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  • Gaze on this gallery of rising stars


    Florida Grand Opera’s 80th Anniversary Season concluded on Sunday, May 22, with a fantastic concert by our Studio Artists. It was, as always, a bittersweet farewell. Watching these talented young artist grow throughout the season and witnessing their final triumph is always an emotional occasion for lovers of great music. The happy news is that we’ll most likely get another chance to see and hear them in future roles as their careers take off. What are they doing now? 




    Soprano Amanda Olea has won a coveted position as an apprentice artist at Santa Fe Opera this summer and will appear in the world premiere of Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang’s  M.Butterfly. She will also make her international debut at the Festival Internacional Divertimento in Mexico City in a one-woman opera composed by her father, Oscar Olea, entitled Diario de un Fantasma. In 2021-22, Ms. Olea appeared with FGO as the Mexican Woman in A Streetcar Named Desire, Countess Ceprano in Rigoletto, and Miss Lightfoot in Fellow Travelers. Follow her career at  




    Soprano Page Michels will next be heard in a remembrance concert for Edward Berkeley at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. A recent graduate of Rice University in Houston, Ms. Michels was seen at FGO in the roles of the Page in Rigoletto and Lucy in Fellow Travelers.  




    Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Doche, the only second-year Studio Artist of the season, travels to Baton Rouge to sing the roles of Nicklausse/Muse/Mother in Les contes des Hoffman at Opera at Louisiane and the title role in Ariodonte with Opera Neo. Ms. Doche received rave reviews for her roles in FGO’s 20/21 season: Eunice Hubbell in A Streetcar Named Desire, Maddalena/Giovanna in Rigoletto, and Narciso in Agrippina.  Keep up with her career at




    During his tenure as an FGO Studio Artist, tenor Charles Calotta won acclaim for his roles as The Young Collector in A Streetcar Named Desire, Borsa in Rigoletto, and Tommy McIntyre in Fellow Travelers. Hje will next sing Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte and cover Alfredo in La traviata at Opera North; sing Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville at Winter Harbor Music Festival, and create the roles of Mr. Mu/Vizier Mummu in the world premiere of Cerise Lim Jacobs’ and Elena Ruehr’s Cosmic Cowboy with White Snake Projects. Stay tuned to Mr. Calotta’s career at




    Baritone Michael Pandolfo heads to Iowa, where he will join Des Moines Metro Opera as an ensemble artist and sing the role of Robin Starveling in A Midsummer Night’s Dream while covering Demetrius. At FGO, he sang the roles of Marullo in Rigoletto and Senator McCarthy in Fellow Travelers. Keep up with Mr. Pandolfo at


    Bass-baritone Erik Danielson made the most of his FGO season in the roles of Count Ceprano in Rigoletto, Gen. Arlie/Sen. Potter/Interrogator- in Fellow Travelers, and Lesbo in Agrippina. You can watch his star rise at


    Baritone Christopher Humbert joined the Studio Artists fresh from a stint as Zuniga in Carmen with Palm Beach Opera, just in time win accolades for his comic turn as Pallante in Agrippina. Mr. Humbert is pursuing his Master’s Degree at Boston University. Follow his career at


    Keep your telescope trained for any one of these young rising stars, coming soon to stages all over the world --- and who knows, some may be back to South Florida sooner than you think! Keep an eye out at and while you’re there, don’t forget to purchase your 2022-23 subscription! Benefits include free admission to special Studio Artist concerts and events.  


  • Introducing Handel’s fiercest heroine and best opera â€" Agrippina!

    Generally speaking, people enjoy seeing the bad guys get their just desserts. Operatic villains are often punished for their audacity with death or disgrace in stories.


    But in Handel’s Agrippina, this fierce, manipulative heroine not only escapes punishment, but triumphs, and you may well find yourself rooting for this beautiful bad girl.


    Agrippina was composed in 1709 for Venice’s Carnival season, and it was a huge success. In those days, it was unusual for new operas to receive more than two or three performances; Agrippina received 27. According to some historians, Cardinal Vincenzo Grimaldi’s sly, clever libretto is a reflection of his rivalry with then-Pope Clementi XI. Regardless, it is designated by the New Penguin Opera Guide as one of the best libretti Handel ever set.


    Handel’s score is equally brilliant and regarded as his first, and one of his best, operatic masterpieces. At the time of its writing, it was common to borrow or adapt from one’s own compositions as well as those of others; but Handel managed this with an inventiveness and style that have made Agrippina one of his most popular and frequently-revived works.


    The story of Agrippina is a fictionalized account of historical people and events. It is based on the machinations of Agrippina the Younger, the Roman empress and wife of Claudius, to place Nero, her son by another marriage, on the throne. But you won’t see any togas or chariots on the stage of Miami’s Shrine Temple! Stage director Jeffery Buchman (A Streetcar Named Desire) has whipped up a delightfully updated version for audiences to enjoy. (Stay tuned for a delicious preview).


    FGO’s version of this tale is delightfully updated to the Regency Era, a particular time in British history ranging between 1795 to 1837 when an ailing King George III was rendered unfit to rule and his sons George IV and William IV took over. Fans of Jane Austen, period romance novels, or a certain popular Netflix series will recognize the distinctive dress of the time: Empire-waist gowns for ladies, high-necked collars with intricate cravats, cutaway jackets with tight pants and boots for gentlemen. Stay tuned for glimpses of the glamour, and in the meantime, get your tickets and reserve free motorcoach transportation from Broward County at


    Agrippina, May 14 – 19 at the Miami Scottish Rite Temple. 

  • Florida's Own Lavender Scare


    During the 1950s persecution of Communists, homosexuals, and anyone who failed to sufficiently condemn them was a daily reality of life, especially for those who worked for the federal government. News of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Cold War, the latest Hollywood big shot to be blackballed were all part of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare, as was the persecution of gay and lesbian federal employees which came to be known as the Lavender Scare. 


    Florida had its very own Lavender Scare in the 1950s, and like its national-level namesake, it is largely forgotten by history. In 1956, The Florida Legislative Investigative Committee, aka the Johns Committee (after its founder, Sen. Charley Johns), was formed to prevent racial desegregation. Johns took a few pages from McCarthy’s very successful playbook, claiming that Communists were behind the “racial agitation” of the Civil Rights Movement. They created lists of suspicious organizations --- topped by the NAACP and the ACLU, but had little luck in toppling these powerful institutions with their excellent lawyers. Instead, they turned to the persecution of homosexuals. 




