ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Love triumphs in this stunning original production of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, designed by Omaha’s own world-renowned artist, Jun Kaneko. This production - never before seen in Omaha - completes Jun Kaneko’s operatic triptych following the phenomenal Madama Butterfly and The Magic Flute. After acclaimed performances coast to coast, from San Francisco to Washington D.C., Opera Omaha is proud to be Jun Kaneko’s operatic home.
Fidelio resonates as much today as it did two centuries ago: love and faith triumph over injustice and tyranny. Conductor Nicholas Cleobury and director Michael Shell return to Omaha to lead a prominent cast of singers including soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer in the title role, tenor Bryan Register, and bass-baritone Kevin Short.
Nicholas Cleobury, Conductor
Nicholas Cleobury is Artistic Director of Mid-Wales Opera, Principal Conductor of John Armitage Memorial (JAM), Principal Conductor and Founder Director of Sounds New, Principal Conductor of the Oxford Bach Choir and Founder Laureate of the Britten Sinfonia.
Nicholas Cleobury has conducted all the major UK orchestras and widely conducts in Europe, Hong Kong, Scandinavia, Singapore, South Africa and beyond. He works regularly for the BBC and Classicfm, has appeared at most British Music Festivals, often at the Proms, and has made many recordings.
He has conducted numerous opera companies from ENO, Glyndebourne and Opera North to Canadian Opera, Chicago Opera Theatre, the Royal Opera Stockholm and extensively for Zurich Opera. He has been Principal Opera Conductor at the Royal Academy of Music and Music Director of Broomhill Opera.
Nicholas Cleobury has made an enormous contribution to the performance and fostering of contemporary music, having worked with many leading ensembles and composers, most notably Sir Michael Tippett, given countless premieres and promoted many young composers.
He is also a specialist choral conductor, having been Assistant Director at the BBC Singers. He has worked with choirs all over the world, from the Swedish and Danish Radio Choirs, to the Berkshire Choral Festival (UK and USA) and Die Konzertisten in Hong Kong and numerous major choirs in the UK, including the Royal and Huddersfield Choral Societies.
He has a particular gift and flair for working with young people and students, as conductor, lecturer and teacher, at most of the UK music colleges, and with British Youth Opera, Jette Parker (ROH), the National Opera Studio, Oxford University Music Faculty and the Southbank Sinfonia.
He is an Honorary RAM and Fellow of Christ Church University Canterbury, MA (Oxon), FRCO and a Trustee of Britten in Oxford, Schola Cantorum of Oxford, Sounds New and Youth Music.
“Among this country’s most dynamic and versatile conductors” - The Independent
Chad Johnson, Jaquino
Chad Johnson has worked with many notable directors, including Peter Sellars, Mark Lamos, Bernard Uzan, Diane Paulus and Renata Scotto. He has also worked with many of today’s great conductors such as James Levine, Yves Abel, Richard Buckley and Robert Spano. Some career highlights include Ferrando in Così fan tutte with Tanglewood Music Center under the baton of Maestro James Levine, Gėrald in Lakmė with Minnesota Opera and Florida Grand Opera, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni with New Orleans Opera, Ruggero in La Rondine with Lyric Opera San Diego and Paolino in Il matrimonio segreto.
Recently he sang as Lysander in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Boston Lyric Opera. As a member of the young artist program of the Chicago Opera Theater he performed in the opera ensembles and covered the role of the Male Chorus in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia. He also joined the Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Artist Program for Singers and was invited to join the Young Artist Ensemble at Florida Grand Opera where he sang many roles, including the Second Jew in Salome, Benvolio in Roméo et Juliette, Gastone in La traviata, Joszef in the North American premier of Ede Donath’s Szulamit and Pong in Turandot. With Glimmerglass Opera, as a member of the Young American Artists Program, he sang the role of Harry in La fanciulla del West.
