Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Day in the Life of an Atlanta Opera Intern

In this week's edition of The Atlanta Opera Blog, intern Ashli Cribb channels Matt Lauer and answers everything you could ever want to know about a day in the life of an Atlanta Opera Intern.

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In early February, I began my tutelage in the life lessons of becoming an arts administrator. In case I have managed to hold anyone in suspense for a line, I must confess now, that I am one of the two new interns with The Atlanta Opera. After deliberating and calculating precisely how I wanted to debut my first Atlanta Opera Blog - the first blog of my life- I concluded that I liked the “interview style” of blogging the best. Since I am neither an upcoming opera star nor cultural aficionado, I decided to go boldly where no intern had gone before and ask the kind of mind probing questions that would make Matt Lauer quiver in his loafers. Well… maybe the questions are not all that thought provoking, (Mr. Lauer you and your loafers have been spared), but nonetheless it got me thinking about my past couple of months as a student and intern at The Atlanta Opera. I have learned more about music, and about life, than some of my years in undergraduate school combined. It has completely redefined my musical parameters, and helped me to remember why I made music a special part of my life. So here it goes, my self-interview about what The Atlanta Opera has taught and given me.

Atlanta Opera Intern Ashli Cribb (far right) helps renew subscribers.

What is a typical day at the opera like? To be honest, a typical day for me usually begins and is fuelled by immense amounts of caffeine - a substance we take very seriously here at the opera. Not a day goes by where any employee will refuse a cup of coffee. We as interns begin our day by attending a meeting or two, and then we usually receive our departmental project assignments. Since we work for and with everyone, it is possible that any number of projects will cross our desks. I have attended classes, seminars, helped with ticketing, and was even a light walker for our latest production of Così fan tutte. There is never a dull moment here at The Atlanta Opera.

What is the most interesting thing you have seen since coming to the opera? I think the phenomenon that was Porgy and Bess was pretty amazing. It was incredible to see people of all ages, places, and walks of life come together and enjoy a musical performance. To me, music’s ability to cleverly tie different people and cultures together is what makes it so unique. The energy that surrounded that opera was incredible.

What lessons are you taking with you into your future endeavors?I will definitely be taking the skill sets that I have acquired into my future endeavors. However, if I had to choose the thing that I consider most important, it would definitely be the idea of perseverance. I have come to realize that any task you set your mind to can be achieved if you are willing to keep an open mind and test yourself.

What do you find inspiring about The Atlanta Opera? Having had four years of musical study under my belt I assumed I knew a thing or two about the inner workings of an opera company. Thinking about it now, I have the urge to point and laugh at myself because I could not have been more wrong. I had no idea what an undertaking it was to mount a full scale opera production, and I was completely clueless about how many people work behind the scenes to create the polished finished product. Are you familiar with the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child?” Well, after working at the opera I am convinced it takes a village and tons of patience to create an opera. When I look around our office it amazes me how supportive and receptive everyone is to each other. I find that everyday my coworkers bring me new inspiration with their sense of dedication, ingenuity, and their genuine love of music.

What is the most interesting part of being an intern? I guess by some standards being an intern may not be the most glamorous lifestyle, but the amount of information that I have learned about opera and about business cannot be paralleled. Every day we have the chance to learn and to meet someone new. I have found that I have slowly begun to rekindle some of my passion for opera. As a freshman in college, I worshiped the stage that opera singers walked on, wished to the song gods above that I could open my mouth and Renee Fleming’s voice would come out, but that never happened. I used to sit and think of nothing but all the glorious things that music had to offer. But like anything else, performing had begun to lose its luster. I had simply grown tired. The mere thought of exerting more energy to keep up exhausted me. It wasn’t until I came to work in Atlanta that the passion for music returned to me. Watching my coworkers utilize their skills and talents breathes new life into my commitment to music.

