Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Photo Essay of the World’s Most Dysfunctional Relationship

By Natalie Creamer

On Saturday, November 10, The Atlanta Opera opened its 2012-2013 season with Carmen, Georges Bizet's timeless tale of a love triangle gone horribly awry. In case you have not seen it, or to refresh your memories, here is a photo essay that recounts Carmen's final days. Oh, the drama...

Micaëla (Melissa Shippen) enters Act I searching for her fiancée Don José. Resting outside the guardhouse with his men, Corporal Moralés (Scott Hogsed) charms the young girl with a flower.

The children of Seville cheer at the arrival of the brave toreador, Escamillo.

As the midday bell rings all eyes fall on Carmen (Maria José Montiel ) as she makes her entrance outside the cigarette factory doors. The men are spellbound by her beauty and flirtatious demeanor.

Mezzo-soprano Maria José Montiel sets the artistic tone of Georges Bizet’s Carmen as she captivates the crowd singing the world famous “La Habañera.”

Enchanting almost all with her singing of “La Habañera,” Carmen catches the attention of soldier Don José (Fernando de la Mora) as she throws a rose at him before returning to the factory.

The cigarette factory girls laugh together as they and Carmen tease the guards standing on duty.

After a dramatic torchlight procession announcing the arrival of Escamillo (Aleksey Bogdanov), Carmen flaunts herself before the others, and attracts the handsome toreador. Carmen maintains a remote façade and refuses Escamillo’s advances.

After joining the smugglers, El Dancaïro (Adam Cannedy) and El Remendado (Adam Kirkpatrick), the three gypsy girls, Carmen, Mercédès (Kaitlyn Costello) and Frasquita (Amanda Opuszynski), celebrate their treasures from a successful contraband expedition.

Shortly after dancing the flamenco, Carmen convinces her lover Don José to stay with her, and ignore his orders to return to the barracks. The retreat sounds, and Carmen hopes Don José will follow her into the mountains to Lilla Pastia’s tavern.

Doomed lovers, Don José and Carmen, lay down and embrace in despair, wishing there were a way they could be together.

Carmen pleads with Don José to ignore the bugle and flee with her and the other gypsies into the mountains. The lovers desperately cling to one another.

Carmen welcomes Don José to her tribe of gypsies and smugglers. Don José begins his transition from soldier to smuggler.

Gyspsies, Frasquita and Mercédès, read their own good fortunes and dream about what their futures will bring.

Mercédès, Carmen and Frasquita sing after having had their fortunes read.

While Don José abandons the army to join Carmen and the smugglers, Micaëla wanders through the mountains looking for her lost fiancé. She hopes Don José will come back to her after sharing the news of his sickly mother.

A large crowd assembles in the stands as they await the famous Escamillo at the bullring.

In a bullring in Seville, children wave flags cheering at the entrance of the famous toreador, Escamillo.

The colorfully decorated flamenco dancers, transformed into toreadors, perform in the arena prior to Escamillo’s entrance.

Children standing in the bullring arena sing and yell in excitement as their hero, Escamillo, makes his grand appearance.

The wildly popular Escamillo entertains the crowd as he lures a bull into the arena.

In the final scene of Act IV, Carmen refuses Don José and tosses his ring. Then, she sings her last words.

Tickets are availabe at atlantaopera.org.

All photos are courtesy of Jeff Roffman Photography, LLC.

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.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Atlanta Opera Opens a Window to the Future

By Natalie Creamer

As technology use continues to grow, performing arts organizations are adopting new strategies to appeal to audiences who communicate through smartphones and tablets. Recently, The Atlanta Opera expanded its digital presence in two very innovative ways.

The Theatre Plus Network

By partnering with Dave Stevens, creator of the Theatre Plus Network (TPN), an Atlanta-based start-up that specializes in live publishing through “augmented reality,” a smartphone application has been created that makes images in printed materials “come to life.”

What is “augmented reality?”

The term “augmented reality” means that a picture or object is augmented or enhanced by layers of computer-generated sound, video, graphics or GPS data. In a nutshell, it means that by activating an image, it gives the viewer a different way of looking at things. It converts an image from “still” to “live.”

The Atlanta Opera is one of the first organizations to create prototypes for this new app. Atlanta arts enthusiasts can expect to unlock a variety of content like videos, games, music, information and website links.

How does it work?

Smartphones act as “electronic magnifying glasses” that reveal something hidden through digital image recognition. Cameras recognize shapes and patterns of images. Each combination triggers different information. By downloading the TPN app, and focusing the smartphone lens on a season image displayed in one of the Atlanta Opera’s promotional print materials, a picture will be “awakened” through video and sound, and provide a link that will connect patrons to the Atlanta Opera’s mobile site.

