Spectacular Start - Anchorage Opera's 2023-24 Season Begins with The Elixir of Love

Anchorage Opera, Alaska's premier opera company, kicked off its highly anticipated 2023-2024 season with a stunning production of Gaetano Donizetti's beloved masterpiece, "The Elixir of Love." The performances, held October 27-29 at the Discovery Theatre inside the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts, offered a delightful blend of exquisite singing, engaging storytelling, and impressive staging. This production set the bar high for what promises to be a remarkable season for Anchorage Opera.

"The Elixir of Love" is a lighthearted and humorous romantic opera, and Anchorage Opera's rendition truly captured the essence of the work. Under the guidance of Anchorage Opera's accomplished Principal Conductor, Maestro Brian DeMaris, and Anchorage Opera’s extraordinary new General Director, Ben Robinson, the cast and crew flawlessly brought Donizetti's music and Felice Romani's libretto to life.

Ben Robinson’s debut as General Director struck an exceptionally high note with this production, for which he also played the role of Stage Director. Partnering with the incredibly talented Set Designer Lauren Miller, Costume Coordinator Kaeli Braden, and Costume Consultant Elle Janecek, Robinson transported the audience to a classic television studio soundstage during the nostalgic 1980s. Bright colors and bold looks abounded within the costuming, makeup, and inventive set pieces.

Technical innovation was seen in the clever use of projector screens to set the scene solidly in the intended decade and give the audience a visually enhanced experience, integrating videos into the live production. The audience were treated to ads for DeLorean cars and aerobic workouts, along with real-time scene projections from the “sound stage.” The bespoke commercials for the Elixir of Love itself -- “d’amore – by Dulcamara” -- particularly struck a chord, landing like a delightfully corny 1980s perfume advertisement.

Robinson also added to the overall experience by creating charming supertitle translations, with the text adjusted for the setting while maintaining (even enhancing!) the comedy. Little adjustments to the translation – such as a character going off to the SAG lounge or signing a contract to work for the war movie across town instead of enlisting in the actual army – kept the audience engaged and in the moment.

Once again, Anchorage Opera assembled a talented cast, featuring both familiar faces and newcomers who showcased their exceptional vocal prowess. The standout performances of the evenings were led by the charismatic tenor, Luke Honeck, who portrayed Nemorino. Honeck is a local star in his first leading role. His rendition of "Una furtiva lagrima" left the audiences in awe with its emotional depth and lyrical beauty. He brought the house down – and he did some very impressive moonwalking, as well.

Radiant soprano Lindsay Ohse, who returned to Anchorage to grace the stage as sitcom leading lady Adina, was enchanting; both range and acting skills shone brightly. Her vocals seemed effortless, especially in her gorgeous final aria, “Prendi.”

Notable also is baritone Jonathan Hays as Belcore, whose strong stage presence and resonant voice added depth to the production as he portrayed the sitcom’s swaggering sergeant and lady’s man, with the charisma of David Hasselhoff. Furthermore, the audiences were treated to the delightful and mischievous antics of the quack Doctor Dulcamara, the hustling elixir salesman/TV studio Craft Services caterer played by bass-baritone Philip Cokorinos, whose comic timing and vocal finesse was a true delight. Local star and soprano Christabel Sosa added flair, fun, and sass to the stage as Giannetta, “TV’s next it-girl.”

The chorus and supporting cast also deserve praise for their strong and unified performances, making the scenes truly come to life. Everyone looked like they were having the time of their lives, resplendent in blue eyeshadow and hot pink lips. The audience laughed out loud at the antics and physical comedy of cast members such as Becky Stubbs, Cady Lynn O’Brien, and Emily Darby; riotous chorus scenes were a highlight of the production, with every cast member clearly committed and engaged.

Under Maestro Brian DeMaris' capable direction, the Anchorage Opera’s orchestra delivered a remarkable musical accompaniment. Their performance was characterized by precise phrasing, lush orchestration, and a harmonious blend of voices and instruments, ensuring that Donizetti's score was brought to life in all its grandeur.

