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

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Steveport Opera

Old friend Steve Aiken is running Shreveport Opera and has gotten them back in the black. They do one performance only of each opera at the downtown Riverview Theater. The Riverview has an orchestra pit that is literally padded with shag carpet not only on the floor but up the walls. Also pictured is Dr. Bartolo, Steven Condy, who has done over twenty productions and eighty performances of the pompous, comic character. Alas, he's not up to that many productions of my BUOSO'S GHOST yet. 

If you ever get to Shreveport, don't miss the Louisiana restaurant Herby-K's and also the Red River National Wildlife Refuge across the river in Bossier (BOZ-yer). 

Thanks to a great cast and a fine chorus and orchestra, the BARBER OF SEVILLE should go very well on October 27th. Shreveport Opera has an exemplary outreach program and a talented group of young artists to service it. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Opera America Songbook

Opera America has opened its new headquarters, and to celebrate that event, they have commissioned a bunch--more like a platoon--of composers and lyricists to create "home" themed songs. They have been collected, recorded, and published. A massive undertaking! You can find out more about it on their website. For the next few years, proceeds will go to Opera America to help raise funds for the opera center project.

I spoke to Robert Ward the other day about his contribution which was adapted from his opera, LADY FROM COLORADO. Bob is in his mid nineties!

Cabaret anyone?

Jennifer Peterson of OperaMission is encouraging composers, lyricists and singers to collaborate on a project she's calling New Cabaret. It's kind of a contest, but that isn't really the main point. The official rules can be found here. "Cabaret" is defining itself as it goes along. Subject matters look to be wide ranging and often, but not exclusively, they are on the lighter side. Jennifer really wants entrants to tweet to #newcabaret, so the process is out in the open--a learning and collaborating opportunity for all. But non-tweeters can probably find ways to work around this. We will all be convening in New York at her home space, the very hip Gershwin Hotel in early January to present our efforts. I will be doing a few of my non-classical cabaret songs. Baritone and composer Michael Weyandt is also participating.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Amarillo Opera has its s*&t together!

Amarillo seems an unlikely place for opera. But after seeing a very nice production of BUOSO'S GHOST here a few years ago, I accepted an invitation to conduct Butterfly here. They are using an elaborate set from Santa Fe--a really big production for a regional company. And so far so very good. That the cast is good is not much of a surprise. There are more good people than work to go round these days. But what has been surprising is the excellent and excellently prepared chorus and a Trouble who is going to be terrific. Nice rehearsal spaces, a fine director (Marc Astafan) who tells good stories onstage, and a willing and able rehearsal pianist and stage manager. 

Oh, and the nearby scenery (Palo Duro Canyon above) is spectacular. Why don't they tell you to take a left at the picnic bench in order to go up to the Lighthouse, pictured above? 

Amarillo has great Mexican over at La Campana on Canyon Drive (Chicharron Burritos!) and up at the Mercado Latino (Tripe tacos!) on Amarillo Boulevard. There is an incredibly talented coffee roaster at Evocation Coffee. I also got to sit in on a songwriter evening hosted by Mike Fuller of High Plains Public Radio. Sometimes they play Americana instead of classical, so I'll be tuning into them from time to time on the internet. Do I sound like a tourist instead of a guest conductor? Well, I have done Butterfly a few times...

One of the sobering things is that I am now the oldest guy in the rehearsal room instead of the youngest. I guess I should make that the subject of a whole blog entry sometime.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Shooting the breeze in Lawrence, Kansas

Got to catch up with an old friend and colleague, Dean Anthony. We ended up meeting in Lawrence, Kansas where he was going to attend some auditions at KU. We are cooking up a new operatic project--more later. Dean is a character tenor of vast experience who is now turning to stage directing and running his own prop shop. He has recently taken over running the opera program at the Brevard Music Festival.

