Friday, October 29, 2010

Clique Claque

Dear AriaGirl:
I was researching the premiere of Madama Butterfly and read that a claque was one of the main causes the opera wasn’t received well. Is that an opera term for a union strike?
Andrea C.

Dear Andrea:

After spending the entire morning not getting tired of how funny the word “claque” sounds, I got down to business. A claque (French for “clapping”), is a group of people paid to applaud (or boo, in some cases). People have been paid to appreciate the performance since Roman times, but it wasn’t until the 16th-century that the French poet Jean Daurat perfected the practice. He bought a bunch of tickets and gave them away in return for promised applause.

The concept really took off in Paris, where a company offered professional claqueurs. Soon, the practice became commonplace and developed an elaborate system of differing roles: from those paid to laugh, cry, request encores, and more. After the practice spread to Italy, singers were often contacted by the head of the claque and forced to pay a fee so they weren’t booed.

Fortunately for singers (and opera companies), the practice has largely fallen out of favor - especially after big names in opera - like Arturo Toscanini - discouraged it.

Got a question about opera? Send it in to

Ciao for now!

PS: Need a little Halloween fix? Try this classical music matching game from NPR!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Opera Makes the World Go Round

Thursday is Education day here on the blog, and today we have an adorable story for you! Have you heard of Starkey International? The Starkey International Institute for Household Management educates and trains individuals for the private service sector in jobs like household managers, personal assistants, private chefs, and butlers. Starkey has been recognized in national media, including the Chicago Tribune, New York Times, and ABC News Money Matters.

So Starkey is a pretty discriminating school - they only accept the best. So when a recent new student had to turn in his acceptance packet, he turned to Opera Colorado for help. The student hired Christie Hageman, one of Opera Colorado's Young Artists, to deliver his acceptance packet along with arias from November's La Bohème.

Check out the video:

More video is on Starkey's YouTube channel.

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Silly Rabbit, Opera's for Kids

Today’s Whatever I Find Interesting Comes from Box Office Manager Katie Bulota, who brought in…wait for it…

A copy of the book Scooby-Doo and the Opera Ogre!

So I took some time to curl up on the couch and read it. In the name of the blog, of course.

The story begins with the Scooby gang heading out for a night at the opera to see the debut production of The Viking Voyage – Shaggy and Scooby are even singing enthusiastically in the back of the van. When they arrive, however, everyone is running out of the opera house, which is filled with smoke. The gang investigates, and along the way learn more about the production of opera: they see the orchestra pit, visit the dressing rooms, learn about the wings and the green room, try on costumes, and see the scenery shop.

So how does it end? Turns out the understudy wrapped the lead tenor up as a mummy so he could sing instead. (The bad guy even says the classic line: “The plan would’ve worked, too, if it weren’t for you nosy kids and your dog!”)

So all’s well that end’s well – the show goes on and everyone enjoys the opera – especially with two new additions in the form of Shaggy and Scooby, singing in the Viking chorus.

Ciao for now!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sesame Opera

Today’s Trivia Tuesday revisits a familiar subject; we’d talked about the rivalry between Leoncavallo and Puccini as both worked to bring Bohème to life on the opera house stage. But whatever happened to Leoncavallo’s version? Well, he finished the opera – he wrote the music AND the libretto! – and it premiered a little after Puccini’s version.

Unlike Puccini’s version, Leoncavallo highlights the darker, grittier aspects of the original novel. Mimì’s death is less a moment of love reunited and more the reality of poverty in 19th-century Paris.

Interestingly, when Leoncavallo’s version premiered, it was more well-known and popular than its counterpart for about ten years, when Puccini’s work rushed ahead to be “the” Bohème.

As for our Bohème, there are almost NO tickets left for the Saturday and Sunday performances and we're close to running out for Friday, too - best available tickets are for the Tuesday, November 9 and Tuesday, November 16 performances.

Ciao for now!

Monday, October 25, 2010

All You Need is Opera

It's Music Monday! Today brings you another commercial with opera, this one hailing from about twenty years ago. It features Michael J. Fox and Diet Pepsi

Got a commercial where opera was used? E-mail me the link:

Ciao for now!

Friday, October 22, 2010

I Only Have Eyes For Opera

The music of opera and a delicious meal in the middle of the day – it sounds wonderful, doesn’t it?

We’re having a luncheon celebrating the opening of Opera Colorado's upcoming production of La Bohème and YOU’RE invited! (I’ll be there!)

