Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Director Bernard Uzan's novel

Our Faust director Bernard Uzan is a man of many hats. Just glance at his bio and you'll be overwhelmed; his life work defines the notion of a renaissance man. Case in point, he is now a published novelist. His first book is The Shattered Sky, translated from the French by Robert Miller. Check it out!

I stopped by the end of yesterday's afternoon rehearsal and everyone was in great spirits. We definitely have an enthusiastic cast on our hands, eager to win over Madison audiences, passionate about exploring every subtlety of Faust. I'll be posting a video here tomorrow so you can see for yourself.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Eye on the Cast: Jill Gardner

Our Faust cast is here in Madison! Rehearsals started this afternoon, but I caught up with our Marguerite, soprano Jill Gardner, last week. Here's what she had to say:

What are you looking forward to in your role debut as Marguerite?
These Madison Opera FAUST Performances do mark my role debut of Margherite. I very much love this character and feel that the role is a wonderful "vocal fit" for me. It is so wonderful when you find a role that resonates with every part of you -- musically, vocally, stylistically and temperamentally -- and Margherite is such a role for me. The progression she makes within herself and in the vocal writing appeals to me as a true lirico, budding spinto soprano and I relish the journey.

Do you find she is a relatable character?
I truly think Margherite is a relatable character as she represents so many facets of the good side of humanity -- innocence, grace, beauty, purity of soul, piety, service, ultimate forgiveness and redemption from evil. She is a woman who has endured a lot of personal tragedy: the loss of her mother and sister in death, no real father figure and a brother who is so aligned with personal honor and military duty/dignity that he ultimately damns her himself once he finds out about her relationship with Faust and their illegitimate baby. These societal prejudices, judgements and losses cause her to be aligned to Nathaniel Hawthorn's "Hester Prynn" in her complete and utter degradation within her community once it is learned that she has had this love affair with Faust and an illegitimate child. Her brother's ultimate betrayal, I believe, is what causes her to go crazy as she now has lost ALL SUPPORT in a very public and degrading way. And meanwhile, Mephistopheles is "working his magic spell" as well. His vow to Faust, who wants to find eternal youth, causes Mephistopheles to seduce this precious, sweet and innocent soul of Margherite into completing the tryst. The force of Evil -- as exhibited in societal pressure and prejudice, manipulation, lust and POWER -- undermines this "lost creature of Margherite" who only wants to love, serve, and be loved in return. I believe our world right now can truly understand how detrimental societal power, prejudice and greed can be to an individual and a community.

What do you make of the "Jewel Song"?
Yes, the famous "Jewel Song" of Margherite is a delicious, delightful and complex moment in Margherite's journey and I think must be understood within the context of the BIG Scene in Act II. Prior to this particular moment when Margherite finds these jewels, she has briefly met Faust in Act I where she tells him in her modest way that she is "neither a real lady nor very beautiful". We then find her musing about Faust in Act II while almost unconsciously singing the small aria "The King of Thule" which is the story of a King who, until his dying day, worships the gold goblet given to him by "His Lady"/("sa belle"). I tend to think she is singing this song unconsciously as one often does with a song or tune that we love, while she is simultaneously dreaming about this "wonderful Lord"'("le grand seigneur") she had the acquaintance to meet earlier. It again portrays the deep innocent need Margherite has in her soul to love and be loved, to "be known" -- a need shared by all young women. Then, she finds the jewels which have been planted in her garden by Mephistopheles. The Devil has of course planted these jewels in the garden to seduce Margherite into the first step towards fulfilling his vow to Faust. However, Margherite in finding them is overjoyed at the prospect of actually being able to make herself "the beautiful Lady" ("a King's Daughter") which Faust might find worthy. Her vulnerability is seen in this moment where we watch her "ready herself" for her Prince and all of the innocent wonder that this implies. So there are really two "agendas" that align in this moment as is often the case in real life: the Devil's plot of seduction and manipulation and Margherite's innocent desire to make herself beautiful for her Prince -- a worthy object then of his love.

