Category Archives: opera trends

celebrating The American Tenors on the Fourth of July

Of course, America boasts lots of talented tenors who could (and should) be celebrated today, the day when the United States of America was born with the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776.

But have you heard of  the performing group The American Tenors: the trio of  Marcus McConico, Nathan Granner, and Ben Gulley? Now, that’s American! A patriotic musical package of sorts, perfect for featuring on a Fourth of July Operatoonity post.

From l to r: Nathan Granner, Ben Gulley, Marcus McConico

The American Tenors were the brainchild of Frank McNamara (the creative force behind the success of The Irish Tenors), and were launched following a nationwide search early in 2002 by McNamara. The American Tenors began their journey with a PBS special recorded at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, following a signing by Sony Classical.

The American Tenors have delighted audiences across the U.S. and Europe with their combination of great voices, humor and choice of material from “Nessun Dorma” to “West Side Story,”  from the Great American Songbook to Neopolitan favorites.

“We are set to hit 24 dates this coming season,” Nathan Granner, the only original member of the group (and the most enterprising tenor I know), said of their 2011-12 contracts. “We have usually had two or three gigs a year, but this year is  more robust.”

I’ll say!

Ben Gulley is the newest member of the group and was “plucked from close to home,” per Granner. “He’s young, versatile, charming and an amazing voice! His career is skyrocketing. Also we have Marcus McConico, who has been with us for five years.”

Tenor Daniel Montenegro  sang  with The American Tenors for five years. “We miss him deeply. But he’s doing well. His career in opera is flourishing,” explained Granner, with Montenegro being a new Adler Fellow with San Francisco Opera.

Interestingly, Granner reports that the group has had six tenors participating to date.

Here is a YouTube clip celebrating The American Tenors, past and present, singing “Shenandoah,” one of my all-time favorite American folk songs from their Great American Songbook. (To hear Granner, Gulley, and McConico singing together, listen to this clip from their website):

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Happy Birthday, USA, my home sweet home.

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Filed under Heartstoppers, Holidays, opera trends, Video

contemporary opera? modern opera? define, please

This afternoon I’m seeing Opera Company of Philadelphia‘s Phaedra, a concert opera composed by Hans Werner Henze, which first premiered in 2007. I’m a little anxious about seeing it because I believe I am neither as fond of modern opera nor concert opera as classic opera performed full-out. I learned from watching musicals as concert pieces on PBS that I don’t even like concert musical theater. That’s because I love being engaged by drama and much prefer being invited to sit behind that invisible fourth wall and enter in.

I will however concede that my favorite production this spring was Séance on a Wet Afternoon presented by New York City Opera, written by composer Stephen Schwartz, and that I was prepared to not love that show either, feeling strongly that I needed to see it instead.

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Since that production, I have been made to consider why I liked it so much.  It was contemporary opera with which I have a limited musical vocabulary. One of the things I realized I preferred was the realistic, immediate storyline of Séance. It wasn’t about a bride who goes crazy on her wedding night or a small town opera singer who stabs a police chief with a steak knife. Or a Russian king who goes mad on a throne.

Drawn from a contemporary novel, Séance had characters and a storyline that seemed plausible and that I could relate to.

Lest you are wondering at this point whether I read classic literature, I can tell you that I unabashedly love Hugo, Hardy, Shakespeare, Dumas, and RLS, to name a few. But when it comes to classic opera, while the music is accessible, for me sometimes the storylines don’t grab me, and the whole affair can become what I imagine concert opera to be–you’re concentrating on the music and production of sound foremost and the story is a distant second.

That is probably my limited view of concert opera–which is another reason I’ve opted to see Phaedra. I want to expand my thinking on this experience and my appreciation for concert opera as an art form.

Back to the subject of modern opera or contemporary opera.  A bit of research suggests that anything goes for opera composers in the 21st century. If their musical sound hearkens back to an earlier musical era, then the modern composer’s work is labeled neo-classical or neo-romantic. If they want to skip arias, nothing will stop them. If they want to use atonality or a hybrid musical language such as the contemporary jazz rhythms and sonorities in Berg’s Lulu,  no one will bat an eye.

