Top row, l-r: Maria Natale, Kenneth Overton, Aaron Crouch, and Leona Mitchell.
Bottom row, l-r: Jennifer Roderer, Nathan Stark, Andrew Potter, and Sam Briggs.
Principal cast includes soprano Maria Natale, baritone Kenneth Overton, tenor Aaron Crouch, and soprano Leona Mitchell conducted by Francesco Cilluffo
TULSA, OKLAHOMA (December 14, 2021) – Tulsa Opera presents the Oklahoma premiere of Tobias Picker’s 1996 opera Emmeline in a new production directed by Tara Faircloth and conducted by Francesco Cilluffo. Originally premiered at the Santa Fe Opera and set in mid-19th century Maine with a libretto by J. D. McClatchy, Ms. Faircloth’s production sets the story in the mid-20th century.
The cast is led by soprano Maria Natale as Emmeline. Ms. Natale made her Tulsa Opera debut in 2020 singing Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly. Grammy Award-winning baritone Kenneth Overton makes his Tulsa Opera debut in the role of Mr. Maguire. This follows his Metropolitan Opera debut earlier this season as Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess. Tenor Aaron Crouch will also make his Tulsa Opera debut as Matthew Gurney. Soprano Leona Mitchell, an Oklahoma Hall of Fame inductee who performed in Tulsa Opera’s Greenwood Overcomes concert, sings the role of Aunt Hannah Watkin.
The performances take place on Friday, February 25 at 7:30pm and Sunday, February 27 at 2:30pm at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Tickets start at $45 for mezzanine seating and $80 for orchestra seating.
About the Production
The performances of Emmeline mark the first time that an opera composed by Mr. Picker will be presented by Tulsa Opera where he was appointed Artistic Director in 2016. It will also be the first time that the opera will feature Black singers in the principal roles of Matthew Gurney, Mr. Maguire, and Aunt Hannah, the latter role rewritten specifically for Ms. Mitchell’s lower register.
“As a composer, it is always fascinating to view your work through the lens of a new production,” said Mr. Picker. “I wanted this production to be very inclusive to reflect that Emmeline’s story is about archetypal and universal themes. When it came to casting, there was no other tenor I could imagine as Matthew Gurney than the remarkable Aaron Crouch, who I believe has a prodigious talent and who, at 23, is the youngest singer to perform this role.
Having known the legendary Leona Mitchell for many decades, having collaborated with her on the recording of my Symphony #2 in 1986 and having just worked with her on Tulsa Opera’s landmark Greenwood Overcomes concert, I was eager to hear her as Aunt Hannah. And I am thrilled to have Kenneth Overton making his debut in Tulsa in the vocally-rich, dramatically challenging role of Mr. Maguire. By setting the story in the 1930s and 1950s—which was the Jim Crow era—with a color-conscious cast, I believe this will be a production that amplifies the intrinsic themes of identity and power, and also interracial families and relationships, in a way that will resonate deeply with a contemporary audience.”
The novel is set in 1839 Massachusetts and, up until now, productions of Emmeline have taken place in this time period. Ms. Faircloth said her intention in bringing the time period forward into the twentieth century was to frame the story within a familiar framework.
“This piece grapples with so many heartbreakingly timeless issues: the desperation of poverty, predatory behavior of men in power, the lack of options for a young girl, the emotional cost of losing a child, and of course, the almost mythically horrific situation in which our heroine finds herself at the end of the opera. I thought it would be impactful for us to offer the audience a perspective that is culturally familiar while giving us just a little distance from the story.”
Ms. Faircloth has previously directed productions of La bohème (2015), La fille du regiment (2012), and Il barbiere di Siviglia (2011) at Tulsa Opera. The new production’s scene design is by Cameron Anderson, the costume design is by Macy Lyne, and the lighting design is by Mark Stanley. Based in Milan, Mr. Cilluffo is Principal Conductor of Ireland’s Wexford Festival Opera. He made his U.S. conducting debut with Tulsa Opera in 2017 in a production of Tosca. The cast also includes bass-baritone Nathan Stark as Henry Mosher, mezzo soprano Jennifer Roderer as Mrs. Bass, bass Andrew Potter as Pastor Avery, and tenor Sam Briggs as Hooker. The production was originally scheduled for May 2020 but was postponed owing to the pandemic.
“There is something poignant and meaningful to me about Emmeline—the first of my seven operas—being the first of my operas to be staged at my artistic home in Tulsa, especially after the pandemic delay,” said Mr. Picker. “In my nearly six years as Artistic Director of Tulsa Opera, it has been gratifying to program and present some 15 productions that have made an impact, not only locally, but nationally and internationally, such as our landmark production of Don Giovanni, our foray into new territory taking opera to the baseball stadium in 2020 and 2021, and our historic Greenwood Overcomes concert in observance of the centenary of the Tulsa Race Massacre with a remarkable concert of works by 23 living Black composers performed by eight leading Black singers.
It is exciting and humbling to present one of my own operas with one of the oldest and most distinguished opera companies in America that I think of as ‘the jewel of the Plains.’”
Mr. Picker is currently composing Lili Elbe to premiere October 21, 2023 at Switzerland’s Theater St. Gallen featuring transgender baritone Lucia Lucas who made history at Tulsa Opera singing the title role of Don Giovanni under Mr. Picker’s leadership in 2019. On December 16, Mr. Picker’s third opera, Thérèse Raquin (2001) is scheduled to receive its Austrian premiere in a new production at the Theater an der Wien with subsequent performances in December 2021/January 2022. On June 5, 2022, his sixth opera, Awakenings, premieres at Opera Theater of St. Louis.
Tobias Picker’s Emmeline
February 25, 2022 at 7:30PM
February 27, 2022 at 2:30PM
Tulsa Performing Arts Center
- Emmeline Mosher: Maria Natale
- Matthew Gurney: Aaron Crouch*
- Mr. Maguire: Kenneth Overton*
- Aunt Hannah Watkins: Leona Mitchell
- Henry Mosher: Nathan Stark
- Mrs. Bass: Jennifer Roderer*
- Pastor Avery: Andrew Potter
- Hooker: Sam Briggs
*denotes Tulsa Opera debut
- Conductor: Francesco Cilluffo
- Director: Tara Faircloth
- Scene design: Cameron Anderson
Costume design: Macy Lyne
- Lighting: Mark Stanley