Opera Neo Announces New Operas and Venues for 2023

Peter Kozma, Artistic Director of Opera Neo, announced the local company’s ambitious 2023 season on February 1. In addition to the two operas that will be produced in Opera Neo’s annual summer festival—Mozart’s Mitridate and Handel’s The Triumph of Time and Truth—the company has added a spring opera production—Rossini’s evergreen The Barber of Seville—that will be performed April 28 to 30 in The Spanish Village Art Center in San Diego’s Balboa Park.

Peter Kozma [photo courtesy of Opera Neo]

Opera Neo has found its niche in the San Diego music scene championing the overlooked gems of opera history, but this year’s operas display an unusual common thread.

“These three operas showcase the youthful works of the great composers we all love. Of course, no one was a prodigious as Mozart, who finished Mitridate at the tender age of 14, but Handel composed The Triumph of Time and Truth in Rome at age 22, and Rossini served up The Barber of Seville at 23,” Kozma said. “And each of these works was written for opera-crazed Italian audiences.”

Kozma’s selection of The Spanish Village Art Center as the venue to stage an al fresco opera production was prompted by memories of a unique festival he experienced growing up in Hungary.

“In Szentendre, a town some 20 miles north of Budapest, every year they present a summer opera festival in the town square, which is bordered by buildings with colorful 17th- and 18th-century facades. Because the acoustics there are amazing, all the important Hungarian opera singers would perform there, and I remember the excitement of eager crowds arriving early to visit the art galleries and shops around the edge of the square before the operas began.

“So when I moved to San Diego and discovered The Spanish Village in Balboa Park, I immediately thought of Szentendre and its opera festival. I think we can create the same ethos with Opera Neo’s Rossini production in Balboa Park’s Spanish Village.”

Kozma’s cast for The Barber of Seville includes company alumni baritone Kyle White as Figaro and tenor Andrew Morstein as Count Almaviva. Mezzo-soprano SarahAnn Duffy will make her Opera Neo debut as Rosina, and Kozma will conduct and direct the production.

When Mozart’s Mitridate opened in Milan’s Carnival season of 1770, it was a hit and was given 22 performances. But even though some historians credit the libretto—based on an Italian translation of Jean Racine’s play Mithridate—as the most sophisticated opera seria text Mozart ever worked with, his Mitridate is nevertheless a typical opera seria with a long chain of solo arias unrelieved by so much as a single ensemble. And so it remained untouched on a dusty library shelf until revivals in the last century.

Kozma, however, sees dramatic gold where others have seen only dross. “Mozart’s arias display a surprising, abundant level of psychological nuance, especially from a 14-year-old composer, and the visceral, raw power of Mitridate is a clear precursor of Mozart’s later operatic success with Idomeneo and Don Giovanni. This is more than mere surface story telling; it is an almost 20th-century fascination with his characters’ psychological journeys.”

Several Opera Neo alumni will appear in this Mitridate production: soprano Sara Womble, countertenor Keith Wehmeier, and soprano Öznur Tülüoglu. Tenor Charles Calotta will make his Opera Neo debut in the title role, and tenor Andrew Bearden Brown will also make his local debut. Kozma will conduct and direct this opera staged at the new U.C. San Diego East Village venue Park & Market Media Arts Center July 14 & 15.

As obscure as Handel’s The Triumph of Time and Truth may be–his original title is Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno–San Diegans have had the good fortune of experiencing a stirring performance of this oratorio by Ruben Valenzuela’s Bach Collegium San Diego in May of 2014 at St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in La Jolla. Sydney Roslin will stage Opera Neo’s production of this drama of four allegorical characters–Beauty, Pleasure, Time and Truth–in La Jolla’s Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, the County’s most favorable venue for acoustics and perfect sight lines, July 8 & 9.  Opera Neo alumni mezzo-soprano Stephanie Doche will return to sing Piacere; tenor Brian Skoog will sing Tempo, and Ashley Fabian will sing Bellezza. In her Opera Neo debut, mezzo-soprano Lauren Randolph will sing Disinganno. The production will be conducted by the eminent harpsichordist Jory Vinikour.

In addition to presenting the three operas, the company returns to The Conrad on June 18 for its traditional summer season-opening event, the  Aria Gala, and the popular Cabaret evenings with food and music are slated for June 30 and July 1.

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