This July, Union Avenue Opera (UAO) will make its return to presenting live, in-person opera following a summer of cancellations due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. For the 2021Season, UAO will move its performances to The Big Top, in St Louis’ Grand Center district, for three exciting, socially distanced performances of both Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann and Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia.

“I am beyond thrilled that we have found a way to safely bring opera back to the city of St. Louis this summer. It is an incredible opportunity for us to be creative and offer audiences something different for this one unique season,” said UAO founding Artistic Director and conductor Scott Schoonover.

This summer, audiences will have the opportunity to see two classic, beloved operas in one week – even on the same day, as UAO will offer two matinee performances for the first time in eight years.

“The operas will unfold, acted in front of our wonderful orchestra on The Big Top stage with costumes and lights, to delight socially distanced crowds in the large open-air tent. I can’t wait to see our patrons again and hope that new audience members will come out as well, in support of this effort to put St. Louis artists, orchestra members and technicians back to work after this difficult year,” said Schoonover.

Operated by the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, The Big Top is Missouri ArtSafe Certified and will employ rigorous COVID-19 mitigation policies for the benefit of all guests, staff, and artists in its 1,200-person tent which will have reduced capacity for 2021. The Big Top will also employ a contact-less ticketing and concession experience for opera goers and masks will be required.

“I know those who attend will be moved in a special way by hearing live singing and orchestra again, and by seeing wonderful portrayals of these complex and sometimes hilarious characters in person. It certainly gives us all something which we can look forward to in the upcoming months. Finally, I would like to assure our loyal supporters that UAO fully intends to be back in its home venue next season with a full, 3-opera lineup.”

Single tickets range from $25 to $55 and will be available exclusively through MetroTix beginning June 1, for members of the public. All tickets must be purchased in advance either online at www.metrotix.com or by calling 314-534-1111 or 800-293-5949. UAO will utilize tiered on-sale dates for past subscribers and donors prior to the public on-sale date – more information regarding tiered ticket on-sale dates can be found online at www.unionavenueopera.org.

Brooklyn Snow

Offenbach’s: LES CONTES D’HOFFMANN
Three Performances: July 21 and 24 at 7:30PM and July 23 at 2:00PM
Presented in French with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Scott Schoonover
Staging by Mark Freiman

Offenbach’s grand French opera follows the poet Hoffmann as he searches for true love in a magical tale
of thwarted love, art, and revenge! Best known for the Barcarolle “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour,” “Chanson
de Kleinzach,” and the ultimate showcase of coloratura soprano singing, Olympia’s “Doll aria.” Les
contes d’Hoffmann is a haunting tale of one man’s desire for the perfect woman. Hounded by his other-worldly nemesis and accompanied by Nicklausse, his ever-faithful friend, Hoffmann seems forever unlucky in love. Darkly playful and set against fantastical backdrops and stirring chorus formations, the opera renders the story of Hoffmann’s descent into madness and intoxication in faithful detail

Under the baton of Artistic Director Scott Schoonover, lyric tenor William Davenport will make his UAO debut in the title role. Soprano Brooklyn Snow, who received high praise for her portrayal of Cunegonde in 2019’s Candide returns to sing the three heroines as Jeremiah Sanders makes his UAO debut as the opera’s four villains. Anthony Webb (Enoch Snow, Carousel) returns to sing the roles of the four servants and Emma Sorenson (Hänsel, Hänsel und Gretel) as Hoffmann’s faithful companion, Nicklausse.

Hoffmann – William Davenport*
Lindorf / Coppélius / Dappertutto / Dr. Miracle – Jeremiah Sanders*
Andrès / Spalanzani / Pittichinaccio / Frantz – Anthony Webb
Olympia / Giulietta / Antonia – Brooklyn Snow
Nicklausse – Emma Sorenson
Luther / Crespel – Joel Rogier
Hermann / Schlemil – Randell McGee
Nathanael / Cochenille – Anthony Heinemann
Voice of Antonia’s Mother – Liya Khaimova


Rossini’s: IL BARBIERE DI SIVIGLIA
Three Performances: July 22 and 23 at 7:30PM and July 24 at 2:00PM
Presented in Italian with projected English supertitles
Conducted by Stephen Hargreaves
Staged by Jon Truitt

Figaro! Figaro! Figaro! Only the clever barber Figaro can help the fair Rosina outwit her guardian, the aging Dr. Bartolo and live out her days in the arms of her true love, Count Almaviva. A grand plan is hatched, full of mischievous escapades and inventive antics sure to delight audiences of all ages. This Rossini Italian classic features one of the most well-known pieces of music in history, Figaro’s “Largo al factotum” along with Rosina’s dazzling “Una voce poco fa.” Full of laughter and beautiful music, see why Il barbiere di Siviglia has been an audience favorite for more than two centuries.

