Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Deck the Halls with Mismatched Ornaments....

Decorating The Atlanta Opera Christmas Tree is a yearly tradition which began way back in 1999. One of the staff members went out and bought a Christmas tree, but neglected to get any ornaments. The Opera staff has always been resourceful, though; they used some ribbon and leftover Atlanta Opera stickers from a mailing and created some ornaments!

This is the only one of them that still exists.

It now adorns our tree with the rest of the Opera family’s bizarre, mismatched ornaments:

We call this sleepy angel "Precision Brew," after our coffee maker.

No opera would be complete without the orchestra! Legend has it that at one time we had an entire set of musical instrument ornaments. Unfortunately, all we have now are three violins and two French Horns (and a partridge in a pear tree).

The ballerina bear is Lindsay in Ticketing’s favorite ornament of all time.

We call this one "Wendy Loo Who," because it looks like a cross between the Wendy’s mascot and Cindy Loo Who from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas." You may not be able to tell from the picture, but she’s dragging a Christmas tree behind her.


And finally, Alfred and Hitchcock, the turtledoves.

We also have an assortment of more normal ornaments. Today we dragged them out of storage, turned on some Christmas music (Rockapella, Manheim Steamroller, and the London Philharmonic were the most popular), noshed on Christmas cookies, and spread some festive cheer!

Here is the final product... Happy Holidays!!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An Opera About... Pirates?

In addition to mounting a new experiment with the 24-Hour Opera Project amid the madness of National Opera Week, we in The Atlanta Opera Education Department also had our hands full managing a band of pirates. Add in some young, enthusiastic lads and lassies, and what do you have? A rollicking good time!

For National Opera Week, we took our studio touring show, The Pirates of Penzance, into the community and welcomed a new, younger audience to the exciting world of opera. From a children’s museum to a workshop created specially for Girl Scouts, the pirates traveled across dry land to bring their story to landlubbers of all ages.

We began the week at Imagine It! The Children’s Museum of Atlanta as a part of their current exhibit “Making America's Music: Rhythm, Roots & Rhyme.” The kids loved the performance and enjoyed the opportunity to ask the artists questions about opera, performing and pirates. We had a great time exploring the exhibit as well.

Next up, we welcomed the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta to The Atlanta Opera. The girls saw a performance of The Pirates of Penzance, made their own Jolly Roger pirate hats, played dress-up with opera costumes and accessories, and saw a stage make-up demonstration. These lassies (and lad) had the time of their lives, and somehow by the end of the workshop, The Atlanta Opera Center was shipshape and ready for the 24-Hour Opera Project to begin!

Below are some highlights from the Girl Scout workshop…

Elizabeth Claxton (Mabel), Wade Thomas (Pirate King) and Lara Longsworth (Ruth) in The Pirates of Penzance.

Lara Longsworth (Ruth) performing with one of our amazing troops. A big thanks to Girl Scout Troops 10708 and 1166 for their great performances in the show!

Elizabeth Claxton and Wesley Morgan play the love-struck couple Mabel and Frederic.

The Girl Scouts decorated their own pirate hats to take home.

Love this “You rock!” pirate hat.

Oh, the treasures found in the costume shop…

An old pirate aged from life on the high seas?

No, just an unsuspecting volunteer for the stage make-up demonstration. How amazing!

Among all the activities, many of the Girl Scouts still found time to write thank-you notes – we think this one says it all…

“When I was younger I thought opera was just singing, nothing fun, but I was wrong!”

By Jillian – Nov. 6, 2010

Thanks for an amazing National Opera Week, everyone. Hope to see you again when the pirates set sail this spring!

Monday, November 8, 2010

24-Hour Opera Project... in 25 hours!

Daylight savings time is only annoying when you're not trying to create, produce, and perform a 10 minute opera in 24 hours! That extra hour meant the mayhem and joys of the creative process could last a little longer, and we all could revel in good ole' fashioned fun -- with a hint of drama and a few death scenes... oh, and a rubber chicken.

You've probably heard by now that The Atlanta Opera embarked on a little experiment called the 24-Hour Opera Project. Composers, lyricists, stage directors and opera singers from all over the country -- randomly put into teams -- had 24-hours to compose, stage and rehearse a 10-minute opera. The theme was “Family Reunion” – an appropriate topic for opera, don’t you think?

