In the good old summertime… and throughout the year… you can always attend a musical
performance in Cincinnati, Ohio. Be it by the renowned Symphony Orchestra, Cincinnati Pops,
Chamber Orchestra or the May Festival… or at concerts in Washington Park, the Andrew J
Brady Music Center and Riverbend… or at a star-studded show like Taylor Swift’s 2-night Eras
Tour at Paycor Stadium.
However, the jewel in the crown of the “Queen City” is the Cincinnati Opera, the second-oldest
opera company in the nation. Founded in 1920, the annual summer opera season… attracting
patrons from all parts of the country… presents thrilling performances that include beloved
classics and contemporary masterworks. According to Evans Mirageas, Artistic Director of the
Cincinnati Opera, “As Cincinnati Opera steps into its vibrant second century, we’ve sharpened
our focus on presenting operas that both reward the devoted fan and provide an inviting and
engaging experience for the curious newcomer. For the coming season, we’re proud to offer
beautiful productions of favorite works, while also elevating new voices and fresh perspectives.”
Cincinnati Opera’s summer season is much more than an on-stage extravaganza brought to life by
some of the world’s most dynamic performers and creative artists. Held annually in the iconic
Music Hall (built in 1878 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975) the Cincinnati
Opera is also a “Happening” that begins prior to each performance… and continues during
intermissions… in Music Hall’s grand foyer.
Entering the foyer for the season-opening of Lucia di Lammermoor, the sounds of a bagpipe
immediately transported me to Scotland’s Lammermoor Castle where I would soon be engulfed
in the rivalry between the Ravenswood and Ashton families. But this was not a recording! This
was a real live bagpiper, adorned in his kilts and all the trimmings.
The “Happening”, at the second opera of the season (Rossini’s Barber of Seville), also began in
the foyer some 1.5 hours before the performance. I entered an ersatz barber shop complete
with the traditional red-striped barber pole, a professional barber’s cape, and a pseudo-sharp
Next thing I knew, an opera patron led me to a chair and asked other amused attendees
standing nearby: “Don’t you think this lady needs a haircut?” You can guess what happened
Exiting the foyer’s faux ‘barber shop’, I was serenaded by a barbershop quartet as I walked
toward the auditorium for a few more hours of frivolity, silliness, and rollicking music.
Puccini’s beautiful “Madame Butterfly” was the final opera in the 2023 Season. As in the
season’s previous operas, Music Hall’s foyer “Happening” magically transported opera-goers to
Japan. The sounds from several kotos, the national instrument of Japan, wafted through the
foyer. The four half-tube zither string instruments were plucked by silk kimono-clad ladies in a
variety of traditional Japanese garments.
During the three performances of “Madame Butterfly”, sculptor Tom Tsuchiya’s “Embrace No
Evil”, brought an additional cultural touch to the foyer. The sculpture’s subject was inspired by
the words of the popular Japanese proverb “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.” Tsuchiya,
a native Cincinnati artist, whose parents came from Japan, said this about the sculpture: “
‘Embrace No Evil’ fits perfectly with Madame Butterfly’s tragic theme of not seeing and not
hearing by Cio-Cio San and not speaking by Pinkerton. This opera’s most famous aria (“Un Bel
Di Vedremo”...”One Fine Day We’ll See”) sums up Cio-Cio-San’s unwillingness to see the truth.”
In an attempt to attract younger generations to opera, Cincinnati’s 2023 update of Madame
Butterfly brought a fresh new perspective to a traditional opera. The opening scene took the
audience to the apartment of a young American man who loved playing Japanese video games.
Wearing his virtual headset, in his own mind he became U.S. Navy Lieutenant B. F. Pinkerton.
The avatars in his video game were actually live opera cast members.
Artistic Director Mirageas proclaimed, “As Cincinnati Opera steps into its vibrant second century,
we’ve sharpened our focus on presenting operas that both reward the devoted fan and provide
an inviting and engaging experience for the curious newcomer… it’s a Butterfly for our time,
exploring one of the most beloved works in all of opera through the lens of a modern-day
fantasy. We’re thrilled to partner with our all-Japanese and Japanese-American creative team to
tell Cio-Cio-San’s story in a powerful new way.”
Some of the old guard opera devotees still think the original Puccini spirit of the opera is best
kept the old way. However, when the curtain fell at the historic Music Hall, the rousing cheers of a
standing ovation showed that the traditionalists might well be in the minority.
Janet Steinberg, winner of 55 national travel-writing awards resides in Cincinnati but calls the
world her home.