Opera for Newbies

July 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’s hard to forget your first opera.

When I was around twelve or thirteen, one of my relatives asked me if I wanted to go with her to see Aida.  I immediately agreed, thinking I was about to spend the evening watching a production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s musical theater piece.

After we had taken our seats and the curtain rose, I was certainly in for a surprise.

Instead of this,

I was met with this:

That night definitely made quite an impression on me.  8 years later and my love for opera is still growing!  As fantastic as my first opera experience was, I still found myself mystified by what opera was and how it was all supposed to work.

If you’re new to the opera world, your first trip to the opera can seem daunting, but here at CCOT, we aim to provide an laid-back (but exciting), intimate, and accessible opera experience to everyone interested in exploring the art form.

Want to know more about buying tickets, what to wear, or where to eat before to show?  Whether you are completely new to opera, new to Center City Opera Theater, or just looking for more information, our first timers guide to opera will answer your questions and provide some helpful hints.

First, check out our “first timers” video for a quick, fun overview,

and then head over to our website for more information:

First Timers Guide to Opera

We’d love to look out into our house next season and see fresh faces mingling with our seasoned patrons, so  keep an eye on our website for details about our 2012/2013 productions!

Posted by Jacqueline Phillips

Interview with Andrea Puente, widow of Daniel Catán, composer of IL POSTINO

May 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

1. When did you first become aware of Daniel’s work?

“I met Daniel when I was 17.  We met at a contemporary music festival in Mexico City. I  was then a student in Conservatory as a harpist.  I was a harpist in the opera in Mexico City; the first opera I played was Daniel’s Florencia en el Amazonas.

2 What most excites you about Daniel’s music?

It is very luscious, very sensual, very moving.  Each opera is like a being in itself.  Each gives us different things.  They share a common theme: love. And I am in love with all of them.

3. What would you say is most innovative about Daniel’s approach to opera?

First of all, they’re in Spanish.  What he brought to Spanish opera was really high quality literature, and very beautiful Spanish.  Each of his works is very exotic – each has a different scent, like a different kind of perfume. In terms of language and the Latin American world, each is different.  In addition to music rooted in the European tradition, Daniel brought to his operas Latin American sounds.  In Florencia, for instance, he brings all of the Amazon into your ear.

4. What do you think will be his legacy to future generations of composers and singers?

His children and I share in preserving and transmitting his legacy through the Daniel Catán Foundation we founded. As his wife, his partner, his collaborator, I am very knowledgeable about his work. What we want to do is pass on his music and the spirit of generosity he embodied. He was so generous with giving of himself and his music. He liked to play in universities as well as big opera houses.  People loved him, right and left.  Young people and older people. He was incredibly generous with his ideas and his knowledge.

5. How has Daniel’s background as a Sephardic Jew, as Mexican and a Mexican-American shaped his art?  What do you think most influenced him coming from this cultural background?

His father was Sephardic. His family originally came from Spain and then went to Turkey.  They then came to Cuba and from there to Mexico City.  His Sephardic Jewish background influenced what he ate and enforced the importance of family unity. In Il Postino, he drew from his ancestral background, using a romance from the 12th century.  His mother was Mexican, so Mexico was an important part of his identity. But Daniel was a person of many identities. He was very cosmopolitan. He loved Latin American literature as well as English literature.  His favorite English language authors were Mark Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, and Graham Greene.

6. Why do you think Daniel was drawn to opera and not to another dramatic or musical form?

He was so vast in his interests. He needed to experiment with all his passions in life—voice, music, sets.  But he especially needed to work with a combination of music and literature.

7. What was Daniel’s philosophy of education?  What did he want to teach a younger generation?

He taught music–history and analysis–at the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California. He made his students first love the music he was going to talk about.  By playing music, by talking about it, by pointing out what the composer was getting at, he made them love the music.  His favorite composers were Mozart, Stravinsky, Strauss, the early twentieth century Spanish composer Manuel De Falla, Verdi, and Debussy.  And he also liked Cuban music a lot.