He has also been active as a concert soloist and has performed with the Atlanta Symphony, St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Tanglewood Festival Orchestra, Boston Pops, Sun Valley Symphony Orchestra, San Diego Chamber Orchestra and Master Chorale, Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra, AIMS Festival Orchestra, Symphony of the Americas and New World Symphony. He has been a featured soloist in such works as Mozart’s Requiem and Coronation Mass, Handel’s Messiah, Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, Bach’s Magnificat, Orff’s Carmina Burana and numerous recitals and concerts.
A native of Muskegon, Michigan, Chad Johnson studied in the vocal music department at Western Michigan University, the University of Kentucky and the American Institute of Musical Studies,as well as the Opera Studio in Graz, Austria. He is a student of renowned soprano Virginia Zeani. He has received prizes from the Young Patronesses of the Florida Grand Opera Vocal Competition, NATS regional and state vocal competitions, the Anna Sosenko Artist Assist Trust and the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts. Most recently, Chad won the Four Cities District Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and was the Second Place Winner of the Great Lakes Region Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and first prize in the Licia Albanese-Puccini Foundation Competition.
Michael Shell, Director
Michael returns to direct “Fidelio” after making his debut with the company as a singer in the role of the Bosin in “H.M.S. Pinafore” in 2003. He then directed Opera Omaha’s production of “All the King’s Men” and “The Tragedy of Carmen” in 2008. Mr. Shell has gone on to direct for Atlanta Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, Virginia Opera, Piedmont Opera, Opera Tampa, Indiana University, Webster University, North Carolina Opera, The A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute, and Opera Theatre of St. Louis. He made his international directing debut at the Wexford Festival Opera in 2010 with a production of “Winners,” by American composer Richard Wargo and returned the next fall to direct Double Trouble – Trouble in Tahiti & The Telephone. He has written and directed three cabarets, including All About Love and The Glamorous Life - A group therapy session for Opera Singers, both for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Mr. Shell has been a guest faculty member at the North Carolina School of the Arts, Florida State University and Webster University St. Louis teaching Opera Workshop and directing Undergraduate Opera Workshop performances. He was the 2009 honoree of the OTSL Charles MacKay Career Development Fund and recently won the Best Director/Best Opera Wilde Award in Michigan for Giulio Cesare at Michigan Opera Theater. Most recently he returned to Santa Fe Opera to direct the Apprentice Showcase Scenes, a new production of The Barber of Seville at Opera Philadelphia, and a new production of L’italiana in Algieri with Opera San Jose, and Madama Butterfly with Opera Tampa. Upcoming engagements include The Barber of Seville at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Kevin Short, Rocco
American Bass-Baritone Kevin Short is the quintessential singing actor, who has been hailed for having “one of the rare bass-baritones of such individual quality of depth and color that it transfixes the listener.” He has most recently been heard as the title role of Der fliegende Holländer with the Stadttheater Bern in Switzerland, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte with Spoleto USA, Mephistopheles in Faust with Indianapolis Opera, Porgy in Porgy and Bess with Opéra Comique in Luxembourg, Philippe in Don Carlos with the Sarasota Opera, and the King in Aida at the Bregenz Festival. Other engagements have included leading roles with the Cologne Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Vancouver Opera, Opéra Comique, Santa Fe Opera, and Washington National Opera, as well as concert performances with the New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, Virginia Symphony, Dallas Symphony Chorus, and at the International Festival of Music and Dance in Granada, Spain.
Wendy Bryn Harmer, Leonore/Fidelio*
Coupling a "beautiful," "bright," "warm," "majestic" voice with "exceptional technical command" and "superlative tonal quality and clarity," acclaimed soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer is loved by audiences and critics alike, with "spellbinding" performances showing "enormous range, fortitude and bewitching command."
