Page 1

▼ Career Transitions

▼ Singers as Activists

▼ Anthony Roth Costanzo

Sound Design:

FALL 2 0 1 8  $5.99

BANE OR BOOST?

BY CHARLES S H A FA I E H

+ The News on Stage BY H E I D I WA L E S O N


World premieres

the mile-long opera: a biography of 7 o’clock David Lang/Anne Carson and Claudia Rankine The Mile-Long Opera Company October 2018, New York, NY

L’Enigma di Lea Benet Casablancas /Rafael Argullol Gran Teatre del Liceu February 2019, Barcelona, Spain

Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel Iain Bell/Emma Jenkins English National Opera March 2019, London, UK

The Phoenix Tarik O’Regan/John Caird Houston Grand Opera April 2019, Houston, TX

The Handmaid’s Tale (Premiere of reduced orchestration)

Poul Ruders/Paul Bentley Boston Lyric Opera May 2019, Boston, MA

Stonewall Iain Bell/ Mark Campbell New York City Opera June 2019, New York, NY

prisoner of the state David Lang (after Bouilly, Sonnleithner and Treitschke) New York Philharmonic June 2019, New York, NY

The Thirteenth Child Poul Ruders / Becky and David Starobin Santa Fe Opera July 2019, Santa Fe, NM

Star Cross’d Episode 2 Avner Dorman/ John Grimmet Houston Grand Opera April 2019, Houston, TX

Schlagt sie tot! Bo Holten/ Eva Sommestad Holten Malmö Opera May 2019, Malmö, Sweden

“The Second Violinist”; photo by Patrick Redmond, courtesy of Irish National Opera

musicsalesclassical.com


CONTENTS 4

BACK-TO-SCHOOL REPORT BY M A RC A . SCORCA

24

RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES News Stories as Opera Subjects B Y H E I D I WA L E S O N

I N N OVAT I O N S

6

SINGERS TAKE ON SOCIAL ISSUES

10

SONG AS SALVE FOR DEMENTIA PATIENTS

12

NEW TAX CODE’S IMPACT

14

HGO’S HOMECOMING

16

PEOPLE

NOAH STERN WEBER

20

CONVERSATION Three Experts Weigh in on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Kamala Sankaram’s Thumbprint at the 2014 PROTOTYPE Festival

30

SOUND DECISIONS Amplification: Scourge, or the Future of Opera?

36

40

NEXT STEPS Career Transitions for Singers

OA NEWS

BY FRED COHN

PUBLICATIONS

48

BY CH A RLES S H A FA I E H

O N T H E COV E R

56

MY FIRST OPERA

Susanna Phillips in the 2016 Metropolitan Opera production of Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin. Mark Grey supplied the sound design. (photo: Getty Images)

The magazine of OPERA America – the national service organization for opera, which leads and serves the entire opera community, supporting the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera

BY A NTHON Y R O T H C O S TA N Z O

FALL 2018  1


OFFICERS Timothy O’Leary Washington National Opera

Zizi Mueller Boosey & Hawkes, Ricordi NY

CH A I R

John Nesholm Trustee, Seattle Opera

Frayda B. Lindemann, Ph.D. Trustee, The Metropolitan Opera

Nicole Paiement Opera Parallèle

IM M E DI ATE PAST CHA I R M A N

Bill Palant Étude Arts

Wayne S. Brown Michigan Opera Theatre VICE - CHAI R

Laura Kaminsky

Jane DiRenzo Pigott Trustee, Lyric Opera of Chicago

VICE - CHAI R

Yuval Sharon The Industry

Kathryn Smith Madison Opera

Matthew Shilvock San Francisco Opera

VICE - CHAI R

Evan J. Hazell Trustee, Calgary Opera TREA S U R E R

Perryn Leech Houston Grand Opera SECR E TA RY

Marc A. Scorca PRES I DE N T/ CE O

BOARD OF DIRECTORS John E. Baumgardner Jr. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP Annie Burridge Austin Opera Ned Canty Opera Memphis Tassio Carvalho American Airlines Rena M. De Sisto Bank of America Larry Desrochers Manitoba Opera David B. Devan Opera Philadelphia Carol E. Domina Michael Egel Des Moines Metro Opera Robert Ellis Trustee, San Francisco Opera, Opera Parallèle Anthony Freud Lyric Opera of Chicago Barbara Glauber Trustee, New England Conservatory Denyce Graves-Montgomery Carol F. Henry Trustee, Los Angeles Opera Carol Lazier Trustee, San Diego Opera Susan G. Marineau Trustee, The Santa Fe Opera

2  O P E R A A M E R I C A

L. Michelle Smith AT&T Global Marketing Organization Jill Steinberg Trustee, National Sawdust Robert Tancer Trustee, Arizona Opera Ryan Taylor Minnesota Opera

EDITOR

Fred Cohn

FCohn@operaamerica.org A RT DIRECTION

Made Visible Studio A S S O C I AT E E D I T O R

Nicholas Wise

NWise@operaamerica.org A DV E R T I S I N G M A N AG E R

Vincent Covatto

VCovatto@operaamerica.org DIRECTOR OF M ARKETING A N D C O M M U N I C AT I O N S

Patricia Kiernan Johnson

PKJohnson@operaamerica.org

John G. Turner Trustee, Houston Grand Opera Dona D. Vaughn Opera Maine, Manhattan School of Music Roger Weitz Opera Omaha Carole Yaley Trustee, Central City Opera EX-OFFICIO MEMBERS James M. Barton Christina Loewen, Opera.ca Nicholas Payne, Opera Europa NATIONAL OPERA CENTER BOARD OF OVERSEERS James M. Barton, CHA I R John E. Baumgardner Jr. Larry Bomback L. Henry Cox III Douglas Cuomo Margee M. Filstrup Jeanne Goffi-Fynn, Ed.D. Jane A. Gross Virginia Lauridsen Karen Kriendler Nelson Frederick W. Peters Jane A. Robinson Anthony Rudel Michael Scimeca, M.D. Jeri Sedlar Thurmond Smithgall Robert Tancer Barbara Augusta Teichert Darren K. Woods

