Friday, February 5, 2016

Pick Up Your Q: Bass Kevin Burdette

      Bass Kevin Burdette is currently appearing as Stobrod/Blindman in Cold Mountain at Opera Philadelphia, but he'll be with us soon to start rehearsing his role as The Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, opening March 5th. We sat down with the "Robin Williams of opera" to pick his brain about preparing for the role, Gilbert and Sullivan's influence, and his thoughts on Queen Victoria. 
                                                     Did you grow up going to the opera?
     I grew up around classical music and went to a lot of orchestra concerts and musical theater (in fact, I played viola in the Knoxville Youth Symphony Orchestra starting in 7th grade and performed in school and church musical theater earlier than that), but I didn’t go to the opera until I was in high school – a performance of Don Giovanni, and I’m embarrassed to say that I fell asleep in the second act! One of the singers in that show was the wonderful Phil Cokorinos, with whom I have since sung, in The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera (I never told about my dozing off…). 
     Do you remember the moment that captured your interest in music and singing? Was there a particular artist that influenced you?
I am not certain there was a specific moment that captured my interest – it was more like the confluence of a lot a separate moments: sitting backstage, while in the chorus of The Marriage of Figaro, listening to the Countess singing “Dove sono,” and being struck by opera’s unique ability and power to move a listener in moments of a character’s vertical development and looking within; sitting in rehearsal of La traviata and getting overwhelmed by the beauty and sorrow of the final act (especially from “Addio del passato” to the end). Everyone in the room that afternoon, from the director, conductor, diction coach, on down, was bawling at the final chord, moved by a transcendent moment only opera can provide. 
As for artists who influenced me, I was extremely fortunate to have cut my teeth in opera at the New York City Opera – I started there while still in grad school and performed over 100 times with the company over the subsequent decade or so. The roster of New York City Opera when I was there was full of the great American singing actors of that time. I performed with, and learned from, singers like Bob Orth, Joyce Castle, Lauren Flanigan, Mark Delevan, David Daniels, Bill Burden, Elizabeth Futral, the list goes on and on. 
Also, I would be remiss not to mention one other singer who shaped my career profoundly: Paolo Montarsolo. When I was a young artist in Paris, I had the honor of working with Paolo on a production of The Elixir of Love. Dulcamara was one of Paolo’s great roles, and we worked extensively for weeks on my interpretation of that role. That work was invaluable and laid the foundation for the work I do now as a singing actor.
     How have you prepared for the Pirate King, both as a vocalist and an actor?
I have had the good fortune of being in The Pirates of Penzance multiple times now, so I am very familiar with the piece, having been around so many rehearsals and performances of it. My preparation, therefore, has been relatively straight forward: diving first into the words to make sure I am comfortable with them and where they are going, and then adding in the music. The lyrics are extremely clever, and the musical setting varies among funny, beautiful, moving, and rousing moments. The best thing to do, for me, is simply to honor the source material by learning it, repeating it, trying to find every bit of wisdom Gilbert and Sullivan added, and then doing it again.
It helps, of course, to know that Seán Curran will be waiting when we arrive in Atlanta. Seán is one of the funniest and cleverest people in opera, and it is extremely comforting to know that we, and the operetta, are in his incredibly capable hands. Basically, I am just looking forward to having fun!

You’ve performed so many kinds of opera. How does Gilbert & Sullivan differ from the traditional works and contemporary pieces you’ve sung?
In some sense, Gilbert & Sullivan does not differ much from the traditional works and contemporary opera I have performed. Opera, to me, is all about telling the story – and G&S write as good of a story as anyone. There are twists and turns, to be sure, but part of telling the story is not anticipating those turns and simply being in the moment when they occur.
Of course, Pirates is a comedy, so in that sense, it is different from Everest or Cold Mountain or La bohème. It’s not too far removed, though, from a Daughter of the Regiment or an Elixir of Love, as far as I am concerned. Donizetti was a genius at writing music that allows for the humor of a text or of a situation to come to the fore, and Sullivan was much the same. Dulcamara’s opening patter aria in Elixir has a lot in common, I think, with the Major General’s opening aria in Pirates. And just like with Marie and Tonio in Daughter of the Regiment, the audience connects with Frederic and Mabel and is genuinely delighted when they find a way to be together. 
     What is your favorite moment in The Pirates of Penzance?
Oh, it’s so difficult to name one. Thinking of that silliness I referenced, the “ ‘often, frequently’ only once” exchange is epic – so funny. And the Major General’s opening aria is one of the funniest pieces of music ever written.
Perhaps best of all, though, are the moments of pure beauty that emerge from the topsy-turvy world. I cannot imagine a more beautiful moment than the duet between Frederic and Mabel in the middle of “Stay, Frederic, stay”: “”Ah, leave me not to pine alone and desolate…he loves thee, he is here,” followed by Frederic’s “Ah, must I leave thee here in endless night to dream…he loves thee, he is gone.” It is a heartfelt text, gorgeously set: in 3/4, with a hemiola midphrase and a stunning top G on “loves” – as beautiful as anything in the repertoire.

