Tag Archives: modern opera

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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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Opera festivals, young artists programs

San Fran chamber opera offers contemporary double bill this weekend

OP-logo-siteHave you heard of Opera Parallèle? It is a young San Francisco company bringing high level performances of contemporary operas to the Bay Area (at great prices, nonetheless).

According to their website, Opera Parallèle is a professional, nonprofit organization that develops and performs contemporary chamber operas that are internationally acclaimed but rarely performed in the region.

In recent years, the company has expanded, even in a down-turned economy, receiving fabulous reviews such as this notice for their 2011 production of Philip Glass’s Opera, Orphée. The San Francisco Chronicle had this to say about Opera Parallèle:

“a San Francisco company devoted to contemporary chamber opera, scored a full-on triumph over the weekend…ravishing and delicate, haunting and playful, somber and romantic, the production fused story, music and stagecraft into an engrossing evening of music theater.”

Its upcoming double bill performance of Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti (see trailer below) and Barber’s A Hand of Bridge will be performed in San Francisco this weekend: April 26-28.

Here to introduce Operatoonity readers to the couple that runs the artistic direction of the company are Artistic Director Nicole Paiement and her husband, Concept Designer/Stage Director Brian Staufenbiel.

photo of Nicole Paiement

Artistic Director Nicole Paiement

Welcome to Operatoonity, Nicole and BrianHow intimate is your venue?  We generally perform at YBCA, which has approximately 700 seats. However, for our upcoming Bernstein/Barber production this weekend, we are excited to be at ZSpace, which only holds around 225. This will bring the audience that much closer to the stage and the performers. The intimate story of both “Trouble in Tahiti” and “A Hand of Bridge” make this the perfect venue.

What excites you about contemporary chamber opera?  The subject matters of most chamber opera will have more of an intimate and direct story line. I am a curious conductor who enjoys the challenges of mounting new works that are either rarely done or even have never been performed. I love the idea of bringing opera into the 21st century and helping redefine the form.

So many things excite us. First, because the orchestration is not as large, singers can sing with an even wider spectrum of colors, without worrying about being heard. You can truly hear pianissimo moments.

A smaller orchestra greatly widens the venue possibility – thus bringing opera to a variety of spaces and audiences to many more venues to see contemporary chamber opera.

photo of brian stauffenbiel

Resident Stage Director, Production Designer

How did you two find each other and decide to found Opera Parallèle? (Okay, that might be two questions.)  I met Brian the first year I moved to California. He sang in some of my performances as a tenor. We quickly realized that we had a similar positive energy and artistic dreams.  I first founded Ensemble Parallèle – which was a broader organization. We focused on contemporary music and collaborative work.

After a few years, I realized that we needed to focus on one area and that contemporary opera was the most attractive form. It combines contemporary music with the narrative form, an important aspect in today’s film and television society and also has endless collaborative possibilities with other art forms.

How do you decide what productions to present? How long is that process, and what does it entail?  We are constantly working on repertoire and have a five year plan that keeps being revised as needed. Repertoire is a key element to a successful company. As we look at scores, we think of many things. Certainly, the quality of the piece is crucial. We also try to diversify our musical selection to enlarge our audience base. This is why we will have ranged from Berg to Glass; Harbison to Golijov.

We think of collaborative possibilities in an opera. With the Golijov this year, we were able to collaborate with the SF Girl’s chorus and Flamenco dancers including choreographer La Tania.

We consider the venue. Many works are venue specific.

We also try to balance between new works and masterworks. Wozzeck in the new chamber reorchestration brought back to life a great masterpiece of the 20th century. Same for Harbison (we commissioned that reorchestration). Golijov is a more recent work and our commission of Gesualdo, Prince of Madness, which will receive a workshop reading this June, brings new work in the repertoire.

We think of American versus works from other countries and try to present a variety of composers. Next year we will do a French opera and an English opera.

We try to bring “premieres” to the area, since SF is such a curious city. Once we identify works, we have some many things to consider before finalizing the choices. Cost is certainly an important one. Number of musicians needed in the pit since there are few venues with sizable pits.

a photo from Harbison's Great Gatsby

Opera Parallèle presented John Harbison’s The Great Gatsby in 2012 | Photo by Rapt

What is the difference between contemporary opera and modern opera?  I think everyone has their own definition of this and I am not sure of the answer.  Contemporary comes from the latin root tempor – tempus, meaning something “of our time”–thus opera of “our time.”

Modern can have the sense that it departs from a more traditional style. Not all contemporary operas are modern, if you think of it this way. There are “modern” operas that are not necessarily contemporary. Wozzeck is a good example.

For me, contemporary opera has a broader possibility of embracing a variety of styles.

Are those who worship classic opera disposed to appreciate the contemporary works produced by Opera Parallèle?  Definitely. Contemporary opera is in many ways a continuation of classic opera. It was not created in a vacuum. Our productions serve the music and the artform as a whole and I think any lover of the arts would enjoy our production.