    Like their Capitol Hill counterparts, the Johns Committee members believed that homosexuals, then deeply closeted for fear of social and legal repercussions, were easy prey for Communist blackmailers. With no evidence to back up his claims, Johns also insisted that homosexuals were pedophiles who dedicated to recruiting young people to their cause. Dozens of university professors, public school teachers, and students were investigated, interrogated, humiliated, intimidated, and ultimately fired or expelled, their lives ruined.  


    Fellow Travelers is set during this time period of intense paranoia and injustice, but ultimately, it is a love story between two very different people who want different things --- or at least, have different beliefs about what they can realistically have, given who they are and the times they live in. The questions of what must be hidden from society’s eyes, who can be trusted to make decisions about bodies, relationships, and families, and what kinds of government actions are justified remain vital today.  


    There are two more chances to see FGO’s highly acclaimed Fellow Travelers: Tuesday and Thursday, April 26 & 28, 7:30 p.m. at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. See for tickets.

  • Voices of the Scare


    Lt. Joan Cassidy was the daughter of a proud Navy family. Both her parents served in World War I; her brother and sister in World War II. In 1953, at just 26 years old, Lt. Cassidy held highest-level security clearance and headed a Navy intelligence division.


    She was serving in Pearl Harbor when she abandoned her dream, the promising career she was building, and joined the Navy Reserve.


    Joan Cassidy was a lesbian, and her government didn’t want her.


    "I thought to myself, what if somebody goes digging around and finds out, I would lose everything," she said. "I wanted it so badly, but it scared the living daylights out of me…" The tragedy of what happened 59 years ago was, Cassidy said, "that every one of us had joined the Navy because we were so proud of our country and wanted to serve." *


    It’s not easy to find first-hand accounts of people who endured the Lavender Scare, the 1950s anti-gay moral panic that accompanied the anti-Communist Red Scare. It was a painful period that many people didn’t want to discuss, many who were working then are elderly or have passed, and a great many papers associated with the era have been destroyed or disappeared. (such as Herbert Hoover’s “Sex Deviate” papers, a great number of which were burned in 1977 by the FBI).


    It makes stories like Thomas Mallon’s Fellow Travelers even more poignant as a fictional account of the historical lost human potential, trauma, destroyed careers, loves and lives it represents. Gregory Spears’ and Greg Pierce’s operatic interpretation was praised by the New York Times at its 2016 world premiere as “a near-perfect example of fast-flowing musical drama” by The New York Times in its 2016 world premiere, while the Wall Street Journal acknowledged, “Mr. Spears’s subtle, lyrical music is beautiful without being obvious or sentimental…”


    Fellow Travelers makes its Florida debut on Saturday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. and plays on April 24 (2:00 p.m.), 25th, and 28th (7:30 p.m.) at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. Buy tickets here. Free motorcoach transportation from Miami is available to ticket holders. Register here.


    *The information about Joan Cassidy and the direct quote come from SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES. “Lavender Scare: U.S. Fired 5,000 Gays in 1953 'Witch Hunt.'” ABC News. 5 Mar 5, 2012, 9:33 AM.

  • The deeper meaning behind "Fellow Travelers"


    What is a Fellow Traveler?


    It sounds rather romantic. “Fellow” implies commonality, even a bit of community. “Traveler” implies movement in a specific direction. “Fellow Travelers” then are those who share a journey and perhaps a direction or some common traits or values.


    There is another, much more sinister definition of “Fellow Travelers.” It refers to sympathizers and supporters of certain organizations who are not necessarily members or regular participants in their activities. In the US, the term was used to refer to Communist sympathizers during the Red Scare of the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt against Communists supposed to be hidden in the ranks of government, Hollywood, and throughout society. Thousands of people lost their jobs, were blacklisted from future employment in their fields, and were hounded and persecuted in society as a result of being suspected or condemned Communists – or Fellow Travelers.


    Lesser known, but much longer-lasting and no less destructive was the Lavender  Scare of the same period. McCarthy and his supporters turned their suspicions on those they deemed to be easy prey for blackmailers --- gays, lesbians, and others who seemed “different.”


    In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, prohibiting homosexuals from holding government positions. LGBTQ Americans had been under siege by their government since the forties, but Eisenhower’s new policy subjected thousands of suspected gay and lesbian government employees to investigation, interrogation, persecution, resignations, and firings.  Between 5,000 and 10,000 gays and lesbians quietly resigned or were fired. Many others managed to stay closeted, but curtailed their professional ambitions in order to stay under the radar. Some killed themselves. The policy remained in place until 1995, when President Bill Clinton rescinded it by executive order.


    Based on Thomas Mallon’s novel, Fellow Travelers is a story written in 2007 about events and attitudes from the 1950s that are still making headlines in 2022. Today, laws like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill which states that "A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels" and Texas’ laws denying gender-affirming medical treatment to transgender youth and targeting families with trans children for criminal intervention and separation threaten to force some people back into the closet. In Fellow Travelers, the deeply-closeted protagonists must hide their identities and their love for fear of losing their jobs, reputations, families, and social standing. This opera is an opportunity to explore the effects of “othering” people who deviate from whatever those in power have declared “normal.” 


    Despite the heavy subject matter, Fellow Travelers is ultimately a story of love and friendship between a young college grad experiencing his first job and first love affair with a man; a suave and experienced State Department official known as a bit of a player; and their good friend and colleague, a woman of courage and conviction who speaks her mind and follows her conscience. Gregory Spears’ score is accessible, intimate, and poignant.


    This is art that challenges and provokes thought even as it entertains. Get your tickets today and travel back to recent history, where the world may seem more familiar than you’d think.


    Fellow Travelers, April 23 – 28 at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. Tickets at Free motorcoach transportation from Miami --- register here

  • The reviews are in!

    Race to see this riveting Rigoletto! 


    No need to take our word that Rigoletto is opera at its grandest. Bill Hirschman of Florida Theater Onstage praised the “Glorious music flowing out of the orchestra pit under conductor Pacien Mazzagatti; fluid staging from director Kathleen Belcher; lush sets and costumes from a New Orleans production; and soaring vocal performances from the three solid leads.”



