Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy Holidays from Dr. von Lyric

"Okay...what can I say.... now I'm in a holiday mode...

   Two of my favorite carols sung by the sublime choir of Kings College

    ....and has there ever been a more heartbreaking child actress than Margaret O'Brian?" - Dr. von Lyric

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Babes... - a student weighs in on Madama Butterfly

BLO welcomes the next generation of opera-goers to the Shubert Theatre by inviting high school classrooms and college students the opportunity to attend the Final Dress Rehearsal of each production for free.  On October 31, 178 students and teachers attended the Final Dress Rehearsal of Madama Butterfly.  In exchange for the dress rehearsal passes, students were asked to write short reviews of their night at the opera.  This year we received a number of insightful, inventive, and candid responses from students across the Boston area.  One of these reviews, written by Megan Dineen, is highlighted below.   
I enjoyed [Madama Butterfly] because it was the first [opera] I have ever seen.  It was interesting how there was not just spoken words, but everything was sung in Italian.  Even though the story was sung in a different language it was very clear and easy to understand.  Without reading the subtitles you could easily see that it was about a woman with a lot of struggles who fell in love.  You could feel their pain and emotion through their tones and through the music.  I was really able to connect to the characters and understand her even though it was in a different language.  The live music was something different and something I really enjoyed.  The music played a big role in the tone of the opera.  Since the tone was constantly changing I got to hear many different tempos of music.  I even liked hearing and seeing the last and final changes being made to the opera.  It was almost like a backstage pass into how they put on that type of production.  Overall this opera was a very interesting and educating experience.  I do plan on going to more operas in the future because of this one.
We want to thank teachers for their continued interest and participation in our educational programming and for sharing these important artistic experiences with their students!
In the wise words of a recent 5th grade opera attendee, “Every opera tells a story.”  Storytelling is at the heart of opera, and BLO works hard to share the greatest classic and contemporary opera tales with its audiences.  We hope that you will take a moment to share with us YOUR stories about your favorite BLO moments.  Visit to read others’ stories and to submit your own. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dr. von Lyric is in the Holiday Spirit!

"Okay...just what you need....more Christmas music (and twelve days of it at that)  But hang on...these are goofy and pretty a kind of idiotically charming way" - Santa  Dr. von Lyric


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

BLO and Wheelock Family Theatre: Theatre-Opera Teen Intensive weekend workshop

Boston Lyric Opera is proud to have opera fans of all ages, and throughout the school year  students from the Boston area gather at Wheelock Family Theatre to participate in BLO’s Vacation Week Institutes.  BLO held its first theatre-opera workshop of the season this month with teens from Cambridge, Natick, and Newton.  During the workshop, students worked with teaching artists Grace Napier and Brendan Buckley, and pianist Christina Chao to learn traditional and contemporary performance techniques for Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular characters from Ruddigore, Patience, and Pirates of Penzance.  From lessons on the fundamentals of opera and  the history of Gilbert & Sullivan  to how to perform with a British accent and frilly costumes, these students had an action-packed weekend!
In just two short days, this first group of young artists prepared eight different scenes, solos, and ensemble pieces for their final performance for friends and family.   The students’ hard work paid off because the progress they made from Day One to Day Two was remarkable!   They  impressed the audience with their dynamic acting skills, beautiful solos, and most of all the collaborative spirit they demonstrated as a cast. 
If you have any young performers in your life who would be interested in joining one of BLO’s upcoming Vacation Week Institutes, check out Wheelock Family Theatre’s website to register or to learn more.  Our next workshop, Exploring Characters Through Movement & Music, will introduce students to well-known characters and storylines across the genres of jazz, musical theatre, pop, African drumming, and opera.  The workshop runs from December 26-29, so be sure to sign up soon!