The TPN app will be available to audiences who use Encore Atlanta show programs (The Atlanta Opera, the Alliance Theatre, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and the Fox Theatre), as well as direct-mail postcards and posters.

The TPN app is available free in the Apple Store and Google Play Market.

Download TPN for iPhone >>
Download TPN for Android >>


What is the purpose of using TPN?

The objective of the TPN app is for arts organizations to reach new audiences, and enrich experiences for existing and loyal patrons, by creating engaging and entertaining content.

While TPN has only been around for eight months, and still remains in the prototype stage, the hope is to eventually create a single application that would serve the entire performing arts community with one download.

What is the other innovative way The Atlanta Opera is using technology?

The Atlanta Opera has created its own mobile website!

Those visiting the Atlanta Opera’s website on their smartphones will be automatically redirected to the mobile site. Audiences can view production dates, purchase tickets, and access the Blog, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages.

It just makes everything so much easier!

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 28, 2012

Taking “Stock” of Stone Soup

By Park Cofield

What do you remember most from your childhood storybooks - the words or the illustrations?

I remember the pictures. When Atlanta Opera Director of Community Engagement, Emmalee Iden, approached me about directing this year’s Opera Studio Tour, I suggested the folk story, Stone Soup. At first, I did not recall much of the plot, but had a strong memory of one particular image - an orange and brown illustration from Marcia Brown’s Caldecott®-winning book , published in 1947, depicting a woman carrying a heap of carrots in her apron as she runs to a pot of soup.

Brown’s version of Stone Soup starts off with three soldiers returning home from the wars. She does not give any historical context, but the soldiers’ uniforms seem to indicate that they are returning home from the Napoleonic Wars, (which coincides with the French and Hungarian accounts of the folk tale). The story clearly occurs during wartime. The town is poor, the people are rationing food, and strangers are approached with caution. Pretty bleak backdrop for a children’s book. . . but perfect for an opera, right?

Stone Soup is a story that teaches its audience how to use your wit and ingenuity to feed yourself. In every version the town gets tricked into contributing ingredients for a soup that is being prepared. When the townspeople find out that the only ingredient is a hard rock, they each offer to help with the flavor by contributing something from their own pantries. By the end of the night the entire town is dancing, singing, laughing, and of course, eating!

To get a better sense of the essential elements of the story I checked out every copy of Stone Soup that I could find at my local library, and compared the details. In one version of the folk tale a solitary soldier is traveling along a lonely path. In another, the wandering character is so cartoony that it didn’t really matter whether or not the town was wary of his arrival. In John Warren Stewig’s version, Grethel, a witty young girl, sets out to find ingredients for her mother. She uses a few clever tricks, (and perhaps her innocence) to get what she wants. John J. Muth uses beautiful watercolor paintings to illustrate the story in his beautiful 2003 re-telling. It is the biggest departure from what I knew, with three Buddhist monks seeking food and shelter, instead of soldiers.

There were a couple of other peculiar details that stuck out in my research. In some versions the stock pot is supplied by the town, and in others the soldier carries it with him. Sometimes the traveler needs only one stone (or an inedible object like a nail or a button), and in other cases, the traveler requires many stones and asks for the help of the local children to gather them. At nightfall the traveler sometimes requests a place to stay, and in other versions there is no mention of the events that occur after the setting sun.

I became curious about the order in which the ingredients are offered and amused that the carrots almost always seemed to come first. (As a side note, I am a terrible cook and recently learned a few tips from my wife when she was making soup for sick friend. Of course carrots would come first-- they take the longest time to cook!) I even found this illustration, seemingly inspired by the picture that had spoken to me from Marcia Brown’s book.

The version Emmalee Iden and I chose for this year’s Opera Studio Tour is an operatic fable told “in one delicious act,” composed by Daniel Dorff. The piece is a delightful concoction that incorporates many of the elements I found in other recounts. A solider comes to town looking for food, but learns that without money he is out of luck. Slowly but surely he wins over each of the townspeople. In the Atlanta Opera’s version, the audience will play a key role in helping to trick the constituents. By the end, even the Mayor becomes intoxicated by the delicious smell of the soup and the town gathers a meal.

One important detail that I am particularly struck by is the fact that ALL of the versions end with a celebratory meal, complete with music and dance. As a theater artist who strives to bring people from many different backgrounds together, this is a valuable lesson. There is something about food and music that can break down barriers. Both elements have the capacity to put people at ease. The tiny acts of generosity in the story of Stone Soup have cumulative effects. Who would have thought that a simple pot of soup and steady beat could result in strangers dancing together? This is a story that reminds us that strength, love, and hope can be found in every community - with the right ingredients.

