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Opera America (ISSN – 1062 – 7243) is published in September, December, March and June. Copyright © 2019 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 National Opera Center 330 Seventh Avenue New York, NY 10001 212.796.8620
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63RD SEASON JUNE 28 – AUGUST 24
LA BOHÈME Giacomo Puccini
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COSÌ FAN TUTTE Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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Our Year of Learning Curiosity versus certainty. Learning versus knowing. The winter months were filled with discussion about these pairs of contradictory words. These concepts, introduced in our Civic Action Group two years ago, have infused all our programs. We grow in the conviction that our work and our lives depend on the joyful exploration of new ideas, deeper understanding and communication with colleagues. Curiosity and learning are central to our progress. The New Works Forum in January, the year’s largest convening of creators and producers, introduced many of us to new operas that span the range of creative expression. We learned more about the barriers that exist for creators of color who lack easy access to existing networks of company leaders. We learned, too, about some of the steps OPERA America can take to overcome these barriers. Learning continued at the National Trustee Forum in February. Three sessions stand out as highlights. The first demonstrated the organizational and societal value of increased civic practice as measured by deeper community connections, new audiences and new donors — as well as a more satisfying sense of contributing to the health of our communities. Next, a distinguished panel of trustees and general directors identified the key ingredients to successful relationships between boards and staffs. Trust, respect, communication and courtesy were shared fundamentals. Finally, with representatives from the Wallace Foundation, we explored ways board meetings can be enhanced to include opportunities for learning about industry trends, research findings and community resources. In February, we held the first of four regional Civic Practice Workshops, a project supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Austin Opera played host to attendees from companies across Texas, who shared their experiences of working with community partners to advance a broad civic agenda. Guests enjoyed the closing performance of Silent Night in the stunning production originated by The Glimmerglass Festival. The next Civic Practice Workshop takes place in Orlando on May 3 and 4, hosted by Opera Orlando, followed by the third in Memphis in September. American Express once again underwrote our Leadership Intensive, moved this year from August to February, to accommodate staff who work for summer festivals and have not been able to benefit from this important program. Sixteen participants from the U.S., Canada and South America worked through a rigorous eight-day curriculum designed to identify their individual leadership qualities and to develop skills that are essential for advancement into senior positions. Of this year’s class, 54 percent were women and 29 percent were people of color, auguring well for the future of our field. Our year of learning culminates with Opera Conference 2019. This year’s sessions reflect the topics we have explored across our forums, board meetings and special convenings. Learning, though, is a collaborative effort at OPERA America, so I hope all members will bring their knowledge and experience to San Francisco, ready to share it in a spirit of sustained curiosity. I look forward to seeing you.
Marc A. Scorca President/CEO
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I N N OVAT I O N S
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hile a contemporary staging of a standard-repertory item may impose a radical shift in an opera’s setting — from Rigoletto in Las Vegas to La bohème on the moon — the score itself is usually sacrosanct. Some recent productions, though, have broken this unspoken rule. They incorporate novel, often indigenous, instruments and even the translation of entire scores into new musical idioms, in the process broadening the cultural reach of European classics. The Teatro Nacional Sucre in Quito, Ecuador, has on its payroll an orchestra of Andean instrumentalists but not a traditional ensemble. This gave the company a logistical rationale to create its new, reorchestrated version of The Magic Flute last year, in Spanish and the indigenous language Kichwa. Chía Patiño, the executive 6 O P E R A A M E R I C A
and artistic director of Teatro Sucre, devised a production that emphasized the similarities between Andean and Masonic symbolism. Both belief systems place special emphasis on nature, and the serpent in Mozart’s opera is the symbol of the underworld in Andean mythology. The production drew a significant contingent from Ecuador’s Indian communities, many of whom had never before attended an opera. “The people who would recognize Mozart absolutely did, and for the others, it was storytelling, which is what Mozart was trying to do,” Patiño says. The Andes Magic Flute follows in the tradition of Vancouver Opera’s 2007 First Nations version. A 2014 South African Magic Flute, from the Cape Town-based Isango Ensemble, grew out of a similar impulse to create cultural
Members of Mariachi Rosas Divinas in Mariachi Wagner at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra
connections and expand audiences. “South Africa’s conservative operatic audience has never embraced our work, but the result is fantastic when we play abroad or in the townships or Market Theatre in Johannesburg, where the audience is younger and more mixed,” says Mark Dornford-May, the ensemble’s director and the author of Isango’s Magic Flute libretto. “We try to get The Magic Flute to reflect, as close as possible, Mozart’s dream and desire, but we look at it through a South African prism. Our spirits are more like Motown soul singers rather than choirboys; the flute — not a particularly South African instrument — becomes a trumpet. We can show that cultures have different perspectives on things but that ultimately humanity runs across them all.” Using musical adaptations by Mandisi Dyantyis, Isango has also produced a Bohème, and its Carmen served as the basis for the critically acclaimed 2005 film U-Carmen eKhayelitsha. Creators of these adaptations have to navigate the precarious line between insightful innovation and kitschy cultural appropriation. Guadalajarabased visual artist Gonzalo Lebrija
Gonzalo Guana (Magic Flute), Sylvia Elzafon (Mariachi Wagner)
Teatro Nacional Sucre’s The Magic Flute