    Hirschman, who reviews theater and Broadway, was especially impressed with veteran baritone Todd Thomas in the title role. Thomas, he wrote, “… uses his baritone like an actor infusing lines with pure passion or a growling anger. His tall, broad-shouldered hunchback stomps around the court in the multi-colored motley … with seeming good-natured gaiety. But his face (for those in the front rows) communicates someone who hates the innate deception in the face of ridicule and abuse heaped on him daily.”


    Sharleen Joynt as Gilda was singled out for her beautiful singing and believable characterization. “Her voice effortlessly climbs and drops and trills through Verdi’s impassioned runs. As ludicrous as Gilda can be in 2022, Joynt makes her credible, even when she sacrifices her life for the scumbag Duke.”


    Speaking of the Duke, the character might be a jerk but he somehow gets the most memorable tunes, and Hirschman praised Jose Simerilla Romero’s “lush tenor as the Duke croons … with a salacious abandon that begs for a punishment that never comes.”



    It’s an exciting evening of opera at its grandest and singing at its best, so head on down to the Arsht tonight at 7:30 for the last Miami Rigoletto!  Can't make it tonight? There are two more performances, March 31 and April 2, at the Broward Performing Arts Center. Tickets at




    March is Women’s History Month, so let’s talk about the ladies of Rigoletto. Despite how badly the Duke speaks of women in his famous aria (“A woman is fickle, like a feather on the wind,” he sings), the opera’s two main female characters are nothing if not loyal. And while Gilda and Maddalena might not be feminist icons, they do remind us that many women around the world live in similar circumstances, even in the twenty-first century and offer the opportunity for important conversations about representation and art. 


    Gilda is Rigoletto’s daughter. “Sheltered” really isn’t a strong enough word to describe her. In his desire to protect her from the cruel world, Rigoletto keeps her locked up behind high garden walls. He won’t tell her anything about herself. She does not even know her own family name, or anything about her long-dead mother. As much as Rigoletto loves Gilda, he infantalizes her by isolating her and keeping her in ignorance in the name of purity and safety. Education would have been better protector for this courageous young woman. 


    Rigoletto’s libretto (story, or book) doesn’t specifically say how old Gilda is, but she is probably a young teenager, fifteen or sixteen. She is sweet and loving; father and daughter are very close and mean the world to each other. But Gilda is also extremely naïve. It isn’t hard for the worldly Duke to convince the dazzled young girl that he loves her. For Gilda, this first love is so exciting and overwhelming that even when she learns his true nature, she is willing to die for him. 



    Maddalena is Gilda’s polar opposite. Raised by her assassin brother to lure his victims into their home on the pretext of having a good time, she’s street-smart, cynical, and wise to the ways of men like the Duke. But even Maddalena can’t resist his appeal. After just one tryst, she begs Sparafucile to spare his life.  



    Maddalena is a throaty, velvety mezzo, befitting her sensual charms. Verdi casts Gilda as a very high soprano. She must sound young and pure, yet be able to negotiate the crystalline delicacy of “Caro nome,” the lovely expression of her very first love, a duet of filial love that spans joy, bittersweet nostalgia, and sorrow; the dramatic storm trio, and of course, the famous Act III quartet in which her father attempts to hammer home the Duke’s faithlessness. Praised for her "silvery, sparkling, substantial and resonant soprano" [Die Deutsche Bühne] and "an artistic command that leaves the listener breathless" [Deutschland Radio], our Gilda, Sharleen Joynt, is poised to make a stunning house debut.  

    The lively ladies of Rigoletto offer irresistible vocal skills and thrills, so get your tickets today at  March 12 – April 2, 2022. 




    Giuseppe Verdi had a problem that reared its annoying, frustrating head every time he composed another opera. He was great supporter of the Risorgimento (Reunification) Movement meant to unite the scattered city-states of Italy under the flag of King Emmanuel. (Verdi’s name was even used as a rallying cry --- “VERDI!” stood for “Viva Emmanuel, Re d’Italia” or “Long live Emmanuel, King of Italy!”). He was not afraid of criticizing the government, the church, or authority of any kind. But there was one authority with whom he was constantly in conflict: the censors. 


    The government censors’ job was to make sure that nothing was published that was too revolutionary, critical, or immoral, and they took their duties very seriously. They would never have let Verdi and his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, publish an opera that portrayed a living noble as a scoundrel.  


    That’s how the Duke of Mantua became one of opera’s most cheerful, unrepentant, and womanizing villains of all time. 


    There was a real Duke of Mantua during the Renaissance, when Rigoletto is set.  His name was Federico II Gonzago, and if the portrait painted of him by the famous Venetian artist Titian is to be believed, he was a looker. He was a great patron of the arts and also a serial bridegroom. Born a Marquise, he married a local Marquess for her land. When the Pope voided the contract as part of a prisoner exchange, he married a king’s cousin and became a Duke. Later the same year, he paid the king off to annul the marriage and remarried his first wife. When she died, he married her sister. Whether Federico II was a womanizer equal to his operatic counterpart is unknown, but he died of what one might delicately refer to as a lover’s illness. 


    However, Verdi and Piave did not base their philandering Duke on Federico II. Rigoletto is based on a Victor Hugo play called Le roi s’amuse (The King Amuses Himself). The play in turn is based on one of the most famous medieval jesters, a fellow named Triboulet who served under King Frances I, and the King is a character in the play.  


    A king with a wandering eye who dallied with his courtiers wives might play in libertine France, but it would never get past the Italian censors. So Verdi and Piave demoted the King to a Duke, and as an extra safety measure, chose a Duke whose royal line had died out in 1708. There was no one left to defend the honor of the duchy. That is how the noble Mantua family name became associated with one of the worst libertines in the operatic canon. 


    If Verdi sullied the family title just a little, he more than made up for it by giving Rigoletto’s Duke some of the most memorable music in the opera. “La donna è mobile” is arguably one of the catchiest and most recognizable tunes in history, even 170 years after it was written. It’s been used to hawk Doritos in two Superbowl ads, pasta, olive oil, tomato sauce, and breadsticks, with the Pillsbury Doughboy doing the singing. You’ve heard it in TV shows like The Sopranos, Family Guy, and Futurama, as well as many films.  


