▼ Dance + Opera
▼ ▼ ▼ Patricia The Audience Terence Blanchard Racette Experience
S P R I N G 2 018 $ 5.9 9
The Festival Spirit
“The go-to summer festival for audience members seeking interesting, varied repertory…”
“No US company has shown more leadership in the development of the art form.”
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2018 FESTIVAL SEASON MAY 19 – JUNE 24 LA TRAVIATA Giuseppe Verdi
REGINA Marc Blitzstein
AN AMERICAN SOLDIER Huang Ruo & David Henry Hwang
ORFEO & EURIDICE Christoph Willibald Gluck
Featuring the directing debut of Patricia Racette
Featuring Susan Graham and James Morris
World Premiere of the New Two-Act Opera
Featuring Jennifer Johnson Cano and Andriana Chuchman
Convenient Weekender Packages Available.
CENTER STAGE A Young Artist Showcase
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All performances sung in English and accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony.
S P R I N G 2 O18
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
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O N T H E COV E R The Santa Fe Opera (photo: Insight Foto)
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I N N OVAT I O N S
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THE AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE
C O R R E C T I O N On page 20 of the winter issue, the article “Community Connections Take Center Stage” misidentified the company that presents 30 Days of Opera. It is Opera Memphis, not Nashville Opera.
DANCE AT THE OPERA
A CONVERSATION WITH TERENCE BLANCHARD
BY M A RC A . SCORCA
THE FOOD CHAIN Who Comes First: Artists or Administrators? BY ROBERT M A R X
MY FIRST OPERA B Y PAT R I C I A R AC E T T E
A VIRTUAL CHORUS SPRING 2018 1
Timothy O’Leary Opera Theatre of Saint Louis
Carol Lazier Trustee, San Diego Opera
CH A I R MAN
Frayda B. Lindemann, Ph.D. Trustee, The Metropolitan Opera
Charles MacKay The Santa Fe Opera
IM M E DI ATE PAST CH A I R MAN
Perryn Leech Houston Grand Opera VICE - CHAI R MAN
Susan F. Morris Trustee, The Santa Fe Opera
Zizi Mueller Boosey & Hawkes Esther Nelson Boston Lyric Opera John F. Nesholm Trustee, Seattle Opera
VICE - CHAI R MAN
Nicole Paiement Opera Parallèle
Kathryn Smith Madison Opera
Bill Palant Étude Arts
VICE - CHAI R MAN
Jane DiRenzo Pigott Trustee, Lyric Opera of Chicago
Evan J. Hazell Trustee, Calgary Opera TREA S U R E R
William Florescu Florentine Opera Company SECR E TA RY
Marc A. Scorca PRES I DE N T/ CE O
BOARD OF DIRECTORS John E. Baumgardner Jr. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP Daniel Biaggi Palm Beach Opera Wayne S. Brown Michigan Opera Theatre Ned Canty Opera Memphis
Yuval Sharon The Industry Matthew Shilvock San Francisco Opera Jill Steinberg Trustee, VisionIntoArt John Turner Trustee, Houston Grand Opera Dona D. Vaughn Opera Maine, Manhattan School of Music Francesca Zambello The Glimmerglass Festival, Washington National Opera EX-OFFICIO MEMBERS Christina Loewen, Opera.ca
Rena M. De Sisto Bank of America
Nicholas Payne, Opera Europa
Larry Desrochers Manitoba Opera
NATIONAL OPERA CENTER BOARD OF OVERSEERS
David B. Devan Opera Philadelphia
Robert Tancer, CHAIRMAN James M. Barton John E. Baumgardner Jr. L. Henry Cox III Douglas Cuomo Elizabeth Eveillard Jeanne Goffi-Fynn, Ed.D. Jane A. Gross Karen Kriendler Nelson Frederick W. Peters Jane A. Robinson Anthony Rudel Michael Scimeca, M.D. Jeri Sedlar Thurmond Smithgall Brett Stover Gregory C. Swinehart Barbara Augusta Teichert Darren K. Woods Carole Yaley
Carol E. Domina Michael Egel Des Moines Metro Opera Robert Ellis Trustee, San Francisco Opera, Opera Parallèle James Feldman Trustee, Washington National Opera Barbara Glauber Trustee, New England Conservatory Denyce Graves-Montgomery Christopher Hahn Pittsburgh Opera
2 O P E R A A M E R I C A
A Conference Bounty: Strategies and Results Opera Conference 2018 promises to be among the most important in years, thanks to the extraordinary hospitality of our Opera Theatre of Saint Louis hosts and the progress we’ve made on a number of important initiatives — all of which will be reported to you in the course of the meeting. It’s been a productive year! We are tremendously grateful, once again, to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which at the end of 2017 awarded OPERA America a $1 million program-related investment (PRI). It enables us to launch a Co-Production Loan Fund designed to ease the financial challenges of co-commissions and co-productions of American operas. We will explain application details for this profoundly helpful program at the conference’s Co-Production Marketplace. We will also release guidelines for a revised grant program supported by our Opera Fund endowment. Starting this fall, Civic Action Grants will be available to help opera companies defray the costs of building community partnerships with other arts and non-arts organizations. The program grows out of the insight gained in the second year of our Civic Action Group, which was made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. (NEA Chairman Jane Chu was so pleased to learn of this project that she invited OPERA America to make a presentation about it to the National Council on the Arts at the end of March.) The conference gives us the opportunity to share results of the first round of projects supported by Innovation Grants, a program designed in partnership with the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation and launched in 2016. The lessons that grant recipients have learned will benefit the entire field. We will also hear more about the grants awarded in the most recent round of applications. In addition, you will have a chance to meet the composers who have received 2018 Discovery Grants through the Opera Grants for Female Composers program, funded by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation. Over the short life of this program, 38 composers have received Discovery Grants and 17 companies have been awarded support for commissions of female composers. Most tellingly, in the last round of Opera Fund Repertoire Development Grants, 4 of the 10 successful applications were for works by women — representing significant progress over the last several