No stranger to his role, Pedro Barbosa will make his UAO debut as Conte d’ Almaviva as Robert Mellon makes his UAO and role debut as the barber Figaro, and Janara Kellerman (Mrs. Herring, Albert Herring) makes her role debut as Rosina. Also returning are Andy Papas (Ko-Ko, H.M.S. Pinafore) as Dr. Bartolo, Erin Haupt (Hebe, H.M.S. Pinafore) as Berta, Isaiah Musik-Ayala (Colline, La bohème) as Basilio, as Stephen Hargreaves (Nabucco) conducts.

Conte d’ Almaviva – Pedro Barbosa*
Figaro – Robert Mellon*
Rosina – Janara Kellerman
Dr. Bartolo – Andy Papas
Basilio – Isaiah Musik-Ayala
Berta – Erin Haupt
Fiorello – Ben Worley

In anticipation of its season, UAO will bring classic opera front and center in its 2021 Opera in the Garden – Garden Concert Series this spring featuring thrilling operatic performances. Launched in 2018, as a House Concert Series, UAO moved the concerts outdoor last fall for the safety of its artists and patrons and were some of the first, live, operatic performances held in St. Louis during the pandemic.

Sunday, May 16 at 6:00PM
Our series starts in the Ladue garden of Margaret Gilleo and Charles Guenther with performances by UAO artists Leann Schuering, Anthony Heinemann, and Randell McGee with Nancy Mayo on piano. The concert will feature operatic favorites including “Je veux vivre” Roméo et Juliette, “Kuda, kuda” Eugene Onegin, “Caro nome” Rigoletto, “Cosa sento!” Trio from Le nozze di Figaro, “Refrain, audacious tar” – Duet from H.M.S. Pinafore.

Saturday, June 5 at 7:00PM
Join us as we return to the Compton Heights garden of Dr. Kenneth and Marjorie Smith and welcome back Metropolitan Opera soprano Mary Dunleavy for a special Saturday night concert. Ms. Dunleavy will present a selection of arias from opera’s favorite courtesans (such as Violetta, Manon, Madama Butterfly) as well as art songs by American composer Amy Beach with pianist Gail Hintz.

Sunday, June 27 at 6:00PM
We conclude our series in the in Webster Groves garden of Jack and Mary LaBarge as we introduce our very own Figaro, Robert Mellon alongside 2021 season artists Erin Haupt and Liya Khaimova with Nancy Mayo on piano. Concert highlights include “Largo al factotum” Il barbiere di Siviglia, “Elle a fui, la tourterelle” Les Contes d’Hoffmann, “Che faro senza Euridice” Orfeo, “Evening Prayer” duet from Hansel
and Gretel, and “Soave il vento” trio from Così fan tutte.

Tickets are $50 for individuals or $100 for Patron Seating which includes the best reserved seats and a $50 tax-deductible donation to UAO. Tickets are on sale now at www.unionavenueopera.org and must be ordered in advance (no door sales)

About Union Avenue Opera – UAO was founded in 1994 to bring affordable, professional, originallanguage opera to St. Louis, a mission the company continues to pursue to this day. UAO is committed to hiring the most talented artists, directors, designers and technicians both locally and from across the United States. UAO provides promising singers the first steppingstone of their professional career. The
company celebrated its 25th Anniversary Season in 2019 and offers vibrant and affordable opera experiences in original languages to audiences who reflect the breadth and diversity of the St. Louis region. UAO is a publicly supported 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered in Missouri. In 2018 UAO became an OPERA American Professional Company Member. OPERA America is the national
membership organization for artists, administrators and audiences, dedicated to support the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera.

Financial assistance has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency, and with support
from the Regional Arts Commission, and funded in part by the Arts and Education Council.

By C.B. AdamsContributing Writer

It is tempting to explore the modern cultural significance of Puccini’s La Bohéme. Jonathan Larson’s Rent and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge both owe a debt of gratitude to Puccini’s enduring, powerful, story of callow youths in the full throes of love, lust and loss. Echoes of it are recognizable in films like St. Elmo’s Fire and The Breakfast Club, to say nothing of Terms of Endearment, NBC’s Friends or even The Dandy Warhol’s “Bohemian Like You.”

But Puccini’s 1845 bohemian rhapsody is firmly ensconced in the operatic canon, so that discussion would merely detract from Union Avenue Opera’s current production (its third in its 25-year history) of La Bohéme. So, is UAO up to the challenge of this masterwork? If all you seek is a thumbs up or down recommendation, then the answer is a resounding “Yes” and read no further.