Monday, December 17, 2012

BLO Exposed - Madama Butterfly

Boston Lyric Opera is in its second season, of presenting BLO Exposed. This intermission conversation series gives audience members a behind-the-scenes look into each production invites YOU, its audience, to ask questions through social media during our Wednesday night productions at the Shubert Theatre .  For BLO’s recent production of Madama Butterfly, the curtain rose to reveal the transformation of the set between Acts 1 and 2.  Megan Cooper, Manager of Community Engagement, interviewed BLO’s Technical Production Manager, Scott Levine, who offered his expertise to answer a number of our audience members’ questions about the production.  Here, Scott continues the conversation with a response to Lise Olney’s Facebook question about the special effects used in the opening action taking place under the overture  of Madama Butterfly:
Boston Lyric Opera chose to add a unique opening scene to the original written piece of Madama Butterfly in order to provide a glimpse into the background of Butterfly’s father’s death. In this scene, a performer in traditional Kabuki mask portrays the act of seppuku, a Japanese tradition of ritual suicide reserved for Samurai.  The performer uses a Kabuki fan to represent a knife, and upon completion of the act,  opens the fan to reveal bright red fabric, signifying death.  Through his mask, the performer was able to see the conductor for his cue to match his action to the orchestra. The visual elements of the scene included dramatic lighting, a blue scrim in front of the artist, and a split black drop of overlapping curtains behind him for his exit. The blue scrim was used to convey depth, or a foggy look, as if to suggest a memory. This was the intention for later scenes as well, such as the flash forward to Sorrow’s birthday in Chicago.
A scrim is often used in the theater for a variety of effects, and the fabric is an open weave, which appears translucent or opaque depending on which side it is lit from. For Butterfly we took advantage of both options: translucent for the opening scene and flash forward, and opaque during the interlude between the written Act II and III when the audience watched a sunrise on the front of the scrim. There are a few types of scrim which are classified by the openness or tightness of the weave and are known as Sharkstooth, Filled Sharkstooth, Bobbinette, and Gauze.
BLO would like to thank everyone who participated in this BLO Exposed event and for continuing the conversation with us post-performance here and on our social media pages!  To have your questions featured here in the future, join us at a Wednesday night performance of Così Fan Tutte or The Flying Dutchman for BLO Exposed.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Mae West, Sophia Loren and opera? - Dr. von Lyric

Dr. von Lyric has some fun videos to share with us today! Dont forget to leave your comments, maybe Dr.von Lyric will respond!
Mae West

"Mae West? Opera? (and apparently this is her singing) Comments? (what CAN one say?) asked for this - and now I suspect you're ready for anything

Sophia Loren? Opera? (obviously this is NOT her singing) Comments?"

2 more Aidas just for fun

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

BLO Signature Series Demystified

Have you ever wondered what the Signature Series was all about? Here Artistic Advisor, John Conklin tells us his vision for the Series, which is a collaboration with the MFA, Boston.
"In 2009 Esther Nelson asked me to come to Boston to develop a series of events in conjunction with The Museum of Fine Arts - I had done similar programs when she was heading the Glimmerglass Opera. We decided that although each of the Sunday afternoons would be based on an opera from that season’s repertory, they would approach it from a varied and wide range of contexts. Rather than an direct analysis of the music and or a discussion of BLO’s specific approach to the piece , we would explore how ideas derived from that opera might stretch out into novels, poetry, theater, painting , cinema, history, popular culture. Also rather than a lecture , we would attempt to create mini-dramas (they are one hour in length) , dramatically conceived programs that would have their own theatrical validity . We are lucky to be able to use the quite elegant Remis Auditorium at the MFA . I personally get great enjoyment in researching , writing( or perhaps better creating a collage of the material) working with the performers and sharing the result with the our audience.

We have witnessed “Charlie Rose” type interviews with Rossini and Richard Strauss, (portrayed by actors I hasten to add rather than ectoplasmic manifestations) We have seen videos of performances of Carmen by Geraldine Farrar and Beyonce and a troupe of flamenco dancers We have heard actors reading poetry by Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson and Ogden Nash and stories by Henry James. We have listened to performances of music of Verdi, Handel, Mozart and Cole Porter. We have looked at images of Greek sculpture, Edward Hopper and Sarah Bernhardt from the MFA collections. Performers have included many from our “emerging artists”program, leading singers from our productions, actors from ART and the Huntington Theater and Boston personalities such as Joyce Kulhawik, Christopher Lydon and David MacNeill.

