Category Archives: young artists programs

Voices Carry Droll ‘Sweeney’

Operatoonity.com review: Sweeney Todd presented by Glimmerglass Festival
Live performance: Saturday, July 9, 2016, 8:00 p.m.
Venue: Alice Busch Opera Theater, Cooperstown, NY
Music and Lyrics: Stephen Sondheim
Book: Hugh Wheeler
4.0 out of 5.0 stars

4-stars

 

Members of the ensemble in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Members of the ensemble in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Each year, Glimmerglass Festival organizers solicit suggestions for upcoming seasons. I suggested Sweeney Todd several times in previous years. Granted, once I learned Sweeney Todd was on the 2016 bill, this reviewer’s expectations were off the chart. Imagine operatically trained voices handling a score that can prove daunting to strictly musical theater companies.

And the sublime voices in @GOpera’s new production of Stephen Sondheim’s dark and tragic opus Sweeney Todd absolutely thrilled and chilled.

According to the excellent show talk presented by Principal Coach and Accompanist Grant Wenaus prior to opening night of their new production, Sondheim sought to create a music thriller with his grisly Sweeney–something to terrify audiences. Wenaus detailed numerous instances where Sondheim used dissonance, repetition, and irony to create a heart-pounding show.

When I closed my eyes Friday night, the new production was absolutely terror-filled. The accomplished singers delivered many times over.

L to R: Emily Pogorelc as Johanna, Harry Greenleaf as Anthony Hope, Greer Grimsley in the title role, Peter Volpe as Judge Turpin and Bille Bruley as Beadle Bamford in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

L to R: Emily Pogorelc as Johanna, Harry Greenleaf as Anthony Hope, Greer Grimsley in the title role, Peter Volpe as Judge Turpin and Bille Bruley as Beadle Bamford in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The direction, however, did not.

Director Christopher Alden’s wryly amusing concept didn’t cut it for me. Where was the alarming atmosphere, the mounting panic, and the overwhelming dread Sondheim has so skillfully crafted into the score and the libretto? The audience should be clawing at the arms of their upholstered seats as the story freefalls into the deadliest and most chilling of downward spirals within the canon of contemporary musical theater.

As a bit of background, I am overall a fan of Alden’s work. The Così fan tutte he created for New York City Opera was a “sardonic stunner,” according to my 2012 review for Bachtrack. I also delighted in the Don Giovanni he directed in 2009 for the same company. Surely Don G. has been produced tens of thousands of times since its inception in 1787. Everyone knows the tale. So, a novel approach is welcome as long as it serves the story. I appreciated the wooden-chairs-against-the-bare-wall controlling concept in NYCO’s Don G:

Don Giovanni, directed by Christopher Alden, presented by New York City Opera, 2009.

Production photo from Don Giovanni, directed by Christopher Alden, presented by New York City Opera, 2009. | Photo by © Carol Rosegg

I was looking for–longing for–something fresh and evocative for Sweeney to well serve a contemporary musical not nearly as well known to operagoers as Don G. I expected Alden to bring his A-game. But he trotted out the wooden-chairs-against-the-bare-wall setting again, to the detriment of this production, which merited so much more than Alden’s cheeky minimalism.

Greer Grimsley in the title role Luretta Bybee as Mrs. Lovett in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Greer Grimsley in the title role Luretta Bybee as Mrs. Lovett in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

To its credit, the production starred the marvelous bass baritone Greer Grimsley as the Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He was everything Sweeney should be–a tormented, demented serial killer fueled by a bitter vengeance for having his modest world stolen from him. His operatic chops rose to the rafters of the opera house while raising the hairs on the arms of audience members. Greer’s interpretation, his immersion into character without sacrificing a whit of vocal integrity, was a tour de force, and one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen at Glimmerglass.

