Saturday, May 14, 2011

'Midsummer' musings

A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the third BLO production I have had the pleasure of seeing, and I must say although all three were products of the same organization, they were all so uniquely different that it is so difficult to compare them to each other; and even more difficult to pick a favorite.

I think the thing that struck me the most about Midsummer (aside from the adorable children’s chorus), was the juxtaposition of the classic Shakespearean story and characters with such an interesting and unusual set. From the various shapes and sizes of moons that appeared throughout the show, to a set comprised entirely of yellow chairs in a variety of positions and sizes; the set definitely brought an other-worldly feeling, and helped to place Oberon and the faeries in a different type of mystical setting.  The set, which was rather eerie at times, helped to emphasize the unsettling moments in Britten’s score; while the various forest set pieces featuring cartoon trees, then, more literally, the words “tree” and “leaf” underscored the more whimsical side of Britten’s orchestrations.

In comparison to the other productions BLO has done this season, I think this cast was definitely the largest. With the various subplots throughout the story there were so many characters to pay attention to. My personal favorites were the men in the acting troupe, led by Andrew Shore as Nick Bottom. They provided the perfect amount of real comedy in a show based entirely on fantasy.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the 3 out of 4 productions I was able to see this season, and I am already looking forward to next year’s lineup. Midsummer definitely has me very excited to see BLO take on another Shakespearean work with Macbeth next fall; and after such a unique experience with The Emperor of Atlantis I am really curious to see the next Opera Annex production of The Lighthouse set in the JFK Library. I hope to continue to see many new faces with The BLO Bunch after next season’s shows!

-- Katie McNamara

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Flashback: Caroline Worra

Tastee McBea shares another one of her intriguing opera interviews with Caroline Worra, who recently played the title role in our production of Agrippina.

Read the interview.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Opera Conference 2011: Part 3

Today marks the final day of Opera Conference 2011. What a ride! As sessions wrap up with a final day of round table discussions, a few lingering panels and the closing remarks today, I've learned quite a bit during this whirlwind conference. Yesterday I heard from Tracy Galligher from Opera Company of Philadelphia about their wildly successful viral videos and all the resources required for such an endeavor. I loved listening in on the initial round table discussion amongst marketing and PR folk from around the country. They shared the strategies they've used in their subscription and single ticket campaigns. As I began my BLO career in the Audience Services office, I love hearing about how subscriptions work at other companies - and about their ticketing systems!

After the closing remarks today we bid farewell to our colleagues! Thanks for joining us!

-- Karen Robichaud

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Opera Conference 2011: Part 2

Ah the magic of opera in an unexpected space. My favorite thing about listening to opera singers in spaces outside of our traditional performance space of the Shubert Theatre is the intimacy, but more importantly, the feeling that I am engulfed in the power of their voices. When we have the privilege of listening to opera singers practice for small concerts in our conference room, I am blown away by the wall of sound they create. It is truly incredible. And that magic was re-created on Sunday night at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston at the Opera Conference 2011 Welcome Reception hosted by OPERA America, Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Boston and Bank of America.


Thanks to the cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream for lending their talent to the evening!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Opera Conference 2011: Part 1

My welcome packet!
Each spring OPERA America holds a conference in a different city in partnership with the local opera company and professionals from across the opera spectrum and the continent come together to discuss the successes, challenges and new horizons facing the world of opera today. This year, Opera Conference 2011 landed in Boston with Boston Lyric Opera and Opera Boston co-hosting, a hugely exciting opportunity!

The conference began with a couple of intimate seminars on Saturday and Sunday this past weekend and I kicked off my experience with the Electronic Media Form: Copyright Basics. I wasn't sure what to expect, but figured with all our content on YouTube, it would be helpful to know how to handle performance or rehearsal videos. While the gentlemen leading the session were certainly knowledgeable, I was disappointed that they didn't offer more guidelines or methods for navigating the murky waters of copyright laws that haven't caught up to new technologies. The overarching advice: ask for permission, do the legwork and you'll probably be okay. I left feeling a bit daunted: how would I ever sift through all the legal jargon and figure out what I needed to know? Nevertheless, there were more sessions to attend, a cocktail reception and a networking dinner the next day. For the time being, I needed my beauty rest.

