Jean-Marie Zeitouni, David Danzmayr return to CMF

Guest conductors will lead orchestra concerts for the next two weeks

By Peter Alexander July 11 at 4 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival hosts the return of two guest conductors for the central portion of the six-week festival, July 11–23.

For orchestral concerts July 11-12 and July 14, Jean-Marie Zeitouni, principal guest conductor of the festival, returns to lead the Festival Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra. David Danzmeyer, who appeared as guest conductor in 2015 and 2018, will lead the CMF orchestra July 18-19 and 21.

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Jean-Marie Zeitouni. Photo by David Curleigh

“I’m excited about coming back” says Zeitouni, who was the festival music director 2015–17. “I share so much beautiful music making with the CMF orchestra, that it’s really heartwarming for me. And I have my favorite spot for good coffee, a good meal, a good hike, a good sunset, so this is fun.”

Zeitouni opens his CMF visit with a pair of concerts titled “Romantic Duos,” Thursday and Friday (July 11–12. Three of the pieces have romantic couples in their titles: Pelleas et Mélisande by Gabriel Fauré,Romeo and Julietby Tchaikovsky, and Bacchus et Arianeby Albert Roussel. Also on the program is Brahms’s Double Concerto for violin and cello, played by the real-life romantic duo of Mira Wang and Jan Vogler, who are married.

Zeitouni’s second CMF concert is part of the summer series tracing Beethoven’s reach into the future. Titled “Beethoven’s Path to Neoclassicism,” it will feature Beethoven’s First Symphony and Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements played with alternating movements. Completing the program is Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto played by pianist Lilya Zilberstein.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Colorado Music Festival
July 11–23
All performances at 7:30 p.m. in the Chautauqua Auditorium

Thursday & Friday July 11 & 12, 7:30 PM
ROMANTIC DUOS
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor, with Mira Wang, violin, and Jan Vogler, cello

Fauré: Pelleas et Mélisande Suite
Brahms: Concerto for Violin and Violoncello
Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Overture
Roussel: Bacchus et Ariane, Suite No. 2

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Lilya Zilberstein

Sunday, July 14
BEETHOVEN’S PATH TO NEOCLASSICISM
Conductor: Jean-Marie Zeitouni, with Lilya Zilberstein, piano

Beethoven: Symphony No. 1 and Stravinsky: Symphony in Three Movements (movements played alternately)
Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 3

Tuesday, July 16
QUINTESSENTIAL HARP
CMF Chamber Players

Arnold Bax: Quintet for Harp and String Quartet
Ravel: Introduction and Allegro for Harp, Flute, Clarinet
Ravel: String Quartet
Brahms: String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major

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Gabriela Montero. Photo by Colin Bell

Thursday & Friday, July 18 & 19
TCHAIKOVSKY’S SYMPHONY NO. 6 “PATHETIQUE”
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Gabriela Montero, piano

Golijov: Sidereus
Grieg: Piano Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 6 (“Pathétique”)

Sunday, July 21
MAGNIFICENT MOZART MINI-FESTIVAL I
David Danzmayr, conductor, with Stefan Jackiw, violin

Mozart: Symphony No. 32
Violin Concerto No. 5 (“Turkish”)
Overture from Don Giovanni
Symphony No. 38 (“Prague”)

Tuesday, July 23
RUSSIAN MASTERS
CMF Chamber Players

Shostakovich: Piano Trio No. 1 in C Minor
Tchaikovsky: Piano Trio in A Minor

Tickets from the Chautauqua Box office.

 

Central City opens 2019 festival with a deeply moving Butterfly

In title role, Raquel Gonzáles leads a strong cast

By Peter Alexander July 8 at 2:45 p.m.

Central City Opera opened its 2019 festival season Saturday (July 6) with a powerful and dramatic Madama Butterfly.

The scene and costume design by Dany Lyne were first used in 2005, in a production directed by the soprano Catherine Malfitano. She has sung the role of Butterfly, and she appeared in her first operatic role at the CCO in 1972 so it was natural for her to return to Central City 33 years later for her directorial debut. The physical production was used again in 2010, and for this year’s production directed by Alison Moritz.

