The articles in this blog by Central City Opera are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Where in the World is La Mancha?

“La Mancha,” translates as “The  Channel” and refers to a wide bleak plain in Spain (pictured above in red). It can also be translated as “The Stain” - not great for a knight’s home base. The climate, according to Dale Wasserman (Man of La Mancha), is “Nine months of winter and three months of hell...It’s easy to invent fantasies in La Mancha, to believe that men might go mad and invent worlds not yet made.”

The red route traced below was published in the 1780 illustrated Spanish edition of Don Quixote, following the title character’s adventures, including:
· Argamasilla de Alba—Don Quixote/Alonso Quijana’s village (scholars think)
· El Toboso—home of Dulcinea
· Puerto Lápice—location of the Inn where Don Quixote was “knighted”
· Cave of Montesinos—site of one of Don Quixote’s adventures
Compiled by Erin Joy Swank (Education & Community Engagement) for our 2015 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide). Download your free copy today!
Central City Opera's Man of La Mancha runs through August 9, 2015; Don Quixote and the Duchess performs July 28 and August 1 in Central City, August 6 in Ft. Collins.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Musical Word Search with Central City Opera

Have you taken a look at our Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide)? In addition to background on the 2015 Festival productions and interviews with the artists, there are quite a few activities, including the Word Search below and a musical version of Sudoku. Download your free copy today!
Produced by Central City Opera's Education & Community Engagement staff

Spotlight On: Mezzo-Soprano Lucy Schaufer (Aldonza, MAN OF LA MANCHA)

Lucy Schaufer, Mezzo-Soprano
Today's blog comes from an article in our 2015 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide), where Ms. Schaufer was interviewed by Erin Joy Swank of Central City Opera's Education & Community Engagement staff.

Our audiences are familiar with you in musical theatre roles, portraying Elsa in last year’s The Sound of Music and Aldonza in Man of La Mancha this year. However, your repertoire includes many famous characters of the opera world, including Suzuki (Madama Butterfly) and Marcellina (The Marriage of Figaro). Do you approach the roles or music any differently?

My meat and potatoes work is mainly contemporary music with smatterings of standard repertoire and of course "musical theatre" - yet as far as I'm concerned, it's all music theatre. We are story tellers.

My preparation remains fairly consistent. I mean, your physical and mental muscles need time to own the notes and the story and depending on the demands of the role, you've just got to give yourself time to ponder, work like a demon and let it stew.  

It all comes down to these questions: are you the type of artist willing to be flexible enough, to risk a lot and bend to what a composer and librettist are asking? Or are you someone happier bringing exactly who you are, vocally and dramatically, to a role? Or is there indeed a balance?

This is an incredibly esoteric answer!  But I believe it's worth asking these questions when the range of repertoire is continually expanding with every new composition written and programming decision made.  

So, in a nutshell, yes! - I approach each role with the same dogged energy of honouring the style and intention of the composer and librettist, and demand that I honestly ask myself whether or not I can produce the sounds and storytelling required of the role.
Central City Opera’s MAN OF LA MANCHA (2015). Pictured L to R: Lucy Schaufer (Aldonza), Robert Orth (Don Quixote/Cervantes), Keith Jameson (Sancho Panza). Photo by Kira Horvath.
Your work has spanned many continents, including stints in Paris, Milan, Hamburg, Portugal and New Zealand. Can you discuss any differences in the way opera is rehearsed and produced in other countries or if the audience reaction or expectation is any different than here in America?

Opera rehearsals are like a mirror to the culture and country in which you're working. Some stereotypes definitely ring true!  Italy can be pure chaos, England has lovely tea breaks, and Germany is well organised. Some countries do not have unions - like the UK. It's no longer a closed shop, thanks to Margaret Thatcher.  So it's the protections given to the musicians or chorus in the room which denote how the soloists are treated. Odd, right? 

People react in all sorts of ways to theatre the world over - but the one common reaction these days which is pervasive is the booing of "bad" characters, like  Pinkerton or Claggart. It's a pantomime reaction or TV behaviour, and frankly, I do not care much for it. Give the actor the credit for his or her performance after hours of sweating for you.   A teasing "boo" followed by a hearty cheer is one option which is palatable.  Yet I'm still perplexed by this audience reaction nonetheless.
Pictured: Central City Opera’s The Sound of Music (2014). Clockwise from Top Left: Lucy Schaufer (Elsa Schraeder), Robert Orth (Max Detweiler), Troy Cook (Captain Georg von Trapp). Photo by Mark Kiryluk.
Schaufer and Orth will star in this summer’s Man of La Mancha, while Cook performs in La Traviata; see his interview on page 14 of our Opera Insider.
You are returning for your second season “on the Hill” in Central City. With one summer under your belt, what are you looking forward to most and are you prepping/packing any differently this time?

