Wichita Grand Opera is once again bringing in top-notch performers and classic hits for its 12th season. The 2013 season begins in January with Giuseppe Verdi’s dramatic “Otello,” followed by Gaetano Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” and ending with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s comic “The Marriage of Figaro.”
As in previous seasons, WGO is also hosting a professional Russian ballet troupe. The classically trained Russian dancers will perform “Swan Lake” in the spring.
“We want to do something on a grand scale,” said Parvan Bakardiev, Wichita Grand Opera’s general director.
Bakardiev has assembled well-recognized international opera singers to fill several of the challenging title roles for the season’s performances: tenor Martin Iliev, soprano and Verdi specialist Zvetelina Vassileva, and Metropolitan Opera veteran William Powers.
Iliev, a native of Bulgaria, will sing the title role of Otello. Verdi’s masterpiece is based on Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello.” Set in 1400’s Cyprus, “Otello” examines jealousy, deceit and betrayal on a larger-than-life scale.
“The characters are so dynamic,” said Shayna Leahy, the director of “Otello” for WGO. “The idea of jealousy and doubt is such a strong force.”
Because of the need for advanced voices, the play is not frequently performed.
“The arias are spectacular, but they demand a level of maturity,” said John Stephens a well-known bass and head of the voice and opera program at the University of Kansas. “Verdi was at the peak of his compositional powers when he wrote it.”
Bakardiev said that Iliev fits the bill as Otello on all counts. “You need one of the greatest voices for this role. He is also a very good actor,” Bakardiev said. Otello must sing over both the chorus and the orchestra.
The role of Otello’s wife, Desdemona, will be performed by Bulgarian-born soprano Zvetelina Vassileva, who recently played this dynamic part at the San Francisco Opera. Vassileva specializes in portraying Verdi heroines. She also has performed at the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House in London and the Bucharest National Opera.
More than 140 performers are expected to appear on the Century II stage and sing in Italian with these two virtuosos. Subtitles will appear above the stage.
The next opera of the season, Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale,” will use a much smaller cast of fewer than 40, so the singers can perform full productions in English at three classic venues: The Stiefel Theatre in Salina, the McPherson Opera House and Wichita’s Orpheum.
This comic production, which played in the 2011/12 WGO season, will feature American baritone William Powers in a new rendition of the classic tale. Powers has performed more than 100 operatic roles on diverse stages from New York to Vienna. He started in 1972 at the New York City Opera and has not stopped. He’s performed worldwide from the Metropolitan Opera to the Vienna State Opera.
The third opera of the season is Mozart’s masterpiece “The Marriage of Figaro.” Stephens will direct this popular comic opera of more than 100 cast members. This veteran director, teacher and performer has appeared on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. He directed last season’s “Don Pasquale.”
Stephens said he is excited to direct “The Marriage of Figaro" for WGO this year.
“It’s a wonderful piece,” he said. “It has Mozart’s impeccable music.”
Stephens has not only directed this opera before, he also has performed it several times.
Womanizing Count Almaviva, played by WGO favorite Michael Nansel, will perform opposite the countess, sung by Vassileva. Almaviva is trying to seduce his head of staff, Figaro’s soon-to-be bride. Set in late 18th-century Spain, “Figaro” will be performed in Italian with easy-to-follow English subtitles.
Rounding out the season is the Russian National Ballet Theatre’s “Swan Lake.” More than 50 dancers will perform under the direction of former Bolshoi ballet star Elena Radchenko. Ekaterina Egorova will perform the dual roles of Odette and Odile, the white and black swans. Aydos Zakan is Prince Siegfried.
The theme of WGO’s annual Chairman’s Opera Ball will be announced later on in the season. Like last year’s Masquerade Ball, this year’s $200-a-person fundraiser will return to the Crown Uptown Theatre.
The season will end with WGO’s free Opera on the Lake performance at Bradley Fair. This concert features resident artists and guests. A fundraising dinner during this event is also available.
“I’m incredibly excited that everything has fallen into place this year,” Bakardiev said. “We have gone to extensive lengths to find superb artists who will really do justice to the three great operas we’re staging this year.”