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grappled with this dilemma when creating Mariachi Wagner for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s SOLUNA Festival in 2018, in collaboration with composer Jesús Echevarría. The all-female ensemble Mariachi Rosas Divinas performed a 40-minute program of Wagner excerpts that Lebrija considered an ideal experiment in revealing the similarities between cultures though music. During initial rehearsals, though, the “Wagner” element dominated the music. “It felt false,” says Lebrija. The creative team adjusted the arrangements so that the mariachi flavor came through. Only when it approached both traditions with equal respect could the fusion take honest shape. These operatic hybrids suggest tactics for bringing diversity to the field, both in the productions themselves and in their audiences. “The confrontation with antiquated music, text and dramaturgy requires an extra amount of inventiveness and creativity to make it work here and now,” says Amsterdambased playwright and dramaturg Willem Bruls. “But dealing with old forms can create a different, better and more daring result.” —Charles Shafaieh
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Cincinnati Opera announced that General Director and CEO Patricia K. Beggs will retire in August 2020. Composer Lisa Bielawa has been named composer-in-residence and chief curator of the Philip Glass Institute, a new learning and creative center established by The New School in partnership with the Philip Glass Ensemble. Wichita Grand Opera’s president and CEO, Parvan Bakardiev, and founding artistic director, Margaret Ann Pent, have retired. Bard College has named Stephanie Blythe as artistic director of its Conservatory of Music Blythe Graduate Vocal Arts Program, effective this July. In a budgetary move, San Francisco Opera eliminated 10 staff positions. The list of departing employees includes Director of Communications and Public Affairs Jon Finck, Director of Donor Stewardship Andrew Maguire and Director of Development Andrew Morgan. Joe Gfaller has resigned as director of marketing and public relations at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Anh Le, a participant in OPERA America’s 2019 Leadership Intensive, has been appointed acting director of marketing and public relations. Montclair State University’s Peak Performances is collaborating with Neal Goren, former artistic director of Gotham Chamber Opera, to launch Goren’s new chamber opera company, Catapult Opera, which will begin presenting performances in fall 2020.
American Opera Projects has announced that, as of July, Matt Gray, its current producing director, will become general director, and Mila Henry will join the company as artistic director. Gray, a participant in OPERA 12 O P E R A A M E R I C A
America’s 2019 Leadership Intensive, will replace Charles Jarden, who will move into the newly created role of director of strategic partnerships. Ronald J. Gretz, artistic director of Annapolis Opera Company, will retire in June 2020. Kurt Howard, OPERA America’s director of programs and services, will leave in June to become producing director at Opera Omaha. OPERA America’s director of marketing and communications, Patricia Kiernan Johnson, left her post to become senior director of communications and marketing at Curtis Institute of Music. (See “Staff Shifts at OA,” p. 48.) Festival Opera has named Eman Isadiar as its executive director. Kentucky Opera has hired Christine Johnson-Duell as its director of development. Thomas Lausmann, currently the head of music at the Vienna State Opera, will become the Metropolitan Opera’s director of music administration at the start of next season. He replaces Assistant General Manager John Fisher. Chicago Opera Theater promoted Ashley Magnus, a participant in OPERA America’s 2014 Magnus Leadership Intensive, to general director. Magnus, who was formerly general manager of strategy and development, replaces Douglas R. Clayton, who has stepped down. The company has also promoted Chris Thoren from associate director of communications to general manager of strategy and communications. Ana María Martínez has joined Houston Grand Opera as its first-ever artistic advisor, a role MartÍnez in which, among other responsibilities, she’ll advise on casting and future productions and serve as a mentor to the HGO Studio artists. Charlottesville Opera has hired David O’Dell as general director. He most recently served in the same role at Amarillo Opera.
Florentine Opera Company has selected Maggey Oplinger as its new general director and CEO.
Fort Worth Opera has hired Paula Parkman Parrish as its new director of development. Christopher Powell, formerly director of artistic initiatives at The Glimmerglass Festival, Powell has become executive director of Pittsburgh Festival Opera. Powell took part in OPERA America’s 2013 Leadership Intensive. Amanda Robie has transitioned from production operations manager at Boston Lyric Opera to managing director at Opera Saratoga. Kamala Sankaram, several of whose works have received OPERA America’s Opera Grants Sankaram for Female Composers, has been appointed co-artistic director of Experiments in Opera. Matthew Welch, co-founder of the company, has stepped into an advisory role. Seattle Opera has selected Christina Scheppelmann, currently artistic head of the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Scheppelmann to be its new general director, effective this August. UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music named Eileen Strempel as its dean. Timothy Todd Simmons has been named executive director of Opera Naples, having previously held the same post at New Orleans Opera. Brooke Tolley has assumed the post of general director of Opera Roanoke. San Francisco Conservatory of Music has appointed soprano Rhoslyn Jones and Worth baritone Matthew Worth to its voice faculty.
Stephanie Blythe (Blythe), Robert E. Lee III (Gray), Arielle Doneson (Henry), Layne Dixon Photography (Magnus), Tom Specht (Martínez), Leo & Jenny Photography (Oplinger), Lucas Godlewski (Powell), Dario Acosta (Sankaram), Christian Machio (Scheppelmann), Hoebermann Studio (Worth)
Vern Evans (Adams), Matthew Murpy (Bennett), Suzanne Vinnik (Reyes), Jennifer Taylor (Pederson/Sy)
KUDOS Holland’s Praemium Erasmianum Foundation named John Adams as the recipient of its 2019 Adams Erasmus Prize, awarded annually for exceptional contributions to the humanities, social sciences or arts. King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands will present Adams with the prize, which carries an award of 150,000 euros. In recognition of Ricky Ian Gordon’s contributions to theater and the LGBTQ community, the Playthings Theatre, an LGBTQ-focused company in New York City, honored the composer on March 11 with its P.R.I.D.E. Performing Arts Award. The Santa Fe Opera’s recording of The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs, made during its world-premiere run in 2017, won the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording. The Grammy for Producer of the Year in the classical category went
to Blanton Alspaugh in recognition of recording projects including Ricky Ian Gordon and Royce Vavrek’s The House Without a Christmas Tree (Houston Grand Opera) and Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s Great Scott (The Dallas Opera).
