Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Opera

Another opera closes. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: it’s bittersweet. It’s nice to return to a more normal schedule…but there are no robo-makeovers in my normal schedule (which makes me sad).

I’ve had a blast doing this blog – I hope you’ve enjoyed it, as well. I’d also love to hear your thoughts on the blog experience. What did you like? What do you want to see more of? I’m doing this for you, dear readers. I’m like your tour guide backstage. If you’re not seeing the things you want to see, then I don’t feel I’ve done the best job I can. So drop me a line at ariagirl@operacolorado.org or comment right here on the blog and let me know what you think.

Meanwhile, I’ll be taking a brief break and will be handing the blog off to some special guest bloggers – stay tuned to read what they have to say. Look for me again at the beginning of the year to report on The Barber of Seville!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Raiders of the Lost Opera

Saw it. Loved it. Had to pick my eyes up from the floor when they kept popping out (sorry to the people behind me.) I’m not an opera singer…or professor of opera…I’m just a girl who enjoys a good production. Which is what The Tales of Hoffmann was.

But what about you, dear readers? I know you’re out there – people tell me they enjoy the blog. (That’s a strange experience, let me tell you.) If you’ve seen the opera, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And if you haven’t but want to comment anyway, let me know what you’re excited about, or looking forward to.

You can comment anonymously, but if you’d rather send me a private note, you can drop me a line at ariagirl@operacolorado.org.

See you on Tuesday!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Singin' in the Opera

Saturday was Opening Night. The glitz, the glamour, the inevitable mishaps that comes when putting on a production. As director Renaud Doucet said, “With everything that goes on, it’s a miracle the whole thing comes together.” But nothing major went wrong and it seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves.

I spent most of my time in the front of the house with Boss-Man, but snuck backstage to check out the goings-on. I ran into a couple of the Young Artists who were in the first act and went to see Ronell and Sarah of Awesome Wig and Make-up Fame. They were currently working on Pam Armstrong and Josie Noble, one of the chorus women who plays the Madam in the Giulietta act. They teased me for a bit about not having seen the whole opera yet (I’m going tonight, I promise!). And Pam proved her superhero nature once again by offering to babysit for Ronell’s little girl if needed. (Pam says anyone would have done it. Readers will note that I didn’t offer.)

Us girls giggled and laughed until the singers had to skedaddle to get ready. Then William Caulkins, one of the child supers who plays the Blind Boy, came in to get ready. If you’ve seen the show, you’ve seen William – he comes in with Coppélius in the Olympia Act. William has some of the most dramatic make-up in the show: he’s made completely bald with a small black ponytail and sunglasses. The costume is crazy, too – like the old-school bouncing clowns that you could hit and it would right itself again. I'm looking forward to seeing it all in its entirety - tonight!

See you on Thursday!

Photo credit: Matthew Staver

Friday, November 6, 2009

Star Wars: The Opera Strikes Back

You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. Your eyes will pop out of your head, roll under your chair, and bump the shoes of the person behind you. This will all happen when you watch The Tales of Hoffmann. I promise.

So I was at the final dress rehearsal last night – lots of middle and high school kids and a few other folks got to experience it – and I was shooting audience reaction shots during the intermissions. And I tell you, these folks were happy campers.

I myself got to see the Olympia scene – I had no idea Pam Armstrong was such a gifted comic actress. A superhero, yes. But that girl is funny.

I didn’t get to see the Antonia and Giulietta scenes, but I’ve no doubt from what I could hear in the lobby that they’re as visually stunning as the first one. Plus those scenes are a little more intense, so if you like your opera with a side of heart-wrenching emotion, you won’t be disappointed.

What was interesting to me were the little touches in the staging. For example, at one point Olympia is doing the can-can. Little-known fact: Offenbach wrote the music most people associate with the can-can for one of his other operas. So it’s neat to have those little bits of trivia – and something I hope you guys are getting from me!

I’ll be in the lobby on Saturday – come say hi. See you next week!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Das Opera

Have you ever been filled with so much awesomeness that you can’t stand it? Today was my Robo-Makeover – the day I got to be transformed into the Olympia doll!

I adore our wig and makeup ladies: Ronell Oliveri, our Emmy-nominated Wig and Makeup Designer and Sarah Opstad, our Associate Wig and Makeup Coordinator. (Curious about how our wigs are made? Read the entry from The Pearl Fishers blog.) Not only were they as psyched to make me over as I was, but they’re really helpful. AND they let me videotape it!

The process was both more and less complicated than I expected. First Sarah pincurled my hair and fitted me with a stocking cap. Then she put the gold makeup on the lower half of my face and painted my lips with a bronze color. (The makeup is a brand called Krylon Aqua Color – just in case anyone wants to replicate the Olympia look.) Then she put the headpiece on my head, pinned it, and Velcroed the gold mask to the headpiece.

It seems simple, but I was immediately struck by a few things. One, gold is surprisingly my color. Two, Pam Armstrong is a superhero. She must be, to wear the headpiece (which was pretty bulky and heavier than I expected) and the outrageous doll costume. Don’t get me wrong – I would steal that green dress in a heartbeat. It’s gorgeous. But the skirt is four feet wide! I didn’t even put on the dress and still had new appreciation for what Pam has to go through. The mask also has these gigantic fake eyelashes, which look really cool, but took some getting used to. I can’t imagine wearing all that AND acting AND singing. Ergo: Pam is a superhero.

Once we finished the video, Ronell helped me take the wig and mask off and I proceeded to scrub off the makeup. Since Pam will be playing four different characters, she has four different sessions in the makeup chair – in one night! So she has to get made up like Olympia, scrub it all off, get made up like Antonia, scrub it all off, get made up like Giulietta, scrub it all off, and get made up like Stella, and scrub it all off. Whew!

I found out this show has the longest run sheet of almost any opera we’ve ever done. What’s a run sheet, you say? Excellent question! A run sheet gives the production cues. A wig and makeup run sheet, for example, lets the wig and makeup gals know who needs to look like what and when. The run sheet for this show is 37 pages! To put that into perspective, the run sheet for The Pearl Fishers was only 4 pages. Not only is there a large cast, but there are several cases of multiple roles per artist, so the cast goes through a lot of makeup and time.

But it’s all worth it on Opening Night to see everyone’s jaws drop. I can’t wait.

And if you can’t wait to see my transformation, check out the video:

See you next Friday – you’ll get to hear all about the final dress rehearsal!

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Silence of the Operas

Opera fans are dedicated. Especially the 30-some people who braved the snow and ice of Wednesday to come to “Meet the Artists” at Tattered Cover. In attendance were singers Julian Gavin, Pam Armstrong and Gaétan Laperrière along with stage director Renaud Doucet and conductor Emmanuel Joel-Hornak. Director of Artistic Planning Brad Trexell moderated (since General Director Greg Carpenter has been out sick.)

It was another lovely afternoon of listening to the artists – both their answers and voices. We even had a guest ask Renaud another question because “she wanted to hear more of his [French] accent.”

Highlights included:

-A discussion of just how difficult this opera is to produce (the answer: VERY difficult!) Director Renaud Doucet explained that since Offenbach died before completing the score…and pages of his original notes are still being found…and there are quite a few “alternate versions” to certain scenes…and there are different musical versions of certain pieces…not to mention that companies have to decide whether they’re going to perform the opera with the spoken dialogue or the recitative….it’s amazing that any opera company even does this opera at all. (Though I’m glad we are!)

-Learning from the Maestro and director how much of this opera isn’t from this opera at all! The Barcarolle, that heart-tugging duet between Nicklausse and Giulietta, was originally written for Offenbach’s Les fées du Rhin (The Water Nymphs). Additionally, Dapertutto’s aria “Scintille, diamant,” was based on a tune from the overture for Offenbach’s operetta Journey to the Moon.

