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  • 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.


    An Inside Look at the First Day of Rehearsals

    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.

  • You Can Hear the Streetcar in the Music



    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.


    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.


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