A composer and performer together again in Tulsa.
Tobias Picker and Leona Mitchell practice for the Feb. 25 “Puccini to Pop.”
Tobias Picker has been the artistic director for Tulsa Opera since summer of 2016. He had visited Tulsa a few years ago to attend an opera performance, but for all intents and purposes, Picker found himself among new faces. Until one day, someone mentioned a familiar name.
“Leona Mitchell?” he asks a board member. “Leona Mitchell lives in Enid, Oklahoma? Wait, where is Enid?”
Picker has worked with opera companies around the country and is a prolific composer, but 30 years ago he met a talented soprano he never forgot. He decided to contact Mitchell, hoping she would remember the young composer she had worked with once.
Mitchell laughs, “Did I remember him? One of the most renowned composers in the world? Of course I remembered him!”
One of the opera world’s preeminent talents, Mitchell performed for 18 seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and at major houses around the world. She also performed and recorded one of Picker’s compositions in Houston 30 years ago.
Today, they find themselves together again — Picker seated at the piano, Mitchell perched above him, voice soaring as they prepare for Tulsa Opera’s “Puccini to Pop.”
“What are the odds?” she says.
Mitchell grew up in Enid. Semi-retired now, she moved back there to care for her parents, who have now died.
“I didn’t know I’d be back in Oklahoma, but here I am. Having lived in New York and California,” says Mitchell. “It’s easy and quiet.”
But with upcoming performances and fundraisers for Tulsa Opera, her life won’t be as quiet.
In addition to the performance, Picker asked Mitchell to teach a November 2016 master class for the Tulsa Opera Young Artist Program. “It’s been wonderful to be part of Tulsa Opera again,” she says.
Picker conceived the star-studded “Puccini to Pop,” featuring Mitchell in her first performance with Tulsa Opera since the 1980s.
“There will be some popular items but also some surprises, beautiful pieces that some may not be familiar with,” Picker says. “We’re trying to invent a new kind of theatrical evening. There will be lighting design, scenery, moving pieces.
“We’ve tried to create a story with different genres, from jazz to opera. This is a show for everyone, truly, whether you are a serious opera-goer or just love theater.”
“Puccini to Pop” will be a one-night-only affair, with music full of “longing, jealousy, rapture and joy,” according to Picker.
The performance is 8 p.m., Feb. 25 at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. Second St. Tickets are $25-$118 for this unique evening.
“It’s a way of showing and reintroducing the Tulsa Opera to the community,” Picker says. “It’s going to be an evening people will be talking about for a long time to come.”