Opera America (ISSN – 1062 – 7243) is published in September, December, March and June. Copyright © 2018 by OPERA America. All rights reserved. This publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission. Editorial policy: The views expressed in this publication are those of the various authors for the purpose of encouraging discussion. Unless expressly noted, they do not reflect the formal policy, or necessarily the views, of OPERA America. To contact the editor, e-mail Editor@operaamerica.org. The deadline for advertising submissions is 45 days before publication date. The presence of advertising implies no endorsement of the products or services offered. For advertising rates, visit operaamerica.org/Advertising. OPERA America 330 Seventh Avenue New York, NY 10001 212.796.8620


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Download free case studies and other reports: wallacefoundation.org


Back-to-School Report Remember the day — back in the first week of third grade — when you were asked to write about your summer vacation? It was hard to fill a sheet of paper. Not this summer, after lots of travel, reading and reflection. A visit to the Bayreuth Festival made me think even more intensely about the audience experience. Europe’s heat wave made the un-air-conditioned auditorium nearly unbearable, with the temperature near 100 degrees at curtain time, making me question the festival’s unwavering dedication to formal attire. The gloriously restored Margravial Opera House in Bayreuth — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — has been air-conditioned, but not the Festspielhaus. Yes, the acoustics, orchestral playing, choral singing and sightlines were all extraordinary, but must suffering really be an inseparable part of great art? Here in the United States, the repertoire was more varied and the appetite for enjoyment more abundantly in evidence, but I continued to chafe at one particular element of the audience experience: the “othering” that takes place in our theaters. As we work to reward major donors for their generous and deeply appreciated support, we unwittingly diminish the “everyman” who buys a single ticket, perhaps for the first time. Company leaders scurry at intermission to join board members and stakeholders for a rushed drink — protected by summer interns guarding the doors with clipboards holding donor lists. Those leaders are exactly the people who could deliver a greater service to the company by circulating through the general audience, welcoming everyone to the opera, answering questions and encouraging their prompt return. Will new company leaders find ways to address issues like this? The high number of leadership positions in transition raises questions about the readiness of the next generation of opera company general directors. Do they have the skills required to lead ever more complex organizations? Are they willing to embrace the lifestyle of nonprofit arts leadership, jobs that require 24/7 attention to artists, staff, board members, patrons and community stakeholders? Are women stepping forward for these jobs, and are they being treated fairly by boards? OPERA America plays a role in training future leaders, but all of us can serve personally as mentors and coaches to promising aspirants. Toward the end of the summer, two noteworthy books crossed my desk: Mad Scenes and Exit Arias, Heidi Waleson’s account of the crises at New York City Opera, and Opera as Opera, Conrad L. Osborne’s exhaustive exploration of the essence of opera and the performance traditions that were central to opera’s success through the 20th century. Heidi’s work carries essential lessons for all opera companies about the dynamics of responsible governance. Conrad’s weighty tome is tougher sledding, but its provocations will give rise to spirited arguments around the operatic dinner table. Revelations of sexual harassment in our field continued to make headlines, and they remind us that creating a respectful, safe work environment for artists and staff demands unwavering vigilance. OPERA America has updated the anti-harassment resources on its website, which include a very informative recorded presentation from Opera Conference 2018 by Adrienne Davis of Washington University. Eliminating sexual abuse and assault from our field is an obligation that requires immediate and constant attention. Increasing diversity across our field is also an essential duty. Early this fall, we will launch a new hub on our website with OPERA America’s equity statement and a variety of resources for our members to help them expand the participation of people who have been underrepresented on stage, in the office and around the board table, enriching the entire field in the process.

Marc A. Scorca President/CEO

4  O P E R A A M E R I C A


I N N OVAT I O N S

SONGS FOR SOCIETY

Davóne Tines

Julia Bullock

Chabrelle Williams (upper right), a Holland Fellow at Opera Omaha, with families at the Learning Community Center of South Omaha

R

yan McKinny has a busy opera career that takes him from Bayreuth to Hawaii to Buenos Aires. But this summer, in the middle of his Santa Fe Opera run as J. Robert Oppenheimer in Doctor Atomic, the bass-baritone spent a week in Washington, D.C. on a non-opera pursuit: He took part in a training program for Search for Common Ground, an international peacebuilding organization that, as its name suggests, seeks to relieve violent conflicts through appeals to the shared human feelings on both sides. His involvement with SFCG is a natural step for a man deeply involved with social issues. McKinny regularly takes part in protest marches and writes letters to legislators; his Twitter entries are as often impassioned

6  O P E R A A M E R I C A

political comments as they are news of his career. This coming spring, he is planning to work, in a series of classes and a concert, with the Jerusalem Youth Chorus, which unites young Palestinians and Israelis. “The ‘Ryan McKinny is a great opera singer’ story doesn’t really speak to me,” he says. “The world needs art, but it needs art that breaks through the barriers that we have in place. The idea of using what I do to bridge different groups in conflict fits in with where I am as an artist.” McKinny is one of a number of singers who are using their art and their celebrity to involve themselves with social causes. Tenor Lawrence Brownlee, who has long served as an advocate and fundraiser for the autismawareness organization Autism Speaks,

recently offered the world premiere of Cycles of My Being, a song cycle by Tyshawn Sorey with text by Terrance Hayes, dramatizing the male AfricanAmerican experience. Bass-baritone Davóne Tines has toured with the hourlong recital Were You There, a response to the rash of police violence against black people, and just took part in the Boston world premiere of The Black Clown, an evening-length setting of Langston Hughes poetry, offering a meditation on the history of blacks in America. “The best music-making that I can do has a clear connection to my own existence,” Tines says. “Rather than just presenting a concert, I want to give a concert with a reason. If you can find an ever-more-present connection between yourself and what you’re presenting to the audience, it’s an opportunity for them to engage more strongly in what you have to say.” “My parents were both involved with social justice,” says soprano Julia Bullock, who brings a distinct

