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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

International Ticketing ASSociation

I know these ticket people want attention, but they don't need to make asses of themselves in e-mails.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Rossini Rocks? Does he now.

I can't decide if I love or hate this image sent in an e-mail from Florida Grand Opera promoting their CINDERELLA production.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tim Pace

Artist Tim Pace has a studio south of Jackson, Tennessee. He takes discarded metal and fashions it into critters and other things--you can see the grasshoppers made out of a hammer head, a long hex screw and an axe head. There is a big praying mantis with a book outside the main library in Jackson.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Bravo Cliff Jackson, Pianist

Earlier today I got to see a concert given by a very famous opera singer. What was most remarkable about the concert was Cliff Jackson, the accompanist. Most of the program was spirituals and gospel arrangements of Christmas songs--not his normal repertoire. Plus, the very famous opera singer did her share of conducting and tapping the piano during the performance. Through it all Mr. Jackson remained unflappable and cheerful. Not only that, his playing in these styles was thoroughly convincing.

The very famous opera singer received nine and a half pages of bio in the program; Mr. Jackson, nothing. By not mentioning the very famous opera singer by name, I am doing what I can to make up for it.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Signs of the times

One of my freelance gigs out of town has cut three of its six performances. We are not looking at that in Memphis, but we are examining switching to smaller and cheaper venues next year for some performances.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Classical Improvisation

An interesting Wall Street Journal piece on Classical Improvisation. Not too much improvised opera out there. Check out the lovely cello improvisations done by cellist Eric Edberg.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

No geese, goose

Spouse: Do you have geese?
Grocery Store Person: We have goose.
Spouse: So how many geese do you have?
Grocery Store Person: We have three goose.
Spouse: Three geese.
Grocery Store Person: We don't have geese, we have three goose.

Actual pre Thanksgiving conversation
Material worthy of standup comedy...

Go see U Memphis' Hansel and Gretel

Oh. I think it's sold out. Well, anyway, University of Memphis has put on a splendid Hansel and Gretel last night. Copeland Woodruff's contemporary setting--a collection of abandoned places like freeway underpasses and old warehouses--is really the star of this show. There were continual splashes of creativity--great use of large sheets of plastic to delineate space, shiny lunch boxes to tempt the children instead of gumdrops and candy canes. Since they took so much liberty with it, I wish they had gone ahead and changed the sung-in-english text from words like "strawberry" and "forest" to "walmart" and "subway," but that's a minor quibble.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Gratifying signs of life amongst the financial challenges

Opera Memphis is having mixed results this year, although there is more bitter chicory than sweet basil in the salad. Subscriptions are up slightly from last year, but single tickets for TRAVIATA were really off. Endowments--you don't even want to open the envelope about those. What is encouraging is that we had a strong donor response to a post TRAVIATA fundraising letter--so the hearts still beat for opera.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Lori Laitman's Opera

Well known for her art songs, composer Lori Laitman had her new opera based on THE SCARLET LETTER premiered at University of Arkansas in Conway. It is terrific that this university undertook such an ambitious project and did a good job with it. The soloists--mostly Arkansas based professionals and faculty such as Christine Donahue and John Garst--were very strong and the orchestra played really well, with very few coordination and intonation problems. I really wished the production had supertitles so I could have heard poet David Mason's text more clearly. The opera had lyrical music and the orchestrations were strong despite the fact that Ms. Laitman said she was relatively new to scoring her pieces.

Here at Opera Memphis, we are about to do Scott Joplin's only opera, TREEMONISHA. Joplin never had a chance to see his opera performed. I know that Laitman and Mason will make adjustments to their show--Joplin never had a chance to make any adjustments, so we are left with a choice--do it as he wrote it, or try to make adjustments for him. With our SCOTT JOPLIN AND TREEMONISHA version, we are trying to make adjustments for him.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Bob Boury's Manuscripts

University of Arkansas composer Bob Boury has a collection of music manuscripts and working copies that are on display at the Historic Arkansas Museum. They include Victor Herbert, George Gershwin, Dave Brubeck and others.

