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Opera stars, mind your manners!

One of the things that can make opera winning is a children’s chorus. Puccini included children in several of his operas. Glimmerglass Festival produced La bohème this summer, and the voices of the children’s chorus added so much beauty and lightness to the Christmas Eve scene in the Latin Quarter.

David Walton as Parpignol in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini's "La bohème." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

David Walton as Parpignol in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Puccini’s “La bohème.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The scene and the show were just magical. You can read my review here.

So when a colleague told me last week that an unnamed opera star was allegedly tearing up rehearsals for an unnamed upcoming show, hollering and dropping the “f” bomb around children, I became angry. My colleague was aghast at this star’s unprofessional, outlandish behavior.

I had encouraged my young friend to have her child be considered for the show. The child could not have been more excited to have been selected. That was before said opera star behaved badly.

Who is the performer being paid because they are a professional? Right. The opera star.

A word to opera stars. You are not curing cancer. You are not creating world peace. You have not been dropped into a war zone with your platoon to defend someone’s freedom.

You sing. You act. While I am personally very appreciative of what I have seen onstage, when you take yourself so seriously that you almost ruin a theatrical experience for impressionable young children, you are way out of bounds. You are behaving more childishly than the children you are frightening.

You should mind your manners. Because an opera’s success rests with many people and sometimes with children, too. Not just you. It’s not always about you.

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Celebrate the new release of DON JUAN and win!

“Packed with comic misadventures, mystery, intrigue and opera lore, the book rollicks along to a satisfying conclusion….readers need not be opera buffs to enjoy this novel.” — Kirkus Reviews

In this humorous backstage novel, a small-town opera guild headquartered in Hankey, Pennsylvania stages Mozart’s most famous opera ‘Don Giovanni’ to stave off financial ruin.

Who doesn’t love the story of Don Giovanni? A ghost exacts revenge on a notorious womanizer by dragging him into hell? Love, lust, romance, mystery, friendly ghosts, scary ghosts–my contemporary novel DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA has it all:

To celebrate its re-release by Northampton House Press in 2016, I’m offering a Goodreads Giveaway. Win one of up to five signed copies if you enter by September 17.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Don Juan in Hankey, PA by Gale Martin

Don Juan in Hankey, PA

by Gale Martin

Giveaway ends September 17, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Donna Anna, Elvira, Don G., Ottavio, Zerlina, Leperello? All the characters you love to love and love to hate? They’re all there, in this book (just with different names). Available in print and ebook formats at Northampton House PressAmazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and Indiebound.org.

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World’s best tenors top most-read posts on Operatoonity in 2015!

Each year, WordPress sends me an annual report for Operatoonity.com, and it’s always fascinating to view this blog’s outreach in summary, like this form provides. Thank you, everyone, who has stopped in on this blog. Here’s to a bigger, better Operatoonity.com in 2o16. Enjoy viewing the results you all helped create:

Wordpress analysis of Operatoonity.com is always an interesting report.

WordPress analysis of Operatoonity.com is always an interesting report.Operatoonity’s Annual Report 2015

This next piece of data was the most surprising stat in the report:

I was very surprised to learn that my post about male singers was more popular than female singers. Sea change?

My post about male singers was more popular than female singers. A sea change, for sure. Is Anna Nebtreko’s star power waning?

Is 2016 the year I update these lists? I created them because I couldn’t find the compendia I was seeking. As you can see,  these lists will be nearly five years old in 2016, and a lot can happen in the operasphere in five years. New singers have come into prominence and others are fading from view. With your input, I will pledge to update some of these lists in 2016:

Annual Report 2015_6

 

I am very grateful for those outlets who continue to refer readers to operatoonity.com: Here is a big mmmwwwwaaahhhh to you all!

Annual Report 2015_4

And of course it never gets old seeing how far Operatoonity.com reaches globally:

Annual Report 2015_5

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2016 for all. To see the complete report, simply visit Annual Report 2015.

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Viva, Verdi! Viva, Violetta!

