Wednesday, December 31, 2014

DR. VON LYRIC: The Incomparable Borge

Never has there been a more engaged and attentive accompanist!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Seeing the Everyday in a New Light: Temple Ohabei Shalom’s Preschoolers Experience The Love Potion

by Heather Gallagher, BLO Emerging Artist and Resident Teaching Artist

I can remember from a very early age being intrigued with the idea of classical music. I guess I must have been around 11 or 12 years old when I picked up a recording of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. I remember really enjoying the first song, “O Fortuna” (I had heard it in movies and numerous commercials), but after a while I became frustrated with the following songs. It was a little overwhelming, all that clashing percussion, brass, and people singing in a weird language I didn’t understand. It was a lot to take in, and truth be told, I felt kind of stupid for not “getting it.” So I turned off that record and took a breather…for about ten years. The next time I delved into the world of classical music, I was about 22 years old. Years pass, I am now a professional opera singer. Go figure!

In addition to my work in opera, music education is one of my passions. When BLO’s education team, Beth Mullins and Lacey Upton, asked me to come to Temple Ohabei Shalom to talk to some of the Temple’s students in November, during the opera's run there, I was thrilled. The task seemed simple: talk about my experience working with Boston Lyric Opera’s production of The Love Potion. Then I remembered that my “audience” was around four years old. What could an audience of preschoolers possibly get from a work such as Frank Martin’s little-known and seldom-performed The Love Potion, a work that borrows significantly from 12-tone techniques and features a very mature plotline of adultery and forbidden love? I walked through the Temple doors that morning with some sense of uncertainty as I wondered how exactly this was going to work.

Heather Gallagher, Resident Teaching Artist,
meets with preschool students at
Temple Ohabei Shalom.
As I set foot inside the Temple, my apprehension abated as I watched my colleague, Brad Vernatter, BLO’s Director of Production, offer one of our props, a glowing orb, to a group of youngsters. A chorus of “Ahhhs!” came from the larger group as Lacey, Beth, and the educational team brought these magical props around to other groups to see and touch. I saw their eyes light up again as I approached the stage with one of our costumes, a heavy linen robe. Introducing myself, I explained who I was and a little about the show and the purpose of the robe. We sang “Happy Birthday” to one of the students, and I did some vocal warm-ups for them. Things were going great. Then,  I had the bright idea to open things up to some questions. Here’s a sampling of what I experienced…

Me: “ Does anyone have any questions about singing or opera?”
Preschooler #1: “My dad has a car!”
Me: “That’s wonderful! Do you have any questions about music or opera or what it’s like to be a singer?”
Preschooler #1: “No!”

Me: “How about anyone else? Any questions. Don’t be shy!”
Preschooler #2: “My dad has a, has a guitar!”
Me: “That’s really neat! Do you play the guitar at all?”
Preschooler #2: “No, my dad has a nice guitar!”

Me: “What about you, you’re VERY enthusiastic! What’s your question?”
Preschooler #3: (Silence...)

Children at this age are so refreshingly honest, it isn’t difficult for them to catch you totally off-guard – repeatedly. As an artist, I feel a lot of pressure wherever I go to help people understand opera, and it seemed in the moment that this little exercise in audience development had backfired. But then, an interesting thought cut through the clutter of my neurotic brain: “Understanding is important, but there is no understanding without experiencing first.”

That was when I realized what the point of today’s visit was: The Experience. Not comprehension, but the tangible experience of being in the presence of working artists, music, and opera. Being able to hold a real, working prop in your little hand, hearing a live opera singer sing some scales, seeing a conductor work, and being surrounded by numerous instruments and knowing what that sounds like…even seeing your place of worship totally transformed into a strange and marvelous new theatre with a stage and audience seating on all sides. Being able to see the everyday in a new light: that’s what today was about.

Four-year-olds have it easy. They’re allowed to be silly, make mistakes, and explore. They’re encouraged to do so. As adults, we feel so much pressure to be smart, measure up, know what’s going on, that we forget about the experience. But it’s open to us at all times. One doesn’t need the mindset or knowledge of a professional to unlock the joys of classical music. You don’t need to understand a single thing, actually. Like a four-year-old, you just need to open your eyes and ears to the experience. 

Preschool students listen attentively as Ms. Gallagher tells them about her job
as an opera singer and demonstrates vocal warm-ups.
Conductor David Angus leads a sectional rehearsal while
preschool students listen and watch.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

From a BLO Intern: “When I opened a magic box called opera”

Queenie Fang joined the BLO team as an Education and Community Programs Intern in July 2014. Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Queenie came to Boston in 2013 as a student and recently earned her master’s degree from Boston University in Arts Administration. Queenie will continue on with BLO as an intern through June; we asked her to reflect on the first half of her time here and what she has learned so far.

When I opened a magic box called opera...
by Queenie Fang

This summer, I received a magic box called opera from BLO. Excited and curious, I started a journey to explore where this box would take me. With no exposure to opera before, this journey has brought me so many surprises and my preconceived notions about opera have been easily broken.

When I opened the box and started experiencing opera, I realized that opera does not have to be the stereotypical, high-brow event that people usually think of. It can be easily accessible to the general public. BLO not only offers discount tickets and fun contests to give away tickets for mainstage opera productions, it also provides interesting educational events throughout the city. For example, the first major project that I worked on as an intern was the BLO’s annual summer concert with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, an event that is free and open to the public. The program provides a sneak peek at the upcoming season, and this year every audience member could take home a BLO customized fan!

