Monday, January 31, 2011

Viktor Ullmann - Der Kaiser von Atlantis

A man of great compositional and philosophical genius, Viktor Ullmann was murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau during the Holocaust in 1944.  His only crime?  As in six million other cases, he was of Jewish heritage.  Viktor Josef Ullmann was born on January 1, 1898, the son of an Austrian Imperial Army officer posted in Teschen (Cieszyn).  Today, the city is split between the Czech Republic and Poland.  He was baptized on January 27, 1898, at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Cieszyn.  In 1909, his family moved to the Imperial capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna, Austria.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Backstage with John Mac Master (Part 6)

I want to introduce one of the other performers, Jamie Van Eyck, mezzo-soprano, who has performed all over the United States, as well as internationally.  She studied at Boston’s own New England Conservatory, and is very happy to be back in town for her work with Boston Lyric Opera.

John: It's been great to meet you, and to work with you in 'Emperor' where you play the Drummer, and we have some great interactions. But you also play the principal role in The After-Image, a piece commissioned by BLO from composer Richard Beaudoin, who lives here in Boston. Can you tell us a bit about the piece?

Jamie: The After-Image was written in 2010, specifically as a companion piece to The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits.  It is a 20 minute work in three scenes.  I play The Daughter, and I begin the show by sharing with the audience a very special photograph of my father, who has passed away.  The composer, Richard Beaudoin, was inspired by the fact that in spite of the chaos and terror of war and, of course, Ullmann’s death, his compositions were able to survive due to their ability to be preserved in fixed form, on paper.  Similarly, when a person is gone, we can preserve their memory on paper in the form of a photograph, and this can actually sustain their presence in the world a very real and powerful way.  The role of The Photograph of The Father is played Kevin Burdette.  As I become more and more focused on his photograph, I become aware of my father’s presence and can almost hear his voice.  Beaudoin set text based on poetry and letters written by Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Rückert, and William Henry Fox Talbot, and wove it all together in the form of sung and spoken lines for The Daughter and The Photograph of the Father.  The Daughter describes fleeting images of people and places and the importance of capturing them on paper (photograph paper) so that they can be held, unchangeable, in our hands and hearts.  The text sung by The Photograph of the Father expresses ethereal thoughts on life and death.  The effect is quite striking, as the Daughter conjures up the memory of her father through his image, and they are able to sense one another in a way that seems very real to them both.  The piano is the instrument that represents The Father, and as The Daughter, my companion instrument is the clarinet.  Beaudoin chose his instrumentation based on those available to him in the Ullmann opera, and then ultimately chose to write for an even smaller quartet of instruments, including clarinet, piano, violin, and cello.  He intentionally wrote for the same small ensemble used by Olivier Messiaen in his Quartet for the End of Time, which was written while Messier was being held by the German army as a prisoner of war in World War II.  The parallels between The Emperor of Atlantis and The After-Image are many, though the two works couldn’t be more different, visually and sonically. 

John: What is it like to create a work for the first time?

Jamie: Creating a work for the first time is a really exciting opportunity for a singer, but it comes with some special challenges.  There is an incredible freedom that comes when studying a work that has never been performed before.  There are fewer rules about the way it “should be done” because there is no history of performance upon which to judge it.  The character is all mine to create, and as long as I stay within the boundaries of what the composer has written, none of my choices are “wrong.”  As wonderful as this is, a brand new piece can be more difficult to learn and digest than a piece which others have studied, written about, performed and recorded.  None of these valuable learning tools are available to me.  Nor is there an opportunity to study the work with a vocal coach or teacher who is familiar with it and can share their experiences and offer artistic guidance.

In the actual performance of the piece, I have an even greater responsibility to the audience than I might in a piece that’s more frequently performed.  As singers, Kevin and I need to present the text and our intentions with as much clarity and strength as possible, so that the audience can fully grasp the work on first listen, as they’ll have no prior experience with it.  Of course this is also a great responsibility for our stage director, David Schweizer, and he has very creatively designed The After-Image so that it can impact the audience in a significant way, and then immediately flow into The Emperor of Atlantis.  The most exciting part is that we get to perform for an audience who has no pre-conceived idea of the work.  They come in with very open minds and a great deal of curiosity, because they have no idea what they’re about to see or hear.  This is a unique opportunity to provide them with a completely new experience.