Farewell to Opera Pacific

A very sad and alarming sign of the economic distress arts organizations are in. Opera Pacific has performed its last program.

"Three days after its final performance of Rossini's "The Barber of Seville," Santa Ana-based Opera Pacific, the county's only major opera company, announced Tuesday that it will cancel the remainder of its 2008-2009 season and will likely close down operations for good."

All of us are facing tough times. Opera Memphis' ticket sales for TRAVIATA were very much below their goal. Our facility and endowment grant us some stability, but we are having to carefully examine everything that we do.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Scott Joplin and Treemonisha (Overture)

Our next project at Opera Memphis is SCOTT JOPLIN AND TREEMONISHA. We are taking Scott Joplin's original opera and doing about 80% of it, but we are also adding a framework story about Joplin's failed attempt to get a production of his opera during his lifetime.

The overture, instead of being purely instrumental, becomes a scenario new cast members and words--In 1917 New York, Joplin pitches his opera to some producers who laugh at him behind his back; distraught, he goes to his favorite pub; he goes to another meeting with producers who don't see why anyone should want a show about black folks in 1870s Arkansas; he has a nervous breakdown and ends up in a hospital; his wife comforts him but he is distraught; even from the hospial bed, he says he has more meetings about his opera; and the curtain rises as if Joplin were showing his opera to another set of producers. All that in ten minutes.

And there's more to come... I hope that this touching context and contrast--a much revered African American composer rejected in his own lifetime--will help bring the opera to life.

Here is a "demo" of the overture so you get the idea. The vocal lines are mine, but the accompaniment is Joplin's overture, with some cuts.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


Saw the wonderful Tuvan throat singing group Huun-Huur-Tu at the Buckman Center here. The Tuvans are known for their special ability to sing two notes at once--one being an overtone that is shaped over their very low bass notes. It is amazing how the group conjurs up a diverse set of points of reference--a consort of viols, a country string band, a celtic band--all in the same concert. I wish that they had made more of an effort for us to understand their lyrics--they need opera supertitles!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Memphis Traviata review

Here's a link to our review in the Commercial Appeal. With a fair amount of consistency, we get hit by doing standard repertoire and praised for doing things that are unusual. For a company our size, we do a lot of unusual stuff, but we have to balance it with standards that sell single tickets. We hire our local favorite diva, Kallen Esperian, exactly every other season. I wonder if large opera companies annoy their reviewers for hiring Renee Fleming or Deborah Voigt nearly every year.

From my perspective, it was one of the better evenings of opera we have done here, which is good enough for me.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Traviata Week

These pictures show the three leading cast members, Kallen Esperian, William Joyner and Quinn Kelsey.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Quinn Kelsey as Germont

Our upcoming TRAVIATA at Opera Memphis has a fine cast. Quinn Kelsey is a striking Germont. Here is a little sample of his aria "Di provenza" from the final piano run thru at our headquarters. As you can hear here, this is the real thing!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Check out Opera Memphis at ArtsMemphis TV

Our city arts council Arts Memphis has created a series of webisodes about the arts scene in Memphis. The latest one is on the opera and is about preparations for LA TRAVIATA. It's very well done and features our director of production, Allison Merritt.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Preview today on WKNO-FM

At 7pm Central today (Thursday) we have a live radio preview on WKNO-FM 91.1. They stream it at WKNOFM.ORG. In addition to the TRAVIATA cast, we have special guests--the Bartlett High School Choir.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Scott Joplin and Treemonisha

Our Scott Joplin and Treemonisha scenic designer Kris Stone is fleshing out her ideas for the show...

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Subtitles and Surtitles easier and easier to deal with?

Does the increasing use of text messaging make things like opera surtitles seem more and more acceptable? Here's a piece in WIRED that implies it might be so.