rounds of grants. Our Mentorship Program for Women launched this year, thanks to the generous support earned through our Backstage Brunch. Guided by a committee of the Women’s Opera Network, three protégés and their mentors will collaborate during the conference on customized career-development agendas. We hope all members will meet them and join in our effort to move more women into our leadership ranks. Our commitment to increasing diversity across the field continues. We will share a board-approved diversity statement for OPERA America. We will also examine the dynamics of race and ethnicity in opera and explore ways to overcome barriers to broader participation in our art form. We are also deeply committed to fostering a respectful workplace in and around our opera companies. An all-conference roundtable will focus our attention on the issue of harassment in opera to make certain that all members are aware of strategies and resources available that can eradicate it from our field. Busy days filled with rich discussion will end in time for members to attend all four productions in Opera Theatre’s 2018 festival season, including the world-premiere production of the full-length version of Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang’s An American Soldier, and the directing debut of Patricia Racette, whose production of La traviata brings our conference to a compelling conclusion. The Host Company Reception on the campus of Webster University will demonstrate the value of OTSL’s enhanced audience experience, which begins with pre-performance picnic dinners under its famed tents, and ends with drinks and conversation with the artists in a beautiful garden — a perfect setting for relaxed time with friends and colleagues. The entire OPERA America staff joins me in looking forward to seeing you in June in St. Louis.
Marc A. Scorca President/CEO SPRING 2018 3
I N N OVAT I O N S
The Whole Show “Most of us devote a large part of our attention to the product on stage, but we don’t know enough about what’s happening around that,” says Annie Burridge, general director of Austin Opera. Addressing that situation, her company created a new position: director of audience experience, underwritten by an Innovation Grant from OPERA America. This fall, Michael Solomon, formerly in charge of media relations for Washington National Opera, took the post. The concept of audience experience is definitely coming into its own among
performing-arts institutions. The Cleveland Orchestra this November hired hospitality consultant Robert Phillips as its first director of customer experience. The new position has its roots in “The Total Orchestra Experience,” a 2014 research project in which the orchestra polled 60,000 of its audience members with the question “What is your experience of concert attending, and what can we do better?” The aim of the job, according to Ross Binnie, the orchestra’s chief brand officer, is to help create “a holistic experience” that will encourage repeat attendance.
Audience members at Opera Austin line up for tacos.
4 O P E R A A M E R I C A
onsidering how complicated it is to produce opera, you might forgive a company for thinking its responsibility to its audience begins and ends there. But for audience members, operagoing encompasses much more than simply sitting in a theater and watching a performance. The show itself is part of a larger sequence of events: the ticket purchase, the trip to the theater, parking, using the bathrooms, buying drinks, socializing. Any of these elements can play just as big a role in the total experience as the performance itself.
SPRING 2018â€ƒ 5
I N N OVAT I O N S
Dance Duets O
pera and dance have always been the closest of siblings. The very form of opera has its roots in Renaissance intermedi, mixing song, scenery and dance. Wagner rewrote Tannhäuser for Paris to include the Venusberg ballet; La Gioconda would be a considerably more humdrum piece without its Dance of the Hours; choreographer Mark Morris directed a Dido and Aeneas in 1989 with singers in the pit and dancers on stage. Now, a group of innovative collaborations between opera and dance companies is bringing renewed attention to that centuries-old kinship. In an arrangement that could set balletomanes rubbing shoulders with opera buffs, the Joffrey Ballet and Lyric Opera of Chicago announced in 8 O P E R A A M E R I C A
September that the Joffrey would be leaving its longtime venue, the Harris Theater, to become the resident ballet company of the Lyric Opera House, beginning in the 2020–2021 season and continuing for the next seven years. “The fact that we will be offering seasons of both opera and ballet allows us to take our place among great opera houses in the world,” says Anthony Freud, Lyric’s general director. The announcement came just a day before Lyric was set to open its new production of Orphée et Eurydice, featuring Joffrey dancers in a production by John Neumeier. The Gluck work has long been prime territory for dance treatment, staged over the years by choreographers ranging from George Balanchine to
Mark Morris. In the case of the Joffrey/ LOC collaboration, Orphée bore fruit not only in an acclaimed production, but in the residency plan. Although it is strictly a real-estate arrangement rather than an artistic partnership, both parties are pondering further creative collaborations. “We will be renting from them, but it will be renting with a real commitment to partnership, all with a focus on delivering more to our patrons,” says the Joffrey’s executive director, Greg Cameron. The organizations’ marketing and community-engagement teams have already had preliminary discussions on ways to join forces. Both Freud and Cameron describe the arrangement as a “win-win.” For the Joffrey, the Lyric Opera House represents a major upgrade in terms of both front-of-house and backstage resources. “It’s an artistic victory to have the resources of the Lyric stage, which is bigger and more flexible, as well as the loading dock, rehearsal studios and lighting plots,” says
Soprano Andriana Chuchman and Joffrey Ballet dancers in Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Orphée et Eurydice
¡Óperas en español!
