Category Archives: opera and technology

Haunting #TheCell Hits Philly for Nat’l Opera Week; Opera Upper West Not Phoning It In

the-cell

A special seasonal prediction from the all-knowing and all-seeing Mme. Operatoonity:

Listen to me, darlings. Your favorite haunts for Halloween weekend are going to be the Ruba Club in downtown Philly and the Kevin D. Marlo Little Theatre at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr because of a powerful double bill of immersive opera theatre, courtesy of Opera Upper West.

The New York based company announces three Philly-area performances of #TheCell, a contemporary pairing of Menotti’s The Telephone and Poulenc’s La voix humaine in celebration of National Opera Week.

Thematically, the work combines two amazingly complementary sides of dramatically different pieces featuring young lovers whose passions are obscured in the technology that binds them–the dreaded cell phone–in one clever and often haunting masterwork. Though both pieces revolve around a mobile device, I promise you that this talented and spirited young company is definitely not phoning it in.

The chamber opera runs Friday, October 28 at 8pm at the Ruba Club (416 Green Street, Philadelphia 19123) and on Saturday, October 29, and Sunday, October 30 at the Kevin D. Marlo Little Theatre at Harcum College (750 Montgomery Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010).

The production stars Rachel Sigman as Elle, Meghan Mae Curry as Lucy, and Matthew Lulofs as Ben and is directed by Alexandra Fees, artistic director of Opera Upper West, who promises that operagoers will never hear their phones ring the same again after experiencing this work.

Rachel Sigman sings Elle in Poulenc's La voix humaine

Rachel Sigman sings Elle in Poulenc’s La voix humaine

The New York Times has lauded the work as a “A captivating experience…almost voyeuristic,” and by New York Classical Review as “beautifully crafted, and troubling to watch.”

Meghan Mae Curry as Lucy and Matthew Lulofs as Ben in Menotti's The Telephone

Meghan Mae Curry as Lucy and Matthew Lulofs as
Ben in Menotti’s The Telephone

I stopped in on a run-through yesterday at Harcum College. #TheCell augurs to be perfect Halloween weekend fare because its powerful themes, shared in such an intimate setting, will haunt you–that’s the trick part. The performances will delight you–and that’s the treat.

Alexandra Fees took time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions about #TheCell for Operatoonity readers.

How did you decide to combine these two pieces in a single bill?
The Telephone and La voix humaine feature strong female leads obsessively immersed in their phones to gain connections that have already been lost. The two operas of 30 minutes each are musically and dramatically opposite: The Telephone (Menotti) is a fresh and hilarious farce, revealing a snapshot of modern relationships as Ben tries to propose to Lucy who can’t stop texting. La voix humaine (Poulenc) is an exposed and sensual drama in which a woman is stuck in a murderous room on the phone with her ex-lover. Thematically, however, these two pieces intertwine as young lovers attempt to bypass the technology that isolates them.

As Isaac Mizrahi, honorary chairman of National Opera Week, said of social media: “The greatest parts of our civilization are being tested.” Our cell phones simultaneously connect and isolate us. Rachel Sigman, starring in La voix humaine, calls phones our “modern monsters”: Phones carry our secrets. Phones are with us at all times. Phones create intense anxiety at the thought of their death. Phones, as in #TheCell, create multiple levels of truth at any moment, separating the voice from the body — what is said from what is meant. A person can be anywhere and convince you they are somewhere else.

The compositions of Menotti and Poulenc, at one time dramatized, now seem eerily prophetic and on target in today’s world.  This work is especially appropriate at Halloween, where we come face-to-face with our monsters that are typically overlooked.

Where did this show premiere and when?
This show premiered this summer at Cafe Tallulah’s underground cocktail lounge for the inaugural NY Opera Fest hosted by NY Opera Alliance, a consortium of independent opera companies in New York.

How did you choose Philadelphia for a location for this production?
At the production’s conception, we were looking to give more opportunities to emerging singers, especially women, by performing the chamber opera with several different casts and observing how the show would change based upon the actors in each role.  The Philadelphia cast features Rachel Sigman as Elle, Meghan Mae Curry as Lucy, Matthew Lulofs as Ben, and is accompanied by Kat Bowman.

