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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Face on the Barroom Floor

The Face on the Barroom Floor is famous, but no one quite knows the real story behind it. There are many versions of the story, from the poem by H. Antoine D'Arcy to the opera by Henry Mollicone. I, however, subscribe to the Henry Mollicone version, if only because I got to see the opera itself the other day. Face on the Barroom Floor was written for Central City Opera in 1978, and is now performed as one of our Festival Extras each summer. I got the chance to pop in and take some photographs of the performance and I was delighted with both the story and the artists. Face is double casted, which means that you won't know which cast you'll get to see if you come see one of the two performances left - on August 4th and 8th. I suggest you take a gamble and come see it, as both casts are fabulous and the opera itself is simultaneously fun and dramatic.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Signor Deluso

Among my favorite things about this festival are the festival extras; especially Signor Deluso and Face on the Barroom Floor. I love getting the chance to see our Apprentice and Studio Artists show off their operatic chops and, while I haven't seen Face yet, Signor Deluso is just plain hilarious. Written by Thomas Pasatieri and based on the Moliere play Sganarelle, the comic opera is directed by Artistic Director Emeritus John Moriarty, who conducted the original production of the show in 1974. Signor Deluso tells the story of two couples who suspect that their loved ones are having affairs with others. I went to see a performance last week, and it was awesome. I'll sum it up for you in photos.

Monday, July 26, 2010

2010 Summer Performing Arts Intensive

It's been a whirlwind weekend up here in Central City. Colorado Springs Conservatory partnered with Central City Opera for the seventh Summer Performing Arts Intensive, bringing fourteen talented high school students to Central City for the weekend. The kids had been working for two weeks on a program of scenes and songs and their own original opera based on the life of Colorado native Antoinette Perry, Broadway actress, producer and namesake of the Tony Awards. The students came from around the country to spend those two weeks in Colorado Springs, culminating in a weekend of opera and performance right here in Central City.

They arrived last Wednesday and were greeted with a sandwich supper with company members. The students got to interact with some of the artists and staff members and ask questions, and it was lovely to talk to a group of such bright, interested students. They had seen Three Decembers before dinner, and they were all delighted to have Decembers stars Emily Pulley and Keith Phares to talk to. Other company members shared their wisdom as well, and as a student myself, I was thrilled to be able to hear their advice and watch them interact so warmly with the Summer Intensive students.

That, however, was just the beginning. The students got to see all three operas over the weekend, as well as some festival extras. In the midst of it all, they attended classes with CCO Musical Director John Baril and Artistic Director Emeritus John Moriarty, and they rehearsed for their performances, which took place Friday and Saturday night. I had the pleasure of attending Friday night's performance. I was touched and thrilled by what I saw. The performance consisted of a scenes program called Through the Eyes of a Child and an original opera, Toni: The Story of Antoinette Perry. The whole scene program was entertaining, but my favorite parts were the songs and monologues from the famous musical A Chorus Line. I sang in A Chorus Line when I was in high school, and I have a lot of wonderful memories that revolve around that show. The sections from it in the scenes program took me back. It was awesome.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the scenes program, what I was really impressed with was the opera. Toni was entertaining, informative, and well written. The music was catchy and the performances were compelling. And while it perhaps bore more resemblance to musical theatre than it did to opera, I can't fault anyone for that; I enjoyed it too much.

It was also such a great pleasure to have high school kids around who were so enthusiastic about opera and theatre and so excited to be here! Opera generally has an older audience, so I'm always excited when I see one young person in the audience. It was inspiring to have 14 of them here.

Thanks to the hard work of everyone at the Colorado Springs Conservatory and here in CCO's education department and otherwise for their hard work in making this happen. It was a lovely weekend!

The Performing Arts Intensive is open to students ages 14-19.  Auditions for the 2011 Intensive will be held in the fall.  Visit or for more information.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Peek at the Costumes of ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD

"Sara Jean Tosetti's spectacular costumes...manage to seem both historical and contemporary, with a showy, masquerade-ball sensibility."
- Kyle MacMillan, Denver Post

Today we’re sharing with you some of these bright, festive costumes from this year’s production of Orpheus in the Underworld.

