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Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Welsh Musical Tradition - Past & Present

 This blog post was written by Irene Rawlings of KBCO FM.

On a recent trip to Wales, I visited the poet Dylan Thomas' hometown of Swansea and stayed in his childhood home at 5 Cwmdonkin Drive (now an authentically restored B&B that also serves great dinners). I expressed an interest in the Welsh choral tradition and was invited to a rehearsal of the Swansea Male Choir, founded in 1946 to “further the art of music and support local charities.”
A member of the Swansea Male Choir
I was moved by the joy that the Swansea male-voice choir members took in their singing but I was not surprised. There is a rich musical tradition in Wales—especially the male-voice choirs—whose songs provide the vibrant soundtrack to everything from chapel to the rugby field to the boisterous late-night sing-alongs in the local pubs. 

Who are these men? They are miners, steelworkers, quarrymen, farmers and shopkeepers. Many of the current members were brought to the choir by their male relatives back in a simpler time when choirs were a big part of village life. Yes, there were a lot of gray heads and even a wheelchair or two, but there were also plenty of young men in leather jackets and slicked back undercuts (think Boardwalk Empire) which makes me think that the Welsh male-voice tradition has a strong future.

As I sat at the Swansea rehearsal and heard everything from hymns to show tunes, I thought of the Central City Opera House back home in Colorado, built by Welsh and Cornish miners in 1878. How they must have missed the camaraderie of the choral tradition in their home country. And what a lovely opera house they built for us to enjoy still today.
Central City Hard-Rock Miners in 1889
I took out my cell phone and recorded one of the songs to share with you. It is not the quality that I would have liked but I'm thinking it will give you a good idea. And they were sitting down. Think of the power they unleash when they stand up and raise their voices in a concert hall. 

[Editor's Note: You may want to jump ahead to 30 seconds in or so.]

--Irene Rawlings from Swansea, Wales

Thursday, August 9, 2012

1930s Paris to the English Countryside in Under 3 Hours!

Last Saturday afternoon, the Central City Opera House stage featured Rodolfo and Marcello's brightly lit Parisian garret for a matinee of La Bohème. By 7:30 that same night, the stage was transformed into the dark Bly House setting for The Turn of the Screw. On days like this, our hardworking stagehands have only a few hours to make this transformation. They remove all of the set pieces, pull up the marley floor, change pieces hanging from the counterweight system, refocus lights, change gel colors, bring on new set pieces, and apply all of the finishing touches in time to reopen the house for the evening performance.

Check out this super-sped-up video of Saturday's changeover to see how it's done.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Artists in the Spotlight

This Thursday afternoon (August 9 at 2:30pm), you can witness the splendid young artists of Central City Opera's 2012 Festival as they take the stage in the lead roles of La Bohème during our Nina Odescalchi Kelly Family Matinee. These hardworking and extremely talented artists, most of whom are in their college years, are usually seen in the chorus and in minor roles of our main stage operas. They also star in their own smaller productions like Short Works and The Face on the Barroom Floor, but on this date they get the chance to shine in the spotlight front and center.
Kaitlyn Costello starred in the Family Matinee performance of Carmen last year; this summer she made her main stage debut as Ado Annie in Oklahoma!
Earlier this year, the Opera Insider caught up with Marc Astafan, who has recently taken the reins as administrator of the Program.

Marc Astafan,  Administrator
Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
Artists Training Program

CCO:  You’ll be returning to Central City Opera this summer in a new capacity; Administrator of the Bonfils Stanton Artists Training Program.  You’ve been here many times as a Stage Director, and before that as an Assistant Director, working directly with young artists. The Training Program, as established by John Moriarty, is known as a rigorous preparation for young artists pursuing a career in opera, with required classes in diction, audition techniques and stage movement, and opportunities to perform full roles on the main stage as well as scenes and recitals.

As a Central City Opera veteran, what are your observations about the challenges and opportunities for young artists in this program?

MARC:  The challenges and opportunities faced by the young artists who participate in the Central City program are many, but the main one that comes to mind is: stamina. We work six days a week and nine hours a day (sometimes more!) for ten to twelve weeks straight over the summers in Central. Every part of the body, heart and mind will be called upon for these young singers to use. Not to mention the voice. They have classes every morning and rehearsals and/or coachings for the rest of the day, sometimes until ten or eleven at night. But year after year I've witnessed the fact that the more the singers put into the program, the more they gain. They will not only feel great, but perform better than they ever thought possible by the time they leave Central City in mid-August. When one is immersed in creativity for such an intense period all of the senses are at work. They might leave exhausted, but with a tremendous sense of accomplishment, knowing they've been a part of something extraordinary. They'll have personal and artistic growth that they never thought imaginable.