Please stay tuned for my next post. I’ll provide some insight in to how we are approaching the historical context, the design, and overall tone of the show. You can also follow me on Twitter at @parkcofield to catch updates from the rehearsal room.

Until next time,


For more information on Stone Soup, a complete listing of community performances, and to purchase tickets, please go to atlantaopera.org.


(1) Some Friends to Feed: The Story of Stone Soup (2005) by Pete Seeger and Paul Dubois Jacobs. Illustrations by Michael Hays. Copyrighted material.
(2, 3) Stone Soup (1947) by Marcia Brown. Copyrighted material.
(4) Versions of Stone Soup checked out from the local public library.
(5, 6) Stone Soup (1991) retold by John Warren Stewig. Illustrations by Margot Tomes. Copyrighted material.


About Park Cofield

Park Cofield (Stage Director) is an Atlanta/ Los Angeles-based theater director and community builder. He creates vivid theatrical productions, original puppets shows, and collaborative spectacle events. His original work has been commissioned by the Théâtre du Rêve (The Red Balloon), Center for Puppetry Arts (XPT), and Art on the Atlanta BeltLine (SEE THE GYRASTACUS and THE OGRE’S ARM). In 2011, Park was awarded the Altvater Fellowship with Cornerstone Theater Company and relocated to Los Angeles to observe their community-based theater making methodology. With Cornerstone, Park has worked as a project coordinator on Creative Seeds: An Exploration on Hunger and Talk It Out: A Community Conversation to Fix School Discipline. Park’s opera credits include stage directing Rabbit Tales for The Atlanta Opera, assistant directing with Yuval Sharon on Crescent City, a new hyperopera produced by The Industry, and puppeteering in Basil Twist’s Hansel and Gretel and The Magic Flute in Atlanta. Park has degree in theater studies from Emerson College, is a member of TYA USA and the Dramatist Guild, and has traveled extensively in Europe where he studied and trained with Eugenio Barba and the Odin Teatret. For more information about his work, please visit: www.parkcofield.com.

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 7, 2012

Opera Librettos and Song: Telling a Story Through Music

By Natalie Creamer

Over Labor Day Weekend, the 2012 AJC Decatur Book Festival drew in big crowds interested in purchasing books, eating good food, listening to readings, and attending conversations led by authors from around the country. The Atlanta Opera had an opportunity to participate in one of these conversations. Vynnie Meli, an award winning playwright, and a librettist in our 24-Hour Opera Project for the past two seasons, joined a panel discussion investigating “The Poetics of Song Lyrics.” Led by Charlotte Pence, editor of The Poetics of American Song Lyrics, along with Wyn Cooper, a distinguished poet and lyricist whose work with musician Sheryl Crow won a Grammy®, and David Kirby, author of Talking About Movies With Jesus and Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University, the dialogue examined the different aspects of poetry and song lyric structure and production. Opera resembles the construction of song lyrics because it is a collaborative process, that tells a story, and is paced by the melody of the instrumental backdrop.

Vynnie Meli gained a firsthand look at the collaborative and narrative aspects of opera writing when she became involved with The Atlanta Opera in the 24-Hour Opera Project. The project randomly paired together lyricists, composers, stage directors and operas singers from all over the U.S. to compete against rival teams with the mission of writing, rehearsing, staging and performing an opera within a 24-hour time span. Meli participated as a librettist, and worked with composers by putting these words in a simplified narrative that could be understood by the audience. She explained that the purpose of the lyrics is to serve the story, and the purpose of the music is to move the story along. Song lyrics read without music do not have the same arousing effect as they would with the complete production. They are purely words intended to complement the instrumental backdrop.

Meli, along with fellow panel contributors, agreed that structuring a text to fit a song is a challenging task, and one quite different than poetry composition. Presenting a clear message, a catchy chorus and the occasional rhyme are all characteristics of a popular song that contrast with the prose of expressive poetry. Opera and song lyrics are designed to bring people together and drive a story. Poetry is expressive writing that does not rely on widespread acceptance. For the highly stylized formats of opera and song lyrics to succeed, they must read as narratives, with simple repetition and a signature “hook.” Poetry, on the other hand, is written autonomously, and therefore follows no rules or structure guidelines. Poetry does not require the approval nor does it thrive on the praise of the public.

You can see firsthand the process of how a librettist and composer make the words come to life, when The Atlanta Opera hosts its third annual 24-Hour Opera Project, January 25 and 26, 2013. Tune in to atlantaopera.org for more info.