The project was created for National Opera Week, OPERA America’s annual celebration of opera. Opera companies across the United States were charged with ways to actively engage their respective communities with events and concerts that can expose new audiences to opera. We think we were quite successful in this calling.

With the help of many, many enthusiastic partners, staffers, volunteers, media, and our panel of celebrity judges, we conducted an experiment we may just want to try again! So keep in touch, will ya'? Maybe next year you can join us!

Below is a recap of the 24-Hour Opera Project... in 25 hours!

Bass Larry Frazier, tenor Charles Baugh, and mezzo-soprano Sharon Blackwood rehearse their black comedy, A Toast for all Toasts.

Stage director Bari Newport rehearses Eye of the Needle with bass J. Robert Adams.

(left to right) Mezzo-soprano Andrea Green, tenor Dennis Shuman, soprano Vivian Clifton and Stage Director Beth Suryan rehearse a scene from Scrub a Dub-Raw, a country reunion gone horribly awry.

Mezzo-soprano Andrea Green, tenor Dennis Shuman, and soprano Vivian Clifton perform Scrub a Dub-Raw.

Soprano Jennifer Zuiff, bass Larry Frazier, tenor Charles Baugh, and mezzo-soprano Sharon Blackwood perform A Toast for all Toasts.

The cast and creators of A Toast for all Toasts receive their prize. The recipients are: Valerie Pool (accompanist), Chadwick Hagan (lyricist), Jennifer Zuiff (soprano), Patrick McColery (stage director), Sharon Blackwood (mezzo), Marie Incontrera (composer), Larry Frazier (baritone), Charles Baugh (tenor)

The creators and singers of Scrub a Dub-Raw receive their prizes for “Audience Favorite.” They are (clockwise from left) Beth Suryan, director; Nicole Chamberlain, composer; Andrea Green, mezzo-soprano; Vynnie Meli, librettist; Dennis Shuman, tenor; Vivian Clifton, soprano; Stephen McCool, baritone; Catherine Schaefer, accompanist/music director (not pictured).

The “Judges' Favorite” Award went to Eye of the Needle, an opera about a “family reunion” in the “dust bowl.” Pictured here are (front row, from left) Robert Adams, bass-baritone; Catherine Striplin, accompanist/musical director; Bari Newport, director; (back row, from left) Dennis Hanthorn, judge, Zurich General Director of The Atlanta Opera; Nicole Jones, emcee, Editor in Chief for Atlanta PlanIt; Sondra Collins, soprano; Bart Gilleland, baritone; Karen Wyatte, mezzo; Curtis Krick, librettist; Lois Reitzes, judge, Program Director, host of Second Cup Concert and ASO Broadcast, WABE; Dwight Coleman, judge, Director of the School of Music, Georgia State University; (not pictured) Edwardo Perez, composer.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween .... Atlanta Opera style!

And the winner is... Stephanie... for "getting her Frida on!"
Where's the monkey?

The Atlanta Opera gang in all their costume glory.

The phantom helps this young lady pay off her student loans.

If you donate to The Atlanta Opera, you can get a palm reading!

Ashley Ga Ga, Hera, and Frida.

Mr. Strange.

Rae and her "white lies." She really DOES want to work this weekend...

Frida and Bret, the astronaut, plan a trip to Mars -- but WAIT.... you can't take the monkey!
CIA? A man in black? Secret service? Johnny Cash? It's anyone's guess...

Cowgirl Dallas and her trusty side-kick, Indi.

Kitty Litter.

Disgruntled employee...

Monday, October 18, 2010

The reviews are in....

Thank you loyal patrons and first-time opera-goers, for your overwhelming response to our 2010-2011 season opener, La bohème! We love to hear about your experiences. Thank you for sharing them with us. Here are some of our favorites!

“I am not going to read another review until after I have seen a performance in the future, as the AJC reviewer must not have seen the same production I did! I thoroughly enjoyed the singers, their acting, the chorus, the orchestra, the staging--the whole afternoon was a joy to behold. May your other endeavors be as entertaining and enjoyable and a pleasure to the ear and the eye. My wish is for your continued success. Better yet, I don't think I will read any more reviews!”

By Barbara – Oct 18, 2010

“We had never seen La bohème before. It was a great production- the music, singing, sets etc. La bohème ranks with the best opera we have seen, which includes Tosca at La Scala and many at the N.Y. Metropolitan.”