We at BLO have many ways that we try to bring our audiences closer to the opera they may be going to: background notes and information, relevant video links, rehearsal reports and insights from performers, blog entries on our website, pre-performance lectures at the Shubert Theater, programs at the Boston Public Library, and the BLO Exposed series with on-stage discussions with directors of the production about their specific approach to their BLO work. The Signature Series is another entry in our program to enrich everyone’s (including our own) experience of the excitement and fascinating complexities of that 'delightful madness known as Opera'"

Save the date for the next Signature Series Presentation: Genesis: Explorations on James MacMillan's Clemency.
January 13, 2013 | 2pm

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The "Sitz" according to Dr. von Lyric

"I love to watch opera singers at a sitzprobe - this is a German term ( a "sitting rehearsal" )- used for a run through of the opera with the orchestra and singers. There is no stage movement - or any sets or costumes or lighting. (The same basic set up occurs at a recording session.) The singers usually sit (or stand) in a row at the front of the stage. They almost always have a music stand with the score although by that time in the rehearsal (or recording) process they certainly know the music. They are dressed as they choose - often in very comfortable casual outfits (like athletes exercising); though often oddly formal for such a basically unpublic occasion, (as if loathe to yield any hard won diva status). They seem to carry the music into their bodies - gesturing, weaving back and forth, almost dancing, revealing the essence of the musical line, and often the inner voice of their character - in a way they (correctly) never would in the context of a regular stage performance. It seems very personal, very private and often very revelatory. They are basically singing out front - and how or if or when they choose to look (or react) at each other is fascinating. The banality of the physical world around them and the workaday tools of their trade that aid them (those flimsy music stands in the Gotterdammerung excerpt seem to be barely able to standup under the passion of the singers) only serves to sharply illuminate and focus the uniqueness and complexity of the art of singing and performance in a context we don't often see." - Dr. von Lyric 

Gotterdammerung "Vengence Trio"

with Birgit Nilsson, Dietrich Fischer-Diskau and Gottlieb Frick conducted by Georg Solti

Madama Butterfly - Vogliatemi bene - Jonas Kaufmann + Angela Gheorghiu

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dr. von Lyric open's his cabinet again! This week: Ravel's Bolero

Dr. von Lyric is opening up his "Curious and Amazing Cabinet of Musical Marvels and Miracles" for us once again! What does he have to say about this week's clip?

"Elegant, musical, witty, charming, sexy (ice skating?) Judge for yourself " - Dr. Von Lyric 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dr. von Lyric and his "Curious and Amazing Cabinet of Musical Marvels and Miracles"

"My colleague at BLO, Amanda Villegas (who carefully posts my selections on the blog) suggested that I might want to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving tomorrow... an excellent idea. And so in honor of this celebration of (among other perhaps more important things) eating, here's Renee Fleming, Frederica von Stade and Marilyn Horne singing for your supper" - Dr. von Lyric

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dr. von Lyric and his "Curious and Amazing Cabinet of Musical Marvels and Miracles"

"Yma Sumac - a name that arose in conversation a while ago (what on earth could we have been talking about?) and set off some vague but tantalizing memories. I checked her out and here is part of the result... I make no claims here for anything but a deep abiding strangeness. Add Ernie Kovacs (and while we're at it "The Minute Waltz") into the mix and you have a very definitive definition of a very deep and very abiding strangeness. " Dr. von Lyric

Click here for a link to an entire site dedicated to Yma!

Monday, November 12, 2012

A View from the Crowd: Life in the BLO Chorus - Madama Butterfly Final Thoughts

Our fourth and final Madama Butterfly installment of A View from the Crowd with Chorus member Dr. Dana Schnitzer. Thank you for following her journey through the run of Madama Butterfly!

Thoughts After Closing

Geishas, Katrina Holden and Dana Schnitzer

"The run of BLO's Madama Butterfly was a huge success.  The house was packed for every show, "heedless of the wind and weather". 
I think the entire cast and crew is proud of their work, as they certainly should be!

We geishas had a great time, not only on stage but off.  Many new friendships were forged, and many laughs were had.
In case you were wondering what we do backstage when we are not singing, the backstage area is a scene of card-playing, story telling, magazine reading, advice giving.... and even magic tricks.  We certainly know how to keep ourselves entertained. 

During the run of the show, I was frantically studying for my final doctoral oral exam (Boston University).  My castmates helped by quizzing me and having related discussions about music history and vocal pedagogy.  Well, I passed, and I am now officially Dr. Schnitzer!  I walked into the dressing room on Wednesday to a round of applause.  What an amazing and supportive group of people!  I for one am very excited to come back and sing in the ensemble of Flying Dutchman in the Spring, and I am going to miss my BLO family in the meantime. 

