Friday, March 25, 2011

The BLO Bunch gets a new attitude!

In light of BLO's sleek new look, The BLO Bunch now dresses to match:

Will YOU be test driving The BLO Bunch experience? Join us on May 4th to close the student series with a bang!

~ See you at the theatre ~

Backtrack: Kevin Burdette

The fabulous author of Tastee McBea joined us last week at Jacob Wirth following Wednesday's performance of Agrippina and shared her interview with Kevin Burdette, who recently played the role of Death in BLO's production of The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits.

Check it out.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why opera? Why me?

Opera can be tough.  It’s long, it’s expensive and the audience is full of older people.  Not to  mention, expensive tickets!  So, why would I want to be part of an organization that creates opera?

Opera is a vibrant art form!  It encompasses instrumental musicians, dancers, singers, fantastic sets and beautiful costumes.  This is one of the only art forms that can reach a vast audience due to the complexity of the production.  Coming from a classical music background in trumpet, opera wasn’t on my immediate radar.  During my undergraduate career, I was part of the pit orchestra for two operas and had gotten my first taste.  It was super fun to be part of the artistic experience!  I loved to work with the singers and production team, but I was focused solely on orchestral music at the time.   However, my internship with the BLO has given me the ability to appreciate the multi-faceted opera scene.  Not only is opera incredibly interesting, it expresses the human condition in a way that can touch anyone’s heart.  So, why not take advantage of the reasonable ticket prices and experience live opera today? 

- Katherine Ludington, Boston University

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Gripping 'Agrippina'

Who can get enough opera puns from Agrippina? We've selected such witticisms:

If it ain't baroque, don't fix it.

We're going for baroque.

Can you Handel Agrippina?

Is Agrippina too hot to Handel?

Seriously, the puns floweth. All this to say that Clio C. Smurro The Harvard Crimson posted a review of Agrippina titled A Gripping 'Agrippina'. Fitting, yes?

- The BLO Bunch

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Opera Etiquette

Just like Jessica and her friends shared with us earlier this year in her post “Law and Order: Opera Unit," no one wants their Opera experience to be affected by what other audience members are doing around them. Most of these rules are general courtesy for any type of performance, but just in case you need a refresher, here are a few opera do’s and don’ts to ensure that you and everyone around you shares an enjoyable experience!

Do turn off all electronic devices. Cellphones, Blackberries, Ipods, Ipads, etc. Just like in the movies, the theatre, a meeting or even in church – no one wants to hear your ringtone or see your texting conversation. You should be enjoying the performance that you paid to see – your missed calls and messages will still be there when the show is over!

Don’t bring cameras or any type of recording devices. Something like this might happen…(Not really, but it should scare anyone out of trying to take videos or pictures during a performance!)

Do arrive on time. And by on-time, I mean in your seats, ready to watch the performance before the curtain goes up. However, if for whatever reason you do not make it on time, BLO does have a late seating policy: “Patrons arriving after the start of the performance may miss substantial portions of the opera — perhaps as much as the first act."

Don’t talk. Just like with cellphones, no one else in the audience wants to hear your conversation, (if they did, you would be on stage, not the performers!) so please save all conversations for the intermissions or after the performance.

Do take a break during the Intermissions – get up, go to the bathroom, enjoy some refreshments (But remember Jessica’s story, you may think your eating candy doesn’t bother anyone around you – but someone in the row behind you might think differently. Just be conscientious when eating during a performance if it is allowed.)

Do applaud! Every performer wants to hear applause, and the opera is no different. There are, however appropriate times to applaud – such as after a big aria, at the end of each act, and of course, when the singers come out to take a bow. If you are unsure whether or not it is an appropriate time to applaud, following the lead of other audience members is a safe bet. If you really want to show your appreciation, you can yell “Bravo!” for a male singer, “Brava!” for a female singer, or “Bravi!” for a number of singers, but yelling anything else is considered inappropriate.

Don’t forget to enjoy the performance! Although this list of do’s and don’ts may seem long, just remember to be courteous to others and show respect for not only the performers, but for other audience members as well. If you remember to do that, then you along with everyone around you will be sure to have a great opera experience.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Fun + Opera = 'Agrippina'

After a fun night at the opera (fun and opera in the same sentence? Who knew?) and some mingling with the BLO Bunch after the show, I have to reflect on some highlights of BLO’s production Agrippina. Overall I was pleasantly surprised by my experience at Agrippina. I knew a little bit about Baroque opera before the show  (mostly thanks to this blog), but I definitely was not expecting to laugh as much as I did. From David Trudgen’s portrayal of Nerone as a spoiled, cocaine snorting, martini-toting mama’s boy; to the girl talk scene in which Agrippina (Caroline Worra) gets Poppea (Kathleen Kim) unwillingly drunk, I was laughing, along with the rest of the audience, for most of the show.

