The Maryland Lyric Opera works hard to ensure that what it offers is unlike anything you’ll see elsewhere.
“We bring a unique performing style, a unique performing experience,” says Matthew Woorman, general manager of the organization.
When Brad Clark founded MDLO in 2014, Woorman says the point “was to put more of an emphasis on the music and on the singing. Getting back to, ‘What are these operas about? The singing, the words, the text, the language — what are they trying to convey?’
“Certainly the scenery and the costumes are an element to getting that job done, and to communicating that,” he continues, “but we were looking more towards the music and focusing on the power of the music and what we are able to create sonically that will move people.”
As the company has grown over the years, so have its individual productions. Yet even in this regard, the company has defied opera tradition and convention — chiefly, over the past year, since returning from the pandemic, on account of where the organization performs.
“We really enjoy the acoustics of Strathmore,” he says, referring to the complex’s gleaming Music Center. “It’s a magnificent space. But it’s a concert hall, so it’s not a conventional opera space. There’s no pit. There’s no space to bring in scenery. Everything is out there on stage. When there’s a clarinet solo or a flute solo, or a violinist is doing a solo line, you’re able to see that. You’re able to see that artist bringing that line to life. As an audience member, it’s not just happening underneath the stage, or in the singer’s mind — you’re able to see [and] to connect with it.
“It’s a different perspective than a traditional opera house,” he continues. That’s something the organization has savvily been known to play up, as it did last fall with its take on Verdi’s Macbeth. As the program’s official description put it, “MDLO’s presentation at Strathmore puts the MDLO Orchestra center stage, while dramatic lighting, captivating projections, and enhanced visual supervision by David Gately takes the audience directly to Macbeth’s castle for an unforgettable performance.”
This weekend, MDLO returns to Strathmore for the conclusion of its 2022/23 season devoted to Giuseppe Verdi, and the Italian master’s three Shakespearean operas in particular.
“The ‘Season of Verdi’ is a celebration of grand works,” Woorman says. “They’re some of the most popular, most accessible.” They’re also some of the most demanding, in terms of size, scale, and skill, requiring “many people to all be pushing in one direction, working together to realize, and hopefully reach new levels of their own artistry and their own expression.”
After January’s focus on Falstaff, the organization has turned its attention to Verdi’s penultimate masterpiece, his passionate retelling of the tragedy Otello.
“We’re coming off of a comic opera, Falstaff. And now we turn around and we have this very dramatic piece.” Woorman describes Otello as both “intense” and “rewarding,” and also “a really powerful and moving piece.”
Internationally acclaimed American tenor Gregory Kunde will make his debut with MDLO in what will be his 19th time as the titular Otello since his 2012 debut in the role in Venice, including past productions from Turin to Tokyo, São Paulo to Cincinnati, and most recently, Munich and Vienna.
“Gregory Kunde brings all this experience of this specific role, a signature of his, and we’re really excited for that,” Woorman says. Playing Otello’s wife Desdemona is Greek soprano Eleni Calenos, another in-demand opera star making her MDLO debut. “We’ve been really excited about bringing her for years, and Desdemona…is a role I think she’ll shine in.”
After hamming it up in the title role of Falstaff, baritone Mark Delavan returns to wreak havoc as the villainous Iago. The cast also includes Patricia Schuman as Emilia, Yi Li as Cassio, José Sacin as Montano, and Lucas Levy as Roderigo.
Meanwhile, the MDLO Orchestra and Chorus will be under the direction of Philippe Auguin, the Washington National Opera’s Music Director Emeritus, who is also making his company debut with the four-act Otello.
“We’re eager to bring this piece to life,” Woorman says. “There’s going to be so many emotions displayed. We’ll let the audience see how stormy we can get with this piece and all that’s involved in it.”
Performed in Italian with projected English supertitles. Running time is 2 hours, 45 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.
Friday, March 3, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 5, at 2 p.m. The Music Center at Strathmore is at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, Md. Tickets are $59 to $150, or $10 for patrons with proper student ID. Visit www.MDLO.org or call 301-581-5100.
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