New season, new GM for Annapolis Opera

For The Baltimore Sun
“Opera Incognito” set to open Oct. 26

Annapolis Opera began its 42nd season recently with its Singable Feast gala, a fundraiser of gourmet cuisine inspired by operatic arias — with live performances by baritone Jorge Espino and soprano Jennifer Holbrok.

The event in late September signaled a season of high hopes and expanding horizons for the company, which has a new general manager and an upgraded Maryland Hall venue with better acoustics, an orchestra pit and all new seating.

It's been a month since the board of trustees announced the appointment of Kathy Swekel as general manager.

An Anne Arundel County resident for 30 years, Swekel brings a resume in the performing arts field in greater Annapolis, having worked with the Chesapeake Youth Symphony and Children's Theatre of Annapolis, as well as with major orchestras in concert productions.

In the announcement of her new role, the board said Swekel's mission, together with artistic director Ron Gretz, is to "provide professional leadership to take the organization into the future."

Swekel said that mission involves not only being responsible for daily operations of the organization, but also working with the board and others to advance the vision for the opera company.

"If professional groups collaborate together, artistic growth happens," she said.

Annapolis Opera president Lee Finney said Swekel's early impact shows she's up to that task, calling their work together a "great partnership in moving to Annapolis Opera's next chapter toward becoming a fully professional opera company."

Also on board is administrative assistant Megan Bailey, whose degree in fine arts, with a certificate in performing arts entrepreneurship, makes her a good fit to use social media and other aspects to attract younger audiences to the world of opera.

Annapolis Opera arrives at its 2014-2015 season at a historic peak. Recent seasons of fully-staged opera productions culminated in last season's sold-out "La Boheme," a production that reached an artistic pinnacle of talent in its vibrant young cast.

Providing this season's Opera Incognito theme is this year's main stage production choice of Mozart's "Cosi fan tutte" to be presented in the newly refurbished theater at Maryland Hall in two March performances.

The company's theme for this new season, "Opera Incognito," will be celebrated 3 p.m. Oct. 26 at the "Opera with a Twist" concert at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Annapolis.

In this production, young singers, accompanied by artistic director Gretz, perform a concert expressing how lovers may be duplicitous – such as those in "Cosi fan tutte," a Mozart opera that saw criticism in the 19th and early 20th centuries for its premise that women are unfaithful. It has since garnered a greater appreciation, and this "Opera with a Twist" provides an elucidating afternoon of musical enchantment.

The company's holiday concert will be held Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. at Calvary United Methodist Church in Annapolis. This "Mostly Mozart" performance will feature some of the most talented singers in the area in a concert celebrating the universally captivating music of Mozart.

Annapolis Opera's annual children's opera will take place at the Maryland Hall Theater in a 50-minute performance of Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel," at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 31.

The main stage production of "Cosi fan tutte" is scheduled for March 13 and 15 in Maryland Hall. Often described as containing Mozart's sweetest and most passionate music, this tale of sisters Dorabella and Fiordiligi and their suitors, Ferrando and Guglielmo, is balanced by comic characters Alfonso and Despina. This ensemble of six singers gives symmetry and balance along with marvelous music.

On April 25-26, the company will close the season with its popular Vocal Competition, now in its 27th year showcasing opera performers in the mid-Atlantic region. The competitors are judged by music educators and performers in an effort to win more than $10,000 in prize money.

Subscriptions for the Annapolis Opera are available for the season of two concerts and the fully staged "Cosi fan tutte." Single tickets are also available for all performances including the children's opera. To order tickets, call 410-280-5640. To receive a brochure, call 410-267-8135.

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