We are thrilled to be hosted by two great venues: Ruba Club (Oct 28) is a historic Russian Club in downtown Philadelphia with a vintage cabaret space and cocktail bar. At Friday night’s kickoff, we will have an after party with drinks, dancing and billiards! The Kevin D. Marlo Little Theatre (Oct 29-30) at Harcum College is an intimate space in the heart of Bryn Mawr. Holding a rich history of experimental theatre, the facility was recently restored in honor of Kevin D. Marlo, a passionate actor who was killed during the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.

How was Opera Upper West founded?
Opera Upper West was founded by myself (Alexandra Fees) and Aine Hakamatsuka, two New York based singers, to explore immersive opera as authentic drama rooted in the human experience. The first season featured The Marriage of Figaro as a real-time wedding in which audience members were the guests, complete with champagne toast, wedding cake, and throwing of the bouquet.

Can you characterize Opera Upper West’s niche?
Opera Upper West draws people who are looking for unique entertainment and social experiences, who want to explore something new, and who are interested in experiencing music theatre (opera) for the first time. For those who are seasoned operaphiles, our events are an opportunity to breathe in the musical drama from up close.

What are your future plans for the company? Short-term? Long-term?
Opera Upper West invests in educating emerging singers in a new approach to acting in opera, beginning with understanding the human experience and applying that understanding to the roles we play onstage. In the future, we would love to set up sister-boutique companies throughout the United States so that Americans have the opportunity to feel ownership over the art form and can look forward to experiencing chamber opera theatre as a social event.

Is there a role for chamber opera (a more intimate opera experience) the way to attract more millennial operagoers?
Creating a social event within a chamber opera, especially one concerning technology and its ironic ability to break down lines of connection, is a riveting experience for anyone involved in these digital platforms. We guarantee that you will never hear your phone ring the same way again.

Anything else you want to tell me about this show or yourselves?
Tickets are $35 General Admission and $45 VIP Premium Seating and can be reserved at www.OperaUpperWest.Eventbrite.com. Cash Bar available at Ruba Club, and Halloween after-party included every night.

For more information, please contact
Alexandra Fees, Artistic Director
operaupperwest@gmail.com
(256) 682-9912

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, North American Opera, opera and irony, Opera and social media, opera and technology

Sunday Best with Stephanie Blythe: America’s Mezzo Meets Operatoonity

album art

Stephanie Blythe recorded a new album of the American songbook, ‘As Long As There Are Songs’

If the United States had an order of chivalry like our friends across the pond, surely mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe would be our Dame Stephanie.

Her Wagner, Verdi, and Handel have been heralded the world around. She is our Olympic Gold Medalist in the international sphere of opera, a champion we celebrate with each new success, and one reason why her newest album As Long as There Are Songs is so exciting.

It is sung entirely in English. A classically trained American artist sings a 19th century American songbook featuring beloved tunes by Ira Gershwin, Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, and Irving Berlin that builds on the success of her Live from Lincoln Center — Celebration: Stephanie Blythe Meets Kate, a concert of works made famous by Kate Smith that was broadcast on PBS in 2013.

As Miss Blythe explains in a video about making the album, As Long As There Are Songs connects her to her audience in an immediate way unlike singing French songs or German lieder.

What’s also brave and striking about this album is the way it was recorded. Some highly sophisticated technology afforded a sound so personal and intimate, it’s like Miss Blythe is serenading you and you alone in your living room.

The sound is so honest and real and organic, and is a reflection of how we made this disk. The sound of the disk is the perfect reflection of what we we experienced in the moment in the room. ” –Stephanie Blythe, As Long as There Are Songs

A very warm welcome to Operatoonity.com, Miss Blythe. What were your initial thoughts when you learned you wouldn’t have to use close-field microphones or headphones to record this album?
I was thrilled!  As a opera singer who rarely deals with microphones of any kind, the idea of having the recorded sound captured purely from the room acoustic was intriguing and very exciting.  I have trained for many years to project my voice into the theater, so I don’t believe that close-field mics really capture my voice adequately.  This is the very question that opened my first conversation with John Meyer about recording the voice.

Listening to ‘AS LONG AS THERE ARE SONGS” absolutely felt like being in a concert hall with you. Accompanied by piano only, you laid your voice naked on this CD. Did that feel more comfortable, more like what you are used to in performance?
I have been singing recitals with piano for many years, and have sung these songs with Craig Terry for many audiences across the country.  It is always fun and always comes with the feeling that anything could happen in terms of interpretation.  The intimacy of voice and piano is something that has always made me feel very comfortable, and I was really happy that our first recording with the Meyers was voice and piano.

