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  • Librettist of the Month: Giovacchino Forzano
    11/28/2022

     

    Giovacchino Forzano (joe-va-kee-no fortz-ah-no) lived a long and storied life. Born in Borgo San Lorenzo, Italy in 1884, he is best known in the opera world for writing the libretti for Puccini’s only comedy, Gianni Schicchi, and its sentimental companion piece Suor Angelica. But his life took many twists and turns both before and after. 

     

     

    As a young man, he studied medicine before undertaking a brief career as a professional operatic baritone, performing mostly in small theaters in Tuscany. He next earned a law degree, then became a freelance journalist and wrote for many of Italy’s major newspapers.  

     

    Forzano met the great composer Giacomo Puccini in 1914. They became friends, and Puccini asked him to write the libretti for his trio of one-act operas, Il trittico (The Tryptych). Forzano declined to write the first of the three, Il tabarro (The Cloak) because its plot was already decided, and he preferred to create his own. He wrote the libretti for the other two one-acts, Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica.  

     

     

    Il trittico premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on December 14, 1918, and was such a huge success that Forzano was immediately in demand as a librettist. He wrote for Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Umberto Giordano, and Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, to name a few of his prominent collaborators, but none of his libretti had the success of the first two.  

     

    Forzano also wrote plays. These were considered to be on the lighter side in terms of literary value, but they were extremely popular and he was one of the most-produced playwrights in Italy during the 1920s and -30s. From 1920- 1930, he served as the stage director at La Scala, and also directed at the Rome Opera, London's Covent Garden and the Paris Opera. But then his career took a dark turn. 

     

    Forzano was by this time a high-profile man of the theater. His various accomplishments brought him to the attention of Benito Mussolini, who wished to collaborate with him in writing a play. The first was Campo di Maggio (1931), which despite its international staging, enjoyed only very short runs. Forzano went on to write two more plays with Mussolini, and subsequently wrote and directed propaganda films, such as 1933’s Camicia nera (Black Shirt), created to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Mussolini’s regime.  

     

     

    At his death in Rome in 1970, a family member told the New York Times, “The maestro never was a member of the Fascist party despite his artistic assistance to Mussolini.” Regardless, the association proved inescapable, and after the fall of the Fascist regime, Forzano never regained his former position as a cultural figure or playwright. 

     

     

    Fortunately for us, Gianni Schicchi dates from a much earlier, happier time in Forzano’s life. From the relatives arguing over who will mourn Buoso the longest to Zita’s honest lament, “Who would have thought that when Buoso went to the cemetery, we would be crying for real!”, Forzano demonstrates his skill is reflected in the laugh-a-minute libretto. Set to Puccini’s brilliant score, it makes for a gem of a comedy. Enjoy it from January 28 – February 11, 2023. Tickets at fgo.org or 800.741.1010. 

     

    For Italian speakers who would like to learn more, there are some short films and interviews available on YouTube:  

     

    Giovacchino Forzana ricorda Giacomo Puccini (in Italian) 
     

    Musicisti della mia vita (1963, in Italian) 
     

     

  • The Final Meal of Buoso Donati
    11/14/2022

     

     

    Roast turkey and green bean casserole. Dressing. Pumpkin pie or flan. Cranberry sauce. Thanksgiving is coming up quickly and we’re all looking forward to our favorite dishes—or maybe dreading that awful lime Jell-o marshmallow cottage cheese concoction that Aunt Bertha insists on bringing, or Uncle Stu’s indigestible ham and banana casserole.   

     

     

     

    Food plays an important part in both Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. In Schicchi, as the Donati family rages over the allocations in recently deceased Uncle Buoso’s will, they rant about the rich delicacies found in his larder: quail, fattened geese, fruits and vegetables, songbirds, cockerels, and more. All of these will now go to fatten up the residents of the local monastery instead of Buoso’s own family! Cousin Betto is especially upset that the friars will be enjoying the contents of Buoso’s excellent wine cellar, while he must resign himself to drinking the swill in his hometown of Signa. The Donati family won’t stand for it, and that’s where the lawyer Gianni Schicchi and his bag of tricks come in. Under the guise of helping the deceitful Donatis, Schicchi ends up helping himself!  

     

     

    In Michael Ching’s equally funny and tuneful sequel, Buoso’s Ghost, Schicchi is enjoying his new home and decides to have a snack. He opens the larder to survey the goodies which, as it turns out, the relatives had brought themselves to tempt the ailing Buoso’s appetite. But after just one bite, Schicchi realizes that this feast could be his last, just as it was Buoso’s. When the Donatis appear at his door, raging for revenge and ready to accuse him of murder, the lawyer must once again call upon his wits to save the day. 

     

    With their clever and beautiful scores, Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost are feasts for the funny bone and the ear. So after you’ve enjoyed the last spoonful of pumpkin flan and slipped Aunt Bertha’s “ambrosia” to the dog, you might want to make plans for this musical and mental treat. January 28 – February 11. Tickets at fgo.org

     

    Oh --- and Happy Thanksgiving! 

     

  • Last Chance for The Secret Marriage!
    11/14/2022

     

    Tomorrow is your last chance to catch our colorful, hilarious El matrimonio secreto. It’s a truly charming piece that doesn’t come around as often as it should, and you won’t want to miss out. 

    Lindsay Fuori’s set for the fictional South Beach Hotel Paraiso is pure 1980s Art Deco glamour, complete with funky geometric bedspreads, an amazing turquoise bar, and a glass-block above-ground swimming pool.

     

    Vanessa Becerra as Carolina and Joseph McBrayer as Paolino.

     

    Jeff Adelburg’s spectacular and colorful lighting sets everything off so amazingly that it’s almost a character in and of itself. Steven Bryant’s permed mullets on the young men and big, teased hair on the women is to die for, not to mention the spot-on bright 80s makeup. And Darío Almirón’s costumes are a walk down memory lane for anyone who lived through the 80s. In short, the look of this show is so delightful and familiar that you’ll feel like you’re time-traveling.  

     

    Fidalma (Erin Alford), Geronimo (Phillip Lopez) and Elisetta (Catalina Cuervo) confront Carolina (Vanessa Becerra). 

     

    The FGO orchestra under Darwin Aquino (also one of the translators) sparkles its way through Domenico Cimarosa’s lively score. From its Mozart-esque overture to the Rossini-like ensembles, the FGO orchestra is an energetic partner to the plot and the singers onstage. The Sunday matinee audience alternatively chuckled and bravo’d its way through the show, and gave rousing ovations.  

    El matrimonio secreto is a spirited start to FGO’s 81st Season, and there’s only one more performance. Don’t miss your chance to catch it on Tuesday, November 15, at 8 p.m. at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. If you love learning a bit more about the show you’re seeing, get there by 7 for Matt Cooksey’s fun and informative pre-show lecture. Tickets at fgo.org, or call 800.741.1010.  

  • MEET THE CAST: EL MATRIMONIO SECRETO
    11/04/2022

     

    L-R: Michael Pandolfo, Ashley Shalna, Phillip Lopez, Joseph McBrayer, Vanessa Becerra, Erin Alford, Page Michels. Not shown: Catalina Cuervo.

     

    It’s rare these days to have the luxury of a full cast for a marketing photo and video shoot, and it’s always of paramount importance to keep the artists’ energy level and emotional state in mind. After all, their main job is to save that energy and focus for the stage, so they can entertain, move, and excite YOU.  

    There was no need to worry about any of that with the cast of El matrimonio secreto. It’s a fun group that completely embraces the fun, humor, and liveliness of the show, and they can’t wait to share it with our South Florida audience. But before you meet them on stage, let’s meet this stunning array of artists on the page, find out more about their careers, and their answers to some of the crazy questions we asked. 

     

    Metropolitan Opera soprano Vanessa Becerra makes her FGO and role debut as Carolina, Geronimo’s youngest daughter, who has secretly married his employee. Bercerra is of Peruvian and Mexican-American descent and is a recent graduate of the LA Opera’s Young Artist Program. Ms. Becerra is a principal artist. Her last meal prep was a green smoothie. “That hardly counts as cooking,” she laughs. “I would rather have made a breakfast sandwich with egg, tomato, bacon, and cheddar on sourdough with pesto!” Her dream role is Dot/Marie in Sunday in the Park with George, and when she isn’t rehearsing, she is playing with her dog, Coco, “because she is the cutest creature on Planet Earth!” 

