Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tom Goes to the Opera: Week 1!

As an actor, Theatrical Outfit Artistic Director Tom Key has appeared in over 100
productions from off-Broadway to Los Angeles. He also co-authored the hit off-Broadway musical, Cotton Patch Gospel, with the late Harry Chapin. Suffice to say, it seems like he's done and seen it all...except opera!

Every week, Tom will share his inner monologue as he experiences the process of rehearsing and performing in an opera for the first time, as Pasha Selim in The Abduction from the Seraglio

Week #1

Wow.  My first day of rehearsal, for my first role in an opera, and the word of the day is “wow." 
"I have a blinding flash of the obvious: I’m going from the audience into the very same room with these artists who make the 'wow' art form."
The first opera I ever saw was in NYC when I was 14-years-old and it was Aida in the old Metropolitan Opera House. When I realized that those were real elephants on the stage and when I heard the first voices fill, not only the auditorium, but my very soul, that was a “wow” day too.  Now, today, in a brightly lit Atlanta Opera rehearsal hall at 11 a.m.
Key at a fitting for his Pasha costume
when we are assembling for the first time in a “meet and greet” with the staff and one another, I have a blinding flash of the obvious: I’m going from the audience into the very same room with these artists who make the “wow” art form. There won’t be a football field’s distance and an orchestra between us. We’ll all be wearing contemporary clothes.  

Then, it begins and I’m actually face to face meeting opera singers, our opera director, Chris Alexander, shaking their hands, and talking with them. There’s my friend and colleague, Tomer Zvulun, who wildly invited me to this party, and there’s an absolutely fascinating presentation by Chris of his vision for this Mozart comedy, and I have to keep checking to make sure that my jaw is not dropped and that my eyes aren’t open four centimeters wider like they probably were at Aida. My running inner dialogue is something like, “this is so great— I can’t believe I’m here—when they start to sing right next to me will I explode?” Three things anchor me into behaving like a reasonably cohesive professional: Tomer’s welcoming joy for all of us, Chris’s absolute mastery for storytelling, and the fact that the refreshments for this first day morning reception included chocolate cake. Opera people have great priorities. Wow.

Read Tom's bio

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pick Up Your Q: Soprano Sarah Coburn

Before heading to Atlanta to perform in The Abduction from the Seraglio, soprano Sarah Coburn took some time out of her busy singing schedule to chat with us about her life as a singer and learning the difficult role of Konstanze.
THE ATLANTA OPERA: Did you grow up in a musical family?
SARAH COBURN: Yes, my mother’s side of the family is very musical. My grandmother was a jazz singer and my aunt is a fabulous pianist. My sisters have amazing voices. Every holiday we sang and played. It was mostly barbershop quartets or country music, like the Judds or Vince Gill. Not a bit of opera, though!
AO: Who or what influenced you to become a singer?
SB: I didn’t plan on becoming a singer, although I always planned on majoring in music in college. I studied music education and was encouraged by my voice teachers to think about pursuing performance instead of teaching.
AO: You’ve mentioned in past interviews that Konstanze is one of your favorite roles to sing. What is it about this part that interests you? 
SB: I have? I have never sung this role, so that comes as a shock to me! This is my role debut and it is quite daunting. Konstanze is a role that commands great respect and even fear! Ha! Seriously, it is a great challenge, and one I am thrilled to accept. The role requires a great deal of stamina and virtuosity. I have sung Blondchen in the past, and I always hoped I would have the opportunity to sing Konstanze.
AO: Indeed! This is considered by some to be Mozart’s most vocally challenging music for soprano. Where do the challenges lie in this role, and how do you deal with them? 
SB: The challenges lie in the lengthy arias, and the fact the two of them are back to back. The arias are exercises in breath control, dynamic control, and support in a difficult tessitura. I love them, though.
AO: What’s your regimen for staying healthy when you’re on the road?
SB: Sleep, water, exercise, and I must warm up properly every day before singing. I am not too stressed about everything being in perfect condition in order to sing well; I can’t be — I have three little kids! 
AO: Is this your first time in Atlanta? Do you have any plans to explore the city while you’re here?
SB: I have never spent time in Atlanta. Right now, my goal is to sing the role well and take care of my kids. Exploring the city will come after opening night!  