La Bohème Luncheon
November 3, 2010 at noon
Chambers Grant Salon - Ellie Caulkins Opera House

Our featured artist at the luncheon will be soprano Sari Gruber, who will perform the role of Musetta in November’s La Bohème. She has been hailed as "nothing short of sensational" by Opera magazine and "a real creature of the stage" by Opera News.

This event supports Opera Colorado's Education and Community Outreach Programs, which serves over 26,000 students annually – that’s over 5,200 ears that get to hear opera – ears that might never experience the art form without these programs. Can you imagine your life without opera?

The luncheon is $45 per person and you can RSVP to 303.698.2334 or online at

Special thanks to Kevin Taylor Restaurant Group for their sponsorship of this event.

Ciao for now!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

You Light Up My Opera

When Laurie Peterson started with Opera Colorado, she expected to fill her days with grantwriting and meetings with foundations.

She didn’t expect to choreograph scenes in an opera.

But the staff of Opera Colorado have many hidden talents. When we did The Pearl Fishers, Group Sales Coordinator Ben Davis served as a super. And this year, Peterson worked with the Young Artists as they learned the music and staging for our touring production of Hansel & Gretel.

“One of the scenes I worked with them on takes place very early in the opera,” explained Peterson. “Hansel and Gretel are supposed to be mending socks, but Hansel doesn’t want to. Gretel decides to teach him to dance, and the two end up making a mess of the room."

Peterson and Cherity Koepke, the Young Artists Director, discussed the choreography and what Koepke hoped to accomplish. Koepke, along with Assistant Director Emilie Elmore, both agreed they wanted a scene that was funny and entertaining, but ultimately ended with a messy room.

Peterson worked with soprano Christie Hageman (Gretel) and mezzo-soprano Julia Tobiska (Hansel), who were very flexible and willing to try something new. She asked accompanist Steven Aguiló-Arbues to play the music, then had the singers sing along a second time.

“I didn’t want to create a lot of choreography without working with the singers first. You have to take people and their ability levels into account, as well as the size of the set and any props that might be around.”

Peterson, who was a principal dancer for Concert Ballet of Virginia, danced all through college and choreographed for American College Dance Festival. She has taught dance at many levels and styles, including classical ballet, modern, lyrical jazz, and musical theatre.

“Dance is my true passion,” said Peterson. “I’ve been dancing and choreographing in my head for years, even as a little girl. There have been times while driving that a great song comes on and I miss my exit because I’m thinking about dance.”

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Secret Life of Opera

Today’s Wednesday Whatevever I Find Interesting: that opera singers are people, too.

No, really! Take tenor Richard Troxell, for example. Earlier this month, he participated in the I Hate Cancer Bike Ride, traveling one hundred miles from Pennsylvania to Maryland as a fundraiser for his cousin Tracy and for his friend Sheri.

Troxell has been riding for many years and uses it as a way to stay in good physical shape as well as to train for upcoming roles. Troxell said riding and singing have a lot in common: "you ride, hit hills, and see how fast you can recoup. [Opera] is the same. You have a long solo, and then you have to be ready for the next one right away."

Troxell makes his Opera Colorado debut in the role of Rodolfo in November’s production of La Bohème. He was recently at Portland Opera, singing the role of the Duke in Rigoletto. He was also in the Sony Pictures release in the role of Lieutenant Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly, a film that was widely acclaimed by music and film critics alike.

Tickets are still available for the five performances, but call soon…the phones in our box office have been busy with all the people excited to see the opera!

Ciao for now!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

As the Opera Turns

It’s Trivia Tuesday at Opera Colorado, and a group of us were talking about Bohème (as we do). We talked about how the ending – much like Butterfly – is very intense, but we wondered what happened to the bohemians after Mimì dies.
So I did a little research, and according to the original book by Henri Murger, they all live happily ever after.

No, really! Schaunard, the musician, becomes a successful song writer and makes a lot of money. Colline, the philosopher, marries a rich society lady and spends the rest of this life in luxury. Marcello, the painter, exhibits his paintings and sells one to a man whose mistress is Musetta. Rodolfo, the poet, receives critical acclaim for his first book and is on his way to a successful writing career.

(Thanks to Alexis Hamilton / Portland Opera.)

Ciao for now!

Monday, October 18, 2010

I Left My Opera in San Francisco

Can you think of a better way to start out the week than with a little Puccini and Pavarotti? (I didn’t think so.) Watch "Che gelida manina” from San Francisco Opera’s 1990 production of La Bohème starring Luciano Pavarotti as Rodolfo and Mirella Freni as Mimì.

Ciao for now!

Friday, October 15, 2010

America’s Next Top Opera

Dear AriaGirl:
What does verismo opera mean? Are those operas performed at a much faster tempo?
Manon L.

