After three sets of designs, Central City Opera is ready to open

2021 Summer season at Hudson Gardens and outdoors in Central City

By Peter Alexander July 1 at 4:10 p.m.

Central City Opera (CCO) is ready to go for the 2021 summer season, but it wasn’t easy to get here. 

From July 3 to Aug. 1, the season offers Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, opening the season Saturday, July 3Verdi’s Rigoletto, opening Saturday July 10; and an English Baroque opera, Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas (sold out; see full schedule below). Because the opera house in Central City is too small to allow safe distancing, all three will be performed outdoors. 

The two larger productions, Rigoletto and Carousel, will be performed on the outdoor stage at Hudson Gardens in Littleton. The sold-out performances of Dido and Aeneas will take place in Central City.

Hudson Gardens outdoor stage

It all sounds simple enough. After all, this was the same season that was planned for 2020 and simply postponed for a year. Most of the same singers were able to move their schedules to 2021. So half the work was already done, right? What could be the problem?

Design, for one thing. CCO general/artistic director Pelham (“Pat”) Pearce explains: “The designers had originally conceived these shows in the opera house. Then last fall we thought we would be producing (in a facility near Central City), so there was an awful lot of thought given to how that would be done.

CCO GEneral/artistic director “Pat” Pearce

“Then we found out in January that we would not be given the ability to do that, so on a dime we had to turn and find a place to produce this summer. And so we spent four to five weeks trying to find a place to go. And when we had a good idea about what that was going to be, not only did they have to re-design again, but they had to re-design together, because they would have to use the same floor.”

At that point they were down to only about four months to get the sets designed and built, a process that normally takes most of a year. And they were going into a space that they knew almost nothing about, either acoustically or physically, an outdoor space previously used for pop and rock music acts. In fact, they had so much to build that they had to get a building permit for their sets!

The partnership with Hudson Gardens was a real stroke of fortune for CCO. “As soon as we saw we did not have access to where we thought we were going to be, we put out the call to our friends in the (Scientific and Cultural Facilities District), does anybody have a space outdoors where we can produce a season,” Pearce explains. 

They got several responses. But Hudson Gardens was the best possibility, particularly because of parking and the availability of electricity, which is crucial for theatrical lighting. “We’ve worked with the people at Hudson Gardens, because they have a rhythm about how they have always worked with these outdoor concerts,” Pearce says.

“They’re been very, very helpful, helping us navigate these unusual conditions—overnight security, things that we never think about because we can walk away from the building (in Central City) and lock it, but we can’t do that here.”

Of course another issue is weather. “We’re going to learn a great deal about outdoor performing and working with the elements,” Pearce says. “I’m used to people complaining to me that it’s too cold or its too hot, but I can’t control the weather. So this is going to be a large learning experience for everybody. None of us, not any of us, are used to performing this way.”

One concession to weather is that the stage will be covered by a large tent that will extend back of the stage to cover the orchestra as well. That in turn means that every single performer has to be mic’d—every singer and every orchestral player will have their own microphone. “The sound designer will be constructing what people hear and what they don’t hear,” Pearce says. “All of that will done by a single person sitting at a sound board.

“The orchestra will be behind the set and the conductor will be behind the set. Everyone will be working with monitors for sight, and in some cases monitors for sound. So it’s going be all kinds of challenges. But we have been determined to produce and have figured out a way to do it.”

The circumstances will affect performances in other ways. For one, both works have been shortened to about 90–100 minutes, so they can be performed without intermission—in order to reduce the mingling among audience members. Instead, Pearce suggests that people come early and wander through the gardens before the performance. “They’re absolutely gorgeous, right up against the Platte River,” he says.

For another, both shows will be set in a time closer to now than is usual. This is partly to avoid heavy costumes that would be unbearable outdoors on a hot night. For another, Rigoletto will be placed more outdoors than usual. “The duke may be dressed for doing things outdoors, and Gilda is actually going to be on a swing,” Pearce says. 

The designers “embraced the setting we’re in, and they’re telling the story using where we are. We will tell the story well, but we’re going to tell it not ignoring the fact that we are outdoors.”

Hudson Gardens, Littleton, Colo. map of grounds.

Carousel will be stage directed by Ken Cazan and conducted by Christopher Zemliauskas, both veterans of previous CCO seasons. The director of Rigoletto will be Jose Maria Condemi, who directed Carmen at CCO in 2017. Conductor will be John Baril, a longtime mainstay at CCO, and stage design is by Steven C. Kemp. Dan Wallace Miller will direct Dido and Aeneas and Brandon M Eldredge will conduct. Full cast and credits are posted on the CCO Web pages for each production. 

You may want to consult the 2021 Summer Festival FAQ page for the latest information. Ticket-holders will receive detailed “know before you go” information via email prior to their purchased performance. 

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Central City Opera
Summer Festival 2021

Carousel
Music by Richard Rogers, book by Oscar Hammerstein

7 p.m. Saturday, July 3; Friday, July 9; Tuesday, July 13; Thursday, July 15; Saturday, July 17; Friday, July 23; Tuesday, July 27; Thursday, July 29
3 p.m. Wednesday July 7; Sunday, July 11; Sunday, July 25; Thursday, July 29; Sunday, August 1

Hudson Gardens, Littleton, Colo.

Rigoletto
Music by Giuseppe Verdi, libretto by Francesco Maria Piave

7 p.m. Saturday, July 10; Friday, July 16; Tuesday, July 20; Thursday, July 22; Saturday, July 24; Wednesday, July 28; Friday, July 30
3 p.m. Wednesday, July 14; Sunday, July 18; Tuesday, July 27

Hudson Gardens, Littleton, Colo.

Dido and Aeneas
Music by Henry Purcell, libretto by Nahum Tate

1 p.m. Saturday, July 17; Tuesday, July 20; Thursday, July 22; Wednesday, July 28

Central City Opera House Gardens 

Information and tickets