I think that surtitles have changed the artform. They are making the audience want shows that make more sense, which is probably a good thing. I think they are, however, part of the reason why audiences are finding it increasingly difficult to suspend their disbelief about body types (large sopranos, short tenors etc.) . Certainly movies and television are the prime culprit, but perhaps sheer comprehension adds to it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Congratulations Neal Boyd

Neal Boyd won America's Got Talent last night. This picture is from the 2003 production of CORPS OF DISCOVERY at University of Missouri when he played York, the slave to William Clark.

A very nice guy!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Bust of Virginia Clark

Artist Andrea Lugar and her husband Larry are creating a bust of Virginia Clark for the Clark Opera Memphis Center. This is a clay model, not quite done yet.

Getting ready for a fancy party

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Removing the Critic

A very interesting blog by Baltimore Sun Critic Tim Smith:

"Don Rosenberg, music critic at the Cleveland Plain Dealer for 16 years, was told yesterday by the paper's editor that he will no longer be covering the famed Cleveland Orchestra."

A lot of very well respected critics respond in the comments as do folks from the orchestra. I think at this point in time we're lucky to have fine arts/classical music critics. Criticizing the critic too much may lead to newspapers thinking they aren't worth the trouble. A critical critic is better than no critic at all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Getting Ready for TRAVIATA

The banner went up on our building today.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fake Spam , complete with typos from Sec. Paulson

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Friday, September 19, 2008

Delta Cappella at Arts Memphis

Wednesday night, Delta Capella performed at an ArtsMemphis function at their headquarters. Coming from very different backgrounds to work beautifully together, DC could serve as a metaphor for how Memphis could function...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Midsummer Night's Dream, opera a cappella

Here's a redo of Egeus' speech from scene I of MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. The baritone is Stephen Len White. I've left the other version on this blog in a previous post with me singing. You can hear that adding a real professional singer makes the track more compelling.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The classical music concert format

This is an interesting article in a recent New Yorker by Alex Ross about how the classical music and opera concert as it is now configured came to take shape. He mentions a book I'm very fond of--HIGHBROW/LOWBROW by Lawrence Levine. In the 19th century, entertainment evenings often were put together like variety shows. In a nod to that, our opening nights at Opera Memphis are starting to feature regular after concerts. Last season we experimented with this with aristocrunkers LORD T. AND ELOISE performing after TURANDOT. In a considerably more mellow vein, folk diva Judy Collins is performing after LA TRAVIATA's opening night on October 25th.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Musical tastes and personality profiles

I'm sure there's going to be some buzz about this article about musical tastes and personality profiles. It appears that classical music (and probably opera) overlaps with the personality of blues and heavy metal lovers.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Farewell to the NEA Opera Onsite Program

For the past several years, the opera program of the National Endowment for the Arts has had an evaluation program in which qualified reporters would go see an opera production, find out how a company works, and write up a report about it. These reports would be used by panels in Washington when making decisions on grant applications. Alas, this program is not being continued due to a lack of funds.

I probably have done over twenty of these reports over the years--everything from small companies to some of our largest. It has been a great education for me and I will miss the program.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Another section from Midsummer Night's Dream

This important speech by Egeus, Hermia's father is what really makes the whole show happen.

Some of Egeus' speech has been left out, which is one of the choices you have to make--singing takes awhile and setting a whole play, verbatim, would create six or seven hours of music.

