Monday, March 10, 2014

Four more from Faust

This season, The Atlanta Opera celebrates Chorus Master Walter Huff’s 25th anniversary with the company. The opera chorus for the production of Charles Gounod’s Faust features 46 local singers, carefully selected and rehearsed by Maestro Huff.

For today’s post, we’ve asked four veteran members of our chorus to share their favorite Atlanta Opera memories.

Josh Borden, during
Il Trovatore
Baritone Josh Borden made his Atlanta Opera debut in our 1994 production of Bellini’s Norma and has appeared in 43 operas since. He remembers his first rehearsal with the company, "I was in awe of those around me, wondering how I got to be so fortunate as to sing with the chorus.” Mezzo-soprano Lenna Turner shares his sentiment. “I literally thought I would pass out at each rehearsal. The first time I ever saw the Atlanta Opera Chorus perform [Mozart’s Requiem] I thought, 'Oh my God! I have to do that. It was the most beautiful sound. And now to be in the middle of that sound as a chorus member…it still seems surreal.”
John Young, tenor
For many singers, performing in our chorus remains a constant even as their personal and professional lives develop. Tenor John Young began his Atlanta Opera career in 1991 and says he’s been in too many productions to count. “When I first became a part of the chorus I was one of the youngest people. Twenty-three years later and all of a sudden I'm one of the ‘seasoned’ singers! It's amazing to be part of an organization for such a long period of time. I've seen many changes and lots of growth. I’ve performed with The Atlanta Opera at Symphony Hall, the Fox Theater, Civic Center, and now CEPAC. Being a part of the organization as a young singer provides an immeasurable amount of experience and knowledge needed to be successful.”

Twenty years after his company debut, Josh Borden remains in awe. He recalls just a few of his favorite memories as a chorister, including a performance at the 1996 Olympic Games. He says there have been quite a few unusual moments, such as “when they introduced snakes and monkeys (who don't get along) in Aida and when the men scalping Azucena in Il Trovatore actually removed her wig during the Open Dress Rehearsal, and Marianne Cornetti continued singing with passion as if it were planned.”
Tenor Greg Sterchi (rt) during a
1992 production of Carmen

Tenor Greg Sterchi has been performing with the Atlanta Opera since 1990 and has had his share of memories.“One of the most memorable productions was the 1992 Carmen which was set in the current time period. Ken Cazan was the director. Instead of gypsies, we were terrorists toting AK-47s and we wore spandex and polyester costumes, Ray-Bans, and slicked-back hair. In typical Ken Cazan fashion, it was full of sex and violence!  I met my partner of 10 years during that production and built friendships that exist today.”
Lenna Turner

Josh Borden says, "Above all, there are magical moments that seem to creep into each show.” According to Lenna Turner, she fell in love with opera through the experience of performing in the chorus: “I fell instantly in love with an art form that I had very little exposure to growing up. I always say 'I can’t believe I get to sing this with these talented people.'"

The Atlanta Opera is honored to be part of the tradition of musical excellence in our community. We thank our tireless chorus for their years of talent and commitment, and look forward to sharing many more seasons making opera magic with our wonderful colleagues!

Buy your tickets now to see these and other "seasoned" singers in the Atlanta Opera Chorus. Click here

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Angels of Faust

This season, The Atlanta Opera celebrates Chorus Master Walter Huff’s 25th anniversary with the company. The opera chorus for our latest production of Charles Gounod’s Faust features 46 local singers, carefully selected and rehearsed by Maestro Huff. We asked a few of them to describe their experiences onstage with TAO.
Alto Laurie Tossing
Alto Laurie Tossing made her Atlanta Opera debut in 2002 for our production of La rondine. She’s performed in almost thirty operas with the company and described her experience in 2007's Turandot as a career highlight: “It was our first show at CEPAC, and in the final scene there were about 80 people on stage. I was standing at the top of those huge stairs, right in center stage, so I could see everything--the stage, the pit, and that spectacular new space that is such a joy in which to sing. We were singing the exquisite reprise of ‘Nessun dorma’ in the finale, and there were two women right in the front row, clutching each other and literally jumping up and down in their seats with excitement. I was so overwhelmed by it all, that the moment we stopped singing, I burst into tears.”

