Nonprofit arts organizations all over the state are working to develop new partnerships and innovative marketing tools. Funding is tight and costs continue to rise. Theater companies and musical groups are drawing on their creative instincts to find a path to the future.
In that spirit, Wichita Grand Opera is partnering with the Depot Theater Company to offer Dodge City theater patrons a night at the opera.
The WGO production of Otello by Giuseppi Verdi, opens Jan. 19 and a busload of southwest Kansans will be there.
"We started by trading ads in our show programs with the Wichita Grand Opera," said Connie Penick, the Depot Theater Company's chief executive officer.
"From there, they suggested creating a package deal for our patrons and this exciting opportunity fell into place," she said.
The package includes travel by bus to Wichita, dinner at the Wichita Country Club and the performance of "Otello."
"Otello" is one of the opera master's mature works, coming next-to-last in his catalogue. Only the masterpiece, "Falstaff," was written later in his life.
"Otello," which premiered in 1887, was based on Shakespeare's play, "Othello," and tells the story of Otello, a Moorish general; Desdemona, his wife; and Iago, his ensign.
It's a dark tale of love and jealousy that has become a showcase for actors and singers alike.
The operatic role is one of the most challenging in the repertoire.
According to Parvan Bakardiev, WGO's general director, the role of Othello has attracted the acting talents of Sir Laurence Olivier, James Earl Jones, Sir Michael Gambon, Sir Anthony Hopkins, and Sir Patrick Stewart over the past seasons.
"Laurence Olivier once saw a performance of Otello starring Plácido Domingo and jokingly complained, 'He plays Othello as well as I do, and he has that voice!', Bakardiev said in a recent press release.
"You can count on one hand the number of singers in the world right now who can truly handle the role of Otello, simply from a vocal standpoint. Then, ask how many of those combine the voice with the acting ability, the looks, the charisma… You're left with just two: Plácido Domingo and Martin Iliev," he said.
Tenor Martin Iliev, who will be singing the title role in WGO's production, has made huge waves in the European opera scene over the last several years.
In his U.S. debut, Martin Iliev appeared as Cavaradossi in Wichita Grand Opera's production of Tosca. A record-setting audience of over 4,000 filled Century II's Convention Hall to see Kansas-born Samuel Ramey's professional debut that night. They expected a thrilling performance from Mr. Ramey. What they weren't expecting was to hear a superb young tenor — Iliev — who in just a few years would be one of the most highly-regarded voices in Europe.
Page 2 of 2 - As big a role as Otello may be, Otello is anything but a one-man show. Otello's aide, Iago, begins the opera furious that Otello has promoted the young, handsome Cassio to the rank of Captain, in spite of Iago's years of loyal service. Iago sets out to destroy Otello for revenge, beginning by tricking Cassio into a scandalous brawl with another soldier. Otello strips Cassio of his rank, but Otello's innocent wife, Desdemona, attempts to intercede on behalf of the unfortunate former captain. Seizing the opportunity, Iago leads Otello to suspect that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair. To avenge his honor, Otello murders Desdemona, and then takes his own life once Iago's plot is uncovered.
European sensation Zvetelina Vassileva returns once more to Wichita Grand Opera to star as Desdemona. Known internationally as a Verdi specialist, Ms. Vassileva is one of the world's premiere Desdemonas, performing with Royal Opera Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, and many other prestigious houses. WGO favorite Michael Nansel, a frequent guest at Washington National Opera, will take the sinister role of Iago.
Southwest Kansas opera lovers will board the bus at the Depot Theater Company parking lot at 1 p.m. Jan. 19. They'll be headed to a unique event; the WGO production of "Otello" will be the only such production outside the Metropolitan Opera this year.
Plans are also underway for additional exchanges between the two theater companies.
"We're in discussion to bring a WGO performance to the Depot, and we're hoping to bring a similar group tour from Wichita to a Depot show," Penick said.
Plans are also underway for a second trip to Wichita to see "Swan Lake" in April.
"If interest continues to grow, we'll consider making an overnight trip in the future as well," Penick said.
Tickets start at $35 and are available through the WGO Box Office at (316) 262-8054 or at SelectASeat.com.
To make the trip with the Depot Theater Company, call (620) 225-1001. Package tickets, which include transportation, dinner and the performance, are $90.