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!

To Beard or Not to Beard?

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With opera season upon us, I have a decision to make and I need your help.  As many of you know, David and I went on a fairly long camping trip this summer and I returned to the city with a fair amount of scruff. I thought would keep it for awhile, to sort extend my vacation-like feeling. Since my return, however, I have been getting lots of people saying they love it and to keep it. With summer clearly at an end, and opera season about to open, I feel I need to make a decision. Should I keep the beard as a new look, or shave it off and bid adieu to a great summer? Vote away. 

To beard or not to beard?

I love the theater…

After a summer of traveling, seeing a variety of operas, meeting with fellow producers and agents, and attending a multitude of receptions (with a few too many glasses of wine), we at Opera Philadelphia are back in the midst of doing the thing I love the most – PRODUCING OPERA!

imageCast of Nabucco meeting the Academy of Music for the first time

For the past three weeks, our 72-voice strong chorus has been rehearsing for NABUCCO, which will open the Philadelphia cultural season on September 27th. Last week, the production’s principal cast of gifted singers, as well as its talented director/designer Thaddeus Strassberger, arrived and the creative process of bringing the many components that go into producing an opera have begun. This is such an exciting time! With a cast this large it is a bit like a watching a small village come together in preparation for some kind of celebration.  Few realize how many people it takes to bring an opera to the stage. You need all these artistic resources and more: singers, musicians, scenic artists, wardrobe artists, technical experts, stage manager, production team, and stage hands. Each contributes his or her own unique skills, and together, they all work towards that ever-approaching deadline of opening night! No extra rehearsal time, no second takes, no edits in Photoshop are possible – the show must go on. All of this effort coalesces in the moment when the audience takes its seat and the artists take the stage and together, they join in a true act of community. You see, we live in a world that provides a multitude of ways to connect with others.  However, rarely are those connections fully realized. What I mean by this, is that we seldom get to experience things together, using all of our senses; those senses that make us human - our eyes, our ears, our bodies – this is the very essence of a social experience. During an opera, when it works, our humanity and extreme human performance are brought together in one giant moment of sharing which is only heightened by the risks that are inherent in live performance. This is what makes this week so very exciting. It begins the process of building such a community to share in an experience that is bigger than any one of us.

Check out this video – this what I’m talking about….

Next up – a report from the FringeArts Feastival which I will be attending on Thursday night and some production notes about NABUCCO.

DAY TWO: RIGOLETTO

After a bit of sleep (curtain times here are typically 9:30 or 10 p.m.) I had a nice Sunday brunch and walked a bit of the city. A nice day off. I was so looking forward to Robert Carsen’s production of RIGOLETTO featuring George Gagnidze in the title role, and I was not disappointed. Go HERE to learn more about Robert Carsen. He is a fellow Canadian who has given opera some of the most memorable and iconic productions of our time. Gagnidze’s Rigoletto in this production was a dark and ridiculed character in a world occupied by dark and mean people. image

The inspiration of the production was the 1924 motion picture He Who Gets Slapped and worked in bringing the loathing Rigoletto to life in one of the most compelling ways I have seen. Under an ever present circus tent the action unfolded with a strong conceptual hand, replete with six lady strippers in Act I and six ripped and bouncy male circus performers.  Even the duke dropped his robe for a bare bum exit on his way to Gilda.  It all sounds more gratuitous than it was, as it completely fit in this underbelly world where ridicule, thievery and murder exist. image

The audience here loved it – yet I am still working out in my mind if this is something that would work in the U.S. (Ruminating on this subject will take some time). It was Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) today and as this production was performed in the outdoor Théâtre de l’Archevêché. We were treated not only to the beautiful sounds of the London Symphony Orchestra for the overture at 10 p.m., but also to the sounds of fireworks at the nearby Rotunde.  All in all, a special night.