Opera Theater's SummerFest with Carmen and Night Caps
It's pretty rare — next to unheard-of — for a long-established performing-arts group to reinvent its season the way Opera Theater of Pittsburgh is doing this year.
As I detailed in a preview for CP, the 35-year-old OTP has gone from presenting four shows scattered throughout the year to staging its whole season in 17 days. And instead of peregrinating from rented venue to rented venue with each new show, the company is presenting the whole SummerFest in one multi-stage complex, the Hillman Center for Performing Arts.
Given Pittsburghers' famed queasiness about crossing rivers and venturing to unfamiliar venues, one might have wondered how it would go, asking audiences to wend their way up Fox Chapel Road to the leafy Shadyside Academy campus that the Hillman calls home.
But judging by Friday night's crowd for Carmen — The Gypsy, OTP is doing all right. After all, it's only a 20-minute drive from Downtown — and the 200-seat Kountz Black Box Theater was full for this entertaining, beautifully sung flamenco version of Bizet's Carmen, newly adapted by Robert Frankenberry and OTP head Jonathan Eaton. (Like the rest of the fest, the whole show's sung in English.)
Friday was also the world premiere of Night Caps, the series of six mini-operas commissioned especially for SummerFest, each to end the evening after a mainstage performance.
Each Night Cap is set in a different room at the same hotel, with hotel staff as recurring characters for mostly comic-opera shenanigans. The libretti are all by Carnegie Mellon's Rob Handel, but each is set to music by a different contemporary composer.
The opener, with music by Pittsburgh's Eric Moe, was suitbaly wacky. "Valkyrie Suite" was a Wagner parody recasting the Valkyries as the McDonald Township Women's Bowling Team. (Think pizza boxes and beer bottles littering the stage.) It was funny — but judging from laughter by some audience members, if you knew Wagner well it was hilarious.
Three more Night Caps will premiere this week, starting Thursday with "I Hope the Moonlight Suite is Okay, We Recommend It When the Honeymoon Suite Isn't Available." And the entire inaugural SummerFest concludes with a 5 p.m. Sun., July 15, performance of the entire Night Caps cycle, all six mini-operas (about 90 minutes).
There are also two more performances of Carmen (July 12 and 14), one more of The Magic Flute, two more of Candide and more. For the full schedule, see www.otsummerfest.org.