Monday, November 28, 2011

Phone Chat with Maestro Joseph Rescigno

Click here to listen as Arizona Opera General Director Scott Altman discusses Arizona Opera's upcoming production of "Madama Butterfly" with veteran conductor Joseph Rescigno.

A master of the Italian repertoire, Rescigno has already conducted 79 different performances of "Butterfly."  For the six-performance run with Arizona Opera, he will lead an all-star cast that includes sopranos Shu-Ying Li and Jill Gardner, tenor Adam Diegel, baritone Jake Gardner and mezzo-soprano Maria Zifchak.

Friday, November 11, 2011

10 Facts You May Not Know About Gounod's "Faust"

1. The work became an instant hit in musical capitals after its 1859 Paris premiere.  Charles Dickens said about this opera: “It has affected me and sounded in my ears like a mournful echo of things that lie in my own heart.” 

The Kermesse scene updated in AZ Opera's production to a bar/nightclub
2. Although the story of “Faust” is based on Goethe’s 12,000-verse play (written between 1772 and 1832), the opera only covers Part I of the German poet’s version, not the more philosophical musings of Part II.  It’s unlikely that a French translation of Part II was available to Gounod and his librettists at the time of the opera’s creation.

3. The original source of "Faust" was a real person, a Doctor Johann Georg Faustus who lived in southern Germany around 1600.  The legend of his pact with the devil became popular through ballads, puppet shows and morality plays (e.g., Christopher Marlowe’s “Tragical History of Dr. Faustus”).

4.  The 1859 version of Gounod's “Faust" that premiered at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris was much longer than the opera we know today due to the spoken dialogue used between the musical arias and ensembles. The dialogue was set to music by the composer for performances in other cities the following year.
Marguerite (soprano Emily Pulley) and Valentin (baritone Mark Walters)
5. Valentin’s aria “Avant de quitter” — one of the best-known tunes of “Faust” — was added in 1864, a couple of years after the London premiere.  It was sung in English at those performances ("Even the bravest heart may swell") and the French version followed later.

6.  A scene which you will almost never see in performances today of “Faust” is the Act V “Walpurgisnacht” in which Méphistophélès takes Faust to a witches’ Sabbath.  Faust is surrounded by some of the most beautiful women of history, sees a ballet and sings a drinking song. The scene is usually cut for its huge production demands and to advance the plot.

Bass-baritone Greer Grimsley as Mephistopheles
7. In 1883, “Faust” opened New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.  The Met became known as the “House that ‘Faust’ Built” because it was the Opening Night opera almost every year for the rest of the century. ("Faust" now ranks #18 in Opera America’s list of most-performed operas in the U.S.)

8.  When Gounod’s opera is performed in German-speaking countries, it’s generally titled “Margarete,” a symbolic distancing from Goethe’s much-beloved play.

9.  Music and religion were Gounod’s passions.  In his youth, he came under the influence of the Society of St. Sulpice in Paris, a religious order. (Gounod’s priesthood, however, was short-lived; he was nicknamed the “philandering monk.”)  To this day, one of Gounod’s most cherished melodies is his “Ave Maria.” 

10.  Richard Wagner dismissed Gounod’s opera as “superficial sentimentality.”  That hasn’t stopped later composers creating their own operatic versions of the Faust myth.  That distinguished company includes Boito, Busoni, Mahler, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and American composer John Adams with his “Doctor Atomic” (2005).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mezzo-soprano Katharine Goeldner, the Orfeo in April's production of "Orfeo ed Euridice," describes her recent experience in the Metropolitan Opera spotlight

There's never a dull moment at the Metropolitan Opera.  I've sung many roles there: the School Boy in "Lulu" (my debut), Prince Orlofsky, Cherubino, Nicklausse. And I've covered a couple of things, but I have never actually gone on stage as a cover at that house. On October 18th, all that changed.