First-time opera-goer Kim Stevens, who was also the winner of the first performance’s “dress like it’s the 80s” drawing, said, “The show was unbelievably funny. It leaves me wanting to come back and see more. The show is unexpected in the best way, especially to those who have never seen opera before.”

Never to be forgotten, Anchorage Opera’s incredible Stage Manager, Helen Irene Muller – what a rock star! Together with her talented Assistant Stage Manager, Katie Bringold, everything occurring behind the curtain and backstage went perfectly. That kind of leadership is priceless, and both Anchorage Opera and the community are lucky to have such exceptional talent.

With exceptional performances, creative staging, and a captivating rendition of Donizetti's masterwork, Anchorage Opera has set the bar high for the rest of the season. Opera enthusiasts and newcomers alike are in for a treat as they await the forthcoming productions in what promises to be an extraordinary season for Anchorage Opera.

Don't miss the opportunity to experience the magic of live opera in the heart of Alaska! Next up is Derrick Wang’s “Scalia / Ginsburg,” a supremely comical look at the highly improbable friendship of two of our nation’s great Supreme Court justices, the late Antonin Scalia, and the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That production will take place February 2-4 at the Sydney Laurence Theatre in the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are on sale now and can be obtained through CenterTix.com or by calling 907-263-ARTS (907-263-2787).

Ahsan Awan has been covering opera, performance arts and live events for nearly two decades, and has been covering Anchorage Opera, since the 2022-2023 season. Images taken by Denny Wells for Anchorage Opera and ©2023 Denny Wells. Editorial use by American Presswire with permission and subject to unrestricted use under license unless otherwise noted. Images taken by Brian C. Chen, MD for Anchorage Opera ©2023 Brian C. Chen. Editorial use by American Presswire with permission and subject to unrestricted use under license unless otherwise noted. Ahsan Awan can be found on X as @quackarazzi and on Instagram as @quackarazzi. Denny Wells can be found on X as @dennywellsak and on Instagram as @dennywellsforalaska. Brian C. Chen can be found on Instagram as @bccak.

Bravo! Anchorage, Alaska emerges as a world class destination for opera.

Opera is among the oldest performance arts in the world. Through song accompanied by dance, scenery, and drama, opera tells a story authentically, without microphones or amplification, and with music performed by a live orchestra. Asked where great opera is found, people mention The Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. They mention Teatro alla Scala in Italy, The Bolshoi Theatre in Russia, The Royal Opera House in England, or even the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

Apart from The Met, when people talk about high quality professional opera in the USA, they mention Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Santa Fe.  For most people, even avid fans, Alaska is not on the radar. However, there’s an amazing gem way up in the great north: Anchorage Opera.

You read that correctly.  Anchorage, Alaska is home to excellent professional opera. The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts is a fantastic venue loaded with talent at all levels. The staff, the crews, and especially the talent, are on a level worthy of national attention. It won’t be long before people all over the country, and around the world, begin pointing to Anchorage as a mandatory opera destination.

Opera season traditionally begins in the Fall and runs through winter and to the following Spring, so the current production is the 2022-2023 season finale.   Running May 5, 6 and 7, Anchorage Opera presents French composer Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.” Set in 19th century Seville, Spain, the story is about a hopeless soldier named Don Jose who abandons his childhood sweetheart, Micaela, and turns his back on the military to pursue the attention of a fiery and exotic gypsy seductress, Carmen, who also happens to be a smuggler.

Perhaps not at all untimely given the modern social-political climate in the USA and around the world, Bizet’s Carmen is said to depict political unrest in 19th century France, where issues of race, gender, and social class became the fuel for power struggles in government and throughout society. With Spain as a cover, and the unique addition of bullfighting flare, Bizet likely managed to avoid persecution for criticism of his own government at the time.

