The Joy of Opera | AspenTimes.com
When Paula Suozi and Patrick Summers meet, it’s clear that they have a very good and very long relationship. There is a singular theme of joy, which flows throughout their easy interaction.
The duo, who have known each other for more than 30 years – from their days on the staff of the San Francisco Opera in the early 1980s – are teaming up on a project for the first time, as they join forces as director and conductor, respectively, to present “Falstaff” as part of the Aspen Music Festival and School’s (AMFS) summer 2022 lineup on July 22.
The opera is also presented as part of AMFS’s Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS program, under the artistic co-direction of Renée Fleming and Summers.
“The program trains young singers for a future in the vocal arts, including opera and concert work, with an emphasis on technical skills, process, business knowledge and versatility” , according to the AMFS website.
Director Suozi saw this opera and this program as a great opportunity.
“When it comes to making Verdi for young people, the roles allow participants to not have to sing giant, enormous, very technical and difficult tunes. There are set pieces; everyone has a wonderful time in the spotlight. They have to do great stage work and tell a story through physics and using music,” she said.
“We both grew up at the San Francisco Opera in the 1980s, when many mentors from the golden age of opera were still around when our careers began. You reach a point in your career where you want to work with people who you respect and share your values, and (you) can do for a younger generation what older generations have done for us. That’s very, very powerful for me” , Summers said of the opportunity to work with Suozi and mentor young performers.
“We are both inspired by the joy of learning,” Suozi said. “What I do well is help people build a role from the ground up – talking about character, how their physique fits into the musicality of the piece. We all learn. I learn so much more about the scenes listening to Patrick work with students than I would ever do on my own.
The opera itself, according to Summers, is an amazing work that he knows audiences will enjoy.
“The text, the drama of ‘Falstaff’ and the score of ‘Falstaff’ are the greatest achievement of this art form,” he said.
In the title role of Falstaff, the young performers will be led by Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, who regularly performs on the world’s most prestigious concert and opera stages, including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; the Metropolitan Opera, New York; National Opera of Paris; Teatro Alla Scala; and the Zurich Opera.
“With Bryn joining us, the vision has come true,” Summers said. “It’s an additional opportunity, because we are lucky to have a great veteran to be on stage with these other younger artists.”
And it’s not your typical opera, Summers and Suozi are quick to say. The comic opera is presented in three acts, staged for the Benedict Music Tent. The plot follows the misadventures of Sir John Falstaff, the corpulent knight who tries to seduce two married women to gain access to their husbands’ fortune. Based on Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor”” and scenes from ‘Henri IV’, parts 1 and 2, the work was Verdi’s last opera. What makes it unique for local audiences are a number of choices made by the conductor and director. On the one hand, the orchestra performs on stage, alongside the singers, rather than in a pit, which makes the experience more interactive.
Additionally, the costumes and text will be faithful to the Renaissance period they’re set in, but Suozi hinted that he’s looking for modern props, such as tiny Aspen-related nods like beer labels or the hotel bill.
Above all, Suozi and Summers want audiences to know they’re in for a treat.
“Each of our singers is performing their role for the first time. As a director, it’s a really joyful experience,” Suozi said.
And that extends to his off-stage experience as well.
“Aspen is clearly a tight-knit community; I feel it just walking around town and having dinner. There is real joy in town,” she says.
Summers pointed out that much of this joy is a feature of Verdi’s late work.
“He lived a very long and rich life. Very few artists have changed and grown as much in their lives as Verdi,” Summers said. “The fact that an octogenarian man at 19e century could embark on such a complex and joyful work, to end an epic career – there is such inherent human joy in Falstaff that I think the greatest reaction to this opera is the audience leaving with a sense of joy euphoric.
Even if this opera hasn’t been on your radar, it’s a must for Shakespeare lovers and, “there’s simply nothing like it in the operatic repertoire,” Summers said. “It’s so bubbling with joy, it’s like he wrote it yesterday.”