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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Talented Teens of the Performing Arts Intensive

Every summer, Central City Opera, in partnership with the Colorado Springs Conservatory, hosts 18 to 20 talented teens during our Performing Arts Intensive. This is the tenth anniversary of the program; as the Production/Stage Manager for CCO's Education & Community Engagement, I have had the privilege of working with these amazing students for eight of those years.

We are about a week and a half into this two-week intensive. Tuesday night in Colorado Springs we invited an audience to preview the work these students have completed. The first act is a scenes program, entitled Now You Know, combining moments from opera, musical and classic theatre. In one touching scene, the students perform a section of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town (pictured below). Later this week, they'll see the operatic version of this story in the Central City Opera House.
In addition to numerous vocal and movement classes and rehearsal of the scenes program, the last week and half has also been filled with research and composition of their own original opera. Inner Lights: Meditations on the Palmers of Colorado Springs is an original short opera based on the life of an early Colorado Springs couple. The premiere staged reading of this piece was also part of Tuesday's night performance.
One of the reasons that the Palmers were chosen as an inspiration for the opera was because of their many important contributions to Colorado. In addition to founding Colorado Springs, General Palmer was critical to the development of the narrow gauge railroad in Colorado. Wednesday, we took a field trip on the Georgetown Loop Railroad for a first-hand experience.

That evening the students settled into Central City, where they become junior members of the 2013 Festival Company. To greet them, artists from on stage and off gathered for an informal "meet and greet" and sandwich supper.  

Marc Astafan, pictured above, discussed everything from the audition process for our Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Artists Training Program to directing The Barber of Seville.

Several of the prinicipal artists, including Curt Olds (Frank, Show Boat) and Daniel Belcher (Figaro, The Barber of Seville) pictured above, answered questions about living and working in the business. Many of today's stars began their careers in CCO's young artist program.

The teens will continue their residency in Central City for the rest of this week. In addition to continuing to rehearse their scenes program and original opera, they are attending all of the operas performing in Central City, observing some of the Apprentice Artists' classes and having their own private master classes with members of the CCO Festival staff. Vocal and diction master classes will focus on their own material, while in movement and stage combat classes they'll learn some of the same moves and sequences used in the 2013 Festival productions. 

Public performances of the Performing Arts Intensive are held in the intimate Williams Stables Theatre this Friday at 4 pm and Saturday at 7 pm. Tickets are just $5. To purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 303-292-6700 or visit

Monday, July 22, 2013

Short Works: The Show Before the Show

One of the gems of Central City Opera’s Summer Festival is our presentation of Short Works, also known as Opera Scenes. These half-hour performances put young artists in the spotlight and allow them to show off their diverse skills in acting and performing. Just as the name implies, these are not full opera performances but rather selected scenes from a variety of operas by a multitude of composers. So far, Central City Opera has presented scenes from Orfeo Ed Euridice, Ragtime, Cendrillon, The Elixir of Love, Manon, Street Scene, The Rake’s Progress, Eugene Onegin, Alladin, The Sound of Music, Dead Man Walking and The Marriage of Figaro. The latter three will be presented in full by Central City Opera during the 2014 Festival.

CCO Studio Artist Siena Forest gets her time in the spotlight
Not only do these give the young artists an opportunity to hone their skills, but it also allows aspiring directors a chance to perfect their art form as well. The scenes are directed by 2013 Festival Assistant Directors Corinne Hayes (Our Town,) Stephanie Havey (The Barber of Seville,) and Kyle Lang (Show Boat). Lang says that directing Short Works gives him a chance to “try different approaches, being that a scene may not necessarily need to be in the context of the full opera.” He also went on to say that “It’s such a great opportunity to work with young artists and to learn how people may take direction differently. The process that may be needed for one person may not be what is best for another.” So it is the creative team that gets personal and professional growth out of Short Works in addition to just the artists.                                                                 

Patrons enjoy an afternoon Short Works performance inside of Williams Stables
From the young artists’ perspective, Short Works is their opportunity to practice performing in front of an audience and to learn about and engage in a variety of diverse operas and musicals. While most young artists have roles in the feature productions either in the chorus or as a side role, Short Works puts them front and center and raises them to be the stars of that afternoon’s performance.

The next Short Works will be presented at Williams Stables tomorrow at 1:15 p.m. prior to the matinee performance, and at the same time on the additional dates of July 24th, 27th, and 28th. Tickets can be purchased in advance or day-of-show for the price of $12 or $8 for subscribers. These are a great way to whet your appetite before a matinee performance in the Opera House and to see future opera stars in a casual and intimate setting.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Emily Pulley's Favorite Central City Story

Emily Pulley, Soprano
Friday, our blog shared part one of an interview with Emily Pulley, found in our 2013 Opera Insider. Today we continue with our favorite part of the interview. Emily portrays Julie Laverne in our upcoming production of Show Boat.