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Butterfly’s Entrance, Act I of Madama Butterfly. Photo by Amanda Tipton, courtesy of Central City Opera.

The scenery is minimal but lovely, and the open design allows for considerable flexibility in representing different spaces in Butterfly’s house, where all action takes place. The costumes are effective and appropriate throughout; those for Butterfly’s family in the first act are strikingly colorful, standing out beautifully against the set. Moritz made creative use of the limited space available on the Central City stage, giving the audience an effective and deeply moving interpretation.

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Raquel González as Butterfly

As Butterfly, Raquel González shone within a generally strong cast. Her beautiful voice was used to good effect for both musical and dramatic expression. To mention but a few details: she started softly and hesitantly, befitting a 15-year-old girl who has been sold into marriage. But once she and Pinkerton were alone, both her singing and Moritz’s sensitive direction revealed her growing passion.

Her strength and volume grew throughout the long love duet, symbolizing her growing confidence, swelling to her greatest volume on the very last note of the act. In the second act, her voice was aglow when she thought Pinkerton was returning, then lost all warmth and color when she realized that he was not coming back.

One final note: her death scene is hard to get right, but her hesitation when she heard Pinkerton’s voice, her resolve to go ahead with suicide, the staging of her ritual death were terribly realistic, avoiding the empty clichés that too many productions resort to. This amplifies the impact of the ending, which was reserved, tellingly, for just Pinkerton and Butterfly.

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Cody Austin as Pinkerton. Photo by Amanda Tipton, courtesy of Central City Opera.

Cody Austin’s Pinkerton was strong, direct, and touched with the swagger of a feckless young naval officer. His voice was powerful and well heard throughout, with a bright tenor sound that developed a harsher edge when pushed at the top. The thoughtless Pinkerton is not an ingratiating role, but Austin managed to make him both attractive enough in his casual manner to be a believable lover, and callous enough to heighten the pitch of Butterfly’s tragedy. This is a difficult and crucial line to observe, and both Moritz as director and Austin as actor/singer found a good balance.

Troy Cook was a forthright, steady presence, vocally and dramatically, as the American consul Sharpless. His part contains no vocal fireworks, since he suffers none of the violent passions, but his solid baritone was comfortingly smooth throughout. The conscience of the opera, he came across as sympathetic, frustrated, then angry with Pinkerton, in this respect standing in for the audience.

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Act II: Raquel González (l), Annie Rosen (r), and Isla Burdette (kneeling). Photo by Amanda Tipton, courtesy of Central City Opera.

Suzuki is an absolutely vital role that is too easy to take for granted. Annie Rosen was exemplary as Butterfly’s servant, her warm sound as comforting and reliable as Suzuki’s love and support for her mistress. In the context of Butterfly’s Japanese environment, she is the understanding common woman who observes Butterfly’s unwavering love for an American with sympathy and apprehension. She was in fact the ideal comprimario, as roles are called that are identified as being “with the primary” characters—musically supportive, solid as a duet partner, never outshining the star.

Joseph Gaines was just obsequious and servile enough as Goro the marriage broker. He sang clearly, with just a touch of the oily flatterer in his sound. Brian Kontes made a very strong impression as the Bonze. His denunciation of Butterfly’s conversion to Christianity was imperious, vocally the curse of a religious tyrant. Thaddeus Ennen sang well in the thankless role of Prince Yamadori, and Christina Pezzarossi was effective in the even more thankless role of Kate Pinkerton.

I should devote a few words to Isla Burdette, the child who played “Trouble,” Butterfly’s son. She had more to do than is often the case, and she carried it off like a pro—perhaps reflecting the fact that her father, Kevin Burdette, is an opera singer? (He will be heard later in the CCO production of Britten’s Billy Budd.) I cannot resist the emotional tug of children on stage, and she is one of the best I have seen.

