If Boston isnít careful, it might risk losing its status as a Town Without Opera. In addition to getting the standard repertoire from Boston Lyric Opera and the visiting Teatro Lirico díEuropa, weíre now seeing productions of increasing skill at the conservatory level as well as some impressive performances of opera in concert.
Whatís missing is an entrée into the contemporary operatic scene. But that should change with the launch of Opera Unlimited, which finds the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and Opera Boston (formerly Boston Academy of Music) teaming up to present new and recent works. This yearís five fully staged productions will be offered in three programs, two of which have a local slant. On June 5 and 8 itís a double bill of NECís Daniel Pinkham. The Cask of Amontillado, based on Poeís classic horror story, was commissioned for the festival and will receive its world premiere. More lighthearted fare is on tap in Garden Party, which Pinkham describes as a " screwball version of the Garden of Eden. " Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden, as in the Biblical version, but they decide that a life with sin beats being in Paradise. It should be fascinating to see how Garden Party sounds in relation to Pinkhamís many works of sacred music. BAM founder and baritone Richard Conrad directs this pair and sings the role of Montrésor in Cask; John Finney conducts both.
Opera Unlimitedís second world premiere will be Toussaint Before the Spirits, by BMOP composer-in-residence Elena Ruehr. Based on two novels by Madison Smartt Bell, the opera describes the final days of Toussaint LíOuverture, who led Haitiís struggle for independence in the late 18th century before being betrayed into captivity by Napoleon. Ruehr has said that she chose Toussaint not only because of her interest in the story but because she wanted to create the role of a " larger-than-life tragic male hero " for baritone Stephen Salters. Sharing the bill is A Full Moon in March, in which John Harbison adapts Yeatsís play about a swineherd who tries to win a queenís heart and is beheaded in the process with his customary lyricism and probing harmony. Dates for these two are June 7 and 10; Gil Rose conducts.
The one import, however, is likely to be the most eagerly awaited offering: the New England premiere of Powder Her Face, by current British phenom Thomas Adès, whose Asyla the BSO performed this past season. This was the work that made Adèsís name, both for its display of his amazing musical skill (it was written when the composer was in his 20s) and for its scandalous subject matter, the fall from grace of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll. Margaretís divorce made headlines in Britain in the 1960s because of revelations about her sexual appetites. Indeed, Opera Unlimitedís Web site warns that Adèsís work " contains adult content, " the details of which are too earthy for a respectable publication to reveal. But Powder Her Face is more tragedy than sensationalism, depicting Margaretís sad decline with a sympathy that overrides the titillation of the first act. Performances are June 6 and 8; Janna Baty sings the Duchessís role, and Gil Rose is back on the podium.
Opera Unlimited was supposed to have made its debut in February, but that was delayed for a variety of reasons, among which funding seems to have been chief. But at a time when the regular seasons have finished and the summer festivals have yet to gear up, itís found a good spot. All performances are at Tower Auditorium at Massachusetts College of Art, 621 Huntington Avenue. And tickets are a steal at $19 to $31 per program; call (617) 363-0396 or visit www.operaunlimited.org.
HOLD THE STAGING, PLEASE. And for those of you who prefer your opera reduced to its bare essentials, thereís Chorus pro Musicaís annual unstaged presentation at Jordan Hall sponsored by Concert Opera Boston. This year itís La traviata, Verdiís classic tale of love, loss, and class conflict. Marcie Ley sings the role of Violetta and tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan is Alfredo. Jeffrey Rink conducts. The sole performance is on June 1 at 3 p.m., and tickets are $25 to $55; call (617) 267-7442.