2013 is, among other things, a Verdi year, and the Wolf Trap Opera company is going all-Italian for the occasion.
Wolf Trap walks a challenging line: it’s a summer festival/program for young professionals at the start of their careers, and its main home, the Barns, is a comfortable, rustic and diminutive performance space that seats 350 people. Offbeat and less-known operas are a natural fit for this particular combination, but Wolf Trap hasn’t let anything cramp its ambitions: for every “King for a Day” (Verdi) or “Zaide” (Mozart) there’s been a “Don Giovanni” or “Tales of Hoffmann.”
This summer, its offerings are particularly mainstream. The company is offering two Verdi operas, both highlights of the composer’s career: the autumnal comedy “Falstaff,” in the barns (August 9, 11, 14 and 17), and the perennial favorite “La traviata,” which will mark the company’s return to the Filene Center, and its first self-produced production there since the 1970s (July 19).
The third piece is Rossini’s “Il viaggio a Reims” (June 21, 23, 29), an occasional work that was originally pegged to the coronation of King Charles X of France, and was then put aside for a century or so until it was exhumed in the 1980s and found to be a sparkling opera for a large cast that was no more or less dated or silly than a lot of other now-standard operatic comedies.
“Viaggio” is a perfect piece for young singers; the arias are democratically distributed among a very large cast, and the whole thing was written as a big frothy entertainment. (Much of the music was subsequently recycled in the opera “Le comte Ory.”) This production will be directed by David Gately, new to Wolf Trap but not to the area; he directed, for example, “Le nozze di Figaro” at the Washington National Opera in 2009.
“Traviata” and “Falstaff” are both bigger challenges. “Falstaff” takes the stock Italian comic figure of the lovelorn older man (see “Don Pasquale”) and gives it a poignant richness. This production brings together artists from last summer’s productions: the production team from “Don Giovanni,” led by the director Tomer Zvulun, and the conductor of “The Rake’s Progress,” Dean Williamson.
“La traviata,” meanwhile, will be presented in an “operascape” production -- that is, with videos -- before an audience of thousands, conducted by Grant Gershon, who’s made a name for himself at the head of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, and directed by Jose Maria Condemi, both making their Wolf Trap debuts. Edited to add: The information from a Wolf Trap spokesman that the performance would be unamplified has proven to be incorrect. [[CUT: Particularly notable, in the big open space of the Filene Center, is that the performance will be presented unmiked -- a demonstration of the carrying powers of the unamplified voice.]]
The operas may be challenging for young singers, but at least many of the leads are not untried. Corinne Winters, who will take on the challenging role of “La traviata’s” Violetta -- the courtesan whose expression ranges from flights of coloratura to big warm powerful vocal lines, requiring two or three different vocal weights to get through -- was praised as Anne Truelove in “The Rake’s Progress” last summer, while Craig Colclough, who will sing Falstaff, was heard both as Nick Shadow (“Rake”) and the Commendatore (“Don Giovanni”). Andrea Carroll’s Zerlina was a highlight of last summer’s “Giovanni” for me; the singer will return as Corinna in “Viaggio.”
In addition, there will be the usual array of auxiliary recitals; one led by Steven Blier at the Barns on July 6 and 7; an “Aria Jukebox,” with the audience picking favorite opera excerpts, at the Barns on July 14; and another collaboration with the Phillips Collection, “Vocal Colors,” on July 25.
It adds up to a typically ambitious program and a return to a more robust one after the reduction to two offerings last summer. As for ambition: even Wolf Trap knows how high to aim. After all, they could have celebrated the year’s other bicentenarian: Richard Wagner.
Tickets go on sale March 16.