As Marc Astafan describes the show in his Director’s Notes:

“It's about a married couple who are sick of each other and looking for adventure. They go to the Greek Gods for help and find out that the gods are just as frustrated with their perfect lives on Mount Olympus and all flee to Hades for fun and frolic. Each scene has its own distinct color scheme: Scene One on Earth in natural tones of green and yellow, Scene Two on Mount Olympus in celestial gold and silvers and white and blue, Pluto's Boudoir in Act II in sexy purple and gold, and the finale, featuring the "Can-can," in dazzling pinks, reds and black!”

So, first we’ll take a look at Sara Jean Tosetti’s original design sketches for the disgruntled married characters of Orpheus and Eurydice:

You can see those bright greens and golds stayed true to form in this production photo of Orpheus (Edward Mout) and Eurydice (Joanna Mongiardo).

When we asked our Facebook users for some of their favorite moments this year, “Tom” mentioned the memorable part when Jupiter disguises himself as a fly. First we’ll look at the fun costume sketch of his outfit:

And now we see how the design was fully realized in our production:

Pictured: Joanna Mongiardo (Eurydice) and Matthew Worth (Jupiter).

You’ll have to come see the show to see how the back of Jupiter’s costume turned out!

Now let’s take a look at Hades, where all the fun is. Eurydice is sketched in that dazzling pink, while one of the “Can-can” girls…well, she’s got some pink too!

And now for the real excitement of seeing it all on stage:

The "Can-can" from Central City Opera’s ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD(2010). Pictured: Joannna Mongiardo (Eurydice) and citizens of the Underworld.

Don’t you want to join in the party? Come up and see Orpheus in the Underworld this weekend!

Pictured (Above Center) Joannna Mongiardo (Eurydice) and (Below Center) Ryan MacPherson (Pluto) surrounded by citizens of the Underworld.

All production photos taken by Mark Kiryluk. All sketches by Sara Jean Tosetti, Costume Designer.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jake Heggie & Gene Scheer Talkback About THREE DECEMBERS

I love listening to artists talk about their creations. I got a unique chance on Saturday to do just that at a talkback for Three Decembers with composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer. They talked about the evolution of their powerful show, which began with a script that playwright Terrence McNally wrote for a benefit.

Some Christmas Letters and a Couple of Phone Calls Too was a fourteen page script that Jake Heggie found "stimulating on a musical level." Touched by the story, Heggie set out to write some music for it.

The opera that became Three Decembers took about seven years to evolve. It was a long process because Heggie & Scheer had to "create a backstory [for the characters and] show the progress that the family took over three decades." They thought about doing a musical theatre piece, but over time it evolved into the intimate opera it is today.

They were interested in the piece's flawed characters, the idea of redemption, and "the notion of how much illusion we need in our lives," but they really focused on exploring how the choices that people make travel with them over time. They both found it fascinating that "even over different decades, you're always the same person."

Scheer used his experience at Central City Opera to explain this. "I've performed here over the years." He said. "I was here ten years ago. It's very interesting to see someone 10 years later - the conversation sort of continues." They also referenced the phenomenon of the family reunion and the struggle to keep the identity you've grown into when you're surrounded by your family, who knew you when you were young.

"A lot of this piece for me," Heggie told us, "is about claiming identity, inside of a family and outside of it." Heggie and Scheer wanted to explore "the complicated messiness of people's lives," and were interested in how Maddie's decision was "sort of like life" in its messiness. "It's something that anyone can relate to," Scheer explained.

Central City Opera’s THREE DECEMBERS (2010).
Pictured Front: Joyce Castle (Madeline), Behind: Emily Pulley (Beatrice).
Photo by Mark Kiryluk.

I don't know about you, but all this talk about Three Decembers makes me want to go see it! I haven't seen the whole show yet. Good thing there's a performance tonight, Saturday, and next Wednesday... you get the picture. I hope to see you there.

P.S. There's a great in-depth interview with Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer (as well as several other artists from the 2010 Festival) in our 2010 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide). Download the pdf here. You can also meet Joyce Castle (playing Madeline) this Saturday at a similar event.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Central City Opera Walking Tour

Now that the opera season has started, I’m sure everyone is planning their trips up to Central City to see one (or more!) of our lovely operas. Since you’re all making the trek (at least, we hope you are), I thought I’d fill you in on what else there is to see in Central City that relates to the opera.

