Bold. Brave. Brilliant.

Here's Why You Should Be Paying Attention to Arizona Opera

Phoenix New Times

Lynne Trimble

Medium: Print

Vampires, giants, and some pretty fierce gods are invading Arizona Opera stages starting this fall, when Arizona Opera opens its 2017-18 season with the Arizona premiere of Hercules vs. Vampires. It's a special engagement production that blends opera with 1960s pop culture by synchronizing live music and vocal performance with a 1961 cult classic film called Hercules in the Haunted World.

And it's the first time Arizona Opera has presented a work like this.

Some might call it kitschy, or late to the vampire trend. After all, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight vampire series launched in 2005, and Scorpius Dance Theatre has been serving up bloodsuckers for more than a decade with Lisa Starry's A Vampire Tale. But neither is the case. Instead, Hercules vs. Vampires demonstrates Arizona Opera's willingness to expand its repertoire while engaging new generations of potential opera buffs.

Founded as Tucson Opera Company in 1971, the troupe became Arizona Opera in 1978. It performs in both Phoenix and Tucson, presenting works from the traditional opera repertoire, as well as turn-of-the-century operas. But Arizona Opera also performs operettas, shorter productions with lighter subject matter and music, as well as American operas.

Launching the upcoming season with Hercules vs. Vampires is meant to show that opera can be bold, accessible, and fun, says Joseph Specter, president and general director for Arizona Opera. Specter joined Arizona Opera on July 1, 2016, replacing Ryan Taylor, who left to serve as president and general director for Minnesota Opera. Specter previously served as general director for Austin Opera in Texas. The 2017-18 season is the first Specter has planned for Arizona Opera.

The 2017-18 season also includes ToscaCandideThe Barber of Seville, and Das Rheingold — the first chapter of Richard Wagner’s famed Ring Cycle. The lineup is a nod to both the opera's rich history, and its practice of adding productions Arizona Opera hasn't performed in the past. The Barber of Seville was the sole production in the opera company's first season, and Arizona Opera is one of only four U.S. opera companies to have performed the complete Ring Cycle twice. Candide, on the other hand, is new to the Arizona Opera repertoire.

Specter, who worked with Arizona Opera board members and staff on selecting the upcoming season, says 2017-18 offerings will expand the concept behind the Arizona Bold initiative launched during the 2015-16 season.

The initiative was designed to secure new audiences and increase financial support for Arizona Opera through creating and performing works tied to Arizona’s history and cultural diversity. It resulted in a significant multiyear monetary commitment from CopperPoint Mutual Insurance Company, which signed on to sponsor productions tied to the initiative.

So far, Arizona Opera has presented five Arizona Bold productions, including the mariachi opera Cruzar la Cara de la Luna and Eugene Onegin during the 2014-15 season, Florencia en el Amazonas and Arizona Lady during the 2015-16 season, and Rusalka during the current 2016-17 season.

Arizona Opera missed the bold mark with its production of Arizona Lady.

Still, Arizona Opera will have another chance to redeem itself with this season's Riders of the Purple Sage, an opera developed in Arizona that features music by Craig Bohmler and scenic design by Ed Mell, both creatives based here in the Valley. Based on a Zane Grey novel, the world première takes place in Tucson during late February. The Phoenix run is March 3 to 5 at Phoenix Symphony Hall.Unfortunately, Arizona Opera's Arizona Lady, the U.S. opera company premiere of an Emmerich Kálmán musical set on an Arizona cattle ranch, didn't live up to the hype. Although its Southwestern setting made it accessible for those who don’t frequent opera productions, it featured a plodding plot and predictable themes. Even throwing in a couple of vampires or underworld gods couldn't have saved that one.

For the 2017-18 season, Specter’s goal is delivering a strong season rather than just one or two works branded as "bold." Still, it’s clear that two of his choices hold the greatest promise here – one a longtime staple of classical opera inspired by tales of Norse gods, and the other a contemporary opera well-suited to pop culture’s current obsession with vampire mythology.

Arizona Opera performs Hercules vs. Vampires, billed as a “Technicolor opera [that] slays bloodsuckers with song,” on October 21 and 22. The film Hercules in the Haunted World features body builder Reg Park and horror actor Christopher Lee.

Twenty years after performing Wagner’s entire Der Ring Des Nibelungen, Arizona Opera will close its 2017-18 season with a new production of Das Rheingold, the first chapter of Wagner’s epic work steeped in Norse mythology. Phoenix dates for this production of Das Rheingold, which has already been performed by Minnesota Opera, are April 6 to 8, 2018.

Arizona Opera will celebrate Leonard Bernstein with its first production of his operetta Candide.EXPAND

Arizona Opera will celebrate Leonard Bernstein with its first production of his operetta Candide.

Karli Cadel/Glimmerglass Festival

Additional Phoenix performances during the 2017-18 season will include Tosca (November 17-19) and The Barber of Seville (March 9-11, 2018) – as well as the first Arizona Opera production of Candide (February 2-4, 2018), which coincides with nationwide celebrations of the 100-year anniversary of Leonard Bernstein’s birth.

Additional information and tickets are available on the Arizona Opera website