Your voice is in tip-top shape. It’s strong, supple–sterling! You even belt! You switch from head to chest range seamlessly. How did you prepare to sing an album of songs that demanded so much of your instrument?
This style of singing has always come very easily to me- there is something there that I connected to when I was quite young.  It probably has something to do with being the child of a jazz musician and with having taken part in so many musicals growing up.  I have always had a fairly well developed chest voice, which is helpful in the belting department, but the style is something that has always spoken to me.  I am just so thankful to finally have a platform for performing these songs!

How did you choose the songs for the album? Were many of them already in your repertoire?
Several of the songs come from our Kate Smith Show, a tribute that Craig and I have toured around the country.  Many of the other songs were new to both of us, and some were sitting in my dream vault for a long time.  “The Man That Got Away” in particular. I have always loved that song, and I am very grateful to have this opportunity to program it — I will sing for as many years as I have to sing.  It is just that kind of song.  As far as how we chose the songs — they are all pieces for which Craig and I have enormous admiration for their musical construction and for their lyrics.  They all have that timeless quality that is the hallmark of a great work.

Do you have a favorite track? If so, which one(s) and why?
I think that “How Deep Is The Ocean” a particular favorite because I really took a point of view of the song when we first rehearsed it in my home.  My husband and I had just adopted our Boston Terrier, June, and she was about two months old when Craig came to the house to work with me for a few days.  She was very weepy that afternoon, and I just picked her up and sang that song to her, and she calmed right down — singing to that beautiful little face ensured it will always be June’s song to me.

Are there any contemporary songwriters whose hits you’d like to take on in your next album?
There are far too many to name, but I would like to sing some of BIlly Joel’s work — a dream is to do a song recording with him.  He is one of the most important American voices of this or any generation.

Learn more about how they recorded this album:

YouTube Preview Image

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Learn more about “as long as there are songs:”
http://meyersound.com/news/2013/steph…

Purchase the album:
http://www.innova.mu/artist/stephanie…
http://www.amazon.com/As-Long-There-A…

Stephanie Blythe:
http://www.opus3artists.com/artists/s…

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Filed under artists, Best of Operatoonity, Golden Operatoonity, Heartstoppers, Interviews, opera and technology, Performers, Recording, Richard Tucker prize winners

Singer Sunday with Jonathan Estabrooks, vlogging virtuoso

Baritone Jonathan Estabrooks

The official line on baritone Jonathan Estabrooks is that he is an emerging, classically trained artist based in NYC, originally from Ottawa, Canada.

Unofficially, he is a captivating singer/entertainer across disciplines, a compelling host, a gifted actor, a director, and visionary who speaks both English and French, and whose joie de vivre is, well, infectious.

He is also an avid opera vlogger, make that a vlogging virtuoso, of his show “A Singer’s Life”– a delightful series. Each episode is a pastiche of mini-interviews, backstage banter, and rehearsal and performance clips from numerous locations edited and underscored for maximum impact.

While his vlogs showcase all the artists around him, they also reveal a multi-talented, versatile artist who is as much a keen observer of his environment as he is an entertainer.

Here’s a show he filmed at the International Vocal Arts Institute Final Concert Gala in Virginia that *I’m certain* you will enjoy watching:

YouTube Preview Image

If a behind-the-scenes world of a performer trained in the classical arts interests you,   there are many, many other wonderful episodes of “A Singer’s Life” on Jonathan’s YouTube channel.

Can you tell me a little about your childhood? How did you grow up and how did it affect your decision to sing opera?
I guess I could say that my childhood was pretty normal, aside from how busy I was. Both my brother and I were very active  both in terms of activities (gymnastics, skiing, track and field, swimming) but even more so in the arts. From the age of 8, I was a member of a local boys choir affiliated with Opera Lyra Ottawa, and soon joined a thriving musical theatre company called the Company of Musical Theatre. We also spend hundreds of hours each year performing at various charity and fundraising events known then as the Estabrooks Brothers. I learnt so much about collaboration but more importantly, how to interact and communicate with an audience. Through simply doing, I that realized what it took to step out in front of any audience, large or small and communicate a message through music. I guess it was sort of a natural progression to study music, and classical voice seems like the strongest base to allow for healthy singing in any genre.

A map, in case, like me, you're wondering where is Ottawa anyway?

When did you decide to relocate to New York and why?
After completing my Bachelor of music at the University of Toronto, I applied to a number of schools not knowing where I would be accepted. I was open to a new city and a new adventure. When I was accepted into Juilliard, I took the leap and moved to the Big Apple.