But for a few more details, know that UAO’s production
checks all the right boxes for a successful run. Under the stage direction of
Mark Freiman, cast, crew and musicians provide a confident, fresh and energetic
La Bohéme that should delight a first-time operagoer as well as a more seasoned
aficionado. Freiman moves the sometimes large cast, including an ensemble of
raucous children, around the stage with an adroit fluidity that never feels
stagey. Kudos to children’s chorus master, Alice Nelson, for ably herding the
youngsters projecting the exuberance of Muny Kids.

Cree Carrico. Dress rehearsal on July 23, 2019 for Union Avenue Opera’s production of La bohème. Photo by Dan Donovan.Scenic and lighting designer Patrick Huber boldly uses UAO’s
modest stage with a looming diagonal wall that is cleverly transformed from act
to act. This wall serves as a garret window overlooking a projection of the
Paris skyline in Act 1, to the awninged front of Café Momus (hello, Central
Perk) in Act 2, to a shuttered tavern entrance in Act 3, and finally back to
the first set in Act 4. Such scene-changing was impressive to see, but this also
meant an extra intermission to accomplish the changes – a minor quibble.

La Bohéme is not an opera filled with opportunities for
special effects; those pyrotechnics are mostly left to the arias and duets.
Yet, the chill in Act 3 is made ever more palpable with a gentle, realistic
snowfall. After a quick glance upward to “see how it’s done,” it’s easy to
re-suspend one’s disbelief.

Huber’s choice of lighting is interesting. Act 1’s chilly
garret is bathed in a warm, nostalgic, sepia light (Tuscan sunset, anyone?) in
contrast to the bone-chilling ambient temperature endured by the friends
Marcello, Rodolfo, Colline, Schnaunard, Benoit and, later, Mimi. This contrast
avoids the scene from becoming too Dickensian in its harsh poverty. Afterall,
the poet Rodolfo resorts to burning his manuscript to provide a meager warmth.

Just as with films, music supports the moods and actions of
the production and enhances the performance without calling attention to
itself. From the pit, conductor Elizabeth Hastings leads the small orchestra
(including harp by Megan Stout) to reach the fullness of the score with a
deceptively small cadre of musicians. Good things sometimes do indeed come in
small packages.

Regardless of how much stage time the cast’s 10 members had,
each was fully in command of his or her part – in fine voice and expressing a
relaxed chemistry. The entire ensemble, and especially the main cast, are
excellently clad in period costumes that beautifully display costume designer
Teresa Doggett’s keen eye for details and distinguishing characteristics, such
as Mimi’s bonnet and deathbed muff. There are no “wardrobe malfunctions” in
this successful production, only costumes that contribute flawlessly to the
personality of each character, including the exemplary E. Scott Levin as
Benoit, the landlord, who shines in Act I.

Yulia Lysenko as Mimi and Jesse Donner Dress rehearsal on July 23, 2019 for Union Avenue Opera’s production of La bohème. Photo by Dan DonovanThe heartbeat – and heartbreak – of La Bohéme relies on its
central characters, played in this production by the tenor Jesse Donner as
Rodolfo and soprano Yulia Lysenko (making her UAO stage debut) as Mimi.
Matching male and female performance vocals – during duets as well as arias – is
always a challenge, but the talents of Donner and Lysenko intertwine
beautifully. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga in A Star Is Born could only dream
of such an effective, equitable pairing.

Puccini’s music with libretto by Luigi Illica and Giuseppe
Giacosa balances the relationship of Mimi and Rodolfo with their friends and
fellow starving artists. Andrew Wannigman as Marcello is delightful as the
painter whose eyes are just as expressive as his voice. As the singer Musetta,
Cree Carrico (making her UAO debut) plays Marcello’s love interest with a
broadly appealing, tarty flirtatiousness.

Before Mimi enters Act 1, the bro-ish camaraderie is captured with earnest high energy as Isaiah Musik-Ayala (making his UAO debut) as Colline, a philosopher, and Nicholas Ward as Schaunard, a musician, join Donner and Wannigman in the spartan garret. This production’s “deep bench” of talent extends even to the relatively small part of Parpignol, a toy vendor. As played by Dale Obermark (making his UAO debut) Parpignol is memorable, charming and a highlight of Act 2.

Good opera like all great art is worthy of repeated attention. La Bohéme may be an operatic chestnut, but UAO’s interpretation of this classic lives up to the strong material and will surely withstand the test of time as one of this company’s most noteworthy productions.

