Boston Lyric Opera announces lively 2019-20 season

Russian soprano Elena Stikhina will play the title character in Bellini’s “Norma” in March 2020.
Russian soprano Elena Stikhina will play the title character in Bellini’s “Norma” in March 2020. (Boston Lyric Opera)

A community carnival, a gay love story, and a foray into Baroque opera are among the highlights of Boston Lyric Opera’s 2019-20 season.

The season begins with Leoncavallo’s circus tragedy “Pagliacci,” sung mostly in English, starring Mexico-born tenor Rafael Rojas as the titular clown and Walnut Hill School for the Arts graduate Lauren Michelle. Running Sept. 27-Oct. 6 at a venue to be announced, the David Lefkowich-directed immersive production will place audiences at the center of a carnival, complete with food and high-flying acrobats. Speaking by phone, BLO general and artistic director Esther Nelson describes the production as an opportunity for “heightened” local partnerships and outreach, including participation by community choruses and singers.


The season’s sole modern opera is “Fellow Travelers,” a gay love story composed by Gregory Spears to a libretto by Greg Pierce, based on the Thomas Mallon novel set amid the McCarthy era’s “lavender scare” (Nov. 13-17, Emerson Paramount Center). BLO veterans Jesse Darden and Jesse Blumberg lead the cast for the opera’s Boston premiere, while Emily Senturia will lead the orchestra.

With Bellini’s bel canto mainstay “Norma” (March 13-22, 2020, Cutler Majestic Theatre), Russian soprano Elena Stikhina returns to BLO for her role debut as the title character, following her critically acclaimed turn in 2017’s “Tosca.” Finally, Handel’s “Giulio Cesare” (May 8-17, location TBA) will be the first Baroque opera the company has staged since 2011’s “Agrippina.”

In planning the season, in which she’ll celebrate a decade of artistic planning for BLO, Nelson says incorporating a vast breadth of styles and time periods was critical — as was including singers and production team members from various backgrounds and countries. “It was very important that we show that we are aggressively opening the gates,” she explains. “While opera is originally a European art form, storytelling through music is not. And it is a vibrant and viable art form of today.”


The company is entering its fourth season as a traveling outfit, and Nelson says she’s found that the lack of a home venue doesn’t decrease audience interest, but rather piques curiosity. “By taking opera outside of a more traditional theater . . . people are actually more willing to explore works that they’d not heard of,” she says.

“We are making progress,” Nelson says about the search for a permanent home. “And the theater itself doesn’t have to be a traditional theater. What we envision is something more modular and adaptable. Again, it’s a space for the future.”

Zoë Madonna can be reached at 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.