Utah Opera’s 2024-25 Season Reflects Unparalleled Passion and Power

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH (March 12, 2024)—In Utah Opera’s 2024-25 season, the stage will come alive with the interplay of power and passion, weaving a tapestry of human emotions that invite audiences to witness the dance between desire and authority through four distinct productions at Salt Lake City’s Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre.

Our 2024-25 operas span the range of human desires and the pursuit of “justice”—from the innocence of children to twisted quests for revenge; from the imposed burden of infidelity to unbridled steadfastness and love of your child. This is particularly poignant in the case of our new production of Madame Butterfly,” says Steve Brosvik, President & CEO of Utah Symphony | Utah Opera. “Entertainment can be found in many places, but experiencing these works live at Utah Opera takes that to a whole new level. These productions offer a comprehensive display of artistry, with some of the nation’s most talented singing actors; the rich sound of our celebrated Utah Symphony, which commands both the orchestra pit and concert stages; and the extraordinary craftsmanship of sets, props, and costumes created by our artisans. Every artistic detail is refined and accessible for our community to treasure.”

“Passion and power are intrinsic to the human experience, and in the 2024-25 season, we present a captivating selection of operas that explore these themes with unparalleled depth and intensity,” says Christopher McBeth, Utah Opera Artistic Director. “From the relentless pursuit of vengeance in Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd to the poignant portrayal of love and sacrifice in Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, each production offers a unique lens through which to examine the complexities of human nature.”

In October 2024, just in time for the Halloween season, audiences are whisked to the dark heart of Victorian-era London for Sondheim and Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd, an infamous tale of love, revenge, and meat pies. Sweeney Todd, a wrongly exiled barber, seeks retribution against the lecherous Judge Turpin, the architect of his ruin. With a razor-sharp thirst for vengeance, Todd’s path converges with the cunning pie shop owner Mrs. Lovett. Together, they form a macabre partnership, crafting infamous meat pies that satiate more than just hunger. The relentless pursuit of justice takes a twisted turn as Todd’s razor weaves a chilling narrative—and revenge becomes a dish served hot as the line between justice and savagery blurs in the shadows of London’s cobblestoned streets.

This delightfully gruesome story has charmed audiences with a penchant for the macabre on Broadway, opera stages, and the movie screen since the 1970s. Known for its razor-sharp lyrics and dazzling score that mimics the soundtrack of a classic horror film, the words and music intertwine to bring a haunting depth and swelling dissonance to the grim tale, foreshadowing the ending of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

“Stephen Sondheim is a master when it comes to words,” says Dr. Sharon Bjorndal Lavery, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera Chorus Director & Opera Assistant Conductor. “Through his writing, the chorus becomes almost like its own character, bringing in messages of morality with a clever turn of phrase.”

Audience-favorite conductor Robert Tweten returns to guide the music of this harrowing tale, directed by Doug Scholz-Carlson; Michael Mayes stars as the demon barber himself; Audrey Babcock will share the stage as Mrs. Lovett; and former Utah Opera Resident Artists Amy Owens and Christian Sanders join as Johanna and Toby.

This ever-popular production is followed in January 2025 with Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, which is “the most performed opera in Utah Opera’s history,” says McBeth. It has been programmed frequently since it is perfectly positioned to appeal to families and to continue a long-standing collaboration with The Madeleine Choir School. Based on the Grimms’ fairytale story, this enchanting opera follows the adventures of the courageous siblings Hansel and Gretel as they navigate the treacherous forest and confront the forces that threaten to engulf them. The theme of power is embodied in the form of the spooky (if a bit silly) Witch, who is driven to ensnare unsuspecting children in their gingerbread house. As Hansel and Gretel strive to outwit The Witch and find their way home, their bond of sibling love serves as a powerful force against the darkness that surrounds them. Through its evocative folk-inspired music and heartwarming narrative, Hansel and Gretel reminds audiences of the enduring power of love and resilience in the face of adversity.

“It’s about coming of age, greed, and, perhaps, is the first ‘stranger danger’ story in opera,” says McBeth. “It’s wonderful to bring this piece to our stage again, and we’ll also be incorporating The Madeleine Choir School—their students are incredible budding artists and it’s a privilege to partner with them again in the coming season.”

Conductor Stephanie Rhodes Russell returns to the podium to guide the enchanting music of this beloved tale, directed by Kyle Lang; former Utah Opera Resident Artist Sarah Coit will take the stage as Hansel alongside Maureen McKay who will portray Gretel; and Grammy-award-winning Frederick Ballentine will don the role of The Witch.

March 2025 brings another familiar performance to the stage with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, a “story derived from the commedia dell’arte that becomes one of the most tragic operas of all time,” says McBeth. Set within a traveling comedy troupe, the opera follows the tumultuous relationships among the performers, particularly the passionate rivalry of romance between the troupe leader Canio and his wife, Nedda. Driven by jealousy and suspicion, Canio grapples with the power dynamics within his marriage and the fragile nature of trust. As emotions reach a boiling point, performance and reality become intertwined, culminating in a tragic climax that lays bare the destructive consequences of unchecked passion and the wielding of authority.