Monday, July 23, 2012

In a contemplative mood

Back in Ames for a week,  I've been finishing up my contribution to a large commissioning project put together by Opera America to celebrate the opening of its National Opera Center. Over forty composers are writing songs--the general theme was "home." As they dedicate their new home, I wanted to pause and remember the chain of people, well known and lesser known,  who have helped make opera what it is in 2012.

While the singer, Marquita Lister, is singing, at select points the names of deceased contributors to the field is spoken. The challenge was that there is room for only eighteen names. Since the list was worked up with the help of Opera America and Marquita, I didn't actually know all of them personally, but that's ok.

Although there are some very famous and well known names, I wanted a balance. Two names that were important to me to include were composer James Legg and tenor David Eisler. Jim was a talented composer who I knew very well--we were both students of Robert Ward and I was very fond of his opera, THE INFORMER. Although I knew David Eisler less well, having worked with him only once in Miami, he was one of the many artists in our field who died all too young during the AIDS epidemic.

It's rare that you get a chance to publicly remember folks who are gone, so I appreciate the chance to do this thanks to Opera America. I'll post more about this when the whole project is about to be released.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dragon dress

It was a splendid dress rehearsal. We had a small audience of students who really stayed with it. Here is a small clip from very near the end where Ellen Frankel (and our character, Rabbi Nathan Goodman) paraphases MLK.

Jason Switzer, Christopher Lorge, and Teresa Eickel.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Disrupting the community rally

Our pro-Klan characters disrupt a community rally and blast hate metal. This is right before they throw their "audio bomb."

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Who threw kleenex through my window?

We are in the final rehearsals for SLAYING THE DRAGON before we reach the theater. Here Ava (Jennifer Braun) and Giet Long (David Koh) are expressing their angst over tissue boxes and bananas thrown through their window. (In the show they are hate messages wrapping a brick.) Vera Goodman (Teresa Eickel) looks on.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

I'm pleased that OperaHub, a company in Boston is doing the second production of MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, opera a cappella, this summer. They are performing it June 28-30. Although I'm happy to be helping out my friend and colleague Valerian Ruminski with a Boheme at his Nickel City Opera in Buffalo, I'm sad that it's right on top of the DREAM, so I won't get to see it. Spies wanted!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Good luck Marciem!

Good luck to Marciem Bazell and the students at University of Missouri Kansas City tonight and tomorrow night. They are doing a scene from CORPS OF DISCOVERY from the second act where the Hidatsa women anticipate Sacagawea's return home. Marciem is an old friend, generous colleague and talented stage director.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

200+ Children!

This Friday, the Ames Children's Choir will host a festival called "Celebrate Singing," where they will perform the premiere of a selection from SLAYING THE DRAGON, "Hear our Prayer." This selection is for two part children's choir. In the production there will probably be fewer than twenty children, on Friday there will be over two hundred. Should be fun!

Opera has surprisingly few great children's choruses. The one from CARMEN is probably the best, perhaps followed by HANSEL AND GRETEL. The children's choir in DRAGON is there to sing a song at a nonviolence rally, so it's a good excuse for a complete number with a beginning, end, and no adult interruption.

I've had some feedback from a publisher that the words to the piece are too strong for a marketable standalone piece, so we'll see what the kids think.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Staged Workshop

There is nothing like a staged workshop in order to tell if something works. Standing with a score in hand makes everything seem like an oratorio, lecture, or sermon. In one week, the Center City Opera singers managed to put DRAGON on its feet. The workshop was staged by Leland Kimball, OperaDelaware's General Director. Lee will direct the piece in June. Jason Switzer, who will sing the leading baritone role, made a quick study. It was encouraging to have the show come to life (honestly, some of it had gotten a bit boring) and for some of it to be very emotional.  Time for gathering a few opinions for some small changes and then on to orchestration.     

