TULSA, OKLAHOMA (March 31, 2022) — General Director Ken McConnell and Artistic Director Tobias Picker today announced Tulsa Opera’s 75th anniversary season, which opens October 28 & 30 with the company premiere of Rossini’s The Italian Girl (L’italiana in Algeri). The season continues with a gala concert performance of Verdi’s Aida on February 25 and the long-awaited company premiere of Tobias Picker’s Emmeline in a new production on May 12 & 14.
“For 75 years, Tulsa Opera has been inspiring the people of our city through powerful productions of the best our art form has to offer,” said Mr. McConnell. “This landmark ‘diamond jubilee’ season will be a time of celebration, but also a time of appreciation for those who, over the years, helped make the company what it is today.”
“This anniversary season, we present to Tulsa audiences something new, something familiar, and something long promised now finally delivered,” said Mr. Picker. “A little more than two centuries after it was written, Rossini’s classic The Italian Girl is staged for the first time in Tulsa, directed by the Met’s Kimille Howard. This is followed in the winter by a concert production of Verdi’s Aida, beloved by our patrons and presented with a star-studded cast in honor of our company’s seven-and-a-half-decade history. Last is my adaptation of Judith Rossner’s 1980 novel Emmeline, originally scheduled for its Tulsa Opera premiere in spring 2020. Like everything planned for that spring, it was called off due to the pandemic, and subsequent reschedulings were themselves postponed (such is life in the era of COVID), so this spring, we not only look forward to celebrating our 75th anniversary, but also concluding our 2020 season. Better late than never!”
Rossini’s The Italian Girl
The 1813 comic opera The Italian Girl (L’italiana in Algeri) is one of several seminal works by Gioachino Rossini through which he became known as the “Italian Mozart.” Singing the role of the title character, Isabella, is mezzo-soprano Allegra De Vita who made her Tulsa Opera debut as Maddalena in the company’s momentous “baseball Rigoletto’ amidst the pandemic. Bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam, who has been heard at the Metropolitan, Minnesota, San Diego, and Seattle Operas, among others, stars as Mustafà. The cast also includes tenor Aaron Crouch in his Tulsa Opera debut as Lindoro and New York-based, Tulsa-native soprano Abigail Raiford as Elvira. The production, directed by Kimille Howard, Assistant Stage Director at the Metropolitan Opera, and led by veteran conductor Leslie Dunner, takes place at the VanTrease Performing Arts Center for Education.
Tulsa Opera returns to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center for its 75th-anniversary gala concert production of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida in concert with costumes, featuring Michelle Bradley in the title role. Recognized as one of today’s most noted Verdi sopranos, Ms. Bradley has performed the role of Aida at the San Diego and Prague State Operas and in concert with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. She has also sung in Verdi productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Wiener Staatsoper, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and Cincinnati May Festival. Aida’s beloved, Radamès, is sung by tenor Brian Jagde, who reprises the role after first performing it at San Francisco Opera. Mr. Jagde is heard performing lead roles regularly on the world’s greatest stages, including the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, Royal Opera House, Wiener Staatsoper, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Teatro Massimo, and Teatro di San Carlo. Bass Morris Robinson returns to Tulsa as the High Priest, Ramfis, having previously made his company debut as Sparafucile in Tulsa Opera’s “baseball Rigoletto.’ Mr. Robinson was the first African American artist to sign with a major classical record label and has been heard in opera houses from La Scala to the Metropolitan Opera to the Sydney Opera House.
Three-time Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung is cast as Amneris, a role she most recently performed in her English National Opera debut. She is an international opera star who is heard regularly from Tokyo to Bayreuth, and in addition to her ENO debut, she has performed the role of Amneris at Cincinnati Opera, Chicago’s Ravinia Festival, Theater Basel, Wolf Trap Opera, and with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Baritone Todd Thomas, who memorably performed the title character in Tulsa Opera’s “baseball Rigoletto” and has performed leading Verdi roles with opera companies throughout the world, sings the role of Amonasro; and soprano Victoria Lawal, who has starred in world premieres commissioned by LA Opera and The Glimmerglass Festival, sings the role of the High Priestess. The performance is led by Daniela Candillari, newly named Principal Conductor of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Principal Opera Conductor of Music Academy of the West.
