Armenian-American Soprano Ani Maldjian To Star In Festival Opera’s


July 24 2008

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – opening August 9

Former two-time San Francisco Opera Merola Program participant Ani
Maldjian will replace Marnie Breckenridge in the role of Tytania in
Festival Opera’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opening August 9, 2008.

Breckenridge had been given permission by Festival Opera to bow
out so that she could accept an invitation by the Glyndebourne
Opera Festival to cover the lead role in the world premiere of
Peter Eotvos’ Love and Other Demons on August 10 – 30, following
a critically-acclaimed turn at English National Opera in the role
of Cunegonde for Candide. Maldjian was the Western Regional winner
of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2005, and a
national finalist in 2006. She has participated in Seattle Opera’s
Young Artist program for the last two years. Maldjian was notified
on Monday by Festival Opera that she had the part, leaving her only
six days to learn the role prior to arriving in Walnut Creek for the
start of rehearsals under director Michael Morgan on Monday.

Festival Opera’s production of Benjamin Britten’s adaptation of
Shakespeare’s romantic comedy will also feature countertenor William
Sauerland as Oberon, Kurt Krikorian as Puck (spoken), bass Kirk
Eichelberger as Bottom, baritone Igor Vieira as Theseus, mezzo-soprano
Lauren Groff as Hippolyta, tenor Jorge Garza as Lysander, baritone
Nikolas Nackley as Demetrius, mezzo-soprano Jessica Mariko Deardorff
as Hermia, and soprano Stacey Cornell as Helena. Set design will be
by Peter Crompton and costume design by Susanna Douthit.

Maldjian was not aware she had an exceptional voice until the age
of nine, when a choir teacher suggested she consider a singing
career. However, she thought it would be in pop music. Instead,
Maldjian immediately took to opera upon hearing it for the first time
at the California Institute of the Arts, which she entered at 16 and
graduated with a B.A. in fine arts at 20. She went on to obtain a
M.A. from California State University in Northridge.

Considered one of the country’s fast-rising sopranos, she was
the toast of Southern California last year for her tour-de-force
performance in Russian composer Grigori Frid’s one-woman opera,
The Diary of Anne Frank, at Long Beach Opera. Among other accolades,
Los Angeles Times critic Mark Swed wrote that Frid’s "vocal writing
fits the words closely and offers a technical and emotional tour
de force for a game soprano. [Artistic director] Mitisek found just
that soprano in Ani Maldjian. Tuesday at 8 p.m., one might have said
she was an emerging artist in the earliest stages of a career. By
9:30, she had emerged�. Her singing was commanding and brilliant,
fresh and strong from beginning to end�. Discovering talent like
Maldjian’s is no easy feat." And John Farrell of the Los Angeles Daily
News noted: "She sings Frid’s simple, emotional score with elegance
and intelligibility. Maldjian brings Frank to life in a performance
at once understated and fully realized. It is a star turn."

Benjamin Britten’s magical adaptation of the Shakespearean classic has
been praised as "marvelously wrought" and filled with "fantastical
exuberance" by the New York Times. The haunting score is at once
inventive and evocative, and entices the listener deep into the
enchantment of a summer’s night, where anything can happen in the
name of love.

To bring Shakespeare’s ethereal world to life, director Michael Morgan,
who will also conduct, had Crompton create a set out of fabrics
rather than solid objects to represent his vision of the opera as
"light to the point of weightlessness. The sensuality of the forest is
being portrayed by young dancers. The only heaviness will be in the
clumsy but always lovable Rustics (sometimes called the Mechanicals)
and their attempt to win favor by their performance of Pyramus and
Thisby." Morgan has also garnished the story with a 1960’s color
scheme. "My hope is that the visual charm will match the lightness and
transparency of Britten’s most unusual and immediately striking opera
score." Morgan has invited accomplished choreographer Mark Foehringer
to assist him in staging the popular work. "Mark has a wonderful eye
and imagination, as well as a gift for telling a story through motion."

Morgan – who made his debut as an operatic stage director with Festival
Opera’s 2006 production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni – notes that one of
the reasons he was attracted to this project is that "it’s an opera for
any age. The play has a long history of charming audiences, as well
as being heavily edited to mute its sometimes overt sensuality. In
our more easy-going era, I hope both its charm and sweet sensuality
will be appreciated by those who have an eye for it, and that even
the youngest viewers will find it enchanting and entertaining."

Festival Opera executive director Helen Sheaff points out that the
company was fortunate to include William Sauerland in the cast. "There
are so few countertenors today that this will be a rare opportunity to
see one in performance. And Britten’s opera is one of the most famous
countertenor roles, but most companies are limited to using a contralto
or female soprano. So this will be a treat for Bay Area opera lovers."

A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens on Saturday, August 9, at 8 pm. Three
performances follow, on August 12 and 15 at 8 pm, and a Sunday matinee
at 2 pm on August 17. All performances will take place at the Lesher
Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA. Tickets are
$36 – $100. Order online at or call (925)
943-SHOW. For more information, visit

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