Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Move over Sugar Plums...

By Ellen Sturgill

Chocolate bars are dancing around our heads here at The Atlanta Opera!

What do you get when you mix opera with five children, one zany confectioner, a dash of magic, and lots and lots of chocolate bars? The Atlanta Opera's second opera of the season, The Golden Ticket!  This new and delightful opera is based on Roald Dahl's beloved tale Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and will take you on a journey into the magical world of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.

Commissioned by American Lyric Theater and Roald Dahl's widow, Felicity Dahl, The Golden Ticket features all the sweet delights familiar from the book, including chocolate rivers, inflating blueberries, and magical elevators

The road to creating this opera, however, wasn't as smooth as Wonka's famous chocolate. Composer Peter Ash and librettist Donald Sturrock struggled with legal issues surrounding Dahl's book, as well as getting companies to take an opera based on a children's story seriously.  The Golden Ticket's world-premiere in June 2010 at Opera Theater of Saint Louis was an enormous success.  The production entertained audiences, and proved that opera isn't just love triangles and death scenes.

"Delightful: a fanciful tale meets... opera. Sturrock's libretto bubbles along with fun rhyming couplets, and the music is surprisingly sophisticated." (Dallas Morning News, Scott Cantrell, on the Opera Theater of Saint Louis premiere)

Atlanta audiences will certainly see things they've never seen before.  This new production combines dramatic sets, special effects, and elaborate costumes that are sure to delight.

Peter Ash's music also strikes just the right notes, with whimsical orchestrations, as well as dramatic arias that parody traditional opera styles. Many of the singers are familiar with the opera, having sung it in the world premiere. These singers include bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch as Willy Wonka/Mr. Know, tenor Andrew Drost as Augustus Gloop, and baritone David Kravitz as Lord Salt.  Also reprising a role is Abigail Nims, who sang the role of Veruca Salt in Wexford Festival Opera's production.

Daniel Okulitch as Willy Wonka. Photo: Courtesy of Opera Theater of Saint Louis.

The Atlanta Opera is also thrilled to have The Golden Ticket composer Peter Ash coming to conduct the performances. Having the original composer of an opera conduct is a rare treat, and we are excited to have such a new production in our 2011-2012 season. If you can't wait until March to see more from this opera, visit our website for more information, as well as videos and audio clips of The Golden Ticket. 

After all this talk of chocolate, are you craving something sweet or savory? Then you're in luck!

In this week's blog post, we thought we'd not only give you a sneak peek of the The Golden Ticket, but also a taste of the opera, too!

The recipe links below include treats from the five children of The Golden Ticket. They are easy to make, and don't worry, these indulgences will not inflate you like a blueberry, or get you thrown into the trash by squirrels! At least, we don't think they will... Enjoy!

Augustus Gloop's Finger-Lickin-Good Chocolate Fudge 
© Kraft Foods

Violet Beauregarde's Blueberry Pie Cups

    © Kraft Foods

Veruca Salt's "I need it now!" Sweet Peanut Brittle

    © Kraft Foods

Mike Teevee's Shrunken Chicken BBQ Sliders

    © Kraft Foods

Charlie Bucket's Triple Layer Chocolate Bars

    © Kraft Foods

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, December 16, 2011

Opera at Warp Speed!

By Ellen Sturgill

Are you dying to break into the opera world? Have you been wishing for an opportunity to showcase your music, talent, and skills? Would you love to be a reality TV star like Snookie, Donald Trump, and the Kardashians? Well, we can't really help you with that last aspiration, but here at The Atlanta Opera, we have the perfect opportunity for those of you looking to let your voices be heard! Presenting the second annual...

The 24-Hour Opera Project was created to promote outreach and awareness by encouraging the community to become involved in opera. This event also gives composers, lyricists, directors, and singers an opportunity to showcase their art for the public. Those selected to participate will be randomly partnered in teams, given a theme for their opera, and then let loose for 24 hours to create a one-of-a-kind production. The creative process will be filmed, so you can be a part of all the action! There will also be a "Confession Cam," similar to your favorite reality TV shows. After the 24 hours is over, the teams will present their operas to a panel of judges, a public audience, and a live webcast. Prizes will be awarded for the Judge's Choice, as well as an Audience Favorite.

A scene from last year's Audience Favorite, Scrub-A-Dub Raw. © Tim Wilkerson

Why am I feeding you all this information? Because there is still time to join the fun! Composers, lyricists, directors, and singers have until December 21 to apply by visiting our website. Take advantage of this amazing opportunity to spend 24 hours with people who love opera, who enjoy being creatively challenged, and who simply want to have a blast!

Atlanta Opera staff and last year's 24-Hour Opera Project participants. © Tim Wilkerson

The videos and images in this article are from last year's event, and will give you a glimpse of the excitement to come! Enjoy!

