Thursday, January 28, 2010

Everybody Loves Opera

At the end of January, there’s always an extra-special belated holiday gift – the announcement of the next season! And what a season…it's like a delicious cupcake mixed with decadent ice cream and made the perfect flavor, er, season.

La Bohème
November 6 – 14, 2010

Everyone’s favorite opera! It’s like a late nineteenth-century version of a sitcom following the lives and loves of close friends. Soaring, beautiful melodies? Check. Best bohemian buds struggling to find their way in the world? Check. A saucy soprano and a sweet seamstress with cold hands? Double check!

February 12 – 20, 2011

Think The Little Mermaid, but darker. A beautiful little water sprite longs to be human, and finds out she should be careful what she wishes for. BONUS: Opera Colorado’s putting on a Czech festival of the arts called Czech Point Denver. Details will be announced in the coming months, so stay tuned.

Cinderella (La Cenerentola)
April 30 – May 8, 2011

Another classic story of love, only Rossini’s version has a few twists that make it extra special. Filled with engaging characters and some of Rossini’s greatest ensemble pieces, it’s a family-friendly opera in which the power of goodness triumphs.

Current subscribers can start renewing their seats now – and a ton already have. If you’re a season ticket holder, you can call 303.468.2030 or go online to renew. As for me, I’ll be getting back to Barber soon. See you then!


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Check Back Tomorrow!

Tonight is our Season Announcement Party! The blog will be moved to tomorrow to report on the 2010-2011 Season. Can you handle the anticipation?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Petticoat Opera

Anna Björnsdotter is living the dream. Even on the most stressful of days, the costume designer for The Barber of Seville is able to stop and say: “This is really great!” For a woman who is infatuated with clothes, becoming a costume designer seemed inevitable.

I chatted with Anna to learn a little bit more about what she does. (And you know me, readers – I love costumes and all things associated with them!) So it was like someone handed me a free cupcake when she said she’d be happy to answer all my costuming questions.

How did you get started?
I was born and raised in Sweden, and my mother was on the board of a theater company. There was never any question for me – from the time I was 5 years old I knew I’d be working in the performing arts. I moved to America when I was older and became a costume supervisor at San Francisco Opera. I then started designing on the side and eventually started doing it full-time.

How is designing costumes for opera different than for other art forms?
The number one difference is that they have to be worn by people who do incredibly strenuous things – singing in opera is like running a marathon. It’s really physically intense. Also, a lot of period clothes are not cut the way modern people would wear them. People back then were smaller and shaped differently, so you have to adapt the design for singers.

Can you tell me about the design process?
The design process for Barber was a little different than I’ve had in the past. I wasn’t in the same city as the director and we worked on a pretty short timeline. I also designed the chorus first and the principals second, which is the opposite of what usually happens. First I make sketches of the costumes and send them to the director. Costume drawings are kind of like a blueprint; it’s not going to look exactly the way you draw it. I also coordinate with the set designer and the lighting designer to make sure that everything comes together the way it’s supposed to.

How do you make the costumes?
It depends on the opera company and the opera’s concept. If you have a modern production, you would try to buy existing clothes. For period productions, the designer gives a sketch to the shop. The cutter will make a mock-up of the costume out of muslin or other inexpensive fabric. The designer may make changes or approve it, and then the cutter will make the actual garment. If it’s a dress, the bodice will be made a little later out of a sturdy material called cotile. Then we have the first fitting with the singer and will talk about what works, and what doesn’t. The cutter makes any changes and there’s usually one more fitting. After making any last-minute adjustments, the costume goes to the dress rehearsal, which sometimes prompts even more changes! The dress rehearsal is the first time you see everything together, so you may need to alter and adjust the picture you have of everything together.

Can you tell me about the costumes and what time period they’re set in?
The costumes, which were originally designed for Opera Pacific, are set around 1790 or so. I did some research, but by the time you’ve done this for a while, you get familiar with certain eras. Also, there are only so many examples of real clothes from a certain era that you start to see the same pictures in every book. I do feel it’s important to make sure your designs are fresh. Art is a fantastic, non-costume inspiration for colors.