Dear Manon:

Not quite, as entertaining as that sounds. (Can you imagine a version of the Ring Cycle at twice the tempo?) Verismo opera refers to a style of opera that became popular in the late 19th century. Composers began looking for stories of ordinary people, rather than the heroic tales from myth and history that had previously occupied the stages. Puccini called them “little souls,” and some argue that Madama Butterfy, Tosca and La Bohème are all stories of ordinary people in ordinary situations. These stories were often inspired by midnineteenth century French literature and frequently depicted the darker, more sordid or violent aspects of lower-class life. Today, you might compare them to reality TV; both verismo and reality TV are certainly melodramatic versions of these “little souls.” I’d certainly argue, however, that Puccini especially treated his characters with much more dignity and respect than their present-day counterparts.

Got a question about opera? Send it in to

Ciao for now!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The People’s Opera

Meet the Librettists
From Opera Colorado’s La Bohème Guidebook

Luigi Illica was born the small town of Castell'Arquato, Italy in 1857. His personal life sometimes imitated his libretti. The reason he is always photographed with his head slightly turned is because he lost his right ear in a duel over a woman. When silent films based on Illica's operas were made, his name appeared in large letters on advertisements because distributors could not guarantee that his stories would be accompanied by the music of the appropriate composer. Illica had a very clear division of work when working with Puccini and Giacosa; he would plan the scenario and draft the dialogue of each opera. Illica died in the December of 1919 and is now buried in his hometown of Castell’Arquato.

Giuseppe Giacosa was born in Colleretto Parella (now Colleretto Giacosa), near Turin, Italy in 1847. Giacosa began his professional life as a lawyer, not a writer. He graduated in law from Turin University and immediately joined his father’s firm in Milan. Giacosa made the switch to writing permanently after his first one-act comedy, Una partita a scacchi, was a popular success. Puccini’s publisher organized the Puccini/Illica/Giacosa partnership in 1893. Giacosa too, had a clear division of work when it came to writing operas with Puccini and Illica. Giacosa transformed Illica’s prose into polished verse. The partnership between the three ended in 1906 with Giacosa’s death.

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Old McDonald Had An Opera

So I’m working on our Bohème program when lighting guru and friend of the blog Mark Gabriel DeBell drops by our office. He’d come by to check out some photos from last February’s The Barber of Seville – he did the lighting design for that and is getting ready to teach a class on lighting design and wanted some examples.

We get to talking, and I decide I should definitely interview him for the blog.

But not today. Today I’m sharing a really interesting video he told me about. It’s called “Sing Faster: The Stagehand's Ring Cycle.” Directed by John Else, the film tells the story of San Francisco Opera’s Ring Cycle – from the point of view of the stagehands. Here’s a clip.

The idea for the film was first pitched in 1988 and was originally going to be a four-minute film about a scene in La Traviata. Like most films, the concept evolved and nine years later, the documentary was complete. All that hard work paid off – the film won the 1999 Sundance Filmmakers Trophy! Learn more about the film here.

Ciao for now!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Joan Sutherland, 83

Here at Opera Colorado, we were greatly saddened by the news of Joan Sutherland's passing. Opera was made that much more beautiful by her voice. In her honor, we'd like to share some great Sutherland moments...

Ciao for now!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Opera Superheroes

Dear AriaGirl:
I was flipping through a program for Turandot and noticed a listing for “supernumeraries.” Is that a voice type I’ve never heard of?
Harvey M.

Dear Harvey:

Look - up in the air! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s the supernumeraries! (I’m sorry – I couldn’t resist!) Think movie extras, but on stage - supernumeraries are the non-singing extras of the opera world. They’re sometimes referred to as “spear-carriers” – an affectionate joke that has its roots in classical Greek plays.

If you love opera but can’t sing worth a nickel, your local opera company likely has a spot for you as a villager, pearl fisher, soldier, or servant. Far from being extra, supernumeraries - or supers – are an integral part of setting the scene for an opera. The bustling streets of Paris in La Bohème would not seem nearly as authentic with only a few other singers wandering around! So next time you’re clapping at the end of the opera, give some extra applause for the supers.

Got a question about opera? Send it in to

Ciao for now!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lucy in the Sky with Opera

Are you a teacher? Do you know a teacher? They might be interested in a workshop we have coming up at the end of the month…

Deciphering and Implementing the New Academic Standards

October 23, 2010, 8:00 am – 4:00 pm

It has always been top priority to align Opera Colorado education programs with the Colorado Department of Education’s Academic Standards. As new and significant changes are made and implemented, we will continue to do so. It is our goal to assist public school teachers in this time of transition and to provide support and expertise in the realm of Music & Theater Arts. Our Guidebooks and other standardized programs will be updated to reflect the changes.