How have you prepared for this new role?
Preparing a role is an arduous but self-fulfilling journey of discovery and creativity. I have been working on this role for almost two years, while I had previously coached and worked on Margherite's arias from the opera in recent years. It takes a long concerted time of study of the musical score and libretto to learn the music and the texts in depth....and not only your own, but also ALL the other characters of the piece. (And actually a role continues to grow in it's depth after multiple is what is so fulfilling about this work..there is never an end to an opera's or a character's discovery!) Once the music and the language begin to settle and become memorized, the dramatic work begins of fashioning the character and developing dramatic intentions to her words and actions. There are always as many choices to this dramatic work as there are "right answers" and it is in this journey of seeing all the possibilities of character that I find the most reward. It is in this process where I feel the character grow and shape herself within me and I slowly become Miss Margherite. All of this work must take place BEFORE one reaches the actual staging and musical rehearsals for a truly rewarding relationship to develop between myself, my colleagues, conductor and stage director. This allows us to all jump together into the incredible ocean of FAUST!

Our audiences might be curious to learn a little more about you. Where are you from, and where do you call home?
I am a transplanted Southerner from North Carolina (Winston-Salem, NC) who lives with my baritone husband, Jake Gardner, in his hometown of Binghamton, NY. We have been living in upstate New York for about 8 years now. I have never been to Madison, WI before, but I hear I am in for a treat....a great and lively college town! Here's to another new adventure!

Proust Questionnaire excerpts...
Favorite book: "Cry to Heaven" by Anne Rice
Favorite composer: it's a tie -- Beethoven AND Puccini
Favorite non-classical musician/band: Annie Lennox / The Squirrel Nut Zippers
Motto: "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; but in all things, LOVE." (The motto of the Moravian Church, of which I am a life-long member)

Thanks to Jill for taking the time to answer these questions!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Apprentice Masterclass

On Wednesday night, Professor Julia Faulkner worked with the Madison Opera High School Apprentices in a masterclass at UW-Madison. It was a fantastic evening for everyone involved and truly an invaluable experience for our apprentices. Professor Faulkner (who just so happens to be our Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw and Mary in The Flying Dutchman next season) had the young singers doing all sorts of exercises, and she worked in detail with them on everything from breath control to managing nerves to German translation. The night ended with Julia recounting her extraordinary career and answering questions about the college audition process.

Get Carried Away: The 2009/2010 Season

Bizet's Carmen
Nov. 6 & 8, 2009

Britten's The Turn of the Screw
Jan. 28 - 31, 2010

Wagner's The Flying Dutchman
April 9 & 11, 2010

Visit our homepage to download the complete brochure, and read the 77 Square feature by Lindsay Christians. The fantastic season artwork is by Christian Andrew Grooms.

From the 2009/2010 Season announcement:

Madison, Wis. – Madison Opera announces a 2009/2010 Season defined by powerful music and drama from diverse corners of the repertoire. For the third consecutive year, the company presents three full productions, including two company premieres. As Madison audiences have come to expect, the Opera’s 49th season will be filled with vocally and visually spectacular productions, with Maestro John DeMain conducting today’s leading singers and up and coming stars in all three operas.

“Madison Opera’s 2009/2010 Season is full of new adventures,” says General Director Allan Naplan. “We’re exploring new repertoire, new collaborations, and a new space in The Playhouse, so it is sure to be exciting.” The season opens in Overture Hall with Bizet’s Carmen before moving into the Overture Center’s intimate Playhouse for a new production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, a celebrated English chamber opera based on Henry James’ classic ghost story. The mainstage season concludes in Overture Hall with Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, a Madison premiere and Madison Opera’s first Wagnerian venture. Additionally, the company looks forward to offering its beloved summer tradition Opera in the Park, a free, community event celebrating its ninth year.

Season subscriptions are now on sale with the added option of a flexible payment plan, and new subscribers receive a 15% discount. With its audience in mind, Madison Opera has also kept ticket prices as low as $16 and reduced the cost of front balcony seats in Overture Hall for the 2009/2010 Season. By means of fiscal prudence, increased operational efficiency, and programming agility, Madison Opera has created a season that remains true to its artistic mission while reducing its annual budget.