And finally: Queen Victoria, overrated or underrated?
     The Pirate King MUST answer that the Queen is underrated – for all our faults, I love the Queen! 





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Thursday, November 12, 2015

Pick Up Your Q: GLMMR

The last time we spoke with David Adam Moore (Light and Sound: David Adam Moore has Something to Say) and Vita Tzykun (Pick Up your Q: Costume Designer Vita Tzykun), the minds behind GLMMR were working tirelessly on previous productions with us. We're lucky to have them back again for Soldier Songs, where they've designed stunning and carefully crafted projections and imagery for this gripping, contemporary opera. 

The Atlanta Opera: You’re back in Atlanta! Any new finds since you were last here in September?

Vita and David: We've been working on the show 12-16 hours a day most days, so we haven't had much time to explore Atlanta, but when we got the chance, we'd sneak off to K1 Speed and race electric karts! Other favorites are Octane Coffee, Moe's Original Bar B Que, Bone Garden Cantina, and a memorable dinner at the Piedmont Driving Club.

David - You sang the world premiere of Soldier Songs and some of your vocals are used in this production. What’s it like to hear yourself in this production? And to work with your own voice?


Photo Ben Raftermen
David: In "Steel Rain," my speaking voice is used in the live performance track, along with the voice of David T. Little and a combat veteran who is being interviewed. The piece is about the shock and disorientation a soldier experiences when under fire from incoming ordnance, so the three voices are layered in and out of one another while speaking the same text. It's a wonderful example of how pre-recorded electronics can serve as an integral component in a live drama. Soldier Songs is such a powerful piece, and I feel honored to participate in it in whatever way I can.

GLMMR designed Winter Journey with the Opera in September. How has your design and production approach differed or remained the same with Soldier Songs?

Vita: The main difference in our process for the two productions is that David and I directed and designed Winterreise, then David performed it, whereas in Soldier Songs, we collaborated with Tomer Zvulun (director) and Matthew Worth (baritone) to create the piece. From a design stand point, we always start with the core - the story - and develop the production from there using whichever resources are available to us for that project. During Winterreise, David stepped away from the technical side of things during the final week in order to concentrate on rehearsing and performing, while Maxwell Bowman, our lighting designer and video tech, took over both lighting and video.

You are working many elements into Soldier Songs that are atypical to opera productions, like projections and pre-recorded audio. Can you tell us more about that?
Photo: Ben Raftermen


Opera has historically been one of the richest, most versatile, and most technologically advanced performance mediums in Western culture, so it's important that we continue the tradition of enhancing this venerable art form with the newest technology available. As with many of GLMMR's other shows, we're using a video projection technique called "3D projection mapping," in which the video projector's output is conformed precisely to the scenery, as opposed to being restricted to a flat screen. For Soldier Songs, though, we decided to incorporate a new, more complex 3D projection mapping technique that we're not even sure has been used in opera before. In this method, the set is modeled in 3D architectural software, then a "skin" of video is placed over that model in 3D video software - this allows us to introduce elements such as virtual lighting/shadow effects and geometrically precise mapping effects before the video files even reach the projector. We also used a new technique of scenic projection surfacing that allowed us to coat the set with a dark grey paint mixture that is almost as reflective as a white surface, but with superior contrast. This required a lot of research and experimentation on our part, but we found a formula that works, and we look forward to keeping it in our bag of tricks for future productions.
Photo: Ben Raftermen

The pre-recorded audio is a component of the published score for Soldier Songs, and is used in all of its productions. Aside from David's narration, we didn't have a hand in creating the soundscapes - they were created by David T. Little, but we created video sequences to go along with them and developed a way for the audio clips to be synchronized with the video clips during live performance.