     

    Colombian-American Catalina Cuervo, known as “The Fiery Soprano,” returns to the FGO stage in the role of Geronimo’s oldest daughter, Elisetta. Ms. Cuervo is an FGO favorite and has previously appeared in the title roles of Frida in the 2019 production and Maria de Buenos Aires in 2013, as well as numerous concerts. Ms. Cuervo is a principal artist. The last book she read was The Voice of Your Soul by Lain Garcia Calvo, her preferred social media platform is Twitter, and when she isn’t rehearsing, she is happily at home with her family. 

     

    Above: Count Robinson (Michael Pandolfo) mistakes his intended, Elisetta (Catalina Cuervo) for a hotel employee as her sister Carolina (Vanessa Becerra) and Aunt Fidalma (Erin Alford) look on. Photo by Eric Joannes.

     

    American baritone and former Studio Artist Michael Pandolfo last appeared on the FGO stage in 2022 as Marullo in Rigoletto and Senator McCarthy in Fellow Travelers. He returns as a principal artist in the role of Count Robinson, the wealthy suitor. His last major purchase was a cortadito, when he’s not rehearsing he’s daydreaming about scuba trips, and his dream role is Anita in West Side Story (sorry, Michael … that seems unlikely, but then again, you never know!). 

     

    American soprano and second-year Studio Artist Page Michels returns to Florida Grand Opera as Carolina (Sunday matinee performance) and Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost. In 2022, Ms. Michels portrayed Lucy in Fellow Travelers and A Page in Rigoletto, and placed as an Oregon District Winner with the MET Competition. According to a Facebook poll, she is a night owl who loves the scent of Versace Bright Crystal and Mrs. Meyer’s Rosemary Soap, and would one day like to travel to Bali, Africa, and Ireland. 

     

    American soprano Ashley Shalna returns to the FGO stage as Elisetta (Sunday matinee performances) and Nella (Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost). She made her debut as Clara in Il Signor Deluso in 2021 and joins the Studio Artist Program this season. Hailing from Boston, Ashley earned her BM at the University of Florida and her Master’s of Music at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. 

     

    American mezzo-soprano Erin Alford joins the FGO Studio this season, making her debut as Fidalma, Geronimo’s sister and Paolino’s would-be wife. She will also appear as La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi / Buoso’s Ghost, and cover Rosina in The Barber of Seville. A 2022 Metropolitan Opera Competition District Winner, she recently debuted at Opera San José and Opera Santa Barbara. Erin earned her Master of Music in Opera Performance from the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSULB and her Bachelor of Art in Music from UC Berkeley. 

     

    American tenor Joseph McBrayer joins the FGO Studio and makes his mainstage debut in the role of Paolino, the secret husband of Carolina, employee of Geronimo, and friend of Count Robinson. He will also sing Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost. Mr. McBrayer is a former Resident Artist with Indianapolis Opera, and enjoys singing symphonic, orchestral and musical theater works. He earned his BM from Kennesaw State University and continued with his graduate studies at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. 

     

    Phillip Lopez, bass-baritone, comes to the Studio from Chautauqua Opera where he recently made his Company debut as the Father in Kamala Sankaram’s Thumbprint, and Ulysses S. Grant in Virgil Thompson’s The Mother of Us All. Mr. Lopez will make his FGO debut as Geronimo, the successful hotelier and father anxious to marry off his daughters. He will also sing Betto in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost and the Jailer in Tosca, and cover the Sacristan in Tosca and Basilio in The Barber of Seville. Phillip’s last major read was Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. A native of Iowa, he finds Florida to be “humid, sunny, and fast-paced”! His dream role is Al Czervik (the Rodney Dangerfield role)  in Caddyshack

    Now that you've met the cast onscreen, you won't want to miss out on enjoying their talents onstage in this hilarious family-centered opera. Get your tickets for our November 12, 13, or 15th performances at fgo.org.

  • Operatic Trick or Treat
    10/28/2022

     

    It’s time for trick-or-treat, and FGO is here to do its part! Opera is brimming with chills, thrills, costumes, betrayals, trickery, supernatural beings, and of course, magical musical treats galore.  

     

    When we think of spooky opera, we think of titles like:

    • The Flying Dutchman, a ghost story with elements very like Davy Jones’ Black Pearl in Disney’s The Pirates of the Caribbean 

    • Der Vampyr (The Vampire --- yes, there’s an opera about vampires!)  

     

    • Mefistofele and Faustcautionary tales about making deals with the Devil 

     

    • Der Freischutz (literally, The Freeshooter, but often translated as The Marksman), in which a young man is tempted by evil to cheat in shooting contest by using magic, demon-forged bullets 

     

    • Horror operas like Birtwhistle’s The Minotaur, Moravec’s The Shining, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, or Debussy’s The Fall of the House of Usher

     

    • Hansel and Gretel may be a children’s tale, but it involves a child-eating witch!  

     

    • And let’s not forget MacBeth, in which the witches lead our title character far, far astray. 

     

    Photo by Iko Freese

     

    Coming up in January, our spirited double bill of GiannSchicchi and Buoso’s Ghost have plenty of trickery, foul play, and spectral shenanigans. In Puccini’s hysterically funny Schicchi, a greedy and snobbish family hires a sly attorney to ensure a favorable outcome of their deceased relative’s will. They hope to deceive the law, but they themselves are tricked, and are spooked when old Buoso appears to rise from the dead. In Michael Ching’s equally funny and tuneful modern sequel, Buoso’s Ghost, more hoaxes are afoot and the recently departed Buoso makes a second, even more convincing appearance!  

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Our season opener, El matrimonio secreto is hardly spooky (though if you’ve ever hidden something important from your Cuban papa, like oh, say, an elopement, you might be plenty scared!).  Of course, there’s the 1980s dress-up of, well, the entire opera. With its sparkling Mozartian music and rip-roaringly funny action, Matrimonio is definitely more treat than trick. You won’t want to miss the fun! November 12, 13, and 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at fgo.org

  • 80s Style
    10/17/2022

    Ah, the 1980s, when shoulder pads were big and hair was even bigger.  Perms for men and women were the fashion, along with legwarmers, acid-washed denim, and armfuls of neon friendship bracelets. 

     

    1980s style is nothing if not iconic, and FGO costume designer Darío Almirón has gone for just that look in his designs for El matrimonio secreto.   

     

                                                          

                                                                                                          1980s fashion 

     

    Clothing says a lot about its wearers. It’s the job of any costume designer to reveal and enhance each character, while creating a coherent look for a production. Almirón’s designs give us a tantalizing introduction to the characters of the opera. 

     

     

               

    Geronimo is the traditionalist father and businessman. To greet his guests at the hotel and stay comfortable in the Miami heat, he wears a lightweight button-down shirt and slacks.  

     

    Fidalma may be an aunt and a widow, but she knows that women, like fine wine, only get better with age. Besides, one should dress for the position one wants, and Fidalma wants to be a wife again...specifically, Paolino’s wife. 

     

     

    As an employee of the hotel, young Paolino must wear the uniform polo shirt and pleated khakis … but he’s got some style, so he makes sure to pop the collar.  

     

    In traditional productions, the Count is often portrayed as a wealthy older man. FGO’s Count is a handsome, if somewhat vain, younger fellow with plenty of money to spend on the latest fashions. 

     

     

    Elisetta’s fashion sense lies firmly on the side of comfort and practicality. A midi-length denim skirt, colorful top, and low-heeled pumps, and she’s ready to meet her suitor. 

     

     

    And the youngest, Carolina? She’s definitely the firecracker in the family, and her outfit shows it. A short skirt with an oversized, cropped concert t-shirt slipping off one shoulder and daringly showing off her bra (just like Madonna!), along with comfy Keds complete her hip, young look.  

     

    To lend an even greater authenticity,  Almirón has chosen to source his costume pieces from vintage shops and other resellers.  

     

    You won’t want to miss the retro fun. El matrimonio segreto, November 12 – 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at fgo.org

  • COMPOSER OF THE MONTH: Domenico Cimarosa
    10/17/2022

     

    Poor Domenico Cimarosa. If modern audiences were asked to name the most famous and popular opera composer of the 18th century, they might well respond “Mozart!” Try it for yourself: without consulting any source other than your memory, name three Mozart operas. Now try to name three Cimarosa operas.  Unless you are a very great fan of 18th century dramme giocose (comic dramas), you probably can’t. 