Can you tell me about the look of the costumes?
Designers tend to make the chorus a little more dull in color and the principals brighter, so they stand out. Figaro essentially has one costume that’s altered with different pieces, but he wears a lot of brown, orange and yellow. He wears similar colors to the chorus, but also has a coat to make him stand out. He also wears earth tones because he is down to earth and doesn’t have these huge aspirations. Rosina’s first costume was originally white, but we had to dye it as it blended in with the white set. She wears these rich, bold colors and has a lot of pattern and texture, like stripes, in her costumes. A lot of productions have her in a pink dress, which seems sort of boring and placid to me, and Rosina is definitely willful ans has her own strong opinions. Bartolo’s clothes are styled closer to the 1750’s. He hasn’t really changed his clothes or attitude since his youth. His clothes are nicely made, but they’re definitely a dated style. Almaviva tries to wear inconspicuous clothing similar to the chorus when he pretends to be Lindoro, the poor student, but his color scheme is brighter and he wears a longer coat. His final costume as the Count is very regal and in blue and gold hues, evoking the time of Versailles.

There you have it: the ins and outs of costume design. And you thought it was easy.

See you on Tuesday!


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

One Opera to Live

Last week you got to read about Brian Stucki and Lucas Meachem. This week I bring you all the darkest secrets (just kidding) of soprano Isabel Leonard (Rosina), who is currently causing an epidemic of jaw-dropping over at the Met. She’s been wowing them over there with her stage presence, amazing singing, and…let’s face it, she’s quite the looker. None of which has gone to her head - in interviewing Isabel, I found a soft-spoken yet strong young woman who is talented and sweet. Read on:

How would you describe Rosina?
She’s young and intelligent. She’s determined, but not completely self-confident (like any young person), despite the face she shows to the world. This is my role debut, so ask me again in a year or so!

What music is on your iPod right now?
My mother’s Argentinean, so my ear is very attuned to that style of music. I also have pretty much every song by Frank Sinatra. I love jazz - Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn. I think they’re fabulous singers who connect to what they do on every level. They’re very honest.

Do you have any talents besides singing?
I’ve danced since I was five, but I don’t know if that’s unusual. I started with ballet and was in The Nutcracker twice and also studied tap and jazz. I still dance when I have the time. You communicate your story like in singing, but instead by moving your body to music. I love it.

What is the worst pick-up line you have ever heard?
I don’t think I’ve ever heard one that stuck in my brain. And I never heard that many pick-up lines to begin with. Nobody ever believes that, but it’s true. When my husband and I started dating, it was a very mutual thing. We were just drawn immediately to each other without much thought…or talking, even!

What books are on your “to be read” list?
A lot! I’ve been so busy preparing for Barber that the score is the only thing I’ve really read lately. I recently finished Practicing Peace in Times of War by an American Buddhist nun. I also have the complete novels of Jane Austen and Divas and Scholars by Philip Gossett, which talks about Barber. I’ve also started The Essence of Style: How the French Invented High Fashion, Fine Food, Chic Cafes, Style, Sophistication, and Glamour. The title pretty much says it all, and it’s very interesting.

What opera do you think would translate well to a series on HBO?
That’s a tough one, because so many of the main characters die at the end of the opera! If we could just omit the fact that she dies, I think Carmen would be excellent in her own show. You could show love affair after love affair and it would be very torrid and exciting.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions that people have about you?
I’m actually quite shy. Because of my career, everyone thinks I’m very extroverted, but I’ve always been shy. I’ve learned to adapt, and not let my shyness stop me from communicating my thoughts and artistic ideas. I’m not shy on stage, but I’ve had to train myself to walk into a room and actually talk to people instead of hiding in the corner.

Catch Isabel as Rosina when The Barber of Seville opens February 6 at The Ellie. See you on Thursday!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Dukes of Opera

Earlier this week, I shared some tidbits about tenor Brian Stucki, who will sing the role of Almaviva. Today we’ll hear from Lucas Meachem, the baritone behind the barber. I chatted with the man who’ll play the title role in The Barber of Seville and got some interesting answers to my questions. (I like to ask unusual questions, like “What superpower would you most like to have?” It always makes for a lively conversation.)