     “Quest’o’quella” is another toe-tapping aria in which the Duke sings of his philosophy about love and women. It’s been featured in films like Wall Street and TV shows like Star Trek Voyager. And the dastardly Duke even gets a meltingly beautiful love duet with Gilda and an equally gorgeous beautiful aria, “Ella mi fu rapita,” when he discovers that Gilda has been kidnapped. (Of course, that’s before he realizes his own courtiers took her and installed her in his bedroom). The guy may be a jerk, but he still gets some of the show’s best tunes!  


    While the real Duke of Mantua would doubtlessly have been unhappy with the association of his name with the operatic scoundrel, he and his family were historically great connoisseurs and supporters of all manner of the arts. Perhaps once he heard the irresistible music Verdi composed for him, all would be forgiven. Judge for yourself!


    Rigoletto runs March 12 – April 2. Tickets available at  



    The court jester is a timeless trope. Somehow, this court clown from the Middle Ages entered and stayed in our collective consciousness. We see symbols of them in the colorful, tri-horned, belled hats that today often signify revelry (think Mardi Gras). Also known as fools, buffoons, clowns, jongleurs, and many other names, jesters existed all over the world and were especially important in China. However, our Rigoletto is Italian, so we will confine our exploration to the European tradition. 


    Jesting at court emerged as a profession in the Middle Ages, and the choosing of jesters was apparently quite egalitarian. According to Beatrice K. Otter, author of Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World, they might be recruited from a high or low background. They might be serfs or scholars, defrocked monks, trained actors, or people suffering from medical conditions that affected their appearance in such a way as to make them seem humorous to the unenlightened society. The main requirements for success were a quick wit and tongue, and other entertainment skills such as gymnastics, dance, singing, juggling, recitations, insults, and of course, comedy. 


    However, jesters provided much more than comic relief. They were also counselors and advisers to the rulers. They were given the right to speak freely, even to the king they served, up to and including criticizing their policies in a way even trusted courtiers and advisors were not free to do. Jesters therefore served an important purpose at court: they put important matters into perspective with humor, allowing a ruler to receive feedback in a nonthreatening way that did not offend his consequence. Jesters were rock stars in their day. If they made it to the king’s court, they were the talk of the nation. 



    Verdi’s hunchbacked and embittered Rigoletto is not that kind of a fool. Hated by the court for his sharp tongue, even his debauched employer warns him that he “always takes the joke too far.” And indeed, out of his own mouth Rigoletto sets his fate in motion. First, he encourages the Duke to steal Count Ceprano’s wife, teasing that he could imprison, banish, or even execute the Count to get him out of the way. Then, he mocks the noble Count Monterone, who has come to insist that the Duke make amends for dishonoring his daughter, and is cursed by the grieving father. 


    The tale might be sordid if it weren’t for two things: Rigoletto’s deep love and gratitude for his daughter, Gilda, and Verdi’s transcendent and rich score.  From the rowdy revelry of the Duke’s court, to the spun silver of an innocent girl’s ode to love; to a father’s fury and anguish; to a magnificent vocal and orchestral storm of both nature and emotion, Rigoletto is a musical masterpiece. 


    March 12 – April 2. Get your tickets at

  • The real-life jester that inspired Rigoletto


    The second show of our 80th Anniversary Season is Verdi's Rigoletto, the first opera of what has come to be known as Verdi's "Popular Trilogy." The other two operas in the trilogy are La traviata and Il trovatore. Certainly three of Verdi's most popular works today, they represent Verdi's achievement of maturity as a composer, when his full dramatic and compositional creativity reached full bloom.  


    Composer Giuseppe Verdi and librettist Francesco Maria Piave's Rigoletto is based on Triboulet, the anti-hero of Victor Hugo's play Le roi s'amuse (The King Amuses Himself). Hugo's jester, in turn, is based on a real-life court jester of the same name, who served at the courts of the French Kings Louis XII and Francis I. Triboulet suffered from microcephaly, resulting in a bowed back, long arms, and short, twisted legs. The court found his appearance humorous. But Triboulet was intelligent and witty. He made the most of his position and had much power and liberty at court. 





    Left: illustration by Jules-Arsene Garnier for Victor Hugo's 1832 play, Le roi s'amuse






    However, Triboulet's antics sometimes got him in trouble, and once, they came close to getting him killed. In jest, he slapped the king on his backside. Instead of being rewarded with laughter, he was immediately sentenced to death. However, the king took mercy and said that if Triboulet could come up with an apology more offensive than the act he had committed, he would be spared. 

    "Pardon me, your Majesty!" Triboulet cried. "I didn't recognize you --- I thought you were the Queen!" 

    Unfortunately for Triboulet, this response was too offensive --- Her Majesty was off-limits. Once again, the king ordered the jester's execution, but due to his long years of good service, he granted him the opportunity to choose his own manner of death. 

    Invoking the patron saints of insanity, Triboulet replied, "Good sire, I choose to die of old age."  



    Mean-spirited jokes aside, Verdi's Rigoletto does not bear much of a resemblance to the historical Triboulet. However, he does have a great virtue never attributed to the real court jester: a deep and abiding love for his daughter, Gilda. This is what makes Verdi's Rigoletto sympathetic and lies at the heart of his story --- a story magnified in its beauty by Verdi's magnificent score. From the Duke's insouciant arias about infidelity, Rigoletto and Gilda's loving duets, Gilda's crystalline "Caro nome," Rigoletto's rage aria "Corigianni," and of course the Storm Trio and famous quartet, this score sports more gems than the Duke's latest mistress. 


    Rigoletto runs March 12 – April 2. Tickets at









    Right: Todd Thomas as Rigoletto, one of his signature roles.

  • Tired but happy, the show must go on!


    Staff and Studio Artists at the Doral Opera Center are tired but happy today.


    A Streetcar Named Desire was a smashing success, both artistically and critically. Roberto San Juan of Pro Ópera raved:


    “ … one of the most outstanding pieces in the modern operatic repertoire… set design by Steven C. Kemp ... a visual metaphor for Blanche's mental instability ... Howard Tsvi Kaplan 's costumes , varied and rich in detail … “


     “… magnificent Elizabeth Caballero …has a powerful voice, highly versatile, capable of providing numerous expressive nuances…”


    “The tenor Nicholas Huff was a solid Mitch, gallant and with a certain innocence. The magnificent dialogue scene with Blanche in the second act was followed by his aria 'I'm not a boy, she says', much applauded.”