     

    But you would be wrong if you chose Mozart over Cimarosa as the most popular opera composer of his day. Cimarosa’s catalogue of eighty operas, most of them comedies, were immensely successful and popular, although only one is produced with any regularity today: Il matrimonio segreto, The Secret Marriage, or, in FGO’s Spanish version, El matrimonio secreto

     

    Cimarosa was born in Aversa, Italy, in 1742 to poor parents who valued education. They sent him to a free monastery school in nearby Naples. There, impressed by young Domenico’s intellect, one of the priests undertook to give him a basic education in music and literature, and later helped him get a scholarship to the Conservatory of St. Maria di Loreto. There, Cimarosa quickly made strides as a violinist, keyboard player, singer, and composer. 

     

    At age 23, he composed his first opera, Le stravaganze del conte (The Count’s Extravagance). A comedy, it premiered at the Teatro del Fiorentini in Naples in 1772 and was well-received. This early success quickly turned into many years of commissions, fame, and popularity. In 1787, Czarina Catherine II offered Cimarosa the position of maestro di cappella (director of the orchestra/choir) at St. Petersburg. He remained there until 1791, when he took the same position in Vienna at the behest of Emperor Leopold II. Here he composed what was to become his most enduring work: Il matrimonio segreto, which was such a hit at its premiere that Leopold ordered everyone to pause for a dinner break and then begin the opera over again from the beginning! Talk about an encore! 

     

    Unfortunately for Cimarosa, after his return to Naples in 1796, he became embroiled in the politics of the day and wrote a popular hymn in support of the Neapolitan Republic (which has been inspired by the French Revolution). Never mind that he also wrote compositions in favor of the Neapolitan royalty. When the new Republic failed and the royal family was returned to power, he was imprisoned and spared execution only by the intervention of highly-placed friends. He was exiled to Venice, where he died in 1801. It’s a rather sad ending for an artist whose career was dedicated to giving others so much joy. Still, we hope Cimarosa would be pleased to know that at least one of his works not only lives on, but is receiving new life on Miami’s iconic South Beach via FGO’s upcoming production of El matrimonio secreto!   

     

    November 12-15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at fgo.org. 

     

  • How Stars Are Made
    10/11/2022

     

    We've all seen the sexy movie montage where a Talented Young Thing hits the big city, spends a few months living in a rathole and working some soul-sucking job, when one day --- ONE DAY! that grumpy customer they’ve been waiting on turns out to be a big-time agent who hears them singing Happy Birthday and suddenly recognizes their talent.  Next thing you know, it’s all bright lights and glitter.

     

     

    Yeah, that’s not really thing. Not in the opera world anyway.  What is true is that it takes a lot of hard work, not a small amount of “right place, right time” sort of luck, and a couple of important stepping stones to become a professional opera singer. Programs like Florida Grand Opera’s prestigious Studio Artist Program are often integral waystations to that all-important next career level. 

     

    (Left: Page Michels as the Countess Ceprano  in 2022’s Rigoletto, with Jose Semirillo as the Duke and Todd Thomas as Rigoletto. Photo by Daniel Azoulay. )

     

     

     

    In the U.S., after graduating from university or conservatory (usually with a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance), next steps aren’t always clear-cut. However, a vast system of paid training opportunities and Young Artist Programs is an obvious and advantageous way to go. They offer additional training, next-level performance opportunities, practical work experience, and the chance to make important connections with conductors, impresarios, board members, patrons, managers, and even other singers, all of whom can help a performer achieve the next career level. 

     

     

    Young Artist Programs are paid apprenticeships with professional companies. Depending on the program, the singers may perform touring children’s shows and concerts throughout their community, sing in the opera company’s chorus, sing comprimario roles and cover (understudy) principal roles, or even sing some principal roles themselves. They also usually receive training which may include voice lessons, musical and dramatic coaching, language classes, master classes with visiting artists, and more. The program may last for a summer, or full winter/spring opera season.  

     

     

     

     

    (Right: Tenor Charles Calotta gets some help from his dresser before heading onstage in 2022’s Rigoletto. Photo by J. Parra. )

     

     

         

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Mezzo-soprano Erin Alford 
     

     

     

    Right: Tenor Joseph McBrayer   

    Below: Soprano Ashley Shalna

     

    Florida Grand Opera’s Studio Artists are not apprentices or students. These are elite professionals at the beginning of their careers, with competition wins and professional roles under their belts. They come to FGO after an intensive national audition process and are selected from hundreds of applicants. And while they do offer concerts throughout the community and sing comprimario (secondary roles) on our mainstage, they also sing leading roles.   

     

    In our very first opera of the season, El matrimonio secreto, you will hear bass-baritone Phillip Lopez as Geronimo, the successful hotelier and papa who wants to see his daughters well-married. In the Sunday matinee performance, sopranos Page Michels and Ashley Shalna will portray those daughters, Carolina and Elisetta, respectively. Tenor Joseph McBrayer will sing the role of secret husband Paolino, while mezzo-soprano Erin Alford is Geronimo’s young, pretty, widowed sister Fidalma. We’re not kidding when we say that our Studio Artists are the backbone and face of Florida Grand Opera! 

     

    You won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear these terrific singers in a free preview of the 2022-23 season. The annual First Sing concert is your chance to meet and hear the Studio Artists, and get sneak peek of the season’s hits along with other musical treats. First Sing takes place on October 21, 8 pm at the Miracle Theater and October 22, 7:30 pm at the Center for Spiritual Living. El matrimono secreto runs November 12, 13 & 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Details and tickets at fgo.org.

     

     

     

     

    Bass-baritone Phillip Lopez in a Yale Opera production of Florencia en el Amazonas. Photo by Michael Fried. 

     

  • The Boulevard, The Avalon, the Century ... the Paraiso? South Beach Hotels in the 1980s
    10/03/2022

                                                              PHOTO: SOUTH BEACH IN THE 80S. Photo by Fred Minor 

     

    Mom jeans. Permed mullets for men and women. Giant shoulder pads in jacket and shirts. 

     

    1980s style, with very few exceptions, hasn’t aged well. But some things transcend their era; some things are classic, and achieve iconic status in spite of themselves. And the Miami of the 1980s --- especially South Beach, where the action for El matrimonio secreto is set ---  is one of those icons, perpetually identified with neon, Miami Vice, and a gorgeous landscape of Art Deco gems, vintage cars, and thundering nightclubs sitting just across from the sunlit turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean. 

     

    In the 1980s, Miami was struggling with a sinking economy, drugs, and violence, but this did not quell its vibrant spirit. South Beach was a hotspot for nightclubs and hotels then as it is now.  

     

                                                                                               PHOTO: HOTEL WEBSTER 

     

    FGO’s update of El matrimonio secreto centers on a family of Cuban immigrants working, living and loving in their family business. We can imagine Geronimo’s chic Hotel Paraiso nestled next door to a classic like the Boulevard Hotel, where celebrity guests like 80s rock star Rod Stewart could be seen at the bar and Cher held press conferences. Or perhaps Paraiso’s neon pink, teal, and black theme competes for dominance with the dignified mint and salmon exterior of the Hotel Webster or the neon-lit Hotel Avalon with its iconic bright yellow Oldsmobile Super 88 convertible parked out front. Perhaps the Hotel Paraiso has also served as a backdrop for a filming of Miami Vice or Scarface, like the Avalon! Wouldn’t that make Señor Geronimo proud?  

     

                                                                                          PHOTO: THE AVALON 

     

    But the Hotel Paraiso doesn’t need to compete with its colleagues—it has stories of its own to tell, and the biggest one unfolds right before our eyes in El matrimonio secreto, at its turquoise bar and around its glass-block, above-ground swimming pool. You see, there are three gorgeous women in Geronimo’s life—his sister, the widowed Fidalma, his eldest daughter Elisetta, and his youngest, Carolina. Greonimo doesn’t play favorites, but Carolina seems to be recognized as the prettiest, and well…that doesn’t sit well with the others. Especially when the rich, gauche American Count Robinson comes to court Elisetta and then decides he’d rather have Carolina who snuck off and married Paolino, a hotel employee, two months ago and still hasn’t told Papa.  

     

                                                                          PHOTO: HOTEL PARAISO SIGN 

     

    Like the Art Deco hotels that line South Beach, our version of El matrimonio secreto has undergone some refurbishment. Composed in 1792 by Domenico Cimarosa in Italian and set in Florence, Italy, the plot and the sparkling Mozart-like score stay the same. We’ve simply given it a 1980s Miami makeover, complete with a brand new Spanish translation. Think of it as an operatic telenovela!  