John: What is singing new music or contemporary music like? Do you approach it differently from singing Verdi or Puccini or one of the other traditional "Greats"?

Jamie: Contemporary music can be a challenge to learn, depending on the writing style of the composer.  With certain new works, it’s taken me the better part of a day just to work through a few pages of the score.  It can be a long process just to master the pitches and rhythms; however The After-Image isn’t written with this kind of complexity in the vocal line.  Beaudoin’s piece is tonal, and the vocal lines rise and fall in a very musical way, but in a way that is different from the Romantic Era, Italian composers that you mentioned.  As a singer, you have to try to get into the musical world of each composer and understand his or her musical language.  Unless the piece calls for unusual vocal techniques, I approach the singing in the same way I would approach a work from the standard repertoire.  My goal is always to sing natural, musical lines, because that expresses the most to the audience.

Kevin Burdette and Jamie Van Eyck in a technical rehearsal for The After-Image. Photo by Julius Ahn.
Read John's backstage posts or see the show for yourself!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

An opera written in a Prison Camp? Sounds bleak!

What is the appeal of The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits? Why perform it, why go to see it?

The first thing that most of us hear about “Der Kaiser von Atlantis” (that’s the name in the original German, though we are singing it in English so it is more accessible for our audience)…is that it was written in Terezin, a German concentration camp during World War II.

We can never forget the context….that the creators and performers never had a chance to perform this work; that they were moved to a death camp for extermination days before the premiere was to take place…..

But the thing that strikes me and my colleagues about this piece, what we are discovering in the rehearsal process, and in the way that our director David Schweizer is helping us tell this story – is the great humanity, courage and humour in this work! From the writings of many who were imprisoned in the camp, we read that art gave their lives meaning; that they no longer felt the pressure to please audiences, to write in an accepted or expected style, to conform to norms….No, their imprisonment gave them a kind of freedom – or perhaps a really clear insight – into what was important in their lives, or in the time they had left.

One way to see this piece, is that the absurdity of the situation in which the prisoners found themselves in Terezin, gave rise to this bit of absurdist opera…..But Emperor also turns the reality of the prisoners on its head….Hitler never gave up on his Final Solution; but the Emperor is finally convinced that he must cede to Death, and that “Thou must not take the name of Death in vain”.

I’ve been surprised  at the humour and hope in this wonderful gem; and by the glory of its music…..and I hope you will be too!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Backstage with John Mac Master (Part 5)

Andrew Wilkowske during a technical rehearsal. Photo by Julius Ahn.
We are in tech week now, and there is lots of excitement and anticipation as we move toward opening on Tuesday Feb 01.

And I’ll be honest…there is tedium too! In the first week of rehearsal there is lots of excitement as you are improvising, and discovering what the work has to say…But a lot of that work has been done by this point, and now we are moving slowly from minute to minute in the opera as lighting and sound cues are tweaked, and movement is refined around the newer elements of the set…..But this is where another kind of genius comes in!

If we give short shrift to this fine tuning – we will have less of a show! The director and production team are working furiously to illuminate (literally!) all that we have put together in rehearsal; the set designer and props builder are fine tuning their creations so they work perfectly with the staging business that has evolved in rehearsal, we are now receiving and using bits of our costumes….and it is all of this work, this attention to every single detail that creates a memorable show, one where there is “eye candy”, “ear candy”….and never mind candy, food for the mind and the spirit!

