Wednesday, February 29, 2012


... why does the fact that your birthday falls on a Leap Year seem so appropriate and fitting? You are probably the MOST FAMOUS Leap Year guy ever (the only other contenders I could dig up were an odd group--Dinah Shore, Jimmy Dorsey, Michele Morgan, Balthus and the coloratura soprano Reri Grist-- incidentally she sang a mean Rosina in her day). 

Well, here's a special serenade delivered by one of the few remaining descendants of that turkey you so tragically dumped into Lake Como many years ago (for those of you to whom this is  a puzzling reference look back at ROSSINIANA #2). BLO wishes you many happy returns and hopes to see you at the BARBER opening in a few days.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


"I know of no more admirable occupation than eating"

"Caruso can have his spaghetti with chicken livers, Nellie Melba her toast and peaches. When it comes to Rossini it's all truffles, foie gras and Madeira sauce. Tournedos Rossini, perhaps the most famous of the dishes identified with him, consists of a filet mignon sauteed in butter, then placed on a crouton, also sauteed in butter. This assembly is topped with foie gras and truffles and anointed with a rich Madeira sauce. This recipe was one that Rossini is reputedly said to have suggested to the chef at the Cafe Anglais, the Le Cirque of the Second Empire. The name supposedly came about like this: the maitre d'hotel prepared this dish at tableside but with his back to the other customers so that they would not witness its excesses ... thus the French phrase--"tourner le dos"--became tournedos."
                                        Florence Fabricant (New York Times food editor) 

"We are unwell. It is from eating too much. The Maestro and I live to eat ... I am the fat woman who is occupied from morning to evening in digesting.
                                        Olympe (Rossini's wife writing to a friend)

"Appetite is for the stomach what love is for the heart ... The stomach is the conductor who rules the grand orchestra of our passion ... Eating, loving, singing, and digesting are, in truth, the four acts of the comic opera known as life."

Friday, February 24, 2012


OK, now it's the LOOK that's a bit bizarre but ... what singing! Rossini in his grandest opera mode (plus a little visit with one of the famous divas).

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


A famously bizarre cartoon by Tex Avery from 1952. After its release, it was sometimes censored--the Chinese and black face bits edited out. But it was also selected in 1993  for preservation in the Library of Congress's National Film registry as being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." Apologies for the poor visual quality of this clip ... but you get the idea.

First time Figaro

My name is Jonathan Beyer and I will be singing Figaro, aka “The Barber,” in The Barber of Seville, here at Boston Lyric Opera. I am beyond thrilled to be here. This will be my debut with the company and my debut in this role. Although Figaro’s aria is probably the most famous in the entire repertoire, I haven’t sung any of it until now.

It is a thrilling experience.

I actually am no stranger to Boston. I am from Chicago originally but spent my first two years of college at the Boston Conservatory studying composition and piano. My junior year of college I decided to head back to Chicago and give singing a try. I’m pretty sure I made the right choice. Not only because I've enjoyed success as a singer but because I was a pretty lousy composer! ☺

Performing a role for the first time can be rather daunting. My fellow castmates have already had huge successes in major houses singing these roles. There is a desire to make sure that I keep up with the brilliance and experience they bring to each rehearsal. Each has a fantastic bag of vocal fireworks and hilarious stage gags. Everyone is so fantastic and I am confident that this production will be not only musically astounding but also a laugh riot!

The conductor for our production is Maestro David Angus. He is really spectacular and has such a wonderful feel and energy for the music of Rossini. He has been working with me closely as we determine which ornaments to use for this production. It is tradition to add a great deal of flourishes, additional high notes, and crazy coloratura passages to each piece. We get to start from scratch and pick ornaments that are flashy but tasteful and really represent the drama on stage.

Our director is Doug Varone. He is not only a great director but has a very successful dance company and extensive dance background. He has really been helping us this week create our characters as well as making some fantastic visuals for the audience. It is a very physical and fun production so far! We've finished staging Act 1 … a rather remarkable accomplishment to stage 300 pages in 4 days!