Recently, Harmer reprised her highly praised performances as Freia in Das Rheingold, Ortlinde in Die Walküre and Gutrune in Götterdämmerung in Robert Lepage's landmark new production of Wagner's Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera. She then played Freia, Gerhilde and Gutrune in Seattle Opera's Ring Cycle summer 2013. Last autumn she took a light-hearted break from Wagner to play Roselinde in Houston Grand Opera's Die Fledermaus.
A graduate of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Ms. Harmer has been seen well over 100 times on the Met's stage, featured in roles in their productions of Der Ring des Nibelungen, Die Zauberflöte, Le nozze di Figaro, War and Peace, Die Ägyptische Helena and Jenůfa, among others. Her lauded performances elsewhere have included Adalgisa in Norma (Palm Beach Opera), Vitellia in La Clemenza di Tito (Opera Boston), and Mimi in La Bohéme (Utah Opera Festival).
In concert, Ms. Harmer has appeared as a soloist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Schubert Festival and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She sang at Lincoln Center's Tribute to Renata Tebaldi, and was presented by the George London Foundation in recital with Ben Heppner. She made her New York recital debut in 2005 under the auspices of The Marilyn Horne Foundation, which has featured her again since, including appearances at Carnegie Hall.
Born in Roseville, California, Ms. Harmer graduated with a Bachelor's degree from The Boston Conservatory and attended the Music of Academy of the West, the Merola Opera Program at San Francisco Opera, the Gerdine Young Artist Program at Opera Theater of St Louis, and The Music Academy in Villecroze, France. Her many past accolades include the George London/Leonie Rysanek Award, a Richard Tucker Career Grant, first prize from the Jensen Foundation, the Teatro alla Scala Award at the Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition, first place at the Palm Beach Opera Competition, and an award from The Marilyn Horne Foundation. Ms. Harmer lives in New York with her husband, son and dogs.
Mark Walters, Don Pizzaro*
Opera News describes Mark Walters as “a force to be reckoned with” in Lucia di Lammermoor and as “heroic” in Carmen. The Chicago Sun Times depicts Walters as “vocal fury” in La forza del destino. The Salt Lake Tribune says “The tall, handsome singer possesses a magnificently resonant voice and unforced dramatic ability."
Walters has sung over 50 roles in the baritone repertoire and with recent performances of Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata, he is a singer to watch in the demanding Verdi arena. Recent engagements include the title role of Rigoletto with Florida Grand Opera and the Orlando Philharmonic, Zurga in The Pearl Fishers with Opera Carolina, Renato in Un ballo in maschera with Opera Tampa, Marcello in La bohème with Florida Grand Opera, Valentin in Faust and Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor with Arizona Opera, Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance at Eugene Opera, Jack Rance in La fanciulla del West with Mobile Opera, Di Luna in Il trovatore in South Carolina, as well as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, Beethoven’s Mass in C and Choral Fantasy with the Choral Society of Pensacola, and with Cutting Edge Concerts, in the World Premieres of The Last Duchess by Theodore Wiprud and The Clever Mistress by Robert Sirota.
Highlights of Walters’ career include his European debut as Germont in La traviata with Den Nye Opera in Bergen, Norway and his Asian debut in the title role of Don Giovanni in Osaka, Japan. He also portrayed the Reverend Olin Blitch in a special 50th year anniversary production of Susannah, personally overseen by Carlisle Floyd. He was featured on a Richard Tucker Music Foundation concert and with Opera Tampa in A Night of Stars gala honoring the career of Placido Domingo.
Walters has been heard in the World Premiere of Rappahannock County by American composer Ricky Ian Gordon which was recorded on the Naxos label as well as the US premiere of Rockland by Finnish composer Jukka Linkola. Additional premieres have included Corps of Discovery by Michael Ching with Opera Memphis, Good Neighbors by Robert Taylor at the Cumberland Playhouse, Blake by Leslie Adams with the Cleveland Choral Society and The Children of the Keweenaw by Paul Seitz with the Pine Mountain Music Festival. Walters has also had the pleasure to premiere the song cycles Of Passion’s Tide by Canadian Composer Laureate Jeffrey Ryan, 4 Poems of Rossetti by Marty Robinson and Love’s Cycle by Mark Henkin.