8. I know that you’re putting together a volume of Daniel’s essays. What were some ideas that were important to him?

He wrote essays about why it was important for him to write in Spanish; about why he ended up going to the Amazon after doing Rappaccini’s Daughter; and about how to keep the arts alive. He was worried about the lack of arts in the schools, the lack of money supporting the arts.  It was always his hope that small and medium opera houses should be able to play his music, not just the wealthy, big companies.  That’s why he gave permission to Center City Opera Theater to do a reduction for Il Postino, for a smaller orchestra.

9. If you had to sum up Daniel’s artistic vision, what would you say?

The pillars of Daniel’s life were love and creativity.  He had a very Zen way of communicating this vision. He did it by being himself, encouraging others to be creative against all odds. That’s very important, but it wasn’t easy for him at first.  He believed that you had to keep working at being creative, against all odds.

For more information on Daniel Catán’s “Il Postino” visit operatheater.org/wp4/il-postino

Going Against the Grain, Going Insane, Going Mad – The Bohemian Lifestyle, Then and Now

April 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

In honor of our production of La Bohème in just nine days, Center City Opera Theater would like to dedicate this post to the Bohemian lifestyle in the 1800s and its prevalence in contemporary programs. Let’s start with a basic definition:

Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits. In this context, Bohemians can be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.

The first Bohemians, associated in the French immigration, were nicknamed such because they were believed to have come from Bohemia. They were considered “outsiders” but were completely unphased by the disapproval of others. Once Bohemians hit the U.S. in the mid-1800s, those who identified themselves as such were much like the characters we encounter in La Bohème – artists, poets, painters, and writers who do what they love without fear of rejection.

A recent depiction of this “young urban lifestyle” is NBC’s new series SMASH. Karen Cartwright (played by Katherine McPhee) scraps by on just $200 per week for the chance to be the next Broadway star. Karen portrays the modern-day Bohemian by letting her dreams and artistic endeavors take precedence over financial security and conforming to a “steady” 9 to 5 career path. It’s all for the love of the stage.

The “young urban lifestyle” is not exclusive to actors, singers, and painters.  In the CBS sitcom, How I Met Your Mother, a middle-aged father recounts his long-winded tale of finding true love in Manhattan as a 27-year-old architect.  The show follows the social and romantic lives of architect Ted and his four best friends, illustrating the joys and disappointments of city love along the way.  Though by no means financially troubled, Ted fits the La Bohème lifestyle as someone who knows, all too well, the fragility of happiness as a young city-dweller.  In this clip, Barney shares his secret for overcoming sadness.

Our last clip comes from Rent, which is by no means a stretch. This real-life Broadway smash (turned movie) represents almost every aspect of Bohemianism and is based directly off of Puccini’s opera, La Bohème. Struggles with city life, love, sexuality, drugs, money, and living in the shadow of disease are consistent themes in both opera and musical. Listen to the words of one of the most prominent songs from this musical and find out what it truly means to be a “Bohemian.”

Life is short – so follow your heart, do what you love, and go see La Bohème at the Prince Music Theater, April 13, 14 at 8pm and 15 at 2pm.  BUY TICKETS HERE!

-Posted by Emily Knitter

Art Song Composers share thoughts on CCOT Competition

March 26, 2012 § 1 Comment

On March 10th Center City Opera Theater held a concert titled “Art Songs for the 21st Century.” The evening consisted of vocal works by fifteen contemporary composers which were selected from over 250 submissions. This promised to be a unique concert just by virtue of being a program of 21st century art songs, but CCOT didn’t stop there. It was decided that the winners would not be selected by a judge but rather be determined by the audience. CCOT invited the people present to participate in our own classical music version of American Idol and vote for their favorite composers!

“This competition represented a very broad range of musical styles,” says Andrew Kurtz, General & Artistic Director of Center City Opera Theater.  “The repertoire our young artists had to sing that evening was very eclectic in terms of tonality and technical difficulty.”

After an evening of thrilling new works the votes have been calculated and the top five have been selected! Ray Leslee, Daniel Schlosberg, Andrea Clearfield, Dale Trumbore and Eliza Brown will each have an opportunity to continue their relationship with CCOT and begin developing new operatic works.

What inspired such a strong response to the call for art song submissions? Top five composer Eliza Brown says “I think it’s very difficult for a composer to write a successful operatic work in a vacuum, so I’m looking forward to the process of collaboration with CCOT.  Collaboration with a company, a specific group of artists and production staff, allows the music to be tailored to real voices and can give the work a better chance of succeeding as both music and theater.”