By Frank & Frances - Oct. 18, 2010

“We just wanted to let you know how much we enjoyed the Sunday matinee of La bohème, which happens to be the very first opera I'd seen many years ago at The Met. The performers were fantastic, the sets magnificent, the music splendid. We had invited another couple to join us. They had moved to this area from NYC several years ago, and had enjoyed front row center seats at The Met for many years. He said the performance was “world class,” and he's much more experienced than I. Congratulations to all… glad we are season subscribers!”

By William - Oct 18, 2010

“The Sunday matinee performance was the second Atlanta Opera production my wife and I have attended since moving to Smyrna from Boston late last year. We saw and thoroughly enjoyed Aida in the Spring and subsequently purchased season tickets. La bohème was every bit as good, and we are eagerly looking forward to the Gershwin and Mozart productions that will be coming up in 2011”

By Berni - Oct 18, 2010

“Magnifique.......the only word I can use to describe it! This opera is more than 100 years old, yet it is just as beautiful as if it were the first time I had seen it. I can only put myself into the seat of those who first heard this magnificent piece of music. My compliments to the cast, chorus and supernumeraries. You have all put Atlanta onto the Opera Map.”

By Bonnie - Oct 18, 2010

“We are new to the greater Atlanta area and attended with 5 of our neighbors. Sensational is the best I can come up with! The [orchestra], staging, preformers, quality, and “awe factor” all exceeded expectations. When the second act closed and everyone froze in action, it looked like a famous painting. It was so exquisite.”

By Jim - Oct 18, 2010

“Beautiful singing, gorgeous orchestral music, terrific costumes, wonderful sets, fabulous production. Fantastic!”

By Jim & Trudy‎ - Oct 18, 2010

Friday, October 8, 2010

The lighter side of La bohème...

We all know that our beloved Mimì perishes in the end. It is tragic to see two lovers torn apart, but La bohème is also very funny. Below is Tim Wikerson's picture gallery of the "lighter side" of this season’s production of La bohème.

Photos Courtesy of Tim Wilkerson

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, October 1, 2010

Mrs. Woodward Goes to the Opera

The Atlanta Opera has a great tradition - Mrs. Jerrie Woodward's reviews of our Final Dress Rehearsals. Mrs. Woodward is the mother of one of our board members, Bob Woodward. For years, The Atlanta Opera staffers have come in to work to find her impressions of our newest productions in our inboxes. They are delightful, observant, and constant reminders that what we do touches many lives. She writes these reviews as "thank you letters" to her son. That alone, tugs at our heart strings.

As we open our 2010/2011 season with Puccini's La bohème, let's take a moment to reflect on what Mrs. Woodward has to say, and try to put our own impressions into words.

* * *

Dear Bob,

When I leave a performance of Atlanta Opera, I’m eternally grateful for the Cobb Energy Center. What a difference it has made in the enjoyment of the Opera and the ease of my getting there and back. As I think back on how it was at the Civic Center, I utter a prayer of thanks. Beauty begets beauty, whatever the art.

Now, to tonight’s final rehearsal of La bohème that enchanted the fairly large audience in attendance. I imagine most everyone attending knew the sad story, but the director presented a cast that brought the story to life in a beautifully unique way. The four “good ole boys” exhibited true comradeship, sharing what little material things they had, as well as the frustration and pain of trying to find true love.

After beginning a bit timidly, Hymel’s Rodolfo soon won me over as the sensitive lover and soul mate of Mimì. His beautiful tenor filled the hall, and his personality made me fall in love with the poet, too. I love a guy who can empathize with a lonely and sickly maiden, as well as listen to her story of common poverty portrayed in poetic language - I guess that’s the poet in himself. A close rival for my affection was Marcello. In fact, the entire cast was excellent - all strong and commanding. I wish Mimì had let her hair down sooner, though.

The orchestra was very, very good – with a full, great tone. It was the best the orchestra has performed in many performances. The sets worked well in all scenes, whether the mood was up or down.

The scene at Café Momus was somewhat overcrowded, making it difficult to find which one was singing, and subsequently how the story was going. I think less would have been more.

The death scene really pulled my heart strings. Rodolfo was magnificent in his portrayal of heartbroken grief, Mimi looked more beautiful in death than life, and a real tear rose in response to this tragic ending. I do wish the audience could wait until the orchestra has ended the last note and let it settle in the heart before applauding.