At this point, I should explain a bit what a "cover" is. A "cover" is sort of an unofficial second cast. As a cover, you may not necessarily have scheduled performances, but you are "on call" for every one and must either be in the building or within a 20-minute cab ride of the Met, accessible by cell phone. You are responsible for learning the entire role and being present at every rehearsal, where you watch and carefully write down all of the stage directions. You also rehearse with the other covers and have a complete run-through before the day of the premiere, just in case something should happen to one of the first cast singers. I have to point out, though, that the covers have no stage or orchestra time.  And although you have your own set of costumes, made just for you, you don't actually get a chance to rehearse in them.  Bear this in mind as you read...

So, I've been here at the Met these past two months, covering the role of Giovanna (Jane) Seymour in the new production of "Anna Bolena," which stars Anna Netrebko in the title role.  I had been put on "official warning" for the three previous shows.  The woman I was covering, Ekaterina Gubanova, had a sore throat and thought she was going to have to cancel, so I needed to be ready just in case. They had me in a dressing room with my costumes at the ready, but each time she wound up singing the entire performance.

On October 18th, I didn't get that "official warning," so I was covering from my cell phone and having dinner with a friend. Halfway through the show, I get The Call. After singing Act 1, my "coveree" felt she was losing her voice, had cancelled the rest of the show and I needed to get down there pronto. So I hopped into a cab, told the driver to step on it and arrived at the Met as fast as I could. They held the curtain for about 15 minutes while I was rushed into makeup and my costume (warming up while they're dressing me!). I was quickly swept into the 15th century and out onto the stage of the Met to sing the big Act 2 duet with Anna Netrebko. Keep in mind, I had never been on the set and had never sung this role with an orchestra. Oh, and this was a role debut for me as well. Anna was a wonderful colleague, energy was high and we had FUN out there. And then back I went into the dressing room to be rushed into the next costume--that beautiful reproduction of the red dress in the famous Holbein portrait of Jane Seymour--and onto the stage for my last big scene with Henry VIII and my aria.

I have to tell you that every single mezzo I've talked to who has sung this role has the same opinion of it: it's HARD. The role really lies in soprano territory and it's very difficult to maintain the tessitura and then end the aria on a high B. It is definitely the most technically-challenging role I have ever sung.

So there I am, on the stage of the Met, singing the most difficult aria I have ever sung, never having sung the aria in public before. Was I nervous? A bit but not as much as I had expected. There just wasn't time to be nervous! In the end, it all went very, very well, and I was pleased to have pulled it off.
And then... three days later, my "coveree" cancels again, but this time I had two hours' notice and sang the entire show. This also happened to be a live Sirius radio broadcast with a new soprano in the title role, Angela Meade. And again, the performance went very, very well.

So it turned out to be a very lucky week for me. This is why I always pick up lucky pennies. From never expecting I would actually perform this role, I wound up singing two performances, got a review (always good for the website), a radio broadcast AND there happened to be a house photographer there.

I should have bought a lottery ticket. But maybe that would've been pushing my luck just a little too far.

Monday, October 24, 2011

As Arizona Opera prepares its world premiere performances of Gounod’s "Faust," stage director Bernard Uzan explains why this centuries-old tale of a man selling his soul is fitting for 2011 audiences.

When we reach a certain age, would or will we sell our soul to the devil for youth? Do we think about the last 35 years of our life and what we will do differently? Do we have regrets? Do we have remorse? Do we enjoy the memory of some of our successes? Do we hope to enjoy more future success?

The legend of "Faust" is one of the most valued and essential myths of society in the western world. It is timeless; it concerns the basic preoccupations of humanity—morality, love and passion. Since the beginning of time and even 200 years from now, humanity will deal with mortality and old age, and will consequently always try to find ways to escape the final chapter.
That is the basic reason why I decided to update this opera.
When Gounod wrote "Faust," only the first part of Goethe’s dramatic poem of the same name had been translated in France. This is why the opera concludes after Marguerite’s chapter, but nevertheless, it deals with the main desires of Faust, to once again find youth, love and life’s pleasures.
In this production, we are maintaining the basic settings of the opera, but they are transposed to today’s sensitivities. The village fair becomes a bar/nightclub, Marguerite’s garden a flower shop and the prison a mental institution.  All of this is under the power of Mefisto, who will appear as a bartender, a delivery man and a doctor. He even materializes as a priest in the church scene, which turns out not to be a real church, but instead a trap set by Mefisto to torment Marguerite.
Of course, the costumes will support a modern approach with some obvious imitation and parodies of today’s fashion. I am also utilizing projections in order to support, comment or illustrate some ideas and thoughts of the characters throughout. But they are never used to replace the words or the music itself. While we have transposed the settings, the production stays faithful to the spirit of the opera and, most importantly, to the music and the meaning of the text.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Top 10 Reasons to See AZ Opera’s “Cav/Pag” this weekend

