It’s almost the halfway point for Mobile Opera’s decade-long undertaking. Ordeal? Nah, more like protracted homage.
When the 100th anniversary of Giacomo Puccini’s death arrives in seven years, the organization’s Puccini Project will have gone through the composer’s major body of work. It’s coming in close to the original schedule.
“He wrote 12 operas and it was our intention to do the four short operas as two per evening so we would finish it in 10 years, but it looks like because of the change of venues and doing ‘Gianni Schicchi ‘and ‘Suor Angelica’ as stand-alones we’ll probably be a year longer than our original project,” Mobile Opera Director Scott Wright said.
The project gains momentum throughout March as a series of events builds into the performance of “Suor Angelica” on March 24 and 26.
The series of events is dizzying. The Libretto Book Club meets March 9, 10 a.m., at the Mobile Public Library’s Moorer/Spring Hill Branch. Stacy Driskell and Sarah Wright will look at the libretto or “book” for the upcoming opera, taking participants through its background and development. The event is free.
“Suor Angelica” unfolds as a convent prepares for a three-day celestial event. The sisters’ talk turns to personal desires and longing, for childhood pleasures or contact with distant family. When a wealthy entourage arrives at the nunnery, mystery emerges around one nun’s hidden lineage and buried past.
On Sunday, March 12, cast members will meet at Bernheim Hall in the Ben May Main Library to perform their favorite musical selections. The “Afternoon of Stars” is free.
“It gives the audience a chance to not only hear the artists who will perform the opera, but there’s a free reception afterwards. It’s three o’clock in the afternoon and you can get up to them and tell them what you think of them if you like, all the time while munching on nice fare,” Wright said.
The next evening they move to the Royal Street Tavern at street level of the Battle House Hotel. At 7 p.m. Mobile Opera will stage its regular “Night of Song” with special personnel in tow.
“That will involve the usual local talent I never know exactly what to call, because they’re truly spectacular stars but they just happen to be here. We will also have some of the artists that are coming in from out of town,” Wright said.
Come Wednesday, March 15, the center of activity will be Mobile Opera’s regular home in the Larkins Music Center (257 Dauphin St.) at noon. An expert guest will be in focus for “Opera Insights,” a more academic glance at the featured Italian master.
“The speaker will be by Dr. Bernard McDonald, a professor who teaches conducting at Simpson College and is our conductor for ‘Suor Angelica.’ He’s also a real Puccini expert who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Puccini, has a lot of interesting facts about him and a really nice Scottish accent too. Everything sounds better with a Scottish accent,” Wright chuckled.
Of course the big enchilada is the performance at month’s end. The cast features names that have become familiar to local audiences, including Monika Cosson, Linda Grill, Kathryn Hedlund, Jadyn Hocks and a pair of USA students — Monica Ganoe and Elizabeth Bemis.
Visiting personnel are Atlanta’s Cristina Sanchez and Southern Miss doctoral student Rachel Gibson. Jennifer Davis has the title role and lengthier path to Mobile.
“She’s an American but she’s from Austria. She’s a colleague at the International Performing Arts Institute that I go to every summer. I met her there and heard her sing there,” Wright said.
Chorus rehearsals have been ongoing twice monthly, and principals will arrive around March 10. The timing of dialogue so vital to musical theater is helped by opera’s structure.
“In opera, everything is set to music so it is all metered. Your timing is already built into the music so you don’t rehearse that. You put it together a whole lot faster than you can musical theater,” Wright said.
Still, rehearsals will become an everyday event once principals arrive. That’s six hours a day until the second week, when dress rehearsals begin.
The expected ticket sales lag due to Mardi Gras is dissipating. Their trend of full houses is expected to continue for this run. More information on tickets is at mobileopera.org or 251-432-6772.
There’s no time to relax, though. Loftier heights remain on this ascent.
“We have seven more works to go and, frankly, some of the biggest ones are coming up. You have ‘Tosca’ and ‘Turandot,’ which obviously has to be last because he died while he was writing it,” Wright said.