It is a terrific beginning for the 2010-11 season. I truly hope Atlanta takes advantage of the excellent opportunity to experience live opera on its home turf. Why go anywhere else for an evening of pure dedication and delight?

Thanks for the tickets. All of us were in one accord of praise for the company of The Atlanta Opera.

Love, Mother

Friday, September 24, 2010

Children's Chorus? Do We Need a New Name?

Well, Ladies and Gentlemen -- fans of The Atlanta Opera -- after a 5 month hiatus, our blog is up and running again. So much is happening around here, and we are thrilled to be sharing the ins-and-outs of our company with you. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.... or so they say. Have you missed us?

As many of you know, we open our 31st season on October 2 with Puccini's LA BOHEME. So romantic, so sad, so.... many things that touch our hearts. But there is one facet of the production that, we believe, is underexplored -- the Children's Chorus. They are so ingrained in the fabric of the production, that we sometimes forget how uncommon it is to have children appear in an opera, and how lovely the on-stage dynamic becomes.

Will Breytspraak, this season's Children's Chorus Master, is not a stranger to cultivating young voices. Below, he asks the question -- should we call these budding performers a "Children's Chorus?" They undergo the same arduous audition and rehearsal process as the adults, and are an integral part of ACT II of LA BOHEME. In many ways, they serve as a necessary foil to the tragedy about to unfold. Are we reducing their importance by calling them, simply, a "Children's Chorus?"

* * *

There are few scenes in opera more exuberant than LA BOHEME’s famous Christmas Eve street scene, and the Children’s Chorus is an indispensable part of the excitement. Whether delighting in the toys of Parpignol, or taking part in all sorts of other mischief on the street, children are able to bring the sort of unrestrained quality to the action that a lavishly joyous Christmas Eve scene demands. If the children do their job, which I am certain they will, they will appear to the audience just to be ordinary, "happy-go-lucky" kids having the time of their lives.

Behind the scenes it's quite a different story. Through a highly competitive audition process (with more than 55 kids auditioning for 13 spots), these are kids who have made the cut. They come from all over the Atlanta metropolitan area, and one (Brett Cooper) even commutes all the way from Chattanooga, Tennessee!

These kids have learned their music and roles with a childlike curiosity and zeal, but with the professionalism of seasoned performers. Their maturity allows them to not just sing and act their parts, but to precisely fit them in with all of the excitement going on around them. Each singer must operate like an intelligent soloist, and be able to sing their complicated parts from wherever they find themselves in the elaborate staging.

It has been an imaginative process for us to place ourselves in 1830's Paris, when street urchins and other children would have run freely around the streets. This sort of scene is foreign to these kids, who have not experienced that sort of freedom on busy modern day streets. When we tried to explore the excitement children would have felt at the sight of the toy seller, Parpignol, the kids lit up at a comparison to how they might feel and act when the ice cream man drives through.

Interestingly, I think “Children’s Chorus” is something of a misnomer now that we have reached dress rehearsals and performances. Even though we have done all of this work together toward collective precision (as a choir does), performing at this level demands a Herculean mental and physical effort. And every bit of the scene must be as fresh and spontaneous as the falling Christmas Eve snow.

I am so impressed by the unique qualities of each of these kids, that “Children’s Chorus” is not an adequate name for the group. The only other name I can think of is probably too long:

“Andrew, Brett, Cassady, Emma, Eric, Francesca, George, Jonah, Marguerite, Sara, Sophia, Taylor, and Thomas!”

But then I think back to how we started -- to how we worked so hard together and got to know each other through this shared experience. And then I like the name -- “Children’s Chorus." We are "The Atlanta Opera Children’s Chorus!"

Monday, May 10, 2010

Life as a Supernumerary: An Insider's View of The Magic Flute

In April I discovered one of the best kept secrets in all of opera-going. And that is the opportunity to be a supernumerary. Supers are the folks standing around holding spears, or the officers come to arrest the tenor, etc. They are typically a function of the set more than a character in the story.

I was invited to be one of fourteen supers in the Atlanta Opera’s The Magic Flute. This experience would turn out to be the operatic equivalent of what I imagine baseball fantasy camp must be like, except that at the end you get to play in four real games. And you are not playing with the superstars of yesteryear, but those of today and tomorrow.