Sitzprobe 1/26. Photo by Julius Ahn.
The singers also met the orchestra for the first time this week and we worked through the pieces together…..This is always a great moment when we move away from the sound of the piano with which we have learned the piece, and with which we have created the staging….and we hear the ‘colours’ in the orchestra…..It is one of my favourite times in rehearsal when we add the orchestra…..By now I know the piece really well, all the words and notes, and in the staging I’ve discovered the story we want to tell……But when I am playing that out on stage, and can really hear/experience/feel the orchestra colours, I experience a whole new level of meaning for the piece. The genius of a great composer is not only the notes he chooses to write, but how he orchestrates those notes……The harmony he chooses to underline a note that I sing, and what instruments he has playing adds a whole flavour to my thoughts/words/actions, and in these rehearsals with orchestra I try and be focused and peaceful enough so that I can experience those feelings, and let them percolate into my performance. Again, it is all about detail…..

And the sum of all these details is creating a wonderful show!! We will see you – and you will see us – soon!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Music from Terezin: a studied look

Viktor Ullmann composed The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits while at the concentration camp, Terezin. Hear what Stage Director, David Schweizer and Conductor Steven Lipsitt have to say about Ullmann's fascinating and inspiring music. Boston Lyric Opera's upcoming production features a world premiere piece, composed by Richard Beaudoin, The After-Image.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

ONE WEEK until the 2nd BLO Bunch Event!

Who: Opera Newbies, Opera Oldies and anyone in between interested
in an alternative theatre experience.

What: Come see Boston Lyric Opera’s production of Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits, followed by a post performance gathering at 28 Degrees.

 When: Next Wednesday- February 2, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Where: Kickoff the evening at the Calderwood Pavilion at the BCA
(527 Tremont Street, Boston) for Boston Lyric Opera’s production of
Viktor Ullmann’s The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits.
Conclude the evening at 28 Degrees  (One Appleton Street, Boston) for free appetizers and discussion with The BLO Bunch.

Why: It’s a chance to enjoy a non-traditional opera and make new friends with other students interested in opera and the arts while discussing the performance over free appetizers after the show!

Purchase tickets to The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits through or call 617-933-8600.

Add to your subscription with a ticket to The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits, or splurge and purchase a subscription to the remainder of the 2010-2011 Season.

Visit or for details about The BLO Bunch.

Backstage with John Mac Master (Part 4)

We’ve come to the end of the second week of rehearsals. The show has been blocked for several days, and we have continued polishing our work. We are now running longer and longer sections of the piece, making sure that the links move smoothly, and that there are no “dead spots”.

1/20/11 Boston, Mass.  -- John Mac Master as Harlequin delivers his lines from scene 1 during a staging rehearsal for The Emperor of Atlantis at the Boston Center for the Arts in Boston, Mass. January 20, 2011.  In the background is Kevin Burdette (right) playing the roll of Death/Loudspeaker.  Photo by Erik Jacobs

Most folks probably understand how much refining of the music would be part of putting an opera together – and we are certainly doing that! But in the process of staging an opera, a really fine director is always looking at the visual elements….She or he will be very concerned to make sure that the drama is well served, that the interactions between characters are clear, real, authentic…But the director also wants to make sure the story is told visually, and that it unfolds in such a way that the audience’s eye can follow the action, and that a multitude of memorable pictures are created along the way.

So in these last few days we’ve being fining and refining all of the action, editing out that which is unnecessary, tightening all the actions, making sure that the Supers are moving as a well schooled unit….Yesterday we started adding some sound effects. And later today we will do a first real run through. The design team will be there (set designer, costume designer, lighting designer, soundscape designer) and they will be seeing the show not just as it has been planned in meetings that have gone for over a year – but now seeing it on our bodies, in our voices as we have created it in these two weeks of staging. The set pieces or set dressing that we do not yet have will be added tomorrow while the cast has a day off, then on Tuesday we will start piano technical rehearsals….All of the design team will be here, adding costume bits as they are finished, adding the lighting, building the sound effects, and the show will continue to evolve, and be polished in this week that leads to our opening on Feb 01….We hope to see you there!!!! 

