Category Archives: opera and fiction

Opera Phila’s ‘Cold Mountain’ a Scorching Success review: presented by Opera Philadelphia (the sixth opera in their American Repertoire Program)
Live performance: Sunday, February 14, 2:30 p.m.
The Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Music: Jennifer Higdon
Libretto: Gene Scheer
5.0 out of 5.0 stars

five stars



Opera Phila's five-star production of "Cold Mountain"

Opera Phila’s five-star production of COLD MOUNTAIN

I am the luckiest reviewer in the world. I was privileged to experience an incredibly beautiful and poignant production of COLD MOUNTAIN, a new contemporary opera presented by Opera Philadelphia this past Valentine’s Day. How fitting. I left my heart in the Academy of Music that afternoon with tears staining my cheeks and my unabashed affection for this Pennsylvania company filling me with pride on my ride home to Lancaster.

Wait a minute. Aren’t critics supposed to criticize? The more critical it is, the better the review, right? My mission with Opera Philadelphia is different from many reviewers’, as I see it. It’s not to show how learned and accomplished I am. It’s not to display my facility with language. My task here is to use this digital bully pulpit to share with the world, and I do mean the world thanks to the Internet, the extraordinary arts opportunities Opera Philadelphia is bringing to the East Coast of the United States.

Full disclosure: I adore Opera Philadelphia’s American Repertoire Program. I’ve seen every production since they launched this initiative in 2011, beginning with DARK SISTERS, simply an excellent chamber opera. The American Repertoire Program points to the future of opera in America–contemporary, original operas not simply silly regietheater representations of classic operas that some companies trot out for audiences.

COLD MOUNTAIN was spectacular. And my expectations were sky-high. Charles Frazier’s novel Cold Mountain is my favorite contemporary book. I snuffled and wept through an entire box of tissues devouring it. When Opera Philadelphia announced this production, I almost couldn’t wait for February. And who among us looks forward to February? Opera Phila offered a singularly rewarding opera experience. So good that I had to find new five-star art to post for this show.


Jarrett Ott as Inman and Isabel Leonard as Ada in COLD MOUNTAIN

The stage was set was fully visible upon entering the theatre–ramshackle boards in such disarray I immediately conjured media images of the World Trade Center after 9-11. Foreboding, devastation, and senseless loss crept into this  viewer’s soul before the orchestra has struck a single note of Jennifer Higdon’s extraordinary work.

Higdon tackled a novel of depth and scope and successfully translated it into a contemporary opera. I was fortunate to receive a copy of the education program that Opera Phila shares with school students and reading it brought Higdon’s score alive anew. I was reminded of all the distinctive elements in her score to evoke time and place–fiddle music, knee-slapping percussionists, the sounds of twinkling stars made with knitting needles, and strains of mountain music throughout. The opera opens with the sinister leader of the Home Guard singing a folk tune from the era, and the effect was chilling.

Because I am such a fan of the novel, high expectations loomed for Gene Scheer’s libretto, too. The language Scheer put to the aria Metal Age will rip out your spleen:

YouTube Preview Image

“Thousands and thousands in bright blue, shiny, factory made uniforms. We shot them and loaded. Shot them and loaded. For five hours, thousands and thousands of men…and there in the middle of it, a drummer boy crying, bleeding, dying…He shot me in the neck. The metal age has come.”
–Inman’s aria “The Metal Age.”

If you don’t know the story, it’s nearly a contemporary telling of Homer’s Odyssey with a little Les Miserables thrown in for more an extra heaping helping of pathos. W.P. Inman (Odysseus) is a Civil War deserter struggling to return home to Cold Mountain see Ada Monroe (Penelope), the remembrance of whom is the only thing keeping him alive despite severe privation and dogged persecution by Teague (Javert), the leader of the crew hunting down deserters like stray dogs.

As Inman, baritone Jarrett Ott, who stepped in for Nathan Gunn, effected the most thoroughly broken man without the affect of melodrama. Since I admit to having fangirled Gunn in previous reviews, I thought I’d  be disappointed with Ott, but was very happily surprised with his interpretation. He fully inhabited Inman’s character while singing the role with power and polish.


Jarrett Ott as W.P. Inman

Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard was luminous as Ada. She is the consummate performer–a star in every aspect. Beautiful to hear and see, she made her Opera Phila debut in this show. I predict Philadelphia was treated to a performance of one whose star will quickly rise even higher very soon. Brava, Miss Leonard.  You were grace, elegance, talent, and depth personified in this production. Would she have shone so brightly opposite Gunn? One hardly cared after a point.


W.P. Inman ( Jarrett Ott) recalls a happier time with Ada Monroe (Isabel Leonard) before the Civil War.

