SASO Heads Back to Oaxaca Opera Festival

Members of the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra will travel to Oaxaca, Mexico to perform in the second annual Oaxaca Opera Festival on August 9 and 10.

The orchestra will be joined by two dozen soloists from Mexico who competed for the opportunity to perform and to participate in the festival, plus a chorus.

“This is a rare international musical experience. It brings together arias from Europe’s favorite operas, musicians from the United States and some of Mexico’s finest young singers. The energy in these performances is unbelievable,” said SASO Music Director Linus Lerner. He is also the artistic director and founder of the Oaxaca Opera Festival.

Lerner auditioned the soloists and will conduct the program which includes opera selections by Boito, Catalani, Donizetti, Gounod, Mozart, Ponchielli, Puccini, Rossini, Verdi, Vivaldi and Wagner. Lerner also is voice coach for the soloists. All selections will be performed in the original language.

SASO musicians will perform the overture to La Forza del Destino by Verdi and the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana by Mascagni.

The orchestra, soloists and chorus will join forces for choral selections, including the Humming Chorus from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, the Anvil Chorus from Verdi’s Il Trovatore, the Brindisi Chorus from Verdi’s La Traviata and the Witches’ Chorus from Verdi’s Macbeth. The chorus also will perform the Riddiamo chorus from Mefistofele, accompanied by piano.

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

The orchestra will perform at two historic venues, the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá on Aug. 9 and at the Palacio de Gobierno on Aug. 10. “Both venues are absolutely outstanding acoustically,” Lerner said. “The Teatro Alcalá resembles a mix of Carnegie Hall of New York and Teatro La Scala of Milan.” It was built in 1903. The Palacio’s history dates back to 1576. Oaxaca is about 300 miles southeast of Mexico City.

The program includes these operas and arias:

  • Bellini’s “Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio” from I Capuletti e i Montecchi
  • Boito’s “Ecco il mondo” and chorus “Riddiamo” from Mefistofele
  • Boito’s “L’altra Notte” from Mefistofele
  • Catalani’s “Ebben? Ne andro lontana” from La Wally
  • Donizetti’s “Quel Guardo I cavaliere…so anch’io la virtù magica” from Don Pasquale
  • Donizetti’s “Chi me frena in tal momento” from Lucia di Lammermoor
  • Gounod’s “Je Veux Vivre” from Romeo and Juliet
  • Mascagni’s “Voi lo sapete o Mamma” from Cavalleria Rusticana
  • Mozart’s “Soave Sia al vento” from Così fan tutte
  • Mozart’s “Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio” from La Clemenza di Tito
  • Mozart’s “Porgi Amor” from Le Nozze di Figaro
  • Ponchielli’s “Cielo e Mar” from La Gioconda
  • Puccini’s “Un bel di vedremo” from Madama Butterfly
  • Puccini’s “Che gelida manina” from La Bohème
  • Puccini’s “Si, mi chiamano Mimi” from La Bohème
  • Puccini’s “Quando me’n vo soletta” (Musetta’s Waltz) from La Bohème
  • Rossini’s “Si ritrovarla Io giuro” from La Cenerentola
  • Verdi’s “Ah fors’e lui…sempre libera” from La Traviata
  • Verdi’s “Brindisi” from La Traviata
  • Verdi’s “Condotta ell’era in ceppi” (Azucena’s Narrative) from Il Trovatore
  • Verdi’s “Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore
  • Verdi’s “La donna e mobile” from Rigoletto
  • Verdi’s “Bella figlia dell’ amore” from Rigoletto

Lerner was named SASO music director in 2008 and has led the orchestra on two tours of China and now to Oaxaca for its second engagement. In addition to SASO and the opera festival, Lerner is music director of the Symphony Orchestra of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. He’s conducted orchestras, operas, choruses and instrumental ensembles around the world – including Europe, Asia and the Americas. He also is a clinician and vocal coach here and abroad.

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. It also sponsors the annual Dorothy Vanek Youth Concerto Competition. This year SASO released its first CD, called CELEBRATION!, with music by six Tucson composers. The 75-minute CD is on sale now at for $18.50 including shipping.

The orchestra’s 2014-2015 season opens Oct. 4 and 5 featuring Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 and Holst’s The Planets. Season tickets are on sale now. For details, visit or call 308-6226.

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SASO’s Story

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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.