The knives are out in Boston Lyric Opera’s 2017-18 season lineup, with the world premiere of “The Nefarious, Immoral but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr. Burke & Mr. Hare,” an opera by English composer Julian Grant with libretto by Mark Campbell. The subject, based on a true story: two 19th-century Scottish men who found that selling cadavers to Edinburgh’s anatomy schools was a profitable venture, and got into the business of making their own corpses out of the city’s most disenfranchised.
The chamber opera, which will be performed Nov 8-12, was commissioned by Music-Theatre Group, with support from the BLO. “I have to say it didn’t take a whole lot of convincing,” BLO general and artistic director Esther Nelson said by phone. “I love what Julian does,” she added of the composer, who brings together elements of opera and music theater. “He’s not trying to be anybody else.”
“Burke & Hare” marks the first full-length opera in BLO’s expanded New Works program, a commissioning branch of its Opera Annex initiative. It will be staged in the Cyclorama at the Boston Center for the Arts, a space whose circular shape recalls that of 19th-century public operating theaters. The cast includes William Burden, Marie McLaughlin, Chelsea Basler, Jesse Blumberg, and David McFerrin, and the production will be directed by David Schweizer, who directed BLO’s 2014 production of Frank Martin’s “The Love Potion.”
Dark humor and sharp objects also feature in Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s “The Threepenny Opera,” which will be sung in English at the Huntington Avenue Theatre March 16-25, 2018. The cast includes Kelly Kaduce, who impressed with her down-to-earth Mimi in last season’s BLO “La Bohéme,” playing Polly Peachum, and BLO regular James Maddalena as Mr. Peachum. Daniel Belcher makes his BLO debut singing the roles of both Tiger Brown and the Street Singer, who sings the iconic “Ballad of Mack the Knife.”
The season opens Oct. 13-22 with Puccini’s “Tosca” at the Cutler Majestic Theatre in a production directed by Crystal Manich, which will mark the American debut of Russian soprano Elena Stikhina as the titular diva. Other cast members include Jonathan Burton as Cavaradossi and Daniel Sutin as the corrupt Baron Scarpia, another operatic victim of the knife. Maddalena appears as the Sacristan.
The season closes in May 2018 with a Leonard Bernstein double bill of “Trouble in Tahiti,” a dark sendup of American suburban life that received its 1952 premiere at Brandeis University, and a cabaret-style performance of the colorful song cycle “Arias and Barcarolles.” It will star BLO veterans Heather Johnson, Neal Ferreira, Vincent Turregano and Mara Bonde.
The dates and location for the final production are still to be announced by the itinerant BLO.
“One of these days we will have a home where, in fact, we can do more of the bigger operas that ought to be done more regularly,” Nelson said. “But until such time, I think we know how to be creative, I hope . . . and do the right work for the venues as well.”
Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.