The 2016 May Festival, which celebrates and concludes Music Director James Conlon’s 37-year tenure, kicks off on Friday, May 20 (8 p.m.) at Cincinnati Music Hall with Mozart’s exquisite “Great” Mass in C minor. With its grandiose choruses, pristine virtuosity for soloists and soaring expressiveness, this is one of the composer’s most-beloved works. Also on the program are Mozart’s Ave verum corpus and Exsultate jubilate. Soprano Lisette Oropesa, mezzo-soprano Elizabeth DeShong (who has recently received rave reviews for her recent performances as Calbo in Maometto at the Canadian Opera Company), tenor Ben Bliss and baritone John Cheek bring their artistry to these masterpieces along with the May Festival Chorus (professionally-trained chorus composed primarily of dedicated volunteer singers from around the Tri-state) and Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, all led by Maestro Conlon.
On the second day of the Festival (8 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at Music Hall), jealousy, deceit and passion fuel Verdi’s epic Otello. Mr. Conlon has long held an affinity for Verdi’s operas, and first conducted a complete Otello with the May Festival in 1987. Bringing Shakespeare’s characters to life alongside the May Festival Chorus and CSO are tenor Gregory Kunde (Otello), soprano Tamara Wilson (Desdemona), baritone Egils Silins (Iago), tenor Ben Bliss (Cassio), mezzo-soprano Sara Murphy (Emilia), tenor Rodrick Dixon (Roderigo) and baritone John Cheek (Lodovico, Montano, the Herald). Mr. Kunde was recently (May 15) named “Best Male Singer” at the 2016 International Opera Awards, the world’s most important opera prizes. Additionally, Ms. Wilson received the 2016 Richard Tucker Award, one of the most prestigious prizes in opera, in large part due to the acclaim she’s received for her performances of Verdi heroines. These award winners lead an all-star cast for Saturday’s performance.
The Festival continues at 8 p.m. Sunday, May 22, when Mr. Conlon and May Festival Youth Chorus director James Bagwell both conduct an annual performance at one of the country’s most exquisite spaces, the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky. This concert remains a regular favorite of the May Festival since introduced by Mr. Conlon in 1980.
On the program are two world premieres of commissioned works by Julia Adolphe (Sea Dream Elegies) and Alvin Singleton (Prayer), nodding to Mr. Conlon’s longstanding championship of new works and contemporary composers. Ms. Adolphe, hailed as being “alive with invention,” (The New Yorker) has burst onto the compositional scene with works ranging from chamber operas to orchestral pieces, and recently co-produced The Prodigal Son, conducted by Mr. Conlon at the LA Opera. Mr. Singleton, a lifelong friend of Mr. Conlon’s, previously composed PraiseMaker in honor of the May Festival’s 125th anniversary in 1998. The May Festival Youth Chorus performs along with the May Festival Chorus.
Throughout the performances, audience members will experience May Festival traditions such as pre-concert recitals with the soloists, fanfare trumpets, a May Pole in the lobby, and young flower presenters on stage during the applause. The Festival will continue at Music Hall on May 27-28, the final performances in the building prior to its renovation.
Mr. Conlon is the longest-serving artistic leader in May Festival history, and among the longest-tenured music directors of any major classical music institution in the country. The 2016 May Festival pays homage to Mr. Conlon’s unprecedented tenure, with programs that recall artistic milestones and audience favorites from the past four decades. The annual choral festival dates back 143 years. After this season, Mr. Conlon will be named May Festival Music Director Laureate and continue to have a presence conducting in Cincinnati both with the May Festival and the CSO.
The 2016 May Festival will also be the final Festival (and the final performances by any organization) to take place in Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall prior to its planned renovation. The 2017 May Festival will take place at the Taft Theatre in downtown Cincinnati while Music Hall is under construction, while the 2018 May Festival will be back in a newly-revitalized Music Hall.
Four-concert subscriptions start at $88 and are still available. Single tickets start at $12 and are available now. Call the Box Office at 513.381.3300 or visit mayfestival.com for details and ordering.