San Diego Opera Returns

San Diego Opera is back with La Boheme and Don Giovanni

San Diegans are justifiably proud of San Diego Opera. After last spring’s crisis, the members of this impressive organization have shown intense passion and bold determination, rebuilding the Opera into a brand-new, vibrant company.

This month marks a SDO milestone. On January 24th they open the season - the company’s 50th and their first as the “New” San Diego Opera - performing one of the most beloved romantic operas of all time, Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème. Gracing the Civic Theatre stage, a team of young singers, some making their SDO debuts, will demonstrate their considerable talents as prime examples of the superb artistry for which SDO’s many generous supporters helped pave the way.

Offering views on their roles and on the importance of this landmark occasion were Alyson Cambridge and Malcolm MacKenzie (who play Mimi and Schaunard in La Bohème), and Ellie Dehn and Reinhard Hagen (Donna Anna and the Commendatore in Don Giovanni).

Alyson Cambridge is thrilled and honored to perform with SDO for the first time singing Mimi in La Bohème. “Many of my friends and colleagues who have sung with SDO have raved about the company and city,” she says. “It’s my sincere pleasure to be making my debut during this monumental season.”

Malcolm MacKenzie, who has appeared consistently with SDO for the last ten seasons, maintains his eagerness to perform with them. “San Diego Opera is one of my favorite companies,” he says. “First, because its productions are always of the highest caliber. Secondly, because of the people. Rarely have I worked with a more dedicated, giving and professional staff.” He enjoys his role immensely. “Schaunard is the most sensitive of all the Bohemians. I always imagine the death of Mimi hits him hardest of all.”

Mimi is one of Cambridge’s favorite roles. “I love her heart, depth, sincerity, passion. I get to sing some of the most glorious music!” She calls the tragic third act “some of the most beautiful and intense music Puccini wrote.”

Both singers have great hopes for SDO’s future. MacKenzie finds the company’s dedication impressive, and would like to see them continue to champion American singers. “I’m excited to see SDO adapt and change as its new administration finds its rhythm,” he says. He sees the new SDO as “more nimble, with more varied and interesting programming… a model of how older companies can remake themselves in the new era of opera.”

Overwhelmed at the support shown by its devotees, Cambridge hopes to see SDO flourish and expand. “Opera lovers the world over rallied to save this historic company. I'd love to see those of us fortunate enough to sing and work at SDO spread the word about opera and SDO.” About the future of opera, she adds, “I truly believe we are on the verge of an opera renaissance. It’s up to companies like SDO, who are bringing young, vibrant casts to the stage, to deliver the message and wonder of opera!” 

Veteran SDO bass Reinhard Hagen is happy to be back singing in Don Giovanni. “And of course I would like to keep coming back.” He’s glad that SDO is still here. “To keep the opera going, everyone has to compromise.”

At the dress rehearsal of last season’s Aida, when he sang the role of Ramfis, Hagen noticed the majority of audience members were above a certain age. “It’s especially important to bring young people into the opera,” he says. “I would love to see more of that here.” He believes the Outreach program for young audiences is probably more important than anything else. “Music never will die, opera never will die, but we need to create future audiences.”

Soprano Ellie Dehn, who shares the other singers’ affection for SDO, is thrilled to be back. “It’ll be a big celebration!” she declares. “All of my colleagues were waiting with bated breath hoping this season would still happen. I am ecstatic that SDO is here to stay.”

Ultimately the true test of audience loyalty will be a show of support on opening night. Cambridge and MacKenzie concur that La Bohème is a perfect choice.

“There’s no better first opera than La Bohème,” MacKenzie says. “It plays like a modern musical, with a fast moving, emotionally engaging plot. It has one of the best scores in all of opera, and the music is easily accessible and moving.”

Not surprisingly, Dehn is partial to the opera she will be performing. “Don Giovanni makes a great first opera. Who doesn’t want to see the bad guy getting dragged down to hell at the end? It’s truly a masterpiece, and the cast is going to be fantastic,” she says. Dehn is passionate about her role, Donna Anna. “She’s one fierce lady. Of course, there’s always the debate of what actually happened in her bedroom before her first entrance,” she adds slyly.

In the end, it comes down to the audience. Cambridge is passionate about the power opera has for reaching them. “It’s a true feast for the ears and eyes, all from the natural power of voices and musicians,” she says.

MacKenzie is confident the new season’s opening night offering will be a winner for the audience. “They'll leave the theater humming its tunes!”

“It’s an exciting time for SDO,” says Dehn. “I’ve never been so inspired, not only by the San Diego community but by opera supporters around the world making sure this important house stays on the map. Opera is still alive, relevant, and flourishing in Southern California.”