Friday, February 17, 2012

On its feet at last

After a libretto reading and two music workshops, SLAYING THE DRAGON will at last be on its feet this weekend in Wilmington and PhIladelphia. Some of the scenes, frankly, were starting to go stale without staging. Others truly benefited from the extensive workshops. Although everything flows very well, there are always things to fix. The presentations are 8pm Saturday in Wilmington at OperaDelaware and 2pm Sunday at the Prince Music Theater's Black box.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

WERTHER at Minnesota Opera

Jules Massenet's operas are not amongst the most performed in the repertoire, so it was a treat to go to St. Paul to catch Minnesota Opera's upcoming production of WERTHER.

Goethe's 1774 novel, although wildly popular in its day, is not much on the reading lists today, so in some ways the opera has outlived its source. As adapted in the opera, the plot is simple: Artist/writer loves girl, girl can't marry artist; artist is despondent and shoots himself, eventually dies. All remaining are sad or hurt.

As a character Werther is a self absorbed and the bourgeois grownup in us makes us want to say to him "Grow up!" or "Get a life!" But everybody is fascinated by the youthful idealistic flameout--the Jim Morrisons, Kurt Cobains, or Christopher McCandlesses (the Into the Wild guy) who refuse to conform. There really is no other character like Werther in all of opera.

I am doing lots of tweaks on my own opera right now, so dramaturgy is on my mind. There are some "rules" that WERTHER breaks. A couple of them are: don't take too long to die and don't take too long to get to the good stuff. But those who are willing to wade through a bit of exposition are richly rewarded by the opera's third act.

At that point, newly married Charlotte has realized that she loves Werther and not her husband, Albert. She frets about him in a beautiful aria (the "Letter" aria) and later sings one of the mezzo national anthems--"Va! Laissez coulez mes larmes" which has the extra treat of the most important saxophone solo in all opera. He also sings the unforgettable "Pourqoui me reveiller." And by this time in the show, you care about the characters, particularly Charlotte who has been trapped by a promise she made to her dying mother to marry the rather drab Albert. The payoff is worth the wait--I think the third act of Werther is one of the best acts in opera--right up there with the second act of CARMEN, or the last act of RIGOLETTO. And if the act is done well, as it was Thursday evening, Werther's very long death later is made more compelling.

Dale Johnson, the opera's Artistic Director, has assembled a strong company, especially Werther (James Valenti), Charlotte (Roxana Constantinescu ), and her sister Sophie (Angela Mortellaro, one of their fine resident artists), who are are able to look their parts, act their parts, and sing their parts. That's not an easy trifecta to pull off. 

Also hard to pull off is Massenet's music.  It is often so spare that it has almost Mozartean delicacy. Pit/stage coordination can be challenging because sometimes the only person on the beat is the singer on stage. Conductor Christoph Campestrini was particularly fearless in creating little sister Sophie's youthful fun, and act one had a fine and phat bassoon solo.

Scenically, the nineteenth century drawing room of Charlotte's house and her bucolic yard is contrasted with a large black bridge and a black and white backdrop of an industrial riverside. This show is not Emmeline, or Oliver, or any other about humanity in the grip of  the industrial revolution, so it seemed a tiny bit heavy handed, but the moving bridge certainly allowed for some quick scene changes and dramatic points of view.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Stick a fork in it (not quite)

On New Year's Eve, I finished the piano vocal score to SLAYING THE DRAGON. In my process, this means the show is over 50% complete. Next comes the orchestration. Since the plan is to keep the orchestra small, it is going to be flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, trombone, tuba, harp, percussion/timpani, piano and synthesizer, and string quintet. My friend and fellow composer Craig Bohmler is a big fan of tuba in a small orchestra, so I have thought I'd give it a try. Since there is likely to be some aggressive brass writing in the show, it will be good for the brass section to have a "big bottom."

The next workshop for DRAGON is Saturday January 14th. In general, I wrote the music for the characters first and their conflicts last, so the music written since the fall workshop is more strident, angular, and dramatic. Too much of this turns an audience off, but the less tuneful music actually sets up the melodic parts so they can be enjoyed, otherwise too much sweet music ends up being like a too-large chocolate sundae, lovely at first, but then boring, and perhaps even too much to digest.