A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, opera a cappella now available at Albany Records

Friday, August 20, 2021

Workshop of my dreams

 

Chad Sonka, Director. Andrew Bisantz, Conductor


Royal Feast cast

Last week, Savannah Voice Festival presented a staged workshop of my new opera, A ROYAL FEAST. An idea suggested by Executive Director Maria Zouves, FEAST is a sequel to Rossini's LA CENERENTOLA. It is part of a partnership SVF has with the Esther F. Garrison Middle School for the Performing Arts, a wonderful public school in Savannah. Previous projects have included a production of Rachel Portman's THE LITTLE PRINCE and HANSEL AND GRETEL. 

The opera was conceived with the help of a group of student writers and composers. With their background in American (Disney) interpretations of Cinderella, the writers wanted critters--lots of critters. They wanted the sisters to learn to get along. And they wanted more magic. These things are, to varying degrees, not in the Rossini. 

FEAST was scheduled to be workshopped in the summer of 2020, but the festival was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the fall of 2020 we managed via zoom to create two songs with a group of a half dozen students. These songs are now in the show. Before the emergence of the Delta variant of COVID, the Garrison Middle School students were supposed to perform in the workshop live, but the COVID resurgence did not make that possible this summer. Instead, we filmed them in their songs and even sang along with them once. 

ROYAL FEAST uses the Rossini cast--Angelina, Ramiro, Dandini, Magnifico, Clorinda, and Tisbe along with a wide array of new critters, including mice, sea gulls, spiders, snakes, cats, birds, and other animals. The premise is, after the wedding at the end of Cenerentola, the family goes to a party thrown in their honor by the critters.

Inspired by the workshop, I'm filling in some parts of the plot and characters with plans for a full production in a coming season in Savannah.

Thank you to SVF, Garrison, the directors, cast, and the students!


Sunday, August 8, 2021

Modern Music for New Singers

On of the first major collections of 21st century American Art Songs has been released by North Star Music. The brainchild of Robert Peavler, the collection includes the work of 90 living composers. Of special note is Volume 1 (S/A/T/B) for singers 16-21. Almost all of the songs in the collection are unique--in other words, what's found in the tenor collection isn't simply transposed into the soprano collection. 

While working on a class for singers at Savannah Voice Festival, I interviewed Robert on zoom. An excerpt is being used in the class; the entire interview is here. 


Look at this list of composers!

Soprano, Vol. 1
Garth Baxter
David Conte
Emerson Eads
Seamus Flynn
Erik Franklin
Scott Gendel
Franklin Hansen
Stephen Jackson
Elyse Kahler
Michael Kropf
Lori Laitman
Kari Cruver Medina
Paul Salerni
Lucy Shirley
Dawn Sonntag
Richard Pearson Thomas
Hayley Turner
Jay Vosk
Logan Vranković
Karen Wemhoener

Soprano, Vol. 2
Nicolas Benavides
Clint Borzoni
Delvyn Case
Dorothy Chang
Judith Cloud
Emerson Eads
Kurt Erickson
Jodi Goble
Meg Huskin
Lee Kesselman
Andrew List
Michael McAndrew
Liam Moore
Jean-Paul Perrotte
Joseph Rubinstein
Paul Salerni
Dawn Sonntag
Lucy Shirley
Sheila Silver
Jay Vosk

Mezzo-Soprano, Vol. 1
Michael Ching
Maria Thompson Corley
Joseph Dubois
Rachel Devore Fogarty
Erik Franklin
Kenneth Frazelle
Scott Gendel
Daniel Gilliam
Jodi Goble
Lori Laitman
Leonard Mark Lewis
Quinn Mason
Thomas Pasatieri
Dave Ragland
Wayland Rogers
Lucy Shirley
Matthew Shreve
David Evan Thomas
Ian Wiese

Mezzo-Soprano, Vol. 2
Mark Abel
Carol Barnett
Garth Baxter
Rebekah Driscoll
Kurt Erickson
Rachel DeVore Fogarty
Max Johnson
Jeremy Gill
Leonard Mark Lewis
Andrew List
Evan Mack
Quinn Mason
Kari Cruver Medina
John McIntyre
Wayland Rodgers
Paul Salerni
Lucy Shirley
David Evan Thomas
Bruce Trinkley
Gregory Zavracky

