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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Of Budgets and Earthquakes

As Central City Opera's Festival Production Manager, I spend each year getting ready for our season, managing our current Festival, closing it down and getting ready for the next one. Now that our 2011 Festival has finished and all my production staff and interns have scattered to the four winds, this is my time to start closing down the details of my 9th season with Central City Opera.
Festival Production Manager Karen Federing and the 2011 Festival Staffers
First comes my drive home; I head back to the East Coast where I've lived much of my life - most of it in New York City. Then I take a few days to unpack, regroup and readjust to sea level and the summer coastal humidity that I've avoided by spending my summers in the foothills of the Rockies.

So Tuesday at about 1:52pm ET, I was working in my home office in Maryland (just 30 minutes northwest of Washington, DC). I was making budget entries for my weekly expense report of remaining Festival expenses and looking over photos of our sets this season so I can use them to advertise potential rentals to other opera companies. And then the floor started to shake. And then the ceiling - which was really strange. I thought it was neighbor kids running around outside at first. And then I did what no intelligent Californian would do - I ran outside. No kids anywhere. The stairwell was shaking like mad as I went down the stairs and kept shaking as I watched. It took a few minutes to register that I was experiencing my 1st earthquake. All I can say is that it was a pretty unnerving experience - especially the feeling that my office ceiling was going to fall in, which is really what made me want to leave my office. When I went back inside, framed photos and knick-knacks had been knocked from shelves and framed art was hanging lopsided - proof of a 5.8 quake, to be sure.

I went back to my computer (where I'd been in mid-e-mail conversation with staff in our Denver office), told them what had happened, and went back to work. But I also spent much of the day checking with family and friends here and up in New York, and fielding text messages from all over the place, sharing experiences and a sense of wonder.

It's pretty impressive to think we can stay this connected under duress. I was still living in New York City when September 11 happened, and I will say Tuesday brought me back to that day just a little - especially the desire to reach family and share that we were all ok. But on that day, I could only reach my family right there in New York, not reaching my family in DC until much later in the day, which was quite terrifying. At least Tuesday, technology brought us all together.

Jennifer DeDominici and John Robert Lindsey star in CARMEN with Opera Fort Collins

If you didn't get enough of Carmen this summer, you might want to head up to Fort Collins this weekend. Central City Opera has ties to the two leads of Opera Fort Collins' production of Bizet's classic.
Jennifer DeDominici (Carmen) and John Lindsey (Don José) in Opera Fort Collins' production of Carmen
Jennifer DeDominici (Carmen) portrayed Pitti Sing in The Mikado, a Central City Opera collaboration with the Colorado Symphony a few years ago, and is a member of the Central City Opera Ensemble. As part of our "Where is Carmen?" marketing campaign for the Denver performance of Carmen this summer, Jennifer entertained audiences at Comedy Works with a sampling of the saucy diva.
Earlier in the spring, she also performed the "Habanera" and other opera tunes at one of the "Untitled" events at the Denver Art Museum.
(That's our own version of "supertitles" in the background.)
As for Carmen's love interest Don José, John Robert Lindsey will sing the role for Opera Fort Collins in the same production. This summer, John was a Studio Artist with Central City Opera, where his Short Works performances included scenes from Ariadne Auf Naxos, Susannah and A View from the Bridge, as well as in the ensemble for Carmen, Amadigi di Gaula and The Breasts of Tiresias. As a student at the University of Colorado - Boulder last year, John also toured with the Central City Opera as part of our Opera Rocks the Rockies tour, an annual collaboration with the University of Colorado Opera Studies program. (Jennifer also participated in this tour a few years earlier as a CU student.) Pictured below, John performed pieces from Carmen with Nicole Vogel and pianist Michael Tilley in Opera Rocks the Rockies.
Central City Opera and the University of Colorado Opera Studies will hit the road again in November with their annual Opera Rocks the Rockies tour featuring tomorrow's opera stars. Stay tuned for further details of this tour scheduled to include schools and community centers in Wyoming and a few Denver-area venues. To book a performance at your venue, visit the Regional Touring page or contact

Watch Jennifer and John heat up the stage in Carmen with Opera Fort Collins at the recently renovated Fort Collins Lincoln Center. Performances are Friday, August 26th, at 7:30 p.m.and Sunday, August 28th at 2 p.m.

