1. Music

Strauss opera brings stellar voices to St. Petersburg Opera

Soprano Hein Jung, who plays Zerbinetta, rehearses for the St. Petersburg Opera’s Ariadne auf Naxos, a madcap opera that has been called a “serious trifle” for its mix of tragedy and comedy.
Soprano Hein Jung, who plays Zerbinetta, rehearses for the St. Petersburg Opera’s Ariadne auf Naxos, a madcap opera that has been called a “serious trifle” for its mix of tragedy and comedy.
Published May 24, 2013

ST. PETERSBURG — Hein Jung has one of the longest arias in all of opera in Ariadne auf Naxos. "It's almost 11 minutes of ravishing coloratura, a lot of high notes, really difficult," the soprano says. "At one point I sing a high D for 16 beats — 10 beats of holding and six beats of trills."

Jung is playing the role of Zerbinetta in Richard Strauss' madcap opera (with a libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal), which has been called a "serious trifle" because of its mix of tragic Greek myth and slapstick farce. The premise is ridiculous: By order of the "richest man in Vienna," who is paying for the soiree, an opera is combined with a commedia dell'arte piece in order to get things over with in time for fireworks. Opening on Friday, it's the final production of the season by St. Petersburg Opera.

Grossmachtige Prinzessin (High and Mighty Princess), Zerbinetta's coloratura showstopper, comes in the second half of Strauss' comedy, an opera within the opera in which the prima donna, Ariadne, is on the island of Naxos, praying to die and be put out of her misery because she was abandoned by her lost love, Theseus.

Zerbinetta, a saucy coquette and leader of the commedia troupe, seeks to cheer her up by recounting her own love life, essentially saying that there are plenty of other men out there. It's a marathon performance.

"Not only am I singing Grossmachtige Prinzessin but I am also singing in a quintet before the aria and I don't get to have a break after the aria," Jung says. "It's pretty much 20 minutes of nonstop singing."

Jung, 35, an assistant professor of voice at the University of Tampa, recently sang another high-flying role, the Queen of the Night, in a University of Florida production of The Magic Flute. She'll be covering that role and playing the First Lady in the Opera Tampa production of the Mozart opera next season. Born and raised in Seoul, South Korea, she studied at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and her credits include the Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts and San Francisco's Merola Opera Program.

The soprano has daughters age 4 and 7, with husband Chanyoung Lee, a researcher at USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research, and juggles parenthood, teaching and her career as an opera singer. She and UT pianist Grigorios Zamparas are preparing an album of songs by Liszt for the Centaur label, recorded in the school's splendid new Sykes Chapel.

Along with Zerbinetta, the Strauss opera features two other plum female roles in Ariadne (soprano Elizabeth Beers Kataria) and the Composer (mezzo-soprano Deborah Domanski). With a cast of 16 characters, the opera has an orchestra of 36 musicians.

"It can be very complicated music, because each stand of strings has its own part," said the company's artistic director and conductor Mark Sforzini. "The violins first stand are doing something different than the violins second stand a lot of the time, and that's different than the violins third stand."

Ariadne auf Naxos is the first opera the company rehearsed in its new home, a former warehouse building just west of downtown St. Petersburg that it purchased for $425,000 last year. The main rehearsal hall is large enough that while principal cast members worked on a scene, the cover cast could shadow them in an adjacent space.

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"It allows us to do multiple things at the same time," Sforzini said. The 10,000-square-foot building will house offices, the box office, costume and set shops, as well as rehearsal spaces. With a $1 million capital campaign under way, Sforzini, also the executive director, said about 53 percent of the goal has been raised in pledges and contributions.

The company is taking a bit of a risk with Ariadne auf Naxos, which is not particularly well known. The only other time it has been done in the area in the past two decades was at Sarasota Opera in 2002.

"I didn't pick it because I thought it would be a box office smash," Sforzini said. "I picked it because it's a great opera that I felt the company needed to do, and people need to hear it. If we shy away from the lesser-known operas, then we're just perpetuating doing the top 15 over and over again. We have to take that step forward and try to draw our audience into the idea that we're going to do lesser-known operas, but they're still great operas."

Ringling arts festival to enter new era

The next edition of the Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota will be the final one under the artistic direction of the Baryshnikov Arts Center. Begun in 2009, the collaboration between the Ringling Museum of Art and the New York home of legendary dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov has brought in a host of cutting-edge performances, especially dance. Baryshnikov himself occasionally performed, as in last year's staging of a new work with the Mark Morris Dance Group, A Wooden Tree.

"The Ringling has grown from our close partnership with the BAC and watched the organization expand into new areas," said Stephen High, the museum's executive director. "We deeply appreciate their support over the past five years and look forward to the festival's evolution."

This year's festival Oct. 9-12 features typically adventurous theater. Minsk 2011: A Reply to Kathy Acker, performed in Russian with English subtitles by the Belarus Free Theater, dramatizes the erotic lives of people under a dictatorship. Iran's Leev Theater stages Hamlet, Prince of Grief, a comic rendition of Shakespeare in Farsi with English subtitles. Also on the festival agenda are Tere O'Connor Dance, flamenco dancer Rocio Molina and Sherlock Jr., the Buster Keaton silent film with music by pianist Stephen Prutsman and the Aeolus Quartet. (941) 360-7399; ringling.org.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8716.


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