Why we needed opera this year

“Aida” photo by Philip Groshong

Cincinnati Opera returned to its Music Hall stage this summer after a two-year hiatus due to Covid. I’m sure there was trepidation in the company about whether the audience would return, just as new variants were emerging. Happily, audiences came. In fact, the total attendance for three grand operas in Music Hall and two new operas in a smaller venue at SCPA was higher than that of the 2019 season before the pandemic hit.

“We count our ‘return to Music Hall’ season a great success,” said general director and CEO Chris Milligan.

  • The company saw extraordinary national media coverage with reviews in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal and a story on NPR’s All Things Considered. Here’s a column about the international buzz surrounding this production.
  • Attendance exceeded that of the 2019 Summer Festival at 20,747, compared to 19,736 pre-pandemic.
  • The company met its revised revenue goal with $1.65 million in ticket sales.
  • Attendees from 42 states came to see performances.
  • There were zero canceled performances thanks to Covid-safety protocol.

Many of us remember our first opera. I took a friend this year, who saw “La Traviata” at the Zoo but had never seen “Aida.” She was thrilled. There’s always a sense of wonder at the theatricality, the stage spectacle, the singers who can soar with superhuman power over a symphony orchestra, and of course the stories of pure human emotion.

This year, I think you can add “shared communal experience” to that list. The company was not yet out of the woods — Covid re-emerged. The chorus wore masks, as well as one or two lead singers. Many, including my friend, were grateful that masks were still encouraged for audience members. But it was good to experience reactions, such as laughter and applause, shared together, as a community.

This year, the opera world is also uplifting the under-served and neglected communities with new works and more diversity on its stages and behind the scenes. Cincinnati Opera has long been leader in diversity and inclusion, notably with the co-commission of “Margaret Garner” in 2005.

Like several other new opera productions around the country that address the African American experience, “Castor and Patience” by Gregory Spears and Tracy K. Smith is an important and evocative work that will resonate for years to come. I enjoyed hearing the creators in a pre-performance discussion with Evans Mirageas, artistic director, above.

Here’s an excerpt from my review:

“Castor and Patience” is an American epic set in the coastal islands of the South. It spans time from the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 to the financial crisis of 2008. The opera examines questions about family, the sense of place and about home. In the end, the freedom to have one’s own property, and the dignity and pride that accompany that freedom, are at the heart of this story.

(Don’t forget, reviews and arts stories are free to read on bizjournals.com/cincinnnati. You may need to sign up for a free subscription.)

Cincinnati Opera opened in June with a wonderful production of Puccini’s “La Boheme.” Here’s my review.

I was happy to sit down with the creators of a new opera, “Fierce.” Here’s that interview, and here’s my review of its world premiere.

We all needed to laugh more than ever. Here’s the review for Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.”

The season ended with a blockbuster production of “Aida.” My review is here.

We also enjoyed a special concert, “Morris and Friends.” It’s always a treat to talk to opera star Morris Robinson. Here’s that conversation, and my review of the concert.


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