Back in 1994, Scott Schoonover launched a daring initiative: His Union Avenue Opera (UAO) was founded to bring affordable, professional, original-language opera to St. Louis. UAO has thrived in the last 18 years, and continues to build its loyal following. This season’s schedule of three works begins with George Frideric Handel’s Acis and Galatea, which will be performed on April 27, 28 and 29 at UAO’s performance space in the sanctuary of Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 N. Union Blvd in the Central West End.
“Scott wanted to give young artists their first opportunity to perform leading roles in their original languages,” says UAO spokeswoman Emily DePauw. “He believes that operas need to be performed in their original language because that is how the librettist and composer intended them to be.” DePauw points out that many artists who perform for UAO “study language and understand language. They dissect a piece in Italian and English, for example, and know word for word what they’re saying. So, they can get the emotion or get to the character behind those words.” For Acis and Galatea, artistic director Schoonover will conduct the orchestra, and Allyson Ditchey will direct a cast that includes tenor Marc Schapman and soprano Juliet Petrus, who are both making their UAO stage debuts in the title roles. Handel’s mythical tale of love, loss and immortality is centered on a beautiful sea nymph named Galatea and her love for a young shepherd, Acis. When the jealous monster Polyphemus, who also loves Galatea, kills Acis, Galatea immortalizes her beloved Acis as an everlasting fountain. The small cast also includes UAO stage veteran David Dillard as Polyphemus and a quartet of shepherds sung by Elizabeth Schleicher, Elise LaBarge, Phil Touchette and Nathan Ruggles. Acis and Galatea will be performed in its original English with English supertitles.
DePauw says that UAO enjoys blending new performers with audience favorites. “Our reputation grows every year,” she says. “We get new faces each season, people who want to audition for us and come from throughout the country, and we’re also fortunate to have great artists who want to come back.”
Schoonover, who graduated from Illinois Wesleyan University and has studied at the Academia Filarmonica in Rome and Bologna, Italy, oversees the selection of shows each season, looking for a balance of the new and the classic.
Other presentations in the 2012 season include Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera (The Masked Ball) on June 29, 30, July 6 and 7. The story concerns the illicit love of the married Amelia with her husband Riccardo’s closest friend, Renato, and the deadly encounter that subsequently results at a lavish masked ball. Tenor Emanuel-Cristian Caraman, soprano Courtney Mills and baritone Andrew Cummings will make their UAO debuts as Riccardo, Amelia and Renato, respectively. Mark James Meier will direct and Schoonover will conduct.
The final show will be a new version of Das Rheingold, the first of Richard Wagner’s epic Ring Cycle, an abbreviated adaptation by English composer Jonathan Dove that will be presented in German with English supertitles. The condensed rendition, which makes the sprawling work accessible to UAO’s intimate setting, retains the essence of Wagner’s tale of giants, gods, goddesses and a dragon in the waters of the Rhine River and a forged ring of unimaginable power that leads to a titanic struggle for its possession. Kevin Misslish leads the cast as the god Wotan. Elise Quagliata and Jordan Shanahan, who starred in last season’s memorable presentation of Dead Man Walking, will play Wotan’s wife, Fricka, and the conniving dwarf, Alberich, respectively. Schoonover once again will serve as conductor, with Karen Miller making her UAO directorial debut for the performances on August 17, 18, 24 and 25.
For more information, call 361-2881 or visit unionavenueopera.org.