Simón Bolívar Thea Musgrave
Il Postino Daniel Catán
Libretto by the composer (English), Lillian Garrett-Groag (Spanish)
Libretto by the composer, based on the novel by Antonio Skármeta and the film by Michael Radford
A thrilling historical epic of South America. “an accomplished musical dramatist...with sureness and power.” – Opera News
La Curandera Robert Xavier Rodríguez Libretto by Mary Medrick (English and Spanish) The natural and supernatural meet in this modern comedy. “…creatively updating the romantic tale for 21st-century sensibilities.” – Variety
L’Enigma di Lea Benet Casablancas Libretto by Rafael Argullol A love story by one of Spain’s leading writers, in which passions, an enigma and faith are revealed. Commissioned by Gran Teatre del Liceu de Barcelona. Premiere 2018-19 season.
Florencia en el Amazonas Daniel Catán Libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain A ravishing, lyrical search for love. “...fulfills one of opera’s highest duties: to leave the listener’s senses swooning.” – New York Observer
Frida Robert Xavier Rodríguez Book by Hilary Blecher Lyrics and monologues by Migdalia Cruz A flowing story of Frida Kahlo’s hidden dreams and courage. “The best elements of musical theater and opera were on spectacular display...” – Opera News
A lush, melodic, emotional tale of postman and poet, of love and life. “The language spoken by Catán’s lovely score is universal...” – Washington Post
La Hija de Rappaccini Daniel Catán Libretto by Juan Tovar, based on the play by Octavio Paz and the short story by Nathaniel Hawthorne An Italian Renaissance visionary’s ethical dilemmas face us today. “...colorful, often beautiful.” – Fanfare
Salsipuedes, A Tale of Love, War and Anchovies Daniel Catán Libretto by Eliseo Alberto and Francisco Hinojosa Two couples learn love, trust, and fidelity in episodes of tragedy, sacrifice, and new beginnings. “Catán’s warmhearted comedy…evoked smiles, chuckles and good feelings.” – Houston Chronicle
The Visitors Carlos Chávez Libretto by Chester Kallman (English), Noel Lindsay & Eduardo Hernández Moncada (Spanish) A play within a play comes to life during the Black Death in 14th-century Tuscany.
The Last Dream of Frida and Diego Gabriela Lena Frank Libretto by Nilo Cruz On El Día de los Muertos, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera relive their tumultuous love. Commissioned by Fort Worth Opera, San Diego Opera, UT Austin, DePauw University. 2020 premiere by FWO.
The final scene of “Florencia en el Amazonas,” with soprano Veronica Villarroel as Florencia Grimaldi. (Photo: Craig T. Mathew / LA Opera)
Más en... SPRING 2018 9 musicsalesclassical.com/news/3771
Voices from the Cybersphere I
n 2009, composer Eric Whitacre came across a YouTube video of a young fan singing one of his choral works. It sparked an idea: What if you could form an entire chorus out of homemade videos, featuring singers spread across the world? Part crowdsourcing, part audience-building, the “virtual chorus” idea was a hit among Whitacre’s fans. In April, the concept makes its opera debut in Opera Columbus’ new production of Orphée et Eurydice. Conceived and produced in collaboration with Against the Grain Theatre, the Toronto-based company known for its innovative stagings in 12 O P E R A A M E R I C A
unconventional venues, this Orphée is fundamentally Gluck’s; the music, save for a few cuts, is unchanged. But it weaves technology and modern staging devices in and around the original. Electric guitar replaces harp; voices pass through synthesizers; and Amour, here portrayed by aerialist Marcy Richardson, sings dangling from a suspended ring. Then there’s the chorus: With help from projection guru Katy Tucker, Opera Columbus is building its own virtual chorus from crowdsourced videos. The videos will be projected onto the set, with audio knitted together by
sound designer John Gzowski. Anyone with a smartphone can participate; no conservatory training required. “What I loved about this idea was that it was so inclusive,” says Peggy Kriha Dye, Opera Columbus’ general and artistic director. “You don’t have to be Renée Fleming to be in this chorus.” While the concept has raised questions of labor and compensation, Dye explains that four live choristers will sing in the production; others were recorded in advance, but compensated at the normal onstage rate. “We actually spent the same amount on the chorus that we would hiring people to be in the room,” Dye clarifies. Joel Ivany, artistic director of Against the Grain Theatre and the director of the production, takes a more provocative tack. “You hear just generally — this is a blanket thing — how robots are replacing the workforce,” he says, before turning back to opera’s particular financial woes. “Can you double up on the strings? Can you have a whole orchestra played by one person with a computer? Those are important questions that need to be asked. And instead of just saying ‘no,’ we’re asking, what actually can we do?” Dye echoes the importance of facing up to hard questions about the future of opera. “If the art form is going to survive, we have to have a new audience to mix in with