“It is vital that opera remain accessible during this period of economic uncertainty,” says Naplan. “With our programming and new pricing, in addition to enhanced community engagement through our Creating OPERAtunities initiative, Madison Opera has ensured a season with something for everyone.”

Monday, April 20, 2009

100 posts & counting...

I was pleasantly surprised this morning to see that we've reached the "100th blog post" milestone! Thank you to our daily readers and anyone just stopping by, whether you're looking for information on "The Jewel Song," Jun Kaneko, Mozart, or geisha make-up (our most popular search on Google), we're glad you found us!

The week ahead is a particularly busy one. Wednesday night, our High School Apprentices will be meeting with UW Madison Voice Professor Julia Faulkner for a mini-masterclass. Thursday, text and layout of our Faust program is due, AND with great excitement, we post our 2009/2010 Season to the website! On Saturday, we have the first formal meeting of the Madison Opera Book Club at the Sequoya branch of the Madison Public Library, and Sunday our guest artists for Faust arrive and we are off and running with rehearsals by next Monday. All good stuff, but much preparation is required on the administrative end to pull it off!

Friday, April 17, 2009

You saw them in Madison first!

Tenor Stephen Costello has been awarded the Richard Tucker Award, one of opera's highest honors. Madison audiences saw Stephen in 2006 as the Duke in Rigoletto (pictured above). Of that performance, John Barker wrote in the Isthmus "the most exciting performer was surely Stephen Costello."

Star soprano Nicole Cabell is also in the news: on Wednesday night she stepped in for Angela Gheorghiu at the Metropolitan Opera to sing Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. Nicole made her Met debut in December as Pamina in The Magic Flute, a role she sang in Madison in 2006 (pictured above).

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Aria Focus: "Ah! je ris" (The Jewel Song)

By Act III, Scene 6 of Faust, the title character has made his pact with the devil and has been transformed into a young man in love with the beautiful maiden Marguerite. At first, she politely rejects his advances, but this only assures him of her purity. Faust goes to her home and sees that Siebel has left her flowers, so Mephistopheles sets out to find a more impressive gift for Faust to leave. In the meantime, Faust marvels over Marguerite's simple home and questions whether or not he should even be pursuing such an ideal, innocent creature.

Mephistopheles returns and plants a box of jewels next to Siebel's flowers before hiding in the shadows with Faust. Marguerite comes home, with the handsome stranger from earlier in the day on her mind. She sees Siebel's flowers, but then immediately is struck by the casket of jewels. Marguerite in her modesty is hesitant to believe such a grand gift could be for her, but she soon gives in and tries them on. Basking in their beauty and shocked at how regal they make her look, she sings Gounod's famous "Jewel Song." Listen to Maria Callas sing and follow the lyrics in English below:

Ah, I laugh to see myself
so beautiful in this mirror,
Is it you, Marguerite, is it you?
Answer me, answer me,
Respond, respond, respond quickly!
No No! it's no longer you!, it's no longer your face;
It's the daughter of a king, (repeat)
It's no longer you, etc.
One must bow to her as she passes!
Ah if only he were here!
If he should see me thus
Like a lady, he would find me so beautiful, Ah!
Lets complete the metamorphosis,
I am late yet in trying on
The bracelet and the necklace!
God! it's like a hand
Which is placed on my arm! Ah, ah!
Ah, I laugh to see myself
so beautiful in this mirror!
Here's Angela Gheorghiu's take on the aria:

This is undeniably a lovely moment in the opera, a light reprieve from the sinister machinations afoot. There is great pleasure for the audience in seeing Marguerite have so much fun with herself, and the aria is a soprano's dream: a beautiful, simple, lyric melody that shows off the voice (plus the singer is bedecked with jewelery and gets to play up the character's vanity!). But it is exactly because the innocent Marguerite is giving in to her vanity that an element of darkness persists here. This is the first step in the devil's plan to have her succumb to worldly temptations, and it's working...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Die Walkure, with our Dorabella!