To my fellow interns, and to all the opera fans out there, I leave you with these words, “Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music.” ~Ronald Reagan

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Atlanta Opera Volunteers – We can’t do it without you….

Sara Frooman (right) accepts her Rachel Lehmann Memorial Award for her dedication to The Atlanta Opera.
April 10th through 16th is National Volunteer Appreciation Week. Non-profits all over the country will be honoring the men and women who help us stay afloat – in many, many ways. We will be honoring Atlanta Opera Volunteers at a reception on April 21 – stay tuned for pictures!

The history of volunteerism in America is rich and complex. As long as we have been a nation focused on helping and improving the lives of others, we have had volunteer opportunities. Without a doubt, The Atlanta Opera’s Volunteers are instrumental to our survival, and we are grateful for those who devote their time to The Atlanta Opera Family.

There are many loyal volunteers who make a difference. For Sara Frooman, volunteering for The Atlanta Opera is more than just a time commitment for a worthy organization – she has a profound and inherent passion for opera and a love of the community that opera creates. She even has a very creative way of expressing this dedication… through her famous, “conversation starting” lapel pins.

In this week’s blog entry, Sara Frooman, last year’s recipient of The Rachel Lehmann Memorial Award for her dedication and devotion to The Atlanta Opera, shares with us the many reasons why she volunteers, why she will continue to volunteer, and the secrets behind… “the pins.”

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Why volunteer? To be closer to where the music is made and to give support and hospitality to the persons involved, whether in the office or on the stage. This is what "following one's bliss" means to me. If I had not been in so many other careers, this is where I would have concentrated, earlier, using my skills. Meeting and working with others who give their time is an immeasurable pleasure. I think we are always learning from each other and we have an excitement and passion about opera that I treasure. Working on a project in groups also touches on something primitive and satisfying, I think.

On a purely personal note, I have always loved being able to watch the behind the scenes process of producing operas - the moments when something goes from being art to not art, then back to art, and so forth. That happens in master-classes and rehearsals, when the stop-and-start leads to growth and beauty.

Why opera? I once heard a conductor chastise an American singer for her Italian accent: southern rather than northern. She was letter-perfect in her music, was utterly prepared in her role, but this matter was not tolerated. That opened my eyes to how profoundly hard it is to do what these artists do and to how much respect they are owed for seeking, and giving us, that perfection. Bravo, indeed!

When opera? As a child of about six, I discovered how our big cabinet Zenith radio worked on the phonograph side. After a few false starts with the controls, and possibly destroying a few of our one-sided Victor Red Seal discs, I learned about inserting fresh needles and dropping the tone arm softly. Something wondrous came out of the grille-cloth: opera. The tone was a bit tinny, but who knew, then? Caruso and Galli-Curci were singing arias and I was hooked; the hairs on my arms went up at the gorgeous sounds of the human voice.

Later, the Columbia Record Club and I had a lovely thing going. The culture at that time brought Voice of Firestone and Bell Telephone Hour over the radio, giving the pleasure that, perhaps, only one who is truly vocally-challenged can know. An aunt in NYC took me to see Carmen at the old Met. Later, I started ushering for Chicago Lyric Opera, walking home on air after hearing Leontyne Price as Liu and Aida, Cossotto as Amneris and Eboli, and all the great male singers of the '60s.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I was moved by a young tenor named Eduardo Villa who performed at the Met auditions. I had the pleasure of discovering how far he had developed, years later, when I visited family in Atlanta and heard him in an Atlanta Opera production of Otello. Following the careers of those who have devoted their lives to this art has been fascinating to me. They don't know I cheer for them, but I do. In various forms, I think a spirit of hospitality is at the heart of everything in life that is good.