Operatoonity.com review: La traviata presented by Opera Philadelphia
Live performance: Sunday, October 4, 2015, 2:30 p.m.
The Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Music: Giuseppi Verdi
Libretto: Francesco Maria Piave
4.5 out of 5.0 stars

4.5strslg

 

 

Opera Phila's La Traviata

Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) sings the Brindisi in Act I of Verdi’s La traviata |Photos by Kelly & Massa

While La traviata is consistently one of the most performed operas in the world, it is also universally ranked as one of the greatest operas ever written. The story may be sheer melodrama, but the clarity of the storyline compared to other Verdi operas is refreshingly linear. The music is refined and elegant throughout. Opera Philadelphia deserves an ovation for offering a refreshing production of La traviata with a level of refinement and elegance to complement the virtues of Verdi’s beloved score.

Credit must go to Director Paul Curran for the show’s winning sensibility. He chose to set the opera in Paris during the 1950s, a thoughtful choice that he and his team executed with class and precision, from the glorious set featuring a sweeping staircase to the beautiful costuming and technical direction. In a Q&A, Curran says that the moral climate of the 1950s, when sex scandals actually mattered, hearkens back to the era in which La traviata premiered. Curran’s resetting worked so well and was so meticulously rendered that even traditionalists hoping to see a recreation of the 18th century could not have objected. The 1950s were characterized by a preoccupation with propriety regarding appearance and appearances that it was common to be disingenuous at one’s core. For instance, even the tuxedos couldn’t mask the proclivities which drew these well-clad Parisian men to a party in the home of a high-class prostitute.

Doctor Grenville (Andrew Bogard), the Marchese (Jarrett Ott) and Flora (Katherine Pracht) in the Act I party scene from Verdi’s La traviata

Doctor Grenville (Andrew Bogard), the Marchese (Jarrett Ott) and Flora (Katherine Pracht) in the Act I party scene from Verdi’s La traviata

However, even a La traviata, however lovely, can’t succeed without the ideal Violetta.

Seeing La traviata with the perfect Violetta has not been a common experience for me. Viva, Opera Philadelphia, for casting American soprano Lisette Oropesa to portray the most renowned fallen woman in the contemporary opera repertoire. What a triumph she was! Oropesa was as refined and elegant as the opera she was tasked to sing. Violetta is, after all, a courtesan–not a vestal virgin. So the sensuality Oropesa brought to “The Brindisi” and to the character throughout Act I was spot on. Alfredo falls in love with her at first sight, so Violetta must be lovely but also a little wild, not merely coquettish.

Lisette Oropesa was a tour de force as Violetta

Lisette Oropesa was a tour de force as Violetta

Yet, she can’t just be a fine actress. She must be a coloratura soprano whose vocal gifts can effortlessly push the limits of any soprano’s range. Oropesa took a well-deserved solo bow for a tour de force performance at the conclusion of the opera that brought the audience to its feet. Viva, Violetta.

At Flora’s ball, Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) is back on the arm of the Baron (Daniel Mobbs)

At Flora’s ball, Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) is back on the arm of the Baron (Daniel Mobbs)

Vocally, Oropesa was a star but not the only star. As Germont, Pennsylvania baritone Stephen Powell was, in a word, extraordinary. He, too, received a wildly enthusiastic ovation at curtain call. Germont might be easy to dislike because he destroys the relationship between Alfredo and Violetta, but Powell’s Di Provenza il mar was heartfelt and beautiful.

Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont (Stephen Powell) pleads with Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) to end her relationship with Alfredo for the good of his family.

Alfredo’s father, Giorgio Germont (Stephen Powell) pleads with Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) to end her relationship with Alfredo for the good of his family.

We nearly forgot the hypocrisy Germont displays showing up as a guest Flora’s “raunchy” ball. Only a gifted performer can convince the audience that Germont is genuinely remorseful for separating Violetta from his son after learning Violetta is dying. Powell is that consummate performer.

Regrettably, tenor Alex Shrader’s Alfredo was overshadowed by these two supernovas. Though he did a servicable job with role, he didn’t have much stage presence compared to Oropesa and Powell. His voice seemed taxed and muddy. He even cracked a few times rather than reaching the rafters.