Tenor, Vol. 1
Daniel Armstrong
Garth Baxter
Judith Cloud
David Conte
Joseph Dubois
Stephen Jackson
Scott Joiner
Ben Justis
Robbie LaBanca
Lori Laitman
Logan Larson
Quinn Mason
Gary Powell Nash
Dave Ragland
Justin Henry Rubin
David Evan Thomas
Richard Pearson Thomas
Bruce Trinkley
Patrick Vu
Gergory Zavracky

Tenor, Vol. 2
Adam Burnette
Benjamin Carter
Eric Choate
Andrea Clearfield
Joseph Dubois
Elaine Fine
Matt Frey
Felix Jarrar
Scott Joiner
Ben Justis
Logan Larson
Quinn Mason
Eric Moe
Luke Mayernick
Dave Ragland
Justin Henry Rubin
Joseph Stillwell
David Evan Thomas
Logan Vranković

Baritone, Vol. 1
Jason Bahr
Maria Thompson Corley
Reed Criddle
Joseph D. Daniel
Douglas Fisk
Stefania de Kenessey
Rachel Devore Fogarty
Kenneth Frazelle
Marques L.A. Garrett
Daniel Gilliam
Lori Laitman
Liam Moore
Dave Ragland
Paul Salerni
Del’Shawn Taylor
M. Ryan Taylor
Bruce Trinkley
Patrick Vu
Carle Wirshba
Khyle B. Wooten

Baritone, Vol. 2
Jason Bahr
Garth Baxter
Jeremy Beck
Chester Biscardi
Clint Borzoni
Andrea Clearfield
David Conte
Reed Criddle
Joseph Dubois
Scott Gendel
Garrison Gerard
Ben Justis
Paula Kimper
David Ludwig
Evan Mack
Liam Moore
Sheila Silver
M. Ryan Taylor
Deanna Wehrspann
Khyle B. Wooten




 

 

Friday, June 25, 2021

RSBE at Taos Opera Institute


RSBE (Remove Shoes Before Entering) is about to get its fifth production this summer (2021) at Taos Opera Institute. Situated above town in the lovely ski valley in the Carson National Forest, this monthlong program provides intensive voice lessons and coachings, with four groups of singers switching between English, French, German, and Italian. There is a culminating showcase, which will feature RSBE and some opera scenes. This production is directed by the very capable Mark Craig.

The picture is of a song called "Reading Frederick Douglass for the first time" in which the performer recalls reading Douglass' 1852 speech.

It's always a pleasure to work on a piece after the premiere. You learn new interpretations from the cast. You make permanent changes and edits. 

 

 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

How to learn about Speed Dating Tonight!


AN INTRODUCTION AND ORIENTATION 

by Michael Ching (Composer and Librettist)

based on a concept by Dean Anthony

SPEED DATING TONIGHT! is what I call a "new numbers opera." Much of traditional opera is based on musical numbers: arias, duets, ensembles, finales. SpDT! is similarly structured but with some twists. First connecting material such as recitative is minimized. As for the songs and ensembles themselves, most of the material is not gendered and not limited to one vocal type. Even the order of the pieces is up to the producer. The cast needn't be based on a 50/50 gender balance. (It doesn't need to be binary either.) In the over 100 productions the smallest cast has been four and the largest around fifty. The goal is to have one hundred options, with the idea being that you use only the material you want for your cast. Currently there are 91 options--I count a true duet as two options, for example, but a piece with only a couple of response lines, counts as one option.

The opera starts and ends with a frame and premise that isn't varied. At a local pub, the bartender (B), server (M),  Dating Coordinator (S or M), and busboy (mute or any voice) get ready for the event and greet the daters as they enter. We are introduced to two nervous characters ("I could just die") and Dater #22 (B). He's got a singing birthday card. The actual speed dating starts and the show ends when everyone has had their song, duet, or trio. There are a few subplots to hold the show together. The finale starts with the server commenting in a Brechtian manner about the event ("Daters are a lot like singers"). Dater #22, a failure so far, gives it one more try, and in a parody of the Pappageno/Pappagena duet, finally finds his true love, a fellow cell phone addict. The daters exit and the bartender and server decide to go have a coffee. Alone, the busboy, dances with their broom.