Sara Frooman wears her pin from this season's production of La bohème.
The pins? I'm a marketer at heart, having had successful businesses, and a history of producing advertising and editorial illustrations that told a story in one image. I also have a love of charming jewelry. So, before every production I search on eBay to find figural ornaments with themes from the upcoming production, and put the elements together. I wear the pins (and make others for staff use, should they wish) for the powerful effect of person-to-person conversations stimulated by onlookers' reactions. I carry Atlanta Opera handouts and materials and invite those persons to share the excitement of great music with us. In fact, while in a restaurant writing this, the waitress commented on my Così fan tutte pins, so I gave her the handout and we had a lovely conversation, recalling her best experiences. We shared this thought: opera is the only art that has moved me to tears.

Next? Gasoline is my drug of choice, so I hope to continue driving to the Center to help as needed to advance the opera’s mission, and to the airport, to give arriving artists the warmest and most personalized greeting possible, so they will remember The Atlanta Opera highly among the places they would always prefer to return.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

ARTIST PROFILE | Matthew Plenk

Così fan tutte is Mozart’s comedic 18th century reality show, and caught in the mix is the charming, beguiling, and fairly naive, Ferrando, played by Matthew Plenk. This is Matthew's debut with The Atlanta Opera, and already he's making a lasting impression. All’s fair in love and war? All’s well that ends well? Let's have Matthew help us decide, and learn a little about "real life" along the way...

1. Where do you live when you're not traveling?
I live at home in NYC with my wife and our 2 cats.

2. What was your first opera experience?My first operatic experience wasn’t until I started to audition for colleges as a Music Education major. I had to learn an aria for the auditions. Also as a high school senior a group from the National Honor Society went into “the city” to see Taming of the Shrew, a new production for American Ballet Theatre, and it was at the Met. It was my first time in that building, and it looked so big and grand. The dream of actually singing there had barely even crossed my mind.

3. Why did you choose to be a singer?
Mostly because I had been strongly encouraged to do so when I auditioned for the Hartt School. I can still remember Jerry Pruett and Fritz Moses sitting in the audition asking if I would consider at least a double major if not completely switching to performance.

4. What's the best thing about this profession? What's the worst thing?
Best: Being able to make music my job, and also the ability to hopefully let someone be in another world only for a few hours.
Worst: The traveling is hard. It is tough to be away from home and your loved ones. It is not the 9-5 house-in-the-‘burbs lifestyle that we all look to as the “perfect family,” but “c’est la vie.”

5. When did you realize that opera was your career?
I think I am still realizing it. I had been in the shelter of the Lindemann Young Artist Development Program (LYADP) for the past 3 years, and taking off the training wheels is a shock at first.

6. What has been the biggest challenge in your performance career?
So far it has been developing all the skills needed to do this well. The LYADP certainly helped by letting me figure out what I needed to work on and also giving me the tools to take with me out in the real world of opera.

7. What is your dream role?

Hard to say, but right now I am happy to sing almost anything people ask me to. But to throw one out there let’s say . . . Faust!?

8. Who do you most admire in the opera business?
That has to go to Maestro James Levine. Having the opportunity to work with him for a number of years in a close setting has certainly changed my understating of music. To see that man work is incredible.

9. Do you still get nervous after all these years?
There is always a certain nervous feeling that comes with any performance and also at the beginning of the rehearsal period. You never know who you are going to work with for a month, and you always hope the group is as great as this group is for Così fan tutte. With the performance anxiety, I try and find a way to use the stress as a way to build up energy for the performance, not let it get the better of me, and use it for the betterment of the performance.

10. Who has influenced you most throughout your career?
Mo. Levine in the recent past, but in the longer term, I would say that my wife has played a big part. We met over 10 years ago, and she has always been ultra supportive, and we talk about music and the biz a lot. We also try and make decisions together, especially when it comes to travel and time away. It certainly affects her life too. She also has just about the best pair of ears out there, so I always know that I am getting great true feedback.

11. What do you like to do when you're not singing?
It depends on the weather. If it is warm enough, I like getting out on the golf course. I have only played once here in Atlanta. And in the winter I love to ski. The rest of my time I like to get outside as much as possible, and do a whole range of things.

