Published22 Jul 2019
Maestro Corrado Rovaris Leads Opera Philadelphia’s Company Premiere The Love for Three Oranges at Festival O19
Production Marks 100th Anniversary of Prokofiev’s Opera and 20th Anniversary of Music Director Rovaris’s House Debut
The eagerly awaited company premiere of Prokofiev’s comedic gem, The Love for Three Oranges, highlights O19, the third edition of Opera Philadelphia’s annual season-opening festival. Mounted at the Academy of Music in a “masterful new production” (Opera News) by South African director Alessandro Talevi under the baton of Jack Mulroney Music Director Corrado Rovaris, the presentation marks not only the 20th anniversary of the conductor’s house debut, but also the 100th anniversary of the opera itself.
The Love for Three Oranges is a fantastical fairy tale based, like Puccini’s Turandot, on a play by Carlo Gozzi. Prokofiev completed his opera in 1919, and its world premiere was staged by the Chicago Opera two years later, making him the first foreign-born composer to have an opera commissioned and premiered by an American company. Yet although the Chicago premiere was a resounding audience success, it proved too progressive for contemporary U.S. critics. Their negative response saw the opera’s momentum grind to a halt, and today Three Oranges is still rarely seen in the States, remaining best-known here only for its iconic “March.” Yet thanks to its playful, fourth-wall-breaking satire and a “score [that] bubbles with invention and high spirits” (Gramophone), the opera has been a European staple for almost a century.
Three Oranges is a longtime favorite of Maestro Rovaris, who explains:
“The Love for Three Oranges is probably one of the most important fairy tales in the history of opera. The score is really unique because you have a lot of people and cultures on stage. The chorus is a very important character, very involved in the plot, and the orchestral writing is very colorful, energetic, and rhythmical, but also sometimes very lyrical too. It’s the perfect showcase for our orchestra and chorus, and we’re going to produce it with a wonderful cast and a wonderful production from Europe; it’s really remarkable.”
The Music Director looks forward to leading The Love for Three Oranges’s long-awaited Philadelphia debut in the production by Alessandro Talevi that “turned out to be the real highlight” of Florence’s Maggio Musicale in 2014. As Opera News observed:
“The director has something specific to say, … yet his points are never pressed insistently: they are put across with a lightness of touch that perfectly reflects the whimsy of the score. … [The production] proved truly worthy of Italy’s oldest music festival.”
With scenic design by Justin Arienti, costumes by Manuel Pedretti, lighting by Giuseppe Calabro, and action choreographed by Ran Arthur Braun – all of whom are making company debuts – Talevi’s production features an elaborate, trompe l’oeil proscenium arch and oranges reminiscent of giant Fabergé eggs. In the hands of the director and his team, Prokofiev’s comic gem becomes grand opera with a Russian twist.
Opera Philadelphia’s company premiere of the opera presents “agile, fresh-voiced tenor” Jonathan Johnson (Opera News) as Prokofiev’s melancholy prince, with soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer, as featured in the Metropolitan Opera’s DVD recordings of The Magic Flute and Ring cycle, as Fata Morgana, the witch who curses him. Bass Scott Conner brings “sonorous command” (Cleveland Plain-Dealer) to the King of Clubs, the prince’s father, and tenor Barry Banks, who boasts “the same combination of tonal sweetness and pinging clarity that made Pavarotti famous” (Telegraph, UK), portrays Truffaldino, the court jester. Soprano Tiffany Townsend, winner of a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Encouragement Award, Katherine Pracht, “a mezzo of size and quality, and confident dramatic presence” (Chicago Tribune), and “electrifying” mezzo Kendra Broom (San Francisco Classical Voice) undertake the roles of the three princesses, Ninetta, Linetta, and Nicoletta.
Bass-baritone Zachary Altman lends “the beauty of his voice” (San Francisco Classical Voice) to the treacherous prime minister, Leander, and contralto Alissa Anderson showcases her “rich tones and an awesome chest voice” (Dallas Morning News) as his lover, Princess Clarissa. Following his recent appearance as Quince in Opera Philadelphia’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, bass Brent Michael Smith, a “standout … with a breathtakingly lush voice” (Opera News), returns as the magician, Chelio. Hailed as “a true stage animal … [with] a striking bass voice and a tremendously magnetic presence” (Opera News), Zachary James portrays the huge female cook who guards the oranges, and Amanda Bottoms demonstrates her “richly expressive mezzo” (Wall Street Journal) as Fata Morgana’s servant, Smeraldine. Bass-baritone Ben Wager lends his “hugely compelling vocal and theatrical presence” (Philadelphia Inquirer) to the role of the demon, Farfarello, and baritone Will Liverman, the recipient of a 2019 Richard Tucker Career Grant and “one of the most versatile singing artists performing today” (Bachtrack), rounds out the cast as the king’s advisor, Pantaloon.
No fewer than eight principals – Anderson, Banks, Bottoms, Broom, Bryn Harmer, Conner, Johnson, and Townsend – will all be making their company debuts in the production. Anchored by the Opera Philadelphia Orchestra, this also showcases the superlative voices of the Opera Philadelphia Chorus.
Opera Philadelphia presents The Love for Three Oranges at Festival O19
Music by Sergei Prokofiev
Libretto by Sergei Prokofiev and Vera Janacopoulos
Based on Vsevolod Meyerhold’s adaptation of the play by Carlo Gozzi
Fri, Sep 20 at 8pm
Sun, Sep 22 at 2pm
Fri, Sep 27 at 8pm
Sun, Sep 29 at 2pm
Academy of Music
Conductor: Corrado Rovaris
Director: Alessandro Talevi*
Production from Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
Performed in English with English supertitles
The King of Clubs: Scott Conner*
The Prince: Jonathan Johnson*
Truffaldino: Barry Banks*
Fata Morgana: Wendy Bryn Harmer*
Princess Clarissa: Alissa Anderson*
Leander: Zachary Altman
Magician Chelio: Brent Michael Smith
Ninetta: Tiffany Townsend*
Linetta: Katherine Pracht
Nicoletta: Kendra Broom*
The Cook: Zachary James
Smeraldine: Amanda Bottoms*
Pantaloon: Will Liverman
Farfarello: Ben Wager
Chorus master: Elizabeth Braden
Scenic design: Justin Arienti*
Costume design: Manuel Pedretti*
Lighting design: Giuseppe Calabro*
Action design: Ran Arthur Braun*
Stage manager: Lisa Anderson
Assistant director: Seth Hoff
* Opera Philadelphia debut
Opera at the Academy is underwritten, in part, by Judy and Peter Leone.