the audience that we already love,” she says. “I want a modern audience to be able to come in and have some sounds that are part of their world.” “Gluck set this timeless story with incredible, moving, simple, beautiful music,” Ivany says. “And that should have the appeal. And if it’s simply having a few curiosities attached — some creativity attached to a production — hopefully that’s enough to get people through the door.” Dye notes that perpetual evolution has distinguished opera throughout its history. Orphée itself, she points out, was revolutionary in its time, a major stylistic departure from the structural dictates and narrative complexity of opera seria. “That’s just the nature of opera,” Dye says. “It’s full of innovation. It’s always morphing and changing.” — Andrew Frank
Opera Columbus/Getty Images
I N N OVAT I O N S
APRIL APRIL6-22, 6-22,2018 2018 ONEFESTIVALOMAHA.ORG ONEFESTIVALOMAHA.ORG W I N T E R 2 0 1 8 â€ƒ 13
P E O P L E
TRANSITIONS the additional role of creative producer of classical and dance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
At Opera Saratoga, tenor Jonathan Blalock was hired as development and patron services manager, and Charla Jeanne Lawson was appointed company manager. Patty Finnerty, the company’s director of administration and finance, retired. Richard Buckley, artistic director and principal conductor of Austin Opera, was terminated for “inappropriate behavior in violation of the company’s policy on harassment.”
OPERA San Antonio hired tenor Adam Diegel as artistic director and Liz Tullis as its executive director. They replace Enrique Carreón-Robledo, who resigned from his post as general and artistic director.
Opera Omaha welcomed Karen Flayhart as its new director of development.
Cincinnati Opera appointed Julie Grady Heard to the newly created position of director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
The Metropolitan Opera dismissed James Levine, music director emeritus, citing evidence of “sexually abusive and harassing conduct.” Tyler Mercer was hired by the PROTOTYPE Festival for the newly created position of director of development.
14 O P E R A A M E R I C A
Melanie Milton was appointed to the newly created position of festival producer for PROTOTYPE Festival, transitioning from her previous role as a producer at Beth Morrison Projects. Patrick Mühlen-Schulte was named chief development officer at San Diego Opera, having previously served as associate director of development at LA Opera. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis extended the contract of Artistic Director James Robinson for four years, through 2021.
Cincinnati Opera appointed bass Morris Robinson as artistic advisor. .
Lawrence Edelson, founder of American Lyric Theater and artistic and general director of Opera Saratoga, has taken on
At Minnesota Opera, Dale Johnson stepped down as artistic director, taking on the role of creative advisor to the company.
At OPERA America, Christian De Gré was named director of the National Opera Center, succeeding Sarah McCann.
music director. Neef will retain his role as general director of Canadian Opera Company.
The Santa Fe Opera announced that Robert K. Meya, the company’s director of external affairs, will become its new general director on October 1. As general director designate, Meya has appointed Alexander Neef as Santa Fe’s first artistic director and Harry Bicket, the company’s chief conductor, as
The Metropolitan Opera announced that Yannick Nézet-Séguin will take the helm as music director in September 2018, two years earlier than originally planned. Following the departure of General Director Keith Cerny in December, The Dallas Opera selected longtime board member Kern Wildenthal to serve as interim general director.
Brandon Soder (Meya), Jonathan Tichler/Metropolitan Opera (Nézet-Séguin), Quyn Duong (Milton), Gary David Gold (Edelson), Dario Acosta (Diegel), Ron Cadiz (Robinson)
Debra Bell, who previously headed the marketing departments at The Glimmerglass Festival and Pittsburgh Opera, joined Lyric Opera of Kansas City as director of marketing and communications.
New, original productions for small and large stages.
LA TRAVIATA A fresh, new interpretation of a favourite classic. Inspired by the 1920s Paris music hall milieu, this production, designed by Christina Poddubiuk, evokes the sophisticated, glamorous jazz era and the cabaret divas who were both celebrated and marginalized. A co-production with:
Pantone Bright Red
A Chamber Opera in English and Gitxsan Libretto by Marie Clements. Music by Brian Current
An Opera in French with Libretto by Michel Marc Bouchard and Music by Kevin March
The healing journey of a native girl and a young white woman explores reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, blending classical music and Northwest Coast Indigenous design.
Les Feluettes is more than a gay opera. It is a brilliant romantic drama set in a prison in 1952 Quebec, where inmates dramatize a decades-old tragedy to draw out the truth of a devastating love triangle. Madness, pyromania, and murder play out through a layered, poetic libretto and an eclectic score.