Bowie Verschuuren (Davóne Tines), Simon Pauly (Ryan McKinny), Christian Steiner (Julia Bullock), Opera Omaha

Ryan McKinny


I N N OVAT I O N S

“BR A IN EX ERCISE” FOR DEMENTIA PA T I E N T S

N

o cure has yet been found for Alzheimer’s disease. But singers and opera companies have been quietly working to provide therapy, through music, to people with Alzheimer’s and other types of age-related dementia. Three years ago, Nancy Gustafson, a leading lyric soprano of the 1990s and 2000s, founded Songs by Heart, an organization that brings singers into memory care centers. Gustafson was spurred by experiences with her own mother, whose advanced dementia severely limited her verbal expression. “I found it heartbreaking — if you were able to get two words out of her, it was like a home run,” she says. But one day during the fall of 2014, 10  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Gustafson sat down at the piano at her mother’s memory care unit to play Christmas carols. “My mother starts singing along,” says Gustafson. “After about 15 minutes, I turned and looked to her, and the first words out of her mouth were a critique of my playing: ‘That’s not very good.’ So I started playing more songs, and kept her singing for 20 minutes, and when I turned and looked, she said, ‘That’s much better.’” Songs by Heart now replicates this type of singalong therapy at nearly 50 memory care centers across the country. The organization sends a music therapist to train the centers’ staff, as well as the pianists and singers, who, Gustafson explains, are

often recruited with the help of operacompany administrators. The therapy can enhance mood and increase verbalization, as well as bring ancillary joy and relief for the caregivers of dementia patients. “I knew what we were doing was right,” Gustafson says, “when we got a call from a woman, saying, ‘We can’t have [the therapy] stop. My grandmother used to be aggressive, but when we see her now, she’s still singing.’” Music is a particularly effective therapy because, in an Alzheimer’s patient, the brain stem and the brain’s limbic system are still able to respond to rhythm, explains Linda Maguire, a soprano-turned-neuroscientist specializing in music therapy. Maguire was inspired to pursue neuroscience after visiting an elderly friend at a memory care unit; when Maguire sat down at the piano to play songs like “Amazing Grace” and the Canadian national anthem for the patients there, she saw results similar to those experienced by Gustafson. “Music is like a drug,” says Maguire. “It oxygenates the lungs and brain and stimulates tissue; it’s a form of exercise,

Sally Jubb

Soprano Alison McNeill leads a Memory Spinners session for Scottish Opera


P E O P L E

Susan Ashbaker, artistic and general director of Tri-Cities Opera since 2014, has given up her general director duties. She retains the role of artistic director but has accepted a position as associate professor at Westminster Choir College. Howard Bender, formerly a vice president at Virginia Opera, has joined Florida Grand Opera as chief development officer.

Sue Elliott, a former OPERA America fellow who was Seattle Opera’s director of education from 2010–2015, was named director of Boston Symphony Orchestra’s new Tanglewood Learning Institute, an adult-education center. Opera Carolina appointed Beth Hansen, a longtime board member, as executive director. James Meena has transitioned from general director to artistic director of the company.

Jamison Braxton

Pittsburgh Opera hired Michael Braxton as its new director of development. Keith Cerny, general director and CEO of Calgary Opera, is leaving the company in January 2019 to become president and CEO of the Fort Worth Symphony.

Chu

Jane Chu, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, has joined PBS as an arts adviser. Adam Diegel resigned from his post as artistic director of OPERA San Antonio.

Kentucky Opera appointed Barbara Lynne Jamison¸ director of programs and partnerships at Seattle Opera, as its new general director. Jamison was a 2014 participant in OPERA America’s Leadership Intensive.

New England Conservatory named Andrea Kalyn, currently dean of Oberlin Conservatory of Music, as its new president, effective this January. She will be the first woman to hold the position.

Lang

Hicks

Pittsburgh Festival Opera hired Brian Edward as its marketing director. 16  O P E R A A M E R I C A

The Metropolitan Opera hired Sophie Joyce, former head of casting at English National Opera, as director of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. She replaces Michael Heaston, who accepted a position as director of opera studies at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music. Sam Lowry, formerly director of audience development at Sarasota Opera, is joining Arizona Opera as associate director of development. Charles MacKay, general director of The Santa Fe Opera from 2008 through this year, was honored upon his retirement with an August 25 tribute dinner, held on the grounds of the opera house.

Mary Jane Johnson has taken over as general director of Amarillo Opera, replacing David O’Dell.

Aidan Lang will step down as general director of Seattle Opera at the end of its 2018–2019 season to assume the same role at Welsh National Opera.

San Diego Opera hired Dominic Domingo as director of artistic administration and Andrea Puente-Catán as major gifts officer in charge of Hispanic affairs. The company, in partnership with the SDSU School of Music and Dance, appointed Alan E. Hicks as director of opera theatre, a new shared position between the two organizations.

director of artistic administration (see “Next Steps,” page 36). Lomeli was a participant in OPERA America’s 2016 Leadership Intensive.

