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!