    Lawrence Budmen of South Florida Classical Review called the opera “a bold choice” and praised the cast:

    “Elizabeth Caballero dominated every scene.”


    “(Hadleigh) Adam’s strong baritone and striking stage presence belied his late encounter with the role.”


    “Nicholas Huff was a gentle and appealing Harold Mitchell. His fine grained lyric tenor captured the character’s kind heartedness.”


    And Michelle Solomon in the Biscayne Times wrote, “Ambitious on many levels, Streetcar is a daring and satisfying return to opera, the perfect crescendo for an audience wanting to see something challenging that will coax them out of their COVID malaise.”


    It’d be nice to rest on our laurels, but there’s a lot of work to be done! Today, we’re enjoying a serenade from our Studio Artists as they prepare for their next performances. One minute, it’s the firey, romantic Latin sounds of Zarzuela. The concert is February 11, just in time for the perfect Valentine’s Day date.



    When they’re not making us dance in our seats with Zarzuela, the Studio Artists are getting our blood racing with selections for the upcoming Real Life = Verismo Concert, featuring soaring melodies from operas like Puccini’s La bohème that make you want to leap up and belt out an aria yourself.



    Last but certainly not least, we’re getting a preview of next mainstage opera, Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. It’s a great story of a flawed father’s love for his daughter and the revenge he attempts on the unworthy man who seduces her.  Verdi’s irresistible score ranges from delicate sweetness to insouciance to incandescent rage. Onstage, you’ll see beautiful costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, who designed our gorgeous vintage looks for Streetcar, and a grand set by Lawrence Shafer. If you like traditional opera with rousing tunes and full-bodied singing, Rigoletto will thrill you!

    If you missed out on A Streetcar Named Desire, Zarzuela, Real Life = Verismo, and Rigoletto are the perfect way to get back on track. Get your tickets at


  • Jeffrey Marc Buchman, Stage Director and Creative Collaborator



    Stage director Jeffrey Marc Buchman is known for his creativity, thoughtful approach, and collaboration with his artists. The reviews for his A Streetcar Named Desire at Florida Grand Opera reflect the care with which he attends his craft.


    “Drawing vivid portraits from all of the singers, director Jeffrey Buchman emphasized the tension and danger between the protagonists. The production’s velocity and high drama were consistently gripping,” wrote Lawrence Budmen in the South Florida Classical Review.


    Bill Hirschman of Florida Theater Onstage called the production “as finely directed and acted as if it were a conventional play …”


    Pretty impressive for a sophisticated, three-hour work staged in five days with a cast and conductor who were all debuting their roles. “When you have really thoughtful singing actors who are as prepared as they all are, you really hit the ground running,” Buchman said. “Sometimes when I have these fast-paced staging schedules, I sketch the blocking in first to give the singers an idea of where they’re going, and then go back and fill in details. I didn’t feel that was the right approach. I felt we needed to hit the details as we went along.”  Buchman didn’t want the singers to become entrenched in their interpretations too soon.


    Despite the fast pace of staging, Buchman didn’t feel that the singers were panicked. “This is a show where the actors have to give themselves over to the piece in quite an emotional way.  If there’s a part of the brain that has to stay fixated on the music, then it becomes very hard to let go. That’s the hardest thing about these fast rehearsal processes.”


    Buchman’s vision for A Streetcar Named Desire, he said, “is to dig us as deep into the layers of these very complex characters as far as we can go. There’s nothing about them that we can approach just on the surface.” He used the character of Stella, whose role is often seen as tertiary to the more volatile Stanley and Blanche, to illustrate. “What makes Stella leave home? “ He asked. “What drew Stella to a man like Stanley? What has she denied of her past that Blanche, by coming back, has brought back to the surface? Why, in the end, does she not choose to believe her sister? When you let the actors process these things --- they’re not black and white --- that’s where the richness of these roles comes from.”


    In preparing to direct a show, Buchman tries to work through each character’s arc and comes to rehearsal with an idea of something he feels works naturally. “But I try not to impose that on the artists. I really want to allow them to bring the path that they’ve envisioned for these characters. But as soon as I see them taking us in a direction where I don’t feel we’ll be able to get back to the bigger arc, that’s where I stop and pose questions. Together we find whether this path is something that’s more interesting than I originally planned, or if it’s not going to work with the next moment I’ve planned. You’ve got to honor singers’ instincts as actors and allow them to take ownership over their choices and their characters.”


    Your last chance to explore Buchman’s acclaimed vision for A Streetcar Named Desire comes on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, 7:30 PM and Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, 7:30 PM at the Broward Performing Arts Center. See for tickets.

  • Jumping out, jumping in


    Baritone Hadleigh Adams sings the role of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. He joins us again in April as Hawkins Fuller in Fellow Travelers.




    What is that? It sounds like a particularly bouncy kind of antelope. In reality, it’s just another one of those fancy German words that means “to jump in.” In the world of opera, an Einspringen or a jump-in means precisely what it sounds like: a singer jumping into a role at the last minute.


    It doesn’t happen every show, but the need to replace a cast member happens pretty regularly for a wide variety of reasons. A performer could fall ill, have a personal situation arise, or receive the proverbial “offer you can’t refuse.” At some point in their careers, most successful singers must ask to be released from a contract so they can pursue an opportunity that they and their managers feel is especially important to career advancement.


    In the case of A Streetcar Named Desire, New Zealand baritone Hadleigh Adams is jumping into the key role of Stanley Kowalski after Steven LaBrie was invited to join the international tour of the opera ensemble Il Divo following the death of member Carlos Marin.


    It’s tough for everyone when this type of jump-in happens. The singer often agonizes over the decision. They usually are eager to sing the role they were hired for and understand that cancellations are very hard on the company they’re leaving. They also don’t want to burn any bridges.


    Casts are carefully selected for a variety of factors, including vocal balance and the artists' experience level, knowledge of the role,and other issues of compatibility. Contemporary roles are challenging to replace because relatively few qualified and available artists know them. Therefore, cancellations, especially last-minute, constitute a significant hardship for opera companies. 