Bennett, nominated by The Juilliard School, and soprano Gabriella Reyes, nominated by the Metropolitan Opera.
New Hampshire Theatre Alliance bestowed its 2019 Matty Gregg Award for Vision and Tenacity to Opera North for partnering with the National Park Service to develop Blow-Me-Down Farm, part of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, New Hampshire, as an arts venue. The opera company received an OPERA America Innovation Grant for this project in 2018.
At the 48th annual George London Pederson Sy Foundation Awards Competition, the top prizes of $10,000 each went to soprano Rebecca Pedersen, mezzo-sopranos Samantha Gossard and Carolyn Sproule, and tenors Charles Sy and Kyle van Schoonhoven. The remaining 11 finalists received George London Encouragement Awards of $1,000 each.
Lincoln Center for the Performing Bennett Reyes Arts named its 2019 class of Emerging Artists, each of whom was nominated by one of its 11 resident organizations. Among the winners, selected for their talent and career promise, were soprano Mikaela
Houston Grand Opera announced the winners of the 31st annual Eleanor McCollum Competition Meinert for Young Singers: Bass William Meinert won the first-place prize of $10,000; bass William Guanbo Su took the second-place prize of $5,000; and bass-baritone Nicholas Newton received the third-place prize of $3,000.
Our 2019 season: Celebrating 10 Years at The Paramount Theater!
The Tragedy of
Lerner & Loewe’s
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C O N V E R S AT I O N
JESSYE NORMAN’S NEXT ACT
SCORCA: Ms. Norman, who brought you to your first opera? NORMAN: I would rather talk about the first time I saw something live onstage. When I was about six years old, growing up in Augusta, Georgia, and a Brownie, we were taken to the Bell Auditorium for the Augusta Players in Cinderella. There was a real carriage and a real horse on the stage and I was completely fascinated. We were taken backstage where we could see the players in all of their makeup, with the costumes hanging in various dressing rooms. It seemed so wonderful. This first look at a staged performance stayed with me throughout my very young life. Later, I would see live theater at Paine College, where a different play was staged every year. This was a mustattend event for the entire community. My brother Silas was a part of the theater group. I did not actually see an opera until The Flying Dutchman, when I attended Indiana University’s High School Solo Singers’ Clinic the year of my 15th birthday. I spent my adolescence listening to Milton Cross on Saturdays describing everything that was happening on the Met Opera stage, so the genre was not new to me. But The Flying Dutchman certainly was. I thought: “Oh, my ... Goodness, this is opera ... This is hard!” Now, let’s talk about Sissieretta Jones. When did you first learn about her? When I was a student at Howard University I heard about the African 16 O P E R A A M E R I C A
Jessye Norman has embarked on a multiyear multimedia project honoring the pioneering African American singer Sissieretta Jones (1868–1933). Marc A. Scorca, president and CEO of OPERA America, talks to Norman about Sissieretta Jones: Call Her by Her Name! and about her own path to opera stardom.
American singer called “The Black Patti,” apparently because her voice resembled that of Adelina Patti, the reigning Italian soprano of that time. But I did not pursue any further knowledge about her. Then, in 2006, Maureen D. Lee’s book Sissieretta Jones: “The Greatest Singer of Her Race” was published. I became completely intrigued by her, and I felt it my duty to make her voice and life known. She was one of the first African Americans to find success in classical music. We know something about the period of Reconstruction in this country, but we do not know a lot. Most people do not know, for instance, that in this pre-Jim Crow era, African Americans were part of the legislature in South Carolina, Mississippi and other states. That era is truly forgotten today. Before the Plessy v. Ferguson “separate but equal” ruling, there was a relative grace period when people who were coming out of hundreds of years of slavery were allowed to structure their lives and make their gifts and talents known. I really do feel that the universe distributes talents and gifts equally. What is not available equally is the opportunity to nourish these gifts so that they can be expanded and extended. What do you know about Sissieretta Jones’ specific gifts? Did she make any records? Press accounts described her voice as beautiful, agile, accurate and
strong, and she was said to have been wonderful onstage. I live in hope that I am going to be able to find recordings. But I do not need to hear her to be amazed by her story. Here was a person born five years after the Emancipation Proclamation who learned to sing in Italian and French, and who created her own troupe of performers and traveled the world. How was it even possible to travel from Boston, Massachusetts, to Sydney, Australia? It must have taken weeks! Sissieretta Jones’ determination and fortitude are evident in the sheer number of performances she and her troupe presented all over the world. It’s a lesson for the ages. She showed real entrepreneurial spirit. She traveled with this company and made sure that everybody ate, slept, rehearsed, performed and got paid. Only a very good manager could organize something as complex as this. And all the while she was singing! I want people to know this story. I want people to know that she was on the main stage of Carnegie Hall in 1893, two years after its opening, singing “Sempre libera” from La traviata. What brought her to that point? When she was a youngster singing in the Pond Street Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island, people were so taken with her voice that they made it possible for her to attend the Boston Conservatory. Conservatory administrators and coaches invited presenters and promoters to listen to
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OU T OF T H E CLOSET A N D I N TO T H E L I M EL IGH T LGBTQ audiences have long been drawn to the opera. Now they can see their stories onstage.
