Life in the fast lane. Tea and Scrabble at Starbucks before Synth Night at The Kitchen. / http://ift.tt/1gXoFPt

Life in the fast lane. Tea and Scrabble at Starbucks before Synth Night at The Kitchen. / http://ift.tt/1gXoFPt

Speaking of voices…

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In my last post, I wrote about the rewards of engaging the voice of a new generation of opera singers and directors, and their ability to provide us all with a unique, fresh, and interesting perspective.  This past week, we amped up that idea through our presentation of Double Exposure, part of our Composer in Residence and Opera from the Lab programs.  Drawing amazingly talented singers from the Curtis Institute of Music, the Academy of Vocal Arts, and the Opera Philadelphia Chorus, we created two teams of six singers and paired each team with a skilled director - one team with Daniel Fish and one with Stephanie Havey. Each team also included its own conductor and pianist.  Both teams shared a string quartet.  Each team had the task of interpreting opera scenes that Composers in Residence Lembit Beecher and Missy Mazzoli have been writing, allowing these composers to fully see and hear those scenes, bringing them to life off the page. Confusing? Probably …but it was awesome!  Here is breakdown of each team:

Fish Team:

Singers: Ashley Milanese, Julia Dawson, Johnathan McCullough, Thomas Shivone, Joanna Gates, and Jennifer Beattie
Director: Daniel Fish
Conductor: Kensho Watanabe
Pianist: Bénédicte Jourdois 

Havey Team:

Singers: Melinda Whittington, Lauren Eberwein, Sean Plumb, André Courville, Veronica Chapman-Smith, and Heidi Kurtz
Director: Stephanie Havey
Conductor: Edward Poll
Pianist: Matthew Brower 

And the program read like this:

"Sunny View", Lembit Beecher

Librettist / Anisa George
Rosemarie – Milanese/Whittington
Magda (a staff member) – Dawson/Eberwein
(Male) Nurse – McCullough/Plumb
George – Thomas Shivone/André Courville

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 André Courville and Melinda Whittington in “Sunny View,” the opening scene of an untitled opera dealing with Alzheimer’s disease, by Lembit Beecher. Photo by Dominic Mercier

"His name is Jan" from Breaking the Waves, Missy Mazzoli

Librettist / Royce Vavrek
Bess – Milanese/Whittington

Scene 3 from Breaking the Waves, Missy Mazzoli

Bess – Milanese/Whittington
Dodo – Dawson/Eberwein
Jan/Calvinist Elder – McCullough/Plumb
Terry/Minister – Shivone/Courville

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Ashley Milanese as Bess McNeill in Missy Mazzoli’s Breaking the Waves. Photo by Dominic Mercier.

Scene 3 from I Have No Stories To Tell You, Lembit Beecher

Librettist / Hannah Moscovitch
Sorrel – Julia Dawson/Lauren Eberwein
Daniel – Johnathan McCullough/Sean Plumb
Memory 1 – Ashley Milanese/Melinda Whittington
Memory 2 – Joanna Gates/Veronica Chapman-Smith
Memory 3 – Jennifer Beattie/Heidi Kurtz

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Sean Plumb and Lauren Eberwein in Lembit Beecher’s I Have No Stories To Tell You. Photo by Dominic Mercier.

It was a truly wonderful experience for everyone.  We packed rooms both at FringeArts in Philadelphia and at the Opera America Recital Hall in New York, and everyone learned a lot about the works, the process in creating work, and what it takes to tell compelling stories.  When we set out on this exercise the intent was to provide composers with a learning situation about storytelling, setting scenes for the stage, and engaging an audience.  In this regard the program was a huge success, as each team brought so many different insights in direction, performance and characterization.  But the biggest surprise for me was how much everyone else got out of it.  The performers from Academy of Vocal Arts and the Curtis Institute of Music gained tremendous learning from working with artists from the respective schools, and for some it was a first opportunity to perform contemporary music with the composer in the room.  The directors learned a lot about Lembit and Missy’s music, and the audience was given a bird’s eye view into the creative process and established a deep connection to each of these works as well as to Lembit and Missy.  At the reception afterwards, it was almost like a family gathering as everyone felt like they were an active part of the creative process.  For me, this is a big element of the magic of new work – when you let people in, it can really forge a community around art, artists and ideas. 

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Bravi tutti to everyone who made this happen and to all in attendance!  You were all active members of this artistic journey, and I look forward to all of us continuing our work together in supporting both Lembit and Missy as they develop their operatic ideas and voices.