The full interview with Marc Astafan (as well as the Program's Principal Coach Michael Baitzer) is available in the 2012 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide - PDF)

Tickets are still available for the Family Matinee performance this Thursday. You can also see these talented Young Artists during Lunch & A Song, Short Works, and in the chorus and secondary roles of the remaining La Bohème performances. All performances of Oklahoma! are sold out.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Composer Benjamin Britten
This year’s opera The Turn of the Screw doesn’t have the ever-popular songs that Oklahoma! does, or even the familiar musical moments of La Bohème, but composer Benjamin Britten did include very tuneful children’s songs in the opera.  One notable song that could have several meanings is Miles’ song “Malo.” This verse was originally a pneumonic device to help beginning Latin students remember the different meanings and conjugations of the word “malo:” 1) verb “malo” meaning “I wish;” 2) the noun “malus” meaning “apple tree” and “malum” meaning “apple;” and 3) the noun “malum” meaning “evil” – but his song seems to have dark undertones, especially because Britten set it to very melancholy music. 

Here is the text of the song:

    Malo: I would rather be
    Malo: in an apple tree
    Malo: than a naughty boy
    Malo: in adversity       

Click here to hear Thomas Parfitt as Miles sing this song at the 2011 Glyndebourne Festival.  Remember this song, because you’ll hear a variation of it at the end of the opera. 

Britten’s The Turn of the Screw may not be mainstream, but it certainly leaves an impression.  We hope that you will get even more out of your experience having learned a little more about the music.  Enjoy the show!     

The Turn of the Screw plays its final performance on Saturday, August 4 at 8pm. Hurry to see it before it disappears!

Want to know more? This blog post is part of the article What to Listen for in The Turn of the Screw, found in the 2012 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide - PDF). We also excerpted the section on The Turn of the Screw’s twelve-tone row in a previous blogpost.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Meet John Healy

John Healy as Miles, with Alicia Suzanne Jordheim, in The Turn of the Screw.
Photo by Mark Kiryluk.
When Central City Opera produces an opera that requires children in the cast, we turn to our friends at Colorado Children's Chorale. This year, you can see the young singers of the Chorale as the children in Act III of La Bohème and one young singer, John Healy, as Miles in The Turn of the Screw.

Watch the video below to meet John and hear his perspective on The Turn of the Screw, which closes this Saturday, August 4.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Video Clips from THE TURN OF THE SCREW and OKLAHOMA! - Central City Opera

Yesterday we gave you a glimpse of this year's production of La Bohème. Today we continue with video clips from the other mainstage operas this summer.

First up is the creepy and cool ghost story The Turn of the Screw.

From Act One, Scene 5, The Window - The Governess & Mrs. Grose :

From Act One, Scene 7, The Lake - Flora & The Governess:

From Act Two, Scene 3, Miss Jessel - Miss Jessel & The Governess:

And the end of the opera [SPOILER ALERT -- if you want to be surprised by the ending, don't watch this!]:

For something completely different, we also leave you with this rousing number from Oklahoma!'s Act Two opening:

Glimpses of Central City Opera's 2012 production of THE TURN OF THE SCREW

Music by Benjamin Britten
Libretto by Myfawny Piper
Based upon a novella by Henry James

Conductor: Steuart Bedford
Director: Alessandro Talevi
Assistant Director:  Stephanie Havey
Scenic and Costume Designer: Madeleine Boyd
Costume Designer: Jessica Jahn
Lighting Designer: David Martin Jacques
Wig/Makeup Designer: Dave Bova
Projection Designers: Madeleine Boyd and Ronan Kilkelly

Peter Quint: Vale Rideout
Governess: Sinéad Mulhern
Miles: John Healy

Glimpses of Central City Opera's 2012 production of OKLAHOMA!

Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based upon the play GREEN GROW THE LILACS by Lynn Riggs
Original Dances by Agnes de Mille

Conductor: Christopher Zemliauskas
Director: Ken Cazan
Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
Assistant Director: Kyle Lang
Scenic Designer: Alan E. Muraoka
Costume Designer: Marcy Froehlich
Lighting Designer: David Martin Jacques
Wig/Makeup Designer: Dave Bova

Curly: Matthew Worth
Aunt Eller: Joyce Castle
Will Parker: Curt Olds
Ado Annie: Kaitlyn Costello
Andrew Carnes: Thomas Goerz
Ike Skidmore: Nathan LeFevre Milholin
Laurey: Maureen McKay
Dancers appearing courtesy of Ballet Nouveau Colorado: Colby Foss, Ben Delony, Sarah Tallman, Marian L. Faustino
Chorus: Members of Central City Opera's Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Artists Training Program

Both productions performed by the Central City Opera Festival Orchestra

Visit The Turn of the Screw and Oklahoma! webpages for more information.