In Anchorage, the staff, crew and cast are every bit as diverse as one may dream. The mix of local community members with pedigreed professionals from abroad is part of what makes the productions so special. Stage Director Laura Alley is a name that should be familiar to experienced operagoers. Her list of credits is lengthy and spans the entire country and several places abroad. In fact, her husband recently retired as the stage manager at The Met. How’s that for a power couple!

Anchorage Opera Stage Manager Helen Irene Muller is nothing short of incredible. She’s a proud Alaskan who has worked across the country as well. Her credits range from community theatre to Broadway, and it shows. She communicates masterfully with everyone and knows exactly what the orchestra is doing at all times, and where the chorus and principals plug in. She does that while reading dialogue, maintaining command on a headset, and directing traffic on the ground. She’s not only a pro; she is a gem!

In fact, each of the staff members is indispensable. The person tending to the ropes, the lights, the props, the stage sets, the backdrops - every one of them loves doing it and does the job with seemingly limitless generosity and passion. Watching the crew work is a marvelous experience. Of course, what they do makes it possible for the cast to be successful, and that is truly one of the best things about Anchorage Opera.

A simple glance at a program tells you all you need to know. Anchorage Opera isn’t just a local effort. Audrey Babcock (Carmen) is a highly decorated international talent. Benjamin Werley (Don Jose) has a lengthy resume of credits from all over the country. Catalina Cuervo (Micaela) is without a doubt one of the finest female Latin American opera singers in the world.  These are headliners, and including rising star Alex Soare (Escamillo), these are legends. This degree of above-the-line casting is alone worth making every effort to see the production.

In addition to the big-name stars, there are many highly regarded and very talented local performers of all ages who donated their time and resources to participate in this production of Carmen, and in every production cast Anchorage Opera puts together. From Zoe Mellerstig enthusiastically waving her flag and leading the Children’s Chorus across the stage, to UAA graduates Amanda Boger and Christabel Sosa lending their beautiful voices to the principal roles of Mercedes and Frasquita, to the dazzling supernumerary Matadors, it is clear there is a place in Anchorage Opera for anyone who loves music and wants to be involved in this greatest of art forms.

As for the opening night performance of Carmen, there is only one word to describe it: magnificent! Every line, every look, every aria was flawlessly on point and beautifully delivered.  With a skillful orchestra masterfully led by Principal Conductor Brian DeMaris, the audience enjoyed such fan-favorites as Carmen’s “Habanera” and the “Toreador Song.”

Audrey Babcock’s voice projected with power and punch as she filled the stage with fiery seduction and dance.  Babcock also lent her talents as choreographer to this production and led an enthusiastic chorus in Flamenco during her dazzling “Gypsy Song.”   Benjamin Werley delivered a pure and consistent performance showing no signs of fatigue despite his many stage battles, and even captured a shred of sympathy with his performance of “La fleur que tu m’avais jetee.”  Catalina Cuervo’s voice soared in an unbelievable performance that tugged at the heart strings and brought people to tears, particularly with her aria “Je dis, que rien ne m’epouvante,” sung while she is frightened and alone in the mountains, praying for courage while searching for her love, Don Jose.  The character of Escamillo is always a favorite, and Alex Soare is no exception as he dazzled the audience with his charming Toreador Song, “Votre toast, je peux vous le rende,” winning more hearts than Carmen’s!

With only two nights remaining for the Anchorage Opera’s “Carmen,” the community needs to act fast to get tickets to this exceptional, must-see production!   Tickets can be purchased online, over the phone, or at the box office.  Come join the fun Saturday 5/6 at 8pm, or Sunday 5/7 at 4pm.

Looking ahead, the 2023-2024 season is just around the corner.  This exciting upcoming season features Donizetti’s “The Elixir of Love,” Derrick Wang’s “Scalia/Ginsburg,” and Verdi’s “La Traviata.” Follow Anchorage Opera on social media to stay updated, find out more information and learn how to get involved in this gem of a production company!