When I opened the box, I got the chance to experience “all-in-one performance art.” One of the perks of interning at BLO is that I am able to attend all of the mainstage productions. La Traviata at BLO this fall was the first opera I’ve ever seen. The story is so famous and well-known that, at first, my expectations were not high. However, I was completely blown away, and so were my friends, who are also opera newbies. At the end of the show, they told me that before the show, they thought they might fall asleep, but when the show started, they found themselves captivated by the story and enchanted by the chorus.

When I opened the box, I saw the importance of good teamwork and driven, passionate colleagues. I feel very comfortable working with my colleagues, and they always make themselves available to others to provide assistance. I learned that to ensure a superb performance, not only do the singers, conductors, and orchestra members have to do their jobs well, but the stage management and production staff members complement their work by keeping everything running smoothly and free from distractions. I also learned that different departments work together closely to fulfill the organization’s mission: to build curiosity, enthusiasm, and support for opera by creating musically and theatrically compelling productions, events, and educational resources for our community and beyond. Therefore, various educational programs have been developed for opera fans of all ages and experience levels to enhance the enjoyment of an opera performance. Their good teamwork reminds me of an African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

When I opened the box, I also got a sense of belonging. I’m sure for every novice job candidate, it feels awesome to attend professional events with a job title. I will never forget how excited I was when I got into the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston through its staff entrance, because on that day, BLO was holding an opera lecture. Besides, as an international student who just came to the States one year ago, being able to work with those super nice people, and learn from them, has given me a sense of belonging.

When I opened the box, I received a more enriched life. I’ve had so many “firsts” during my internship! First time attending a live opera; first time witnessing a temple transformed into an opera stage; first time helping with a special event; first time assisting with organizing auditions; first time going on a backstage tour, and much more! All these experiences are so precious. I learned what happens behind the curtain; I got to know the elements of a great show, with wonderful singing and acting and a very strong visual presentation; I was inspired to build support for art in my own country… When you open one door, it may lead you to a whole new world. Just keep an open mind, and keep trying – the world is full of interesting things for us to explore.

It’s holiday season again, and I’m glad that I’ve already witnessed the power of my magic box. What do you expect to get when you open your holiday gifts? Maybe on Christmas Eve, you will receive a magic box too. Don’t be afraid to open it, let’s see where it can take you. Happy holidays!

Friday, December 19, 2014

From the Archives: BLO's ZAIDE (1977)

Treasures from the BLO archives!

Today, we perused the program for BLO's Zaide, from the Company's 1976/77 Season. Zaide, which was unfinished upon Mozart's death, is a Singspiel, meaning that it alternates between spoken dialogue and sung arias (much like The Magic Flute). Its story is set in Turkey, an exotic and fascinating locale to 18th-century, European audiences, and tells the story of two slaves, Zaide and Gomatz, who fall in love and try to escape their master, the Sultan Soliman, to freedom. Mozart's manuscript breaks off before the end, but our program note from 1977 has some great insights on the piece!

Program for the 1977 BLO production of Zaide

From the "Historical Note by Michael Goodson"
It was not until this century that Alfred Einstein discovered a Singspiel text of 1763, Das Serail, which was clearly the model for the libretto Mozart set. A tale of "fashionable turquerie" written by Frantz Joseph Sebastiani and composed by Joseph von Friebert, Das Serail not only clarifies major points of plot and characterization, but by its lack of dramaturgical skill throws into sharp relief the seriousness with which Mozart approached the adaptation prepared by his librettist.

That librettist — Andreas Schachtner, dramatist, Salzburg court trumpeter, and childhood friend of Mozart — retained the basic outline of the first of Sebastiani's two acts, while departing considerably from his source in the second. To what extent he intended to follow Sebastiani's denouement is uncertain. In Das Serail, coincidence alone prompts the Sultan Soliman's magnanimity: Zaide and Gomatz discover they are sister and brother and the Allazim character [the overseer to the slaves] is no less than their father! Yet in reconstructing a libretto around Mozart's score, Das Serail is an indispensible resource...

The score is an eloquent testament of Mozart's growing appreciation for the operas of Gluck, much of whose work he studied and saw performed while on tour in Paris...Mozart's statement that he "should help to raise the National German opera high in the musical world" has been interpreted many ways; jingoistic readings aside, the Singspiel was attractive not because it was German but because it was young and relatively free from the formal preconceptions that surrounded the opera seria and were beginning to surround opera buffa. It was a format with which Mozart could experiment, and which would reflect him fundamentally. Judging his contributions from Zaide to Die Zauberflote [sic], keeping in mind the claims staked in opera buffa and opera seria, one is tempted to ascribe the whole province of Singspiel as well to Mozart's personal property.

Curious about Zaide? Check out Lucia Popp singing "Ruhe sanft, mein holdes Leben" from Act I ("Rest peacefully, my sweet love"). Though Zaide is rarely performed, it is considered one of Mozart's finest for the soprano voice!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Thursday, December 11, 2014

DR. VON LYRIC gets a bit silly (for a while)

Let's just take a slight holiday break between the tragic fate of Violetta, the agonies of the adulterous Isolde, and the upcoming tortured passions of K√°tya. For the next few weeks, it's just a few laughs, a few jokes, a parody or two. Enjoy!