Union Avenue Opera presents “La Boheme” July 26, 27 and Aug. 2, 3 at 8 p.m. at Union Avenue Christian Church. For more information, visit www.unionavenueopera.org.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
For the St. Louis premiere of Guiseppe Verdi’s Biblical epic “Nabucco,” Union Avenue Opera dreamed big.
Not since tackling Wagner’s Ring Cycle have they taken on such a massive show. The staging this four-act 1841 Italian opera is a towering achievement, both vocally and in mechanics.
They succeed in showcasing not only the top-shelf talent they attracted for this production, but also one of the best choruses featured on their cozy stage.
Conductor Stephen Hargreaves and Assistant Chorus Master Jon Garrett deep-dive into this glorious, grand signature Verdi sound – confidently creating big, bold orchestral and chorus statements. The 21-piece string-heavy orchestra is outstanding.

While the romantic and political complexities of this Old Testament story do not exactly comprise the finest libretto, the vocal prowess is stunning. This show’s cast has the vibrant voices to match the character requirements.
Librettist Temistocle Solero used the Books of Jeremiah and Daniel for the turbulent story, set in 587 B.C. The King of Babylon is Nabucco (Robert Garner), known as Nebuccadnezzer in English. He has seized control of Jerusalem in his war with the Israelites. The other major storyline is that his daughter Fenena (Melody Wilson) and her evil half-sister Abigaille (Marsha Thompson) are both in love with Ismaele (Jesse Donner), the nephew of the King of Jerusalem.
While war rages between Babylon and Jerusalem, Abigaille pledges to save Ismaele’s people if he chooses her. But he denies her, so she turns ruthless and plans to take down the kingdom, claim Nabucco’s throne and kill all the imprisoned Israelites.
First-time director Mark Freiman heightens the soap opera aspect of these treacherous elements, as the principals expressively sing about their emotional anguish and lament over their choices.
The accomplished Robert Garner is an imposing Nabucco, and when he needs to regain his sanity and strength in Act III, excels in his “Dio di Giuda” aria.
 
However, the two women are such dynamic forces and reach exhilarating heights as the warring half-sisters. In an impressive debut, soprano Marsha Thompson commands the stage as Abigaille, breathtaking in the demanding role. Her arias are something special, especially her dramatic coloratura “Anch’io dischiuso un giorno.”
The rising young star Melody Wilson – what an inspiring name! – demonstrates why she is one to watch, as she has one of the richest mezzo-sopranos I’ve heard. She stood out in her St. Louis debut in “Doubt” two summers ago, as part of “Regina” at Opera Theatre of St. Louis this season, and now, in this dramatic role as Fenena. What a range! Her prayer painting a picture of the heavens, “O dischius’è il firmament,” is exceptional.
Also standing out is bass Zachary James as Hebrew high priest Zaccaria, both in physical presence and in vocal prowess. He is particularly impressive performing “D’Egitto là su i lidi” that revives his people’s hopes in Act 1, and the prayer “Tu sul labbro” in Act 2.
Jesse Donner is solid as Ismaele, as is Clark Sturdevant as Abdallo, Jacob Lassetter as High Priest of Baal and Karen Kanakis as Anna.
Bravo, fervent ensemble! They do indeed stir the soul in the famous “Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate” chorus. One of the most famous opera pieces of all-time is robustly delivered by Douglas Allebach, Madeline Black, Aleksandar Dragojevic, David Fournie, Jon Garrett, Rebecca Hetlelid, Michael Hawkins, Emily Heyl, Jeffrey Heyl, Lori Hoffman, Hannah Kauffmann, Amy Mazzeo, Jayde Mitchell, Joel Rogier, Tina Sayers and Caetlyn Van Bure in their masterful Italian vocal unison.
The cheers in Act 3 were lengthy and well-deserved, for it was quite a thrilling moment.
The technical aspects of this show are more demanding than usual at the Union Avenue Christian Church. With an idol that must fall and lightning that has to strike, the lighting design by Patrick Huber, who also did the set design, helps make those special effects happen. Theatre Marine Productions was the technical director.
Special mention must go to set designer Huber for creating the vertically tall set so that terrains, palace hallways, and Hanging Gardens of Babylon could be imagined. That was quite a feat, and that the ensemble didn’t seem as crowded on stage.
With the lyrical virtuosity and passionate spirit achieved here, Union Avenue Opera reaches new heights.
Verdi’s “Nabucco” is sung in Italian and presented by Union Avenue Opera on July 27-28 and Aug. 3-4 at 8 p.m. at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Boulevard. For more information, visit www.unionavenueopera.org or call 314-361-2881.

Photos by John Lamb