    Jump-ins also place a lot of pressure on the artists. Opera singers in the US must show up with roles learned and memorized unless there are special circumstances such as a jump-in. In that case, the artistic staff not only understands but goes the extra mile to give the artist what they need to learn the role quickly and comfortably.


    This may all sound like a lot of fuss and stress --- and it is! But it is also a normal part of opera life. And while we expect you’d be impressed with Hadleigh Adams whether or not you knew he was performing this Herculean task, it can’t help but add to the excitement of opening night when you see this consummate musician step on the stage in the epic role he learned start to finish in just a couple of weeks. Don’t miss this exciting performance ---get your tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire today at January 22 – February 5 in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.




    The Doral Opera Center is humming with energy. In just a few days, our A Streetcar Named Desire artists arrive to begin rehearsals for the January 22 premiere. That’s right: we will put together this complicated work in just two short weeks. Every moment of every day counts.  

    The first day sets the pace. Singers jokingly refer to the first day of rehearsal as the “first day of school.” It’s exciting. You’re starting a new production and meeting new people who will be very important to you over the next couple of weeks. Often, you are meeting new colleagues who you may be expected to shortly pretend to know very well, including various forms of physical intimacy (yes, it’s as awkward as it sounds). You may also get to see old friends --- always one of the best parts of being an itinerant artist.  


    You’re also learning a great deal. The “first day of school” is when everyone gets to know one another and initial expectations are laid out. What does a typical first day of rehearsal look like? 


    The “first day of school” is a big day, especially for the stars, conductor, director, rehearsal pianist, and stage managers, who are present and working almost all the time. Most of the time, the artists arrive the day before rehearsal begins, although it’s not unheard of for a busy schedule to mean you rush offstage from one performance, wiping the makeup off as you run to the plane that will take you to your next gig.  


    Sometimes there is a company meeting to start, during which the General Director welcomes everyone. And introductions are made, including the administrative, production, and artistic staff. The stage director then discusses his or her vision for the show; the conductor may offer some general comments; and usually you get a peek at the set and costume design.  


    Next, it’s time for the first musical rehearsal. This is a read-through of the entire score with piano, so everybody can see where they stand. Initial tempi (the speeds of the pieces) are set. The conductor makes notes about where singers like to breathe, where they need more time, where they might like to speed up a bit, and so on. They decide how they will conduct certain measures to offer the greatest clarity. All the artists are making preliminary artistic decisions as they begin to understand how they can best work together. It’s a very exciting time.  


    After a break, staging begins. FGO does not own its performance venues, so we rehearse in the Balfe Rehearsal Studio here at the Doral Opera Center. In the beginning, rehearsals always take place with piano (it would be enormously expensive and complicated to work with a full orchestra every time, and it's simply not needed). Staging rehearsals, especially in the beginning, don't happen on the set you'll see in the theater, either, or in costume, or even with real props. Most of the time, the artists rehearse in their street clothes (though they may have rehearsal skirts or items like hats and gloves to work with). They also use rehearsal props. Think of them as understudies for the real props that will be used on stage! They might look similar or have similar functions, or you may be handed a rolled-up towel to serve as a baby. The looks aren't important; it's just important that you can work with them in staging and it's not a big deal if they get damaged. Rehearsal processes can get rough at times! 


    Not everyone will be called to every rehearsal, either.  If your character isn’t involved in a scene, you may have a costume or wig fitting, musical coaching, interview, or simply have the time off. Perhaps there will be a welcome dinner hosted by the board or patrons, but there might just be … more staging. With only two weeks to get a show on its feet, there is no time to waste. 


    This template, of course, varies from company to company and also depends on who’s in charge. The director generally sets the schedule, with input from the conductor and other personnel who need some of the artist’s time (usually the wardrobe or wig/makeup department, but also marketing and sometimes development). It can feel like everyone wants a piece of you, but it’s all in service of making you, the singer, look and feel great as you do your job. That’s the other thing that makes First Day of School so exciting and fun --- the knowledge that everyone is glad you’re finally here, and that you have the opportunity to make art together. What could be better than that? 


    Come see our artists put it all together in A Streetcar Named Desire, January 22- February 5. Get your tickets today!


  • From iconic play to iconic opera



    A Tennessee Williams play set as an opera is incredibly rare. Over the years, Williams was approached many times by composers hoping to transform one of his masterpieces into an opera, and the most requested title? A Streetcar Named Desire.


    One by one, Williams turned his would-be collaborators down. He granted permission for his works to be set to music twice during his lifetime. In 1955, he allowed an acquaintance from his artistic circles, the British composer Raffaello de Banfield, to set his 1946 one-act, Lord Byron’s Love Letter.


    Sixteen years later, impressed with the work of composer Lee Hoiby, Williams opened his catalog and gave permission for Hoiby to set any play he pleased. Hoiby chose Summer and Smoke, a work from the same period as A Streetcar Named Desire, with many similar themes.


    It took six long years for the famous cinema, jazz, and classical composer/pianist/conductor André Previn to negotiate permission from the Tennessee Williams estate to adapt his most iconic play into what would become an iconic opera. A Streetcar Named Desire is the only other major Williams play to be set as an opera. Permission was granted by Williams’ estate for a commission from San Francisco Opera in 1994.


    For years, critics had remarked on the operatic scope of the play. Tensely dramatic from the moment the curtain rises, rich with poetic language that somehow sounds natural in the soft accents of the South, A Streetcar Named Desire seemed a natural choice for transition to the lyric stage. That’s before we even get to the music. From the ever-present rinky-dink blues piano to the increasingly sinister “Varsouviana” folk dance that repeats in protagonist Blanche DuBois’s head, the music is critical to the play, almost a character in itself. It’s as if Williams imagined a cinematic underscoring. There was no better choice to adapt the play into an opera than André Previn. With 41 film scores to his credit, including classics like Irma La DouceElmer Gantry, Gigi, and Long Day’s Journey into Night, Previn brilliantly set librettist Philip Littlel’s adaptation in a way that underscores the action beautifully and dramatically.