was at the theater and at Carnegie Hall that Paul really lived. ... The moment the cracked orchestra beat out the overture from Martha, or jerked at the serenade from Rigoletto, all stupid and ugly things slid from him, and his senses were deliciously, yet delicately fired,” wrote Willa Cather in “Paul’s Case,” her short story about a sensitive young outsider who seeks refuge and belonging in opera and classical music. Though Cather never explicitly identifies Paul as a gay man, there is something decidedly queer about how he finds escape and liberation at the opera house. “There has always been something about opera that has been connected to LGBTQ culture, whether it’s a sensibility wafting through works like Norma or Rosenkavalier or the content of the story itself,” says Gregory Spears, composer
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By ST E V E N J U DE T I ETJ E N
Andres Acosta and Hadleigh Adams in Fellow Travelers at Minnesota Opera
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The Redoing of
Revisionist productions give new agency to the standard repertoireâ€™s victimized heroines.
By H EI DI WA L ESON
28â€ƒ O P E R A A M E R I C A
Rosalie O’Connor (Dido and Aenaes), Ken Howard (La traviata), Russ Rowland (Heartbeat Carmen and Lucia di Lammermoor), Pietro Paolini/TerraProject (Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Carmen), Randall L. Schieber (Madama Butterfly)
1979, the French cultural critic Catherine Clément published Opera, or the Undoing of Women, a disturbing exploration of just how much of the standard opera repertory is built on female suppression, subjugation and death. In the chapter “Dead Women,” she offers a preliminary list of how these victims meet their ends: “Nine by knife, two of them suicides; three by fire; two who jump; two consumptives; three who drown; three poisoned; two of fright; and a few unclassifiable, thank god for them, dying without anyone knowing why or how.” Clément also talks about the rapes, the mad scenes (analyzing them as female sexual ecstasy and hysteria that must be brought back under control), and the patriarchal social structures that lead, if not to death, to the defanging and domestication of operatic females. Not to mention the witches... Four decades later, the opera world, jolted into the present day by the #MeToo movement, has finally started a serious conversation about what this all means. In January, for instance, the Royal Opera House presented an “Insights” event titled “Does Opera Hate Women?” to be followed up with a series of presentations discussing female opera characters and women who work behind the scenes in the opera house. It also announced an inaugural June festival, Engender, featuring new operas written and produced by women. The initiative seemed like a pre-emptive strike, a way to air the subject with new audience members who might not be quite as tolerant of these stories as their elders had been for so many years. Since the opera business remains firmly entrenched in the repertory of the past, its company leaders and stage directors are understandably hesitant to toss the whole canon into the trash — they even note that younger audience members are often more interested in warhorses like Carmen and Madama Butterfly than they are in less politically insensitive contemporary works (see “OTSL Dives into Data,” p. 8). But while these operas are likely to remain on the stage, #MeToo has at the very least sparked a new focus both on how women are represented in them, and on who is doing the representing. Why the operatic fascination with oppressed women? The core of the repertory dates from the 19th century, and those source materials didn’t exactly promote the liberated female. Opera, with its outsized emotion, is perfectly calibrated for tragedy, and tragedy usually requires death. And, as Esther Nelson, general and artistic director of Boston Lyric Opera, points out, “A major component of what makes people love opera is high voices — remember, the original heroic roles were given to castrated males.” Put those elements together, and it’s easy to see how the formula developed. In addition, of course, the canonical operas were written
by men, and the opera business, to this day, remains dominated by males. So what to do? Francesca Zambello, artistic director of Washington National Opera and The Glimmerglass Festival (where she is also general director), says, “It’s important to distinguish between operas that depict misogynistic characters and societal structures, and operas that are actually misogynistic. I think the former can actually help the cause, especially when put into proper context.” “Opera has a lot to say about power relationships and the place of women in society,” says Louisa Proske, co-artistic director of Heartbeat Opera. “Every opera says something a little different. These are some of the most expansive attempts at understanding people — individually and collectively, women and men. We need to probe, to wrestle robustly with these pieces, and bring out what they have to say.” One approach is for the stage director to underline the complexity and agency of the female characters rather than portraying them as stereotype-confirming clichés. At Heartbeat, Proske directed a 2017 Carmen that presented the heroine as the leader of the criminal gang. The title character of her 2016 Lucia di Lammermoor was “wild, anarchic and affected by the violence of her family,” she explains. “She’s like a Wuthering Heights heroine.” The time may have finally come for such reinterpretations. But in 1992, Zambello directed a Lucia at the Met in which June Anderson, according to the director, “conveyed a sense of victory at the end; not crazy but finally free of the shackles of her brother.” The reaction? “It got booed off the stage.” The beauty and brilliance of the music through which these often distasteful stories are told can be a doubleedged sword. The conductor and coach Kathleen Kelly has written of “the patina of nostalgia” that has developed around the canon’s disturbing content: “We can easily watch an attempted rape and murder in a Puccini opera because those brutal acts are at once sensationalized and sweetened.” “The music of La traviata is so Clockwise from top beautiful — and so fetishized — left: Shakèd Bar in Juilliard Opera’s Dido that you sometimes forget that and Aeneas, directed it’s a story about a prostitute, by Mary