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  • Beth Wood

Mozart, Handel, and cabarets will highlight Opera Neo’s 12th season

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

Jesús Vicente Murillo (left), SarahAnn Duffy, Kyle White, Andrew Morstein and Steele Fitzwater in Opera Neo’s outdoor spring production of “The Barber of Seville” in Balboa Park’s Spanish Village Art Center. (Courtesy of Gary Payne)

The San Diego nonprofit gives professional opportunities to up-and-coming singers and directors, as well as featuring seasoned professionals


For aspiring opera singers, it’s a big leap from earning a graduate degree to establishing a professional career.

San Diego’s Opera Neo’s mission is to nurture and showcase talented young singers who find themselves staring at that gap. Those selected from Opera Neo’s national auditions

each year receive intensive training and perform in high-quality, professional productions.

Already in the thick of its 12th season, the nonprofit opera company presented “Barber of Seville” in April and its Aria Gala earlier this month. “Barber” was performed atSpanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park. And that was just the beginning.

Jesús Vicente Murillo (left), Kyle White, Steele Fitzwater, and Andrew Morstein in Opera Neo’s spring 2023 “The Barber ofSeville” at the Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park.(Courtesy of Gary Payne)

“It’s a big growing season for us this year,” said Peter Kozma, Opera Neo’s founder and artistic director. “We’ve expanded with a spring show, which sold out for all three performances. Both the audiences and actors braved unseasonably cold temperatures.”

On Friday and Saturday, Opera Neo will present its annual cabaret shows. The lively variety of opera, operetta, musical theater and cabaret songs will take place in La Jolla atThe Jai at The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center.

The adjacent Baker-Baum Concert Hall will host Opera Neo’s production of Handel’s“The Triumph of Time and Truth” on July 8 and 9. On July 14 and 15, Opera Neo will present Mozart’s “Mitridate” opera at UC San Diego Park & Market.

Singers aren’t the only ones who benefit from the Opera Neo training programs. Other aspects of opera production are included as well. Sydney Roslin started at Opera Neo asa directing apprentice last summer.

Sydney Roslin is a former Opera Neo apprentice who is now a member of the arts organization’s directing staff. (Courtesy ofNile Scott)

This season, Roslin is a member of the directing staff. She’ll direct Handel’s “TheTriumph of Time and Truth” at the Conrad.

“It’s really cool that Opera Neo has a program for directors,” said Roslin, who’s based inBrooklyn. “Having an apprenticeship like this is important because as a director there is leadership and responsibility involved.”

Last summer, Opera Neo collaborated with the Hungarian State Opera to presen t productions in Budapest and San Diego. Hungarian-born Kozma, a longtime resident here, said the working on the co-production would have been daunting even to a seasoned pro.

“Sydney was assistant director in Hungary and then here,” Kozma said, speaking fromhis home office in San Diego. “It was such a challenging first job. Her introduction to the company would be enough but she was a guest in a country with a different language.

“But there was no situation she couldn’t figure out.”

Opera Neo founder Peter Kozma conducts a rehearsal. (Gary Payne Photography)

Opera Neo’s productions are historically informed, which means researching how each work would have been performed when it was conceived by its composer and what musical instruments would have been played.

“When we dig deep to approximate — to the best of our knowledge — what the composers meant and what they heard, it’s like finding the key to a time machine,”Kozma explained. “It may sound like an academic exercise, but it mixes how we express ourselves today with how they did it 300 years ago. It makes old music into contemporary music, early music becomes rock ‘n’ roll!”

At The Conrad, Handel’s “The Triumph of Time and Truth” will be performed with both musicians and singers on stage.

The conductor and harpsichordist for the concerts will be Jory Vinikour. The Chicago-born, Paris-based Grammy nominee tours the world both as a soloist and with prestigious orchestras.

“Jory is a truly world-renowned harpsichord player,” Kozma said. “He’s worked with some of the top opera conductors of our time. We are very lucky that he’s building his conducting resume.

“The Triumph” features four singers. Ashley Fabian, Brian Skoog and Stephanie Doche are returnees to Opera Neo, while Lauren Randolph is making her debut with the company.

The allegorical characters in this morality play are Beauty, Pleasure, Time, and Truth.Handel was 22 years old when he wrote “The Triumph.”

“Beauty is a young person facing her maturity and eventual mortality,” said Roslin, 25, who earned her MFA at Berklee College of Music. “We’re all forced to figure out how we take responsibility in our lives. It’s shockingly relevant for something composed so long ago.”'

Mozart was 14 when he wrote “Mitridate,” his first opera. It’s based on an ancient story about a paranoid king obsessing over his two sons and his young fiancée. Kozma, who is directing the epic work, jokingly calls it a “love square.”

Opera Neo will present “Mitridate” on the first floor of UC San Diego Park & Market. Anew venue for Opera Neo, the space has a 25-foot by 17-foot dual-sided video wall and a multifunctional spiral staircase.

“We’re creating a theatrical space out of it,” Kozma said. “It looks like an opera set. We’ll be performing on and under that staircase.

“We’ve been planning to perform ‘Mitridate’ for two years, but we didn’t know the venue. The production is informed by the venue. Each has specific challenges and incredible gifts.”

Tenor Charles Calotta will play the title role in Opera Neo's production of Mozart's "Mitridate". (Courtesy of Charles Calotta)

Charles Calotta will make his Opera Neo debut in the title role. The other cast members— Öznur Tülüoğlu, Sara Womble and Keith Wehmeier — have been in other Opera Neo productions.

Kozma stressed that finding the right singers was critical to staging “Mitridate.”

“Some people think it’s an unsingable score,” he said. “That’s one reason it’s done so infrequently. It may have been done once before in the U.S. So, this is the almost U.S. premiere.

“For both the orchestra and the singers, it’s incredibly challenging but exciting.”

Woods is a freelance writer.

Opera NEO 12th Anniversary Season

Cabaret shows

Scenes from opera, operetta and Broadway in a table setting, with hors d’oeuvres, drinks and dessert available for purchase. 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Jai, Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla. $38-$480.


Handel’s “Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno” (“The Triumph of Time and Truth”).7:30 p.m. July 8; 2:30 p.m. July 9. Baker-Baum Concert Hall, Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, 7600 Fay Ave., La Jolla. $41-$88.

Mozart’s “Mitridate.” 7:30 p.m. July 14 and 15. UC San Diego Park & Market, 1100Market St., downtown. $10-$75.

Phone: (858) 888-2231

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