Monday, June 24, 2013

Opera & Hockey: Parallel Worlds?

As we head into game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final (GO BRUINS!) we asked our Twitter followers to tell us what it's like being an opera lover and a sports fanatic: 

@abbottjones says: Both get my heart rate up. I cheer at both: "Bravo" or "War Eagle" or "Go Sox!" Both make life more exciting. #operafan #sportsfan. "

@baritoneirvin says: " Some might argue that opera IS a sport. I know I feel that way after some shows. :-) " 

Baritone Matthew Worth (@worthmatthew), recently seen as Guglielmo in BLO's production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte, reflected on what it's like to be an opera singer and a (sometimes) athlete:

I was yelling at the opposing team's player with my soft palette raised high, producing a supported, vibrating {o} vowel.  I wasn't alone--my brother and I were seated behind one of the hoops for an important pair of free throws and our whole section was yelling in chorus to distract the player from the task at hand.  My brother wasn't fully committed to tripping up the guy at the line, though.  He couldn't stop laughing at my foreign sound and me, the opera singer with a sports problem.

There was a time when I was playing sports more often than I was performing on the stage.  These days, it's certainly reversed--I only occasionally play pickup basketball, flag football or a round of golf whereas my livelihood is made as an opera singer.  Every day, however, I'm able to draw similarities between the two mediums.  Both athletes and singers are entertainers, required to be focused in every moment on the stage.  We visualize success before it happens, having prepared countless hours on our own in practice rooms and on empty courts.  

There are less-obvious parallels to be drawn as well.  If I were to break down singing into very basic principles, it would go something like this: Intake of breath, onset of support, onset of sound, release of sound, release of support.  Every major athletic motion has an equivalent. In taking a free throw, I breathe while bending my knees, then extend through the shot while exhaling into the follow through.  My golf swing (when it's working) begins with a breath in the backswing, exhaling through contact into follow through.  I've never been a hockey player, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that every player on the ice in this Bruins/Blackhawks series has a similar progression in their wrister across the ice or slap shot. 

Make way for the Bruins!

Click here to read about our friendly wager with the Lyric Opera of Chicago
It's been a blast battling it out on Twitter with @LyricOperaFollow us @BostLyricOpera to join in the fun and help us win our Re-Tweet Challenge!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Show Us Your Pride

Have you ever heard the old joke, “I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out”? Even if you have, you’ve never heard, “I went to the Stanley Cup finals and an opera broke out.” BLO wants to do something about that, and so we are challenging the Lyric Opera of Chicago to a friendly bet.

Think about it: Opera has all the spectacle and drama of a sporting event. Three acts.  Triple overtime. Need we say more?

In some ways, opera has it over sports. At a hockey game, you can hear music and singing only at the beginning (unless it’s a win at the Garden and then you get Dirty Water at the end).  

And this year is the first time in decades that two teams from the original six NHL teams are facing off in the season finale. We’ve got the traditions and history too. BLO and Lyric Opera of Chicago have almost a century of opera drama under their collective belt.

Boston and Chicago take pride in their world-class cultural organizations and in their championship franchises. We’ve got great museums, orchestras and opera companies. We’ve got major league soccer, basketball, football and baseball teams.

But it’s been almost 30 years since the Patriots and the Bears met in Super Bowl XX. And in spite of Theo Epstein’s move from our city to yours, it doesn’t look like the Red Sox and the Cubs will face each other in this year’s World Series. So the time is now.

BLO and Lyric Opera of Chicago are two teams at the top of their game.  

How about it Lyric, are you ready to take to the ice? 

Follow @BostLyricOpera and show us your @NHLBruins pride! Re-tweet for a chance to win dinner at a local restaurant + 2 tix to #MagicFlute. Can we beat @LyricOpera's RTs?? #OperaBruins #CHIvsBOS

Monday, June 3, 2013

Making New Discoveries: Grade School Children Learn About Opera

On Friday, May 31, I had the great pleasure of attending my second Festival of Classroom Operas in partnership with Wheelock Family Theatre as the Director of Community Engagement at BLO.  This festival is the culminating, celebratory event for the Music! Words! Opera! program where classrooms that have progressed to creating their own original operas are able to come together and share their work.  

Nine classrooms participated in the program this year, and though we didn’t see everyone at the festival, we celebrated many successes  for educators who have been teaching their students about classic operas and seeing young faces (and in some cases, hearing nervous giggles) as students listened to famous arias and chorus numbers for the very first time.  Students have attended BLO rehearsals, welcomed BLO Artists into their classrooms, and in the swell of all these new sounds, unfamiliar languages, colorful costumes, and long-gone composers, they set upon the daunting task of writing their own opera. The question “Well, where in the world do I begin?” immediately comes to mind, doesn’t it?

Festival participants took part in theatre workshops led by BLO and WFT Teaching Artists and demonstrated their operas onstage to an audience of their peers.  All very fun, and very entertaining.   

My favorite part of the day was the conversation that took place among the students after they finished performing their operas.  Led by WFT’s Director of Education, I was impressed by the way children in grades 2 – 5 articulated their observations about their experience.  

Some of the topics:
* Facing stage fright                             
* Negotiating uncooperative props and set pieces
* Unexpected audience reaction
* Problem-solving and improvising together
* (And my favorite) Struggling with the sometimes confounding problem of playing a character while still being just a normal, living, breathing person standing on a stage.  This can be quite the uncomfortable problem for the soldier onstage being played by a ten-year-old with an itchy nose! 

As I reflect on the festival and seeing these discoveries unfold, I find that I am most in awe of the process that preceded the demonstrations, and as the school year ends, what more could still be done for which there is, sadly, no time left. It’s the process that is important. In the past two seasons I have seen classroom story ideas generate from many different sources: learning about immigration in social studies lessons, a language arts folktale writing assignment, an inspiring or fun song from music class, an adaptation of a classic myth, even an historical dance—the list goes on and on. As I think about this idea, I am thrilled to know that children are discovering that there are stories everywhere and they are worth telling.

Though it gets more challenging, because in the performing arts, we don’t just tell stories—we show them.  And in opera, we also sing them!  From concept and writing, melody and score, character choices, movement and dance, breath and projection, costumes, sets, and props (whew!),  there is no way for one 15-minute performance to convey all the real successes of these students.

So how do you measure success?  By seeing a theatre full of young children thinking and talking like artists.  When you’re thinking like an artist, you’re thinking like a team member, a problem-solver, and a storyteller.  Like someone without ego, but confident.  Like someone with more questions than answers, always making new discoveries.

Megan Cooper
Director of Community Engagement 

Photos courtesy of Ben Gebo Photography