Opera Theater of Pittsburgh offers up Opera Season Summerfest

In Jonathan Eaton’s opinion, Pittsburgh is the only city with a symphony orchestra, but no summer festival dedicated strictly to music.

SCENE FROM THE PERFORMANCES— Denise Sheffey-Powell as the bride, Zelda. She has appeared frequently with the Opera Theater. (Photos by Amy Crawford).

So he set out to change that this year with the creation of Opera Season Summerfest, Opera Theater of Pittsburgh’s new sort of festival. The three-week classical music festival opened June 29 and closed July 15. All productions were held at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts, Shadyside Academy.

“Summerfest mixes it up—rich, rare delicious opera is our main dish, but it comes with delightful side treats: chamber concerts and family fun, art exhibitions, ice cream, folk dancing and late night cabaret,” said Eaton, artistic and general director of Opera Theater of Pittsburgh. “The Summerfest brand of opera is different too, it’s great but not ‘grand.’ It’s up close and personal with a distinctly modern feel and everything is sung in English. It brings together independently-spirited, joyful unconventional people to celebrate community as well as cultural values.”

Its repertoire included Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Bernstein’s “Candide” and a sultry version of Bizet’s “Carmen-The Gypsy.” Following the main performances, audiences were welcome to stay on and listen to Cabaret Under the Stars, which consisted of various genres of music from classical to jazz sung by Opera Season Summerfest young artists—being performed outside on the campus’ beautiful patio before choosing to watch “Night Caps,” one of six mini operas after select performances.

Each “Night Caps” aria was 15 minutes long and were performed at the Hillman Center for Performing Arts’ Kountz Black Box Theater.

“Bridal Suite,” one of the six Night Cap mini operas was written by Mt. Ararat Baptist Church Music Min. Dwayne Fulton. The opera focused on a bride who was left at the altar by her groom because their wedding fell on the same day as a Steelers game.

“We have a lot of friends in the African-American community and if you like a really good story with really good performances, there’s something for everyone. The productions are about real people in real situations and they sing and dance. They are great performers. Anyone who sees any of the operas won’t be disappointed,” Eaton said.

The eclectic mix of operatic material mixed with the opportunity to sing opera is what made Khary Wilson take interest in the company.

“People need to come out and see the great work this company is doing. It will be of interest to African-Americans because they will get to see us on stage singing opera, which is something that is rare for us,” said Wilson, who is from Baton Rouge but resides in Atlanta.

The Opera Theater of Pittsburgh was founded in 1987 by Mildred Miller and has been passionately led by Eaton since 1999. Throughout its 34-year history, the company has premiered more than 30 shows in Pittsburgh, many of which were American operas that had been produced by other regional companies.

Prior to starting Opera Season Summerfest, the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh would travel throughout the Pittsburgh area and perform operas. That nomadic state caused the company to lose audiences.

“We thought we should settle down somewhere so that people can come see us. Its five miles outside of Downtown and people can come here and relax,” Eaton said.

Opera Theater of Pittsburgh board member Demareus Copper agreed with Eaton.

“It’s like leaving the city without leaving the city. The productions are phenomenal because they are innovative. This is exciting for us,” Cooper said.

Although Opera Theater of Pittsburgh will focus primarily on summer now, the company will still hold four events throughout the year in addition to Summerfest, according to Eaton.

(For more information on Pittsburgh Opera Theater or Summerfest, visit the company’s web site at www.otsummerfest.org or call the box office at 412-326-9687.)

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