Fresno Grand Opera, continuing its partnership with Modesto’s Townsend Opera, will perform Jake Heggie’s acclaimed contemporary opera “Dead Man Walking” and Stephen Sondheim’s beloved “Sweeney Todd” in the 2015-16 season.
The two mainstage works are highlights of an ambitious season that features one performance event every month of the season. “Sweeney Todd” will be performed Feb. 20, and “Dead Man Walking” will be performed May 7. Both Fresno dates are Saturdays, an improvement over this season’s Thursday engagement for “Tosca.”
“Dead Man Walking,” based on the bestselling 1993 memoir by Sister Helen Prejean, is a far cry from the traditional operas that have been the staple of most regional companies in the country. “Sweeney Todd” is an example of the crossover between musical theater and opera. With these productions, the Fresno company is striving to expand its audiences. The company with this new season might annoy purists who prefer their operas in Italian and in period dress, but at least they just had “Tosca.”
Also in the category of finding new opera fans: Matthew Buckman, the company’s general director, is bringing one of his Modesto innovations, the Opera Remix Initiative, to Fresno. Two events in the new season are scheduled. “Opera Remix: Musical Worlds Collide at The Tower,” on Sept. 10, is described as “a fusion of the best classic rock songs and opera arias, arranged by professional composers for a rock orchestra, and performed by opera singers.” Food, drink and karaoke with the performers afterward are part of the evening.
The second Remix event, “Music and Verse,” on Oct. 16, will feature opera and slam poetry. It will feature the Central Valley premiere of the Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg chamber opera “Hydrogen Jukebox” alongside performances of original poetry by Fresno-based poets.
Another innovation: A new recital series based at Mia Cuppa Caffe in the Tower District will highlight local talent. The first, scheduled for Nov. 12 will feature soprano Sara Price and baritone Terry Lewis, both well-known names on the local theater scene. Other performances will feature Maelyn De Fede and Nicole Jacques (Jan. 21) and members of the Fresno Grand Opera Chorus (April 7).
The 2015-16 season also includes the popular “Christmas on Van Ness” (Dec. 6) and “Broadway on Van Ness” (March 13) concerts.