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  • FLORIDA- THE STATE OF OPERA
    05/29/2023

     

    Florida is bursting with opera.

     

    If you were to ask the average opera fan what they’d consider to be the center of opera in the United States, they would probably say New York City, and by extension, the East Coast. And they would be right. However, there are opera hotspots all over the US, and Florida happens to be one of the biggest.

     

    Outside of New York, California is the second-largest opera-producing state with 30+ opera companies or opera-producing organizations, not including universities and conservatories.  Guess who’s the third largest, outstripping even opera-lovin’ Texas? Florida, that’s who. We have 20 opera organizations, spread all over the state. 

     

     

    These companies run the gamut from tiny, mom-and-pop outfits kept alive by the passion of one person or a small group of volunteers, to multi-million-dollar budget organizations and everything in between. South Florida is especially rich in opera boasting 8 producers, five of those in Miami.

     

     

     

    The late 90s – early 2000s were a fertile time for Florida opera. 13 new companies sprang up, and Orlando Opera resuscitated. Pensacola Opera, Sarasota Opera, and Palm Beach Opera have been around since 1983, 1974, and 1961 respectively. But yours truly, Florida Grand Opera, established in 1941 as Greater Miami Opera and merging in 1994 with the Opera Guild of Fort Lauderdale to become FGO, holds the title. Not only are we the oldest opera company in Florida, but we are also the oldest performing arts organization.

     

    So, next time someone tells you that “opera is dead,” let them know that it’s alive and well in Florida. Challenge them to come to a show with you, and see why this 400+-year-old art form continues to speak to the soul, heart, and mind of its fans. Bring them to FGO --- with a 2023-24 season filled with favorites like La traviata, I pagliacci, and La bohème, it’s the perfect way to introduce friends to opera! Subscriptions for the 83rd season are on sale now at fgo.org, or call 800.741.1010.

  • STUDIO ARTIST SUMMER
    05/22/2023

     

    A scene from Der Tode Stadt for the Final Sing concert. L-R: Charles Calotta, Page Michels, Ashley Shalna, Joseph McBrayer, Erin Alford, Matthew Cossack. Not pictured: Phillip Lopez. Photo by Eric Joannes.

     

    FGO’s Studio Artists are an integral part of the company, playing mainstage roles and performing concerts throughout the community during their nine-month run in South Florida. But unlike similar programs that employ young singers as apprentices, FGO Studio Artists are early-career professionals. When they aren’t delighting South Florida audiences, they are often auditioning for or performing for other companies.  And if you’ve heard them sing, you understand the excitement of experiencing fresh talent and following its development. What’s next for the 2022-23 Studio Artists? Here’s what they’re up to over the summer.

     

    Soprano Page Michels as Lauretta with baritone Franco Pomponi as Schicchi in FGO's 2023 production of Gianni Schicchi. Photo by Daniel Azoulay.

     

    Soprano Page Michels will be moving to Los Angeles at the completion of her second year at FGO. She is reprising her critically acclaimed Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi with Opera Steamboat in Colorado, and making her role debut as Ma Zegner in Missy Mazzoli’s Proving Up. She will also give a solo recital as a feature of Opera Steamboat’s summer season.

     

    Second-year Studio Artist, tenor Charles Calotta, will hit the ground running. He leaves immediately after his turn as Spoletta in Tosca for Opera Ithaca, where he will sing the title role in Offenbach’s  Orpheus in the Underworld .  He will later make his Opera NEO debut in the title role of Mozart’s Mitridate, Re di Ponto.

    Tenor Charles Calotta as Rinuccio in our 2023 production of Gianni Schicchi. Photo by Daniel Azoulay.

     

    Tenor Joseph McBrayer is excited to spend a little time with family before beginning rehearsals for the role of Sam in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah with Marble City Opera in Knoxville, TN. He will then head to the Quisisana Resort in Center Lovell, ME where he will sing Alfredo in La traviata, opposite his fiancée, Hayley Lipke, as Violetta!. Talk about summer romance!

     

    Tenor Joseph McBrayer as Paolino with Vancess Becerra as Carolina in our 2023 production of El matrimonio secreto.Photo by Eduardo Schneider.

     

    Soprano Ashley Shalna as Nella, tenor Joseph McBrayer as Gherardo, baritone Eleomar Cuella as Marco, and bass-baritone Phillip Lopez as Betto surround Franco Pomponi as Gianni Schicchi in our 2023 production. Photo by Daniel Azoulay.

     

    Bass-baritone Matthew Cossack as Fiorello in our 2023 production of The Barber of Seville. Photo by Daniel Azoulay.

     

    Soprano Ashley Shalna, mezzo Erin Alford, baritone Matthew Cossack, and bass-baritone Phillip Lopez will be spending their summers catching up with family and friends between audition tours and preparing for their next musical adventures. They deserve some time off after their busy season at FGO! While you’re waiting for them to  return to our stage as guest artists, as many of our Studio Artists do , you can follow their careers on their websites and social media:

     

    pagemichels.com
    Instagram: @page_elizabeth_sop

     

    Instagram: @ashely.shalna.soprano

     

    erinalford.com
    Instagram: @eringoesgrrr

     

    charlescalottatenor.com
    Instagram @charlesthetenor

     

    Matthew Cossack Instagram: @opera.poppa

     

    philliplopezmusic.com
    Instagram: @philliplopezmusic

     

    Stay tuned to discover our 2023-24 Studio Artists, and while you’re waiting, don’t forget to renew your subscription! We’ll be opening up subscriptions in just a few days, so this is your last chance to get your preferred seats at the best price. Purchase at fgo.org or call 800.741.1010.

  • FIGARO'S YELP REVIEWS
    05/15/2023

     

    If Figaro, that world-famous Barber of Seville, were to get Yelp reviews for his electic list of services, they might sound something like this:

     

    *****Highly recommend for passing notes to your boyfriend under your suspicious old guardian’s nose. –Rosie

     

    **** Wonderful imagination and ability to improvise. He got me out of a tough spot or two! Highly motivated by money. – “Lindoro”

     

    ** The man is a decent enough barber, surgeon, apothecary, botanist, and vet, but what a scoundrel! Always drama, always a scheme. I don’t trust him. – Dr. B.

     

     

    Fortunately for FGO’s The Barber of Seville, Dr. B(artolo) isn’t one of our critics, and those we have are very happy with what they’ve seen and heard.

     

    Lawrence Budmen of the South Florida Classical Review called our production a “fun-filled … classic comic delight …” and “comic opera at its best.” 

     

    Style and Polity Magazine found that FGO’s Barber “makes the cut, so to say …a delightful romp … that will boost your spirits with classic sounds and good cheer.”

     

    In Pro Ópera Magazine, Roberto San Juan wrote “…Stephanie Doche displayed an entire arsenal of meticulous vocal pyrotechnics with magnificent technique …” “Like Doche, Angelini decorated the cadences with profusion and magnificent taste, to the delight of the public, who gave them both the greatest applause.” “The South Korean baritone Young-Kwang Yoo made his debut in the role of Figaro and did it with flying colors.”

     

    If these were Yelp reviews, sounds like our Figaro would be getting five stars! Judge for yourself. There are two more opportunities to catch The Barber of Seville, May 18 and 20 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Get your tickets today at fgo.org, or call 800.741.1010.

     

     

  • SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST: THE FINAL SING CONCERT
    05/08/2023

     

    One of the perks of working at the Doral Opera Center is the free concert you get almost every day. With the practice rooms on the same floor as the offices, we’ve been serenaded with snatches of Faust, Cosí fan tutte, and even Turandot. The Studio Artists are preparing for their final concert of the season, Final Sing, on May 13 and 14.

     

     

    Planning repertoire for these concerts takes place anywhere from a month to several weeks in advance. The artists, along with Studio Artist Manager Neil Nelson and Director of Artistic Operations Matt Cooksey, gather around the conference table and throw out ideas. It’s sort of like planning a feast. You list all your favorites, the must-haves and the new things you want to try. You usually end up with enough material for three or four feasts.  Then you whittle it down to the pieces you have the right ingredients for (or in this case, voice types), enough time to prepare properly, and that will create a harmonious blend sure to delight your guests.

     

     

    L-R: Joseph McBrayer as Paolino, Phillip Lopez as Geronimo,  Ashley Shalna as Carolina, and Erin Alford as Fidlama in El matrimonio secreto.

     

    Page Michels as Lauretta with Charles Calotta as Rinuccio in Buoso's Ghost.

     

    That’s how the Studio Artists came up with a Final Sing that offers a mini-preview of our upcoming season, featuring excerpts from La traviata, I pagliacci, and La bohème, along with the aforementioned goodies.

     

    Matthew Cossack as Fiorello, with the FGO chorus, in The Barber of Seville. 

     

    We call the FGO Studio Artists “the backbone of FGO.” Soprano Page Michels charmed as Elisetta in El matrimonio secreto, and Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. Soprano Ashley Shalna played for laughs as Carolina in El matrimonio secreto and Nella in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. Mezzo-soprano Erin Alford strutted the stage as sexy Aunt Fidalma in El matrimonio secreto and La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. Tenor Charles Calotta thrilled as Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost and proved a nasty customer as Scarpia’s henchman Spoletta in Tosca. Tenor Joseph McBrayer made a great FGO debut as Paolino in in El matrimonio secreto, and Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. Baritone Matthew Cossack is currently making the most of his roles as Fiorello and the Officer in The Barber of Seville. You’ve also seen him as Sciarrone in Tosca, the Notary in Gianni Schicchi, and the Magistrate in Buoso’s Ghost. Bass-baritone Phillip Lopez roared hilariously onto the FGO scene as Geronimo in El matrimiono secreto and Betto in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost, before his dramatic turns as Angelotti and the Jailer in Tosca.

     

    So, you’ve been enjoying the 2022-23 Studio Artists’ performances all season, and now it’s your last chance to hear them in this beautiful and entertaining concert before they scatter to the winds. It’s a wonderful opportunity to witness how these six young artists have grown over just a year.

     

    Final Sing takes place on Saturday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Center for Spiritual Living in Oakland Park, and on Sunday, May 14 at 5 p.m. at the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables. This fabulous concert is free, but we suggest making reservations. Make yours here.

     

    . And if you haven’t made it to our “fun-filled … classic comic delight” The Barber of Seville, you’ll want to get in line while you still can! There are two more performances, May 18 and 20 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Get your tickets here. 

     

  • Maestro Anthony Barrese: Where They Zig, He Zags
    05/01/2023

    Maestro Anthony Barrese is a traditionalist --- but not in the way you might think. The conductor and composer has about seven Barber of Sevilles under his belt, and he has strong views about honoring Rossini’s most popular score. And it's paid off.  Larry Budmen  of South Florida Classical Review wrote of the opening night performance of The Barber of Seville, "Anthony Barrese conducted a classically attuned performance with lean orchestral textures and careful attention to Rossini’s dynamic markings. He skillfully balanced the voices in the Act I finale, keeping the music light and sparkling. He restored all three verses of the finale, allowing Yoo, Doche and Angelini (Young-Kwang Yoo as Figaro, Stephanie Doche as Rosina, Michele Angelini as Almavica) to take a turn at spinning roulades, making the conclusion all the more invigorating."

     

     

    “I really enjoy conducting most opera, especially Rossini,” he says. “This is the twelfth Rossini opera I’ve done. Barber was one of the first Rossini operas I conducted, but now that I’ve done so many other ones, I approach it somewhat differently and I feel that in twenty years, I’ll approach it even more differently.”

     

    Well, that’s intriguing. How is his Barber different than others?

     

    “When I was young, I did Barber of Seville the way everybody does it. It’s been done pretty consistently for the past 200 years and has accrued a lot of traditions that don’t necessarily have anything to do with what Rossini wrote,” Barrese explains. “The more I do it, the more I question every single inherited tradition … I have more courage each time to ask the singers to question the assumptions they have about it.”

     

    Barrese’s background is in composition. His works include solo pieces for violin, banjo, and voice, choral works, chamber and orchestral music, and a chamber opera. His sense of humor is apparent in some of his titles and instructions: Very Dangerous Banjo, Project Mayhem (“The first rule of Project Mayhem is: you do not ask questions”).

     

    He never studied conducting, relying instead on his curiosity and composition education. He approaches each opera with a thorough examination of the source material, libretto, and score. “I was always listening to recordings and looking at scores saying, ‘Well that’s not written in the score. Why are they doing that?’ And sometimes there’s a good reason, sometimes a bad reason, and a lot of times the reason they do it is because everyone does it To me, that’s a reason not to do it. If everyone zigs, I want to zag.”

     

     

    Barrese explains that many of the traditions singers and audiences have become accustomed are performance practices that Rossini never wrote or endorsed. A prime example is a long-held tradition in bel canto arias, in which singers often stop singing in the last several measures so they can save energy for an interpolated high note at the end. “There’s no evidence that anybody in the 19th century did that,” says Barrese. “In fact, there’s no evidence that until the late 19th century, people started doing that.”

     

    He sees himself as scraping barnacles off “weird” traditions. “Sort of mold remover on the score.”

     

     

    The Barber of Seville, Barrese says, suffers more from a pile-on of performance practice than most other scores. In Rossini’s time, it was expected that singers show off their abilities by ornamenting the vocal line, including changing the melody with embellishments that they wrote themselves to showcase their particular voices. “But Barber of Seville is pretty simple in its presentation, and I think a lot of times people want to make it complicated in unnecessary ways,” he says, explaining that in Rossini’s time, there was no such thing as a conductor. “It was just Rossini at the fortepiano trying to keep things moving along, so you couldn’t have these Mahler-like, sensitive tempo structures that we’ve kind of grafted onto it. I think we’ve grafted a lot of late Romantic ideas onto what is essentially a classical piece, which would have been more cut-and-dried.” Unfortunately, it’s no longer part of most singers’ training to write cadenzas and ornaments as they would’ve in Rossini’s time, and so they often rely on those made famous by prominent interpreters of their roles. “I can count on the fingers of one hand the times I’ve heard a Figaro do a cadenza that I’ve never heard,” Barrese mourns. “I always tell singers, ‘If Rossini were in Miami today, he would write the vocal part differently for you than he did for the woman who sang it in 1816.’ I really do feel that it has to be fresh, and the best, easiest way to make it fresh is to just rip off all these accumulated bad traditions.” He prefers for singers to come up with a range of their own ornaments which they can access depending on how they feel on a given day. He is also willing to compose ornaments for singers. However, he doesn’t insist. “If you just want to do what you’ve always done, I’m not going to make a singer sing a new ornament. I want to push them outside of their comfort zone, but I also want them to succeed.”

     

    Barrese’s goal is to create a performance of The Barber of Seville “somewhat like it would have been done in 1816, but with singers now. (The success) has to do with how much buy-in I get.”

     

    What else can audiences expect from Barrese’s interpretation of the famous score?

     

    “It’s the first time I’ve done this and I want to do it more,” he says, “The Lesson Scene in the second act where Rosina sings an aria in the drama, there’s a huge tradition , for over 200 years, of sopranos putting in any aria they want --- I mean really whatever aria they want! Sometimes this part of the evening would become a mini-recital with five or six different arias. We’re doing two arias that are not the one that Rossini wrote because we want to highlight that tradition of it being a showpiece, a showstopper section for Rosina. We’re doing an aria from Tancredi, and then we’re picked this aria by Manuel García. He was the first Almaviva and he was also a composer. tT’s a song in Spanish and has a real sort of flamenco-y feel that really fits into the whole Seville feeling, and I think the Spanish-speaking audience will really resonate with it.”

     

    Barrese’s favorite Rossini operas are William Tell or Le Comte Ory --- “they’re just the pinnacle of what Rossini did,” he says ---  but he’s a big fan of Barber as well. “What I love about this score is what I’ve always loved about Rossini: this sense of rhythmic … almost infection. People talk about bel canto melodies – melody is king. But Rossini to me is the one that is uniquely rhythmic in a way that I don’t know of any other composer except for maybe Bartok and some Beethoven where the rhythm, the accumulation of rhythm, and the propulsion just gets under your skin. You feel it almost like at a rock concert. It’s pulling you along. That’s the most exciting thing about Barber of Seville.”

     

     

    There are three more opportunities to enjoy Maestro Barrese leading this stunning cast of Rossini experts and rising stars: May 2 in Miami, and May 18 & 20 in For Lauderdale. Get your tickets today at fgo.org.

     

  • BARBER: THE OPERA YOU ALREADY KNOW HOW TO SING!
    04/24/2023

    Whether they know it or not, everybody knows a little bit of opera, even if they’ve never been to a production or a classical music concert. They’ve heard it in a TV commercial, cartoon, film, or even a video game. They’ve heard it on TV talent shows and in the background in various public places.

     

    The Barber of Seville is so iconic that most people have heard bits of it, even hummed or sung bits of it, and may not even know that it’s from an opera. This two-hundred-year-old smash hit has successfully worked its way so deep into our culture that it’s part of pop consciousness, even if people have no idea where it came from.

     

    Let’s start with the overture. Rossini was famous for his overtures, and Barber’s is so lively, catchy, and illustrative that it makes a wonderful accompaniment to all kinds of comedic action. Never mind that it was originally written for an earlier opera seria (serious opera)  called Aureliano in Palmira and also for Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra, Rossini often recycled his works. Not only is this overture a favorite on orchestra pops concerts, but it’s been heard in a 1993 Seinfeld episode (“The Barber”) and of course, the famous 1950 “Rabbit of Seville” cartoon starring Bugs Bunny and his archnemisis Elmer Fudd.

     

     

    Of course, the most famous aria with the most famous line is Figaro’s big number, “Largo al factotum.” It’s Figaro’s entrance aria and in it, he describes his job as not only the most in-demand barber in Seville, but the factotum --- the guy who gets everything done. At one point, he describes how everyone is always calling for him, and this is the famous line: “Figaro, Figaro, FI-GA-RO!” The aria has been sung by countless cartoon characters from Tom and Jerry to Woody Woodpecker. It was featured in 1949’s “Long-Haired Hare, “in which Bugs Bunny disguises himself as a conductor and torments a baritone called Giovanni Jones during a performance of the aria at the Hollywood Bowl. A bit of it also made it into a 2009 episode of The Family Guy. In a 2007 episode of The Simpsons, entitled “The Homer of Seville,” Homer stars as the Count Almaviva (move over, Michele Angelini!). The 1993 Robin Williams star vehicle Mrs. Doubtfire opens with Williams’ character singing “Largo” as a cartoon bird.

     

     

    There’s a reason Barber excerpts are so often borrowed for cartoons and comedies: They lend themselves perfectly to all sorts of antics, and Rossini and his librettist Sterbini, not to mention Beaumarchais who wrote the original play, intended it that way. After all, these characters are based on what some might consider the original cartoon characters --- the stock characters of commedia dell’arte, who had standard costumes (like cartoon characters), stock storylines and actions  (like cartoon characters) and were often in ridiculous situations (like cartoon characters). After two hundred years, Barber’s music and story are just as fun, silly, and entertaining as they were on the day Rossini penned them, and the fact they have endured and become part of pop culture are evidence of the timelessness of this comedy.

     

     

    The Homer of Seville" episode, The Simpsons

     

    Whether or not you know “Figaro, Figaro, FI-GA-RO!,” if you’ve never heard the original, it’s past time. And if you’ve seen Barber before, it’s time to see it again! After all, if it’s entertaining enough for the funniest characters of our time, like  Bugs Bunny, Homer Simpson, and even the late great Robin Williams, you know it will be a good time. Join FGO’s cast of characters April 29 – May 20 for the laugh of a lifetime. And the next time someone asks you to name that tune, you’ll be able to do so with authority! Get your tickets today.

     

    P.S. Want to get some behind-the-scenes operatic tea straight from the source? Check out this wonderful interview with our Rosina, Stephanie Doche, on Inspicio Arts

     

  • The Spanish Singing Sensations Who Owned The Barber of Seville
    04/17/2023

    The Jackson Five. The Osmonds. The Carter-Cashes.

     

    Family bands are always something of a sensation, but they’re nothing new. Leopold Mozart gave up his career as a teacher, performer, and composer to tour throughout Europe, promoting the talents of little Wolfgang Amadeus and his gifted sister Nannerl. The Bach family, including the two most famous members, Johann Sebastian and Carl Phillip Emmanuel, came from an entire dynasty of musicians, spanning three centuries and tracing back to a baker whose greatest joy was playing a primitive violin. But opera’s biggest “family band” is largely unknown today, outside of the profession --- yet it was intricately involved in the success of Rossini’s most popular opera, The Barber of Seville. Let’s meet the extraordinary García family!

     

     

    In 1775, Manuel del Pópulo Vicente García was born into poverty in Seville. Before the age of 18, he had established himself as a popular operatic tenor, conductor, and composer. Spain at that time was not a major cultural center for opera, so García went first to Paris and then Italy. There, he met and impressed Giaochino Rossini, who cast him as Norfolk in Elisabetta, re d’Ingelterra and was so pleased that he composed the role of the Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville especially for García.

     

    Manuel García was already an established, successful singer … so much so that he was paid more to sing the role than Rossini got for writing the opera! Nevertheless, the role of Count Almaviva proved to be García’s big break on the international stage. He premiered Barber in Paris, London, and New York.

     

     

    Manuel Garcia II, inventor of the laryngoscope

     

    In addition to his stellar singing career, Manuel García was the patriarch of a family of superstar singers and vocal pedagogues. His son, also named Manuel, performed professionally as a baritone before turning his attention to teaching and vocal science. He invented the laryngoscope and quite literally wrote the book on the art of singing, still in use today.

     

     

    Maria Malibran

     

    Papa García also had two extremely successful daughters. Maria Malibran became one of the most famous singers of the age, performing both mezzo-soprano and soprano roles. At age 17, at her father’s suggestion, she took over for an ill Giuditta Pasta in  a Naples production of The Barber of Seville and was so popular in the role that she sang it for the remainder of the season. This began her career, which included the New York tour of Barber (opposite her father as Count Almaviva!). She went on to a major career in Europe, but tragically passed away at a young age after falling from her horse.  Rossini himself was a big fan of her singing. “With her disconcerting musical genius she surpassed all who sought to emulate her, and with her superior mind, her breadth of knowledge and unimaginable fieriness of temperament she outshone all other women I have known,” he wrote.

     

     

    Singer and composer Pauline Viardot

     

    García’s other famous daughter was the mezzo-soprano and composer Pauline Viardot. (If you attended Songfest: Meet the Composer in February, you heard excerpts from Michael Ching’s upcoming opera based on her life, performed by our Studio Artists.). Pauline followed in her famous sister’s footsteps, becoming an acclaimed mezzo-soprano who was also associated with Rossini’s works. However, today she is best-known as a composer of art songs and operettas.

     

    In 1826, at the invitation of Mozart’s librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, Manuel García took his family opera troupe to New York, where they gave the very first full performance of an Italian opera --- The Barber of Seville. Manuel sang Almaviva; María was Rosina. Previously, Italian opera had been performed without recitative, the storyline filled in with English dialogue. The performance and the following season that Garcia and da Ponte mounted together were enormously successful, and established Italian opera in America. No wonder The Barber of Seville has remained a staple of the repertoire in the US and around the world!

     

    Michele Angelini as the Count Almaviva with Deborah Domanski as Rosina in New Orleans Opera's 2012 production.

     

    FGO’s production of The Barber of Seville boasts contemporary Rossini specialists. Michele Angelini, our Almaviva, has sung the role all over the world with what Opera News calls “a voice of silken loveliness as well as graceful agility.” Up-and-coming baritone Young-Kwang Yoo is establishing himself as a charming Figaro with “…ultimate suavity, and a special combination of tone and power …” (Cleveland Classical). FGO’s own Stephanie Doche, returning as Rosina after her two-year stint as a Studio Artist, is a star Rossini mezzo in the making,  acclaimed for her “explosively elegant” stage presence and incredible coloratura. Don’t miss this dynamic combination of singing actors in Rossini’s most popular comedy. The Barber of Seville runs April 29 – May 20. Tickets at fgo.org or call 800.741.1010. 

