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The stars are aligned

Tulsa Opera celebrates its 70th year with pop music

Sarah Coburn

On February 17th, Tulsa Opera, the 12th-oldest opera company in North America, will host its 70th-year gala, The Stars Align. Artistic Director Tobias Picker, once called “our finest composer for the lyric stage” by The Wall Street Journal, and General Director Greg Weber, who’s worked for San Francisco Opera, Geva Theatre Center in Rochester, New York, and the Houston Grand Opera, have teamed up with a host of star performers to create an event that proves opera isn’t just for your grandma.

“When they see this opera,” Weber said, “young people will get it, and they’ll see that they can relate to the traditional material, too.”

The event is designed to relate to the contemporary world. Picker incorporates pop music, well-known musical theatre tunes, and songs that call for audience participation.

All of the vocalists contributed to the making of the program—Picker asked which songs mean the most to each of them. Among the tunes you can expect to hear are “Oklahoma!,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Fly Me to the Moon,” “I Will Always Love You,” and “You’ve Got a Friend.”

The show kicks off with a song by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham rather than with a piece by a tenor, which is traditional in the opening of an opera. Graham will perform “La Vie en Rose” by herself on the piano. Weber explained that Édith Piaf wrote the song in 1945, but, as a woman, she wasn’t able to publish it under her name in France.

“This story connects to today,” Weber said. “We’re still dealing with these problems.”

Earlier this year, Tulsa Opera put on “Puccini to Pop,” which featured virtuosic singers’ takes on pop music favorites. “Stars Align takes this idea even further,” Picker said.

The title of the opera works on two levels: The show itself is a love story, and it brings together opera stars, new and established. Graham, a world-famous singer, joins Sarah Coburn, a local up-and-coming soprano. David Portillo, who started in Tulsa, sings alongside fellow tenor Aaron Blake, for whom Gregory Spears wrote “Fellow Travelers,” an opera about the “lavender scare” of the McCarthy era.

Picker and Weber want to remind our community that opera is an impressive, expressive, and often misunderstood art form.

“Opera used to be more informal—Victorians brought the formality, and now people think you have to love everything at the opera,” Weber said. “You don’t have to love everything in opera.”

But with this particular show, you just might.

The Stars Align
Saturday, Feb. 17 | 8:00 p.m.
Tulsa PAC, Chapman Music Hall
Tickets: $25–$115, tulsaopera.com or the PAC box office

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