Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A shameless bit of self-promotion

Opera Manhattan Presents

Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre, New York's “company for artists by artists”, continues its annual tradition of the children’s classic Hansel and Gretel. This new, interactive and delightfully scary production opens December 23 at the Acorn Theatre.

Children ages 7 and up can take part in the show on stage during the performance, meet Hansel and Gretel themselves, and might even get to throw snowballs at the Witch. Each show will start with a brief presentation designed for kids and their parents about Hansel and Gretel. They'll be introduced to the characters and story, some of the memorable tunes they can join in singing, when to applaud, and when and how to say “Bravo!” and “Brava!”.

Director Beth Greenberg, known for her “sure theatrical hand” according to Opera News, has created an inventive production that incorporates enough of the darkness and playfulness of the original Grimm fairy tale and to delight kids of all ages. “Kids love to be frightened, they love excitement, and they love music. They won't go away disappointed!” says Greenberg, who has directed operas both traditional and new for high-profile opera companies including New York City Opera.

Performance dates and times are:
Dec. 23 - 3 and 6 pm
Dec. 24 - 2 pm
Dec. 26 - 6 pm
Dec. 27 - 6 pm
Dec. 28- 3 and 6 pm
Dec. 29 - 3 and 6 pm
Dec. 30 - 3 and 6 pm
Jan. 1 - 3 and 6 pm

To take advantage of discounts, visit: or call 212-947-8844.

Code "TRFUN25" -- $25 tickets no expiration date!
Code "TRFUN10" -- $10 children's tickets when accompanied by an adult

The Acorn Theatre is located on Theatre Row at 410 West 42nd St.

Opera Manhattan Repertory Theatre’s mission is to empower emerging artists, encourage creative thinking, and develop business-minded artists by creating opportunities for artists to produce operas themselves—a company for artists by artists. For further information see

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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Singer Profile: Angela Meade, soprano

Photo by Devon Cass
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Angela Meade, the lovely star of Anna Bolena at the Met. (Other soprano? What other soprano?) As I mentioned when I wrote about her performance as Anna Bolena (Giudici ad Anna? Ad Anna????!!!!!!!) I'm a big fan. As I wrote after seeing her perform Norma at Caramoor (Wanted: One Sassy Gay Friend):
We were not disappointed with the lovely Miss Meade. She sang beautifully, with an even tone throughout, clear coloratura, and a beautiful line, and she very clearly conveyed Norma's conflicting emotions.... [Keri Alkema's] duets with Miss Meade require more than one mention, so beautiful were they. The two women faced each other and sang perfectly timed parallel vocal lines with precision and care. A joy to hear.
When I asked Angela if she'd read my blog posts about her performances, she said she doesn't read reviews.  At that point I pouted, but I got over it and commenced with the questions.  I try to ask interesting questions like:

How was it doing Mercadante's Virginia (at the Wexford Festival, 2010)?
I quite liked it, but Mercadante is quite difficult to sing. Mercadante doesn't write well for the voice, not lyrically. It's very instrumentally written. The big ensemble pieces are terribly written--they stay right in the passaggio the entire time and are gargantuan.  Fortunately they made some judicious cuts. They could cut twelve pages of ensemble, for example, and you couldn't tell the difference.

The first aria is the only thing I had to really work hard to get it into my voice. I learned it for the audition, and they told me it was a step higher in the version they were doing. I thought, Really? So I worked and worked and kept telling them I wanted to do it in the original key, and then they finally got the parts just before the dress rehearsal, and lo and behold, it was in the original key. And then singing it in that key felt low suddenly!

Photo by Dario Acosta
Is there any role we wouldn't associate with you you'd love to do (again)?
I sang a lot of Mozart in school, and I hardly sing any now. I wish I did. I wish I could sing another Fiordiligi. The first role I ever did was First Lady, and I've also sung Queen of the Night. Madame Herz. Countess. I'd love to do an Elettra in Idomeneo, maybe even Clemenza. Nobody ever hires me for Mozart.

In your position how would you push for more Mozart?
I was hoping when I did the Countess at the Met it might fuel that fire. I think the problem is that I sing all the crazy stuff. They can find lots of Fiordiligis but not so with Norma. I'm hoping as my career goes along some more Mozart will find its way in there. I do have some Donna Annas coming up.  [Alas, I couldn't wedge more detail about those Donna Annas out of her!]

