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?
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
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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 LyricOperaCenter), 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 atOpus 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.
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
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.
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.”
you explain the fabrication, function, and feeling behind the ornamentation in
Boston Lyric Opera's production of Agrippina?
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.
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?
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
do you balance the exigencies of the director, singers, orchestra and
administration while trying to craft your take on an opera?
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.