    If you love the play, the opera will not disappoint you. Adapted many times as a film, made-for-TV movies, and even a Spanish-language version produced by a local Latinx theatre troupe, A Streetcar Named Desire is a classic worthy of many retellings. And if you aren’t familiar with the story, you’ll enjoy experiencing Williams’ powerful storytelling enhanced Previn’s tremendous score and the most unique use of the human voice ever imagined.


    Get your tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire.

  • Dressing the Divas



    One of the great hidden treasures of the backstage opera world is Mr. Howard Tsvi Kaplan, costume designer extraordinaire. Ask any singer --- they’ve worn his costumes. If they’re lucky, like sopranos Elizabeth Caballero and Rebecca Krynski Cox (our Blanche and Stella for January’s A Streetcar Named Desire), he has designed costumes especially for them. Howard has designed hundreds of operas, plays, and musical theatre productions --- more than he can remember when put on the spot.


    Many opera companies rent costumes for a particular show from a variety of rental companies. One of the biggest and best-known is Malabar Limited (which currently boasts no fewer than nine of Howard’s complete show designs for rent). FGO usually rents, but for a show like Streetcar, which requires many detailed pieces, we decided to build our costumes. And that’s where Howard comes in.


    “I wanted Blanche’s clothes to be more eccentric than she’s sometimes portrayed,” he says.  “There are lots of details, like making the buttonholes on her white suit red or using both shiny and matte sides of the fabric in her designs. I wanted her to be colorful. With such a big house and such a great-shaped performer, I was looking for things to help emphasize the lines and give more geometry to the clothes.”


    Howard’s design process begins very much like a singer who is preparing a new role. First, he reads the libretto and any source material --- in the case of Streetcar, librettist Phillip Littell’s nearly word-for-word interpretation of the original Tennessee Williams’ play --- and then begins to research the period from a historical perspective. He researches online and in his own collection of books and vintage patterns. “I always read the sources and do the research,” Howard says, noting that knowing the performer and body type he’s designing is a great advantage. “It’s important to me to emphasize the silhouette of the period,” he says.


    For Streetcar, Howard says, a lot of the looks he discovered in his research were either too fancy or too subdued. So he perused vintage patterns and historical reproduction clothing sites to find what he was looking for, and created storyboards that include fabric swatches, photos, patterns, and notes. “I didn’t feel a need to re-render them,” Howard says, referring to the step in the design process in which the designer sketches his or her vision for the finished costumes. “The storyboards help your collaborators in the shop know what you’re looking for in the shapes. All the info is basically on those patterns.”


    Not every costume is being built. There are a few vintage pieces in the show. Be on the lookout for the Nurse’s authentic 1940s suit, many of the men’s vests, and some of the high-waisted pants, which were purchased from a military surplus company. Other pieces are purchased through companies that create period replica clothing prized by certain countercultures and fans. “A lot of everyday items like aprons and pants wore out,” Howard explains. “We’re purchasing replicas and will age the clothing to make it look like it’s old. You can buy period bowling shirts and pants, or t-shirts with buttons.” Here’s a fun fact: the über-macho Stanley Kowalski will be wearing women’s t-shirts for a better fit. “T-shirts from that period were skintight,” Howard explains.  


    He also describes his choices for Steven LaBrie, the artist who will sing the role of Stanley. “Steven LaBrie has a great shape to be Stanley --- he looks like he’s been out working all day. I chose rayon knits for his shirts so they would fit the body --- high-waisted pants with tapered tops. I like clothes for him with a little geometric blocking. Bold stripes, larger scale patterns which can be seen from the back of the house.”


    Stanley’s wife, Stella, is pregnant throughout much of the show, and Howard wanted to find silhouettes that showed the progression of the pregnancy. “I loved the pattern covers of the maternity outfits and tried to get as close to them as possible,” he says.


    The action takes place during a sultry New Orleans summer, so it’s especially important that the clothing reflect the results of heat and humidity. “We’re not pressing Blanche’s travel dress,” Howard says. “It’s linen and the natural wrinkles will show that she’s been traveling.” The wardrobe artists will stain t-shirts to make them look sweaty. “I think people think we can just go buy an old pair of shoes,” says Howard. “It’s the aging of the clothing, finding the right yellowed t-shirt with the right stains that read from a distance, or buying a brand new pair of shoes and taking them from the grinder and dragging them behind a car. We had to wash Stella’s fabric twenty-five times in Borax just to get it a little limper.”



    Being a relatively modern and realistic show, Streetcar’s fashions are a far cry from the extravagant velvets and luscious silks we’ll see in our March production of Rigoletto (yes, Howard designed that one, too, and it’s one of his favorites). Still, if you’re a fan of 40s’ style, you’ll love the looks Howard and his team have whipped up, from Blanche’s pristine white traveling suit to her periwinkle blue lace and chiffon ball gown complete with rhinestone tiara. And there’s nothing quite like seeing an artist bring a costume design to life, even as the costume itself helps the artist embody the character. It’s theatrical magic.


    Blanche DuBois, the great fan of magic and illusion, would approve.

    Get your tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire today.


    Maestro Gregory Buchalter tells us what to listen for and how he prepares a score like A Streetcar Named Desire


    “You can hear the streetcar in the music.”


    Maestro Greg Buchalter, conductor for FGO’s upcoming A Streetcar Named Desire, is excited about  --- well, pretty much everything about Andre Previn’s setting of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning Tennessee Williams play.


    “I’m very passionate about Previn’s work,” Buchalter says. “I’ve always admired him very much. I wish he were still alive so I could have a conversation with him.”


    He described the opening chords, in which you can hear a streetcar rattling down the tracks and picking up speed, the cinematic influences on the score from Previn’s work as a film composer, and the jazz elements, such as a special jazz ensemble within the orchestra that frequently plays independently of the orchestra for dramatic effect.


    “The great thing about Streetcar is that it follows the play almost exactly. That was a great headstart that Previn had,” Buchalter says. “He sometimes deliberately creates dissonance in dramatic moments. There are other places where it’s so tonal. He creates the music very well in terms of the characters."