Pagliacci has one of the most famous choruses in all of opera—The Bell Chorus,” says Lavery. “The juxtaposition between the sacred and the profane is so interesting to note. The bells call everyone to the evening prayer service and yet, as we know, this opera ends so tragically. It’s such an opposite to the loving, peaceful life people of faith are seeking.”

The great Italian master Joseph Colaneri will join Utah Opera once again to conduct (he previously led Verdi’s Rigoletto in 2023); Tara Faircloth returns to direct this epic masterpiece; Jonathan Burton takes to the stage to portray Canio singing one of the most well-known and devastating arias of all time, “Vesti la giubba;” and rising star Lydia Grindatto makes her Utah Opera debut singing the role of the tragic heroine, Nedda.

In May, Utah Opera concludes its 2024-25 season with a bold new production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly, a masterpiece cherished for its beautiful melodies and profound narrative. This opera, set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century Japan, tells the heart-wrenching story of Cio-Cio-San, a young geisha known as Butterfly, who falls deeply in love with Pinkerton, an American naval officer. Despite his proclaimed love, Pinkerton’s fleeting intentions lead to tragic consequences, exploring themes of passion, power, and the resilience of the human heart.

While Madame Butterfly is beloved, it has faced criticism for its portrayal of Japanese culture and, particularly, Japanese women. McBeth highlights the importance of acknowledging these complexities saying, “With Madame Butterfly, as much as we love the music, the characters, and the story, we must also recognize the European and American perspectives of the time, which lacked a deep understanding of Japanese culture.”

Utah Opera (as a co-producer of this new production together with Cincinnati Opera, Detroit Opera, and Pittsburgh Opera), introduces a fresh interpretation of this classic, conceived and directed by Matthew Ozawa. This production was created by a talented team of Japanese and Japanese American designers, offering a modern-day reimagining that frames the story through the lens of a lonely gamer entering a virtual, vibrant, Japanese fantasy world. This innovative approach not only acknowledges but confronts the cultural stereotypes and misconceptions inherent in the original plot by providing the context that they are playing out in an imagined realm—while preserving the opera’s story, music, and emotional depth.

“I’ve always loved the story of Madame Butterfly, but now, our new production reclaims the narrative through the lens of an entirely Japanese and Japanese American team; and amplifies the voices of an entirely female Japanese design collective,” says director Matthew Ozawa, the visionary behind this modern production. “Of course, audiences will be swept away by the music’s emotional power, but hopefully this production of Madame Butterfly will also take them on a journey that enables them to experience a more multifaceted sense of understanding, compassion, and empathy—to see that what we do has an impact on each other.”

After the production first premiered in Cincinnati, Cincinnati Business Courier stated, “the concept added an extra layer to one of the best-loved operas of all time that turned out to be both thoughtful and provocative. It clearly touched the audience, which rose with a roar at its conclusion.”

In collaboration with the local Japanese American community, Utah Opera aims to use this production as a platform to foster greater appreciation and respect for Japanese heritage in Utah. By reinterpreting Madame Butterfly through a contemporary lens, Utah Opera promises an experience that is not only visually stunning and emotionally powerful, but also culturally insightful and respectful, making it one of the most significant and impactful productions in the company’s history.

Derrick Inouye will take the conductor’s podium; Hiromi Omura will play Cio-Cio-San/Madame Butterfly; Utah native Eric Taylor steps into the role of her love interest as Naval Officer Lt. B.F. Pinkerton; Nmon Ford will play the role of the American Consul Sharpless; and Nina Yoshida Nelsen will portray Suzuki.

As one of only six opera companies in the U.S. with full production capabilities, each of Utah Opera’s productions are brought to the stage with the extraordinarily skilled artisans of its in-house costume, scenic, and props shops.

In addition to its four mainstage productions, Utah Opera offers education opportunities and resources that engage tens of thousands of learners of all ages throughout the year. In-school programs are presented by the opera’s five Resident Artists—talented early-career opera singers and pianists. “Who Wants to Be an Opera Star?” uses a fun-filled gameshow format to teach elementary school students the fundamentals of opera, while “Freeze Frame: Elixir of Love,” Opera Up Close, and the Role Study program offer performances, discussions, and training for secondary school choral students. Students and their teachers are also invited to attend the final dress rehearsal before each Utah Opera production at Opera-tunities Night and participate in a variety of hands-on learning activities to build their understanding of each production. For adult learners, online courses, Ghost Light podcast episodes, and pre-opera talks help prepare audiences for what they will see and hear at the opera. Altogether, Utah Symphony | Utah Opera serves approximately 130,000 students each year and engages students in every school district in the state on a three-year rotation, leading one of the most extensive performing arts education programs in the U.S.

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