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
It’s hard to choose just one thrill because if I wasn’t constantly thrilled and challenged, I would find another career. I would say that there have been a few. Singing for then President Bill Clinton (1999) was certainly one, and my debut with The National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa under the baton of Pinchas Zukerman. Then there are the less showy moments like having the chance to touch someone through music. Perhaps thrilling is too big a word, but bringing meaning to a special moment for even one audience member has to be up there. We are privileged with the ability to share great art and with that comes great responsibility. Not to sound cliche, but without a doubt, it remains a thrill and an honor to connect with and touch someone even for a moment.

The challenges are ever present from the constant turning wheel of auditioning, performing, learning new music and PR, but there is never a dull moment that’s for sure. Sometimes the traveling can be tough, but then I think about how blessed I am to work with such incredible artists and travel the world. It sure beats the 9-5; for me at least.

Jonathan in performance | The Elixir of Love

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Baritone role(s)? Venue?
I would say that among my favorites are Rossini and Mozart roles (Figaro, Papageno The Count, Guglielmo), though Pelleas was also a thrilling role to perform, because of its high tessitura and the fact that for once, the baritone was the romantic lead! I will be making my Carnegie Hall Stern Auditorium debut in November, so I am extremely excited to perform in that venue.

Do you miss Ottawa? Any desire or need to go abroad to sing?
I do miss Ottawa but surprisingly, I have returned quite a bit in the last few years to perform so I get my fix. My parents live outside of the city, so I enjoy seeing them, but most of my friends are in Toronto, Montreal, New York or abroad. It is a global world we live in, but thanks to Facebook and the Internet, it makes staying in touch a whole lot easier.

(Here is a fun little clip all about Jonathan produced by a TV show in  Ottawa prior to his opening in Pagliacci:)

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Why and when did you start vlogging?
I have always had an interest in video production and how the camera can capture moments, whether performances or short films. There is something very intriguing about the power of the editor to share and shape how a  viewer experiences an event. This lead to a hobby in video making at a young age and has remained with me. It seemed like a natural move to use my interest and skill with video to share my life as a singer and the many intriguing people I continue to work with. ‘A Singer’s Life” on YouTube has certainly been a labor of love.

sitting by the Hudson River with the Brooklyn Bridge in the background

What do you think of the increasing numbers of big-screen Simulcast operas around the world produced by the Met and others?
You know the discussion of Opera in movie theaters has come up a great deal in recent years and even weeks. It is a two-edged sword. I think there is no denying that these broadcasts are bringing a new audience to the art form and hopefully peaking their curiosity enough to attend a live performance, but I worry that when they do see a live performance that there will be a let down because they don’t have the luxury of a close up, a wide shot and a sweeping camera crane shot at that most dramatic musical moment. My hope is that they will attend the live performance and continue coming.

The other challenge is on the performers because singing and acting for the stage vs camera are very different. It is certainly a balancing act but certainly more positive than negative.

Where would you like to be in five years? In ten years?
In 5 years I would like to be booked 3 years in advance performing world wide in a variety of traditional Opera roles, new works, concerts, pops concerts and even film/music collaborations. I am open to interdisciplinary art, making and breaking down the boundaries between genres. It is so hard to plan so I say bring it on! I am excited to see where my artistic life will take me!

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
Well, like most singers, I love food and cooking when I get the chance. My favorites are my mom’s recipes often involving some sort of comfort food, be it Shepherd’s Pie or her signature-ish honey/dijon/curry chicken and rice. And how can I forget apple pie! All this talk of food. I think I need a snack!

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Jonathan has some great upcoming gigs at Carnegie Hall with the Oratorio Society of NY this November and with Toronto Symphony and pops conductor Steven Reineke in October. For more of his wonderful “A Singer’s Life” vlogs, visit his YouTube channel.  Though his website is currently under construction, you can like his Fan Page on Facebook. You can also follow him on Twitter @estarp.

 

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Filed under Baritones, Careers in opera, Interviews, Opera and food, Opera and humor, opera and technology, opera challenges, Opera vlogging, Performers, Q&A, Singer Sunday

New York Opera Exchange gets Così with technology

By setting Così fan tutte in contemporary society, the New York Opera Exchange revitalizes the universal themes of love and fidelity in Mozart’s popular 1790 opera with the frothy story line and the lush music.

