For 102 summers, the Cincinnati Opera has been nourishing the insatiable appetites of local opera lovers, and this year was no exception. Recovering from the grip of the pandemic, the CO’s 2022 Summer Festival, running from June 18th to July 31st on the Cincinnati stages of Music Hall and the School for Creative and Performing Arts, was a terrific comeback season.

After an absence of two years, the season began with a very good La bohème – co-produced with the Opéra de Montréal, featuring soprano Talise Trevigne as a dramatically vulnerable, vocally resplendent Mimì, who established herself as the heart and soul of the production from the moment she first entered the stage.

Soprano Raven McMillon and baritone Rodion Pogossov co-starred as a superb Musetta and Marcelllo, although in the central role of Rodolfo, Korean tenor Ji-Min Park’s regrettably overwhelmed the much-needed balance with his leading lady and the other Bohemians.

In recent seasons America’s second oldest opera company has added impressive world premieres of contemporary operas. This season’s FIERCE was the first among them.

Novelist Sheila Williams interviewed several high schoolers to then create the opera’s vivid libretto, and composer William Menefield crafted its brilliant musical score.  Conductor Joseph Young and stage director D. Lynn Meyers were the accomplished creative team that paced four enormously gifted young singing actresses: Megan Graves, Victoria Ellington, Alicia Russell Tagert, and Lauren McAllister, showcasing the talents of each, while masterfully weaving them into an impressive ensemble, an element often lacking in opera productions. FIERCE, yet another feather in the Cincinnati Opera’s cap, promises to become a welcomed addition to the lyric stages of today.

Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance followed, featuring an ensemble cast of terrific singing actors, led by the patter-perfect baritone Patrick Carfizzi as a hilarious “very model of a modern Major General.” Bass Zachary James was the swashbuckling Pirate King, and tenor David Walton and soprano Lauren Snouffer provided the romantic interest, with Amber Wagner offering sonorous chest tones and comic relief, and Samuel Smith gamely executing the elaborate choreography with a broken foot.

The visually gorgeous production, designed by James Schuette became a delightful addition to the season, enhanced by the supple and sensitive conducting of David Agler, and the inventive staging and choreography of Seán Curran.

Cincinnati G & S fans hope for more works of the kind in which the soprano doesn’t die as the curtain falls.

With compelling music by Gregory Spears and a finely crafted libretto by Tracy K. Smith, the world premiere of Castor and Patience received a rousing ovation by a sizeable audience in the last of five Cincinnati performances mounted on the intimate stage of the Corbett Theatre at the School for Creative and Performing Arts. A perfect cast of singing actors was led by soprano Telise Trevigne as the tower-of-strength Patience, and the vocally and dramatically flawless baritone Reginald Smith, Jr. as the tormented Castor.

A lineup of equally gifted supporting artists included standouts Jennifer Johnson-Cano as Celeste, Amber Monroe as Clarissa, and Raven McMillon as Ruthie. Kazem Abdullah firmly led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in Kevin Newbury’s excellent staging.

To close the season, the Cincinnati Opera assembled a top notch cast for AIDA in a handsome production led by soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams and tenor Gregory Kunde in the central roles of the ill-starred lovers. In his debut with the company the sonorous bass Peixin Chen made a fine impression as the King of Egypt, in a role that often goes unnoticed.

Time was when the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera closed shop for the summer, and just about the only worthwhile operatic offerings back then were offered by the now defunct Chautauqua and Lake George opera summer festivals, the Santa Fe Opera, and Cincinnati’s pride and joy, the Cincinnati Summer Zoo Opera. After bidding farewell to the boisterous menagerie, the CO moved to Music Hall.

Today our Cincinnati Opera lives on, and since 2005 thrives under the stellar leadership of its Harry T. Wilks Artistic Director, Evans Mirageas. His commitment to feature both established stars and fast rising newcomers in a balanced repertory that includes operatic favorites, off-the-beaten path offerings, and new works, such as this season’s Fierce and Castor and Patience, clearly validates why Opera News listed him as “One of the 25 Most Powerful Names in U.S. Opera.”

And last, but certainly not least, this writer would be remiss not to acknowledge all those who come together to create a great season: conductors, stage directors, choreographers, designers, stage managers, crew, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in the pit, the Cincinnati Opera Chorus and, of course, the extraordinary singing actors in principal and supporting roles.

Thanks to everyone for the satisfying and nourishing feast for both heart and mind that the Cincinnati Opera continues to serve up, season after season.

Rafael de Acha © 2022

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