One part of the performance includes actual footage shot from an Abrams tank. How do you curate this (mountain of) content to add to the story being shared on stage?

We work a lot in the filmmaking and photography worlds, so we prefer to shoot as much of our content as we can. However, this wasn't an option with military and wartime footage, so we spent months sourcing imagery, carefully going through it, curating and editing it, then distilling what will be shown on stage to only the most essential elements that will drive the story forward. It's not easy, as we go to great lengths to avoid using copyrighted material or altering and presenting it to abide by Fair Use guidelines. The pre-show photo sequence in Soldier Songs is comprised of photos submitted by Atlanta area Vietnam veterans. This was Tomer's idea, and we were honored and thrilled that the veterans were willing to participate in that way.

David T. Little (composer) was inspired by the compositions of Danny Elfman. Who or What inspires your work?

In this case, our biggest inspiration came from the combat veterans of all nations who have risked, offered, or gave their lives in service to their country. www.woundedwarriorproject.org


Are you able to improvise in these types of productions?


Not in opera, for the most part - there are too many elements that must be in lock-step with one another so that the drama can move forward. The use of video is more flexible than conventional scenery, as it can be manipulated to a great degree during technical rehearsals. However, complex video sequences take a lot of time to plan, produce, and render, so while the flexibility is there, it isn't infinite. While the creative process includes some improvisation, everything you see in the performance has been created, organized, programmed, timed, and logged well in advance of opening night. For some of GLMMR's other projects, such as live concert visuals, dance, or performance art installations, we've used video and audio as a performative element - manipulating and triggering content live.

Usage of any images on this blog is restricted to The Atlanta Opera and approved news websites. Any other usage, particularly for professional purposes, must have written permission. For additional information, please contact The Atlanta Opera at 404.881.8801.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Pick Up Your Q with Alan Higgs

You may know Alan Higgs from his role in The Marriage of Figaro as Antonio, or his dual role in La bohème as Alcindoro and Benoit. This season, he will sing the iconic role of the Pirate King in Gilbert & Sullivan's classic operetta, The Pirates of Penzance. As part of the Studio Tour, Higgs will perform in front of hundreds of students in schools across Atlanta and the greater metropolitan area. We caught up with Alan to learn more about his background, how he gets into his pirate character, and to hear his advice for young, aspiring performers.


The Atlanta Opera: Did you grow up in an opera household?

Alan Higgs: I was very lucky as a child and my parents supported me in everything that I wanted to do. I was always encouraged to follow my dreams. I began singing in my church choir as a little one and it took off from there. I joined chorus and did all of the school musicals from Elementary through High School. It wasn't until I went to Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school for arts students in Michigan for my senior year of high school that I was introduced to the opera world. It was there that I did my first operetta, Ruddigore, also by Gilbert and Sullivan. From then on I was hooked!

Higgs as Benoit in La bohème (Photo: Jeff Roffman)
How does the Studio Tour, which brings opera into schools, differ from your mainstage work?

The Studio Tour has a few differences from mainstage work. First off they are much shorter productions. They usually run 45 minutes to an hour depending on the production and age of the students. There is far less pressure in a production for students then in mainstage work in my opinion. 

From my experiences, I have found that students are usually fascinated by anything you do as long as you stay engaged and focus on the storytelling. They aren't as concerned as much about whether your high note was perfect or if you mess up. It's live theater mistakes are bound to happen once in awhile! Studio tours are usually also geared more towards the younger generation and either picked because the plot is relevant to kids or is updated in a way that they can relate to. For example, at Florida State University where I did my Masters Degree, we did an updated version of L'elisir d'amore called "Glee"lixir of Love. This was during a time that the show Glee was very popular and they students were able to relate more to the show because of the references to Glee that we used in our Studio Tour. it was a blast and was very well received. For most of these kids it is one of the first times they are seeing an opera production and I have found that they are just very appreciative of the new musical experience. 

I really think that the Studio tours are crucial to the preservation of our art form. Reaching out to our youth and sparking a new interest in them whether it is performing or just the enjoyment of watching the productions will help secure a future for our art form.

Higgs as Antonio (rear) in The Marriage of Figaro (Photo: Roffman)
The Pirate King is a fairly over the top role. How do you go about getting into that character?