The cast is filled with amazing performers and singers. John Tessier as Count Almaviva has mind blowing high notes and wickedly fast coloratura. As Bartolo, Steven Condy is not only a great singer but an absolutely hilarious actor. His comic antics are matched with the hilarious comic timing of our Berta, Judith Christin. David Cushing has an incredibly impressive sound and Gregory Gerbrandt not only sings a beautiful Fiorello but plays some mean guitar in this show as well.

That leaves us with the Rosina of Sarah Coburn. I have been completely obsessed with her voice since I first heard it when we were singing at Chicago Opera Theater in 2006. I have never experienced such beauty, flexibility, power, and style in a soprano. Her singing is exquisite, she is absolutely gorgeous, charming on stage. Being able to share the stage with this remarkable talent is such an honor.

I cannot wait to perform this show with her!

Monday, February 20, 2012


Sir Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame) visited Rossini one morning. When he entered the house, Rossini was feverishly working on a piece of music. Sullivan asked, "Why, what is that?" Rossini answered him most seriously, "It's my dog's birthday and I write a little piece for him each year."

Thursday, February 16, 2012


Maria Callas sang Rosina on the stage only once in a run of performances at La Scala in 1956 but her recording made a year later with the feisty Figaro of Titto Gobbi and lovely lyrical Almaviva of Luigi Alva is one of the most persuasive performances of the opera on CD. Her "Una voce poco fa" from a concert in Hamburg reveals Callas's unique take on the role--spicy, mischievous, even a bit dangerous.


An  fascinating historic recording of the famous coloratura Amelita Galli-Curci (made in 1917 ) obviously reveals an entirely different approach but one not without charm and revealing some extraordinary singing technique.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


“I love Italian opera- it’s so reckless. Damn Wagner , and his bellowings at Fate and Death. Damn Debussy, and his adverted face I like the Italians like Rossini  who run all on impulse, don’t care a damn about their immortal souls, and don’t worry about the ultimate."
                                             D H Lawrence   (1913)

"I have cried three times in my life: once at the fiasco of the opening night of Barber; the second when I heard  Patti sing for the first time and once when I, while on a picnic cruise, inadvertently  tipped a truffle-stuffed turkey into Lake Como."                                                                               

Monday, February 13, 2012


Well it's the opening day of rehearsal and we have 26 more days (of intense work by the singers and production staff ) until you have your first chance to see BLO's colorful production of Rossini's masterpiece THE BARBER of SEVILLE. I thought it might be fun to having a running, daily check-in with Rossini's world  here on the blog ... consisting of anecdotes, film clips, various (and wildly varied) performances of his music, etc. I think Rossini  himself, a sardonic self critic, fabled raconteur, and creator of exemplary (even manic) musical wit might well be intrigued or charmed at what we turn up--or perhaps in some cases amusingly  appalled with what has been done in his name. Enjoy.
--John Conklin

What better way to kick off than with an Overture:

Friday, February 10, 2012

What's for Dinner on THE LIGHTHOUSE?

If you're on a Scottish lighthouse in 1900, it's a family style plate of oatcakes and pilchards. At least, those are the two items mentioned in the libretto of Peter Maxwell Davies' opera The Lighthouse. As the Assistant Stage Manager in charge of props, food preparation falls into my domain, but I'll admit I did enlist the help of fellow ASM Ginger Castleberry when plating the most pungent of the fish.

We learned from our British director Tim Albery, British conductor, David Angus, and Canadian designer Camillia Koo that oatcakes are a familiar sight in English and Canadian grocery stores, but they were not as easy to find in Boston. A specialty shop in Harvard Square carried some, but finally, our props master ordered the preferred brand online for us to use for the show.

The creative team wanted to stay faithful to the story and have the singers eat real pilchards (canned fish), so we brought a variety of sardines to try. Packed in oil? Too messy. Packed in water? Just as smelly. With mustard? Didn't help the appeal. After a couple rounds of deli meat cut in strips stage management hoped would pass as pilchards, the winner was canned chicken - a little bit flaky like fish and moist enough to be palatable for the singers to eat between lines in the opera.

