Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Come "Escape the Ordinary" with The Atlanta Opera

By Ellen Sturgill

Last night at our Season Snapshot event, The Atlanta Opera proudly presented the three mainstage operas of the 2012-2013 Season. They are... drumroll please...


With fiery gypsies, tragic love stories, and a comedy for the ages, Atlanta audiences can expect to be transformed, transfixed, and transported through these well-known and loved operas.

With this exciting season announcement, who better to give our readers a look at why these operas were chosen and what to expect than our Zurich General Director, Dennis Hanthorn.  Below is a Q&A with Dennis as he presents a first-look at the 2012-2013 season.  Enjoy!

1.  The theme for this season is “Escape the Ordinary.”  How does this theme speak to the opera experience?  Why do you think this theme represents the three operas of the season, and how does it relate to Atlanta audiences? Each of the three operas has something exotic, yet familiar in it.  Carmen is one of the most exciting, entertaining, passionate operas ever written. There are so many characters that audience members can, or would like to, associate with! Maybe audiences will place themselves in Spain, and imagine what it would be like to be a soldier, or a gypsy.  

In La traviata, the high society of Paris before the French Revolution had an elegance to it, with all the parties and excitement of meeting ambassadors, dignitaries, and friends from the world. Violetta was a woman who knew people in high places, and the opera depicts a very glamorous time to live in Paris. 

We’ve decided to set our production of The Italian Girl in Algiers in the 1930’s.  We also added another element by changing the shipwreck accident into a plane crash. With Isabella in a plane crash rather than a shipwreck, you have this “Amelia Earhart-like” quality: where does she land, how, etc.  

Italian Girl in Algiers is also unique in the opera world because it turns the table on the traditional “rescue opera.” In this production, the woman is the hero.

For each of these operas, there is an excitement in the unknown and exotic locations, and we hope this will allow Atlanta audiences to “Escape the Ordinary”.  We also hope that new audiences will “escape the ordinary” by trying an opera experience for the first time.  Each of these operas are great introductions for first-timers!  

2.  Why did you choose Carmen, La traviata, and The Italian Girl in Algiers for the 12-13 season? Carmen is one of the four all-time great operas- including Aida, La bohème, and Don Giovanni- that people want to see.  It is incredibly popular and contains music that people can hum along to.

Out of Verdi’s 28 operas, La traviata is one of his most famous and most performed operas.  2013 is also the bicentennial year of his birth, so it is exciting to commemorate Verdi’s life with a production of one of his operas.  

With both Carmen and La traviata being grand and serious operas, we are excited to end our season with The Italian Girl in Algiers, Rossini’s comic opera.   This opera is one of Rossini’s three most performed operas, and will be a debut production for The Atlanta Opera.  It promises to be a fun experience for the audience, as well as a look into a great 19th century bel canto work.

3.  The Atlanta Opera has produced Carmen and La traviata before.  How will these productions be different?  Both Carmen and La traviata were traditional productions in our past seasons. The Atlanta Opera also owns both productions. This season’s Carmen and La traviata will be traditional, as well.  That being said, the personnel involved will be different, and with new directors, conductors, and performers comes new interpretations.    

4.  The Atlanta Opera will be producing The Italian Girl in Algiers for the first time. Why has it taken 30+ years for The Atlanta Opera to produce this Rossini comedy? There certainly has been a large gap in the history of Rossini repertoire that has been produced here at the Opera.  Between our first production of The Barber of Seville, and our most recent production of it in 2006, there was this gap of almost 20 years were no Rossini work was produced.  However, in my eight seasons at The Atlanta Opera, we have produced The Barber of Seville, Cinderella, and now, Italian Girl.

I particularly love Rossini’s music, and there are singers today who specialize in singing Rossini very well.  I am excited that we have identified some of them for Italian Girl.  Atlanta audiences can expect a high level of talent and delightful performances.  

5.  Describe the concept for The Italian Girl in Algiers.  How does setting the opera in the 1930’s change the characterization? When changing or updating a production, you still must remain true to the original direction and characterization of the opera. Isabella, Lindoro, and Mustafà (to name a few characters) will retain their original qualities.  Yet the time and place will be different.  Changing the period of the piece adds a fresh perspective to both performers and audiences alike, as well as lending itself to the exotic feel we are capturing with this 2012-2013 season.  

Audiences can also look forward to a different type of stage craft with this production of Italian Girl.  Instead of a standard set, with pieces moving in and out, our opera will be performed in a storybook set.  The stage will have the feel of a pop-up children’s story, which will bring a lot of whimsy and fantasy to the opera. 

