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Friday, August 14, 2015

A Bit of History on Central City Opera's Education Programming

Editor's Note: Today's blog was written by Deborah Morrow, Director of Education & Community Engagement

In the late 70s Central City Opera began formally offering education programs that toured to schools and other facilities.  Duain Wolfe, who also founded the Colorado Children’s Chorale and Colorado Symphony Chorus, instigated these programs.  He was CCO’s Artistic Administrator at the time and had relationships with singers, teachers and schools in the area.  When Duain Wolfe left CCO in 1993, I was already on staff and was able to continue and expand the programs that Duain had established.  There had been community outreach before us - for example, Florence Lamont Hinman (early CCO Chorusmaster and founder of DU’s Lamont School of Music) and her successor, Robert Dexter Fee, used the local singers from the chorus to present many community programs during the 40s and 50s. 

Because CCO produces in the summer we have some unique challenges in presenting community programs.  First, we don’t own an accessible venue in which to present programs outside the summer.  Most opera companies reach their largest numbers of young and new audiences through student performances, paid dress rehearsals and other performances in their theatres.  Our single Family Matinee only attracts around 400 student and family patrons each year (the rest of the audience consists of company members and older patrons looking for cheap tickets).  So we must take our communityprograms on the road (whether locally or farther afield) in order to reach a viable number of students and new audiences.  
Saints and Sinners, performed in Ouray - Pictured: Bradley Thompson, Jennifer DeDominici, Max Hosmer, Michelle Diggs Thompson. Photo by Erin Joy Swank
The second challenge we face is the fact that we cannot efficiently utilize singers from a Young Artist program for community programs.  Opera companies with traditional seasons have a group of young artists who fill small roles in full productions and spend the rest of their time presenting education programs.  It is not financially feasible for us to retain a group of young artists after the summer festival for education and community programs.  Fortunately, due to the fact that a large number of Colorado colleges offer vocal performance programs (and many performers make their homes in Colorado after college), there is a large pool of local talent to utilize.  We have learned that we can save on costs and use numerous artists on a fee per service basis, rather than hiring a few artists each year for a limited time.  Thus we have about 25 professional artists on our Central City Opera Ensemble roster, allowing flexibility in programming and scheduling, while limiting expenses.

These “deviations” from standard opera company protocol have allowed us to develop unique programming that is mobile and can be offered any time of year.  While we do offer summer programming, the majority of our work occurs from September through June.  Since we’ve just reached the end of a school year, I’ve been reviewing our offerings for the past year.  Here are a few highlights:
  • A robust partnership with Inside the Orchestra – 60-plus performances for families and students in the 2014-15 school year
  • More than 1500 middle school students experienced the bilingual opera En Mis Palabras-In My Own Words.  Student and teacher response was overwhelmingly positive.  The Principal at Hemphill MS in Strasburg commented, “The performance was excellent and shared a great message. It was amazing to be able to expose our students to the message that all cultures struggle with similar issues.
  • A new-for-CCO holiday production of Amahl and the Night Visitors was presented in partnership with St. James United Methodist Church, Highlands Ranch.  This touching family production brought in new (and old) audience members during the holiday season.
  • Our partnership each year with the CCO Guild allows us to offer Opera Teaser, Opera and Art, Opera Inside Out, and Take a Child to the Opera.  We LOVE these opportunities.
  • We presented 185 performances or teaching sessions for students and families in the Denver metro area in the 2014-15 school year
  • While we have drastically cut back on touring due to fewer dedicated grants, we still were able to take run-out programs to Glenwood Springs, Summit County, Ouray, Loveland, Colorado Springs, Strasburg, Montrose, Bailey and southeastern Wyoming.  A full house (family audience) at Ouray’s historic Wright Opera House leaped to their feet at the end of Saints and Sinners, demanding encores. They have requested a repeat visit this Fall.

Opera and Art

When the Pathfinders Came: A Cultural Journey Through Colorful Colorado – C3 3rd grade

  • Some of our favorite projects each year involve working with students to create original “operas” based on curricular studies.  This school year, Emily Murdock worked with 5th grade students and 3rd grade students in two Denver schools to create shows about American Revolutionary history and Colorado history. We know from the teachers who work with those students regularly that they never forget these experiences (or the information they write about in their operas).  A student commented, “I learned that making an opera is a BIG BIG BIG job.” Studies show that students who participate in the Arts become supporters and attenders as adults. 
Find out more about Central City Opera's Education & Community Engagement programs.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Spotlight On: Troy Cook, Baritone (Giorgio Germont, LA TRAVIATA)

Troy Cook, Baritone
Editor's Note: Today's blog comes from an article in our 2015 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide). Deborah Morrow (Director, Education & Community Engagement) interviewed Troy Cook. He plays Giorgio Germont in La Traviata, which plays its final performance today.