Dale Trumbore echoed a similar sentiment, commenting “I love that Center City Opera Theater is committed to nurturing new works, and just as importantly, to nurturing as many new works as possible. They’re full of ambitious and innovative ideas about presenting opera, and that’s a valuable trait to have in a collaborating organization.”

Keep your eyes peeled for new Creative Development Projects coming from these five talented composers! To learn more about past/current projects you can go to:

http://www.operatheater.org/wp4/creative-development-projects/

The world premiere of Slaying the Dragon, a Creative Deveopment Project by composer Michael Ching and librettist Ellen Frankel, is June 7, 2012 at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia.

-Posted by Samantha Apgar

New Year, New Home

February 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

For the first time in several years, Center City Opera Theater has finally found a new production space to call home. The Prince Music Theater, located in downtown Philadelphia joined forces with CCOT in October of last year and will house each production of the 2012 opera season. This blog is dedicated to our newfound friend and will highlight what makes the theater so special and unique.

The Prince Music Theater was founded in 1984 with no real performance space of its own for its first few years of life. Originally known as the “American Music Theater Festival,” the Prince Music Theater would not come into its own until the late 1990s when they would find a stable residence at the historic, former Midtown Theater. In March of 1999, under the leadership of Marjorie Samoff, the Prince Music Theater would open its doors with stars from both Hollywood and Broadway.

Since its founding in the early 80s, the Prince Music Theater’s life-long mission has been to nurture and develop the unique American art form of music theater of the highest artistic caliber over a wide aesthetic range. Presenting a wide range of performing arts such as opera, music, drama, musical comedy, and experimental work, the Prince is dedicated to artists of our time seeking to break a new ground while also celebrating the legacy the creative leaders who have established the art that is American musical theater.

The Prince Music Theater houses a variety of performing arts groups from around the Philadelphia area and now in its 13th season, Center City Opera Theater is proud to call the Prince Music Theater their home. CCOT’s next three operas – La Boheme, Il Postino and Slaying the Dragon will all take place on the Gisela & Dennis Alter Mainstage. CCOT has also utilized the Prince’s smaller Independence Foundation Black Box theater, which housed The Marriage of Figaro and Duets, cabaret concert, and workshops for Slaying the Dragon. Center City Opera Theater looks forward to presenting new opera works at the Prince.

Fun Facts About The Prince Music Theater

  1. The Prince Music Theater was formerly a movie theater under two different names: the Karlton Theater (1921-1950) and the Midtown Theater (1950-1995).
  2. The Theater was named for legendary Broadway producer and director, Hal Prince.
  3. In addition to providing a performing space for around 15 resident companies, the Prince Music Theater also acts as a place of worship for two different churches, Freedom Church of Philadelphia and The Connect Church.

Information courtesy http://www.princemusictheater.org

Photo courtesy http://fruitfulhomejournal.blogspot.com/2011/10/redefining-perfection.html

Posted by Emily E. Knitter

The Marriage of Figaro…and Pop Culture

January 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

In honor of our first mainstage production of the season, CCOT would like to highlight Mozart’s classic comedy The Marriage of Figaro and its prevalence in the world of pop culture. Although sometimes we’re too embarrassed to admit it, I’d say us opera nerds get pretty excited when we hear those first few notes of a famous opera overture in a movie or in a random TV commercial. So here to feed your inner opera geek – here are the top five Figaro references in pop culture.

1. Sull Aria – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

This aria is played in a scene in the 1994 American drama, The Shawshank Redemption. Shawshank State Prison inmate Andy Dufresne is appointed prison librarian during his nearly two decade sentence. Along with a government donation for library funding, he receives a recording of The Marriage of Figaro and decides to play an excerpt over the public address system, well aware that he will receive solitary confinement for doing so. Morgan Freeman’s character, Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding describes the songs as “too beautiful to describe in words.” This is quite ironic, seeing as the Countess and Susanna are actually singing about scheming against the count to make him look like a fool.