A co-production with: A co-production with:
Pacific Opera Victoria 925 Balmoral Road Victoria, BC | Canada | V8T 1A7
For further information contact Ereca Hassell, Director of Production & Artistic Administration 250.382.1641 or email@example.com
Y R R E O L T S TEL A Conversation With
TERENCE BLANCHARD 20â€ƒ O P E R A A M E R I C A
Composer/trumpeter Terence Blanchard made his opera debut with Champion, the life story of boxer Emile Griffith, beleaguered by homophobia and his own guilt over killing a man in the ring. The work, with a libretto by Michael Cristofer, had its world premiere at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in 2013, and has gone on to productions at San Francisco’s Opera Parallèle, Washington National Opera and New Orleans Opera; next season it will have its Canadian premiere at Opéra de Montréal. In 2019, OTSL will present the world premiere of Blanchard’s second opera: Fire Shut Up in My Bones, with a libretto by Kasi Lemmons based on Charles Blow’s memoir of the same name. Here he talks to OPERA America President/CEO Marc A. Scorca about his life in jazz — and opera.
SCORCA: I read that your father sang opera. BLANCHARD: He was an amateur opera singer, a baritone. He loved the music. He sang at church and he would sing recitals around town, but he never performed professionally. He studied with a guy named Osceola Blanchet. He was an African-American guy in New Orleans who taught kids how to sing, and for the longest time, because of his name, I thought he was my grandfather!
Bradford, who is the president of Jazz St. Louis. He had been talking to Opera Theatre about putting together a jazz opera, to try to broaden the audience of opera. He remembered that I had told him about my dad’s love of opera. He said, “Well, I have the perfect guy for you.” So [OTSL artistic director] Jim Robinson approached me and he said, “Man, we want you to write an opera.” And I went, “Whoa, okay.” Once I got over the initial shock, I became really excited about the idea.
Who brought you to your first opera? Opera Theatre of Saint Louis!
So before you actually saw your first staged opera, you said, “Yes, I’ll do it.” Yes.
You mean you saw your first opera while you were already working on Champion? Yeah, they brought me to check out their season a couple of years before mine premiered, and it was the first time that I got the chance to see a staged opera. What did you think? It was amazing; it was overwhelming. Because Opera Theatre has a stage that sticks out into the audience, it was like a 3-D experience. You feel like you’re a part of the performance. I saw Ghosts of Versailles there, and sat down not realizing that members of the cast were in the audience. All of a sudden they would start singing and you’d go, “Oh my God!” How did Champion come into being? Who approached whom? Well, it started with Gene Dobbs
Wow! I had opera recordings, and because of my father, I had heard opera all the time growing up. I just never thought it would ever actually be a part of my life in this way. I understand the subject came from you. What made you think that it was suitable for opera? What qualities made you think, “This is the story I want to tell”? Well, it had all the elements of drama. The basic idea is one of redemption and forgiveness — very strong elements that lend themselves to an operatic performance. The line in [Emile Griffith’s] biography where he said, “I killed a man and the world forgave me, but I loved a man and the world wants to kill me” was a very powerful statement, going well beyond boxing.
You mention the universal themes of forgiveness and redemption. But can’t opera also offer a potent commentary on our world today? To me, opera is the moral conscience of humanity. It can sweep you away. If you’re a person with any kind of compassion, you have to deal with truth. And you walk out totally transformed. We spend a lot of money putting home-theater systems up in our homes, where you have surround sound and a big screen and maybe a projector, whatever. But with opera you get all of that, and a home-theater system can’t compare. I keep saying to people: “Stop thinking of the clichés about what opera is. You need to start thinking about musical theater in its highest form, created and performed by people who are at the top of their craft.” What so impressed me about Champion was that right from the start, you absolutely got what opera could do. You understood what an aria can do, what a duet can do. In one scene, you have three generations of Emile’s family singing at once — something you can’t do in a play, but only in an opera. You used the tools that only opera offers to a creative artist. Well, that’s where Opera Theatre came into play. Jim Robinson, [general director] Tim O’Leary and [music director] Stephen Lord: Those guys were extremely helpful in making me understand the power of opera, and the craft of it. The way Jim staged Champion made it very powerful. The moment in the aria “Seven Babies” when old Emile puts his hand on young Emile’s shoulder, when he sees his mother for the first time, and then he pushes his younger self toward his mom like, “Yo, man, you have to forgive her” — in moments like that, I learned the significance of all of the different elements that come together — lighting, wardrobe, Jim’s direction and obviously having great performers, like Denyce Graves. Denyce’s aria accompanied by a pizzicato bass — I get goosebumps thinking about it. It’s funny that you bring that up. I’ve been talking about that aria a lot because it symbolizes to me what collaboration is about. I originally wrote it to be more like an Ella Fitzgerald/Ray Brown ballad, where they’d do it with momentum, keeping consistent time S P R I N G 2 0 1 8 21
OPERA FESTIVALS CAN CREATE A SPECIAL KIND OF EXCITEMENT.
BUT THEY AREN’T A ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL PROPOSITION.
