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Ode to Opera

Encore! Aspen Music Festival and School returns with top-name talents for its coming season.

Nothing says luxury like opera. The lavish sets and costumes, the intricately plotted stories, the extraordinary and expensive training required to be able to sing operatically, the gorgeous theaters: Everything about opera is over-the-top. It’s no accident that early Aspen residents expressed their aspirations and self-confidence by making one of the city’s first buildings a jewel-like opera house.

It’s also natural that opera plays a central role in the Aspen Music Festival and School (aspenmusicfestival.com). Scores of brilliant students from around the world gather each summer to work with world-renowned faculty, producing three fully staged productions and a wildly popular weekly Saturday scenes class that samples every period and style of opera.

This summer is especially rich in opera, as we celebrate the centennial of one of the 20th century’s greatest opera composers, Benjamin Britten. There will be 25 of his principal works, culminating in a Benedict Music Tent production of his masterpiece Peter Grimes. This July 27 show will feature Metropolitan Opera stars Tony Griffey (reprising his acclaimed Met performance in the title role), Susanna Phillips and Brian Mulligan.

Joining them from the Met’s starry roster is Musical America’s singer of the year, Joyce DiDonato, who had tremendous success this past season in the title role in Maria Stuarda. Playing Mary, Queen of Scots to the impassioned and doomed hilt, DiDonato established herself as one of the greatest American singers before the public, entering the league of such divas as Renée Fleming (who was herself a student in Aspen and sang her first staged roles at Wheeler Opera House). DiDonato’s recital, which is sure to sell out, is set for July 23.

Another powerhouse of the Met is bass-baritone Eric Owens, who will sing Verdi and Wagner during the final Sunday concert. Owens, the breakout star as the tormented Alberich in the Met’s recent Ring Cycle, will sing his first Wotan, joined by yet another Met star, Heidi Melton, who will be immolated as Brünnhilde, and who also sings Verdi heroines.

It’s not only singers from the Met who love coming to Aspen: Many of the most important philanthropists supporting American opera are part of Aspen’s glittering summer social scene. Mercedes Bass, vice chair of both the Met and Carnegie Hall; Susan Braddock, longtime president of the Metropolitan Opera Guild; and Ann Ziff, current chair of the Met’s board, are all devoted members of Aspen’s famously discerning audience. Additionally, Aspenites Charles Wall and Marc Stern are board chairs of the New York City Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, respectively. Richard Edwards, owner of the Caribou Club and Baldwin Gallery, and a mainstay of everything stylish and beautiful in Aspen, hosts a fabulous opera gala each summer (July 11 this year, featuring Leonard Bernstein’s sparkling Candide). Together, they bring the glamour of opera to the mountains.