  • BARBER BEHIND THE SCENES
    04/10/2023

    If you’re a regular FGO operagoer, you may have noticed that most of our productions --- our sets and props --- come from a handful of companies. We most frequently rent from Chautauqua Opera, Sarasota Opera, or New Orleans Opera. Why such an intimate circle? Why don’t we rent from different places, or build our own sets?

     

    The answer is that size matters! The scenery has to fit the stage it’s coming to. Too small, and it will be dwarfed by its surroundings and come across as claustrophobic or overwhelmed.. Too big and well, it just won’t go in; we might have to leave bits out or change their placement, and then it wouldn’t look as the designer intended. Furthermore, as one of the few opera companies in the US to perform at two different theaters, our sets have to fit both. 

     

    David Gano's exterior set for The Barber of Seville, from New Orleans Opera.

     

    The second part of the answer is availability. There aren’t many opera companies in the US that rent sets, let alone that rent sets in the sizes we need. 

     

    The third but by no means least consideration is money. We rent because sets are costly to build and store, and they require personnel to manage the inventory. Sets are also very expensive to transport, and we do it twice per show, since we present both in Miami and Fort Lauderdale!

     

    Here at FGO, we’re lucky to have beautiful sets to choose from, like David Gano’s The Barber of Seville set we’re renting from New Orleans Opera. The warm tones and textured brick of the opening outdoors scene settle us right away on a dusty, warm Seville street, while providing an interesting but not intrusive background for the colorful costumes and action. The second set, inside Dr. Bartolo’s house, offers plenty of space for the shenanigans and an airy Spanish style complete with wrought iron banisters and arched windows. 

     

    David Gano's interior set for The Barber of Seville, courtesy of New Orleans Opera.

     

    The set, of course, frames the action and sets off the costumes. Again, we at FGO are lucky to have a staff of talented costumers and the work of renowned designer, Howard Tsvi Kaplan. No matter where you’ve experienced opera in the US, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some of Howard’s work. He is one of the premiere costume designers in the US, and he’s right up the road from us in Sarasota. The beautiful costumes you’ve just seen in Tosca were his designs, and you’ll see more of them in The Barber of Seville

     

    Rosina costume by Howard Tsvi Kaplan. 

     

    Before thread is put to needle, the designer does a great deal of research on the clothing of the time period, location, season, and the characters’ social and financial status. After all, “clothes make the man,” so a good designer is essentially interpreting an operatic character in textiles! The designer’s choices are crucial because they quite literally influence the actor’s choices in how to portray a character. And even if you’re not familiar with the plot, we bet you can get an idea of who these characters are just by looking at the designs! 

     

    Sketch for Figaro costume by Howard Tsvi Kaplan.

     

    Sets and costumes help transport us into different worlds and are as close as we’re likely to get to a time travel experience. Of course, the singers and their musical interpretations bring these worlds to life. We’re looking forward to bringing a lively and lovely Barber of Seville to life for you on April 29 – May 20. Get your tickets today at fgo.org, or call 800.741.1010.

  • The Singing Sons Take on Tosca
    04/03/2023

    Children’s choruses are an operatic tradition, and Giacomo Puccini had a fondness for them. He used their sweet, innocent voices singing a traditional Chinese melody to contrast with the horror of the Prince of Persia’s execution in Turandot. Act II of La bohème opens with a raucous Christmas Eve street scene, including a horde of excited children mobbing the toyseller Parpignol. And of course, there is the famous Act I scene of Tosca, in which a riot of rowdy choirboys defy the hapless Sacristan and face discipline from Baron Scarpia, before joining in a glorious Te Deum.

     

    The excited choirboys fill the church, ready to rehearse for a celebratory cantata. Photo by Daniel Azoulay.

     

    In FGO’s production, the rambunctious choirboys are played by the celebrated Florida Singing Sons. The 48-year-old musical organization is based in Fort Lauderdale, and works with students throughout Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties. Students as young as 7 are accepted, and many stay all the way through high school.

     

    The organization’s mission is to provide an enriching musical experience for talented boys --- and now girls as well --- imbuing them with self-discipline, strength of character, and richness of personality, while offering the community a source of pride in the achievement of its youth. The kids study vocal technique, musicianship, and a wide variety of choral literature ranging from rock anthems to sacred music, from Broadway to opera. They tour both domestically and worldwide, and are in demand with South Florida performing arts organizations. They regularly sing with the New World Symphony, Miami Bach Society, Master Chorale of South Florida, New World Symphony, Nova Singers, and the Symphony of the Americas.

     

    Daniel Bates, Artistic Director of the Florida Singing Sons

     

    However, the Singing Sons are much more than a childrens’ choir. “I like to say that we use music as a way to create young men. Now we have some girls, so it’s a way to create young adults,” says Daniel Bates, Artistic Director. “We take them as children and teach them life lessons along the way, while giving them best friends. There’s a group of my alumni who go on a trip together every summer. That’s really cool.”

     

    No musical skills or knowledge are necessary in order to join. “You come to us to learn that,” says Bates. “ It’s my job to introduce all styles of music to everybody. We give very high-level experiences like Tosca, but also, while music is our medium, we’re really a safe place for these kids to come, be themselves, meet people with similar interests, and we do a lot more than just music.”

     

    Bates, a former FGO Studio Artist who recently appeared as Friar 1 in our production of Buoso’s Ghost, has led the organization for four years. He is thoroughly enjoying watching his students, most of whom are in the 6th grade, experience the opera from the inside out.

     

    “There’s a lot of energy, as you might imagine,” he chuckles. “They’re so excited to be there. A lot of the training my associate director Malcolm (Rogers) and I do is discipline --- teaching them how to use music as the vessel, the thing they’re interested in, but teach them rehearsal etiquette. It’s been really fun to see them really get it.”

     

    Members of the Singing Sons and the FGO Chorus work on Act I staging with director Jeffrey Marc Buchman. Photo by Catherine Largo.

     

    The Sons are having fun, too. Tosca is the first operatic experience for the boys and for most, the first staged show as well. “There are two girls singing in it who go to my school, where they’ve done a couple of operas with me,” Bates says. “They want to be opera singers and they are really excited about it.”

     

    In the dressing room at the Arsht, preparing to go on! Photo by Daniel Azoulay.

     

    Bates says the young singers were overwhelmed by hearing professionals sing high notes and “couldn’t get enough” of the thrilling orchestra sound in their big musical moment, the Act I Te Deum. But perhaps the most illustrative comments came after they heard tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz sing the thrilling “Vittoria!” in Act II. “They did all the kid things, screaming and wailing and everything,” chuckles Bates. “They have this saying: ‘He ate.’ ‘He ate” means ‘he did very well.’ ‘He ate and left no crumbs’ means that it was phenomenal. So apparently, there were no crumbs left after Arturo sang!”

     

     Baron Scarpia (Todd Thomas) plots against Tosca as the choirboys, priests, and Roman worshippers sing a thrilling Te Deum. Photo by Daniel Azoulay

     

    The Singing Sons don’t leave any crumbs on the stage, themselves. Larry Budmen of South Florida Classical Review wrote, “The Florida Singing Sons boychoir (under Daniel Bates and Malcolm Rogers) provided fresh voices and high spirits for the Act I finale, joining the FGO chorus (under Jared Peroune) in a vigorous and unified, well- coordinated effort that rang the house.”

     

    “We are thrilled to have Florida’s Singing Sons with us for Tosca,” says FGO General Director and CEO Susan T. Danis, “  Not only does their presence add a moment of charming levity to a highly dramatic story, but their musical contribution is invaluable. We are lucky to have an organization like the Singing Sons in our community. Their contribution to the arts scene in South Florida and to our production of Tosca is invaluable.”

     

    There are two more opportunities to catch these young singers performing alongside FGO’s world-class principal artists: April 13 and 15, 2023 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available at fgo.org or by calling 800.741.1010.

  • MAESTRO GREGORY BUCHALTER:
    03/15/2023

    There's no need to interview Maestro Gregory Buchalter. A single question, maybe with a follow-up, unleashes a passionate flow of knowledge from the Tosca conductor. A 30-year veteran of the Metropolitan Opera conducting staff, current Music Director of Varna International and Muzika! The Grand Strand Music Festival, and FGO favorite, Buchalter is well-positioned to speak about the Puccini classic, and does so with great enthusiasm.

     

     

    FGO: What do you love about Tosca?

     

    BUCHALTER (Laughing) What’s not to love about Tosca?

     

    Tosca gives us so much from beginning to end. It just bursts with melodic content, and it’s a political thriller --- you’re on the edge of your seat. Audience members who have never been to an opera will get hooked.

     

    The reason that Puccini appeals to a mass audience is because of his style, verismo, which means realism. The bel canto operas like The Elixir of Love, where someone thinks a bottle of red wine is a love potion that will make all the women fall in love with him,  had fun but  sometimes ridiculous plots. When Puccini comes in and gives us a story, there’s nothing we question. We identify with it. The reason we love La bohème so much is because the Bohemians are people we can relate to. We may not identify with Madame Butterfly and her outcome, but the dramatic music takes us through this dramatic journey and we are completely with Cio-Cio San.

     

     

    Buchalter rehearses with Cavaradossi (Arturo Chacon-Cruz) and Tosca (Toni Marie Palmertree) at FGO.

     

    Tosca is the only opera that has an actual time and place in reality. In other words, each of the three acts is based in a different place in Rome: the church of Sant’Andrea della Valle in the first act, the Palazzo Farnese in the second act, and the Castel Sant’Angelo, which you can see from all of Rome, in the third act. The story is based in history and is something that is very real to us. We can identify with the characters. On top of that, Puccini gives us this sweeping dramatic music. He gives us two very famous arias that are staples of the repertoire, “Vissi d’arte” for the soprano and “E lucevan le stelle” for the tenor.

     

    FGO: What should we listen for?

     

     Puccini was so focused on the verismo style, real-life stories and situations that audiences identify with. In Tosca, he conceives a lot of very interesting things that give that feeling of realism. For example, at the top of Act III, before Cavardossi’s execution, it’s dawn in Rome and he has four different bell placements. Different chimes, different pitches from low and sonorous to high, and he has them placed in different positions to give the feeling that you are hearing church bells coming from all different places. He writes very specifically in the score that this bell should be placed further away, piu lontano, this one closer, piu vicino.  This is something that Puccini excels in, that feeling of distance.

     

     

    Buchalter conducts Toni Marie Palmertree during a Tosca rehearsal at FGO.

     

    In Act II, Tosca is offstage singing a cantata as Cavaradossi is interrogated and eventually tortured. We hear this creepy music in the orchestra, but we hear Tosca singing her performance offstage with the chorus, and it’s this juxtaposition of two completely different things going on. There are lots of moments like these that we can really listen for. The Te Deum is a wonderful piece full of atmospheric musical situations. We hear cannon shots in the background, the organ from the church, we hear bells again, we hear the choir singing from offstage and then coming onstage for the Te Deum. Puccini was a master of these sonic dimensions and bringing the dramatic impulse of the opera. This is like a thriller. You feel like you are in the midst of a drama right there because he’s so good at depicting all this atmosphere through sound. You really hear dawn with the Shepherd Boy starting the beginning of the day, and he actually puts cow bells with Shepherd boy. Puccini is so specific about what he wants with these sound effects. It just adds to the dramatic impulse. These incredible sound effects not only add to the drama, they create drama.

     

    Even if you don’t know much about opera, it’s like going to a movie. There’s so much drama and action going on. Tosca could be a Netflix series today and we could drag it out for six seasons! It’s got the drama, the cinematography, and the incredible music from beginning to end. It’s accessible to everyone.

     

    April 13 & 15 are your last chances to experience Maestro Buchalter’s exciting reading of Tosca at FGO, with performances at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Get your tickets today at fgo.org, or call 800.741.1010.

  • THE NICEST VILLAIN: TODD THOMAS ON PLAYING SCARPIA
    03/14/2023

     

    Todd Thomas can’t even remember how many Scarpias he’s done, and there's a good reason for that: it's a role he was born to sing. In his review of FGO's opening night performance, Lawrence Budmen of South Florida Classical Review wrote, "As Scarpia, Todd Thomas brought a faux dignity with his verbal and tonal coloring skillfully mirroring the villain’s dark thoughts. His baritone could turn warm and graceful in deception when feigning sympathy for Tosca’s doubts about Mario’s fidelity.  Thomas seethed with passion and desire for the heroine, turning the Act I  'Te Deum' into a psychodrama of explosive violence lurking beneath the sacred ceremony. Thomas’ portrayal had the impact and command of a great singing actor."

     

     

    Scarpia (Todd Thomas) interrogates Cavaradossi (Arturo Chacon-Cruz) as Spotletta (Charles Calotta) looks on. FGO 2023. Photo by Daniel Azouley.

     

    Thomas may not remember how many times he's portrayed Scarpia, but he does remember his very first. “The date in my score is 1993. I was a cover artist at the Opera Company of Philadelphia. I’d just finished up at AVA (the Academy of Vocal Arts) and was covering (Sherrill) Milnes, and Eva Marton was Tosca. Vladimir Popov was the Cavaradossi.  Milnes didn’t show up until the 2nd or 3rd orchestra dress, so I got all the rehearsals and that was a great introduction to that piece.” He suspects he’s done more than 20 productions --- enough to cement Puccini’s most intimidating villain as one of Thomas’ signature roles.

     

    In 2022-23 alone, he’s adding four more productions to the list: Opera Memphis, Charlottesville Opera, Opera on the James, and of course, FGO.  “It’s wide-ranging in terms of company size, but when you’re free-lancing, you take the job where it is!” he laughs. Then of course, there’s Thomas’ return to FGO, after his triumph in the title role of Rigoletto last season.  “I love this company so, so much,” he says, “The first year I was here, 2014, was also a Scarpia. All the elements are different now, but I’m loving it as much as I did then.”

     

    Not only does Thomas love his career, but he’s having a great time revisiting Scarpia at FGO. Although he has known conductor Gregory Buchalter for many years, this is their first time working together. “When you have someone who is a staff conductor at the Met you really learn what you’re doing at a very high standard!” He has also been friends with stage director Jeffery Buchman for many years. “I’m really enjoying my time with him a lot. He’s very, very knowledgeable and a very kind, generous person. The atmosphere in the rehearsal room between him and Greg is just a great pleasure. It doesn’t always happen that way.”

     

     

     

    Thomas and soprano Toni Marie Palmertree in rehearsal. Photo by Eric Joannes.

     

    It’s one thing to have a great time staging a show with wonderful colleagues, but having a great time playing a heinous villain like Scarpia? How does that work?

     

    Thomas recalls an interview with a German newspaper. “Maybe my German wasn’t quite good enough, because it somehow quoted me as saying, ‘American baritone believes that Scarpia is simply a misunderstood individual.’  The Intendant (General Director) said, ‘Why did you say something like that? What does that mean, misunderstood?’ But in a way, he is. He’s a pawn of the politics of the time. He’s in the service of the court, yes he has this appetite, he’s an opportunist, all these things one could say are extremely unattractive or despicable, but as an actor, you can’t play the bad guy. We’ve been called to take inventory of those misogynistic, brutal masculine traits, but that’s what this piece is. As an actor, you can’t play negatives.”  

     

    Thomas has come to understand Scarpia as an entitled aristocrat driven by sensuality but never romance. “He’s a man who is dictated sensually --- not only sexually, but by his senses --- smelling Tosca’s cape and the Marchesa D’Attavanti’s fan, the power of walking into the chapel and having the kids just disperse, the smell of the incense … he’s a very sensually aware individual.” Scarpia is also a man who enjoys a good fight. “In the opening monologue of the second act, he says, ‘I’m not one to make fish eyes, I’m not romantic. I really like the chase, I like the conquest,’” Thomas says.

     

    Scarpia (Todd Thomas) enjoys the scent of the Marchesa d'Attavanti's perfumed fan in FGO's 204 production. Photo byJustin Namon.

     

    Thomas believes the character has a specific modus operandi, and is exploring the idea that Tosca and Cavaradossi are not the first couple to whom Scarpia has offered his hideous bargain. He uses a famous moment in Act II as an example. Tosca has just agreed to sleep with Scarpia in exchange for her lover’s life. The lovers will flee Rome after Cavaradossi’s mock execution. Scarpia calls one of his henchmen into the room to make arrangements. “When he mentions to Spoletta, ‘Come Palmieri,’ you can imagine that Palmieri also had someone trying to bargain for his life. Scarpia probably had sex with her, and ends up killing Palmieri anyway,” Thomas suggests.

     

    His obsession with Tosca is the latest in a long line of attractions, but “there’s not anybody else like Tosca,” Thomas says. “No one else has made a nest in his mind, the way he talks about in the Te Deum, because she’s a superstar. I don’t even know who would the equivalent in the pop world today would be, but she’s somebody of that stature. In Tosca, he’s found his match.”

     

     

    Tosca (Toni Marie Palmertree) struggles against Scarpia's (Todd Thomas)  unwelcome advances. FGO 2023. Photo by Daniel  Azoulay.

     

    Clearly, Thomas is a match for Scarpia. He sings the role, and many others, everywhere --- from big international houses like Shanghai Opera and the Lyric Opera of Chicago to, well, small regional companies like Opera on the James in Lynchburg, VA. “You don’t have to have a certain budget size to hire me, if I have the time free! I’ll be there,” Thomas chuckles. “That’s because it’s the only thing I do. I don’t have a university gig. I don’t have any other kind of gig. This is how Wells Fargo gets their mortgage money. Of course I would have liked to have been celebrating my 25th anniversary at the Met, but that’s not how it’s worked out. It’s worked out the way it’s supposed to work out, and I’m still loving this.”

     

     

    Todd Thomas as Scarpia, with the Florida Singing Sons and FGO Chorus, sings the famous Te Deum. FGO 2023. Photo by Daniel Azoulay.

     

    There are three more opportunities to catch Thomas' iconic performance, along with the equally "riveting and combustible" work of Toni Marie Palmertree as Tosca and Arturo Chacon-Cruz as Cavaradossi: March 21, April 13, and April 15.. Tickets at fgo.org.

  • TALKING TOSCA WITH JEFFREY MARC BUCHMAN
    03/07/2023

     

     

    Formerly a professional operatic baritone, acclaimed South Florida stage director Jeffrey Marc Buchman is well-known as a formidable talent. His work takes him all over the US and as far away as Nicaragua. He is on faculty at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, and last season directed critically successful productions of A Streetcar Named Desire and Agrippina at Florida Grand Opera. He is back for Tosca. After a recent staging rehearsal of the very dramatic end of Act II, Buchman took some time to chat about his approach to this thrilling work

     

    FGO: How do you approach Tosca?

     

    BUCHMAN: The first thing that I do is go back to the score. As with all of these pieces that come back so often in the repertoire, there are times when we just have to get back into the score, get back into the mind of Puccini, and recreate the most compelling, modern storytelling we can with honesty in a way that it was originally conceived. That’s the way that I approach Tosca. It’s a human story. It drives a woman who had zero capacity for murder to be a murderer. It takes someone, Cavaradossi, who is only staying in Rome out of love for Tosca, and elevates him to the level of a political martyr. It takes an all-powerful man abusing his power in Rome, Scarpia, and reduces him down to what he is when Tosca’s standing over him saying, “E avante a lui, tremate tutta a Roma. (And before him, all of Rome trembled).” Just a human being. It’s just such a human story, and I believe in Puccini, I believe in his ability to tell a human story, and that is how I find our Tosca.

     

    FGO: Have you read the Victorien Sardou play?

     

    BUCHMAN: It’s always important to go back to the source material, but then remember that we don’t play the source material. That’s the tricky part. Sometimes we can get a little clever and bring in these little details that are in the play but not the opera. My feeling is if that was necessary, Puccini would have put it in. So in the end, I go back to what’s on the page, and I think it works.

     

    FGO: The Puccini opera has survived, and the Sardou play is never done.

     

    BUCHMAN: Exactly. And it had one of the biggest stars ever in the theater at the time (Sarah Bernhardt) so if that couldn’t keep it coming back, then … (shrugs).

     

    I think Act II is one of the most concise and powerful and dramatic acts in opera. It’s really amazing.

    Hadleigh Adams and Elizabeth Caballero in 2022's A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Buchman.

     

    FGO: I noticed in rehearsal just now that you’re using Puccini’s music cinematically to underscore some of the dramatic moments. Is that something you typically do or do you only do it with certain scores?

     

    BUCHMAN: The moment has to ask for it. I do not do that all the time. I let the music inform me, always. In Puccini, tempi are changing all the time and those tempo changes have to be motivated through the character. I don’t choreograph the things they do to music, but there are moments where it really is cinematic underscoring. The end of Act II for me absolutely is that. We look at pacing. Sometimes I’ll have Tosca sliding really quickly across the floor even though the tempo is broad and slow, and other times she becomes part of that tempo. We have to be very conscious of how the orchestra is walking us through these really powerful dramatic moments like the end of Act II.

     

    FGO: How do you decide what you’re going to do? Does it depend on the actor, or the dramatic effect you’re trying to get in that moment?

     

    BUCHMAN: I’ve lived with these pieces on my own for a long time. I try, in my preparation, to walk through every single character’s path in my mind and feel where the breath is, where their inner pulse is, is this a moment when their dramatic pulse is beating really fast … how would she externalize that, or is a moment when she’s slowing down her breathing or has some release? When I get in the room and begin to try to put my vision onto the singers, I try to be as open and aware as possible so I can get what they bring to it also. I’m happy to change my initial ideas if it doesn’t quite work for them, or I see their instincts and it feels more honest and natural than what I was doing. In the end, I’m always going to lean into honesty in these kinds of pieces.

     

    Kenneth Tarver, Christin Lyons , Stephanie Doche, and  Christopher Humbert in 2022's Agrippina, directed by Buchman. 

     

    FGO: What would you want Florida Grand Opera audiences to know about this Tosca?

     

    BUCHMAN: My hope for those who have seen Tosca many times, or even just once before, is that we try to let go of the memories of whatever impacted us the first time we saw it. Let go of the knowledge of what’s waiting for us around the corner, and allow the theater to play out in time the way that it should the first time you experienced it. Also, when it comes to these amazing singers, come fresh to them as well and give them the chance to give their impactful performances to you without measuring it against anything else. They all are so uniquely wonderful and they all really embody their characters beautifully.

     

    For those who are coming for the first time, what an amazing, amazing journey is waiting for them. Sure, learn the opera, know what the plot is and all that so you’re not always stuck in the supertitles, but allow yourself to hit the impact of the freshness of what’s waiting for you. Puccini, he just really plunges his fist into our chests and squeezes our hearts. It’s an amazing, amazing show. And I look forward to everybody coming out to see it.

     

    Tosca opens on Saturday, March 18 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, with additional performances on March 19 and 21 in Miami. It also plays on April 13 ^ 15 at the Broward Performing Arts Center. Tickets at fgo.org, or call 800.741.1010.

  • MEET THE CAST OF TOSCA
    03/06/2023

     

    A hero with a world-class career and a voice that rivals Corelli’s. A seasoned baritone constantly in demand in his signature villain roles. A fresh, rising-star talent forging her tiara as a young queen of Puccini and Tosca roles. A score as rich and passionate as Puccini’s Tosca requires serious star power, and FGO’s cast is positively meteoric. Let’s meet them!

     

    TOSCA: --- TONI MARIE PALMERTREE

     

     

    Fresh from her Metropolitan Opera debut as the Voice of Heaven in Don Carlo, house and role debut at Lyric Opera of Chicago in Luisa Miller, and house debut as Madama Butterfly at Palm Beach Opera, Toni Marie Palmertree is a young soprano who is set to hold her own with the big girls on the operatic playground. Her repertoire includes The Countess (The Marriage of Figaro), Violetta, (La traviata), Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Elisabetta (Don Carlo), Giorgetta (Il tabarro) and the title role in Suor Angelica. The San Francisco Chronicle calls her voice “a bright, lustrous instrument capable of gathering great reserves of expressive momentum, and then discharging them with a well-placed climactic flourish.” If that doesn’t sound like a great Tosca in the making, we don’t know what does. 