Greer Grimsley in the title role of The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Greer Grimsley in the title role of The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

If there is a more beloved role in contemporary musical theater than Mrs. Lovett, I’d be surprised. In spite of the fact that she turns Mr. T’s victims into meat pies, the audience wants to love her. Mezzo soprano (and real life wife of Grimsley) Luretta Bybee look and acted the role–some fetching costumes were conceived for her by Terese Wadden. Sadly, she was not vocally equipped to sing it. One either has to have an enormous chest range to surmount the break between the alto and soprano notes or a very hearty soprano. Bybee’s vocals got swallowed up between the two ranges and was barely heard over the orchestra numerous times, which was not the conductor’s fault.

Luretta Bybee as Mrs. Lovett in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Luretta Bybee as Mrs. Lovett in The Glimmerglass Festival production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The balance of the cast, to a person, was just outstanding. As Johanna Barker, Young Artist Emily Pogorelc’s rapturous soprano was perfectly suited to the sweetly virginal Johanna. I hung on her every note from the very first hearkening a caged nightengale in “Green Finch and Linnet Bird.”

Emily Pogorelc as Johanna in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Emily Pogorelc as Johanna in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Another Young Artist Harry Greenleaf turned in a winsome and winning Anthony Hope. He possesses a rich ringing baritone. With his sandy-haired boyish good looks, he is every inch the ideal romantic lead.

Harry Greenleef as Anthony Hope in The Glimmerglass Festival's production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd." Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Harry Greenleef as Anthony Hope in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

As the show’s unabashed baddies, bass Peter Volpe as Judge Turpin and tenor Bille Bruley, a Young Artist, as Beadle Bamford, delivered star turns. I’ve never seen or heard a more believably tortured or chilling Turpin than in Volpe’s “Johanna (Mea Culpa),” which was effectively if sparsely staged.

Peter Volpe as Judge Turpin in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Two other Young Artists deserve special mention. Tenor Christopher Bozeka as Senor Pirelli and Nicholas Nestorak as his attendant Tobias Ragg, that is until Pirelli’s throat is slit, both contributed immeasurably to the success of the show. Nestorak’s descent into madness as the meat grinder was chilling, despite the bare stage and lack of special effects.

KarliCadel-Sweeney-StageOrch-9601-XL

Nicholas Nestorak as Tobias Ragg in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

Soprano and veteran performer Patricia Schuman earned an accolade of her own as the Beggar Woman. I last reviewed Schuman starring in Powder Her Face. From the Duchess of Argyll to a bag lady. What a versatile actress she is!

KarliCadel-Sweeney-GenDress-5207-XL

Patricia Schuman as Beggar Woman in The Glimmerglass Festival’s production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sweeney Todd.” Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

One expects to see clever bits in an Alden show, and there are those, to be sure. However, there is plenty of comic value in the book, sans Alden’s campy touches. So, attend the tale for the voices. And plan to enjoy a glass of wine or two at intermission in case this Sweeney happens not to be your cup of tea.

Sweeney Todd runs in repertory through Friday, August 26. Tickets available at the festival’s website.

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Voices carry Phila’s ‘Carmelites’

Dialogues of the Carmelites Opera Phila

Opertoonity.com ReviewDialogues of the Carmelites
Live Performance
March 9, 2014
Presented by Curtis Opera Theatre, in association with Opera Philadelphia and Kimmel Center Presents
The Perelman Theater, Philadelphia

3-stars-out-of-5

 

Voices carry, the saying goes. But can they carry an entire production?

Several of the young voices representing the Curtis Opera Theatre program tasked to sing The Dialogues of the Carmelites at Philadelphia’s famed Kimmel Center were nothing of short of extraordinary. But expecting them to carry a show when the staging and other production elements lacked cohesiveness was asking too much.

The Curtis Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Corrado Rovaris played Francis Poulenc’s capstone opera heroically. Alas, even supremely talented musicians couldn’t rescue a flawed show.