- John

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Law and Order: Opera Unit

A few of my friends and I attended an opera production earlier this year. We’re all friends through the music department, some of us majors, minors, or some merely enthusiasts. We fully comprehend music, respect the arts, and have fun enjoying a wide array of productions and concerts. But, sometimes, unintended offenses can be made. This is our story.

We arrived at the theater on time (read: fifteen minutes early), and made it to our seats. We scoured the program notes, and filled in any gaps any one had before the performance began. Lights down, curtains up, and all of us were immediately engrossed. Between Act I and II, some of the group I was with needed a break and refreshment and proceeded to the lobby for air and snacks.

One of my friends did return to his seat with a snack, which made me slightly nervous. I looked at my friend, giving the “I-hope-you-don’t-embarrass-us-by-eating-snacks-loudly-during-a-performance” look, which he received well. Lights down, curtain up. He didn’t finish in time for the show. Gasp attack as I saw from the corner of my eye his hand reaching into the bag of candy he had. However, he operated deftly throughout the entire act. I sat next to him and didn’t even flinch as he nommed on his candies. Achievement: successful opera snacking. Could have fooled me! Fast forward to intermission between Acts II and III. Confrontation ensues:

A woman walks up to our row. My friends and I got giddy, thinking she was so pleased seeing college students at an opera. Wrong.

“Omigosh. What are you doing,” she whined. “You’re eating candy, and making all that noise? Come on! This is opera, not the movies.”

(Doink doink…)

The people would like to point out that there are two points to this story: 1) opera etiquette and 2) stuffiness.

My friend made a critical error in bringing the snack into the realm of the theater. Though it may be seemingly innocuous, sometimes even the slightest of sounds can wreck a LIVE opera experience for someone else in the audience. Out of courtesy for others, snacks should really be consumed before coming back into the theater. It might not bother everyone, but there might be that one person (like my friend found out) that was extremely annoyed by it. Think about it this way if it helps: it’s kind of like when you are at your favorite band or singer’s concert, and that one really tall person is in your way. You have to struggle to see, so you’re not paying attention to what’s going on at all. You ask them to trade places with you, and they refuse to. Disturbing someone with that extraneous noise is quite similar to this situation. Just don’t do it, and pay it forward, friends.

Now, stuffiness. Opera and the movies are not all that different. I mean, the plots of operas have been the foundation or inspiration for many movies, books, and musicals. It really bothered me that this woman chose to make that comparison. While it is true that we are listening to art music and should be attentive to the details of the artistic presentation of the story and music, we should not lose the fact that we are in the theater to be entertained as well. To lose sight of that is another critical error in being an audience member. Are you having fun? If not, loosen up a little bit! Are you being moved? No? Then get your head out of the details for a moment to see the humanity in what’s going on at that moment on stage. 

Moral: Only you can stop etiquette faux pas and fight stuffiness.

Jessica (Boston College)

Monday, January 24, 2011

Backstage with John Mac Master (Part 3)

Kevin Burdette. Photo by Julius Ahn.
Day 4
I’m now blocking the bulk of my scenes, and my partner is Kevin Burdette. He plays “Death” and the “Loudspeaker” in The Emperor of Atlantis, and also plays the Father in “After Image” which is the piece commissioned by Boston Lyric Opera to premiere here, and which opens the evening’s performance.

In the score Death is described as an old soldier, Harlequin (my role) as one who can laugh through his tears. The show opens with us ‘sitting around in retirement”…..What a great day’s rehearsal!….I won’t spoil your enjoyment of the show by telling you what we are doing; but it was great rehearsing and improvising with Kevin Burdette, with David offering thoughtful suggestions…..Over the next few days we would come back to this big scene again and again, adding, refining – taking what we had improvised, keeping what was good, polishing the better bits, and leaving the dross aside…..What a great way to work!