Conductor Adam Turner had all of the flexibility, the push and pull of tempos and emotional turns of Puccini’s score well in hand. The orchestra played with sensitivity and great expression, especially in the tender moments of the score. The humming chorus and orchestra interlude in Act II were especially beautiful.

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Stage director Alison Moritz

But it is the stage direction and deeply human, emotive performances that carried the night. There were many small touches that brought the characters to life—the photographer who records the marriage party, so that Butterfly later has a framed photo on hand; the costumes that showed the westernization of Japan in the early years of the 20thcentury, thus highlighting the cultural clash that underlies the story.

For me, the most telling detail was Butterfly’s mother, clinging tearfully to her daughter when the family abandons her after the Bonze’s denunciation. This wrenching moment makes clear the totality of Butterfly’s isolation when Pinkerton leaves Japan. In comments before the performance, Moritz said that she wanted to make Madama Butterfly “a story about a family.” In this and other moments she succeeded, devastatingly.

Madama Butterfly continues at Central City Opera through Aug. 4 (see dates below). Tickets are available through the CCO Web page.

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CCO House by Ashraf Sewaiilam

Central City Opera House. Photo by Ashraf Sewialam

Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly
Adam Tuner, conductor; Allison Moritz, director

Remaining performances:
8 p.m. 18, 26 and 30
2:30 p.m. July 10, 12, 14, 16, 20, 24, 28; Aug. 1 and 4
Central City Opera House

Full cast, credits, and tickets here.

 

Revised 7.10.19 to include production photos, courtesy of Central City Opera.

CMF: Jazz, pizzazz, patriotism and a lot of fun

Pianist Jon Kimura Parker performs Gershwin, plus Billy Joel

By Peter Alexander July 6 at 12:25 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival offered a concert titled “Revolution and Freedom” for its not-quite-the-Fourth of July concert last night (July 5). The program offered equal bits of jazz, pizzazz and patriotism, and a whole lot of fun.

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Peter Oundjian

After starting with a brisk performance of the National Anthem, conductor Peter Oundjian and the Festival Orchestra took up the more serious parts of the program, starting with Aaron Copland’s Outdoor Overture. The performance was bright and forceful, with more vigor than clarity in the opening section. The following lyrical passages were enhanced by lovely solos from flute and clarinet.

Oundjian delineated the contrasting sections well, and brought precision and a welcome energy to the performance. Though Canadian-English-Scottish by ancestry, Oundjian shows that he understands American styles of music—or at least how to unleash an American orchestra.

The American theme continued with Gershwin’s Concerto in F for piano and orchestra, with the assured and spirited Jon Kimura Parker as soloist. From the very beginning, he made the concerto his with a strong and sure interpretation. Listening, you might think, “This is what Gershwin wanted his Concerto to sound like!”

Oundjian was an attentive accompanist, finding both playful moments and powerful climaxes in the score. He maintained a truly precise connection between soloist and orchestra: I did not hear a single moment when they were not right together. Several times he and Parker—friends since their student days at Juilliard—exchanged beaming smiles.

The bluesy second movement offers its own challenge. The CMF performance was nicer than real blues—but was it a cautious interpretation, or Gershwin’s desire to write concert music that created that result? It was atmospheric, expressive, but stayed well away from anything that could be mistaken for dirty blues.

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Jon Kimura Parker. Courtesy of Colorado Music Festival.

The final movement was all energy and (that word again!) precision. Parker commanded attention with every entrance, driving the performance as a soloist should. After a rapturous ovation, he played a virtuosic version of Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” as an encore, while a beaming Oundjian stood beside the piano.

The second half of the concert was all dessert, starting with a bouncy and bumptious Overture to La Gazza Ladra by Rossini. From the multiple snare drums trading off the solos that open the overture, it was all a good show, with great individual playing through the wind sections—horns, piccolo, and clarinet being especially noticeable—and as loud as it needed to be at climaxes. It was all, Rossini would agree, “stupendo!”

If any piece in the repertoire can be called a potboiler, it is Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Played for Independence Day concerts everywhere, it is an easy piece for orchestras and conductors to toss off thoughtlessly, but Oundjian took pains to say that it is “always a joy to play this piece! It is remarkable and beautiful, even before the canons come in.”