Alek Shrader stars as Alfredo Germont in Opera Philadelphia new production of Verdi’s La traviata

Alek Shrader stars as Alfredo Germont in Opera Philadelphia new production of Verdi’s La traviata

The Philadephia Opera Orchestra conducted by Corrado Rovaris and the Chorus under chorus master Elizabeth Braden sounded the best I’ve ever heard them in the last several years. Rovaris clearly loved the score and conveyed that adoration to his musicians. And though the Philadelphia Opera Chorus didn’t take a bow because the set contracted as Violetta’s world became smaller and there was simply no room to accommodate more than the principals for curtain call, they deserved a bow.

Alfredo (Alek Shrader) returns to the bedside of Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) as she is dying of consumption

Alfredo (Alek Shrader) returns to the bedside of Violetta (Lisette Oropesa) as she is dying of consumption

This reviewer never thought she would be grateful to Opera Philadelphia for staging (yet) another production of La Traviata.  I stand corrected. Never say never.

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@OperaPhila with the Fringe goes pop!

Operatoonity.com review: Andy: A Popera, an Opera Philadelphia Showcase presented by Opera Philadelphia and the Bearded Ladies Cabaret Troupe
Live performance: Saturday, September 20, 2015, 8:00 p.m.
Fringe Festival, 1526 North American Street, Philadelphia
Music: Heath Allen & Dan Visconti
Libretto: John Jarboe in development with Sean Lally & ensemble
4.5 out of 5.0 stars

4.5strslg

 

 

Andrei portrayed by Mary Tuomanen becomes Andy Warhol | photograph Dominic M. Mercier

Andrei portrayed by Mary Tuomanen becomes Andy Warhol | photograph Dominic M. Mercier

Who knew a great yoga class could do more than increase your strength and flexibility? Apparently, a particularly bone-crushing class inspired an artistic partnership between senior managers at Opera Philadelphia and The Bearded Ladies Cabaret Troupe. The end result? Andy: A Popera–an original and provocative exploration into the life of the godfather of pop art offered up for the 2015 Philly Fringe Festival.

The evening began in an art gallery adjacent to the warehouse performance space called Bahdeebahdu. Preshow festivities included dressing up as a Campbell’s Soup can (#iamasoupcan), enjoying the Bearded Ladies’ refreshing party punch, and eyeing hulking chandeliers crafted from found materials. The preshow was a window into what was to come–a hedonistic and provocative night of popera, full of surprises.

At the preshow, bohemian guests mingled with other audience members. These bohemians eventually became characters in the popera, which was totally fitting. Even as audience members, they possessed an I’m-extra-special quality that would  have attracted someone like Andy Warhol, who developed a love affair with celebrity culture.

The band wore boxes on their heads as the audience entered the warehouse littered with boxes. Young Andy crawled out of box to start the show, a box symbolizing his extreme introversion and his being sheltered due to a rare childhood disease called chorea.

Mary Tuomanen as Andrei and his over protective Slovakian mother Julia played by Malgorzata Kasprzycka

Mary Tuomanen as Andrei and his over protective Slovakian mother Julia played by Malgorzata Kasprzycka | photograph by Dominic M. Mercier

On page 11 of the program, the audience is explicitly warned about interactive nature of the show, that by the act of attending, one consents to being filmed and photographed. Several people in the audience got their 15 minutes of fame as the result of being filmed and broadcast on the large overhead screen or pulled onto stage.

While the popera unfurled itself in a warehouse converted to a theatre for the occasion, we were simultaneously introduced to many other Andy’s sung by the well-trained Opera Phila chorus members as well as the flamboyant “stars” of Warhol’s famous “Factory” productions.

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Andrei (Mary Tuomanen) creates several replicas of himself, known as Andy | photograph by Dominic M. Mercier

Composers Allen and Visconti created a vehicle which effectively showcased the cabaret voices of The Bearded Ladies as well as the glorious operatic tones of Opera Philadelphia singers. Part exploration, part clever homage, part burlesque, Andy: A Popera reminded me of the sensational contemporary opera Anna Nicole, which is also a biopic of a highly dysfunctional American blonde freak of nature. (Hint: Would LOVE to see Anna Nicole come to Philly, too.)