-Pam explaining that while singing three roles (and performing the role of Stella) is vocally challenging, it’s emotionally challenging, as well. The women are so different – Olympia is an empty-headed doll, Antonia is a genuinely sweet girl, and Giulietta is a two-faced manipulator – that it’s a challenge to go to those extremes all in just three hours.

-Hearing about the importance of Stella – a main character in her own right, but who is often overlooked. Maestro Joel-Hornak even noted that in some productions Stella does not even get her few lines at the end of the opera, but that those are sometimes given to Hoffmann to say. Certainly Stella’s actual role in the opera is smaller than her counterparts. “At the end of the opera, the diva does not even get to sing,” said the Maestro. “This may have been a final joke on the part of Offenbach.”

There were so many other wonderful discussions and ideas shared by the artists. It’s always rewarding to hear from the artists their thoughts and perspectives on a work. If you’ve never been out to a Meet the Artists panel, I encourage you to come. (And if the weather prevented you from making it out, I encourage you to come to the pre-opera talk. It’s free to all ticket holders and is held one hour before curtain time in the parterre.)

See you next Tuesday!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Maltese Opera

So last week, I was a rockstar behind the videocamera. A week ago on Saturday morning, Boss-Man and I were at the warehouse for a chorus rehearsal and an interview with director Renaud Doucet. When we got there, he and set/costume designer André Barbe were going through the production with the chorus.

Normally the staging rehearsals are done downtown. But scheduling difficulties meant finding a new space. So until we load in to the Ellie, the artists are down at the warehouse, which is actually really cool. The set is partially put together so the cast can see where they need to be in relation to the set pieces. They were rehearsing the Olympia scene, so a couple of cast members – including some of our own Young Artists – were wearing robot arms to get used to the movements. All in all, it was fun to watch. Plus I got to take pictures in the costume shop - and we all know how much I love costumes!

So I took plenty of pictures and edited the video of Renaud’s interview. I’m really pleased with how it turned out. I’m no Spielberg, but I think I did all right.

See you next Thursday! I’ll report on tomorrow’s Meet the Artists (Noon. Tattered Cover LoDo. See you there!).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mr. Smith Goes to the Opera

There’s nothing like an opera company when it gets close to production. Yours truly has been busy preparing for a special event at the Alliance Française tomorrow night. We’re the featured entertainment for their semi-annual wine tasting fundraiser. It’s called “A Wine Tasting in Three Acts” and it’s going to be AWESOME.

But I know you guys need some Julian Gavin deliciousness, so I made sure to edit and post the video of his interview. Watch. Enjoy. Repeat.

Click here to watch the video.

See you next Tuesday!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Wizard of Opera

Ah, the glamorous world of opera. Friday morning Boss-Man and I headed downtown to catch Julian Gavin and Pam Armstrong before their music rehearsal for a brief video interview. Sadly, this meant I missed André Barbe's nifty talk at the OCWN luncheon – and it turns out that some of you were there! (So if you're at Meet the Artists on October 28, come up and say hi!)

So we're waiting in the rehearsal room, talking about life, love and ticket sales (they're going great – if you don't have yours, you'll be sorry!)…when in they walk. The Artists. But there's no diva, no pretention. They're just singers here, ready to work. Julian even asks if I want him to do a little blogging of his own from rehearsal. (The answer: heck, yes!)

The singers sat down with General Director Greg Carpenter and, with me behind the camera, proceeded to talk a little bit about the opera and why they love Denver.

The singers did great both on and off camera. I loved hearing Julian's accent. I loved Pam's sassy haircut. (She also has sassy, shiny shoes on, but you can't see them.) Overall, an incredibly positive experience. The opera world is rife with gossip and diva tales – I'm happy to say there's none of that with these two. And as Boss-Man and I left, I overheard Julian singing!

ME: Cool! I can post that I heard Julian Gavin rehearsing.
BOSS-MAN: He's warming up, not rehearsing. Big difference.
ME: Holy cow – that's just warming up?

This will be a fantastic show, ladies and gentleman. It'll knock your socks off, and then knock your ears off, and then knock your heart out.

Click here to watch the interview with Pam. See you on Thursday when you'll get to see the video of Julian Gavin!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Good, the Bad, and the Opera

What does an Assistant Director (AD) do? That's an excellent question for the AD for The Tales of Hoffmann, Kathleen Stakenas. Kathleen has been an assistant director for two years, and had ten years of stage managing experience before. She was the Assistant Director for this opera when it was performed both at Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Boston Lyric Opera.

"Putting on an opera is kind of like running a race. The stage manager and assistant stage managers get everyone to the starting line. I'm there to help them with the race."

Kathleen explained that her job is to help the director communicate the artistic vision of the production. In logistical terms, she helps get the show on its feet by ensuring everyone's where they need to be on stage in terms of staging and blocking. She often works with the chorus and supers while the director works with the principal artists.

It sounded just as hectic as being a stage manager, and Kathleen agreed. The artists and crew are only rehearsing for three weeks, which is actually a short time for an opera this size. This means everyone needs to be at the top of their game, since it's a longer show and they can't spend days rehearsing just one scene.

"There are so many people and costumes and props - there's no room for error. We hit the ground running and don't stop until opening night."

Hearing about this crazy backstage world, I'm always curious why people want to do this for a living. Most of the artistic and technical staff aren't part of any particular opera company; the artists, directors, assistant directors, stage managers and other staff are contracted by opera companies for a specific show. A lack of stability combined with the stress of putting on a grand production – what's the payoff?

"I love putting it all together from pages in a book to seeing it on stage. It begins with conceptualizing the show and you add in all the analytical elements – who stands where, when she sits down – and it's incredible. You get to look at something so amazing and think, 'I helped make that happen.'"

I know where she's coming from; every time I see all those patrons sitting at the Ellie, reading their programs that I helped create…well, I get a little excited every time. Ok, a lot excited. Ok, I do a little dance backstage where no one can see me.

I asked Kathleen what her favorite part of the show is. She explained that she loves how involved it is – that there were so many different components. Then she added she loves the robot and puppet costumes. And that there's dance, she loves that there's dance. And that there's two singers for the heroine and villain roles…and that Offenbach is a character…and how he and the muses pull the story together…and how colorful and vibrant the opera is…and how it has interesting staging…and plenty of comedic and dramatic elements…

"It's an amazing production. There's just so much that I think everyone will find something they love."

I asked Kathleen if there was anything about the opera she doesn't like.

"November 16," she said. "The day after the opera closes."

See you next Tuesday!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

2009: An Opera Odyssey

For one week before every opera, the office plays host to some very talented individuals. I sat down last week with one of these individuals, our Stage Manager for The Tales of Hoffmann, Kerry Masek.

This will be Kerry's first time stage managing this production; she has been stage managing for about 11 years and has worked with San Diego Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, and many others. She says that her favorite part of this production is the set.

"It's incredibly ingenious how it works. It's nonspecific enough to take the audience from Paris to Munich to Venice. It has a seamless feel that brings unity to a production that, in essence, is mostly taking place inside Hoffmann's mind."

So what does Kerry do? A lot! The Stage Manager (cleverly abbreviated "SM") - along with Assistant Stage Managers (ASMs) – learn every detail of the show. And I mean EVERY detail. When Stella finally makes her grand entrance? Check. When the lights focus on Olympia? Check. When Dapertutto has the diamond he promises to Giulietta? Check. The SM and ASMs are the people behind the scenes making sure everything's at the right place at the right time with the right person.

"Any time you see something happen on stage, it's because the stage manager said, 'go,'" said Kerry. That's a lot of pressure and can be an incredibly challenging job – especially with a show that has as much going on as this one. Fortunately, Kerry has Emily Murdoch and Lisa Kelly as Assistant Stage Managers to help. Emily is in charge of props and Lisa is in charge of costumes. These gals make sure everything's where it needs to be for rehearsals and performances – no easy task when you're talking about anything from a pair of spectacles to a 4-foot-wide robot's dress. The ASMs primarily work with artists and the technical crew to make sure things go smoothly.

So who wants to be a Stage Manager when they grow up?