His interpretation lived up that statement. He showed great attention to musical details from the very opening hymn played by solo cellos and violas through to the end. While parts of it were “very noisy,” as the composer himself once said, with occasional blare in the brass sound, it was never less than thrilling.

The remainder of the program comprised three marches by John Philip Sousa, Washington Post, The Liberty Bell  and of course, Stars and Stripes Forever. All were spirited and great fun to hear in the concert hall, if a little toned down from the best band performances. Stars and Stripes was faster than I am used to hearing it, but did not suffer from the tempo.

A word about the central march: Oundjian selected an enthusiastic audience member from the back of the hall, to conduct The Liberty Bell. A young percussionist with some band experience, the impromptu conductor showed that he had played the piece before. He gave appropriate cues throughout, including offbeat chimes near the end, and got the orchestra to follow a dramatically slower tempo for the very final strain.

Loud cheers followed the final, conclusive “stinger.” Did I say it was a lot of fun? Clearly a good time was had by all. What more could you want for a holiday concert?

Puccini, Britten, and two short sacred works at Central City Opera

‘The roof is going to come off’ says Central City Opera general director

By Peter Alexander July 3 at 2:30 p.m.

Central City Opera (CCO) opens its 2019 festival season Saturday (July 6) with one of opera’s most loved works, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly.

2019 Central City Opera Festival.Madama Butterly

Madama Butterfly. Courtesy of Central City Opera.

Other works on the schedule are less familiar: Billy Budd by Benjamin Britten, which has an all-male cast; and a double bill of two short works for all women, Debussy’s Blessed Damozel and Francis Poulenc’s Litanies to the Black Virgin. Puccini and Britten will be presented in the Central City Opera House, and the shorter works in St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, at 135 Pine St. in Central City.

The season came together around the choice of Billy Budd for one of the mainstage productions. Pelham Pearce, the general/artistic director of CCO, is a fan of Britten’s music and aims to eventually do all of his operas at CCO. So far they have done six.

Billy Budd, with its large all-male cast and setting on a British man-of-war, is a challenge for any opera company, much less a small house like Central City. “Billy Budd is, at this point, the biggest show we will ever have done inside the theater,” Pearce says. “There are so many people it’s just crazy, but it’s such a glorious work, I swear the roof is going to come off.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Central City Opera
Summer 2019

 

Giacomo Puccini:  Madama Butterfly

Adam Tuner, conductor; Allison Moritz, director
8 p.m. July 6, 18, 26 and 30
2:30 p.m. July 10, 12, 14, 16, 20, 24, 28; Aug. 1 and 4
Central City Opera House

Full cast, credits, and tickets  here.

Billy Budd

Billy Budd. Courtesy of Central City Opera.

Benjamin Britten: Billy Budd
Libretto by Eric Crozier and E.M. Forster

John Baril, conductor; Ken Cazan, director
8 p.m. July 13, 19 and 25
2:30 p.m. July 17, 21, 23, 27, 31; Aug. 2
Central City Opera House

Full cast, credits and tickets here.

Double Bill
Debussy: The Blessed Damozel
Libretto by Dante Rosetti
Francis Poulenc: Litanies to the Black Virgin

Peter Walsh, music director; Alessandro Talevi, director
1 p.m. July 23, 24, 31 and Aug. 1
St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church, 135 Pine St., Central City

Tickets here.

Colorado Music Festival gets off to a festive beginning

First concert has everything you could want for opening night

By Peter Alexander June 28 at 12:25 a.m.

The Colorado Music Festival got off to a genuinely festive start last night (June 27).

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CMF Festival Orchestra—photo by Michael Quam

The opening night concert, conducted by Peter Oundjian with pianist Natasha Paremski as soloist, had everything you could want for opening night: spectacular orchestral fireworks, a virtuosic concerto with a virtuoso soloist, and not one but two exciting overtures.

