Arizona Opera 40th Season In Review

This review aired on KBAQ April 11, 2011


Symphony Hall
Phoenix, AZ

Arizona Opera’s just concluded 40th season brought some remarkable opera singers along with sold out performances, strong ticket sales, and the company’s first financially profitable season.

Unfortunately, the penny-pitching that helped finances took its toll on “Carmen,” “Turandot,” “Otello,” and, last week’s season closer, “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” Lackluster stagings didn’t showcase the fine singing talent and the visual impacts were dismal. The season’s opener, Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta “The Pirates of Penzance,” was reviewed earlier.

In “Carmen,” fiery Beth Clayton’s heroine possessed a stunning voice, full of the role’s necessary menace but often lacking in those singing Carmen. Unfortunately, Fernando de la Mora’s Don Jose had a disappointing voice, was not dashing, and lacked any chemistry with Clayton so the tempestuous relationship inherent in Bizet’s opera was missing. The staging brought nothing special and the other singers lacked Clayton’s sultry, forceful, and nuanced Carmen.

“Turandot,” Puccini’s masterpiece, has soaring melodies but superb singers and an elaborate production are musts. The flimsy sets failed to bring any of the opera’s Chinese grandeur and Othalie Graham’s Turandot, while possessing the vocal potential for the demanding role, only sparked occasionally and was too often mediocre. The flights of vocal ecstasy, while few, suggested that with more thoughtful preparation, she might find the spine-tingling vocal prowess necessary to soar in this operatic make or break role. Arnold Rawls’ exquisite Calaf mastered this challenging role, but Turandot should be the opera’s vocal star.

Verdi’s “Otello” brought tenor Allan Glassman’s stirring acting interpretation of the lead but his allergy struggles impacted his singing. Countering Glassman’s problems, Jennifer Black’s Desdemona proved outstanding with colorful vocal fireworks and Todd Thomas’ evil and brilliantly voiced Iago soared.

Mozart’s delightful and melodically lovely “The Abduction from the Seraglio” had strong and winning singers but the blah production was visually shoddy and Michael Scarola’s staging lacked the necessary comic finesse. Opera is about singing but production values are critical. Caitlin Lynch’s Konstanze was appropriately comic and her vocals were stunning. Sarah Callinan’s Blonde, Tracy Wise’s Pedrillo, and Andrew Funk’s Osmin each contributed fine singing. Only Jonathan Boyd’s Belmonte disappointed.

Conducting three of the season’s operas, artistic director Joel Revzen did a commendable job with the Opera’s fine orchestra. His conducting caused him to bow out as company artistic director so he can devote full time to opera conducting.

While Arizona Opera remains a credible regional opera company, to move to the next level they need to continue bringing excellent singers, but they must do more interestingly staged operas with more visually opulent physical productions. For tickets to the 2011/12 Arizona Opera season, call the Arizona Opera box office at 602-266-7464 or order tickets online at