6.  Each opera in the 12-13 season contains a very powerful and iconic female role.  What can Atlanta audiences expect from Maria Jose Montiel as Carmen, Mary Dunleavy as Violetta, and Sandra Piques Eddy as Isabella?  Atlanta audiences can expect a very authentic portrayal of Carmen in Maria José Montiel.  Because of her native Spanish culture, her interpretation is believable, and she is able to bring a special flavor to the performance. Maria is in high-demand, and performs in Europe, as well as all over the U.S.  We are looking forward to having her sing on our stage in her Atlanta Opera debut. 
Photo courtesy of Maria José Montiel.
Mary Dunleavy has performed Violetta many times around the world. This is one of her signature roles.  This production will also be her debut with us. I’m just so pleased and proud to bring her to Atlanta. She is a tremendous actor and musician, and gives a very exciting interpretation of Violetta.  She will thrill our audiences.

Photo courtesy of Mary Dunleavy.
Sandra Piques Eddy sang the role of Cherubino in our 2008 production of The Marriage of Figaro, and we are pleased to have her back. She is a consummate artist as far as Rossini and classical repertoire goes.  She performs many styles of opera-  romantic, late 19th and 20th century- but thoroughly understands the Rossini style and technique. Sandra is also one of the great mezzos of our day.  
Photo courtesy of Sandra Piques Eddy. 
7.   The 11-12 season received some criticism about the decision to produce The Golden Ticket?  Why do you think this opera was effective in our season and to the Atlanta Opera’s growth as a company? Opera companies across America have the responsibility to produce a balanced season.  Choices are also made based on how much money you can raise, and while producing what’s called the war horse operas (opera classics) may seem the only option, audiences will grow tired.  

There are traditional, contemporary, early music, and new operas that our audiences have not seen.  It is one of our goals to provide as broad a variety as possible.  And while doing that, we know that not all audience members are going to like everything. 

However, The Golden Ticket had a tremendous effect and positive response from our younger audiences.  One of our favorite reviews was from a 13-year-old boy in the audience who wrote an excellent article of his experience for Macaroni Kid. He stated that the production was “creative, colorful, and really inventive.”  This is the kind of feedback that we were hoping for. We also had a large amount of first-timers to the opera, and we are optimistic that these people will want to come back.  As an opera company, we have to think of ways to bring in a new audience, and while many of our more traditional audience members questioned why we included it in our season, The Golden Ticket delivered in terms of building new audiences. 

8.  What are you most looking forward to in the 12-13 season? We are looking forward to broadening our audience.  Ticket sales only make up a portion of direct production costs, so we are also hoping to grow in the amount of contributions.  But simply put, I am excited to produce the highest quality opera possible and to know that audiences enjoyed the performances! 

Production dates are as follows:  Carmen will be on November 10, 13, 16, and 18, 2012; La traviata occurs March 2, 5, 8, and 10, 2013; and The Italian Girl in Algiers runs April 27 and 30, and May 3 and 5, 2013.

Wait… there’s more!

The “season snapshot” also included the announcement of a donor benefits program called MyOpera, a completely new approach to issuing donor benefits in the world of the performing arts; 2012-2013 community engagement initiatives, including the hugely successful 24-Hour Opera Project and High School Opera Institute; and the details of the 2012 Atlanta Opera Ball: A Night in Seville, a fundraiser supporting and sustaining the exceptional artistic quality of The Atlanta Opera.
You can read more about these initiatives in our 2012-2013 season press release.

This season promises to be unlike any other. Subscriptions are available here.

We hope you’ll join us to:

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, March 12, 2012

Do you love Br'er Rabbit?

By Ellen Sturgill

Then don’t miss this exciting new opera! For its 2011-2012 season, The Atlanta Opera commissioned a children's opera called Rabbit Tales, and it will have your kids laughing out loud, while diving into the magical world of opera.  

Rabbit Tales centers around the antics of Br'er Rabbit and his friends, and also draws on Native American, Cajun, and African folklore, providing children and adults with a culturally enriching experience.  This opera contains clever sets, fun characters, interactive scenes, and of course, wonderful music. 

As part of the Atlanta Opera's Educational Outreach programs, this production tours all over Georgia, bringing opera into schools.  But due to its immense popularity, and a wildly successful world premiere at the Wren’s Nest in October,  four public performances were added to the opera's spring schedule.  Only three performances are left, and trust us, you won't want to miss them! The community performances on March 21st at The Atlanta Opera Center, and March 24th at the Fulton County Arts and Culture Southwest Arts Center provide the perfect opportunities for your children and family to experience opera.  

To give our readers a first-hand look at why Rabbit Tales is worth seeing, we've caught up with Ms. Crane, a music teacher at Creek View Elementary School, whose students saw the opera, and completed activities related to the story and music. Enjoy!  

