Seattle Opera envisions Venice in its production of The Tales of Hoffmann.

Despite a projected season of cutbacks, Seattle Opera's 50th anniversary still manages to look like a celebration, with the return of popular Wagner and Verdi operas for the composers' bicentennials and a proper sendoff for general director Speight Jenkins. (After 30 years at the helm of the opera, Jenkins will retire in 2014.) Though we feared a skinny season of three operas plus the Ring, the opera has four on the calendar.

This is how the year is shaping up...

Wagner's Ring Cycle
Aug 4–24, 2013
Seattle Opera has presented 35 cycles of the Ring since the days of its founding director, Glynn Ross, and the latest incarnation (seen in 2001, 2005, and 2009) consistently soars. Much has been said of the Northwest-inspired "green" set by Tom Lynch, all towering trees and rocky mountains high in the distance, and the traditional vision of director Stephen Wadsworth. Both return this year, with principal guest conductor Asher Fisch—who led the orchestra in this season's Turandot and Fidelio—making his American Ring debut with Seattle Opera.

The 2013–2014 season

The Daughter of the Regiment

Oct 19–Nov 2, 2013
Donizetti's comic opera, about an orphaned girl raised by French soldiers, brings soprano Sarah Coburn and tenor Lawrence Brownlee together for the first time since their turn as young lovers in 2011's The Barber of Seville. These two homegrown stars, former SO Young Artists, perform against a backdrop originally designed for the Teatro Comunale di Bologna that sets the comedy in the 1940s.

Rigoletto

Jan 11–25, 2014
Last seen at McCaw Hall in 2004, Verdi’s tragedy pits a vengeful court jester against the world when his daughter Gilda falls prey to the womanizing Duke of Mantua. Tenor Francesco Demuro—who sings Rodolfo in next month’s La Bohème—is the Duke on opening night, with soprano Davinia Rodríguez (Lucia in 2010's Lucia di Lammermoor) as Gilda and Italian baritone Marco Vratogna in the title role.

The Consul

Feb 22–Mar 7, 2014
When this Pulitzer-winning drama debuted in 1950, America was in the throes of a Cold War—yet the story of a woman trying to secure a visa so her family can flee a police state still resonates today. The opera makes its Seattle debut, with music and lyrics by Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti oft compared to Puccini. Soprano Marcy Stonikas, who recently starred in both Turandot and Fidelio, returns as mother Magda Sorel.

Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann)
May 3–17, 2014
Director Chris Alexander reprises his popular 2005 production of Offenbach’s Hoffmann, for which he won Seattle Opera’s Artist of the Year Award. Tenor William Burden takes his first stab at the titular storyteller, who holds court in a local pub with his tales of three women he romanced, all played on opening night by French soprano Norah Amsellem.

The previously scheduled Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg—Wagner’s grand four-hours-plus performance that’s one of the most expensive operas in the repertory, and was originally intended to cap off Jenkins’s 30th and final season—will be replaced by the International Wagner Competition (Aug 7, 2014). The 50th anniversary concert and Speight Jenkins celebration will cap off the season on August 9, 2014.

There's still a lot to be done. Seattle Opera's annual fundraising gala is this Saturday, February 2, at the Four Seasons, and last we heard, a few tickets were still available. The black-tie event features a preview of next month's La Bohème, sung by young second-night stars Michael Fabiano and Jennifer Black, who make their local debut. More importantly, part of the proceeds supports the opera's Young Artists Program, which was a casualty of cutbacks. The program trims down this season—staging recitals and concerts instead of large-scale productions—though it's satisfying to see a number of Young Artists and alums getting time on the big stage this year.