Friday, October 31, 2014


We celebrated National Opera Week by showcasing some of the 2014/15 BLO Emerging Artists on our Facebook and Twitter pages. BLO helps nurture these talented young singers through one-on-one coaching sessions, role and audition preparation, paid performance opportunities in fully-staged BLO productions as well as educational and special events, and professional mentorship.

Read on to learn more about these Emerging Artists and why they devote their passion and energy to the operatic art form!

Omar Najmi, tenor, remembers his first opera experience:

“When I was a kid, one of my parents' friends said they just must hear the music of Wagner, so they got a CD of the overtures and preludes to Wagner's operas. The heroic grandeur of this music was the soundtrack of my childhood. When I was taking piano lessons, I really wanted to be able to play Wagner on the piano, so I ordered the piano/vocal score to Götterdämmerung on inter-library loan. I think I didn't realize at the time what an opera was – that not only would it have vocal parts, but that they would be in a foreign language!”

Ben Gebo Photography

Mezzo-soprano Heather Gallagher relates to the character that is perhaps opera’s most famous mezzo-soprano, Carmen.

“I like her the best because she's totally fearless, honest, and always exciting to play and to watch.”

Heather is also BLO's Resident Teaching Artist! Here she is pictured leading a workshop for young singers at Wheelock Family Theatre.

Brad Raymond, tenor, loves opera’s universality.

“Opera combines pretty much every art form you can think of (maybe not sculpting, but sometimes!). If you love art, you have to love opera!”

R.B. Schlather, Emerging Artist Stage Director, tells us why he loves opera: 

“It's the most satisfying art form to me because it draws on so many other disciplines to produce it…Opera is everything.”

Bass-baritone David Wadden found his way to opera through the gateway of operetta! 

“My senior year of high school, I bailed on indoor track and instead joined my friends from the a capella group in our high school's production of The Mikado. Our music director, himself a former opera singer, heard me sing and though I might have a decent operatic voice. He created an a capella arrangement of Mozart's ‘O, Isis und Osiris’, and I sang it for a school concert. It's a piece I still offer for auditions now!”


Chelsea Basler, soprano, says, “I love opera because, to me, opera combines all of the great art forms to create an all-sensory experience. On an opera stage one would not only hear amazing vocal feats but also some of the most beautifully written instrumental music, combined with heart-breaking drama and  the visual splendor of costumes and sets. Some operas even have the element of dance. That hits all the high art forms in one experience. I ask, what's not to love!

We also recognize and thank the two remaining Emerging Artists of the 2014/15 season, Rachel Hauge (soprano) and Jon Jurgens (tenor), for their work, talent, and commitment to opera.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

by Joseph Bédier

Duncan, John (1912) "Tristan and Isolt"
Next month, BLO presents the fully-staged Boston premiere of  composer Frank Martin's The Love Potion, November 1923 at Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline. A retelling of the Tristan and Isolt tale, The Love Potion is based on a 1900 version by Joseph Bédier. Here is the story of the ill-fated lovers, adapted from Edward Gallagher's introduction to his translation of Bédier's Le Roman de Tristan et Iseult, along with several well-known artistic interpretations through the ages chosen by Magda Romanska, Ph.D. and BLO Dramaturg. 

The Story
Tristan, the posthumous son of Rivalen, orphaned shortly after his birth when his mother, Blanchefleur, dies disconsolate because of the murder of her husband, is reared as the son of Rohalt, his father’s servant, to protect the youth from Rivalen’s enemies. Kidnapped by merchants, the young Tristan arrives in Cornwall, the realm of King Mark, Blanchefleur’s brother. It is only when Rohalt reveals their blood relationship to Mark that the king understands his inexplicable affection for the youth.

Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1867)
"Tristram and Isolde Drinking the Love Potion"
In response to Irish demands for a tribute long refused them by Mark, Tristan, in single combat with the giant Morholt, slays the Irish champion. Wounded by a poisoned sword, Tristan is set adrift on the sea, arrives by chance in Ireland, and is cared for and cured by the Morholt’s sister, the Irish queen, and his niece, Iseult. The hero later returns to Ireland, where he kills a dragon to win Iseult for his uncle, King Mark. Poisoned by the venom of this monster’s tongue, Tristan is again cured by these royal Irish women. On their voyage to Cornwall, Tristan and Iseult drink what they think is wine but what is, in fact, a love potion prepared by Iseult’s mother to ensure a mutual love between Mark and his bride. Aboard ship, unable to resist the effects of the philter, Tristan and Iseult consummate their love.

After Iseult’s marriage to the king, the eponymous lovers continue their clandestine affair. Several of Mark’s barons, jealous of Tristan because of the king’s high regard for him, denounce the lovers. They convince Mark to spy on the two during a clandestine rendezvous under a giant pine tree. The lovers become aware of the king’s presence, and in an ambiguous conversation Tristan and Iseult manage to convince the king, perched above them in the branches of the tree, of their innocence. Later, Mark sees proof of their guilt, when Tristan’s blood is discovered in flour strewn between his bed and the queen’s. Mark condemns them to death. But the lovers manage to escape into the forest, where the privations of a life in the wild, beyond civilizations, are obviated by their all-consuming passion. Mark discovers the lovers asleep and separated by chance by Tristan’s sword. The king takes this as a sign of their chaste innocence. The lovers then decide each for the sake of the other to seek a reconciliation with Mark, for they have both since abandoned their elevated societal roles – queen and knight. To prove her innocence, Iseult swears an expiatory oath and undergoes a judgment by red-hot iron in the presence of King Mark, King Arthur, and their knights.

Speed, Lancelot (1919) 
"Tristan and Isolt Drink the Love Potion"
A definitive separation proves difficult for the lovers, but the danger of staying in Cornwall is great, and Tristan eventually leaves. Following years of wandering and without any word from the queen, Tristan agrees to marry Iseult of the White Hands. Yet, on his wedding night, he does not consummate his marriage, for he realizes that he has betrayed both the queen and his new wife. He then makes a series of attempts to see the queen again, disguised first as a leper then as a madman. Any sustained reprise of their liaison proves impossible. In the end, fatally wounded yet again, as he had been earlier by the Morholt’s sword and the dragon’s tongue, Tristan sends for Iseult to cure him. She arrives, but too late. Tristan’s jealous wife tells him that the sail of the approaching ship is black, a signal that Iseult is not aboard. Tristan dies, thinking that the queen has abandoned him. Iseult finally does arrive, stretches out besides Tristan’s body, and dies in his arms.

Mark returns the bodies to Cornwall and has them buried on either side of a chapel. An indestructible plant grows up from Tristan’s tomb and plunges into Iseult’s, as a sign of their enduring union.

Read more:
Bédier, Joseph. The Romance of Tristan and Iseult. Trans. Edward J. Gallagher. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2013.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Students Love LA TRAVIATA

Hundreds of middle school, high school, and college students attended BLO's final dress rehearsal of La Traviata on Wednesday, October 8, and they have been sending some amazing feedback!

Violetta (Anya Matanovic) - Photo:
Eric Antoniou for Boston Lyric Opera © 2014
Anthony (11th grade) said, "I enjoyed Alfredo over everything else...His voice was on point."

Ella (high school student) noted, " favorite scene was definitely the death scene. The way that the white fabric was stretched out all over the stage really evoked thoughts of her life slipping away. All of the images, in fact, were evocative of the underlying themes of the work...I felt that even though it was set so long ago, the performers did a truly incredible job of keeping the ideas intended by Verdi back in 1853 accessible to the modern mind."
Scarla (high school student) wrote, "The very fact that the characters had no microphones, but possessed such volume of voice was amazing! I could not understand Italian, but body language told me a lot of what was happening."
Melissa (10th grade) raved, "Overall the opera was amazing, and if I could I would go watch it every day."
So would we, Melissa!

Cheers and thank you to all of the students, teachers, and parents who attended La Traviata. If you are a student or educator who is interested in FREE dress rehearsal passes, we encourage you to reach out to us at BLO is proud to provide high-quality arts experiences and education opportunities to students across the greater Boston area and beyond. Join us!


