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Opera America

Abduction From the Seraglio

It's Mozart with a Twist, as Festival Opera Gears Up
For an Out-of-This-World 25th Anniversary

Abduction From the Seraglio
Brian Cheney and Robert Norman as
Captain Belmonte and Mister Pedrillo
in Abduction From the Seraglio
Photo: Martha Benedict, Pacific Opera Project
In its 25-year history, Festival Opera has been no stranger to stellar productions — but this time, we're taking it literally.

In 1991, a new opera company took flight in Walnut Creek with an ambitious first production, Mozart's Abduction From the Seraglio. Now it's 25 years later, and to celebrate we're returning to our roots and reaching for the stars. It's still Mozart all right, but with a slightly revised libretto — in English — by stage director Josh Shaw, and you won't want to miss any of the fun.

Follow the adventures of 'Captain' James T. Belmonte as he sets off on a mission to rescue his kidnapped crew members, 'Lieutenant' Constanza and 'Mister' Pedrillo, from an all-too-familiar set of villains. Please don't tell anyone, but rumor has it that there may even be a Gorn lurking in the wings.

For all the futuristic fun, this is still classic opera, and Festival Opera has assembled a troupe that rises to the occasion. Musically, Maestro Michael Morgan will conduct the Oakland Symphony Orchestra, supported by the Festival Opera Chorus. The ensemble of vocal artists features tenor Brian Cheney as Belmonte, soprano Shawnette Sulker as Constanza, tenor Robert Norman as Pedrillo, and soprano Sara Duchovnay as Blondie. Bass Kevin Thompson is Osmin, the grumpy overseer of the seraglio, and baritone Michael Crozier appears in the spoken role of Chancellor Selim.

Josh Shaw
Stage Director/Librettist
Josh Shaw
Josh Shaw's creative re-imagination of Mozart's tale of the harem was sparked by a single word: "The idea came from the word "Abduction," he says. "That got me thinking about "alien abduction..." After doing some research, a vision emerged, and a distinctive new take on a familiar classic made its debut at the Southern Illinois Music Festival in 2014. It was an immediate hit, and the innovative staging has subsequently delighted audiences in Los Angeles, Chattanooga, and San Antonio. Festival Opera's August production will be the fifth presentation of Abduction From the Seraglio as a parody of Star Trek, and promises to once again prove popular both with fans of traditional opera and Trekkies alike.

Hear KDFC's preview of Abduction
and interview with Josh Shaw.

In a rare alignment of the stars, Festival Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary in the same year that the Star Trek franchise celebrates the 50th anniversary of its "five-year mission: to boldly go where no man has gone before." Producer Gene Roddenberry's vision of creating "a Wagon Train to the stars" has since spawned six television series, thirteen feature films, untold comic books, novels, games, merchandise, and, now, one opera parody. It's become a cultural icon shared across generations, offering a hopeful vision of the future.

Composer and closet Trekkie
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Festival Opera general director Sara Nealy first became intrigued with presenting a non-traditional version of Abduction when looking for ways to both celebrate the company's 25th anniversary with a salute to its rich history, and illustrate its commitment to bringing opera forward in ways that can resonate with today's audiences.

"Festival Opera is at a point where we want to explore, to find new pathways, and to have some fun," she reflected recently. "Much of the misperception surrounding opera is based on the idea that it is grandiose and elitist. This Star Trek parody, so brilliantly-conceived and created by the talented and imaginative Josh Shaw, is just the kind of tongue-in-cheek satire that Mozart himself would undoubtedly have approved of... and just the remedy to counter pomposity.

"We are able to preserve the music, storyline themes, and even most of the lyrics, yet tell a story that a wider swath of contemporary audiences might relate to. All of this is part of our hope that Festival Opera — and indeed the operatic art form — will 'live long and prosper!'"

Abduction From the Seraglio will be presented Friday, Saturday and Monday, August 5, 6 and 8 at 8:00 p.m., and on Tuesday, August 9 at 2:00 p.m. in the Regents' Theatre in the Valley Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Holy Names University in Oakland. All performances in English, with English supertitles. Regents' Theatre is wheelchair and ADA accessible.