10. For first-time opera goers, this double bill flies by like a Jerry Bruckheimer action flick. Italian opera doesn’t get much sexier or more blood-and-guts.

9. Speaking of Hollywood, you can relive some of your favorite movie moments . Are you a fan of “Raging Bull,” “The Godfather Part III” or “The Untouchables”? Some of the music for these films come from “Cav/Pag,” including “Cavalleria”’s gorgeous Intermezzo.

8. How often do you see a vintage 1918 Harley on the opera stage?

7. Catch a glimpse of opera’s newest “love couple”: soprano Kelly Kaduce and baritone Lee Gregory. (Gheorghiu and Alagna are so 2000.)

6. During intermission, enter an opera trivia contest to win great prizes, including free gourmet meals before future performances.

5. You may know every note of “Pagliacci”’s “Vesti la giubba.” But have you heard it more elegantly sung than by tenor Allan Glassman?

4. Arizona Opera is debuting sparkling sets which have never before been seen on stage. You’ll be convinced that you’re in rural Italy.

3. One of the greatest, most spine-tingling choral numbers of all time is in “Cavalleria Rusticana” – the Easter Hymn or "Inneggiamo.” And the Arizona Opera Chorus sings it sublimely with soprano Lori Phillips.

2. Enjoy the company of fellow opera lovers at Symphony Hall. And starting this season you can actually bring drinks to your seats; enjoy some Italian opera with a glass of red wine!

1. Experience all the passion and sensory delight that opera has to offer with a cast of singers that are among the best in the world.

Still not convinced? Catch this preview video which includes the perspectives of tenors Allan Glassman and Joseph Wolverton, director Kay Walker Castaldo and soprano Lori Phillips.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cav-Pag’s stage director Kay Walker Castaldo discusses her unique vision in these director's notes, explaining the deep psychological resonances of these hot-blooded operas

I’ve often thought it would be very fruitful to write director’s notes after the rehearsal process, when the backstage stories and the cast of characters have just flowered into all the art amid the chaos that must transpire behind the scenes...  Before you, the audience, arrive.

In a sense, you are aware of that secret process, as in Pagliacci's play within a play:  The watchers sense what the actor is thinking.

What lies in the space between reality and illusion, and how does the actor lose himself in a part, merging and developing another facet, even another full persona?    Divining those mysteries by experiencing that metamorphosis is the truth that is strived for. And the birth of verismo contributed to this phase of the modern theater.

Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci, opera’s most famous twins, ignited a revolution. When first composed and performed in 1890 and 1892 respectively, they created a furor of excitement, ushered in a new age of modernity and changed the direction of Italian opera.  This verismo or “truth” style replaced the old protagonists of gods, kings, and heroes with the common man and his real-life dramas.
Cav-Pag, as it is affectionately been called since they were first paired in 1903, not only founded verismo, but holds the bar high in terms of the most passionate and high-voltage emotional conflicts presented in opera.

It is interesting to note that there are essentially two traditional periods in which Cavalleria and Pagliacci are usually set: one is the period of their composition and the other is the 1930s.  We have chosen the traditional 1930s setting, as it was a time of tremendous growth and ferment in Italy, with World War II brewing and the Mafiosi gaining power.  This Godfather era resonates powerfully with the images and conflicts of Cav-Pag.   As in Fellini’s La Strada, we see the mix of the ancient elements and birth of the modern world—a World War II motorcycle mixed with medieval customs and laws.  We see that, no matter what the birth struggle of a new time might be, the old order holds.   Even the commedia dell’arte play we present in Pagliacci is built from the ancient sources and drawings. Each lazzi, or trick and joke, is historical and has played for hundreds of years.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Find out why Todd Thomas, our upcoming Alfio and Tonio in Cavalleria Rusticana & Pagliacci loves his job!