Big moments like these are what make opera come alive. Here at the Atlanta Opera, we couldn’t make them happen without Maestro Huff. As soprano Christina Howell puts it, “Using voices to tell stories is what opera is all about. By expecting precision, artistry and vocal storytelling, Maestro Huff allows the Atlanta Opera Chorus to function simultaneously both as one large musical unit and as individual voices and characters.”
Soprano Allegra Whitney

Greg Sterchie,
who has been singing in our opera chorus since 1990, agrees. "Working with Maestro Huff is a world-class experience." When asked about his experience he noted, “I can’t tell you how many times principal singers who work all over the country and in Europe comment that the Atlanta Opera Chorus is the finest they’ve ever heard.” Adds soprano Allegra Whitney, "It's opera chorus at a whole new level."

It takes a lot of attention to detail to get such great results. For example, in the current production of Faust, an off-stage chorus of angels provides the last vocal moment. It’s a tricky spot musically, but the Maestro had some well-timed advice for his chorus. “Angels just don’t come in early.”

Come hear our chorus of angels - our production of Faust opens this Saturday, March 8!
Buy your tickets now!

Be sure to check back this week, as well as check our Facebook page for more profiles of Atlanta Opera choristers.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

This year, The Atlanta Opera Studio Tour features En Mis Palabras (“In My Own Words”), a bilingual Spanish and English opera.  The Atlanta Opera Studio Tour has a long history of presenting operas for children grades K-5, but this is the first time we’re presenting an opera for tweens and teens in grades 6-12.  En Mis Palabras is enjoyable for everyone, though, so bring your friends and families to see one of the two remaining public performances.

In En Mis Palabras, you’ll experience a story about young Ana Maria, a Hispanic teenager struggling to find her own voice and identity.  At the same time, her father has difficulty allowing her to blossom into who she wants to be.  It’s an age-old parent-child dilemma to which any one can relate, no matter their cultural background.
Jayme Alilaw as Ana Maria.
En Mis Palabras is told through the eyes of Ana Maria, an artist who loves to draw and sketch. During Act I, the opera takes place in two different rooms within Ana Maria’s house, and then it transitions into a totally new look for Act II. The staging is very real, immediate, and contemporary to keep the production feeling very intimate.
Stephanie Sanchez as the Grandmother and Ivan Segovia as the Father.
The Atlanta Opera’s production of En Mis Palabras strives to make opera accessible and relevant without pandering, telling the story with the use of music and drama. “If the visuals, the story, and the music are good, the people will like it because of the quality and because of the questions it raises, not because it’s an ‘opera,’” explains Alison Moritz, stage director for En Mis Palabras.
Jayme Alilaw as Ana Maria and Pedro Carreras as her brother Rodolfo.
 Alison Moritz goes on to explain the personal benefits of experiencing this opera.  I was introduced to opera at a pretty young age.  I saw my first opera when I was nine years old, and I was instantly hooked. For me, the best case scenario would be for a student to see this tour in their school and, if their interest is piqued, follow up by attending an opera at the Cobb Energy Centre or by participating in some of the Atlanta Opera's other educational programming. I love opera and, to me, it can be as modern and personally engaging as going to the movies or watching good television - I'd love to share this with high schoolers.”

There are two upcoming community shows of En Mis Palabras, and tickets are only $7.  Buy your tickets in advance or at the door.  Take this opportunity to experience opera with your family!

Dates and Locations for En Mis Palabras

Friday, January 24, 2014, 7 p.m.
La Amistad at The Lodge at Peachtree Presbyterian Church
3417 Roswell Road, Atlanta, GA 30305

Saturday, February 1, 2014, 7 p.m.
1575 Northside Drive NW, Building 300, Suite 350, Atlanta, GA 30318

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's Marketing Department at 404-881-8801.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Whirlwind 24-Hour Opera Project®

The 24-Hour Opera Project® (24HOP), held earlier this month as part of National Opera Week, is an opera experience like no other for both participants and audience. Imagine writing, composing, rehearsing and performing a brand new opera in just 24 hours collaborating with people you have probably never met.  You can read what Cory Lippiello, the Opera’s new director of artistic planning and community engagement has to say about the Project here

The latest 24HOP, with the limited hours of creation and rehearsal happening at First Presbyterian Church, had its own drama, as seems appropriate.  A last-minute cancellation left only three lyricists to match with four composers.  So, in a random selection, one lyricist was lucky enough to have her libretto set to music by two different composers.