Sunday I attended New and Social Media 201: Beyond the Basics, which I found interesting and energizing. I love hearing what other companies are doing, how they are doing it cheaply and how much fun it can be! Ceci Dadisman of Palm Beach Opera shared the services she uses for online contests, live chatting events and so much more - all on a budget. I have so many new ideas for the 2011/2012 Season, but before I tell you my ideas, tell me what you'd like to see BLO do more of in the online community? Do you wish we were more mobile friendly? Had an iphone app? Produced more video content? I'd love to hear from you!

The conference truly kicked off Sunday evening at the Welcome Reception at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and no opera event would be complete without singing and theatrics. I had a fabulous time soaking in the crowd, the excitement, the entertainment! These pictures do not do the evening justice, but the cast of A Midsummer Night's Dream provided excellent operatic moments during the reception!
Chad Johnson spontaneously started singing during the evening's festivities.
T. Steven Smith joined Chad in song.
Matthew Worth and Heather Johnson took the stage to delight the guests.
Matthew and Heather work their magic onstage.

Opera Conference 2011 continues throughout the week. Perhaps I'll see you there?

-- Karen Robichaud

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Dreamy Night at the Opera:

The BLO Bunch take on Britten's A Midsummer Nights Dream

On Wednesday night May 4th, 2011 The BLO Bunch gathered for their last night of opera for the 2010-2011 season, A Midsummer Nights Dream by Benjamin Britten. There was great anticipation in the air as everyone gather in the Shubert Theatre at the Citi Performing Art Center for a night of magic and summer air. The curtain rose to a tableau of characters and the theatre was transformed to another dimension.
I have to say that I was overwhelmed by this opera. It was not that of Italian tradition but the music was captivating. The cast was flawless with fantastic vocal technique as well as wonderful acting. Puck was vibrant and entertaining; he added youthfulness to the productions. In addition, the comic nature brought to their characters by all of the singers made the night truthfully enjoyable. The entire audience was asking for more when the curtain fell at the end of part two.

Afterwards The BLO Bunch rendezvous with the cast at Jacob Worth around the corner from the Shubert Theatre on Stuart St. The event was filled with yummy appetizers and lots of chatter. This gathering was a true success and I believe enjoyed equally by patrons and cast members alike. I had the great pleasure of speaking with Andrew Shore, who plays Nick Bottom, and his wife. Andrew shared many candid stories about his time performing and his journey, as a performer, to get where he is today. His stories where captivating and inspiring. In addition, my friend Rachel and I had a wonderful time speaking to his wife about the royal wedding and Britain.

Overall, this was a truly magical night at the opera! It was filled with captivating music, wonderful acting and even better company! At the end of May I will be graduating from Boston University and moving back to New York, but I hope that The BLO Bunch continues to meet next season! Maybe I’ll be able to make a trip back to Boston for another wonderful event with The BLO Bunch!

Until Next Season Opera Lovers!

-- Kara Fleishaker, Boston University

Friday, May 6, 2011

A 1935 Midsummer Night’s Hollywood Dream

In 1943 the famous German director Max Reinhardt received an invitation from the California Festival Association to direct A Midsummer Night’s Dream in three different venues. He responded enthusiastically to the possibilities of these “California Dreams” suggesting they would advertise the California landscape and perhaps lead to the creation of a cultural festival like Salzburg’s—Reinhardt had been instrumental in the founding of that festival.