When I wasn’t laughing, I was feeling sorry for Ottone, the one true honest character in the show.  Ottone’s aria in the 2nd act where he learns everyone believes him to be a traitor because of a lie started by Agrippina was just heart-heartbreaking. Countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo’s soothing voice emphasized the innocence of Ottone and made the audience sympathize with the character even more.

What stood out for me the most (fabulous singing aside, of course), was that the show took the extravagant, corrupt characters from centuries ago and made them hilariously relevant and appealing to us in 2011. From the costumes to the subtle choices made by each character, this production made this ancient story feel applicable in many ways to modern times.

Overall, Agrippina combined aesthetically pleasing sets and costumes with tremendously talented singers (who appeared with such natural ease and comic timing upon the stage) to create a refreshing take on one of Handel’s classic works.

- Katie McNamara, Saint Anselm College 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Agrippina: Tufts Daily

Emma Bushnell of the Tufts Daily reviewed BLO's production of 'Agrippina'! Check out what she has to say.

'Agrippina' offers a gripping opera experience.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Tips for Handel-ing a Baroque Opera!

With all this talk of BLO’s current production Agrippina and references to Handel, the baroque period, counter tenors and the like, there have been various opera terms thrown about in conversation that may have you scratching your head. Well if this is the case, then we’ll answer all of your baroque questions and prepare you for Agrippina!

The Baroque period generally refers to the years between 1600 and Handel’s death in 1759, and is credited as the period in which opera became a musical form. It was in the baroque era that operas were no longer strictly for select groups of people – opera became a recognized art form supported by ticket sales. Many baroque operas are comedic in nature, and were influenced by the Commedia dell’arte (or Comedy of art) type of improvisational theatre that developed in the 16th century Italy. In the early 18th century, two distinct types of operas were developing: the Opera Seria and the Opera Buffa.

Agrippina is an example of an Opera Seria, and refers to the serious style of opera that was considered to be the opera of the court, monarchy and nobility. When early Baroque operas combined broad comedy with tragic elements it struck people the wrong way and sparked the first of many opera reforms (out of which came the Opera Seria) . The genre made famous the da capo aria, an aria consisting of  three sections: an A section which establishes a certain tempo and mood, a B section which offers a contrasting tempo and mood, and then a return to the top (“da capo”) to repeat the A section which the singer is expected to add ornamentation.

In contrast to the Opera Seria, the Opera Buffa, which was developed parallel to the former, first used as a description of Italian comic operas characterized by everyday settings, local dialects and simple vocal writing. They usually involved the use of comic scenes, characters and plotlines in a contemporary setting, and generally had 2 acts and dealt with comic situations. The Opera Buffa used the lower male voices to exclude the countertenors and castrati so commonly used in Opera Seria.

Many operas during the baroque period engaged in gender-bending since there were roles written for castrati but they weren’t always available. The interchangeability of men and women’s voices resulted in men being cast as women (especially in parts of Italy where women were banned from the stage), and women cast as men, and a fair amount of disguises were used.  Counter-tenors (such as the ones Aggripina) are male singers whose vocal ranges are equivalent to that of a contralto, mezzo-soprano or even a soprano; usually through use of falsetto or rarely their normal voices. A Castrato is a man with a singing voice equivalent to that of a soprano, mezzo-soprano, or contralto voice produced either by castration of the singer before puberty.

Another characteristic of Baroque operas is that tragedies were typically given happy endings because operas were originally performed at celebrations – they made sure to resolve all of the plots and subplots in happy endings. As for Agrippina’s happy ending, you will have to attend BLO’s production to find out what type of ending Handel and Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani (who wrote the libretto) had in store for her!

Friday, March 11, 2011

'Agrippina' opens TONIGHT!

Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Handel’s Agrippina opens tonight!

In celebration, we thank Barihunks for mentioning members of this fabulous cast, Christian Van Horn and David McFerrin. You can follow Christian on tumblr and twitter (@VanHornCVH)

Read the post about BLO’s most recent barihunks!

Get your tickets for The BLO Bunch night – March 16.

~ See you at the theatre ~

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Opera's most excited audience

While everyone (or mostly everyone) gets excited before going to see a live performance- whether it be a play, a concert or sure, even a live sporting event – I think it would be hard to reach the excitement level of a child. Children usually get excited about the smallest stuff, but giving a child the opportunity to see a performance kicks the anticipation level up even higher. If the child has never been to a performance before they aren’t sure what to expect; while for the old pros, they know the “proper theatre etiquette”.  Kids think it is just the coolest to see the story come to life right before your eyes and I think that excitement, to some extent, never leaves us.

