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    Kentucky Opera continues its eclectic mix this season by following up Giuseppe Verdi's Macbeth with a contemporary opera by American composer Jake Heggie. This is the first-time Kentucky Opera has staged Heggie's Three Decembers, which made its debut in 2008 with the Houston Opera. It is remarkable for its small cast of three singers and for having a bona fide opera star as its leading lady, mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves. Three Decembers opens this Friday, November 13 at 8 p.m. at the Brown Theatre.

    Directing this production of Three Decembers is William Florescu, who serves as General Director of the Florentine Opera Company in Milwaukee. In a recent conversation, Florescu talked about how this show is coming together and what audiences can expect from what may be an unfamiliar new work. First, Florescu points out that this opera has a level of musical accessibility that many people will appreciate. "This piece, in particular, has flavorings of Broadway -- it might remind you a little bit of Sondheim, it might remind you a little bit of Gershwin, but still in Jake's [Heggie] unique voice."

    Heggie is best known for his operatic adaptations of Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking and Herman Melville's Moby Dick, which has won rave reviews since its premiere at the Dallas Opera in 2010. Hailed as a triumph, the San Francisco Opera's production of Moby Dick was filmed for PBS's Great Performances series. Modern audiences will find the story of Three Decembers to be much more familiar than many operas in the classic repertoire. There are no kings, gods, or castle battlements here. Instead, it is a story of family relationships and how they are affected by emotional neglect, alcoholism and AIDs. Graves plays Broadway diva Madeleine Mitchell, who tries to reach out to her adult children, Bea (soprano Nicole Joseph) and Charlie (baritone Carlton Ford) over three Decembers, each ten years apart.

    Florescu describes rehearsals infused with an atmosphere of discovery and creative interplay in bringing the story to life, especially since none of the three cast members have ever song the roles before. "Because of the alchemy that happens between the conductor, director, and other artists on stage, you think you're going to arrive at Point A and then you find out you've over in Point B, and that's one of the really exciting things about it." Florescu is high on his cast, which features two talented young artists alongside the distinguished veteran Graves. "I think everyone feeds off Denyce's wonderful experience and what she brings to the character." Starring in opera houses all over the world, Graves is perhaps best known for her signature performances in the title roles of Carmen and Samson and Dalila.

    Florescu draws on his background as both a singing actor and director to bring together the vocal, musical, and dramatic elements of the piece. "The focus is on how the actors bring the characters to life and what they bring to the table in terms of how the story illuminates each of them." The show features a small chamber orchestra of 11 players, including two pianists, one of which is Conductor Robert Wood.

    Heggie's work is a must-see for anyone interested in contemporary opera, and in Florescu's opinion, "America is where new opera is happening." He's not just being a cheerleader for the home team. While classic opera repertoire is dominated by the great works in Italian, French, and German, much of the contemporary work is being done by American composers -- Carlisle Floyd (still composing at age 90), John Adams (Nixon in China), Heggie, and Matthew Aucoin, just to name a few.

    Three Decembers opens on Friday, November 13 with an additional performance on Sunday, November 15 at 2 p.m. at the Brown Theatre.
    You can purchase tickets online or contact the Kentucky Center box office at 502-584-7777 (800-775-7777).

    See Denyce Graves sing "Habanera" from Carmen:

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    About Selena Frye

    I'm a writer and editor living in Louisville since 1996. I'm originally from the Blue Ridge of Virginia.

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