Just a little reminder for anyone tuning into the Met Opera broadcast of Die Walk├╝re this Saturday on WPR at 11 a.m.: our Dorabella from Cosi, Laura Vlasak Nolen, will be singing the role of Waltraute, one of the flying Valkyries belting out those famous "Ho jo to hos." Laura flew out of Madison to make it to New York for rehearsals at the Met literally an hour after her final bow for Cosi on March 15th! Pictured is Nolen with famed Wagnerian bass James Morris.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Explore the Voice

Another new project we have coming up with Faust is "Explore the Voice," a day-long seminar exploring the complexity and wonder of how the voice works. This is an exciting collaboration between Madison Opera and the UW Voice and Swallow Clinic, and you can register here for the FREE event on May 16 (in between Faust days), from 9am - 3pm at the UW Hospital and Clinics on University Ave in Madison.

Throughout the day there will be workshops on everything from the prevention and treatment of vocal disorders to jaw massage to healthy warm up practices. Madison Opera's Allan Naplan will be giving a talk on how an opera company works, and our chorus master Andy Abrams will be comparing his vocal experiences in musical theater and opera. It should be a really fantastic day, with important and useful insights from doctors, speech pathologists, and singers! As the flyer says, we invite all individuals who use their voice for communication, including professional singers, teachers and other occupational voice users, to attend this FREE educational event.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday funday

Through a series of small mix ups, my Monday has been packed with Photoshop duty to whip up some last minute ads for Faust. Not to mention, our 09/10 Season brochure (announcement coming soon!) was just sent to the printer, so we've all been a bit nuts. And the office copier decided to take an extended rest today as well. So really it's just been another predictably unpredictable Monday. On that note, here are two entertaining bits from the web that similarly left us laughing and scratching our heads: Madison Opera Trustee Pete Lundberg (who I've just learned goes by the pseudonym "Art Throb" for Brava Magazine) has a mind-bending April column well worth a read, and blogger OperaChic posts that the May issue of Vanity Fair will have a two-page spread on the opera stars of the Met's HD Broadcasts (Madison audiences will recognize Nathan Gunn and Danielle De Niese, two recent recitalists here).

Friday, April 3, 2009

Madison Opera Book Club

We have a few new community engagement initiatives starting with our production of Faust on May 15 and 17. The first is the Madison Opera Book Club. The idea behind this is to offer another avenue into opera, this time via literature in partnership with the Madison Public Library. Every year we'll pick a book related to one of our season operas and host discussions at the local public library branch (for us, that's the beautiful new Sequoya Library). Our first pick is Douglass Wallop's comic novel The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant, an Americanized updating of the Faust story to the world of 1950s baseball (I bet you thought we were going for the Goethe...). Here's what The Washington Post says in their recent reconsideration of Wallop's work:
Both "Faust" and "Yankees" are stories of men who sell their souls to the Devil in return for earthly delights. In Goethe's drama, Faust willingly becomes the tool of Mephistopheles; in Wallop's comic novel, Joe Boyd somewhat less willingly turns himself over to the hands of the satanic Mr. Applegate. Faust wants perfect beauty and other impossible dreams; Boyd wants something scarcely less improbable, an American League championship for the Senators, whom he -- like Wallop himself -- loves beyond all reason.
Gounod's operatic version of Faust is based on Goethe's spinning of the tale, a decidedly darker story, so Wallop's lighter version is perfect for comparison. You also may remember that Wallop's Yankees was the basis for the movie-musical Damn Yankees, so we'll be sure to tie in a few clips when the book club meets at the Sequoya branch on Saturday, April 25 from 2 - 4 p.m. Here's a taste:

Get your copy of The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant at the library then meet with us on April 25. Check the blog to follow my reading of the book, should be fun!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Gounod's passion

"If they had attempted to prevent me from learning music, I should have run away to America and hidden in some corner where I could have studied undisturbed."

Charles Gounod