With new technology and new subject matter but all the familiar drama, a 500-year-old art form is making its grand leap into the 21st century.
Michael Torke and A.R. Gurney’s Strawberry Fields, set in present-day Central Park.
As opera continues to be revived and revised with new subjects, new technology, and a new breed of stars, the University of Miami Frost Opera Theater program is preparing students to be at the forefront of its future. “New opera is being done all over the world, but it’s really thriving right now in America,” explains Dean Southern, program stage director as well as assistant professor of vocal performance and opera historian.
In 2006, the same year Peter Gelb came to the Metropolitan Opera from Sony Classical to bring the Met into the 21st century, Alan O. Johnson, B.M. ’82, arrived from New York City to direct the Frost Opera Theater. Johnson may not have the budget for state-of-the-art stage effects, but he does have the chops to present exciting new operas and renew venerable classics. The assistant professor’s pedigree includes Obie and Jefferson Awards for collaborations with some of this century’s top artists, including Philip Glass, who performed at the Frost School in 2008.
“We have an opportunity to make this the epicenter of very, very interesting opera work,” Johnson says, “not only in South Florida but nationally and internationally.”
Johnson, who launched an avant-garde music festival at UM as a piano major 20 years ago, believes helping Frost students develop a sensibility and temperament for new works gives them “much more of an advantage going out in the world. Preparing work of their own time helps inform how they look at Handel and Mozart, Monteverdi or Puccini.”
“I think I’m a better musician because of the contemporary repertory,” agrees soprano Carey Goldenberg, B.M. ’11. Last year she worked directly with contemporary composers such as Libby Larsen, Michael Torke, and Richard Wargo, playing the lead in the latter’s one-act opera based on Lovers by Irish dramatist Brian Friel. Ballymore: Part One, Winners was presented with Torke and writer A.R. Gurney’s Strawberry Fields.
Recent seasons have also included adaptations of The Beggar’s Opera, set in London’s 1970s punk scene, and Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus; a full production of Mozart’s challenging Così Fan Tutte; and a tribute to Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti, titled Menotti ReMixed.
Read more at Miami Magazine.
For more information on upcoming shows, visit music.miami.edu/concerts.