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Palm Beach Opera presents its first world premiere this February

At a time when so many opera companies find themselves forced to cut back, Palm Beach Opera has succeeded instead in breaking new ground, presenting the first world premiere in its 53-year history. Set to a libretto by Nahma Sandrow, Ben Moore’s Enemies, A Love Story – a dark comedy based on Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer’s eponymous novel and the subsequent Academy Award-nominated film adaptation – marks a major new addition to the repertoire. Starring bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch, now creating his fourth leading role in a Hollywood-inspired opera, Enemies, A Love Story will debut on February 20, with conductor David Stern leading Sam Helfrich’s new production.

This unprecedented new production crowns a period of rejuvenation at Palm Beach Opera, which – by means of visionary casting and programming, creative business practices, and technological innovation – is one of American opera’s most inspirational recent success stories. Indeed, Marc Scorca, President and Chief Executive Officer of Opera America, cited Palm Beach Opera as one of today’s truly successful turn-arounds in a recent open letter responding to the near-collapse of San Diego Opera.

Daniel Biaggi, General Director of Palm Beach Opera, comments: “I’m immensely grateful to see the positive results of our Board of Directors’ commitment to Palm Beach Opera, and its willingness to embrace bold innovation and the introduction of different operatic experiences throughout this period of turn-around. We’ve repositioned ourselves in the community, are reaching new audiences, and can now embark on a world premiere which would have been impossible five years ago.”
Scott Guzielek, Director of Artistic Operations at PBO, adds: “I’ve had a few Q&A sessions with our community about Enemies, A Love Story recently, and everyone is very excited to be embarking on this incredible artistic adventure with us. We’ve worked hard to earn the trust of our audience by presenting consistently excellent operatic experiences, and they are supporting us in this venture beyond even our wildest expectations.”

The company’s inaugural world premiere is also the first opera for American composer Ben Moore (b. 1960), whose “gorgeously lyrical” (New York Times) work is favored by such eminent singers as soprano Deborah Voigt, mezzo-sopranos Susan Graham and Frederica von Stade, baritone Nathan Gunn, and six-time Tony Award-winner Audra McDonald. As Moore explains in an interview available here, “My mission, as a composer, is to bring melody and lyricism to the art form. … It’s that power of a melody that is so vital and essential in music.”

In Enemies, A Love Story, Moore’s melodies serve the story of Herman Broder, a philosophical Jewish intellectual and Holocaust survivor living in post-war New York, which is at once the comedy of a man juggling two wives and a mistress, and a dark reflection on the legacy of the Shoah. Its inspiration was Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Yiddish novel Sonim, di Geshichte fun a Liebe (1966) and the late Paul Mazursky’s 1989 film adaptation (its title rendered in English as Enemies, A Love Story); starring Ron Silver, Anjelica Huston, and Lena Olin, the film won a New York Film Critics Circle Award and was nominated for three Oscars.
Hollywood has long turned to opera for inspiration, as epitomized by Camille (1936), Carmen Jones (1954), and Rent (2005), the silver screen’s answer to La traviata, Carmen, and La bohème. Moore’s Enemies, A Love Story, however, is the latest example of a more recent trend, by which opera is returning the favor; it joins the ranks of such cinematically inspired operas as Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking (2000), which follows the 1995 death-row drama; Howard Shore’s The Fly (2008), based on the science fiction horror flick; André Previn’s Brief Encounter (2009), an adaptation of the British wartime classic; Peter Ash’s The Golden Ticket (2010), derived from the two movie versions of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Giorgio Battistelli’s An Inconvenient Truth (2013), written in response to the Al Gore documentary; and Charles Wuorinen’s Brokeback Mountain (2014), an operatic take on the story of repressed cowboy love.
No stranger to premiering operatic adaptations of the movies, it was Ovation Award-winning Canadian bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch – Herman Broder in Palm Beach Opera’s premier production of Enemies, A Love Story – who created the leading roles of Seth Brundle in The Fly at the Opéra du Châtelet in Paris and the Los Angeles Opera, Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain at Madrid’s Teatro Real, and Willy Wonka in The Golden Ticket at the Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Atlanta Opera, besides portraying Joseph De Rocher in Dead Man Walking at the Fort Worth Opera Festival and in the opera’s Canadian premiere at the Calgary Opera. As Willy Wonka, the Wall Street Journal pronounced him “luminous” and Opera Today expanded:

He sports a very secure lyric baritone, which blooms exponentially as it ascends. Mr. Okulitch is also capable of heart-stoppingly beautiful sotto voce effects. … For star wattage in this crucial role, Okulitch emphatically delivered the goods.

At Palm Beach Opera, Okulitch will head a strong cast, featuring Herbert Cohen Award-winning mezzo-soprano Leann Sandel-Pantaleo, making her company debut as Herman’s first wife Tamara, and soprano Caitlin Lynch, who “commands our attention and sympathy” (Associated Press), as his second wife Yadwiga. Also making their house debuts are soprano Danielle Pastin, noted for her “lovely demeanor and irresistible creamy timbre” (Opera News), as Masha, and director Sam Helfrich, whose credits include Boston Lyric Opera and the Spoleto and Glimmerglass Festivals, with David Stern, Music Director of the Israel Opera, leading the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra and Chorus.

More information about Enemies, A Love Story is provided below, and further details are available at the web sites listed below.

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Palm Beach Opera is dedicated to producing live opera at an international standard of excellence and to enriching the life of the communities it serves with a diverse offering of educational programs. Founded in 1961, the fully professional Palm Beach Opera presents mainstage performances at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach and is a proud member of the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County.

Palm Beach Opera presents:
Enemies, A Love Story
Music by Ben Moore
Libretto by Nahma Sandrow
Feb 20 & 21 at 7:30pm; Feb 22 at 2pm
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
Creative team:
Conductor: David Stern
Stage director: Sam Helfrich*
Herman Broder: Daniel Okulitch
Tamara: Leann Sandel-Pantaleo*
Yadwiga: Caitlin Lynch
Masha: Danielle Pastin*
Shifrah Puah: Jennifer Roderer*
Rabbi Lampert: David Kravitz*
Palm Beach Opera Orchestra
Palm Beach Opera Chorus

*Palm Beach Opera debut

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© 21C Media Group, July 2014


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