Category Archives: Opera and Theater

Robert Spano makes MET debut

by Mark Gresham | 16 OCT 2018

Robert Spano (credit: Angels Morris)

Robert Spano
(credit: Angels Morris)

Conductor Robert Spano makes his Metropolitan Opera debut this Friday, October 19, leading the company in a total of seven performances Nico Muhly’s Marnie in October and November.

The opera is based on the Winston Graham novel which also inspired a film by Alfred Hitchcock. Marnie is the second opera commissioned from Muhly by the Metropolitan Opera and is co-produced by the MET and English National Opera.

Earlier this month, NYC based artist management firm HarrisonParrot announced that following nearly two years of successful work for Robert Spano in Europe and Asia, that they and Spano have extended their agreement globally.

Spano is currently in his 18th season as music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. He is also Music Director of the Aspen Music Festival and School, including the Aspen Conducting Academy.

He will return to Atlanta following the final performance of Marnie on November 10 to lead the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra in concerts of music by Theofanidis and Tchaikovsky on November 15 and 17. ■

Vocal Arts Atlanta makes its debut

by Mark Gresham | 15 SEP 2018

The Vocal Arts Atlanta team: (l-r) Jose Caballero, Chaowen Ting, Valerie Pool.

The Vocal Arts Atlanta team: (l-r) Jose Caballero, Chaowen Ting, Valerie Pool. (Photo courtesy of Vocal Arts Atlanta)

Atlanta’s newest performing arts organization, Vocal Arts Atlanta, makes its public debut this weekend with “Opera for Everyone: Who Has the Worst Day?” Hosted by the Kellett Chapel Recital Series at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Buckhead, the free 75-minute performance takes place this Sunday, September 16 at 4 pm.

Comprised of a clutch of operatic favorites, the repertoire is sewn together by a modern, relevant comic premise about how everyone has a bad day now and then, with the all-too-common assertion among friends of how “my bad day was worse than yours.” The competition for “worst day” is played out between a pair of complaining couples drawn from two highly popular traditional operas: Bizet’s Carmen and Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. The expostulating pairs are portrayed by soprano Adelaide Boedecker, mezzo-soprano Kaitlyn Costello, tenor Nathan Munson and bass-baritone Calvin Griffin. Chaowen Ting conducts the semi-staged concert’s accompanying 10-piece chamber orchestra, with stage direction by Brenna Corner, who directed the Atlanta Opera’s production of Carmen this past spring.

Vocal Arts Atlanta was founded earlier this year by a trio of musicians who are active in Atlanta’s music scene and all have a foot in the world of opera. Co-artistic director and music director Chaowen Ting is director of orchestral studies at Georgia Tech, was a conducting fellow with Dallas Opera’s Hart Institute for women conductors in 2016, and was recently named music director of NANOWorks Opera (North America New Opera Workshops).

A native of Marietta, Georgia, co-artistic director and general director Valerie Pool, is an alumna of the Atlanta Opera Studio Program. She completed her second season as resident pianist and vocal coach with The Atlanta Opera in May 2018, has been a rehearsal pianist and surtitle coordinator with Cincinnati Opera since 2014, and was recently appointed music director at St. Benedict’s Episcopal Church in Smyrna.

Director of media and public relations Jose Caballero, is an active performer and teacher, and is beginning his third season as a member of the Atlanta Opera Chorus as well as his engagements in performances by Capital City Opera.

The story of how Pool, Ting and Caballero came together as a team to create Vocal Arts Atlanta in the first place was as much a matter of old-fashioned serendipity as anything, each being in the right place at the right time, with mutually compatible ideas on their minds.

Pool and Ting were introduced last November by composer Carrie Magin, when Ting led the Georgia Tech symphonic band in a concert of music by all-female composers, in which one of her works was performed. Magin was already friends with Pool, who provided her a place to stay during her visit. Once connected, Pool and Ting started talking about a mutually perceived need within Atlanta’s operatic and classical vocal community for expanded local opportunities for performance.

Primarily involved with symphony orchestras, Ting found her experience with Dallas Opera opened a new professional door for her. “There is a whole lot of repertoire and a real cool world for me to be exposed to,” says Ting. “I felt like we should bring back to the general public as well. So I had the idea , I think we should do something together think about it and she started talking to people and then she came up with this really cool idea of Vocal Arts Atlanta.”