Across the hall from Don Giovanni awesome Hip H’Opera workshop reading - look out world. / http://ift.tt/1lueWTv

Across the hall from Don Giovanni awesome Hip H’Opera workshop reading - look out world. / http://ift.tt/1lueWTv

Don Giovanni cast, maestro, director and stage management ready to go - game on! / http://ift.tt/1jHFOzy

Don Giovanni cast, maestro, director and stage management ready to go - game on! / http://ift.tt/1jHFOzy

In rehearsal for Double Exposure - so much talent :) / http://ift.tt/PREz3Q

In rehearsal for Double Exposure - so much talent :) / http://ift.tt/PREz3Q

Selfie with Flicka at COFFIN IN EGYPT premiere. @thewallisbh @operaphila @hougrandopera / http://ift.tt/1o4FDNh

Selfie with Flicka at COFFIN IN EGYPT premiere. @thewallisbh @operaphila @hougrandopera / http://ift.tt/1o4FDNh

A dialogue about opera…

We at Opera Philadelphia are blessed with amazing performance venues.  Not only do we have the privilege of presenting works in North America’s oldest opera house, the jewel known as the Academy of Music, we also produce works in a smaller theater just a block away. The Perelman Theater, located in the Kimmel Center, seats just 550 people and it’s where we produce our Aurora Series. No other east coast city can boast having a theater this size that produces a sound quality like the Perelman. The Perelman is ideal for experiencing opera on an intimate scale. When you are in the audience you are so close to the stage that you feel like you are part of what is happening on it!

Last week, we presented our annual co-production with the Curtis Institute of Music’s Opera Theatre. This unique collaboration features principal singers and an orchestra made up of student artists from this prestigious and amazing conservatory. Each March, we have collaboratively produced an opera since 2008. Every year I am completely blown away by the prodigy of these incredible students – their command of artistry and their dedication to living the music and characters is always revelatory. And this year was particularly special because the production was Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites.

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Photo by Cory Weaver

Poulenc’s work is a modern masterpiece that demands nuanced and mature performances and requires musicianship of the highest order.  In short, the idea of a conservatory taking on this piece is epic. The fact that they all delivered performances that moved our audience to tears, is astonishing.

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Rachel Sterrenberg as Blanche and Shir Rozzen as Mme. de Croissy. Photos by Cory Weaver.

But, as I watched this production through rehearsals and performances, another thought occurred to me. The reason I love this collaboration so much is that I get to see the future of opera, now. Every principal artist, every orchestra member, the director, the design team – literally the entire team that conceived and developed this production – were all under the age of 30! And they did it from their perspective, with their aesthetic. We were seeing opera through this millennial generation’s eye (from beginning to end) and it was vital and exciting.

As the production progressed, the setting moved from the 18th century to today. By the end, the nuns could represent oppressed women from any era. They were victims of ideological hate, hate that rages on not only here at home, but around the world. For me, in many ways this production represented the angst of today’s generation experiences about intolerance.  WOW – how insightful is that. 

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Rachel Sterrenberg as Blanche and Sarah Shafer as Sister Constance. Photo by Cory Weaver.

If we expect opera (and indeed all the classical arts) to proceed with energy and vitality, we need to let today’s youth tell us a story as they see it, from their perspective. We need to create opportunities for them as a community of artists to speak (or better yet sing or play their instruments) from their hearts. In this way, we involve them in the ongoing dialogue that art provides. And, the starting point for that conversation, is listening. After this last week I am all ears – bring it on.

Final note: Special thanks and shout out to my friend and colleague Mikael Eliasen who believes so deeply in providing the very best opportunities for young, talented people and who creates space for them to find their own path. Bravo!

With Steve Earle “an American boy” at #hrcphillygala / http://ift.tt/1eeEGeP

With Steve Earle “an American boy” at #hrcphillygala / http://ift.tt/1eeEGeP

It’s a new season and a new us!

It’s 6:45 a.m. on Wednesday, and I am on a train to New York City for three days of meetings with Opera America, a librettist, two fellow co-producers, and two artist managers.  This is part of the machinery of an opera company and results, hopefully, in interesting and forward-thinking work.  As the sun is coming up, and the train chugs along, I am reflecting on the amount of travel, the many meetings, and the blend of intuition and careful thinking that went into our 40th Anniversary Season (2014-2015), which we just announced on Tuesday.  It all came together thanks to Music Director Corrado Rovaris, Artistic Advisor Mikael Eliasen, our amazing staff, a Board of Directors that gets “it,” and a host of colleagues that want to work in partnership with Opera Philadelphia. 

This particular season is special for me, as it is the first in which that I have truly marshaled all these forces from the ground up.  My goal in developing this season was to make sure that our work involved artists at the top of their game: singers performing the roles they want/need to sing; composers and librettists writing operas that they yearn to write and come from their artistic instincts; and all new productions that will leave an indelible mark on the company’s artistic development.  Together, they should all add up to experiences that will blow our audience’s minds with surprise, delight, ingenuity, and beauty. I truly believe this season will be a marker of what is to come and will ignite an ongoing conversation with our audience about the vitality of opera.  And “vital” I believe it is!  We have so much to work with - highly trained, creative, committed, über-talented artists of every description that have something to say about our world now.  Check out what some of them have to say…

So as Opera Philadelphia turns 40 - I have long since passed this milestone :) - it feels like we are entering a mature, yet youthful enough, time in our history to have the confidence to push forward and to do it with some verve and swagger. Game on!  Let’s go and do this.