Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) is a summer opera festival held in St. Louis, Missouri. Typically four operas, all sung in English, are presented each season, which runs from late May to late June. Performances are accompanied by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, which is divided into two ensembles, each covering two of the operas, for the season. The company's performances are presented in the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Webster University. In 2005, OTSL adopted projected English-language supertitles in the theatre.
First seasons and achievements
OTSL was founded in 1976 by Lee Gerdine, Laurance L. Browning, Jr. and James Van Sant. These three hired Richard Gaddes, who at the time was working at The Santa Fe Opera as the first Artistic Director. They signed him as full-time General Director in 1978 at the suggestion of Ed Korn, who was brought in as a consultant from the Metropolitan Opera. The model for OTSL was The Santa Fe Opera, as Gaddes noted:
That was not a coincidence. I always say that John Crosby sired the Opera Theater of St. Louis. The whole concept was modeled on Santa Fe, and part of the idea was that the apprentices here would feed into St. Louis. Which they did.
The first season in 1976 presented eleven performances of Britten's Albert Herring, Mozart's The Impresario, Menotti's The Medium, and Donizetti's Don Pasquale. This mixture of some standard works, and some new and unconventional operas, was to continue in future seasons and characterize the company's approach. This was achieved on a budget of $135,000. The young singers included Sheri Greenawald and Vinson Cole.
During the early seasons, the company had a major influence with such achievements as first joint BBC/WNET telecast of Albert Herring and in 1983 the first appearance by any U.S. opera company at the Edinburgh International Festival. The first production of a Japanese opera in Japan by any American company was followed by a return to Tokyo in September 2001 to present the Japanese premiere of the classic Genji Monagatari, adapted as an opera by Minoru Miki as The Tale of Genji.
Well-known directors Graham Vick, Jonathan Miller, and Mark Lamos have made U.S. operatic debuts with OTSL, as did conductors Leonard Slatkin and Christopher Hogwood. Colin Graham served as OTSL's Director of Productions from 1978-1985. John Nelson was OTSL's Music Director from 1985 to 1988, and Principal Conductor from 1988 to 1991.
Other outstanding U.S. singers, including Christine Brewer, Susan Graham, Denyce Graves, Dwayne Croft, Thomas Hampson, Jerry Hadley, Patricia Racette, Sylvia McNair, and Stephanie Blythe have made appearances in St. Louis productions. All told, there have been 14 world premieres, including Stephen Paulus' The Postman Always Rings Twice in 1982, The Loss of Eden by Cary John Franklin in 2002; David Carlson's Anna Karenina, with a libretto by Colin Graham; Terence Blanchard's Champion (2013), with a libretto by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Michael Christofer; and Ricky Ian Gordon's Twenty-Seven, with a libretto by Royce Vavrek, commissioned for Stephanie Blythe. In addition, there have been 14 American premieres, including Michael Berkeley's Jane Eyre; Benjamin Britten's Paul Bunyan; Rossini's Il viaggio a Reims (The Journey to Reims); and Judith Weir's The Vanishing Bridegroom.
The company trains young artists in the Gerdine Young Artists program, named for Opera Theatre's founding board chairman, Leigh Gerdine.
Succeeding Gaddes as OTSL General Director was Charles MacKay, who held the post from 1985 to 2008, but he had served as OTSL Executive Director beginning in 1984. MacKay led the campaign to construct and fund the new Sally S. Levy Opera Center, a new and permanent administrative home and year-round rehearsal facility for the organisation. From 1985 until his death in April 2007, the OTSL Artistic Director was Colin Graham. Since 1991, the Music Director has been Stephen Lord.
In September 2007, OTSL named James Robinson as the company's next Artistic Director, and Timothy O'Leary to the position of Executive Director. In November 2007, The Santa Fe Opera named MacKay their next general director to succeed Gaddes, effective 1 October 2008, and MacKay concluded his OTSL tenure as General Director on 30 September 2008. In June 2008, OTSL named O'Leary as its third General Director, effective 1 October 2008.
"New Works, Bold Voices" Cycle
In October 2012 General Director Timothy O'Leary announced a three-year cycle of world premiere operas by American composers, beginning with the company’s 2013 festival season in May. The opera announced were Champion by jazz musician and composer Terence Blanchard with libretto by Michael Cristofer (2013), Twenty-Seven by Ricky Ian Gordon with libretto by Michael Korie (2014), and Shalimar the Clown by Jack Perla, based on the novel by Salman Rushdie of 2015. The cycle was underwritten in part by a $1 million challenge grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
In an inspiring, moving, and painful journey of self-discovery, Champion focused on the career and self-destruction of Emile Griffith, a three-time world welterweight champion and twice a world middleweight champion, who fought from the late 1950s into the 1970s. However, one of his greatest professional triumphs – winning back the title from Benny “The Kid” Paret in 1962 – was also his greatest personal tragedy. The seventeen punches he landed on Paret in seven seconds resulted in not only a knockout, but also a coma from which Paret would never recover; he died ten days later. For Griffith, who had never wanted to be a boxer, the impact of the fight was devastating, and his career soon went downhill. The role of Griffith was performed by bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock and bass singer Arthur Woodley, with Denyce Graves also starring as Emelda Griffith, Emile’s mother.
Twenty-Seven premiered during the 2014 Festival Season and explores the story of Gertrude Stein’s life in Paris between World War I and World War II at her famous home at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Destined to become a legendary author, poet, raconteuse, and patroness of the arts, Stein established in Paris one of the great salons of all time, hosting the most influential artists and personalities of her day. She was particularly fond of those she dubbed “the lost generation” – a group of artists who came of age during World War I. While they suffered its ravages, they also rose to the challenges of the interwar period to create many of the great works that defined the advent of Modernism. The role of Gertrude Stein was performed by renowned mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, with Elizabeth Futral in the role of Alice B. Toklas, Stein’s longtime companion.
Premiering in 2016, Shalimar the Clown is based on Salman Rushdie’s acclaimed novel of the same title. Its themes of personal and political power and betrayal are played against the story of three generations of women, beginning in the “paradise lost” of rural Kashmir and culminating in late 20th century Los Angeles. Shalimar is a young Muslim Kashmiri known for his gregarious personality and his skill as a tightrope walker. His Romeo-and-Juliet romance with a Hindu girl named Boonyi manages to meet with approval from their families and their village, but the romance is shattered when an American ambassador begins an affair with Boonyi. Shalimar goes on to train as an assassin and seeks revenge not only on the ambassador but also the child of the affair, a daughter named India, who lives in California.
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