Day 6
We meet the Supers! Traditional opera often has a chorus; this show does not. But we do have “supers”. These are supernumeraries, usually volunteer folks from the community who love to be onstage. They usually neither speak nor sing, but serve as townspeople, “the crowd”, onlookers, whatever is required….and generally provide atmosphere. In this case they are being asked to do far more, with really specific actions and they also move units onstage…and what a terrific bunch they are….the few I have had a chance to talk to include a couple of voice students at university; a modern dancer, an aerialist who has studied circus; a couple of folks who are young actors trying to get established. They are such a focused and intelligent group, and they are bringing such skill to our show. What a treat to have them onboard. Generally they work with us in the evenings and some weekend rehearsals, so they can hold down “day jobs”.

Day 8
We finished blocking the show last night, and ran the last long section together before quitting for the night. Now we can see the arc of the show. In the week ahead we will continue to flesh out each scene, making sure that every moment continues to connect with the material, that there are no weak spots. We will also be trying to deepen our connection to the words and music, and start to really flow things together – trying to get the long arc of the story of our character in the context of this piece, and in the way in which David Schweizer is helping us tell the story….Every day is more discovery, more shaping, forming, cutting away….This is the week to link up all the scenes, and tighten our drama….By next week we will be adding the technical elements (sound, light, costumes, wigs, makeup – then finally the orchestra) and while the drama will continue to evolve next week, we need to have a really solid base this week.

If you have questions, email and we'll get back to you. 

- John

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Backstage with John Mac Master (Part 2)

Day 2
This morning we have a meet and greet with all the staff at Boston Lyric Opera….It takes an office full of people to run an opera company….The artistic side that plans repertoire, chooses artists; the technical side that rents or builds a physical production and gets it into the hall in a timely fashion; the marketing and PR side that tells the world about the work we are trying to do, and sells the tickets for the performances; and the development people that raise the money for us all to do this work. In a typical performing arts organization, if we sell ALL of the tickets to ALL of our performances, we will still need to raise 60% of the company’s budget from sponsors and donors! So at the meet and greet we all get to meet each other, as we will all be working together to make the show a success.

Stage Director David Scheweizer shares his vision with the company. Photo by Julius Ahn.

Now David Schweizer, who is the Stage Director for this production, will tell us his plan, his ideas about this show, and how he is planning on staging it. Like all of us, David is a freelancer – hired by Boston Lyric Opera to come and work on this project. David is a very well known director, and has worked in theatre, music videos and for opera companies. He has a huge and well deserved reputation garnered over some 30 years of directing; and in many cases he has shepherded the weird and the wonderful to the stage….so we are in great hands. He has already spoken to the entire cast on the telephone in the weeks that led up this, to get our ‘take’ on our characters, to give us a sense of how he will be proceeding. Nothing is a surprise this morning, but it is good to experience his calm focused manner, and a kind of “Puckish” humour that promises some laughs along the way…..

Day 3
Is a snow day! We are all within walking distance of the theatre, but the building itself is closed as the staff cannot get in….By early afternoon there have been some e-mails exchanged, and a few of us gather at David’s for some wine and snacks, a chance to get to know each other better.

If you have questions, email and we'll get back to you.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Backstage with John Mac Master (Part 1)

I’m John Mac Master, I’m an operatic tenor, and I am making my role début and company début here in Boston singing Harlequin in The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits.

We’re on the tail end of our first week of rehearsals, and the show is in great shape. I thought I would give you an overview of how we are getting from day one to opening night. Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks.

Concept for Harlequin by Costume Designer Nancy Leary
Monday January 10 was our first day of rehearsal, and was devoted mostly to music. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year to learn an opera – depending on the size of your role, the length of the opera, styles of learning etc. I had learned all the notes and words in May and June last year, when I had some free time between and around engagements, and then had gone back to the piece in December to really polish the music, and learn some text changes that had been made. But the first day of rehearsal, when you sing your music with your colleagues is always exciting – and a bit daunting! You want to make a good impression, you don’t want to let your colleagues down…..And in the case of this music, there are some really ‘crunchy’ bits where the harmony is not what you would expect, and you hope it will all work out. This is a great cast though, and everyone was extremely well prepared, so it was a fun day. Steven Lipsitt is our conductor – and he had done the piece 16 years ago; he speaks fluent German and had done his own translation (we are singing the piece in English) – and he has studied the original manuscripts of the work….so there is no question you can ask about this piece that he has not thought about, and to which he has given consideration. Plus he is a great guy, and really helpful conductor. We won’t have our orchestra until days before opening – so for all the blocking rehearsals we have Allen Perriello who will play a reduction of the orchestra part at the piano….He is terrific, and with the conductor helps us make sure we are remembering the right words, right notes.

