The Sound of a Voice, coming up at the Warhol

This season, as Pittsburgh celebrates glass, the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh — in conjunction with The Pittsburgh Glass Center — is celebrating Philip Glass’ The Sound of the Voice. The opera, staged entirely in English, is a modern take on a classic form of performance. It includes two stories within one opera, and a cast of only four people. “We want to show people that opera can be exciting in different ways,” said Allison Sanders, the director of development at the Theater.

For the last 28 years, the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh has been doing just that. With three mainstage productions each year (all performed in English), the Opera Theater has attracted a diverse group. “[We are] integrating opera with theater and visual art, and getting a lot of different people interested — they are coming into the production because of that,” Sanders said. The production of The Sound of the Voice is no exception. The performance celebrates glass in two ways — the opera itself was written by great American composer Phillip Glass, and the performance’s set design incorporates glass props and art works, created by the founders of the Pittsburgh Glass Center. Additionally, the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh is partnering with the Andy Warhol Museum, where the performance is taking place, which should help to attractive an even more diverse audience. Sanders elaborated: “[We use] different venues around the city… (it brings in) a lot of different people who wouldn’t think to come to the opera.”

The Opera Theater is also interested in attractive a student audience. “We also have cheaper tickets for students, so a lot of students are interested in coming. And we do everything in English,” said Sanders. One of the Opera Theater’s goals is to expose people to something different — even the official mission statement includes promoting diversity and broadening their audience. Besides students, Sanders says the Theater’s operas often bring in many visual artists because of its modern take on stage design: “There are a lot of visual people interested in [our] art work,” she said. That artwork includes this year’s lineup of modernized classics.

The Sound of the Voice — and the production that follows, Mathew Rosenblum’s RedDust — are both parts of the Theater’s Fusion Festival, a celebration of Eastern and Western cultures, modern and classic themes. Both operas are rooted in Asian themes: The Sound of the Voice focuses on Japanese culture, featuring samurai, geisha, and the use of Asian instruments based on Japanese ghost stories; RedDust, a world premiere, will portray Chinese themes, including narratives from Ts’ao Hsüeh-ch’in’s The Story of the Stone. RedDust also includes movement and dance, in addition to operatic singing and spoken word.

Like RedDust, The Sound of the Voice promises to be well performed and thoughtful — Phillip Glass wrote the piece specifically for two of the four performers. “This is the first time it’s been done in a little while,” said Sanders — the last production of The Sound of the Voice was four years ago in Boston. This Pittsburgh revival will be playing April 26 through 29, and the opera’s mix of modern and classic should touch any audience.