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CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian

To judge by the performance, Oundjian is not afraid to let loose the horses—meaning the impressively solid and forceful brass section of the CMF Festival Orchestra—when called for. More on that later, but the entire orchestra made a very strong impression. Let us hope that Oundjian has steadied the festival after several awkward transitions, and will carry CMF forward on a consistent and high artistic level.

The program, which will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. tonight (June 28) in the Chautauqua Auditorium, began with a clean, solid performance of Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont. Oundjian paced the performance well, bringing out the contrasts of dynamics and tempo leading to a powerful “Victory Symphony” to end the overture.

Egmont’s presence on the program reflects the summer’s theme, “Beethoven’s Path to the Future,” wherein many of the concerts will include a work by Beethoven, and then pieces that in some way reflect Beethoven’s foreshadowing of later musical developments.

The meaning of that theme was best described by Oundjian in his remarks at the concert. It’s not that Beethoven directly influenced every composer that came after him; rather, he said, “Beethoven gave license to future composers” to follow their inspiration in unexpected directions.

The short overture was followed by a very long break while the piano was brought on stage and chairs repositioned for Paremski and the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. The break was too long; however awkward it might look, I would prefer to have the piano onstage during the overture, with the lid down, than to have so much dead time between pieces.

As a great and much-loved Romantic concerto, the Rachmaninoff Second fit this program’s theme, “Beethoven’s Path to Romanticism.” Paremski played with an appropriately big sound without crossing into an abrasive tone quality, and from the very beginning was in total command of the score. Oundjian brought out the surging orchestral climaxes, although there were moments when the pianist’s efforts were more seen than heard.

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Natasha Paremski

Best of all was the second movement, especially the chamber-like passages, including some lovely woodwind solos that are essentially accompanied by rippling arpeggios in the piano. All the shifting moods of the Romantic palette were effectively expressed in this movement, and Paremski’s fleet passagework and sparkling trills were the icing on a very fine cake.

The finale was impressive from pianist and orchestra, fast, exciting and well controlled. Once again the CMF horses came blazing out of the corral, this time without obscuring the soloist, and the brilliant ending garnered the expected ovation.

After intermission, the orchestra returned for the Overture to Verdi’s melodramatic opera La forza del destino (The force of destiny). Oundjian steered the orchestra successfully through the overture’s many shifting moods. All the drama, pathos and nervous energy of the highly episodic piece were present and well expressed. This overture is not often heard in the concert hall, so it was a real pleasure to hear it so well performed by Oundjian and the CMF players.

Respighi’s Pines of Rome, which ended the concert, is the perfect piece to show off the Festival Orchestra’s strengths. The scintillating first movement (Pines of the Villa Borghese) was a brilliant explosion of orchestral colors. The second and third movements (portraying pines near a catacomb and on the Janiculum, respectively) featured beautiful solo wind playing—a haunting, lyrical trumpet in the second, a delicate and utterly exposed clarinet, along with flute, and oboe plus a solo cello in the third.

But it is the final movement, the grand and forceful crescendo of the Pines of the Appian Way, portraying the inexorable advance of a Roman Legion, that everyone remembers from Respighi’s colorful score. Here it was relentless and loud and utterly exciting—just what is wanted to start a season. You have one more chance to hear this program: don’t miss it.

Tickets to tonight’s concert are available through the Chautauqua Box Office.

 

“Beethoven’s Path to Romanticism” opens CMF June 27

First two weeks, June 27–July 9, set the pattern for the summer festival

By Peter Alexander June 27 at 4 p.m.

The Colorado Music Festival opens its 2019 season tonight (Thursday, June 27) with Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont, followed by a series of works that form a bridge forward into the Romantic era.

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Natasha Paremski will play Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. Photo by Clarence Chan

CMF Music Director Peter Oundjian will conduct the Festival Orchestra, and Russian-American pianist Natasha Paremski will perform Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto. The program, also featuring Verdi’s Overture to La forza del destinoand Respighi’s Pines of Rome, will be repeated Friday (June 28).

