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Steven Osgood Outlines Exciting Plans for 2018 Opera Season

Editor's Note: This is a special preview of an article that appears in the upcoming winter edition of The Chautauquan, Chautauqua Institution's off-season news and updates publication.

This winter, Chautauqua Opera General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood sat down with Sara Noble, company and media manager, to talk all about the 2018 season.

This season we’re starting with Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the Amphitheater. Can you tell me more about why you chose that work?

I’ve wanted to conduct Mozart at Chautauqua for years, and when I think of Mozart in the Amphitheater, I think Don Giovanni. It is the perfect blend of comedy and tragedy. It has a truly magnificent score and Ned Canty, who directed our 2016 Mikado, will bring a wonderful new perspective to these characters.

I’ve known our Giovanni, David Adam Moore, for a very long time and he is a consummate singing actor, with a passion and a depth of experience that is truly special. Richard Bernstein, our Leporello, is a longtime member of the Chautauqua family and it will be a treat to have him sing this role that he has sung everywhere, including the Metropolitan Opera. He and David are already fast friends from working on The Exterminating Angel together at the Met. David and Ned have wanted to work together for a long time, especially on Don Giovanni.

When the stars align and you get this nexus of people who are charged up to be working together, well, that’s what it’s all about. 

Absolutely. I understand that Candide in Norton Hall is going to reunite several artists that Chautauquans might recognize as well.

Right. There’s this person — Jay Lesenger? People might know that name. Jay has a new role in the Chautauqua family now, and I’m thrilled to have him directing Candide this season.

Leann Sandel-Pantaleo, another familiar face, is going to be a hoot as The Old Lady. The last time I conducted her was as Mrs. Tabor in The Ballad of Baby Doe — not a comedic role — so it will be really to fun to be reunited for this hilarious piece.

Robert Orth is someone I’ve wanted to work with again for a very long time and he is absolutely perfect for the roles of Pangloss, Voltaire and Martin. He hasn’t been back to Chautauqua Opera since 1995, so I’m glad he’ll be returning this season to help us celebrate the 100th anniversary of Bernstein’s birth.

Can you talk about the change we’re making to our performance schedule this summer?

Sure. The challenge that I’ve seen from my first time at Chautauqua is how to allow our audience to take in as many events as they want to. Do we really have to make our audience choose between what is in Norton Hall and what is in the Amp? So, this year for Candide, we’re trying something new. Our Friday performance will be at 4 p.m. and it’ll kick off a long “marathon” weekend of arts programming. I’m very excited about it. I’m sure we will learn a lot from this new experiment, and we still have a 7:30 p.m. on Monday evening for people who can’t come to an afternoon performance on a weekday.

As One is the work this season that will probably be least familiar to most people. I know this work is very meaningful to you. Could you tell us more about it?

I think one of the great things about opera today in America is how relevant it is proving itself to be, and As One is a shining example of that. I conducted the premiere of As One with American Opera Projects several years ago, and it has had an incredible impact on its audiences. This story matters, not just to the creators and producers, but to the audience, the country and to our society.

As One is a truly unique piece. It’s a monodrama but for two singers. A baritone sings the role of the transgender protagonist before transitioning (Hannah Before) and a mezzo sings the role after transitioning (Hannah After). But they share the musical material throughout the piece because they are “as one” during Hannah’s journey toward self-acceptance.

Sasha Cooke will be familiar to Chautauquans who saw her performance with the CSO in 2015. I met Sasha back when she was a college senior at Rice University. I conducted her then in Werther and we have worked together several times since then. She’ll be singing with the CSO again this season and then you’ll get to see her as Hannah After, this role that she created in As One with her husband Kelly Markgraf. Talk about a power couple! The way they collaborate, support and challenge each other in rehearsal and performances is inspiring to watch.

I’ve worked with Matt Gray for many years at American Opera Projects and have been very taken with the way he has challenged new opera to grow as a producer, a mentor, a resource for composers and librettists, and as a dramaturg. I am thrilled that he will join us to direct this new production of As One — an opera that he knows so well!

You never know what will happen with a new opera. The last time I was in a rehearsal room with Sasha, Kelly and the Fry Street String Quartet was the day before As One premiered. We knew it was a challenging piece and that it was incredibly moving. But we had no idea of what a sensation the opera would become, with productions taking place all over the country. This summer will be the first time that we will all be doing this piece together since the premiere.

There are so many exciting things to look forward to this season, but when you reflect back on the past two seasons with Chautauqua Opera, are there any highlights that stick out?

At the end of our 2016 season, as I was walking through Bestor Plaza, there were some kids hanging out by the fountain. When they saw me they pointed and said, “Hey, it’s opera!” with the biggest smiles on their faces. For me, people saying the word “opera” with big smiles on their faces … that’s been the real highlight for me.

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