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Opera lights up the silver screen

Opera buffs in the Rogue Valley don't have to visit a big-city opera house to hear a beautiful aria by Puccini or Donizetti.

As part of San Francisco Opera's Grand Opera Cinema Series, Jefferson Public Radio presents high-definition screenings of the company's productions at the Mountain Avenue Theater at Ashland High School.

Up next is "Lucia di Lammermoor" Sunday, Jan. 30, to be followed by "The Elixir of Love" Sunday, Feb. 13. Shows are at 2 p.m.

"There is a movement to present grand opera in a theatrical setting," says Ron Kramer, JPR's executive director. "The Metropolitan Opera began presenting theatrical showings several years ago when it contracted with a commercial intermediary called Fathom Entertainment."

Jefferson Public Radio first became interested in a similar venture for its Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif. SFO offers its series at theaters and cinemas in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. The two organizations work directly with each other to bring selected high-definition screenings to JPR venues.

"I wanted to be able to do something like it in Jackson County, not just Redding," says Kramer. "It's something that fits into JPR Foundation's initiative to start the Holly Theatre's restoration and operation."

JPR began presenting the opera company's cinema series a couple of years ago. Past productions have included Puccini's "Tosca" and "La Bohème," along with "La Rondine," "Don Giovanni," "Madama Butterfly" and "Samson and Delilah."

"We're trying to gauge the level of interest," says Kramer. "We have the ability to expand these offerings with access to productions from most European opera companies, such as Italy's La Scala and the Paris Opera."

SFO is the second largest company in the nation and has the same caliber of artists as the Metropolitan, says Kramer.

"Lucia" is filled with passionate melodies that evoke the desperation of a woman forced to marry a man she doesn't love. The lead role is played by French soprano Natalie Dessay. Guiseppe Filianoti, Gabriele Viviani and Oren Gradus also appear. The production was filmed in 2008 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco.

"Dessay is vocally phenomenal," says Kramer. "She is the definitive interpreter of the 'Lucia' role."

While the Cascade Theatre offers concessions in its lobby, the folks at JPR are having a little more fun at intermissions in the Mountain Avenue Theatre.

"Since the story for 'Lucia' takes place at Ravenswood Castle in Scotland, we will create a Ravenswood Cafe and offer refreshments from New Sammy's Cowboy Bistro and Noble Coffee," says Kramer. "Celtic harpist Kathleen Page will perform at intermission."

Tickets cost $20 and are available at www.cascadetheatre.org or by calling 877-646-4849.

Soprano Natalie Dessay appears in San Francisco Opera's production of 'Lucia di Lammermoor.' - Photo courtesy of Jefferson Public Radio