"Anyone who loves making order out of chaos," laughed Kerry. "Seriously, it's great for someone who loves the arts. It's exciting to be the person who makes it all come together. You get to be a little creative, too – the director tells you what he wants and you figure out how to make it happen. Because each performance is different, you really have to think on your feet and make it the best possible show that you can."

Hope you enjoyed this peek backstage – see you on Thursday! (We'll talk with Assistant Director Kathleen Stakenas.)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Day the Opera Stood Still

My name is AriaGirl and I’m a Hoffmann-aholic. It started with this blog. I thought I could handle it; it was just going to be oncea week, right? So nobody thought it was odd when I started downloading songs from the opera. Nobody thought it was odd when I decorated my office with production photos and set renderings. Nobody even thought it was odd when I created quizzes for the opera: "Which Hoffmann Heroine Are You?" and "Which Hoffmann Villain Are You?"

But soon I started thinking about Hoffmann more and more. I made a calendar out of production photos and designated a day for each character. (Giulietta Day is October 5, for the day of Offenbach's death.) I created playlists for the characters. (“She Blinded Me With Science” especially apropos for Olympia, don’t you think?)

I spiraled further out of control. I started taking can-can lessons – Offenbach composed the music closely associated with the Parisian dance derived from Algeria. (It's called "Galop infernal" and is from Orpheus in the Underworld.) I started reading the original stories by Hoffmann. (The character of Olympia originates from Der Sandmann.) I started debates with co-workers on the ending of the Giulietta scene. (Should she die by drowning or sail away in a gondola?)

Before I knew it, I started pretending to be a character from the opera each day. I let co-workers know which character I was for the day and only answered to that name. I became a thrift-store junkie, searching desperately for my own sea-serpent costume and tiara. I restricted myself to using only words found in that character’s libretto.

They say the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.

Well, dear readers…I am a Hoffmann-aholic. Can you help me?

See you next week!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

There Will Be Opera

What is this? A blog entry…on a Tuesday? Yes, readers, today marks the beginning of BI-WEEKLY updates! There's so much going on that I can't fit all the awesomeness into one weekly entry. So stay tuned Tuesdays and Thursdays for yummy opera goodness.

Why today? Today was Production Meeting Day – the day when the production staff gathers in the Opera Colorado offices to go over all sorts of opera details. Like what? (I'm glad you asked.)

Cuts for The Tales of Hoffmann
Operas are rarely performed entirely as written. Why? Well, in this case, because the opera would be 6 hours long! So many versions of the opera have surfaced since Offenbach's death and new pieces are being found to this day. Not to mention that some opera companies perform certain sections as spoken dialogue and others as sung. The two co-producing companies, Opera Theatre of St. Louis and Boston Lyric Opera, each chose different pieces of the music to cut. Likewise, we've had to made decisions about what to keep and what to cut. (Yes, the "Barcarolle" will still be there. Are you nuts? That's my favorite part!) But never fear, the cuts don't include anything major or well-known. After all, what would this opera be without the famous Doll Song?

The Artists
When they're arriving. Where they're staying. Where they're rehearsing. When they get days off. When they go for costume and wig fittings. When they attend donor events. When they go to Colorado Public Radio for an interview. When they do photo shoots. When they come to the Tattered Cover for the Meet the Artists panel (October 28 – I'll see you there!). Whew! All of this needs to be coordinated – and most of it already has been. You'd think, "opera singer," they just get on stage and sing. But there's so much more that happens.

Before the Opera Begins
Before every opera, there's a talk discussing the history and plot. For this opera, we're lucky enough to have Denver's Betsy Schwarm as a guest lecturer. This lady knows her Hoffmann – she's spent twenty years as a classical radio announcer and producer, including local stations KCFR and KVOD. She writes program notes (she wrote an article for ours!) and gives pre-opera talks at a variety of groups. I'm looking forward to hearing her.

Before the Opera REALLY Begins
There will be more pre-opera awesomeness. A few minutes before the show – after the pre-opera talk – you'll see several chorus members on stage. They're marking the anniversary of Offenbach's death (ok, he died 129 years ago yesterday) and are at the unveiling of a statue commemorating his life and works. This bit of history woven in helps set the stage for this production, which casts Offenbach as a character in his own opera – he's desperately trying to have it performed as he intended. So get there early – you won't want to miss it.

We Don't Need Pants at the Opera
"Those guys don't need to wear pants." What? A bit of silliness derailed the meeting briefly when discussing costume needs. Apparently, a few male chorus members in the Giulietta scene will in full tuxedos…but without pants! (They will have boxers on.) Remember, Giulietta IS a courtesan, and the scene takes place in a brothel. Back then, a brothel was a place a gentleman could go to sit down, relax, have a cigar, and enjoy the (ahem) company of some lovely ladies. This all reminds me that opera, for all its (mis)representation as being stuffy, is really quite sexy. And this opera is no different. I think you're going to love the places it takes you: love, passion, despair, betrayal…what more could you ask?

As the meeting adjourned, I was left with an overwhelming appreciation for the sheer magnitude of what goes into producing an opera. And hopefully you, dear readers, have a small picture of what goes on to making it all happen.

See you next week…I mean, see you on Thursday!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Requiem for an Opera

You found out Pam Armstrong likes mystery novels. You learned Gaétan Laperrière was an aspiring baseball player. This week I got some time with Julian Gavin (seen here as Don José in our 2005 Carmen), who plays the title role in The Tales of Hoffmann. Unlike Pam and Gaétan, Julian sings the same character throughout the whole opera. And I do mean the WHOLE opera – it is a title role, after all. Fortunately, Julian is a giving soul who found some time to give me the scoop on some little-known factoids. Read on…

What is your favorite part about being in Denver?
I love the city itself, particularly its proximity to the mountains. That tantalising and breathtaking view is always there as I walk around the city, often catching me by surprise as I turn around a corner. Downtown is compact and very easy to get around. There are some wonderful shops and places to eat. There are a couple of restaurants which are among my all-time favourites and I look forward to renewing my acquaintance with their fine food and great service. I love the Tattered Cover, a great place to browse and to have a coffee while perusing a good book or magazine. I love hiring a car and heading into the mountains. In fact, this time I am looking forward to heading up to Loveland or A Basin after the last performance of Hoffmann in order to find some early snow. I enjoy working out at the Denver Athletic Club, particularly the yoga classes. They have some great teachers there who are very patient with my lack of flexibility! I couldn't talk about my favourite things without mentioning catching up with my dear friends, the Kafadars, for some lively conversation, great food and a few good laughs as we catch up on family, music and computers and a host of other subjects.

What is the biggest misconception that people have about you?
I would say that there are a number of clichés about tenors! One is that I must have a big head or that I am unavoidably stupid! I often hear someone say, "Oh, he can't help it because he is a tenor!" Before I became a tenor, I studied and worked as a conductor. My Romanian conducting teacher also conducted me in my first opera. When I made a silly musical error, he said in despair, "He was one of my most promising conducting students. He becomes a tenor and look what happens to him!' As for the big head, perhaps it is in actual physical size, in order to accommodate those ringing high notes! I am actually highly critical of myself but I also passionately believe in collegiality.

Do you have any quirky habits?
I am not sure if this qualifies as a quirky habit but I am addicted to cryptic crosswords. Recently at a sitzprobe for Fidelio, as Beethoven's extraordinary music surged around me, a colleague incredulously asked, "How can you do a crossword with all that racket going on?" Ignoring the fact that I would never describe Beethoven's music as racket, I said that it helped me to concentrate!