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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Student Shorts Grant Takes Center Stage

By Natalie Creamer

Recently, The Atlanta Opera was awarded a generous grant by the Zeist Foundation in support of the Student Shorts program. The grant covers direct expenses for the special student performance of Carmen. Approximately 1,200 Atlanta Public School students will attend the Student Short production of Carmen at no cost.

To encourage Atlanta Public School students to expand their minds and engage in the performing arts, the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs sponsors an annual Cultural Experience Project. This year the Atlanta Opera’s Student Shorts was selected as the 11th grade cultural experience. Selecting prestigious cultural organizations in the Atlanta area, the Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs aims at exposing elementary, middle and high school students to various forms of art.

This season, The Atlanta Opera will be producing an abridged version of Carmen, the story of a captivating gypsy who falls in love with a young toreador, only to find herself victim to the hands of jealousy, vengeance and tragedy. This 70-minute performance is complete with authentic costumes, a full chorus, The Atlanta Opera Orchestra.

First produced in 2003, Student Shorts was targeted for students as its primary audience. The purpose of Student Shorts is to introduce young opera-goers to the magical world of opera, and expose them to performance in a live setting – the costumes, live orchestra, singers, and lighting design. Each year the audience varies, depending on the theme and content of the upcoming production.

Student Shorts will be held at 11a.m. on November 15, 2012 at the Cobb Energy Centre.

Tickets are $10 per person, and can be purchased online or by calling 404-881-8885.

Photo courtesy of JD Scott

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, August 8, 2012

A View From the Bleachers: Getting a Taste of Liquid Culture from An Audience Perspective

By Natalie Creamer

On Monday, July 30th the collaborators of Liquid Culture, a series of public events spearheaded by Lauri Stallings and gloATL, met at the Sandler Hudson Gallery to initiate a community dialogue exploring the role of public art, and their recent production at Sol LeWitt’s 54 Columns.

The Atlanta Opera was invited to participate in this series of what Lauri Stallings called “installations,” or “utopia stations.” This was an experimental collaboration to introduce new audiences to the world of opera. Facilitated by Andrew Alexander of Creative Loafing, the community dialogue was led by the creative visionary, Lauri Stallings, and Atlanta Opera Communications Manger, Laura Soldati, who discussed the evolution of Liquid Culture and how non- traditional forms of dance and opera can be presented. GloATL dancers and Atlanta Opera singer, Megan Mashburn, shared their experiences as performers, and personal feelings on this particular way of presenting their art forms.

As the Atlanta Opera’s newest marketing and communications intern, and a young lady with limited exposure to modern art, watching Liquid Culture for the first time was an emotional whirlwind. The dancers were wearing the same costumes, beige leotards and platinum wigs, and the singers were wearing white, in order to maintain uniformity. The purpose of everyone wearing neutral colors was to replicate the pillars at 54 Columns. The dancing was typical of Lauri Stallings’ choreographic style - uneven and gestural with random spurts of energy. Moments into the dancing, opera singers emerged from different areas of the crowd. The beautiful harmonies and melodies juxtaposed perfectly against the backdrop of gloATL’s stylized dancing.

Liquid Culture’s unconventional performance gave audience members the opportunity to consider a concept unlike traditional formats of dance and opera. Setting the scene in a public landscape allowed members of the crowd to participate in a “360 concept,” and walk alongside the performing dancers and opera singers. Collaborating with Lauri Stallings and gloATL, The Atlanta Opera showed the public how opera can be enjoyed by all walks of life.

Interested in seeing more perspectives? Here are other views from the bleachers.

All images courtesy of Jeff Roffman

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.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Teachers Go to Opera Summer Camp

By Luisa Rodriguez

Last week, The Atlanta Opera, hosted training for local educators called MUSIC! WORDS! OPERA! Led by Opera America associates Neil Ginsberg, a composer and music educator, and Clifford Brooks, longtime Opera America employee and curriculum consultant, the training explored ways in which teachers could foster student interest in opera.

The week began with an overview of opera, given by Clifford Brooks. During this overview, he offered some very helpful explanations about why opera is relevant to the 21st century classroom. He said, “Opera has a direct relationship to the lives and learning of all people--the basic story-telling techniques are all the same."

Throughout the week, Mr. Brooks offered valuable tools and information for teaching opera to students who may be disinterested or perceive opera as boring. The participants did an in depth study on two operas, Hansel and Gretel and Carmen. Various lesson plans and instructional resources were offered as participants worked their way through the Opera America curriculum of Hansel and Gretel,
and Carl Orff’s orchestrations of the music of Carmen!