So, the traditional show requires:

                        Quinn, Bartender, baritone

                        Stephanie, Server, mezzo

                        Kaylee, the Dating Coordinator, soprano or mezzo

                         Busboy, mute or any voice type (can be cut entirely)

                         Your group of daters, number completely variable

Since the first production commissioned, produced, and directed by Dean Anthony at the Janiec Opera of the Brevard Music Center, SpDT! has been done over a hundred times. The episodic, inclusive structure of the opera proved very useful during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-2021. Brevard commissioned a ZOOM SPEED DATING TONIGHT! which is essentially the same show, but one that concentrates on the daters, de-emphasizing the bar milieu.

HOW TO STUDY FOR A PRODUCTION

DOWNLOAD THE PIANO VOCAL PERUSAL SCORE. On the right hand side of this blog, there is a link for a free download for a perusal score. I try to keep it up to date within a few months--remember new pieces are getting written all the time. 

Then you should probably watch a video. Remember, the order of the pieces isn't ever the order in the piano vocal score, so don't try to follow along with the music.

WATCH A VIDEO... WHICH VIDEO?


If you have time for only one video, I'd recommend the University of Nebraska-Omaha. It was done literally the night they had to shut down for COVID. Live audiences were forbidden and the video was their performance. It is with piano accompaniment and music directed by the brilliant Hal France. It was produced and directed by Shelby VanNordstrand. There's a medium/large cast.



We haven't talked about this yet, but there is an optional orchestration to SpDT! which includes clarinet doubling flute (one or two players), piano (preferably your rehearsal pianist--can be the conductor), bass, and percussion--drum set/vibraphone. This great production at Kennesaw State University shows the band off really well.


As I mentioned earlier, SpDT! converted well to the social distancing demanded by COVID-19 quarantines. The first ZOOM SPEED DATING TONIGHT! from Brevard features the wonderful Caroline Worra in the role of "Host" instead of Dating Coordinator. There is a stage manager role (speaking), but the Bartender, Waitress, and Busboy are gone. The Zoom approach ends up sacrificing many of the duets, and ensembles, but the up-close nature of video really brings up the interaction between the singing dater and the listening dater. Another reason to check this version out is Dean Anthony's direction. He's directed the show a half dozen times and has some pairings he likes to do such as the cat lover (#8) and the Car Man (#19). You are free to do your own pairings, but some of his are classic.


Another great production during the COVID pandemic was at Arizona State University. Produced by Brian DeMaris; Directed by Janine Colletti; and Music Directed by Randi Ellen Rudolph, through the use of greenscreen and video, this keeps the original Bartender, Server, Busboy configuration. So it achieves both the up-close visuals and the original scenario. This allows for more use of the ensembles.




During the summer of 2020 L'arietta productions in Singapore had to postpone their SpDT! production. They commissioned a series of pieces that are incorporated now incorporated into the opera as options #76-#83. Here's a link to their beautifully produced series of videos. These were directed by Eleanor Tan and Aloysius Luke Fong was music director. 


Every producer has the option of commissioning a date or two for their production. The University of South Dakota commissioned two for their ZOOM SPEED DATING TONIGHT! production. (Probably) the last socially distanced production of the pandemic, it has the notable benefit of the experience of producing three others before it. It is wittily directed by Tracelyn Gesteland. The MIDI accompaniment files from all of the zoom productions are available as rehearsal and even performance tracks for an additional fee.

If you are curious about how to do the opera with a very small cast, check out this video (at a bar) from Fargo Moorhead Opera.

Once you've watched one or two of these videos, you will want to check out the opera's
SOUNDCLOUD PLAYLIST and YOUTUBE PLAYLIST. These have the pieces in numerical order, which makes it an easier reference than combing through too many videos. These playlists are continually updated and if something doesn't appear on Soundcloud, it is hopefully there on YouTube and viceversa.