Lomeli

At The Dallas Opera, Drew Field, formerly technical director, was named director of productions and technical operations, and David Lomeli was promoted from casting manager and manager of the Hart Institute for Women Conductors to

McKern

Chandra McKern, a participant in OPERA America’s 2016 Leadership Intensive, was promoted from managing director to executive director at Pensacola Opera. Jerome Shannon, the company’s music director and principal conductor, has taken on the additional role of artistic director, replacing Kyle Marrero. San Diego Opera named Jeannie Posner as its chief financial officer. Allison Rabbitt was appointed Seattle Opera’s director of development, having previously served as the company’s associate director of development. At HERE Arts Center, General Manager Meredith Lynsey Schade was promoted to producing director, and Director of Advancement Brenna Thomas was promoted to director of external affairs. Virginia Opera hired John-Paul Schaefer as its director of development for central and northern Virginia. Jennifer Schulte left her post as executive director of Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre.

Eric Chismar (Braxton), Strauss Peyton Studios (Chu), Philip Newton (Lang), Karen Almond (Lomeli), Kentucky Opera (Jamison), Stephen Dillon Photography (McKern)

TRANSITIONS


INVISIBLE BARRIERS

Three experts in equity, diversity and inclusion — Roberto Bedoya, Mark Kent and Melanie Powell-Robinson — talk to Marc A. Scorca, OPERA America’s president and CEO, about the impediments that can keep people of color away from attending opera. Hint: It isn’t just ticket prices. 20  O P E R A A M E R I C A


MEL ANIE POWELLROBINSON

Diversity Awareness Partnership

Melanie Powell-Robinson is the executive director of Saint Louis’ Diversity Awareness Partnership, which acts as a catalyst to increase awareness and education about diversity and inclusion.

SCORCA: Opera Conference 2018 was your first opera conference. What impressions did you take away? POWELL-ROBINSON: I really enjoyed meeting so many people who were dedicated to their communities and to making opera more diverse. After the sessions, people were excited to talk with me about ways to be more inclusive. Most recognized there was a need to evolve but were unsure of how to start. They were looking at the big-picture items, wondering, “How do I change a whole system?” But you shouldn’t focus on moving the big boulder; the question is, how do you take the incremental steps to make change — in your organization, in your community? Once those steps gain traction, you see that boulder move. Diversity needs to be verbalized by our leaders, who should be asking, “What are we doing to keep people from the outside from feeling included?” Then you have to stop doing those things. The change has to come from the top down and the bottom up.   Your exposure to opera has been at one of the most accessible companies in the country, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Despite the connotations of snobbery and exclusivity that opera brings up, my guess is that you haven’t given up on us.

I certainly haven’t. I really enjoyed the experience, although it isn’t an art form I was exposed to in my youth. Many traditionally have not seen themselves reflected in opera, so they didn’t find a love for it early on. If you think about the ballet, there was a time when the African-American body was not seen as suitable for Swan Lake; it took some very intentional exposure and marketing before people could say, “I can see myself there.” A large number of minority-group members have disposable income that could support the opera, yet we find that they’re not necessarily turning up in droves to the art form. So is it only about the dollars, or is there something deeper? My guess is you would answer the question that there’s something deeper, which probably relates to a sense of belonging, of feeling welcome, of not feeling like the “other.” Absolutely. And it isn’t only race-related. Would a group of high school students feel comfortable coming in the way that they dress? Would they feel like they belong?   We point to operas like Champion, which OTSL did so well. And yet, I’ve spoken to some people of color who say, “I don’t want to have to wait for the opera that talks about the AfricanAmerican or the Latino experience. I want to go to Carmen or La bohème.” I agree. I think it’s extremely important to not segregate our market, thinking only certain topics will appeal to certain audiences. But we do want to see reflections of ourselves. We want diversity across all of the offerings. If opera really wants to change who sits in the audience, then it has to welcome diverse artists to represent all characters. Some say there is a shortage of diverse artists in the field, so we need to look at the talent pipeline. When we do, let’s not forget to include possible socioeconomic issues in the conversation. How do we develop artists and audiences in schools that don’t offer any exposure to opera? How do we continue to support minorities that find a love of the arts and want to climb up the ranks? How do we invest early in a diverse opera community both on stage and off?   Mark Kent feels strongly that the sense of otherness can relate to how any person of any color dresses and behaves. The socioeconomic barrier may be even stronger than the racial barrier.

I definitely think it’s layers upon layers. If I’m going to spend $300 to be entertained, why wouldn’t I choose to put myself in a space where I feel that I am included, where I see myself either in the art form or in the audience?   If there were one issue you wish we’d examine at our next conference, what would that be? An exploration of continued conversation. When an audience has received the art form’s energy, what can we do to engage them in conversation? How do we get them not just to sit and receive, but to participate? Opera companies should be sending their staff, board members and volunteers out to create partnerships with community organizations and establish a safe space for people to communicate what may be differing philosophies. Have you seen successful instances of this in other art forms? At the movies, you see groups of people talking about what they just saw on screen. In universities, they dissect plays, movies, even hip-hop. How do you get dialogue opportunities like that for opera? Maybe there should be time for tea or wine and conversation to really break down some of the barriers. Maybe some of what feels like intentional exclusivity is simply that I don’t know the person next to me.   When you’re a newcomer at a church, you have to stand up and shake hands with the people around you. I personally cringe at that; then I wind up having really lovely conversations. I’ve been gifted with a sense of community and I go out smiling. It is never comfortable to be the outsider — it’s like being 13 years old all over again. You think that you’re being watched and judged based on how you’re responding. I think it would be great to get more third graders into the opera house. Then maybe by the time that they’re in middle school or high school, the newness won’t feel so overwhelming. Sure, there are plenty of people at the opera who might resist the change, and not be interested in their new neighbors, but I believe that there would be a lot who would stay around and enjoy having a conversation with someone very different from themselves. I definitely think that there’s an opportunity for people who want to see diversity across all art forms to get involved and really help to be the change that we want to see. F A L L 2 0 1 8   21


Keith Polakoff, Ken Howard, Ken Howard

Clockwise from above: Gregorio González, Todd Strange and Jason Switzer in Fallujah at Long Beach Opera; Edward Parks (center) in The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs at The Santa Fe Opera; Andrew Stenson and Mika Shigematsu in An American Soldier at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

24  O P E R A A M E R I C A


from the

New works about recent events and real people pay off for opera companies. B y H e i d i Wa l e s o n F A L L 2 0 1 8   25


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S

U O

D N

S N O I S I C E D AM PLI FIC ATI ON: I S I T A S CO U R G E?