How did you select “Trouble in Tahiti”? Does it exude the same kind of middle-class dysfunctional ennui as Revolutionary Road? There are definitely similarities between Yates’ novel and Bernstein’s opera. Both speak of the hopeless emptiness of their repetitive lifestyle in suburbia. However, in the opera, there is a feeling of redemption at the end that we certainly do not get in Yates’ book.

We were looking for an opera that would balance our opera in February, Golijov’s Ainadamar.  We wanted something American that would embrace a completely different style that would work well at Z Space.

How did you discover “A Hand of Bridge”? What made you pair it with “Trouble in Tahiti”?  In Barber’s opera, two couples play a hand of bridge, during which each character has a short aria in which he or she expresses their dissatisfaction with life. They are obviously also not happily married. We have cast one of the couple as being Dinah and Sam of “Trouble in Tahiti.” So in this way, Barber’s opera becomes the prologue to a Hand of Bridge – and the epilogue since we will repeat it in the lobby at the end of the evening. The 10 minute opera is brilliantly composed on a libretto by Menotti.  All these wonderful artists from the mid-1950’s come together in one program.

You can definitely hear that the work is a precursor to “West Side Story”? What is it about the score that creates that aha moment with the more familiar work?  When Dinah sings her first aria – “I was standing in a garden,” we hear the great lyricism that Bernstein will later write in West Side Story.  The “train” music when Sam leaves the house to get to his office,  we recognize the great syncopated rhythmic style of Bernstein – so unique and powerful.

As promised, here is the promo video for “Trouble in Tahiti”:

YouTube Preview Image

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Stay In Touch with Opera Parallèle!



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Filed under 21st Century Opera, chamber opera, contemporary opera, Interviews, North American Opera, opera milestones, Q&A

top ten posts on ‘operatoonity’ in 2012

Operatoonity's Top TenWhy did viewers stop in on this blog in 2012? What posts did they read most in the past year?

Would it surprise you to know of the nearly 111,000 visitors to this blog in 2012, that, far and away, most were seeking a definitive list of top classical singers in the world today? Divas, then divos?

Frankly, I am not in the least bit startled by this news.

There are so few definitive “talent” lists around. And I should know. I searched feverishly for such a list not too long ago. That’s why I compiled  mine –I couldn’t find any good/current list of opera singers myself.

Not surprisingly, people continue to chime in on who should and shouldn’t have made these lists.  I knew each was an imperfect instrument when I compiled it, and I honestly think it’s time to upgrade each one, since the best talents in the operasphere can change or fade in a matter of only years. We are talking about the most delicate and sometimes most frail of instruments–the human voice–after all.

Other top topics were top tenors, best operas, and the beloved composers Puccini and Mozart.

Here then, according to my site stats, are the titles of the most-viewed posts and their visit numbers in 2012:

Title Views
best opera singers in the world today – female 29,375
best opera singers in the world today – male 22,212
today’s top tenors 9,829
get with it, NYC, says M.C. Hammer-bee 1,469
on Carmen’s anniversary, we celebrate its arias 726
100 greatest operas . . . really? 686
don’t quote me . . . 650
Puccini’s best opera? 524
what makes a great tenor? 514
Mozart, the ultimate cross-trainer 464
contemporary opera? modern opera? define, please 464


How about you? Why did you stop in on “Operatoonity”? Did you find what you were looking for this year?

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, Baritones, Best of Operatoonity, blog stats, Classic Opera, Classical Composers, Modern opera, Mozart, opera lists, Opera Stats, sopranos, tenors

Red-letter opera gets an “A”

AVA soprano Corinne Winters as Hester Prynne/AVA photo

American composer Margaret Garwood said that she was stirred to write operas about the victimization of women. Watching her latest opera The Scarlet Letter, playing to a packed house at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia yesterday, I felt as though I touched her passion and her purpose for writing this work. While staying textbook true to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic tale, Garwood made a powerful statement about tolerance—artistically and socially—through the medium of opera.        

It’s a tragic story—a relentlessly black tale about Hester Prynne, who is forced to wear the scarlet “A” on her breast for committing adultery, though her husband never makes it to the New World,  believed to have been lost at sea. The townsfolk are vengeful and vigilant antagonists, relentless in their need to punish Hester for her sin. They are like the tall sturdy trees which often filled the stage to haunting effect—never bending, never swaying, each one as indistinguishable as the next. Yet, Garwood found many shades of light in the dark dismal Puritan settlement that was seventeenth-century Boston. Amidst unconscionable censure, Hester’s essential goodness, devotion to duty, and her abiding loyalty to the Reverend Dimmesdale all found expression in Garwood’s music.        

Garwood’s The Scarlet Letter was a world premiere produced by the Academy of Vocal Arts, itself a premier training company for professional opera singers. Their production evidenced solid production values, buoyed first by the singing—the soloists and the ensemble. Corinne Winters’ portrayal of Hester was both powerful and nuanced. Her pitch-perfect soprano, like Hester’s forbearance, was a beacon, soaring above the nattering townsfolk who would rather Hester live than be hanged so they could see her suffer more. Zach Borichevsky’s portrayal of Rev. Dimmesdale became stronger and more compelling the further he slipped into the profound anguish that eventually claimed his life.        