I'll write more soon, so keep checking in! If you have questions, email and we'll get back to you.

- John

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thinking outside the Proscenium

The year was 1967, and Pierre Boulez, the famous conductor, felt strongly that modern operas should not be performed in traditional opera houses. His tongue-in-cheek solution? “Blow up all the opera houses,” he said, and use experimental theaters for experimental work.

He was kidding, but the man has a point—presenting opera in nontraditional spaces is thought-provoking and cool. And every season, BLO does just that—with the winter Opera Annex production, presented in a different, unique location each year outside the traditional opera house. 

The inaugural Opera Annex production last year, Britten’s haunting The Turn of the Screw, was performed in the Park Plaza Castle. The audience sat on raised platforms, and the stage formed a long, narrow corridor. Video footage was projected on a large screen above the singers, including live feed of two of the opera’s characters performing a scene in the basement of the building—while other characters performed onstage. Using a found space is a great way to keep an audience rapt from start to finish—when theatrical boundaries as basic as time and space are challenged, anything can happen. 

—While we’re waiting for opening night of this year’s Opera Annex, The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits, let’s check out another found-space opera productions: 

Haydn’s Il Mondo Della Luna (The World on the Moon) at the Hayden Planetarium—NYC, 2010, by the Gotham Chamber Opera 

Setting an opera about a fanciful trip to the moon at a planetarium seems like a no-brainer, and a clever way to bring together science and the arts. The Planetarium came equipped with a beautiful domed ceiling (no load-in necessary) and lots of starry video footage, but also came with its own daunting technical problems: for instance, regular theater lighting couldn’t be used—it would wash out the projections of stars on the ceiling. So, Ted Southern, an artist who also designs astronaut gloves for NASA, built lighting into the costumes. 

- Audrey Chait, Brown University

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Looking ahead: Spring 2011 at the opera

It is not too late to join The BLO Bunch for the remainder of Boston Lyric Opera's 2010-2011 Season. There is so much in store, from the two remaining mainstage productions, Agrippina and A Midsummer Night's Dream to the second annual Opera Annex production, The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits. Subscriptions are still on sale, as are individual tickets to The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits. All three productions have a special student night (always the Wednesday night of the run) followed by a post-performance reception! You can buy all three as a bundle or pick and choose. Call Audience Services for details (617.542.6772)

What are these operas all about?
Ullmann's The Emperor of Atlantis, or Death Quits: Hope, humor and the value of the human spirit prevail when Death takes life’s side against an evil Emperor. In 1943, composer Viktor Ullmann and poet Petr Kien created this almost inconceivably wry and uplifting opera while in the concentration camp Terezin. Their opera survives as a rich testament to freedom and human will power.
(Performance: 527 Tremont Street | Reception: 28 Degrees, One Appleton Street | Date: Feb. 2, 2011) 

Handel's Agrippina: Agrippina wants her rotten son to be the Emperor of Rome. What’s a mother to do? She promises anything to everyone standing in her way: Nero himself, an ambitious courtesan, a general, a couple of fawning sycophants, and half the Roman Senate. Also her husband, current Emperor Claudius. The numbers are staggering. No, really. Handel’s music soars. Come delight in his fresh musical invention and some crazy, hothouse humanity.
(Performance: 265 Tremont Street | Reception: Jacob Wirth, 34 Stuart Street | Date: March 16, 2011) 

Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream: Ah, the thrill of the chase. Over hill, over dale, girdling the Earth in forty minutes—when the words are mostly Shakespeare, even the libretto sings. Britten gives us a stageful of sprites and mortals in a touching and very funny take: a dreamscape. Or is it a nightmare? Depends on how you feel about unrequited love, and donkeys.
(Performance: 265 Tremont Street | Reception: Jacob Wirth, 34 Stuart Street | May 4, 2011)

Still not sure? Hear from students what gets them so excited about opera.