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Pick Up Your Q: High School Opera Institute Student (And all-around awesome kid) Khamary Grant

Khamary Grant is probably more put together than most adults. The young actor and singer is working hard at the Atlanta Opera's High School Opera Institute, a one week intensive for rising 10th-12th graders at Emory University. Find out how he became interested in opera, and what he's got planned for an exciting summer.

What grade are you in and where do you got to school?

I'm a rising senior, and I go to Veritas Classical School. It's part home schooling, part public school so that we can interact with other kids. 

How did you get interested in voice?

I came out of the womb singing, let's just say that. I've always been singing. When I was 14 years old, I was exposed to musical theater at Atlanta Workshop Players. Since then, I've just been going on this journey, discovering new things, now classical music. I've been performing musical theater for about three years now. I didn't have a lot of training, but I did just sing and have fun doing different shows like In the Heights and Hairspray. I was Seaweed, which is easily my favorite role to this day. But that's how I got into voice, just being exposed to the musical theater world.

What activities are you involved in at school?

They don't really have a lot of performing arts activities at school, so I spend a lot of time at Atlanta Workshop Players, where I'm part of their professional company, and the travel show they're about to do. I'll also be singing in a few upcoming events with them.

What are you most looking forward to learning at High School Opera Institute?

I want to learn about the different things I can do with my voice, like control and vowels. I just started my classical training, and one of our instructors told me that there's so much more to my voice that I just don't know yet. She told me I have a lot of potential. By adding classical music, there are so many possibilities for me now. That makes me super excited!

What are you favorite pieces to sing?

"The Impossible Dream" from Man of La Mancha. It was one of the first pieces I ever learned, and I fell in love with is the first time I heard it. I also like Per la gloria d'adorarvi -that's the song I'm learning right now.

Any other plans for the summer?

For the rest of the summer I'll be auditioning a lot. I do a lot of television and film acting. I have an agency here called People Store, and then one in New York called Clear Talent Group. I'll be a camp counselor for two weeks at an overnight camp at Oglethorpe with Atlanta Workshop Players. After that, I'll be traveling to Madrid with my family. 

What's your plan for the future?

I definitely want two Oscars. My acting coach gave me a goal I'm trying to achieve: by the time I'm 21 years old, I no longer want to be auditioning. I want to be having meetings with people. I want to walk into a room, and have everyone know my name, but for the right reason, like my work ethic. I also want to be able to have enough power and influence to use my music and talents to create change in the world. 

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.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

#Notachamberopera (Or Painting A Story On The Largest Canvas Possible)

By Tomer Zvulun 

One of the most fascinating aspects of opera is the variations of musical styles within the art form itself. From Baroque to modern music, the art form runs the gamut of flavors, each of them uniquely defined by a different language, period, composers style, orchestra size, color, etc. As an Artistic Director, choosing the operas for a season is a little bit like selecting the perfect ice cream combination. 

How do you choose the perfect mix? Do you go for the classic, always potent chocolate-vanilla or is it time to try an adventurous churro and brambleberry crisp? (Yes, that’s a flavor at Jeni’s Ice Cream and it is life-changing.)

We are closing a uniquely diverse season at The Atlanta Opera: from the modern and powerful chamber opera, Soldier Songs, to a fresh cinematic version of La bohème, a colorful audience-pleaser in The Pirates of Penzance, to a visually striking Winterreise (Winter Journey). We offered our audiences many flavors and tastes this year.

We chose to close the season with the grandest version of the epic love story: Romeo and Juliet.

The first question is why?

Why did theaters all over the world, in every conceivable language, adapt this play? Why were the greatest artists of every period so drawn to retelling this familiar story? Why are we presenting it this weekend at the magnificent Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center?

All around the world, the name “Romeo and Juliet” is synonymous with the idea of being young and in love. It captures the essence of romance, of discovering the powers of love, sex, danger, and the mysterious alchemy of an attraction to another person. It is desperately romantic. It deals with love and loss, power and social status; the stuff that makes us all dream.

The second question is also why. Why this version when so many other versions exist?

The answer is SCALE. Gounod’s version is unique in that it takes a story which is often remembered for its intimate chamber scenes (The famous balcony scene, the tomb scene) and expands it to an unapologetically grand opera in the most extravagant way.

The extreme feelings that the characters experience - the ecstasy of falling in love and lust, the intensity of violence and loss, revenge, and grief - are the perfect materials for operatic tales.