The chorus numbers were deftly written and a true highlight of this production—all of the AVA students’ fine voices combining to, at times, chilling effect. The set design was clever—almost a character in itself, commenting on the narrative. Set pieces whirled effortlessly around the stage like dervishes, churning up Hester’s sin again and again—sometimes a church, then a gallows, then a prison and finally returning to the gallows. The most evocative, magical scene in the entire work was Hester’s dream sequence, in which all of the elements—music, set, stage movement, and lighting design worked together to near-perfect effect.        

My only criticism of the production was that the orchestra, though comprised of highly skilled players, was too loud too often, forcing the singers to compete with it to be heard. In opera, the audience is there to hear the singers above all else. The audience can still appreciate fine orchestration at a volume that doesn’t overpower the singers–something I wish the conductor would have acknowledged during the Sunday performance.        

At curtain call, the audience was full of brotherly love, generous in showing their appreciation for the opera students studying their profession and, most especially, for the talented composer who lived and worked in their city. It was a thrilling experience to see the composer of an opera take a bow with the cast and the conductor, and one I won’t soon forget.

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Filed under 21st Century Opera, North American Opera, opera firsts, Premieres, Reviews

Atonement . . . the opera?

Atonement, the movieYesterday, on my Facebook feed, I saw an item about the book Atonement being made into an opera, posted by my dear writerly friend, Dody Landgren Williams.Dody and I crossed paths a couple years ago when she posted chapters of a book (I adored!) on an online writing site we both subscribed to, a book so magical and delightful that I told her if she didn't finish it, I would, and take the credit for it (ha!).Dody Landgren WilliamsDody was my first friend from the literary world to stop in on "opera-toonity." Dody is a woman with many gifts, including writing, feathering her nest, blogging, Paraphernalia, acting, modeling, and singing opera. (I only learned this about Dody by starting this blog.)Since Atonement is one of her favorite books (I only saw the movie and in the literary world, film treatments of books just don't carry the same cachet as books--sorry, you filmmaker friends o' mine), I asked Dody to be a guest commentator on "opera-toonity" on the feasibility of one of her favorite books being made into an opera. (Thank you, Dody!)Dody's exquisite rose arbor

The basic plot of Atonement revolves around fledgling writer Briony Tallis, as a 13-year-old, who irrevocably changes the course of several lives when she accuses her older sister’s lover of a crime he did not commit.

Specifically, I asked her these questions: why Atonement was one of her favorite books; how would audiences react to the non-linear structure of storytelling; is there a particular scene she hopes is included in the opera; and lastly, would she like to see an accessible musical style used in composing the piece? I asked this because of a suggestion made by OperaRat, who said in a recent”opera-toonity” interview, “If modern composers would marry an accessible musical style with updated storytelling, I think opera would explode.”

Here are Dody’s well-considered responses to my questions about the viability of Atonement, the opera:

Atonement is one of those books that is replete with revelatory passages: beautifully constructed descriptions of the inner emotions and thoughts of the characters resulting in immediate sensory recognition on the part of reader. I feel the ability to reconstruct basic human reactions through language, such that the reader can viscerally FEEL that emotion, is the mark of a great writer.

Because of this, the end of the novel (which is set up differently than the movie) is devastating. Ian McEwan keeps you in the dark as it pertains to the characters fate, until the end. When you learn that a large chunk of the novel is a mere fairy tale, a deeply wished for alternate universe, you come undone. I wept for hours. I have never been able to forget it. That is why it has become one of my favorite novels.

As far as how to present it on the stage, I actually think the novel lends itself rather nicely to well defined ‘acts’ and ‘scenes.’ If it is well done, it could possibly achieve the same effect as the book on the audience.

I would hope that the opera would employ the real ending of the book where Briony returns to “the scene of the crime” and the family gathers together in the house where the end begins for the young lovers. As you read this final scene you are praying that Cecelia and Robbie are there, that they are married, have lived full lives. When you realize they are dead, it is overwhelming.

Being an old theatre major, I can imagine a set constructed with different levels, and the story being manipulated by lights and shadows.

I am in total agreement with your opera lover. I think operatic composers should try to come up with more melodic operas.One good example of this is Little Women by Mark Adamo. It is quite melodic. The aria Marmee sings later in opera has stuck in my head for years.

Another contemporary opera which combines many of  ‘atonal’ components of modern composition with a large dose of melody is The Ballad of Baby Doe. It is filled with singable arias. I am waiting for iTunes to offer a single of Beverly Sills singing the ‘Dearest Mama’ aria from Baby Doe. It is gorgeous.

I do believe opera would be well served by “pretty’ sounding operas. I understand the desire for composers to push the envelope and to create something ‘original’, but sometimes I think the notion that everything old is new again is a smart rule of thumb to follow.

Isn’t she terrific?

BTW, Dody and I each won first place in seasonal writing competitions sponsored by scratch in 2009, her in the summer contest, me in the fall. This September, Dody and I will meet in person for the first time at the Decatur Book Festival, celebrating the publication of the scratch anthology in which both our works appear.


Filed under 21st Century Opera, Interviews