Friday, May 29, 2015

Get to Know Jennifer Black

Jennifer Black is an energetic, charming and powerful soprano. She sings the role of Bea, Maddy's grown daughter struggling in her marriage, in Three Decembers. We were eager to speak with Jenna (as she's known) to discuss her approach, her love for Jake Heggie, and which continent she wants to travel to next.

You have sung a number of historic roles, including Mimi in La bohรจme and Juliette in Romeo et Juliette. Does your approach change when you take on a character like Bea?

Yes, my approach changes slightly. One, there aren't hundreds of recordings out there to gather information on style, character temperament, tempo, etc, but the learning process remains mostly the same. Sitting down with the score and working and working and working until it's fully digested. I pay a great amount of attention to the tempo and dynamic markings, as I would with any role, but Jake is very specific as to what he wants musically and I, of course, respect that. Bea is interesting and full of so many shades and complexities. It's been great getting to know her.  She is a woman living in a time in which I have experienced (1980's, 90's, 00's). This also brings challenges as we see these characters during a 30 year span but there isn't time enough for full hair/makeup changes, so I must incorporate that fact with my acting without being over the top.  In contrast; for Mimi or Violetta, we see them relatively healthy in the beginning of the opera. As those operas go on, you experience their declining health. With Bea, I didn't have to go too far back in time to think about what her mannerisms might be, how she would hold herself physically, her thought process, because the three decades we visit in the opera I have experienced them all myself. 

There's no "period movement", as we would say, no corsets, no stylistic use of certain props, no fountain pens or petticoats to incorporate. I LOVE all those things, but this has been somewhat liberating to move freely on stage as a person of the 20th and 21st century. She certainly does have her own mannerisms and such, and sometimes Bea and Jenna share the same ones, and making her "mine" has been a wonderful process with the help of our awesome director, Emma Griffin.

What’s your view on contemporary operas, like Three Decembers, written by current composers, like Jake Heggie, as opposed to the classic operas, for example: Traviata by Verdi?

First, I must say, I LOVE JAKE.  I love his work and appreciate him for being so involved with all performances of his works and for making himself available to the people who are working on his music.  This is rare and much appreciated.

Stylistically, this has been challenging and also liberating.  Since Three Decembers is so conversational, it is very important for us to incorporate and make clear all the text and meaning.  There are very few repeated lines and very few lines without a syllable on each note.  But Jake writes in a way that incorporates lyric line in sections of the opera, so keeping the text clear and lyricism smooth is a match made in heaven.   

His works are very different from most composers I have sung; Strauss, Puccini, Mozart, Verdi, but I feel there may be a bit of Janacek influence in his works.

If current composers know how to write for the voice and instruments, FANTASTIC, I'm all for it. It is a skill to learn because each voice part is different and presents challenges in different ways.   

You’ve said (on record, I may add)  that you have sung on 4 continents. Tell us about those journeys – and – which continent would you like to make #5 on your list?

Continents!  Yes, North America, South America, Europe and Asia.

North America is all in the US; North Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, California, Virginia, Connecticut, Florida, Texas, Tennessee...Georgia...The US is a fascinating and diverse place and I love experiencing new cities and having the chance to settle into their vibe for a few weeks. I actually keep a poster map at home and add a pin to each new place I've been. A friend gave it to me as a gift in undergrad for that purpose.

Europe: Mostly in France and some in Italy. I adore most everything French, except for "la greve", "the strike" that always seems to be going on in some place or another. But, it's part of their culture to do so, so be it. I've worked in Toulouse three times and love it more each time. My languages get better while I'm there!  French, of course, but you usually end up working with Italians, Germans and people from the Eastern countries as well. I always learn something new.

Asia; JAPAN. I love Japan. It is a great dream of mine to go back.

I would love to add Australia to my list!  My husband is Australian and we are there quite a bit. It would be lovely to work in a country which feels like a second home and to be able to visit with friends and family while there. My parents in law are loyal opera fans and attend every Met HD broadcast in which I appear. And let's face it, Aussies are awesome.  

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

Get to Know Jesse Blumberg

Jesse Blumberg is a busy man. The baritone sang in Hawaii, Boston and Paris (among others) in the 14/15 season. This weekend, he sings the role of Charlie (the adult son of Maddy coping with the loss of his partner to AIDS) in Three Decembers. We spoke with Jesse to learn more about his time in Atlanta, his "perfect day," and his preparation for different roles.

This is your Atlanta debut. Seems like there’s a balance between getting used to a long stay in a new town, while learning a new production. What’s that process like?