     

    We hope you’ll book a stay at the Hotel Paraiso this November 12, 13, or 15. Rumor has it it’s the most entertaining time of the year! www.fgo.org

     

     

  • TRANSLATING EL MATRIMONIO SECRETO: OPERA IN SPANGLISH
    09/22/2022

     

    When FGO General Director and CEO Susan T. Danis came up with the idea for a Spanish-language production of Il matrimonio segreto, updated to 1980s Miami and set among a family of hard-working, successful Cuban immigrants, she knew exactly who to turn to. 

     

    Dominican conductor and composer Darwin Aquino began his American career at Florida Grand Opera as an assistant conductor, and he considers it “a very big part of my professional life.” 

     

                                                          

                                                                                                   DARWIN AQUINO

     

    “I am very close to Florida Grand Opera, a company I am very grateful for as the company that gave me my first opportunities in the States,” he said. So, when Danis approached him to create a very special Spanish translation of this Mozart-era comic opera, Aquino was thrilled. Danis was, too, especially when Aquino informed her that he was now married --- to an Italian operatic mezzo-soprano by the name of Benedetta Orsi, who could help. 

     

                                                            

                                                                                                        BENEDETTA ORSI

     

    The timing could not have been more fortuitous. The commission came shortly before the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, so it was the perfect project for an energetic and creative young couple. Each capitalized on their own strengths. Benedetta prepared as a singer would. “I read it through once, then started translation piece by piece --- and then we applied it to the music. In a kind of way, it’s what a singer should do. Just digging into the libretto, exploring the language.” 

     

    The language turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Although the piece was to be updated to 1980s Miami and a Cuban household, Danis envisioned a sort of love letter to the many different Spanish-speaking cultures of South Florida. So Darwin and Benedetta got to work, uncovering Latinisms from Caribbean Spanish. “Here in Miami, we all call it ‘Espanenglish’,” he explained.  “For example, whenever they are talking about money, we say ‘cash’, because that’s something everyone relates to in Spanish, and in Miami. A term that we use a lot in Latin America is ‘vaina’ --- we use it for everything. And to tell people to be quiet, in Italian ‘tacetevi la’ or ‘silencio’, and in English it’s ‘shut up.’ We spent hours just trying to find the right word.” 

     

    Changing text often means altering the music in some ways. For example, if the original word has two syllables but it takes three to say it in translation, that can change note values, rhythms, vowels --- extremely critical to singers --- and phrasing. “When you change the text, you need to do it in a way that is comfortable for the singers, “Darwin acknowledged. “You cannot change that much. The vowels, the breathing, the phrasing, especially in the recitativi. We had so many recitativi and we were working so hard just in keep the shape of the music with words that were making sense.” 

     

    Precision was particularly important to Benedetta. “We really wanted to deliver to the audiences a product that is 90% close to the Italian one,” she said. “It has been a very accurate and a very precise work. We worked hard on that. But when we finished we were very sad.”  

     

    Why so sad? “We did it from the bottom of our hearts,” Darwin said. “This piece is very close to us in so many ways. It’s in Italian, we are translating into Spanish, I’m an opera conductor, composer, she’s an opera singer, the piece was originally set in Bologna, her hometown, we were in the process of having a baby, and so it was a family project ... it was not just work for us. We did it with a lot of love and a lot of care.” 

     

    Experience that work and care for yourself when El matrimonio secreto plays, November 12- 15, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are on sale now at fgo.org.  

     

                                                              

                                                                                                DARWIN & BENEDETTA  

     

  • Miami Opera in the 80s
    09/16/2022

     

    FGO’s 2022-23 season kicks off with a visit to Miami Beach of the 1980s, where a hard-working Cuban dad, Señor Geronimo, is doing his best to run his hotel and marry off his daughters in El matrimonio secreto. It got us thinking -- suppose Geronimo and his family were opera fans? What would they have experienced on our stage? 

     

    The 1980s were a heady time for opera. The economy was booming, and that meant big dreams, big stars, and big productions everywhere. And although Florida Grand Opera did not yet exist as such, the neon decade was a heyday for Greater Miami Opera, which merged with The Opera Guild Inc. of Fort Lauderdale in 1994 to become FGO. Today, FGO maintains the collaborative spirit that created it, as one of the very few major opera companies to divide its performances between two non-neighboring cities.  

     

     

                                                                          1989-90 GREATER MIAMI OPERA BROCHURE

     

     

    The Greater Miami Opera helped build many an international career and its list of alumni reads like a Who’s Who of Opera. In the 1980s, Miami’s operatic stage was graced by a constellation of stars:  

     

    Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Placido Domingo, Fiorenza Cossotto, Nicolai Gedda, Sherrill Milnes, Martina Arroyo, Gilda Cruz-Romo, Maria Ewing, Ruth Welting, Rosalind Elias, Judith Forst, , Jose van Damm, Carol Neblett, Ermanno Mauro, Justino Diaz, Alan Titus, Spiro Malas, Jerome Hines, Judith Blegen, James McCracken, Ingvar Wixell,  Cornell McNeill, Evelyn Lear, Richard Cross, Thomas Stewart, Sunny Joy Langton, Luis Lima, James Morris, Louis Quilico, Carlo Bini, Ashley Putnam, Lando Bartolini, Wendy White, and many others, including the best conductors and stage directors of the day.  

     

    No wonder these singers affectionately referred to the Greater Miami Opera as “the Met South.”  

     

     

        

                                                     Teresa Zylis-Gara and Luciano Pavarotti in 1984's Un ballo in maschera.

     

    Productions were big and lavish. In fact, Newsweek once wrote that Miami Opera was “possibly the splashiest opera company around.”[i] If the protagonists of El matrimonio secreto attended the opera, they might have enjoyed a perenniel favorite like Die Fledermaus, Carmen, La traviata, Un ballo in maschera, or Madama Butterfly. Or perhaps Señor Geronimo had a taste for the more ambitious undertakings the Miami Opera produced that decade: Simon Boccanegra, La gioconda, Boris Godonov, and Samson et Dalila --- works one rarely sees on regional opera stages these days, due to the expense of hiring, housing and costuming huge casts of soloists and choruses, not to mention bigger orchestras.  

     

    Innovative programming, then as now, was, baked into the core of this company. 1982 saw the world premiere of Robert (The Crucible) Ward’s Minutes till Midnight, a timely story of a nuclear physicist whose morality is challenged by his discoveries. There was also a well-received production of Carlisle Floyd’s classic Of Mice and Men. In 1983, the Greater Miami Opera collaborated with Washington Opera and New York City Opera for a new production of Carlo Montemezzi’s early twentieth century opera, L’amore de tre re. Then-General Director Robert Herman admitted that “This 20th Century opera is not well-known to much of the general public, so we, as usual, met with some resistance, but the production … was well-received.”[ii]  

     

     

                                                                                         

                                                                                       MINUTES TILL MIDNIGHT Libretto

     

    Nearly 40 years later, some resistance to new opera remains, but FGO remains committed to opera as a living, ever-expanding art form, and honors its roots by continuing to present challenging and vital contemporary works. The 2021-22 season’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Fellow Travelers were both great critical successes. In 2022-23, we honor our traditional roots with a raucous season of classics and with El matrimonio secreto, Gianni Schicchi, Tosca, and The Barber of Seville. Still, we can’t resist adding that Miami twist to Matrimonio or a sly nod to the contemporary with Michael Ching’s Schicchi sequel Buoso’s Ghost (which sounds remarkably like Puccini with some clever quotes from Mozart and Sondheim). We hope you’ll join us and witness how the 1980s spirit of adventure, passion for great music, and theatrical exploration lives on in today’s FGO and has inspired this season’s motto: Unplugged. Unamplified. Unbelievable.

     

    We think Señor Geronimo would approve. 

     

     [i] p. 102, The Greater Miami Opera: From Shoestring to Showpiece. 1941-1985. Herman, Robert and Mary Voelz Chandler. The Miami Opera Guild, 1985.  

     [ii] p. 128, The Greater Miami Opera: From Shoestring to Showpiece. 1941-1985. Herman, Robert and Mary Voelz Chandler. The Miami Opera Guild, 1985. 

     

  • Composer of the Month: Daniel Catan
    09/12/2022

     

    September 15 – October 15, 2022 marks Hispanic Heritage Month, and we’re kicking off with an exploration of one of the most important composers of the 21st century: Mexican composer Daniel Catán (April 3, 1949 - April 9, 2011).  His music is lush and romantic, laced with Latin American rhythms and lyrical vocal flights. It has been compared to Debussy, Ravel, Strauss, and even Puccini, and many of his works deal with mystical themes and issues of complicated morality. He composed orchestral works, chamber music, film and television music, art song, and even Latin pop, but he is best-known for his small but impressive catalogue of opera.