The opera has a facebook page which is easily found and can update you about the latest shows and songs.

This is a LOT of information, so don't hesitate to get in touch directly. 
















                         

 


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Zoom Speed Dating Tonight! at University of South Dakota

 This weekend Zoom Speed Dating Tonight! at University of South Dakota was released. It was wittily directed by Tracelyn Gesteland. 

This is likely the last of the zoom versions. The first was Janiec Opera at Brevard Music Center. This was followed by versions at University of Tennessee and then NYU-Steinhardt. All of these were produced by Jo Sandler. There were other online versions, including one at Arizona State University.



There are several notable things about this production. First is Brian Rasmussen's presentation of "Checklist" followed by a newly commissioned song "Open to flaws" (#88) sung by their alter-ego drag persona, Carmen. It's at around 54:00 in the video. At 1:01 you can hear another new song, "I'm in the pep band," (#87) performed by Annika Holdusen. Another notable performance is a swing version of #4, "Dancer" performed by Ellie Whitehead. At 9:00 there's an especially fun version of #27, "Carrie," which really takes advantage of the video format. Performed by Denisse Balandran.

There are several pieces from L'arietta productions "All Dressed Up (No Place to Go)" integrated into the production. I've been pleased about the popularity of these pieces, written during the summer of 2020 and premiered a week at a time during lockdown (they called it Circuit Breaker in Singapore) 

 

Friday, April 23, 2021

Interview on Zoom About Speed Dating Tonight!

 Here's a link to a short interview I did with Dr. Tracelyn Gesteland at University of South Dakota about their upcoming production of Zoom Speed Dating Tonight! It provides a good, fairly short introduction to the opera. This ZSpDT! may be the last one for awhile. This pandemic response started with the production at the Janiec Opera of the Brevard Music Center, and included productions at the University of Tennessee, and New York University. There have been other very good online productions this year, but only these four have conformed to the script/premise that Dean Anthony came up with for the Brevard version in the summer of 2020. 

Friday, April 16, 2021

A new opening for RSBE

 

Postponed from November

to April


RSBE had its premiere at University of Alabama in February 2020, right before things closed down. The second production, scheduled for Amarillo Opera, had to be rescheduled due to COVID. It is now the third production, the second having been done recently at Kennesaw State University. They did their production completely online. In order to do so, they needed to change the premise of the opera. The original idea is that a group of students go to a mysterious building in a small town and the objects they see inside trigger memories. That was too much togetherness as a premise during COVID. So they switched to an online class where the professor asked each student to prepare a reflection, possibly prompted by an object. 

And so here we are now seeing the end of the tunnel on the 2020-21 COVID-19 pandemic. The cast is vaccinated, but masks and social distancing is still very much the right thing to do. But the show is being done live, before a minimal audience. So we are going with the Kennesaw premise, but moving it to a live, in-person classroom. I guess this is a bit like directors who move the Mikado, from the 19th century to the late 20th, or Carmen from 19th century Spain to the era of the Spanish Civil War. 

RSBE is scheduled for its next production in June and at this point, I'm not exactly sure if we will go back to the original premise or use this new one. We are adjusting to the times...





Thursday, March 18, 2021

Venturing out

 

After a year of zooms and videos, I'm venturing out to Fargo to conduct the Barber of Seville. 

It's not quite an in person event. We are prerecording the singers and the orchestra; staging the cast; then video taping the show for webcast in mid April. Still, it will be good to be collaborating live with folks like Hilary Ginther, Joshua Kohl, and Jesus Murillo



Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Thanks to the organizations that commissioned, produced, and performed my work in 2020. And thanks to those who tried to and couldn't. Heres to a healthy and tuneful 2021. 

 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Completing the Picture at Opera Company of Middlebury

 The Opera Company of Middlebury  recently did the first video production of my opera with Victoria Panella, COMPLETING THE PICTURE. The original production at Utah Opera (see lower video) was done in the spirit of an S/A/T/B school show. The new production is a much more somber docu-opera. See if you've got a favorite.


Completing the Picture at Opera Company of Middlebury



Completing the Picture at Utah Opera