Central City Opera House: John Moriarty (Central City Opera's Artistic Director Emeritus) could tell you more about the Opera House than anyone else you’d meet here, and I know he could tell you more than I can. I’ll tell you a little bit of the history of the house though, in case you don’t run into Mr. Moriarty on the street. The Opera House was built by Cornish and Welsh miners in 1878. It was designed by Colorado architect Rob Roeschlaub, and its ceiling murals were painted by San Francisco artist John Massman. The Opera House now seats 550 people, and is operated primarily during the summer by the Central City Opera House Association. It's gorgeous, so take a tour if you can!

Williams Stables: The Stables were built in 1876 for use of the Teller House, but Sheriff Dick Williams bought it four years later. He and his son Oscar operated the stables until 1953, when the Opera House Association acquired it. Central City Opera now uses it for rehearsals, recitals, performances by artists of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Artists Training Program, and cast parties.

Teller House: The Teller House Hotel was opened in 1872 and turned into “the most elegant hotel between Chicago and San Francisco.” President Grant even stayed there in April of 1873. The Rocky Mountain National Bank was on the Teller House’s street level from 1874 to 1915, and Central City’s first telephone exchange was once headquartered there. The most famous part of the Teller House, however, might be Herndon Davis’ “Face on the Barroom Floor,” which has been turned into an opera and is one of our Festival Extras.

Johnson House: I've been wondering about the history of the Johnson House for a while, but I only just found out about it this morning, thanks to the historical wisdom of Mr. John Moriarty. Apparently, the Johnson House used to be owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Lowe. Mr. Lowe was a mining engineer, and he may have used the building across the street (now Festival Hall) as an office. After Mr. Lowe died, Mrs. Lowe sold the Johnson House, and it eventually came to be acquired by the Johnson family. (Mr. Johnson, it turns out, was employed by Atlantic Richfield Oil, which eventually merged with another oil company and become a subsidiary of the US's favorite oil company, BP. But that's besides the point.) Anyway, Mrs. Johnson eventually gave the house to the Opera company. It is now primarily used for receptions and such, but occasionally we interns get to go in there for meetings, which is always fun. It’s also deeply amusing to walk into the downstairs bedroom in Johnson House, because the quilt on the bed matches the wallpaper. Creepy!

Festival Hall: Thanks to some fun facts I learned from John Moriarty this morning, Festival Hall is one of my new favorite places in Central City. Mr. Moriarty informed me that the building used to be a brewery, a casino, a dry goods store, and a private residence. Cool, huh? In fact, if you look carefully at the top of the building, you can still (barely) see the word "CASINO" written across the top. The offices of the house manager (this year the lovely Shannon O’Connor Kenney), the company switchboard, and the desks of the interns who work out of the office (including me) are all in Festival Hall now.

Foundry: Foundry Rehearsal Hall is where the real action of the opera happens. That’s because it houses – you guessed it – our rehearsal spaces. The building itself used to be a foundry owned by the McFarlane family, but it fell apart from disuse over the years, and they sold it to the Opera House Association in the early 1990’s. They renovated it and made it into our rehearsal building. It now houses three rehearsal halls, the stage management office, and many practice rooms.

The Gilpin County History Museum: The History Museum doesn’t officially have any connection to the Opera House Association, but I figured I’d point it out in case you had a yen to learn more history than I can give you. The Museum has some great new displays and is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in the history of Central City or of the surrounding areas.

Central City Visitors Center: The Visitors Center is another place with no official connection to the Opera, but they get props anyway. Their Walking Tour brochures are the source of much of the history in this post (thanks guys!) and their employees are friendly and happy to talk about Central City and the Opera.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Marc Shulgold's Fun Facts on THREE DECEMBERS

Today we bring you more "fun facts" from Marc Shulgold, former music critic of the Rocky Mountain News, focusing on Three Decembers by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer.

