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!

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