BY F R E D COH N
24 O P E R A A M E R I C A
John David Miles in David Hertzberg’s Wake World at the Barnes Foundation, during Opera Philadelphia’s O17 Festival
Dominic M. Mercier
WHEN OPER A OMAHA launches
its inaugural One Festival in April, it will be in part a response to questions raised during strategic-planning sessions dating back to 2014. “We were thinking, ‘How are we going to be more relevant?’” says Roger Weitz, the company’s general director. “How can we be a force for good in the community?” The festival features the world premiere of Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s Proving Up: a notable occasion in and of itself. But the company wanted to widen its impact — as Weitz puts it, “to become part of the national conversation.” “We started thinking about attracting opera tourists and
asking, ‘How can we make this bigger than the Proving Up premiere?’” Weitz says. A natural answer: The One Festival, allowing visitors and locals alike to partake of offerings in multiple local venues within a limited period of time. The festival will flank Proving Up with a mainstage mounting of a rarity, Cherubini’s Medea, a radical deconstruction of Handel’s Ariodante and a video installation built around John Adams’ orchestral piece The Dharma at Big Sur. The company expects heightened attention from out-of-town operagoers: “It’s a chance to show off our city to people who like to travel for opera,” says Weitz. It has meanwhile engaged DOTDOTDOTMUSIC, a
New York-based public relations agency, to help generate national and international press interest. Opera Omaha has committed to mounting subsequent One Festivals in 2019 and 2020. While most North American opera companies still operate on a stagione basis, presenting productions at discrete intervals during a fall-to-spring season, some, like Opera Omaha, have been making forays into the festival format, exploring the benefits that can accrue when their offerings are bunched together. The tactic does not necessarily entail an abandonment of the regular schedule: Both Opera Omaha and Opera Philadelphia — which created a splash S P R I N G 2 0 1 8 25
In todayâ€™s arts organizations, who gets nourished: artists or administrators? FORTY YEARS AGO,
B Y ROB E R T M A R X
30â€ƒ O P E R A A M E R I C A
between 1976 and 1982, I worked for the New York State Council on the Arts as director of its theater program. It was a time of immense optimism and growth for emerging arts institutions, including American opera companies. Funding was plentiful in both public and private sectors. Particularly from a New York perspective, people naively assumed that the wildly generous state arts budgets backed by Governor Nelson Rockefeller would continue without end. The expansive arts economy he
promoted (which included establishing the National Endowment for the Arts) died quickly once Reaganism took hold, but prior to 1980 a “chicken or egg” question about the arts — “Who comes first: the institution or the creative artist?” — seemed to have been answered in favor of artists. Decades later, that question is being asked again. Performing arts institutions have grown up. We’ve all benefitted from longer seasons, new buildings, expanded budgets and staff, sophisticated trustee support, increased community involvement and a diverse repertoire. But changing priorities and a growing benign neglect toward all classical arts made the economics beneath that expansion fragile. Streams of essential arts funding began to erode in the 1980s and 1990s, but the institutions had to keep going. There were payrolls and community expectations to meet. Managements had no choice but to ask — often under extreme economic pressure — what can be produced, and what cannot? Issues of sustainability sparked an urgent pursuit of inventive managements that often superseded the presumed centrality of artists. Did this primacy of arts managers over
artists — in operatic terms, the general director mode — become a case of administrative short-term gain leading to long-term loss? Anne Midgette, The Washington Post’s classical music critic, did not mince words about this in a 2017 column: “I’m not the only one to notice that our largest performing arts institutions have become fundamentally inartistic bureaucracies — organizations in which art has become a commodity and artists, the content providers, have to fight hard to push through new ideas. ... Companies have to work so hard to maintain their status quo, to keep the funding coming in and the performances going on, that many of them have lost sight of a truly creative approach.” Diane Ragsdale, once of the Mellon Foundation, has even suggested that arts managements under stress have “managed risk by disempowering artists.” Not just in opera, but for all our nonprofit arts communities — dance, theater, music and the visual arts, as well — those strong opinions have currency and need to be discussed. My own response is to return to some underlying concepts of the New York State Council on the Arts, circa 1976. When I arrived on staff that year, some very wise division heads and board members spoke about the “food chain” as a concept guiding the Arts Council’s philanthropic approach. (In those days, NYSCA defined itself as an agency for government arts philanthropy, not a conduit for economic redevelopment or other causes.) In the food chain, consideration of artists came first, then the producing institutions, and finally the audience at large. The public funding levels of that era seem fantastical in 2018. In 1976, Arts Council support across New York State represented, on average, 11 percent of the annual operating budgets of its grantee theaters. Once support from the NEA and other federal or local arts-related agencies was added to the mix, it was not unusual for government funding to cover one-third of a typical arts organization’s budget. NYSCA used its economic clout to emphasize artist primacy. Nearly all its funding of nonprofit producing organizations was restricted to artist compensation, and in most cases, grants were contractually capped by the amount an applicant organization budgeted for artist fees. (What a contrast to our current era, when income inequality within major arts organizations can match corporate sector extremes.) NYSCA’s admittedly elitist approach had an interior logic. Artists create, then institutions curate and produce the work, and finally audiences determine its ultimate fate. For the purpose of funding, the Arts Council saw its core mission primarily as support for creative expression at the start of the sequence, to ultimately benefit the public later on. If audience concerns became the initial or primary focus (as occurs so often today), it would reverse the agency’s mission-based priorities.