The work of the composer-librettist teams yielded two versions of an opera called The Lifespan of a Fly, another opera named 3D’s Dance Hall, and one entitled Grace Out of Place.  These operas were composed around the theme of “adopting a new identity,” which was drawn from ideas the artists themselves submitted at the Friday kick-off. As secondary inspiration, the teams blindly selected props ranging from a king’s crown to a feather duster, a giant plastic fly and other seemingly arbitrary stage utensils including a clown’s red nose and a bull whip.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the new operas were turned over to the director-singer teams to bring the works to life on stage. After a grueling, yet energizing day, the new pieces had their world premieres on Saturday evening before an appreciative and engaged audience at the 14th Street Playhouse, a new, larger venue for the Project.

The judges – the Opera’s Cory Lippiello, Jamila Robinson from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Lyndsay Werking from OPERA America – selected The Lifespan of a Fly as their top pick.  The audience found 3D’s Dance Hall to be their choice.

Here’s the evening in pictures and sound.

Bert Huffmann, the Opera's director of development, was emcee for the 24HOP showcase.

(Above and below)  GRACE OUT OF PLACE -- music by Natalie Williams, libretto by Lauren McCall.  Performed by Elizabeth Stuk, Megan Brunning, and Pedro Carreras.  Directed by Kristin Kenning.  Their inspiration props were a clown nose and a feather duster.

(Above and below) Judge's Choice -- THE LIFESPAN OF A FLY #1-- music by Ronnie Reshef, libretto by Vynnie Meli.  Performed by Sondra Collins, William Green, and Ivan Segovia.  Directed by Mira Hirsch.  The inspiration props were a crown, a giant plastic fly, and a book.

(Above and below)  THE LIFESPAN OF A FLY #2 -- music by Gustav Westin, libretto by Vynnie Meli.  Performed by Laurie Tossing, Gus Godbee, and Kristin Moye.  Directed by Rebecca Bowden.  The inspiration props were a crown, a book, and a giant plastic fly.

(Above and below) Audience Favorite -- 3D's DANCE HALL -- music by Marvin Carlton, libretto by Madeleine St. Romain.  Performed by Jayme Alilaw, Abigail Halon, and Jonathan Spuhler.  Directed by Dawn Neely.  The inspiration props were a bull whip and a meerschaum pipe.

The audience's favorite team.

The judge's winning team and their trophies.

Listen here to Georgia Public Broadcasting's coverage of 24HOP

Watch the videos:

Grace Out of Place
The Lifespan of a Fly #1
The Lifespan of a Fly #2
3D's Dance Hall

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's Marketing Department at 404.881.8801.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Atlanta Opera Partners with The Breman for Music of the Holocaust

“Despite the horrors of the Holocaust, there were islands of humanity in the midst of the greatest atrocities…” 
-Arthur Fagen, Atlanta Opera Music Director and son of Holocaust survivors

November 9th, 1938.  It’s been 75 years since Kristallnacht, a night of terror that heralded the Holocaust and saw the incarceration of over 30,000 Jews in concentration camps. 

A series of coordinated attacks across Germany and Austria, the term Kristallnacht or the “Night of Broken Glass” came about due to the broken glass that littered the streets after over 7,000 Jewish homes and businesses and 1,000 synagogues were destroyed.