Gounod takes those ingredients and propels them forward in a romantic, melodic way. He enhances the SCALE of the story and emotions by writing sweeping music for large choruses and orchestra.

Our version at The Atlanta Opera strategically takes the idea of larger than life themes and finds the visual equivalent in the backdrop of the Shakespearean Globe Theatre. Through the use of multiple towers, staircases and levels, this grand canvas helps give this powerful story new life.

Producing an opera is a complicated, exciting adventure that involves hundreds of singers, musicians, and technicians. I personally find it addictive because it allows us to paint on the largest canvas available in the performing arts. Producing GRAND opera, like Romeo and Juliet, is even more intricate and exciting.

This grand opera version of the story not only brings together a thrilling cast of singers, designers, musicians and artists from all over the world, but it is also the perfect way to close our delicious, diverse season at The Atlanta Opera. Hope you will join us!

Have a great summer and see you at Jeni’s Ice Cream!

- Tomer Zvulun

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, April 8, 2016

Pick up Your Q: Costume Designer/Coordinator Joanna Schmink

Atlanta Opera Costume Coordinator Joanna Schmink spends most of her time in the costume shop sourcing, curating, altering, and piecing together costumes from other designers and productions. 
For Romeo and Juliet, she designed and created everything from scratch for this spectacular grand opera with an equally grand cast. We talked to her about the joys and challenges of the job.

The Atlanta Opera: Who or what influenced you to get into costume design?
Joanna Schmink: Growing up, my parents involved all of my siblings in the arts (orchestra, choir, dance, theatre) not as a potential career choice but to enlighten us on the importance of art in all forms in our daily lives. I think it was a friend in college that convinced me to take an internship in the university costume shop. I changed majors a semester later from engineering to costume design and have her to thank or blame.

AO: Who is your favorite artist or designer, living or dead?
JS: Léon Samoilovitch Bakst (1866-1924). He was a Russian painter, set, and costume designer known for his rich, exotic use of color, pattern, and texture. His work for Diaghilev Ballet Russes is some of his best work - a visual kaleidoscope of color brought to life on stage. Bakst’s brilliant control of color and line spilled over into fashion and interior design giving a new richness and looser flow to the drab look of the time. 

AO: Are there any misconceptions about costume designers that you’d like to clear up?
JS: I don't think people quite understand what costume designers do on the job. For starters, it’s not as glamorous as people would like to think. It’s a lot of long hours and hard work. You have to love research, working with fabric, collaborating with other creative people such as designers, directors, producers, and performers. The payoff is definitely not notoriety, but rather the satisfaction of creating part of a wonderful theatrical experience. 

AO: What does a typical day look like for you?
JS: There are no typical days, thank goodness. There are some non-negotiables that I always keep on the early morning daily roster like running, biking, or swimming. I like to start every day off on an active foot to help keep me in a great frame of mind and provide an additional bump of energy. There is nothing like a sun rise to inspire creativity. A work day is usually a 7:30 a.m. or 8:00 a.m. start with a 7:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. finish. All kinds of things could occupy a work day from organizational office work and fabric shopping to costume fittings and production meetings. There is a mix of practical and creative aspects to every day.

AO: What kind of preparation went into the period costumes for Romeo and Juliet?
JS: A large part of the development and preparation for this production is in research and creative problem solving. The body of the show is being set in the 1830’s, historically noted as part of “The Romantic Era” (1820’s-1840’s), or early Victorian. It is complemented by aspects and costume elements of the Elizabethan Era (1550’s-1600’s) which works well in the presentation of a Shakespearean story line. The challenge is to make the periods connect seamlessly so the costumes enhance the storytelling.

AO: Were there specific challenges to creating these costumes for such a large cast?
JS: This production is incorporating brand new built costumes, pre-existing costume stock, and rented costumes. It’s challenging to have all of these elements in place and create a cohesive design that will present a beautiful visual for the audience. The work involved to move the design forward takes additional creative thought and design flexibility so the best choices are made.

AO: Are there any productions (opera or other) for which you have always wanted to design the costumes?

JS: I would love to design a Die Fledermaus or a Tristan und Isolde. Both have great opera design elements that would challenge me as a designer. I would love to do research on both shows and have a great adventure seeing them come to life. They both have grand opera story appeal with love, drama, and suspense well crafted into their plots.

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.