Wash it all down with water dyed brown to look like tea (most performers don't like to drink caffeine during a show), and you've got a balanced lighthouse meal. Don't forget to save some for the rats!

--Courtney Rizzo, Assistant Stage Manager

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Lighthouses in peril

Thanks to everyone who joined us last night for the opening performance of our third Opera Annex, The Lighthouse. Join us tonight for another stunning performance and prepare yourself with this video of lighthouses in peril. The music is Mozart's Requiem, but perhaps it should be Verdi's Requiem ...

Know of other haunted, perilous lighthouse locations? Share them in the comments.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Losing (and gaining the spirit of) two important opera singers

Remarkably, these two important singers died within a day of each other last week and both at the age of 92. Opera history fades so fast and our culture ignores even its recent past, which means it is always good to be reminded, recall (or even learn about for the first time) what our current opera world is built on ... and how so much has changed (opera premiering on Broadway!!) Additionally, we are reminded how much has, unfortunately, stayed the same (the often painful struggle for opportunity, authenticity, and artistic fulfillment.)
Both singers were connected with New York City Opera during the company's better days. Camilla Williams' debut in the role of Madama Butterfly, apart from it's historic ramifications, is fraught with cultural irony. She is also strongly associated with Porgy and Bess which has been much with us this year in a controversial production from A.R.T., now on Broadway in a version that differs from its original operatic aspirations.
"Opera" on Broadway???
Patricia Neway appeared in Menotti there ... as well as winning a Tony for The Sound of Music
Operatic voices on Broadway? Microphones ... amplification ... many important questions ... and some answers in the dedication and persistence of these inspiring operatic presences.

--John Conklin, Artistic Advisor

The Ghost of the Lady Light Keeper

Fourth and final in our series of haunted lighthouses:

Location: Gurnet Point/Plymouth Bay
Station Established: 1768
First Lit: 1843
Operational: Yes
Automated: 1986

Near to where the Pilgrims came ashore in the New World, stands one of America's earliest lighthouses, at Gurnet Point in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Originally two towers were built and were first lit in 1769.  John and Hannah Thomas were appointed the keepers of both lighthouses since the towers were constructed on their land.  Shortly after taking the post John left to fight in the Revolutionary War and left Hannah to keep the lights burning all by herself.

John never came back from the war, and in 1790, Hannah was appointed the first female lighthouse keeper in America. In 1801 both towers caught fire and burned to the ground.  The towers were replaced, but the northeast one was dismantled in 1924. Hannah loved the lighthouse and remained as keeper until 1790. Ever since Hannah’s death people have said they have seen her ghost in and around the tower. 

Night at Gurnet Point – Lighthouse Photographers Bob and Sandra Shanklin had the opportunity to stay the night in the keeper’s house on Gurnet Point. 

Told in their own words: At some point, something woke Bob. He raised up on his elbow and watched the light come around, illuminating the windows for a few seconds each time. Then he looked over toward me (Sandra), who was sleeping soundly. Above me, he saw the head and shoulders of a woman. He described her as being a green blue electric spark color. He said she had an old time hairdo, sunken cheeks and the saddest face he ever saw. Bob told me that she wasn't wrinkled and he didn't think she was an old woman. He said he felt no threat from her, but only her sadness. As he watched her, out of the corner of his eye he could see the rays of light from the lighthouse come around several times, brightening the room. He looked toward the light, then looked back to where she had been and she was gone. While there is no way to ascertain with any degree of certainty the identify of the Gurnet Point ghost, Shanklins claimed he had a "feeling" it was Hannah Thomas.

--Kalina Schloneger, Education & Community Programs Intern

Resources/for more about this haunted lighthouse visit:
See our haunting production of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse, Feb. 8--12

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A word about the music of 'The Lighthouse'

BLO Music Director David Angus shares his thoughts about the music of The Lighthouse.