You have performed many different roles at Central City Opera, but you are also known to company members and supporters for your sharp wityour extended limericks are legendaryand your sparkling personality.  What’s your favorite story from your many summers in Central City?

Well, a lot of the best stories probably aren't fit to print (I encourage your readers to ask me about them when they see me), but one of the most memorable events for me was the infamous bear break-in of 2010. I was staying in a rental property up the hill, and my buddy Curt Olds [who plays Frank this year in Show Boat] was kind enough to drive me home late one night. When I opened the front door, there was light coming from the kitchen, and I didn't remember leaving anything on. Once we saw that it was, in fact, the refrigerator light and that one of the doors had been ripped off the hinges and the other one was open as well, with food and debris strewn everywhere, Curt heroically pushed me behind him and went to investigate. The back door had been forced open and was still ajar, but fortunately, the bear had left. And she had eaten almost EVERYTHING, basically pulling all the refrigerator shelves down and even opening up the cabinets and emptying those out as well (we decided it was a she-bear going through a bad break-up, since it looked like she went straight for the ice cream and sugary snacks). Curt was kind enough to stay and help me clean up, and we were laughing hysterically, imagining what went down in that kitchen and being glad we weren't there when it happened, although I do wish I had set up a nanny-cam or something. Word got to my friend Frederica von Stade about what had happened, and she told me that her cabin in Lake Tahoe had been broken into by ursine marauders as well and then encouraged me to ask my male friends to, um, mark the territory around the house to repel the bears. Many of them were more than willing, so long as I provided them with ample adult beverages to help them create the "bear repellent" (opera singers are very classy). It definitely gave "marking" in rehearsal a whole new connotation!

A bear peeks in a rehearsal hall window during the 2012 Festival. Photo by Erin Joy Swank.
The above questions are just part of an interview with Emily Pulley in the 2013 Opera InsiderDownload the pdf for the full article and much more on the history of the 2013 Festival productions, their composers and librettists, interviews with the artists and more.

Show Boat plays at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex from August 6-11, 2013.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Spotlight on Julie Laverne in Show Boat with Soprano Emily Pulley

Emily Pulley, Soprano
Show Boat sits on the cusp between the early 20th century style of Operetta and Musical Theater as we know it today.  You will be playing Julie LaVerne, the lead actress on the Cotton Blossom, a show boat that brings entertainment to towns along the Mississippi River.  This is a departure from your usual operatic soprano roles.  How will you approach this role?

I actually wanted to be a Broadway belter before I ever even considered a career in opera, so I'm really excited to get to sing some classic musical theater and explore the lower part of my range (I sang second alto and tenor in high school and became a soprano against my will...). I have always been more interested in being a singing actress and a good storyteller than in producing perfect "pear-shaped tones," and while Julie does get to sing a couple terrific tunes, I think my main job is to use those songs to reveal her character and advance the plot. The words are very simple, yet highly evocative, and there are plenty of opportunities to paint some images that will really draw the audience into the story.  

Julie is the pivotal character in Show Boat, straddling the worlds of the white actors and the black dock and boat workers.  She is African American (or mixed race), but “passes” for white and is married to a white man.  This is significant because the show is set in the 1880s, a time when, in many states, mixed race marriages were illegal and an African American actress would not have been employed with an otherwise white cast.  What is your feeling about the significance of this role historically and how will you personalize it?

I certainly can't complain about being discriminated against personally, and while I am from the South (or at least the Southwest), the issue of miscegenation was never given any thought when I was growing up, at least in my home. It's true that we are often doomed to repeat the history that we might prefer to forget, especially regarding the acts of discrimination and dehumanization we ourselves have committed, but rather than trying to drive home the guilt that we have inherited from our not-so-distant ancestors, I will simply do my best to make Julie come across as a real person, not merely an archetypal character or even a representative of her race. Making the issue personal (in the literal sense) is far more effective than addressing the larger concept; likewise, discrimination against a group of people is always far easier than discrimination against an individual, especially one you know and sympathize with. And Julie is indeed very sympathetic: kind, talented, generous, and truly brave. If I just tell the story as Julie lived it, I think the historical significance will take care of itself.
Emily Pulley (Beatrice) and Keith Phares (Charlie) in Three Decembers (2001)

On Sunday, we'll continue our question and answer session with Emily, as we learn her favorite Central City story. Stay tuned!

The above questions are just part of an interview with Emily Pulley in the 2013 Opera InsiderDownload the pdf for the full article and much more on the history of the 2013 Festival productions, their composers and librettists, interviews with the artists and more.

