Beth Greenberg is the new director of opera at the University of Arizona. She joined the faculty of the UA’s Fred Fox School of Music this fall after serving as a resident stage director at the New York City Opera for more than 20 years. Under Greenberg’s direction, the UA Opera Theater will be presenting the classic Gilbert and Sullivan work, “The Mikado.” “The word ‘opera,’” says Greenberg, “derives from ‘the work,’” and there’s clearly lots of that going on as students, musicians, faculty and staff prepare for the Nov. 12 opening.
“Opera is probably the most collaborative of art forms that there is,” says Greenberg. “As a stage director I bring together all the production elements — set design, costuming, technical support and lighting — with the musical elements — actors, who of course, sing their lines, the orchestra as well as the music director.” For the UA production of “The Mikado,” music director Thomas Cockrell will be conducting the Arizona Symphony Orchestra.
In addition to two decades in residence at NYC Opera at Lincoln Center, Greenberg has directed productions at opera theatres and festivals worldwide. She is a mentor for the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation as well as the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership in New York. She is known for her collaborations with living opera composers, which includes a 2016 world-premiere in Denver of “The Scarlet Letter” by Lori Laitman. But while new works inspire and expand the boundaries of musical theatre, it’s the repertoire of time-tested works that keep audiences engaged in opera.
“‘The Mikado’ is a classic work that remains relevant,” says Greenberg. “It has really absurd humor and very biting satire of politics and institutions, which is definitely applicable today. And on top of that it’s a love story about a couple that is trying to overcome obstacles in order to get together, just like many young couples today; it’s just that the characters’ obstacles tend to be a little more absurd than normal.” Though “The Mikado” is set in the fictional Japanese town of Titipu, the exotic setting was a ploy by Gilbert and Sullivan to soften the bite (and possible repercussions) of lampooning British Victorian politics and institutions.
For people unfamiliar with opera, Greenberg offers reassurance: “People shouldn’t be intimidated by opera. These are stories about our lives and because it’s such a multi-disciplinary form, you can enjoy so many different aspects of the production. People can get freaked out about opera, especially if it is performed in a different language, but we’ve dealt with that at a general level with the supertitles that are flashed above the stage. But ‘The Mikado’ is in English and we are working very hard on diction so everyone will easily understand the story. My advice is to just look at your ticket, see what time the show starts and just make sure to be there on time. Then buckle your seatbelt and enjoy the ride.”
“The Mikado” runs Nov. 12, 13 and 14 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee on Nov. 15 at 3 p.m. All performances are at Crowder Hall at the UA School of Music. Greenberg will give pre-performance talks 45 minutes before each performance, giving Tucsonans the opportunity to hear about the opera from this renowned director’s point of view.
Renee Claire is a freelance writer and editor in Tucson.