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

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Orchestra Doodles

Our colleague Paul Barrett has suffered through the financial trials of the Honolulu Symphony. He has created some greeting cards. Some of the cards are based on doodles made during rehearsals as Principal Bassoon in Honolulu. Rehearsals do have down time, so it is tempting to doodle. While editing and cleaning up the parts to BUOSO'S GHOST, I came across this doodle in the French Horn I book. Since the parts have been used many times, it is hard to say which talented Horn player did this, with BUOSO changed to BOZO.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

BUOSO'S GHOST playing to the West

My opera BUOSO'S GHOST is going to play this spring at Amarillo Opera and the University of Southern Utah. I'll post more about this soon.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Lights of Christmas

This is a concert song (2003) with lyrics by Hugh Moffatt. The pdf is over on the right side for download. This performance is by Mark Walters

Lights of Christmas frame the houses,
Welcoming the dawn of winter.
I remember as I struggle like the new born sun to rise.

Long ago a star came shining,
In the night and dawn of winter,
Beckoning to us to follow through the darkness to the light.

Lights of Christmas still they shine on
As the day begins to break.
There is still a star that guides us,
lighting ev'ry step we take.

Mary's child laid in the manger,
In that hopeful dawn of winter,
Given by the Lord of all a son of peace to light our way.

How we've fought and how we've failed him.
Darkening the dawn of winter.
Can't we see that all are welcome in by the light of Christmas day.

Still we hope and still we name him,
Light of love for Light of love for ev'ry nation.
Ev'ry man and ev'ry woman,
Jew and Gentile, Christian, Muslim
All are one and all are are welcome
In the light of Christmas day.
In the light of Christmas day.
In the light of Christmas day.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Under Review

It's a sad sign of the state of newspapers, but we didn't get a review for our production of COSI FAN TUTTE in the Commercial Appeal. We did get nice coverage before the show, and I suppose if one were to have to choose, before is better than after.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Robert Ward

Composer Robert Ward is in his nineties and still going strong in his and living in Durham, NC. He is still writing music and thinking about big issues like world peace, the environment, and how humanity can get along better. It is going to be great to catch up with him while attending SoJam, an a cappella conference.

I owe to Bob much of my compositional sensibility--write music for audiences and performers--and my sense of collegiality--to be willing to mentor and to be frank without being cruel. An added plus was to get to meet his friends Phil and Georgia Nelson, both former Deans at Yale.

Cosi Fan Tutte is done

The second of two performances of COSI went well. In general the audience liked the set up with the orchestra onstage and upstage of the singers. The sets and costumes did the trick and all in all it was the liveliest COSI I've ever been part of. I think we will try GPAC and the orchestra setup again sometime!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Cosi Fan Tutte Final Dress

We had a good final dress and are ready to open. Pictured here in their twenties garb are Matthew Lau (Don Alfonso) and Carol Sparrow (Despina).

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cosi Fan Tutte "Albanians"

Ferrando (Jonathan Tuzo) and Guglielmo (Joseph Flaxman) in their "Albanian" mustaches.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Cosi in the theatre

We have moved into the Germantown Performing Arts Center and have had a piano tech/dress.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Cosi Fan Tutte set

Finishing the set in our rehearsal room on the cast's day off.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mozart Piano Competition winners

On Friday night, we had a get together honoring the winners and participants in our Piano Competition. Last year, we did Joplin in coordination with SCOTT JOPLIN AND TREEMONISHA. This year we did Mozart to go with COSI FAN TUTTE. Stephen Carey, our Assistant Artistic Director, pulls this event off with great enthusiasm and dedication.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Cosi Fan Tutte Costume

Our costumer, Sona Amroyan, is designing and building '20s costumes for the show.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Rehearsing on the stair

Today, our Technical Director, Robert New, finished the large step unit and rolled it into the rehearsal room so we could rehearse on it. Our headquarters was always planned for this sort of thing, so it was very exciting.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Building the steps

As you can see in the set model in this earlier post, one of the major parts of the little COSI set is a large set of stairs. Our technical director, Robert New, says these stairs are challenging cause they not square--broader at the bottom than the top.

Cosi Fan Tutte Scene i

In our production of COSI FAN TUTTE, it begins with the three men fishing together. The cast happens to have two New Yorkers who don't do much fishing so much comedy ensues as the whole process of fishing is explained. Our Director relates it to the cast like teasing a cat.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Here are some photographs of the model for the set of our upcoming COSI FAN TUTTE. The production is being designed by Edward Morris. You can see that the orchestra is going to be partially visible upstage of the scenery. The stairs and ramp are doubling as an outdoor fishing pier and an indoor staircase.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chorus Cabaret

This past weekend, our chorus presented a concert featuring opera and musical theatre choruses, ensembles and solos. It was a spirited evening, complete with some fun reminiscences from some of our veterans. The event raised over $4000 which was great for this economy.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Father Grumble, folk song

Down the right side of this blog site, I am gradually posting pdfs of concert arrangements of folk songs, spirituals and some original songs. The latest is father grumble, which has an interesting feminist twist:

"There was an old man who lived in the woods
As you could plainly see,
Who thought he could do more work in a day
Than his wife could do in three..."