Concert highlights include his Carnegie Hall debut in Orff’s Carmina Burana and the Fauré Requiem conducted by John Rutter; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the Tallahassee Symphony; and the Messiah with the Mississippi Symphony and the Handel Oratorio Society. He has performed many solo recitals with the Bechstein Vocal Series in New York, the Upclose, Onstage recital series with Sarasota Opera, and the NATS Southern Regional Conference.
Bryan Register, Florestan*
American tenor Bryan Register has received critical acclaim for the fresh, bright timbre of his voice and strong dramatic singing. Recent operatic highlights include Florestan in Fidelio at English National Opera, a production directed by Calixto Bieito and conducted by Edward Gardner, the title role in Lohengrin at Savonlinna Opera Festival and his European debut as Drum Major in English National Opera’s critically acclaimed new production of Wozzeck directed by Carrie Cracknell. Earlier this season, Register sang his first Tristan in Tristan und Isolde for Theater Kiel.
Recently moving into the Wagner repertoire, Register has most recently been sponsored by the Wagner Society of New York and the ‘Emerging Singers Program’ of the Wagner Society of Washington, D.C. Prior to this he was awarded second prize in the 2012 Liederkranz Vocal Competition (Wagner Division), was the winner of the 2008 Gerda Lissner, the 2006 Sullivan Foundation and the Licia Albanese/Puccini competitions and the recipient of a 2006 Grant from the Liederkranz Foundation.
Previous operatic highlights also include Siegmund in Die Walküre with the Greenwich Symphony, Erik in Der Fliegende Holländer with Opera Roanoke, Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor for San Diego Opera, concert and semi-staged versions of Die Walküre with Opera Roanoke and Opera Birmingham and Don José in Carmen for Virginia Opera.
Register trained at the Manhattan School of Music, receiving the Birgit Nilsson Scholarship, before continuing his training at the renowned apprentice programs of The Santa Fe Opera and Glimmerglass Opera. While at Santa Fe he covered roles of Tassilo in Countess Maritza, Andres in Wozzeck and Dr Caius in Falstaff. He has also sung The Chaplain in The Dialogues of the Carmelites and covered the title role of Haydn’s Orlando Paladino at Glimmerglass. Acclaimed for his vocal versatility, he has been engaged for many new or rarely performed works including The Soldier Stone Soup for Tulsa Opera, Second Bandit in the American premiere of Martinu’s Hlas Lesa for Gotham Opera, Sundar in The Thief of Love, Announcer and Man in Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Manno in Sacco and Vanzetti with The New York City Opera Orchestra in its Showcasing American Composers 2000 concerts.
Bradley Smoak, Don Fernando
American bass Bradley Smoak has rapidly emerged as one of opera’s most exciting and sought-after young talents. He returns to Opera Omaha after performing the role of Zuniga in the 2013 production of Carmen. In 2013 alone, Mr. Smoak made principal debuts with New York City Opera in Alice in Wonderland (Mad Hatter/King of Hearts), Opera Omaha in The Magic Flute (Speaker), Opera Roanoke in The Pirates of Penzance (Pirate King) and Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice in Rigoletto (Sparafucile). He also returns to Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance.
Principal credits for Mr. Smoak also include performances with Palm Beach Opera (Don Giovanni, Otello, Così fan tutte, Carmen); Boston Lyric Opera (Les Contes d’Hoffmann); Wexford Festival Opera (La Serva Padrona, Hubička, Maria Padilla, The Ghosts of Versailles); Sarasota Opera (La Bohème, The Crucible); Opera Charleston (Carmen); Opera North (Die Zauberflöte); as well as performances with Colorado Music Festival and DuPage Opera, among others.