While living in Germany from 1995 to 1999, I was cast as Tonio for an eight-city European tour marking the anniversary celebration of Utrecht University in Holland. The university cast the opera with young professional international soloists and pulled the orchestra, chorus and crew from students, alumni and folks from Utrecht. Now, what made this tour particularly special was that we performed the opera in a round blue and orange circus tent. While the orchestra was set up on one portion of the outer ring, bleachers were set up in an identical way that one would find when attending a circus. As the crowds would come into the tent with sodas and popcorn, etc., the orchestra played Fellini Film music scores while a host of clowns, acrobats, and jugglers created a unique atmosphere preparing the environment for this magnificent piece of music drama. The audience, the tent, the summer time, and outside air all joined together to create an incredible evening. The action took place inside the tent ring where you would expect to see animal acts and the like. Nedda's huge dress, which was hung atop the tent, looked like a net dropped and draped over the waiting sopranos head in the middle of her aria. Canio's vest flew in as he prepared for his aria. For the Commedia scenes as well as the opening chorus the extra acrobats and jugglers had wonderful tricks.

The single element which made this a particularly wonderful experience was that the entire company traveled and camped in each city much the same way that Canio, Nedda, Tonio and Canio do in the first act. Each city where we played: Cagnes su mer, Sarlat, Luxenbourg, Bologna, Fiesole, Pisa, Luzerne, and Utrecht, greeted us as we entered the city much the same way as Leoncavallo's characters are welcomed. We had a staff who cooked for us and the entire company of crew, orchestra and chorus camped in their own personal tents. While the principals were provided with pension or hotel stays, I chose to camp with the company. This experience of truly living Pagliacci was a tremendous gift. After the show closed the company needed to liquidate all objects and items associated with the tour. I acquired my Tonio costume which included very special shoes just made for me. I wear these shoes each time I sing this role and Rigoletto as well. Be sure to look at my shoes.

Arizona, get ready for a wonderful evening of music and drama coming soon. This is another moment when I can sincerely say, "I love my job!"

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


Winning contestant receives iPad2

Arizona Opera invites fans, artists and budding film-makers to create their own mini video opera and enter Arizona Opera’s OperaBot Video Contest. Video should be themed or based on a character or plot from one of the opera’s 2011-12 productions this season, including Cavalleria/Rusticana, Pagliacci, Madama Butterfly, Aida, Faust or Orfeo & Euridice. From the crying clown and his murderous revenge, to the temples of ancient Egypt, to
the man who sells his soul to the devil to win the girl, Arizona Opera’s 2011-12 season has a visually rich array of concepts to animate.

All OperaBot contestants will receive two tickets to Arizona Opera’s April performances and the winning submission will receive an iPad2! Submissions can be viewed and voted for on the Arizona Opera’s You Tube Channel, under OperaBot Playlist. To enter, go to to learn about the stories, create your own mini-version, upload your video to YouTube and then email your link to All entries must be received by December 1, 2011.

Winning entry will be selected by popular vote!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Baritone Mark Walters' Plea to Placido!

This will be my second time to sing the role of Valentin in Faust.  It is one of 10 roles that I have been fortunate to have studied with renowned American Baritone Sherrill Milnes.  I’m really excited about working with the excellent cast lined up for this production.

One of Valentin’s main concerns in the opera is protecting his younger sister.  My younger sister, Stephanie, actually lives in the Phoenix area.  We don’t get to see each other very often and I am looking forward to spending time with her and her husband, Brad, and my 2 young nephews – Tyler and Parker.

I love to hike when I’m on the road and am eager to explore the trails in the area.  I’m also a novice golfer and will bring my clubs with me to hit a course or two with my brother-in-law.
What got me started in music?  

