The Fort Worth Opera Festival has come a long way in creating appeal for both opera aficionados and those who, shall we say, are just always up for a cool night out.
In many of the company's past 12 festival seasons, the "scene" mostly existed for patrons and donors who paid big bucks for exclusive pre-performance dinners with opera stars and then gathered in the green room at intermission to talk more opera.
That's slowly changed to include more events with wider appeal away from the stage. And this year, Fort Worth Opera is piling on the extras for everyone.
The 2019 festival started with a cooking class at Central Market in early April. It includes a Southern Soiree gala, late-night parties with DJs, restaurant dining deals, a lunchtime mariachi show in Sundance Square, performances of kid-friendly fare, and — oh, yes — three smashing marquee operas for grown-ups, too.
It's a concerted effort by Fort Worth Opera to create excitement and involvement outside the concert hall doors, they say.
As the curtain prepares to go up on the festival April 26, here's a closer look at what's to come both on and off stage.
The big shows
Porgy and Bess: Considered one of the most important operas written in the 20th century, George Gershwin’s beloved Porgy and Bess follows the impoverished residents of the neighborhood of Catfish Row on the shores of Charleston, South Carolina. This tragic love story, featuring iconic arias like “Summertime” and “I Got Plenty of Nothing,” is a masterful blend of opera, jazz, blues, spirituals, ragtime, and folk music. Internationally renowned opera director Francesca Zambello’s acclaimed revival comes to Fort Worth, with spectacular new scenery created by British set designer Peter J. Davison. April 26, 28, and 30 at Bass Hall.
Companionship: Fort Worth Opera will present the world premiere of composer-librettist Rachel J. Peters’s delightfully wicked opera, Companionship. Adapted from the short story by bestselling author Arthur Phillips, this deliciously dark comedy about an obsession with dough mirrors our modern world, where what we consume becomes all-consuming. Selected as a winner of the 2018 FWOpera Frontiers showcase, the work will receive its first fully staged production at the festival. May 1, 3, and 5 at Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
El Pasado Nunca se Termina: The company will present the world’s second mariachi opera, El Pasado Nunca se Termina (The Past is Never Finished), a stunning bilingual drama blending the folk tradition of mariachi music with opera. Featuring the same creative team as the company's critically acclaimed Cruzar de la Luna in 2017, Broadway director Leonard Foglia’s stirring family drama and tale of forbidden romance concludes the festival. May 10, 11, and 12 at Bass Hall.
Bravi Tutti!: Following four Bass Hall productions, the Grand Salon transforms into free after-show lounge, sponsored by Live Urban Fort Worth, where the public can greet the cast while DJ Brian Holland keeps the beats going. April 26, 30, May 10, and 11.
Keep cooking: Following the May 1 premiere of Companionship, a complimentary, "baguette-themed" after-party will take place at the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.
Opera Gala: Selected as one of the top Fort Worth society events of spring by the experts at CultureMap, this "Southern Soirée" will include a cocktail hour and multicourse dinner by renowned local chef Juan Rodriguez. Wine will continue to flow as Met Opera soprano Jennifer Rowley is showcased in a regional premiere of Rachel J. Peters’ STEVE, along with opera festival stars Daniel Montenegro and Maren Weinberger. Tickets are available by calling 817-821-6260. 6 pm May 4 at Stonegate Mansion.
No one should see an opera on an empty stomach. So, for the first time, Fort Worth Opera has partnered with Sundance Square restaurants for exclusive deals for ticket holders throughout the festival. Each restaurant participating in Opera Night Out (or "ONO") guarantees priority service, and some feature a special offer exclusively for opera patrons. For instance, The Capital Grille and Del Frisco's Grill both offer a free appetizer with purchase of two entrees. Offers are good through the festival's end on May 12; be sure to call the restaurant to make a reservation. Check out the list of restaurants here.
Three Pigs Remix: Fort Worth Opera’s Children’s Opera Theatre will present two performances of Michael Ching’s opera Three Pigs Remix for the community at R4 Foundation, including a relaxed performance for children with autism, sensory, or communication disorders, and behavioral challenges. 11 am and 1 pm (relaxed performance) April 27.
Karen Slack in concert: Following her turn as Serena in Porgy and Bess, critically acclaimed soprano Karen Slack will give a concert of arias, art songs, and spirituals accompanied by FWO Artistic Director Joe Illick. It's free, but RSVP to reserve a spot here. 7 pm May 2 at Broadway Baptist Church.
Mariachi Nuevo Tecalitlán: The legendary Mexican ensemble steps onto the plaza stage of Sundance Square for a free lunchtime concert. They'll give a live sneak peek of El Pasado Nunca se Termina, opening two days later. 12 pm May 8 at Sundance Square.
The Last Dream of Frida & Diego: In 2021, Fort Worth Opera will present the world premiere of El Ultimo Sueño de Frida y Diego (The Last Dream of Frida and Diego), a Spanish language opera exploring the passionate relationship of iconic Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz and Latin Grammy winner, pianist, and classical composer Gabriela Lena Frank. Audiences can get a sneak peek in two piano-vocal showcases of scenes from the opera. They're free, but RSVP to a reserve a spot here. 7:30 pm May 30 at Rose Marine Theater and 7:30 pm May 31 at TCU's Ed Landreth Hall.
Porgy and Bess lecture: Margo Jefferson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Cultural Critic for The New York Times, will deliver a keynote lecture on the Gershwins' Porgy and Bess, 7:30 pm April 27 at Bass Hall, April 27.
Words For Opera: This afternoon will be a libretto workshop and discussion with Brooklyn-based composer-librettist Rachel J. Peters, the mastermind behind Companionship. The free public event will offer audiences an exclusive insider’s look into the process of writing a new opera. 1 pm May 5 at Arts Fifth Avenue, May 5.
Pre-show talks: Preceding each performance of Porgy and Bess, Fort Worth Opera board trustee Dr. John E. Forestner will present a pre-show lecture in the Mezzanine Lobby of Bass Hall. For the May performances of El Pasado Nunca se Termina, he will be joined by Ph.D. candidate in Ethnomusicology (UNT), José R. Torres-Ramos.
Angela Meade in concert: The McCammon Voice Competition and Fort Worth Opera will present Angela Meade in recital. The 2005 McCammon competition winner will be accompanied on piano by Fort Worth Opera Artistic Director Joe Illick for an evening of celebrated arias and art songs. Tickets are available here. 7 pm May 6, Fort Worth Botanic Garden Auditorium.
Frontiers New Works Showcase: The opera will present five composer and librettist teams whose unpublished works have been selected for the company’s seventh annual new works series. Featuring 15-25 minute excerpts of each selected piece, the five new operas will be sung in two different showcases by artists from the 2019 FWO Festival with piano accompaniment. Check out the lineup here; ticket information here. 7:30 pm May 8 and 9, Fort Worth Botanic Garden Auditorium.
For more information and tickets, visit fwopera.org.