What kind of roles that are associated with you would ilke to never do again?
Everything I've sung I've really enjoyed. Even the Mercadante.

Do you get to campaign for roles, perhaps some rarities that you think are interesting?
I'm getting more into a position where I can ask in certain places.  A role I'd love to do is Lucrezia Borgia. There's a lot of things on my list--I Masnadieri, I Lombardi, Giovanna d'Arco, Maria Stuarda--all sorts of things. I'm really lucky that I've been able to check so many things off my list.

A few weeks after seeing you do Norma at Caramoor, I went back to see Maria di Rohan. Jennifer Rowley did a wonderful job with it, but I want to see you do it some time!
I would like to do that role, actually. I would love to do it some time. Again, I do these things that nobody ever programs. It might be one of those things I can ask for as I have more influence.

You said you don't read reviews.
I try not to. It's better for my psyche.

You're not the first person I've heard say that! People make silly comparisons in reviews, perhaps with more established singers....
I think that's inevitable, but at the same time it's crazy. Two singers are not going to have the same take on the role--the same understanding, the strengths and weaknesses, different points in their careers. I understand why they make comparisons, but at the same time you should take it for what it is.

[At this point I gushed about the Anna Bolena performance I saw, pointing out that the subtitle of this humble blog is "A bel canto bear in a verismo world."  She very kindly laughed and then looked at her watch.]

What would you do if you were not an opera singer?
There were points when I thought I might not do this, but I honestly couldn't ever think of anything else I wanted to do. When I started college I thought about being a doctor, but it wasn't what I was passionate about. Music has always been what I was passionate about. I grew up singing in school and in church, and playing in band, although I was terribly shy. I wanted to get up and sing solos but was afraid of what people were going to say.

Even to this day I find it easier to be on stage in a performance than to be in rehearsal. I think it's because in the moment nobody is going to say anything to you about it. [Question about others preferring rehearsal to performance] I like rehearsal--I'm a bit of a perfectionist, so I like being able to polish things-- but it's really the rush of getting out on stage. It's not even the applause--that's a nice byproduct--but it's being in the moment with my colleagues and having the music pour out of me.

[Searching memory banks for interesting question, coming up with nothing, settling for a boring question] What is coming up next?
I have a full run of Ernani, including the HD, at the Met. Then I have another role debut--I feel like I do a role debut ever other week! I'm not one of those singers who sings the same things over and over again. Sometimes I long to be one of those singers who only does Mimi and Musetta and nothing else. I sing Lucrezia Contarini in I Due Foscari at Deutsche Oper Berlin. And then I'm going back to Kiel to do two operetta concerts, and then we're into next season. I don't know what I'm doing over the summer--I had some plans but they fell through.

Talking about learning new roles, what is your process? Or is it different depending on the role?
It depends on the role. If it's a score that really speaks to me, something like Norma or Anna Bolena, I find it really quite easy to learn them. If it's something that doesn't quite speak to me, like Virginia--it did eventually, but on first listening, I was like What?!-- then it takes a little bit more of a process. I have to sit down and translate it (which I do for any role, of course) and listen to it a million times and plunk it out. It doesn't feel like it's as organic as the other roles. I take it to a coach, put it on its feet, see what the problems are, spend more time at the piano plunking it out.

So with a role that does speak to you, how much time do you put into the learning process?
Let's give a comparison. When I did Semiramide, I waited to long to begin--I took about three weeks to learn it. [Laughs] I see your eyebrow going up! And I felt like I should have started a year ahead of time. It was one of those roles that didn't fall naturally into my ear. It was my first Rossini, so I was little petrified by that idea. But something like Norma, I could have picked up and learned in three weeks easily. It didn't feel like something I had to learn. Like it was in my bones. I felt like I never even had to memorize Norma, like it was just there.

You're in your early 30s. Has you singing changed over time? Have you had to make any conscious changes?
Nothing conscious. I guess to myself I don't realize internally that I sound much different than I did ten years ago, but I hear recordings and I go, Oh! I sound totally different! I mean there are things I can do now that I couldn't do then--I think that's to be expected--but there's nothing I've had to change.  I think my voice has grown and matured and become more technically sound.