Bass Larry Frazier, tenor Charles Baugh, and mezzo-soprano Sharon Blackwood rehearse A Toast for all Toasts. © Tim Wilkerson

Video of the launch party for last year's event. © Cherokee Rose Productions

The infamous "Confession Cam." © Cherokee Rose Productions

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, December 7, 2011

Sing we joyous, all together!

By Ellen Sturgill

The Atlanta Opera has already decked its halls, and we are now ready to "fa, la, la" this holiday season! If you're wondering how you can get into the holiday spirit, look no further than The Atlanta Opera Holiday Concert. In our third annual holiday concert, eight selected soloists from The Atlanta Opera Chorus will be performing at All Saints' Episcopal Church. The ensemble will be joined by organist Peter Marshall, and conducted by Atlanta Opera Chorus Master, Walter Huff.
Photo courtesy of Walter Huff

The concert is a special tradition for us, and we thought that for this week's blog, we'd speak to Walter, and get the inside scoop on what makes this concert the perfect opportunity to ring in the holidays. Enjoy!

Photo courtesy of Walter Huff
The concert is a special tradition for us, and we thought that for this week's blog, we'd speak to Walter, and get the inside scoop on what makes this concert the perfect opportunity to ring in the holidays. Enjoy!
1. How did the Holiday Concerts get started?
They started about three years ago. We’ve always wanted to do something during the holidays as an opera company. Years and years ago, the opera presented Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors at Spivey Hall. We did that opera for about five years during Christmas, and it was a lovely event. This, however, was probably 15 years ago, if not even more.

Since then, there really hasn’t been anything, and Dennis and I had been interested in presenting a Christmas performance with The Atlanta Opera Chorus. But presenting the full chorus in December is almost impossible, with their schedules. So, I had the idea of selecting eight choristers who would be a good fit. Linda Bailey, who is the coordinator of the All Saints’ Episcopal Church concert series, began to communicate with the Opera about hosting a Christmas concert there. And the Holiday concerts have been an incredible success. We sold out the first year. The second year we did two performances. This year, we are doing one performance that is expected to sell out. There really is nothing like this concert on the Atlanta concert scene during the holidays!

The All Saints’ Episcopal Church is a beautiful setting. It is accessible, and stunning. It has Tiffany stained-glass windows, candlelight, and it is a great place to hold the concert. This church seats about 450, so it’s not small, but it’s also not overwhelming. It sets a scene for a nice, intimate evening.

© Tim Wilkerson
2. What will the repertoire be this year? The music ranges from sacred to secular. At times, all eight singers perform together as a small chamber ensemble, and then there are duets, trios, and each singer has a solo piece. Every singer is showcased, but they are also singing together in a great choral blend. We are performing a wide variety of music by Bach, carols in French, German, and Welsh. There is even a beautiful early colonial American Christmas carol, a gospel piece, and a nice arrangement of the “12 Days of Christmas” from the King’s Singers. This year will be interesting in that we are also doing an excerpt from Amahl and the Night Visitors that we used to put on at Spivey, so that will be a nice connection to our past holiday programs. This concert is similar to a PBS holiday offering. There is great variety, and truly, something for everyone.
3. Do you have a favorite piece, or one that you are most looking forward to performing this year? It is a 90-minute program with twenty selections, and thirteen of them are new for this year. It’s very hard to pick a favorite! I think the Gospel piece “Come to the Manger” is a great selection, sung by Tim Miller, who was part of our Porgy and Bess cast (2010). We are also doing a very nice arrangement of “White Christmas,” which is new. And I love our lush arrangement of “Silent Night,” and a beautiful Italian carol for tenor that Pavarotti made famous. We also have boy soprano, Will Trimble, joining us for the excerpt from Amahl. He did this solo at First Presbyterian, so that will be excellent to have him joining us. We end with a spectacular finale of “O Holy Night” with the whole ensemble, and this piece is a great ending for the concert.
4. This concert certainly sounds like an excellent outlet for your chorus members, as well. It is. Because we generally work in a large ensemble of about fifty, it is great for us to get to work together in this small chamber ensemble. You need that unique singer that is not only very viable by themselves, but also can exist really well in a choral situation. That is why this concert is so special. There are choral concerts on every corner during the holidays, but because we have a small, but very trained and talented group of singers, our concert is a real treat to hear that mix. Some of the singers in this concert are currently singing with The Atlanta Opera Chorus, and some are alumni. Five of the singers have participated in this concert every year. It is accompanied by Peter Marshall on the organ, who is an instructor at Georgia State, and the Principal Keyboardist with The Atlanta Symphony.
5. How long are you and your ensemble able to rehearse for this concert? We met in September to talk about the program. It’s hard when you have a success like this [concert], because you don’t want it to be the same every year, but you do want to keep everybody’s favorite pieces. I actually brought two audience members from the previous concert, and asked them, “What would you hate to see go [from the concert]?” That helped us in our selection, and was a nice way to get feedback. Once we had the program solidified, we rehearsed whenever we could this fall in between Lucia di Lammermoor rehearsals, and have been rehearsing more intensely as the concert gets closer.

