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Home Ipsnews Franci Neely Shares Her Favorite Opera Moments for World Opera Day

Franci Neely Shares Her Favorite Opera Moments for World Opera Day

by Busines Newswire
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World Opera Day is Oct. 25 and commemorates the birthdays of Georges Bizet and Johann Strauss II, two of the world’s most famous composers. Franci Neely will celebrate World Opera Day by encouraging others to check out the elegant, dramatic art form. Not only is she a faithful connoisseur of the genre, but she also recently underwrote modern creator Jake Heggie’s latest work, Intelligence. A long-time friend of Heggie’s, Neely has deemed the San Francisco-based opera icon “an amazing talent” and has attended many of his opening nights.

“Jake is a brilliant American composer whose opera Dead Man Walking opened the 2023 season of the Metropolitan Opera.” Neely was there with bells on.

Dead Man Walking is now the most widely performed American opera of the 21st century, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. The opera, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s memoir of the same name, opened the season at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on Sept. 26.

“This opera was also based on Sister Helen’s experience being sort of the minister to a death row inmate, who was, in fact, executed. It’s about redemption,” Franci Neely explains. “It really presents the arguments on both sides, for and against capital punishment, for and against the death penalty. And it’s a brilliantly moving work. The first time I saw it was incredibly touching.”

The Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, recently told The New York Times he was immediately drawn to the compelling show. “Bringing it to the Met was overdue,” said Gelb. “It symbolizes the efforts that we’re making to really transform the art form and to appeal to a much broader audience base that we have to appeal to for opera to succeed and ultimately survive.”

Despite more than 75 productions of Dead Man Walking under his belt, Jake Heggie told The New York Times he was emotional attending rehearsals for the production at the opulent Big Apple opera house at Lincoln Center, a hub for the genre since 1966.

“I couldn’t have imagined when we wrote the piece that it would have this kind of life or power,” Heggie said.

Dead Man Walking isn’t the only Heggie opera that’s been garnering buzz. Neely says she’s also pleased his latest opus, Intelligence, is premiering at Houston Grand Opera on Oct. 20. The fearless composer has been known to tackle intense and authentic subject matter in his works and got the idea to pen this latest production during a discussion with a docent at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Intelligence weaves the tale of two women. One is an enslaved person named Mary Jane Bowser, who was born into the wealthy Confederate home of Elizabeth Van Lew, a Union supporter. Bowser aligns with Van Lew and the pair eventually become spies for Union military commanders.

“It’s just a remarkable story,” Franci Neely explains. “There’s a lot of commissioning of new work with very timely themes.”

In addition to being a tremendous supporter of Heggie’s creations, Neely cites Billy Budd by British composer Benjamin Britten as another favorite work. “I do love the opera Billy Budd,” Neely says of the story based on a Herman Melville novel about a sailor whose innocence leads to his demise after he’s wrongfully accused of spearheading a mutiny.

“Of course, I love the novel Billy Budd. I love what it’s speaking about, the collective versus the individual,” Neely explains. “When is the individual more important than the collective or vice versa? I have seen a memorable production of Billy Budd.”

Franci Neely cites Peter Grimes, also by Britten, as another beloved piece. “I saw a fantastic production of that once in Vienna,” Neely recalls about the haunting tale of a fisherman’s downfall.

For those who are new to the magic of opera, Franci Neely advises approaching it with an open mind and not diving into anything too complicated at first, like a Richard Wagner opus. She recommends Georges Bizet’s Carmen or La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi as wonderful jumping-off points. Carmen, one of the most popular operas ever penned, chronicles the passionate plight of a woman with an insatiable appetite for love. The rebelliously seductive aria “Habanera” is immediately recognizable to many.

“I don’t think anybody could listen to the music of Puccini or Bizet in Carmen and not be enchanted,” Neely confesses. “Carmen’s music is just unbelievably beautiful and singable.”

The opera lover admits she’s seen many performances that deeply touched her soul. She has a penchant for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his The Marriage of Figaro. She adds that she’s seen stellar productions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute over the years. “Some of them are so much fun,” she shares.

How To Celebrate World Opera Day

Want to get in on the World Opera Day action this year? Check out the local operas that are being presented in your city. Visit worldoperaday.com and view links to performances that will be livestreaming around the world and other opera-related assets on social media. Last year, #WorldOperaDay was mentioned on Instagram more than 12,000 times. OperaVision offers complimentary streaming of operas around the world on operavision.eu.

Franci Neely believes anybody can appreciate opera — it’s not something you must be exposed to as a child or even a young adult to enjoy. She says she didn’t get into it until she was in her 30s. “It’s something that’s an art form that anybody can enjoy,” Neely reveals. “Let yourself go and just experience something.”

Houston Grand Opera — where Neely is a benefactor and patron — will also be getting in on the World Opera Day festivities.

“Opera is a force. We’ve challenged our audiences to take a deeper look at the stories they thought they already knew. At HGO we are launching a new era of opera,” general director and CEO of Houston Grand Opera Khori Dastoor said in a YouTube video. “We are change-makers who are passionate about a centuries-old art form. Opera is not a ghost from centuries ago. Opera is now. It is collective. We encourage you to leave any bias and anything you may think you know about opera behind.”