Summer is a season that most everyone looks forward to as a relief from school or work. We don’t need to tell you how busy life can get and how much of a relief it is to get a little rest and relaxation. Summer in LA is especially lovely, with a wide array of adventures to be had. And though we love partaking in these activities, summer also leaves an opera-shaped hole in our hearts. To help fill the void until our 2023/24 Season arrives, we’re taking you through a few operas that capture the essence of summer.
Porgy and Bess
Above:Alfred Walker and Indira Majahan in the title roles of Porgy and Bess at LA Opera in 2007
No summer soundtrack would be complete without the opera that gave us “Summertime,” the immortal aria that launched thousands of covers, from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald to Janis Joplin. George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is aptly set in summertime, though the themes of poverty, violence, and race relations are far from sunny. The opera was first conceived when Gershwin read DuBose Heyward’s 1925 novel Porgy and approached the author about collaborating to adapt it for the stage. The pair began production in the fall of 1933—even spending the following summer in Folly Beach, South Carolina, to immerse themselves in the area’s culture and signature sounds.
The opera takes place in Charleston, South Carolina, and follows Porgy, a disabled man who tries to rescue Bess from her violent lover Crown. The opera was one of the first to have an all-Black cast, a purposeful demand by lyricist Ira Gershwin that served as an important vehicle for Black operatic talent. It is regarded as the first great American opera.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Above: Former LA Opera Young Artist Liv Redpath as Tytania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, with Tim Mead as Oberon, at the Glyndebourne Festival this year. (Photo: © Glyndebourne Productions Ltd | Photo: Tristram Kenton)
Benjamin Britten’s iconic comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream premiered in June of 1960, with a libretto by Britten and Peter Pears. A mischievous sprite named Puck wreaks havoc on passerby in a magical forest—four Athenians find themselves at odds when a love potion makes two of the men fall in love with the same girl, and a troupe of actors are terrorized when one of them is transformed into a half-donkey. Not even his fellow fairies are safe, as Puck helps King Oberon play a trick on Queen Titania.
A Midsummer’s Night Dream blends Shakespearean comedy with Britten’s delightful score. Puck’s whimsical chaos highlights the happy-go-lucky times of summer, and the opera’s balance of romance and outright silliness are sure to warm your heart and bring a smile to your face. It's a perfect light summer treat that appeals to both fans of the bard and those unfamiliar with his work.
Above: Patricia Racette in Salome at LA Opera in 2017
It’s never explicitly stated in Salome just when the action is happening, but the dedicated sleuths at LA Opera point out that The Nativity of John the Baptist is celebrated on June 24, placing the events of the opera just a few days after the summer solstice. Salome is based on the Oscar Wilde play of the same name, which Richard Strauss saw in Berlin in 1902 and instantly inspired a creative flurry. Strauss immediately started work on the opera, which would premiere on December 9, 1905. While connecting Salome to June may be a stretch, the fiery passion and heaty tension of the opera makes it well worthy a spot amongst our summertime operas.
Salome follows princess Salome on the night of a banquet thrown by her stepfather, King Herod. The men at the party are fascinated by her, including Herod and the young Syrian prince Narraboth, but Salome is far more interested in the imprisoned prophet Jochanaan (Wilde’s name for John the Baptist). The opera tells a tale of desire and the lengths one will go to achieve that desire. While this is our second tragedy on this list, Salome captures a fiery passion that few operas can equal, and it’s a must listen for those in the mood for some summer sensationalism. A “beach read” from the 1900s, if you will.
The World on the Moon
Haydn’s little-known gem is an opera buffa perfectly suited to Los Angeles: astrology and improv both play key roles. Sure, the libretto only specifies that the events take place during a full moon, but the opera itself premiered in August 1777 and owes its rediscovery to the Holland Festival in June 1959 and the Aix-en-Provence Festival one month later, so we’ll round up—in fact, The World on the Moon is perfect for one of two upcoming supermoons this August.
Amateur astrologer Ecclitico is in love with Clarice, and his friend Ernesto is in love with her sister Flaminia. Yet the girls’ father Buonafede would rather see his daughters in wealthy but loveless marriages. When Ecclitico learns that Buonafede is an astrology devotee, he convinces him that there is a kingdom on the moon and that a special potion will make him light enough to travel there. A sleeping Buonafede is transported to Ecclitico’s garden and awakens to a marvelous alien world. He’s thrilled when his daughters join him and flattered when two suitors (a disguised Ecclitico and Ernesto) appear from the court of the Emperor of the Moon. Haydn’s opera grounds its outlandish plot with evocative and stirring arias…though of course, it’s not without a few flights of musical fancy. Fans of bold and colorful summers, this one’s for you.
Opera is a wonderful medium to capture such a diverse and loved season. We hope that one of these operas will help tide you over until the start of next season. Until then we hope you have a wonderful summer and can’t wait to see you back at the opera.