Thursday, October 23, 2014


Now that we have the eloquent voices from BLO's La Traviata echoing in our ears, let's listen to some fascinating singing from the archives.

First Lilli Lehmann from 1906.  One of the most intriguing of artists, Lehmann, sang Wagner (she participated in the inaugural Bayreuth season in 1876), sang Norma and Mozart at the Met, and was an outstanding teacher.

The title says it all: "Dueling Divas" (1911).

Lucrezia Bori and John McCormack (1914).   

Tito Schipa (the sweetest of tenors).

And some more modern views.


Friday, October 17, 2014


Magda Romanska, BLO Dramaturg and Associate Professor at Emerson College, talks to Prof. David Rosen about Verdi’s La Traviata. Prof. Rosen is a world-renowned musicologist, a leading expert on Verdi, and Professor Emeritus of Music at Cornell University. Prof. Rosen was responsible for the critical edition of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem (published in The Works of Giuseppe Verdi), and the Cambridge Music Handbook on the Requiem. He also co-authored a volume dedicated to the disposizione scenica of Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera. Prof. Rosen discovered in the Paris Bibliothèque de l’Opéra a passage in Verdi’s manuscript score for Don Carlos which had had to be cut in order to ensure that the opera’s première would finish before midnight. Prof. Rosen was one of the first scholars to study the contemporary staging manuals (disposizioni sceniche or livrets de mise en scène) and other sources that help us reconstruct the visual aspects of 19th-century opera.

Magda Romanska, BLO Dramaturg
Prof. David Rosen

MR: Verdi’s wishes for a contemporary setting were vetoed by the management of La Fenice Theatre, which wanted more sumptuous costumes, and he was forced to set the opera “around 1700.”  Modern directors have taken Verdi’s wishes for contemporary setting to heart, staging many updated adaptations.  Can you tell us more about the setting of La Traviata?

DR: Of course, Verdi’s wishes for a “contemporary” setting can be interpreted in two ways: “contemporary” with the première (1853) or “contemporary” with whenever the opera is performed (for us, 2014).  For today’s audiences a setting of 1853 (and of course, “around 1700”) is historical, just as the 15th-century setting of Il Trovatore is historical.  Productions with 20th- or 21st-century settings—where Violetta is more likely to suffer from AIDS than TB—are legitimate of course, but the music of Traviata is unusually attuned to a particular setting: mid-19th-century Paris.  In the opening scene of Rigoletto, set in the 16th-century court of Mantua, the Duke’s musicians play 18th-century dances—a minuet (reminiscent of the one in Don Giovanni) and a perigordino.  Historical accuracy counts for little: it is enough that the music comes across as old-fashioned.  However, in La Traviata, unusually, the music does match the setting—Paris in the second half of the 19th century.  In the opening scene the band plays a waltz—labeled Valzer in early printed piano-vocal scores, though not in Verdi’s autograph score.  Much of the music in the opera is in triple meter or subdivides the beat into three, which may suggest a waltz.  The waltz enjoyed an enormous vogue in Paris at the time—recall that Marie Duplessis, the real-life model for Violetta, was known as a skilled dancer of the waltz, and that in Dumas fils’ novel, Marguerite (Violetta) attempts to play Weber’s Invitation to the Waltz on the piano.  The fake Gypsy fortune-tellers and especially the fake matadors at Flora’s party well reflect the Parisian vogue for Spanish dance initiated by Fanny Elssler’s performance of the cachucha in 1836.  Another example of the connection between mid-19th-century Paris and the ambiance of the opera is the boisterous, vulgar off-stage Baccanale of the fatted ox—referencing a Parisian tradition during Carnival season—directly following Violetta’s plaintive aria “Addio del passato.”  This may serve as an ironic substitute for the (expected?) cabaletta that Violetta is too weak to sing.

