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.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"The Walter Huff Magic..."

By Ellen Sturgill

Elegant gowns swirl on the dance floor. The smell of a fabulous dinner wafts through the air. A rush of excitement and anticipation hits as The Atlanta Opera’s talented singers perform selections from the quickly approaching season. These are just a few of the sights, sounds, and experiences that one can expect on September 17th at The 2011 Atlanta Opera Ball: “Indulge Your Senses.” Always a stunning event, this year’s celebration is held at The St. Regis Atlanta and will include a special feature in which Chorus Master Walter Huff and The Atlanta Opera Chorus will be honored.

In his 23 years of working with The Atlanta Opera Chorus, Walter Huff has transformed the chorus into a highlight of The Atlanta Opera. Though many people think of the Violetta’s or Don Giovanni’s as the most significant roles in an opera, Walter Huff knows that having a great opera chorus is key to producing a memorable performance. And if anyone knows how to create such a chorus, it’s Walter Huff. He has received numerous awards, worked with celebrated singers like Elly Ameling, and has recently taken The Atlanta Opera Chorus on a European tour of Porgy and Bess that garnered rave reviews, and the longest curtain call Walter has ever received - given to him by a French audience, no less! However, these awards only give you a small glimpse into why Walter is being honored at the Ball. Below, we’ve included two interviews from an Atlanta Opera soloist and a chorus member who will be performing at the Ball, because we feel the best way to get to know Walter is through the people he works with every day. Enjoy getting to know some of our fabulous singers a little better, and learning why Walter Huff deserves high praise.

First up is Nathan Munson, a tenor from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He studied at the University of Kentucky and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nathan has worked with Walter as a featured soloist.

1. What do you like best about working with Chorus Master Walter Huff? “Walter Huff has impeccable taste as a musician, and an amazing ability to transfer this to his singers' preparation and performances.”

2. What have you learned from Chorus Master Walter Huff that you will utilize in your professional performing career? “There are many things, but one item that stands above the others is his matter-of-fact manner of inter-personal and musical communication. I'll be working hard to be as transparently good and as honest a musician as Mr. Huff.”

3. What is your favorite memory of Chorus Master Walter Huff? “Since I've only been working with him a short while, every new experience creates a new lasting memory. When I first auditioned for Dennis Hanthorn, Mr. Huff accompanied me at the piano. His warmth on our first introduction put me at ease immediately.”

4. What do you enjoy most about singing and performing opera? “I most enjoy the preparation of a role, from the first time I hear it, to the musical preparation, and through the staging and character development.”

Next we have Megan Mashburn, a 28 year-old Lyric Coloratura Soprano who’s lived in Greenville, South Carolina, Boston, and now Atlanta. She received her Undergraduate Degree from Furman University, her Master’s from Boston University, and has enjoyed working with Walter as a member of The Atlanta Opera Chorus.

1. How long have you performed with The Atlanta Opera Chorus? What is your favorite Atlanta Opera Chorus memory? “2008-2009 was my first season with The Atlanta Opera Chorus. Some of my favorite memories occur when we finally get to the Cobb Energy Centre for dress rehearsals. Seeing everyone in costume, and finally seeing the sets really brings new life to the music we've been rehearsing for months. Our singing seems to improve, and we have more energy when we can see the ‘whole picture.’”

2. What do you like best about working with Chorus Master Walter Huff? How is he different from other Chorus Masters? “Chorus Master Huff is very specific and clear about the sound and work ethic he wants from his chorus. He is very careful to honor the style of each composer, but adds his ‘Walter Huff Magic’ to our sound. The Atlanta Opera Chorus is one of the best, if not the best opera chorus in the country because of Walter's dedication. Walter is a great Chorus Master, because he reminds us that the chorus is a very important character in each opera we sing. He constantly reminds us that though we function as a group, we have an individual responsibility of making art for our audience. Walter also has the best set of ears - he can hear everything - every detail and even the tiniest of mistakes! But this is so great, because this attention to detail helps us be the best!”

3. What have you learned from Chorus Master Walter Huff that you will utilize in your professional performing career? “Walter has taught me about excellence in musicianship and a high-quality of professionalism. More importantly, Walter never loses sight of our human need for expression and communication. He constantly challenges us to give more for the sake of the audience.”

4. What is your favorite memory of Chorus Master Walter Huff? “During my first opera with Atlanta Opera Chorus, my husband found out that he had to have open-heart surgery. 6 weeks after being informed of a congenital heart defect, Mark, who was at the time 25, went in for surgery. We were newly married and I didn't know what to expect. Walter was one of the most supportive and kind people I talked to during that time. I will never forget how he gave me a big hug and assured me that my new family at The Atlanta Opera would support me. I ended up missing several rehearsals, but Walter Huff was always asking for an update on Mark's health and my emotional stability!”

5. What do you enjoy most about singing and performing opera? “I love the challenge of operatic music and the unique skills that are required to sing it. I also love getting to live as someone I'm not, for a little while on stage - learning to embody a specific character. It seems like being an ‘opera singer’ is all very glamorous, but singing opera and performing is very hard work! I love all the research, translating, diction-work, and practice that goes into forming the final product. It is all so fulfilling, especially when you finally get the chance to offer a great performance to an audience, after putting so much time and effort into a production.”

From reading these interviews, it’s easy to see why Chorus Master Walter Huff is being honored at this year’s Atlanta Opera Ball. With his technical prowess and ability to draw out an excellent chorus performance, his caring nature and devotion to each member of the chorus, and his “Walter Huff Magic," The Atlanta Opera is proud to have him as a part of our team!

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.