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

Friday, December 31, 2010

Midsummer set

Director Gary John LaRosa and Designer Nick Mozak have been encouraged to create a design that has some nod to traditional elements--a beautiful, evocative forest. A musical setting of Shakespeare already provides quite an adventure.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Music Music Music!

Last night, we had music rehearsal with the "rude mechanicals." They are performers from Deltacappella and Riva who are in the voice orchestra and they will come up from the pit for their entrances.

In the picture, TeKay (Flute), Toney Walsh (Quince) and Charles Ponder (Bottom).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Weather outside is frightful...

The rehearsal period for MIDSUMMER has a holiday break in it. Back here in Memphis, it is lovely southern winter, but a heavy snow on the east coast has made it so the director, Gary John LaRosa and several cast members are stuck, waiting for an available flight to come or come back to Memphis. So the first day after break--scheduled for a major music run thru--is now going to be meagre.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

I have a widow aunt

This is a demo of Laura Stracko (Hermia) and John Dooley (Lysander) singing "I have a widow aunt," from the first act of MIDSUMMER. We are now near the end of the first week of music rehearsals. It doesn't have Deltacappella and Riva in it, but it gives a good idea of how the acappella opera will sound like. Laura is a musical theater singer and John comes more from the opera world, but they sound great together! (Note the mp3 player shouldn't autoplay--it shouldn't play until you click it.)

Friday, December 17, 2010

A music rehearsal

Today was the first reading of the MIDSUMMER, or at least the first one where any continuity was attempted. Here is a section from the end of the first act of the play with Helena (Emily Bodkin), Hermia (Laura Stracko), Lysander (John Dooley), conductor Curt Tucker and pianist Stephen Carey. I need a better video camera!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Readthru with the voicestra

Yesterday we had an extensive rehearsal of MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM opera a cappella with the Deltacappella and Riva singers. We the first two acts with comparatively few stops. The singers singing roles in the opera don't have the hardest parts--those are in the voicestra.

Today's rehearsal gave me (and Jay Mednikow, Deltacappella's founder and Artistic Director) the confidence that this project definitely can work!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Opening night

It was a strong opening performance. It was nice to run across an old colleague, Stephen Sulich, who had just come up to the area to work for a few weeks with students at Concordia.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hansel and Gretel on the prairie

After a very windy, rainy, and slightly snowy couple of days a very respectable H&G will open tonight in FARGO! The technical staff made enormous strides between the dress rehearsals and the audience should be charmed.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Apropos de H and G

Sets for the Hansel are being created by Apropos Studio in Minneapolis. The production is moved from a German forest to the prairie. Apropos also designed FM Opera's production of my CORPS OF DISCOVERY which they did back in '07.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

School Previews of Hansel and Gretel

Last week started with four school presentations in the Fargo Moorhead area. Pictured are FM Opera General Director David Hamilton, Hansel (Holly Wrensch) and Gretel (JoEllen Miller).

Friday, October 22, 2010

Critters in Hansel and Gretel

The production of H&G has a lot of dancers in it of all ages. Some of them play little critters--a beaver, a mouse, a rabbit family. There are two cats and they also play crows (shown here). And there are fourteen angels.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hansel in Fargo

Fargo Moorhead Opera is opening its season with Hansel and Gretel. Here in an early staging rehearsal, Hansel (Holly Wrensch) is behing held captive by a pretzel, or more properly a rehearsal pretzel.

Monday, October 11, 2010

AIDA Makes its budget

I am also pleased to report that AIDA exceeded its single ticket goal. In this economy that is almost better than getting good reviews and standing ovations!

AIDA on Saturday October 9th

The October 9th AIDA had a flow to it that was exceptional. Every now and then you have a performance where everything goes right and the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Frankly it doesn't happen very often. I can recall a few times--a TURANDOT at Opera Festival of New Jersey, a night of SCOTT JOPLIN AND TREEMONISHA, a performance long ago in North Carolina of PAGLIACCI outdoors when the confetti that the villanous Tonio threw flew upwards into the wind and a flock of birds flew over when Nedda referred to the flight of swallows in her aria. The AIDA performance had that feel--particularly in the second act when every cast member was in fine voice and absolutely performing at their best. You live for these special performances and they keep you going on.

As the 2010-2011 season was the last one that I planned at Opera Memphis, this AIDA was a great way to finish! And now on to H&G in Fargo.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Aida in Memphis

Memphis' AIDA has been a success. Frankly, my luck at pulling off the heavier Verdi in Memphis has had mixed results--uneven casts. However, this group--Kishna Davis, Hugo Vera, Galina Ivannikova, and Eric Greene made a great quartet of leads. And as the Commercial Appeal review indicates, the Chorus, prepared and recruited by Stephen Carey had a powerful sound, certainly a more powerful sound than I have ever heard out of the Memphis group. What a way to go!

