West Bay Opera’s All-Verdi Season Set for 2019–2020

Janos Gereben on August 12, 2019
Christina Major will appear in the leading roles of Abigaile (Nabucco) and Lady Macbeth | Credit: Jump Otak

“Verdi is my desert-island opera composer. There is a classicism, a purity to his musical style that makes what he writes particularly effective, even in the earlier pieces. He truly speaks to the heart,” says West Bay Opera General Director José Luis Moscovich, explaining why he is scheduling an all-Verdi season in 2019–2020 in Palo Alto:

In this age of people living in the bubble of their own choice, we need artistic experiences that transcend the intellectual and give us a chance to connect at the emotional level, a bunch of strangers allowing themselves to feel the same feelings together, without thinking about what political statements the company is trying to make by the choice of programming (though one could) or trying to divine party affiliations.

It should be very healing for people to come and experience that, no matter what’s on CNN or Fox News that week. Sometimes, when activism is too dangerous or too complex, the role of art can be that of reminding people of their common humanity.

The operas are Nabucco (Oct. 18–27), Macbeth (Feb. 14–23, 2020), and La traviata (May 22–31, 2020).

The choice of Traviata, Moscovich says, “needs no explanation — it’s among Verdi’s finest scores, and it’s still the gold standard in opera. We haven’t done it in well over a decade.

Macbeth was the first opera WBO produced when Moscovich became general director more than a decade ago, and he says it deserves more frequent hearings: “It is the opera that speaks to the politics of our time, an opera about a usurper and his conscience.”

Nabucco is “about redemption, and we need a redemptive kind of hope these days.” What Moscovich calls “a real enabling factor” behind the choice of Nabucco and Macbeth is having “a viable Abigaile and Lady Macbeth in Christina Major. I think she will blow people away. I truly believe that she needs to be singing this kind of repertoire widely in the US and Europe, and I want to give her a chance to prove it.”

José Luis Moscovich conducting a performance with baritone Jason Duika, who will sing the title role of Nabucco as well as Germont in Traviatanext season. | Credit: Jump Otak

Moscovich, who provided Major with her role debut as Norma, gave Buenos Aires’ famed Teatro Colón a video of Major’s performance in Palo Alto, and she was cast there in the title role. Major also had her first Lucrezia in the WBO’s I due Foscari earlier this year.

Nabucco’s other principal roles are mezzo Claudia Chapa, baritone Jason Duika, tenor John Kun Park, and bass Benjamin Brady.

In the title role of Traviata, a young soprano from Phoenix, Anna Lisa Hackett, is making her WBO debut. The Alfredo will be Mario Rojas, a Mexican tenor, currently a member of Chicago Lyric Opera’s young artist program. Jason Duika is cast as Giorgio Germont.

Krassen Karagiozov as Escamillo in the WBO’s Carmen last year; he will reprise the title role in Macbeth, which he last sang at the Teatro Regio in Parma | Credit: Jump Otak

In Macbeth, joining Major will be baritone Krassen Karagiozov in the title role, bass Benjamin Brady, and tenor Dane Suarez. Karagiozov has been a WBO regular, now with a burgeoning career in Europe, from Italy to Bulgaria.

Moscovich will conduct the three operas; Layna Chianakas is stage director for Nabucco, Ragnar Conde for Macbeth, Igor Vieira for Traviata. Bruce Olstad is the WBO chorus director. Set design is by Peter Crompton (Traviata and Macbeth), J.F. Revon (Nabucco).

Moscovich has headed the 64-year-old West Bay Opera (the West Coast’s oldest after SF Opera, which will have its centennial in four years) since 2006, presenting imaginative seasons of critically acclaimed productions. There is a striking comparison with its big sister to the North in that WBO relies on Palo Alto’s population of 67,000 (and a limited number of visitors from elsewhere), operating with a $560,000 budget. SF Opera is currently reducing its budget from $76 million to $71 million.

Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theatre is West Bay Opera’s home venue

Moscovich is Argentinian, a UC Berkeley-trained transportation engineer and planner with 30 years of experience here, who recently retired from 12 years of service as executive director of the SF County Transportation Authority. Since he took over WBO, adventurous programming has been accompanied by fiscal stability, without a deficit even during the Great Recession.

WBO’s headquarters in the Holt Building, named for company founders Henry and Maria Holt, was renovated through a $100,000 capital campaign, and an endowment for the company is being planned. Moscovich increased the size of the orchestra and chorus (using every inch of the 425-seat Lucie Stern Theatre’s small stage) and he started WBOpera NOW (New Opera Works), an initiative to present operas by living Latin American composers.