~See you at the opera! ~

Friday, January 14, 2011

Opera intrigue

What assumptions do you have about opera? Or about what it means to work for an opera company? Do you think that everyone who works for an opera company has listened to and loved classical music their entire lives? Or that everyone is a singer and maybe, a bit on the older side? You just might be wrong...

Before I worked at Boston Lyric Opera, I knew very little about opera; in fact, I had only seen one live performance of an opera. However, my love for live theatre and enthusiasm to learn trumped my lack of knowledge and I embarked on my opera career. I still do not know how to sing and I cannot read music, but none of that matters; I care about opera.

Like me, some of my colleagues also knew very little about opera before employment at BLO. Our backgrounds are varied, but all have a tenuous link to performance in some way or another and none of us are more than 5 years out of college. Conclusion? A phd in musicology is not required to work at an opera least, not on the admin side! Hear for yourself, what some of the staff has to say about working for an opera company.

Featuring: Erik Johnson (Artistic Coordinator), Michael Chiappardi (Company Manager) and Heather Laplante (Annual Fund Manager)

- Karen Robichaud, Marketing Coordinator

Monday, January 10, 2011

Shakespeare meets opera

Although I am admittedly an “opera-newbie” and have yet to see a live opera performance, I am glad that my internship at BLO is going to change that. A long time lover of musicals and theatre in general, I am definitely excited to see a different type of show on stage. I must admit though, that I am particularly excited to see Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream this spring.

As any good English major should, I’ve definitely had my fair share of exposure to Shakespeare’s works – but not like this. We were always taught that one of the greatest things about the Bard is that his works are universal and can be adapted in a plethora of ways – and they actually make sense (most of the time). The classic plays can be performed just as they were written in the period they are set, done with complete 16th century costumes and sets, and sure, people enjoy them. With the romance, fighting, lies and the occasional disguise, what’s not to enjoy? Take the classic story, set it in modern times and tweak the characters a bit, and the universal themes speak to an even wider audience. From West Side Story to She’s the Man (yes, the movie starring Amanda Bynes) it’s been done before. Through these mediums, a whole new audience has been introduced Shakespeare’s works without even knowing it.

There is no denying Shakespeare’s influence over all facets of theatre and film; but I never realized that his influence extended to opera. When I think about it, though, it makes perfect sense – if set to the correct music, Shakespeare’s text would almost flow right off the tongue; and the music, if anything, only emphasizes the varying emotions that sometimes are not easily conveyed with words. Not to mention most of the plays already embody characteristics that make operas so entertaining – passion, tension, and of course, romance. I guess the ease with which Shakespearean works lend themselves to adaptation makes it hard to believe that the Britten adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream won’t do the work justice. I think I’m just excited to see Shakespeare from yet another lens.
- Katie McNamara, Saint Anselm College

Friday, January 7, 2011

Rock Opera

21st century opera production is all about finding clever ways to land a new generation of butts in seats. Very often this means adding a modern spin—setting Don Giovanni on the streets of Harlem, or setting Cosi fan Tutti in a high school, complete with a Dorabella who obsessively texts her sister Fiordiligi. Or, if you take La Boheme, update the characters to mid-nineties New York, give the music a rocker feel, and —

Oh, wait. 

If you’re reading this blog, I’m sure you knew that RENT is based on La Boheme. When I first saw RENT as a preteen, while I technically knew that the source material was La Boheme, I didn’t know enough about opera to understand what that meant. RENT is chock full of references to its predecessor—however, there isn’t much crossover between the two audiences, and references, after all, are meant to be noticed. So, if you are ever rocking out to RENT in the car, tug on your seatmate’s sleeve during “La Vie Boheme” and point out Musetta’s waltz, played by Roger on the electric guitar.