If such a description is accurate–that anything goes when it comes to opera in the 21st century–then isn’t modern or contemporary opera like a feast–a wonderful buffet–one in which you’re never quite sure if prime rib or pot roast will be the entree but that’s fine because you love both? Isn’t that more fun, more of an adventure than a prix fixe meal where you know every morsel you’ll be consuming in that sitting?

I don’t think I have contemporary opera figured out or completely understand all its parameters. But it’s fun exploring contemporary musical expression. How about you? How do you feel about modern opera? Here’s a clip from Phaedra to stimulate your thinking:

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Concert Opera, opera trends

Bachtrack’s Young Reviewer Program offers fresh, fun learning

A few months ago, a young, knowledgeable friend from the operasphere won a young reviewer’s contest sponsored by Pacific Opera. You can read all about Paulo Montoya’s winning review at this Operatoonity post. Regarding Paulo’s review of Hansel and Gretel, someone remarked that United States opera companies should encourage more reviews of classical events from young people, which encourages their attendance at concerts and operas, contributing to a lifelong appreciation for the classical arts.        

Bachtrack is going one better. Their worldview is, well, a global one. They have classical music, opera, and ballet listings from all over the planet. Now they have a Young Reviewer Program which gives children ages 12 to 18 an opportunity get free tickets to a top class classical concert and have the review published on the Bachtrack site.        

If I were still a junior high teacher, I’d give my students the choice to see a concert or an opera and write a review for Bachtrack as one of their writing requirements. This kind of program introduces an important life skill to children: first, deciding whether or not they like something and then articulating to what extent they appreciated the performance and why.        

Washington National Opera's "Opera in the Outfield" attracted thousands of young viewers.


Bachtrack is actively seeking orchestras, promoters, opera companies, concert halls and/or anyone else who promotes classical music, to partner with them in building young audiences as a component of the young reviewers program. There’s a simple, online application form to fill out. Bachtrack even offers guidelines on how to write a review.        

All of us should pursue opportunities to sharpen our critical thinking skills. What a splendid chance for children to develop confidence in themselves and their thinking and writing abilities, replete with a prestigious clip that can be enjoyed by a worldwide audience!        

Bravo, Bachtrack!

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Filed under Audience participation, Classic Opera, Classical Music, opera firsts, Opera Marketing, opera trends, Reviews

new Met? you bet!

Kate Lindsey as Nicklausse/Muse

This past Saturday, I saw my first official “new Met” production in person, Bartlett Sher‘s version (which was also a vision) of Les Contes d’Hoffmann.    

You’ve all heard the buzz, haven’t you:    

“Under [general director] Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera has focused on the fresh and the new, streaming out spiffy high-def broadcasts of its elegantly marketed new productions.”
–Zachary Woolfe    

Fresh. New. Elegantly marked. Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.    

A longtime devotee of musical theatre, in the past I found Metropolitan Opera productions stiff and labored by comparison. But no longer. In Sher’s Hoffmann, everything worked liked the hand of God was orchestrating the show, that is, if God manipulated singers and dancers like a gifted painter manipulates his palette. Which may not be as bizarre or as blasphemous a comparison as it sounds.    

We are sexual creatures by intelligent design, and Offenbach was clearly caught up in man’s (and, of course, the woman’s) sexuality. Though decadent, the depiction of man’s baser sexual self as integral to the poet Hoffmann’s personality seemed natural and plausible.    

tavern scene

How can we lose ourselves in Hoffmann’s tortured psyche, believing he fell in love with a mechanical doll, if we refute his attraction to, no, obsession with burlesque? His deep love for a courtesan has to ring as true as his love for a dying singer.    

In opera, vocal perfection never goes without notice nor appreciation. In the Met’s Hoffmann, one doesn’t have to sacrifice overall sophistication, theatricality, or sheer artistry to the altar of vocal perfection.
It absolutely worked for me, and I can’t wait to go back. Soon.


Filed under 21st Century Opera, Classic Opera, opera trends, Reviews