What I’m trying to get at is that after seeing the audiences at BLO’s Opera for Young Audiences “Hansel & Gretel” these past few weekends, I realized how thrilling it really is to be able to experience an opera live. Seeing little kids unsure of what to expect walking into the show with their parents and grandparents to reassure them what exactly is going to happen made it clear to me that opera really can be enjoyed by everyone. Whether you are 7 years old seeing a show for the first time, or 70 years old and seeing your favorite show for the 5th time, the emotions you feel in the time between walking into the theatre before the curtain rises and leaving the theatre after curtain call don’t change or fade with age. 

- Katie McNamara, Saint Anselm College

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

THREE QUESTIONS: Christian Van Horn

Anthony Roth Costanzo takes readers into the world of rehearsing an opera, BLO's upcoming Agrippina.

Our exalted King Claudio in BLO’s production of Agrippina is played by the stellar Christian Van Horn. Christian has appeared in many celebrated opera houses including the Lyric Opera of Chicago Opera (where he is an alumnus of the Lyric Opera Center), San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Bayerische Staatsoper, Santa Fe Opera, and the Salzburg Festival. His roles include the title role in Le Nozze di Figaro, Raimondo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Timur in Turandot, Colline in La Bohème, Oroveso in Norma, the Sprecher in Die Zauberflöte, Nourabad in Pearl Fishers, and many others. Not only do we both play the three-name card extremely well, but we also share the same extraordinary managers. To take at look at what they do, visit them at Opus 3 Artists.


Would you say that there is one thing Handel provides you with as a singer which is distinct from any other composer?

I would say that Handel really lets you explore a LOT of colors in the voice. The light orchestration allows for a huge dynamic range, rather than just sheer volume. I would say that basses RARELY get to sing pianissimo, and Handel leaves room for that -- especially in the recits.

You play King Claudio in BLO's Agrippina; is he a good guy or a bad guy and how do you communicate that either vocally or dramatically?
Claudio is a GREAT guy, even if a bit promiscuous.  As soon as anyone becomes Ceasar his days are immediately numbered. This is not lost on Claudio, and so he is definitely living for the moment. His heart is good, despite his lack of fidelity. After all, Agrippina (his wife) does not exactly make it easy for him to be faithful to her. Vocally, I think Claudio must be very powerful -- at times. He needs to make it clear who the boss in the room is, especially when there are many characters present. Claudio's softer side must also be represented but can really only appear one on one -- with Lesbo, his confidant, or with one of the ladies. 

In your experience thus far, what's the most fun thing about being a bass-baritone?
The best part of being a bass-baritone is the characters we get to play. While the tenors and baritones usually get to play the love interest or hero, the basses and bass-baritones generally get to pull the strings and make everyone dance! We often get to play very old men, which presents a fun challenge; and, the "bad guys" are always low voices. Nothing is more fun than playing a bad guy! Also, there are very few operas that don't require a bass-baritone -- which from a practical standpoint is fantastic.   

To read more about Christian, visit his website,

Monday, March 7, 2011

Opera at Brown University

It’s been a few weeks since last we met, but the opera never stops! I wanted to write about what I've been up to lately. Most of it involves my two favorite things, opera and my peers:

Student Dress Rehearsal of Nixon in China at the Metropolitan Opera—you haven’t lived until you’ve eaten a brown-bag lunch sitting on the floor of the Family Circle lobby (waaaay up in the nosebleed seats), surrounded by young people all doing the same.  I took the bus down from Providence to NYC and back (all in one action-packed day) to attend a special free student dress rehearsal, for undergrads and third-graders alike. Nixon in China is nothing short of spectacular, and also a very important work for modern opera. I actually didn’t mind sitting so high up, because the visuals were so striking from a distance—the large clumps of brightly-dressed chorus members seamlessly converged and melted into other formations during Pat Nixon’s tour of the Chinese countryside in Act II.   I could also really appreciate the immense size of the stage when characters appeared alone. I was psyched to hear Kathleen Kim (APPEARING AS POPPEA IN BLO’S AGRIPPINA) sing “I am the wife of Mao Zedong.” This is one of my favorite arias of all-time—the piece teeters on the brink of madness, and contains very difficult coloratura. Ms. Kim nailed it. 