  • Now an internationally respected opera and art-song composer, Jake Heggie began his composing career in an unusual way – as a member of the Public Relations Department at San Francisco Opera. It was there that he had befriended famed mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, who encouraged him to write songs for her – ironically, it was von Stade who, years later, would bid farewell to the opera stage singing Maddy in Heggie's Three Decembers.
  • This three-player chamber opera has undergone a number of transformations and name changes. It began as a 14-page play by Terrence McNally, presented as part of “A Joyous Family Christmas” AIDS benefit concert in New York's St. Bartholomew's Church in December, 1999. The playwright's contribution was Some Christmas Letters (and a Couple of Phone Calls, Too), performed by celebrated actors Betty Buckley, Victor Garber, Julie Harris and Cherry Jones. When Houston Grand Opera commissioned Heggie to create a chamber opera for HGO's 2007-08 season, he teamed with Gene Scheer to fashion a libretto. Based on McNally's playlet, the opera was given the working title Last Acts and starred von Stade. After its Houston premiere in Feb., 2008, the piece was re-named Three Decembers.
  • Von Stade was intimately involved in the creation of the opera, which at first was envisioned by the creative team as a musical. The mezzo directed Heggie and Scheer to rethink it as an opera. “She was right, and instantly it fell into place,” Heggie later remarked.
  • Heggie and McNally's most successful partnership came in the much-acclaimed (and much-performed) opera Dead Man Walking (premiered in 2000). Local opera-lovers may remember another collaboration between the two: At the Statue of Venus, a “scene for soprano and piano” with text by McNally that was commissioned by Opera Colorado for the 2005 opening of the Denver's Ellie Caulkins Opera House. The piece was to be sung by Renée Fleming, but she withdrew from the premiere. Instead it was premiered by Kristin Clayton (the original Bea in Three Decembers) with Heggie accompanying at the keyboard.
  • Three Decembers traces three decades in the relationships between Maddy, a Broadway star whose husband had died years earlier, and her adult children, Bea, a married woman, and Charlie, a gay man dealing with the death of his partner. Heggie has said that he identifies strongly with the tensions between Maddy, a single parent, and her children, since he had lost his father through suicide as a young boy. Von Stade, too, found that the characters resonated with her own family life, noting the similarities between Maddy and the singer's mother: “It's her! The only thing I don't do onstage (as Maddy) is smoke.”
  • Heggie and Scheer have collaborated on numerous stage and concert works, most recently receiving rave reviews for their operatic setting of Moby-Dick, premiered in April at Dallas Opera. 
Pictured above, clockwise from top left: Keith Phares (Charlie), Emily Pulley (Bea) and Joyce Castle (Madeline) in Central City Opera's THREE DECEMBERS (2010). Photo by Kira Horvath.

Be sure to check out the other fun fact blogs on Madama Butterfly and Orpheus in the Underworld

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Marc Shulgold’s Fun Facts on ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD

Today we bring you more "fun facts" from Marc Shulgold, former music critic of the Rocky Mountain News, focusing on Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach.
  • Born Jakob Eberst in 1819 in Cologne, Germany, Jacques Offenbach was the son of a Jewish cantor and amateur musician. His father changed the family name to Offenbach in honor of his German hometown. At 14, Jakob attended the Paris Conservatory for only a year, but decided to make Paris his home, often playfully referring to himself there as “Monsieur O de Cologne.”
  • Orpheus in the Underworld (a polite translation of Orphée aux enfers – more accurately, “Orpheus in Hell”) was a raucous satire – thumbing its nose at Greek mythology, at Gluck and his treatments of the Orpheus myth, as well as at various figures and scandals in contemporary French society. No surprise that the operetta drew a rash of indignant critical slurs soon after its premiere in 1858. One writer labeled the work “une parodie grotesque et grossière” (a coarse and grotesque parody) that gives off “une odeur malsaine” (an unhealthy odor). Naturally, such reviews helped spur ticket sales, soon packing Offenbach's 50-seat theater, the Bouffes-Parisiens, for 228 straight performances.
  • Among those visiting Offenbach's tiny theater was Rossini, who called Offenbach “the Mozart of the Champs-Elysees.” An opposing view was expressed by another visitor, Richard Wagner, who described the music he heard as “a dung heap on which all the swine of Europe wallowed.”  
  • The famous Can-Can heard in Act II of Orpheus is actually titled “Infernal Gallop” (galop infernal). In addition to its frequent use as accompaniment to that racy French dance, the music was adapted by Saint-Saens in his Carnival of the Animals – now slowed to a crawl in the lower strings to depict the tortoise. 
  • In the spirit of the work's playful satirical bent, a 1980s English-language production mounted in London by English National Opera poked fun at then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher through the character Public Opinion, the self-proclaimed guardian of morality.  
  • Sign on the door of a music shop: “Gone to lunch. Bach at One – Offenbach sooner.”
Above Right: Joyce Campana (Public Opinion) and Edward Mout (Orpheus) in Central City Opera’s ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD (2010). Photo by Mark Kiryluk.

 Be sure to check out our previous blog entry of Marc Shulgold's Fun Facts on Madama Butterfly.