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Operatic Russians are coming

March 27, 2011

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    March 27, 2011
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    Opera Carolina News

Operatic Russians are coming

Charlotte will see its first Russian opera - Tchaikovsky's "Eugene Onegin" - and charismatic singer Denyce Graves will make a delayed return to the city in Opera Carolina's 2011-12 season.

Graves, who canceled her "Carmen" performances last year because of illness, is to portray the crazed gypsy Azucena in Verdi's "Il Trovatore." Opera lovers will get a fresh look at another beloved opera through a kabuki-tinged staging of "Madama Butterfly," featuring a set designed by the Japanese artist Jun Kaneko.

After cutting back because of the recession, Opera Carolina is becoming secure enough to begin branching out again, says general director James Meena. He points to the healthy turnout for the company's January staging of "La Traviata" as an encouraging sign.

Besides that box-office boost, the company also is seeing an increase in corporate sponsorships. Wells Fargo (Private Bank), which is increasing its support, has been named sponsor of the season. Meena wouldn't specify the amount.

A 1987 concert of scenes from Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" is the closest the 63-year-old company has come to Russian opera, Meena says. That will change with the staging of "Eugene Onegin," the story of a full-of-himself young man whose attitude hurts those around him.

The cast will include High Point native and Wingate University alumnus Anthony Dean Griffey, who has appeared with some of the world's leading opera companies. As the poet Lensky in "Onegin," Griffey will finally give his first opera performances in his home state.

For "Butterfly," artist Kuneko has created stylized, colorful designs that draw on the bold style of the ceramics for which he's best-known. The sets and costumes, owned by Opera Omaha, give "Madama Butterfly" a new impact, Meena says.

Experience suggests that "Butterfly" is likely to draw some operatic newcomers, Meena says.

But "for people who already know 'Butterfly,' we need to keep their interest," Meena says. "This is a way to do that."

By Steven Brown The Charlotte Observer

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