Birnbaum; a profession defined by men,” Sydney Mancasola in Opera Theatre of says Proske. “She tries to live her Saint Louis’ La traviata, own life and make choices, and directed by Patricia Racette; Sishel Claverie is cut down at every corner. The and Brent Reilly Turner opera puts her center stage and in Heartbeat Opera’s makes the audience wrestle Carmen, directed by Louisa Proske; with her choices and her Veronica Simeoni in loneliness. If you gloss over that Carmen, directed by by putting it in a museum, with Leo Muscato, at the Teatro del Maggio pretty 19th-century dresses, Musicale Fiorentino; then it’s offensive.” In her view, Opera Columbus’ Madama Butterfly, with opera houses need to shake off Janet Szepei Todd and the “feel-good” approach, and Daniel Montenegro for the programming mentality (at center), directed by Crystal Manich; to shift from doing Carmen Jamilyn Manning because it will fill the house White in Heartbeat to doing Carmen “because we Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor, directed have something strong to say by Louisa Proske about it.” S P R I N G 2 0 1 9 29
Clockwise from top left: The Santa Fe Opera House (@santafeopera/@tonigoble); Katherine Weber in Chicago Opera Theater’s Iolanta (@ chicagooperatheater); Conductor Lidiya Yankovskaya’s baby (@chicagooperatheater); Opening-night celebrations for director Kevin Newbury’s Faust at Lyric Opera of Chicago (@kevinnewbury); Jamie Barton as Fricka at the Met (@jbartonmezzo); Plácido Domingo at the gala celebrating Houston Grand Opera’s return to the Wortham Center (@hougrandopera)
The social media platform offers dynamic possibilities for reaching new audiences. By F R E D COH N S P R I N G 2 0 1 9 33
ere’s what you’ll find on Chicago Opera charmed life from Prague Castle to Radio City Music Hall to Theater’s Instagram feed: Music Director Soho Square. Harpist Emmanuel Ceysson has drawn 8,500 Lidiya Yankovskaya on the podium for Iolanta. followers through droll, but deeply musical, video clips Her infant son Artie reading the orchestra that show him playing in the Met’s pit while mouthing score to The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing. along with the singers onstage. School kids’ drawings from COT’s Opera for All “When I look at these accounts, I could be seeing pop program. A video greeting from The Scarlet Ibis stars or indie-rock singers,” says Nancy Baym, a principal cast member Quinn Middleman, introducing researcher with Microsoft Research and the author of us to her cat Clementine. Scott Gryder, COT’s Playing to the Crowd, an analysis of musicians’ use of social audience services manager, lip-syncing to media. “There’s nothing that screams, ‘This is a highWhitney Houston while waving culture activity.’” a container of cupcakes. In the view of Jill Walker Rettberg, leader Clockwise from top left: What you won’t find: any of the Digital Culture Research Group at Lidiya Yankovskaya, music director of Chicago Opera Theater direct pitch to ticket buyers. Norway’s University of Bergen, the face (@chicagooperatheater); The text accompanying the images directs that opera presents on Instagram reflects a drawing made by a student in Chicago Opera Theater’s Opera viewers to COT’s website — with a few a broader cultural shift in the relationship for All program clicks, you’ll eventually reach a sales page — between performers and audiences. “In (@chicagooperatheater); but that’s hardly the main focus. “It’s about the 20th century, celebrities — especially Houston Grand Opera’s managing director, Perryn Leech, and chorus the connection between the pictures and performers standing onstage — were master, Richard Bado the audience,” says Laura Smalley, the COT distant figures,” she says. “Now, there’s (@hougrandopera); marketing and communications associate an expectation that you can get to know Met harpist Emmanuel Ceysson (@emmanuel_ceysson); who oversees the feed. “We want them to be them a bit more. You see them behind the Anthony Roth Costanzo hosts the connected to us first.” scenes. They respond to what fans think. Met’s live HD transmission of Marnie In the nine years since Instagram’s That reciprocity is important.” Citing the (@arcostanzo); introduction, the social media platform has “direct connection between musicians Anna Netrebko at the become an international phenomenon, with and their fans and patrons” depicted in Vienna Opera Ball (@anna_netrebko_yusi_tiago). a user base now estimated at one billion. Its the film Amadeus, Rettberg argues that the mash-up of pictures and videos have proved approachability of Instagram is returning a stunningly effective means of image-building and fan classical music to an older mode of audience interaction. cultivation that works not just for sports stars, pop singers “It’s not a new idea that part of being a good artist is being and actors, but also for opera companies and performers. an interesting person,” says Anthony Roth Costanzo (8,100 Opera feeds don’t generate followers in the same numbers followers). “Instagram is just the modern-day extension as those of soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo (157 million) or of that.” The countertenor’s feed includes music videos pop diva Selena Gomez (148 million), but they can still from his Glass/Handel album, any number of backstage attract significant Instagram attention. The 437,000 selfies with notable visitors (pop star Sam Smith, ballet people following Anna Netrebko track the Russian diva’s dancer David Hallberg, kabuki performer Ebizo Ichikawa), 34 O P E R A A M E R I C A