     

    CAVARADOSSI --- ARTURO CHACON-CRUZ

     

     

    Mexico has a way of producing world-class tenors, and Arturo Chacón-Cruz is her current title holder. The South Florida resident’s busy career takes him all over the world. Turandot at the Opera National du Rhin in France, Il trovatore at San Francisco Opera, Rigoletto in Verona, Hamburg and Brussels,  La traviata in Seville, Moscow, Washington D.C. to name just a few. When he’s not on the road, Arturo is recording. He can be heard partnering superdiva Renée Fleming on her Verismo album, Donizetti’s Il duca d’Alba, the Placido Domingo Opera Gala, and others, including several self-released recordings including a mariachi album, duet album with wife Venetia-María Stelliou, and even a Christmas album. Arturo last appeared at FGO as Rodolfo in 2012’s La bohème. We’re lucky that this supersonic superstar found time to put a turn as Cavaradossi in Tosca on his scheduLE.

     

    SCARPIA - --TODD THOMAS

     

     

    Todd Thomas can’t seem to choose just one signature role, and it’s pretty clear why. He is one of the most in-demand Verdi and Puccini baritones of the day, performing everywhere from the Metropolitan Opera to Shanghai. His 2022-23 season alone includes the title role in The Flying Dutchman at the Shanghai Opera House, Amonasro in Aida at Tulsa Opera, and concerts with Opera Southwest and Maryland Opera.Last season, South Florida audiences thrilled to his iconic Rigoletto. Now you have a chance to hear another of Todd’s signature roles: Scarpia, Puccini’s ultimate villain. He will sing the role with no fewer than  four companies this season. The Winnipeg Free Press called his voice  “...a resonant voice that is its own force of nature..." You’ll call him amazing. 

     

    THE SACRISTAN --- NEIL NELSON

     

     

    Neil Nelson is South Florida’s favorite bass-baritone, though his popularity extends much further. The Jamaican-American’s singing career has taken him to opera houses and symphonies both domestic and abroad, including the Tatarstan Opera Theatre and Ballet (Kazan, Russia), Florida Grand Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra, Palm Beach Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Orlando Opera, Opera Naples, the South Florida Symphony, the Lynn Conservatory Orchestra, the Ocean City Pops, the Southwest Florida Symphony, and the New England Conservatory Orchestra. His most recent FGO roles included the Emperor Claudio in Agrippina and Count Monterone in Rigoletto during the 2021-2022 season. In his new role as Studio Artist Program Manager, Nelson is responsible for guiding the artistic development of FGO’s exclusive cadre of early-career performers.

     

    ANGELOTTI/THE JAILER --- PHILLIP LOPEZ

     

     

    First-year FGO Studio Artist Phillip Lopez has distinguished himself to South Florida audiences with his performances as patriarch Geronimo in our season opener, El matrimonio secreto, and as Betto in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. He also made an impression on the critics, who cited his “resonant bass” (Opera Now) and “commanding figure” with “vibrant bass tones” (South Florida Classical Review). Before joining the Studio, Phillip made his Chautauqua Opera Company debut as the Father in Kamala Sankaram’s Thumbprint, and Ulysses S. Grant in Virgil Thompson’s The Mother of Us All. He also  workshopped Derek Bermel's The House on Mango Street as the Bum Man and Pregon, and premiered Mary Prescott’s Learning the Grammar of Animacy with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra.

     

    SCIARRONE --- MATTHEW COSSACK

     

     

    Matthew Cossack is a first-year Studio Artist and first-rate baritone who made his FGO as the notary Amantio di Nicolao in Gianni Schicchi and the Magistrate in Buoso’s Ghost, in which he “radiated pompous authority” (South Florida Classical Review.) Prior to joining the Studio, Matthew was a member of Deutsche Oper Berlin’s Stipendiat Ensemble, and appeared as El Dancairo (Carmen), Fiorello (Il Barbiere di Siviglia), and the Imperial Commissioner (Madama Butterfly), and later returned as a guest artist in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He then toured Berlin, Munich and Athens as the baritone soloist in the world premiere of Once To Be Realised before landing in South Florida.

     

    SPOLETTA --- CHARLES CALOTTA

     

     

    Second-year Studio Artist Charles Calotta most recently won acclaim for his Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost, where he “soared … in a lyric tenor both strong and sweet” (South Florida Classical Review). Charles’  FGO credits include the Young Collector in 2022’s A Streetcar Named Desire, Borsa in Rigoletto, and Tommy McIntyre in Fellow Travelers. Noted for his fresh lyric voice, innate musicality, and skilled acting, he continues to build an impressive reputation in repertoire of all periods, including Ferrando in Cosí fan tutte (Opera North) and Count Almaviva in Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Winter Harbor Music Festival)

     

    Tthis star-studded cast ready to bring Puccini’s lush , intense score to dramatic life, but Tosca also offers stunning visuals.With a gorgeous set by Sarasota Opera, wigs and makeup by Sue Sittkio Schaefer, and the stunning, luxurious costuming of Howard Tsvi Kaplan to set these stars sparkling, you won’t want to miss the grandest opera of the season. March 18 – April 15. Tickets at fgo.org or call 800.741.1010. 

  • POP CULTURE PUCCINI
    02/27/2023

     

    Giacomo Puccini is arguably one of the most popular and well-known Italian composers of all time. Today his music is co-opted in film, commercials, musical theatre, pop music, and even video games. Let’s take a look at how pop culture has embraced Puccini.

     

    Julian Sands and Helena Bonham Carter star in this Victorian love story set in Florence.

     

    O MIO BABBINO CARO

     

    “O mio babbino caro,” sung so movingly by FGO Studio Artist Page Michels in our recent Gianni Schicchi, is a plea from Lauretta to her father for help so she can marry the man of her dreams. It may be one of Puccini’s most-quoted pieces in pop culture. The aria was famously referenced in the 1985 Merchant-Ivory film A Room With A View, set in Florence, where the events of Schicchi take place. In 2007’s Mr. Bean’s Holiday, Rowan Atkinson offers up a full, not-to-be-missed performance of the aria. The Oscar-winning film’s popularity also catapulted the aria into the contemporary public eye, where it has remained ever since. It has been used in episodes of Seinfeld (The Maestro, 1995), Home Improvement, The Good Wife (A Weird Year, 2014), and Downton Abbey (in an episode starring the luminary Dame Kiri Te Kanawa playing Nellie Melba, a great diva of the late 19th and early 20th century who counted Mimi from La bohème among her popular roles. Te Kanawa’s voice was heard singing the aria in A Room with a View, which also happened to star Dame Maggie Smith, as did Downton Abbey, a charming closure to this particular pop culture circle. “O mio babbino caro” has also been featured in commercials for Honda, Tott’s Champagne, British Airways, and many others, but perhaps the strangest use of the aria is in the violent video game Grand Theft Auto.

     

    NESSUN DORMA

     

    This showstopping tenor aria from Turandot has already reached pop culture status in Europe when burst onto the scene in the US. Because of its triumphant finale, “Vinceró!” (“I will win!”), a Pavarotti recording was chosen as the soundtrack for the credits of the BBC’s coverage of the 1990 World Cup. Eight years later, an illness forced Pavarotti to bow out of the live, televised 1998 Grammy Awards. He famously asked a friend, the incomparable Aretha Franklin to step in. Although she spoke no Italian, she agreed, and went on to make it her own in a way that only Aretha could. A pop hit was born. 

    It has since become a standard for reality competition shows.  It has also been used in films like 1984’s The Killing Fields, 1996’s The Mirror Has Two Faces, 2002’s Bend It Like Beckham, and many others. It’s been recorded by many crossover artists, and Roy Orbison adapted it for his 1989 “A Love So Beautiful.” 

     

    QUANDO M’EN VO (MUSETTA’S WALTZ)

     

    “Whenever I take myself out, the people stop and stare,” sings Musetta, attempting and succeeding in annoying her ex-boyfriend Marcello in La bohème. With breezy lyricism and trademark singable melody, this Puccini favorite has made it into many a film, commercial, and even Broadway musical. It was a highlight of 1987’s Moonstruck, quoted on electric guitar and mentioned by name in the 1996 musical Rent (based on La bohème).  It’s been adapted by Sammy Kaye in 1952’s You and Della Reese in her 1959 single Don’t You Know .

     

    UN BEL DI VEDREMO     

     

    This triumphant, bittersweet hit from Madama Butterfly has famously been used in Fatal Attraction, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing, 1934’s  Lassie Come Home,   the 2018 Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody (Freddie, front man for the rock group Queen, loved opera and had a close friendship with the great soprano Monserrat Caballé).  There’s a 1997 film by the same name, about the rekindling of an ancient romance between artists in a retirement home. Other appearances of this haunting melody include the TV show Lost (The Other Woman) and even a Simpsons episode, where it is used rather touchingly to explore an alcoholic character’s life.

     

    While Tosca’s arias are among the most popular and well-known, perhaps their dramatic nature makes them less quotable than some of Puccin’s more romantic and lyrical offerings. Nevertheless, at least two of Tosca’s big numbers have made numerous film appearances over the years.

     

    E LUCEVAN LE STELLE

     

    Eric the penguin tries to convince the elephant seals to let his family pass in the animated film, Happy Feet 2.

     

    "E lucevan le stelle " ("And the stars were shining")  is the stellar (pun intended) last-act aria from Tosca and ne of the moments we all wait to hear,. It's not as common in a pop context as some of Puccini's other works.  However, the melody has been borrowed at least twice in films, including 2011’s Happy Feet 2, an animated story about penguins, and in Al Jolson’s 1920 Avalon (although he transposed it into a major key,  publisher G. Ricordi successfully sued him for $25,000 in damages and future royalties). The aria with lyrics has also been heard in 1951’s The Great Caruso and 1994’s Heavenly Creatures. It’s also a favorite competition number on shows like America’s Got Talent.

     

    VISSI D’ARTE

     

     

    Arty films sometimes use operatic arias to underscore their own storylines, and such is the case with the use of Tosca’s heartrending prayer in the midst of Scarpia’s sexual blackmail and the 2019 French film, Lola vers la mers (Lola Toward  the Sea). “Vissi d’arte” means “I lived for art,” which makes the famous title a no-brainer for biopics about divas like Maria Callas and Kallen Esperian. There’s even a 1935 film by the name, starring Cary Grant as a man who marries an opera singer (Elissa Landi) and isn’t happy with his wife’s success.

    It’s a Puccini-rich season here at FGO, first with Gianni Schicchi and now with our Tosca coming up on March 18-April 15. Get your tickets today at fgo.org and hear for yourself why this composer’s work remains timelessly popular!

     

  • Leontyne Price: A Ground-Breaking Tosca
    02/20/2023

    For many sopranos, Tosca is a dream role. She’s a glamorous diva outfitted in the most sumptuous velvet gowns, opera gloves, and tiaras. She’s fiercely loyal, just as fiercely jealous, dramatic, courageous, devout, and generous. Her handsome, successful artist boyfriend adores her. And she gets to sing some of the most amazing music to ever flow from Puccini’s pen. It takes a soprano of extraordinary vocal prowess and powerful stage presence to bring the world of Floria Tosca to life.  

     

    FGO celebrates diversity year-round, but in honor of Black History Month, we take a look at one of the most impressive and accomplished Black artists to ever embody this quintessential diva role: Leontyne Price.  

     

    Leontyne Price as Tosca with Cornell McNeill as Baron Scarpia. 

     

    One of the greatest American sopranos of all time, Leontyne Price, has just celebrated her 96th birthday (and reportedly still vocalizes every day)! She was best known for her Verdi roles, but she was also a sensational Tosca. She sang the role many times opposite the likes of Franco Corelli, Giuseppe Di Stefano, and Plácido Domingo, and recorded it for Sony Classical, London Records, Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, and RCA Victor, among others. Famed jazz trumpeter Miles Davis wrote in his autobiography, "Man, I love her as an artist. I love the way she sings Tosca. I wore out her recording of that, wore out two sets. … She should be an inspiration for every musician, black or white. I know she is to me." 

     

    Price was a ground-breaker, building on the paths forged by other great Black artists like the contralto Marian Anderson and bass-baritone Paul Robeson, both of whom were her role models. Price was the first Black singer to become a superstar, the first Black international opera star, and the first Black artist to be cast in a starring role in a televised opera. That role was Tosca, and it was for the popular NBC Opera Theater, the broadcasting company’s 50s and 60s-era televised opera series. She was the first Black artist to sing a leading role in the South, Minnie in Puccini’s La fanciulla del West in Dallas in 1962, and Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at Atlanta Opera in 1964. She was also the first Black artist to sing a leading role at La Scala.  

     

     

    Leontyne Price sings "Vissi d'arte"

     

    Leontyne Price won more than 20 Grammy Awards, including a lifetime achievement award in 1989, along with the 1964 Presidential Medal of Freedom, a 1980 Kennedy Center Honor, and a 1985 National Medal of the Arts.  

     

    Miss Price’s contributions to society and culture far surpassed the artistic milieu. Her success and popularity highlighted racial injustice and influenced change during the Civil Rights Era. As a leading Met star, she traveled on tours to segregated Southern cities, and in 1962, famed Met General Manager Rudolf Bing announced that the Met tour would no longer visit segregated cities. Her fees were on par with that of white artists at the time. She even purchased her Greenwich Village townhome in 1961, during a time when race-based housing discrimination was in full swing. An artist of great personal dignity, unsurpassed vocal beauty, and magnificent stage presence, Leontyne Price’s legacy remains one of opera’s greatest treasures. 

     

    See FGO' sTosca on  March 18 – April 15.  tickets at fgo.org

     

     

  • CHAT UP A COMPOSER WHEN YOU MEET MICHAEL CHING!
    02/13/2023

     

    Michael Ching, the composer and librettist of Buoso’s Ghost, is a funny, congenial, multi-faceted guy. He loves silliness and jokes, popular music (with a special soft spot for country western songs), and entertaining people with his work. He’s known in the biz as one of the “good guys” --- a colleague who is kind and respectful to the singers and companies he works with. He’s also an intelligent and creative composer and an intriguing conversationalist.  

     

    If you’re an opera fan who enjoys those qualities, you’ll love the Meet the Composer Concert, this weekend in Miami and Fort Lauderdale. 

     

     

    Pre-COVID, my husband and I attended a delightful event called “An Evening with Jacques Pépin”, in which the famous French chef relaxed on a sofa on the stage of a huge performing arts center, drank wine, and saucily answered questions as he was interviewed by his own daughter. There won’t be wine or an interview at Meet the Composer, but the vibe will be similar: casual, entertaining, fun, and also informative. 

     

    Michael will speak about his career and body of work, and juxtapose original pieces with some traditional works from which he’s drawn inspiration. FGO’s Studio Artists will perform the pieces in context, including selections from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Verdi’s Falstaff, and Handel’s Rinaldo. As a special feature, they will also present a preview of excerpts from Michael’s latest project, an opera on the life of 19th century singer, composer, and vocal pedagogue Pauline Viardot, who was the sister of the celebrated mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran and brother of the famous vocal pedagogue, Manuel García, whose book The Art of Singing is still in use today. 

     

     

    Meet the Composer may be a must-see for any self-proclaimed music nerd or aspiring composer, but it’s also a unique and interesting behind-the-scenes look at opera from the mind of the composer to the page to the stage, and anyone can enjoy it. See for yourself! Tickets are only $10 (free to subscribers and donors) at fgo.org. The performances are held on Saturday, February 18, 7:30 p.m. at St. Philp’s Episcopal Church in Coral Gables; and Sunday, February 19 at 3:00 p.m. at the Center for Spiritual Living in Oakland Park.  Tickets are $10  (free to subscribers) at fgo.org.

  • THE CRITICS RAVE --- AND THIS WEEK IS YOUR LAST CHANCE TO CATCH GIANNI SCHICCHI & BUOSO'S GHOST!
    02/08/2023

     

    The verdict is in on FGO’s tale of the sneaky lawyer who outwits a greedy family --- and the critics say Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost are not to be missed --- but Thursday and Saturday are your last chances to catch this hilarious tale and hear one of opera's most popular arias in context. 

     

     

    Lawrence Budmen of South Florida Classical Review wrote, “With adroit staging, terrific singing from top to bottom by a large cast and an eye-filling production, this pairing is both potent theater and delightful entertainment.”  

     

    Over at Florida Theater Onstage, Bill Hirschman wrote, “… the music is full and rich in this FGO production, both the master’s (Puccini’s) and that of his great admirer Ching, beautifully delivered by the cast’s resonating voices and the strong, deft orchestra conducted by Ching.” 

     

    Both critics also raved about the cast. Budmen found that Franco Pomponi, in his first foray as the title character “dominated the stage”  and praised his “well-honed baritone” and “formidable, larger-than-life force…” Hirschman noted that Pomponi appeared to be having “the time of his life” in the role. 

     

    Charles Calotta as Rinuccio displayed “a lyric tenor both strong and sweet,” while his love interest Page  Michels “made Lauretta an independent-minded ingenue with considerable power over her father and a large, darkly colored soprano to match,” wrote Budmen. He also noted Robynne Redmon ‘s “ haughty Zita, her mellow mezzo sonority masking connivance, but her final comedic love scene with Schicchi (in Ching’s opera) suggested a softer side,”  

     

    Hirschman even found space to applaud the “award-worthy” performance of board member Larry Kamin as the deceased Buoso, and “affable, informative” Director of Artistic Operations Matt Cooksey for his worthwhile pre-show lecture. 

     
    Budmen recommends this offering for dedicated fans and opera newbies alike. “This FGO double bill is a reminder that opera can bring a smile to the face as well as excitement to the senses,” he writes. “… the production makes a perfect introduction to the art form.”  

     

    There are two more opportunities to catch this rare double bill before it disappears from South Florida for the foreseeable future. The final two hilarious shows run at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts on February 9 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. With each one-act opera coming in at under an hour in length, you’ll have time for a late dinner or cocktails! Tickets are available at fgo.org.  

     

  • FGO'S FABULOUS FEBRUARY
    02/05/2023

    Florida Grand Opera is serving up a fabulous February with your last opportunity to catch our double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost, and three wonderful concerts. 

     

     

    Husband-and-wife team Martín Nusspaumer and María Antúnez in concert.

     

    On Sunday, Feb. 5,  head on down to Miami Beach for our popular Viva Zarzuela! concert. You can’t resist the hypnotic harmonies and rousing rhythms of Zarzuela, the opera form of Spain, Cuba, and other Spanish-speaking nations, along with favorite opera arias and ensembles.  Miami’s own Martín Nusspaumer and María Antúnez headline, teaming with our Studio Artists for an evening of fiery musical fun. Sunday, February 5, 3:00 pm at the Cuban Hebrew Congregation on Miami Beach. Tickets $25 at fgo.org.

     

    Franco Pomponi as Gianni Schicchi, Page Michels as Lauretta, Charles  Calotta as Rinuccio in Michael Ching's Buoso's Ghost. Photo by Daniel Azoulay.

     

    The reviews are in for our delightful double bill of Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. Larry Budmen of South Florida Classical Review wrote, “With adroit staging, terrific singing from top to bottom by a large cast and an eye-filling production, this pairing is both potent theater and delightful entertainment.” Bill Hirschman of Florida Theater on Stage found the music “... full and rich ... beautifully delivered by the cast’s resonating voices and the strong, deft orchestra conducted by Ching.” FGO hasn’t produced Puccini’s one-act gem since 1953, and this is the professional South Florida debut of conductor Michael Ching’s hilarious sequel, Buoso’s Ghost. The plot revolves around a greedy family that engages a lawyer of dubious morals to help rectify their deceased uncle’s will after he leaves it all to the church. It’s an evening of laugh-out-loud comedy and some of the most beautiful music ever composed, including Puccini’s beloved aria “O mio babbino caro.” Grab your tickets today at fgo.org.  February 9 & 11 at 7:30 p.m., Broward Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at fgo.org.

     

     

     

    Treat your Valentines, friends, and yourself to for Hearts and Arrows: Opera’s Great Love Songs. The FGO Studio Artists delight with selections of the most romantic music of all time from the greatest composers of opera and musical theater, with arias and ensembles for every season of the heart. Enjoy scenes from The Marriage of Figaro and La bohème along with classic Broadway tunes from Carousel and West Side Story. February 16, 7:30 p.m.  First Presbyterian Church in Brickell. Tickets are $10 at fgo.org.

     

    Composer and conductor Michael Ching.

    Music fans will not want to miss the fascinating opportunity to meet Michael Ching. The composer of Buoso’s Ghost, Speed Dating Tonight, RSBE (Remove Shoes Before Entering), and many other works … including a few country-western songs!  Michael began his career at FGO way back in the early 80’s. At our Songfest Series: Meet the Composer Concert, he will discuss his career and compositional style, and take us through some of his works as they are performed live by the FGO Studio Artists. Join us for a thoughtful and entertaining dive through the career and process of this light-hearted composer and librettist of contemporary comic opera. Saturday, February 18, 7:30 p.m. at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Coral Gables. Tickets are $10 at fgo.org.

  • Get'em While They're Hot --- Miami's Sizzling Zarzuela Duo
    01/30/2023

     

    Husband and wife team Martín Nusspaumer and María Antúnez came to Miami to study with acclaimed voice teacher Manny Perez. They stayed to build their home, family, and careers. Now the international opera singers are headlining FGO’s popular Viva Zarzuela Concert on Sunday, February 5, and you only have one chance to catch them!

     

    Martín and María hail from Uruguay, which does not have its own Zarzuela tradition, though the genre is popular in Uruguayan culture thanks to touring companies that brought the Spanish art form to every nook and cranny of the country. Tenor Martín and mezzo-soprano María are both professional opera singers but recently have noticed that they are getting hired more and more often for Zarzuela. “We have become known for doing Zarzuela and are getting hired together to do it,” says María. “ It’s starting to bloom here in the US and people really enjoy it.”

     

    “We went to do a Zarzuela concert in Wichita, KS,” Martín adds. “For us it was weird --- how did they hear about us doing Zarzuela? But it was a big success. People loved it.”

     

    The couple sings both Zarzuela and opera all over the world.

     

    “We met singing, “says María. “It was our very first professional engagement in Uruguay, Il signor bruschino by Rossini.”

     

    They started dating right away, and a year later Martín followed María to the US to study at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. “The singing together began before the dating, but we’ve always kept on singing together,” María says. “We really enjoy it. We have a special connection.”

     

    Martín jokes, “And when we argue, we sing to each other.” “That’s people’s fantasy,” María scoffs. Asked whether distracting his wife with his beautiful tenor voice works, Martín immediately denies it. “She’s immune to it!”

     

     

    Still, the couple loves to perform together, and it shows. “Before becoming a couple, we had good musical chemistry,” María insists. “We appreciate each other. I really love Martín’s voice, I think he likes mine. Giving each other ideas, growing together in that way …we really like that kind of work. It’s not just about communicating, having projects and making beautiful music together. It’s also about the career, and being with another singer. I sang since I was a little girl so music was my first love, really. I realized how important it was to me to have someone who understands that.”

     

    Martín adds, “It’s also about maturing together, not just in music but in life. It borrows from music to life, life to music. On stage, we can communicate with just a look. We don’t have to make a sound.”

     

    FGO fans will have the opportunity to enjoy this extraordinary chemistry demonstrated through the hypnotic sounds of Zarzuela as well as popular opera selections on Sunday, February 5, 3 p.m., at the Cuban Hebrew Congregation of Miami on Miami Beach. Martín and María will be joined by the FGO Studio Artists and a special guest, Rabbi Stephen Texon, himself a trained opera singer. Tickets are $25 and are available at fgo.org or by calling 800.741.1010.

     

  • MEET THE CAST OF GIANNI SCHICCHI AND BUOSO'S GHOST
    01/18/2023

     

    When a cast of seasoned performers comes together on a piece they love, energy and excitement abound. Gianni Schicchi is a staple of the Italian comedic repertoire and is beloved by artists for the chance to do such highly detailed ensemble work. Add to that the unique opportunity to perform Buoso’s Ghost, Michael Ching’s sequel, under the baton of the composer himself, and you have an occasion every singer dreams of.  