Ruby Thewes, Ada’s friend and partner, is a delicious role in the novel but a difficult one to score and to sing. Ruby is as down-home and prickly as Ada is refined and noble. Mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall did a serviceable job in the role. Ruby’s character can be likened to nails scraping a chalkboard. While grit makes for an interesting spoken role, it can be overwhelming for a performer to convey in song and for the audience to hear. By necessity, Ruby lost some of pluck going from the page to a musical score, which is the show’s only real shortcoming.


Ruby (Cecelia Hall) encounters her estranged father Stobrod Thewes (Kevin Burdette), who has also deserted the war

Tenor Jay Hunter Morris’ star power crackled as the evil leader of the Home Guard Teague, the Javert-inspired character. Yes, in this opera, the tenor is the bad guy, and the the baritone gets the girl. Hunter Morris was so masterfully evil, so convincing as the consummate Confederate baddie that he was soundly booed at curtain call. I smiled inwardly remembering this “baddie”performing a darling lullaby in cabaret at the Glimmerglass Festival’s Gentleman’s Night Out only a summer ago, accompanying himself on his guitar. He was the picture of haunting perfection in this production.


Teague ( Jay Hunter Morris) uses Javert-like tactics in hunting down Confederate deserters.

I am such a fan of bass Kevin Burdette, who is a chameleon of a performer and an extraordinary opera singer (and I don’t really like basses–truth be told.) I have seen him be hilarious and also gut-wrenchingly despicable, depending on the role. I wanted his part to be larger as Ruby’s father Stobrod. But the opera is the proper length at two and a half hours with one intermission, so that is merely self-indulgent desire on my part.


Stobrod Thewes (Kevin Burdette) and Ada Monroe (Isabel Leonard)

This tale of Inman–a quiet, private hero who has witnessed a depth of brutality no decent person should ever experience, who is redeemed only by Ada’s love–was a heroic effort for which all involved deserve highest praise. The orchestra under Corrado Rovaris,  the sweeping direction of Leonard Foglia, the ingenious completely functional dysfunctional set design by Robert Brill, lighting design by Brian Nason, and, of course, all the talented performers in the Opera Philadelphia Chorus turning in stunning cameos also made this production the shimmering, albeit soul-scorching, production it was.

I am deeply grateful for your artistic endeavors, Opera Philadelphia. I tried to choke back my tears during curtain call but they would not stop. The City of Brotherly Love has a treasure in this company.

A special shout-out to my press contact Frank Luzi, always a pleasure to work with, whose children were darling in the show.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, contemporary opera, favorites, Live opera performance, Modern opera, North American Opera, opera and fiction, opera firsts, opera milestones, PA, Premieres, Regional opera

for opera lovers who also enjoy reading …The Fussy Librarian is here!

Fussy Librarian is a new free ebook matching service that comes right to your email inbox.

The Fussy Librarian is a new free ebook matching service that comes right to your email inbox.

If you’re like me, you LOVE when new sites and services emerge that make the most of the technology available to make our lives easier and more pleasurable!

That’s why I like THE FUSSY LIBRARIAN. it’s a new free email subscription service that sends you with ebook recommendations matching your precise (and I do mean precise) interests and content preferences.

This is one smart librarian, cats and kittens.

She remembers not only what genres you prefer but also your preferences about salty language, graphic violence, and explicit sexual content. If you like squeaky clean mysteries, she only sends you an email listing mysteries without sex, violence or profanity.

On the other hand, if you like everything, she sends you lots of suggestions each day.

I am a subscriber, so I’ll tell you how it works.

After entering your email address, you get a series of checkboxes to fill out. I checked All Fiction and All Audiobooks. Under fiction, there are 29 categories to choose from! I mean, you can really drill down on exactly what you like to read with this service.

Of course they offer nonfiction books, too–eleven categories.

Then you can set your preferences for language, sex, and violence. The whole thing takes but a minute or two.

Be as fussy as you like, friends. Believe me, The Fussy Librarian can handle it.

This is the perfect service for our day and age, when people enjoy being catered to and customers like me appreciate feeling valued as individual and (a bit) idiosyncratic readers.

My debut novel DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA loosely inspired by Mozart’s Don Giovanni is being featured today, Sunday, November 17, at The Fussy Librarian. So, why not subscribe to this service today? To arrive in your preferred email inbox would put a huge smile on my Don’s handsome face!

Yours in fussy listening and reading,

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Filed under Don Giovanni, DON JUAN IN HANKEY, Mozart, music and humor, opera and fiction, Opera and humor, opera and romance

where in the world is DON JUAN? he could be in your palm by noon today

DON in St. Bart's c. of Luis Sanchez

My new novel based on the greatest lover in the history of the Western world gets around. Truth tell, he’s a much bigger road warrior than me, but then, you know how those international opera stars trot around the globe.

First DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA went to beautiful, tropical St. Bart’s, mere days after he got fitted for his cover and spine.

Don Juan in Stafford, England c. Ann Lander

Then DON traveled to Staffordshire, England, to be steeped in history and culture.

DON in Salem, Mass. c. of Linda Orlomoski

Then DON jaunted back across the pond to visit New England–historic Salem, Massachusetts to be precise where he encountered one of television’s most beloved witches.

Oh, and the list of his travel adventures grows every day:

  • Yosemite National Park
  • Columbus Circle, New York City
  • Daytona Beach, Florida
  • Shanghai, China
  • Florida’s Gulf Coast

    DON catching the rays on Florida's Gult Coast c. Dawn Leas

Today, April 2, DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA is at the ends of your fingertips or right on the ends of you paws for all you Kindle owners of the two-footed and four-footed variety.

Ruby the pup reading DON on a Kindle c. basso James Harrington

All day today, Monday April 2, DON is a free download. He’s already received 27 reviews on Amazon with a combined 4.9 rating out of 5.0.

Wait until Ruby gets to the parts about the dogs–that will get her tail waggin’.

DON could be resting comfortably in the palm of your hand in a few clicks today.

So be like Ruby and grab him while he’s free.

(That would be today.)


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Filed under DON JUAN IN HANKEY, opera and fiction, Uncategorized

an imagined cast list for Don Juan in Hankey, PA

Kimberly A. Bennett, poet

Editor’s note: This post is the fourth stop on the Eye-Popping, Jaw-Dropping, Gob-Smacking Blog Tour to launch my novel with an opera backdrop, DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA.

by Kimberly A. Bennett, guest blogger

I am going to start out a little serious here—but in no way is Don Juan in Hankey, PA meant to be a serious novel. It is populated with a madcap ensemble of characters looking for love, bent on bringing big-time opera to small-town, Hankey—it is bursting with outlandish plot snarls and tension-relieving plot twists—it is an entertaining ride.

However, I will be serious for a bit because I want to call attention to what might be overlooked—in fact, it took several days to pinpoint the element of Martin’s novel that had me wondering how she made me care what happened to each character.

Gale Martin’s skill with point of view reminded me of not another novelist, but the technique of another talented storyteller—Robert Altman, director of MASH, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, and more recently, Gosford Park. How so? Like Altman, Martin achieves what seems impossible—each character has his or her own starring role. While the narrative focuses on a character, while he or she is “on screen” I believe it is all about Deanna, or Richard, or his well-meaning phantom-wife, Mary. Martin’s dexterity with what critic David Jauss calls, “the locus of perception,” in his essay, “From Long Shots to X-rays: Distance and Point of View in Fiction,” enters us into the minds and hearts of her characters, so that we believe it is his or her story.

Deanna Lundquist, guild chair, as envisioned by the author

Without Martin’s skill with showing, not telling (she opens each chapter with a cleverly subtitled summary) her point of view technique would fall flat. Page after page, I watched on the “movie screen of my mind’s eye” the unfolding of events—one of my favorites finds two male characters in the wrong place at the wrong time, “in the raw,” in bed, and in the dark of night! From beginning to end, Martin keeps readers enthralled with her flawed, but loveable opera zealots.

Look at Gale Martin’s character photos to see how she envisions her cast, otherwise maybe you will agree with my imagined casting call using Gale Martin’s “cast of characters” with slight age alterations:

Julianne Moore as Deanna Lundquist

  • Deanna Lundquist, A Community Organizer and Socialite, Recently Divorced: Julianne Moore
  • Dr. Richard Rohrer, A Retired Physician and Widower: Jeremy Northam
  • Vivian Frantz Pirelli, The Heiress to the Frantz Ketchup Fortune, Famously Divorced: Naomi Watts
  • Oriane Longenecker, Hankey Native and Amateur Opera Singer: Emily Browning
  • Carter Knoblauch, Impresario born in Cincinnati: Bradley Cooper
  • Donato Bianco, Aging Professional Baritone Whose Star Has Lately Dimmed: Colin Farrell
  • Leandro Vasquez, A Dashing Professional Opera Singer of Dissolute Habits: Ben Stiller
  • Ben Stiller as Argentine baritone Leandro Vasquez

