Ramon Tebar

Opera for the funnybone in Naples

Posted: 11:58 AM, Aug 5, 2015

NAPLES, Fla. – Opera Naples is bringing in bats, bad-boy baritones and brindisis — drinking songs — for the entire audience to sing in its coming season.

The recently announced season includes:

“Die Fledermaus” Dec. 22
“Don Pasquale” Jan. 14 and 16
“The Four Note Opera” Feb. 12 and 13
“La Traviata” March 18 and 20
“An Evening in the Palacio de Zarzuela” April 18

A single twist

Maestro Ramón Tebar, its artistic director, is tweaking things in nearly every production, but, as he says, with only one twist at a time: “You change too much and people get distracted,” he said. “Opera needs to be a center of innovations. Already the title and the musical language is so familiar, you can do something with a famous one. A hyper-popular opera like ‘Traviata’ — everyone loves it, so you can incorporate a new element,” said Tebar.

Tebar spoke by phone just before decamping from Cincinnati where he conducted “Turandot”; he’s bound for two months of symphonic festivals and conducting dates with Joshua Bell (Spain) and pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (Malaysia).

But the Naples season was on his mind. He has already changed what was initially to be a concert operetta at Artis—Naples to a semi-staged one for “Die Fledermaus” (The Bat). The stars he’s planning to bring in don’t have time to learn blocking for full staging. So scene platforms and costumes will illustrate this comic tale of a philandering husband, a duplicitous maid, the wife and an ex-lover all stumbling over each other at a masked ball, set to the famous melodies of Johann Strausss Jr. and done here in English.

“With some movement and acting and props, you bring the comedy of this story to life.” Tebar said.

Bella musica

“Don Pasquale” may never have been performed in any Naples venue before. It demands both comic timing and the vocal agility of a Beverly Sills, who, in fact, chose it as her swan song performance.

The tale of an aging man seeking a pretty, young wife — and the tailspin his arranged marriage sends him into — is considered one of the holy trinity of great bel canto operas, along with Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” and another Donizetti favorite, “Elixir of Love.”

Tebar recalled that in staging it for another Florida company, creating the English-language supertitles required some extra diplomacy: “In Palm beach we had to be very careful with the subtitles because for the men, it was very common for them to be married with a lady 40 years younger than themselves.” There’s no word on how much selective translation will be required here.

Tom Johnson’s “The Four Note Opera” is one of the more adventurous undertakings, but it, like, “Don Pasquale,” is a romp. The story follows the squabbles and eccentricities of a troupe of stars rehearsing for a show, with both physical and vocal comedy.

Tebar says the David and Cecile Wang Performance Center’s production will showcase four young artists-in-residence with Opera Naples.

Yes, it’s four notes, he confirmed. “But he uses these 4 notes in so many combinations you don’t feel it is the same at all.”

Audience involvement

“La Traviata,” the final grand opera, is being presented in the Naples Tiburon Pavilion, but its staging will give the audience a feeling of being in its opening party scene — and in fact, they will be, Tebar said. The audience will be invited to sing along with the chorus of its famous drinking song, “Libiamo.”

Budding opera stars who want to practice can find lyrics in both English and Italian: lyricstranslate.com; music from a Metropolitan Opera performance: bit.ly/1Iwg8Mn
Tickets are not on sale for the season yet, but are expected to be available yet this month. For details, check operanaples.org.

The company has been planning its new season without the benefit of a full-time executive director. John Hushon, board president, has been serving as acting executive director since the retirement of Carole Shaw. But Tebar says the company is interviewing candidates now.
“We are hoping to have the right person here by mid-October,” he said.

There’s some lagniappe in the season this year, with “An Evening in the Palacio de Zarzuela,” an evening of the Spanish dramatic music of that operatic genre, at the Wang Center April 18. “Opera in the Garden,” at Naples Botanical Garden Feb. 9, will bring its artists there, and The Winter Palace Ball, the company’s black-tie gala fundraiser, is set for 6:30 p.m. at Grey Oaks Country Club, 2400 Grey Oaks Drive N., Naples (tickets: $350 and $500)

Picture by: Carolina Hidalgo