Concert at the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence is more anticipated than the big game itself.

This year’s concert, “Conversations: The Art of Interaction,” will feature razzle dazzle that perhaps even Lady Gaga, who is performing the Super Bowl halftime show, would appreciate.

“The politics this past year have been concerning for all sorts or reasons, but one is that I don’t think we’re doing a good job of talking with each other,” Kraybill said. “I think we have fallen into a habit of talking at each other. So the topic I’ve chosen for this year’s Super Bowl concert is my reaction to that, and I’m hoping my music will be the antidote.”

Kraybill says that all the pieces on the program have to do with conversations. For example, the concert will open with Kraybill’s own transcription of John Williams’ “The Conversation” from the film “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

“When I was a teenager, that movie was extremely impactful,” Kraybill said. “Stephen Spielberg helped us imagine what a conversation between the human race and some alien race would be like. He decided to make a mathematical and musical language the common ground. I found it fascinating then and I still find it fascinating.”

The music will be accompanied by a light show to give the feeling of that climactic moment in the film when humans talk with aliens at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.

And football fans need not fret. The concert will end in plenty of time to make it home for the game.

“Music has the power to change lives,” Kraybill said. “So, if people leave this concert thinking that they’re going to have a conversation with somebody, I think that’s a great thing.”

2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 5. Community of Christ Auditorium, 1001 W. Walnut St., Independence. Free. JanKraybill.com

Robert Shaw tribute

The legendary choral conductor Robert Shaw, who died in 1999, left his mark on choruses and choral conductors across the country, including Kansas City’s Charles Bruffy, director of the Kansas City Chorale, and William Baker, founder and artistic director of the William Baker Festival Singers.

To honor his mentor, Baker and his Festival Singers are presenting the Kansas City premiere of the documentary film “Robert Shaw: Man of Many Voices” Feb. 11 at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.

“I was honored to be present for the world premiere last April in Atlanta,” Baker said. “It is a beautifully well-done film, deeply moving and inspiring. Kansas City has become one of America’s most richly diverse home for great choral music, not in small part because of the influence of Robert Shaw.”

The film will be preceded by a gala concert, “Robert Shaw: Traditions in Music,” presented by the Festival Singers’ Choral Workshop conducted by Norman Mackenzie, Shaw’s successor as director of choruses for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

The screening and gala concert are part of a weekend of events to honor Shaw, which will include workshops and rehearsals with Mackenzie.

1 p.m. Feb. 11. Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, 415, W. 13th. $10. FestivalSingers.org

You can reach Patrick Neas at patrickneas@kcartsbeat.com and follow his Facebook page, KC Arts Beat.

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