That’s because theater is part of opera. It’s even in the company’s name—Curtis Opera Theatre. If staging, lights, sets, and costumes aren’t as strong as the voices and the orchestra, the whole production suffers.  Theatrical elements shouldn’t supersede the voices (and we’ve all seen those operas), but they must inform and lift up the integrity of the whole work.

Carmelites Curtis Opera Theater

There aren’t many choral numbers in “Dialogues of the Carmelites,” but this hymn by the sisters was transcendent | photo by Cory Weaver

The selection of Carmelites as the next offering at the Perelman Theater held all the promise for a stunning production. It was the right size show for the space—a 650-seat venue with a modern affect. Curtis Opera Theatre had august partners in Opera Philadelphia and Kimmel Center Presents. However, the devil is certainly in the details for a nuanced masterwork like Carmelites. Critical artistic choices on which the success of the show hinged handicapped this production.

The show lacked artistic coherence. The stage was annoyingly dark most of the time. To open the show, there were three large avant garde looking set pieces layered on the stage, which left little room for natural movement. Despite the modern design introduced, the first costumes seen were completely in period. Between acts, the big trendy set pieces were removed, leaving only one by the end of the show. In the middle of Act II, folding tables like those used at a flea market were hauled out for the scene featuring all the nuns working and singing, and turquoise-colored fiberglass chairs were set out, like those you might see in a local junior high school classroom. In the middle of this act, French soldiers stormed the convent to terrorize the sisters, but the soldiers wore modern dress, wielding hand guns, looking like a street gang from a rough Philly neighborhood. Why this choice was made—to mash up 18th Century French Revolution with 21st Century Street Gang—was hardly evident to this reviewer.

By casually slipping into the modern period midway through the second act, many in the audience were robbed of the power of story at its core: during the Reign of Terror, the Catholic Church was denounced as an enemy of the Revolution. The Church’s properties were confiscated to fill Revolutionary coffers, and women and men religious were branded as traitors. This included an order of devout Carmelite nuns who refused to renounce their faith and are guillotined in a breathtaking scene at the end of the opera.  A modern opera set during a brutal and tumultuous period in history past hardly needs updating to remain meaningful.

As the show progressed, clerics came onstage dressed conventionally and came back wearing modern street clothes. It was also never clear that Blanche returned home to find it ransacked, which informed her decision to choose martyrdom. The final pivotal scene in the opera– the execution of the sisters–was even diminished by its staging. The sisters were executed onstage while facing the audience while customary staging of this scene leaves something more to the imagination, yielding significantly greater dramatic impact.

Rachel Sterrenberg

Rachel Sterrenberg as Blanche | photo by Cory Weaver

To sum up, director Jordan Fein  (and by association, all the other creatives on the bill) simply missed the mark with this one.

Absent an integrated artistic interpretation, the Curtis students left to bring off the show shone like the future stars they surely will be, very nearly succeeding. Tenor Roy Hage who sang the Chevalier for the closing performance was a magical talent on stage. As Chevalier, his stage time is limited, but his ovation at curtain call was not. In character, he has a luminescent quality about him. His lush lyric tenor enraptured the audience.

Also commendable was soprano Rachel Sterrenberg as Blanche, Chevalier’s sister, who grows up in privilege but abandons it for a life of servitude with the Carmelites. She began a little stiffly in the first act. Once she shed the cumbersome period panniers for a simple nun’s habit, she warmed to her role, becoming a powerhouse by Act III.  This was despite some illogical staging that was highly distracting to audience members-yes, a fifth wall was introduced.

Show-stealing honors must go to soprano Sarah Shafer as Sister Constance.  Shafer is a gifted actress, and her voice was ideally suited to the role of the novitiate with a lighthearted, readily excitable manner.

Sarah Shafer

Sarah Shafer as Sister Constance | photo by Cory Weaver

As Mme. de Croissy, mezzo Shir Rozzen needed a bed for her death scene but was denied that simple set piece which would have helped tame her character who could only bust out all over the stage singing her dying aria.