© Tim Wilkerson

6. What makes the concert different from other programming that you do? This concert is different in that we get to explore cross-over repertoire. This concert involves opera singers singing secular music and more popular pieces, but still singing it in a classical fashion. Many opera singers are now releasing Christmas cds, and to help select repertoire, I listened to many of these. It allowed me to explore different vocal and musical styles. Which means that I have to choose singers who can do that, which is also fun! There has to be chemistry between the eight singers to create a product that is uniquely theirs.
7. What are some of your favorite memories from the last concert? With last year’s concert, I remember it being incredibly cold that evening-- 11 degrees, to be exact. And what was so funny about this was that the dressing rooms were in a separate building from the sanctuary. So at the beginning of the concert, and then again at intermission, we had to traipse across from that building a good ways to the sanctuary with some of the female singers freezing in their evening gowns! But I think the main memory I have is that with the first concert, you feel like you have something special, but very different, so you’re not sure of the reaction that you’re going to get. It was a packed concert, and I was so pleased because the [audience] reaction was tremendous. I think that’s the best memory for me. The concert really seemed to work for something that was actually very new and different to the holiday offerings here.

# # #
The Atlanta Opera Holiday Concert will be a wonderful event that you will not want to miss. It is a joyful evening full of talent, fun, and beautiful music. With tickets starting at $30, this concert would make a perfect Christmas gift for that friend that is hard to buy for. If you would like to see a preview of this concert, check out the videos below of tenor Tim Miller singing “Come to the Manger,” and of the ensemble singing a fun arrangement of “Jingle Bells.” For more information on how to buy tickets for the Holiday Concert, visit our website. We hope you’ll join us on December 13th at 7:30pm for this wonderful holiday tradition!

© Cherokee Rose Productions

© Cherokee Rose Productions

© Cherokee Rose Productions

© Cherokee Rose Productions
© 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.© Tim Wilkersonof 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 404.881.88

Friday, November 18, 2011

Check out these "crazy-good" reviews...

By Ellen Sturgill

Here at The Atlanta Opera, we love all the positive press we're receiving about this season's opening production, Lucia di Lammermoor, but we are especially excited to hear from our loyal patrons and subscribers! Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. Below are some of our favorite reviews!

© Tim Wilkerson

"It was absolutely fabulous!! The music was spinning in my head all night. This is probably my favorite performance. And, I must say, that it was pure joy to be sitting among such an appreciative audience."
- Sallie, Atlanta, GA

"Last night's performance of Lucia di Lammermoor was absolutely wonderful. Georgia Jarman made her character come alive with her silvery voice, flips, trills and difficult passages. She made us truly believe her character was mad- her acting was very convincing. The chorus was wonderful. The costumes were superb, as was the set design. I really enjoyed the Armonica- beautiful, unique sound which really added to the score. Congratulations to you all on a magnificent Lucia! Thanks for all you do for fine arts in Atlanta."
- Diane, McDonough, GA

"Excellent!!! A great evening at the opera."
- Marvin, Atlanta, GA

"The Atlanta Opera's Lucia di Lammermoor is a must see!! The production is wonderful. The cast is strong, the set is unbelievable, the technology used is amazing!! The costumes: wow. Georgia Jarman as Lucia has a strong, clear, beautiful voice. . . The director, Tomer Zvulun, did an inspired job. I hope this opera goes into their repertoire. I would love to see it again."
- Mary, Highlands, NC

"Georgia Jarman brought down the house. Who ever found Georgia deserves a kiss."
- Joe, Atlanta, GA

"It was amazing. This was my first ever opera and it was great. I have found a new love."
- "Living Social" patron

"First rate production. Georgia Jarman proved to be a brilliant selection for the lead role- what a marvelous voice combined with captivating acting. . . The entire ensemble worked well together and made the evening a delight. We look forward to the rest of the season."
- Robert, Atlanta, GA

"Last night's performance was probably the best overall in several years. The voices were all good. Georgia was outstanding. The sets were very effective. Overall- A+."
- Eugene, Macon, GA

"If you haven't seen Atlanta Opera and you live withing 200 miles of it, what is wrong with you?"
- Joseph, Atlanta, GA

"An outstanding performance of Lucia di Lammermoor! Lucia (Georgia Jarman) was phenomenal and hit every one of her complicated notes perfectly! The rare armonica performance was an enchanting treat. The staging particularly striking and effective. All in all, a 10 of 10, and a rare evening of perfection!"
- "Living Social" patron

"It was a great performance and, as always, it has the most wonderful music. The soprano was excellent. Thanks for the beauty of it."
- Barbara, Sandy Springs, GA

© Tim Wilkerson

You have two more opportunities to catch this exciting opera. Please visit our website for more information.

