Detroit Opera Unveils its 2023–24 Season, New Twist on ‘Madame Butterfly’

Detroit Opera announces its 2023–24 Opera season in which it will present four operas embracing the themes of collision and collage, with stories spotlighting characters who break free and go against society’s norms and expectations.
Madame Butterfly poster
Matthew Ozawa will direct a new co-production of “Madame Butterfly” at the Detroit Opera in October. // Photo courtesy of Detroit Opera House

Detroit Opera announces its 2023–24 Opera season in which it will present four operas embracing the themes of collision and collage, with stories spotlighting characters who break free and go against society’s norms and expectations.

The season also will feature major house debuts by director Matthew Ozawa; conductors Stephanie Childress and Kensho Watanabe; singers Gabrielle Barkidjija, Kidon Choi, Kristen Choi, Mané Galoyan, Samantha Hankey, Sharleen Joynt, Elizabeth Polese, David Portillo, Andrew Potter, Alex Rosen, Karah Son, Eric Taylor, Rehanna Thelwell, and Elizabeth van Os.

“One of my missions for Detroit Opera has always been to offer first-time experiences for the Detroit audience to experience the full spectrum of what opera can be about — both contemporary operas and classic operas,” says Gary L. Wasserman Artistic Director Yuval Sharon.

“Three out of four operas this season are debuts in Detroit. The season offers a sense of collage — different elements coming together and resonating with each other to give a much larger picture of what opera can mean for us now.”

Other Detroit Opera leaders include President and CEO Wayne S. Brown, Associate Artistic Director Christine Goerke, and Music Director Roberto Kalb.

“I’m excited to announce Detroit Opera’s 2023–24 season of opera and dance, during which we will continue to move American opera forward by emphasizing community and accessibility, artistic risk-taking and collaboration,” says Brown.

The opera season opens on Oct. 7, when an all-Asian and Asian-American creative team transports Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” to a contemporary. The opera tells the story of a tragic East-West culture clash; an American soldier’s superficial idea of Japan; a young Japanese woman; and their ideas of marriage in their communities, with heartbreaking consequences.

Kensho Watanabe conducts and Matthew Ozawa directs Puccini’s tragedy. “Madame Butterfly” is a co-production with Cincinnati Opera, Pittsburgh Opera, San Diego Opera, and Utah Opera.

“One of the great stories of cultural collision in the operatic literature is “Madame Butterfly,” which is so well-loved by audiences but gets at an uncomfortable truth of two cultures not understanding each other, and conflict that ultimately has deep human costs,” says Sharon.

The season also includes Missy Mazzoli’s “Breaking the Waves,” inspired by the Lars von Trier film, which tells the story of a woman in an extreme environment in Scotland, defying her community of faith. Stephanie Childress will make her Detroit Opera conducting debut leading the cast and Detroit Opera Orchestra in “Breaking the Waves,” a co-production of Opera Ventures, Scottish Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Adelaide Festival, and Théâtre National de l’Opéra Comique that was first performed in 2019 at Scottish Opera, directed by Tom Morris.

“This marks the first mainstage production here that features a woman as the composer, which is something I’m very excited about,” says Sharon.

Leoš Janáček’s “The Cunning Little Vixen,” a modern fable about a vixen who tries to outwit her captors will be performed. Kalb conducts and Sharon directs his production from The Cleveland Orchestra, which uses projections to transform singers into forest creatures, with hand-crafted animations that evoke the fable’s comic-strip origins.

“We are inviting the audience into a deeper reflection of how we interact with nature, think about nature, these forces — animals, trees, the seasons, (and) our relation to the ever-shifting natural world,” says Sharon.

This season’s site-specific operatic experience will be composer John Cage’s “Europeras 3 & 4,” which breaks apart European opera tradition and reassembles it as a collage. With pre-recorded music, live singers and pianists, stage actions determined through chance operations, and a digital “Europeraclock” taking the place of conductor, Cage’s light-and-soundscape is meant to challenge eyes and ears.

“Cage created ‘Europeras 3 & 4’ entirely of recycled materials — arias that everyone is familiar with, (and) classics from European repertoire,” says Sharon. “The only catch is that they’re all performed at the same time.”

Through chance operations, singers will perform arias that they select, while pianists play transcriptions of different operas, and phonographs are playing different recordings. The result is meant to be something new and original.

 “Europeras 3 & 4” will be presented at Detroit’s historic Gem Theatre in March 2024. Casting for “Europeras 3 & 4” will be announced later this spring.

On Oct. 28, Kalb will conduct his first concert since joining the Detroit Opera as music director. It is an Opera Gala featuring singers, including soprano Christine Goerke, Detroit Opera’s associate artistic director; plus baritone Rod Gilfry; tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz; soprano Mané Galoyan; and countertenor Key’mon Murrah, who had a breakout success at Detroit Opera in the title role of Handel’s Xerxes this season.

The Detroit Opera Orchestra and Detroit Opera Resident Artists will perform onstage at the gala, and music will range from Verdi and Bernstein to Spanish zarzuela selections.

“I’m so thrilled about next season at Detroit Opera, my first officially as music director of the organization. The season offers what Detroit Opera has become known for — a unique lens into traditional repertoire, a breakaway from standardized programming, and a bold introduction to masterpiece repertoire not yet performed in this city,” says Kalb.

Detroit Opera feature its first concert in a new series called Beyond the Pit, spotlighting the Detroit Opera Orchestra and emerging singers from its Resident Artist Program performing in Detroit, outside the opera house. The focus of the new series is to connect through music with the city of Detroit’s diverse communities.

Details of additional community initiatives and special events will be made available later this spring, including information on the Detroit Opera Orchestra’s Beyond the Pit performances. Also to be announced are names of the emerging singers selected to be Detroit Opera Resident Artists in the 2023-24 season, the 2023-24 Dance Season, and presentations by the Detroit Opera Youth Chorus.

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The safety of all patrons continues to be a priority for Detroit Opera and the Detroit Opera House. The company will continue to monitor health and safety precautions and will regularly update its website to reflect those precautions when appropriate.