Wichita Grand Opera's 11th season will include one of the world's best-known ballets, one of its grandest operas, and — in a new twist — two comedic operas performed in English.
Director Parvan Bakardiev recently announced the lineup for the season, which starts in February. Tickets will go on sale Aug. 15.
Bakardiev said he has packed the season with several internationally known musicians and singers, including some favorites who performed in past seasons.
He and his staff will spend the next several months securing visas for the international cast members, building sets, creating costumes and doing all the detailed, expensive work that's required to create a quality opera experience.
"Producing opera is expensive and complicated," he said. "But we pride ourselves that we've been able to sustain ourselves in difficult times with previous success on our record."
The season will open on Feb. 4 with Giuseppe Verdi's "Il Trovatore," which Bakardiev describes as "one of the grandest operas ever written."
The show, performed in Italian with English subtitles, is an epic tale of love and vengeance — and it is especially difficult to cast, Bakardiev said. The famous opera requires a top-rate soprano, which Bakardiev found in internationally acclaimed Bulgarian singer Zvetelina Vassileva, who performed in 2007's "A Masked Ball" with Wichita Grand Opera.
Australian tenor Julian Gavin will play the lead role in his Wichita Grand Opera debut, and joining the production as music director is Steven Mecurio, a revered composer and conductor who has worked with artists such as the Three Tenors, Andrea Boccelli and Sting and who led last year's Grand Opera 10th Anniversary Gala.
Wichita Grand Opera will try something new with its next two operas, both of which are comedies.
"Die Fledermaus," a German operetta whose title translates to "The Bat," and Gaetano Donizetti's Italian opera "Don Pasquale" both will be performed in English.
Several other big opera companies around the world have experimented with the approach and they've found it works well for comedies, Bakardiev said, as jokes can be hard to get when audience members are splitting their attention between the stage and the subtitle screen.
"It has been very successful because it becomes really kind of like a musical theater," Bakardiev said. "It's a comedy only with legitimate voices and glorious music."
"Die Fledermaus" by Johann Strauss Jr. will be staged in Century II's Concert Hall on March 17.
Revered as "The Waltz King" and known for popularizing that dance in Vienna in the 19th century, Strauss' wit shines through in the tale of a very elaborate practical joke. The cast will include Michael Nansel, an accomplished singer who starred in three Wichita Grand Opera productions last season. Wichita native Whitney Reader will return home from his post in Germany to serve as musical director for the show.
"Don Pasquale," about a young couple in love plotting to persuade the would-be groom's elderly uncle to allow them to marry, will be performed on April 21 and April 22 in Century II's more intimate Mary Jane Teall Theater. John Stevens, a voice instructor at the University of Kansas, will both direct and perform the title role.
In the tradition of Italian opera houses, which always present at least one ballet in their seasons, Wichita Grand Opera will present the famous ballet "Giselle" on May 2.
Bakardiev was able to secure the Moscow Festival Ballet in a performance of "Giselle," a supernatural tale of love, betrayal and transcendence. The music for Giselle was composed by Adolphe Adam, best known for his widely loved "Cantique Noel" ("O Holy Night").
The Moscow Festival Ballet was established in 1989 and tours the United States regularly. It's the same company that brought "Coppelia" to Wichita last year.
Opera on the Lake, the culminating event of the Wichita Grand Opera season, will take place on May 19 at Bradley Fair.
The perennially popular event will feature the return of some of the season's best talent as well as local players performing more contemporary, pop-style opera.
Opera on the Lake patrons can bring their lawn chairs to enjoy the music or purchase a dinner package.
Wichita Grand Opera's performances traditionally draw between 1,200 and 1,400 people to each show, Bakardiev said, but he is hoping that this season — especially the English operas — will help draw new patrons ready to give opera a try.
"There's something for everybody this season," he said.
Wichita Grand Opera 2011-2012 Season
* "Il Trovatore" by Giuseppe Verdi, 7 p.m. Feb. 4, Century II Concert Hall
* "Die Fledermaus" by Johann Strauss Jr., 7 p.m. March 17, Century II Concert Hall
* "Don Pasquale" by Gaetano Donizetti, 7 p.m. April 21 and 3 p.m. April 22, Mary Jane Teall Theater, Century II
* "Giselle" by Adolphe Adam, 7 p.m. May 2, Century II Concert Hall (performed by the Moscow Festival Ballet)
* "Opera on the Lake," 6:30 p.m. May 19, Bradley Fair
Tickets will be available starting Aug. 15 by calling the Wichita Grand Opera box office at 316-262-8054 or online at selectaseat.com.
Individual tickets range in price from $32-$85. Season ticket prices are $90 to $272.00 Discounts are available for students, military personnel and senior citizens. Opera on the Lake is free and open to the public. Call the box office at 316.262.8054 or consult the Wichita Grand Opera website at wichitagrandopera.org for additional details and to purchase tickets.