Rollicking comedy and light-hearted drama lead the summer schedule
By Peter Alexander July 8 at 5:30 p.m.
There will be no babies thrown into the fire (Il Trovatore, 2018), or innocent girls murdered in place of a dissolute count (Rigoletto, 2021) at Central City Opera this summer.
CCO has not been able to perform in their exquisite opera house in Central City since 2019, and between returning to their home and this year’s 90th anniversary, the company wanted a cheerful summer. In the words of Central City Opera chief executive officer Pamela Pantos, the aim was that “after what we’ve all been thorough, people will come and smile, be back in the opera house and enjoy themselves.”
Both mainstage productions in the Central City Opera House will be light-hearted works: the frothy Viennese confection of Johann Strauss, Jr., Die Fledermaus; and The Light in the Piazza, a Tony-winning Broadway musical by Adam Guettel, which has moments of melancholy but ends happily with boy-marries-girl.
The only darker tones come later in the summer, with a production of Two Remain, a chamber opera by Jake Heggie based on the stories of two Auschwitz survivors. That will be performed at the Martin Foundry in Central City (see dates and time below).
Broadway musicals have often been performed by Central City Opera: Carousel (2021), Man of La Mancha (2015), The Sound of Music (Denver, 2014), Show Boat (Denver, 2013), Oklahoma! (2012) among others. Pantos hopes that there will be ongoing support for musical comedies, for the breadth they bring to the repertoire.
A Light in the Piazza tells the story of 1950s American housewife Margaret Johnson and her daughter Clara—who seems to be developmentally disabled from a childhood accident. This being a musical, Clara falls in love with a handsome young Italian man, and Margaret has to decide if the young couple will be allowed to see each other, and ultimately, to marry.
The conflict revolves around Margaret’s desire to protect her daughter, and to let her live her own life. There are also cultural differences between the Americans and the Italians, which create another level of dilemma for everyone. With her husband busy in the United States, Margaret has to find her own path, just as Clara does.
“While there are moments of seriousness to the piece, it is quite lighthearted,” Pantos says. “It had a long run on the stage in New York, (and) Tony-winning is always Tony winning! There’s a little bit of melancholy, but beautiful music—it is a romance!”
Composed by the grandson of Broadway legend Richard Rodgers, A Light in the Piazza reflects the style and traditions of 20th-century American Music Theater. Die Fledermaus, however, reflects just as deeply the style and manner of a very different world: that of 19th-century Vienna. There are swirling waltzes (of course), a grand party thrown by a bored Russian count, mistaken identities and masks, and hilarious comedy from beginning to end, all capturing the splendor and decadence of Imperial Vienna.
The plot is almost too complicated to explain, except that it is a tale of foolishness, and of revenge between friends, that starts in an elegant home and ends in a dreary prison, with a glamorous dinner party in between. But even in the prison, everyone comes away happy. The musical numbers will be performed in German but the dialog in English so everyone should be able to follow the story.
The Viennese musical style, combining elegance and sentimentality, is not always easy for non-native performers. There are unwritten rules for modifying rhythms and tempos that are known to the Viennese, but not necessarily outsiders—kind of like the unwritten rules in American jazz.
“The trick in getting Fledermaus right is all of the little things that aren’t on the page,” conductor John Baril says. “There’s a lot of little Viennese things that are done, especially in waltz tempi. You rush the second beat—it’s not written down that way so you have to explain it to an orchestra.
“And then you also have to get them to not play it when you don’t want it. There’s a lot of little things that are traditions, little slow-downs here and little commas there. None of that is written, it all has to be explained. And getting singers to do that and not just do what’s written on the page can be hard.”
One traditional showstopper is a very flashy Hungarian Czardas, sung by one of the characters in the second act. “It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever conducted,” Baril says. “It’s super hard to conduct because again everything that the singer needs to do with that piece, to make it interesting, is not on the page.“
In addition to singing one of the lead characters himself, Baril says he has studied recordings and performances by native Austrian and Viennese conductors. “I’m going to do it the way I want to do it,” he says. “And the way I want to do it is all the Viennese things that I’ve heard done.”
Baril mentions one other challenge to any performances at Central City Opera. “We’re at 8500 ft., and some of the phrasings that you could do at sea level you simply cannot do,” he says. “We never know—there’s no way TO know—when a new artist is coming up here, whether they can adapt.”
The production is one that CCO bought from Virginia Opera and modified to fit their small stage. “I saw the set at Northwestern and it’s beautiful,” Baril says. “It is a set that takes place in Vienna, so it will be as Viennese as we can make it.
“I love Fledermaus. I think it’s a masterpiece of the order of anything else.”
Pantos wants people to make the trip up the mountain to Central City to see the shows, but also just to experience the intimate 550-seat opera house, built in 1878. “Being in such a jewel of a theater and being so close to the stage, you have the unique opportunity of experiencing theater in a way that you’ll never experience it anywhere else,” she says.
“Because it is such an intimate theater, there is not a bad seat in the entire house. You’re so close to the performers, that it’s exhilarating and the energy literally emanates from the stage and you feel it because its is such a beautiful small theater.”
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Central City Opera
Summer 2022 season
The Light in the Piazza
By Adam Guettel and Craig Lucas
Performed in English
Adam Turner, conductor
Ken Cazan, stage director
2:30 p.m. Sunday, July 10; Tuesday, July 12; Sat. July 16; Wednesday, July 20; Friday, July 22; Sunday, July 24; Thursday, July 28
8 p.m. Friday, July 8; Thursday, July 14; Tuesday, July 26
Central City Opera House
Die Fledermaus (The bat)
By Johann Strauss, Jrs., Karl Haffner and Richard Genée
Performed in German with dialog and titles in English
John Baril, conductor
Joachim Schamberger, stage director
8:00 p.m. Saturday, July 9; Friday July 15; Thursday, July 21;
2:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13; Sunday, July 17; Tuesday, July 19; Saturday, July 23; Wednesday, July 27; Friday, July 29; Sunday, July 31
Central City Opera House
Two Remain: Memories of Auschwitz
By Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer
Performed in English
John Baril and Brandon Eldridge, co-conductors
Dan Wallace Miller, stage director
7:30 p.m. Saturday, July 16 (sold out); Wednesday, July 20
2:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21 (sold out)
11 a.m. Thursday, July 28
Martin Foundry, 212 Eureka St., Central City
Tickets available through the Central City Opera Web page.