Pool: “I would only talk to one person, one singer that I was working with. Jose happened to talk to that same person. He was in the Atlanta Opera Chorus and I was playing piano for that rehearsal. Jose came up to me at the break and he said ‘I hear you’re starting a new company. I want to be involved and I’m really excited about this’ and so we had a team. So that’s how we got together.”

In an e-mail, Caballero told ArtsATL of that encounter, “It was just meant to be. I had been thinking about starting a performance company and started asking my colleagues at the opera if they knew anything about how to start a non-profit. One of them mentioned that Valerie was thinking about starting something similar. That’s when I approached her and we realized our goals were aligned. When I first talked to her it was still just an idea, she had already met Chaowen. We started meeting regularly and creating a vision and figure out our purpose. Things just snowed-ball from there.”

The process moved quickly, incorporating Vocal Arts Atlanta as a non-profit in April, obtaining their 501(c)(3) tax exempt status by summer, and at last the organization’s first public presentation, the afore-described “Opera for Everyone: Who Has the Worst Day?” scheduled for this Sunday afternoon.

The mission of Vocal Arts Atlanta, as described by Ting and Pool in an informal meeting with ArtsATL last month, “is to expose under-served groups, including singers professional musicians and the audience member to a large variety of vocal arts repertory that includes song cycles, art songs, lieder, to operatic excerpts, or semi-production of operas or even orchestra songs. We deliberately made the name really broad. We’re not just another opera company here in town. We want to include a great variety of anything involving classical singing featuring classically trained singers.”

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Review: Atlanta Opera’s “Out of Darkness: Two Remain” makes for emotionally powerful drama

by Mark Gresham | 11 APR 2018

Ben Edquist as Manfred Lewin and Tom Key as Gad Beck. [photo: Jeff Roffman]

Ben Edquist as Manfred Lewin and Tom Key as Gad Beck. [photo: Jeff Roffman]

The Atlanta Opera is halfway through their latest Discovery Series production, “Out of Darkness: Two Remain,” by composer Jake Heggie and librettist Gene Scheer. I attended on Friday night, the second performance of the production’s eight-show run. Four performances remain, this coming Thursday through Sunday, April 12 through 15. Presented in collaboration with Theatrical Outfit, the performances take place in that company’s home venue, the 200 seat Balzer Theater at Herren’s.

“Out of Darkness: Two Remain” is comprised of two 45-minute acts, each telling the story of an aging Holocaust survivor, each a kind of “ghost story” where the unresolved memories of their experiences and persons who died continue to haunt them.

Act I tells the story of poet and lyricist Krystyna Zywulska (soprano Maria Kanyova), who was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau as a political prisoner, rather than for being a Jew – a fact which he successfully hid from her Nazi captors. She is confronted by memories of her of her younger self who survived Auschwitz, nicknamed Krysia (soprano Bryn Holdsworth), and friends in the camp who did not: Zosia and Edka (mezzo-sopranos Elise Quagliata and Gina Perregrino), and the late-arriving Mariola (soprano Jasmine Habersham), a Jewish woman who immediately recognizes Krysia as childhood friend from Łódź, and calls her by her real name, Sonia Landau, in front of Wala, a “kapo” – a prisoner functionary (Funktionshäftling) assigned by the SS to supervise and control other prisoners (a brief role also portrayed by Quagliata).

The encounter with Mariola creates immediate peril for Krysia, in which she must deny her former identity and hr childhood friend. It’s the ghost of Mariola who haunts Krystyna the most, and who is the first character to sing, wordlessly, at the beginning of the opera. In the end, Krystyna reaffirms that she is no longer Sonia Landau, but Krystyna Zywulska – and that is why she still lives to see another day.