What is the hardest part about singing Figaro?
I’ve done this role so frequently that it’s become very natural. Vocally, the entrance aria is difficult. It can be such a fast piece that you’ve got to be on top of your game. As far as the show, it’s all about feeling out the audience. The audience wants to be entertained, but you can’t work too hard at being funny. You have to make the audience come to you. You have to be authentic and not pander to the audience.

What was your favorite Halloween costume as a kid?
We weren’t the wealthiest of families, so I always got creative with my costumes. One of my favorites was what I called “the fat farmer,” which came about because I already owned a pair of overalls. I took some pillows and stuffed them in the front, then got a piece of straw to stick in my mouth. Everyone got a kick out of it.

If you auditioned for “American Idol,” what song would you sing?
I actually did audition for them. I sang Babyface’s “One Last Cry.” I guess I wasn’t really what they were looking for, but it works out well because I really enjoy what I’m doing now. I still like to go out and sing karaoke in bars, though. I’ll have to find a place in Denver to hit up.

What opera character do you think you’re most like?
Definitely Figaro. He’s a happy-go-lucky guy who really wants to help people out. He treats everyone in the opera the way they deserve to be treated and he loves what he does. I think Figaro’s just a really cool guy.

What's your favorite ice cream flavor?
Oh, that’s a tough one. I’m a big fan of the classic dip cones from Dairy Queen – the vanilla ones dipped in chocolate. But I also like Moose Tracks, which is vanilla ice cream with peanut butter cups and fudge. I like to keep in shape, so I balance out the ice cream with yoga or playing basketball. I also just started learning to box, which has been really cool.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I love video games and have really gotten into online video games. I’m playing "Halo Wars" right now. It’s great to get away from the real world for a little bit, but I also use it to catch up with my friends: we can talk about what’s going on in our lives while we’re waiting for the game to load. When I was in San Francisco, one of my friends from the opera introduced me to her husband’s friend, Patrick, who played on a softball team. I started playing with him and met a bunch of people. I still stay in touch through the game, especially with Patrick. He’s one of my closest friends.

If you had to donate a million dollars to a charity, what organization would you choose?
I’d have to say the Humane Society. I’ve done concerts to raise money for them and they’re such a worthy cause. Pet ownership is a responsibility that, unfortunately, not everyone takes seriously. People have the tools to improve their own quality of life, but pets depend on us to make sure they’re happy and safe.

I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about our soon-to-be barber - I know I did. See you next Tuesday!


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Man from O.P.E.R.A.

I love my job. I get to have robo-makeovers, I get to produce videos, and I get to talk with opera singers. Today we hear from tenor Brian Stucki, who will sing the role of Almaviva, the young romantic itching to capture Rosina’s heart.

Now, dear readers, these aren’t your standard opera questions. I like to put a personality to the voice and learn a little bit about who these people are when they’re not on stage. So I talked to Brian and found an interesting man with an incredibly close-knit family. Read on:

How would you describe Almaviva?
He’s an interesting character because of what we know from The Marriage of Figaro – it’s interesting to balance the two. I think Almaviva really believes in love and Rosina isn’t just a conquest for him, there’s something special about her.

What do you do when you’ve had a really bad day?
My wife and I travel with our kids, and there’s nothing better after a rough day than coming home to a hotel room full of family. It’s great to unwind and read bedtime stories…it really brings things back into perspective.

If you could spend a day living in a TV show or movie, which one would it be?
If I didn’t have to suffer the consequences, I’d like to spend the day in Arrested Development, the now-canceled FOX show about a really dysfunctional family. I think it’d be fascinating to just observe the characters. We also travel with the DVDs and the show has become comfort viewing. No matter how bad your day was, you’re likely in a better situation than the family.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was four, I joked that I wanted to be an opera singer. I didn’t know any singers and had never heard opera, but it made people laugh, so I kept saying it. Later in elementary school, I wanted to be a doctor because everyone else wanted that, too. But then the opera world came knocking at my door, and I answered.

If you could trade lives with anyone for a day, who would it be and why?
My wife. In traveling, she sees a totally different experience of what I do. When we travel as a family, we’re on the road a lot. There’s lots of things she could be doing, but she’s made the sacrifice to keep us together and works so hard at maintaining structure for the kids. From the outside, this seems like such a glamorous life, but it’s not easy by any stretch, especially for the families of opera singers.