I've performed in the Atlanta area before, but it's great to be in the city and making a debut with The Atlanta Opera. This three-week stay is a bit shorter than usual for an opera stint, but then again this opera is shorter than usual. Rehearsals never felt rushed, and there was still time to explore the city a bit, too. Every out of town stay is different, but this one has felt relaxed and comfortable. I try to go running every couple days, so the parks and the Beltline trails have been great for that. And this is such a food and beer town, which has made for some delicious and fun times out with our wonderful cast and production team.

An ideal day in the life of Jesse Blumberg is…

That's a tough one - but it probably involves friends and family, good food, and some sort of rewarding musical project. If you can get all of those into one day, then it's an ideal day indeed.

How do you prepare and get into a role like Charlie? And how does it compare with preparing for your previous roles, like Figaro?

Three Decembers feels more like a play than an opera, in many ways; it just happens to be sung. But the characters are very much like those you'd meet in a theatrical family drama, and a lot of their issues among each other are ones that anyone who's ever been part of a family can relate to.  And the theme of loss that runs throughout is one that we all know, as well. Charlie is losing his partner to AIDS, and interestingly enough, I've told a very similar story on stage before, in Ricky Ian Gordon's Green Sneakers. Both of these stories are so personal, while still dealing with very universal matters - fear, loss, grieving. But I think then you trust the material the librettist and composer have given you, and you trust your director (and our Emma Griffin couldn't be better!) to let you know when you're going too far, or not far enough.  It's been a wonderful process these few weeks, and I can't wait to see what the audience thinks of this powerful piece of theatre.  

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, May 26, 2015

Get to Know Teddi Hanslowe

Soprano Theodora (Teddi) Hanslowe has sung on stages across the globe. This weekend, she sings the role of Madeleine Mitchell, the disconnected matriarch of her modern family, in Three Decembers. We asked Teddi three questions to get to know her better as an opera singer, learn about her process as a performer, and get her point of view on the evolution of opera today. 

Did you always want to be a singer or performer? And specifically an opera singer?

I think I always wanted to be a singer. My family is very musical, and I grew up singing and with a lot of music in our home. I idolized Julie Andrews and sang in musicals in high school. I also played the oboe for 8 years. My musical training was not typical for an opera singer. I majored in English and was active in the Drama department at Cornell University, where I got my bachelors. When I spent a year in Vienna, Austria, where my father was born, I got hooked on the opera. At that point, my interest in foreign language and acting and singing all started to come together. I was lucky that the vocal training I got was good, so despite not studying voice as my major in college, I was able to begin working as an opera singer quite early, and I never did anything else.

Maddy is a complex (amongst other adjectives) character. What is the process like getting into this role, as opposed to other parts you have sung in the past? 

Maddy is a narcissist,  very career-oriented and charismatic, and she thrives on stage. She is her best self on stage. I have played a lot of sweet, sympathetic characters (Cenerentola, Sister Helen, the Composer), and it took me a while to stop judging Maddy, given her poor parenting abilities and how self-absorbed she is. But playing Maddy is FUN. Portraying a character who is herself an actress - and particularly an actress with secrets - allows for a lot of layering in her personality. And she's a star. She's big and vibrant.

What is your take on the evolution of opera, both musically and within society? And how do you see modern opera – like Three Decembers – fitting in with the classics? 

I think the classics are here to stay, but the importance of developing new operas with current subjects can't be overstated. Musically, the last 100+ years have been about exploring new harmonies and dissonances to express more modern emotion, and rhythms more reflective of spoken language. In society, I would say opera has taken on more relevant subject matter, provoking discussion and thought about current issues. As for Three Decembers, there are a lot of people who think they don't like opera who will find this a very entertaining and moving piece. Heggie's score is gripping, the story is fast-paced, and here, you have a cast of singing actors who really tell a story. How this particular opera fits into the large scheme in the pantheon of opera is hard to say, because it is a smaller work than Heggie's Moby Dick or Dead Man Walking. I think it has the ability to woo a different audience, and that may be its most important role.

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.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Toperoke & Los Trompos

We spent a beautiful evening at The High Museum of Art kicking off their entertainment series for Los Trompos ('Spinning Tops').

We invited music lovers and fans to swing, chill and listen to beautiful arias from beloved operas in the art installations on Sifly Plaza.

Toperoke, our take on Karaoke, invited listeners to choose an aria for one of our incredible chorus members to sing while spinning or sitting inside. 

Thank you to our amazing chorus members! Stay tuned for info on the next Toperoke night coming up in September.