Chautauqua Opera Company Celebrates 90th Anniversary With 2019 Season

Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts

Amid the hustle of Chautauquans scurrying to get ready for the season, the Chautauqua Opera Company rolls out its program for the summer and its 90th anniversary.

With this celebration comes certain changes to the original structure of the season, bringing more opera productions as well as modern twists to classic stories.

The mainstage productions this season are a take on the Beaumarchais Trilogy, written by Pierre Beaumarchais in the mid-1700s. The play trilogy, consisting of The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro and The Guilty Mother, are the basis for the operas. Each story follows the Count Almaviva, Countess Almaviva, Figaro and Susanne as they confront love, loss and the social attitudes during the French Revolution. 

Chautauqua Opera will perform Vid Guerrerio’s ¡Figaro! (90210), an adaptation of The Marriage of Figaro, on June 28, 30, and July 7, 14 and 26. On July 5, 8 and 25, Chautauqua Opera will perform Gioachino Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. The last opera in the trilogy, John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, a take on Beaumarchais’s The Guilty Mother, will be performed on July 27.

¡Figaro! (90210) follows undocumented workers Figaro and Susanna in Beverly Hills.

The twist on the opera classic brings to the surface issues from 200 years ago that are still relevant today.

Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president of performing and visual arts, said Chautauqua Opera is trying to demonstrate that opera isn’t simply an old art form with no room for modern change.

“What we are trying to focus on is relevant current work for all generations,” Moore said. “I think there is a prevalent feeling that opera is something that is steeped in tradition and something that is old.”

Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia is to be performed traditionally, while The Ghosts of Versailles is a more deconstructed adaptation of the original score. Moore said the mainstage operas are a form of entertainment for all types of Chautauqua audience members.

“While it is certainly steeped in tradition, it’s intergenerational, alive and current,” Moore said. “What I love about this season is that we have masterworks in all of these categories.”

Steve Osgood, general and artistic director of Chautauqua Opera, knew this 90th anniversary season needed to be special.

“Ninety is a pretty big number,” Osgood said. “It was important to market somehow, to do something unique and special.”

Osgood revamped the entire season from the structure of past summers.

Audiences now have the opportunity to see more opera during their stay, with more than one opera being offered every week.

This season, four guest artists and 24 young artists in Chautauqua Opera are set to perform the different productions every week.

The artists, who are young professionals, are on their way to finishing master’s programs in opera or have just finished their higher education.   

To make the rigorous performance schedule a reality, the four guest artists have a prolonged stay at the Institution.

During Week Five on July 25, 26 and 27, Chautauqua Opera will perform the whole Beaumarchais Trilogy in story order for their very own opera festival.

Audiences can see three operas of the Beaumarchais Trilogy in three consecutive days, something that has not been done before, ever, according to Osgood.

Osgood and Moore hope to attract people to Chautauqua specifically for opera.

“One of the big things that we are hoping opera will do for Chautauqua is that we can attract new people to Chautauqua that have come just for the opera,” Moore said.

The weekly Opera Invasions are a piece of the opera puzzle here on the grounds, giving opera a platform to engage with audiences on a personal level.

Each week, the young artists who choose to participate, get off the stage and travel the grounds where they perform different musical pieces for less than an hour, with little to no rehearsal.

The first of these Opera Invasions, which will take place Sunday, celebrates the 90th anniversary of Chautauqua Opera and Norton Hall, by immersing audiences in the vast repertoire performed since 1929.

From the Beaumarchais Trilogy to the Opera Invasions, Moore said this is a more diverse opera season with much more to offer Chautauquans.

“I think we have an opera season that will be a springboard for thought and discussion, and I think that is what Chautauqua is all about,” Moore said.

The author Tina Giuliano

Tina Giuliano is a rising junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix, where she studies broadcast journalism and Spanish. She serves as the multimedia managing editor at her school’s paper, The State Press. She is excited to begin covering opera for the Daily. When she’s not diving into her journalism career, she’s probably rewatching “The Office,” at a soccer game or figuring out which flavor of ice cream to eat.