Opera Neo Announces Its Bold 2024 Season

Opera Neo Artistic Director Peter Kozma announced the company’s 2024 season, a bold mixture of standard repertory and rare excursions into 18th-century opera history. The new season opens in May with Rodelinda, one of George Frideric Handel’s most successful operas, written in the wake of his brilliant Giulio Cesare and premiered in 1725 with the same crew of singers who had enthralled London audiences with Giulio Cesare.

Darya Narymanava, Emily Helenbrook, and Keith Wehmeier from left in the 2023 Mitridate [photo (c.) Gary Payne]

For contemporary audiences that crave standard repertory, Kozma and company will offer in July Mozart’s Così fan tutte, the final installment of the trilogy of operas written on librettos by Lorenzo da Ponte. And Opera Neo’s summer season will climax with Polifemo, Nicola Porpora’s bold opera seria that was designed to contend with Handel’s Alcina in London’s competitive 1735 season.

“I chose Handel’s Rodelinda,” Kozma explained, “because I wanted to find a piece that focuses on a strong female character who keeps outsmarting all the powerful men in the plot. And what is equally important, Rodelinda is driven by her steady moral compass and admirable strength of character. Of course, in addition to offering an inspiring story, Rodelinda is one of the richest troves of recognizable Handel arias!”

For the cast of Opera Neo’s Rodelinda, Kozma is bringing back a trio of singers who made his last season production of Mozart’s Mitridate such a success: countertenor Keith Wehmeier, soprano Emily Helenbrook, and tenor Charles Calotta. New additions to the Opera Neo company for this Handel production are baritone Mattthew Cook and countertenor Victor Bento. Under the stage direction of Sydney Roslin, Rodelinda will be presented at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Diego in Hillcrest May 17 and 18.

On July 12 and 13, Opera Neo’s production of Mozart’s Così fan tutte will return to Balboa Park’s Spanish Village, the site of last season’s well-received Rossini opera buffa The Barber of Seville. “We had a wonderful time last year doing our production in The Spanish Village,” Kozma noted. “The artists and everyone who worked there were welcoming and eager to help us solve problems. Rehearsing outdoors in The Spanish Village also allowed us to encounter that segment of the general public for whom opera is a new experience. They would stop, put down their backpacks and watch an opera scene in rehearsal—and some of them actually came back to see the whole show!”

Center: Charles Calotta as Mitridate [photo (c.) Gary Payne]

For the cast of Così fan tutte, two singers from 2023’s Mitridate production will be featured: mezzo-soprano Darya Narymanava as Dorabella and tenor Charles Calotta as Ferrando. Newcomers to Opera Neo will be soprano Julia Behbudov as Fiordiligi, bass Christopher Farley as Gugliemo, Chancelor Barbaree as Don Alfonso, and mezzo-soprano Lisa Buhelos as Despina.

Although the Italian language operas of Handel were revived in Germany in the 1920s, the operas of Nicola Porpora were ignored until the 1994 motion picture Farinelli, based on the life of the most famous 18th-century castrato opera divo, included arias from Polifemo. “The first modern production of Polifemo took place in Vienna in 2013, followed  by a 2019 production at the Salzburg Festival. Our Polifemo will be the opera’s first performance outside of Europe,” observed Kozma. “What intrigues me about Polifemo is its presentation on stage the two great heroes from Greek antiquity, Acis and Ulysses, each sung by a countertenor. Porpora was certain his star-spangled show would defeat his rival Handel and his successful opera company.”

Countertenor Keith Wehmeier will sing  Ulisse, and countertenor Chuanyuan Liu an Opera Neo newcomer, will sing Acis. Soprano Ashley Fabian, veteran of Opera Neo productions and one of the lead singers in San Diego Opera’s recent Don Giovanni production at Civic Theatre, will sing Galatea, and bass Colin Ramsey, another San Diego Opera regular, will sing the title role. Mezzo-soprano Lauren Randolph, who sang the character Disinganno in Opera Neo’s last season production of the Handel opera Il trionfo del tempo e disinganno, will perform the role of Calipso, and newcomer soprano Nini Marchese will sing Nerea. Daria Zholnerova will direct this production which opens at UCSD Park and Market in San Diego’s East Village on July 19 and repeats on July 20.

Leave a Comment