That's all from Julian for now - see you next week!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Dial "O" For Opera

Last week you learned a few facts about Pam Armstrong, the spectacular soprano who performs all four female roles from The Tales of Hoffmann (I'm out of breath just thinking about it.) This week I got some time with Gaétan Laperrière, the baritone who continually foils Hoffmann's chances at love (seen here in Boston Lyric Opera's production of the opera). Like Pam, Gaétan portrays four different roles: Coppelius, Dr. Miracle, Dapertutto and Lindorf. He also has four costume changes and has to convince the audience that while this is the same actor, the characters are still somewhat separate. Despite all these challenges and a busy schedule, Gaétan shared some trivia about himself with me that I now share with you…

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was young, I always wanted to be a singer just like my uncle, who was an opera singer all through his life. Actually, that's too easy. I really wanted to be a pitcher in the major leagues. I played baseball for ten years. I also played hockey for ten years and would have loved to be a hockey player, too.

What was your worst subject in school?

If you could spend a day living in a TV show or movie, which one would it be?
I would enjoy being in the TV series "Monk." I find the presence of Tony Shaloub very entertaining and I love every actor in the show. My wife and I actually just bought the DVDs of seasons 3 through 5 and 7.

What's your comfort food on a really bad day?
On a bad day, I would probably eat a hamburger and onion rings with a Diet Coke.

That's all from Gaétan - don't forget to head to the Tattered Cover on October 28 for our Meet the Artists panel. I'll be there - come say hi!

See you next week!

[Photo credit: Jeffrey Dunn / Boston Lyric Opera]

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gone With the Opera

One of the perks of my job is getting to know the artists as people, not just as pretty faces/voices. This week I sat down with the prettiest face from The Tales of Hoffmann, soprano Pam Armstrong (seen here in our 2007 La traviata). She's got her work cut out for her, what with portraying all four of Hoffmann's loves: Olympia, Antonia, Giulietta and Stella. You thought it would be difficult playing one character – imagine four different characters, in four different vocal ranges, with four different costume changes, all in one opera. But Pam's a superstar AND a sweetheart and took time out of her busy schedule to answer some of my questions.

What's the most recent movie that you've seen?
The last movie I actually attended was Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian with Ben Stiller. I was joined by my 10 year old nephew for his first IMAX experience - it was so fun to see his reactions!

What actress would you want to play you in the movie of your life?
Kate Winslet.

What's your favorite ice cream flavor?
My favorite ice cream flavor is mint chocolate chip. When I was a little girl, my older brother's first job was at the local Baskin Robbin's – and since then, I've always loved it. Although coffee does come in as a close second.

What would you do with a free hour?
I'd most likely pick up my latest book and try to read. I'm really enjoying the Janet Evanovich series right now. They're light and funny with a long list of crazy characters!

That's all from Pam for now - check in next time for another artist interview. See you next week!

(Photo credit: Matthew Staver)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Happily Ever Opera

Have you ever wondered what an opera with a happy ending would look like? I look at the synopses of all the great works – Madama Butterfly, Tosca, La bohème – and more often than not, the main character is denied that "happily ever after."

Take The Tales of Hoffmann, for example. The whole opera is Hoffmann relating the tragic stories of his lost loves. Why didn't Offenbach give the guy a break and let him find a nice girl and settle down in the suburbs? Maybe it's because he thought great artists can't find lasting love. Maybe he knew that opera fans prefer sad endings to happy ones.

So in a fit of pity and creativity, I took a few liberties with Offenbach's work, played fairy godmother and rewrote the endings…all three of them. (Special thanks to Box Office guru Katie for coming up with the idea in between phone calls from ticket buyers!)

Hoffmann, inspired by his love for the robotic doll, finds a better spring-and-coil set to keep Olympia going through the golden years (or at least the rusty years). Hoffmann goes into business with Olympia's inventor, Spalanzani, and the couple settle down in a quiet neighborhood with a good school system. Through the miracle of robotics, the lovers soon find themselves proud parents of robotic triplet girls. Hoffmann is the doting father, helping them with their homework and visiting their school on Career Day. (He warns their classmates away from the dangers of alcohol.)

After a visit from a real doctor, Antonia and Hoffmann move to Paris to pursue her dream of becoming a world-famous singer. With Hoffmann as her diligent manager, Antonia soon gets booked at the Élysée Montmartre and her career takes off. The pair goes on a whirlwind world tour where they become enchanted by Manhattan and eventually move to a high-rise penthouse on the Upper West Side. As Antonia's voice begins to fade, she and Hoffmann open a school for voice in Greenwich Village. In the evenings, they enjoy spending time with friends at a local karaoke bar and occasionally performing duets. Antonia recently scored a small part in a Woody Allen movie; look for a character wearing a bright green, feathered hat.

Think Pretty Woman in Italy. Hoffmann sings an impassioned aria that sways Giulietta to give up all of her men and go for the happily ever after. They move to a wealthy and exclusive neighborhood in Rome where Giulietta becomes a diamond dealer and makes enough money to support Hoffmann's dream of settling down to write an opera: the story of a composer who works night and day to write a tragically beautiful opera but dies before it's finished.

Hoffmann decides, "What the hey?" and attends her performance in Don Giovanni. He is so incredibly moved that he decides to give up drinking and make a fresh start. The pair move into a lovely apartment in Venice overlooking the canal and, despite the odd screaming match fueled by the artistic temperament, find a fulfilling life together.

So there are Hoffmann's happily-ever-afters…but none of them would make a very interesting opera. So I suppose it's a good thing Hoffmann never found true happiness. Otherwise, the audience would be snoozing in the aisles.

See you next week!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Million Dollar Opera

You know me. I love costumes. (I think we covered this with The Pearl Fishers.) This production is sending me into "pretty!" overdrive. And because I'm an extra special kind of dork, I love seeing the costume renderings (and how close – or not – they are to the end product.) I'm posting some costume renderings and production photos on the slideshow to your right for you all to also drool over – just watch the keyboard.

Production photos and renderings courtesy Boston Lyric Opera; renderings created by set and costume designer Andre Barbe, photos by Jeffrey Dunn.

See you next week!

A Clockwork Opera

This week on the AriaGirl blog, it's all things Hoffmann. For those of you unfamiliar with the opera, this week will get you up to speed.

The story starts, like most good stories, in a bar. Hoffmann is a poet trying desperately to get over his former female obsession: the opera singer Stella. Hoffmann gets persuaded to tell a few tales and begins recalling the three great loves of his life – who are really just Stella in disguise. The first one is a real doll (no, seriously) named Olympia, the second one is a diva-in-training named Antonia, and the third is a full-blown you-know-what named Giulietta. Each lady love gets her own act and we see Hoffmann's attempts at happiness dashed against the rocky shores of reality. You see, Hoffmann knows this guy, Lindorf – a local bigwig in politics – and is convinced that Lindorf is trying to destroy his life. So, in each act, there's an Evil Villain who ruins Hoffmann's chance for true love.

What's so great – although a little confusing – about this opera is that the composer wanted all the villains played by one baritone and all the women played by one soprano. Talk about a workout! Come November, Gaetan Laperriere and Pamela Armstrong will take the stage to sing those respective roles. (There won't be any flies on Julian Gavin as he's singing the extensive title role, either.) And if that doesn't get your opera motor running, take a gander at the crazy-beautiful production photos on the slideshow to your right.

THAT'S what I'm talking about. And I'm not the only one:

“Whimsical…highly imaginative”
-The Boston Globe

“A rare operatic production that combines a sophisticated story with excellent acting and top-flight music. Don’t miss it.”
-The Boston Herald

“A feast for the eyes…an incredibly fun and unique night of theater, and you'll never see its like again.”
-River Front Times

Ever since we announced the opera last January, people have been drooling over these sets and costumes. (I still want Leila's costume from The Pearl Fishers, but I wouldn't mind Giulietta's tiara!) Out of the whole production, they costumes and sets are probably What I'm Looking Forward to Most.

And what about you guys out there reading? I want to know what you're looking forward to. You can comment here, e-mail me, send a smoke signal, or whatever your heart desires.

