The Joy of Opera
Renowned duo team up to bring ‘Falstaff’ to AMFS
When Paula Suozzi and Patrick Summers get together, it’s clear that they have a very good, and very long, rapport. There is a singular theme of joy, which flows throughout their easy interaction.
The duo, who have known one another for more than 30 years — since their days on staff at the San Francisco Opera in the early 1980s — are teaming up for the first time on a project, as they join forces as director and conductor, respectively, to present “Falstaff” as part of the Aspen Music Festival and School’s (AMFS) Summer 2022 lineup on July 22.
The opera is also presented as part of the AMFS’ Aspen Opera Theater and VocalARTS program, under the co-artistic direction of Renée Fleming and Summers.
“The program trains young singers for a future of vocal artistry, including opera and concert work, emphasizing technical skill, process, knowledge of the business and versatility,” according to AMFS’ website.
Stage director Suozzi saw this opera, and this program, as a great opportunity.
“In terms of doing Verdi for young people, the roles allow the participants to not have to sing giant, huge arias that are very technical and difficult. There are ensemble pieces; everyone has a wonderful spotlight moment. They have to do great scene work and tell a story through physicality and using the music,” she said.
“We both grew up at the San Francisco Opera in the 1980s, when a lot of mentors from the golden age of opera were still going, just as our careers started. You reach a point in your career where you want to work with people you respect and share your values, and (you) can do for a younger generation what older generations did for us. That’s very, very potent to me,” Summers said about the opportunity to work with Suozzi and mentor young performers.
“We are both inspired by the joy of learning,” Suozzi said. “What I’m good at is helping people build a role from the ground up — talking about character, how their physicality integrates with the musicality of the piece. We’re all learning. I learn so much more about scenes listening to Patrick work with students than I ever would on my own.”
The opera itself, according to Summers, is an astounding piece of work that he knows audiences will appreciate.
“Both the text, the drama of ‘Falstaff’ and the score of ‘Falstaff’ are the highest achievement of this art form,” he said.
In the title role of Falstaff, the young performers will be led by Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, who performs regularly on the world’s most prestigious concert and opera stages, including the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; the Metropolitan Opera, New York; Opéra National de Paris; Teatro Alla Scala; and Zürich Opera.
“With Bryn joining us, the vision became real,” Summers said. “It’s an additional opportunity, because we have the chance to have a great veteran to be onstage with these other younger artists.”
And this isn’t your typical opera, both Summers and Suozzi are quick to say. The comedic opera is presented in three acts, staged for the Benedict Music Tent. The plot follows the misadventures of Sir John Falstaff, the portly knight who attempts to seduce two married women to gain access to their husbands’ fortunes. Based on Shakespeare’s “Merry Wives of Windsor” and scenes from “Henry IV,” parts 1 and 2, the work was Verdi’s final opera. What makes it unique for local audiences are a number of choices the conductor and director made. For one, the orchestra performs onstage, alongside the singers, rather than in a pit, making for a more interactive experience.
Additionally, the costumes and text will be true to the Renaissance period in which it takes place, but Suozzi hinted to be on the lookout for modern props, such as tiny, Aspen-related nods like beer labels, or the hotel bill.
Most of all, Suozzi and Summers want audiences to know that they’ll be in for a joyful treat.
“Every one of our singers is doing their role for the first time. As a director, that’s a real joyful experience,” Suozzi said.
And that extends to her experience offstage, as well.
“Aspen is clearly a very tight community; I feel it just walking around town and having dinner. There’s a real joy in town,” she said.
Summers pointed out that much of this joy is a hallmark of late Verdi work.
“He lived a very long and rich life. Very few artists changed and grew as much in their life as Verdi,” Summers said. “The fact that a man in his 80s in the 19th century could engage with such a complex and joyous work, to finish an epic career — there is such inherent human joy in Falstaff that I think the greatest reaction to this opera is the audience leaving with a feeling of euphoric joy.”
Even if this opera hasn’t been on your radar, it’s a must for Shakespeare buffs and, “there’s simply nothing like it in the operatic repertoire,” Summers said. “It is just so bubbling with joy, it’s like he wrote it yesterday.”
What: Verdi’s ‘Falstaff’
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Benedict Music Tent
Tickets: $60 regular or $120 premium
More info: aspenmusicfestival.com