Well, I left a box of sheets/towels last summer and I just sent a package with my steamer and other altitude friendly remedies - so I'm prepared on that front. I'll bring loads of tea from home because it's my life blood. I'm obsessive about TEA. And finally I'm so looking forward to being naughty and outrageous with unstoppable Bob Orth, working again with the wonderful Paul Curran after far too many years, and doing a few late night cabaret numbers in the bar with incomparable Tom Getty*! See you soon. 
*Tom Getty is featured in a spotlight interview on page 38 of our Opera Insider.

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

Saturday, July 11, 2015

What to Listen for in LA TRAVIATA - Act III

John Baril
Conductor, La Traviata
Today we conclude our three-part blog series on "What to Listen for in La Traviata" with Conductor John Baril. If you're just joining us, please read the previous posts on Act I and Act II.

The last Act starts with another prelude featuring pronounced sobbing or weeping in the strings. Very sparse recitative ensues with much information for the audience. Violetta reads a letter (literally speaking out loud, a very rare occurrence in opera) to comfort herself over underscoring which features, you guessed it, Alfredo’s “Di quell’amor” in the solo violin. She sings her farewell aria (“Addio del passato”), realizing she will die alone. 

LISTEN: Addio del passato (Act III, Violetta) – Edita Gruberova

An offstage chorus is heard singing a cappella (unaccompanied) party musicit is Baccanale or Mardi Gras time in Paris. Note: anytime you hear offstage music in a stage work, there is always a faithful assistant conductor with a monitor and music stand making sure it all happens smoothly and efficiently. Alfredo arrives and, to another famous three-quarter time “oom-chick-chick” accompaniment, they sing about leaving Paris as soon as Violetta’s health returns (“Parigi o cara”).
LISTEN: Parigi o cara  – Luciano Pavarotti and Mirella Freni
When the voices combine, listen for how differently each is written; that is, Alfredo’s melody is very lyrical and sustained whereas Violetta’s interjections are laboriously separated by (her ever-diminishing) breathing. Violetta tries to get dressed so they can go to church – all with powerful, distressing, insistent music – but to no purpose. The end of this duet (“Gran Dio, morir si giovine”) is supported by pizzicati in the orchestra—which sounds very striking and unusual. 

Germont arrives full of remorse to what reminds me of circus-music. The final ensemble, despite its intimacy, features full orchestra, including trombones and tuba, playing along in a kind of death march (except it’s in three - oh, well). Anyone familiar with sister opera Il trovatore will recognize this as a musical kindred spirit to the famous “Miserere” scene from that piece. Again, listen for how the characters express themselves within the confines of this march—very individual rhythmic outbursts layered one on top of the other. In the final moments, Violetta experiences a burst of energy bolstered by the first violin’s very soft reiteration of “Di quell’amor” supported by tremolo (literally “trembling”) string section. The very final bars of music feature the orchestra punctuating the fortissimo timpani roll with their sad, powerful Db minor chords.

LISTEN: Act III Finale – Beverly Sills, Nicolai Gedda, Rolando Panerai

View our Opera Insider today for the full article and more insider information on the entire 2015 Festival. La Traviata opens tonight and runs through August 8, 2015. If you can't make our opening night performance, listen to our live broadcast on Colorado Public Radio, over the air or online, 8:00 pm Mountain.

Friday, July 10, 2015

What to Listen for in LA TRAVIATA - Act II

John Baril
Conductor, La Traviata
Today we continue with the second part of our Opera Insider article on "What to Listen for in La Traviata", courtesy of conductor John Baril. If you're just joining us, read our blog post regarding Act I.

Alfredo’s aria in Act II is usually performed with the strings playing the offbeats (“oom-CHA-CHA-CHA”) on the strings with their bows. However, there is evidence (and at least one famous recording) to suggest that the strings should play this pizzicato (plucked) instead, resulting in a more intimate, nuanced sound. As of this writing, I haven’t decided which to do and will wait to see which accompaniment is most suited to the staging. Lots of “action” happens in a short amount of time during the first scene of this act. Letters filled with good and bad news are written and delivered, and unknown people arrive and are introduced. Much of opera written in the romantic period has to do with expressing how someone feels about information they’ve just gleaned. Therefore, much of that information is delivered in fast recitative (speaking) style, often by underlings and messengers, and then the major characters’ feelings are expressed in slower, more sustained music (arias and duets and such). In this scene, we also hear Violetta’s passionate outburst “Amami, Alfredo,” hinted at in the prelude; listen for the amazing orchestral crescendo which precedes it.