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 9, 2011

Q & A with Tomer Zvulun, Director of Lucia di Lammermoor

By Ellen Sturgill

While Lucia di Lammermoor has been performed many times, The Atlanta Opera’s production, beginning this weekend, promises to take this classic bel canto work to new heights. The opera opens on Saturday, November 12th at the Cobb Energy Centre, and is directed by “one of opera’s most exciting young directors," Tomer Zvulun.

Tomer has worked with The Atlanta Opera three times in the past, directing the critically acclaimed Flying Dutchman, The Magic Flute, and La traviata. One of Tomer’s gifts as a director is his ability to pull dramatic performances from singers, and combine different aspects from other productions to create a unique theatrical experience. For The Atlanta Opera’s Lucia, Tomer will be utilizing aspects from productions he directed with the Seattle Opera and Opera Cleveland.
Tomer Zvulun sat down to discuss his history with The Atlanta Opera, as well as his thoughts on the upcoming production.

Tomer directing Arthur Woodley, who plays Raimondo in both The Seattle Opera and The Atlanta Opera's productions of Lucia di Lammermoor. Photo courtesy of Tomer Zvulun.

1. Tell me about your history with The Atlanta Opera. This is my fourth show with The Atlanta Opera. I started here as an Assistant Director for La traviata with Stage Director Rhoda Levine. La traviata also happened to be Zurich General Director Dennis Hanthorn and Music Director Arthur Fagen’s first show with the opera. I returned in 2009 to direct The Flying Dutchman and I was recently here (in 2010) for The Magic Flute.

2. What do you like about working with The Atlanta Opera? For one thing, Atlanta feels like a home away from home. I love working with Dennis and Arthur, and I feel like there are a few key things about The Atlanta Opera that set it apart.

First, the casting choices here are always very strong and exciting. Dennis and Arthur are good at finding singers for difficult roles like "Lucia" and the "Flying Dutchman." They cast singers who are not only musically and vocally suited to the roles, but also dramatically strong actors. Also, working with the chorus and Walter Huff is one of the highlights of my time in Atlanta. They are a great group of people who are very strong musically, and are led by a truly outstanding chorus master.

The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre is a state of the art performance space. It is an excellent technical facility with great acoustics, which is very important in opera. I love getting to work there.  

The audience here in Atlanta is something that I like. They are very open to new ideas and new interpretations. What proved this to me was The Magic Flute, in 2010. It was an unusual production, but the audience was so engaged in the piece. This upcoming production of Lucia is also different, but I have no doubt Atlanta audiences will like it.

3. What is it like working with Arthur Fagen? We are personal friends, so it is very easy to communicate artistically about things. We can say anything to each other, and trust each other’s taste and support. This is our fourth production together in the past two years, and we have a great partnership. We have quite a few projects planned for the future.

4. What do you like about the Atlanta Opera’s Lucia cast? I love it that the whole cast are singing actors. They are not just superb singers. Many times, when you do a bel canto opera, it is all about the melismas and the flourishing beauty of the voice and music. But in the Atlanta Opera’s case, we have intensely committed actors that are very interested in characterization and story-telling, but can also sing this music beautifully.

5. Who have you worked with previously in this cast? I have worked with a lot of the cast before. Arthur Woodley is an old collaborator of mine from the Seattle Opera’s productions of The Ring Cycle and Lucia di Lammermoor. I also worked with Tim Culver on Lucia at Opera Cleveland and am very happy that he’s here. Stephen Powell and I worked together at the New York City Opera, and I was also able to direct Susan Nicely in The Flying Dutchman here. I have not, however, worked with Jonathan Boyd until this production, but I love what he is doing with his interpretation of Edgardo so far.

I’ve never created a show from scratch with Georgia Jarman before, but we have known each other forever. I worked with her at the Met when she had to step in when a singer in La Rondine was sick. So, working on this show is like a reunion!

6. Tell me about the members of the production team, other than Arthur, that you’ve worked with before. The fact that we were able to get the same designers who originated the Seattle and Cleveland productions is one of the most exciting things about this production. The choreographer, Rosa Mercedes, is a leading choreographer in the business, and a fantastic collaborator who I am happy to have here. We worked together in Seattle on this same production. Also, three people who are really crucial to bringing the stage to life are Scenic Designer Erhard Rom, Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel, and Projection Designer Ruppert Bohle. Erhard Rom is one of the busiest designers working in the business today, and we are very excited to have him here for his debut with The Atlanta Opera. I enjoy collaborating with Robert Wierzel, who was nominated for a Tony® last year. Finally, Projection Designer Ruppert Bohle was flown in from France for this production, and we worked together on Opera Cleveland’s production of Lucia, so it is wonderful to have him here.

