Arts & Culture

Wichita Symphony gets sparkling addition: 9,000 pounds of Chihuly glass

Samuel Ramey
Samuel Ramey Courtesy photo

More than 9,000 pounds of hand-blown Chihuly glass is coming to Wichita in March.

The Wichita Symphony Orchestra announced Monday that in addition to bringing in opera superstar Samuel Ramey to perform in “Bluebeard’s Castle” for its winter concert, it will also ship in six larger-than-life glass sculptures designed by internationally renowned artist Dale Chihuly.

Chihuly was commissioned by the Seattle Symphony in 2007 to design the multipanel decorative set for its production of the one-hour psychological opera by Bela Bartok. Each of the six Chihuly pieces is mounted on a panel and measures more than 14 feet, with a weight of approximately 1,500 pounds.

“The works are impressionistic,” said Don Reinhold, the executive director of the symphony. “We’re the fifth American orchestra to show this art from one of the greatest American artists today.”

Chihuly’s multicolored works are not foreign to Wichita. The Wichita Art Museum has both the Chihuly “Confetti Chandelier” and the “Persian Seaform Ceiling” installation. The museum’s director, Patricia McDonnell, understands the importance and sheer beauty of bringing such a set to Wichita.

“Dale Chihuly has been a key agent in the revolution in glass art in the past four decades. His innovation is revered worldwide,” McDonnell said. “For that reason, theaters, botanical gardens and museums are eager to commission Chihuly for his stunning installations.”

The delicate work will be shipped from Seattle in trucks. The six-panel set is made up of more than 175 glass pieces that will serve as the castle rooms. It will take workers more than eight hours to install.

Ramey, one of the world’s top bass vocalists, has performed “Bluebeard” several times, including at the Metropolitan Opera. Ramey was born in Colby and attended school at Wichita State University. After performing at the top opera houses worldwide, he recently moved back to the Wichita area and is part of the WSU faculty. The “Bluebeard” performances will take place March 13 and 15.

Along with the intricate glass set and the symphony, Ramey will share the stage with mezzo-soprano Irina Mishura, who made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2000 as Dalila in “Samson et Dalila” opposite Placido Domingo.

The music for “Bluebeard’s Castle” was written by Hungarian-born Bartok in 1911, and the libretto was written by his fellow countryman Bela Balazs. The piece, with tunes rooted in Hungarian folk melodies and rhythms, tells the story of newlyweds. The young wife asks her husband if she can open each of the seven doors in a long hallway. She says she would like to let in the light. Each room holds a strange secret. As each door spins open, a beautifully-crafted glass object that reflects the motif of each room, from torture chamber to garden to a lake of tears, is revealed.

“We are extremely excited to get both Ramey and Chihuly for this piece,” Reinhold said. “This is an opportunity for opera lovers to come hear Sam in a signature role.”

If You Go

‘Bluebeard’s Castle’

When: 8 p.m. March 13 and 3 p.m. March 15

Where: Century II Concert Hall

Tickets: Call 316-267-5259 or visit