As the teacher participants of MUSIC! WORDS! OPERA! made their way through these educational gems, they grew more and more excited about teaching opera to their students. Some of the most valuable resources Mr. Brooks provided were materials for reflecting the learning and attitudes of students throughout the opera teaching process—these include objectives, questionnaires, hands-on and written assessment activities, materials to encourage parental involvement, and suggestions for compiling a progress portfolio.

With these educational aids, teachers can feel secure in advocating to principals, parents, and community members who may be wary of opera’s importance in the classroom. Learning will be measurable and impactful because anyone can look at the materials and see how students have grown.

A major focal point of the workshop was composing a short, original operatic work with the participants. Guided by composer Neil Ginsberg, this process was meant to model and inspire the work that teachers will do this year in composing with their students.

The group dove in on Monday afternoon, first discussing the components of opera, and what makes a good story.

Many ideas for librettos were suggested, and by Wednesday morning the group settled on Johnny Appleseed: The Opera, and the music composition process began almost immediately!

In order to compose quickly, the group broke into smaller groups and came back together to demonstrate their work. Sometimes, the composers began with complete lyrics to an aria or ensemble before the music was composed, and sometimes the musical ideas were formed first. Mr. Ginsberg emphasized that the process can be adapted based on the strengths and weaknesses of the teacher, students, and the resources that are available. For example, some of the participants have experience in the Orff method and plan to create using Orff instruments, but others would rather use piano.

By Friday morning, the participants began staging the opera.

The opera was debuted in the rehearsal hall of The Atlanta Opera Center. Stay tuned to our blog for a video of the entire original opera!

Although MUSIC! WORDS! OPERA! is over, the most important work begins. Over the next school year, participants will partner with the Atlanta Opera’s Community Engagement Department to achieve their goals in the classroom. Participating teachers will have access to staff and consultants as they carry out opera education in four Atlanta area schools. The Atlanta Opera is proud to facilitate the growth, enrichment, and interest in opera to hundreds of students around the greater Atlanta area!

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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Opera's future stars shine in concert

By Luisa Rodriguez

Students from the Atlanta Opera High School Opera Institute showcased their work in a concert presented at Morningside Presbyterian Church on June 10th. Led by Music Director and Atlanta Opera Chorus Master Walter Huff, eleven students presented arias and ensemble pieces from both popular and lesser known operas. In this nine-month professional development program, students receive coaching in preparing and auditioning for a role, selecting a music school, characterization, diction, and vocal technique. One of a few programs of its kind offered by an opera company, the participants of the High School Opera Institute receive training from acclaimed music professionals such as Beverly Blouin, Stephanie Adrian, and Laura English-Robinson.

Below is a snapshot of the concert, and these talented youngsters!

To begin the concert, guest soloists Elizabeth Claxton and Nathan Munson join the students in the Brindisi from Verdi’s La traviata.

Hansel (Rosie Hughes, left) and Gretel (Daniela Rivera) argue in typical brother and sister fashion. Rosie is a rising senior at The Paideia School, and Daniela will be a junior at The Atlanta International School.

In The Magic Flute, Papageno (August Bair) contemplates suicide, but is promptly deterred by three kind spirits. August will be majoring in voice performance at Bard College (New York) this fall.

(Left to right) Daniela Rivera, Sarah Pamplin, and Rachel Stein perform “Three Little Maids” from The Mikado. In the fall, Sarah will attend Jacksonville University (Florida), and Rachel will begin a degree in voice performance at Kennesaw State University.

Dominique Williams, who will attend Mercer University, and Anne Stillwagon who will attend Oberlin Conservatory, perform the delightful Barcarolle Duet from The Tales of Hoffman.

As the Big Bad Wolf, Sean Eliason tries to trick Little Red Riding Hood (Sarah Pamplin). Sean will major in vocal performance at Kennesaw State University this fall.

Singing to a delighted and attentive audience, Christian Einertson presents “Oh, better to live and die” from The Pirates of Penzance. Christian will attend Augustana College (South Dakota) where he will pursue degrees in vocal performance and modern foreign languages.

Jason Friedman (left), Juliana Laseter and August Bair present a witty trio from Donizetti’s The Daughter of the Regiment. Juliana attends Eastside High School and Jason will attend Harvard University in the Fall.

From Left: Dominique Williams, Jason Friedman, August Bair, Rosie Hughes, Christian Einertson, and Juliana Laseter present the Act II finale from Mozart’s hilarious comedy, Cosí fan tutte.

Music Director and Atlanta Opera Chorus Master Walter Huff presents the talented performers to the full house.

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.