See you next week!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

An Opera Named Desire

Welcome back, readers! After a long and relaxing summer, it's time to gear up for The Tales of Hoffmann. I'll be back blogging about costumes, singers, events and more as we get closer to the opening night performance of the opera. November 7…it seems so close and yet so far. (As I sit typing, our intrepid Box Office staff is juggling phone calls from people wanting season tickets. We're going to run out of places to put these people, soon…)

If you didn't catch me last time – blogging for The Pearl Fishers – this is an informal, behind-the-scenes blog. No long treatises on the convention of ballet in French opera. No analysis of Offenbach's historical and musical influences. What we will have are updates on how the production is going…profiles of the singers…plenty of production photos…and maybe a few surprises!

It's going to be a lot of fun, and I look forward to comments from you guys. I'd love to hear what you want to know or see, and I'll do my best to make it happen.

See you next week!

PS: Temporarily satisfy your appetite for all things Hoffmann with our two preview videos. The Tales of Hoffmann preview talks about the production as a whole. The Behind the Scenes preview takes place at our warehouse and previews the sets and costumes (guess who's behind the camera!).

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Got Opera?

After a fantastic day off on Monday, I returned to my computer to contemplate this whole blogging experience and the opera itself. The end of an opera's run with a company is always bittersweet. While it's nice to return to a less-crazy schedule, it's sad to say goodbye to the cast and crew. There's no fun rehearsals, wig fittings, photo shoots, or interviews to look forward to.

Getting to go behind the scenes was a great experience – something I wish I got to do more often. It made seeing the opera on Friday extra-special, and I hope those of you who watched the opera felt as though you got some special insight into the production, as well. I know there was so much I would have liked to do but couldn't find the time.

Fortunately, I did find the time to watch the opera on Friday – which was also our Fashion Night at the Opera. (Check out partner group Fashion Denver to learn more about the fashion scene in Denver.)

After some time in the lobby with the fashionistas, it was time to finally see the opera! And it lived up to everything I'd heard and seen. The production simply popped – the color, the staging, the singing – it was all larger than life, which is exactly the way opera should be. I sat about 10 feet away from the stage and really felt like an insider. I'd seen the singers without the wigs and makeup. I'd seen what goes into rehearsing the chorus parts. I even knew that one of the supers (our own Ben Davis) was wearing a shell necklace because he won a push-up contest. And all that made the opera experience richer. I would've been blown away by the production regardless – but getting to go behind the scenes gave this opera a special place in my heart. And I hope it did for you, as well.

So let me know what you thought of this experience – and would you like to see something similar for Così fan tutte? And if you'd like information on future performances, be sure to sign up for our e-mail club – you can join quickly and easily by clicking here.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Opera. It's What's For Dinner.

Ah, Opening Night. I love the gowns, the glamour, the excitement that builds in the air. If you've ever been in the lobby for the first performance, you know what I mean. But chances are you've never been backstage – or performed in an opera yourself! That's why in this entry we're checking in with Ben Davis, super and ticket-seller extraordinaire to see how it all went.

AG: You can officially say you've been in an opera now. How does that feel?
Ben: It's awesome. My mom and sister even flew out to see me make my opera debut. I took them backstage and they got to see the dancers warming up and the chorus rehearsing, which was cool.
AG: Did they get to stay for your transformation into a pearl diver?
Ben: No, they went back to the lobby. I wish they could've seen it – I start by putting on this thick foundation on my face and put on black eyeliner and eyebrows and this black bindi in the middle of my forehead. Then I get into costume – throw on the blue diaper/loincloth – and go to the wig and make-up room to sponge on the body make-up. Then I wait while it dries and they call me on stage.
AG: That's really elaborate – how long does that all take?
Ben: About 30 minutes. But then I've got two other costume changes in the show, so after Zurga becomes chief, I run off the stage and have about 8 and a half minutes to get ready. I hand my props to one of the stagehands and get help getting the wig off and putting the new costume on. There's bands that go around my wrist and upper arm and ankles, so I need help tying those on. Add a pink bindi, mustache, orange pants and a bright pink turban and I'm a litter-bearer. After that I have about 10 or 15 minutes to change to become a guard.
AG: Is that your favorite scene – where you're a guard?
Ben: Sort of – my favorite scene is when I shoot the gun. But I'm so impressed by the storm scene – where we carry the cages off with the singers inside. You've got to time it to the music and it's a little intimidating because their lives are kind of in your hands. It has to be intense for them, too, because they're being carried off and the chorus is yelling and beating on the cages.
AG: So what do you do when the show's over?
Ben: Well, we do the bow thing. The supers take the first bow with the chorus and then stay on stage and take one last bow. Then it's time to run back to the dressing rooms. There was the after party, so I showered and got all the body make-up off.
AG: I bet the opera goes really fast when you're on stage – were you nervous?
Ben: No – nobody was really nervous. We've been rehearsing for three weeks, so we all know what to expect and we're in the flow of things. We ran through the opera about five times in full before it opened, including three times on the main stage.
AG: Despite all that preparation, there can be glitches.
Ben: [groans] Yeah. Everything was perfect – except the gun didn't go off like it was supposed to.
AG: But that's your big scene!
Ben: I know! I aimed, got the signal, pulled the trigger, and – click. Nothing.
AG: So what'd you do?
Ben: Nothing - I didn't know what to do. About 2 seconds later the backup gunshot sound went off – props to Mike who saved the day with that. I have to mention Dave, too – he's the stagehand who's in charge of the gun and always hands it to me.
AG: It really does take a lot of people to make this whole thing come together, doesn't it?
Ben: It does – and that's my favorite part of this whole experience. The people I've been working with. I became friends with some of the other supers – Jim, Randy, Michael, Adam, Bill – they play divers, litter bearers and guards, too.
AG: So you guys all got along? There was no rivalry?
Ben: Well, maybe a little. Before the first orchestra tech, the Assistant Director Diane Lin came out and gave me a seashell necklace to wear. I told everyone I was the head pearl diver. One of the other divers, Adam, and I even had a push-up contest to see who would get to wear it.
AG: You're kidding.
Ben: No. I won, but we're cool. Like I said, it's the people that made this such a great experience. I loved getting to watch Andrew [Sinclair] direct and Sebastian [Lang-Lessing] conduct – it was a thrill to meet Zandra [Rhodes]. What's great is everyone is there because they want to be there.
AG: It sounds like it was a really great experience. So you'd do it again?
Ben: I think I would. It really gave me a greater appreciation for all the technical aspects of a production. And I was really lucky to be so involved in this one – I have three roles and a part in every act – so I'd definitely do it again if I was as involved.

Well, based on the audience's reaction on Saturday, they enjoyed watching Ben and everyone else – I heard the words "magnificent," "superb" and "incredible." I'll be going on Friday, which is also Fashion Night at the Opera. So if you're wearing something by a Denver fashion designer, stop by the fashion table and get your picture taken. And if you're attending on Sunday, drop by The Pearl Fishers Bazaar and say hi!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Please Don't Squeeze the Opera

We had the final dress rehearsal last night. It's always a good time – lots of student groups come in and get to experience opera, many for the first time. We also had a few people come in off the street wanting to know if they could see the show (one couple had no idea what we were doing, but kudos to them for wanting to try something new).

I was at The Pearl Fishers Bazaar (open at all 4 performances – buy scarves, prints, books and more!) but briefly snuck backstage. If you've never been backstage at an opera, it's just as crazy as you'd think. There are singers warming up, people in full (or partial) states of costuming running around, and voices coming from the speakers giving cues like "This is the 10 minute warning for dancers" and "Mr. Panikkar to stage left, please."

I went backstage not just because it's fun, but to check out Opera Colorado's own Ben Davis – he sells tickets by day and acts in opera at night! Ben and the other male supers took some time out to pose for pictures – available on the slideshow on the right side of the page. Ben will check in with us later on how Opening Night went (as a super, he's got a unique perspective).