The aging Krystyna Zywulska and Krysia, the ghost of her younger self (sopranos Maria Kanyova and Bryn Holdsworth). [photo: Jeff Roffman]

The aging Krystyna Zywulska and Krysia, the ghost of her younger self (sopranos Maria Kanyova and Bryn Holdsworth). [photo: Jeff Roffman]

Act II is the account of German homosexual Gad Beck (actor Tom Key), whose first true love was the poet Manfred Lewin (baritone Ben Edquist), executed in Auschwitz at age 19 along with his entire family. Although he keeps a book of Manfred’s poems in a side table drawer, Gad tries but cannot forget, and is visited one night by the ghost of his young lover, and must reconcile himself to accepting that love and his memories of Manfred. He does as he and the ghost of Manfred embrace in a close dance as the lights fade.

That seemed like it would be the end of the opera, but a Finale follows, involving the whole cast of both acts, that comes across less as epilogue than as anthem of defiance and solidarity. Key, who has only spoken dialogue all night, is the first to break into song, delivered directly to the audience, reprising a tune and text from the first act, in which the rest of he cast quickly join him:

Take off your striped clothes, kick off your clogs.
Stand with me, hold your shaved head high.
The song of freedom upon our lips will never, never die.

Although two separate stories, with protagonists that are unconnected except by Auschwitz and the Holocaust, there is much synergy between the two Acts. That synergy becomes fused in the opera’s final, collective anthem and it does something unusual for 21st-century opera: it risks being remembered by the audience as they depart.

Whether emulating folk-song and dance of Ashkenazic Jews, or the decadent atmosphere of a Berlin nightclub, or eerily adapting waltzes by Chopin and Johann Strauss into the sonic thread, Heggie’s music colors the drama and amplifies it. The orchestra is a sextet – essentially a “Pierrot ensemble” of flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano, with the addition of a contrabass. The Atlanta Opera Orchestra principal players, ensconced in a narrow passageway behind a scrim at the back of the stage, performed skillfully under the baton of conductor Joseph Mechavich.

Four dancers (Miriam Golumb, Nicole Johnson, Brandon Nguyen and Joshua Rackliffe) round out the cast, portraying multiple silent characters important to the drama as well as executing the evocative choreography by John McFall. Producing director Tomer Zvulun balanced the creative forces onstage, emphasizing the opera’s strong theatrical elements, which suited the Balzer Theater’s space and Christopher Dills’ pragmatic scenic design, drawing from the complete cast of players a solid ensemble performance.

On his website, composer Heggie describes this Atlanta Opera production as the “premiere of revised opera and official professional opera company world premiere.” Like many operas, it has taken time for the work to evolve to this stage. “Out of Darkness” had its beginnings as three separate theatrical song cycles: “For a Look and a Touch” (2007), “Another Sunrise” (2012) and “Farewell, Auschwitz (2013).As none of these alone made for a complete theatrical evening, Heggie and Scheer worked them over to create the first “Out of Darkness” opera.

That first version was commissioned by the concert series Music of Remembrance and premiered in 2016 at the Nordstrom Recital Hall in Seattle’s Benaroya Hall, directed by Erich Parce and conducted by Joseph Mechavich. Since then revisions have been made, with a trial run of four performances only two months ago February 8 through 11 by Peabody Chamber Opera of Baltimore’s John Hopkins University. Subsequent further revisions were made just after; vocal scores used by the Atlanta Opera bear the date “2/18/2018.” In the process, the title of the new version was expanded to “Out of Darkness: Two Remain.”

In its current form, “Out of Darkness: Two Remain” proved an effective, well-crafted, emotionally complex evening of agitprop music theater that makes its poignant point to those interested and willing to be moved by its deeply heartfelt message.

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Review: ASO artist in residence Russell Thomas enthralls with captivating Ebenezer concert [ArtsATL]

by Mark Gresham | 10 Feb 2015

Russell Thomas has a third solo concert scheduled in April. (Photo by Trevor Cochlin)

On Saturday afternoon, tenor Russell Thomas — the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s inaugural artist in residence this season — performed a free recital at Ebenezer Baptist Church …
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Year in Review: For the Atlanta Symphony, it was a year divided and a time to assess the future [ArtsATL]

by Mark Gresham | 2 Jan 2015

ASO musicians were locked out of Symphony Hall for almost three months. (Photo by Jeff Roffman)

