Last year, Opera Theater of Pittsburgh remade itself as a 17-day summer festival at Fox Chapel's Shady Side Academy. The result was the 35-year-old company's most financially successful season. Now Summer Fest returns, at a notable in-city venue.
The Twentieth Century Club is a grand private structure neighboring Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall. And the Club, with its limestone Beaux Arts exterior, sits amidst the company's core audience, two-thirds of whom live in Oakland, Shadyside or Squirrel Hill, says artistic director Jonathan Eaton.
Eaton sounds as enthused about occupying the commodious landmark — "one of the hidden architectural jewels of Pittsburgh" — as he does about the diverse works to be performed there July 5-21.
The largest Summer Fest production is The Tales of Hoffman Retold. This new adaption of the 1881 opera about German fantasy writer E.T.A. Hoffman's love life features international star Robert Chafin and a 25-piece orchestra. Directed by Eaton with what he calls a 1930s surrealist feel, it's staged in the Club's Art Deco theater, which seats 500. (And, like all the company's shows, it's performed in English.)
Also in that theater, with its chandeliers and theater boxes, are three performances of Stephen Sondheim's classic musical comedy A Little Night Music, with Scott Wise directing top local talents Anna Singer and Daniel Teadt. The show reflects Eaton's desire to engage audiences with programming besides grand opera.
The other full productions are staged in what the company's calling the Beaux Arts Ballroom. This 300-seat space hosts two showings each of: Shining Brow, Daron Hagen's 1993 opera about Frank Lloyd Wright; The Secret Gardener, a rarely staged early Mozart comedy; and Peter Schickele's comic Mozart take-off A Little Nightmare Music.
Summer Fest also reprises Night Caps, the popular program of comic mini-operas. Night Caps International includes four newly commissioned 15-minute works, all set in the same hotel on different nights. The libretti are by Pittsburgh's Rob Handel, and composers include Pittsburgh's Roger Zahab and Chinese composer Guo Yanwa. Night Caps premiere individually; the full cycle is performed twice.
And Summer Fest reprises its five-day Mozart Camp, with talks and concerts.
Eaton suggests patrons make an evening of it. In-house catered dinners are available, or relax post-show with drinks at the Club's bar or informal free cabaret performances by company vocalists.