Fort Worth Opera announces historic 75th anniversary season


Fort Worth Opera (FWO) has announced the repertory, casting, and live performances for its landmark 75th anniversary season.

After 14 years of producing a nationally recognized festival in the springtime, the organization will return to a year-round format, as it looks to expand its presence and visibility in the growing North Texas arts scene.

FWO’s 2021-2022 season commences on Oct.  9 with Entre Amigos, a celebratory Hispanic Heritage Month Concert at Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts at the Rose Marine Theater, with subsequent pop-up FWO GO community concerts held throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

The highlight of the autumn season culminates in a fall preview concert at Firestone and Robertson Distillery Co. – Whiskey Ranch.

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In December, the company will partner with the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) for Holiday in the Garden. Then in January, FWO will unveil Héctor Armienta’s swashbuckling thriller Zorro to kick off the New Year at the Rose Marine Theater and Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium.

This exciting world premiere is followed by a revival of the company’s immensely successful Black History Month concert, A Night of Black Excellence, live at Fort Worth’s historic I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA in February.

FWO’s watershed season concludes with a Diamond Anniversary Gala, a bold, intimate chamber realization of Verdi’s La Traviata with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra at Bass Performance Hall, and the annual Lesley Resident Artists Recital Series. 

Over the past year, Fort Worth Opera has redefined two things, the company said in a news release.

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“First, what it means to be an opera company, and second, what it means to serve our community,” says General Director Afton Battle. “Through innovative programs, initiatives, partnerships, and collaborations, FWO has expanded our reach and widened our community footprint.

“And it was that growth that helped determine our performing priorities for the 21/22 season. Fort Worth Opera will return this upcoming season as ‘The People’s Company,’ focusing more on concerts and performances in the community and building strong relationships with other arts and civic organizations,” she said.

Fall Performances:

The season kicks off with Entre Amigos (Among Friends), a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month at the Rose Marine Theater on Saturday, Oct. 9, at 7 p.m., featuring an all-star concert co-curated by renowned opera singers Vanessa Becerra (With Blood, With Ink, 2014 FWO Festival), Claudia Chapa (Frontiers: FWO Libretto Workshop, 2020), and Luis Alejandro Orozco (María de Buenos Aires, 2018 FWO Festival). They will be joined by award-winning tenor Rafael Moras, Columbian virtuoso pianist Eduardo Rojas (Yamaha Artists USA), and San Antonio’s dazzling Mariachi ensemble, Trio Chapultepec (Vincent Pequeño, William Carlton Galvez, Israel Alcala).

This one-night-only event features music by composer and conductor of concert, film, and video game music, Nico Gutierrez.

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Entre Amigos will also highlight an exciting mix of arias, art songs, boleros, zarzuela romanzas, and traditional rancheras by iconic Mexican composers María Grever, José Alfredo Jiménez, Agustín Lara, and modern writers such as Daniel Catán and Juan Pablo Contreras.

Following the concert, the party continues in the adjacent Gallery of Artes de la Rosa, as rock/pop musician and in-demand DJ Ronnie Heart spins a funky, crowd-pleasing set. Guests can dance the evening away and enjoy delicious handmade baked Argentine empanadas and desserts catered by Del Campo Empanadas.

The company’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration resumes with encore presentations of composer Joe Illick and Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Mark Campbell’s delightful children’s opera with puppets, Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World, at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) on an outdoor stage, Oct. 9 and 10 at 2 p.m. and at the Reby Cary Youth Library on Saturday, Oct. 16, at 2 p.m. Based upon the cherished book by English author and illustrator Laurence Anholt, FWO’s work follows the real-life story of Marianna Morillo Safa and her friendship with famed painter Frida Kahlo.

Illick and Campbell’s second children’s opera, Stone Soup, which premiered in November of 2020 with Fort Worth Opera, will receive its third live performance on Saturday, Nov. 20, at 2 p.m. at the Northwest Branch of the Fort Worth Public Library.