Sara Gartland, Marzelline*
A native of St. Paul Minnesota, Sara Gartland earned favorable notices this season as Curley's Wife in Utah Opera's production of Carlyle Floyd's Of Mice and Men, for which Opera News said, "Floyd, in Salt Lake City to observe final preparations and attend opening night, made some minor revisions to the score, including the addition of string glissandos when Curley's wife, played with glittering coloratura and astute restraint by soprano Sara Gartland, allowed Lennie to stroke her hair. The compositional tweak gave an added layer of creepiness to the scene, which is capped by the woman's startlingly realistic death."
Other engagements include two years in the Adler Fellow program with San Francisco Opera as Micaëla in Carmen, Pat/Ann in the world premiere of Heart of a Soldier, Barbarina in Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro and Gerhilde in Die Walkure, Merola Opera Program as Suzel in Pietro Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz, Utah Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera as Alexandra in Regina, Opera Iowa as Norina in Don Pasquale, The Ohio Light Opera as Elisabeth Bennet in the world premiere of Pride and Prejudice, Valencienne in The Merry Widow, and as Marianne in The New Moon.
She has appeared on the concert stage with the Elmhurst Symphony in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Cheyenne Symphony in Carmina Burana, Central City Opera, and Colorado University’s Boulder Wind Symphony in Four Maryland Songs.
Ms. Gartland earned a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Colorado Boulder and a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Wisconsin Madison. In 2008, she was a Finalist in the Eastern Region at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
The tyrannical governor Don Pizarro has taken his enemy Florestan as a political prisoner, confining him to a secret dungeon. Don Pizarro spreads the rumor that Florestan is dead, but Florestan's faithful wife, Leonore, suspects the truth and sets out to rescue her husband. She dresses as a young man, calls herself Fidelio, and becomes an assistant for the jailer, Rocco, hoping to find a way to free her husband.
The jailer's daughter, Marzelline, becomes infatuated with Fidelio and plans to marry him, spurning her former sweetheart Jaquino. Rocco describes the prisoners in his care to Fidelio; the most unfortunate one of them all is in the deepest dungeon of the jail. Fidelio is convinced that this is her husband and tries to persuade Rocco that he needs her help caring for the prisoners, and he reluctantly agrees.
When Pizarro hears of an impending visit to the prison by his superior, Don Fernando, who suspects Pizarro of abusing his power, Pizarro decides to kill Florestan before he is discovered. Fidelio coaxes Rocco into allowing the prisoners outside for a moment. They file out of the dungeons fearfully, but rejoice in the feeling of fresh air. Fidelio fails to find her husband among the prisoners.
Rocco has agreed to let Fidelio help dig the grave in Florestan’ s cell and when the two enter, Fidelio can barely recognize her dying husband. Rocco allows her to offer the prisoner some wine and bread, which enables her to confirm that the man is indeed her husband. Florestan thanks her for her kindness, but does not recognize his wife in her disguise.
Don Pizarro enters, gloating over his prisoner. He draws a knife, but Fidelio rushes to shield Florestan, saying that Pizarro must first kill his wife. A trumpet announces the arrival of Don Fernando. Vowing yet to have his revenge, Don Pizarro rushes out of the dungeon, leaving Florestan and Leonore to reunite. Rocco returns with news that Don Fernando has a list of prisoners to be set free. Florestan is not on the list, but Rocco brings him outside with the others anyway.
Don Fernando is astonished to find his old friend Florestan among the prisoners. The sympathetic Rocco informs Don Fernando of Pizarro's misdeeds, whereupon Pizarro is arrested, Florestan is set free, and all pay tribute to Leonore whose courage and resolve have saved her husband.