One of the locations was the Hollywood Bowl and the production there was on a vast scale. The orchestra shell was removed and a stage 250 feet wide and 100 feet deep was created. An artificial hill sloped down to a playing area planted with bushes, fully grown trees, and a pond. A suspension bridge ran 350 feet down to the stage from an adjacent hill down which court processions (with hundreds of extras) entered by torchlight. The Mendelssohn score was played by the Los Angeles Philharmonic, hidden behind the playing area. Four thousand arc lights were used—fireflies were simulated by thirty thousand electric lights strung throughout the stage area. The actors’ voices were amplified to reach the audience of twelve thousand.

Reinhardt’s initial casting ideas were more evocative of his iconic view of Hollywood star mythology than of the practicalities of the studio system, but what a wild production it would have been—John Barrymore as Oberon, Greta Garbo as Tytania, Fred Astaire as Puck, Charlie Chaplin as Bottom, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy as Demetrius and Helena, Gary Cooper and Joan Crawford as Lysander and Hermia, and W.C. Fields as Flute.

In the end, even without this lineup, it was a huge success and Warner Brothers quickly signed Reinhardt to direct a film version of Midsummer – with William Dieterle as a co –director as Reinhardt spoke only a few words of English. Dieterle went on to direct many movies including The Hunchback of Notre Dame before he ran into blacklist problems. Only Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland of the original cast were taken over into the film version – but another intriguing set of actors was hired – many performing Shakespeare for the first (and last) times in their  careers.
The trailer for the film perhaps suggest the both the ambitious pride and uneasiness of Warner Brothers in making Shakespeare and “high culture” into a viable popular product…

A 1936 promo for the film presents a glimpse of behind-the-scenes preparations and a fascinating picture of a Hollywood  red carpet event more the 75 years ago… not so very different in many respects from today’s…
One of the film’s most controversial performances in that of the 14-year old Mickey Rooney as Puck … Completely original, manic, brilliant… or sufferable?  An almost Satanic Oberon is played by Victor Jory (perhaps most memorable as the villainous plantation overseer in Gone With The Wind)

Mickey Rooney grew up to be Andy Hardy and Judy Garland’s partner in numerous “let’s put on a show” movies as well as appearing in a wide range of roles in  a mighty number of movies and TV shows over 80 years.

The movie’s other famous performance is James Cagney as Bottom.

Cagney was already known as tough guy but he was as versatile an actor as Bottom pretends to be. A great song and dance man  and superbly psychotic criminal. Like Mickey Rooney he acted a huge range of parts over a span from 1930 to 1985.
The Flute in the scene is Joe E. Brown… forever known for the last line of Some Like it Hot (among many other charming portrayals)

Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland’s film debut was Midsummer playing opposite Dick Powell but she of course went on to have a long and distinguished career… but there is always Melanie.

Dick Powell was widely regarded as being hopelessly miscast as Lysander…but he is more fondly remembered for his musical roles.

The choreography was by Bronislava Nijinska—Vaslav Nijinsky’s sister and a fine dancer and great choreographer with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.
If we look at a sequence from Nijinska’s 1923 masterpiece LES NOCES we can see some of the same movement she devised for the fairies.

The last scene from the movie shows the extravagant baroque opulence of the film which is  often sharply contrasted with darker elements.

1935 was a cruel year…Europe was in a growing crisis with the  brutal rise of fascism and America was suffering in the depths. of the Depression Reinhardt, Dieterle and Korngold were eventually  forced to flee Europe and seek a new life  in America. The movie was banned in Germany (as was all of Mendelssohn’s music) and four years later World War II broke out. The film is a fascinating combination of  opalescent beauty and a sinister, dark magic….of fantasy, madness, of  ravishing light and violent darkness. Check out the whole film on an excellent Criterion edition with some interesting extras.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Curtain Call

It’s been a great year with The BLO Bunch of varied and beautiful opera, not to mention the opportunity to meet new people. It was also a lot of fun to go to the opera with three friends who were relatively new to the experience (I think all three asked what they should wear for the occasion), who I would like to recognize here for taking a chance on opera, and for joining me in the schlep from Providence to Boston.