We understand that this summer’s production of La Traviata will be your first opportunity to portray Georgio Germont, a father figure and the antagonist in this opera. What are your thoughts about this role?

I think that Germont is driven by what drives any father, a deep love for his son and family. However misguided, he feels that he has Alfredo's best interests at heart when he asks Violetta to end her relationship with his son. After seeing what the break-up has done to him, he realizes his error and tells Alfredo the truth - just in time for him to say goodbye to Violetta. So at least by the end, he is able to see that Alfredo's love is true and that Violetta's intentions were honest. I would like to think that if there were an epilogue to La Traviata, the scene would entail Germont begging for his son’s forgiveness and the opportunity to right the wrong.

In some European countries, singers are hired by a company to perform an entire season of operas (called “house singers”), but in America, opera singers (and most other performing artists) live an itinerant and uncertain life; having to audition frequently, hired for one show at a time, and traveling from job to job.  How do you cope with these circumstances, and what makes it worthwhile?

It is indeed a difficult path, however, the personal rewards for me have been fantastic! It certainly helps to have a great manager (as I do) to facilitate having a full calendar of work. That said, when I do have down time, I really do enjoy being at home! One of the ways I cope is to invest in the cost of travel for my husband to come see me wherever I am, or for me to go home whenever my schedule allows. The financial sacrifice is worth the personal gain. In the age of new communication technologies, I certainly make use of Skype/FaceTime/texting etc., which really makes me feel like I am closer to home than I actually am!
Central City Opera’s LA BOHÈME (2012). Pictured: Eric Margiore (Rodolfo), Elizabeth Caballero (Mimi), Troy Cook (Marcello), and (Musetta). Photo by Mark Kiryluk.
Baritones get to play a wide range of character types, from romantic leads to comedic leads to sidekicks, villains and father figures. You’ve done a large variety of roles in your career; do you have a favorite character or character type, either vocally or from an acting standpoint?

One of my first favorite roles was Papageno [a comedic character in Mozart’s The Magic Flute] because I felt that he was a lot like me. I even had to fight my Papageno tendencies, as I would call it, when I would do other roles. As time has passed and my voice and I have changed, so have my favorite roles. Marcello [in Puccini’s La Bohème] has, for many years, been my go-to favorite character to portray; however, I recently had the opportunity to sing Rodrigo in Verdi's Don Carlo, and I have found a new favorite character. The vocal lines fit me like a glove, and he is a complicated, multi-layered character. I really enjoyed figuring out his psychology and what makes him tick.
Does the type of theatre (large, small, good acoustics, poor acoustics) affect the way you perform? Since you’ve sung in the Central City Opera House before, please comment on what it is like to sing here.

I have to say that the size or acoustical quality of a theater does change my approach to performing a bit. If a theater is incredibly large, I am always thinking during staging about how to position myself so my voice is always going into the theater.  However, I don't change anything about my vocal technique. When a theater has a dry acoustic, I have to be extremely aware that I don't try to over-sing because the acoustic makes me feel that no one can hear me.

Singing in the Central City opera house is such a pleasure!  It's very seldom that I get to sing in such an intimate space where you can actually feel the audience with you. Also, to hear a full sized orchestra in that small space is incredible as well. It's almost like IMAX with surround sound, except it's live! 
The Central City Opera House interior. Photo by Mark Kiryluk.
Central City Opera's 2015 Festival runs through August 9, with La Traviata's last performance tonight (sold out). Check out the2015 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide) for additional artist interviews, background on the original production and even musical versions of word search and Sudoku!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Spotlight On: Christopher Zemliauskas, Conductor

Christopher Zemliauskas,
Editor's Note: Today's blog comes from an article in our 2015 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide). Emily Murdock (Associate Director, Education & Community Engagement) interviewed Christopher Zemliauskas, conductor of our one-act operas Don Quixote and the Duchess and The Prodigal Son. He was last in Central City in 2013 conducting the opera Our Town.

2015 will be your 10th summer with Central City Opera. Is there something special about CCO that keeps you coming back?

One of the things that has brought me back to CCO over the years is the consistently high level of the productions and the artists that take part in them. The roster of singers, directors, and conductors that have worked at CCO over the years is impressive to say the least, and I appreciate the company's dedication in bringing those people together. It has offered me the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the great artists of our profession, which has been invaluable to me. The repertoire that I have been able to work on at CCO spans from Handel to Sondheim, and this richness and variety of material is very exciting (and rare among opera companies today). Though I don't live in Colorado anymore, working at CCO each summer is like coming home.
Do you have any favorite moments in these operas?

