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Signature kick-off will feature philharmonic, opera and ballet

It’s a history-making event for the Miami Valley and the excitement is mounting.

“For me, the really exciting thing is that it’s finally happening!” says Neal Gittleman, conductor of the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra about the musical events slated for Saturday, Sept. 21 and Sunday, Sept. 22. For the first time the Dayton Ballet, the Dayton Opera and the Philharmonic will be performing on the same program at the Schuster Center as the kick-off to the 2013-14 arts season.

Gittleman says this kind of three-way collaboration has been part of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance plan since the get-go.

“We all felt it was important to let the audience see all three art forms together,” says Gittleman about the 2012 merger of the three arts organizations, thought to be the first of its kind in the nation. “We can talk all day about how cool it is to mix and match the art forms, but until you see/hear/experience it, it’s just talk.”

In this one evening and afternoon, he says, both traditional audiences and newcomers will have a chance to see for themselves what the new Alliance is really all about.

On the program

The Spectacular will kick-off with a work by composer Stella Sung, who is is just beginning her three-year DPAA Music Alive residency in Dayton. The orchestra will perform Sung’s celebratory fanfare piece, “Into Light,” commissioned last year for the Orlando Philharmonic.

The first half of the program will also feature Anton Dvorak’s Carnival Overture and the Prologue to Mefistofele, sung in Italian with English surtitles. It will star bass-baritone Mark Schnaible in the role of Mefistofele who will be joined by the Philharmonic, Ballet, the Dayton Opera, the Philharmonic choruses and the Kettering Children’s Choir.

Producing Director Tom Bankston, artistic director of the Dayton Opera, says the merger is making it possible for folks in the Miami Valley to see and hear performances that couldn’t have been staged otherwise. He says the Arrigo Boito “Prologue” is a case in point.

“It’s not often presented and probably would never have been presented by Dayton Opera,” Bankston says. “The audience should really be excited by the experience of hearing the Boito with 73 orchestra members in the pit — plus offstage brass, 166 choristers, 19 dancers, and bass soloist Mark Schnaible. All of that will provide a fantastic sonic experience, as well as a visual one through special lighting and projection effects designed by lighting designer John Rensel.”

Although the orchestra will be in the pit for this production, through a collaboration with ThinkTV, the audience will see the orchestra via large-screen video projection.

Bernstein’s work featured

The second half of the program is a tribute to American composer Leonard Bernstein and will include selections from his opera/musical theater work “Candide, a selection of popular songs from West Side Story, and “What a Movie” from the opera Trouble in Tahiti. The West Side Story” segment will feature Dayton Ballet dancers and Dayton Opera vocalists soprano Zulimar Lopez-Hernadez, mezzo-soprano Layna Chianakas and tenor Matt Morgan.

The full company of orchestra, ballet, soloists and choruses will join together for a finale with Bernstein’s “Make Our Garden Grow.”

The choreography challenges

Karen Russo Burke, artistic director of the Dayton Ballet, says it’s been interesting to choreograph to vocal work.

“In the Boito, which is in Italian, there is often chanting, with no particular narrative, but it’s more of an abstract meaning,” she explains. “For ‘West Side Story,’ there is clearly a narrative and I need to be able to portrait each section with that in mind.”

It’s been especially fun, she says, to get to dance to Bernstein’s “West Side Story,” with its wonderful music.

When discussing the upcoming concerts, Gittleman likes to refer to his days studying in Paris with famed composer/conductor Nadia Boulanger.

“If she asked a musical question and you tried to answer, she’d call you to the piano so you could illustrate your answer with music,” he recalls. “If you did too much explaining in words, she’d interrupt you and say, ‘Don’t talk. Play.’ The Season-Opening Spectacular is our chance to ‘Don’t talk. Play!’”

Two additional Signature Events are already in pre-production for this season: A New Year’s Eve Celebration on Dec. 31, and Verdi’s opera extravaganza “Aida” on May 2 and 4, 2014, both in the Schuster Center’s Mead Theatre.

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