Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Making of BLO's Clemency CD

By David Angus, BLO Music Director

When I found out in September 2012 that discussions were underway for a live BLO recording of MacMillan’s Clemency, I had mixed feelings: great excitement at our first commercial CD (and a world premiere recording as well) but also some nervousness. A CD is very unforgiving, and people expect a high level of perfectionsomething that is not so easy to achieve in a live situation, with a difficult new piece and an acoustically challenging venue.* Fortunately, we had the experts at SoundMirror in Boston, working on behalf of BIS Records, to help us overcome all the difficulties, such as mixing the input from the head microphones with the ambient sound, and editing everything into a seamless recording.

The first stage of the process was simply to do normal performances to the highest possible standard, as always. We didn’t really take any notice of the microphones during the show, but it was very interesting to be able to hear sample recordings afterwards, when they tested their equipment. Once they had a recording of the whole performance, we all stayed behind and re-recorded any sections that had been imperfect in any way. This was a race against time, dotting around through the score, picking out the right sections and fixing them extremely quickly while we still had the singers in town. It was made all the more challenging by losing two performances due to Winter Storm Nemo, which forced us to cancel shows.

The final stage was the editing. Dirk Sobotka, the Tonmeister ("sound master," the producer), is a high-level musician as well, and he had worked out all the best versions of each section to stick together. I went out to the SoundMirror studios and spent a lot of time with him, going through everything, discussing any corners where things didn’t sound right or where I thought there might be a better option. I then left him and his team to glue it all together again in such a way that nobody would ever hear the joins, which they did very successfully!

We have been very fortunate that this CD has gone out on the BIS label, a very high-level international classical label, where they produce CDs with full booklets. The staff spent days helping them put together the liner notes with biographies, pictures, information about the project and the pieces, and of course the texts. Thanks to the efforts of the artists, the technicians and the dedicated leadership and staff of a world-class operation at BLO, we can happily boast a CD that is a work of art.

None of this would have been possible without the generous support of BLO’s Chairman of the Board, Steven Akin, and the dedication of so many—onstage and off—to the end product.

* Boston’s Artists for Humanity EpiCenter, the site of BLO’s 2013 Opera Annex production

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

DR. VON LYRIC: An (obsessive) winter journey with Franz and Ian

On February 4th at 6pm in the Brattle  Theater in Cambridge, the Harvard Book Store in presenting a talk by the noted tenor (and, yes, scholar and musicologist) Ian Bostridge, co-promoted by BLO and the Longy School of Music. He is speaking on Schubert's magnificent song cycle WINTERREISE in connection with a book he has written on that work, subtitled, The Anatomy of an Obsession. As he has performed this cycle more than one hundred times, it is not clear to me whose obsession we're talking about here. In any case, the talk (and, one assumes, the book) is described as dealing with WINTERREISE's, "...enigmas and subtle meanings...Schubert's psychological makeup...historical and political pressures...the continuing resonances and affinities that make Schubert's wanderer our mirror..."

It sounds genuinely fascinating. Why not check it out?

Side note: If you're interested, BLO is also holding a social media contest for a limited number of free tickets to the event. Check out our contest blog post and enter to win a chance to go for free!

There are numerous full length performances on YouTube (including  Peter Pears, Fischer-Dieskau, Christa Ludwig, and Brigitte Fassbaender yes, women can sing it too). Bostridge is  represented not only by a concert recital performance but also by a quite intriguing, dramatic version in a film directed by David Alden.

Excerpts from that video performance follow:

One of the most moving performances of a WINTERREISE excerpt that is that of  probably the most famous exponent of the bleak beauty of the Schubert cycle: Hans Hotter (at age 82) and a young Thomas Quasthoff (if you don't know the story of this remarkable performer, check him out on Wikipedia).

Another celebrated singer of WINTERREISE, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau:

An interesting discussion of the piece by another very perceptive tenor, Jonas Kaufmann, and Helmut Deutsch:

Another take...

Monday, January 26, 2015

Contest: Join us for Harvard Book Store’s author event, Feb. 4!

BLO is excited to share with you Harvard Book Store’s upcoming event with author and tenor Ian Bostridge—and we’re giving away a limited number of free tickets!

Who, What, Where, When, and Why:
On Wednesday, February 4 at 6:00pm, tenor Ian Bostridge will discuss his book, Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession, at the Brattle Theatre at 40 Brattle Street in Cambridge as part of the Harvard Book Store author series. Learn more here.

Score a free ticket from BLO!
As a co-promoter of the event, BLO is giving away several free tickets, and we’re holding a contest to decide who the lucky attendees will be! To enter, simply visit BLO on Facebook, Twitter, or send us an email to with your answer to the question:

What’s your favorite piece of classical music that celebrates a season and why?

Feel free to share a video or anecdote about your pick!

Entries are due by midnight on Thursday, January 29. Winners will be randomly selected on Friday, January 30.

We’re looking forward to sharing our favorites and learning more about Schubert’s great work on February 4!