My mother’s uncle was a local French Horn teacher and she encouraged me to join the public school band in 4th grade.  I wasn’t too interested in joining band - until LeAnn, the blond-haired, blue-eyed, Baptist preacher’s daughter who lived across the street joined band in 5th grade.  I then announced to my mother that I thought I’d like to give band a try.J  It didn’t workout with LeAnn, but music stuck in a big way.

Coolest gig that I wasn’t able to take? 

Placido Domingo asked me to understudy him in Simon Boccanegra in Los Angeles this coming January. Unfortunately, I was already booked to sing the title role in Rigoletto in Miami at the same time. 

Placido – please give me a call the next time you need a baritone cover!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Joseph Wolverton Visits Arizona Opera Once Again!

I have a long history with this role of Turiddu in Cavalleria Rusticana. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, my childhood was filled with music.  You see, my father was passionate about singing and especially Italian opera.  We would religiously listen to the Saturday broadcast from the Met, and all other times there were records (yes, I am that old) to enjoy.  I began to sing along with these recordings and the rest, as they say, is history.  The reason I tell you this is that when I was asked to sing this role, I immediately opened the score to see all the music that was unfamiliar to me, only to find that I knew the entire role from hearing it in my home through the years!

Once while performing Turiddu, I was singing my farewell to my mother (Addio alla Madre) when my suit coat button got tangled in my mothers shawl, and I spent the majority of the aria trying to extricate myself so I could make my exit.  I think it must have looked like a wrestling match.

I also have a history in Phoenix.  I have sung three productions for the Arizona Opera (Pinkerton and twice Rodolfo), as well as singing with the symphony numerous times with Doc Severinsen, performing an evening of Italian popular songs.  I  performed under Theo Alcantara for those of you who are long time attendees of the symphony.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Get to know Peter Volpe and his history with the role of Ramphis in Aida

My relationship with Aida by now has been a long and happy one!  I was first exposed to the opera as a young boy.  I had been listening to opera and favorite singers since 1973 or so, and the operas of Verdi always had, and still have for me, a particular allure.  It was sometime around then I first listened to Aida and became familiar with it.  I recognized that there were two bass roles that I might someday be able to voice changed when I was very young, and I was already a bass by then.  By the time I was twenty-two, my first performance opportunity with Aida had arrived.  I was to sing the role of the King of Egypt in a concert performance of the opera at Carnegie hall in New York City with the Manhattan Philharmonic.  Talk about trial by fire!!  I am happy to report that it went very well and that performance led to many, many more as the King. 

By the time I was 35, I had matured enough to take on the other bass role, Ramphis...the bigger one!  I was lucky to be successful as Ramphis as well and this led to  more productions of Aida and much more opportunity to hone my Ramphis skills!  Aida has been very good to me over the years and I am thrilled to be performing in it with the Arizona Opera! 
When I am not performing and find a break in my schedule, I enjoy being at my home in upstate New York with my wife, where  I own a 90 acre farm which keeps me busy, happy and in good shape!  There is always plenty of work to be done and for me, coming home and getting my hands dirty keeps me balanced.  I have had a very fortunate and happy relationship with the Arizona Opera over the last 12 years, and I am always elated  to return to work for this esteemed company.  I do receive a personal perk when I am in Arizona, and that is my in-laws have retired to Phoenix and it gives me a wonderful opportunity to visit with them and take them to a show. Over the years they have seen me in many performances in Phoenix, and they very much look forward to me singing with Arizona do I!! "  

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Get to know Katharine Goeldner, playing her debut role of Orfeo in April's "Orfeo ed Euridice"

First of all, let me say how very much I am looking forward to finally having the chance to perform with Arizona Opera! I have wanted to perform with your company for years, and am delighted that it is finally going to happen - and I have the extra luck of making my debut in such a wonderful role as Gluck's "Orpheo."

