Designing a new season for San Diego Opera involves a crucial balancing act, and General Director David Bennett has honed his formula based on the vision he proposed when he arrived in San Diego four years ago.
In his first interview with SanDiegoStory in March of 2015, Bennett stated his intention to “keep audiences happy who appreciate traditional opera and engage new audiences with complementary offerings.”
Fulfilling the goal of his first category in the upcoming 2019-2020 season, Bennett is offering Verdi’s grand opera Aïda, Humperdinck’s fairy tale opera Hansel and Gretel, and Rossini’s most popular comic opera The Barber of Seville. These three familiar operas—long appreciated by San Diego audiences—will be presented in the San Diego Civic Theatre, with Verdi’s Aïda opening the 2019-2020 season on October 19, 2019.
For Bennett’s second category—new audiences open to complementary offerings—Bennett devised the dētour Series to present more recent, chamber-sized operas staged in less cavernous venues such as the downtown Balboa Theatre. For this series in 2019-2020, Bennett has selected two new operas: Paola Prestini’s The Aging Magician and Zach Redler’s The Rising and The Falling, each presented in the Balboa Theatre.
“I was drawn to The Aging Musician in part because I know the composer Paola Prestini well. She is the co-founder and Artistic Director of the Brooklyn arts center National Sawdust and is deeply involved in contemporary opera. The Aging Musician is a magical work, a piece of great beauty that is a very creative telling of an end of life story that is accessible to all ages.”
Premiered in 2017, this opera tells the story of an eccentric clockmaker who has been working on a children’s book titled “The Aging Magician.” He finds himself at a critical point in his story: should he kill off the magician or allow him to live? As the clockmaker ponders these decisions, he finds himself transported to a magical place where fiction and reality collide. The Aging Magician will feature Rinde Eckert, who wrote the libretto, in the primary role and will also include the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, a chorus of young women the company is bringing to San Diego for a weekend of performances March 13 & 14, 2020.
“I found this work’s haunting musical vocabulary a strong point. It has a powerful appeal to the whole family because it does not dumb down its story for children,” Bennett added.
As part of the 2016-2017 dētour Series, the company presented the well-received Soldier Songs by David T. Little, a chamber opera that probed the complex emotional lives of those who engage in military combat. Bennett was pleased to find another contemporary work with a military theme, Zach Redler’s The Falling and The Rising. The opera recounts the journey of an unnamed female Soldier who is severely wounded by a roadside IED. Her saga of family, service, and sacrifice follows the Soldier, at first placed in an induced coma to help minimize the extensive trauma to her brain, as she slowly moves towards both healing and home. Redler’s libretto was crafted from dozens of interviews with active duty soldiers and veterans at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, The Old Guard at Fort Myer, and Fort Meade, Maryland.
“The Falling and The Rising appealed to me because it actually started as a project within the Army Field Band and Chorus, so when Redler made a presentation at an Opera America conference seeking companies to engage in the project, I felt this was tailor-made for San Diego with its significant military community.” The production of this opera was constructed by the San Diego Opera Scenic Studio, and it has already been produced by Texas Christian University. The other co-commissioning organizations are the US Army Field Band and Soldier’s Chorus, Seattle Opera, Arizona Opera, Opera Memphis, and Seagle Music Colony.
“I have a commitment from the military that a few active members of the military will be made available for our production [May 9-10, 2020], and we are planning some free performances on local military bases around our production of this opera,” said Bennett.
A recital with major opera luminaries has proved a popular facet of the dētour Series—who can forget the brilliant recitals by tenor Piotr Beczala and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe? For next season’s “One Amazing Night” recital accompanied by the San Diego Symphony, Bennett is bringing back Ailyn Pérez, a rising soprano who impressed San Diego audiences with her recital in 2014, but whose career has since soared at the Metropolitan Opera and major European houses. She will share the December 11, 2019, program with the young American tenor Joshua Guerrero.