Knoxville Opera season: tragic romance, glorious freedom

Esther BlevinsOur Town Arts

Knoxville Opera’s 2019-2020 season will include two classic favorites and a powerful work by a rising star on the American opera scene.

Season subscriptions are now on sale for Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” (Oct. 25 and 27), Charles Gounod’s “Romeo & Juliet” (Feb. 14 and 16) and Nkeiru Okoye’s “Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom” (May 1 and 3).

“Madame Butterfly”

Single tickets go on sale Sept. 9.

Knoxville Opera Executive and Artistic Director Brian Salesky says this will be a powerful season.

“I am particularly excited to present Knoxville Opera’s 42nd season, which includes two beloved, popular operas – Puccini’s ‘Madame Butterfly’ and Gounod’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ – and the Southern U.S. premiere of Nkeiru Okoye’s riveting ‘Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom,’ a work I am personally championing with great enthusiasm,” said Salesky. “Add 100 education/community events to those three foundation blocks, and I believe we may anticipate another fabulous year.”

Maestro Salesky’s Opera Preview starts 45 minutes prior to each performance of “Madame Butterfly” and “Romeo & Juliet,” both at the Tennessee Theatre.

“Madame Butterfly” will be performed in Italian with projected English translations.

Danielle Pastin will play Cio-Cio-San in “Madame Butterfly.”

At the turn of the 20th century, an innocent Japanese girl falls victim to a U.S. naval officer and an ancient code of honor that foreshadows her fate. Puccini’s dramatic, romantic music brilliantly underscores the tragedy, which never fails to bring tears to the eyes. This visually provocative presentation, a revival of the 2010 production, features Metropolitan Opera soprano Danielle Pastin as the betrayed Butterfly and tenor Richard Troxell as Lt. B.F. Pinkerton, star of Frédéric Mitterand’s award-winning film version of the opera.

Mackenzie Whitney will play Romeo.

“Romeo & Juliet” will be performed in French with projected English translations. Students are invited to take photos with the cast on stage immediately following the performances.

Yuan Piao is Juliet.

In 16th-century Verona, passionate, star-crossed lovers are doomed by their feuding families and conspiring circumstances. This unique presentation of the opera includes dramatic readings from Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet” in English throughout the performance. Yulan Piao and Mackenzie Whitney star as the ill-fated paramours. Charles Gounod’s sensuous, thrilling opera is the perfect accompaniment to a romantic Valentine’s weekend!

“Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom” will be performed in English with projected English lyrics. The Opera Preview, hosted by Reneé Kesler, president of Beck Cultural Exchange Center, starts 45 minutes prior to each performance.

Janina Burnett will play Harriet Tubman.

With the American Civil War looming on the horizon, the transformation of slave girl Araminta Ross into Harriet Tubman is the story of a true American heroine. Against all odds, the young woman from Maryland makes her way to freedom in the North and becomes the inspiring, courageous conductor of the Underground Railroad, repeatedly returning home to guide her family and friends out of slavery.

The powerful saga of the woman known as “Moses” is brought to riveting life by the masterful words and music of Nkeiru Okoye, one of America’s leading contemporary composers. Knoxville Opera is privileged to present the Tennessee premiere of this landmark opera in a revival of its 2014 world premiere production by New York City’s American Opera Projects, directed by Lemuel Wade.

The cast of “Harriet Tubman” will include artists from the world premiere production, including Metropolitan Opera soprano Janinah Burnett (as Harriet), currently starring on Broadway in “The Phantom of the Opera.”

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