This is a role debut for me, and one that's been on my list Bucket List of Roles. I'm following in the footsteps of some legendary singers with it - Janet Baker, Kathleen Ferrier, Marilyn Horne...and I've been studying their interpretations. When approaching a new role, I like to start as early as possible and do as much research as possible, gleaning what I can from great interpreters of past years, the nuances, how they color a certain phrase or how they approach a technically demanding line. It's hard to pick a favorite interpreter of this role, but at the moment, I'd have to say Janet Baker's simplicity and sincerity move me tremendously. Her "Che faro senza Euridice" is sublime. And I would like to add that I am particularly thrilled that Christine Brandes will be my Euridice. We've worked together at New York City Opera and I am a huge fan of hers!

I'm also looking forward to being in Arizona for personal reasons. My first voice teacher, Jocelyn Reiter, taught at the University of Arizona after she left the University of Iowa, where I studied with her. I've always wanted to sing there, for her. She's the reason I became a singer at all, and I owe her so much. Because of her encouragement, I moved to Salzburg, Austria to do graduate work, started singing in the theaters here, met my husband...and wound up staying here in this beautiful city of Mozart. My husband, Eddie Bartlett, also an American, is a bassoonist in the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg, so this has remained our home base. I've been one of the lucky few singers who have been able to maintain a career on both sides of the "pond" - I spend about half the season in the US (this year it's AZ and the Met) and half in Europe (Covent Garden, Amsterdam, Vienna). Apparently, all my opera travels over the years have given our daughter, Anna, the travel bug, as well; a High School Junior, she'll be spending this coming fall semester as an exchange student in Malaga, Spain. She's grown up bilingual (English/German) and, in addition to Spanish, is learning Latin, French and - get this -Ancient Greek! Yep, that's all in the Austrian public schools. 

Orpheo is a difficult role and I expect rehearsals to be intense, but I do hope I get some free time to play - Any suggestions as to the "must-sees"?? Two of my husband's siblings live in Santa Fe/Taos, so I'm sure I'll have a bunch of family & friends coming over to see the shows. That may not seem close to you folks in Tucson & Phoenix, but compared to being in Salzburg, it's practically around the corner!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lynn Rancourt, Winner of the 2011-12 Season Ticket Renewal Contest, Reporting for Duty!

I’m the winner of the “renew your season tickets early contest” for the 2011-2012 Arizona Opera Season.  I won a trip to Seattle, Washington to see Mozart’s “Magic Flute” or “Die Zauberflote,”  including two plane tickets, two nights at a hotel and two “VIP” opera tickets.

Let me back up.  Because I’d read several mysteries where some rich person stages an opera in their spacious country home and during the opera someone is actually killed, I decided to attend “The Mikado” at the Mesa Arts Center.  I realize some do not consider that opera, but let’s not quibble. I loved it.  As fate would have it, the next week I received an Arizona Opera’s coming season brochure and one of their selections was “The Mikado” so I signed up for season tickets and it’s been a love-fest ever since.

Anyway, back to my Seattle trip.  My friend Elba consented to accompany me even though she’d never seen an opera.  We decided to extend our trip to Seattle by 3 days and do some sightseeing.
I had never seen “The Magic Flute” and each synopsis I read made the plot seem ever more absurd but I’ve found it always seems logical when you see it.  Now that I think about it, the Ring does not fit into the “plot is self-explanatory when enjoying the opera” statement.

Also, on-line I saw Seattle also has a “pre-opera” talk at 6:00 PM for a 7:30 opera start.  I always attend those in Phoenix and thought it would be helpful for Elba to ease her into her first opera.  

The Marion McCaw Opera building is located at the Seattle Center and there is a Food Court there but there are 4 dining options at the opera building itself:  a snack bar similar to the dessert stall at Phoenix with an emphasis on sandwiches rather than dessert.  Wine is available.  There is a full restaurant where one could eat at anytime.  Some had reservations but they seemed to be able to accommodate walk-ins as well.  There is the “after the pre-talk” meal and then the “intermission” meal that is served in the actual restaurant. 
As we followed the usher to our seats, we realized that we had darn good “VIP” seats.  We were 8 rows back of the stage just left of center.  Excellent seats! 