OR A HARB I NGE R OF T H E FUT U R E?

by C harle s Sha faieh F A L L 2 0 1 8   31


ention bringing electronic sound equipment into the opera house to amplify, lightly reinforce or enhance the traditional opera experience, and it prompts an almost verbatim refrain from many administrators, composers, sound designers and music directors: Opera’s majesty derives from the fantastical power of the unamplified voice to project through a hall. In a 1999 op-ed, shortly after the disclosure by Lincoln Center that its New York State Theater would be fitted with an amplification system, Chicago Tribune music critic John von Rhein wrote that “the time is now for art to stand up to science and defend its integrity against the potential abuses of ‘sound enhancement.’” And Marilyn Horne has 32  O P E R A A M E R I C A

called amplification the “kiss of death for good singing.” But much of the opera community is moving beyond this form of purism. Amplification is increasingly becoming a necessity, especially in alternative, acoustically challenged spaces. More composers, too, are writing with amplification in mind, with the result that more singers are engaging with the technology. “I think conservative opera-lovers get nervous at the thought of amplification as a technical modification of what they love the most: the unamplified voice in an acoustically perfect space,” the director Yuval Sharon wrote in the compendium Opera: Passion, Power and Politics. “But why subject all future operas to the same conditions? ... I believe most strongly in opera’s future when I see composers and librettists integrate the latest technology directly into the work they’re writing.” Still, not all antipathy toward amplification is unjustified, as sound designer and composer Mark Grey admits. “Singers can be projected in a way that, out of the gate, the audience knows it’s going to be a

reinforced show,” says Grey, noting that overly aggressive amplification is a common mistake made by his peers, especially those bringing a musicaltheater sensibility to the opera house. Instead, Grey strives to make his work unnoticeable. He considers himself a type of performer, one who must pay attention to the colors of the voices, the timbre of the orchestra and the acoustics of the room itself to create a perfect, unobtrusive balance. “What I create is a kind of hyperreality,” he explains. “For example, in the back rows of a big house, you get the distance effect. If someone coughs next to you, it’s five times louder to your ears than what’s coming from the stage. Your ears acclimatize very quickly, and audio technology can extend the transparency of the stage to those last seats so they still feel really connected to the sound coming from there.” “You see what’s the minimum amount you can do just to pick up on the things you’d like to hear a bit more and clarify the spectrum of sound,” says Ian Dearden of the London-based sound design firm Sound Intermedia. “In a great hall, this is what the acoustic

James Matthew Daniel

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Lauren Worsham in the 2012 world premiere of Dog Days at Montclair State University


TALK THERAPY

Ken Howard (Regina), Ben Arons (Miranda)

Susan Graham, James Morris and Susanna Phillips are all used to making themselves easily heard in the 3,800-seat Metropolitan Opera House. But in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ production this spring of Marc Blitzstein’s Regina at the 987-seat Loretto-Hilton Center, all three singers, along with the rest Graham in OTSL’s Regina of the cast, used body mics. The reason the creative team decided to employ amplification was the specific nature of the work itself. Regina is an opera, but it was written for the Broadway stage, and like most works of American musical theater, it tells its story through dialogue as well as singing. “Singers, especially opera singers, don’t know how to use their voices for dialogue,” says Stephen Lord, the production’s conductor. “It’s a whole different kind of vocal production. I thought they’d need help — especially in a theater where the sound is so directional, and if you’re facing right, the people on the left won’t hear it.” “We decided, ‘If we do this show, we better do it right,’” says James Robinson, Regina’s director. “There’s so much dialogue, and a lot of it is underscored, pretty heavily. You’ll have a musical number, then maybe two lines of dialogue in the middle, with underscoring. To have singers screaming dialogue over the orchestra is the worst thing you can do with this show.” The opera veterans in the cast were at first taken aback by the use of amplification, but Robinson and Lord easily convinced them that it was the right choice. “We told them, ‘The singing needs to come off as dialogue, and the dialogue as singing,’” says Robinson. “They all got it. It was a way to be more nuanced, and it helped them turn in subtler performances.” Based on this writer’s observation, the sound design by Michael Hooker fulfilled its function well: Regina is a piece that demands moment-tomoment comprehension of its text, and in OTSL’s production, every word could be easily heard. —Fred Cohn

Kamala Sankaram in her opera Miranda at HERE in 2012

does for you, but unconventional spaces can often destroy what you want or accentuate what you don’t want. People in the orchestra pit don’t need me rebalancing them, but I can be a good colleague by helping what they’re doing speak with more clarity — like helping the upper particles of the strings, for instance. It’s about getting involved but remaining invisible.” Regardless of how concealed the sound designer may be from the audience, the singers are always aware of their interventions. That has prompted another major fear: that a shift toward microphones will engender a change in how classical singing is taught. “People have valid concerns in the opera world that we don’t want to affect people’s technique,” comments countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, who has used amplification in numerous contexts, most notably to achieve the spectral effects required in Kaija Saariaho’s Only the Sound Remains. “Broadway, for example, has become over-amplified, and that has had an effect on people’s singing over time. [But when amplification is used in opera,] singers are often undermiked, and that can make you feel like you need to give more. You wind up with more problematic acoustics than you had previously. That’s why it’s important to have a designer artful enough to create an experience for the singers to sound good, singing with our own technique.” Many seminal recent works have been written explicitly for amplification — a trend that started three decades ago, with John Adams’ Nixon in China, and has continued in the work of composers like David T. Little and Kamala Sankaram. Beth Morrison, whose Beth Morrison Projects has premiered over 50 works using amplification, sees the technology as a way of expanding the materials that composers have at their command. “This is where composers are going, and we need to go with them,” she argues. “Neither [amplified nor acoustic] is better or worse. It simply just is. Whatever composers are hearing in their heads is the sound we should be producing, and I don’t know why, as a field, we have to put some kind of judgment on this.” “For me, the choice of whether a piece is amplified comes down to the story I’m telling,” says David T. Little. “In the case of two of my operas, Soldier Songs and F A L L 2 0 1 8   33