For Atlanta’s classical music scene, the latter part of 2014 was dominated by the nine-week lockout of Atlanta Symphony Orchestra musicians by the Woodruff Arts Center …
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Preview: The Atlanta Opera’s Walter Huff on the piano, singing and building the perfect chorus [ArtsATL]

by Mark Gresham | 12 Sep 2014

The Atlanta Opera Chorus with Huff at the piano. (Photos by Jeff Roffman)

The Atlanta Opera is celebrating the 25th anniversary of Walter Huff as its chorus master with three performances of operatic choruses tonight and Sunday at Emory …
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Review: ASO and Chorus round out the season with an epic bang performing Verdi’s “Aida” [ArtsATL]

by Mark Gresham | 06 Jun 2014

Robert Spano (center) with Latonia Moore to his right, cast in the title role of Aida. (Photo by Jeff Roffman)

This is the final week of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s 2013–14 season’s classical subscription concerts at Symphony Hall, and the production is a biggie: Giuseppe …
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Review: The Atlanta Opera brings flair and fun to the delightful strains of “Barber of Seville” [ArtsATL]

by Mark Gresham | 29 Apr 2014

Irene Roberts as Rosina with Sidney Outlaw (in orange) as Figaro. (Photos by Ken Howard)

The Atlanta Opera opened its final production of the season, Gioachino Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” on Saturday at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. …
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Conductor Claudio Abbado dies at age 80

Claudio Abbado

Claudio Abbado   (www.ilpost.it)

[Reuters] MILAN – “Claudio Abbado, who decided to become a conductor after hearing a concert at La Scala at the age of eight and went on to lead the Milan opera company and top orchestras for more than half a century, has died aged 80, La Scala said on Monday. …” • Read the article by Isla Binnie at REUTERS (US Edition, Mon Jan 20, 2014 11:36am EST)

A weekend with Puccini present, both large and small: Atlanta Opera and Peachtree String Quartet

by Mark Gresham | 8 Oct 2013

Peachtree Sreing Quartet

Peachtree String Quartet: Christopher Pulgram, John Meisner, Jennifer Humphreys and Yang-Yoon Kim

This past weekend the music of Puccini turned up in both large and small contexts. The most obvious was the opening night Atlanta Opera’s production of Tosca on Saturday, October 5. I’m not a frequent attendee of opera, but I enjoyed the show even if less critically than colleague James Paulk who reviewed the performance for ArtsATL. The remaining three performances of Tosca are tonight at 7:30pm, Friday, October 11 at 8pm and Sunday afternoon, October 13, 2013 at 3pm.

Tomer Zvulun, the AO’s new general and artistic director, spoke to the audience in advance of curtain time to thank donors and so forth, but the most interesting part was when he talked about how about 200 people were involved in this live production, onstage, backstage and in the pit, and made a point of saying that it all happens here, “not streamed from somewhere else,” which brought forth a semi-gasp and subsequent rumble amongst some of the audience in the front rows, as he was obviously referring to the Met’s internet broadcasts. Some local New York-ophiles evidently took umbrage. But Zvulun is right on target. I express it this way: A great city does not “deserve” great art, it creates great art.

The next afternoon (Sunday, October 6) Peachtree String Quartet performed the opening concert of their 2013-14 season at what one might call their “home venue,” the Garden Hills Recreation Center, uptown just southeast of the Buckhead business district in the quiet Garden Hills residential community. The quartet (violinists Christopher Pulgram and John Meisner, violist Yang-Yoon Kim and cellist Jennifer Humphreys) are all members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

There again was Puccini, this time represented by his six-minute elegy “Crisantemi” (“Chrysanthemums”) on a program wirh Haydn’s “Sunrise” String Quartet on B-flat major (Op. 76, No.4), Hugo Wolf’s brief “Italian Serenade” and Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in A minor (Op. 13).

While not a picture perfect performance, the quartet has come a long way since their formal debut last season at Garden Hills. Sunday’s concert was a happy musical experience. The group has a good, consistent following and small venue itself was pretty much full. With a good foundation of audience support, one can only look forward to their continued development as an important local chamber ensemble.

The quartet is scheduled to perform on at the Toco Hill-Avis G. Williams Library this coming Monday, Oct. 14, on behalf of an ASO outreach partnership with the DeKalb County Libraries. That will the first of a series of free chamber concerts by ASO musicians that will take place at libraries across the county, running one performance monthly through May.