Lynn enjoying the Pacific Northwestern Rainforest.
“Die Zauberflote” is hands-down the silliest opera I’ve ever seen and the excellent staging just heightened that sense of absurd magic.  When Tamino, the hero,  played his magic flute, out burst, among other creatures, a dragon, a rhinocerous with glitter, a pink ostrich,  tumbling monkeys, and an alligator adding a lot of color and laughter to entertain us.  Later when Papageno, the bird catcher, marries Papagena (a hag turned into a beautiful girl oddly resembling her new husband) 5 or 6 tiny tots in bright green wigs and feathers popped up giggling and waving and generally being cute as a bug’s ear.  Elba loved her first opera.

 At intermission, Elba and I sprinted to the restaurant worried about time but our pre-ordered food arrived as soon as we sat down – it was delicious and attractive:  a butter lettuce salad with Cara Cara navel oranges, avocado and Dungeness crab with green goddess dressing.  We even had time for a dessert of bread pudding with crème Anglais.  Yummy.

I’m looking forward to the next Arizona Opera season and to my trip to Italy to for operas in Venice, Parma, Florence and Milan. Ciao!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Getting to Know Mary Elizabeth Williams

Hello from sunnier-than-usual Seattle!  I'm here this summer singing the role of Serena in Porgy and Bess and am very much enjoying my time here.  I was very happy to hear from Arizona Opera a couple of weeks ago, asking me to write a little something in preparation for my arrival next season in Tucson and Phoenix for Aida.  I'm very much looking forward to coming back to Arizona; I sang my debut with the company with the title role in Tosca during the '09-'10 season. 

I am anticipating that this visit for Aida will be even more fun, because it's always more fun the second time around!  Now, I'll know my way around the city a little better, and I will already feel at home with the wonderful musical and administrative staff at Arizona Opera.  In addition, the cast is full of good friends like my fellow Aida, Lisa Daltirus, Kevin Short (playing the King) and Arnold Rawls, who is singing Radames.  We are already planning what to do together with our days off!  I'd personally like to get out away from the city--I remember the haunting beauty of the terrain, and it'd be wonderful to spend a day (or two, if I can) out enjoying the desert landscape.  I also plan to do my fair share of shopping!  Arizona is home to so many wonderful artists; although I managed to bring home quite a bit of southwestern jewelry and artwork last year, I'm always interested in adding to my collection...

Aida, as one might imagine, is quite a challenging sing!  Although I want to see more of Arizona this time, I need to be careful not to overschedule myself.  This will be my fourth production of Aida since I made my role debut at Atlanta Opera in 2010, and every time I discover new things--both in the character of Aida herself, and the technical requirements the role demands of me as a singer.  It's easy to distill Aida down to a love triangle during a time of war--that is, in essence, the story line.  For me, however, the fun comes in finding moments to add layers of interaction between characters and shades of emotion to make "Aida" as real a human being as possible.

It's going to be a great time in Arizona, and I'm really looking forward to it!  Until then, all the best for a wonderful start to the opera season!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Arizona Opera Announces Purchase of New Home

Arizona Opera and the city of Phoenix announced today the purchase of a new home for the Opera Company, at 1636 N. Central Ave.  The 16,800 square-foot-building, formerly the corporate offices and showroom of Walsh Brothers Furniture, was purchased by the City with funds from 2006 voter-approved Bonds. Located in the heart of the city’s cultural district, the facility is directly across Central Avenue from the Phoenix Art Museum and Phoenix Theater, and down the block from the Heard Museum.  The building will house educational and meeting facilities, rehearsal space for the Company’s five-opera season, administrative offices, costume, wig and make-up shop and performance venues for smaller opera and theater works.
Arizona Opera’s production headquarters had been located in Tucson since the Company’s founding in 1971, with operations split between Tucson and Phoenix.  Since July 2010, consolidation of the Company occurred with the administrative office in Phoenix and rehearsal space in nearby Mesa.  With the new opera center, the Company will fully consolidate all operations not only in one city, but in one building as well.  Performances of the Company’s full season will continue to be at Symphony Hall in downtown Phoenix, and the Tucson Music Hall.
“We are thrilled to have found such a perfect location for our new home, near to our sister arts organizations and directly on the light rail route.  From watching singers rehearse their roles, to public tours, education programs for youth and adults, performances and events, the community will have unprecedented, behind-the-scenes access to the creative process in action. Now, because of landmark support from Phoenix residents, people of all ages and backgrounds will be able to learn first-hand about this all-encompassing art form,” stated General Director Scott Altman. Altman also noted the continuing support of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and the City Council, as well as city staff, and the commitment of the Arizona Opera’s Board of Trustees. 
The Opera's new location will complement and enhance the city's other nearby cultural amenities on Central Avenue: the Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix Theatre and Heard Museum," said Jane Morris, city of Phoenix executive assistant to the city manager.  "It's easily accessible by Metro light rail and has a centralized location to increase access to the opera's programs.”
The renovations are expected to be complete and Arizona Opera to be fully operational in the Central Avenue building by summer of 2012.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Behind the Scenes with Daveda Karanas