Did the careless direction detract from Poulenc’s masterful score? Unfortunately it did, which might be the single worst shortcoming of this production, that it lacked a proper showcase for a seminal work.

Kudos to all the performers and musicians–you tried valiantly to carry this production. But in a perfect opera world, you shouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting.

by Gale Martin

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Glimmerglass Festival is for lovers…

GPhoto FAI’d hoped to grab your attention with that headline. But it’s true. As I wrap up my vacation time in Cooperstown, New York,  home to the Glimmerglass Festival, I am reminded of what a rich and fulfilling experience I have there each year. And not just as a lover of opera, musical theater, and dance.

Did you know that Glimmerglass Festival also appeals to lovers of:

  • Picnics–you can have one before or after a show on the grounds
  • Ice cream–Hagen Dazs bars–yum!
  • Beer–they have delicious craft beers for sale at intermission
  • Wine–New York and California labels available, also at intermission
  • Strolling–roam the grounds during intermission
  • Hobnobbing–meet opera greats and near-greats after audience Q&A’s
  • People watching–nuff said
  • Scarves–they have dozens of lovely scarves and other items for sale. Kitschy stuff too if you fancy that.
  • Cabaret–during their “Meet Me at the Pavilion” series, you can see cabaret style entertainment and intimate talks.
The lovely pavilion at the Glimmerglass Festival for intimate and cabaret entertainment

The lovely pavilion at the Glimmerglass Festival for intimate and cabaret entertainment

It was “Gents Night Out” at the Pavilion on Monday, July 29. The leading men of the 2013 offered solos and duets–cabaret style. What a fun show. Highlights for me included Jason Hardy’s witty little ditty “And Her Mother Came, Too,”   a beautiful rendition of “Turnaround” by tenor Jay Hunter Morris who accompanied himself on acoustic guitar, and “Ive Got Rhythm,” a surprise song-and-dancer number by countertenor and aerialist Anthony Roth Costanzo.

If you’ve never been to Glimmerglass Festival, you really should give it a go. I love the show talks before every performance–I swear I have more convolutions in my brain as a result. I learn many new things each time I go, and most importantly, I can relax and have a little FUN.

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on Singer Sunday, get to know Aussie baritone . . . Findo!

Australian baritone Andrew Finden

Australian baritone Andrew Finden is an accomplished young performer– a Samling Scholar, Britten-Pears Young Artist, and an alumni of the International Vocal Arts Institute’s Tel Aviv Summer Opera Programme.

He recently obtained a Master of Music with Distinction on the Opera Course at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he was awarded the Harold Rosenthal Prize.

He’s also an Australian expatriate–since the beginning of the 2011/12 season Andrew has been a member of the ensemble of the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, where his roles include Marullo (Verdi’s Rigoletto), Count Oscar (Offenbach’s Barbe-Bleu), Masetto Mozart’s Don Giovanni) and Clito (Handel’s Alessandro).

He’s also an opera blogger, which I believe is how I found him. And he has red hair, like two of my siblings, so I always notice that–it’s a family of origin thing.

He has a compelling and brave story about pushing himself to master his craft, living far away from his beloved homeland.

Welcome to Operatoonity, Andrew! (Or should I say, Wilkommen?)

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 grew up in regional Queensland and went through the public school system – had a great music programme. I learnt violin for most of my school years. Being part of a local church where youngsters were encouraged to participate in the music of the services, I had lots of chances to sing and play. When I was around 12 y.o. I entered a local Eisteddfod and the adjudicator was the head of the music department at the University of Southern Queensland, and he encouraged me to get lessons, which I did, and subsequently took the part of 3rd Boy in the USQ production of The Magic Flute the next year. That sold me.