Superstar Edie (Kristen Bailey) and Andy (Mary Tuomanen)

Superstar Edie (Kristen Bailey) and Andy (Mary Tuomanen) | photograph by Dominic M. Mercier

Actor/playwright Mary Tuomanen was extraordinary as Andrei and later Andy. She conveyed a naturalness portraying and singing Andy that seemed to suggest Andy was born for the life he led–an authentic artist whose individuality couldn’t be dimmed by societal strictures. Tuomanen and Kristen Bailey as Superstar Edie had a superstar turn atop a hightop cardboard  box in Act 1.

Another highlight of Act I was the scene Marilyn’s Baptism by Paint, devoted to Warhol’s famous Marilyn Diptych of 50 photos showing Marilyn Monroe as not just sex symbol but as a person.

Warhol's Marilyn Diptych

Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych

While critics might claim that anyone can create pop art like the Marilyn Diptych, the point Andy: A Popera makes is that only one person did, and Warhol changed the landscape of art as a result. An homage to the work featured a musical rainbow of Marilyns singing and prancing about on the stage.

 Andy creates colorful replicas of Marilyn Monroe (Karina Sweeney, Jackson Williams, Katherine Mallon-Day, and Veronica Chapman-Smith)

Andy creates colorful replicas of Marilyn Monroe (Karina Sweeney, Jackson Williams, Katherine Mallon-Day, and Veronica Chapman-Smith) | Photograph by Dominic M. Mercier

Actor Sean Lally had his fifteen minutes of fame as Joseph the ecdysiast, who is outfitted with a banana costume as part of Andy’s entourage before he peels it all off. (And I do mean all.) While his physique and performance certainly inspired, he is also deserving of praise for his meaningful work as co-librettist with John Jarboe. What a richly textured and deeply-layered work from which one emerges with new or renewed understanding of Andy Warhol and the pop art revolution!

popera-010

Joe (Sean Lally) is a Warhol Superstar who dresses as a banana | photograph by Dominic M. Mercier

Top performance honors must be awarded to Scott McPheeters portraying the drag queen Candy. Sometimes Candy sang her own numbers and sometimes she was voiced by Opera Phila sopranos. Every moment McPheeters was on stage was electrified by his presence.

Candy (Scott McPheeters) performs her big Death Scene

Candy (Scott McPheeters) performs her big Death Scene | photograph by Dominic M. Mercier

Candy’s Death Scene was a tour de force. Bravo, McPheeters. Brava, Candy.

One of the opera’s most grating characters was Valerie Solanas played by Kate Raines. Valerie was a radical feminist who published the SCUM MANIFESTO, and who shot and nearly killed Andy for misplacing one of the scripts in 1968. Raines played her as a paranoid schizophrenic without apology, which resulted in the audience growing tired of her, as perhaps Warhol and his entourage did. No song stylist, her numbers were difficult to listen to, becoming more strident as her paranoia increased. Her second act departure was welcomed.

Val (Kate Raines) hijacks the Popera to perform her own opera

Val (Kate Raines) hijacks the Popera to perform her own opera | Photograph by Dominic M. Mercier

Sadly even Andy’s mother Julia Warhola eventually demands her fifteen minutes of fame in Act II, while Andy recovers from the shooting, a la Mama Rose in Gypsy.

The popera ellipsed Andy’s career a bit too aggressively in the 70s, quickly advancing to his death in the 80s. The program notes that the two companies collaborated on the show for two years, releasing it in bits and pieces. While the show ran long, the second act was underdeveloped compared to the first. Perhaps more Act II and less Act I would give the show more dramatic balance.

Andy: A Popera forced Opera Phila and The Bearded Ladies to create art together in a new way. The Philly Fringe and the arts landscape is richer for this spirited collaboration. While social media, it seems, can cough up 15 minutes of fame for almost anyone, this show reminds us that Andy Warhol did it a time well before our current intoxication with celebrity culture.

I raise a Dixie cup of vodka, cranberry juice, and Tang to Andy: A Popera. It’s not every day that the audience gets to wear a soup can, process through a giant vagina, or witness full frontal nudity in the name of opera. Bring on Anna Nicole.

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