Thanks for supporting BLO, and I hope you will come see the next show! - Signing off, Dana Schnitzer

Friday, November 9, 2012

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pucciniana #12

Puccini as only an artist can present him!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dr. von Lyric and his "Curious and Amazing Cabinet of Musical Marvels and Miracles"

"You'll never see a more dramatic performance of the scene between Tosca and Scarpia in Act 2 of Puccini's TOSCA, or a more moving performance of "Vissi d'Arte" than in this excerpt from the 1985 documentary Tosca's Kiss by Daniel Schmidt filmed at the Casa di Riposo - a retirement sanctuary for singers founded by Giuseppi Verdi in 1896. Track down the whole movie (on Amazon or Netflix) - one of the most powerful evocations of the indomitable spirit of the performing artist and unquenchable strength of music itself. A transformative delight!"  - Dr. von Lyric
Sara Scuderi and Salvatore Locapo in Tosca's Kiss

More on Sara Scuderi

Pucciniana #11

A very interesting article from The New York Times entitled "Music Box as Muse to Puccini's Butterfly" was published on June 15, 2012. We have reprinted most of it, but encourage you to read the entire article.

"The Murtogh D. Guinness Collection of mechanical musical instruments and automata at the Morris Museum here received national attention after Martin Scorsese’s film “Hugo,” which appeared last November. The museum’s Clown Illusionist, with a disappearing and reappearing head accompanied by a cheery tune, was featured on “CBS Sunday Morning.”

Even now few visitors spend much time in the room where the Swiss music boxes are displayed. Yet, being a musicologist, I lingered there alone last January as my children ran ahead. I kept listening to one box in particular, a harmoniphone from around 1877, equipped with a reed organ and able to play six Chinese tunes from a cylinder.

Confused at first, I suddenly realized that I had stumbled on the key to a musicological mystery many decades old. Scholars have long known that Puccini used Chinese tunes in his opera “Turandot” (set in China and left incomplete on Puccini’s death in 1924). But they have been puzzled by the origins of two “Japanese” tunes in his “Madama Butterfly” (set in Japan and first performed in 1904). What I had found were Chinese sources for two major themes in “Butterfly” and a surprising connection between that opera and “Turandot.”

Was it possible that Puccini had heard this very box in Italy and that it provided crucial inspiration for “Madama Butterfly”?

We know that he heard a “Chinese” music box in 1920 at the Bagni di Lucca home of Baron Edoardo Fassini-Camossi, a veteran of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China and of a military operation there at the end of World War I, and an amateur composer with published pieces to his credit. The baron probably acquired this box and other souvenirs in China at the notorious “loot auctions” that followed the suppression of the Boxers.

Puccini’s visit was leaked to the press and later reported in the librettist Giuseppe Adami’s books on the composer, so opera lovers have long known that three tunes from the Fassini music box, now in the private collection of Lionello Ghiotti in Italy, were prominently featured in “Turandot.” The most famous Chinese song, commonly called “Mo Li Hua” (“Jasmine Flower”), signals the seductive and glorious aspects of the fairy-tale Chinese princess Turandot; another tune accompanies the entrance of the three ministers; a third serves as an imperial hymn." read more... 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Pucciniana #10

Two out of our five performances of Madama Butterfly are done and with just three more to go (11/7, 11/9, and a matinee on 11/11) I thought that this Pucciniana should be dedicated to the mystery of the Geisha. - Amanda Villegas, Marketing and Communications Manager

Over the centuries there have been countless books and movies written on the allure of the Geisha. lists 1,188 books alone. But to Western society there is still so much confusion surrounding these Japanese cultural icons. It is a common misconception that the geisha was a prostitute. To the contrary, Wikipedia gives us this definition: Geisha (芸者?), geiko (芸子) or geigi (芸妓) are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance and games. answers the prostitute question:

Are Maiko and Geisha prostitutes?

Most certainly not! A Maiko and Geisha's profession is based on preserving the traditional arts such as dance, singing and music and entertaining in a non-sexual manner.

The confusion as to whether Geisha are prostitutes or not seems to have stemmed both from the close proximity Geisha had to courtesans in the Edo era and the fact that they did technically originate from the red light districts. The main culprit though appears to be from post World War II occupation by U.S. service men.