     

    L-R: Eleomar Cuello, Erin Alford, Phillip Lopez, Franco Pomponi, Anthony Reed, Robynne Redmon, Joseph McBrayer, Ashley Shalna, Charles Calotta, Page Michels. Photo by Eric Joannes.

     

    These characters and their antics are fun to play and to sing, and they are certainly tremendously entertaining to watch. Watching these operas is like viewing back-to-back episodes of a sitcom (that just happens to be set in medieval Florence). Our cast can’t wait to share them with you! Let’s meet the artists that will bring the naughty Donati and the sneaky Schicchi families to life in our double bill of one-acts, Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. 

    As Gianni Schicchi, the sly lawyer and hero of both operas, internationally acclaimed baritone Franco Pomponi returns to the FGO stage for the first time since 2017, when he triumphed in the title role of Eugene Onegin. His most recent appearances include Seid in Verdi’s Il corsaro with Opera Festival of Chicago and Voltaire, Dr. Pangloss, Martin, and Cacambo in Bernstein’s Candide with Opéra de Lausanne. Offstage, you might catch him at the hockey rink or riding his motorcycle through the countryside. 

     

    Lauretta (Page Michels) pleads with Schicchi (Franco Pomponi) to help with the will. Rehearsal photo by Eric Joannes.

     

    Venerable Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano and local favorite Robynne Redmon returns to FGO in the role of querulous Aunt Zita. She previously appeared as Madame Larina in 2017’s Eugene Onegin, and has recently been heard locally as Princess Stella in the world premiere of Michael Dellaira’s The Leopard at the Frost School of Music, where she is on faculty. Robynne’s talents include creating beautiful mosaic art from glass, resin, and wood. 

    American soprano and second-year Studio Artist Page Michels gets the big tune! As Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost, she will sing the iconic aria “O mio babbino caro.” No pressure! n 2022, Ms. Michels portrayed Lucy in Fellow Travelers and A Page in Rigoletto, and placed as an Oregon District Winner with the MET Competition. Fun fact: many artists have day jobs before they turn to full-time performing, and Page’s was as a flight attendant!  

     

    Charles Calotta, tenor, is Rinuccio, possibly the only decent human being in the Donati family. He returns to FGO for his second year as a Studio Artist, after acclaim for his roles as Tommy McIntyre in Fellow Travelers and the Young Collector in A Streetcar Named Desire. He will also appear as Spoletto in Tosca. Charlie is a talented photographer, and his favorite subjects include friends and animals, especially dogs.  

     

    Bass Anthony Reed makes his FGO debut as the elderly Simone.  An alumni of Chicago Lyric Opera’s Ryan Center, his roles there included Sciarrone in Tosca, the Second Armored Man in The Magic Flute, and the Commissioner in Madama Butterfly. His repertoire includes Sarastro (The Magic Flute), Don Basilio (The Barber of Seville), and Dr. Dulcamara (The Elixir of Love), among many others. He is a dog daddy to an adorable Great Dane named Ellington and loves that he gets to play a crotchety old man. 

      

    The Donatis aren't very happy with the outcome of Buoso's will! Rehearsal photo by Eric Joannes.

     

    Baritone Eleomar Cuello makes his FGO debut as Marco Donati. No stranger to Puccini, he has recently been heard as Angelotti (Tosca) and Alcindoro (La bohème), as well as Dr. Dulcamara (The Elixir of Love) at Opera Naples. If he could commission a role or opera to be composed just for him, Eleomar suggests an operatic adaptation of Star Wars, casting himself as none other than Darth Vader! 

     

    In the role of Marco’s wife, Nella, mezzo-soprano and Studio Artist Erin Alford returns after her hilarious turn as the Vicks Vapor Rub-wielding Fidalma in El matrimonio secreto.  Later this season, she will cover Rosina in The Barber of Seville. A 2022 Metropolitan Opera Competition District Winner, she recently debuted at Opera San José and Opera Santa Barbara.

     

    Soprano and Studio Artist Ashley Shalna returns to the FGO stage as Nella Donati after appearing as Elisetta in El matrimonio secreto.  She made her FGO debut as Clara in Il Signor Deluso in 2021. Originally from from Boston, Ashley earned  Bachelor and Master of Music degree sat the University of Florida the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami respectively. 

     

    Studio Artist Joseph McBrayer, tenor, plays Nella’s husband Gherardo. He made his mainstage debut in the role of Paolino in El matrimonio secreto. Mr. McBrayer is a former Resident Artist with Indianapolis Opera, and enjoys singing symphonic, orchestral and musical theater works. He loves Gherardo’s goofy side and agrees with Eleomar that Star Wars should be an opera. 

     

    Soprano Gabriella Molina will make her FGO debut as Gherardino, Nella and Gherardo’s irrepressible young son. She has previously appeared as Fiona in Shrek the Musical Jr. and the title role in Annie, both at Westminster Academy. 

     

    The role of the somewhat disreputable Cousin Betto is played by bass-baritone and Studio Artist Phillip Lopez, who made his FGO debut as besieged papa Geronimo in El matrimonio secreto. He will later appear as both Angelotti and the Jailer in Tosca, and cover the Sacristan in Tosca and Basilio in The Barber of Seville. A native of Iowa, he finds Florida to be “humid, sunny, and fast-paced”!  

     

    Baritone and Studio Artist Matthew Cossack makes his FGO debut as the notary Amantio di Nicolao in Gianni Schicchi and the Magistrate in Buoso’s Ghost. He will later appear as Sciarrone in Tosca and Fiorello/Officer in The Barber of Seville.  

     

    South Florida favorite, bass Ismael Gonzalez, does double duty as the near-sighted doctor, Maestro Spinelloccio, and the cobbler Pinellino who serves as a witness to the revision of Buoso’s will. Ish’s credits include Benoit/Alcindoro in La bohème with Opera Naples and Palm Beach Opera, and Uncle Bonzo in  Madama Butterfly with Opera Naples. 

     

    Miami-based bass-baritone José Vazquez, who made his FGO debut as a Court Usher in last season’s Rigoletto, will return as Guccio the Dyer in Gianni Schicchi and Friar II in Buoso’s Ghost. He has recently appeared as Zuniga in Miami Beach Classical Music Festival’s Carmen. 

     

    Tenor Dan Bates sings the role of Friar I in Buoso’s Ghost and will later serve as the Children’s Chorus Master for Tosca. No stranger to the FGO stage, Dan has appeared in Madama Butterfly, Così fan tutte, The Pearlfishers, The Passenger, and Don Pasquale. 

     

    And finally … as the wealthy Florentine patriarch, Buoso Donati himself, we are proud to introduce FGO Board Member Larry Kamin. Larry is a dedicated opera fan who has rarely missed an FGO performance since taking up residence in Miami Beach in 2005. Given his 35-year legal career and partnership at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP and work at LK Financial Planning LLC, which he founded, we can’t think of a better man to take on this pivotal role.  

     

    You won’t want to miss this cast’s fantastic singing and on-stage shenanigans, so get your tickets now at fgo.org, or call 800.741.1010. In the words of Gianni Schicchi himself, “Oh, people … this crazy plot of mine will defy eternity!” 

  • BLACK OPERA INFLUENCERS
    01/16/2023

     

    Today we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his seminal contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. The arts have always been an important medium for social and political commentary, personal expression, and advocacy; and Black people have always been influential in the arts.  In honor of Dr. King and his work, let’s explore a few contemporary Black opera influencers and their invaluable contribution to the field.

     

    Tenor Limmie Pulliam takes a selfie in his Radames costume.

     

    *December 17, 2022, former celebrity bodyguard Limmie Pulliam makes operatic history as the first Black tenor to sing the role of Radames in Aida at the Metropolitan Opera.

     

    Composer Joel Thompson.

     

    * June 2022. Emmy Award-winning composer Joel Thompson is named Houston Grand Opera’s first-ever Composer in Residence, following the 2021 world premiere of his opera The Snowy Day, based on Ezra Jack Keats’ Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book, with libretto by children’s author Andrea Davis Pinkney.

     

    Terence Blanchard takes a curtain call at the Met.  Photo by Rose Callahan.

     

    *September 27, 2021. Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Terence Blanchard and Kasi Lemmons becomes the first opera by a Black composer to be performed at the Met. The co-director, Camille A. Brown, is the first Black stage director to create a mainstage production there.

     

    *2020 - present. In the midst of the pandemic, the Black Opera Alliance forms to demand awakening, enlightenment, and action on racial injustice and inequity in opera. Today, nearly 50 opera companies have signed their Pledge for Racial Equality and Systemic Change in Opera. Other organizations, such as The Black Administrators of Opera and the Asian Opera Alliance, are inspired to action by the BOA’s work.

     

    *2018. Stage director/producer Jonathan Estabrooks and actor/producer Miranda Plant form Black Opera Productions LLC to raise money for the creation of a feature-length documentary. With the help of co-producer and host, baritone Kenneth Overton, the film “explores race and inclusion in today’s Opera world through the eyes of America’s leading Black operatic stars.” The film is currently in production.

     

    These are only a few highlights of recent significant achievements. For more information and resources about Black excellence and advocacy in the field of opera, check out these resources:

     

    • The Black Opera Research Net (BORN ) offers an extensive free knowledge base, including published literature, unpublished dissertations, online resources, audio-visual resources, and recommended works.
    • The Voice of Black Opera Competition, sponsored by the Black British Classical Foundation, encourages Black citizens of the Commonwealth with a range of prizes and opportunities.
    • The Black Opera Database is a free listing of works by Black composers, address topics of race or the Black experience, or contain Black characters. 

     

     

     

    Last but not least, we can’t help adding a little love note to one of our own:  Maestro Willie Anthony Waters.  A Miami native and graduate of the University of Miami, Willie Anthony Waters joined the music staff at what was then the Greater Miami Opera in 1982. He made his very successful conducting premiere with the company the same year, with Simon Boccanegra. He rose through the ranks to chorus master, then music director, and finally Artistic Director and Principal Conductor, a position he held for seven years.

     

    Maestro Waters’ accomplishments stretch far beyond South Florida. He began his career assisting Kurt Herbert Adler, at San Francisco Opera, until the great soprano Martina Arroyo encouraged him to spend more time conducting and invited him to conduct her in a performance of Il trovatore. He served as General and Artistic Director of the Connecticut Opera for twelve years. In 1995, he was appointed Principal Conductor and Artistic Adviser of Houston’s Ebony Opera Guild. His significant domestic and international conducting career includes accomplishments such as the South African premiere of Porgy and Bess recordings for Philips Records, and the 1991 Martel Prize in honor of his contributions to the community. He was also a regular guest on the Metropolitan Opera Quiz.

     

    Maestro Waters is well-known for his work with rising singers and the community at large. He worked with “Take Center Stage,” a Hartford, CT-area opera camp for urban youth, coached and mentored singers in South Africa, and served as Music Director of the Martina Arroyo Foundation’s Prelude to Performance training program for singers. Although in recent years health issues have curtailed Maestro Waters’ professional activities, he remains a beloved and influential figure in the classical music community.

  • MEET MICHAEL CHING, OPERA'S RENAISSANCE MAESTRO
    01/10/2023

     

    Conductor, composer, librettist --- Michael Ching wears many hats, and he’s donning all of them for FGO’s upcoming performances of Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost.  It’s a rare opportunity to experience a composer conducting his own work, let alone in a double-bill with one of the crown jewels of the operatic comedic repertoire. Get ready for a great night at the theater, and meet the man who dared to write a sequel to Puccini’s one and only comedy!

     

    Michael Ching, center, with the cast of Gianni Schicchi and Buoso's Ghost. Photo by Eric Joannes.

     

    ABOUT MICHAEL

     

    • Michael hails from Honolulu, but grew up in New Orleans and Saint Paul, MN with a father who was a dedicated avocational pianist. He was a composer from childhood, studying composition along with piano, flute, violin, and oboe.

     

    • At Duke University, he studied composition with Robert Ward (best known for The Crucible; and also for Minutes Til Midnight, which received its world premiere at FGO in 1982) and Iain Hamilton (a prolific composer of orchestral, chamber, choral and vocal music whose best-known opera is his 1978 Anna Karenina).

     

    • Michael kicked off his career on the music staff at FGO. After prestigious apprenticeships at the National Opera Institute and Houston Grand Opera, where he studied with iconic American composer Carlisle Floyd (Susannah, Cold Sassy Tree, of Mice and Men), in 1981 he joined FGO (then known as Greater Miami Opera) as a rehearsal pianist. Over the next few years, he rose to coach, and finally chorus master. “FGO was my first real job,” he says. “I had four very formative years at FGO. There’s a learning curve that all composers go through, and there’s so much you can learn from just being around all the great classics. It’s been a privilege and a learning experience for me to be around them my whole life.”

     

    • Michael is primarily known for his large catalogue of operas and writes most of his libretti himself. His best-known works include Buoso’s Ghost, Speed Dating Tonight, and a cappella (voice only) A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He is currently working on A Royal Feast, his sequel to Rossini’s La Cenerentola (Cinderella), and he’s willing to share a bit about it!  “I had a consultant group of middle school students helping me write this opera,” he said. “ Middle school students look at Rossini’s Cenerentola, which is about as gritty and realistic as it can get, and ask, ‘Well, where’s the magic? Where’s the fairy godmother? Where are all the talking animals?’ They wanted to figure out a plot that had those things in it. So this is a very American kind of sequel  that has a lot of the magic that Americans associate with Cinderella because of Disney.

     

    ABOUT BUOSO’S GHOST

     

    • Operatic sequels are rare, so where did Ching get the idea to write a sequel to Gianni Schicchi?

    “We were sitting around at breakfast before joint auditions between Chautauqua Opera, Memphis Opera, and Greater Miami Opera (now FGO). We were shooting the breeze about what happens to opera characters. Do the Germont father and son get along after La traviata or is the family just torn apart? What becomes of Cio-Cio-san’s child in Madama Butterfly?  We got onto the subject of Schicchi, and the idea of a sequel was born there over eggs and toast.”

     

    • Spend five minutes with the maestro and his music, and you’ll quickly figure out that Michael Ching is big on fun. Buoso’s Ghost is stuffed with onstage shenanigans and musical jokes, including recognizable quotes from Madama Butterfly and homages to Stephen Sondheim. There’s also a surprising romantic moment for Schicchi and --- well, we won’t give it away, but according to Michael, “Occasionally somebody has accused me of being a little mushy with that, but heck, it’s a comedy. You want a happy ending. A wink and a promise. Meet me in the cellar and we’ll share a really nice bottle of Italian wine and see where it goes from there.”

     

    • Michael is known for the accessibility of his music. “The opera field has a couple of different branches,” he says. “There’s this branch of the tree that I think is just a great branch to be on, the branch with Porgy and Bess, Kurt Weill, some Sondheim, Bernstein. I don’t’ know why more composers don’t want to hang out on that branch of the tree.”

     

     

    •  He’s also known for insisting on creating enjoyable theatrical experiences. “I like to tell fun and preferably shorter stories,” Ching admits. ”I just want the audience to have a good time. That’s how I roll.”

     

    You won’t want to miss the good time that is Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. And you’ll also want to take advantage of an in-depth, entertaining, and rare opportunity: on February 18 and 19 Michael will discuss his career and compositions while our spectacular Studio Artists perform, in a special SongFest event.  Roll on over to fgo.org and get your tickets today!


     

  • WHAT'S SO FUNNY? SCHICCHI & GHOST'S INSIDE JOKES
    01/03/2023

     

    Gianni Schicchi may be Puccini’s only comedy, and a one-act at that, but the maestro and his librettist, Giovacchino Forzano, hit it out of the ballpark on this knee-slapping musical jewel.  And composer/librettist Michael Ching stuffed Buoso’s Ghost with both verbal and musical guffaws. Here are a few to look out for: 

     

    Claudia Chapa as Zita. Courtesy of Opera Delaware. Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography

     

    1. WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT?  Gianni Schicchi opens with the Donati family piously and loudly mourning the death of their patriarch, Buoso, none more assiduously than his cousin Zita. But once his will is located and read, the Donatis are weeping even harder. “Chi l’avrebbe mai detto che quando Buoso andava al cimitero, si sarebbe pianto per davvero!” Zita sobs. (“Who would have thought  that when Busos went to the cemetary, we would be crying in earnest?”) 

     

    Sean Anderson as Gianni Schicchi. Courtesy of Opera Delaware. Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography

     

    2. LATIN LESSON – Disguised as Buoso, Schicchi plans to dictate a new will to the distinguished notary. First he must declare the old will invalid, and he does so in Latin: “Annullans, revocans, et irritans omne aliud testamentum!” This is supposed to mean that he annuls, revokes, and invalidates every other testament. However, a more common term in this context would be “infirmans.” Forzano chose to use “irritans” also means “irritating” --- Gianni Schicchi is having a little joke at the expense of the Donatis, who are about to become extremely irritated. 

     

    Sean Anderson as Gianni Schicchi. Courtesy of Opera Delaware. Photo by Joe del Tufo/Moonloop Photography

     

    3. QUOTABLE QUOTES - Michael Ching loves his musical jokes and uses musical quotes from Schicchi and a variety of other composers to enhance the fun in Buoso’s Ghost. In Gianni Schicchi, the reading of the will is underscored almost cinematically. You’ll immediately recognize the music in Buoso’s Ghost when Schicchi shows the doctored will to the friars who have come to collect their promised inheritance. (You’ll also recognize the friars’ reaction to the will)! Be sure to listen for snatches of Mozart, Sondheim, and others as well. 

     

    Both of these delightful operas are full of funny moments, but the biggest joke of all is the one Schcich plays on the Donatis --- not once, but twice! Get your tickets and get ready for a tune-up of your funny bone. January 28- February 11. Tickets at fgo.org

     

     

  • THE GEOGRAPHY OF GIANNI SCHICCHI
    12/26/2022

     

    Miami and Fort Lauderdale are beautiful, vibrant cities with many landmarks, rich histories, and plenty to boast about. But Florence, Italy, the setting of our Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost double bill, has plenty of bragging rights of its own. For starters, it was founded by the great Roman emperor Julius Caesar himself in 59 BC. By September 1, 1299, when the action of the operas occurs, Florence has a lot of hotspots, many of which are referenced in the opera. Let’s take a tour! 

     

    Florence's Ponte Vecchio (The Old Bridge) over the Arn River

     

    The Ponte Vecchio – in her famous aria, Lauretta threatens to throw herself off the “Old Bridge” if she doesn’t get to marry Rinuccio. This covered bridge spans the Arn River and is believed to date back to Roman times. It is filled with shops, and has the distinction of being the only Florentine bridge to survive World War II. 

     

    Via Porta Rossa, Florence, where Lauretta and Rinuccio go to buy their wedding rings.

     

    Porta Rossa – also mentioned in “O mio babbino caro” is Porta Rossa, where Lauretta wants to go shopping for her wedding ring. Once the city’s shopping quarter, Porta Rossa is now the site of a luxury hotel which is also one of the oldest in Italy, complete with restored frescoes and  its presidential suite housed in a medieval tower. 

     

    A sketch shows how Santa Reparata once appeared. 

     

    Santa Reparata – an ancient Christian basilica, formerly Florence’s cathedral, now only ruins On discovering that Uncle Buoso has left everything to the church, Rinuccio angrily mourns that his hopes of being able to marry Lauretta have been dashed in favor of holy works at Santa Reparata. 

     

    The Piazza Santa Croce, facing the basilica of the same name.

     

    Piazza Santa Croce – one of Florence’s main plazas and gathering places in 13th century Florence.  In his aria, Rinuccio mentions it as the place where the artists, scientists, architects, and great rulers come together to enrich Florence with their works and knowledge. 

    The famous Arnolfo Tower, part of the Palazzo Vecchio (Old Palace)

     

    Val d’Elsa and Mugel (Mugello) --- small Tuscan villages, the respective birthplaces of the architect Arnolfo di Cambio, who built Florence’s famous tower, and the painter Giotto di Bondone, who designed the bell tower for the Cathedral of Florence. Rinuccio uses them as examples of newcomers to Florence who have made their mark, just as the newcomer Gianni Schicchi will make his.  

    The Campanile Giotto, or Giotto Bell Tower. 

     

    Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost both take place in Buoso’s Florentine home, so our operatic tour of Florence must take place through the music and imagery. Fortunately, both Puccini and Ching give us music that evokes the beauty and wonder of this ancient city. See – and hear --- for yourself! January 28 – February 11. Tickets at fgo.org

  • CHRISTMAS WITH THE CHARACTERS
    12/07/2022

    With the holiday season upon us, and it won’t be long until our January/February productions of Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost are delighting our audiences. The action is set in medieval Florence, quite specifically on September 1, 1299. Definitely not the Yuletide. Nevertheless, indulge us a little as we speculate on how the Donatis might have spent their 1298 holiday season. 

     

    TRADITION

     

    The back-biting Donatis go to great lengths to appear pious, despite their determination to see that the church gets none of rich Uncle Buoso’s considerable fortune. They probably make an ostentatious appearance at Mass, dressed in their finest robes. Modesty in dress is both important and fashionable, but this does not stop wealthy Florentines like the Donatis from indulging in lavish fur trim and richly decorated textiles to show status.  Our costumes are designed by the award-winning Howard Tsvi Kaplan. You’ll love their richness and variety! 

    Howard Tsvi Kaplan's design for Lauretta.

     

    ​MENU

     

    After Mass, the family heads home for a lengthy luncheon of stone fruit, roast suckling pig, herb tart, stuffed songbirds, and the traditional Florentine dessert of panforte. You might notice that nobody wants to touch Uncle Buoso’s plate. It’s been prepared with a little extra … spice. The meal is accompanied by lots of wine, especially for Cousin Betto who is, shall we say, an afficionado.  You don’t have to be left out, though.  Did you know that you can get free prosecco when you upgrade to a box seat? Call the box office at 800.741.1010 and you’ll soon be sipping the bubbly while you savor the singing. 

     

     

    Panforte, a traditional Florentine Christmas cake made with fruits, nuts, and spices.

     

    GIFTS

     

    Every Donati has a special piece of Buoso’s many properties they’re hoping to inherit, and there are no arguments over those. But there are three standout items: Buoso’s beautiful house, the lucrative mills in Signa, and perhaps most important of all, his mule, the best mule in all of Tuscany! Meanwhile, Gianni Schicchi’s daughter Lauretta only wants to visit the shopping district of Porta Rosa to buy a wedding ring so she and Rinuccio Donati can be engaged. Speaking of gifts, tickets to this knee-slapping evening of tuneful trickery make a fabulous and unforgettable gift. Grab your tickets today at fgo.org or call 800.741.1010. 

     

     

  • THE TENORS OF FGO
    12/07/2022

     

    Let’s face it, everyone (except possibly tenors) loves a good tenor joke. Yet, the tenor voice is indispensable to opera and we also love that thrilling sound! 

     

    Any time we talk about Fach, voice type, or who should be singing what roles, differences of opinion are to be expected. The human voice is wonderfully unique, and often changes over time as the body changes and matures, and quite simply, as life happens. This means that the roles one sings in one’s youth, prime, and maturity may vary radically. There’s also the matter of personal preference when it comes to artistry, vocal timbre and heft, and a host of other factors that determine which singers are best for which types of roles. Our 2022 season has plenty of wonderful and exciting tenors to thrill you, so let’s meet some of them, and you can make up your own mind about where they belong on the spectacular spectrum of tenordom!

     

    MICHELE ANGELINI

    Look out for Michele Angelini as Count Almaviva in our season closer, The Barber of Seville. Certified by Opera News as a “Rossini tenor” with a voice of silken loveliness,” Michele can be heard on the Naxos label in Rossinis’ early comedy La scala di seta and a live recording of Matilde di Shabran. He last appeared at FGO as Prince Ramiro in 2013’s La sonnambula. Find out more at micheleangelini.com.