I F O U N D a welcome echo of this old approach in a New
York Times interview with Yuval Sharon, an OPERA America board member and founder of The Industry, an experimental opera company in Los Angeles. “As arts leaders,” Sharon said, “we’re supposed to be the ones that create our audience. I see a resistance to that. It’s the idea that, ‘Well, it’s what our audiences want.’ Well, it’s not always about what the audience wants. It’s about what the audience doesn’t yet know they want.” Artists leading institutions toward “what the audience doesn’t yet know they want,” defines a creative ideal. There’s ample American precedent for this artist-driven approach, none greater than the New York City Ballet, founded by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein in 1948. Dance audiences at that time “didn’t know they wanted” a classical ballet company devoted almost entirely to new work created by one choreographer. At its birth, NYCB seemed S P R I N G 2 0 1 8 31
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Anne Redman, Catherine French, Lisa Bury, Lynn Loacker and Andrea Fellows Walters
Piper Gunnarson and Nancy Barton
Chaowen Ting and Cerise Jacobs
Jesse Conrad, Jillian Dredla and Patricia Wise
Kitty Brazelton and Alexander Sanger
Betsy Barbanell, Jane A. Robinson and Joanne Schulte
Co-chairs Nancy Barton and Jeri Sedlar
feel an extraordinary responsibility to hold up the voices of women — as composers, directors, designers, producers — because I know how hard it is,” said opera producer Beth Morrison at OA’s second annual Backstage Brunch. Morrison and composer Paola Prestini, co-founder of National Sawdust, were the speakers at the sold-out January 13 event, which was attended by 85 guests. Co-chaired by Jeri Sedlar and Nancy Barton, the event raised more than $25,000 for OA’s New Mentorship Program for Women, an initiative designed by the Women’s Opera Network (an alliance formed by OA two years ago to support female professionals). The Mentorship Program pairs three promising administrators with mentors who can help identify advancement barriers and create plans for professional growth. The inaugural group of protégés — Piper Gunnarson of On Site 34 O P E R A A M E R I C A
Opera, Katie Preissner of Opera Colorado and Mitra Sadeghpour of University of Northern Iowa — will be mentored, respectively, by Austin Opera’s Annie Burridge, Portland Opera’s Clare Burovac and LA Opera’s Stacy Brightman. The process will include site visits to the mentors’ home companies and meetings this June at Opera Conference 2018 in St. Louis. The brunch featured the New York premiere of Fierce Grace: Jeannette Rankin, a song cycle commissioned by OA and written by an all-female creative time: librettist Kimberly Reed and composers Kitty Brazelton, Laura Kaminsky, Laura Karpman and Ellen Reid. Mezzo-soprano Heather Johnson and pianist Mila Henry performed the four songs, which present vignettes from the life of the Jeannette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress — from her election in 1917 to the anti-war march on Washington she led in 1968.
To learn more about the Women’s Opera Network or to support its activities, visit operaamerica.org/WON.
Women Helping Women
H I S T O RY I N T H E M A K I N G
EXPERIENCE THE MET’S 2018 – 19 SEASON New productions of Samson et Dalila, La Traviata, and Adriana Lecouvreur The U.S. premiere of Nico Muhly's Marnie The return of the Ring
Elīna Garanča and Roberto Alagna in Samson et Dalila
Photo: Vincent Peters / Metropolitan Opera
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enta is a rural Pennsylvania woman who connects to the outside world solely through alt-right websites. The Dutchman is the white supremacist who becomes the object of her romantic obsessions. This Flying Dutchman concept — the work of director and scenographer Shannon Knox, associate director Micaela Tobin, lighting designer Becky Heisler and technical director Gabrielle Heerschap — is intended as a “horror machine” reflecting contemporary American culture. The team’s designs are now on exhibit at the National Opera Center as part of OA’s Robert L.B. Tobin Director-Designer Showcase. The main set element is a glass cube surrounding a couch. Here, Senta sits with her laptop, isolated from all other characters for nearly the entire duration of the opera. Instead of the roiling sea, she is surrounded by violent political rallies. The Act II spinning chorus is entirely virtual: projections of women who sing as they use Twitter, Pinterest, Skype and Facebook. The Dutchman’s crew, on the other hand, is very much present: a squad of militaristic thugs toting guns and wearing white and red uniforms. The exhibition is the second of three from the 2017 round of the DirectorDesigner Showcase, a biennial program supported by the Tobin Theatre Arts Fund. It runs through this fall, when the third and final team’s production, a different view of Dutchman, takes its place. The artists’ presentations at Opera Conference 2017 are available on OPERA America’s YouTube channel. 38 O P E R A A M E R I C A
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What Opera Means
What Opera Means Plumbago
Temple of the Scapegoat: Opera Stories
By Alexander Kluge Translated by Isabel Cole, Donna Stonecipher and Martin Chalmers New Directions
The German film director and author Alexander Kluge offers this collection of short stories, blurring fact and fiction, that draw upon his longtime engagement with opera. The more than 100 tales are dotted with photos of the operas and operatic figures mentioned by Kluge.
Curtain, Gong, Steam: Wagnerian Technologies of 19th-Century Opera By Gundula Kreuzer University of California Press
Technology played a foundational role in the conception and production of 19th-century operas, according to Kreuzer. She shows how Wagner and other composers incorporated novel audiovisual effects, many of which still influence contemporary opera stagings, performance-art pieces and films.