This age-old folk tale is given a Texas twist, as a hungry, penniless, 13-year-old girl named Sally arrives at the steps of a local general store in Blessing, Texas, during the Great Depression, and teaches the townspeople the value of sharing and working together.

In addition to these family friendly operas, Fort Worth Opera is partnering with the Fort Worth Public Library this fall to present the FWO GO Concert Series across the city at various branches, including East Fort Worth, Meadowbrook and Golden Triangle.

These 30-minute pop-up community concerts feature opera arias, musical theater hits, and timeless standards from the Great American Songbook performed by the 2021-2022 FWO Lesley Resident Artists, baritone Brandon Bell and sopranos Gabrielle Gilliam and Megan Koch. Dates, times, and locations to be announced in the months ahead.

The fall programming concludes with a star-studded 75th Anniversary Fall Preview at Firestone & Robertson Distilling Co. – Whiskey Ranch on November 6, 2021, at 6:00 pm. In his first appearance with Fort Worth Opera, globally acclaimed tenor Russell Thomas joins soprano Elaine Alvarez, mezzo-soprano Guadalupe Paz, and talented young baritone Spencer Reichman for an evening of thrilling performances. Throughout the night, guests can enjoy an open bar with craft cocktails and delicious hors d’oeuvres catered by award-winning Fort Worth chef Juan Rodriguez, owner of Magdalena’s, and star of the Food Network’s Chopped and Top Chef.

“Fort Worth and the world have changed a lot since 1947 when Fort Worth Opera began,” says Artistic Director Joe Illick, “but telling meaningful stories through great music and extraordinary voices is as powerful as ever. For over 400 years, opera has forged ahead, broken old conventions, crossed boundaries, and shown people what they look like at their best and their worst. (But always singing at their best!) FWO is committed to the highest standards of musical and dramatic excellence, and our programming this season reaches into every part of the community. We feel confident that the community will see themselves represented and reflected on our stages and feel empowered and inspired by our performances.”

Winter Performances:

Fort Worth Opera’s winter programming begins with its annual partnership with the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas (BRIT) for their popular Holiday in the Garden in December. The Lesley Resident Artists and members of FWO’s Studio Artists program (Meredith Browning, Autumn Capocci, Christopher Curcuruto, Lwazi Hlati, Prosper Makhanya, Kayla Nanto, Ndumiso Nyoka and Erica Vernice Simmons) will perform a set of holiday favorites on a stage in the parking lot between the two venues. This multi-event collaboration will feature FWO’s concert, a Christmas Tree Farm, an artisan market with food trucks, a visit from Santa Claus, and a high holiday tea.

The 2021-2022 season marks the fourth year of Noches de Ópera, FWO’s celebration of Spanish-language operas and Latino(a) culture, heritage, and artistry. Following 2017’s Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, 2018’s María de Buenos Aires, and the world’s second mariachi opera, El Pasado Nunca se Termina, the company will premiere composer-librettist Héctor Armienta’s masked avenger opera, Zorro, in January of 2022  Originally slated to take the stage during the company’s 2020 Festival, Zorro rides again next season with two performances at the Rose Marine Theater on Jan. 26 and 28, 2022, at 7 p.m. and a final show, in collaboration with the legendary Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo at Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022, at 5:30 p.m. Located in the heart of Fort Worth’s Cultural District, this historic, 85-year-old, 2,856 seat venue was the original home of Fort Worth Opera for over 40 years.

Based upon the popular pulp fiction novels of prolific American pulp writer Johnston McCulley, this new work is filled with romance, danger, and sword-fighting suspense.

Led by visionary stage director Octavio Cardenas (Silent Night, 2014 FWO Festival; Frida Kahlo and the Bravest Girl in the World, 2019), Zorro’s cast stars tenor César Delgado as Zorro/Diego de la Vega, mezzo-soprano Guadalupe Paz as the beguiling daughter of the Governor, Carlotta de Obragón, the passionate Ana Maria (soprano Gabriella Enríquez), and baritone Octavio Moreno (Cruzar la Cara de la Luna, El Pasado Nunca se Termina, 2017, 2019 FWO Festival) as the tyrannical General Moncada.