Atlanta Opera Music Director Arthur Fagen, the son of Holocaust survivors Lewis and Rena Fagen (who were Schindlerjuden - Jews rescued from concentration camps by working in the factories of German industrialist Oskar Schindler), has spearheaded a partnership with the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum this season for the inaugural Molly Blank Jewish Concert Series, which begins this Saturday, November 9th with a performance commemorating the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht.
The concert includes Gideon Klein’s String Trio (1944) and Hans Krása’s Passacaglia and Fugue for String Trio (1944), performed by musicians from The Atlanta Opera Orchestra.  The program also includes songs written in Jewish ghettos and concentration camps by composers Isle Weber, Adolf Strauss and Martin Roman and performed by Helene Schneiderman, a well-known mezzo-soprano who is also the daughter of Holocaust survivors. 

As the son of Holocaust survivors, I find it my duty to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive in order to prevent future tragedies of such magnitude,” says Fagen.  “The String Trio by Gideon Klein and the Passacaglia of Hans Krása were written in Thereseienstadt before the composers were deported to Auschwitz. In all probability, they were the last works written by these composers.  It’s important to remember that, despite the horrors of the Holocaust, there were islands of humanity in the midst of the greatest atrocities.”

Atlanta Opera Music Director Arthur Fagen

Join us November 9, 8 p.m. at the Breman for this enriching and meaningful evening.  A reception with the performers follows the concert. Tickets are $50 for Breman museum members and Atlanta Opera subscribers, $65 for non-members and are available here or at 678-222-3700.

Read more about the experience of Arthur Fagen’s parents, Lewis and Rena, with the Holocaust, Oskar Schindler, and their involvement in the making of the Steven Spielberg film Schindler’s List here.


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's Marketing Department at 404-881.8801.

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Atlanta Opera’s Fourth Annual 24-Hour Opera Project®

Let the madness begin!  We’re calling it a creative science project where Verdi meets reality TV.  In just a few hours, composers, lyricists, singers and stage directors will gather for the kick-off of the Atlanta Opera’s fourth annual 24-Hour Opera Project® (24HOP).

The participating composers and lyricists will be given a theme and props they must use in their composition, and then they’ll be randomly paired and corralled together overnight to write an opera scene.  The next morning, bright and early, the new pieces will be assigned to stage directors, who will in turn draft singers and accompanists.  Together those groups will have just eight hours to stage, rehearse and bring the new operas to life before presenting them in a public showcase on Saturday evening at the 14th Street Playhouse.

Cory Lippiello, the Atlanta Opera’s new director of artistic planning and community engagement, is producing this year’s 24HOP, which is one of the many activities across the country associated with National Opera Week.

Cory Lippiello, Director of Artistic Planning & Community Engagement, The Atlanta Opera
Just a couple months into her tenure at The Atlanta Opera, this will be Cory’s first experience with 24HOP. Here’s her take:

“This project is not for the faint of heart. And it isn't for people who have issues with editing. Or for people who need time to savor their words or let a new song marinate in the subconscious. It is, however, a project for people who love great music and great storytelling. It's for artists who enjoy the kind of creativity that comes from having restrictions instead of boundless possibilities. It's for performers who like to think on their feet. And it's for audiences that thrill to see something new, fresh and alive. This project is for people who are adventurous, curious, intelligent, emotional creatures, intrigued by life and looking for ways to understand our experience on this planet.  Opera represents vast possibilities for seeing our own experiences and emotions represented on stage in an incredibly visceral way. Even when a character or situation seems wholly removed from our time, opera is a living, breathing art form with something to say about the way we live right now. What could be more immediate, more of-the-moment, than a story created a mere 12 hours earlier?”

At the concluding showcase, the final compositions and performances will be judged by Cory and a panel of judges, including Lyndsay Werking, producer of OPERA America’s New Works Forum, and Jamila Robinson, digital entertainment editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  The audience, a key element to what Cory calls “the unique alchemy that is the 24-Hour Opera Project®,” also will have the opportunity to vote for their favorite.
2012 24-Hour Opera Project Winner -- Krispy Kremes & Butter Queens
Why does The Atlanta Opera and the participating composers, lyricists, stage directors, singers and accompanists subject themselves to the madness of creating and performing a new opera in a mere 24 hours?  Because opera can be just as crazy and cool as anything we’d see on reality TV!

Don’t miss the showcase -- Saturday, November 2 at 8 p.m. at the 14th Street Playhouse.  Admission is free and general admission.  Check for more information and reservations.