7. Tell us more about the Seattle Opera and Opera Cleveland’s productions of Lucia that you previously worked on, and how you’ve combined those two shows to create the Atlanta Opera’s production. Each production (Seattle and Cleveland) had very successful elements to them. Cleveland's concept for Lucia was very bold and original. We transposed the setting of the opera to a mafia world. I am a film buff, so movies influenced me and helped inspire me to create a Sicilian or Godfather Lucia. The set was a unit set, which utilized lighting and projections in new ways. It was very successful in Cleveland, and I loved the concept.

Seattle Opera’s production was more traditional than Cleveland's, but still unique. We decided to set it in the early Victorian period- mid-19th century. What we are taking from this production are the costumes. They work very well with the themes in Lucia di Lammermoor because the Victorian world, and society conventions, were very suffocating to women. Even in the way they dressed with corsets and hoopskirts. Lucia had no control over her life and is forced to fit certain social conventions and expectations that are expected from women in that time. Working on these two productions helped create the vision for this upcoming production.

Tomer working with Aleksandra Kurzak, who performed the title role of Lucia in The Seattle Opera's production. Photo by Bill Mohn.

With the influences of Opera Cleveland and Seattle Opera’s productions, as well as some tricks of our own, the Atlanta Opera’s production of Lucia di Lammermoor promises to be a spectacular experience. For a video of Tomer directing Lucia at Opera Cleveland, visit our Tumblr blog. If you haven’t purchased your tickets yet, there is still time before the show opens this Saturday, November 12th. Please visit our website or call 404.881.8885.

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 4, 2011

On the Cutting Edge of Opera

By Ellen Sturgill

Are you confused about opera? Do you find your head spinning when people use the terms “bel canto,” “coloratura,” or “libretto” (especially if used in the same sentence)? Then have no fear! This Sunday, November 6th, The Atlanta Opera will be presenting “Opera with an Edge,” a live sneak preview of this season’s operas. Hosted by long-time Atlanta Opera supporter Bob Edge, this event promises to de-mystify your questions about opera and educate you about the upcoming season.

To get a sense of what we can expect to see on Sunday, we asked Mr. Edge a few questions about this event and what he is looking forward to this season. Enjoy!

1. How long have you been presenting the Opera with an Edge program? I have been doing opera previews since 1971—first for The Met (until 1986) and more recently for The Atlanta Opera.

2. What can people expect in the presentation this Sunday? Some very fine young singers will present arias, trios, duets, etc. , on the program—and I will provide some comments and listening tips that hopefully will help audience members enjoy these performances even more.

3. What do you hope people will gain from the upcoming Opera with an Edge presentation? Our goal for Opera with an Edge is to give the audience some additional information about the operas being presented in the forthcoming season and also a taste of the musical treats in store.

4. What are you looking forward to most about this upcoming season? The upcoming season offers three wonderfully diverse operas that Atlantans will love. It will be a treat to see a brand new opera—The Golden Ticket based on the Willy Wonka children’s story—because it was a smash hit when it was introduced in St. Louis in 2010 and will have an appeal to children and adults.

This event will be at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, November 6th at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. It is free, but does require reservations. Call 404.892.3132,, or click here to RSVP for what will surely be an entertaining, exciting, and enlightening evening.

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 28, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

By Ellen Sturgill

There is never a dull moment at The Atlanta Opera! Today, Atlanta Opera chorus member Megan Mashburn, and Director of Development, Bert Wesley Huffman, were able to participate in a photo shoot for The Atlantan magazine. Here is a behind the scenes glimpse of how a photo spread for a major magazine is put together, and how The Atlanta Opera is reaching new audiences.

Creatively set at Westside Foundry Home Furnishings, photographer Derek Blanks, the production team, and Editor-in-Chief, Stephanie Davis-Smith, transformed the warehouse-like feel of The Foundry into a scene straight out of a 20’s movie. The entire team was wonderful to work with and both Stephanie, who has written for GQ, Allure, and SELF Magazine, and Derek, who has worked with a wide variety of celebrities like Nikki Minaj and the Real Housewives of Atlanta, were down to earth and professional.
The shoot began with Megan evoking true Hollywood glamour. Dressed in a beautiful navy gown with jewels, fur, and the pin curls to match, Megan treated those of us present at the shoot (and those shopping around for furniture!) to a lovely rendition of Puccini’s “Quando m’en vo” while posing for the cameras.
Following Megan’s photo shoot, Bert joined the set in a bow tie and sports coat. His set up was simple and elegant, with a beautiful wooden bench serving as part of the backdrop.
The article, which will be featured in the December "Arts and Power" issue of The Atlantan, will center on "The Patron and the Player"- why performers need and appreciate their patrons, and the reasons patrons support the arts. Editor-in-Chief Stephanie Davis-Smith personally interviewed each of the participants for the article. Other Atlanta area arts organizations that will be featured are the Atlanta Symphony, the Atlanta Ballet, the Alliance Theatre, and the High Museum. You’ll have to wait until December for the finished product. Check out more behind-the-scenes photos below. Enjoy!
Photographer, Derek Blanks, captures the moment.