The stellar also stars mezzo-soprano Bridget Cappel (former FWO Lesley Resident Artist) as the wise Toypurina, baritone Brandon Bell (21/22 FWO Lesley Resident Artist) as Moncada’s hapless aide Sergeant José Maria Gomez, and lyric soprano Judith Rodriguez as Diego’s lovelorn servant Luisa.

In addition, FWO Head of Music and Music Director for the Children’s Opera Theatre, Dr. Charlene Lotz, will accompany the artists at the piano with fiery flamenco flourishes from American virtuoso guitarist Christopher McGuire, president and Artistic Director of the Fort Worth Classic Guitar Society. As part of the 2022 Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, audiences will have the option of purchasing individual tickets or the full Fort Worth Stock Show Experience Package, which includes a 2 p.m. matinee FWSSR PRORODEO Tournament, followed by a 4:00 pm dinner at Reata at the Backstage Club of Will Rogers Coliseum for the entire family to enjoy before the final 5:30 p.m. performance of Zorro. This swashbuckling adventure, featuring one of pop culture’s most iconic vigilantes, will thrill audiences of all ages.

In February of this year, Fort Worth Opera presented its inaugural celebration of Black History Month, A Night of Black Excellence: Past, Present, and Future. This inspiring virtual concert was the most successful event of the company’s 2020-2021 season.

Next February, it will return with live performances at Fort Worth’s historic I.M. Terrell Academy for STEM and VPA on Feb. 20, 2022, at 2 p.m. Hailed throughout the opera world for her exquisite artistry and breathtakingly beautiful voice, Metropolitan Opera superstar soprano Karen Slack (Porgy and Bess, 2019 Festival) returns to FWO to co-curate this star-packed concert with General Director Afton Battle.

Featuring arias and songs exclusively by Black and Afro-Latino(a) composers, the event will be held within the 900-seat auditorium of one of Fort Worth’s most revered educational institutions.

Opened in 1882, I.M. Terrell was the city’s first Black school during the era of formal racial segregation in the United States and has produced many prominent 20th century luminaries, including jazz musician Ornette Coleman, Civil Rights leader Vada Phillips Felder, and Tuskegee Airman Robert T. McDaniel. Details about the concert, which will be headlined by some of the most extraordinary Black artists from within and beyond the world of classical music, to be announced at a later date.

Spring Performances:

Fort Worth Opera’s annual Gala is one of the most highly anticipated social events of the year, and next spring’s Diamond Anniversary Gala will be held on April 6, 2022, at 6 p.m. in the grand ballroom of the City Club Fort Worth with performances by three of opera’s hottest young stars, accompanied by FWO Artistic Director Joe Illick at the piano.

This elegant night features internationally lauded soprano Elaine Alvarez, Grand Prize Winner of the Marilyn Horne Foundation Competition, and world-renowned lyric tenor Nathan Granner, founding member of Billboard chart-topping Sony classical group The American Tenors.

They will be joined by acclaimed opera and Broadway baritone Kenneth Overton, set to make his highly anticipated Metropolitan Opera debut in the fall of 2021 as Lawyer Frazier in Porgy and Bess, and appear with the National Philharmonic as a featured soloist in the world premiere of composer Adolphus Hailstork’s Requiem Cantata, A Knee on The Neck in 2022. Further details about this memorable evening to be announced in the New Year.

This season, as Fort Worth Opera celebrates over seven decades of performances in North Texas, it is only fitting that the company pay homage to the timeless classic that ignited a passion for opera here in Fort Worth 75 years ago.

On Nov. 25, 1946, FWO presented its first production, Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, to a sold-out house at the Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium. Last seen by local audiences during the company’s 2015 Festival, this soaring, romantic masterpiece returns to the grand stage of Bass Performance Hall on April 22, 2022, at 7 p.m. and April 24, 2022, at 2 p.m. with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra.