One of the most entertaining things about Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' opera, The Lighthouse, is what he does with the little orchestra. There are only 12 players, but they play more than 30 instruments between them, including some very unusual combinations. At the more serious end, he creates wonderful eerie effects with strange harmonics, flutter-tonguing, glissandi, etc., sometimes extremely quietly, so that the instruments sound totally alien. However, for me the greatest fun comes in the loudest parts, which can be totally deafening! The quieter instruments, such as the violin, viola and guitar, wouldn't be heard at all, so instead he asks the players to play percussion instruments, and they really enjoy themselves!  Our concertmaster, Sandy Kott, smashes the giant Tam-Tam (gong) several times, and the guitarist thumps the big bass drum like a heartbeat throughout the double climax. But for me the best is that our soft-spoken principal Viola, Kenneth Stalberg, is given two flexatones, one in each hand, and he makes as much sound as he can, shaking both of them as hard as possible. (I'm sure there is a viola joke in there somewhere!) He told me that he had been practicing playing the flexatone weeks before the first rehearsal. The final noise at the end comes from the pianist who, as well as attacking the inside of the piano with a drum stick, blows a referee's whistle as loud as he can. It is total chaos!

"Max" has written possibly the most difficult music for orchestra that I have ever come across; each part is like a virtuoso concerto solo. Our players are achieving the impossible, by playing all the notes (and in the right order!) perfectly synchronized with each other, whilst still being flexible enough to follow the singers. Our singers are, if anything, even more impressive, because their music is just as difficult, but they have to do it all by memory, while acting and sometimes even while lying on their backs or climbing up and down ladders. When you add all this to an intelligent and clear staging on a striking set that has been magically lit, you have the recipe for something extraordinary!

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Ghost of a Pirate's Wife

Third in our series of haunted lighthouses:

Location: Sippican Harbor off of Buzzards Bay
Station Established: 1819
First Lit: 1889
Operational: Yes
Automated: 1997
William S. Moore (alleged pirate) took the post as keeper of the Bird Island Lighthouse in 1819 after having fought in the War of 1812. Supposedly he owed the U.S. government money and this position repaid his debt.  He brought with him his wife, who was a heavy tobacco user, and suffered from tuberculosis. Mrs. Moore was forbidden to leave the island by her husband, since he feared she would be unfaithful.

The lighthouse was damp and lonely which worsened Mrs. Moore’s illness and need for tobacco.  The townspeople said they could hear her cries of desperation and would sneak bags of tobacco out to the lighthouse when they could.  One evening Moore raised the distress flag and when the townspeople arrived to help they found Mrs. Moore dead.  Moore insisted that his wife had died from her disease but some townsfolk believed otherwise.  Moore demanded that his wife be buried on the island so she was laid to rest right next to the lighthouse.  Moore was always blamed for the death of his wife and for holding her captive on the island.  Legend has it that keepers have been haunted by Moore’s wife ever since, the ghost of a hunched-over old woman, rapping at the door during the night.

Kalina Schloneger, Education & Community Programs Intern
See our haunting production of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse, Feb. 8--12

Friday, February 3, 2012


The cast explores the space under the platform,
new to them in the performance space.
Tech week for an opera is always an exciting time: it’s a chance to finally incorporate lighting with full scenic elements and to transform the space where the show will be performed. Our singers for this production of The Lighthouse are, aside from being top-notch singers, great actors who have a lot of flexibility. The transfer from the studio to the stage can be daunting, especially in a show like this where we didn’t have the luxury of having the underside of the main platform available; however, our gentlemen were excited to explore the possibilities available to them by now having the complete set in the real space. The lighting design is one of the most exciting parts of the technical rehearsal process. Our designer, Thomas Hase, has enhanced the story telling that has been created in the staging to portray a menacing, dark world on a remote island. The Kennedy Library has truly transformed into the Flannan Isles …

--Crystal Manich, Assistant Director