Full of vexation come I, with complaint
Against my child, my daughter Hermia.
Stand forth, Demetrius. My noble lord,
This man hath my consent to marry her.
Stand forth, Lysander: and my gracious duke,
This man hath bewitch'd the bosom of my child;
Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,
And interchanged love-tokens with my child:
Thou hast by moonlight at her window sung,
With feigning voice verses of feigning love,
And stolen the impression of her fantasy
With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,
Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweetmeats, messengers
Of strong prevailment in unharden'd youth:
With cunning hast thou filch'd my daughter's heart,
Turn'd her obedience, which is due to me,
To stubborn harshness: and, my gracious duke,
Be it so she; will not here before your grace
Consent to marry with Demetrius,
I beg the ancient privilege of Athens,
As she is mine, I may dispose of her:
Which shall be either to this gentleman
Or to her death, according to our law
Immediately provided in that case.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Opera in News of the Weird

Alas, Opera made Chuck Shepard's News of the Weird this summer. If you want to see the depths that this sunk to go to google images and type "Kreskin Maskenball."

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Ashlawn Opera

Made a quick stop at the Ashlawn Highland Opera Festival for some auditions and to hear a scenes concert. Near Charlottesville, the opera performs on the James Monroe estate, up the hill from the more celebrated Monticello. An outdoor festival, the singers sometimes compete with the buzz of cicadas and the cries peacock for attention.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Opera New Jersey

On the way back to Memphis, I stopped off at Opera New Jersey in Princeton. They were kind enough to lend me their young artists and their chorus master Keith Chambers to do a reading of about fifteen minutes of my a capella setting of MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM. While there I also got the chance to see Elizabeth Caballero and Michael Fabiano sing TRAVIATA and Jennifer Aylmer sing Hanna Glawari in THE MERRY WIDOW.

And no opera lover should ever go anywhere near Princeton without stopping at the Princeton Record Exchange to look over the vast selection of used opera CDs.

More about the reading later.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Not to be a Bore/Boor

While driving from Glimmerglass to Opera New Jersey, I heard Nicholas Carr talking about his essay in the July/August issue of THE ATLANTIC. Carr worries that google and the internet are changing the way we read--that we are becoming a nation of skimmers. He cites a colleague who says he has "almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print." He says we may be losing the ability to read "deep."

It is a worry for us who work in music's longest form. Is the audience losing the ability to "listen deep?" I know that I have one of the shorter attention spans in the opera business--a long opera can put me to sleep in the theatre, even if I am excited about it. It makes me into an artistic director always on the look out for musical cuts, in order not to test the audience's patience.

On the other hand, some long operas were written for another era. When it took a long time to get to the theatre, the length of the entertainment needed to be worth the trip. Plus it is clear that often audiences weren't really paying full attention to the recitatives--they were waiting for a pretty aria to pull their attention back from their box seat to the stage. Honestly, that's the way we watch sports and no one has any issue with that.

I tend to be an optimist and feel that shorter attention spans simply mean that artists need to do a better job at entertaining and intriguing and that often, being longwinded is just being a bore/boor. Opera is a special opportunity for deep listening.

Ryan MacPherson, tenor

On a quick visit over to Glimmerglass, I got a chance to catch up with tenor Ryan MacPherson. He has sung four engagements with Opera Memphis and is singing Luzio in the Glimmerglass production of Wagner's early opera DAS LIEBESVERBOT. Here is Ryan on the streets of Cooperstown with his bike.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

RIP Uncle Buoso

An enthusiastically received second performance and it's time for Uncle Buoso to rest in peace for a bit. This performance has given me a chance to check both the piano vocal and orchestral materials for errors, so its now time for a bit of homework so a final version can be made.

This picture is of our very talented dead Uncle B. Patrick Hussey, who in real life is the Shihan of Tenkara Karate in Saratoga Springs.

A bit of Hawaii

Special thanks to old friend Becky Ikehara for coming to the second performance by Cessna and for bringing a beautiful Maile lei.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Lawn Jockeys of Saratoga Springs

The lawn jockey is to Saratoga Springs what a garden gnome is to England. They are everywhere and they are in all sorts of colors and conditions. They are displayed prominently right at curbside, or they are nearly obscured by plants. Right handed, left handed; colorful, drab. Large, elaborately painted horses now compete with the jockeys for attention.