When a singer leaves the stage —

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— what follows? BY FRED COHN

O N T H E FA C E O F I T, Jonathan Blalock had the kind of career that most singers would envy. He had become a go-to tenor for new works, appearing in the premieres of Gregory Spears’ Paul’s Case, Mark Adamo’s Becoming Santa Claus and Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls. But when he calculated the time it took to prepare, rehearse and perform a role, he came to a disheartening conclusion. “I divided my fees by the time I was putting in and found that I wasn’t even making minimum wage,” he says. “At a certain point you have to start ‘adulting’ and taking control of your life.” In 2017, at age 35, Blalock gave up the career that he had pursued so assiduously. He stopped accepting new engagements and started looking for new ways to make a living. The impasse that Blalock faced is a common one. The very nature of singing makes a stage career finite. Only in rare cases will singers sustain their stage work through the end of their professional lives; most of them stop appearing in opera well before they reach normal retirement age. The second careers that singers find can be in fields as diverse as health care, law, social work and finance. But a lot of them stay in the field; in fact, opera leaders have found that singers can offer a level of knowledge about the field that they are unlikely to find elsewhere. Almost every American opera company lists former singers among their administration ranks, and quite a few general directors — such as Annie Burridge at Austin Opera, Ian Derrer at The Dallas Opera, Peggy Kriha Dye at Opera Columbus, Joseph Specter at Arizona Opera and Ryan Taylor at Minnesota Opera — began their opera careers on the other side of the footlights. Blalock’s quest for a post-performing career has taken him to Opera Saratoga, where he works as development and patron services manager: a job whose psychological pressures, he notes, resemble those of performing. “Just like when you put yourself onstage, you have to take risks; you have to put yourself on the line,” he says. “I used to have anxiety at auditions. But now it’s not just my reputation that’s at stake, but the company’s impact on the community.” Burridge went through New England Conservatory and the young artist

F A L L 2 0 1 8   37


N E W S

Anh Lee, OTSL’s assistant director of marketing, at the Opening Session

Sydney Mancasola in OTSL’s La traviata

Kira Hudson Banks, associate professor of psychology at Saint Louis University, at the session “Moving Toward an Equitable Organizational Culture.”

A Focus on Inclusion: Opera Conference 2018

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ith the title “Lifting Many Voices,” Opera Conference 2018 zeroed in on strategies for making opera a more diverse and inclusive art form. Composer John Adams addressed the theme in his keynote speech: “Today we are much focused on diversity, on identity and on finding alternatives to the dominant culture,” he said. “But a change in

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culture — if it is to be a societal one, a refocusing on the identity and diversity of its creators, presenters and audience — will not usher in a new canon without a genuine musical and dramatic revolution.” Adams’ words set the tenor for the annual conference, which from June 20 to 24 drew more than 650 opera professionals from across North

America to St. Louis. The sessions probed issues of equity, diversity and inclusion from a variety of angles — from a panel on recognizing and undoing racism within organizational culture; to a discussion, led by OA President/CEO Marc A. Scorca, identifying inherited opera-world practices that make newcomers feel unwelcome; to an all-conference roundtable addressing sexual harassment and assault in the workplace. The conference also provided sessions tailored to various professions within the opera field. The session “A Holistic Approach to Customer Service” gave marketers a chance to examine the entire customer experience, from before a ticket is purchased to after the curtain goes down. “The Art of Asking” provided development staff the opportunity to talk shop about successful donor meetings. Artists and artistic administrators came together to discuss life after performing in “Career Transitions for Artists.” Roundtable discussions for the various professional specialties also provided informal settings for people to share common concerns and best practices. With Opera Theatre of Saint Louis as the host of the conference, attendees had the opportunity to take in several productions, including the new fulllength version of An America Soldier by Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang; Marc Blitzstein’s rarely performed Regina, starring Susan Graham; and a new production of La traviata, with Patricia Racette making her directorial debut. At the annual business meeting, eight new OA board members were elected: Annie Burridge, general director and CEO of Austin Opera; Anthony Freud, general director, president and CEO of Lyric Opera of Chicago; Carol F. Henry, trustee of LA Opera; Susan G. Marineau, trustee of The Santa Fe Opera; Robert S. Tancer, trustee of Arizona Opera; Ryan Taylor, president and general director of Minnesota Opera; Roger Weitz, general director of Opera Omaha; and Carole Yaley, trustee of Central City Opera. To view select sessions from the conference, visit OPERA America’s YouTube channel. Next year’s conference will take place June 13 to 16 in San Francisco, with San Francisco Opera as the host company.