Sunday, September 19, 2010


A friend heard yesterday on a Memphis radio station that I was back in town to conduct ADDIDA. Shoe 'nuf!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Aida in Memphis

This week, Opera Memphis started rehearsals for AIDA. Here is Radames, tenor, Hugo Vera. Hugo makes his MET debut this year and this is his first turn at Radames. AIDA starts with a tenor aria "Celeste Aida" and Hugo says this turns out to be perhaps the most difficult thing in the whole show. The pianissimo high Bb at the end of the aria is always a challenge, but Hugo has figured out how to do it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Surviving the Crunch

Dan Belcher did an article for Opera News which has come out. It talks about how five companies--San Diego, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Tulsa, and Memphis have reacted to the recession. I don't remember saying "furniture" instead of "scenery" but it's still a good piece.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

John Douglas

We are sorry to note the passing of opera conductor, coach, and producer John Douglas. John had one of the best ears of any musician I have ever met. He was meticulous--when he listened to a singer, he made very careful lists of issues. Sometimes the list was overwhelming, but John was able to communicate in a very level headed and helpful manner. Although I don't know the full list of singers with whom John worked,I know there were some great ones, including Denyce Graves, William Stone, and Victoria Livengood. John was also willing to delve into the area of contemporary opera--including works by opera composer Bruce Trinkley.

State Fairs and Opera Programming

Here's a weird confluence of challenges--state fair programs and opera seasons. Opera companies struggle between balancing the familiar tried and true--the BOHEMES, CARMENS, and FIGAROS--with more adventurous programming. If you program too many of the old standbuys, then some of the audience is truly tired of them and won't come back. On the other hand, innovation is costly and might scare away the traditionalists. Apparently state fairs like Iowa's have the same problem--as the Des Moines Register says, balancing the "wows with the butter cows."

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Small is challenging, but worth it

Two different articles about the challenges of small organizations. One, by Terry Teachout, says that smaller regional orchestras might be dinosaurs if they limit their programming to the tried and true. Another, by Michael Kaiser, says that adventurous programming is not just for large organizations. Both articles, of course, are agreeing with each other. It is somewhat amusing that Kaiser's example of a "small organization" is the Glimmerglass Opera, one of the nation's most important summer opera festivals.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Here's Michael Kaiser's take on how the recession has worn out arts administrators. I can relate to some degree, but I for the most part I never felt worn down by the board or by artists. The board felt I was doing the best I could and the artists were grateful for the work. It was really more from within--we expect to be able to pull off a miracle, to get a dollar's worth of art for fifty cents. When it gets cut to forty cents, you still expect to be able to pull it off and when you can't it gets to you.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Opera Memphis' Violetta in 1957

Today I received a beautiful photo from Joy Jemison who sang Opera Memphis' first production, a TRAVIATA in 1957. Joy was one of the many Memphis based singers who sang in the company's early productions.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Madame Butterfly

We had a great experience with Jun Kaneko's colorful and creative BUTTERFLY production. Originally created for Opera Omaha, Kaneko's sensibility, at once modern and Japanese brought out the essence of the opera and was a kind of visual amplifier for Puccini's musico-dramatic sensibility. The audiences reacted warmly to the production with many indicating it was a "top five" in their experience with Opera Memphis.

This picture, by Sean Davis, is of Pinkerton (Stephen Mark Brown) and Sharpless (Kenneth Overton)

Bust of Virginia Clark

Earlier this week, we unveiled a bust of the late Virginia Clark at the opera center. Virginia's pledge of a million dollar gift from the Adams Foundation launched the drive to build Opera Memphis' headquarters, which was named after her and her husband Henry Clark. Picture is with Renee Guibao, Virginia's daughter--also a great supporter of O.M.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Butterfly Preview on WKNO-FM

Madame Butterfly preview is tonight on WKNO-FM. We are doing lots of Act I and our friends Delta Cappella are performing.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Is La Traviata hard to conduct?

There have been many articles and blogs about Leonard Slatkin at the MET, including this one by Anne Midgette. Is TRAVIATA hard to conduct? Mostly, the answer is no. But the orchestration of the show is very naked and faulty coordination shows up very easily. Things like the famous "Libiamo" have some tricky breaths that must be agreed upon and the worst is Alfredo's second act aria, "De' miei bollenti spiriti." Coordinating any kind of tempo variance with strings playing pizzicato is difficult, but at the pace of sixteenth notes as it is in this aria, it really requires some finesse, rehearsal, and a sense of agreement about what is going to happen.

I remember early in my career a production of COSI FAN TUTTE at Florida Grand Opera where a group of very well known professionals ate a director alive. He was an experienced director, but instead of coming in with a clear vision, he simply was intending to see what the cast was used to doing. Given all the hard work it takes to prepare a role--the hours and hours it takes to learn it, memorize it, shape it--the cast didn't appreciate it at all.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In the fountain

Photo by Lance Murphey for an article in THE DAILY NEWS. If I ever am involved with another building project, it will NOT have a fountain!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Time to go

It is time to go. It's going to take awhile to summarize 18 years at Opera Memphis, so I won't try it quite yet.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Boheme Review

At least one of the reviews is in from LA BOHEME. Both the Friday and Sunday performances were well attended. The orchestra played beautifully and the cast was strong. This BOHEME is a tearjerker and I think it is actually because the comic scenes are so madcap. On Sunday, it was very clear that our Canadian Marcello, Etienne DuPuis, had extra adrenalin at the performance due to Canada's victory in Olympic Hockey.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cafe Momus

Cafe Momus (Act II) looks pretty good from the pit at Piano Dress rehearsal.

