Opera Theater's SummerFest returns with The Merry Widow, The Fantasticks and more 

This year's fest leans toward the light and the light-hearted

click to enlarge Sean Cooper (in rear), Rachel Eve Holmes and Adam Hill in The Fantasticks, at SummerFest
  • Photo courtesy of New Place Collaborations
  • Sean Cooper (in rear), Rachel Eve Holmes and Adam Hill in The Fantasticks, at SummerFest

Opera Theater of PIttsburgh is launching its third SummerFest, and this annual three-week offering alights for the second straight year at Oakland's Twentieth Century Club. The 2014 Fest leans toward the light and the light-hearted — all with live music, and sung in English. And OTP artistic and general director Jonathan Eaton promises that the facility has improved seating and air conditioning.

After an opening-night solo recital by internationally known, Pittsburgh-native mezzo soprano Marianne Cornetti, the main-stage performances begin with Franz Lehár's perennially popular The Merry Widow (July 11, 18 and 27). With familiar tunes like "The Vilja Song," the 1905 comic operetta tells the story of a wealthy widow (sung by Pittsburgh's Anna Singer), whose countrymen scheme to find her a husband.

With five performances, the Fest's featured show is The Fantasticks (July 12-26), that fabled Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt musical that ran a record four decades on Broadway. "The music's lush and lovely," says Eaton, noting songs like "Try to Remember." OTP's twist on this coming-of-age love story is its direction by Attack Theatre's Peter Kope, with choreography and performers from Attack. It's "a whole new slant on what is sort of an icon of musical theater," says Eaton.

The third main-stage show is Richard Strauss' Ariadne on Naxos (July 18, 20 and 26), which Eaton calls a rare combination of high art and low comedy. Arias by the title character (award-winning soprano Elizabeth Baldwin) include one that's "higher than the Queen of Night and three times as long," says Eaton, who directs.

The Fest also includes something for kids: "The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (July 12, 19 and 26), a 40-minute comic work based on the Mark Twain story. And on July 22, there's a free workshop performance of A New Kind of Fallout, Gilda Lyons and Tammy Ryan's "eco-opera" about how Rachel Carson's Silent Spring changes the life of one young woman in the 1960s. (The world premiere is planned for 2015's SummerFest.)

The Fest also includes its familiar late-night cabaret performances. And on July 26 and 27 — in the spirit of last year's popular "Night Caps" series — look for Happy Hour! Pittsburgh-based composer Roger Zahab teams with seven librettists on these commissioned short comic operas about singles on the bar scene.



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