More about Schubert's Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession:
An exploration of the world’s most famous and challenging song cycle, Schubert's Winter Journey (Winterreise), by a leading interpreter of the work, who teases out the themes—literary, historical, psychological—that weave through the twenty-four songs that make up this legendary masterpiece.

Drawing equally on his vast experience performing this work (he has sung it more than one hundred times), on his musical knowledge, and on his training as a scholar, Bostridge teases out the enigmas and subtle meanings of each of the twenty-four lyrics to explore for us the world Schubert inhabited, his biography and psychological makeup, the historical and political pressures within which he became one of the world’s greatest composers, and the continuing resonances and affinities that our ears still detect today, making Schubert’s wanderer our mirror.

Friday, January 23, 2015

DR. VON LYRIC: As promised, Streisand and Handel (and another treat)

So here we have the other side of the crossover coin two notable performances. But wait,  is "notable" the right word? Brave? Disturbing? Ridiculous? Inspiring?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

DR. VON LYRIC: Crossover and (probably) be damned!

Having touched on Renée Fleming singing "Summertime" in my last post, the vexed question of "crossover" singing has arisen. Perhaps no other aspect of operatic performing has raised more questions or caused more bile, vitriol, and occasional praise to be spewed forth (particularly in the case of Ms. Fleming and her "courageous," "inspiring," "foolhardy," and "despicable" forays into the pop, jazz, and Broadway fields). Are operatic singing's technique and training totally inappropriate when applied to other fields? Is it, indeed, even a matter of technique, or rather a matter of style…or experience…or temperament…or soul?

Like most things, operatic or not, sometimes it works (and reveals)…sometimes it doesn't. I think a little relaxation is in order. Let's just take things easy and gain what we can from performers who may wander out of their comfort zones and show perhaps unexpected sides to both us and themselves.

Perhaps the seminal exponent of this trend was the great Metropolitan Opera star Ezio Pinza when he crossed over to Broadway with SOUTH PACIFIC (1949). We might forget, but this was a very controversial move at the time.

But famous opera singers, of course, had been singing "pop" music for ages, and recording it, too. Here is Adelina Patti singing "Home, Sweet Home" (her famous encore) at the age of 62 in 1905. From the accompanying photos of her castle in Wales, she could talk with some experience about a "sweet home."

A favorite singer of mine…stylish, elegant, witty, while doing anything.

A sidebar…Ava Gardner singing the same piece from the MGM musical film. In the released film, she was dubbed by Annette Warren, although Gardner had been promised to do her own singing. So here she is, revealed, as also stylish, elegant, witty.

Stephanie Blythe doing Kate Smith with affection and a refreshing lack of condescension.

Eileen Farrell (and Leonard Bernstein, no less) in another of my candidates for best American (or anywhere) song.

Next post, we'll contemplate the journey back across the bridge, from the pop world to opera. Barbra Streisand sings Handel? I'm not kidding, so stay tuned!

A final question for all you readers: Who is closer to the "soul" of Maria Callas — Joan Sutherland or Billie Holiday?

Friday, January 9, 2015

A Look Back at 2014's Community Engagement Programs

This Season, the Community Engagement Department at BLO has welcomed two interns to our team, Queenie Fang and Paige Revens. Both Queenie and Paige are already accomplished artists and students, and they have been assisting with events and programming to gain experience in the field of arts administration. We asked them to reflect on the Community Engagement programs of 2014 for this New Year-themed blog post.

Happy New Year!

What does the New Year mean to you? A new beginning? An opportunity to push yourself further? As the Education and Community Engagement Department launches into 2015, let’s look back on the accomplishments and lessons that 2014 brought.

We took opera into the community through an engaging roster of events, including artistic presentations, production insights, and interactive educational programs for youth and adults, that explored the Company’s four productions that fell during the 2014 calendar year: Verdi’s Rigoletto, Bellini’s I Puritani, Verdi’s La Traviata, and Martin’s The Love Potion.

To kick off programming in 2014, in January and February, BLO Emerging Artists, Chelsea Basler and Omar Najmi, and BLO Resident Teaching Artist, Heather Gallagher, visited eight schools across Massachusetts. During these visits they introduced students to opera voice types, characters, and musical motives through interactive activities and performances of excerpts from Rigoletto. BLO also launched its first Music!Words!Opera! in-school residency program, coordinating a series of 10-week classroom visits by Ms. Gallagher to three classrooms!

Photo by Ben Gebo
Next up, BLO partnered with the French Cultural Center and the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts to present a program exploring Rigoletto. Coro Dante conductor, Kevin Galiè delivered a lecture on the history of Verdi’s opera and his inspiration from Victor Hugo’s play Le Roi s’Amuse. French-speaking actors from the French Cultural Center and BLO Artists performed three scenes from both the play and opera in their respective languages for comparison.