Tobias Picker’s Emmeline
The season concludes with the Oklahoma premiere of Tobias Picker’s 1996 opera Emmeline, hailed as “arguably, the greatest American opera of the 20th century” by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The work is presented in a new production by director Tara Faircloth—whose highlights during the 2021–22 season include productions at Dallas Opera and the Juilliard School—and conducted by Francesco Cilluffo, who has held conducting positions at the Gewandhausorchester and Teatro La Fenice, and is Principal Guest Conductor of Ireland’s Wexford Festival Opera. Originally premiered at the Santa Fe Opera and set in mid-19th-century Maine with a libretto by J. D. McClatchy, Emmeline has been reimagined by Ms. Faircloth in a mid-20th-century setting. The cast is led by American soprano Ann Toomey in her Tulsa Opera debut as Emmeline. Ms. Toomey has garnered top awards and has recently performed with the Berlin Philharmoniker, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Wolf Trap Opera. Grammy Award-winning baritone Kenneth Overton performs the role of Mr. Maguire in his Tulsa Opera debut, following his Metropolitan Opera debut earlier this season as Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess. Tenor Martin Luther Clark also makes his Tulsa Opera debut as Matthew Gurney. Soprano Leona Mitchell, an Oklahoma Hall of Fame inductee who performed in Tulsa Opera’s Greenwood Overcomes concert, sings the role of Aunt Hannah Watkins, rewritten by Mr. Picker specifically for Ms. Mitchell’s lower register.
This production of Emmeline marks the first time that an opera composed by Mr. Picker will be presented by Tulsa Opera where he was appointed Artistic Director in 2016. It will also be the first time that the opera will feature Black singers in the principal roles of Matthew Gurney, Mr. Maguire, and Aunt Hannah. “As a composer, it is always fascinating to view your work through the lens of a new production,” said Mr. Picker. “We wanted this production to be inclusive to reflect that Emmeline’s story is about archetypal and universal themes. By setting the story in the 1930s and 1950s—which was the Jim Crow era—with a color-conscious cast, we believe this will be a production that amplifies the intrinsic themes of identity and power, and also interracial families and relationships, in a way that will resonate deeply with a contemporary audience.”
Single tickets starting at $65 are on sale now. Bundle options are available. For tickets visit TulsaOpera.com or call the Tulsa Opera ticket office at (918) 582-3133, Monday-Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. CT.
Formed in 1948, Tulsa Opera is the first performing arts organization established in Oklahoma and the 10th oldest opera company in North America. The company excels at producing bold, brave, and fresh productions of opera classics, and accomplishes this by identifying excellent young singers, then pairing them with conductors and stage directors who can improve their artistic talents. In addition to presenting a main stage season, the company fosters young talent through its Tulsa Youth Opera and Resident Artist programs and promotes music education through outstanding initiatives such as Raise Your Voice!, a partnership with Tulsa Public Schools that brings music back into classrooms where music programs have been discontinued. Tulsa Opera, throughout its history, has articulated the desire of local leaders to create and maintain a world-class city. Opera is in Tulsa’s DNA, and communication with opera patrons confirms that the Tulsa community has a robust—and now reinvigorated—commitment to the company’s success. More information at TulsaOpera.com.
General Director Ken McConnell joined Tulsa Opera in 2014, after seeing the company’s Carmen. From the cast and the orchestra, to the stage, set, and the dressers—everything drew him into the world of opera, and he’s been devoted to the art form ever since. Prior to his current position, Mr. McConnell served as Tulsa Opera’s Chief Administrative Officer, managing a multimillion-dollar budget, a staff of ten, plus the scores of people needed to bring an opera to life. In 2016, Tulsa Opera ended its fiscal year with its lowest debt in a decade, and for the last three years the company has operated on a surplus. During Mr. McConnell’s tenure at Tulsa Opera, the company has presented nearly 30 productions across the main stage operas and Tulsa Youth Opera and Tulsa Opera’s Resident Artist presentations.
Tobias Picker—who will serve in his 7th season as Artistic Director of Tulsa Opera in 2022-23— has directed innovative productions, promoted greater outreach to the Tulsa community, and implemented new commitments to diversity. These developments laid the foundation for such history-making events as the first performance of a lead opera role by a transgender woman in the United States, the first grand opera performed in-person following the coronavirus outbreak, and “Greenwood Overcomes,” a special concert featuring works for voice and piano by 23 living Black composers, honoring the resilience of Black Tulsans and Black America 100 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre. His tenure has also been marked by the prodigious amount of world-class singers featured, nurtured, and developed in Tulsa Opera productions—from international opera stars Susan Graham, Denyce Graves, and Leona Mitchell to such promising singers of the next generation as Will Liverman, Aaron Blake, David Portillo (a former Tulsa Resident Artist), Aleksey Bogdanov, Leah Hawkins, Alexander Birch Elliott, and Lucia Lucas.
As a composer, Mr. Picker has fulfilled opera commissions from Santa Fe Opera (Emmeline), Los Angeles Opera (Fantastic Mr. Fox), Dallas Opera (Thérèse Raquin), San Francisco Opera (Dolores Claiborne), Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (Awakenings), and The Metropolitan Opera (An American Tragedy), all of which have gone on to be produced by numerous distinguished companies in the United States and Europe. Mr. Picker’s symphonic works, including three symphonies, four piano concertos, concertos for violin, viola, cello, oboe, song cycles, and tone poems, have been commissioned and performed by the New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, and major orchestras throughout the world. His music is published exclusively by Schott Helicon Music Corporation. Learn more about Mr. Picker and his music at TobiasPicker.com.