Monday, October 31, 2011

Notes from Tech Week

While the rest of Boston is out donning their Halloween costumes this weekend, the Macbeth production team and cast are busy in the theatre preparing for our own ghostly and murderous event. There's no time for trick-or-treating when we're knee deep into tech week--as Claire, fellow Assistant Stage Manager explained, the most crucial time to prepare the show and bring all the scenic, prop, costume, lighting, and musical elements together.

We start the day with a lighting session dedicated to bringing the right mood to each scene. We have volunteers called lightwalkers who help us by standing in for the different characters while lights are focused. The lightwalkers are the first outsiders that not only get to look at the set, but get to climb around on it!

The evenings are our busiest rehearsals. Although we work with the crew throughout the morning sorting out details, there is a whole new set of logistics to work out once over 50 singers and actors descend on the scene. As stage managers, we are responsible for answering most of the "when," "where," and "how" questions from the cast. While the director and designers are in the seats of the theatre looking at the big picture, Claire and I are backstage relaying information and organizing the most complex moments of the show so that when the audience arrives, it all runs like clockwork!

--Courtney Rizzo, Assistant Stage Manager

Friday, October 28, 2011

Full Speed Ahead

Macbeth rehearsals are moving to the Shubert Theatre! Everyone is busy at work to assemble all the pieces of the puzzle and create our collaborative Macbeth. This morning, I was at the orchestra read with our Maestro, David Angus and our principal cast. Everyone sounds fantastic and the feeling in the air is nothing but excitement for the week that lies ahead …

Loading set pieces in at
the Shubert Theatre
In the performing arts world, we call this “tech week”. Our schedules are packed with on stage rehearsals under lights, adding all of the production elements together: props, costumes, set pieces, and of course, the orchestra. All of the hard work continues as everyone is working together to produce the finished product in time for opening night. Things can get hectic, but in the end it all pays off. It takes a lot of people working very hard behind the scenes to get everything done.

My partner in crime, Courtney Rizzo (your Stage Right ASM), and I will be working to gather information about the show to pass along to the prop and wardrobe departments in order to help them understand the running of the show and which pieces get added and taken away to tell the story. It’s almost like explaining the action of the opera Macbeth to another group of people who haven’t seen what we have during rehearsals. In short, we lay out the details to everyone.

Check back for updates--we’ll be on stage with Wandelprobe tomorrow evening. Wandelprobe is the German word for when the singers “wander” the stage, marking through their staging motions, and sing with the orchestra playing from the pit.

Until then…


Tuxedos, floor-length gowns, champagne by the bottle…witch hats? Witches and ghouls (and even Macbeth stage director David Schweizer dressed as a devil!) attended this Saturday’s Hocus Pocus Gala. Located at the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Hotel ballroom, the Gala welcomed Boston’s opera enthusiasts--many who embraced the witchy, Halloween theme. Hocus Pocus celebrated BLO, highlighted the 2011/2012 Emerging Artists and instilled the spirit of Halloween. The night was filled with hilariously entertaining musical acts, a delicious three-course meal and most importantly, an inspiring reminder of why we all support the arts, and in particular, opera, which led to half a million dollars in generous donations.

As a BLO intern, I not only got the opportunity to attend (any excuse to wear a fancy dress!), but arrived early to help set-up the ballroom to assist my hard working colleagues. It took a lot of helping hands to transform the ballroom into a spooky, woodsy witch’s lair! Just as the place settings were perfected and final rehearsals were finished, attendees began to arrive for cocktail hour, and I had time to live-tweet the event, as well as chat with some of my BU colleagues--vocalists in the Opera Institute--who were invited to perform at the event with the Emerging Artists. At the end of the night, as the singers toasted to all with their final performance of the ‘Brindisi’ from Macbeth, spirits were high and the event was truly enjoyed by all.

The Hocus Pocus Gala was a success! Now, onto Macbeth (Student Night is only 2 weeks away!)

-- Melanie Burbules, Boston University '14 

Thursday, October 27, 2011


By, BLO Artistic Advisor John Conklin

In the end, is what the artist meant important? The production result (not the process or even the intent) is what matters. Good artists work on many levels within themselves and often (thank God) produce work that they may not completely understand. Accepted ambiguity can provide meaning, stimulation, involvement. (It can also, of course, in less skilled hands produce uninteresting muddle.) A group of artists producing an opera on the stage creates a stimulus—the stage production. They need to commit themselves totally to the evolution of that stimulus through discussion, conceptual thinking, research, but they must, in the end, give it over to the recipients, the members of the audience. The artists in a sense lose control, but that is the glory and often the misery of being an artist. You don’t own the piece any more—your audience member now does. Is it possible for an artist to be misunderstood or misinterpreted? This is a question that goes to the heart of the artistic exchange.