In your studies, were there any technical hurdles you had to overcome?
I've been very blessed that I've always had a really natural way of singing. I've never been one of those people who ascribes to a certain technique by a certain teacher. I can't say I attribute my technique to any one person. My teachers have helped me out a lot with different aspects, polishing this or that.

For the longest time I did not know how to sing pianissimo high notes. I would ask teachers and no one could tell me. And then one day I was in a practice room and I found I could do it. It just happened. My extreme top was a hurdle, like above D. When I sang Lucia at AVA (Academy of Vocal Arts), I kept thinking I couldn't sing the E-flat, even though I'd sung Queen of the Night (known for fiendishly difficult high Fs). And of course, the second you start doubting yourself it doesn't come out. And there's also the transition into chest voice. That's a work in progress

Do you see yourself after another 20 years of singing, guiding young singers?
I used to think I'd be a terrible teacher for the very reason I just said--because I couldn't explain how I did what I did. I just opened my mouth and it would come out most of the time. I had no idea how I could tell anybody else that. As I get older and I think I figure some things out for myself, I think it's something I'd like to do.

There are other aspects of the career that interest me--career guidance. The aspects outside of just singing. Packaging, competitions. All the exterior things that go into it on top of good singing.

When you were in school did you have any training in how to actually build a career?
No! That opens up a whole can of worms. I think there's a lot to be desired in the way we train singers in this country. We focus so much on technique and getting the degree that things like how to do your taxes as a singer are left to the wayside. How to find the resources to do competitions. What do you wear to an audition? How do you pick appropriate repertoire without your teacher's help? So many people are so dependent on a teacher and what a teacher tells them to do. I think you should listen to your teacher, but there needs to be an inner voice that says "Oh yes, I think I could do that well" I think a lot of singers just wander down the path and hope they are pushed in the right directions.

Do you think some of that is encouraged by the way the system is now?
I think it is. I think we're so in the academia mindset--do ABC, XYZ, you get your piece of paper and move on to the next school. [Side conversation about how conservatories are just beginning to teach career skills.]

Is there anything else you wish someone had told you?
So many things! Every day there's something that makes me think "They should have taught that in school" Master classes with people, and how to find a manager, and how to choose a good manager, and how do you know when you need a press person, and who are good ones, and travel, and taxes, and all sorts of things! All of the stuff that has nothing to do with singing but is essential to having a career.

OK, my default question when I can't remember the next one I wanted to ask: What sort of dumb questions do you get from people in my chair?

I don't get a lot of dumb questions. I get the same questions over and over a lot, like "Tell me your life story."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Golden Age Opera of the Week--Porgy and Bess

I stumbled upon the videos the Seattle Opera had for its production of Mr. Gershwin's amazing Porgy and Bess from last year, and could not stop crying. I don't know why. So in the hope of evincing wracking sobs from you lot, I present some videos here:

Willard White sings "I Got Plenty of Nuttin'" in the film adaptation of the 1987 Glyndebourne--Glyndebourne?!!!!--production, then Marietta Simpson as Maria gives Sportin' Life (Damon Evans--wait, wasn't he in The Jeffersons?) a piece of her mind. Simon Rattle is reported to have said in rehearsing and performing some of the choral scenes--and what great choral scenes!--he simply put the the baton down and allowed something he couldn't define lead the chorus and keep them together.

1952 live Berlin performance with Leontyne Price and Willard White. (Regular followers, if there are any, will notice I never, ever feature Leontyne Price, because she doesn't need my help to be remembered in the current century.)

Leontyne Price, who sang the role on tour throughout Europe, in a 1960 gala recording of Die Fledermaus, of all things, under Herr Von Karajan!

Orlofsky: What aria would you like to sing?
Leontyne Price: Do you know "Summertime" by Gershwin?
Orlofsky: But Gerwshwin hasn't been born yet!
Leontyne Price: I'll sing it anyway.

In a separate note I read somewhere (no source, of course) that when Todd Duncan, the original Porgy, went to meet with Gershwin about this new musical he was writing, he was a bit suspicious. Gershwin played him the overture, and Duncan started out thinking this was a white, Jewish man writing music that might sort of sound like jazz. By the time they reached the end of the overture and "Summertime", Duncan was in tears. Just like me whenever I see this opera. I wish I'd had the time and money to see it in Seattle last May.

If anyone in Seattle is reading, I write sorta good and love to go to other places and write about their operas!