February’s Opera Night at the Boston Public Library featured Emmy Award-winning Arts & Entertainment Critic Joyce Kulhawik interviewing celebrated bass, Morris Robinson, in advance of his portrayal of Sparafucile in Rigoletto. In April, BLO Music Director, David Angus provided special insight into the score of Bellini’s bel canto gem, I Puritani, including its famous tour de force soprano arias, for the opera-goer and the opera-curious.

BLO also partnered with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to provide several events in our Signature Series. In March, we traced the influence of Victor Hugo, a superbly creative poet, novelist, playwright, critic, even an opera librettist, on a wide range of musical creations. And in April, we explored operatic “mad scenes” through the roles of Lucia in Lucia di Lammermoor and Elvira in I Puritani. Thanks to the performances of BLO Artists, we heard extreme, often poignantly beautiful voices from both musical and literary sources as these women attempted to exist outside the apparently normal and rational boundaries of their own cultures.

Photo by Ben Gebo
As part of BLO’s youth education programs in partnership with Wheelock Family Theatre, we offered two weekend workshops for ages 11-15 in the spring of 2014: Musical Characters: Developing Your Voice & Physicality in March, and Pitch Perfect: Bringing Your Individual Voice to Auditions & Roles in in May. The students were supremely talented and so excited to share their performances with friends and family at the end of each weekend!

BLO received fantastic news in May: an $18,000 grant from the BPS Arts Expansion Fund at EdVestors to expand our Music!Words!Opera! programming and offer professional development to Boston Public Schools teachers during the 2014-2015 school year. This has enabled us to take on 12 schools for artistic visits and residencies this season – we start in January 2015!

Photo by Liza Voll
We also had an exciting and busy end to the summer here at BLO! In August we collaborated with Boston Landmarks Orchestra and presented a program of scenes from past and upcoming productions. It was a wonderful evening, despite being rained out of our original performance location!

We participated in the Boston Public Library’s series “Concerts in the Courtyard.” Scenes were presented with selections of music from the upcoming season as well as some crowd favorites, such as Cinderella and Die Fledermaus. There was something for all ages at this wonderful afternoon performance!

We rounded out the month of August with our summer teacher training workshop for Music!Words!Opera! This event was led by Opera America trainers Clifford Brooks and Neil Ginsberg. Teachers from Boston and surrounding towns gathered at Boston University’s College of Fine Arts for this week-long workshop where they learned how to incorporate opera into their daily lessons with students. The week culminated with the teachers writing, staging, and performing their own original opera titled Voyage, a series of vignettes that depicted immigrant stories from Boston. 

Photos by Elizabeth Mullins

The 2014-15 Season opened in October with Verdi’s La Traviata and a beautiful gala on Opening Night. We also had an extremely well-attended final dress rehearsal, which was open to high school groups, college students, and Music!Words!Opera! teachers.

The Opera Night at the Boston Public Library event this fall included a lecture by Robert Stanton, professor at Boston College, regarding the various treatments of the Tristan and Isolde legend, along with selections of music from different settings of the famed love story.

October brought two fascinating Signature Series events to the Museum of Fine Arts. The first, titled Ancient Greek Myth and Opera, was led by Christine Kondoleon, the George D. and Margo Behrakis Senior Curator of Greek and Roman Art at the MFA, who highlighted some of the beautiful pieces of Greek art in the museum collection as well as some of the many opera characters that are based on Roman and Greek mythology and literature. Next up, Zarzuela and Tonadilla: Powerful Spanish Dramatic Music Traditions related to the Goya special exhibit on display. BLO coach/accompanist James Myers presented a lecture along with musical selections from BLO Artists.

Photo by Eric Antoniou
Our Opera Annex production of Frank Martin’s The Love Potion took place at Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline in November. Our Annex outreach programs began with a special design presentation for Temple community members, Adagio donors of BLO, and Music!Words!Opera! teachers, where the production team demonstrated how they created a stage in the round and used lighting in this unique space. BLO also provided a “backstage tour” for pre-school students at the Temple, showing over one hundred three-year-olds the amazing theatre we created and introducing them to Ms. Gallagher, who is also an Emerging Artist this Season and who performed in the opera!

2014 brought all these special events, not to mention our regular series of Pre-Performance Lectures, free half-hour opera previews before each performance at the Shubert Theatre, and Opera Annex talk-backs, engaging post-show panel discussions featuring members of the cast and creative team.

We love providing fulfilling and diverse experiences for our audiences and look forward to enhancing and expanding these Community Engagement programs in 2015!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

DR. VON LYRIC: A Little Warmth in the Depths of Winter

While making my way through the frigid streets of Boston yesterday and today, I have been thinking about the balmy days that will eventually come our way. Yes...summertime. So why not indulge a bit now and listen to some wildly different versions of what I consider possibly among the very greatest songs ever written.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BLO Thanks Governor Patrick!

Today, Governor Deval Patrick spends his last full day in office and completes the ceremonial "lone walk" down the front steps of the Massachusetts State House. As we look back on his eight years in office, we offer our thanks to Gov. Patrick for his tremendous support of the arts in Massachusetts!