     

     

    Michele Angelini as Elvino in 2013's La sonnambula.

     

    ARTURO CHACON-CRUZ

    Miami resident and internationally known Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz is returning to thrill with his interpretation of Cavaradossi in Tosca. He last appeared at FGO as Rodolfo in 2012’s La bohème, opposite Metropolitan Opera star soprano Ailyn Pérez as Mimi. Arturo’s roles include Calaf (Turandot), Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor), and Riccardo (Un ballo in maschera). Learn more about Arturo at arturochaconcruz.com.

     

     

     Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rodolfo in 2012’s La bohème, with Ailyn Peréz as Mimi.

     

    CHARLES CALOTTA

    Charles Calotta is a second-year Studio Artist, and this season, you’ll hear him in three very different roles: the young lover Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost, and Spoletta, the henchman of the evil Baron Scarpia in Tosca. His repertoire includes roles like Tamino (The Magic Flute), Count Almaviva (The Barber of Seville), and Ferrando (Cosí fan tutte). Find out more at charlescalottatenor.com

     

     

    Charles Calotta  (right) as Tommy McIntyre with Andres Acosta as Timothy Laughlin in 2022's Fellow Travelers.

     

    JOSEPH MCBRAYER

    First-year Studio Artist Joseph McBrayer was heard in the leading role of  Paolino in our season opener, El matrimonio secreto. You’ll next hear him as the scheming Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. Joseph is known for roles like Alfredo (La traviata, Tamino (The Magic Flute), and Goro (Madame Butterfly).

     

     

    Joseph McBrayer as Paolino with Erin Alford as Fidalma in our season opener, El matrimonio secreto.

     

    Thanks for joining us for this mini-tour of this season’s tenors! There’s a tenor for every taste, so get your tickets to our next three shows and bask in their tantalizing tones! Tickets at fgo.org.

     

  • Librettist of the Month: Giovacchino Forzano
    11/28/2022

     

    Giovacchino Forzano (joe-va-kee-no fortz-ah-no) lived a long and storied life. Born in Borgo San Lorenzo, Italy in 1884, he is best known in the opera world for writing the libretti for Puccini’s only comedy, Gianni Schicchi, and its sentimental companion piece Suor Angelica. But his life took many twists and turns both before and after. 

     

     

    As a young man, he studied medicine before undertaking a brief career as a professional operatic baritone, performing mostly in small theaters in Tuscany. He next earned a law degree, then became a freelance journalist and wrote for many of Italy’s major newspapers.  

     

    Forzano met the great composer Giacomo Puccini in 1914. They became friends, and Puccini asked him to write the libretti for his trio of one-act operas, Il trittico (The Tryptych). Forzano declined to write the first of the three, Il tabarro (The Cloak) because its plot was already decided, and he preferred to create his own. He wrote the libretti for the other two one-acts, Gianni Schicchi and Suor Angelica.  

     

     

    Il trittico premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on December 14, 1918, and was such a huge success that Forzano was immediately in demand as a librettist. He wrote for Pietro Mascagni, Ruggero Leoncavallo, Umberto Giordano, and Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, to name a few of his prominent collaborators, but none of his libretti had the success of the first two.  

     

    Forzano also wrote plays. These were considered to be on the lighter side in terms of literary value, but they were extremely popular and he was one of the most-produced playwrights in Italy during the 1920s and -30s. From 1920- 1930, he served as the stage director at La Scala, and also directed at the Rome Opera, London's Covent Garden and the Paris Opera. But then his career took a dark turn. 

     

    Forzano was by this time a high-profile man of the theater. His various accomplishments brought him to the attention of Benito Mussolini, who wished to collaborate with him in writing a play. The first was Campo di Maggio (1931), which despite its international staging, enjoyed only very short runs. Forzano went on to write two more plays with Mussolini, and subsequently wrote and directed propaganda films, such as 1933’s Camicia nera (Black Shirt), created to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Mussolini’s regime.  

     

     

    At his death in Rome in 1970, a family member told the New York Times, “The maestro never was a member of the Fascist party despite his artistic assistance to Mussolini.” Regardless, the association proved inescapable, and after the fall of the Fascist regime, Forzano never regained his former position as a cultural figure or playwright. 

     

     

    Fortunately for us, Gianni Schicchi dates from a much earlier, happier time in Forzano’s life. From the relatives arguing over who will mourn Buoso the longest to Zita’s honest lament, “Who would have thought that when Buoso went to the cemetery, we would be crying for real!”, Forzano demonstrates his skill is reflected in the laugh-a-minute libretto. Set to Puccini’s brilliant score, it makes for a gem of a comedy. Enjoy it from January 28 – February 11, 2023. Tickets at fgo.org or 800.741.1010. 

     

    For Italian speakers who would like to learn more, there are some short films and interviews available on YouTube:  

     

    Giovacchino Forzana ricorda Giacomo Puccini (in Italian) 
     

    Musicisti della mia vita (1963, in Italian) 
     

     

  • The Final Meal of Buoso Donati
    11/14/2022

     

     

    Roast turkey and green bean casserole. Dressing. Pumpkin pie or flan. Cranberry sauce. Thanksgiving is coming up quickly and we’re all looking forward to our favorite dishes—or maybe dreading that awful lime Jell-o marshmallow cottage cheese concoction that Aunt Bertha insists on bringing, or Uncle Stu’s indigestible ham and banana casserole.   

     

     

     

    Food plays an important part in both Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost. In Schicchi, as the Donati family rages over the allocations in recently deceased Uncle Buoso’s will, they rant about the rich delicacies found in his larder: quail, fattened geese, fruits and vegetables, songbirds, cockerels, and more. All of these will now go to fatten up the residents of the local monastery instead of Buoso’s own family! Cousin Betto is especially upset that the friars will be enjoying the contents of Buoso’s excellent wine cellar, while he must resign himself to drinking the swill in his hometown of Signa. The Donati family won’t stand for it, and that’s where the lawyer Gianni Schicchi and his bag of tricks come in. Under the guise of helping the deceitful Donatis, Schicchi ends up helping himself!  

     

     

    In Michael Ching’s equally funny and tuneful sequel, Buoso’s Ghost, Schicchi is enjoying his new home and decides to have a snack. He opens the larder to survey the goodies which, as it turns out, the relatives had brought themselves to tempt the ailing Buoso’s appetite. But after just one bite, Schicchi realizes that this feast could be his last, just as it was Buoso’s. When the Donatis appear at his door, raging for revenge and ready to accuse him of murder, the lawyer must once again call upon his wits to save the day. 

     

    With their clever and beautiful scores, Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost are feasts for the funny bone and the ear. So after you’ve enjoyed the last spoonful of pumpkin flan and slipped Aunt Bertha’s “ambrosia” to the dog, you might want to make plans for this musical and mental treat. January 28 – February 11. Tickets at fgo.org

     

    Oh --- and Happy Thanksgiving! 

     

  • Last Chance for The Secret Marriage!
    11/14/2022

     

    Tomorrow is your last chance to catch our colorful, hilarious El matrimonio secreto. It’s a truly charming piece that doesn’t come around as often as it should, and you won’t want to miss out. 

    Lindsay Fuori’s set for the fictional South Beach Hotel Paraiso is pure 1980s Art Deco glamour, complete with funky geometric bedspreads, an amazing turquoise bar, and a glass-block above-ground swimming pool.

     

    Vanessa Becerra as Carolina and Joseph McBrayer as Paolino.

     

    Jeff Adelburg’s spectacular and colorful lighting sets everything off so amazingly that it’s almost a character in and of itself. Steven Bryant’s permed mullets on the young men and big, teased hair on the women is to die for, not to mention the spot-on bright 80s makeup. And Darío Almirón’s costumes are a walk down memory lane for anyone who lived through the 80s. In short, the look of this show is so delightful and familiar that you’ll feel like you’re time-traveling.  

     

    Fidalma (Erin Alford), Geronimo (Phillip Lopez) and Elisetta (Catalina Cuervo) confront Carolina (Vanessa Becerra). 

     

    The FGO orchestra under Darwin Aquino (also one of the translators) sparkles its way through Domenico Cimarosa’s lively score. From its Mozart-esque overture to the Rossini-like ensembles, the FGO orchestra is an energetic partner to the plot and the singers onstage. The Sunday matinee audience alternatively chuckled and bravo’d its way through the show, and gave rousing ovations.  

    El matrimonio secreto is a spirited start to FGO’s 81st Season, and there’s only one more performance. Don’t miss your chance to catch it on Tuesday, November 15, at 8 p.m. at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. If you love learning a bit more about the show you’re seeing, get there by 7 for Matt Cooksey’s fun and informative pre-show lecture. Tickets at fgo.org, or call 800.741.1010.  

  • MEET THE CAST: EL MATRIMONIO SECRETO
    11/04/2022

     

    L-R: Michael Pandolfo, Ashley Shalna, Phillip Lopez, Joseph McBrayer, Vanessa Becerra, Erin Alford, Page Michels. Not shown: Catalina Cuervo.

     

    It’s rare these days to have the luxury of a full cast for a marketing photo and video shoot, and it’s always of paramount importance to keep the artists’ energy level and emotional state in mind. After all, their main job is to save that energy and focus for the stage, so they can entertain, move, and excite YOU.  

    There was no need to worry about any of that with the cast of El matrimonio secreto. It’s a fun group that completely embraces the fun, humor, and liveliness of the show, and they can’t wait to share it with our South Florida audience. But before you meet them on stage, let’s meet this stunning array of artists on the page, find out more about their careers, and their answers to some of the crazy questions we asked. 

     

    Metropolitan Opera soprano Vanessa Becerra makes her FGO and role debut as Carolina, Geronimo’s youngest daughter, who has secretly married his employee. Bercerra is of Peruvian and Mexican-American descent and is a recent graduate of the LA Opera’s Young Artist Program. Ms. Becerra is a principal artist. Her last meal prep was a green smoothie. “That hardly counts as cooking,” she laughs. “I would rather have made a breakfast sandwich with egg, tomato, bacon, and cheddar on sourdough with pesto!” Her dream role is Dot/Marie in Sunday in the Park with George, and when she isn’t rehearsing, she is playing with her dog, Coco, “because she is the cutest creature on Planet Earth!” 

     

    Colombian-American Catalina Cuervo, known as “The Fiery Soprano,” returns to the FGO stage in the role of Geronimo’s oldest daughter, Elisetta. Ms. Cuervo is an FGO favorite and has previously appeared in the title roles of Frida in the 2019 production and Maria de Buenos Aires in 2013, as well as numerous concerts. Ms. Cuervo is a principal artist. The last book she read was The Voice of Your Soul by Lain Garcia Calvo, her preferred social media platform is Twitter, and when she isn’t rehearsing, she is happily at home with her family. 

     

    Above: Count Robinson (Michael Pandolfo) mistakes his intended, Elisetta (Catalina Cuervo) for a hotel employee as her sister Carolina (Vanessa Becerra) and Aunt Fidalma (Erin Alford) look on. Photo by Eric Joannes.

     

    American baritone and former Studio Artist Michael Pandolfo last appeared on the FGO stage in 2022 as Marullo in Rigoletto and Senator McCarthy in Fellow Travelers. He returns as a principal artist in the role of Count Robinson, the wealthy suitor. His last major purchase was a cortadito, when he’s not rehearsing he’s daydreaming about scuba trips, and his dream role is Anita in West Side Story (sorry, Michael … that seems unlikely, but then again, you never know!). 

     

    American soprano and second-year Studio Artist Page Michels returns to Florida Grand Opera as Carolina (Sunday matinee performance) and Lauretta in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost. In 2022, Ms. Michels portrayed Lucy in Fellow Travelers and A Page in Rigoletto, and placed as an Oregon District Winner with the MET Competition. According to a Facebook poll, she is a night owl who loves the scent of Versace Bright Crystal and Mrs. Meyer’s Rosemary Soap, and would one day like to travel to Bali, Africa, and Ireland. 

     

    American soprano Ashley Shalna returns to the FGO stage as Elisetta (Sunday matinee performances) and Nella (Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost). She made her debut as Clara in Il Signor Deluso in 2021 and joins the Studio Artist Program this season. Hailing from Boston, Ashley earned her BM at the University of Florida and her Master’s of Music at the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. 

     

    American mezzo-soprano Erin Alford joins the FGO Studio this season, making her debut as Fidalma, Geronimo’s sister and Paolino’s would-be wife. She will also appear as La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi / Buoso’s Ghost, and cover Rosina in The Barber of Seville. A 2022 Metropolitan Opera Competition District Winner, she recently debuted at Opera San José and Opera Santa Barbara. Erin earned her Master of Music in Opera Performance from the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at CSULB and her Bachelor of Art in Music from UC Berkeley. 

     

    American tenor Joseph McBrayer joins the FGO Studio and makes his mainstage debut in the role of Paolino, the secret husband of Carolina, employee of Geronimo, and friend of Count Robinson. He will also sing Gherardo in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost. Mr. McBrayer is a former Resident Artist with Indianapolis Opera, and enjoys singing symphonic, orchestral and musical theater works. He earned his BM from Kennesaw State University and continued with his graduate studies at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music. 

     

    Phillip Lopez, bass-baritone, comes to the Studio from Chautauqua Opera where he recently made his Company debut as the Father in Kamala Sankaram’s Thumbprint, and Ulysses S. Grant in Virgil Thompson’s The Mother of Us All. Mr. Lopez will make his FGO debut as Geronimo, the successful hotelier and father anxious to marry off his daughters. He will also sing Betto in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost and the Jailer in Tosca, and cover the Sacristan in Tosca and Basilio in The Barber of Seville. Phillip’s last major read was Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein. A native of Iowa, he finds Florida to be “humid, sunny, and fast-paced”! His dream role is Al Czervik (the Rodney Dangerfield role)  in Caddyshack

    Now that you've met the cast onscreen, you won't want to miss out on enjoying their talents onstage in this hilarious family-centered opera. Get your tickets for our November 12, 13, or 15th performances at fgo.org.

  • Operatic Trick or Treat
    10/28/2022

     

    It’s time for trick-or-treat, and FGO is here to do its part! Opera is brimming with chills, thrills, costumes, betrayals, trickery, supernatural beings, and of course, magical musical treats galore.  

     

    When we think of spooky opera, we think of titles like:

    • The Flying Dutchman, a ghost story with elements very like Davy Jones’ Black Pearl in Disney’s The Pirates of the Caribbean 

    • Der Vampyr (The Vampire --- yes, there’s an opera about vampires!)  

     

    • Mefistofele and Faustcautionary tales about making deals with the Devil 

     

    • Der Freischutz (literally, The Freeshooter, but often translated as The Marksman), in which a young man is tempted by evil to cheat in shooting contest by using magic, demon-forged bullets 

     

    • Horror operas like Birtwhistle’s The Minotaur, Moravec’s The Shining, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, or Debussy’s The Fall of the House of Usher

     

    • Hansel and Gretel may be a children’s tale, but it involves a child-eating witch!  

     

    • And let’s not forget MacBeth, in which the witches lead our title character far, far astray. 

     

    Photo by Iko Freese

     

    Coming up in January, our spirited double bill of GiannSchicchi and Buoso’s Ghost have plenty of trickery, foul play, and spectral shenanigans. In Puccini’s hysterically funny Schicchi, a greedy and snobbish family hires a sly attorney to ensure a favorable outcome of their deceased relative’s will. They hope to deceive the law, but they themselves are tricked, and are spooked when old Buoso appears to rise from the dead. In Michael Ching’s equally funny and tuneful modern sequel, Buoso’s Ghost, more hoaxes are afoot and the recently departed Buoso makes a second, even more convincing appearance!  

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Our season opener, El matrimonio secreto is hardly spooky (though if you’ve ever hidden something important from your Cuban papa, like oh, say, an elopement, you might be plenty scared!).  Of course, there’s the 1980s dress-up of, well, the entire opera. With its sparkling Mozartian music and rip-roaringly funny action, Matrimonio is definitely more treat than trick. You won’t want to miss the fun! November 12, 13, and 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at fgo.org

  • 80s Style
    10/17/2022

    Ah, the 1980s, when shoulder pads were big and hair was even bigger.  Perms for men and women were the fashion, along with legwarmers, acid-washed denim, and armfuls of neon friendship bracelets. 

     

    1980s style is nothing if not iconic, and FGO costume designer Darío Almirón has gone for just that look in his designs for El matrimonio secreto.   

     

                                                          

                                                                                                          1980s fashion 

     

    Clothing says a lot about its wearers. It’s the job of any costume designer to reveal and enhance each character, while creating a coherent look for a production. Almirón’s designs give us a tantalizing introduction to the characters of the opera. 

     

     

               

    Geronimo is the traditionalist father and businessman. To greet his guests at the hotel and stay comfortable in the Miami heat, he wears a lightweight button-down shirt and slacks.  

     

    Fidalma may be an aunt and a widow, but she knows that women, like fine wine, only get better with age. Besides, one should dress for the position one wants, and Fidalma wants to be a wife again...specifically, Paolino’s wife. 

     

     

    As an employee of the hotel, young Paolino must wear the uniform polo shirt and pleated khakis … but he’s got some style, so he makes sure to pop the collar.  

     

    In traditional productions, the Count is often portrayed as a wealthy older man. FGO’s Count is a handsome, if somewhat vain, younger fellow with plenty of money to spend on the latest fashions. 

     

     

    Elisetta’s fashion sense lies firmly on the side of comfort and practicality. A midi-length denim skirt, colorful top, and low-heeled pumps, and she’s ready to meet her suitor. 

     

     

    And the youngest, Carolina? She’s definitely the firecracker in the family, and her outfit shows it. A short skirt with an oversized, cropped concert t-shirt slipping off one shoulder and daringly showing off her bra (just like Madonna!), along with comfy Keds complete her hip, young look.  

     

    To lend an even greater authenticity,  Almirón has chosen to source his costume pieces from vintage shops and other resellers.  

     

    You won’t want to miss the retro fun. El matrimonio segreto, November 12 – 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at fgo.org

  • COMPOSER OF THE MONTH: Domenico Cimarosa
    10/17/2022

     

    Poor Domenico Cimarosa. If modern audiences were asked to name the most famous and popular opera composer of the 18th century, they might well respond “Mozart!” Try it for yourself: without consulting any source other than your memory, name three Mozart operas. Now try to name three Cimarosa operas.  Unless you are a very great fan of 18th century dramme giocose (comic dramas), you probably can’t. 

     

    But you would be wrong if you chose Mozart over Cimarosa as the most popular opera composer of his day. Cimarosa’s catalogue of eighty operas, most of them comedies, were immensely successful and popular, although only one is produced with any regularity today: Il matrimonio segreto, The Secret Marriage, or, in FGO’s Spanish version, El matrimonio secreto

     

    Cimarosa was born in Aversa, Italy, in 1742 to poor parents who valued education. They sent him to a free monastery school in nearby Naples. There, impressed by young Domenico’s intellect, one of the priests undertook to give him a basic education in music and literature, and later helped him get a scholarship to the Conservatory of St. Maria di Loreto. There, Cimarosa quickly made strides as a violinist, keyboard player, singer, and composer. 

     

    At age 23, he composed his first opera, Le stravaganze del conte (The Count’s Extravagance). A comedy, it premiered at the Teatro del Fiorentini in Naples in 1772 and was well-received. This early success quickly turned into many years of commissions, fame, and popularity. In 1787, Czarina Catherine II offered Cimarosa the position of maestro di cappella (director of the orchestra/choir) at St. Petersburg. He remained there until 1791, when he took the same position in Vienna at the behest of Emperor Leopold II. Here he composed what was to become his most enduring work: Il matrimonio segreto, which was such a hit at its premiere that Leopold ordered everyone to pause for a dinner break and then begin the opera over again from the beginning! Talk about an encore! 

     

    Unfortunately for Cimarosa, after his return to Naples in 1796, he became embroiled in the politics of the day and wrote a popular hymn in support of the Neapolitan Republic (which has been inspired by the French Revolution). Never mind that he also wrote compositions in favor of the Neapolitan royalty. When the new Republic failed and the royal family was returned to power, he was imprisoned and spared execution only by the intervention of highly-placed friends. He was exiled to Venice, where he died in 1801. It’s a rather sad ending for an artist whose career was dedicated to giving others so much joy. Still, we hope Cimarosa would be pleased to know that at least one of his works not only lives on, but is receiving new life on Miami’s iconic South Beach via FGO’s upcoming production of El matrimonio secreto!   

     

    November 12-15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at fgo.org. 

     

  • How Stars Are Made
    10/11/2022

     

    We've all seen the sexy movie montage where a Talented Young Thing hits the big city, spends a few months living in a rathole and working some soul-sucking job, when one day --- ONE DAY! that grumpy customer they’ve been waiting on turns out to be a big-time agent who hears them singing Happy Birthday and suddenly recognizes their talent.  Next thing you know, it’s all bright lights and glitter.

     

     

    Yeah, that’s not really thing. Not in the opera world anyway.  What is true is that it takes a lot of hard work, not a small amount of “right place, right time” sort of luck, and a couple of important stepping stones to become a professional opera singer. Programs like Florida Grand Opera’s prestigious Studio Artist Program are often integral waystations to that all-important next career level. 

     

    (Left: Page Michels as the Countess Ceprano  in 2022’s Rigoletto, with Jose Semirillo as the Duke and Todd Thomas as Rigoletto. Photo by Daniel Azoulay. )

     

     

     

    In the U.S., after graduating from university or conservatory (usually with a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance), next steps aren’t always clear-cut. However, a vast system of paid training opportunities and Young Artist Programs is an obvious and advantageous way to go. They offer additional training, next-level performance opportunities, practical work experience, and the chance to make important connections with conductors, impresarios, board members, patrons, managers, and even other singers, all of whom can help a performer achieve the next career level. 

     

     

    Young Artist Programs are paid apprenticeships with professional companies. Depending on the program, the singers may perform touring children’s shows and concerts throughout their community, sing in the opera company’s chorus, sing comprimario roles and cover (understudy) principal roles, or even sing some principal roles themselves. They also usually receive training which may include voice lessons, musical and dramatic coaching, language classes, master classes with visiting artists, and more. The program may last for a summer, or full winter/spring opera season.  

     

     

     

     

    (Right: Tenor Charles Calotta gets some help from his dresser before heading onstage in 2022’s Rigoletto. Photo by J. Parra. )

     

     

         

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Mezzo-soprano Erin Alford 
     

     

     

    Right: Tenor Joseph McBrayer   

    Below: Soprano Ashley Shalna

     

    Florida Grand Opera’s Studio Artists are not apprentices or students. These are elite professionals at the beginning of their careers, with competition wins and professional roles under their belts. They come to FGO after an intensive national audition process and are selected from hundreds of applicants. And while they do offer concerts throughout the community and sing comprimario (secondary roles) on our mainstage, they also sing leading roles.   

     

    In our very first opera of the season, El matrimonio secreto, you will hear bass-baritone Phillip Lopez as Geronimo, the successful hotelier and papa who wants to see his daughters well-married. In the Sunday matinee performance, sopranos Page Michels and Ashley Shalna will portray those daughters, Carolina and Elisetta, respectively. Tenor Joseph McBrayer will sing the role of secret husband Paolino, while mezzo-soprano Erin Alford is Geronimo’s young, pretty, widowed sister Fidalma. We’re not kidding when we say that our Studio Artists are the backbone and face of Florida Grand Opera! 

     

    You won’t want to miss the opportunity to hear these terrific singers in a free preview of the 2022-23 season. The annual First Sing concert is your chance to meet and hear the Studio Artists, and get sneak peek of the season’s hits along with other musical treats. First Sing takes place on October 21, 8 pm at the Miracle Theater and October 22, 7:30 pm at the Center for Spiritual Living. El matrimono secreto runs November 12, 13 & 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Details and tickets at fgo.org.

     

     

     

     

    Bass-baritone Phillip Lopez in a Yale Opera production of Florencia en el Amazonas. Photo by Michael Fried. 

