Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Summer Options

For too many years, American's culture vultures traveled across the Atlantic each summer in hopes of quenching their artistic appetites. Most operated on the false assumption that, with the exception of New York, much of the United States was a cultural wasteland. However, the artistic diversification of this summer's arts festivals offers solid proof that the arts are flourishing in the United States. 1987 marks the 50th anniversary of free outdoor performances in San Francisco's Stern Grove and, although many other cities now host outdoor music festivals of their own, Stern Grove's performances are probably the only ones which are still free to the public.

Each summer Stern Grove's audiences enjoy a cultural smorgasbord of opera, ballet and symphony; jazz, blues and pops. This summer's line-up includes free Sunday afternoon performances by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, the San Francisco Ballet; the San Francisco Symphony, the San Francisco Opera Chorus and, on August 9, the Lamplighters' production of The Pirates of Penzance. The Merola program will present a double bill of Puccini's Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi on July 19 and Marilyn Horne will appear in recital on July 26. If you're exploring the United States this summer, why not let the arts add a great deal of glory to your sunsets? There are plenty of operatic events which may interest you during your travels. This weekend the Opera Theatre of St. Louis opens its season at the intimate 925-seat Loretto Hilton Theatre. Repertoire includes Bizet's Carmen, Handel's Alcina, Rossini's La Cenerentola and the American premiere of Stephen Oliver's Beauty and the Beast. For ticket information call (314) 961-0171.


When traveling across the wide expanses of the American West, it often seems as if all activity comes to a dead halt at sunset. Therefore, it may surprise backpackers visiting Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons to learn that from July 8 to August 23 there is a superb music festival located in Jackson Hole, Wyoming! Each summer, conductor Ling Tung helps this Western ski resort make the hills come alive with the sound of music. This year, guest conductor Robert Shaw will lead the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Mendelssohn's Elijah on August 21 and 22. Call (307) 733-3050 for details.

One need only trace a path down the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains to discover a wealth of summer arts festivals which boast a long history of cultural achievements. Mention Aspen, Colorado and most people think of winter ski resorts. But from June 26 to August 23, Aspen serves as a training ground for young musicians which offers travelers an excellent opportunity to enjoy chamber music amidst the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. Although one finds a great deal of symphonic music and jazz at Aspen, this festival has always placed a strong emphasis on contemporary music. Operas to be performed in 1987 include Rossini's La Cenerentola, Copland's The Tender Land and Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. Call (303) 952-9042 for performance schedules.

Located in a historic Colorado mining town, the Central City Opera performs in a tiny Victorian-era auditorium whose magnificent painted ceiling was recently restored to its original 1878 condition. From July 11 through August 11 Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Donizetti's Don Pasquale and Rudolf Friml's The Vagabond King will be performed in the intimate and acoustically-perfect Central City Opera House. For ticket information call (303) 571-4435.

Just below Colorado lies the state of New Mexico, which is justifiably known as "The Land of Enchantment." In addition to a superb season of intimate concerts presented by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, the Santa Fe Opera performs during July and August in a spectacular semi-outdoors theatre which frequently uses the stars and Mother Nature's bolts of lightning for its backdrops. Located in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Santa Fe Opera House was built in a land of afternoon lightning storms and magical summer hues. With the approach of sunset, the air cools, the colors of the terrain change dramatically and it seems as if the gods have decided to stage a light show.

Local poet Winfield Scott once wrote that "the landscape in which the Santa Fe Opera sits, as hundreds of thousands of travelers know, is majestic. As one listens in that starlit roofless theatre, one feels that there is something which is not even dwarfed by the New Mexico mountains. Indeed, here is something at last in art to match them." This year's repertoire includes Shostakovich's The Nose, Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Strauss's The Schweigsame Frau, Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Handel's Ariodante. Call (505) 982-3851 for ticket information.


Anyone traveling to New York this summer may want to stop in at Lincoln Center to catch a few performances by the New York City Opera, which will be performing Puccini's La Boheme, Madama Butterfly, Tosca and La Rondine; Romberg's The Student Prince; Gounod's Faust; Verdi's La Traviata; Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and Sondheim's Sweeney Todd. Also planned for July and August are new productions of Mascagni's Cavalleria Rusticana, Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci, Mozart's The Magic Flute and Romberg's The Desert Song. Call (212) 870-5570 for information.

One of this summer's major cultural events will be the Pacific Northwest Wagner Festival, during which the Seattle Opera's presentation of The Ring of the Nibelung will re-enact the 19-hour-long saga which contains all those dragons, dwarfs, magic spells and plot twists that drive Anna Russell to distraction. Based on a combination of Norse and Germanic mythology, the four operas that make up The Ring (Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, Siegfried and Gotterdammerung) took nearly 25 years to be completed and were first seen in their proper dramatic sequence in 1876 when their composer, Richard Wagner, built his own theatre in Bayreuth, Germany.

Conceived with such an overwhelming sense of theatricality that it challenges the audience's imagination, the Seattle Opera's Ring makes superb use of Supertitles, which enable audiences to achieve much deeper insights into the relationships between various characters in the Ring. Thanks to Supertitles, even the nonsense dialogue during the "Ride of the Valkyries" takes on new meaning as the girls ride across the stage astride their airborne carrousel horses!

The Ring will be presented twice in Seattle: August 2-7 and August l0-15. In addition to Linda Kelm's moving performance as Brunnehilde, veteran soprano Leonie Rysanek will appear as Sieglinde (probably the last time the popular Viennese artist will perform her signature role in North America). For information about the Seattle Opera's Ring call (800) 426-1619.

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This "Tales of Tessi Tura" column originally appeared in the Bay Area Reporter on May 28, 1987.

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