Hawaii Opera T-Shirt Quilt

Every year, Hawaii Opera displays t-shirts designed by Phil Hidalgo backstage. One of the longtime choristers, Fred Cachola had some of his spares made into an artful quilt.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lori Phillips as Brunhilde

While we are rehearsing BOHEME, Hawaii Opera opened DIE WALKURE. The Brunhilde was Lori Phillips. Amongst her many credits, Lori appeared twice at Opera Memphis as Turandot and Amelia in THE MASKED BALL.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

La Boheme at Hawaii Opera

While it is by no means polished, all of LA BOHEME has been staged. These pictures include director Karen Tiller, soprano Olga Chernisheva (Mimi), tenor Derek Taylor (Rodolfo), baritones Etienne Dupuis (Marcello) and Leon Williams (Schaunard) , and bass John Marcus Bindel (Colline).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Time crawls and then lurches

Returning to Hawaii once a year as a guest artist usually creates a feeling of time not having passed. You see the same folks and pick up where you left off with your friends. Someone is a little greyer; someone has shed a few pounds, but things are basically the same. Having been in productions together, you get a shared history. This season has been bittersweet--one person has lost his father, another his wife, another his mother. This time, time has lurched forward into new realities. In some years they could be joyous changes--engagements, weddings, births--but this year they are not.

Friday, February 5, 2010

From Ice to Nice

The second weekend of ORPHEUS proved challenging. Friday's performance was rescheduled and Saturday's was cancelled due to icy roads. Sunday ended up being an afternoon performance followed by an evening one.

While this was happening, I got a last minute call to do LA BOHEME in Honolulu. This will make for an all Puccini spring--with BUTTERFLY back in Memphis and a visit to Amarillo to see GIANNI SCHICCHI/BUOSO'S GHOST in between.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ladies who Bluff

Turns out that Opera Memphis has a group that has been coming up from Pine Bluff, Arkansas to see the shows. I finally got a chance to meet them after the Sunday performance. Pine Bluff is two and a half hours away from Memphis.

Picture is in the lobby of the East Memphis Hilton.

Cheers to three Orpheuses

Our opening weekend of Orpheus was a success, with strong houses and strong audience reaction.

Picture is Marc Schreiner, our Saturday Night Orpheus, backstage at Clark Opera Memphis Center.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dance of the Blessed Spirits

Gluck's ORPHEUS has much ballet in it, including the famous "Dance of the Blessed Spirits." This photo of dancers from the New Ballet Ensemble.

It is choreographed by their founder and director, Katie Smythe.

Orpheus stage management book

Ever wonder what the stage management book for an opera looks like? Our stage manager, Erin Whipkey has her light cues for the show marked with post-it notes so they can be moved around as changes happen. She has to follow the music precisely--opera is cued from the piano vocal score.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Orpheus in the Daily News.

An article on ORPHEUS by Jonathan Devin in the Memphis Daily News and a post in a fun blog, I Love Memphis.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Masks for Orpheus

Our Wigmaster, Elizabeth Harris Berglund, and our Director of Production, Erin Whipkey, have worked some lovely magic on the masks for the production

What is the plural of Orpheus?

Director Patrick Hansen, Countertenor Nicholas Tamagna, Mezzo soprano Kathryn Cowdrick, our Euridice, Kearstin Piper Brown, and tenor Marc Schreiner

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Preview Thursday Night

On Thursday night, January 14th, we will be on WKNO-FM for a preview of ORPHEUS. If you aren't in the area, you can catch it on the web from 7-8pm.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Staging Furies

Yesterday we participated in the public opening of the new theater complex at Playhouse on the Square. We used one of their new rehearsal rooms and staged the section of the opera where Orpheus is harassed by the Furies. Our director, Patrick Hansen, taught the ensemble some memorable moves, including the "shifting hunchback" and the "backwards monkey."

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Euridice in her mask

Euridice (Kearstin Piper Brown) in her mask.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Orfeo ed Euridice staging rehearsals

We have had several days of staging on our ORFEO ED EURIDICE in Memphis. We have cast three different singers, countertenor Nicholas Tamagna, tenor Marc Schreiner, and mezzo soprano Kathryn Cowdrick. We have one Euridice, Kearstin Brown--so she's a busy one. Each singer will get to sing the opera twice.

Why do it with three different leads? Gluck's opera was originally done by a castrato (approximated by a countertenor today) and then by a tenor. Later it was taken up by mezzo sopranos. So all three voice types are part of the performing tradition of the piece. I'm sure it's been done this way somewhere before, but it's rare.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Orfeo ed Euridice

We are starting rehearsals for ORPHEUS AND EURYDICE.