Andrew with Dame Joan Sutherland, a few years back (photo by Paul Gosney)

Have you liked performing in Karlsruhe this season? How long will you stay in Germany?
I’ve very happy here in Karlsruhe. It’s a great theater, great orchestra, and an exciting ensemble to be in right now. I’m hoping to stay in German for the foreseeable future, as it is still the biggest market for opera.

What has been the greatest thrill in your career thus far? Greatest challenge?
I’m still an ‘anfänger’ (beginner) in this system, and only just starting to take on bigger roles – which is how it should be, btw, one learns so much from the smaller roles! – and oddly enough most of my larger parts have been in operette, which is both fun and scary, particularly speaking German dialogue for Germans. One of my best experiences so far was a summer programme I did in Tel Aviv (IVAI) where I played the role of Mr. Brook in Mark Adamo’s opera Little Women. It was perhaps the combination of the time and place and the piece itself, but we all began to really feel a bit like the March family. Mark also came over and worked with us – to be working personally with the composer of one of the most performed contemporary operas was fantastic.

Do you have any favorites? Composer? Opera? Role? Venue?
I did a performance of Le nozze di Figaro in Montepulciano, with the Nuremberg Music Hochschule. The little theater there is, I’m told, a miniature La Scala, and still has a lot of old stage equipment, and the old-style unpainted boards. It was perfect for Figaro, which is probably my favourite opera, if I’m forced to pick one. I’m also a very big Britten fan, and it’s no secret that I would love to sing Billy Budd down the track a little.

As Dr Falke in Fledermaus in Nuremberg (photo by Jutta Missbach)

Do you miss Australia? Any desire to come to the States?
Yes and yes. I do miss Australia, my family and friends.  . . . the weather! I’d also love to go the States to sing and look around.

Are you *now* fluent in German? What’s your favorite repertoire?
I’m conversational. I hesitate to say ‘fluent’ because I still mess up most of the grammar, and just guess the articles, but I can hold conversations and understand mostly what people are saying. I have very patient and helpful colleagues in that regard! I am interested in German repertoire, though being a lyric baritone, there’s actually not that much of it. Karlsruhe has a strong Wagner tradition and focus, and so I’m slowly getting exposed to that whole world, even if I can’t sing any of it. There are few lyric Strauss roles I’d be up for, but for now it’s mainly  Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti and, of course, Britten.

Where would you like to be in five years? In ten years?
Singing good repertoire with good colleagues at a good level.

Andrew with his friend Tim, who runs Findo's Cafe in Toowoomba QLD, named after him

What is something most people don’t know about you, something not on your professional bio?
My friends know this – I’m a coffee snob. In fact, a good mate of mine named his cafe after me (Findo’s Cafe in Toowoomba, QLD), as I’m apparently to blame for his own love affair with the good bean.

* * *

For more information about Andrew, visit his website.  He blogs at Andrew Finden // Baritone. You can also follow him on Twitter at @Findo!

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COC’s audition for young artists now welcomes an audience

Sasha Djihanian, soprano, from Montreal, QC

For the first time in the history of the Canadian Opera Company, the final auditions for singers seeking to join the Ensemble Studio training program will be made public as a vocal competition.  In addition to an offer of a coveted position in the 2012/2013 Ensemble Studio, the singers will be competing for one of four cash prizes.

More on each of the ten finalists, all of whom hail from Canada, is available at the COC website.

Over the course of the two-hour competition, each finalist will perform two arias showcasing their vocal technique and range.  The judging panel will deliberate on site and announce the competition winners at the conclusion of the evening’s event.

A limited number of tickets priced at $30 are now on sale for the COC Ensemble Studio Competition, which takes place on Nov. 28, 2011 at 5:30 p.m. in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts.

Cameron McPhail, baritone, from Brandon, MB

Select finalists will be invited to join the 12/13 Ensemble Studio, with the number of offers to be determined by the judging panel.  First, second and third prizes, worth $5,000,$3,000, and $1,500, respectively, will be awarded, in addition to a People’s Choice Award, selected by audience vote, worth $1,500.



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