    Previn’s score is new to most South Florida audiences. Asked what to listen for, the maestro recommended paying attention to the use of tonality versus dissonance in the music. Previn uses stable-sounding tonality for peaceful moments, such as Stella’s old-fashioned, melodic, lush harmonies in her jazz-influenced aria “I can hardly stand it.” But when she clashes with Stanley, the music becomes angry, dissonant, violent. The pattern repeats itself throughout the opera, underscoring the action onstage and the emotions of the characters.


    Buchalter is also new to the Streetcar score. He is often asked to take on contemporary pieces. Asked how he prepares a score like Streetcar, he offered,” What I always tell people is because the subject matter came before the music, I start with that. If it’s an opera I don’t know,  I start with the text. I translate. When I have the actual text in front of me, not the story but the actually text, I imagine that I’m the composer and think about how I would set it.”


    He also reads the source material --- plays or books that the story might originate from --- and watches any film versions, seeking to understand why the composer chose to set text as he or she did. Next, he plays through the score on the piano to immerse himself in its full picture.


    Buchalter also prepares by coaching the singers, like Elizabeth Caballero, who will sing the difficult and taxing role of Blanche DuBois. “We’re getting a head start in our collaboration which helps me learn the score too.”


    A score never really comes together, however, until after the first musical rehearsal, Buchalter says. “One of the last operas I conducted was La bohème --- one of the most frequently performed operas. I know it really well. But flexibility is the most important part for anybody in the arts. Even though I know how it should go, my tempos don’t mean anything until I get to know the voices. Until I meet my new cast, I really don’t know how it’s going to go.”


    The Streetcar cast arrives on January 7 to begin the fascinating rehearsal process. As they collaborate and learn from Buchalter, stage director Jeffrey Buchman, and each other, the confusing scramble of words and notes on the page will coalesce into lyric theatre magic.


    “Every person I work with I learn something from,” Buchalter says of the process. “There’s no formula, especially when working with singers. Every singer is unique.” 

    Jump aboard this Streetcar!

  • What is the Studio and why are we celebrating with it?


    Here in the opera offices, we’re decorating for the holiday season. As we string lighted garlands and select beloved ornaments to adorn our desks we are serenaded by the sounds of our Studio Artists as they prepare for the annual Holiday Pops concert on December 4. No elevator music in the opera offices --- all our music is live and lively! It’s one of our perks.


    Holiday Pops is one of the many concerts our Studio Artists perform throughout the season in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The SAs, as we call them, are a very special group of singers who have risen to the top in a grueling competition not unlike America’s Got Talent (or maybe the Hunger Games). Every fall, thousands of young singers across the nation apply to audition for Florida Grand Opera’s Studio. Only five hundred are heard; and of those, only seven are chosen seven to come to Miami as the city’s hottest young opera stars. This is indeed an elite group.


    Why do singers fight so hard to join the FGO Studio? What is the Studio, anyway?

    Most opera singers begin their formal training in a university music department or a conservatory. They often supplement their studies in summer training programs, and once they graduate, audition for paid apprenticeships (also called Young Artist Programs or YAPs for short).


    In a YAP, singers usually receive training in subjects like languages, acting, finances, and the business of singing, in addition to vocal coaching. They may get to have voice lessons or masterclasses with visiting artists. They might perform opera scenes, concerts, touring children’s operas, and small mainstage roles, and even cover (understudy) larger roles. The YAP lasts anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the opera company sponsoring them. YAPs are an important stepping stone in career development because they provide additional training, experience, and connections. Usually, Young Artists are just starting their careers and do not have a great deal of professional experience. They are apprentices.


    Soprano Elizabeth Caballero will star as Blanche DuBois in this season's A Streetcar Named Desire.

    Instead of a YAP, FGO has a Studio Artist program. This select group of artists consists of early-career singers who are here to polish their skills and gain experience on a major stage. The emphasis is not on training, but on learning by doing. Yes, our Studio Artists perform concerts --- in fact, they have their own concert series --- but they also perform mainstage roles and when doing so, are considered to be no different than any other visiting artist. They are under the direction of Artistic Administration Mitch Roe and the artistic leadership of FGO General Director and CEO, Susan T. Danis.


    And the results? FGO’s Studio Artist program is internationally recognized as a highly competitive and comprehensive career development program. Graduates of the program include Grammy-winning soprano Jessica E. Jones, Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone Craig Colclough, and tenor Nicholas Huff who returns this season to appear alongside Miami’s own international star soprano and Studio alumna, Elizabeth Caballero, in this season’s A Streetcar Named Desire.


    So, when you come to the Holiday Pops Concert, you’re not just hearing some beautiful, fun, cheerful seasonal music. You’re hearing Christmas, Hannukah, secular popular songs, and opera performed by five of the crème de la crème of American rising stars. And once you hear them, you’ll understand why the holidays are especially jolly at FGO!


    Soprano Elizabeth Caballero will star as Blanche DuBois in this season's A Streetcar Named Desire.

  • Welcome backstage, where the magic happens!


    Everybody wants to know how the magic works. As much as we all love to hear the glorious music and see the beautiful costumes, sets, and lighting, it’s always a special treat to pull back the curtain and get a glimpse of the extraordinary efforts that go into creating a show --- especially opera.


    Why is opera worthy of such a callout? Richard Wagner had a special word for what opera is: Gesamtkunstwerk (geh-zam-koonst-verk). And while you may be tempted to respond “Gesundheit!,” this long German word translates simply to “collected artwork.” It means that opera is like a lovely quilt, made up of every kind of art you can think of. Painting, light sculpting, fashion, architecture, poetry, literature, dance, acting, instrumental and vocal music --- opera brings all art forms together in a delicious feast for the eyes and ears, and here at FGO’s brand new Backstage Blog, we’re going to show you how.


    You’ll get to see inside our costume shop where we’re building the beautiful period pieces for our January 22- February 5 production of A Streetcar Named Desire. You’ll witness the effort and the angst as hundreds of talented young singers vie for a position in our coveted Opera Studio --- and why they go to such lengths to win a position. You’ll have the opportunity submit questions and story ideas about the things you’ve always wanted to know. And you’ll ride along with our mainstage artists as they create the magic you’ll later see on stage.


    We want to hear from you, too! What have you always wanted to know about backstage business? Do you have a question for an artist, director, conductor, or designer? Ask here.


    “I want magic!” sings Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Stick with us here at the Backstage Blog, Blanche. We'll show you where the magic happens! 



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