The only downside to last night was my camera being a bit on the fritz, so I couldn't take as many pictures as I wanted. But because I know you all want to see the sets and costumes – and I certainly can't blame you! – I posted some pictures taken by our own photographer, Matthew Staver. (He puts the "awe" in "photographer." No, it works. Say it out loud.) So check out the slideshow, have a great weekend – and I'll see some of you on Opening Night!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

An Opera is Forever

Opera singers have it tough. All joking aside, they have to sing, act, breathe, move, and sometimes even dance – all while making it look natural. (Which seems difficult – imagine pretending to be madly in love with a woman you've only met a few weeks ago!) So it was really cool for me to watch it all come together at a staging rehearsal. So I walk in to the studio and everyone's taking a break and getting ready for the next scene to rehearse. There's a stash of gorgeous pillows from the show on the floor (I had to tell myself it was the pillows or my job – I couldn't have both.) The conductor, Maestro Sebastian Lang-Lessing was there along with director Andrew Sinclair, the assistant director, the stage manager, and the assistant stage managers. And, of course, the four principals – Sean Panikkar (Nadir), Heidi Stober (Leila), Brian Mulligan (Zurga) and David Cushing (Nourabad).

The scene Andrew started with was where Leila and Nadir meet in the temple for the first time in three years. The singers had parts of costumes and props to work with and the Maestro directed while the accompanist played. And then they started singing. Those are some amazing voices. I've said it before and I'll say it again – these guys make it look as effortless as tossing off a commercial jingle. Opening night at the Ellie is going to be awesome.

So – they start singing and Andrew would occasionally stop the scene to give advice. He'd explain the motivations of the characters – like that Nadir is an experienced lover who's been waiting for this for years, but Leila is an innocent, and "it's all totally overwhelming to her." So Sean and Heidi don't just sing and swoon into each other's arms – you can see the musical and vocal battle play out in their movements – he's into it, she's trying to resist but really struggling. Amidst all that, the singers are also getting advice from the Maestro on how to sing the parts. There are so many elements that all come together and I'm still in awe of these little parts nobody thinks about – like how to get from standing to laying down without it looking awkward and making sure it fits the tone of the music (Leila wouldn't just hop onto the bed and curl under the covers!). The sheer logistics of how to sit, your hand position, where you're facing – all of that movement has to take the audience's viewpoint into consideration but balance that with a level of naturalness. You don't have to know anything about opera to be impressed with all that goes into it.

So this particular scene gets to a good point (I got goosebumps) and everyone gets ready to rehearse the next scene: where Nadir and Zurga first see each other at the beginning of the opera. They practiced maybe 2 minutes of the scene several times – Andrew would run around and pretend to be supers, dancers, or chorus members – while the accompanist sang the chorus parts. Because of scheduling needs, space and a variety of other reasons, the principals, dancers, chorus and supers all practice separately at the beginning of rehearsal time and then closer to Opening Night, it all comes together at the end.

I was pretty bummed that my schedule made it difficult to get to a dancer rehearsal. (How can you not be impressed with what they can do with their bodies?) I always wanted to peek inside the choreographer's head to see how they decided how and why the dancers should move. Ah, there's always next time. You're in luck, though – Michael Mizerany, Assistant Choreographer, is keeping a blog of dance rehearsals at http://malashockdance.wordpress.com/. Go, check it out!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Is It Live, Or Is It Opera?

Last Wednesday was our "Meet the Artists" panel at the Tattered Cover in LoDo. If you've never been, figure out a way to go. You get all sorts of interesting nuggets of information – like Brian Mulligan learned to play the fiddle at a young age – and you get to hear about the production from the horse's mouth, as it were.

The panel was made up of 3 principals – Brian, Sean and Heidi – as well as director Andrew Sinclair and choreographer John Malashock. The panel is moderated by General Director Greg Carpenter and he always begins by having the artists tell a little bit about how they got their start in opera. These stories are always pretty fun – more so this time because none of the panelists started school thinking they'd go into opera.

Sean, for example, learned to play piano and violin at a young age but wanted to be an architectural engineer. He entered a choral competition and got really far – and there went a career designing buildings. Heidi, though a piano player at age 5, planned a double degree in environmental science and music education. She found that performing on the piano gave her a terrible case of tummy butterflies – and singing had the opposite effect. Andrew trained as an actor but found he also didn't have the nerves for it. And John's first loves were science and skiing. He later turned to theater and dance – even working with dance legend Twyla Tharp for several years – and had a tiny part in the movie "Amadeus."

Since we had the people who worked to create the show, Greg asked John and Andrew to talk about the process. With dance, John felt that a lot of operas just sort of dropped ballet in for the sake of having a dance component. So he and Andrew sat down and found 9-10 parts of the opera where they could integrate dancing – parts where it would help accentuate the story. Or, as John said, "When words aren't enough, dance takes over."

The artists were asked how they prepared for their role. Brian noted that he creates a shell of who he thinks the character is, but is prepared to be flexible since the conductor and director often have their own ideas. He also acknowledged that French opera can be difficult since the language and diction is so exacting, but he feels he can really sing into the music. Sean had covered the role at San Francisco Opera and sang excerpts at a concert and was amazed at the changes to the production since he was at SFO. He said that Andrew really catered to the cast's strengths. Heidi agreed, noting that they didn't feel as though they were just being plugged in to the roles, but that "Andrew was creating something fresh for each member of the cast." Heidi went on to say that she loves French operas and Leila in particular is a great role, musically and as a three-dimensional character.

The panel ended with a Q&A session and then the artists got to eat lunch before they went back to rehearsal. We're always thankful to TC for doing this program with us – and it always has such a great turnout. (Don't forget to support the Tattered Cover Gives Back program – spend money at TC and a portion of the proceeds comes directly to us! Find out more here.) If you missed this one, we'll be back at the corner of 16th and Wynkoop with the cast of Così fan tutte on April 15 at noon – mark your calendars!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's Not TV. It's Opera.

It's not every day you get a wig fitting by an Emmy Award-nominee. Ronell Oliveri, the wig and make-up designer for our production of The Pearl Fishers, has not only been nominated for an Emmy but her work has been seen on TV and on the May 2008 cover of Opera News. Is she awesome and down-to-earth? You betcha. (Granted, I brought brownies to bribe her into letting me play with the wigs.) Ronell and her associate Sarah Opstad are wig goddesses. If the wigs for the production seem realistic – it's because they are. The wigs are made from real human hair and hand-sewn into lace mesh caps – which takes about 40 hours per wig! (A lot of smaller regional companies use synthetic wigs.)

Since everyone's head is shaped differently, a mold is made of the person's head so the mesh cap will fit perfectly. Then the gals use ventilating needles to sew the hair into the wig. The hair comes on a "weft," which is almost like a curtain of hair. The hair goes in about five or six strands at a time in the back and ONE strand at a time in the front. It's no wonder the wigs run about $1500-5000 to buy! So we rent the wigs from Ronell and she figures out what the wigs should look like for each character, since the wigs don't come with the costumes for a rental production. Ronell either starts from scratch or uses wigs from other shows to outfit the 60-some performers and has three other assistants besides Sarah to put the wigs and make-up on all the performers before the show. Bonus: I figured out how to post pictures on a slideshow - check it out on Flickr!

I stuck around for the wig fittings with Heidi Stober (Leila) and Brian Mulligan (Zurga) and I was amazed – it took less than 15 minutes! After the singers left for rehearsal, I hung around and chatted with the gals who taught me a lot about the art of wigs. Did you know the mannequin-looking head that wigs are kept on is called a block? Or that blocking is when you pin down the wig to prevent it from moving during styling and keeps it from getting ripped. I wanted to stay and learn a bunch more, but I was due at the second half of rehearsal.
Before I left, though, I got to try on one of the dancer wigs and see what I'd look like with black hair. Ronell and Sarah pinned my hair, slipped a stocking cap over it and got the wig into place. And the final result? I think I'll stick with my natural color! You know, there are days when I have a pretty cool job.