Opera Colorado, the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado Symphony and other community groups want to help you make sense of the new academic standards, so we are holding a teacher workshop to do just that. This workshop will assist you in deciphering the new standards, implementing them in your classroom, and connect you with the many resources at your disposal.

LIMIT: 50 people
COST: $25 per person

To register, e-mail Emilie Elmore at or call 303.778.7350.

Ciao for now!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Home is Where the Opera Is

An opera is like a car. There are about a trillion different parts all working together to make it go. If one or more of those parts don’t work right, it can all come crashing down. Today we had our production meeting for Bohème, kicking off an intense four weeks that will culminate in an amazing production. But there’s so much work before that!

The meeting is always interesting because we have a production staff that doesn’t work for us all year – assistant directors, wardrobe directors, chorus masters – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve ever flipped through the program, you’ve seen the long lists of people who work on the opera. So the production meeting is a good time to sit down, go over the schedule, and any important issues.

There’s the normal tasks that come up with every opera: the press photo shoot, the Meet the Artists event, chorus costumes, singer schedules, the student dress rehearsal donor events, and more. Then there are things to coordinate with the specific opera. This year Colorado Public Radio is broadcasting the operas live. (Exciting!) Bohème will have members of the Colorado Children’s Chorale, so we want to make sure those kids aren’t up too late. Act II also has the banda, the military band that marches through the square – gotta make sure we have enough people for that.

As the weeks go by, the process of putting the opera together will be refined. Some of the staging may be changed. Some of the costumes may be altered. Hundreds of people will work on thousands of tasks to make sure that on Opening Night, the curtain will go up to create a magical experience for everyone in the audience.

And at the end of the night, we will all breathe deep, relax for a few minutes…and then do it all over again four more times.

But good news around here – we barely have two seats together for the Saturday performance of Bohème. Fortunately we have four other performances to choose from.

Ciao for now!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When a Man Loves an Opera

When I think of the premiere of La Bohème, I think…well, I think, “holy cow, that was along time ago!” Puccini first saw the story come to life in 1896 - 114 years ago.

But was it really? Inspired by Portland Opera, I decided to see what else was happening in the world that year. You see, Bohème is thought of as pretty traditional, but was actually quite modern for its time, in terms of music and subject matter.

The world, too, was seeing a modern movement. Among other advances, we saw the development of the first X-rays and the first Ford vehicle (the Quadricycle). We saw the composition of John Philip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. The New York Telephone Company was formed. The opening ceremonies of the first modern Summer Olympics were held.

In the realm of politics, Utah was admitted as the 45th U.S. state. Despite his stirring “Cross of Gold” speech at the Democratic National Convention earlier in the year, William Jennings Bryan was not chosen for the presidency in favor of Republican William McKinley. The U.S. Supreme Court introduced the "separate but equal" doctrine and upheld segregation in the court case Plessy v. Ferguson. The New York State Legislature passed the Raines Law, restricting Sunday alcoholic beverage sales to hotels.

While the play itself was written only about 50 years prior to the opera, it’s hard to believe that Puccini wasn’t inspired by the changing world around him.

Ciao for now!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mister Roger’s Opera

Today’s going to be a great day! Do you know why? Because I have a chocolate croissant and a video of Inna Dukach, our Mimì for November’s Bohème. I can’t figure out which I’m happier about...

The video comes from New York City Opera and features Inna Dukach (Mimì) and Dinyar Vania (Rodolfo) singing “Sono andati” from Act IV of Bohème.

The New York Times
said of her performance: “Inna Dukach was a Mimì capable of singing that was so artless as to be understated, with warm corners to a voice that moved smoothly up and down the staff and was enlisted in the service of the acting."

Ciao for now!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Prima Donna Does Not Mean “Before Material Girl”

Dear AriaGirl:
I’ve heard people use the term
prima donna for female opera singers. Is this just another term for sopranos?
Albert H.

Dear Albert:

Not at all! The term is Italian for “first lady.” For guys, it’d be primo uomo. The term was always given to the leading lady, who was usually a soprano. Now, we all know there are nice sopranos (and mezzo-sopranos) out there. But over the years, the opera world has seen its share of temperamental singers (male and female!). So today, the term is usually used to describe someone who’s vain or difficult. Personally, I’d love to reclaim the term, and make it mean “amazing, down-to-earth female opera singer.” Who’s with me?

Got a question about opera? Send it in to

Ciao for now!