She turns out to set him straight.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Opera Memphis' Songwriting Music Videos

I encourage you to go over to the Opera Memphis website and check out the music videos of some of the songs created over the past few years by Opera Memphis' Songwriting/Music Video program. Most songs are created by Memphis City School students with our two clinicians, Chuck Parr and Shelby Johnson. These two guys are incredibly nuanced and able to listen to the students and draw their ideas out. The program is supported by ArtsMemphis.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Exploring the countertenor 2

Continuing the interview with countertenor Nicholas Tamagna, I asked him what the audience reaction has been to him--normal looking guy with a powerful and very high voice.

Exploring the countertenor 1

Countertenor, Nicholas Tamagna, is making his debut at Opera Memphis as Orfeo in our January 2010 production of ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE. (I'm not incredibly happy about the audio quality recorded over the phone, so I' ve got some short clips.) One of the questions I asked him is "What is the difference between falsetto and head voice?"

Tamagna has a powerful sound--not a wimpy one. I felt this was important for the Memphis audience's first experience with a countertenor. It turns out that Tamagna trained as a high baritone and he thinks that helped fill out his sound.

Opera Memphis house concerts

We are having a series of "house concerts" this year to promote interest in the opera. It's a non-threatening way to expose folks to operatic singing. Last night's program was at the historic home owned by Jim Carson. This program was sung for us by two very promising singers, Natalie Bergeron, soprano, and Galina Ivannikova, mezzo soprano.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Debate: "Night at the Opera"

I suppose it was only a matter of time before the debate at the Opera was compared to the Marx Brothers Movie. There certainly was a colorful cast of characters. I've always believed that although opera has some weird associations--the Marx Brothers, the fat lady singing--at least it has some. Strange stereotypes are better than none at all.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Mayoral Debate at Opera Memphis

For the night, the opera's headquarters was the focus of Memphis as nine mayoral candidates debated. There were a few protesters outside encouraging the candidates to focus on the issues. For those who aren't from Memphis, the cast of characters included a strange perennial candidate, Robert "Prince Mongo" Hodges, who looked liked he walked off the set of some voodoo Samson et Dalila. His ranting did not detract from the seriousness of the debate as we move from the long reign of mayor Willie Herenton, whose administration started out so promisingly and ended in unpredictable strangeness.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mayoral Debate tonight

The preparations are underway for the Memphis mayoral debate tonight. TV cameras, sound guys, candidates, WMC folks, League of Women Voters, policemen and protesters!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Are symphonies glorified cover bands?

An interesting post related to the Honolulu Symphony's struggle to survive. While the accusation that a symphony is nothing but a glorified cover band isn't fair, it does make you wish they had a more regular commitment to new music. (Opera companies are no better, mind you.) Thanks to Honolulu Symphony member and friend, clarinetist Norm Forster for pointing this out.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Wanna be mayor of Memphis?

We are extremely proud that Opera Memphis is going to be one of the parter/hosts of the upcoming debate for the Memphis Mayoral Special Election. Read the rules and sign up (just kidding). The debate will be televised on WMC-TV.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Michael Kaiser speaks in Nashville

This morning, the Kennedy Center's Michael Kaiser spoke to Tennessee arts management professionals in Nashville. The impresario has an impressive track record, including the Kansas City Ballet, Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and the Royal Opera House. The most useful advice I got from his talk was to plan further ahead--gives you more time to excite your constituencies--and to do more "Institutional Marketing"--building the reputation of the organization, and not just its productions. He also said that arts organizations should not retreat from adventurous programming during challenging times.

All in all nicely inspiring and worth the six hours of driving. Yesterday, I heard someone say that Memphis has the third largest number of trucks passing through it, and today on I-40, I could see that was likely the case.

New Theatre at Playhouse on the Square

Memphis' professional theatre Playhouse on the Square is building a new theatre which will be open in January. Jackie Nichols is their founder and executive producer.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Rocco Landesman

Rocco Landesman has been confirmed as the new Chair of the NEA. For the past several years, the NEA has tried to quietly build and generally avoid controversy. A brash and confident New York producer, that doesn't seem to be Landesman's style. Of particular concern is a recent statement that implies he is going to value artistic excellence way, way more than geographic distribution:

"I don't know if there's a theater in Peoria," he says, "but I would bet that it's not as good as Steppenwolf or the Goodman," he said, referring to two of Chicago's most prominent theater companies. "There is going to be some push-back from me about democratizing arts grants to the point where you really have to answer some questions about artistic merit."

I am all for artistic merit. But if that is taken too far, all the funding is going to end up going to 5% of the arts organizations, groups that already get probably 75% of the funding. You can read a comment I made about it on Lee Rosenbaum's blog, Culturegrrl.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The consciousness of the conductor

(Opera New Jersey photo by Bruce Fuller)

I conducted my first opera in 1986. So it was something of a surprise for me that during the rehearsals and performances of LUCIA at Opera New Jersey I felt like I had learned something from working with the New Jersey Symphony. NJSO has a fine reputation and Opera New Jersey was very excited to have them as partners in the orchestra pit.

