Parvan Bakardiev thinks building seasons for Wichita Grand Opera is getting easier.
After all, the company he founded with his wife, Margaret Ann Pent, in 2000 has a track record of getting things done — concerts by superstars Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo, outdoor opera at Bradley Fair, and appearances by top singers such as Samuel Ramey, Joyce DiDonato and Marcello Giordani.
Up-and-coming singers are developing faith in Wichita Grand Opera, too — Bakardiev said 100 singers turned out last April to audition for roles. Apprentice singers from Santa Fe Opera and Washington National Opera also secured roles this year.
So as the company looks to the start of its eighth season on Saturday with a performance by Ukrainian National Dance Company, Bakardiev thinks he's again struck the right balance — between locally produced and touring operas, between opera and dance performances, between Kansas-based and national singers, between young professionals and well-established stars.
Challenges remain, he says.
"Fundraising is never easy," Bakardiev said. "And in the sense of ticket sales you always have to push."
Opera companies and symphony orchestras across the country are bracing for fewer donations as the slow economy affects corporate and individual contributions. Layoffs and furloughs could reduce ticket sales as people watch their wallets.
"We are only as good as our next performance," Bakardiev said. "Until the curtain closes next spring, I cannot tell you how it's going to go. But I'm very optimistic."
One reason for reassurance is that Wichita Grand Opera will present several crowd favorites this year.
Returning to the lineup after a few years absence will be Gilbert & Sullivan's comic light opera "The Mikado" (Nov. 7-8), Verdi's heartbreaking "Rigoletto" (Jan. 15) and Bizet's sexy tragedy "Carmen" (March 27).
"The Mikado" will feature several performers from Wichita State University, including Rodney Miller and Patrick Greene in lead roles and Mark Laycock conducting.
"Carmen" will star Metropolitan Opera favorite Marcello Giordani as Don Jose, Audrey Babcock as Carmen and several favorite WGO resident artists, including Mary Ellen Swords and Will Browning. Conducting "Carmen" will be Steven Mercurio, who has an impressive resume of international opera, symphonic and recording engagements.
WGO last presented "Carmen" in 2003 — when the first outdoor performance at Bradley Fair was rained out and moved at the last minute to Century II Concert Hall. Two subsequent performances went on as planned, with Bradley Fair's lake and island serving as backdrops.
"It is way overdue for a piece like 'Carmen,' " Bakardiev said. "At that time we had young singers who were very good, but not at the caliber of Giordani or Mercurio."
New this year and a bit lesser known will be Donizetti's sweet comedy "The Elixir of Love" (Feb. 13-14) starring Emily Truckenbrod as Adina, Otokar Klein as Nemorino, Carlos Conde as Dulcamara and young Michael Nansel as Belcore. Martin Mazik will conduct.
The above operas will feature the Wichita Grand Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet, staffed by local and regional players and performers. "Rigoletto" is a touring production directed by Giorgio Lalov.
The popular Opera on the Lake concert will return to Bradley Fair May 22 with a revue-style recap of the season.
Dance performances also return to the WGO schedule, beginning Saturday with the Ukrainian National Dance Company. Its elaborate production "My Ukraine!" will feature 70 dancers wearing colorful costumes and performing intricate folk dances.
"It's like watching 'Riverdance' Ukrainian style," Bakardiev said. "It's a multidimensional show, number after number, each with different dynamics."
For classical ballet fans, Moscow Festival Ballet will present "Coppelia" — about a lifelike doll that comes between a real-life romance, to close WGO's regular season on April 27.
If you go
wichita grand opera
What: "My Ukraine!" by Ukrainian National Dance Company
Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
How much: Tickets are $35-$85, discounts available. Season tickets are $168-$408 for all six productions; $145-$373 for five productions; $120-$292 for four productions. For more information, visit www.wichitagrandopera.com or call 316-262-8054.
Wichita Grand Opera's 2009-2010 season
Oct. 10 -"My Ukraine!"
The Ukrainian National Dance Company presents traditional and new folk dances that celebrate many aspects of the colorful and energetic Cossack style.
Nov. 7-8 —"The Mikado"
Gilbert & Sullivan's light opera skewers officialdom as a young minstrel escapes execution and finds true love.
Jan. 15 —"Rigoletto"
Verdi's tuneful tragedy about a court jester hounded by a deadly curse features the famous drinking song "La donna e mobile."
Feb. 13-14 —"The Elixir of Love"
Donizetti's touching comedy finds a love-struck galoot pining over rich, charming Adina. Can a magic potion melt her heart?
March 27 —"Carmen"
One of the most popular operas in the repertoire, Bizet's story of passion, jealousy and murder features Spanish songs, gallant marches and flamenco dances. Internationally acclaimed tenor Marcello Giordani will star as Carmen's lover Don Jose; Steven Mercurio will conduct.
April 27 —"Coppelia"
Moscow Festival Ballet will presents this classic about a beautiful mechanical doll, her maker and the young man who falls in love with her. Music is by Delibes.