     

                                                         

                                                                                              Photo: Daniel Catán

     

    Born in Mexico to a family that highly valued music, Catán grew up hearing his father singing Spanish and Cuban songs. He  had learned from his own father, a Turk who spent seven years in Cuba on his journey to emigrate to Mexico, and fell deeply in love with the music and culture. Catán was heavily influenced by his childhood exposure to Cuban music, and later spent time in both Cuba and Miami in order to immerse himself in the culture.

     

    Catá was truly a citizen of the world. He attended boarding school in England, where he continued his musical studies, and later studied Philosophy at the University of Sussex before entering Princeton University as a doctoral student in composition. There, he studied with Milton Babbitt, Benjamin Boretz, and James Randall. His work took him all over the world. He was an administrator at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (The Palace of Fine Arts) in Mexico City, where he composed his first opera and founded a chamber orchestra. He lived for stints in Tokyo and Indonesia where he became obsessed with the Balinese gamelan which in turn influenced his work in La hija de Rappacini;  then Cuba and Miami, where the Cuban influences of his childhood were renewed. He tried New York City and California, landing at last in Austin, TX where he hoped to teach and mentor the composers of tomorrow.

     

                                

                                                                                       Photo: La hija de Rappacini

     

    Catán’s first opera, Encuentro en el ocaso (Encounter at Dusk), was produced in Mexico City in 1979.  La hija de Rappacini  (Rappacini’s Daughter) followed in 1983 and he continued to revise it through 1989. Rappacini is a gothic tale of a medieval mad scientist who experiments on the young student next door, while encouraging a love affair with his mysterious daughter. In 1984, it earned the distinction of being the first opera by a Mexican composer to be produced by a professional American company, in this case, San Diego Opera.

     

                                

                                                                                                  Photo: Florencia

     

    FGO fans may remember 2017-18’s Florencia in el Amazonas, a lyrical, mystical work, with a libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, based on the writings of the Latin American author Gabriel García Márquez. This is one of Catán’s best-known operas, and was the first opera in Spanish to be commissioned by a major American company (three, actually – it was a joint commission between Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Seattle Opera, though it premiered in Houston). The combined beauty of the story, music, and hypnotically lush production was such as success that HGO commissioned a second Catán work, Salsipuedes, a tragicomedy in which a pair of newlywed couples mistakenly become entangled in a corrupt government plot to sell anchovies.

     

     

                                

                                                                                                   Photo: Salsipuedes

     

    Il Postino, based on the novel Ardiente paciencia by Antonio Skármeta and the popular 1994 film Il Postino by Michael Radford, explores the adventures of a shy postman on a small island in Italy, who befriends the exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It was commissioned in 2011 by Los Angeles Opera and starred Plácido Domingo as Neruda, enjoying international premieres in Vienna and Paris. Catán’s friendship with Domingo helped propel his work to international success and recognition.

     

                                

                                                                                                Photo: Il postino

     

    Catán did not finish his final opera, Meet John Doe. He was working on it while in residence as a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, which commissioned the work. The opera was intended to be a departure from his previous efforts, his first entirely in English. It was also to be the first embracing North American sounds, even incorporating musical quotes from Benny Goodman and Stephen Foster, and textual quotes from Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Catán wrote the libretto himself, based on the 1941 Frank Capra film of the same name. A journalist writes a fraudulent column about a homeless man who has threatened to kill himself on Christmas Eve in protest of society’s mistreatment of those in need. This action snowballs first into a social justice movement, then a corrupt political campaign, and finally, romance.

     

    Tragically, Catán passed away unexpectedly at his home in Austin before he could complete the opera. Meet John Doe was edited by Eduardo Diazmuñoz and completed by Diazmuñoz, Michaela Eremiasova and Jairo Duarte-López. Only a piano-vocal score exists. A reading of excerpts was presented in 2015 by Opera Fusion: New Works, a collaboration between Cincinnati Opera & the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, which commissioned the completion of the opera, but it has never received its full premiere.

     

    Join FGO as we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with El matrimonio secreto, Domenico Cimarosa’s hilarious Mozart-era romp which we’ve given a telenovela twist by updating it to 1980s’ Miami in a brand-new Spanish translation. Tickets at fgo.org.  

                                                            

  • Fach Facts: Mezzoa and Contraltos
    08/30/2022

     

    Welcome back to Fach Facts! Today’s exploration meanders through the melodious mezzo-soprano and its sensual sister contralto Fachs, or voice types. (For a more thorough discussion of Fach, see  Fach Facts: Sopranos).

     

    Mezzos and contraltos are the workhorses of the opera stage, traditionally filling trouser roles, villainesses, mothers, maids, and femme fatales. Singers jokingly sum up these roles as “witches, b*tches, and britches.” Of course, there’s more to it than that! 

     

    Let’s kick off with a translation of the term “mezzo,” which means “middle” or “midst” in Italian.  For example, “mezzanotte” means “midnight.” The first line of Dante’s Inferno is “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita.”   (“Midway through the journey of life, I found myself in a dark forest, for the direct pathway had been obscured.”) So, a mezzo-soprano is a “middle soprano.” (Pro tip: don’t call her that to her face)!

    Mezzos occupy the lower realms of the female voice types … except when they don’t. It can be confusing, but just remember --- while many roles are more or less “set in stone” when it comes to what voice type gets to sing them, others have a lot of leeway and are subject to personal preference. Also, there are fewer micro-Fachs for mezzos than for sopranos, so there’s a lot of crossover in roles.  Mezzos are usually divided into two categories: lyric or dramatic. Contraltos are related, but separate, Fach, similar to baritones and bass-baritones. 

     

    The lyric mezzo-soprano is the highest-sitting, lightest mezzo voice. She often sings florid music, such as Rossini or Handel, and if her particular voice is high and light enough, may cross over into some soprano roles. The fancy German term for this is Zwischenfach (zwih-shen-fack; literally “between Fachs”. Zwischens can occur in any female voice category but the term usually refers to mezzos who sing some soprano repertoire, and vice versa). Roles such as Zerlina in Don Giovanni or Despina in Cosí fan tutte, both of which tend to sit lower and not climb to the vocal stratosphere, are sometimes sung by mezzo-sopranos. Both Frederic von Stade and Cecilia Bartoli regularly take on these “in-between” lyric roles. But so does Susan Graham, whose lyric voice is on the more robust side. The role of Nella in this season’s Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost is a role that can easily be sung by a mezzo or a soprano, and so could be considered a Zwischen role.  

     

    Lyric mezzos also undertake a variety of pants or trouser roles --- roles in which the female-presenting artist plays a boy or man. Examples of trouser roles (also called travesti roles) are Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro or Prince Orlovsky in J. Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. In the 2021-22 season, audiences enjoyed Studio Artist lyric mezzo Stephanie Doche in the pants role of Narciso, one of Agrippina’s suitors in the opera of the same name; she also played the sultry Maddalena, a sort of Carmen-in-training, in Rigoletto. In the 2023 season, Doche is back in the leading role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville (a Zwischen role that also is sometimes performed by sopranos).  Also, keep an eye out for incoming lyric mezzo Studio Artist Erin Alford as jealous Aunt Fidalma in El matrimonio secreto.  

     

                                

                                               Stephanie Doche as Narciso with Christine Lyons in the title role of Agrippina 

     

    Lyric mezzos can, as mentioned, be on the lighter, higher side, or have a darker, fuller quality, like Denyse Graves or Elīna Garanča. Though it’s not an official term, industry insiders sometimes refer to robust lyrics as spinto mezzos, and they would be the equivalent of a full lyric or spinto soprano. In other words, they may have the vocal color and power to ride over thicker, louder orchestrations while maintaining a lot of vocal flexibility. Roles for these types of mezzo would include Charlotte from Werther, Dalila from Samson et Dalila, and the title role in Carmen.  As with spinto and dramatic sopranos, there is some crossover, and dramatic mezzos also sing them. There aren’t any roles for this voice type in the 2022-23 season, but you may remember Daniela Mack from 2019’s Werther or María José Montiel from 2016’s Carmen --- perfect examples of this spinto or heavier lyric mezzo type. 