Show Boat plays at the Buell Theatre in the Denver Performing Arts Complex from August 6-11, 2013.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Central City Days Gives a View of "Our Town"

In the spirit of Central City Opera’s (CCO) production of Our Town, the Ned Rorem opera which celebrates life in small town America, CCO hosted Central City Days this past Saturday, a progressive party at the Gilpin History Museum, the Teller House and around town . With the stunning backdrop of Central City, Black Hawk, and the mountains, folks of all ages gathered at the Gilpin History Museum as their first stop. They were greeted by picnic tables, country fair food and drinks, complete with a keg of special brew for the event supplied by Dostal Alley. A three-piece string band, Psychodillo with Brad Martin, entertained the crowd with their mellow playing that included a cover of Neil Young’s “Comes a Time.” This part of the day had a very “picnic-like” feeling and allowed people the opportunity to mingle with one another and enjoy the Colorado summer in a very laidback fashion.

After some time soaking in the sun and enjoying their food, the crowd was split into two groups for a walking tour of Central City. The tours stopped in front of some of the many historic buildings and properties in Central City, before meeting at the Teller House. Inside, a bride, a groom, and a very delicious wedding cake awaited the crowd. For those unfamiliar with Our Town, much of the story is based on the marriage of a young couple, so the wedding theme was very fitting.
Brian of Cook with Cook shows off the delicious wedding cake.
 The icing on the cake, however, was when the curtain rose on opening night of Our Town. This Sunday, July 14th, will see the second and final Central City Days of the year, and one not to miss with an after-party at Dostal Alley. Just like Our Town, Central City Days takes you back to a simpler time where being neighborly is a way of life and the presence of good people and good surroundings mixed with good music make for an excellent and entertaining afternoon. To purchase tickets or for more information visit

SPECIAL BOGO OFFER for our Blog readers: Buy one ticket to Central City Days on July 14 and get another one free when you use the code CCDBOGO online or by calling 303-292-6700.
Photos by Heather Brecl and Heather Quiroga.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Adapting the Classic Play Our Town into an Opera

Our Town, the opera, premiered at Indiana University in 2006 with critical acclaim.  
“Ned Rorem has written an intimate chamber opera to match the play’s spareness…. Deftly matching the character of the play, Mr. Rorem's music  is accessible, singable and full of integrity” (New York Times)
Ned Rorem and J. D. McClatchy stayed as true as possible to Thornton Wilder’s master work, with two notable differences.  
  1. The opera opens with the chorus singing a hymn during a funeral.  McClatchy felt that this would bookend the story nicely, and as music is one of the mediums that unlocks our memories, it works well in the opera and “hooks” the audience immediately.  
  2. The other main difference is how Rorem and McClatchy handled the character of the Stage Manager.  Using one of opera’s innovationsthe supertitle screenthey split the Stage Manager’s lines between music and screen.  This device helps distinguish the Stage Manager even more as a separate entity from the rest of the characters. 
Vale Rideout, center, portrays the Stage Manager in Central City Opera's production.
Photo by Mark Kiryluk.

Since the opera’s premiere in 2006, it has been produced 23 times, including Central City Opera’s production in July 2013 and a scheduled production in New Hampshire in August 2013.  Our Town the opera is well on its way to becoming as successful and popular as Our Town the play.

This blog post is just a small section of the article "The Lasting Impression of Our Town" written by Education & Community Engagement Coordinator Emily Murdock for our 2013 Opera Insider festival resource guideDownload the pdf for the full article and much more on the history of the 2013 Festival productions, their composers and librettists, interviews with the artists and more.

Our Town plays at the Central City Opera House from July 6 to 28, 2013.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Lasting Impact of Our Town

Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer prize-winning play Our Town was recently voted one of the top ten plays of the last 100 years by Entertainment Weekly. Ned Rorem and J. D. McClatchy's opera Our Town, part of Central City Opera's 2013 Festival, is closely based on this classic play.

Our Town has no explosions, no alien invasions, no giant robots…why is it so gripping?

Mo Rocca asked this question during a feature on CBS Sunday Morning a few years ago. The video below gives some insight on why this has become America's most produced play.

Perhaps Donald Margulies summed it up best in his foreward to the 2003 printing of Our Town:
Indeed the play's success across cultural borders around the world attests to its being something much greater than an American play: it is a play that captures the universal experience of being alive.
Central City Opera's production of Our Town the opera runs July 6 through 28, 2013. Tickets start at just $20.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Thornton Wilder as the Stage Manager in Our Town

For Throwback Thursday, here's a great photo of Thornton Wilder from a 1950 performance of Our Town in Wellesley, Massachusetts. In addition to writing the historic play, Wilder would often portray the role of the Stage Manager, as pictured below.
Image from Yale's Beinecke Library
You can also listen to Wilder reading from Act Three of his own play.

Central City Opera's production of Our Town runs July 6 to 28, 2013. Tickets start at just $20.