Opera NEO, a San Diego program for young opera singers, will perform three operas as a part of its annual summer festival. The program’s first opera, “La Cenerentola,” strips the classic fairytale of its magical element and critiques socio-political classes.
“Cinderella falls for the prince when he’s dressed as the valet, and he falls for her when she’s dressed as herself — not when she’s in her beautiful ball gown,” says “La Cenerentola” director, Ophelie Wolf. “There’s this whole critique of social classes, and so the question is what you do with that today and keep that really important.”
Opera NEO’s interpretation of the Cinderella story, like all of NEO’s performances, will be performed in contemporary dress rather than period dress. Opera NEO, meaning “new opera,” modernizes its operas to appeal to younger audiences. This season, NEO will also produce a modern take on Cavalli’s “La Calisto” and Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.”
In addition to making this art form appealing to a larger audience, Opera NEO also serves as an excellent opportunity for young, talented artists all over the world.
South African baritone Langelihle Mngxati plays Greek god Giove in “La Calisto.” Not only does Mngxati star in one of the festival’s operas, he also won the Nathan Ward Memorial Award in NEO’s first vocal competition earlier this year.
Mngxati grew up in the ghettos of post-apartheid South Africa, and he attributes music to saving his life. “Music came into my life when it was on a verge of taking a wrong turn. When I started singing in choir, I felt better about myself as a person. I was willing to let go of the anger I held onto from my past; and for the first time, I felt that I mattered as a person.”
This is Mngxati’s first time singing with NEO. “I've enjoyed the support and the sense of family here at NEO. It's an intense program, but it doesn't sit heavily because the environment is so supportive.”
Soprano Rachel Blaustein agrees with her colleague, “There’s so much support at NEO, and that’s something I value. Everybody is so talented and friendly.”
Blaustein sings the role of Tatyana in “Eugene Onegin,” and also marks her first time singing with the company. She has performed small and supporting roles with multiple young artist programs domestically and internationally, but she appreciates NEO for trusting her with a role that demands such emotional weight and vocal endurance as Tatyana.
“Opera NEO has helped me grow as an artist and musician. I’ll always remember NEO as the first company that gave me my first shot at a leading role. This experience has been life-changing for me.”
See the culmination of Wolf’s, Mngxati’s, Blaustein’s, and other artists’ work starting with the opening of “La Cenerentola” on Friday, Aug. 2. “La Calisto” and “Eugene Onegin” open the following weekend. All performances will be held at the Four Flowers Theatre at La Jolla Country Day, 9500 Genesee Ave. For more information, visit operaneo.com.