The Atlantan's Stephanie Davis-Smith interviews Bert Wesley Huffman.

Megan Mashburn reviews one of her photos.

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 21, 2011

A Sneak Peek of Rabbit Tales!

By Ellen Sturgill

Just last week, I was able to watch a dress rehearsal of Rabbit Tales! And let me tell you, it was one of the best I've ever seen! I laughed, I enjoyed great music, and I even got to cluck like a chicken! This show is creative, clever, heartfelt, and incredibly funny.

After last week's blog about the show from the point of view of the performers, it was exciting to watch them bring their answers to life. I was able to understand how the show was different from a mainstage opera, why it was taxing musically and physically, and most importantly, why they loved the show so much.

Below are some pictures from the rehearsal and of the cast and crew. If you haven't already planned to spend a beautiful afternoon at The Wren's Nest for the official world premiere of Rabbit Tales, these snapshots and our previous blog entries will inspire you to add the performance to your calendar!

Teenchy Duck (sung by Elexa Bancroft), Sister Fox (sung by Elizabeth Claxton), Br'er Rabbit (sung by Welsey Morgan), and King Lion (sung by Wade Thomas).

Accompanist Catherine Schaefer and director Park Cofield join the cast.

This picture includes the cast, and one of the great interaction cards for the audience! By utilizing these cards, Rabbit Tales is able to reach out to young audiences and inspire them to participate and join the fun! During the show, children get to clap, be gusts of wind, cluck like a chicken, and feel like they are not just watching an opera, but are in it.

And just to let you know, these parts aren't just fun for kids. They're also a great time for grown-ups, too! Those of us watching the dress rehearsal were in stitches the whole performance, and loved showing off our clucking skills!

The Rabbit Tales cast and director are joined by composer Nicole Chamberlain and librettist Madeleine St. Romain.

If you would like to have Rabbit Tales come to your school, check out the Atlanta Opera website for more information. We promise this show will be a lot of fun!

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, October 12, 2011

A Children's Opera from the Grown-Ups' Point of View!

By Ellen Sturgill
One of the most exciting additions to this season is the children’s opera Rabbit Tales, the Atlanta Opera’s first-ever commissioned opera. Rabbit Tales is based on the stories of Br’er Rabbit and will take children on a fun adventure through the hilarious antics of Br’er Rabbit and his friends, while introducing children to the musical genre of opera.

Rabbit Tales is a touring production of The Atlanta Opera Studio and will be traveling to elementary schools throughout Georgia. It will also have a public premiere on October 29th at The Wren’s Nest. You can read more about the project in our previous blog entry “I’ll tell you a rabbit story…”

For this week’s blog, we thought it would be fun to speak to the performers in Rabbit Tales and give you the inside scoop on why performing in a children’s opera is unique, challenging, and very rewarding.

Because Rabbit Tales is performed in a variety of spaces, such as small stages, libraries, and even school cafeterias, the cast is as compact as the traveling set! But make no mistake, the musicians in this show deliver anything but a small performance!

Playing the role of the “clever and mischievous” Br’er Rabbit is tenor Wesley Morgan. Wesley has worked with The Atlanta Opera many times, and is no stranger to children’s opera. His first children’s opera was The Baker of Seville three seasons ago.

Soprano Elexa Bancroft is making her debut with The Atlanta Opera in the role of Teenchy Duck, the brave and charismatic duckie, "out to make her way in the world."

Joining Br’er Rabbit is Sister Fox, sung by Elizabeth Claxton, who performed with the Atlanta Opera’s Studio Tour Production of The Pirates of Penzance.

The role of King Lion will be performed by baritone Wade Thomas. This will be his fifth production with The Atlanta Opera. Wade has not only participated in children’s opera here in Atlanta, but also with Opera Birmingham and Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, New York.
We will also be hearing from Rabbit Tales accompanist Catherine Schaefer, who is excited to be performing in her first opera written specifically for children.

1. How is performing in a children’s opera different from performing in a mainstage opera?

Wesley Morgan- “Performing in a children’s opera is different than performing in a mainstage opera for many reasons. The practical differences include number of performances- mainstage operas only perform a few times, with breaks between performances. We perform the children’s operas a couple of times a day, 4-5 times a week, for a couple of months.”

