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REALLY GRAND OPERA: Lyric’s first Kauffman Center season will be its biggest ever

Of all the local organizations who will be presenting for the first time this fall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, none will be more thrilled to “stretch its legs” than the Lyric Opera of Kansas City. After decades of performing in the cramped, moldy Lyric Theatre (among other venues), the company has announced a splendid new season that plans to make full use of the Muriel Kauffman Theatre’s capabilities. The lineup includes the local premiere of a modern American classic and a new Puccini production that will be the largest in the company’s 54-year history. “We believe that the opening of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts is going to allow the Lyric Opera to produce opera on a level and on a scale that surpasses anything that Kansas City has seen,” said Lyric general director Evan Luskin in a well-attended press conference/ season announcement, held on January 25th at the Lyric’s Opera Center at 18th and Charlotte.

The season features the company premiere of John Adams’ minimalist masterpiece Nixon in China, in a production directed by eminent Canadian director Michael Cavanagh and starring James Maddalena (Nixon), Richard Paul Fink (Henry Kissinger),Daniel Belcher (Chou En-Lai) and Audrey Elizabeth Luna (Madame Mao). The production will feature “many special visual effects,” said artistic director Ward Holmquist, “some of which I can’t reveal – but suffice it to say they will be breathtaking. Watch out!” Nixon has a special place for Ward: He served as principal coach and assistant conductor for Houston Grand Opera’s world premiere of the piece in 1987.

“My colleagues and I believed we were working on the next great American opera,” he said. “Now, almost a quarter-century later, we are seeing this opera produced throughout the world. The passion that both Evan and I have for this modern American work compels us to present it at this seminal moment in our company’s artistic evolution.” The 1,800-seat Muriel Kauffman Theatre’s much deeper stage, larger wings and expandable orchestra pit will allow the company “to present this opera on an elevated level of grandeur,” Ward added. Just how big is the physical production? Originally created for Vancouver Opera, after the performances here the scenery will move to San Francisco Opera, which has one of the largest stages in the country. Moreover, the production will seek to embrace the rock-music sensibility that the composer originally intended: Unlike many modern productions, in the Lyric’s both singers and orchestra will be amplified.

Puccini’s Turandot, a rarity on many opera stages because of its sheer scale, will open the season in October, in a new production designed by Lyric production manager R. Keith Brumley – whose elaborate design sketches were on view at the press conference. “It will be the largest production in our company’s history,” Ward said, “including literally hundreds of artists onstage and the largest number of Kansas City Symphony musicians we have ever employed for a single work.” At its heart, he said, Turandot is a love story. “And with this production we are creating our very own love story – a work that thanks all of our supporters who have made this possible, and utilizing the full production capabilities that the Kauffman Center can offer. We want to show our community what it has been waiting for.” Turandot stars the soprano Opera News recently declared the world’s leading exponent of the title role, Lise Lindstrom, and legendary bass-baritone and Kansas native Samuel Ramey.

In November the company will present Mozart’s comedic Così fan tutte, in a production directed by Lyric favorite Kristine McIntyre (Norma, John Brown, The End of the Affair) and starring Amanda Hall, Marie Lenormand and John Stephens. The season closes in April with The Barber of Seville, featuring Sandra Piques Eddy as Rosina (the mezzo-soprano who wowed us at the Lyric’s recent Carmen) and Joshua Hopkins as Figaro. Ward also announced that all four productions in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre will feature English titles provided by Figaro Simultext® System, the state-of-the-art, back-of-the-seat title boxes that are familiar to opera fans because of their widespread use in houses around the world.

The Lyric’s Opera Center, in which the press conference was held, is in the process of a multi-million-dollar renovation. Part of it is already in use, serving for rehearsals and production; eventually it will house shops for set construction, costume and wig design and spaces for educational programs. A second building will house Administrative offices and set storage. In November a capital campaign was launched for the Opera Center, and at the same time the Lyric announced it had received a $320,000 matching grant from the Tulsa-based J.E. and L.E. Mabee Foundation, Inc., towards the campaign.

Musical chairs: This summer the Lyric will move its production and administrative offices to 1616 Broadway, a space currently occupied by the Kansas City Ballet. At around the same time the Ballet will move into its new home, the Todd Bolender Center for Dance and Creativity, in the Union Station complex. The Lyric offices will then move to the Opera Center upon its completion some time in 2012.

Lyric Opera of Kansas City, 2011-2012 Season

All performances are in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre.

October 1-9: Turandot, directed by Garnett Bruce in a new production by R. Keith Brumley and starring soprano Lise Lindstrom and bass-baritone Samuel Ramey.

November 5-13: Così fan tutte, directed by Kristine McIntyre and starring Amanda Hall, Marie Lenormand and John Stephens.

March 10-18: Nixon in China, Lyric premiere, directed by Michael Cavanagh and starring James Maddalena, Richard Paul Fink, Alan Woodrow and Maria Kanyova.

April 21-29: The Barber of Seville, starring Sandra Piques Eddy and Joshua Hopkins.

For tickets call 816-471-0400 or go to kcopera.org.



* On February 4th and 5th at the Lyric Theatre and February 6th at Yardley Hall, violinist Baiba Skride joins music directorMichael Stern and the Kansas City Symphony for Khachaturian’s Violin Concerto. The program also includes Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony, Messiaen’s Un rourire (Hommage à Mozart) and Smetana’s The Moldau. For tickets call 816-471-0400 or go towww.kcsymphony.org.

* On February 5th at the Community of Christ Temple in Independence, the Friends of Chamber Music presents Chanticleer, America’s favorite all-male a cappella choir, in a concert called The Divine Orlando honoring the man dubbed “King of Musicians” even during his lifetime – the 16th-century master Orlando di Lasso. For tickets call 816-561-9999 or go towww.chambermusic.org.

To reach Paul Horsley, performing arts editor, send email to phorsley@sbcglobal.net.

Paul Horsley, Performing Arts Editor 

Paul studied piano and musicology at WSU and Cornell University. He also earned a degree in journalism, because writing about the arts in order to inspire others to partake in them was always his first love. After earning a PhD from Cornell, he became Program Annotator for the Philadelphia Orchestra, where he learned firsthand the challenges that non profits face. He moved to KC to join the then-thriving Arts Desk at The Kansas City Star, but in 2008 he happily accepted a post at The Independent. Paul contributes to national publications, including Dance Magazine, Symphony, Musical America, and The New York Times, and has conducted scholarly research in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic (the latter on a Fulbright Fellowship). He also taught musicology at Cornell, LSU and Park University.



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