Opera Omaha’s 2020-21 season announcement offers an intriguing surprise.
The company, which usually hires directors from outside Omaha with a particular focus on opera, has engaged Bluebarn Theatre’s producing artistic director Susan Clement-Toberer to lead one of its coming productions.
And that production is something of a surprise in itself: It’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” considered to be musical theater rather than opera, though it certainly has elements of both. More than 80% of the production is set to music, either sung or underscoring dialogue.
“Sweeney Todd” is the story a London barber who is imprisoned in Australia for a crime he didn’t commit because the judge lusted after his wife and wanted him out of the way. When the barber returns to London after 15 years, he’s gone mad and is hell-bent on revenge. He slices and dices unlucky customers and gives their bodies to the owner of a meat-pie shop, determined for the judge to become one of his victims. Music and lyrics are by Stephen Sondheim.
Many operas have had similarly far-fetched or twisted plots, so it’s not a stretch to be included in the Opera Omaha season, said Roger Weitz, the company’s general director.
“Lots of opera companies have performed ‘Sweeney Todd,’” he said. “It’s at the Des Moines (Metro) Opera this summer. It has music with operatic proportions.”
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Former Opera Omaha artistic director Hal France will be the conductor for “Sweeney Todd.” He has previously worked with Toberer at the Bluebarn and recently became music director for the University of Nebraska at Omaha Department of Theatre, which could provide opportunities for Opera Omaha to connect with UNO students for the production, Weitz said.
Toberer said she has never directed “Sweeney Todd.” She’s looking forward to working again with France and directing at the Orpheum Theater, which is more expansive than the intimate Bluebarn. She’ll also enlist a couple of other Bluebarn pros for the production.
“I’m honored that they asked me and that they’re going to entrust this to me,” she said. “It’s a pretty electric show.”
“Sweeney Todd” will be the third opera in the coming season, on April 16 and 18, 2021.
Other shows in the season:
“The Marriage of Figaro” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Nov. 6 and 8. Conductor Steven White, familiar to Opera Omaha audiences, will return for this production, and Omaha native Dean Anthony will make his directorial debut for Opera Omaha. This is Mozart’s most famous opera, with some of his most widely known and beloved music. It brings back characters from “The Barber of Seville” for a romantic comedy.
“Eugene Onegin” by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Feb. 26 and 28, 2021. White also will be conductor for this one, working with director Rosetta Cucchi to create a new production specifically for Opera Omaha. The opera has not been produced in Omaha since 1993. It’s based on an 1833 novel by Alexander Pushkin about a St. Petersburg dandy.
Opera Omaha also will have its annual Opera Outdoors concert on Aug. 21 at Turner Park, featuring highlights of the coming season and familiar choral favorites. This year, the concert will include surprises to celebrate Midtown Crossing’s 10th anniversary.