The Pirate King is indeed a very "over the top" role. While this type of role can be very challenging it can also end up being one of the most fun. One of the best parts about singing opera for me is getting to be someone totally different than myself. Getting into the character is a huge process both physically and mentally. Development of a backstory for the character, specific physicalities, character relations, and costumes and make up are all a big part of the preparation.

What can an audience member expect from The Pirates of Penzance?
The audience can expect to laugh and enjoy a timeless Gilbert and Sullivan work that has been entertaining audiences around the globe for years and will continue to do so for years to come. The Atlanta Opera has put together an All-Star cast of young professional singers residing here in our city that are eager to showcase their talents in this brilliant piece! Of course they can also expect a few ARGHH's in there as well. ;)

Higgs as Alcindoro in La boheme (Photo: Roffman)
Any advice for young kids and students who want to get into opera and theater?

My advice for kids wanting to get into opera and theater is to go for it! Join a choir, take voice and acting lessons, take up a musical instrument, audition for the school and community productions, basically do everything you can to immerse yourself in the art form and see if this is something you really enjoy doing. One thing I have learned is that natural talent will only get you so far. You really have to be driven, work hard and be passionate about music to succeed in this industry, and know that if one door closes another right around the corner could be opening for you - so don't ever give up!

Usage of any images on this blog is restricted to The Atlanta Opera and approved news websites. Any other usage, particularly for professional purposes, must have written permission. For additional information, please contact The Atlanta Opera at 404.881.8801.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Behind the Scenes with Matthew Worth


 Baritone Matthew Worth (who sings the role of the Soldier in "Soldier Songs") opens up about his biggest influences, his real connection with Lieutenant Audebert (Silent Night), and his love for live theater. He also shares four words of sage advice for up-and-coming artists.




The Atlanta Opera: Did you grow up around opera?

Matthew Worth: Nope. We were more of a folk & rock music house. There was a lot of Paul Simon, Peter Paul & Mary, Billy Joel, and James Taylor on LP. 

Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?

My parents for the work ethic they instilled in me. There have always been people out there with more talent, but a lot of times my dogged preparation and passion win out.

"Soldier Songs" rehearsal in Atlanta, November 3, 2015
This time last year, you sang the role of Lieutenant Audebert in Silent Night at Wexford Festival. Can you tell us what you remember most about that production and the role?

Lieutenant Audebert is introduced to the audience as he leaves his pregnant wife for the battlefield. For this production of Silent Night, I had to leave my pregnant wife back home for close to two months. Being apart from her was absolute torture, but it fueled my connection to Audebert.

What was the experience like playing a soldier last fall and playing one in Soldier Songs this year?

They're very different characters for innumerable reasons, and yet war binds them in countless ways, as well.

"Soldier Songs" rehearsal in Atlanta, November 3, 2015

What is the experience like working with Tomer Zvulun, a veteran?

I love working with Tomer. We're both strong willed in our takes on characters. We're both willing to hear each others arguments and to see them play out. We always come out on the other side with an honest and true portrayal.


What’s it like to be in Opera – and the live performing arts – in this “iPod era”?

The thrill of live performance - whether it be the theater, the symphony, the opera, and others - has yet to be matched by recording. People are struck by the sight and feel of our soul-bearing humanity (when it's done well, I mean).

Any advice for young people who want to become Opera singers?
Live first. Then decide.

Read more about Matthew Worth, including his upcoming role in David T. Little's JFK, at www.matthewworthbaritone.com.


Photos by Kristin Hoebermann

Usage of any images on this blog is restricted to The Atlanta Opera and approved news websites. Any other usage, particularly for professional purposes, must have written permission. For additional information, please contact The Atlanta Opera at 404.881.8801.

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Atlanta Opera Ball

The 2015 Opera Ball was a masked affair held at the St. Regis Atlanta. Ball Chair Mary Calhoun hosted the fabuluous evening with The Opera, which honored Martha Thompson Dinos. The night was filled with dancing, dining, live & silent auctions, and performances by Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton and Tenor Russell Thomas. Photos by Ninh Chau.










Usage of any images on this blog is restricted to The Atlanta Opera and approved news websites. Any other usage, particularly for professional purposes, must have written permission. For additional information, please contact The Atlanta Opera at 404.881.8801.