Monday, February 2, 2009

When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Opera

Much like a movie, a lot of behind-the-curtain work goes into an opera. Flip through the program and you'll see hundreds of people who make it all come together – and that's not even including the thousands of donors and patrons whose financial contributions help make it all possible. Though I can't interview everyone who works on The Pearl Fishers, I wanted to talk with some of the crew and get a feel for what they do. So I got to peek inside the brains of our two assistant stage managers (ASMs), Katie Riedel and Whitney Martin, and learned a little bit about what it is that they do.

What does an assistant stage manager do? What’s your main function?
Katie: The ASM is like an artist liaison. We are usually responsible for the organization and communication between crew and artist. A lot of times the duties are split--for instance, in this show I am in charge of communicating with the Wardrobe and Wig/Makeup department whereas Whitney communicates with Props. We are the "people persons." We direct the flow of people backstage by knowing where everyone needs to be and when.

Whitney: The assistant stage manager is responsible for acting as the crew during the rehearsal process. They are usually given a part of the show to be the liaison for. In this show, I am responsible for all the props. This means that it is my job to generate all the paperwork the crew will need to manage all the props once we get to the theatre. Often, this means an inventory list, a prop preset list, and a prop running sheet. The other ASM on this show is in charge of costumes and so it is her job to do the same for the wardrobe crew on the show. The ASMs are responsible for keeping the rehearsal hall clean and set for that day's rehearsal. When the director tells us which scenes he wants to rehearse that day, it is our job to make sure that all the props and costume pieces that they need for that day are in their proper place. It may also mean that we will need to step in and walk the part of singers that are not called to that rehearsal. During a rehearsal, we are responsible for keeping track of every entrance, exit, prop, and costume that is on our side of the stage. We usually "call" the entrances which means that we tell the singers when to go onstage. Because an opera is so music specific as far as action is concerned, it is our job to make sure that the entrances, exits, etc. stay consistent and with the music. Once we are onstage we are also responsible for the safety of the singers. Many times, there are pieces of scenery or drops that are moving at times that the singers may or may not be aware of, and it's our job to make sure that we keep them out of the way of moving scenery, drops, etc.

What are you looking forward to with this show?
Katie: I am looking forward to learning as much as I can from the brilliant staff and crew I will be working with.

Whitney: I'm looking forward to working with Heidi and Brian again! I worked with both of them in Houston. I'm also excited about working at Opera Colorado for the first time. I always love getting to try out new companies.

What are you nervous about with this show? What challenges do you anticipate?
Katie: The only nervous energy I have is excitement. I am looking forward to all aspects of this show and I am proud to be part of the Opera Colorado Team. I foresee many challenges (as with any show) who is to say what they will be? You have to be ready for anything. I do know however, I will approach each one with a healthy sense of humor and a good dose of patience.

Whitney: It's always a challenge working at a new company, getting to know how things work. This show is actually pretty simple for me because I ASMed on this exact show in DC about 3 months ago. It is VERY fresh in my mind so it makes it a lot easier to know what is coming up.

What would you tell someone who’d never seen an opera to convince them to see this one?
Katie: I think this show embodies talented principals, gifted dancers and wonderful costuming. I think the storyline is fun because it is somewhat magical and fantastical while staying grounded in true human emotion. I also think the music is just plain beautiful - and that's why we continue to support opera, isn't it?

Whitney: Well, the plot is pretty simple and easy to follow, which is always good for people new to opera. There is also a lot of beautiful dance in this production. John Malashock does a wonderful job of moving the show forward with dance. The costumes and set are also stunning. This is just a beautiful show.

Do you have a favorite scene in the opera?
Katie: So far my favorite scene is the opening with the dancers. It's wonderful to see such great choreography in opera. Perhaps that will change after we rehearse it 1000 times!

Whitney: My favorite scene is Nadir's aria after the entrance of Leila. It's just so beautiful and the way Andrew Sinclair blocks the scene shift that happens during the aria really leaves me breathless.

Friday, January 30, 2009

My Opera Has a First Name, It's T-O-S-C-A

We announced the 09-10 season last night! Drumroll, please...do we have a drumroll? No drumroll? We're an opera company, for goodness sakes...all right, fine. Check it out:

The Tales of Hoffmann
November 7 - 15, 2009

The Barber of Seville
February 6 - 14, 2010

April 24 - May 2, 2010

3 tales of obsession and 3 fantastic operas. Highlights? Hoffmann is that uber-cool one with the MC Escher-esque sets and costumes recently seen on the cover of Opera News. The Barber will be a traditional one from director David Gately. And the villainous Scarpia in Tosca will be played by returning Greer Grimsley, currently burning up the stage in San Diego Opera's own production of Puccini's opera. If you want a sneak peek, get on over to Aria Serious?, SDO's blog and read all about it. After that, you can read all about our season in the news release here. Extra bonus: we announced that in 2011, we'll be producing our first Czech opera - Rusalka, starring Kelly Kaduce. It's like Christmas came early!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I'd Like to Buy the World An Opera

I heart bass-baritones. (I don't think I'm alone in this.) How can you not love a voice that you can feel as well as hear? They get some of the dishiest parts, too - bass-baritones typically play priests, kings, grandfathers, villains, even the devil. So when I got the opportunity to interview David Cushing (bass-baritone who plays Nourabad in The Pearl Fishers), I certainly didn't object.

I began last Friday at the Costume Shop. I simply cannot express what a dream come true that place is. Racks and racks of costumes for principals, supers, chorus, dancers as well as shoes, masks, jewelry, leis, turbans and more – I wanted to take everything home!

So David arrives and goes into the fitting room for the draping and pinning. The goal of the fitting seemed to be to get the costume approximately the way it should look and then make alterations as needed. With rental productions like this one, there's typically only one costume sent over and it's usually pretty big so it can be taken in to fit multiple artists at multiple companies. Here's David in the full priest costumeand here's another pic as he contemplates the nuances of his character.

After the fitting, I drove David to Pete's Kitchen on Colfax for a quick snack and chat. (He had chili, I had chocolate bundt cake. Both were great.) In addition to being incredibly easy to talk to, David knows his stuff. He started singing in high school and, on a whim, auditioned for the voice department of the University of New Hampshire. He recalls the audition as a bit of a debacle, having picked songs more or less randomly. But the accompanist asked him to sing lower and lower still and, impressed with his range, the judges accepted him into the program. After his then-girlfriend turned him on to classical music, David began taking opera more seriously and went on to grad school and has since performed with Opera Colorado as well as Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Boston, Florentine Opera, Opera Columbus and more.

I asked David what he did to prepare for a role. "First I break out my score and do my own translation," he said. If it's a larger role, he'll read extra material like the play or novel the opera might be based on. "I think it's important to be flexible when you're preparing," David noted. "Every director is different. Some are really hands-on and have a firm idea of how they want the role to go. Others are a bit more loose and ask the artists to be a big part of how it's sung and staged. So you can't necessarily go in with all these ideas of how you think it should be, but you also can't be completely unprepared."

David admits that Nourabad is not the biggest role in the opera. "But they say there are no small roles, only small actors," he said with a smile. "Nourabad isn't unimportant. The characters in an opera are created for a reason – or they would be supers." After all, it's Nourabad who sets the whole ending in motion. David went on to mention that smaller roles can actually be harder to perform. The artist needs to pay close attention to where they fit in and balance their performance against the leads. Interestingly, there tends to be a lot of roles for bass-baritones, especially smaller roles, and there are even operas with several bass-baritone parts.

So, why does David think this is a great opera? It's all about the music. "It's beautiful music. There's not just soft, pretty parts, but quite a few stirring and dramatic pieces as well. My favorite scene is the duet with Zurga and Leila. The music begins softly – there's a lot of sublimation – and the intensity builds perfectly with the action." David also added that with only three main characters and a simple storyline, the opera itself is easy to follow – important if you're new to opera!

After David finishes his stint as Nourabad, he'll go on to play Sarastro in The Magic Flute with Florentine Opera of Milwaukee and then Banco in Macbeth in Granite State Opera in New Hampshire. He plans to continue singing for quite a few more years and then may go into teaching or directing.