Another fun game involving Verdi operas: how many “father/daughter” duets can you name, and from which works? The combination of baritone and soprano under these circumstances coerced from Verdi some of the most sublime music ever composed for the lyric stage. Traviata and Rigoletto are perhaps the most recognized, but I encourage you to check out Simon Boccanegra and Luisa Miller

LISTEN: Pura siccome un angelo  (baritone/soprano duet; score excerpted above) – Leonard Warren and Eleanor Steber

The “rules” of opera at the time dictated that Germont (Alfredo’s father) had to have a double-aria too, even though the action stops in order to do so, especially with regard to Alfredo’s anger, so his reactions are allowed for between the cracks of the arias. The second of these arias was often cut to avoid halting the action, but we are keeping one verse of it for two reasons: musical balance and the fact that I wanted to hear Troy [Cook] sing it!

LISTEN: Di Provenza il mar  (1st section of Germont’s double-aria) – Sherrill Milnes

Act II, scene 2 involves some more party music—this time a costume ball. Alfredo arrives, and with him, some of Verdi’s most intense music (up to this point, anyway) including an obsessively repeated motif (very small rhythmic pattern, first in the lower strings) that keeps the action moving forward to tighten up the drama. 

About the drama: La traviata is often considered the first verismo opera (realistic, or, about real people as opposed to royalty or mythical characters). Strict censorship by authorities who controlled such things prevented Traviata from being performed in modern costume, which was Verdi’s preference. That was considered too risqué and avant garde. However, it resulted in the first chink in the armor: though Verdi would fight with censors throughout his life, this fight resulted in the verismo opera movement, which includes works such as Cavalleria rusticana, I pagliacci, and much of Puccini’s output. Audiences identified much more sympathetically with this type of naturalistic theatre.

Violetta tries to get Alfredo to leave, mostly for his safety (an impending duel, of course), but his pride takes a hit, all underscored by the intense music. Everyone returns to the stage for an extraordinary ensemble that ends the act. Listen for the different reactions of characters and then Violetta’s gorgeously sad melody in the midst of it all.

LISTEN: Act II finale – Teresa Stratas, Fritz Wunderlich, Hermann Prey (“Alfredo, Alfredo, di questo core...” is heard at 6:23 and  visually excerpted above.)

Stay tuned for our final installment of what to listen for in Act III of La Traviata - or download our Opera Insider today for the full article and more insider information on the entire 2015 Festival.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What to Listen for in LA TRAVIATA - Act I

John Baril
Conductor, La Traviata
For our 2015 Opera Insider (Festival Resource Guide), we asked John Baril, Central City Opera’s Music Director and Conductor for La Traviata, to write about some of the musical themes and devices Giuseppe Verdi employed in this opera and what to listen for.  Here are his thoughts:

La traviata begins with an orchestral prelude that conveys Violetta’s story, but in reverse chronological order. Sixteen solo violins play in 4-part harmony the music that is heard at the outset of Act III and which is associated with her death. Next, accompanied by “oom-pah-pah,” very typical of the period, is her tune “Amami, Alfredo,” which we’ll hear in the middle of Act II, scene 1, just before she leaves him. Lastly, this tune is repeated without the “oom-pah-pah,” now replaced with very delicate ornamentation, especially in the first violins, that is depictive of Act I. The tune is played in a lower, more somber octave by clarinet, bassoon, and ‘celli. [The violoncello (plural violoncelli) instrument is more commonly known in its abbreviated form: cello.]

Il trovatore (“the troubadour”) premiered less than two months before La traviata; not surprisingly, there are unmistakable musical resemblances between the two; the orchestration of the gypsies and matadors in Act II, scene 2 springs instantly to mind. Yet the two couldn’t be more different—a testament to Verdi’s skill. Trovatore seems to stand out for its boldness and public displays; the characters are bigger than life and even the intimate moments are set in cold, dreadful locales. Traviata, on the other hand, even in the opening scene and at Flora’s party, seems desperately intimate. The party music which opens the opera, ravishingly urbane, suddenly becomes chamber music, with only 4 violins, 2 violas, one ‘cello and bass accompanying the private conversations. Another tutti outburst followed by the “chamber music,” but in a different key, is followed by the most famous music, the Brindisi, or drinking song, in which a solo character makes a toast (Here, it’s Alfredo) and then the company joins in. The Brindisi is common in Italian opera (there are examples in Verdi’s Otello and Macbeth, and Gilbert and Sullivan poked fun at it), but, curiously, the word comes from “(Ich) bring dir’s,” a very German phrase once used by knights to “offer you” a drink followed, presumably, by a toast.
LISTEN: The Brindisi as performed by Maria Callas and Giuseppe Di Stefano.