Elexa Bancroft - "Playing Teenchy Duck is different from other mainstage roles I have done because I want my characterization to be very animated, yet simple, for the children in the audience to understand. I also like being silly with the character to make the kids laugh with little quirks to keep them engaged."

Elizabeth Claxton- “With children, one does seem to have to be a bit more active. Also, the downsizing of a production can be challenging.”

Wade Thomas- “We have to be able to transport our set to different schools and perform in a number of different environments, such as cafĂ©-gymno-toriums, or even in small classrooms.”

Catherine Schaefer- “In mainstage productions, our job as pianists… is to provide music for rehearsals and… to play as part of the pit orchestra for performances. Children’s operas are usually written for piano accompaniment only [because] it’s not feasible for a large orchestra to travel around to elementary schools. [Also], the pianist must be able to see and communicate with the singers, since there is no conductor.”

2. Is this opera musically different from mainstage operas that you’ve performed in?

WM- “The music for Rabbit Tales is different from what I’m used to singing, in that it is influenced by blues and folk music.”

EB - "This is a musically challenging opera from my past roles, but it has been fun. There are a lot of blues stylings in the opera, which are not the most common styles you find in classical settings, of course. It's nice to be able to be creative and swing with it all."
EC- “[It is], but you still approach the music the same way. Every opera has its differences, and you just make it your own.”

WT- “I would say it's different in that in a mainstage opera we usually sing with an orchestra, whereas we sing with just a piano in the children's opera. Plus, children's opera is in English...I think little kids would look at us weirdly if we sang to them in Italian or German.”

CS- “I don't think that Nicole Chamberlain, the composer of Rabbit Tales, used an entirely different musical language for this opera than she would have if she had been writing for adults. However, there IS a lot of humor in Rabbit Tales, and she definitely uses certain musical devices to achieve that humor. As in any opera, the music gives important clues as to what the characters are thinking and feeling. This opera quotes or refers to a wide variety of musical styles--from jazz and Gospel to Classical opera arias. That is one of the most fun things about working on new music: composers today have so many different traditions and styles to inspire them and inform their craft.”

3. What do you like best about performing for children?

WM- “The best part about performing for children and families is being able to really experience their reactions- since we’re working extra hard to keep their attention and keep them entertained, and they are usually not far away in a dark theatre, we get to witness their reactions, and sometimes participation, up-close and personal.”

EB - "Performing for families is fun because the feedback from them is so energetic. I was in Peter Pan when I was younger, and I loved answering all of the kids' questions about being a singer and being [the character] Wendy. It's so funny when the kids talk to you like you are still in character the whole time after the show is over, too. I guess they'll know this time I'm not really a duck."

EC- “It is wonderful to see kids really get into the performances and ask questions. They seem to be very intrigued with the whole concept.”

WT- “I feel that children really appreciate our performances and are usually very enthusiastic audiences. It’s always fun to see them smile, and wave at you when the show is over, and tell you how much they liked the performance.”

CS- “My favorite part of playing for children's opera is observing the children's reactions to opera! Many of them have never heard an opera or an opera singer before, and the looks on their faces when someone starts singing high notes is always entertaining. Often they don't quite know what to make of it, but they are usually pretty impressed. It's a lot of fun to introduce kids to that world.”

# # #

After reading these cast interviews, it’s easy to see why The Atlanta Opera is excited to have Rabbit Tales as part of our 2011-2012 season. This show gives children the opportunity to become immersed in the world of opera in a fun, interactive, and unique way. Though it is a lot of hard work, you can see that the performers love what they are doing.

If you are interested in coming to the world premiere of Rabbit Tales, or having it come to your school, check out the Rabbit Tales page on our website, and be a part of this wonderful opportunity!

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, September 30, 2011

Carter Joseph's Evenings with Opera.....

By Ellen Sturgill

The Atlanta Opera has a wide variety of extra events and classes that are designed to help people not only enjoy seeing an opera, but become immersed in it.

One of the most popular ways to do this is with Carter Joseph’s Opera 101 and Evening at Emory class series. Carter is a long time opera-lover, and an Atlanta Opera Board member, and his classes have been incredibly successful. I was able to sit down with Carter and find out why.

“I just love turning people on to the art form [of opera],” says Carter. However, he wasn’t always an opera guy. Studying Art at UGA, he had hoped to be a painter. However, it was a trip to Europe that ignited his passion for a different kind of art. He began to enjoy listening to, seeing, and studying all kinds of opera, and within the first five minutes of our interview, I could tell he knew his stuff.

We discussed everything from why Mozart is his favorite composer (“he’s just so human… and [if] you learn Mozart, it prepares you for everything”) to how Donizetti’s own life has many connections with his opera, Lucia di Lammermoor. We also focused on what he enjoys most about teaching his opera classes, and what makes them so successful.