Many U.S. service came home from Japan with wild and raunchy stories of "Gee-sha Girls" whom, for most of the part where not in fact real Geisha, but rather, ordinary Japanese women or prostitutes masquerading or calling themselves "Geisha", largely because it was easiest for the service men to understand.

Of course, the large majority of service men did not know the difference, and despite the survival of the Geisha districts after the enforcement of the prostitution laws in 1957 and the subsequent closure of the red light districts, the misconception has haunted the flower and willow world ever since.

More interesting links on the Geisha:

One of my favorite history sites, History Undressed has a great article on the history of the Geisha. Read it here!

Japan-Zone brings us an interesting perspective on the history of the Geisha and some personal anecdote! "I recently had the pleasure of meeting a woman who was once the No.1 geisha in Japan. She's a wonderful lady, funny, warm and kind. She was once a favorite of my wife's grandfather who, with his many business and social connections, helped her find sponsors and make her name..." read more...

Japan Guide has information on how to attend a Geisha dinner when in Japan!

"An enduring symbol of fashion and tradition embodying the grace of the Japanese people. Curiosity and misunderstanding face most gaijin about geisha, women in Japan and paid entertainment" Geisha of Japan has probably everything you've ever wanted to know about the Geisha history, lifestyle, and even hairstyles!


In my research I discovered that there are a TON of sushi restaurants named Geisha! Who knew?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pucciniana #9

"Nagasaki - the city of Butterfly and the atomic bomb, Back in Nagasaki - a song written by Harry warren and Mort Dixon in 1928. The levels of implied or overt racism and maniacal cultural confusions in the song and in these performances is complicated (to say the least)" - John Conklin, BLO Artistic Advisor

"Hot ginger and dynamite

There's nothing but that at night

Back in Nagasaki where the fellas chew tabaccy

And the women wicky-wacky-woo" - from Back in Nagasaki

Jeeves and Wooster Nagasaki: (yes that is Dr House in his young and foolish days)

Red and Stuggie Song:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Opening Night!

It is opening night of Madama Butterfly! Our cast, crew, and administrative staff are putting the finishing touches on what looks to be a wonderful evening of Madama Butterfly!

To all of you who are getting ready to attend a performance over the next 10 days, we hope you enjoy! And if you are on the fence and unsure whether or not you want to spend a night at the opera, tickets are selling very quickly, so if you want to see one of Puccini's masterpieces this Fall, you must act soon. Visit for more information.

Toi, Toi, Toi to all of the talented artists that will bring this work to life for you tonight!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A View from the Crowd: Life in the BLO Chorus

Dana Schnitzer's third of four installments for "A View from the Crowd"

Backstage at BLO
 "It has been exciting to move into the Schubert Theatre for tech and dress rehearsals. I always forget just how fun it is feeling a production come closer and closer to opening. Of course, we now face the issue of re-spacing ourselves, and getting used to the set and wings, but so far it has been quite stress-free. The only real challenge for the chorus is the scene where we renounce Butterfly and have to BACK off the stage without looking behind us, contending with a step and a specific doorway exit!

Backstage at BLO
Listening to and watching Yunah Lee sing through the role of Butterfly the other night has inspired these thoughts: you simply can't thrive in this career unless your technique is rock solid, enabling you to move and act while simultaneously achieving a consistent, beautiful and most importantly HEALTHY tone throughout the entire opera. Opera-singer-hopefuls are quick to blame others; the business and its politics, the soprano with "more connections", the accompanist in their audition... when in reality, once you have achieved the most perfect technique, the way will be paved for you. Otherwise, you frankly have no business being up there in front of thousands of people singing lead roles. Yunah sings the entire (VERY demanding) role without fatigue or a hint of strain. She is truly an inspiration!

Unfortunately the chorus and orchestra lost a day of rehearsal to Hurricane Sandy, but we are not distressed. We are ready to put our best foot (vocal cord?) forward at the open dress rehearsal on Wednesday 10/31. The orchestra, principals and chorus sound amazing, and the behind-the-scenes folks are absolute pros. I will write my blog of final thoughts once we have closed... in the meantime, please come see the show! It is not to be missed!" - Dana Schnitzer