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's Marketing Department at 404-881-8801.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Opera... It's Complicated.

By Alison Moritz

Opera is complicated - that's why we love it. But it takes a lot of effort, expertise, and patience to coordinate all the elements of a given production. In the end, everything comes together in the crucial week before opening night. Here's a behind-the-scenes breakdown of Tech Week for the Atlanta Opera's current production of Tosca (running through October 13):

Thursday, September 26: Final Room Run

After weeks of finessing musical and staging choices in the rehearsal room, the entire cast (including chorus, supernumeraries, and children) comes together to rehearse the opera in its entirety for the first time. Members from the design and production teams use this as an opportunity to troubleshoot certain moments - how fast will that quick change really have to be? Is this the final version of a certain prop for Act II? For the singers, this is their first chance to test the stamina and concentration necessary to perform the show from beginning to end. The goal of the Final Room Run is to get everyone in the whole company on the same page before we start adding the technical elements of set, costumes, and lights.

Friday, September 27: Artists Day Off and Load-In to Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center

While the singers enjoy a day of rest, the crew loads into the theatre. The set for Tosca is particularly large, so the first day is focused on getting the structure of Act I built - the interior of the church of Sant'Andrea della Valle.

Saturday through Monday, September 28 - 30 : Technical Rehearsals and Sitzprobe

During the day, teams build the set, work on props, focus the lights, put the finishing details on costumes, and style the wigs. In the evening, the cast arrives and we rehearse each act in sequence. As we go, many small adjustments get made - transforming the intimate staging of Tosca that we perfected in the rehearsal room into an experience that will translate into the 2,750 seat theatre.

Our Sitzprobe is actually a Wandelprobe - which means that the singers walk their positions on the stage while they rehearse with conductor Arthur Fagen and the orchestra. The music staff takes notes, listening for balance between the instruments and the singers.

©Jeff Roffman

Tuesday, October 1: Piano Dress

The crew works during the day to finish construction of sets and props. The lighting design team refocuses lights and works on building cues for the show and making sure that the Stage Manager Erin Janzen Thomson is ready to call the show. Tonight is the first time everything is coming together - including costumes, wigs, and make-up. Afterwards, the production team meets to discuss any adjustments needed before our first Orchestra Dress tomorrow night. Many of the changes are relatively small - Tosca should wear a lighter tiara; Scarpia is going to eat real chicken every night; we are cutting the small table and chair in Act II and going back to the larger votive candles in Act I - the shape of everything is already in place, but there are details left to fix.

Wednesday, October 2: First Orchestra Dress

The morning and afternoon are spent finishing tasks outlined in the production meeting last night. When the singers arrive, they receive a few notes to think about during that night's rehearsal. The orchestra sounds great and everyone is excited to have an audience for the Final Dress Rehearsal tomorrow.

Thursday, October 3: Final Dress Rehearsal

In the afternoon, lighting designer Robert Wierzel, director Tomer Zvulun, and Calling Stage Manager Erin Thompson-Janszen work together to perfect the timing and look of the iris effect that begins each act. The iris we’ve created is a great example of relatively simple stagecraft (curtains and lighting) used to produce a cinematic effect. It's an ingenious idea - one that I will definitely steal in a production of my own someday.

The Final Dress Rehearsal has an audience of invited guests of the cast and orchestra. The singers really come alive, responding to the energy in the house, and it feels more like a first performance than a rehearsal. Having been with this production from the beginning, I was surprised to find myself beginning to cry during Act III. For a few moments, I stopped taking notes in my head and became a member of the audience.

                                                                                                      ©Ken Howard

I've always thought that the best moments in opera are like looking through a kaleidoscope. When your way of looking at something shifts just enough, everything suddenly merges, creating a little bit of magic that only you can see. For a brief moment, I experienced this on Opening Night. Come to the opera, you might find it, too. I hope to see you there.

Alison Moritz is the Resident Assistant Director for the Atlanta Opera’s 2013-2014 season. She’ll be sharing her behind-the-scenes stories and opinions in a series of upcoming blog posts.

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's Marketing Department at 404.881.8801.