MR: After the March 6, 1853, première, which wasn’t very successful, Verdi retouched the score for the second performance, on May 6, 1854.  The opera also went through many changes, forced by the current censorship, particularly in reference to Violetta’s profession.  Can you tell us about these different versions? How did the censorship affect La Traviata?  

DR: Partly because of self-censorship (Violetta’s profession is never explicitly stated), there do not seem to have been problems with the censors regarding the première in Venice.  The problems started when the opera went on the road, especially in the South, where the censorship was more stringent.  The censors in both Naples and Rome turned Violetta into a virtuous orphan girl with a fondness for parties, forcing them to invent a reason why she and Alfredo can’t marry.  The Roman censors’ solution: Germont had already promised Alfredo to another girl (whom he duly marries, but she conveniently dies in time for Alfredo to return to the dying Violetta).  One usually depicts the censors as denying the public access to ideas and information that it desired, but in this case, judging from contemporary criticism, the censors’ views have been shared by part of the public.  For example, Abramo Basevi begins the chapter on La Traviata in his 1859 Studio sulle opere di Giuseppe Verdi with a tirade about “the immorality of today’s [French] literature.”  Hugo had shown “the courtesan purified and made noble by love,” and Balzac, Dumas, Gautier, and many others expressed the same contemptible views, as did, of course, La Dame aux Camélias, Basevi’s principal target.

MR: The 19th century was particularly fascinated by the sickness and death of beautiful women. As Poe put it: “The death of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world.”  Violetta’s death captured some of that spirit of the time; however, it was also very specific.  Can you tell us how the ending, particularly Violetta’s death, functions musically and dramatically?

DR: La Traviata is apparently the first opera in which a character dies of a specific disease, here consumption or tuberculosis.  In Italian opera it would be another 40 years before the disease would strike again, in Leoncavallo’s I Medici (1894) and his and Puccini’s Bohèmes two years later.  The cause of the disease—the tubercule bacillus—and its contagious nature were discovered only in 1882.  In mid-century the disease was partly attributed to heredity, but it could be exacerbated or, in some accounts, even brought about by an unhealthy lifestyle, including alcohol and especially, as an 1852 medical treatise warns, “the unnatural or unrestrained indulgence of the sensual passions.”  And so Violetta unites both discourses: prostitution and consumption.

The most important strand in the discourse of consumption for the musical treatment is the spes phthistica, the dying person’s feeling of revival and well-being immediately before death.  In Verdi’s usual procedure for the end of an opera, the slow ensemble ends with the death of a principal character, followed by a fast minor-mode section with an additional action (e.g., Manrico’s execution in Il Trovatore) or a crucial verbal phrase (e.g., Rigoletto remembers “La maledizione”).  In La Traviata, Verdi grafts the spes phthistica upon this scheme: instead of dying at the end of the ensemble, Violetta suddenly rises, exclaiming that she is returning to life, as the love theme surges in the strings.  She cries “Oh gioia” and falls dead; the survivors express their grief in the fast minor-mode final section.  Something similar is found in the play by Alexandre Dumas fils on which the opera is based, La Dame aux Camélias, though not in his earlier novel of the same name.

MR: Speaking of Dumas’ play, what are some other major differences between Dumas’ story and Verdi’s version?

DR: As the psychologist Gerald Mendelsohn has noted, even though the events of opera follow the play closely, the moral stance of the play and that of the opera differ radically.  In the play, we are meant to believe that the father, representing society and bourgeois morality, is correct.  At the end Violetta is partially forgiven: “Much will be forgiven you, for you loved much”—but die she must.  But in the opera Germont returns at the end to repent: “Ah, ill-advised old man! / Only now do I see the harm I did!” And compare the music at the end of the two works (the play included copious incidental music).  In the preface to his play Dumas fils thanks the music director for having written music that “livened up the scene of the toast [the song corresponding to the opera’s brindisi] with a ronde that was vigorous, original, brash, and then with a skillfulness ripe with feeling, he had this joyous motif come back in the third act, at the moment of Marguerite’s death, like a persistent memory of a mad life drawing its last breath.”  Marguerite may be forgiven, but Violetta, vindicated, triumphs.