Puccini’s Tosca, November 2010—Maggie, my former roommate and a highly cultured journalist, joined me to see her first professional opera. Tosca, in all its full-blooded passion, makes a great first opera. The BLO production, updated to Fascist Italy in the 1940s, was a new setting that married very well with the original context of the work, and was perfectly understandable even for a first viewing of the opera. Maggie thought Jill Gardner in the title role was outstanding, and Bradley Garvin rather dashing for such a nefarious villain.

The Emperor of Atlantis, February 2011—my date for the evening, Alena, had seen very little opera—we became friends when she played Miles (a role usually given to a boy soprano) in my production of The Turn of the Screw. We sat square in the front row, and we both agreed that David Schweizer’s production was the most exciting theater we’d seen in a long time—the show turned the image of conventional opera on its head. However, only afterward did Alena learn about the incredible, improbable history of how the opera came into being—the score written in the concentration camp at Terezin, hidden from the Nazis, re-created decades later with the help of a spiritual medium, and finally coming into its own in the operatic repertoire in recent times.

Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, May 2011—I brought my friend Andrew to last night’s show, another singer and actor friend who has performed opera, but never seen a professional production. Fortunately, the Shakespearean text of Britten’s opera formed a convenient lens for understanding the production, and the striking visuals of the production stood on their own. Afterward, we went to The BLO Bunch after-party at Jacob Wirth for some outstanding fried pickles.

I love bringing people to the opera, and I think they’ll all be back.

And, well, that’s the season.  Join The BLO Bunch next year, and come see what’s up with all the fuss about opera, because there’s been more than 400 years worth (and counting.)

-- Audrey Chait, Brown University

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Backstage at the Opera at the Movies

The Audition is a documentary about the Met National Council Auditions—absolutely required viewing for opera lovers.

Competing in the Met Auditions is the ultimate way for a singer to get noticed. Nadine Sierra, who stars as Tytania in the upcoming BLO production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, won the competition in 2009.  Her fellow finalist Anthony Roth Costanzo also recently graced the BLO stage as Ottone in Agrippina. (The two of them were featured in an article about the Met auditions, check it out.

In other words, this competition is It. A list of past winners of the Met auditions reads like a Who’s Who of opera. This documentary, made by Susan Froemke, follows the finalists of the 2007 auditions as they prepare for their final performance onstage at the Met. The pressure the singers are under is enough to radiate from your TV and make your hair stand on end. (And, O BLO Bunch-ers, some of the singers are no older than we are.) 

This documentary usually prompts comparisons to American Idol, or other talent-based reality shows, and it’s true that the format is similar—the contestants and their idiosyncrasies are introduced, and some potential sources of trouble are set up—for instance, tenor Alek Shrader’s choice to sing “Ah! mes amis,” an aria famous for nine high Cs, and Pavarotti’s signature piece. However, this choice does not bring trouble. Just glory. My only complaint is that the movie doesn’t show the whole aria. 

The film focuses on the three tenor finalists: Shrader, Michael Fabiano, a volatile and thrilling-voiced twenty-two year-old, and Ryan Smith, who is thirty and giving an operatic career a last shot. He interviews that if it doesn’t work out, he’ll finish his doctorate. Even at the height of the tension, there is no drama between the contestants—everyone is very professional, if intensely focused. It defies expectation to see a taut, engaging film about a group of young people who will do anything to win—not American Idol at all, but an opera competition. 

The contestants speak frankly about everything from the pressures on singers concerning age and weight, to the giddiness and terror of getting their one big shot on the Met stage, all of ten minutes long. However, by just making it to the finals, the contestants are singing in front of a pre-eminent group of opera directors and agents, and chances are they won’t go home empty-handed. 

The film itself is very well put together, and a fascinating look at what it’s like to be a young singer on the verge of a dazzling career in opera. For the rest of us, I’ll see you at A Midsummer Night’s Dream!

(The 2007 finalists. What are the odds that three out of five of the women are wearing identical shades of red?)
- Audrey Chait, Brown University