Maurice Meredith (Anh Lee), Maurice Meredith (Kira Hudson Banks), Ken Howard (Sydney Mancasola)

OA


OC18: THOUGHTS TO TAKE HOME

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A LEGACY OF PRI V ILEGE “We have to acknowledge that there are certain implicit biases and privileges that we as opera companies entertain — we have a history of immense wealth, of immense privilege. ... We have to be aware of that when we go out into the community and be ready to break down some of those biases.” — Anh Lee, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ assistant director of marketing, at the Opening Session CA LLS TO ACTION “The stories we tell as artists, whether they are abstract or specific, reflect how we feel about the world we live in — that’s what we’re here for,” said composer Laura Kaminsky at the session “Opera Artists as Activists,” explaining that for her, art and activism are inseparable. She recounted how her first opera, As One, was spurred by a New York Times article about a trans woman who, after she transitioned, would not be able to remain married to her wife, as the state where she lived hadn’t yet legalized same-sex marriage. “That’s the stuff of opera,” said Kaminsky, “because it asks the question, ‘Who are you in the societal, political and social structure, and how will you decide how to be?’”

Breaking norms. Breaking vows. Breaking free. JOHANN STRAUSS II’S

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C H E C K YO U R B I A S “Whenever someone tells me that they’re colorblind, I think, ‘You should get to the ER, you’re having a stroke,’ because it’s just impossible. ... We are all biased in some way, shape, form or fashion, and we need to constantly check ‘Are my actions offending someone?’ Whether you’re black, white, no matter what you are, you have to constantly check and reflect on that.” — Mark Kent, president of The Biome Foundation, at the session “Recognizing and Undoing Racism” T H E D E M O C R AT I Z AT I O N O F C U LT U R E OPERA America’s president and CEO, Marc A. Scorca, described the salient points from consulting firm LaPlaca Cohen’s 2017 “Culture Track” study, which reports on attitudes and behaviors of U.S. cultural consumers. Among the report’s findings is that a “democratization of culture” has emerged: Americans now have an expanded definition of culture that includes things like public street art, food and drink, and festivals, along with “traditional” philanthropy-supported cultural institutions, like museums and opera companies. “Now, culture can be anything from Caravaggio to Coachella, Tannhäuser to taco trucks,” the report states. #M e T o o TA K E S C E N T E R S TA G E “You want people to be comfortable; you want people to be friendly. But in this environment, it is impossible not to open your eyes and be aware — sometimes hyperaware — of when there is a strong potential of boundaries being crossed. I’ve been in the business a long time, and the practice has been to keep your mouth shut and look away. And that is no longer an option.” —Marsha LeBoeuf, Washington National Opera’s costume director, at the session “Confronting Sexual Harassment, Abuse and Assault”

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F A L L 2 0 1 8   41


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N E W S

Leading the Way to Parity

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aura Kaminsky’s Some Light Emerges, Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up and Rachel J. Peters’ Rootabaga Country have some significant elements in common. All three works had their world premieres in the past year. And all of them were funded through OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers (OGFC) program. Founded five years ago with support from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, OGFC has to date awarded nearly $900,000 toward repertoire by female composers, with the aim of promoting gender

equity and diversifying the works produced by opera companies. The program has yielded significant returns on its investment in works by women: On the horizon for the coming season are the premieres of Jeanine Tesori’s Blue and Odaline de la Martinez’s Slavery Opera Trilogy. This year, OGFC, through its Commissioning Grants arm, is providing a total of $98,000 for commissions from five companies. Three of the composers represented — Jennifer Higdon, Mary Kouyoumdjian

and Michi Wiancko — are firsttime OGFC grantees. Kamala Sankaram, composer of two of the funded commissions, received a Discovery Grant in 2015 for Looking at You, which has now garnered a Commissioning Grant for Opera on Tap. (While Commissioning Grants of up to $50,000 are awarded to the producing organizations in support of commissions, Discovery Grants of up to $15,000, adjudicated separately, are bestowed on the composers themselves.)

OPERA PHILADELPHIA

BETH MORRISON PROJECTS

Ashes (working title) Jennifer Higdon, composer; Jerre Dye, librettist

Adoration Mary Kouyoumdjian, composer; Royce Vavrek, librettist

In Higdon’s first chamber opera, a woman claims to have incinerated masterpieces stolen by her son, in an effort to destroy evidence and clear his name. Based on a true story.

In this adaptation of Atom Egoyan’s 2008 film, a high-school writing assignment triggers viral hysteria

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OPERA ON TAP Looking at You

Kamala Sankaram, composer; Rob Handel, librettist

This techno-noir music-theater piece confronts the issue of privacy in today’s digitized society. Set inside a corporate headquarters — and integrating data mined from the audience in real time — it tells a story of love and espionage: Edward Snowden meets Casablanca.

WASHINGTON NATIONAL OPERA Taking Up Serpents Kamala Sankaram, composer; Jerre Dye, librettist

This hourlong work explores the controversial world of religious snake-handling. When a fire-andbrimstone preacher is dangerously bitten by one of his own snakes, his estranged daughter is forced to return home and confront her troubled upbringing.

ON SITE OPERA Lady Murasaki and the Tale of Genji (working title)* Michi Wiancko, composer; Deborah Brevoort, librettist

This one-act, familyfriendly opera, to be staged in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Astor Court, is inspired by The Tale of Genji, an 11th-century novel written by a lady-in-waiting in Japan’s imperial court. *Co-commissioned and developed by On Site Opera, MetLiveArts and American Lyric Theater.

JD Scott (Higdon), Dominica Eriksen (Kouyoumdjian), Dario Acosta (Sankaram), Nicholas Meyer (Wiancko)

2 018 O G F C : C O M M I S S I O N I N G G R A N T S


P U B L I C AT I O N S

Mad Scenes and Exit Arias: The Death of the New York City Opera and the Future of Opera in America By Heidi Waleson Metropolitan Books

Drawing on extensive research and reporting, Waleson, the opera critic of The Wall Street Journal, recounts the history of New York City Opera, from its roots as “the people’s opera” in 1943 through its 1966 move to Lincoln Center to its 2013 bankruptcy. From the beginning, Waleson reports, the company balanced an ambitious artistic program on precarious financial supports.