Personal anecdotal case study number two: After a performance of Don Giovanni, which I designed, I was accosted by a audience member—red in the face, veins throbbing. I thought, “Oh, great, now I’m going to cause the death of an irate operagoer.” He sputtered, “I didn’t understand ANYTHING that you did in that production. Was Giovanni in a wheelchair because he had syphilis?” He went on and on. After a bit I gently stopped him gently, “Sir, you said you didn’t understand anything, and here you have just give a quite thorough and detailed explanations of what it meant—to you.” “But is that what you meant?” “That makes no difference.” (Actually his explanation of Giovanni’s wheelchair was a completely new thought for me, and in some ways a more interesting interpretation than what the director and I had discussed.) Pause. The furious red drained away. As he walked slowly away, he said, “Maybe I should go back and see this again.”

I had somehow given him permission to have his own thoughts, interpretation, to OWN the production for himself, which was his right... and responsibility. The power to take over and experience a piece in your mind is a joy and a rush. We live in culture which tells us all the time what to think and what things mean—critical reviews, experts’ comments, labels on pictures in museum which explain what to think. Fear of being wrong, fear of appearing stupid, colors people’s reactions and make them passive receptors. We as producers need to make each audience member unafraid, to give the control back to them.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Three Witches

A few guests at our Hocus Pocus Gala got into the spirit of the evening!

In honor of the 2011 production Macbeth, Hocus Pocus Gala and the Halloween season, we present …

MACBETH inspired photo contests!

Want to win a FREE Macbeth t-shirt?

Here’s what you do:

1)      Get a group of three friends together and pose for a picture as the three Weird Sisters from Macbeth
2)      Tweet “Double, double toil and trouble… #Macbeth #BLO” with the picture to @BostLyricOpera


1)      Take a picture posed in a witch Halloween costume
2)      Tweet the picture to @BostLyricOpera and include a short ‘witchy’ phrase, along with #Macbeth #BLO

Not on Twitter? Post one of the above pictures to our Facebook wall along with a ‘witchy’ phrase.

This contest begins on Friday, October 28th and concludes on November 4th (opening night of Macbeth!) One entry per person.

Winners will be randomly selected.

Check back on ‘In the Wings’ on Tuesday, November 8th to find out if you are a winner!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Just for fun

We're counting down the hours until we begin our annual Gala, HOCUS POCUS tonight at the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Just last night a few of our singers were preparing for an evening of fine food, performance and spooky fun. This little diddy is just one part of the evening's festivities!

(on screen: David Cushing, Nicole Rodin and Michelle Trainor)

Friday, October 21, 2011


By, BLO Artistic Advisor John Conklin

This is an excerpt from an article I wrote for Opera America Magazine. I am very interested in the "problem" of how an audience member might approach an opera performance--whether for the first time or the 50th--whether a standard repertory piece or a new or unfamiliar work. Do you need to "prepare"? .... and if so how?  I'd love to have your feedback on these questions or others raised in the article. Let's get a discussion going here.  Next week, another excerpt.

With the coming of projected supertitles, the somewhat ridiculous notion of having to do “homework” before attending a foreign language opera performance should have receded. In those far-off days before titles, what was one actually supposed to do? Study a detailed but inevitably too generalized synopsis of the action (insufficient) or memorize the libretto’s text by heart (impossible)? The theatrical experience is a moment-to-moment accumulation of words, visual images, sounds, music, narrative action and psychological development given from the stage and received by any given audience member in a detailed and complicated exchange.

But with the growth of opera company education departments (ostensibly a positive development) this notion of homework has, if anything, become more pervasive. I myself have put together a number of programs designed to somehow prepare people for a production. Is this a good thing?

Personal anecdotal case study number one: I attended a performance at English National Opera of Nicholas Hytner’s production of Handel’s Xerxes. I was familiar with Handel’s stage works in general but I didn’t know at that point any of the specifics of this one. I had read no reviews, I deliberately avoided looking at any of the publicity pictures, I didn’t read the synopsis in the program or even look at the cast of characters. I was thrown into the midst of a complicated plot whose character relationships I had to work out as they came up. Plot twists, betrayals, misunderstandings were surprising, unexpected, sometimes shocking. The opera was sung in English and, this being the era before titles, you were compelled to really listen to what they were saying ... at the moment. The design and the staging were complicated, witty and allusive—unexpectedly combining Baroque elements with Assyrian motifs. In other words, there was a lot going on, but the result, rather than one of overwhelming confusion was one of the most compelling (and totally entertaining) evenings of opera I have ever experienced. Much of that engrossing delight and interest was, I think, generated by the unfolding of a surface narrative—a good story that I was receiving and understanding for the first time as it unfolded.