Reprinted with permission from Opera Philadelphia
So powerful is Fidelio that its impact makes up for the fact that it is Beethoven’s only opera. Perhaps we should be surprised that this most dramatic of composers didn’t write others. He was steeped in opera from a young age, playing in opera orchestras and saw many visiting companies’ productions. He stopped composing Vestas Feuer to set Bouilly’s Leonore ou L’amour conjugale (based on a true story from Tours). His Leonore was first given in 1805 to a poor reception, revised slightly more successfully for 1806, then forgotten until revived with a new librettist, Friedrich Treitschke, at the request of three singers in 1814, when he agreed to “rebuild the desolate ruins of the old castle." There was a new overture (not ready for the first performance), a new ending for Act 1 and Florestan’s aria, and a new start for Leonora’s Act 1 aria. Marzelline’s role is reduced, Rocco made more sympathetic, amongst other cuts, reorderings and alterations. It was all a strain, he called Fidelio “my crown of martyrdom."
Bouilly’s story had already been set three times (by Gaveaux/1787, Paer/1804 and Mayr/1805). I conducted the Paer with Zurich Opera in 2000 with a young Jonas Kaufmann and the work has many parallels with Beethoven. Cherubini and Mozart were big influences, particularly Cosi van tutte and Die Zuaberflote.
The domestic opening is often criticised, and whilst it is true that the action leading to the triumphant ending starts with the entry of Pizarro, we need to see the ebb and flow of domestic tension (so convincingly portrayed with shifting keys and textures of the opening duet) beside the heroics of Act 2. We are also given the miracle of the quartet (a strict canon), where the world seems to stop and the varied emotions are divinely sublimated. The trio hints at darker things, notably the chromatic mention of the governor. Pizarro rants in D minor (choice of key throughout being central to Beethoven’s plan), reaching and veering away from top Ds. Leonora’s great aria starts in the oppressive key of G minor and reaches the warm, yearning and eventually determined key of E major, the brightest of the opera so far. The prisoners emerge in a halo of B flat major and short lived optimism.
Treitschke recounts giving Beethoven the words for the new ending of Florestan’s aria…” I handed it to him. He read, ran up and down the room, muttered, growled, as was his habit instead of singing, and tore open the pianoforte….and began to improvise marvellously – music which no magic could hold fast." We are far away from the Singspiel of the early part of Act 1. The evocative grave digging scene wonderfully contrasts with the sunny uplands of the subsequent A major trio. The quartet is interrupted three times, by Leonora announcing she is Florestan’s wife and twice by the trumpet announcing the governor’s arrival, all around B flat (the prisoner’s key on the dark side of the eventual C major of the final triumph of freedom). Leonora and Florestan sing breathlessly of their joy in G major (dominant stepping stone to the eventual C major triumph), the duet taken from the unfinished Vestas Feuer. In the Finale the governor looks forward to the world of the 9th Symphony and in the penultimate slow chorus magically introduced by the oboe, Beethoven uses music from the 1790 Cantata on the Death of Joseph II – a vision of human transcendence. “Then did men climb into the light, then the earth spun more joyfully around the sun, and the sun warmed it with heaven’s light."
This first performance (May 23 1814 at the Kartnertor Theatre, Vienna) was conducted by Beethoven, “his ardour often rushed him out of time, but Kapellmeister Umlauf…guided everything to success with eye and hand. The applause was great and increased with every representation."
Influenced by other “rescue” operas, Beethoven balances the domestic and universal, the apparently trivial and serious, with music of immense range, heart-breaking beauty and almost unbearable toughness, before hammering home the message of freedom in glorious, uncomplicated C major.
Season tickets available now!
Set & Costume Designer – Jun Kaneko
Lighting Designer – Paul Pyant*
Sound Engineer - Marty Bierman
Asst. Director - Dustin Canez*
Accompanist - Eric Andries
Stage Manager - Jenna Link
Asst. Stage Manager - Julie Chin
Asst. Stage Manager - Sarah Bingel
Original production by Robert B. Driver
*Opera Omaha Debut