From the mind of brilliant young director, choreographer, and opera librettist John de los Santos (FWO’s 2018 María de Buenos Aires, 2014 The Pearl Fishers, Frontiers and more), this emotionally gripping, 90-minute chamber realization of the opera is reimagined through a contemporary lens with a unique sculptural aesthetic courtesy of illustrious set designer and sculptor Liliana Duque Piñeiro and inventive visual artist and costume designer, Ashley Soliman.

Set within and around the vicinity of modern-day Paris and featuring masterful, atmospheric lighting by FWO Resident Designer Chad R. Jung, the opera’s cast features the three headlining performers of FWO’s Diamond Anniversary Gala and the company’s incredible Lesley Resident and Studio Artists.

Called “spectacular” by Opera Magazine, Cuban-American soprano Elaine Alvarez makes her company debut as Violetta Valéry, the free-spirited, scandalous French courtesan exploited and shunned by a “respectable” Parisian society.

Praised by the Chicago Sun-Times for his powerful, “honeyed tenor,” Nathan Granner, one of the acclaimed stars of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, The Central Park Five, is Alfredo Germont, a naive young man who falls head over heels for this professional party girl with a devastating secret.

Alfredo’s stern, overprotective father, Giorgio Germont, is played by “breathtaking” baritone Kenneth Overton, 2021 Grammy Award-winner for Best Choral Performance in the title role of Richard Danielpour’s The Passion of Yeshua (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review). Exciting young baritone Brandon Bell, a graduate of the esteemed apprentice programs of Wolf Trap Opera, Chautauqua Opera, and Des Moines Metro Opera, stars as Barone Douphol. The cast also includes stunning young artist Gabrielle Gilliam as Dottore Grenvil, a role created for a bass-baritone but rewritten for a soprano in this inspired production, and Violetta’s fiercely loyal maid and confidante, Annina, played by soprano Megan Koch.

The production is rounded out with performances by Dallas-based mezzo-soprano Kayla Nanto as Violetta’s vivacious friend and fellow hostess, Flora Bervoix, mezzo-soprano Autumn Capocci as Marie Brécourt, South African bass-baritone Prosper Makhanya as Flora’s lover Marchese d’Obigny, and South African tenor Lwazi Hlati, as the young viscount, Gastone de Letorières.

De los Santos’ cleverly streamlined production taps into the zeitgeist of this uncertain, post-pandemic era, one not so removed from the epidemic-choked world surrounding the composer’s original opera. This sleek, intimate vision of La Traviata brings into sharp focus the inner conflicts of love and duty, freedom, passion, and self-sacrifice found throughout Piave’s libretto. For those who treasure this tragic romance or first-timers who have yet to experience Verdi’s sumptuous score, arias, and duets, there is something here for every opera lover to savor, just as audiences have done for over 160 years.

Following La Traviata, Fort Worth Opera’s 75th anniversary season will conclude in May with the FWO Lesley Resident Artist Recital. Each year a handful of talented young artists are selected through a nationwide audition process to be a part of Fort Worth Opera’s prestigious Lesley Resident Artist Program This season the opera said it was thrilled to welcome back soprano Gabrielle Gilliam and Megan Koch and announce baritone Brandon Bell as the third Lesley Resident Artist for the year. In addition to their recital in early May, the trio will appear in company productions and at various community, donor, and social events, while receiving voice lessons, language and diction coaching, acting seminars, and other pertinent training through the year. Tickets for this concert will go on sale in April of 2022.

For the latest Fort Worth Opera news throughout the company’s 2021-2022 season, visit


All seating for Zorro are general admission at the Rose Marine Theater. Tickets go on sale Sept. 13, 2021. For more information, please call 817.731.0726 or toll-free at 1.877.396.7372. Seating at Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium is general admission. The full Fort Worth Stock Show Experience Package, including the FWSSR PRORODEO Tournament, family dinner at Reata at the Backstage Club, and final performance of Zorro, will go on sale Sept. 13, 2021.