Photo credits: Opera Fort Collins publicity photo as published on; Where is Carmen? - Hilary Miller; Untitled - Christina Jackson, Denver Art Museum; Opera Rocks the Rockies - Erin Joy Swank

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Central City Opera Jigsaw Puzzle!

Here's something new and different - a jigsaw puzzle from a production photo of The Breasts of Tiresias. Enjoy!

Central City Opera’s THE BREASTS OF TIRESIAS (2011). Pictured: Joanna Mongiardo (Thérèse). Photo by Mark Kiryluk.
[Hint: if a piece gets trapped under the partially completed puzzle, hit "Shuffle Pieces" to bring it forward.]

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Day of Magic at the Opera!

Hopefully, you had a chance to head up the hill this summer and check out all that the 2011 Festival had to offer. There was certainly something for everyone of all interests and all ages.

The final week offered a special day for kids! On August 4th, children found out that it doesn't take a wizard to understand opera as they experienced the festivities surrounding the Family Matinee performance of Amadigi di Gaula. The Central City Opera Guild hosted Take a Child to the Opera where kids learned in a fun and engaging way about Amadigi and what it takes to put together an opera.

Deven Shaff and Deb Morrow of Central City Opera's Education & Community Programs started off the event with some creative mind-bending ice breakers such as the Silent Machine. All joined in by creating a motion sans sound and becoming part of the machine!
Kids and adults all make a motion sans sound and create the Silent Machine.
Then, using the simple rhyme "Humpty Dumpty", Deven demonstrated how an opera is built by having the kids create scenes from the action points in a story. Here you can see how all of the horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again!
Kids re-enact an action point from Humpty Dumpty - Poor Humpty!
The event culminated in the kids re-creating scenes from Amadigi so they would be ready for the opera! With special gifts from the Guild in hand (a Central City Opera rain poncho and a magic wand - a very fitting combination indeed!), everyone headed across the street to the Teller House for a magic show with The Wizard from The Wizard's Chest in Cherry Creek. Hearing about the magical prestidigitations, a huge group of kids appeared to watch in wonder as they waited for a rabbit to come out of the hat!

The Wizard brought his bag of tricks from The Wizard's Chest.
A huge audience of kids came to watch the magic of The Wizard before heading off to Amadigi.
As a final hurrah, all of the children followed the sorceress in a costume parade past the wizard through the Opera House Garden and back. The Wizard used his magic lightbulb to choose the costume winners.

After an exciting start to the day, the children were treated to the simple magic of opera. Imagine what next year has in store...
To keep in the loop about upcoming events this fall and spring, join our eMail club!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Central City Days Offers Historical Fun "On The Hill"

“On May 6, 1859, John H. Gregory located, staked, and pre-empted the first mining claims in what was to become known as the 'Richest Square Mile on Earth.' This spot, marked by the Gregory Monument, is near the city limits of Central City and Black Hawk. The area was originally called Gregory's Diggings, but very soon became known as Mountain City. News of the strike reached Denver by May 17th. First publication of this was in the May 28, 1859 issue of the Rocky Mountain News. As of May 23rd, there were a total of 14 claims in the gulch.” -Gilpin Historical Society
July 30 and 31 "Mountain City" welcomed visitors during the first Central City Days. Great events and opportunities made for two jam-packed days of fun at historic heights! Adventure goers went on bike rides around ghost towns near Nevadaville and tours of historic Black Hawk and Central City. Led by the Gilpin County Historical Society staff, opera-goers and history-buffs alike could see where the beginnings of the Colorado gold rush took place.
 Patrons who purchased the VIP passes for Saturday were treated to a relaxing party at the McFarlane Memorial next to the Cour D'Alene Mine. Guests kicked back with a brew and enjoyed the glorious vista over Central City while listening to the folksy tunes from the incredibly talented group The Mile Markers. Sunday afternoon, the party moved to Central City Opera's historic Johnson House where guests mingled on the front lawn with a glass of Colorado mead. Featured during the VIP events were libations from Oskar Blues Brew & ‘Q as well as Grande River Winery and Infinite Monkey Theorem, plus mead from Redstone Meadery Meads
All of these events highlighted the 2011 Festival’s “festivalization” process. This milestone year included an expanse in offerings and more opportunities for opera-goers to enjoy the historic city in which Central City Opera was born. Read the press release about this exciting process, which will likely be continued and refined in the years to come.