What superhero did you most like when you were young?
I was always drawn to Superman. I grew up in the era of the movies and was always compelled by the fantasy of discovering some hidden power. Superman has all these amazing powers and he’s always discovering new ones. What kid wouldn’t think that’s great?

What opera character would you want to go out drinking with?
The Queen of the Night – because she’s only on stage for a few minutes, and there’s clearly this huge story between her and Sarastro and I think it’d be fascinating to find out what happened. It seems like they were on the same team, and then something happened. We only hear Sarastro’s side of things and I’d love to hear her take on it.

Learn more about Brian at the Meet the Artists panel at Tattered Cover (LoDo) on January 27 at noon. You can also visit his website and hear him sing "Ecco ridente" from Barber. And stay tuned for later in the week: I talk with baritone Lucas Meachem, who will sing the role of Figaro. See you on Thursday!


Thursday, January 7, 2010

I Dream of Opera

I know you’re out there. I can hear you quietly humming “Largo al factotum” (aka “that Figaro Figaro Figaro” song). You pass the Ellie and wonder what it would be like to sit inside. You’ve even gone as far as to read a blog on opera.

I see you, closet opera fans. You’re out there. And I’m going to lure you out. Love. Laughter. Moustaches. We’ve got it. You want it. And in February, you’ll get your wish.

But let’s back up: it’s time for a little history lesson! Rossini created a bit of a stir when he announced his new opera, as there was already a popular Barber making the rounds (this one composed by Giovanni Paisiello). Rossini went on to compose Barber in a little under three weeks. Easy enough to do, since the overture had been written for his earlier opera Aureliano in Palmira. (It’s not plagiarism if it’s your own work, right?)

The premiere was a disaster (a running theme with popular operas). There was hissing and jeering from fans of Paisiello and numerous mishaps and accidents. When Almaviva made his entrance to serenade Rosina, the strings on his guitar broke. Later in the opera, the singer portraying Basilio tripped and broke his nose. A stray cat even found its way onstage and refused to leave, eventually hiding in Rosina’s skirts!

Despite all this, the second performance was a success and the opera’s gone on to be incredibly popular. Even those unfamiliar with the story can typically recognize the music, which has been heard and parodied in Warner Brother's cartoons, The Simpsons, Mrs. Doubtfire, the Beatles' movie Help!, Seinfeld, Our Gang and about a trillion other sources.

Now that I’ve piqued your interest, you can learn more about the opera on our website – including fun facts and details on the cast. (Click here.)

The Barber of Seville opens February 6. Memorize it. Write it on your calendar. Tattoo it on your forehead. And I will see you there.

See you on Tuesday!


PS: Want to be the first to know when the blog goes up? Follow me on Twitter!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Welcome Back, Opera

The holidays are over. The decorations have been put away. The pumpkin pie is but a distant memory. Valentine’s Day merchandise is already on the shelves. (It’s crazy, I know.) But all those hearts and Cupids have got me jonesing for a little love story – comedic opera-style.

So how perfect is it that February will see one of the most famous, most loved, and most parodied operas: The Barber of Seville. It’s not about a homicidal barber. (That would be Sweeney Todd.) It’s not about a singing legend’s 5th annual “farewell” concert in Spain. (That would be The Barbra of Seville.)

Barber is wacky, it’s madcap, it’s other fancy words that mean “fun.” Because that’s what it is. It’s a stageful of funny people singing clever things to music that you can’t get out of your head.

Actually, the music is probably still in your head from when you first saw “The Rabbit of Seville,” the Looney Tunes homage to Rossini. But I digress.

So what’s the story? We open with a poor student (is there any other kind?) who’s trying to woo the lovely Rosina. Little does Rosina know that the student is actually a wealthy count named Almaviva, who doesn’t want to be loved for his money or title. Unfortunately, Almaviva’s striking out with Rosina. So he calls in reinforcements: Figaro, a barber and regular jack-of-all-trades to help him. Hilarity ensues!

I’m excited. You’ll be excited. So stick with me for the next month and learn about costumes, the cast, crazy facts and other things that start with “C.”

See you on Thursday!