In the American opera world generally, a dearth in the repertory of new operas and the seemingly obsessive dependence on the “standard” repertory has led to loss of the sense of surprise, of a journey into unknown territory, of the excitement of discovery based on unexpected revelations of plot or character or idea. We have so often lost one of the basic attractions and pulls of theater—an attraction and pull that seems to live on the surface but which can draw one in deeper and deeper and lead one beneath that surface into whatever depths are appropriate and available. And this pull is the simple storytelling question—“what’s going to happen next?”

I understand how sharing a bit of the plot line might be useful in selling the opera in a brochure or advertisement, but I believe suspense, curiosity and good old-fashioned dramatic storytelling are time-honored ways of drawing an audience member in. You notice I say “audience member.” I am opposed to thinking of “the audience” as an abstract entity to be educated or performed AT. Each person is different, with a totally different and unique set of emotions, experiences that interact with the stimulus emitted by the stage and the pit to produce a totally unique event.

Confusion sets in when we think of a performance as an event that is prepared and delivered by a group of artists to a more or less passive public that more or less receives it. In the end, a theatrical event doesn’t actually happen on the stage; it happens in the mind and heart and guts of each individual audience member.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The New Girl In Town

Claire Friday, Assistant Stage Manager
Boston! My first time in this big city. So much history, culture, and things to see–but first and foremost, I’m here with Boston Lyric Opera on one contract to Assistant Stage Manage on David Schweizer and John Conklin’s production of Macbeth.

Since I’m the new girl here, I should probably tell you a little bit about myself. I’m from Los Angeles and grew up a Southern California native before moving off to The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to pursue my graduate degree in Stage Management with a concentration in opera stage management. (Yes! There is such a thing.) I knew that I wanted to pursue opera production and management as a career very early on while I was still in college. I currently reside in LA and work in opera stage management at various companies including LA Opera, Arizona Opera, Opera Colorado, and San Diego Opera. I grow to love this business more and more each day. I meet so many fascinating people and incredibly talented singers and musicians. Not many people can claim to have those different and creative experiences day after day. I consider it a privilege to be here working in such a unique and beautiful art form. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.

But enough about me. Let’s talk about this ghoulish and wicked (don’t you use that word in Boston?) production of Macbeth! I’m really enjoying my first couple of weeks at BLO. Great staff, talented creative team, and fantastic vision for this production on everyone’s part. We are well into rehearsals for the show and the singers and production team are working hard to create a well-thought-out and visually avant-garde interpretation of one of Verdi’s masterpieces. I’m looking forward to collaborating with the team towards a successful production. I’ll keep you updated as we move from the rehearsal room to the stage and fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together into a beautiful, polished opera.


The Assistant Stage Manager on Stage Left,

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Fall is slowly but surely starting in Boston. What I love about this season is this stark change that occurs from summer. Like the weather, we can use this new time of the year to make changes. I know most people talk about making changes or trying new things at the beginning of a new calendar year, but what’s stopping us from doing those right now? Now is the perfect time!

Something I love about my generation is the general openness to new experiences, and the desire for change. But, I haven’t seen that same openness into the arts, mainly, opera. When I tell students outside of the College of Fine Arts at BU that I am training to be an opera singer, they react with surprise, mainly because they don’t know what opera is. It’s not that these students don’t want to experience opera, but they have yet to see a production, and you can’t really know what something is until you have experienced it. The general consensus after seeing a classic opera is clear: it is beautiful music, and simply hard not to enjoy. So, try it! What do you have to lose?

If you have things you want to try or change, you can do them. Try the parts of Boston’s immense culture scene, like seeing an opera, going to Symphony Hall or visiting the MFA. If you make it a goal to experience more of Boston (like me), compile a list of places you want to see, grab your T pass and go. Don’t wait to make these changes or try new things until it’s too late; use each day as your inspiration for change!

--Melanie Burbules, Boston University '14

Monday, October 10, 2011

Office space on the road

When one is on the road for auditions, one must find office space wherever it is available ... 

Where do you work when you are on the road?

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Spooky start to the season, indeed!

The air is cooling, the leaves are falling and at BLO we are revving up for a spooky start to our season. On Sunday we explored interpretations of Lady Macbeth's madness at the MFA, Boston with our Signature Series and in just a few weeks we hold our annual Gala, Hocus Pocus, An Operatic Trip to the Dark Side. We open our 35th Anniversary Season on November 4 with Verdi's Macbeth. What better way to get in the spirit of the season??