Daveda Karanas, scheduled to appear at Arizona Opera as Amneris in Aida in March 2012, is currently performing her first complete Ring Cycle at San Francisco Opera as Waltraute & Second Norn.  Read on to learn more about Daveda, her Arizona roots, and her dream signature role! 

Daveda as Suzuki with Koukla
backstage at San Fransisco Opera's
production of  Madama Butterfly
Although this is not my company debut with Arizona Opera, I performed in last season’s Concert of Arias, it is my role debut of Amneris (Aida). I had the privilege to cover the fantastic reigning Amneris, Dolora Zajick, last fall at San Francisco Opera. It was an amazing experience to watch and learn from someone who has performed the role over 200 times. I met Dolora back in 2008, through San Francisco Opera’s Adler Fellowship, the company’s two-year young artist program. Dolora took me under her wing and has been a great mentor in my professional life. I have coached with her numerous times, in San Francisco and New York, and even visited her while she was running her young artist program (The Institute of Young Dramatic Voices) to coach Verdi repertoire.

Like Dolora, Amneris will hopefully become one of my signature roles. Therefore it seems 2012 is the start of my career as Amneris. I’m covering the role at Lyric Opera of Chicago in January & February, performing it with Arizona Opera in March, performing it with Vancouver Opera in April & May, and then again with The Glimmerglass Festival in July & August. 

I’m extremely proud to debut the role here, especially because I consider Arizona home. In 2006, I graduated with my master’s degree in opera performance at Arizona State University. I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a graduate student and I’m looking forward to returning to my old stomping grounds. I have many friends, teachers, and colleagues still in the area and am excited about reconnecting with them.

As a traveling performer, most people travel alone. I, on the other hand, have a traveling companion. My 11-year-old Chinese Crested dog, Koukla, has become quite the traveler. I’ve had her since she was a puppy and she has been with me everywhere. I have to say that she adored living in Arizona. A dog with no hair, she appreciated the dry warm weather Arizona had to offer. I know for a fact that she will love the wonderful weather, new smells, and sights during our time in Tucson and Phoenix.

A fond memory I have of Arizona, specifically Phoenix, is the GREAT FOOD! My husband and I ventured to many wonderful restaurants during our two-year residence in Phoenix, AZ. I think my husband is more excited about his future visit to Arizona for the culinary cuisine rather than to visit his wife! He has already formed a restaurant go-to list!

As with any engagement, I love to explore the culture, land, and all that the area has to offer. I look forward to seeing what has changed in both Tucson and Phoenix. For me this engagement is more than just a wonderful opportunity to debut a role, it’s also a fantastic reunion!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Welcome to the New Arizona Opera Blog!

As Arizona Opera launches into its “next 40 years” we welcome an era of thrilling productions and renewed sustainability.  We are also eager to embrace and energize our followers in the blogosphere, on Facebook, Twitter, MeetUp, and YouTube!  

Connecting with the entire Arizona Opera Family is paramount, while delivering opera both at the theater and to those around the globe is the future for a vital art form.  Here we will be able to openly enjoy each other’s company as we interconnect in discussion about everything Arizona Opera and beyond- welcome to our new blog and thank you for being a part of the Arizona Opera Family!