UNION AVENUE OPERA (UAO) opens its twenty-second season on Friday, July 8, with an updated version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s beloved comic opera THE MIKADO. All the season's hilarious comedy and searing tragedy take place on the UAO stage in the Union Avenue Christian Church.
THE MIKADO, with performances at 8 p.m. July 8, 9, 15, 16, has been updated to the 1920s and set in an English gentleman’s club, without fans or kimonos. Scott Schoonover, who will conduct the production, calls the set “Downton Abbey-esque, with wood paneling, a bar and a balcony. Everything takes place in the context of the club.” UAO will follow the more-than-a-century-old tradition of updating the dialogue and patter songs with topical and local references.
The Mikado is directed by Eric Gibson and stars soprano Karina Brazas as Yum-Yum, tenor Drake Dantzler as Nanki-Poo, mezzo-soprano Melissa Parks as Katisha, and bass Zachary James in the title role. James, who is 6 feet 8 inches tall, played Lurch in “The Addams Family” on Broadway.
Filling out the season: Puccini’s tuneful tragedy “Tosca” and Douglas J. Cuomo’s “Doubt,” starring soprano Christine Brewer. All operas are sung in their original languages, which this year means two in English and one in Italian.
TOSCA, with performances at 8 p.m. July 29, 30 and August 5, 6, has been set in Fascist Italy “on the verge of war,” Schoonover says. Stephen Hargreaves conducts; Jon Truitt directs. Soprano Elena O’Connor will make her UAO debut and her role debut as the fiery diva who has devoted her life to art and love.
Her lover, the painter Cavaradossi, is sung by UAO veteran tenor Mathew Edwardsen. Bass-baritone Neil Nelson, who portrayed Leporello in “Don Giovanni” and Hagen in “Goetterdaemmerung” for UAO in season twenty one, is the villainous Scarpia.
The final opera of the season is Douglas J. Cuomo’s modern American opera DOUBT. Based on John Patrick Shanley’s Pulitzer-winning play, with a libretto by the playwright, it confronts the suspicions of Sister Aloysius, a school principal, concerning the relationship of the priest Father Flynn with a student.
“It’s our major feat this year,” says Schoonover in an interview with St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Sarah Bryan Miller. “It’s the biggest of the operas in terms of personnel, in terms of what needs to happen onstage, in terms of the orchestra. There are 23 (adults) in the chorus, plus 15 children.”
Schoonover is a fan of the operatic version. “I love this show,” he says. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s a brilliant piece of music theater. There’s so much variety with the nuns and the kids and the other priests. It moves quickly from place to place.”
DOUBT features the enormous talents of soprano Christine Brewer, who will revisit the role she created for Minnesota Opera’s world premiere, Sister Aloysius. Schoonover has been working on it with Brewer. “It’s a huge part, and she bears the brunt of the show,” he says. “It’s about her character, and she’s in almost every scene.”
Tim Ocel will direct; Schoonover will conduct. The cast also includes mezzo-soprano Elise Quagliata as Sister James (who sang the role of Sister Helen Prejean in UAO's production of DEAD MAN WALKING), baritone Wes Mason as Father Flynn, Melody Wilson as Mrs. Miller and Darren Tucker as her son, Donald.
Scott Schoonover, the company's founding artistic director, has dedicated the season to the memory of the Rev. Thomas V. Stockdale. For tickets or information, visit Union Avenue Opera online.