Unfortunately, embedding is disabled for this clip – so click the link!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azWVPWGUE1M

2. Overture – Trading Places (1983)

The famous Figaro Overture is included during the beginning credits of the 1983 American comedy film, Trading Places, which ironically is set right here in our home city of Philadelphia! Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy star in his hilarious film about an upper class commodities broker and a homeless man whose paths cross when they unknowingly become part of an elaborate bet.  The movie is of the satire genre and is frequently referred to as a modern take on Mark Twain’s 19th century classic, The Prince and the Pauper.

3. Overture – Zombieland (2009)

In 2009, the American zombie comedy Zombieland featured the Figaro Overture when Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) and the gang haphazardly destroy a Native Indian Store. “Sometimes Tallahassee’s right, you gotta enjoy the little things…even if that means destroying a whole lot of little things.”

4. Overture – Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory (1971)

Who knew that the first few notes from the Figaro Overture could unlock the doors to a room full of CHOCOLATE?! Well, in 1971, it did just that for Willy Wonka and his visitors in the film Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. And sorry Mrs. Teevee, but Rachmaninoff was definitely NOT the composer of this piece.

5. Amadeus – (1984)

Who can’t forget the 1984 period drama Amadeus. You know, that famous film based on the life of Mozart? Obviously, this film deals with the composition of many famous pieces by Mozart, including The Marriage of Figaro! We find out in the film that the “Non più andrai” march from the opera is actually an improvised variation of Antonio Salieri’s “trifle,” a “March of Welcome” in which he created when Mozart met the Emperor in 1781.

Well, it seems as though Mozart’s music is just about everywhere! From the big screen to the small screen, Mozart’s music is still relevant, even 400 plus years later. One other place you can hear Mozart’s music is at The Prince Music Theater during our very own production of The Marriage of Figaro! Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased at http://www.operatheater.org.

Also – our Facebook raffle ends this Friday, January 27! Become a fan of our Facebook page and YOU could be the lucky winner of a pair of tickets to The Marriage of Figaro, or an upcoming production at Plays and Players!

http://www.facebook.com/CenterCityOperaTheater

-Posted by Emily E. Knitter

Creating the Dragon – The final pieces

January 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Dragon composer Michael Ching reveals his process and explains how a hate rock anthem fits into his new opera.

 

“I imagine that writing an opera is like painting a large mural,” says Michael Ching, composer for Slaying the Dragon which will premiere in Philadelphia in June.  “First you paint the main characters and have their locations precisely calculated. As you progress you have to fill in sky, clouds, trees and maybe a few more difficult things – a battle scene in the background, or some cherubim or satyrs. That’s where I am now – clouds and satyrs.”

In his process of composing, Ching deliberately spends a long time working on the synopsis, in perpetual collaboration with librettist Ellen Frankel. When he takes the time to immerse himself in the characters, the musical side of the story becomes a more fluid process.

“I start writing a scene by playing with a few favorite lines and usually write a few bars by hand in a music notebook,” says Ching.  “I go to the piano and test it out and flesh it out. At that point I go back to the computer, enter it, print it out, sing it and play it. And so it goes – print, write, play, print, write, play – until it’s done.”

The community that Ching and Frankel have developed in Dragon is all about diverse musical backgrounds.  This includes a Japanese folk tune, a gospel choir set to Hebrew text, and even an Aryan rock anthem. In the second scene of the opera, Klansmen disrupt a peace rally by blasting hate rock through a boom box.

“This scene needs to sound authentic,” says Ching, who has been spending some time at home screaming into a microphone when no one is around.  “I’m pretty pleased with it and will be disappointed if the audience doesn’t think it sounds genuine and jarring. Hopefully people will come up to me afterwards and say ‘where did you find that awful song?!’”

Center City Opera Theater is holding its second of three workshops for Slaying the Dragon on Saturday, January 14 at the Prince Music Theater, followed immediately by “After Hour Arias” at C19 in Rittenhouse.  With the completion of Ching’s piano-vocal score this month, our young artists should have a fairly diverse and eclectic new repertoire at their disposal by the time they arrive at the bar Saturday night.

Slaying the Dragon is based on true events depicted in the book “Not by the Sword” by Kathryn Watterson.  It tells how a Grand Dragon of the KKK abandoned a life of hatred through a relationship with a rabbi and his wife.  It is a story about tolerance, redemption, forgiveness, and the possibility of authentic self-transformation.  World premiere by Center City Opera Theater on June 7, 2012 at the Prince Music Theater in Philadelphia.

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