People with beautiful, well-trained voices might survive the competitive auditions to join the highly respected Atlanta Opera Chorus. But the need for supers means the rest of us, including the vocally disabled such as myself, can strap on the pads and go in the game too.

I have never had any desire to call attention to myself on stage. Quite the opposite. But I learned that the stage is by orders of magnitude the best seat in the house. This became apparent the first night I had the privilege of kneeling in the shadows beside the Queen of the Night’s throne during her famous First Act aria. Kathleen Kim’s voice, only feet away, paralyzed my breathing and caused my eyes to fill up. It was a surreal moment. And I later had the thrill of describing the experience to Ms Kim as we walked up the stairs backstage to have our respective wigs removed. Her grin said she was one part amused and two parts pleased for me.

I imagine the main reason the Atlanta Opera isn’t flooded with requests to be a super is the month-long commitment to rehearsals (some held during normal working hours). I was particularly surprised at how many full-on rehearsals there were on consecutive days leading up to opening night. And at how many things were still being fixed and changed during those rehearsals. Time was quickly running out, but to avoid having to pay overtime, rehearsals ended abruptly at 11:00 each night.

During rehearsals (and performances) there is a lot of “hurry up and wait” for all cast members, but especially for supers with microscopic roles. I might practice my part for less than ten minutes during a four hour rehearsal. But the constant excitement kept me occupied every minute, even past my normal bedtime. I came away with a good sense of what directors and stage managers actually do and how long and hard they work.

The most appealing aspect of the rehearsals for this production was the opportunity to meet and listen to the world class principals up close – very close. Without exception, every one of them was absolutely amazing, from those singing regularly at the Met, to some wonderful local talent.
Initially, expecting hyperactive extroverts, half again normal size, I was slightly befuddled when I met them face to face. For instance, Ms. Kim is not much more than five feet tall but could effortlessly engulf the room with her literally stunning voice. While all of the principals were friendly, most seemed quieter and more reserved offstage than my pre-existing stereotype of the profession.

That is not to say that there were not some very engaging extroverts in the cast. Becca Kier (Papagena) jumps first to mind. She was largely responsible for talking me into being a super, though we had only met minutes earlier. Watching her in rehearsals I felt she didn’t have to practice becoming Papagena very hard, she already was Papagena, or at least Beccagena.

I especially enjoyed getting to know Nicole Cabell (Pamina). She is the operatic total package on and off stage. It is obvious to even the uppermost balcony that her voice is extremely beautiful and well trained, and her stage presence regal. But it was chatting one on one with a neophyte super that she really showed just how warm and genuine she is.

The final performance of The Magic Flute was a Sunday matinee. I read on Facebook that the crew began dismantling the set that same night. I had a very empty feeling the next morning as I looked at my calendar and did not see the blocks of rehearsals and performances that gave April such purpose. The month of May looked sort of bleak by comparison.

While it is sad to think that this production is gone forever, my tiny role entitled me to share in the pride of ownership of something large and very extraordinary. Many, many thanks to The Atlanta Opera for this opportunity!

When La bohème opens in October, I will be back in my seat in the front row of the first balcony. It will probably seem smaller, more confining and much further from the stage than I remembered. But having been a super I will now notice and be aware of so many things I never was before.

-John King

The inspirational Kathleen Kim as The Queen of the Night:

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Magic Flute Production Photos!

Photographer Tim Wilkerson took some great photos last night during the Final Dress Rehearsal of The Magic Flute, so here's a sneak peek:

The three ladies and Tamino (Sean Panikkar):
Papageno (Hugh Russell) and the bird puppets:
The Queen of the Night (Kathleen Kim):
The Queen of the Night (Kathleen Kim) and Tamino (Sean Panikkar):
Sarastro (Denis Sedov) and Pamina (Nicole Cabell):
The three genies and Tamino (Sean Panikkar):
Tamino (Sean Panikkar) with his flute:
Papageno (Hugh Russell) and Papagena (Rebecca Kier):
Sarastro (Denis Sedov) and the Atlanta Opera Chorus:
Tamino (Sean Panikkar) and Pamina (Nicole Cabell):

If you want to hear what other people thought of the Final Dress Rehearsal, check out our Twitter page. We had about eight tweeters show up for Social Media night and tweet live during the performance. It was a great success, and we appreciate everyone who participated!