The New Orleans Opera Association is billing the 2015-16 season as a blockbuster, featuring “Love! Betrayal! Revenge!”
To which a fourth should be added: “Repentance.”
That would describe the underlying premise of “Dead Man Walking,” which the association is presenting next season for its local premiere.
Set in the infamous Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, “Dead Man Walking” is based on the true story of Sister Helen Prejean and her efforts to persuade a death row inmate to finally admit to a murder he committed and ask forgiveness from the families of his victims.
Composed by Jake Heggie from a libretto by Terrence McNally, the English-language opera premiered in San Francisco in 2000 and has since been performed in about 15 other venues on three continents. Its New Orleans premiere is set for March 4 and 6, 2016.
Two of the other operas slated for next season are better-known by regular operagoers: Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata,” Oct. 9 and 11, and Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” April 8 and 10, 2016.
In between them, on Nov. 13 and 15, will be the popular but less frequently staged Viennese operetta “Die Fledermaus” by Johann Strauss.
The selection of the four productions for next season follows a formula that seems to work best for the company’s efforts to attract new operagoers, particularly among young people, according to NOOA General Director Robert Lyall: two classics from the standard repertoire, one not-so-frequently performed but still-popular classic and one production never staged here before.
Since taking the helm of the opera company in 1998, Lyall, who also conducts all of the performances, has worked to premiere at least one new opera a year.
More than a dozen previously unperformed operas have been introduced to the company’s repertoire during his tenure.
However, Lyall acknowledged that he may have been “overreaching” by presenting three new and unfamiliar operas during the 2013-14 season. “I decided to tilt the schedule back a little more toward that security net of classics everybody’s heard of,” he said. “Thus our decision to include ‘Traviata’ and ‘Tosca’ among next year’s productions.”
“What we’re finding is that the young generation is drawn toward the classics,” Lyall said. “If it’s your first time to go to an opera, I guess there’s a kind of subliminal belief that you’re going to go to something you know is great.”
“La Traviata” and “Tosca,” both sung in Italian with English translations, have been performed here during Lyall’s stewardship.
“Die Fledermaus,” sung in German and English with some spoken dialogue, has not been staged by the company since 1996.
The sets for all four operas are either available in-house at the company’s H. Lloyd Hawkins Scenic Studio in Metairie or they will be constructed here prior to their staging, Lyall said.
Slight modifications may be made to the sets for “La Traviata” and “Tosca,” which the company presently has in its inventory, and new ones will be designed and built for “Die Fledermaus” and “Dead Man Walking.”
With the announcement of the new season, subscriptions are being offered only to renewing season subscribers. After May 8, new subscriptions will go on sale, and single tickets will be available as the season gets closer.