SASO Heads to Oaxaca for Opera Festival

TUCSON, AZ – Members of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra will travel to Oaxaca, Mexico to perform in the fourth Festival of the Historic Center Opera on August 10 and 11.

The orchestra will be joined by 16 soloists from Mexico who competed for the opportunity to perform, plus a chorus. SASO Music Director Linus Lerner auditioned the soloists and will conduct the program which features opera selections by Bizet, Donizetti, Gounod, Handel, Mascagni, Massenet, Mozart, Puccini and Verdi.

The tour is sponsored by longtime SASO benefactor Irving Olson, a passionate world traveler and photographer.

The orchestra will perform in the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá on Aug. 10 and repeat the concert Aug. 11 in another location yet to be finalized. The musicians will stay at the Hotel Misión de los Ángeles in the historic center of Oaxaca de Juarez, which UNESCO designated a World Historic Site in 1987.

SASO will perform the overture to Nabucco by Verdi and the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni. The orchestra, soloists and chorus will join forces for four Verdi selections – Brindisi, Coro di Zingarelle and Coro di Matadori, all from La Traviata, plus Va Pensiero from Nabucco.

Lerner was named SASO music director in 2008 and has led the orchestra on two tours of China. Earlier this season, Lerner worked with other soloists from the Oaxaca opera festival in a Carnegie Hall performance of the “Mass of the Children” by John Rutter with the Orchestra of the Texas Medical Center. At the time he also was artistic director of the Bayou City Performing Arts in Houston.

In addition to SASO, he is music director of the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. He’s conducted orchestras, operas, choruses and instrumental in Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Spain and the United States. He serves as clinician and vocal coach here and abroad.

The arias and soloists are:

  • Bizet’s Carmen – Votre Toast (Toreador’s Song), baritone Lleavno Velazquez
  • Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment – Ah Mes Amis, tenor Enrique Guzman
  • Donizetti’s The Elixer of Love – Una Furtiva Lagrima, tenor Rodrigo Petate Aragon
  • Gounod’s Faust – Avant de Quitter Ces Lieux, baritone Pablo Aranday Gutierrez
  • Handel’s Rodelinda – Vivi, Tiranno, contratenor Gamaliel Mejia
  • Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana – Voi Lo Sapete o Mamna, soprano Caroline Wong
  • Massenet’s Werther – Va! Laisse Couler Mes Larmes, mezzosoprano Viridiana Sotto
  • Mozart’s The Magic Flute – Dies Bildnis Ist Bezaubernd Schön, tenor Felipe Gallegos
  • Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – Aprite Un Po’ Quegli Occhi, baritone Gabriel Navarro
  • Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – Porgi, Amor, soprano Adriana de Leon
  • Puccini’s La Bohème – Si Mi Chiamano Mimi, soprano Rebeca de Rueda
  • Puccini’s Madama Butterfly – Un Bel di Vedremo, soprano Adriana Romero
  • Puccini’s Turandot – Nessun Dorma, tenor Jorge Gimenez
  • Verdi’s A Masked Ball – Re Dell’abisso Affretatti, contralto Erika Coyote
  • Verdi’s La Traviata – Di Provenza Il Mar Il Suol, baritone Tomas Castellanos
  • Verdi’s Rigoletto – Caro Nome, sung by soprano Penelope Luna

Founded in 1979, SASO is a vital community resource that unites performers and audiences through a passion for music. The orchestra presents world premieres, seldom-performed treasures and classical favorites. For information on the 2013-14 season, visit or call 308-6226.

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SASO’s Story

Our most famous alumnus is Rico Saccani, associate conductor of SASO our inaugural year and piano soloist for the second concert. He later conducted opera companies and orchestras around the world and was music director of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 to 2005.
The largest event SASO has produced was Berlioz Te Deum, presented at the Tucson Community Center Music Hall with the Tucson Civic Orchestra, Tucson Masterworks Chorale, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Pima College Singers.
Composer, pianist and conductor Warren Cohen served as music director for eight seasons, routinely commuting from his home in Phoenix, but one year all the way from Hawaii. His wife, coloratura Carolyn Whitacre, was a favorite soloist.
The most colorful performance was a Halloween concert in Nogales—a ghoulish event where the conductor was a clown and all the musicians were in costume.
Turkish maestro Orhan Salliel, after guest-conducting SASO in the fall of 2012, wrote to us, "The time in Tucson I shared with you in SASO for me was so special. I felt the real love of music from the bottom of everyone's hearts. It was something I do not feel often—never, ever in the professional world anymore. Please keep it, save it, try to build everything from this power of love for music."
Adam Boyles was the music director for three seasons, bringing bountiful youthful energy and a passion to serve the music. Then the Tucson native moved East to brave the snow and conduct the orchestra at MIT in Boston.
The first concert was Oct. 28, 1979, conducted by former University of Arizona music professor Henry Johnson, featuring Jonathan Kramer in a Boccherini cello concerto.
One spring SASO proved it has animal attraction. When it played at the Reid Park Zoo, some of the critters sang along with the music
Early audiences had to be loyal followers of this itinerant orchestra, which performed all over the city, frequently in churches. In the 1980s SASO rented the Temple of Music and Art for a concert. The City of Tucson condemned the building the morning of the dress rehearsal and the concert was canceled.
Alan Schultz became music director in Year 2 and continued leading SASO for 15 seasons. He frequently conducted from the keyboard—organ or harpsichord. He also composed several works premiered by SASO.
In December 1995 SASO was the first to present a concert at SaddleBrooke. This was the brainstorm of concertmaster Sam Kreiling. The concert sold out, as did a four-concert series the following year. SASO has performed there ever since.
The visionary founders of SASO were Barbara and Bill Chinworth, Scott Bracher and Janet Lombard. Barbara has played with SASO through its entire history, originally in the horn section, now on bass.
SaddleBrooke is home to many of our loyal donors and the place where we’ve held our gala celebrations—first a black-tie dinner with music from "Phantom of the Opera" and later our annual StarStruck Gala evenings from 2008 through 2013.
Brazilian-born Linus Lerner, in his first year as music director, challenged the orchestra to learn his native Latin rhythms by playing Villa-Lobos. This proved surprisingly hard to do. We finally got it, but not until the week of the concert.