     

  • The Boulevard, The Avalon, the Century ... the Paraiso? South Beach Hotels in the 1980s
    10/03/2022

                                                              PHOTO: SOUTH BEACH IN THE 80S. Photo by Fred Minor 

     

    Mom jeans. Permed mullets for men and women. Giant shoulder pads in jacket and shirts. 

     

    1980s style, with very few exceptions, hasn’t aged well. But some things transcend their era; some things are classic, and achieve iconic status in spite of themselves. And the Miami of the 1980s --- especially South Beach, where the action for El matrimonio secreto is set ---  is one of those icons, perpetually identified with neon, Miami Vice, and a gorgeous landscape of Art Deco gems, vintage cars, and thundering nightclubs sitting just across from the sunlit turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean. 

     

    In the 1980s, Miami was struggling with a sinking economy, drugs, and violence, but this did not quell its vibrant spirit. South Beach was a hotspot for nightclubs and hotels then as it is now.  

     

                                                                                               PHOTO: HOTEL WEBSTER 

     

    FGO’s update of El matrimonio secreto centers on a family of Cuban immigrants working, living and loving in their family business. We can imagine Geronimo’s chic Hotel Paraiso nestled next door to a classic like the Boulevard Hotel, where celebrity guests like 80s rock star Rod Stewart could be seen at the bar and Cher held press conferences. Or perhaps Paraiso’s neon pink, teal, and black theme competes for dominance with the dignified mint and salmon exterior of the Hotel Webster or the neon-lit Hotel Avalon with its iconic bright yellow Oldsmobile Super 88 convertible parked out front. Perhaps the Hotel Paraiso has also served as a backdrop for a filming of Miami Vice or Scarface, like the Avalon! Wouldn’t that make Señor Geronimo proud?  

     

                                                                                          PHOTO: THE AVALON 

     

    But the Hotel Paraiso doesn’t need to compete with its colleagues—it has stories of its own to tell, and the biggest one unfolds right before our eyes in El matrimonio secreto, at its turquoise bar and around its glass-block, above-ground swimming pool. You see, there are three gorgeous women in Geronimo’s life—his sister, the widowed Fidalma, his eldest daughter Elisetta, and his youngest, Carolina. Greonimo doesn’t play favorites, but Carolina seems to be recognized as the prettiest, and well…that doesn’t sit well with the others. Especially when the rich, gauche American Count Robinson comes to court Elisetta and then decides he’d rather have Carolina who snuck off and married Paolino, a hotel employee, two months ago and still hasn’t told Papa.  

     

                                                                          PHOTO: HOTEL PARAISO SIGN 

     

    Like the Art Deco hotels that line South Beach, our version of El matrimonio secreto has undergone some refurbishment. Composed in 1792 by Domenico Cimarosa in Italian and set in Florence, Italy, the plot and the sparkling Mozart-like score stay the same. We’ve simply given it a 1980s Miami makeover, complete with a brand new Spanish translation. Think of it as an operatic telenovela!  

     

    We hope you’ll book a stay at the Hotel Paraiso this November 12, 13, or 15. Rumor has it it’s the most entertaining time of the year! www.fgo.org

     

     

  • TRANSLATING EL MATRIMONIO SECRETO: OPERA IN SPANGLISH
    09/22/2022

     

    When FGO General Director and CEO Susan T. Danis came up with the idea for a Spanish-language production of Il matrimonio segreto, updated to 1980s Miami and set among a family of hard-working, successful Cuban immigrants, she knew exactly who to turn to. 

     

    Dominican conductor and composer Darwin Aquino began his American career at Florida Grand Opera as an assistant conductor, and he considers it “a very big part of my professional life.” 

     

                                                          

                                                                                                   DARWIN AQUINO

     

    “I am very close to Florida Grand Opera, a company I am very grateful for as the company that gave me my first opportunities in the States,” he said. So, when Danis approached him to create a very special Spanish translation of this Mozart-era comic opera, Aquino was thrilled. Danis was, too, especially when Aquino informed her that he was now married --- to an Italian operatic mezzo-soprano by the name of Benedetta Orsi, who could help. 

     

                                                            

                                                                                                        BENEDETTA ORSI

     

    The timing could not have been more fortuitous. The commission came shortly before the beginning of the pandemic lockdown, so it was the perfect project for an energetic and creative young couple. Each capitalized on their own strengths. Benedetta prepared as a singer would. “I read it through once, then started translation piece by piece --- and then we applied it to the music. In a kind of way, it’s what a singer should do. Just digging into the libretto, exploring the language.” 

     

    The language turned out to be a bit of a challenge. Although the piece was to be updated to 1980s Miami and a Cuban household, Danis envisioned a sort of love letter to the many different Spanish-speaking cultures of South Florida. So Darwin and Benedetta got to work, uncovering Latinisms from Caribbean Spanish. “Here in Miami, we all call it ‘Espanenglish’,” he explained.  “For example, whenever they are talking about money, we say ‘cash’, because that’s something everyone relates to in Spanish, and in Miami. A term that we use a lot in Latin America is ‘vaina’ --- we use it for everything. And to tell people to be quiet, in Italian ‘tacetevi la’ or ‘silencio’, and in English it’s ‘shut up.’ We spent hours just trying to find the right word.” 

     

    Changing text often means altering the music in some ways. For example, if the original word has two syllables but it takes three to say it in translation, that can change note values, rhythms, vowels --- extremely critical to singers --- and phrasing. “When you change the text, you need to do it in a way that is comfortable for the singers, “Darwin acknowledged. “You cannot change that much. The vowels, the breathing, the phrasing, especially in the recitativi. We had so many recitativi and we were working so hard just in keep the shape of the music with words that were making sense.” 

     

    Precision was particularly important to Benedetta. “We really wanted to deliver to the audiences a product that is 90% close to the Italian one,” she said. “It has been a very accurate and a very precise work. We worked hard on that. But when we finished we were very sad.”  

     

    Why so sad? “We did it from the bottom of our hearts,” Darwin said. “This piece is very close to us in so many ways. It’s in Italian, we are translating into Spanish, I’m an opera conductor, composer, she’s an opera singer, the piece was originally set in Bologna, her hometown, we were in the process of having a baby, and so it was a family project ... it was not just work for us. We did it with a lot of love and a lot of care.” 

     

    Experience that work and care for yourself when El matrimonio secreto plays, November 12- 15, at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are on sale now at fgo.org.  

     

                                                              

                                                                                                DARWIN & BENEDETTA  

     

  • Miami Opera in the 80s
    09/16/2022

     

    FGO’s 2022-23 season kicks off with a visit to Miami Beach of the 1980s, where a hard-working Cuban dad, Señor Geronimo, is doing his best to run his hotel and marry off his daughters in El matrimonio secreto. It got us thinking -- suppose Geronimo and his family were opera fans? What would they have experienced on our stage? 

     

    The 1980s were a heady time for opera. The economy was booming, and that meant big dreams, big stars, and big productions everywhere. And although Florida Grand Opera did not yet exist as such, the neon decade was a heyday for Greater Miami Opera, which merged with The Opera Guild Inc. of Fort Lauderdale in 1994 to become FGO. Today, FGO maintains the collaborative spirit that created it, as one of the very few major opera companies to divide its performances between two non-neighboring cities.  

     

     

                                                                          1989-90 GREATER MIAMI OPERA BROCHURE

     

     

    The Greater Miami Opera helped build many an international career and its list of alumni reads like a Who’s Who of Opera. In the 1980s, Miami’s operatic stage was graced by a constellation of stars:  

     

    Luciano Pavarotti, Beverly Sills, Placido Domingo, Fiorenza Cossotto, Nicolai Gedda, Sherrill Milnes, Martina Arroyo, Gilda Cruz-Romo, Maria Ewing, Ruth Welting, Rosalind Elias, Judith Forst, , Jose van Damm, Carol Neblett, Ermanno Mauro, Justino Diaz, Alan Titus, Spiro Malas, Jerome Hines, Judith Blegen, James McCracken, Ingvar Wixell,  Cornell McNeill, Evelyn Lear, Richard Cross, Thomas Stewart, Sunny Joy Langton, Luis Lima, James Morris, Louis Quilico, Carlo Bini, Ashley Putnam, Lando Bartolini, Wendy White, and many others, including the best conductors and stage directors of the day.  

     

    No wonder these singers affectionately referred to the Greater Miami Opera as “the Met South.”  

     

     

        

                                                     Teresa Zylis-Gara and Luciano Pavarotti in 1984's Un ballo in maschera.

     

    Productions were big and lavish. In fact, Newsweek once wrote that Miami Opera was “possibly the splashiest opera company around.”[i] If the protagonists of El matrimonio secreto attended the opera, they might have enjoyed a perenniel favorite like Die Fledermaus, Carmen, La traviata, Un ballo in maschera, or Madama Butterfly. Or perhaps Señor Geronimo had a taste for the more ambitious undertakings the Miami Opera produced that decade: Simon Boccanegra, La gioconda, Boris Godonov, and Samson et Dalila --- works one rarely sees on regional opera stages these days, due to the expense of hiring, housing and costuming huge casts of soloists and choruses, not to mention bigger orchestras.  

     

    Innovative programming, then as now, was, baked into the core of this company. 1982 saw the world premiere of Robert (The Crucible) Ward’s Minutes till Midnight, a timely story of a nuclear physicist whose morality is challenged by his discoveries. There was also a well-received production of Carlisle Floyd’s classic Of Mice and Men. In 1983, the Greater Miami Opera collaborated with Washington Opera and New York City Opera for a new production of Carlo Montemezzi’s early twentieth century opera, L’amore de tre re. Then-General Director Robert Herman admitted that “This 20th Century opera is not well-known to much of the general public, so we, as usual, met with some resistance, but the production … was well-received.”[ii]  

     

     

                                                                                         

                                                                                       MINUTES TILL MIDNIGHT Libretto

     

    Nearly 40 years later, some resistance to new opera remains, but FGO remains committed to opera as a living, ever-expanding art form, and honors its roots by continuing to present challenging and vital contemporary works. The 2021-22 season’s A Streetcar Named Desire and Fellow Travelers were both great critical successes. In 2022-23, we honor our traditional roots with a raucous season of classics and with El matrimonio secreto, Gianni Schicchi, Tosca, and The Barber of Seville. Still, we can’t resist adding that Miami twist to Matrimonio or a sly nod to the contemporary with Michael Ching’s Schicchi sequel Buoso’s Ghost (which sounds remarkably like Puccini with some clever quotes from Mozart and Sondheim). We hope you’ll join us and witness how the 1980s spirit of adventure, passion for great music, and theatrical exploration lives on in today’s FGO and has inspired this season’s motto: Unplugged. Unamplified. Unbelievable.

     

    We think Señor Geronimo would approve. 

     

     [i] p. 102, The Greater Miami Opera: From Shoestring to Showpiece. 1941-1985. Herman, Robert and Mary Voelz Chandler. The Miami Opera Guild, 1985.  

     [ii] p. 128, The Greater Miami Opera: From Shoestring to Showpiece. 1941-1985. Herman, Robert and Mary Voelz Chandler. The Miami Opera Guild, 1985. 

     

  • Composer of the Month: Daniel Catan
    09/12/2022

     

    September 15 – October 15, 2022 marks Hispanic Heritage Month, and we’re kicking off with an exploration of one of the most important composers of the 21st century: Mexican composer Daniel Catán (April 3, 1949 - April 9, 2011).  His music is lush and romantic, laced with Latin American rhythms and lyrical vocal flights. It has been compared to Debussy, Ravel, Strauss, and even Puccini, and many of his works deal with mystical themes and issues of complicated morality. He composed orchestral works, chamber music, film and television music, art song, and even Latin pop, but he is best-known for his small but impressive catalogue of opera.

     

                                                         

                                                                                              Photo: Daniel Catán

     

    Born in Mexico to a family that highly valued music, Catán grew up hearing his father singing Spanish and Cuban songs. He  had learned from his own father, a Turk who spent seven years in Cuba on his journey to emigrate to Mexico, and fell deeply in love with the music and culture. Catán was heavily influenced by his childhood exposure to Cuban music, and later spent time in both Cuba and Miami in order to immerse himself in the culture.

     

    Catá was truly a citizen of the world. He attended boarding school in England, where he continued his musical studies, and later studied Philosophy at the University of Sussex before entering Princeton University as a doctoral student in composition. There, he studied with Milton Babbitt, Benjamin Boretz, and James Randall. His work took him all over the world. He was an administrator at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (The Palace of Fine Arts) in Mexico City, where he composed his first opera and founded a chamber orchestra. He lived for stints in Tokyo and Indonesia where he became obsessed with the Balinese gamelan which in turn influenced his work in La hija de Rappacini;  then Cuba and Miami, where the Cuban influences of his childhood were renewed. He tried New York City and California, landing at last in Austin, TX where he hoped to teach and mentor the composers of tomorrow.

     

                                

                                                                                       Photo: La hija de Rappacini

     

    Catán’s first opera, Encuentro en el ocaso (Encounter at Dusk), was produced in Mexico City in 1979.  La hija de Rappacini  (Rappacini’s Daughter) followed in 1983 and he continued to revise it through 1989. Rappacini is a gothic tale of a medieval mad scientist who experiments on the young student next door, while encouraging a love affair with his mysterious daughter. In 1984, it earned the distinction of being the first opera by a Mexican composer to be produced by a professional American company, in this case, San Diego Opera.

     

                                

                                                                                                  Photo: Florencia

     

    FGO fans may remember 2017-18’s Florencia in el Amazonas, a lyrical, mystical work, with a libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, based on the writings of the Latin American author Gabriel García Márquez. This is one of Catán’s best-known operas, and was the first opera in Spanish to be commissioned by a major American company (three, actually – it was a joint commission between Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera, and Seattle Opera, though it premiered in Houston). The combined beauty of the story, music, and hypnotically lush production was such as success that HGO commissioned a second Catán work, Salsipuedes, a tragicomedy in which a pair of newlywed couples mistakenly become entangled in a corrupt government plot to sell anchovies.

     

     

                                

                                                                                                   Photo: Salsipuedes

     

    Il Postino, based on the novel Ardiente paciencia by Antonio Skármeta and the popular 1994 film Il Postino by Michael Radford, explores the adventures of a shy postman on a small island in Italy, who befriends the exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. It was commissioned in 2011 by Los Angeles Opera and starred Plácido Domingo as Neruda, enjoying international premieres in Vienna and Paris. Catán’s friendship with Domingo helped propel his work to international success and recognition.

     

                                

                                                                                                Photo: Il postino

     

    Catán did not finish his final opera, Meet John Doe. He was working on it while in residence as a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, which commissioned the work. The opera was intended to be a departure from his previous efforts, his first entirely in English. It was also to be the first embracing North American sounds, even incorporating musical quotes from Benny Goodman and Stephen Foster, and textual quotes from Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. Catán wrote the libretto himself, based on the 1941 Frank Capra film of the same name. A journalist writes a fraudulent column about a homeless man who has threatened to kill himself on Christmas Eve in protest of society’s mistreatment of those in need. This action snowballs first into a social justice movement, then a corrupt political campaign, and finally, romance.

     

    Tragically, Catán passed away unexpectedly at his home in Austin before he could complete the opera. Meet John Doe was edited by Eduardo Diazmuñoz and completed by Diazmuñoz, Michaela Eremiasova and Jairo Duarte-López. Only a piano-vocal score exists. A reading of excerpts was presented in 2015 by Opera Fusion: New Works, a collaboration between Cincinnati Opera & the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, which commissioned the completion of the opera, but it has never received its full premiere.

     

    Join FGO as we continue to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month with El matrimonio secreto, Domenico Cimarosa’s hilarious Mozart-era romp which we’ve given a telenovela twist by updating it to 1980s’ Miami in a brand-new Spanish translation. Tickets at fgo.org.  

                                                            

  • Fach Facts: Mezzoa and Contraltos
    08/30/2022

     

    Welcome back to Fach Facts! Today’s exploration meanders through the melodious mezzo-soprano and its sensual sister contralto Fachs, or voice types. (For a more thorough discussion of Fach, see  Fach Facts: Sopranos).

     

    Mezzos and contraltos are the workhorses of the opera stage, traditionally filling trouser roles, villainesses, mothers, maids, and femme fatales. Singers jokingly sum up these roles as “witches, b*tches, and britches.” Of course, there’s more to it than that! 

     

    Let’s kick off with a translation of the term “mezzo,” which means “middle” or “midst” in Italian.  For example, “mezzanotte” means “midnight.” The first line of Dante’s Inferno is “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, ché la diritta via era smarrita.”   (“Midway through the journey of life, I found myself in a dark forest, for the direct pathway had been obscured.”) So, a mezzo-soprano is a “middle soprano.” (Pro tip: don’t call her that to her face)!

    Mezzos occupy the lower realms of the female voice types … except when they don’t. It can be confusing, but just remember --- while many roles are more or less “set in stone” when it comes to what voice type gets to sing them, others have a lot of leeway and are subject to personal preference. Also, there are fewer micro-Fachs for mezzos than for sopranos, so there’s a lot of crossover in roles.  Mezzos are usually divided into two categories: lyric or dramatic. Contraltos are related, but separate, Fach, similar to baritones and bass-baritones. 

     

    The lyric mezzo-soprano is the highest-sitting, lightest mezzo voice. She often sings florid music, such as Rossini or Handel, and if her particular voice is high and light enough, may cross over into some soprano roles. The fancy German term for this is Zwischenfach (zwih-shen-fack; literally “between Fachs”. Zwischens can occur in any female voice category but the term usually refers to mezzos who sing some soprano repertoire, and vice versa). Roles such as Zerlina in Don Giovanni or Despina in Cosí fan tutte, both of which tend to sit lower and not climb to the vocal stratosphere, are sometimes sung by mezzo-sopranos. Both Frederic von Stade and Cecilia Bartoli regularly take on these “in-between” lyric roles. But so does Susan Graham, whose lyric voice is on the more robust side. The role of Nella in this season’s Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost is a role that can easily be sung by a mezzo or a soprano, and so could be considered a Zwischen role.  

     

    Lyric mezzos also undertake a variety of pants or trouser roles --- roles in which the female-presenting artist plays a boy or man. Examples of trouser roles (also called travesti roles) are Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro or Prince Orlovsky in J. Strauss’ Die Fledermaus. In the 2021-22 season, audiences enjoyed Studio Artist lyric mezzo Stephanie Doche in the pants role of Narciso, one of Agrippina’s suitors in the opera of the same name; she also played the sultry Maddalena, a sort of Carmen-in-training, in Rigoletto. In the 2023 season, Doche is back in the leading role of Rosina in The Barber of Seville (a Zwischen role that also is sometimes performed by sopranos).  Also, keep an eye out for incoming lyric mezzo Studio Artist Erin Alford as jealous Aunt Fidalma in El matrimonio secreto.  

     

                                

                                               Stephanie Doche as Narciso with Christine Lyons in the title role of Agrippina 

     

    Lyric mezzos can, as mentioned, be on the lighter, higher side, or have a darker, fuller quality, like Denyse Graves or Elīna Garanča. Though it’s not an official term, industry insiders sometimes refer to robust lyrics as spinto mezzos, and they would be the equivalent of a full lyric or spinto soprano. In other words, they may have the vocal color and power to ride over thicker, louder orchestrations while maintaining a lot of vocal flexibility. Roles for these types of mezzo would include Charlotte from Werther, Dalila from Samson et Dalila, and the title role in Carmen.  As with spinto and dramatic sopranos, there is some crossover, and dramatic mezzos also sing them. There aren’t any roles for this voice type in the 2022-23 season, but you may remember Daniela Mack from 2019’s Werther or María José Montiel from 2016’s Carmen --- perfect examples of this spinto or heavier lyric mezzo type. 

     

                             

                                                                                             Daniela Mack

     

    Similar to the soprano soubrette, character mezzos are less a voice type than a role type. They can be lyric or dramatic mezzos, or contraltos. The characters are supporting players, often servants, mothers, or older people. For example, the Second Lady in The Magic Flute, Annina in La traviata, or Gertrude (the Nurse) in Romeo et Juliette are all character roles.  In the 2020-21 season, we saw Stephanie Doche in the character role of Eunice in A Streetcar Named Desire. In 2022-23, the character role of Berta in The Barber of Seville could be, and often is, done by a mezzo-soprano, especially when Rosina is sung by a soprano.  

     

                              

                                  Stephanie Doche as Eunice and Elizabeth Caballero as Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire

     

    Dramatic mezzos enjoy a big, powerful, colorful sound that can carry over Verdi and Wagner’s huge orchestras, big choruses, and other principal singers. Amneris in Aida, Fricka in Die Walküre, or Herodias in Salome are all dramatic mezzo roles. Famous dramatic mezzos include Fiorenza Cossotto, who sang Azucena in our 1984 production of Il trovatore, Tatiana Troyanos, our Eboli in 1979’s Don Carlo, and more recently, Dana Beth Miller, a dramatic mezzo-contralto who appeared as Ulrica in 2017’s Un ballo in maschera and Adalgisa in 2016’s Norma. In 2022-23, look for mean old Aunt Zita in Gianni Schicchi and Buoso’s Ghost, played by Robynne Redmon, a dramatic mezzo.  

     

                              

                                                                   Dana Beth Miller as Ulrica in Un ballo in maschera

     

    Zita is actually a contralto role, but true contraltos are rare, and many dramatic mezzos can easily sing the same repertoire. In fact, because more dramatic voice types lower as they age, some great artists who enjoyed wonderful careers as sopranos become dramatic mezzos or contraltos as they get older.   

     

    The contralto is the rarest female voice type and often misunderstood. The lowest-seated of all female voices, even industry insiders sometimes mistakenly believe that the power, darkness, and deepness of this tenorial female voice means that it is also heavy and/or lacking in high notes. However, many contraltos --- the magnificent Polish contralto Ewa Podles springs to mind --- possess voices that handle coloratura beautifully. In fact, many Rossini leading roles, such as Angelina in La cenerentola or Isabella in L’italiana in Algeri were composed for coloratura contraltos and historically have been sung by contraltos and dramatic mezzos like Giulietta Simionato, though the current casting trend favors lyric mezzos.  The other big misconception about contraltos is that they don’t have high notes --- the truth is that many have extensive vocal ranges that allow them to comfortably reach into tenor territory on the low end and easily sing C’s or higher at the top. In 2015’s The Consul, mezzo-turned-contralto Victoria Livengood sang the role of The Mother; and in 2013, then Studio Artist Carla Jablonski sang the role of Third Lady in The Magic Flute.  

     

                                                           

                                                                     Robynne Redmon as The Mother in The Consul 

     

    Thanks for taking a deep dive with us into the world of mezzo-sopranos and contraltos. If you’d like to really plumb the depths, check out Contralto Corner, a blog by and for contraltos with many musical links. https://www.contraltocorner.com/ And if you haven’t already, buy your subscription or a single ticket (they go on sale September 6!) and come check out your favorite low-voiced ladies. Tickets at fgo.org.  

  • FANTASY OPERA CAST GAME - PLAY NOW FOR PRIZES!
    08/01/2022

    CAST THAT OPERA: EL MATRIMONIO SECRETO

     

    Sports fans have their fantasy football. Film aficionados love to imagine what their favorite movies would have been like if different stars had been cast in the leading roles. And opera fans? There’s nothing better than sitting around a table of good food and drink with friends, fantasy casting an opera. We have an especially fun season planned for you in 2022-23, so we’re pre-gaming with and little game of Fantasy Opera Casting, and you’re invited to play along!

     

    Here’s your chance to “cast” our upcoming production of Domenic Cimarosa’s El matrimonio secreto (The Secret Marriage) --- have a few laughs, learn a bit more about this under-produced jewel of comic genius, and even win a beautiful swag bag stuffed with opera goodies (pick up only, no shipping).  Here’s how it works:

     

    Read on to find out more about Matrimonio’s characters, plot, and setting, including the FGO staff’s unique take. Then, come up with your own casts according to the following criteria and email them to us at csadler@fgo.org

     

     

    Option 1: Cast the opera with any real opera singer, living or dead. Who would you love to hear in these roles? Why?