The 2011 Festival might be over but there is always plenty to check out in Central City. Next time you're there, be sure to stop by the Gilpin Historical Society to get a walking tour of our historical property! I’m willing to bet they would be more than happy to tell you a bit about Mountain City, too!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Wonderful World of Costume Design for the Triple Bill

Gianni Schicchi
This year's triple bill of one-act operas presented many interesting challenges for Director Ken Cazan and his designers. In a previous blog post, Ken discussed finding a unifying theme of "home" throughout the operas. This concept was brought to life visually by Scenic Designer Cameron Anderson, who created a house that is built on stage in several pieces over the evening. If you watch all three, you'll also find repeating props occasionally - a balloon, a newspaper with Dadaist lettering on it, and even a bedpan. While there are running threads throughout the evening, each opera still maintains its own distinct style. Each opera is in a different language (Italian, German or French) and the costumes for each are also extremely different. On a triple bill evening (two times during the season when you can see all three) we start with the most "traditional" of all of the operas, Puccini's Gianni Schicchi. We've updated the setting to 1947 here, and while very lovely in design, the characters wear fairly "traditional" attire, designed by Alice Marie Kugler Bristow.

The Seven Deadly Sins
As the curtain rises on the second opera of the evening, The Seven Deadly Sins, you realize you're in for something a bit different. After all, one character (the Mother) is WEARING a washtub from the top of the show...and is played by a man (a bass, in fact). The opera continues with quite a bit of representational costuming. As Anna I and Anna II travel throughout different cities, the "Family Quartet" dons different pieces of clothing to represent new characters she meets. Each of the sins is represented by a different color, and the costume choices (as well as lighting by David Martin Jacques and projections by Cameron Anderson) enhance this idea. We move fluidly from city to city (and sin to sin) and the design choices assist the viewer in making this journey away from "traditional" opera.

The Breasts of Tiresias
That's good, because by the third opera, we're in for a wacky, zany world of design! The Breasts of Tiresias is a far-out plot from the beginning: Thérèse gets tired of being a woman, her breasts float away like balloons, and she becomes a man! Eventually her husband reverses roles, too, becoming a father to literally thousands of children that he has created by himself. To set the scene for this absurdist tale, it only takes Le Directeur walking on the set to realize this is going to be different - as he has BECOME the thing he represents, with his megaphone as a hat on top of his head. He's soon greeted by a trash can, a fountain, a Metro sign and other usually inanimate objects.

Utah Opera created the initial build for many of the costumes in The Breasts of Tiresias, which presented some challenging construction issues. Check out their blog for articles on creating these costumes out of Tyvek and other unusual materials and then comparing them with the final versions on stage.

The triple bill really is "something to see," and I know this creative challenge was ultimately quite fun for all of the designers. Utah Opera also sent Alice a special opening night gift in honor of the costumes she had created - her very own Tyvek dress, which they signed. There was also plenty of room left for her Central City Opera friends to leave a lasting impression on the dress as well.

Close-up of the signatures on Alice's Tyvek dress
You have just ONE more chance to see The Breasts of Tiresias, this Saturday, August 5 at 4:00 pm. We're offering a special Buy One, Get One Free discount for it as well, when you purchase tickets online or call the Box Office at 303-292-6700 and use the code BOGO. (Not valid for tickets purchased previously).

Gianni Schicchi plays in repertory just before the above performance, at 2:30 pm. The Seven Deadly Sins had its last performance today at 4:00 pm.

See more production photos for Gianni Schicchi, The Seven Deadly Sins and The Breasts of Tiresias by photographer Mark Kiryluk.

Photos of Alice's dress were taken by the author.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

From the Pit: An Opera Company's "Unsung Heroes"

Sarah Richardson, who plays the viola, sent us this vlog (video blog) about the time she and her fellow musicians spend underneath the Central City Opera stage as members of the Central City Opera Orchestra. I've mentioned in a previous blog post how much I enjoy watching the Orchestra from the balcony. This collection of photos, videos and commentary gives you an insider's view from below as well!

Check out more from our violist on her blog, Beyond Do Re Mi. What do some musicians do when there are a lot of opera performances and not much time to drive back down to the Denver area in between them? According to one blog article, Sarah occasionally spends time at a nearby campground recharging her artistic soul enjoying nature and journaling. We actually have quite a few patrons who go camping while visiting the opera each summer, too. You may have been camping beside one of our orchestra members and not even realized it!