and videos of his flamboyant end-of-run curtain call for English National Opera’s Akhnaten (#diva) and of the fullbody waxing he had to endure for the production. Since users sometimes share their favorite content, Costanzo’s posts reach people who may have had no previous awareness of him. “It shows you what your friends like,” he says. “If you have no idea of who I am, but you see a video someone has shared in a feed, you may think, ‘I wonder who’s singing?’” The platform allows Costanzo not just to get his message out, but to maintain a form of personal contact with his fans. When they send direct messages, he responds. “It doesn’t feel as onerous as answering 500 e-mails,” he says. “Because of the informality of Instagram, it’s not like you have to write ‘Dear so-and-so, all the best.’ It’s an accepted practice to respond with just a heart. If I’m in a hurry and I have 10 messages in my inbox, I can go through them in 45 seconds.” “For me, Instagram is about communication with my fan base,” says mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton (13,900 followers). “They say a picture is worth a thousand words — and I’ve probably got a thousand pictures up. I get comments from people who were at a particular show, as well as people who’ve never been to an opera but found me through searching hashtags.” Barton, who came out as bisexual five years ago, regularly gets Instagram messages on the topic. “I’ve been impassioned about being visible, and I get a lot of people writing to me and thanking me,” she says. “My visibility has influenced them to feel more present and more proud of who they are. These messages make my day in a way I can’t even describe.” One aspect of the platform that Barton finds appealing is its egalitarianism. Within it, fledgling performers keep company with the likes of Renée Fleming and Joyce DiDonato. “I know a lot of young artists, and I get to follow their stories right along with the top dogs of the field,” Barton says. “It allows access for everyone, which is really important in a field that has traditionally been elitist. I believe very much that the future of opera is inclusivity, and Instagram provides a platform for that.” Instagram allows its users to post stories: images that pop up for a day, then disappear. Their ephemeral nature makes them even less formal than permanent content. Ideally, a story will seem like an unselfconscious product of impulse: a further means of erasing barriers between users and their audience. “I’m becoming a big fan of stories,” says Beth Stewart, a publicist who advises clients like Barton on their Instagram use. “They’re quick and impermanent. I’m not a fan of over-curated: I want to see a human being.” For opera companies, continually seeking to offset the graying of their audiences, Instagram provides an opportunity to reach a younger demographic: 68 percent of users are under 35. In comparison to its corporate parent, Facebook, it transmits a feeling of youth. “Instagram is a fun social gathering where you might feel something exciting,” says Stewart. “Facebook is like listening to your uncles arguing about politics in the living room.” Savvy opera companies work to maintain a sense of fun in their feeds. In general, the production photos you might find on a company’s website make a weaker Instagram statement than behind-the-scenes glimpses
that convey an element of the unexpected. Dale Edwards, Houston Grand Opera’s director of marketing and communications, points to a magazine item about Pearl Fishers designer Zandra Rhodes that the company reposted on its Instagram account. “Would we normally do that for an article?” he says. “No, but she’s a fashion designer and she has hot pink hair.” One common Instagram tactic is the takeover, in which a company hands over its feed to an outside party. The Met, promoting the U.S. premiere of Marnie, handed its feed over to Costanzo, who donned one of Arianne Phillips’ mid-century-chic costumes and tried to pass as a member of the “Marnettes”: the doppelgangers who shadow the title character throughout the opera. The creators of HGO’s takeovers have included its Studio Artists and Pearl Fishers star Lawrence Brownlee. “Larry was able to log on as he saw fit,” Edwards reports. “He showed what goes on in a singer’s life: coffee in the morning, warm-ups, rehearsals. He’s a guy who likes to have fun, and he has fun doing his job, which is singing opera. It helps break down misconceptions of who opera singers are, and of what we do.” Brownlee’s takeover boosted the number of HGO’s followers. “Does that mean that those people would come and buy a ticket? Probably not,” says Edwards. “But he’s got followers all over the world who became aware of HGO. It puts us in a better light.” HGO makes further use of Instagram by identifying local social media influencers — users who, through their feeds, purportedly exert significant influence on their peers — and inviting them to the opera. The company looks for people with a notable number of followers, especially those who highlight trendy events. The aim is to position opera as a date-night option for young people. The Santa Fe Opera has in recent seasons brought together local influencers for “InstaMeets” at dress rehearsals, where they sit in a special section of the house with unrestricted views of the stage. They’re encouraged to take pictures — and, most importantly, post them. On two occasions last summer, the company hosted a contingent of 20 “macro-influencers” for a full evening of events, including behind-the-scenes tours and champagne dinners. A photo contest in conjunction with the InstaMeets generated 938 photo submissions, with a chance to photograph a performance from the wings as the grand prize. The program was specifically put in place to attract young and first-time operagoers, and to broaden the company’s social media footprint. “They wanted to cultivate an audience for the future, but it wasn’t in their budget,” says Caitlin E. Jenkins, co-founder of Simply Social Media, the consulting firm that runs the events. The resulting photo blasts have swelled the number of Santa Fe Opera followers on Instagram (from 8,992 to 9,939 over the summer 2018 season) and on Facebook, as well (22,961 to 24,810). It is not clear that these numbers have resulted in an uptick in either box-office sales or new ticket-buyers. But Instagram advocates are quick to point out that a sales metric may be well beside the point. In the words of Dale Edwards: “Instagram is not for selling; it’s for engaging.” “It’s a powerful tool,” says Nancy Baym. “Especially if you throw in some cats with incredible green eyes.” S P R I N G 2 0 1 9 35
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Civic Practice: An OA Primer
Lyric Opera of Chicago’s EmpowerYouth!, a recipient of an OPERA America Civic Practice Grant
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OA’ S C I V I C P R AC T I C E G R A N T S : T H E I N AU G U R A L C L A S S
Earlier this year, OA gave out its first-ever Civic Practice Grants. Seven companies received a total of $180,000, supporting their efforts to develop relationships with community partners. Supported by OA’s Opera Fund endowment, these grants will be awarded every two years. Learn more at operaamerica.org/Grants.