     

    Option 2: Cast the opera using characters from any Miami-based TV series of any era. For example: Charlie’s Angels, The Golden GirlsDexterBurn NoticeNip/Tuck,and of course, the quintessential Miami TV drama, Miami Vice. Why do you think this character should play this role? You can mix characters from different shows, or cast Matrimonio entirely from the TV show’s characters. Who wouldn’t want to see Blanche play opposite Dexter?

     

    And now, here’s a character guide to help out with your casting.

     

    Geronimo (bass baritone) – a Cuban hotelier in Miami, with two daughters he’s trying to marry off. He is a great businessman and likes to think he’s handling his family, but the truth is, Geronimo really has no idea what his daughters, sister, or servant are up to!

     

    Carolina – Geronimo’s younger daughter, secretly married to Paolino. She’s sweet, smart, and just a bit sassy.

     

    Elisetta – the big sister, who Geronimo and Paolino hope to betroth to Count Robinson. Elisetta has a handsome dowry, but not handsome enough to compete with her sister’s beauty. She loves Carolina, but isn’t above a bit of jealousy.

     

    Fidalma, Geronimo’s unmarried sister, in love with Paolino.   She is vengeful upon discovering the young couple’s betrayal!

     

    Paolino  --- Geronimo’s employee, secretly married to Carolina. An earnest young man, he is deeply in love with Paolina.

     

    Count Robinson – wealthy nobleman who first agrees to consider Elisetta, but prefers Carolina and offers to take a smaller dowry with her. He is a somewhat blustery fellow, more interested in money than either of the women.

     

    To give you just a little more perspective to help with your casts, the FGO staff has prepared their own fantasy Matriomonio cast. Give it a read and then send your thoughts to csadler@fgo.org. The best cast from each options wins!

     

                                 

     

    Camilla the Chicken as Fidalma, Janice as Elisetta, Kermit the Frog as Paolino, Miss Piggy as Carolina, Pepe the King Prawn as Geronimo, and Sam the Eagle as Count Robinson.

     

    Don’t have your tickets yet? Subscribe at fgo.org. 

  • Composer of the Month: William Grant Still
    07/11/2022

    By Cindy Sadler, Marketing and Communications Manager

    COMPOSER OF THE MONTH - WILLIAM GRANT STILL
    by Cindy Sadler, FGO Marketing and Commications Manager

    William Grant Still (1895 – 1978), "the Dean of African-American Composers," is an important, fascinating figure in American opera and classical music history whose music and story are shamefully underrepresented in contemporary music education and culture. Born in Woodville, Mississippi and raised in Little Rock, Arkansas, Still was the son of teachers. He was a self-taught violinist, cellist, and oboist whose career included performing and arranging popular, commercial, jazz, film, and Blues music. Still's legacy includes over 200 operas, ballets, symphonies, children's works, chamber works, arrangements of folk themes, including many spirituals,  and instrumental, choral, and solo vocal works. Much of his career took place in New York and LA, but Still does have a special Miami connection --- read on to discover it. 

     

    An American Classical Music Hall of Fame 1999 inductee, Still earned scores of scholarships, awards, citations, and honors throughout his lifetime and posthumously, including Guggenheim and Rosenwald Fellowships, the Cincinnati Symphony's Jubilee Prize for Best Overture, a Freedoms Foundation Award, the Richard Henry Lee Patriotism Award, and the 1982 Annual Prize from the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters, among many others. 

     

    Maestro Still's was a career of many distinguished "firsts."  

     

    He became the first Black composer to have a complete score performed by a major orchestra when, in 1931, the Rochester Philharmonic performed his Symphony No. 1 in Ab Major, "Afro-American." Many regard this as his best work and one of the most popular American symphonies of all time. It reflects Still's signature Black folk and jazz sound, his antiracism work, and the influences of his involvement with the Harlem Renaissance. Listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hzFcm6HCeI 

     

    Still was the first Black man to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the United States. In 1936, he took the podium at the Hollywood Bowl to lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in his own composition.  

     

    William Grant Still conducts an all-white orchestra, circa 1936.

    In 1955, he conducted the New Orleans Philharmonic at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA, becoming the first Black conductor to direct a major symphony orchestra in the Deep South. 

     

    While arranging music for Willard Robison's Deep River program on WOR Radio in New York City, white orchestra members requested that Maestro Still be allowed to conduct. He did so for many months, becoming the first Black man to conduct a major American network radio orchestra, significantly, one whose members were all white. (Source: William Grant Still: A Study in Contradictions, Catherine Parsons Smith).  

    His most well-known opera, Troubled Island, was produced in 1943 at the New York City Center and by the New York City Opera in 1949, making Still the first Black composer to have an opera produced by a major American company.  

     

    A Bayou Legend, set to wife Vera Arvey's libretto, was the first opera by a Black composer to be televised over a national network in the US. The 1981 production was a collaboration between Mississippi's Opera/South and the Mississippi Educational Television Authority.  

    Still's music is a sophisticated amalgamation of Black folk, jazz, and blues influences combined with his interest in experimental music and in expressing the modern African American experience through his sound. Gershwin fans may hear some similarities, but the style is uniquely Still's. The result is often exuberant, mournful, heart-wrenching, or touching, but it is immediately identifiable as American.  

     

    Perhaps due to the era in which Still wrote most of his staged works, the 1930s-1950s, his operas received few performances at their premieres and, unfortunately, are not often performed today. When staged, it is often by Black opera companies or with predominantly Black casts, although characters' race is rarely specified in Still's works. 

     

    He composed nine operas, two of which he discarded (Blue Steel, forbidden from professional production, and Southern Interlude, unfinished). The others include Troubled Island, a three-act opera whose libretto was started by poet Langston Hughes (who abandoned it to cover the Spanish Civil War) and completed by Still's wife and frequent collaborator, the writer Vera Arvey. Set in 1791, Troubled Island chronicles Jean Jacques Dessalines' fall from grace as Haiti's first independent leader. Its premiere took place at New York City Opera in 1949. Reviews were mixed, but a critic friend of Still's told him that his colleagues had deliberately panned him because he was "colored." There have been few performances since the three given at NYCO in 1949. Arkansas' Opera in the Rock presented it in 2018, and as recently as 2020, a British company called the Black Swan Theatre and Opera Company had programmed it. See an excerpt from their filming project

     

    Will Liverman as Bob ad Nichole Cabell as Mary in Opera Theatre of St. Louis' 2021 production of Highway 1, USA.

    More successful, perhaps, is Still's hour-long two-act called Highway 1, USA. The gritty, intimate story introduces Mary and Bob, a loving couple who own a gas station on a lonely stretch of highway. They have spent much of their income and lives fulfilling a deathbed request to educate and support Bob's arrogant and ungrateful younger brother, Nate, with tragic consequences. And here is the promised Miami Connection: the work premiered on the composer's 68th birthday, May 11, 1963, at Coral Gables High School as part of the University of Miami's Festival of American Music! Opera/South in Jackson, Mississippi gave Highway 1, USA its professional premiere in 1972, and Opera Ebony presented its 1977 New York premiere. More recently, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis revived the work in Fall 2021, starring Will Liverman (whose 2022 Met performance of Fire Shut Up in My Bones was a season highlight), Nicole Cabell, and Christian Mark Gibbs. Enjoy a glimpse at the music and plot in OTSL's informative preview video.

     

    Still's first opera, A Bayou Legend, libretto by Arvey, is set in a deeply religious twentieth-century Creole community of the Mississippi Delta. A young woman exacts deadly revenge on a man who rejects her romantic overtures because he is in love with a local spirit, that of his lover in a previous life. Composed in 1941, the opera waited 33 years for its professional premiere by Opera/South, which also revived it in 1976. In the same year, it made its West Coast premiere at East Los Angeles Central College. A recording of the 1979 Opera/South can be heard on YouTube. The short, evocative overture leads into a challenging but accessible and lovely tenor aria, "Children of the World," which introduces the setting and its mystical character. 

     

    Still's other operas include Costaso, Minette Fontaine, Moto,  and The Pillar, Information about them and Still's other works is available at www.williamgrantstillmusic.com

     

    No discussion of William Grant Still is complete without a mention of his small but stunning collection of art songs. Songs of Separation is his best-known song cycle, consisting of six settings of the works of Harlem Renaissance poets Arna Bontemps, Philippe Thoby Marcelin, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Countee Cullen, and Langston Hughes. A personal favorite is Dunbar's very short, witty "Parted."  Still also composed From the Hearts of Women, four settings of poems by Arvey. His stand-alone songs are equally lovely. Enjoy "Grief" performed by baritone Kenneth Overton and pianist Dr. Howard Watkins.

     

    Want to learn more about this overlooked American composer and his music? Check out the resources below. And let us know: no promises, but if FGO were to stage a William Grant Still opera, which one would you most like to see? Reach us at pr@fgo.org   

     

     

    WILLIAM GRANT STILL RESOURCES 

    www.williamgrantstillmusic.com 

    www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200186213 

    www.laphil.com/about/watch-and-listen/get-to-know-william-grant-still-jr 

    Arvey, Verna. In One Lifetime. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1984. 

    Spencer, J.M. The William Grant Still Reader. A special issue of Black Sacred Music: A Journal of Theomusicology, 6 no. 2. (Fall 1992). 

    Still, Judith Anne, Michael J. Dabrishus and Carolyn L. Quin. William Grant Still: A Bio-bibliography. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1996. 

    Parsons Smith, Catherine. William Grant Still: A Study in Contradictions. UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS, 2000. 

    Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford 

  • FACH FACTS: SOPRANOS
    07/11/2022

       

    Welcome to Fach Facts, a fun new series on Backstage Blog where we'll explore opera's various voice types and highlight the voices you can expect to hear in the coming season. Today, we're slogging through the several sorts of sopranos, but first, let's get Fachsy.  

     

    One of the things that makes opera so different from other genres of lyric music is the Fach system. You may have heard this fancy German word tossed around at the opera. It sounds like "Fahk" as if the word "fox" had a k on the end instead of an x,  and it's not as fancy as all that! "Fach"  can be translated from German as "compartment" or "field" as in "field of study", and in the context of music, refers to specific types of voices and the body of repertoire to which they're best suited. In the US, we use "Fach" interchangeably with "voice type." 

     

    Many devoted opera fans --- stand proud, my friends! --- enjoy discussing the Fachs of their favorite singers the same way sports aficionados geek out over their heroes' statistics. It's part of the fun to debate whether the tenor has the vocal heft for this particular role or if it's kosher for a soprano to sing Carmen. Germany conforms to a somewhat rigid Fach system, with roles and voices neatly assigned to certain Fachs. In the US, however, argument is a sport. Passionate dialogue with your fellow opera-goers over which voice type is best for a particular role, the Fach a particular role belongs to, and which Fach a certain singer belongs to are all part of the fun and games. Often, it comes down to personal preference. To complicate matters further, singers often change Fach as their voices mature, especially lighter voices. Above all, remember that Fach is very rarely cut and dried!  

     

    One more definition before we start at the top of the list. The word is "tessitura," tess-ih-TOO-rah, meaning a range of notes. You might hear a singer say, "That aria sits kind of high in my tessitura," or "that aria has a high tessitura." They're saying that the piece of music in question is a bit too high for them to comfortably sing in the correct key or requires a lot of singing in the higher part of their range. Tessitura is one of the considerations in determining what Fach a singer belongs to. 

     

    To get you ready to rumble, we'll be exploring the four basic voice types and their most common micro-Fachs, beginning with, naturally, the prima donnas: the sopranos. 

     

     

    Several Sorts of Sopranos 

     

     

    The lyric coloratura soprano is the Mariah Carey of the opera world, with that whistle-like high range. She loves to float in the stratosphere and often has a crystalline sound in the top. Her voice is also agile and can move quickly --- that's why she's called a coloratura. More definitions! Coloratura, meaning coloring, refers to fast, florid music with many ornamentations; and this type of music is associated with coloratura sopranos. You'll also hear a lot of it in Rossini's The Barber of Seville (incidentally, our final mainstage offering of 2023).   He is notorious for it! Fun fact: although the leading role of Rosina was originally composed for a lyric mezzo-soprano, it is frequently performed by lyric coloratura sopranos.  

     

                                    

                                                                             Nadine Sierra as Gilda in FGO's 2012 Rigoletto

     

    Famous coloratura sopranos include Joan Sutherland, who in 1965 graced the FGO (then the Greater Miami Opera) stage in the leading role in Lucia di Lammermoor opposite an unknown young Italian tenor, Luciano Pavarotti, making his American debut. Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa, who sang Pamina in our 2012 production of The Magic Flute, is currently one of the crown holders, as is Nadine Sierra, who sang Gilda in our 2011-2012 Rigoletto. Last season, we heard lyric coloratura sopranos Sharlene Joynt as Gilda in Rigoletto and Christine Lyons in the title role of Agrippina.  

     

                                    

                                         Christine Lyons as Agrippina with Kenneth Tarver as Nerone in FGO's 2022 Agrippina

     

    But wait! One kind of coloratura soprano isn't enough. We also have dramatic coloratura sopranos. Think of these ladies as coloratura sopranos on steroids. They're every bit as flexible and high-flying as their lyric sisters, but the voice has more power. These are our Queens of the Night from Mozart's The Magic Flute or Violettas in La traviata. Currently, Diana Damrau and Natalie Dessay are two of the best-known dramatic coloraturas, but longtime opera fans will undoubtedly think of the iconic American Beverly Sills, who appeared as The Countess in our 1965 production of The Marriage of Figaro, and again in 1980 as Rosalinda in a sold-out production of Die Fledermaus. In our 2019 Don Giovanni, Elizabeth de Trejo undertook the dramatic coloratura role of Donna Anna.  

     

    While lyric and dramatic coloratura roles aren't quite interchangeable, personal taste comes into casting choices, and many coloraturas sing roles from both mini-Fachs. Sometimes --- most of the time, even --- Fach is in the ear of the listener! 

     

                                    

                                                                       Evan Kardon as Sophie in our 2019 Werther

     

    Lyric soprano is easily the most heavily populated Fach, and its sub-Fachs include light, medium, and fuller versions --- soubrette, lyric, and full lyric. It's not uncommon for singers to "graduate" from lighter to heavier as their voices change or age. In general, lyric soprano voices might be characterized as light, youthful, tender, warm, flexible, and sweet. They generally do not possess the extreme high range of coloraturas, but they often are required to sing a sturdy chest voice.  

     

    Lighter, higher lyric sopranos often take on soubrette characters, what singers refer to as the "ina-etta roles," like Barbarina (The Marriage of Figaro) or Marzelline (Fidelio). Soubrettes tend to be very young, flighty, flirty, or saucy characters with birdlike tones. Kathleen Battle is a prime example of a well-known soubrette; Lisette Oropesa also began her career with many soubrette roles before moving into heavier repertoire. If you heard 2019's Don Giovanni or Werther, you heard an example of soubrettes in Aslief Willmer as Zerlina and Evan Kardon as Sophie, respectively. In our upcoming season, be on the lookout for one of the quintessential soubrette roles: Lauretta, the lovelorn daughter of the title character in Gianni Schicchi who also appears in its companion piece, Buoso's Ghost. She's the one who sings "O mio babbino caro," the show's biggest tune and one of the most famous arias in all of operaland.  

     

                                                                        

                                                                 Ailyn Perez as Mimi with Arturo Chacon Cruz as Rodolfo in La boheme, 2012

     

    Lyric sopranos with a little more heft sing a wide range of girlish young heroine roles, often innocent and ladylike but also clever. Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Micaëla in Carmen, or Liu in Turandot are lyric sopranos. Famous lyric sopranos include Leona Mitchell, Anna Netrebko (who has begun to take on roles from a range of heavier Fachs), Angela Gheorghiu, and Barbara Frittoli. In last season's A Streetcar Named Desire, Rebecca Krynski-Cox played the lyric soprano role of Stella, and in 2012 Ailyn Perez was our Mimi in La boheme.. In 2022-23, you'll hear lyric sopranos in the roles of Carolina and Elisetta (El matrimonio secreto) and La Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso's Ghost. 

     

     

    Full lyric sopranos possess an even more robust sound than their lighter-voiced sisters, with tones that lean to creamy rather than silvery. Roles like Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni or Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire, both recently embodied by Cuban-American soprano Elizabeth Caballero on our stage, are full lyric roles. Puerto Rican soprano Ana Maria Martinez, who sang the title role in Florencia en el Amazonas with FGO in 2018, is a full lyric, as is the incomparable Renée Fleming (though she really can, and does, sing anything). In our 2022-23 season, listen for Nella in Gianni Schicchi/Buoso’s Ghost. 

     

                                                                        

                                                                 Mirella Freni and Luciano Pavarotti in our 1978 La boheme

     

    Spinto sopranos enjoy the brilliant high notes of the lyric, with a plummier heft in the middle and chest voices. This is the soprano heroine often favored by Verdi and Puccini: think the title roles in Madama Butterfly or Aida. Famous spintos include Mirella Freni, who appeared at FGO opposite Pavarotti in 1978's La bohème, and Angel Blue, who recently won raves as Bess in the Metropolitan Opera's production of Porgy and Bess. Tosca, which we'll hear in 2023, can be sung by a spinto. But she can also be sung by a singer of our next Fach … 

     

                                    

                                                                                     Kirsten Chambers as Salome (2018)

     

    Dramatic sopranos are the powerlifters of the operatic soprano world. Vocal weight is more robust, with stamina and power to be heard over a large, loud orchestra, big chorus, and other principals with similar vocal weight. The heavier Verdi and Puccini roles like Aida, Amelia in Un ballo in maschera, and the title role in Turandot are all sung by dramatics (and sometimes by spintos). American soprano Sondra Radvanovsky is a titleholder as one of the most significant dramatic sopranos currently singing. Other famous dramatics include the incomparable Leontyne Price, Eva Marton, and Jessye Norman. Our 2017-2018 season featured dramatic sopranos Melody Moore and Kirsten Chambers in the title role of Salome. In 2022-23, you'll hear a dramatic soprano as the fiery Tosca. Or is she a spinto? ;) You be the judge! 

     

                                    

                                                                                   Lise Lindstrom as Turandot (2010)

     

    Wagnerian sopranos are a type of dramatic soprano, but in a class by themselves. Not only is great power and stamina demanded, but Wagnerian tessiture (that's plural for tessitura) can sit very high. The vocal quality is characterized by trumpetlike brilliance and clarity of tone, both of which are necessary to be heard over Herr Wagner's massive orchestra and thick orchestrations. Of course, these sopranos are not restricted to singing Wagner; they often undertake dramatic roles. Opera history reveres its dramatic sopranos like Kirsten Flagstad, Astrid Varnay, and Birgit Nilsson, who sang Turandot here in 1962. More recent Wagner divas include American sopranos Christine Goerke, Christine Brewer, and Lise Lindstrom, who sang her signature role, Turandot, at FGO in 2010. 

     

    And there you have it --- a crash course in soprano voice types. For more fun, go to YouTube and look up some of these singers, especially if you're unfamiliar with their names. And be on the lookout for your favorite types in our upcoming season.  

    Subscriptions are on sale now. 

     

    By Cindy Sadler 
    FGO Marketing and Communications Manager 

  • Gaze on this gallery of rising stars
    05/05/2022

     

    Florida Grand Opera’s 80th Anniversary Season concluded on Sunday, May 22, with a fantastic concert by our Studio Artists. It was, as always, a bittersweet farewell. Watching these talented young artist grow throughout the season and witnessing their final triumph is always an emotional occasion for lovers of great music. The happy news is that we’ll most likely get another chance to see and hear them in future roles as their careers take off. What are they doing now? 

     

                                                               

     

    Soprano Amanda Olea has won a coveted position as an apprentice artist at Santa Fe Opera this summer and will appear in the world premiere of Huang Ruo and David Henry Hwang’s  M.Butterfly. She will also make her international debut at the Festival Internacional Divertimento in Mexico City in a one-woman opera composed by her father, Oscar Olea, entitled Diario de un Fantasma. In 2021-22, Ms. Olea appeared with FGO as the Mexican Woman in A Streetcar Named Desire, Countess Ceprano in Rigoletto, and Miss Lightfoot in Fellow Travelers. Follow her career at www.amandaolea.com.  

     

                                 

     

    Soprano Page Michels will next be heard in a remembrance concert for Edward Berkeley at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. A recent graduate of Rice University in Houston, Ms. Michels was seen at FGO in the roles of the Page in Rigoletto and Lucy in Fellow Travelers.  

     

                                 

     

    Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Doche, the only second-year Studio Artist of the season, travels to Baton Rouge to sing the roles of Nicklausse/Muse/Mother in Les contes des Hoffman at Opera at Louisiane and the title role in Ariodonte with Opera Neo. Ms. Doche received rave reviews for her roles in FGO’s 20/21 season: Eunice Hubbell in A Streetcar Named Desire, Maddalena/Giovanna in Rigoletto, and Narciso in Agrippina.  Keep up with her career at www.stephaniedoche.com

     

                                 

     

    During his tenure as an FGO Studio Artist, tenor Charles Calotta won acclaim for his roles as The Young Collector in A Streetcar Named Desire, Borsa in Rigoletto, and Tommy McIntyre in Fellow Travelers. Hje will next sing Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte and cover Alfredo in La traviata at Opera North; sing Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville at Winter Harbor Music Festival, and create the roles of Mr. Mu/Vizier Mummu in the world premiere of Cerise Lim Jacobs’ and Elena Ruehr’s Cosmic Cowboy with White Snake Projects. Stay tuned to Mr. Calotta’s career at www.charlescalottatenor.com

     

                                 

     

    Baritone Michael Pandolfo heads to Iowa, where he will join Des Moines Metro Opera as an ensemble artist and sing the role of Robin Starveling in A Midsummer Night’s Dream while covering Demetrius. At FGO, he sang the roles of Marullo in Rigoletto and Senator McCarthy in Fellow Travelers. Keep up with Mr. Pandolfo at www.michaelpandolfo.com

     

    Bass-baritone Erik Danielson made the most of his FGO season in the roles of Count Ceprano in Rigoletto, Gen. Arlie/Sen. Potter/Interrogator- in Fellow Travelers, and Lesbo in Agrippina. You can watch his star rise at www.erikdanielsonbaritone.com

     

    Baritone Christopher Humbert joined the Studio Artists fresh from a stint as Zuniga in Carmen with Palm Beach Opera, just in time win accolades for his comic turn as Pallante in Agrippina. Mr. Humbert is pursuing his Master’s Degree at Boston University. Follow his career at www.chrishumbert.com

     

    Keep your telescope trained for any one of these young rising stars, coming soon to stages all over the world --- and who knows, some may be back to South Florida sooner than you think! Keep an eye out at www.fgo.org and while you’re there, don’t forget to purchase your 2022-23 subscription! Benefits include free admission to special Studio Artist concerts and events.  

     

  • Introducing Handel’s fiercest heroine and best opera " Agrippina!
    05/05/2022

    Generally speaking, people enjoy seeing the bad guys get their just desserts. Operatic villains are often punished for their audacity with death or disgrace in stories.

     

    But in Handel’s Agrippina, this fierce, manipulative heroine not only escapes punishment, but triumphs, and you may well find yourself rooting for this beautiful bad girl.

     

    Agrippina was composed in 1709 for Venice’s Carnival season, and it was a huge success. In those days, it was unusual for new operas to receive more than two or three performances; Agrippina received 27. According to some historians, Cardinal Vincenzo Grimaldi’s sly, clever libretto is a reflection of his rivalry with then-Pope Clementi XI. Regardless, it is designated by the New Penguin Opera Guide as one of the best libretti Handel ever set.

     

    Handel’s score is equally brilliant and regarded as his first, and one of his best, operatic masterpieces. At the time of its writing, it was common to borrow or adapt from one’s own compositions as well as those of others; but Handel managed this with an inventiveness and style that have made Agrippina one of his most popular and frequently-revived works.

