If you have to say goodbye, if you have to close a winning music festival, why not go out in style?
Guillermo Figueroa and the Festival Orchestra will do just that at 5:30 p.m. Sunday in the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. The final concert of the 33rd season of Music in the Mountains will unfold in a kaleidoscopic tour of grand opera.
After 45 concerts packed into three weeks of pops, world and chamber music, including six classical concerts, Figueroa, festival conductor and artistic director, has polished his summer orchestra to a high sheen. Sunday evening, he will set a table for a quartet of singers to join the musicians and offer a banquet of arias, duets and vocal ensembles. Not to stretch the banquet metaphor too far, you’ll be served 15 courses of some of the most luscious music in the operatic repertoire.
“A Night at the Opera” will open with Mikhail Glinka’s “Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla,” the Russian “Romeo and Juliet.” In 1842, Glinka crafted an opera based on a Pushkin fairy tale where conflict leads to an abduction and a heroic rescue. Unlike “Romeo and Juliet,” Pushkin’s tale and Glinka’s opera both end happily. Expect high energy and a few echoes of the joyous wedding that concludes the opera.
Besides the Russlan lovers, Figueroa has invited other famous opera characters: three party girls who love a good time, a couple of philanderers, a lovesick but determined young groom and an entourage from a frothy opera based on a prank. And, just to balance the party, a few outliers will sulk in corners, guys who are sad, confused or angry – guys who complain, obsess and seek revenge.
The three party girls are Carmen, Adele and Musetta. Mezzo soprano Drea Pressley will sing Carmen’s beguiling “Seguidilla” from Bizet’s opera about a gypsy seductress. Soprano Carelle Flores will arrive as Adele from “Die Fledermaus.” She will toy with her aristocratic superior by pretending to be what she is not. And later, Flores will make a sparkling entrance to sing “Musetta’s Waltz” from Puccini’s “La Bohéme.” Flores and Pressley will team up for the beautiful “Flower Duet” from Delibes’ “Lakmé.”
Tenor Andreas Tischhauser will bring Mozart’s comedic Basilio to life along with baritone Adrian Smith’s smarmy Count Almaviva and Flores’ sweet Susanna in a scene from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Tischhauser will return as Figaro himself to sing a virtuosic Rossini aria from “The Barber of Seville.”
The first half concludes with Johann Strauss Jr’s bubbly “Overture to Die Fledermaus,” followed by Adele’s teaser and the effervescent “Champagne Chorus.”
Interspersed in all the gaiety, the opera’s dark side will emerge through the voices of Tonio, the sad clown of Pagliacci, and Renato from Verdi’s powerful “Un ballo en maschera” – both sung by baritone Smith.
Two other guests from the tragic side are Paul and Marie from the only 20th century opera on the program: “Die Tote Stadt” (“The Dead City”), by Austrian-American composer Erich Korngold. Hugely popular in Europe before he emigrated to the United States, Korngold may best be known for his film scores. He is credited with inventing symphonic film music for swashbucklers like “Captain Blood” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”
Korngold’s early opera premiered in 1920 in Germany and was a success, due largely to its theatrical, Straussian score and a nightmare-like story. Set in 1895, the opera focuses on Paul, a grief-stricken anti-hero obsessed by his wife’s untimely death and the transience of life. Tischhauser and Pressley brought the work to Figueroa’s attention, and the conductor agreed to include “The Lute Song,” a duet, on the program.
Figueroa has chosen to end the concert and the 33rd season with two works: the blistering “Danse Bacchanale” from Saint-Saëns’ tragic opera “Samson et Dalila,” and the quartet from Verdi’s “Rigoletto.”
In this remarkable showcase for simultaneous characterization, all four singers will show us why opera is such a magnificent art form. “Bella figlia dell’ amore,” (Beautiful daughter of love) illuminates a dramatic moment when four characters express very different thoughts. It’s something opera does well. Don’t miss it.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.