The La Traviata Affair: Opera in the Age of Apartheid By Hilde Roos University of California Press

Race, politics and opera production during apartheid South Africa intersect in this historiographic work on the Eoan Group, a “colored” cultural organization that performed opera in the Cape from 1933 to 1980. Drawing upon a trove of primary source materials, the author shows how the ensemble, despite its unquestionable devotion to the art form, became hopelessly compromised by politics. 48  O P E R A A M E R I C A

Mad Love: An Introduction to Opera By Vivien Schweitzer Basic Books

Schweitzer, a musician and critic, offers an overview of the art form’s history, from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo through contemporary works like Brokeback Mountain and The Death of Klinghoffer. The author brings her own impassioned perspective to the genre’s major composers, its most influential performers and its long-standing controversies.

Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein By Jamie Berstein Harper

The eldest daughter of Leonard Bernstein offers an intimate look at her complex, charismatic and often troubled father, the family he raised, and the music he composed. The memoir includes recollections of the famous figures in Bernstein’s orbit, such as the Kennedys, Richard Avedon, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins and Lauren Bacall.

Jarmila Novotná: My Life in Song

By Jarmila Novotná Edited by William V. Madison University Press of Kentucky

Czech soprano Jarmila Novotná died in 1994, but her English-language memoirs are now being published for the first time. The book chronicles her extraordinary career, which took her from Prague to Salzburg (singing under Toscanini) to the Met, Broadway and Hollywood.

Opera as Opera: The State of the Art By Conrad L. Osborne Proposito Press

Osborne offers a wide-ranging consideration of opera’s essence, arguing that the art form as it exists today has lost touch with the elements of compelling performance, instead favoring auteurial production methods and cultural revisionism. He supports his theories through detailed discussions of the productions, films and recordings he has encountered during his decadeslong career as a critic.


M Y

F I R S T

O P E R A

Anthony Roth Costanzo

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When the show ended, Pavarotti arranged the curtain calls on the fly. I was standing there in my shepherd’s costume, and it seemed like I wasn’t going to get to go out there, but at the end he looked at me, stuck out his hand and took me out with him. Perhaps shrewdly, because he got a huge hand — everyone went wild. That was a very operatic experience. I was 13, still singing soprano and not even thinking about it. But my colleagues were saying, “You already have hair on your arms; maybe your voice has already changed and you’re a countertenor.” I had no idea what a countertenor was then, but I began exploring. Pei-Fen had me singing all kinds of wacky material, from Liszt’s Petrarch sonnets to “Glitter and Be Gay.” I worked with Michaela Martens, who had been in Turn of the Screw, on bringing my head voice to middle C. When I sang for Steven Blier, he said I sounded like a screaming banshee, but he got me to work with Bejun Mehta, who in turn recommended me to his own teacher, Joan Patenaude-Yarnell. At first she said, “No, no, no — I don’t babysit singers, thank you,” but after she heard me sing she said, “You’re sticking with me.” We’ve been together 20 years now. The Marriage of Figaro was the first opera I ever saw as an audience member, in 1998 at the Met. I had already immersed myself in it: When I was cast in the film A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, James Ivory, the director, inserted a scene where I sang “Voi che sapete.” Later on, when I was 17, I ended up singing the whole role of Cherubino with Opera Santa Barbara. The Met Figaro had an amazing cast — Renée Fleming, Cecilia Bartoli and Bryn Terfel — and I began listening to their CDs avidly. I also went to performances with my countertenor idols: David Daniels as Sesto in Julius Caesar at the Met; Bejun as Armindo in Partenope at New York City Opera. (I later sang that role there myself.) I became obsessed with opera, but never as an outsider looking in. It was always as an insider making a career in the field. Anthony Roth Costanzo’s immersive operatic installation Glass Handel recently had its premiere during Opera Philadelphia’s O18 festival, and will be seen in New York City in November. His debut solo album, ARC, was just released on Decca Gold.

Matthew Placek

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hen I was six, growing up in North Carolina, I started taking piano, but I was really bad at sight-reading. So my teacher, Pei-Fen Liu, said, “Why don’t we try singing the notes from the page before we try playing them?” It turned out, I really liked singing. She started me on “Summertime,” and just a couple of years later I was doing shows in North Carolina, 15 of them over two or three years: The King and I, Gypsy, Winthrop in The Music Man. When I was 11, I told my parents: “I want this to be for real — I want to be on Broadway.” They said sure, and we flew to New York for auditions. I’d go to cattle calls with 500 children, and eventually ended up as the kid in the national tour of Falsettos. I did a bunch of shows for Playwrights Horizons and toured with Marie Osmond in The Sound of Music, playing various von Trapp children. I had an opportunity to audition for Miles in Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at the New Jersey Opera Festival. I didn’t know anything about opera and I certainly didn’t understand the complexity of the music, but Michael Pratt, the conductor, said, “I think you can do it,” and he cast me. I had been singing in theaters for a while, so I sort of knew my way around. I also had a natural facility with the high stuff. Turn of the Screw is a complicated story in its psychology: Is the Governess seeing the ghosts or hallucinating them? Have the children been abused? My parents, who taught at Duke University, are both psychologists, and my mother, Susan Roth, is a leading authority about post-traumatic stress disorder, specializing in child sexual abuse. We’d all drive down to New Jersey together and talk about what it’d be like for a child to be abused by his caretaker, Peter Quint, and the complicated relationship they’d have. It was a way for me to connect what I loved — singing — with what my parents did, psychology. I began to understand what it was to sing opera. I got a manager, Anthony George, and he booked me into a gala performance at Luciano Pavarotti’s voice competition in Philadelphia, singing the Shepherd Boy in Act III of Tosca, with Pavarotti himself as Cavaradossi. After starting out in a strange modern piece, now I was going to the opposite extreme — touching the golden age, as it were.

Above: The young Costanzo, backstage with Luciano Pavarotti


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