Chicago Opera Theater will expand its partnerships with refugee service organizations, enabling refugees to attend performances. Houston Grand Opera will engage teaching artists to help refugee families communicate with each other and their new neighbors through storytelling workshops, family-friendly performances and the creation of original works of art. Lyric Opera of Chicago and the Chicago Urban League have partnered to present EmpowerYouth!, a multidisciplinary afterschool program for African American high school students that will culminate in the performance of a fully staged, youthcentric opera. Minnesota Opera will engage the local Hmong-American community through a conversation series, with the goal of understanding that community’s needs and finding possible opportunities for support. Opera Omaha will build upon its Holland Community Opera Fellowship, launched with support from a 2017 OA Innovation Grant. The program recruits singers from across the country to work as citizen-artists in the community. San Francisco Opera will expand its partnership with two local organizations for the homeless, integrating their programs and services with SFO’s communityconnections programs. The Santa Fe Opera will institute an annual event during its festival seasons that features the culture of the Native American tribes of New Mexico. The company will build upon relationships developed through its 45-year-old Pueblo Opera Program and the work of three local Pueblos, whose members came together to perform a sacred Corn Dance during the 2018 run of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic.
ivic practice” is a term that recently has become part of the lexicon for arts practitioners. At OPERA America, the concept of civic practice is the focus of conferences and meetings, task forces of experts, and even a new granting program. But what exactly does it mean? A newly launched page on OA’s website (operaamerica.org/CivicPractice) helps define the term for the field of opera. The webpage hosts an extensive primer, “Introduction to Civic Practice,” that begins with the following guideline: “Civic practice draws on the art form’s authentic creative assets to address public priorities and community needs.” The author of “Introduction to Civic Practice,” consultant Leah D. Barto, drew on meetings of OA’s Civic Action Group: a two-year learning cohort, funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, that brought together opera companies with extensive experience in this area. The primer outlines key strategies for pursuing civic practice within a community — creating a sense of belonging, leading with one’s artistic assets, building cultural competence, and focusing on the benefits to the organization’s community partners (rather than to the organization itself). OA will be delving into topics like these at Opera Conference 2019 this June in San Francisco, where civic practice will be one of three key conference themes and the subject of a panel discussion moderated by Jane Chu, former chair of the NEA. With continued NEA support, OA is also hosting a series of regional Civic Practice Workshops, bringing together opera company representatives to examine how they have integrated civic practice into their organizational operations, and how they have created and sustained community partnerships. In February, Austin Opera hosted the first workshop; additional workshops will be held this year in Orlando, Memphis and Omaha.
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Encouragement for Creators of Color IDEA Opera Grants (denoting “Inclusion, Equity, Diversity and Access”). The program is intended to nurture the work of emerging opera creators of color, providing grants of up to $12,500 to help composerlibrettists teams advance their works through workshops, readings or other developmental activities. In addition, the grant will provide a videography team to create high-quality promotional videos of the works in progress, valued at $12,500 apiece. The project is designed to introduce the industry to the work of these early-career creators through presentations at OA’s New Works Forum and annual conference, via OA’s social media channels, and in the pages of Opera America. “The ultimate goal is to get more composers and librettists of color into the field, working in opera however they interpret it and not feeling like it’s
a white person’s art form,” says Jacobs. To apply for IDEA Opera Grants, visit operaamerica.org/Grants. Letters of intent must be submitted by July 2019, with full applications due in late August 2019. These grants are open to all librettists and composers who identify as ALAANA (African, Latinx, Arab, Asian or Native American).
adame White Snake’s 2010 premiere was a gratifying experience for Cerise Jacobs, the former lawyer who conceived of the project and wrote its libretto. The piece won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for its composer, Zhou Long. But in her first operatic venture, Jacobs noted that in its creators, the field was hardly more diverse than the law profession. “I looked around and it was astonishing to me how few people writing operas were people of color,” says Jacobs. “As the years when on, it became obvious to me that I had to do something. We have to stop being afraid of the musical language of people from diverse backgrounds.” Jacobs took a major step in that direction earlier this year when, working through the Charles and Cerise Jacobs Charitable Foundation, she funded OPERA America’s new
P U B L I C AT I O N S
Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet
By Liam Doona, Rachel Federman, Avi Steinberg and Christopher Mattaliano Prestel
This exhibition catalogue from the Morgan Library and Museum surveys more than 125 preliminary sketches, watercolors and cardboard models created by Maurice Sendak for productions including The Magic Flute, The Cunning Little Vixen, The Love for Three Oranges and Oliver Knussen’s Where the Wild Things Are, based on Sendak’s famous children’s book.