     

                             

                                                                                             Daniela Mack

     

    Similar to the soprano soubrette, character mezzos are less a voice type than a role type. They can be lyric or dramatic mezzos, or contraltos. The characters are supporting players, often servants, mothers, or older people. For example, the Second Lady in The Magic Flute, Annina in La traviata, or Gertrude (the Nurse) in Romeo et Juliette are all character roles.  In the 2020-21 season, we saw Stephanie Doche in the character role of Eunice in A Streetcar Named Desire. In 2022-23, the character role of Berta in The Barber of Seville could be, and often is, done by a mezzo-soprano, especially when Rosina is sung by a soprano.  

     

                              

                                  Stephanie Doche as Eunice and Elizabeth Caballero as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire

     

    Dramatic mezzos enjoy a big, powerful, colorful sound that can carry over Verdi and Wagner’s huge orchestras, big choruses, and other principal singers. Amneris in Aida, Fricka in Die Walküre, or Herodias in Salome are all dramatic mezzo roles. Famous dramatic mezzos include Fiorenza Cossotto, who sang Azucena in our 1984 production of Il trovatore, Tatiana Troyanos, our Eboli in 1979’s Don Carlo, and more recently, Dana Beth Miller, a dramatic mezzo-contralto who appeared as Ulrica in 2017’s Un ballo in maschera and Adalgisa in 2016’s Norma. In 2022-23, look for mean old Aunt Zita in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost, played by Robynne Redmon, a dramatic mezzo.  

     

                              

                                                                   Dana Beth Miller as Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera

     

    Zita is actually a contralto role, but true contraltos are rare, and many dramatic mezzos can easily sing the same repertoire. In fact, because more dramatic voice types lower as they age, some great artists who enjoyed wonderful careers as sopranos become dramatic mezzos or contraltos as they get older.   

     

    The contralto is the rarest female voice type and often misunderstood. The lowest-seated of all female voices, even industry insiders sometimes mistakenly believe that the power, darkness, and deepness of this tenorial female voice means that it is also heavy and/or lacking in high notes. However, many contraltos --- the magnificent Polish contralto Ewa Podles springs to mind --- possess voices that handle coloratura beautifully. In fact, many Rossini leading roles, such as Angelina in La cenerentola or Isabella in L’italiana in Algeri were composed for coloratura contraltos and historically have been sung by contraltos and dramatic mezzos like Giulietta Simionato, though the current casting trend favors lyric mezzos.  The other big misconception about contraltos is that they don’t have high notes --- the truth is that many have extensive vocal ranges that allow them to comfortably reach into tenor territory on the low end and easily sing C’s or higher at the top. In 2015’s The Consul, mezzo-turned-contralto Victoria Livengood sang the role of The Mother; and in 2013, then Studio Artist Carla Jablonski sang the role of Third Lady in The Magic Flute.  

     

                                                           

                                                                     Robynne Redmon as The Mother in The Consul 

     

    Thanks for taking a deep dive with us into the world of mezzo-sopranos and contraltos. If you’d like to really plumb the depths, check out Contralto Corner, a blog by and for contraltos with many musical links. https://www.contraltocorner.com/ And if you haven’t already, buy your subscription or a single ticket (they go on sale September 6!) and come check out your favorite low-voiced ladies. Tickets at fgo.org.  

  • FANTASY OPERA CAST GAME - PLAY NOW FOR PRIZES!
    08/01/2022

    CAST THAT OPERA: EL MATRIMONIO SECRETO

     

    Sports fans have their fantasy football. Film aficionados love to imagine what their favorite movies would have been like if different stars had been cast in the leading roles. And opera fans? There’s nothing better than sitting around a table of good food and drink with friends, fantasy casting an opera. We have an especially fun season planned for you in 2022-23, so we’re pre-gaming with and little game of Fantasy Opera Casting, and you’re invited to play along!

     

    Here’s your chance to “cast” our upcoming production of Domenic Cimarosa’s El matrimonio secreto (The Secret Marriage) --- have a few laughs, learn a bit more about this under-produced jewel of comic genius, and even win a beautiful swag bag stuffed with opera goodies (pick up only, no shipping).  Here’s how it works:

     

    Read on to find out more about Matrimonio’s characters, plot, and setting, including the FGO staff’s unique take. Then, come up with your own casts according to the following criteria and email them to us at csadler@fgo.org

     

     

    Option 1: Cast the opera with any real opera singer, living or dead. Who would you love to hear in these roles? Why?

     

    Option 2: Cast the opera using characters from any Miami-based TV series of any era. For example: Charlie’s Angels, The Golden GirlsDexterBurn NoticeNip/Tuck,and of course, the quintessential Miami TV drama, Miami Vice. Why do you think this character should play this role? You can mix characters from different shows, or cast Matrimonio entirely from the TV show’s characters. Who wouldn’t want to see Blanche play opposite Dexter?

     

    And now, here’s a character guide to help out with your casting.

     

    Geronimo (bass baritone) – a Cuban hotelier in Miami, with two daughters he’s trying to marry off. He is a great businessman and likes to think he’s handling his family, but the truth is, Geronimo really has no idea what his daughters, sister, or servant are up to!

     

    Carolina – Geronimo’s younger daughter, secretly married to Paolino. She’s sweet, smart, and just a bit sassy.

     

    Elisetta – the big sister, who Geronimo and Paolino hope to betroth to Count Robinson. Elisetta has a handsome dowry, but not handsome enough to compete with her sister’s beauty. She loves Carolina, but isn’t above a bit of jealousy.

     

    Fidalma, Geronimo’s unmarried sister, in love with Paolino.   She is vengeful upon discovering the young couple’s betrayal!

     

    Paolino  --- Geronimo’s employee, secretly married to Carolina. An earnest young man, he is deeply in love with Paolina.

     

    Count Robinson – wealthy nobleman who first agrees to consider Elisetta, but prefers Carolina and offers to take a smaller dowry with her. He is a somewhat blustery fellow, more interested in money than either of the women.

     

    To give you just a little more perspective to help with your casts, the FGO staff has prepared their own fantasy Matriomonio cast. Give it a read and then send your thoughts to csadler@fgo.org. The best cast from each options wins!

     

                                 

     

    Camilla the Chicken as Fidalma, Janice as Elisetta, Kermit the Frog as Paolino, Miss Piggy as Carolina, Pepe the King Prawn as Geronimo, and Sam the Eagle as Count Robinson.

     

    Don’t have your tickets yet? Subscribe at fgo.org. 

  • Composer of the Month: William Grant Still
    07/11/2022

    By Cindy Sadler, Marketing and Communications Manager

    COMPOSER OF THE MONTH - WILLIAM GRANT STILL
    by Cindy Sadler, FGO Marketing and Commications Manager

    William Grant Still (1895 – 1978), "the Dean of African-American Composers," is an important, fascinating figure in American opera and classical music history whose music and story are shamefully underrepresented in contemporary music education and culture. Born in Woodville, Mississippi and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, Still was the son of teachers. He was a self-taught violinist, cellist, and oboist whose career included performing and arranging popular, commercial, jazz, film, and Blues music. Still's legacy includes over 200 operas, ballets, symphonies, children's works, chamber works, arrangements of folk themes, including many spirituals,  and instrumental, choral, and solo vocal works. Much of his career took place in New York and LA, but Still does have a special Miami connection --- read on to discover it. 

     

    An American Classical Music Hall of Fame 1999 inductee, Still earned scores of scholarships, awards, citations, and honors throughout his lifetime and posthumously, including Guggenheim and Rosenwald Fellowships, the Cincinnati Symphony's Jubilee Prize for Best Overture, a Freedoms Foundation Award, the Richard Henry Lee Patriotism Award, and the 1982 Annual Prize from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, among many others. 

     

    Maestro Still's was a career of many distinguished "firsts."  

     

    He became the first Black composer to have a complete score performed by a major orchestra when, in 1931, the Rochester Philharmonic performed his Symphony No. 1 in Ab Major, "Afro-American." Many regard this as his best work and one of the most popular American symphonies of all time. It reflects Still's signature Black folk and jazz sound, his antiracism work, and the influences of his involvement with the Harlem Renaissance. Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hzFcm6HCeI 

     

    Still was the first Black man to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the United States. In 1936, he took the podium at the Hollywood Bowl to lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in his own composition.  

     

    William Grant Still conducts an all-white orchestra, circa 1936.

    In 1955, he conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, becoming the first Black conductor to direct a major symphony orchestra in the Deep South. 

     

    While arranging music for Willard Robison's Deep River program on WOR Radio in New York City, white orchestra members requested that Maestro Still be allowed to conduct. He did so for many months, becoming the first Black man to conduct a major American network radio orchestra, significantly, one whose members were all white. (Source: William Grant Still: A Study in Contradictions, Catherine Parsons Smith).  