During the final rehearsals and performances, I placed my consciousness in a different place than I usually do. I was certainly performing "in the moment" a great deal of the time, but I came in and out of it--rather like a swimmer going under the water, but also coming up for air and looking around. LUCIA has moments that require one to "perform" but there are also plenty of pages in the score where the orchestra musicians do the heavy lifting and the conductor can go on autopilot for several bars at a time.

So, rather than constantly focusing on myself, on my performance, I was alternating between my performance and the performance of the many musicians. They, after all, are making the music. This moving in and out, allowed me greater freedom to communicate with the orchestra. If it were sports, it would be rather like being a player/coach or alternating between the roles of player and coach. It is not that I hadn't done this before, but that I did it with great frequency during the performances and dress rehearsals.

Another way I might describe it is like being a commercial or fashion photographer. You have set up the scene according to your concept, but you are also dealing with a group of folks who need to be inspired. The conductor is shaping the music which is moving through time and not only are you providing clues as to its future shape--the beat patterns, the cues--but also some sense of how it's going. In this way, I was able to provide a great deal of instantaneous, well deserved positive feedback as the performance went along, which, along with a certain amount of confidence in my cuing and shaping of the phrases, created a very effective feedback loop between all involved in the performance.

Yet another way to describe it might be working with glass or clay. Like those two media, the music is shaped and changed by physical gesture and the kinetics have to be combined with real time information, in this case from the musical sounds created by the singers and orchestra.

The result was generally and aggressive and tight performance which we all seemed to enjoy and the audience enjoyed too.

I haven't seen much on the web about the consciousness of the conductor, so I will seek some responses from some colleagues....

Monday, August 3, 2009

Cutting Blog

I've been busy preparing for our production of COSI FAN TUTTE in Memphis. One of the things that has to be done fairly early is deciding what music to leave in and what music to cut. Without cuts, COSI might be nearly four and a half hours long and three hours is about my limit. So I've used the blog format to create a cut list for the opera.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Don Smith pianist

While at Opera New Jersey, I stayed at a lovely retirement community in Hightstown called Meadow Lakes. I met several of the residents and one of the many remarkable ones is Don Smith. Don turns out to have been a pianist at the New York City opera in the late '50s. He is the pianist on the original recording of Douglas Moore's BALLAD OF BABY DOE which was conducted by Emerson Buckley. He played a production at Dallas Opera starring Maria Callas. In addition to Opera, he was the rehearsal pianist for the Ed Sullivan Show and then at Radio City Music Hall for three decades. Don keeps his piano chops up and plays classical music and classic pop songs.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stage Management's Desk

Opera at Grounds for Sculpture

The busy schedule at Opera New Jersey included a musical theatre program at the Grounds for Sculpture near Trenton. Here, a fancy stroller blends into a sculpture.

Lucia Covers at Opera New Jersey

Earlier this week the young covers for Lucia got a chance to run the show on stage. Although they didn't use costumes, they outfitted themselves in ways appropriate to their characters.

It was good for me too--eight days between performances is a long time to go without a practice.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Midsummer presentation at Opera America

Two pictures taken by Opera America's Kate Ehle from the presentation at their offices last week.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Midsummer presentations

The studio artists at Opera New Jersey presented to readings of some of my MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, opera a cappella in Princeton and at the offices of Opera America. Here, our conductor, Keith Chambers readies for the performance with an improvised podium of old Opera News Magazines.

Test pattern on Lucia Scrim

Preparing for Lucia's 2nd performance.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Lucia Opening Night in New Jersey

LUCIA got off to a great start last night. Lisette Oropesa was mesmerizing in John Hoomes bloody staging. Scott Altman, Lisa Altman, and their board president, John Salapatas thanked all assembled afterwards, with special thanks to their new collaborators, the New Jersey Symphony.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Lucia Piano Dress

Opera New Jersey is opening three shows is opening three shows in three days. It is an incredibly busy technical schedule--especially busy for the crew and the young studio artists, some of whom are in all three productions.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Lucia with knives

Stage Director John Hoomes shows Lucia (Lisette Oropesa) how to wield a knife on her brother Enrico (Eric Dubin).

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Poolside Preview

Opera New Jersey held a preview in a Princeton poolhouse. All the hard surfaces made for marvelous acoustics. Pictured here is Matthew Burns, the Raimondo in LUCIA.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Lucia scene i

Lucia begins with the men's chorus--Enrico's men--looking for a mysterious man who might turn out to be Enrico's enemy, Edgardo. The director, John Hoomes, is assigning weapons to the ensemble.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Opera New Jersey Costume Fittings

Here at Opera New Jersey, the costume staff brings this rather ominous looking apple to costume fittings. But you're safe in the hands of costumer Patty Hibbert.