Guest Director Cameron J. Marcotte

Their production directed by Cameron J. Marcotte explores how modern technological innovations and current events affect relationships with others.

Four evening performances in collaboration with the Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra are slated for April 26 through the 29th at the Church of the Covenant on 310 E 42ndSt. between 1st Ave and 2nd Ave.

Why contemporize the show? In today’s age of innovation in media, technology colors love.  In a world so fundamentally driven by opinion and social class, opposites attract now more than ever. In this new version of Così fan tutte, the characters live in a complex world where a Facebook relationship status carries as much weight as an eighteenth century marriage contract and where an executive in the one-percent may fall in love with an Occupy Wall Street protestor.

“Our goal is to hold up a mirror to our contemporary audience and reveal, with comical overtones, that this farcical world may not be so different from our own.” — New York Opera Exchange

Soprano Rachel Ann Hippert is sharing the role of Fiordiligi . . .

NY Opera Exchange aims to create performance opportunities with orchestra for young emerging artists on the cusp of professional breakthrough.  They strive to make opera accessible for the diverse New York population, creating a supportive environment for both the musicians and audience. There will be supertitles for the sung Italian and an original English text for the recitative.

The production features two casts:

THURSDAY APRIL 26th at 7PM
SATURDAY APRIL 28th at 7PM

Fiordiligi: Rachel Anne Hippert
Dorabella: Abi Levis
Despina: Amanda Chmela
Ferrando: Justin Werner
Guglielmo: Joe Beckwith
Don Alfonso: Brad Baron
______________________________

. . . with soprano Rebecca Shorstein

FRIDAY, APRIL 27th at 7PM
SUNDAY, APRIL 29th at 6PM

Fiordiligi: Rebecca Shorstein
Dorabella: Kate Wiswell
Despina: Becca Conviser
Ferrando: Jeffrey Taveras
Guglielmo: Bob Balonek
Don Alfonso: Jason Cox
_______________________

Tickets are $25 each ($15 student rush) and are available at the door or in advance at www.nyoperaexchange.com

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, North American Opera, Opera and humor, opera and irony, opera and technology

‘Werther’ live webcast with James Valenti on Sunday, February 5

James Valenti in Werther live webcast

Minnesota Opera together with collaborators SoundQue and Opera Music Broadcast.com invite you to tune in for the first  live webcast of 2012, Massanet’s Werther starring James Valenti and Roxana Constantinescu, airing February 5, at 2 PM CT (8 PM GMT).

The webcast will be offered worldwide free of charge, which means no barriers of price and/or location. The webcast will further the company’s efforts to expand accessibility to live opera performance and exposure to Minnesota Opera’s artistic quality.

“Last year we started live video webstreaming of opera — every performance we have broadcast has averaged about 60-80,000 viewers, from over 20 countries,” says Kelly Rinne, music director of Opera Music Broadcast, explained in a recent interview on Operatoonity. “My goal is to do for the regional companies what the HD broadcasts did for the Met — our station already has the built-in audience through our use of social media. We just need the opera companies to step up and look to build their audience beyond the physical confines of the opera house.”

The live webcast advances the technology currently offered by the Met and other houses who provide free audio to selected performances: tomorrow, you can see AND hear Werther.  Just visit Opera Music Broadcast’s website to enjoy. It’s that simple.

So, why not give yourself an early valentine and tune in?

For the last threWerther live webcast from Minnesota Opera starring James Valenti on Feb 5th 2012e years, Minnesota Opera has made new media a priority, working with those at the vanguard of the fast-changing field of digital distribution for opera. This project is an opportunity for Minnesota Opera to become the first major American opera company to webcast its works through this emerging distribution channel. Thanks to major funding provided by the St. Paul Cultural star Program, Minnesota Opera’s production of Werther has the potential to reach exponentially greater audience members than it could in its one-week engagement on the Ordway stage.

The Cast webcast only
Werther, a poet James Valenti
Charlotte Roxana Constantinescu
Albert, her betrothed Gabriel Preisser
Sophie, Charlotte’s sister Angela Mortellaro
Le Bailli, Charlotte’s father Joseph Beutel
Schmidt, his friend John Robert Lindsey
Johann, his friend Rodolfo Nieto
Brühlmann, a young man Mark Thomas
Käthchen, a young woman Alison Schardin

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Classic Opera, Collaborative opera, opera and technology, Opera broadcasts, opera webcasts