Opera Company Adding Extra Matinee Next Season

Posted: February 20, 2001

The Opera Company of Philadelphia announced an expanded 2001-2002 season on Monday with a certain amount of blind faith: A contract has not been signed with the Regional Performing Arts Center, which administers the opera company's venue, the Academy of Music.

The problem, according to Robert B. Driver, the opera's general director, is disagreement over exclusive use of the Academy during the opera's rehearsal and performance periods. The Opera Company, he said, wants no interruptions from other performing groups and is ready to pay higher sums, still undisclosed, for that privilege.

The December departure of the Philadelphia Orchestra for the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts has been an eagerly anticipated boon for the opera company, whose season and subscriber base have grown enormously in recent years, and could grow more with additional performance dates at the Academy, which is considered more suitable for opera than for symphony orchestra concerts.

Next season, in fact, the opera will add a seventh performance - a Saturday matinee - to each of its five productions, which include Offenbach's La Perichole, mounted for star mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves, and new productions of Mozart's Don Giovanni and Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. The extra performances should allow longtime subscribers to get better seats and should accommodate out-of-town tour groups, Driver said.

However, the opera company wants expanded stage time at the Academy so it will not have to dismantle and remount its sets every time another group needs the stage. The Performing Arts Center, Driver said, wants the flexibility of scheduling short-term events during the company's production periods.

"What if I want to add a student performance?" Driver said in an interview after the press conference Monday. "We've spent countless hours [negotiating], and there have been times when we think we're close. And then, that's not what is sent to you in writing."

"It's no secret they feel the rent is too high," replied Stephanie Naidoff, president of the Regional Performing Arts Center. "We made them an offer to share revenues with them if we could book on the dark nights, and we could fulfill our mission to keep these halls as busy as possible."

The Opera Company is one of several major Philadelphia arts organizations that do not have agreements signed for use of the Academy or the Kimmel Center but are making plans as if they did. The opera's plans for 2001-2002 call for a season that will be more concentrated than ever before, with two productions overlapping in repertory.

La Perichole will provide Graves (best known here for playing tragic sexpots in Carmen and Samson et Dalila) with a rare opportunity to be happy and funny. She will sing opposite local favorite Richard Troxell and noted comic baritone Robert Orth (Jan. 18, 20, 23, 25, 27, 30 and Feb. 2, 2002).

For the new production of Don Giovanni, Driver will direct a cast that includes Patricia Schumann as Donna Elvira (she has sung the role at the Metropolitan Opera to great acclaim) and David Pittsinger in the title role (March 15, 17, 20, 22, 24, 26 and 30, 2002).

Bellini's infrequently produced version of Romeo and Juliet, I Capuleti e i Montecchi, will make an appearance with Ruxandra Donose and Anna Netrebko as the star-crossed lovers (April 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 19 and 21, 2002).

The two revivals filling out the season are Donizetti's The Elixir of Love, with Christine Brandes and William Burden (Oct. 13, 17, 19, 21, 24, 26 and 28, 2001), and Puccini's Madama Butterfly (March 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 14 and 16, 2002), with Chinese soprano Sun Xiu Wei in the title role and Philadelphia baritone John Packard as Sharpless. Information: 215-928-2110.

David Patrick Stearns' e-mail address is dstearns@phillynews.com.

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