You can view an English translation of La Traviata to follow along with the excerpts. At the opera, we’ll have English supertitles above the stage.
Banda music (literally wind-instruments playing music from somewhere else) announce a dance.  Alfredo, concerned about Violetta’s health, stays behind to confront her, then to confess his love in “Un di felice.” This is one of many of Verdi’s three-quarter time (sometimes 6/8 time), slow “oom-plick-plick” pieces.  It’s a fun game to see how many of these can be cited and from which operas; there are many, to be sure, but no opera has more than La traviata

This particular “oom-plick-plick” piece is made more special by the tune Alfredo sings, “Di quell’amor.” 

The tune is emblematic of his love for Violetta and is repeated at several important moments in the opera, sometimes sung (Violetta sings it later in this act, recalling) and sometimes as underscoring in the orchestra. Violetta’s rejoinder in this duet, despite the “oom-plick-plick” underneath, couldn’t be more different: there is daring fioratura (ornamented or “flowered” music) to suggest he flee from her and that only friendship is possible.

 LISTEN: Un di felice—Joan Sutherland and Luciano Pavarotti (“Di quell’amor” is heard at 0:49; the fioratura begins at 1:34.)

In the stretta (refers to the closing of a scene, where music tightens up and usually gets faster) of Act I, the ensemble chatters about dawn ensuing and other parties to attend. (This music is very difficult for a chorus to enunciate this fast without rushing ahead of the orchestra! Left alone, Violetta now sings perhaps the most famous (and fearsome) of all soprano scenes in the repertoire. Called a “double-aria”, the first half of which is slow (“Ah, fors’e lui”) and the second half of which is fiendishly and recklessly difficult (“Sempre libera”), it requires every available tool in a soprano’s toolbox. The slow aria has a reiteration of Alfredo’s earlier line “Di quell’amor;” that emblem, sung in exactly the same manner, even in the same key, and at the end, a cadenza, very delicate and moving at the same time. Then, instantaneously, her mind suddenly changed, she launches into “always free;” music that is desperate, irresponsible and, at the same time, determined; music that characterizes the other side of Violetta.

LISTEN: Ah, fors’e lui/Sempre libera – Renata Tebaldi (The latter begins at 5:00.)

Stay tuned for future blog posts of what to listen for in the other acts of La Traviata - or download our Opera Insider today for the full article and more insider information on the entire 2015 Festival.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Props for the 2015 Festival

Props Master Ellie Engstrom
carves the back of a Chaise.
The Central City Opera Properties Department has just finished refurbishing a chaise lounge that will be used in the upcoming production of La Traviata (opening July 11). "It was super fun and definitely one of the most interesting things to do for the show,” said  Ellie Engstrom, Props Master. In addition to applying a new stain to the wood, the old lounge chair needed to be stripped of its paint, sanded, reupholstered, retrimmed, and given a 
Assistant Props Master Tori Schilling,
details part of the chaise lounge.
new back, which Engstrom personally created and carved. This piece is one of many items that has to be created for this Festival’s lineup, which has proven to be diverse for Engstrom: “It’s a nice balance of traditional and modern opera between La Traviata and Don Quixote." Refurbishing furniture is a common practice in theatre in an attempt to tie existing furniture to current productions. Many skills that are learned by props artisans are as useful outside of the world of production as they are within it. Home reupholstery can be an easy way to revamp old or outdated furniture that is still usable. Moreover, painting techniques which are used in props design can be combined with this process to give the piece of furniture an artistic flair. In preparation for the opening of La Traviata next Saturday, the properties department is currently busy with transporting their props for the show from rehearsal spaces to the Opera House. Including the necessary furniture pieces in La Traviata, Engstrom and crew have created banquet tables of realistic cakes, cookies, scones, and other dessert items.  Grab some tickets to CCO this Festival and check out what Ellie and other designers have created!

CCO Properties Department and the completed Chaise
(Behind, L to R: Chelsea Keuhnel, Hayley Parker; on chaise, L to R: Ellie Engstrom, Tori Schilling)