Rehearsing for Die Fledermaus! I'm directing an entirely student-run production of J. Strauss's classic operetta. We’re two weeks out from opening night, which is exciting and terrifying. This show is bigger than any production I have directed before, even in terms of sheer numbers (20 cast, 25 orchestra, at least 15 production staff)! We've begun rehearsing with the orchestra, which is terribly exciting--the feeling of singing accompanied by such a rich sound is truly magical. Rehearsal has been a ton of fun so far—we’ve had all-cast waltz lessons and clown workshops, vocal coachings and improv work, and we’ve hammered out the blocking.  It’s great to work with such a diverse group—there are freshman playing leading roles, and performers entirely new to opera.  It’s also challenging to work with singers who are superstars in other fields as well—my lead soprano is presenting at an anthropology conference over tech weekend! I’m really excited to see it all come together.

See you at Agrippina!

- Audrey Chait, Brown University

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Anthony Roth Costanzo takes readers into the world of rehearsing an opera, BLO's upcoming Agrippina.

Our brilliant conductor Gary Thor Wedow is unique in his sensitivity, skill, and knowledge of early music. He also has a seemingly bottomless treasure trove of wonderful historical anecdotes that inform the way he crafts opera. Gary went to graduate school here in Boston at the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied with John Moriarty. Later, he was the Associate Conductor of the Handel & Haydn Society. He has conducted an enormous amount of early music: Cavalli, Monteverdi and of course Handel -- no less than 9 Handel operas for New York City Opera, Juilliard, Seattle, and Miami, among others. Next, Gary returns to Seattle to conduct Magic Flute, and then goes to Wolf Trap for Wolff Ferrari's Le Donne Curiose. Gary began our interview with his characteristic exuberance saying that, “It's terrific to come back to Boston where I got a great beginning to a very happy life and I’m so glad to be working with such a dynamite cast in this beautiful and genuinely funny production.”

Can you explain the fabrication, function, and feeling behind the ornamentation in Boston Lyric Opera's production of Agrippina?

Ideally the ornamentation comes from the emotional heart of the drama, outlining and embroidering the line both dramatically and melodically.  The character, during the course of the aria goes through an emotional journey and upon the return to the beginning of the aria, their inner life is transformed, so the ornaments reflect the transition or intensification of their emotional life through melody.  There are the 'essential' ornaments: the appoggiatura or leaning note, the messa di voce or spinning out of the note and the trill or warbling, shaking of the voice. Then there are the 'divisions' which divide up one note into many.  Handel's singers (as today's) spent hours training and practicing patterns. As you know, the ornamentation should come from the singer and our beautiful cast has all shaped their own ornamentation.

We were talking the other day about Handel's life and how it had an impact on his music. Can you speak to the intersection of life and art in Handel's oeuvre as well as in any musician's life?

Handel for a long time was deified with the virginal morality of the saint. Though he was certainly the composer of heavenly music, his personal life seems very human and emotional. Here is an immensely talented young composer who gets into a quarrel with a fellow composer (Matheson) over who should play the harpsichord in an opera and challenges him to a duel. Later, he becomes the center of a group of wealthy patrons in Italy who were probably gay and where he was known as the Saxon bear; the same circle of intellectual artists surrounded him in London. I feel the evidence points to him being gay and he had a passionate nature and knew well the value of his great gift. I feel an intense responsibility to infuse this music with deep emotion, plugging into primitive and deep wells of primal feelings. Handel felt these emotions first and we recreate and experience these passions ourselves, along with the audience. That's music.

How do you balance the exigencies of the director, singers, orchestra and administration while trying to craft your take on an opera?

Bernard Shaw said that opera was an art form which tried to combine five art forms, which is four art forms too many. Everyone feels that their corner of the opera is the most important, and of course they are right because opera needs all of these elements. Music is the heart of opera and if you take good care of your heart, the body is healthy. Opera is all about people; I love people and love working with them, learning from them.  Everyone wants to perform at their optimum, so if you enable people to do their best work, you can fulfill your vision of the opera at the same time.  I'm incredibly grateful and excited to be working on this beautiful opera.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Measure your pleasure

You are invited!
The BLO Bunch attends Boston Lyric Opera's Agrippina, a "fun, sexy" opera.
Never attend the opera alone again.

Don’t miss the next event with The BLO Bunch.

 Join The BLO Bunch following the March 16th performance of Agrippina for a students-only reception generously hosted by Jacob Wirth

Where: After the performance at the Citi Performing Arts CenterSM Shubert Theatre (265 Tremont Street), 
head over to Jacob Wirth (37 Stuart Street) to meet up with other members of The BLO Bunch and 
keep the conversation alive!

Bonus: sneak backstage and follow Counter Tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo on the blog!

~ See you at the opera ~