Lawrence Opera Theatre’s seventh Season honors the Bard
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of The Bard, and Lawrence Opera Theatre (LOT) has planned its 7th Summer Festival to celebrate the lasting legacy of the world’s greatest playwright. Shakespeare 400, which runs August 5-14, 2016, will feature performances of Shakespeare’s words set to music in opera scenes, art song, and musical theatre. The festival will culminate in a fully-staged production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas.
Shakespeare wrote more than thirty plays in addition to his poems and sonnets. He invented thousands of words, often combining or contorting Latin, French, and native roots. His impressive expansion of the English language, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, includes such words as: arch-villain, birthplace, bloodsucking, courtship, dewdrop, downstairs, fanged, heartsore, hunchbacked, leapfrog, misquote, pageantry, radiance, schoolboy, stillborn, watchdog, and zany. His plays have been translated into dozens of languages, and operas based on his plays can be heard in Italian, German, and French.
As in past years, the season is spread over a ten-day period and includes a variety of programs, each one with it’s own focus. Shakespeare at the Castle: Songs and Sonnets on August 5th features a variety of art songs based on words and characters from plays, interspersed with readings of sonnets. Selections from the upcoming opera production will be performed as a season teaser. Held at the exquisitely-restored Castle Tea Room in Downtown Lawrence, the program includes complimentary hors d’oeuvres and beverages to create a special evening in this beautiful venue.
An evening of opera scenes and arias follows on August 11th, titled The Bard’s Tale: Operas and Words from Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s classic storylines inspired numerous composers to transform his works for the operatic stage. Beloved settings of Romeo and Juliet, Falstaff, Macbeth, are heard together with lesser-known works based on Hamlet, The Tempest and The Taming of the Shrew. The singers take the stage at Theatre Lawrence, who is partnering with LOT for a third season, providing its state-of-the-art theatre for LOT’s presentations.
One of LOT’s most popular offerings in past seasons has been the musical theatre cabaret evening. This year’s Brush Up Your Shakespeare! on August 13th promises to provide a more down-to-earth view of the Bard’s plays set for the Broadway stage. Many of the musicals have become classics in their own right, including Kiss Me, Kate and West Side Story, and the more contemporary Lion King.
Fully-staged operas have been a recent offering of the LOT season, with the productions being known for their unusual settings and interpretations. This year LOT turns to Henry Purcell, who is credited with writing the first operatic adaptation on Shakespeare. Purcell’s The Fairy Queen (1692) is a masque or semi-opera, with the libretto adapted from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This work will be interpolated into Purcell’s greatest theatrical work, Dido and Aeneas (1688), which was written for a girls school. Dido displays distinctly Shakespearean influences that can be attributed to its librettist, the poet and playwright Nahum Tate, who consistently “improved” Shakespeare to suit new audience tastes. The performances on August 12 and 14 will feature a chamber orchestra conducted by KU alum Carlos Espinosa and featuring renowned KU musicologist and Baroque specialist Paul Laird on continuo.
LOT continues to expand its partnerships with community organizations who provide venues for concerts and cabarets, enabling them to provide free performances both before and during the season. The partnership with Theatre Lawrence is now in its third year, and provides venue and marketing support. In addition to the Castle Tea Room, LOT returns to Signs of Life on July 21st to entertain patrons at the Sidewalk Sale, and John Brown’s Underground on August 4th. In 2016 LOT partners for the first time with the Lawrence Public Library, marking debuts for both organizations at Final Friday on July 29th. The 2016 season is also supported by a grant from the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission.
Providing opportunities for young singers and emerging professionals, as well as established vocal artists, to gain performing experience is part of LOT’s mission. This year’s company of 30 singers and five accompanists hail from the Lawrence and Kansas City area, and also come from New York and Arizona. New York Metropolitan Opera Tenor, Hugo Vera, LOT’s founder and Artistic Director, emphasizes the numerous performance opportunities offered by the organization to all levels of singers, allowing them to gain experience and learn from professionals associated with the company. Having recently joined the University of Arizona faculty as Assitant Professor of Voice, Vera maintains his ties to Lawrence and his alma mater, KU, coming back every summer to direct the festival. He stands by the mission of the company to fill in the void of opera during the summer season in Lawrence and the surrounding area. Vera states, “Lawrence Opera Theatre continues to present innovative offerings at a variety of venues in the area, expanding our community partnerships and reach in and around Lawrence.”
Last year LOT earned it’s 501(c)3 status as a non-profit organization. Now that it can offer the possibility of tax-deductible donations, Vera is excited about possibilities for attracting donors who appreciate the kind of music and theatre that LOT produces. “We are grateful for the community’s support and look forward to expanding our reach to bring opera to a wider audience. We continue to keep ticket prices low so that opera can be accessible to more people.”
Tickets at www.theatrelawrence.com
More information at www.lawrenceopera.org.