Well, readers, I enjoyed talking with David, but I wondered if there were questions you would have asked had you been there. So if you have questions, post a comment and I'll see what I can do about getting them answered!

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's How Opera Is Done

"Repeat after me: French is not hard." So began the first chorus rehearsal for The Pearl Fishers. I felt like I was back in college, in a class requiring about fifty more prerequisites than I had. The rehearsal even began much like a college class: going over administrative stuff, introducing the 'teacher' (Chorus Master John Baril) and moving everyone around so they sat according to voice type. Then it was time to get down to business.

I'm not going to lie – I can't sing. Oh, sure, I'm a rock star in my car. But these guys can really sing…and they make it look as effortless as tossing off a commercial jingle. (I am jealous.) The rehearsal was part language class, part music class, and part history class. Nobody had sung this opera before, so John had them start by singing "la" instead of the words. After a bit, the chorus practiced making some of the French sounds and repeat some of the recurring phrases. All the while, John directed the singing, occasionally throwing out comments or advice.

The chorus rehearsals are accompanied by former Ensemble Artist coach/pianist Steven Aguiló-Arbues. Steven knows a ton about opera and I learned that the whole score for any given opera is rarely performed. Directors and conductors make musical cuts – some are traditional and some are based on popularity. The Pearl Fishers is interesting because there were about a trillion different endings circulated – sometimes Zurga died on the funeral pyre, sometimes Zurga was stabbed in the back, sometimes the lovers appeared on a rock singing a love duet.

Before rehearsal, I chatted with chorus liaison Park William Showalter, who's been with the chorus since the company began. He said the chorus really felt like a family, which is good because they'll be spending a lot of time together for the next month. In addition to the 36+ hours of rehearsal, they've got to memorize and practice the pieces on their own time.

Wow! Who signs up for that kind of commitment? Choristers Chris Larsen and his wife Andrea, for one. They moved to Denver two years ago and wanted a way to spend time together and be involved in music. They began in La traviata; Pearl Fishers will be their fifth opera. Shane Delavan, who's been a chorister for fourteen years, says he enjoys the chance to stretch his musical ability and expand his experience as a musician. Each production is a new and different experience – even if it's an opera he's sung two or three times. Shane noted that you get to work with a lot of great conductors and directors, but it's his fellow chorus members that keep him coming back.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Better Ingredients, Better Opera

Have you ever noticed that there are often a lot of people on the stage in opera? In addition to the principals and the chorus, the cast is filled out with supers, or supernumeraries, who are the non-singing extras. Our own Ben Davis (seen here hard at work) - in addition to selling tickets, coordinating volunteers, and a million more responsibilities – will be playing a super in The Pearl Fishers. Read on for a special joint blog entry between Ben and AriaGirl!

AriaGirl: So last Friday, I went to our Costume Shop with Ben for his costume fitting.
Ben: Mostly to tease me.
AG: And to play with the Costume Director's dog, Henry.
Ben: But mostly to tease me.
AG: Hey, I'll give you credit – it takes a lot of guts to show up on stage in that first costume.
Ben: Tell me about it. When they handed it to me, I wanted to ask where the rest of the costume was. Here's a picture (NOT me) of the costume – it's basically this blue pair of shorts that looks sort of like a loincloth. I've got a pair of boxer briefs on underneath, and that's all there is.
AG: So you're wearing the same thing as that guy to the left of Zurga. That doesn't leave much to the imagination…
Ben: It's not bad, really. It was a little weird standing there as these three women – the SDO Costume Supervisor, our Costume Director and her assistant – are all talking about where things need to be let out or taken in. I was kind of afraid to move, since I didn't want to get stuck with any pins.
AG: I can't imagine that costume needing much alteration.
Ben: It really didn't. It was mostly the other costumes that they kind of fussed over.
AG: I can't believe you get THREE costume changes.
Ben: It's because I'm awesome. The weird part is I get more and more dressed as the show goes on. I've got this tiny little first costume on at the beginning of the show with the big dancing scene. But then I become a litter-bearer for the priestess. Here's a picture of the second costume.
AG: I can't decide if I like the pink turban or the gold belt better.
Ben: Hey! I think I looked pretty great.
AG: Up close – in the dressing room – well, let's just say you'll look a lot different with the body make-up and on the stage itself. I just wish I hadn't left my camera back at the office.
Ben: I would've stolen the camera, anyway. So my third costume, the last one, is my favorite. I feel like a pirate in it because I'm wearing these dark clothes and have a black bandana. Here's another picture. It's the end of the opera and I'm one of the guys guarding Leila and Nadir. I'm dressed like the guy by the cage, the really fierce-looking one.
AG: You're hitting the gym tonight, right? So, I'm sorry I have to spoil the ending, but Ben has one of the most important parts in the opera.
Ben: It's true. I'm the trigger man. I grab a rifle and shoot Zurga after he lets the lovers get away.
AG: Is that the only reason you agreed to do this?
Ben: No way. I'm really stoked about seeing it from start to finish and watching all the elements come together. I'm just going to be dead tired at the end of it.
AG: That's right. You have evening rehearsals – and that's on top of working at the office for a full day.
Ben: I think I might take a month of vacation after the opera closes.
AG: I wouldn't blame you. Hey, I'll come and see you so I can watch a staging rehearsal. I think you should stay in costume during the rehearsals so you can really get into character.
Ben: I'll get back to you on that.
AG: You do that. Well, readers, I hope you enjoyed hearing about the secret life of a super, and we'll keep you posted as Ben's rehearsals continue. I'll be back on Friday with the secret life of a chorister after I attend the first chorus rehearsal. That is, if all that snow out there doesn't stop me. See you on Friday!

Pictures courtesy San Diego Opera (Ken Howard) and Michigan Opera Theatre (John Grigaitis).

Friday, January 9, 2009

A Day Without Opera is like a Day Without Sunshine

We had our subscriber preview event last night. It was a huge success, but the planning meant blogging took a back burner. I'll be back next week with exciting Pearl Fishers updates!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Better Living Through Opera

I felt so bad about not posting for two weeks (the holidays really play havoc with your schedule!) that I'm posting a special Monday Edition of the blog!

Meet Andrew. Andrew grew up going to the theater, ballet and opera in Australia. He sang in his school's choir and a passion for opera emerged – he even saved his money to buy scores (and learned the soprano parts). After realizing that his stage fright would prevent him from making it as an actor, this young man found his way to becoming Andrew Sinclair, the acclaimed stage director and creator of our new production of The Pearl Fishers.

Andrew and I got to chat a bit about the production. Being somewhat clueless about the process, I asked him how he actually stages an opera. Unsurprisingly, it starts with the music. His first step is to sit down and listen to a recording - preferably one with Maria Callas (that late, great diva extraordinaire). Then he begins to plot how he wants to play the opera and how he sees the characters. As audience members, we see an opera on stage and think the composer wrote where they should stand, how they should interact – but that's just not the case. The stage director has to coordinate with the set designer and choreographer to figure out the best way to tell the story.

Andrew told me that his favorite scene is at the start of Act III where Leila begs Zurga for the life of Nadir. In this scene, Zurga is alternately in love and furious with Leila. He feels betrayed but is still very much attracted to the priestess. Part of the staging is deciding whether Leila should fall to her knees at a dramatic moment – or maybe she should run to Zurga and clutch at his clothes. Even with subtitles, action is so important to moving the story along.

Sinclair says the conflict between the players is fascinating. The characters and relationships must hold our attention – why see an opera where everyone gets along? The challenge is to highlight the conflict and bring out the different aspects of each character. Sinclair told me that he's worked with seven different Leilas, five Nadirs, and eight Zurgas. With each staging, the artists bring different aspects to their roles and he's looking forward to watching the story unfold with our cast. Having talked with our cast, I know they've given a lot of thought to the dimensions of each role and how best to portray them. I'll be attending a staging rehearsal in a few weeks and I'm excited to see what it's like (don't worry, I'll take plenty of notes!).

Stay tuned for Friday's entry!