I love working on Britten operas in general, and specifically I am fascinated with his chamber operas and the church parables. Having conducted another of Britten's church parables, Curlew River (at CCO in 2008), I am familiar with the style of composition and orchestration. Both pieces have a predominantly male cast, sparse orchestra, different tempi happening at the same time, lack of bar lines/meter, and heavy use of tone-rows (an aspect of twelve tone composition). For me the real joy is taking these aspects and communicating the story through the music. In many ways it's like putting together a puzzle. Every note, rhythm, theme, and choice of instrumentation means something in these pieces, and it's a rare opportunity to be able to have the time and resources to help interpret these pieces for a wider audience.
Christopher Zemliauskas conducts a rehearsal for The Prodigal Son.
Photo by Tyler Donovan.

What is your background as a musician? How did you become interested in conducting?

I started playing the piano at age 6, and had the opportunity to attend a performing arts high school where I studied both classical and jazz piano. It was there that my love for collaboration took root, as I had the chance to play in orchestral ensembles, for singers and instrumentalists, and even for dance concerts. I continued my studies at Ithaca College and the University of Minnesota in both solo piano and accompanying, and was a resident artist pianist at The Minnesota Opera after receiving my Master's degree. At MinOp I was able to play for and learn from dozens of conductors, and I began to assist on several productions. Conducting became for me a natural extension of the collaborative process, and was a way for me to add my voice and interpretation to, what is—in an ideal situation—a team of thoughtful and creative people.

Central City Opera's 2015 Festival runs through August 9, though both one-act operas have now completed their runs. Check out the2015 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide) for additional artist interviews, background on the original production and even musical versions of word search and Sudoku!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Spotlight on: Nicholas Ward, Baritone

Nicholas Ward, Baritone
Editor's Note: Today's blog comes from an article in our 2015 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide). Emily Murdock (Associate Director, Education & Community Engagement) interviewed Nicholas Ward, one of our Apprentice Artists. He portrays Elder Son in our one-act opera The Prodigal Son this year as well as Marquis D'Obigny in La Traviata.

You were a Central City Opera Bonfils-Stanton Apprentice Artist in 2014 and a Studio Artist in 2013. What does Central City Opera offer to emerging opera professionals that you’ve found helpful in your career?

I feel that Central City’s program has prepared me to take on any challenge that I face in the world of opera. Between an intense class schedule, top-notch coaching, and fabulous productions, the young artists at CCO are prepared for anything. I’ve had the opportunity to perform in a huge variety of productions, ranging from grand opera to chamber opera to musicals with distinguished principal performers. CCO really offers the full package of training for somebody at the beginning of an opera career. The knowledge I’ve gained from the coaches and directors is invaluable, and I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned and apply it to my work outside of the program. I think one of the most valuable things I’ve learned here is how to get up in front of people and perform without fear. Singing in front of your colleagues can be nerve-wracking. Once you do it a few times, you get used to it and find that there’s really not much to be worried about. Now, auditions feel like a breeze! I’m glad to have learned so much in such a supportive environment.
Nicholas Ward was featured as part of the Trio in last year’s Trouble in Tahiti. Photo by Aaron Peterson.
You will be singing the role of the Elder Son in The Prodigal Son, one of our one-act operas that will be produced in Central City and Colorado Springs. What are you most looking forward to with this production?

First of all, Britten’s music is spectacular, this piece in particular. I’m really looking forward to tackling the unique challenges it presents. This is very much an ensemble piece. The singers and instrumentalists have to rely on each other for entrances, cues, and meeting points. Britten even uses his own notation to indicate special types of cues and passages. I can’t wait to get to work on this music with my colleagues, and hopefully form relationships with the instrumentalists as well. I’m also very excited to be performing this work in church venues. I think this will be a fantastic opportunity for the community to experience something very different than what is presented at the opera house. Churches provide such an excellent space for intimate performances. We’ll get the chance to connect with our audience in a very special way.

Can you relate to your character of the Elder Son in any way?

Well, I am a real-life older brother! Lucky for me, I have a wonderful family. We get along, unlike the brothers in The Prodigal Son. Other than that, I don’t see a whole lot of this character in myself, but I understand why he feels the way he does in his situation. He is an easily-angered, jealous and self-righteous person. He works diligently for his father, but his intentions are selfish. When the subject of inheritance arises, he goes ballistic and essentially disowns his younger brother. He can’t show compassion and doesn’t understand why his brother is being treated with love and kindness despite his mistakes. I think there are many valuable lessons to be learned from the stories of both sons. Many of us have felt the sting of jealousy or entitlement. The question is; how do we deal with these feelings? The story of the Prodigal Son gives us some examples of what can go wrong, and that it’s important to appreciate what we have. I’m very much looking forward to delving into this character and bringing him to life for CCO audiences.

Central City Opera's 2015 Festival runs through August 9. Check out the2015 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide) for additional artist interviews, background on the original production and even musical versions of word search and Sudoku!