Kentucky Opera is launching its 2021-2022 Brown-Forman season this December, following over a year of cancellations and dark houses due to the pandemic. It’s also likely it will be one of the first performing arts organizations in Louisville to announce an in-person season.
Early in the pandemic, singing was understood to be a “superspreader” activity by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after a choir rehearsal in Skagit County, Washington, led to 32 confirmed COVID-19 cases stemming from one individual. Kim Baker, president of Kentucky Performing Arts which owns the Brown Theater, said, “we have to make sure that we’re following all the health and safety standards set by the CDC and others,” and added that they’re also following other leaders in the performing arts industry for best practices related to social distancing and sanitation.
In normal times, the opera would open with a big hit like “La Traviata” or “Carmen,” but this year it’s a family-friendly holiday concert on December 16, 2021. A youth opera ends the season, and two productions exploring themes of tragic love and American identity fill out the performance calendar.
In a press release, Kentucky Opera’s general director Barbara Lynne Jamison, said this upcoming season will be, “[about] being together again, and also to honor how this past year may have influenced our perspectives on the treasure of family and friendships, the value of belonging, and the importance of justice.”
The company will offer two mainstage productions, beginning in February of 2022 with Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Orfeo” composed in 1762. Based on the Orpheus myth, Gluck sought to shift the direction of opera to simpler storytelling and music that reinforced the drama instead of confusing it. Catherine Martin returns to Kentucky Opera for the title role, Kelly Kitchens directs, and Judith Yan conducts the groundbreaking opera. An iteration of Orfeo, billed as “O+E,” was intended to be part of the 20/21 season (It was last performed by Kentucky Opera in 1967).
For non-opera buffs, the instrumental ballet sequences “Dance of the Furies” and “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” are the big hits, and in this production Robert Curran will choreograph the Louisville Ballet for said dancing. Bourbon Baroque, a local period-instrument ensemble, will be the pit orchestra for Gluck’s 18th century score, creating a sound closer to what the composer would have known or heard.
On the other end of the season, and premiered around 250 years after “Orfeo,” is Jack Perla’s “An American Dream” with a libretto by Jessica Murphy Moo. Set in the final years of World War II, the chamber opera is based on true stories of Japanese-American internment camp survivors living in Puget Sound: how they destroyed their own possessions to hide their heritage and avoid persecution, and losing their home to an “American” family. Perla’s musical language fluidly moves between modern classical and jazz, two styles that have defined his career since starting the band Music Without Walls in the late 90s.
“An American Dream” was commissioned by Seattle Opera and premiered in 2015. This production is conducted by Joseph Mechavich and directed by Matthew Ozawa. The cast includes Helen Huang, Nina Yoshida Nelson, Ao Li, Morgan Smith, and Emily Albrink. It’s scheduled for April 2022.
Ending the season, with another project stalled by COVID-19 shutdowns, is Ben Moore and Kelley Rourke’s “Robin Hood,” presented by the Kentucky Opera’s Youth Opera Project in June of 2022. Auditions for this production will be held this fall, and are open to anyone ages 8-18, regardless of experience.
Information on Kentucky Opera’s return to the Brown Theater this fall, and their 2022/2023 70th anniversary season, which is planned to open with Giacomo Puccini’s “La Bohème,” is at kyopera.org.
The Kentucky Opera will perform the 1762 original version of “Orfeo” rather than the later 1774 “Orfée,” Paris adaptation. This story has been updated to correct a previous version.