12. If you were not a singer, what would you be?
I guess the next choice would be voice teacher, but that is a little too related. How about something more practical like a lawyer, or doctor? I certainly went through that amount of school.

13. Obviously you travel extensively in this profession. What has been your best travel experience? What has been the worst?Best: A concert I did in LA. I was able to see my brother, and the weather was great. I like when the place I go has a different weather pattern than where I have been. Worst: Probably the commute from NYC to ATL. The travel wasn’t bad but starting Così here while finishing Lucia at the Met made for a long weekend!!

14. How do you think performing in Atlanta is different than in other cities?
Not sure yet. I get the feeling that the audience will be more die-hards who only get the 3-4 shows that The Atlanta Opera puts on. NYC is so saturated with performances one tends to take them for granted sometimes.

15. Is it more exciting to perform for a hometown crowd, or does it make you more nervous?
I like the hometown crowd. It is great to know that you have your own built in fans. But hopefully I can build up those fan bases in more places. The more people you know the closer it feels to home.

16. Do you have any quirky routines or superstitions that you follow before a performance?
Not really. I guess the singers’ warm-up has some funny things in it, but other than that I just like to get a good stretch in so that I can move well on stage.

17. What has been your most memorable stage moment – good or bad?
Singing at the opening night concert at Tanglewood with Mo. Levine. It was great weather and to see all 6,000 people out on the lawn truly enjoying it was a great time.

18. If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three CDs would you most want to have?
That’s tough. Meat Loaf – “Bat Out of Hell”; Sir Thomas Allen – “On the Idle Hill of Summer”; and Pavarotti and Freni – La bohème. The last one is hard to choose. And wouldn’t I just bring my iPhone with a solar charger : )?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Every opera has its drama.... and its fun facts... especially Così fan tutte

You never know when you may be called upon to summon up obscure opera facts for a game of Trivial Pursuit. Have no fear... we've got the antidote below. Enjoy some fun facts from our upcoming production of Mozart's mischievous and brilliant Così fan tutte.

1. Mozart’s full name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophillus Amadeus Gottlieb Sigismundus Mozart. Theophillus, Amadeus, Gottlieb and Sigismundus all mean “beloved of God,” just in different languages.

2. Mozart was appointed concertmaster of the Archbishop of Salzburg’s court orchestra at the young age of 13. This appointment marked the beginning of Mozart’s popularity and he received multiple commissions for his work. However, Mozart did not get along with the Archbishop and quit in 1781.

3. Mozart’s life slightly resembled the story of Così fan tutte for a time – a few years before he married his wife Constanze Weber, he was engaged to her sister Aloysia.

4. The storyline of Così fan tutte was considered very scandalous in the 19th century, so anytime the opera was performed it was usually altered, completely rewritten or accompanied by an apology for the frivolous plot. Although he liked Mozart’s music, composer Beethoven called the story concept “immoral.”

5. In 1994 two works by Mozart’s contemporary Antonio Salieri were discovered, showing that Salieri attempted to set the libretto of Così fan tutte to music as well, but did not complete the project.

6. The full title, Così fan tutte, ossia La scuola degli amanti translates to "Thus do all [women]," but it is often simplified to "Women are like that." The words are sung by the men in Act II, just before the finale. Librettist Da Ponte also used the line "Così fan tutte le belle" previously in Le nozze di Figaro.

7. Actor Alfred Lunt staged the 1951 Metropolitan Opera production of Così fan tutte that established it as a repertory opera in the United States.

8. Librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte went bankrupt soon after the premiere of Così fan tutte and emigrated to New York to escape his European creditors. He ran both a grocery store and bookstore, but still remained an esteemed teacher of languages and the classics. He oversaw the American premieres of Don Giovanni and Le nozze di Figaro and co-founded the school for Italian studies at Columbia University. Da Ponte died in 1838 and is buried in Queens.

Photos by JD Scott