  1.  How did your students respond to the performance of Rabbit Tales? Did they enjoy it, and were they interacting and participating during the performance? The Kindergarten students loved the performance of Rabbit Tales. They were able to follow the libretto that they learned in music class, so they easily understood what was happening on stage. The singers were also very easy to understand and used many props, body movements, and facial expressions to help students understand the story. Students especially loved playing the instruments that they made with paper plates and rice; they also loved using their chicken masks to become cast members in the show.
  2. What kind of activities did your class do in conjunction with the opera? In music class, students acted out various parts of the story. They created paper plate shakers and made chicken masks to use in the performance. Students also learned about opera by playing a game on the internet where they chose costumes, sets, props, lighting, and stage direction for Englebert Humperdink’s Hansel and Gretel.
  3. Why do you think it's important to incorporate opera and music into a classroom? Music is a great way to motivate and inspire students in the classroom. Children have a natural affinity for music and drama. They are excited to sing, move, and act, and the more involved they become, the more they will learn and remember.  
  4. Some parents may not feel that their child will enjoy or understand an opera. What is it about Rabbit Tales that makes it fun and accessible to children?  Rabbit Tales is accessible to children in a variety of ways. The simplicity of the plot makes it easy for students to follow what is happening in the opera. The story also has many parts that the children can relate to  personally such as finding a lost treasure, having someone take things from you, and working together with friends. The singers really played up their parts, and were very funny, too! This was definitely an excellent experience for our students grades K-5.
In addition to the activities mentioned above, Ms. Crane's class also drew pictures of their favorite parts of Rabbit Tales.  We have to say, these are pretty great! 

Below are costume sketches, and pictures from the world premiere of Rabbit Tales, on October 29, 2011.  


© Tim Wilkerson
© Tim Wilkerson
© Tim Wilkerson
© Tim Wilkerson
These community performances make for an entertaining activity for kids, while exposing them to opera.  Visit our website for more information, or to purchase tickets. Come prepared to laugh, clap, and cluck like a chicken! In other words... prepare for a lot of fun!

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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, March 2, 2012

Sneak Peek of The Golden Ticket

By Ellen Sturgill

Get ready, Atlantans, because tomorrow, you will finally get your chance to see the inside of Willy Wonka's factory! The Atlanta Opera's second production of the season, The Golden Ticket, premieres tomorrow night, and it promises to be a performance like no other.  With dazzling visual effects, spectacular costumes, larger-than-life characters, beautiful music, and chocolate (lots of it), Roald Dahl's classic story comes to life in this modern operatic adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

If you can't wait until tomorrow to witness this spectacular affair, have no fear. With photos from last night's final dress rehearsal, we're giving readers a first look at what they can expect from this exciting opera. Enjoy!

Daniel Okulitch (left) plays Mr. Know/Willy Wonka, and Ruben Roy (right) performs the role of Charlie Bucket in the Atlanta Opera’s production of The Golden Ticket, March 3-11, 2012 at the Cobb Energy Center. © Tim Wilkerson

From left to right- Tenor Keith Jameson (Grandpa Joe), mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton (Grandma Joesephine/Mrs. Teavee), Ruben Roy (Charlie Bucket), baritone Jason Hardy (Grandpa George/Mr. Beauregard), and soprano Kristin Clayton (Grandma Georgina/Mrs. Gloop) in the Atlanta Opera’s production of The Golden Ticket. © Tim Wilkerson

Soprano Ashley Emerson (Violet Beauregard), and tenor Andrew Drost (Augustus Gloop) describe how they won their Golden Tickets to soprano Krista Kostin (Candy Mallow). © Tim Wilkerson

Veruca Salt, mezzo-soprano Abigail Nims, finally gets her way winning a Golden Ticket, with the help of her father Lord Salt, sung by baritone David Kravitz . © Tim Wilkerson

Charlie Bucket (Ruben Roy) finds his Golden Ticket. © Tim Wilkerson

Willy Wonka (Daniel Okulitch) describes his factory to Mike Teevee (Gerald  Thompson), Charlie Bucket (Ruben Roy), Veruca Salt (Abigail Nims), and Augustus Gloop (Andrew Drost). © Tim Wilkerson

Willy Wonka finally opens the gate to his factory! © Tim Wilkerson

Augustus Gloop, tenor Andrew Drost, over-indulges in the chocolate river. © Tim Wilkerson

Gerald Thompson as Mike Teevee in The Golden Ticket. © Tim Wilkerson

Veruca Salt (Abigail Nims) gets punished by the Squirrel chorus and Oompa Loompas  in the Atlanta Opera’s production of The Golden Ticket, March 3-11, 2012 at the Cobb Energy Center.
With the Oompa Loompas assisting, Willy Wonka (Daniel Okulitch) and Charlie Bucket (Ruben Roy) take off  in Wonka's elevator. © Tim Wilkerson
The cast of The Golden Ticket celebrate Charlie's good fortune as he starts his new life as the owner of the chocolate factory. © Tim Wilkerson
Want to see The Golden Ticket in person? Get your tickets on 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.