Setting: Boheme: Paris; RENT: NYC
The dread disease: Boheme: Tuberculosis; RENT: AIDS.
The characters:
      Boheme:                                        RENT:
Marcello, a Painter                             Mark, a filmmaker
Musetta, a singer                               Maureen, a performance artist
Rodolfo, a poet                                  Roger, a songwriter
Mimi, a seamstress                            Mimi, an exotic dancer
Colline, a philosopher                         Collins, a computer genius
Schaunard, a musician                       Angel Schunard, a street performer
Alcindoro, a councilor                        Joanne, a lawyer
Benoit, the landlord                           Benny, the landlord

Other points of interest:
  1. In an early scene in Boheme/RENT, Mimi knocks on Roger/Rodolfo’s door because her candle has gone out. In the resulting scene, Roger lights her candle, sexual tension ensues, Mimi loses an object belonging to her (her ring/stash of cocaine), and they look for it together. While some of the lines in the scene translate, Boheme-Mimi is a demure little seamstress and it is doubtful she would inquire, “they say I have the best ass below 14th street, is it true?” If she had even lived below 14th street.
  1. The beginning of Mimi’s aria “Si, mi chiamano mimi,” (or, “they call me mimi”) is mirrored by the end of the “light my candle” duet in Rent, in which Mimi sings as she exits: “they call me…they call me…Mimi.” Aaaand, blackout.

  2. For most of the show, Roger, a musician and former guitar hero, is trying to write a song.  However, he has persistent writers’ block, so all he can play is the theme from Musetta’s waltz, “Quando me’n vo.”  The theme also plays during moments of high emotion, like at the end when Mimi dies. However— Mimi doesn’t actually die in RENT, she just sees a bright light for a little while and then recovers.
Basically, take La Boheme, change every dimension of the work to line up with the 1990s instead of the 1890s, including the fundamental musical idiom and language, and you get RENT. You would probably never guess it was based on Puccini if you didn’t already know. However, RENT is still almost continuously sung—why not call it an opera, too? The term “rock opera” is far more closely associated with musical theater than opera, and maybe we in the opera world should steal it back. It is definitely in classical opera’s interests to point out that opera is an incredibly broad category— it’s essentially just a theatrical work where the mode of communication is singing. Now, I have absolutely no desire for the Met to put on Jesus Christ Superstar next season, or to put the Broadway musical on the same plane as Mozart, but it’s worth it to remember that all these stories and musical traditions are very closely related.

There are also many current productions of La Boheme set in modern times—a soprano playing Mimi in La Boheme could be dressed exactly like a broadway belter playing Mimi in RENT .

Putting Puccini’s music on the same stage as the nineties rebel-punk aesthetic highlights the contrast, sure, but it also shows how well they go together. Marcello and Rodolfo may not get to rock out exactly the way that Mark and Roger do, but they still get to make thrilling sounds with their voices. Listen to both versions—for instance Musetta/Maureen’s music, “Quando me’n vo”/“Take Me Or Leave Me,” and see how they each move you in different ways.

Now, La Boheme is not the only opera to inspire a modern musical—it’s also true with Madama Butterfly and Miss Saigon, an adaptation set in Vietnam (not Japan) during the Vietnam war. I know there’s at least one more…

Ah yes. Aida is based on Aida. (Elton John/Verdi)

- Audrey Chait, Brown University

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Be the next BLO Bunch SUPERSTAR!

Hanging out in Boston over Winter Break?
Come share your love of Opera with BLO and other students just like yourselves!

The BLO Bunch is looking for opera fans, both old and new, to take part in our next short video!

January 6, 2011 at 3:30 members of the BLO Bunch will be filming at Emerson College and we want you to come participate!

Filming will take only 30 minutes of your time, it will be super fun, super short and best of all, YOU could be our next SUPERSTAR.

If you are interested, email Karen Robichaud, BLO’s Marketing Coordinator at for details.

We hope to see you tomorrow!

~ The BLO Bunch