Opera has been a cherished part of musical life in the Berkshires for many years, and its force extended far beyond the region. Britten’s Peter Grimes was premiered at Tanglewood in 1946. The county had its own opera company between 1985 and 2009 in the Berkshire Opera Company, as serious one, which performed obscure classical works and premiered new operas. Tanglewood reached its operatic height under James Levine’s leadership, when it offered, every summer, outstanding productions of operas by the Tanglewood Fellows with world-class stage directors and designers and impressive concert performances with the BSO and distinguished casts, often drawn from the Metropolitan Opera, where Maestro Levine was Artistic Director until earlier this year. Alas the Berkshire Opera Company shut down its operations, and James Levine has departed. The current truncated concert performances of over-familiar operas can hardly be taken seriously.
Now two seasoned, enterprising professionals in the opera world has recognized this serious gap in our cultural life and have set in motion an ambitious plan to fill it: The Berkshire Opera Festival, which will present its first season in late August and early September of this year. Jonathon Loy, General Director and Co-Founder is a Guest Director on the staging staff at The Metropolitan Opera and a 2002 OPERA America Fellowship winner. Brian Garman, Artistic Director and Co-Founder, is a distinguished conductor, who worked at the Seattle Opera between 2009 and 2014 in the pit and as Music Director of the Seattle Opera Young Artists Program. As you will learn in this podcast, both know the aesthetics, mechanics, and business of opera from top to bottom, and show every sign of creating and institution that will endure and be highly appreciated in the Berkshires.
Their first production is Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, with a first-rate cast, including Inna Loos as Cio-Cio-San, Jason Slayden as B. F. Pinkerton, and Weston Hurt as Sharpless. The chorus and orchestra consist mostly of local singers and musicians. Maestro Garman will conduct the performances himself, and Mr. Loy will be in charge of the production, which, as he explains in our interview, he has updated to the 1960’s in order to bring out important psychological and social themes in the work.
There will also be two related recitals. 1. “Breaking Down barriers: Songs by Female Composers of Puccini’s Time” (Wednesday August 10 at 7:30 pm at the Ventfort Hall Museum in Lenox) and 2. “The ‘Unkown’ Puccini: A Recital of Songs by Giacomo Puccini” (Tuesday, August 16 at 7:30 pm at the First Congregational Church in Stockbridge). Listen to the Podcast to learn more about these.
One extra benefit the Berkshire Opera Festival’s choice is that it will support this summer’s Bard Music Festival (August 5-6; 12-14), which is devoted to Puccini. A fully-staged performance of one of the composer’s central works will be more than welcome, since Bard’s annual summer opera (last performance Sunday, July 31) is Iris, by his rival Mascagni, a splendid production of a powerful and very beautiful work. Festival-goers will see semi-staged productions of Puccini’s Il Tabarro, from Il Trittico, one of his most compelling operas, and the conclusion of Turandot with the much-praised completion of Luciano Berio. For more information and to order tickets, click here.
As they say in the interview, Madama Butterfly belongs to the standard repertoire, but it is not a La Bohème or a La Traviata. They chose the work thoughtfully for a purpose, and the production should reflect the ambitious level of quality in execution and intelligence of interpretation these impressive opera professionals intend for the Berkshires, which, in its odd, non-geographical way, lies between two of the most sophisticated musical centers in North America, New York and Boston. In future seasons they plan to balance works from the repertoire like Madama Butterfly with contemporary opera, which they believe—rightly, I think—to be the life-blood of opera today. From what I gather from our conversation, you can expect lots of great Verdi, and you can’t do better than that, even for a Wagnerite!
For more information about the Berkshire Opera Festival and to order tickets, click here.