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.