 

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Peter Oundjian. Photo by Sian Richards

Under the title “Beethoven’s Path to Romanticism,” the program sets a pattern for other orchestra concerts during the summer: a keystone work by Beethoven, with other pieces that share a stylistic affinity. These programs and others fit into the summer’s overarching theme, “Beethoven’s Path to the Future.”

 

“The idea is to create beautiful programs with a general theme,” Oundjian says. “Obviously, every composer after Beethoven was in some way in his shadow. I don’t want to suggest that all (of them) were influenced by Beethoven. I just wanted to give a journey through each program.”

The festival opens its Sunday chamber orchestra series June 30 with Oundjian conducting a concert titled “Beethoven’s Path to Modernism,” and the annual CMF Family Concert will be Sunday, July 7

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Colorado Music Festival: Opening Weeks
June 27–­July 9

7:30 p.m. Thursday& Friday, June 27 & 28
OPENING NIGHT: BEETHOVEN’S PATH TO ROMANTICISM
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Natasha Paremski, piano

Beethoven:Egmont Overture
Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 2
Verdi: Overture to La forza del destino
Respighi: Pines of Rome

7:30 p.m. Sunday, June 30
BEETHOVEN’S PATH TO MODERNISM
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with James Ehnes, violin

Berlioz:Roman Carnival Overture
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto
R. Strauss: Wind Serenade
Beethoven: Grosse Fuge

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 2
BRAHMS & DVOŘÁK
CMF Chamber Players

Brahms: Trio for horn, violin and piano in E-Flat Major
Dvořák: Piano Quintet No. 2 in A Major

7:30 p.m. Friday July 5
REVOLUTION AND FREEDOM
Peter Oundjian, conductor, with Jon Kimura Parker, piano

Copland: Outdoor Overture
Gershwin: Piano Concerto in F
Rossini: Overture to La gazza ladra
Tchaikovsky: Overture 1812
Sousa: “Washington Post,” “Liberty Bell,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever”

3 p.m. Sunday, July 7
FAMILY CONCERT “PETER AND THE WOLF”

Earl Lee, conductor, with Really Inventive Stuff ensemble

Saint-Saëns: Carnival of the Animals
Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf
Sensory-friendly Performance

7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 9
STRINGS AT SUNSET
CMF Chamber Players

Mozart: String Trio in B Flat Major for Two Violins and Cello
Boccherini: String Trio No. 5 in G Minor
Dvořák: String Quintet in G Major

All performances in Chautauqua Auditorium
Tickets from the Chautauqua Box office

 

CU NOW presents scenes from Tom Cipullo’s comedy ‘Hobson’s Choice’

Performances June 14 and 16 will be free and open to the public

By Peter Alexander June 13 at 1 p.m.

Leigh Holman, director of the University of Colorado Eklund Opera Theater, has made Boulder a mecca for composers.

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2018 CU NOW Workshop rehearsal. Photo by Glenn Asakawa, CU Presents

Every June for the past 10 years, prominent composers have brought operas in progress to the CU New Opera Workshop (CU NOW), where they can spend two to three weeks hearing their work sung by students, making changes, and polishing the score.

This year, the opera to be workshopped will be a comedy, Hobson’s Choice by Tom Cipullo.Selected scenes will be performed with piano at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday, June 14 and 16. Additionally, new scenes by CU composition students will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15. All performances will be in the Music Theater of the CU Imig Music Building, and will be open to the public free of charge.

“It’s such a great opportunity,” Cipullo says. “A lot of workshops you work with people, but you don’t work with them for 17 days. What did you put in the water that these young people suddenly don’t have lives?” he says laughing. “They’re on call six hours a day.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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CU New Opera Workshop festival (CU NOW)
Leigh Holman, director
Jeremy Reger, director of music

Hobson’s Choice, Music and libretto by Tom Cipullo
7:30 p.m. Friday June 14, Music Theatre
2 p.m. Sunday, June 16, Music Theatre

Opera scenes by CU Boulder composition students
7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 15
Music Theatre

Performances are free and open to the public.