    Mary Rohrer, Richard’s Late Wife, A Ghost of Saintly Demeanor: Ellen Greene

  • Arnaud Marceau, Local Balloon Entrepreneur and Clairaudient Medium: Sam Rockwell
  • Maestro Schantzenbach, Diminutive Conductor of the Hankey Opera Company and Lover of Dachshunds: Gary Oldman
  • Paylor Frantz, Vivian’s Mother, a Lonely Widow: Bette White
  • Jeannie Jacobs, A Wealthy Widow, Originally from Hankey: Melanie Griffith
  • Donny of Donny’s Catering, A Metrosexual Caterer: Fred Armisen


Kim Bennett's book

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About today’s guest bogger, Kimberly Bennett: Kim is a poet and author of a poetic sequence, Soiled Doves, a series of historical poems set in a Seattle working-class brothel, c. 1910, now available on Amazon


Filed under Guest post, opera and fiction, Opera and humor, opera challenges, Opera fiction

Online festival next week to launch opera novel

Next, week I am launching my opera novel DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA with an online festival at my author website. Why am I doing this, you may ask? For one thing, this is my debut novel. For another, it’s not every day a piece of fiction is published with classic opera as a backdrop.

David Lomelí

This book is a contemporary retelling loosely based on Mozart’s Don Giovanni. You’ll find some of his characters in the book without too much trouble as we watch a small-town (think dysfunctional) opera company try to mount a production of Don G. to stave off financial morbidity.

The mini-festival will feature new videos created for the occasion by professional opera singers including:

The videos include book testimonials, dramatic readings of book chapters, greetings, other special appearances, and book reviews and will be available to view from Monday, November 28 through Friday, December 2.

As a guest to my website during DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA Online Launch Week, you have an “Operatoonity” to win some fabulous prizes. Here’s what you might win just by commenting on one of the videos or signing my guestbook anytime between November 28 and December 2:

Deborah Voigt as Annie Oakley for The Glimmerglass Festival 2011 / photo by. J. Cervantes

1. Two tickets to a 2012 Glimmerglass Festival Production in Cooperstown, NY
Next summer’s festival season offers variety and freshness and includes Aida, The Music Man, Armide and Lost in the Stars. For more information about Glimmerglass’s 2012 season, stop by their website. For more details about Glimmerglass as a summer vacation destination, see my feature on

A signed poster from Jose Llopis

2. A signed Don Giovanni poster from Spanish artist Jose Llopis
Jose designs opera marketing materials for opera houses all over the world. You can see more of his work at his website. You can also learn more about Jose by reading this feature on

3. Two tickets to Verdi’s Oberto presented by the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia
The Academy of Vocal Artsin Philly is a premiere opera training academy for professional opera singers. They produce sparkling opera featuring the opera stars of tomorrow, who go on to perform at the greatest houses in the world–Joyce DiDonato, James Valenti, Stephen Costello, Angela Meade, just to name a few AVA alums.

They are offering a pair of tickets to Verdi’s Oberto in January, 2012. Choose from three performances – Jan. 26 & 27 at the Perelman Theater and Jan 31 at the Haverford School. More information on AVA’s upcoming production is available here.

4. A lined navy tote with the Canadian Opera Company (COC) logo
The Canadian Opera Company headquartered in Toronto is Canada’s largest opera company and the sixth largest opera producer in North America. You can find out more about the Canadian Opera Company and their 2011-12 season by visiting their website.
5. CDs from Nathan Granner, recording artist and star of The American Tenors
Nathan Granner’s CDs include Departure with guitarist Beau Bledsoe and also Selections from Winterreise, also with Beau Bledsoe, offering new directions in classical chamber music for tenor and classical guitar, impassioned yet intimate, rooted in the traditions of classical opera.

6. Signed copies of my novel DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA
Of course you can win signed copies during Online Book Launch Week! What would a book launch week be without signed copies of the book?

Spanish Seduction Bracelet

7. The Spanish Seduction Opera Bracelet
This beautiful creation celebrates arias from Don Giovanni by Mozart. The red beads indicate the passion of Spain, the black beads the dark ending Giovanni is propelling himself towards without remorse. The “True Story” book charm represents the Catalogue Aria in which Leporello reveals the extent of Giovanni’s many romantic liaisons. The ornate champagne bucket is symbolic of the Champagne Aria: Giovanni delights in the upcoming feast and the prospects it will provide for more conquests. The mask charm represents the Masked Trio: 3 characters wronged by Giovanni vow to reveal his true nature.

8. Operatoonity mugs
You might win this handsome mug with the banner if you sign my guestbook or comment on one of the videos.

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Hope you can stop by my author website next week.  And thanks for everything you’ve done, dear readers, in sharing your observations and expertise, that helped me be informed and grow my knowledge to write a book with classic opera as a backdrop.


Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera, opera and fiction, opera events, PA