Opera 101 began in 1985, and has continued to be an outlet for those interested in opera. Carter began this class when “the Met stopped touring, and Alfred Kennedy and William Fred Scott decided to convert the Atlanta Lyric Opera to The Atlanta Opera. I was in a young support group [for the opera], and someone said ‘You seem to know what you’re listening to. Can you teach a class for us?’”

Carter agreed, and though the groups supporting the class ran into trouble throughout the years, Dennis Hanthorn’s arrival as Zurich General Director of The Atlanta Opera brought new life to the class. When Carter invited Dennis to an Opera 101 presentation, Dennis was impressed, and knew he wanted to continue such a great educational outlet for the opera. “Dennis has been so supportive” of the class, Carter states.

This year’s class is on Monday, November 7 at 7:00 p.m. at The Atlanta Opera Center, and will be an hour and fifteen-minute presentation on the life of Gaetano Donizetti, what was occurring in the world during Donizetti’s life, and how Lucia di Lammermoor was created. Carter loves this class because it is “designed for beginners and lifelong opera goers.” Opera 101 is free, fun, and informative and you won’t want to miss it!

With the success of Opera 101 came an idea for not just one class, but a whole class series. Evening at Emory is a month long course taught by Carter that meets on Tuesday evenings (October 25 through November 15), and culminates with a class trip to see The Atlanta Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor.

This upcoming class is entitled “The Life of Donizetti: Joy, Tragedy and Madness,” and promises to take you on a journey of not only Gaetano Donizetti’s life, but how it correlates with his operas, and especially with Lucia.
The course will be divided into four sections. The first class will discuss Donizetti’s life, the historical perspectives of his time, and his comedies. The second class will focus on the three tragedies he wrote, and the third class will center specifically on Lucia di Lammermoor. When I asked Carter what he loves about Donizetti, he stated that “of the three kings of Bel Canto, Donizetti has the biggest heart… [He] is sympathetic and his plots are deeper.” In this class series, Carter will put a large focus on the correlation between Donizetti’s own life, his descent into madness, and Lucia’s own tragic unraveling.

When asked what his favorite part of the class was, Carter immediately responded with “Everything!” Seeing those involved with the class grow to understand and appreciate the opera is something he never gets tired of. Also, by the end of these three classes, Carter says going to see the opera on the last session is a wonderful finale because now the students are informed, and can enjoy the opera in an entirely new way.

“I’ve had people come up to me and say ‘This is my first opera, and it’s the best night I’ve ever had,’ and others say ‘I’ve seen this opera all my life, and I’ve never enjoyed it so much.’” Being informed makes a difference, and reading the supertitles can only do so much. Carter feels that you must know the background, the music, and the reason the composer wrote the opera to appreciate the performance for what it is.

Carter Joseph can teach you everything you need to know to enjoy the upcoming performance of Lucia di Lammermoor. He says he is “not there to tell you what to think. [The classes are] a journey of discovery.”

Carter’s passion for opera is evident and his knowledge is vast. Even in our interview, I learned information about Donizetti, and cannot wait to apply it to Lucia. I can promise that his classes will be beneficial to you. I know I will certainly be attending, and I hope to see you there too!

For more information, see The Atlanta Opera website or click here: “Opera Extras.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

I Could've Danced All Night!

By Ellen Sturgill

Glamour and excitement were in the air at The 2011 Atlanta Opera Ball. Last Saturday, opera-lovers came together at the St. Regis-Atlanta for a night of good food, great music, wonderful people, and lots of fun! The ballroom was stunning with design provided by Tony Brewer and Company and truly captured this year's theme of "Indulge Your Senses."

Guests at the Ball were able to participate in silent and live auctions, partake in a gourmet dinner, and enjoy performances from The Atlanta Opera Chorus. Also, as mentioned in last week's blog, the Ball honored The Atlanta Opera Chorus and Chorus Master Walter Huff.

Below is a photo of Zurich General Director Dennis Hanthorn (right) honoring Walter Huff for his 23 years of dedication and work with The Atlanta Opera.

Performances by members of The Atlanta Opera Chorus followed and provided guests the opportunity to hear some of opera's greatest repertoire from The Pearl Fishers by Georges Bizet, Porgy and Bess by George Gershwin, and the sextet "Chi mi frena in tal momento" from Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor. If you missed these fabulous performances, don't worry! You can still hear The Atlanta Opera perform the sextet when Lucia di Lammermoor opens this November!

Former and current chorus members performing the sextet included (from left to right) Rob Cromwell, Brent Davis, Nathan Munson, Melissa Kelly, Megan Mashburn and Zachary Brown.

Maria Clark (above) delighted the audience with "Summertime" from Porgy and Bess.

Once the program ended, the band "The American Flyers" took to the stage and guests danced the night away! For more photos from this evening, check The Atlanta Opera's Flickr and Kodak pages.

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.