If you ask Pittsburgh Opera artistic director Christopher Hahn which composers he'd most love to see on the opera's main stage, Berg, Shostakovich and Janáèek are his trinity. However, you won't be hearing Wozzeck, Lady Macbeth or Jenùfa anytime soon. Instead, the company is taking a more familiar route: through Italy.
"It seems strange to me," Hahn says. "These three operas seem the most natural form of expression, but I suspect we'd have low attendance. We fall into the stereotype that it has to be Italian."
And so it is.
The Opera's season will include Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Oct. 13-21; Donizetti's Elixir of Love, Nov. 10-18; Verdi's Aida, March 29--April 6, 2008; and Bellini's Capulets and Montagues, May 3--11, 2008. The only thing more Italian is eating pasta pomodoro in a gondola with Tony Soprano.
The irony is Hahn was hired many moons ago to bring more variety to the Pittsburgh repertoire. It's hard, he says, to balance the needs of the two major segments of the audience: core theatergoers who demand the classic pantheon, and adventurous souls who crave new operatic experiences.
To satisfy those aural pioneers, the company is producing a contemporary opera, Jonathan Dove's Flight, Jan. 26--Feb. 3, 2008, with Pittsburgh Opera Center, the city's training ground for young talent. This musical adaptation of Steven Spielberg's 2004 film The Terminal features music by the same composer who adapted and reduced Wagner's Ring of the Niebelung to much 'Burgh acclaim recently.
"You can't please everyone in one season," Hahn says. "You just try to build loyalty. By staging opera at the highest level, you hope people will come no matter what you do. I'm interested in beautiful voices and so is our audience."
Those shouldn't be hard to come by this season. Chilean soprano Veronica Villarroel will make her Pittsburgh debut in Butterfly's title role; tenor Frank Lopardo, who thrilled audiences as the villainous Duke in 2005's Rigoletto will be B.F. Pinkerton. Hungarian diva Eszter Sümegi and Ukrainian tenor Vladimir Kuzmenko will be Aida and Radames in the Verdi production, while Elizabeth Futral, a 'Burgh favorite grown to international status, returns as Adina in the Donizetti. In a gender-bending twist, coloratura Laura Claycomb will sing Juliet to mezzo Vivica Genaux's Romeo in the Bellini rarity.
"I believe in the visceral relationship of the naked voice in a dark space," Hahn says. With such stars coming our way, he hopes audiences will echo his statement: "Viva Italia!"
Pittsburgh Opera's 2007-2008 season. Full subscriptions $80-560. 412-281-0912 or www.pittsburghopera.org