When Odyssey Opera made its public debut with a September concert performance of Wagner’s sprawling early opera “Rienzi,” it was more than just an attention-grabbing spectacle — though that it was, in best period style. It was a sort of declaration of intent: The company intended to present offbeat, neglected repertoire, with a special nod to those never, or rarely, performed in Boston. (The “Rienzi” performance was billed as its Boston debut.)
Odyssey is furthering that goal by announcing its 2014 offerings. The first of those is a set of three fully staged chamber operas: Pietro Mascagni’s “Zanetto,” Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari’s “Il segreto di Susanna,” and Verdi’s “Un giorno di regno.” Two performances of a double bill consisting of the Mascagni and Wolf-Ferrari (June 12 & 14) will alternate with two performances of the Verdi (June 11 and 13). All performances will take place at the Boston University Theatre.
Contrast is the key to the double bill, Gil Rose, Odyssey Opera’s artistic director, said in an interview. The Mascagni is a lyrical scene, and its Renaissance setting makes for a sort of gentle prelude to the raucous comedy of the Wolf-Ferrari. Those works — which will be directed by Daniel Gidron — also have links to Boston opera history. The only previous local performances of “Il segreto di Susanna” (“The Secret of Susanna”) that Rose could find were given by the Boston Opera Company, the short-lived troupe that performed in the original Boston Opera House, in 1913. (Its cofounder, Henry Russell, was a fan of the composer.) “So these are the first performances in 101 years,” he said.
A more colorful story is connected to “Zanetto,” which Mascagni brought on tour in America in 1902, along with his wildly popular “Cavalleria rusticana.” Mascagni assembled his own cast and orchestra, hoping to reap a windfall profit from his travels. But the tour fell into disarray and money ran short. Rose said that at the tour’s final stop, in Boston, a dispute over missed payments to the orchestra led to Mascagni’s arrest, and he subsequently spent several nights in the Charles Street Jail. (The Liberty Hotel now stands on the site of the jail, and Rose wondered aloud about the possibility of a warm-up event in one of its bars.)
As for “Un giorno di regno” (“King for a Day”), which will be directed by Joshua Major, it was written during a period of personal turmoil in which Verdi’s wife and two of his children died. The opera — about an 18th-century Polish king and a case of mistaken identity — was not well received, and Verdi would not attempt another comedy until “Falstaff,” the capstone of his career.
“It’s better than [Verdi’s first opera] ‘Oberto,’ not as good as ‘Nabucco’ [his third],” Rose said. “Which makes it better than 98 percent of the Italian opera that’s ever been written. And he’s actually pretty deft at the comedy. He was not blessed with a great libretto, but he produced good numbers and good characters and some funny scenes.”
The second component of the 2014 season comes on Sept. 13 when Odyssey will present its second large-scale opera in concert: “Die tote Stadt” (“The Dead City”) by the Viennese composer Erich Korngold. Rose said that as far as he could tell, the opera has never played in Boston, surprising given its phenomenal popularity when it was written in 1920. (Within a year of its premiere it had reached the Metropolitan Opera.)
Unlike many Viennese composers of his age, Korngold resisted much of modernism, and became best known for the music he wrote later for films like “The Sea Hawk” and “Captain Blood.” It’s fashionable now to look down on these lush Hollywood scores, but Rose loves them, along with virtually all of the composer’s output. “Anyone who doesn’t say that they secretly admire everything Korngold ever did I think is lying,” he said.
The opera is centered on Paul, a man unable to move beyond his recently deceased wife, Marie. Soon he meets Marietta, who resembles Marie so acutely that Paul constructs a fantasy world in which the two women become one. The score is richly orchestrated and packed with winding melodies. Though revivals are now rare, “Die tote Stadt” was recently produced at the Dallas Opera; that production’s Paul is tenor Jay Hunter Morris, widely known from his portrayal of Wagner’s Siegfried at the Met in 2011. He will repeat the role in Odyssey Opera’s performance. Marietta will be sung by soprano Meagan Miller.
Asked to reflect on the progress of the young company, Rose said, “What’s going to have to happen is that it’s going to have to mature and sell tickets to these operas and grow as an organization. And I just feel really lucky that we got the chance to get it up and running. Hopefully it’ll go.”
The talented conductor Courtney Lewis was recently named assistant conductor at the New York Philharmonic, beginning this fall. Thankfully, he will continue to lead Discovery Ensemble, the vital and imaginative chamber orchestra he cofounded in 2008. The group’s seventh season will begin on Oct. 26 with Bach’s First Brandenburg Concerto, Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, Mozart’s “Prague” Symphony, and Strauss’s Second Horn Concerto, with Boston Symphony principal horn James Sommerville as soloist. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is given an unusual pairing: the Stravinsky Violin Concerto, with Korean violinist Yoo Jin Jang. (Jan. 30) More BSO connections are on tap for March 1, when oboist Robert Sheena — currently the orchestra’s principal English horn — and Ann Hobson Pilot, its former principal harpist, are the guests for Lutoslawski’s Double Concerto; also on the program are works by Haydn, Stravinsky, and Johann Strauss Jr. Those three concerts take place at Jordan Hall; for the April 12 finale, the orchestra moves to Sanders Theatre for George Benjamin’s “Three Inventions,” Schumann’s First Symphony, and Mozart’s Concerto in C major, K. 467, with the Northern Irish pianist Michael McHale.
Subscriptions go on sale April 11, single tickets at a later date. www.discoveryensemble.orgDavid Weininger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.