    His most well-known opera, Troubled Island, was produced in 1943 at the New York City Center and by the New York City Opera in 1949, making Still the first Black composer to have an opera produced by a major American company.  

     

    A Bayou Legend, set to wife Vera Arvey's libretto, was the first opera by a Black composer to be televised over a national network in the US. The 1981 production was a collaboration between Mississippi's Opera/South and the Mississippi Educational Television Authority.  

    Still's music is a sophisticated amalgamation of Black folk, jazz, and blues influences combined with his interest in experimental music and in expressing the modern African American experience through his sound. Gershwin fans may hear some similarities, but the style is uniquely Still's. The result is often exuberant, mournful, heart-wrenching, or touching, but it is immediately identifiable as American.  

     

    Perhaps due to the era in which Still wrote most of his staged works, the 1930s-1950s, his operas received few performances at their premieres and, unfortunately, are not often performed today. When staged, it is often by Black opera companies or with predominantly Black casts, although characters' race is rarely specified in Still's works. 

     

    He composed nine operas, two of which he discarded (Blue Steel, forbidden from professional production, and Southern Interlude, unfinished). The others include Troubled Island, a three-act opera whose libretto was started by poet Langston Hughes (who abandoned it to cover the Spanish Civil War) and completed by Still's wife and frequent collaborator, the writer Vera Arvey. Set in 1791, Troubled Island chronicles Jean Jacques Dessalines' fall from grace as Haiti's first independent leader. Its premiere took place at New York City Opera in 1949. Reviews were mixed, but a critic friend of Still's told him that his colleagues had deliberately panned him because he was "colored." There have been few performances since the three given at NYCO in 1949. Arkansas' Opera in the Rock presented it in 2018, and as recently as 2020, a British company called the Black Swan Theatre and Opera Company had programmed it. See an excerpt from their filming project

     

    Will Liverman as Bob ad Nichole Cabell as Mary in Opera Theatre of St. Louis' 2021 production of Highway 1, USA.

    More successful, perhaps, is Still's hour-long two-act called Highway 1, USA. The gritty, intimate story introduces Mary and Bob, a loving couple who own a gas station on a lonely stretch of highway. They have spent much of their income and lives fulfilling a deathbed request to educate and support Bob's arrogant and ungrateful younger brother, Nate, with tragic consequences. And here is the promised Miami Connection: the work premiered on the composer's 68th birthday, May 11, 1963, at Coral Gables High School as part of the University of Miami's Festival of American Music! Opera/South in Jackson, Mississippi gave Highway 1, USA its professional premiere in 1972, and Opera Ebony presented its 1977 New York premiere. More recently, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis revived the work in Fall 2021, starring Will Liverman (whose 2022 Met performance of Fire Shut Up in My Bones was a season highlight), Nicole Cabell, and Christian Mark Gibbs. Enjoy a glimpse at the music and plot in OTSL's informative preview video.

     

    Still's first opera, A Bayou Legend, libretto by Arvey, is set in a deeply religious twentieth-century Creole community of the Mississippi Delta. A young woman exacts deadly revenge on a man who rejects her romantic overtures because he is in love with a local spirit, that of his lover in a previous life. Composed in 1941, the opera waited 33 years for its professional premiere by Opera/South, which also revived it in 1976. In the same year, it made its West Coast premiere at East Los Angeles Central College. A recording of the 1979 Opera/South can be heard on YouTube. The short, evocative overture leads into a challenging but accessible and lovely tenor aria, "Children of the World," which introduces the setting and its mystical character. 

     

    Still's other operas include Costaso, Minette Fontaine, Moto,  and The Pillar, Information about them and Still's other works is available at www.williamgrantstillmusic.com

     

    No discussion of William Grant Still is complete without a mention of his small but stunning collection of art songs. Songs of Separation is his best-known song cycle, consisting of six settings of the works of Harlem Renaissance poets Arna Bontemps, Philippe Thoby Marcelin, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes. A personal favorite is Dunbar's very short, witty "Parted."  Still also composed From the Hearts of Women, four settings of poems by Arvey. His stand-alone songs are equally lovely. Enjoy "Grief" performed by baritone Kenneth Overton and pianist Dr. Howard Watkins.

     

    Want to learn more about this overlooked American composer and his music? Check out the resources below. And let us know: no promises, but if FGO were to stage a William Grant Still opera, which one would you most like to see? Reach us at pr@fgo.org   

     

     

    WILLIAM GRANT STILL RESOURCES 

    www.williamgrantstillmusic.com 

    www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200186213 

    www.laphil.com/about/watch-and-listen/get-to-know-william-grant-still-jr 

    Arvey, Verna. In One Lifetime. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1984. 

    Spencer, J.M. The William Grant Still Reader. A special issue of Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, 6 no. 2. (Fall 1992). 

    Still, Judith Anne, Michael J. Dabrishus and Carolyn L. Quin. William Grant Still: A Bio-bibliography. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1996. 

    Parsons Smith, Catherine. William Grant Still: A Study in Contradictions. UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, 2000. 

    Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford 

  • FACH FACTS: SOPRANOS
    07/11/2022

       

    Welcome to Fach Facts, a fun new series on Backstage Blog where we'll explore opera's various voice types and highlight the voices you can expect to hear in the coming season. Today, we're slogging through the several sorts of sopranos, but first, let's get Fachsy.  

     

    One of the things that makes opera so different from other genres of lyric music is the Fach system. You may have heard this fancy German word tossed around at the opera. It sounds like "Fahk" as if the word "fox" had a k on the end instead of an x,  and it's not as fancy as all that! "Fach"  can be translated from German as "compartment" or "field" as in "field of study", and in the context of music, refers to specific types of voices and the body of repertoire to which they're best suited. In the US, we use "Fach" interchangeably with "voice type." 

     

    Many devoted opera fans --- stand proud, my friends! --- enjoy discussing the Fachs of their favorite singers the same way sports aficionados geek out over their heroes' statistics. It's part of the fun to debate whether the tenor has the vocal heft for this particular role or if it's kosher for a soprano to sing Carmen. Germany conforms to a somewhat rigid Fach system, with roles and voices neatly assigned to certain Fachs. In the US, however, argument is a sport. Passionate dialogue with your fellow opera-goers over which voice type is best for a particular role, the Fach a particular role belongs to, and which Fach a certain singer belongs to are all part of the fun and games. Often, it comes down to personal preference. To complicate matters further, singers often change Fach as their voices mature, especially lighter voices. Above all, remember that Fach is very rarely cut and dried!  

     

    One more definition before we start at the top of the list. The word is "tessitura," tess-ih-TOO-rah, meaning a range of notes. You might hear a singer say, "That aria sits kind of high in my tessitura," or "that aria has a high tessitura." They're saying that the piece of music in question is a bit too high for them to comfortably sing in the correct key or requires a lot of singing in the higher part of their range. Tessitura is one of the considerations in determining what Fach a singer belongs to. 

     

    To get you ready to rumble, we'll be exploring the four basic voice types and their most common micro-Fachs, beginning with, naturally, the prima donnas: the sopranos. 

     

     

    Several Sorts of Sopranos 

     

     

    The lyric coloratura soprano is the Mariah Carey of the opera world, with that whistle-like high range. She loves to float in the stratosphere and often has a crystalline sound in the top. Her voice is also agile and can move quickly --- that's why she's called a coloratura. More definitions! Coloratura, meaning coloring, refers to fast, florid music with many ornamentations; and this type of music is associated with coloratura sopranos. You'll also hear a lot of it in Rossini's The Barber of Seville (incidentally, our final mainstage offering of 2023).   He is notorious for it! Fun fact: although the leading role of Rosina was originally composed for a lyric mezzo-soprano, it is frequently performed by lyric coloratura sopranos.  

     

                                    

                                                                             Nadine Sierra as Gilda in FGO's 2012 Rigoletto

     

    Famous coloratura sopranos include Joan Sutherland, who in 1965 graced the FGO (then the Greater Miami Opera) stage in the leading role in Lucia di Lammermoor opposite an unknown young Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, making his American debut. Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa, who sang Pamina in our 2012 production of The Magic Flute, is currently one of the crown holders, as is Nadine Sierra, who sang Gilda in our 2011-2012 Rigoletto. Last season, we heard lyric coloratura sopranos Sharlene Joynt as Gilda in Rigoletto and Christine Lyons in the title role of Agrippina.  