Opera in the Tropics: Music and Theater in Early Modern Brazil By Rogerio Budasz Oxford University Press
Surveying the 16th through 19th centuries, the author delves into the practices of the actors, singers, poets and composers who created and performed opera during Brazil’s colonial period. The territory includes Jesuit moral plays, Spanish comedias, Portuguese vernacular operas and entremezes, and the Italian operas that were presented to celebrate the country’s independence in 1822. 50 O P E R A A M E R I C A
A View from the Podium By Eve Queler Xlibris
Conductor Eve Queler traces the trajectory of her life in music, from humble beginnings as a gifted piano student in the Bronx to five decades of star-studded performances of rarely heard operas as founder and artistic director of the Opera Orchestra of New York. She recounts the challenges she faced upon entering the maledominated conducting world in the 1960s and how she overcame those hurdles to build a career as an international guest conductor.
Dreaming with Open Eyes: Opera, Aesthetics and Perception in Arcadian Rome By Ayana O. Smith University of California Press
This volume examines late 17th-century Italian opera through the lens of visual symbolism. Using philosophical and literary sources to provide context, the author offers close readings of Alessandro Scarlatti’s La Statira and Carlo Francesco Pollarolo’s La forza della virtù.
Handel in London: The Making of a Genius
Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Composer and Critic
Jane Glover, who has conducted Handel’s works around the world, details the composer’s extraordinarily prolific career in London: four decades yielding dozens of oratorios and operas. She discusses music-making in the context of the era’s politics, artistic rivalries and cultural movements.
Drawing on interviews, archival research and 54 years of pocket diaries, the author details the life of Australianborn Peggy Glanville-Hicks, who composed the operas Nausicaa, The Transposed Heads and Sappho and, as a critic, shaped professional and public opinion on mid-20th-century American music.
By Jane Glover Pegasus Books
By Suzanne Robinson University of Illinois Press
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started playing the Mason and Hamlin baby grand piano in the living room of our Bronx apartment as soon as my arms were long enough to reach the keyboard. My father would play the Chinese Dance from The Nutcracker, and I would sit next to him and do the two-note figure in the bass line. Eventually, I moved on to Beethoven sonatas and Chopin nocturnes. My father had a Caruso record, but opera wasn’t really a part of our lives. Still, I fell in love with the singing voice early on. At a school assembly when I was in the fifth grade, a girl from the class ahead of me sang a song called “Waiting.” I was thunderstruck: This was a voice! Her name was Roberta Peterman, and I brought her home to sing for my mother, accompanying her myself. My mother started to cry, and told her, “Someday you’ll sing at the Metropolitan Opera!” She was right: My schoolmate dropped the “man” from her last name and, as Roberta Peters, made her Met debut just 10 years later. She already had her grown-up voice when she was 10. When I was 12, I auditioned for the great piano teacher Isabelle Vengerova. She agreed to take me as a student, but only if I moved to Philadelphia and studied with her at the Curtis Institute. My mother wouldn’t let me go, which is why I 64 O P E R A A M E R I C A
ended up attending the High School of Music and Art — now LaGuardia High School — in Manhattan. I was bitterly disappointed, but I can see now that it was a blessing in disguise. I would not have followed my path to conducting if I had trained with Madame Vengerova; instead, I would have ended up teaching piano somewhere. All the pianists at Music and Art had to learn how to play an orchestral instrument, and I chose the French horn. I learned so much from that. A note on a piano, no matter what you do, will fade after you hit it. The horn is more like the human voice: You can sustain a note and change its color. I was third horn in the school orchestra, which gave me a real sense of what playing in an orchestra is like. When I conduct, I probably favor the horn section: I give them a lot of love. We were a Wagner and Brahms school. Our school song was set to Brahms’ first symphony; our graduation march was the Meistersinger overture. That’s why I chose Tristan und Isolde as my first opera, with Melchior and Traubel at the Met. I became hooked, sometimes watching from standing room, and sometimes listening from a score desk, which Music and Art students could do for free. You couldn’t see the stage, but you could see the conductor and follow along with the score. We had been taught to look down on Italian opera as just so much oompah-pah, but when I first heard La traviata, I realized, “This is also beautiful.” I ended up making bel canto one of my specialties as a conductor. I started listening to the Saturday afternoon broadcasts religiously. One afternoon my high school boyfriend came by to listen to Carmen with me, but he didn’t understand that “listen,” not talk, was what I intended to do. He stormed out of the apartment, shouting, “Give this up and marry me!” Needless to say, I decided otherwise. I eventually went to City College of New York, where I met Stanley Queler the very first day of freshman year. I married him in 1951 and for six wonderful decades he gave me love and supported my career, every step of the way. Throughout everything, I’ve retained my passion for the singing voice. In the first years of Opera Orchestra of New York, I worked with Nicolai Gedda, Richard Tucker, Plácido Domingo and Montserrat Caballé — all of them, voices. I had the same reaction when I first heard Renée Fleming and Aprile Millo and, more recently, the young Serbian bass Sava Vemic. Listening to Sava, I had the same sensation I had with Roberta Peterman 75 years before. I know when I’m hearing a voice¸ and every time, I just go ape. Eve Queler is the founder and artistic director of Opera Orchestra of New York. She has just published her memoir A View from the Podium (see p. 50).
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F E S T I VA L O 1 9 September 18 – 29 A New Kind of Comedy
The Love for Three Oranges Prokoﬁev | Company Premiere A New Kind of Myth
Handel | Company Premiere A New Kind of Tragedy
Denis & Katya
Venables & Huﬀman | World Premiere A New Kind of Satire
Let Me Die
“A hotbed of operatic innovation.” —The New York Times
Keckler | World Premiere
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