46 O P E R A A M E R I C A
What Opera Means: Categories and Case Studies By Christopher Wintle Plumbago Books
The author posits that any work of art can be grasped through its constellation of Platonic ideas, or “categories,” and then applies this approach to key works by Wagner, Verdi, Strauss and Britten, viewing them through the prisms of categories like psychology, performance practice and history.
Opera and the Political Imaginary in Old Regime France By Olivia Bloechl University of Chicago Press
French operas of the 1670s through the Revolution are often interpreted as affirmations of monarchy’s absolute power. But Bloechl contends that the genre’s politics were more ambiguous, with arguments over public conduct, law and morality sharing the stage with tableaus hailing the monarchy.
Theatre and Stage Photography By William Kenyon Focal Press
The art of photographing theater, dance and opera is the focus of this handbook, the work of William Kenyon, head of Penn State’s lighting design program. He provides an overview of photography in “available-light” situations and then walks both novice and experienced photographers through the process of capturing rehearsals and performances.
Inventing the Opera House: Theater Architecture in Renaissance and Baroque Italy By Eugene J. Johnson Cambridge University Press
Johnson traces the evolution of performance spaces for opera from 16thcentury commedia dell’arte auditoriums to the emergence of theaters in the 17th century built specifically for the incipient art form. Bringing together evidence from a variety of disciplines, including music, art, theater and politics, he sets the development of the opera house within the context of earlymodern society.
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AUGUST 4 - 26, 2018 2018 SAVANNAH OPERA SEASON Verdi’s La Traviata Menotti’s The Telephone Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel Ching’s Speed Dating Tonight! Sherrill Milnes, Artistic Director Maria Zouves, Executive Director
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F I R S T
O P E R A
y exposure to opera came very late indeed. I went to North Texas State University to pursue jazz singing, but since they didn’t have a vocal jazz degree, I ended up majoring in vocal performance. I had no idea about opera whatsoever, but I had a natural vocal inclination for it — not an affinity, but an ability. My teacher said, “I know you love jazz, but your bread and butter is going to be opera.” She finally got me hooked by assigning me “Senza mamma” from Suor Angelica. I wanted to hear the context of the piece, so I got the Renata Scotto recording. I remember sitting on my apartment floor, and feeling completely bowled over. As inexperienced as I was with the art form, I got it. I got the nuance; I got the theatricality of it. It was a lightning-bolt moment. From then on, I had a voracious desire to know more and do more. I went through various competitions and then auditioned for San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program. I was so green: The auditions were in New York, and when I walked out of Penn Station, I got ripped off right away by a guy who offered me a ride for 20 bucks. But I was awarded first prize, and two weeks after graduation, I was on a plane for San Francisco. It was all so fast and furious — a complete immersion in a profession and an art form. Suddenly I’m in master classes with people like Régine Crespin, Elisabeth Söderström, 56 O P E R A A M E R I C A
Patricia Racette is making her directorial debut this spring with La traviata at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.
Giorgio Tozzi and Hans Hotter. I didn’t realize how important they were! I brought “Che tua madre” from Butterfly to a Crespin master class, and she had a fit: “Who is the assassin who is letting this girl do this!” But when I sang it for her, she said “Oh, you’ll be fine.” When I became an Adler Fellow, San Francisco Opera gave me all sorts of cover assignments. At the dress rehearsal for Mefistofele, Gabriela Beňačková, who was supposed to sing Margherita, came down with a stomach bug just before the performance, and she couldn’t go on. They were holding the curtain, and Sarah Billinghurst, who was artistic administrator there then, came out into the audience and said, “Patricia, come backstage, they need you.” Keep in mind, this was a late assignment, and I had just barely learned it. They didn’t have a costume for me, so I went on in a turtleneck, with a rehearsal skirt thrown over my jeans — right in the middle of Robert Carsen’s lavish production. But it was very well received, shall we say. Betsy Crittenden and Andrea Anson, managers at CAMI, were in the audience, and the next morning they called me to meet them. So I got management, and bookings followed. San Francisco likes to bring their Adler Fellows back, and they hired me for Mimì and Micaela, so I had a little padding before I jumped into the professional world. But as a promising young lyric soprano, I found a lot of opportunity out there. I don’t think I ever sat down and thought, “This is what I want to do with my life.” This whole profession, this whole craft just took me for a ride. I didn’t find opera — it found me. Now I’m coming full circle. I teach a course for young singers that I call “Integrative Artistry.” It isn’t focused just on the vocalism, or the musical style, or the dramatic interpretation. It’s about the collision of all those elements. I say to them, “Don’t just commit ‘correct singing’ — say something to me. Make it you!” This folds logically into the idea of directing, which I’m doing in Saint Louis with La traviata. I’ve always had trouble just sticking to my job, which may have been a small problem for some colleagues in the past. But I’m fascinated by how the sausage is made. I’ve sung Violetta about a hundred times, but it’s really exciting to be able to tell the story as a whole, rather than just a part of it. This journey to the other side of the curtain is igniting my brain and reaffirming my dedication to the art form.
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