     

                                    

                                         Christine Lyons as Agrippina with Kenneth Tarver as Nerone in FGO's 2022 Agrippina

     

    But wait! One kind of coloratura soprano isn't enough. We also have dramatic coloratura sopranos. Think of these ladies as coloratura sopranos on steroids. They're every bit as flexible and high-flying as their lyric sisters, but the voice has more power. These are our Queens of the Night from Mozart's The Magic Flute or Violettas in La traviata. Currently, Diana Damrau and Natalie Dessay are two of the best-known dramatic coloraturas, but longtime opera fans will undoubtedly think of the iconic American Beverly Sills, who appeared as The Countess in our 1965 production of The Marriage of Figaro, and again in 1980 as Rosalinda in a sold-out production of Die Fledermaus. In our 2019 Don Giovanni, Elizabeth de Trejo undertook the dramatic coloratura role of Donna Anna.  

     

    While lyric and dramatic coloratura roles aren't quite interchangeable, personal taste comes into casting choices, and many coloraturas sing roles from both mini-Fachs. Sometimes --- most of the time, even --- Fach is in the ear of the listener! 

     

                                    

                                                                       Evan Kardon as Sophie in our 2019 Werther

     

    Lyric soprano is easily the most heavily populated Fach, and its sub-Fachs include light, medium, and fuller versions --- soubrette, lyric, and full lyric. It's not uncommon for singers to "graduate" from lighter to heavier as their voices change or age. In general, lyric soprano voices might be characterized as light, youthful, tender, warm, flexible, and sweet. They generally do not possess the extreme high range of coloraturas, but they often are required to sing a sturdy chest voice.  

     

    Lighter, higher lyric sopranos often take on soubrette characters, what singers refer to as the "ina-etta roles," like Barbarina (The Marriage of Figaro) or Marzelline (Fidelio). Soubrettes tend to be very young, flighty, flirty, or saucy characters with birdlike tones. Kathleen Battle is a prime example of a well-known soubrette; Lisette Oropesa also began her career with many soubrette roles before moving into heavier repertoire. If you heard 2019's Don Giovanni or Werther, you heard an example of soubrettes in Aslief Willmer as Zerlina and Evan Kardon as Sophie, respectively. In our upcoming season, be on the lookout for one of the quintessential soubrette roles: Lauretta, the lovelorn daughter of the title character in Gianni Schicchi who also appears in its companion piece, Buoso's Ghost. She's the one who sings "O mio babbino caro," the show's biggest tune and one of the most famous arias in all of operaland.  

     

                                                                        

                                                                 Ailyn Perez as Mimi with Arturo Chacon Cruz as Rodolfo in La boheme, 2012

     

    Lyric sopranos with a little more heft sing a wide range of girlish young heroine roles, often innocent and ladylike but also clever. Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Micaëla in Carmen, or Liu in Turandot are lyric sopranos. Famous lyric sopranos include Leona Mitchell, Anna Netrebko (who has begun to take on roles from a range of heavier Fachs), Angela Gheorghiu, and Barbara Frittoli. In last season's A Streetcar Named Desire, Rebecca Krynski-Cox played the lyric soprano role of Stella, and in 2012 Ailyn Perez was our Mimi in La boheme.. In 2022-23, you'll hear lyric sopranos in the roles of Carolina and Elisetta (El matrimonio secreto) and La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso's Ghost. 

     

     

    Full lyric sopranos possess an even more robust sound than their lighter-voiced sisters, with tones that lean to creamy rather than silvery. Roles like Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni or Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, both recently embodied by Cuban-American soprano Elizabeth Caballero on our stage, are full lyric roles. Puerto Rican soprano Ana Maria Martinez, who sang the title role in Florencia en el Amazonas with FGO in 2018, is a full lyric, as is the incomparable Renée Fleming (though she really can, and does, sing anything). In our 2022-23 season, listen for Nella in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost. 

     

                                                                        

                                                                 Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti in our 1978 La boheme

     

    Spinto sopranos enjoy the brilliant high notes of the lyric, with a plummier heft in the middle and chest voices. This is the soprano heroine often favored by Verdi and Puccini: think the title roles in Madama Butterfly or Aida. Famous spintos include Mirella Freni, who appeared at FGO opposite Pavarotti in 1978's La bohème, and Angel Blue, who recently won raves as Bess in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Porgy and Bess. Tosca, which we'll hear in 2023, can be sung by a spinto. But she can also be sung by a singer of our next Fach … 

     

                                    

                                                                                     Kirsten Chambers as Salome (2018)

     

    Dramatic sopranos are the powerlifters of the operatic soprano world. Vocal weight is more robust, with stamina and power to be heard over a large, loud orchestra, big chorus, and other principals with similar vocal weight. The heavier Verdi and Puccini roles like Aida, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, and the title role in Turandot are all sung by dramatics (and sometimes by spintos). American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is a titleholder as one of the most significant dramatic sopranos currently singing. Other famous dramatics include the incomparable Leontyne Price, Eva Marton, and Jessye Norman. Our 2017-2018 season featured dramatic sopranos Melody Moore and Kirsten Chambers in the title role of Salome. In 2022-23, you'll hear a dramatic soprano as the fiery Tosca. Or is she a spinto? ;) You be the judge! 

     

                                    

                                                                                   Lise Lindstrom as Turandot (2010)

     

    Wagnerian sopranos are a type of dramatic soprano, but in a class by themselves. Not only is great power and stamina demanded, but Wagnerian tessiture (that's plural for tessitura) can sit very high. The vocal quality is characterized by trumpetlike brilliance and clarity of tone, both of which are necessary to be heard over Herr Wagner's massive orchestra and thick orchestrations. Of course, these sopranos are not restricted to singing Wagner; they often undertake dramatic roles. Opera history reveres its dramatic sopranos like Kirsten Flagstad, Astrid Varnay, and Birgit Nilsson, who sang Turandot here in 1962. More recent Wagner divas include American sopranos Christine Goerke, Christine Brewer, and Lise Lindstrom, who sang her signature role, Turandot, at FGO in 2010. 

     

    And there you have it --- a crash course in soprano voice types. For more fun, go to YouTube and look up some of these singers, especially if you're unfamiliar with their names. And be on the lookout for your favorite types in our upcoming season.  

    Subscriptions are on sale now. 

     

    By Cindy Sadler 
    FGO Marketing and Communications Manager 

  • Gaze on this gallery of rising stars
    05/05/2022

     

    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 www.amandaolea.com.  

     

                                 

     

    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 www.stephaniedoche.com

     

                                 

     

    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 www.charlescalottatenor.com

     

                                 

     

    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 www.michaelpandolfo.com

     

    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 www.erikdanielsonbaritone.com

     

    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 www.chrishumbert.com

     

    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 www.fgo.org 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 " Agrippina!
    05/05/2022

    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 www.fgo.org

     

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

  • Florida's Own Lavender Scare
    04/25/2022

     

    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 www.fgo.org for tickets.

  • Voices of the Scare
    04/15/2022

     

    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. abcnews.go.com/Health/lavender-scare-us-fired-thousands-gays-infamous-chapter/story?id=15848947

  • The deeper meaning behind "Fellow Travelers"
    04/07/2022

     

    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 www.fgo.org. Free motorcoach transportation from Miami --- register here

  • The reviews are in!
    03/17/2022

    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 www.fgo.org

     

  • RIGOLETTO'S LOYAL LADIES
    02/28/2022

     

    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  tickets.fgo.org.  March 12 – April 2, 2022. 

     

  • OPERA'S GREATEST WOMANIZER
    02/28/2022

     

    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 tickets.fgo.org  

  • RIGOLETTO AND THE JESTER'S ROLE
    02/28/2022

     

    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 www.fgo.org

  • The real-life jester that inspired Rigoletto
    02/11/2022

     

    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 www.fgo.org

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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

  • Tired but happy, the show must go on!
    02/08/2022

     

    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 www.fgo.org.

     

  • Jeffrey Marc Buchman, Stage Director and Creative Collaborator
    01/28/2022

    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 www.fgo.org for tickets.

  • Jumping out, jumping in
    01/16/2022

    CHANGING OUT THE DIVOS

    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.

     

    Einspringen!

     

    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 www.fgo.org. January 22 – February 5 in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

  • A SINGER'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
    12/30/2021

    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
    12/21/2021

    HOW A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE BECAME AN 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
    12/14/2021

    HOWARD TSVI KAPLAN, COSTUME DESIGNER, SKETCHES A STUNNING STREETCAR

     

    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
    12/03/2021

    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?
    11/29/2021

     

    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!
    11/21/2021

     

    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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