     

    The story of Agrippina is a fictionalized account of historical people and events. It is based on the machinations of Agrippina the Younger, the Roman empress and wife of Claudius, to place Nero, her son by another marriage, on the throne. But you won’t see any togas or chariots on the stage of Miami’s Shrine Temple! Stage director Jeffery Buchman (A Streetcar Named Desire) has whipped up a delightfully updated version for audiences to enjoy. (Stay tuned for a delicious preview).

     

    FGO’s version of this tale is delightfully updated to the Regency Era, a particular time in British history ranging between 1795 to 1837 when an ailing King George III was rendered unfit to rule and his sons George IV and William IV took over. Fans of Jane Austen, period romance novels, or a certain popular Netflix series will recognize the distinctive dress of the time: Empire-waist gowns for ladies, high-necked collars with intricate cravats, cutaway jackets with tight pants and boots for gentlemen. Stay tuned for glimpses of the glamour, and in the meantime, get your tickets and reserve free motorcoach transportation from Broward County at www.fgo.org

     

    Agrippina, May 14 – 19 at the Miami Scottish Rite Temple. 

  • Florida's Own Lavender Scare
    04/25/2022

     

    During the 1950s persecution of Communists, homosexuals, and anyone who failed to sufficiently condemn them was a daily reality of life, especially for those who worked for the federal government. News of the House Un-American Activities Committee, the Cold War, the latest Hollywood big shot to be blackballed were all part of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare, as was the persecution of gay and lesbian federal employees which came to be known as the Lavender Scare. 

     

    Florida had its very own Lavender Scare in the 1950s, and like its national-level namesake, it is largely forgotten by history. In 1956, The Florida Legislative Investigative Committee, aka the Johns Committee (after its founder, Sen. Charley Johns), was formed to prevent racial desegregation. Johns took a few pages from McCarthy’s very successful playbook, claiming that Communists were behind the “racial agitation” of the Civil Rights Movement. They created lists of suspicious organizations --- topped by the NAACP and the ACLU, but had little luck in toppling these powerful institutions with their excellent lawyers. Instead, they turned to the persecution of homosexuals. 

     

     

     

    Like their Capitol Hill counterparts, the Johns Committee members believed that homosexuals, then deeply closeted for fear of social and legal repercussions, were easy prey for Communist blackmailers. With no evidence to back up his claims, Johns also insisted that homosexuals were pedophiles who dedicated to recruiting young people to their cause. Dozens of university professors, public school teachers, and students were investigated, interrogated, humiliated, intimidated, and ultimately fired or expelled, their lives ruined.  

     

    Fellow Travelers is set during this time period of intense paranoia and injustice, but ultimately, it is a love story between two very different people who want different things --- or at least, have different beliefs about what they can realistically have, given who they are and the times they live in. The questions of what must be hidden from society’s eyes, who can be trusted to make decisions about bodies, relationships, and families, and what kinds of government actions are justified remain vital today.  

     

    There are two more chances to see FGO’s highly acclaimed Fellow Travelers: Tuesday and Thursday, April 26 & 28, 7:30 p.m. at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. See www.fgo.org for tickets.

  • Voices of the Scare
    04/15/2022

     

    Lt. Joan Cassidy was the daughter of a proud Navy family. Both her parents served in World War I; her brother and sister in World War II. In 1953, at just 26 years old, Lt. Cassidy held highest-level security clearance and headed a Navy intelligence division.

     

    She was serving in Pearl Harbor when she abandoned her dream, the promising career she was building, and joined the Navy Reserve.

     

    Joan Cassidy was a lesbian, and her government didn’t want her.

     

    "I thought to myself, what if somebody goes digging around and finds out, I would lose everything," she said. "I wanted it so badly, but it scared the living daylights out of me…" The tragedy of what happened 59 years ago was, Cassidy said, "that every one of us had joined the Navy because we were so proud of our country and wanted to serve." *

     

    It’s not easy to find first-hand accounts of people who endured the Lavender Scare, the 1950s anti-gay moral panic that accompanied the anti-Communist Red Scare. It was a painful period that many people didn’t want to discuss, many who were working then are elderly or have passed, and a great many papers associated with the era have been destroyed or disappeared. (such as Herbert Hoover’s “Sex Deviate” papers, a great number of which were burned in 1977 by the FBI).

     

    It makes stories like Thomas Mallon’s Fellow Travelers even more poignant as a fictional account of the historical lost human potential, trauma, destroyed careers, loves and lives it represents. Gregory Spears’ and Greg Pierce’s operatic interpretation was praised by the New York Times at its 2016 world premiere as “a near-perfect example of fast-flowing musical drama” by The New York Times in its 2016 world premiere, while the Wall Street Journal acknowledged, “Mr. Spears’s subtle, lyrical music is beautiful without being obvious or sentimental…”

     

    Fellow Travelers makes its Florida debut on Saturday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. and plays on April 24 (2:00 p.m.), 25th, and 28th (7:30 p.m.) at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. Buy tickets here. Free motorcoach transportation from Miami is available to ticket holders. Register here.

     

    *The information about Joan Cassidy and the direct quote come from SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES. “Lavender Scare: U.S. Fired 5,000 Gays in 1953 'Witch Hunt.'” ABC News. 5 Mar 5, 2012, 9:33 AM. abcnews.go.com/Health/lavender-scare-us-fired-thousands-gays-infamous-chapter/story?id=15848947

  • The deeper meaning behind "Fellow Travelers"
    04/07/2022

     

    What is a Fellow Traveler?

     

    It sounds rather romantic. “Fellow” implies commonality, even a bit of community. “Traveler” implies movement in a specific direction. “Fellow Travelers” then are those who share a journey and perhaps a direction or some common traits or values.

     

    There is another, much more sinister definition of “Fellow Travelers.” It refers to sympathizers and supporters of certain organizations who are not necessarily members or regular participants in their activities. In the US, the term was used to refer to Communist sympathizers during the Red Scare of the 1950s, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt against Communists supposed to be hidden in the ranks of government, Hollywood, and throughout society. Thousands of people lost their jobs, were blacklisted from future employment in their fields, and were hounded and persecuted in society as a result of being suspected or condemned Communists – or Fellow Travelers.

     

    Lesser known, but much longer-lasting and no less destructive was the Lavender  Scare of the same period. McCarthy and his supporters turned their suspicions on those they deemed to be easy prey for blackmailers --- gays, lesbians, and others who seemed “different.”

     

    In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, prohibiting homosexuals from holding government positions. LGBTQ Americans had been under siege by their government since the forties, but Eisenhower’s new policy subjected thousands of suspected gay and lesbian government employees to investigation, interrogation, persecution, resignations, and firings.  Between 5,000 and 10,000 gays and lesbians quietly resigned or were fired. Many others managed to stay closeted, but curtailed their professional ambitions in order to stay under the radar. Some killed themselves. The policy remained in place until 1995, when President Bill Clinton rescinded it by executive order.

     

    Based on Thomas Mallon’s novel, Fellow Travelers is a story written in 2007 about events and attitudes from the 1950s that are still making headlines in 2022. Today, laws like Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill which states that "A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels" and Texas’ laws denying gender-affirming medical treatment to transgender youth and targeting families with trans children for criminal intervention and separation threaten to force some people back into the closet. In Fellow Travelers, the deeply-closeted protagonists must hide their identities and their love for fear of losing their jobs, reputations, families, and social standing. This opera is an opportunity to explore the effects of “othering” people who deviate from whatever those in power have declared “normal.” 

     

    Despite the heavy subject matter, Fellow Travelers is ultimately a story of love and friendship between a young college grad experiencing his first job and first love affair with a man; a suave and experienced State Department official known as a bit of a player; and their good friend and colleague, a woman of courage and conviction who speaks her mind and follows her conscience. Gregory Spears’ score is accessible, intimate, and poignant.

     

    This is art that challenges and provokes thought even as it entertains. Get your tickets today and travel back to recent history, where the world may seem more familiar than you’d think.

     

    Fellow Travelers, April 23 – 28 at the Lauderhill Performing Arts Center. Tickets at www.fgo.org. Free motorcoach transportation from Miami --- register here

  • The reviews are in!
    03/17/2022

    Race to see this riveting Rigoletto! 

     

    No need to take our word that Rigoletto is opera at its grandest. Bill Hirschman of Florida Theater Onstage praised the “Glorious music flowing out of the orchestra pit under conductor Pacien Mazzagatti; fluid staging from director Kathleen Belcher; lush sets and costumes from a New Orleans production; and soaring vocal performances from the three solid leads.”

     

     

    Hirschman, who reviews theater and Broadway, was especially impressed with veteran baritone Todd Thomas in the title role. Thomas, he wrote, “… uses his baritone like an actor infusing lines with pure passion or a growling anger. His tall, broad-shouldered hunchback stomps around the court in the multi-colored motley … with seeming good-natured gaiety. But his face (for those in the front rows) communicates someone who hates the innate deception in the face of ridicule and abuse heaped on him daily.”

     

    Sharleen Joynt as Gilda was singled out for her beautiful singing and believable characterization. “Her voice effortlessly climbs and drops and trills through Verdi’s impassioned runs. As ludicrous as Gilda can be in 2022, Joynt makes her credible, even when she sacrifices her life for the scumbag Duke.”

     

    Speaking of the Duke, the character might be a jerk but he somehow gets the most memorable tunes, and Hirschman praised Jose Simerilla Romero’s “lush tenor as the Duke croons … with a salacious abandon that begs for a punishment that never comes.”

     

     

    It’s an exciting evening of opera at its grandest and singing at its best, so head on down to the Arsht tonight at 7:30 for the last Miami Rigoletto!  Can't make it tonight? There are two more performances, March 31 and April 2, at the Broward Performing Arts Center. Tickets at www.fgo.org

     

  • RIGOLETTO'S LOYAL LADIES
    02/28/2022

     

    March is Women’s History Month, so let’s talk about the ladies of Rigoletto. Despite how badly the Duke speaks of women in his famous aria (“A woman is fickle, like a feather on the wind,” he sings), the opera’s two main female characters are nothing if not loyal. And while Gilda and Maddalena might not be feminist icons, they do remind us that many women around the world live in similar circumstances, even in the twenty-first century and offer the opportunity for important conversations about representation and art. 

     

    Gilda is Rigoletto’s daughter. “Sheltered” really isn’t a strong enough word to describe her. In his desire to protect her from the cruel world, Rigoletto keeps her locked up behind high garden walls. He won’t tell her anything about herself. She does not even know her own family name, or anything about her long-dead mother. As much as Rigoletto loves Gilda, he infantalizes her by isolating her and keeping her in ignorance in the name of purity and safety. Education would have been better protector for this courageous young woman. 

     

    Rigoletto’s libretto (story, or book) doesn’t specifically say how old Gilda is, but she is probably a young teenager, fifteen or sixteen. She is sweet and loving; father and daughter are very close and mean the world to each other. But Gilda is also extremely naïve. It isn’t hard for the worldly Duke to convince the dazzled young girl that he loves her. For Gilda, this first love is so exciting and overwhelming that even when she learns his true nature, she is willing to die for him. 

     

     

    Maddalena is Gilda’s polar opposite. Raised by her assassin brother to lure his victims into their home on the pretext of having a good time, she’s street-smart, cynical, and wise to the ways of men like the Duke. But even Maddalena can’t resist his appeal. After just one tryst, she begs Sparafucile to spare his life.  

     

     

    Maddalena is a throaty, velvety mezzo, befitting her sensual charms. Verdi casts Gilda as a very high soprano. She must sound young and pure, yet be able to negotiate the crystalline delicacy of “Caro nome,” the lovely expression of her very first love, a duet of filial love that spans joy, bittersweet nostalgia, and sorrow; the dramatic storm trio, and of course, the famous Act III quartet in which her father attempts to hammer home the Duke’s faithlessness. Praised for her "silvery, sparkling, substantial and resonant soprano" [Die Deutsche Bühne] and "an artistic command that leaves the listener breathless" [Deutschland Radio], our Gilda, Sharleen Joynt, is poised to make a stunning house debut.  

    The lively ladies of Rigoletto offer irresistible vocal skills and thrills, so get your tickets today at  tickets.fgo.org.  March 12 – April 2, 2022. 

     

  • OPERA'S GREATEST WOMANIZER
    02/28/2022

     

    Giuseppe Verdi had a problem that reared its annoying, frustrating head every time he composed another opera. He was great supporter of the Risorgimento (Reunification) Movement meant to unite the scattered city-states of Italy under the flag of King Emmanuel. (Verdi’s name was even used as a rallying cry --- “VERDI!” stood for “Viva Emmanuel, Re d’Italia” or “Long live Emmanuel, King of Italy!”). He was not afraid of criticizing the government, the church, or authority of any kind. But there was one authority with whom he was constantly in conflict: the censors. 

     

    The government censors’ job was to make sure that nothing was published that was too revolutionary, critical, or immoral, and they took their duties very seriously. They would never have let Verdi and his librettist, Francesco Maria Piave, publish an opera that portrayed a living noble as a scoundrel.  

     

    That’s how the Duke of Mantua became one of opera’s most cheerful, unrepentant, and womanizing villains of all time. 

     

    There was a real Duke of Mantua during the Renaissance, when Rigoletto is set.  His name was Federico II Gonzago, and if the portrait painted of him by the famous Venetian artist Titian is to be believed, he was a looker. He was a great patron of the arts and also a serial bridegroom. Born a Marquise, he married a local Marquess for her land. When the Pope voided the contract as part of a prisoner exchange, he married a king’s cousin and became a Duke. Later the same year, he paid the king off to annul the marriage and remarried his first wife. When she died, he married her sister. Whether Federico II was a womanizer equal to his operatic counterpart is unknown, but he died of what one might delicately refer to as a lover’s illness. 

     

    However, Verdi and Piave did not base their philandering Duke on Federico II. Rigoletto is based on a Victor Hugo play called Le roi s’amuse (The King Amuses Himself). The play in turn is based on one of the most famous medieval jesters, a fellow named Triboulet who served under King Frances I, and the King is a character in the play.  

     

    A king with a wandering eye who dallied with his courtiers wives might play in libertine France, but it would never get past the Italian censors. So Verdi and Piave demoted the King to a Duke, and as an extra safety measure, chose a Duke whose royal line had died out in 1708. There was no one left to defend the honor of the duchy. That is how the noble Mantua family name became associated with one of the worst libertines in the operatic canon. 

     

    If Verdi sullied the family title just a little, he more than made up for it by giving Rigoletto’s Duke some of the most memorable music in the opera. “La donna è mobile” is arguably one of the catchiest and most recognizable tunes in history, even 170 years after it was written. It’s been used to hawk Doritos in two Superbowl ads, pasta, olive oil, tomato sauce, and breadsticks, with the Pillsbury Doughboy doing the singing. You’ve heard it in TV shows like The Sopranos, Family Guy, and Futurama, as well as many films.  

     

     “Quest’o’quella” is another toe-tapping aria in which the Duke sings of his philosophy about love and women. It’s been featured in films like Wall Street and TV shows like Star Trek Voyager. And the dastardly Duke even gets a meltingly beautiful love duet with Gilda and an equally gorgeous beautiful aria, “Ella mi fu rapita,” when he discovers that Gilda has been kidnapped. (Of course, that’s before he realizes his own courtiers took her and installed her in his bedroom). The guy may be a jerk, but he still gets some of the show’s best tunes!  

     

    While the real Duke of Mantua would doubtlessly have been unhappy with the association of his name with the operatic scoundrel, he and his family were historically great connoisseurs and supporters of all manner of the arts. Perhaps once he heard the irresistible music Verdi composed for him, all would be forgiven. Judge for yourself!

     

    Rigoletto runs March 12 – April 2. Tickets available at tickets.fgo.org  

  • RIGOLETTO AND THE JESTER'S ROLE
    02/28/2022

     

    The court jester is a timeless trope. Somehow, this court clown from the Middle Ages entered and stayed in our collective consciousness. We see symbols of them in the colorful, tri-horned, belled hats that today often signify revelry (think Mardi Gras). Also known as fools, buffoons, clowns, jongleurs, and many other names, jesters existed all over the world and were especially important in China. However, our Rigoletto is Italian, so we will confine our exploration to the European tradition. 

     

    Jesting at court emerged as a profession in the Middle Ages, and the choosing of jesters was apparently quite egalitarian. According to Beatrice K. Otter, author of Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World, they might be recruited from a high or low background. They might be serfs or scholars, defrocked monks, trained actors, or people suffering from medical conditions that affected their appearance in such a way as to make them seem humorous to the unenlightened society. The main requirements for success were a quick wit and tongue, and other entertainment skills such as gymnastics, dance, singing, juggling, recitations, insults, and of course, comedy. 

     

    However, jesters provided much more than comic relief. They were also counselors and advisers to the rulers. They were given the right to speak freely, even to the king they served, up to and including criticizing their policies in a way even trusted courtiers and advisors were not free to do. Jesters therefore served an important purpose at court: they put important matters into perspective with humor, allowing a ruler to receive feedback in a nonthreatening way that did not offend his consequence. Jesters were rock stars in their day. If they made it to the king’s court, they were the talk of the nation. 

     

     

    Verdi’s hunchbacked and embittered Rigoletto is not that kind of a fool. Hated by the court for his sharp tongue, even his debauched employer warns him that he “always takes the joke too far.” And indeed, out of his own mouth Rigoletto sets his fate in motion. First, he encourages the Duke to steal Count Ceprano’s wife, teasing that he could imprison, banish, or even execute the Count to get him out of the way. Then, he mocks the noble Count Monterone, who has come to insist that the Duke make amends for dishonoring his daughter, and is cursed by the grieving father. 

     

    The tale might be sordid if it weren’t for two things: Rigoletto’s deep love and gratitude for his daughter, Gilda, and Verdi’s transcendent and rich score.  From the rowdy revelry of the Duke’s court, to the spun silver of an innocent girl’s ode to love; to a father’s fury and anguish; to a magnificent vocal and orchestral storm of both nature and emotion, Rigoletto is a musical masterpiece. 

     

    March 12 – April 2. Get your tickets at www.fgo.org

  • The real-life jester that inspired Rigoletto
    02/11/2022

     

    The second show of our 80th Anniversary Season is Verdi's Rigoletto, the first opera of what has come to be known as Verdi's "Popular Trilogy." The other two operas in the trilogy are La traviata and Il trovatore. Certainly three of Verdi's most popular works today, they represent Verdi's achievement of maturity as a composer, when his full dramatic and compositional creativity reached full bloom.  

     

    Composer Giuseppe Verdi and librettist Francesco Maria Piave's Rigoletto is based on Triboulet, the anti-hero of Victor Hugo's play Le roi s'amuse (The King Amuses Himself). Hugo's jester, in turn, is based on a real-life court jester of the same name, who served at the courts of the French Kings Louis XII and Francis I. Triboulet suffered from microcephaly, resulting in a bowed back, long arms, and short, twisted legs. The court found his appearance humorous. But Triboulet was intelligent and witty. He made the most of his position and had much power and liberty at court. 

     

     

     

     

    Left: illustration by Jules-Arsene Garnier for Victor Hugo's 1832 play, Le roi s'amuse

     

     

     

     

     

    However, Triboulet's antics sometimes got him in trouble, and once, they came close to getting him killed. In jest, he slapped the king on his backside. Instead of being rewarded with laughter, he was immediately sentenced to death. However, the king took mercy and said that if Triboulet could come up with an apology more offensive than the act he had committed, he would be spared. 

    "Pardon me, your Majesty!" Triboulet cried. "I didn't recognize you --- I thought you were the Queen!" 

    Unfortunately for Triboulet, this response was too offensive --- Her Majesty was off-limits. Once again, the king ordered the jester's execution, but due to his long years of good service, he granted him the opportunity to choose his own manner of death. 

    Invoking the patron saints of insanity, Triboulet replied, "Good sire, I choose to die of old age."  

     

     

    Mean-spirited jokes aside, Verdi's Rigoletto does not bear much of a resemblance to the historical Triboulet. However, he does have a great virtue never attributed to the real court jester: a deep and abiding love for his daughter, Gilda. This is what makes Verdi's Rigoletto sympathetic and lies at the heart of his story --- a story magnified in its beauty by Verdi's magnificent score. From the Duke's insouciant arias about infidelity, Rigoletto and Gilda's loving duets, Gilda's crystalline "Caro nome," Rigoletto's rage aria "Corigianni," and of course the Storm Trio and famous quartet, this score sports more gems than the Duke's latest mistress. 

     

    Rigoletto runs March 12 – April 2. Tickets at www.fgo.org

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Right: Todd Thomas as Rigoletto, one of his signature roles.

  • Tired but happy, the show must go on!
    02/08/2022

     

    Staff and Studio Artists at the Doral Opera Center are tired but happy today.

     

    A Streetcar Named Desire was a smashing success, both artistically and critically. Roberto San Juan of Pro Ópera raved:

     

    “ … one of the most outstanding pieces in the modern operatic repertoire… set design by Steven C. Kemp ... a visual metaphor for Blanche's mental instability ... Howard Tsvi Kaplan 's costumes , varied and rich in detail … “

     

     “… magnificent Elizabeth Caballero …has a powerful voice, highly versatile, capable of providing numerous expressive nuances…”

     

    “The tenor Nicholas Huff was a solid Mitch, gallant and with a certain innocence. The magnificent dialogue scene with Blanche in the second act was followed by his aria 'I'm not a boy, she says', much applauded.”

     

     

     

     

    Lawrence Budmen of South Florida Classical Review called the opera “a bold choice” and praised the cast:

    “Elizabeth Caballero dominated every scene.”

     

    “(Hadleigh) Adam’s strong baritone and striking stage presence belied his late encounter with the role.”

     

    “Nicholas Huff was a gentle and appealing Harold Mitchell. His fine grained lyric tenor captured the character’s kind heartedness.”

     

    And Michelle Solomon in the Biscayne Times wrote, “Ambitious on many levels, Streetcar is a daring and satisfying return to opera, the perfect crescendo for an audience wanting to see something challenging that will coax them out of their COVID malaise.”

     

    It’d be nice to rest on our laurels, but there’s a lot of work to be done! Today, we’re enjoying a serenade from our Studio Artists as they prepare for their next performances. One minute, it’s the firey, romantic Latin sounds of Zarzuela. The concert is February 11, just in time for the perfect Valentine’s Day date.

     

     

    When they’re not making us dance in our seats with Zarzuela, the Studio Artists are getting our blood racing with selections for the upcoming Real Life = Verismo Concert, featuring soaring melodies from operas like Puccini’s La bohème that make you want to leap up and belt out an aria yourself.

     

     

    Last but certainly not least, we’re getting a preview of next mainstage opera, Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto. It’s a great story of a flawed father’s love for his daughter and the revenge he attempts on the unworthy man who seduces her.  Verdi’s irresistible score ranges from delicate sweetness to insouciance to incandescent rage. Onstage, you’ll see beautiful costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan, who designed our gorgeous vintage looks for Streetcar, and a grand set by Lawrence Shafer. If you like traditional opera with rousing tunes and full-bodied singing, Rigoletto will thrill you!

    If you missed out on A Streetcar Named Desire, Zarzuela, Real Life = Verismo, and Rigoletto are the perfect way to get back on track. Get your tickets at www.fgo.org.

     

  • Jeffrey Marc Buchman, Stage Director and Creative Collaborator
    01/28/2022

    JEFFREY MARC BUCHMAN, STAGE DIRECTOR AND CREATIVE COLLABORATOR

     

    Stage director Jeffrey Marc Buchman is known for his creativity, thoughtful approach, and collaboration with his artists. The reviews for his A Streetcar Named Desire at Florida Grand Opera reflect the care with which he attends his craft.

     

    “Drawing vivid portraits from all of the singers, director Jeffrey Buchman emphasized the tension and danger between the protagonists. The production’s velocity and high drama were consistently gripping,” wrote Lawrence Budmen in the South Florida Classical Review.

     

    Bill Hirschman of Florida Theater Onstage called the production “as finely directed and acted as if it were a conventional play …”

     

    Pretty impressive for a sophisticated, three-hour work staged in five days with a cast and conductor who were all debuting their roles. “When you have really thoughtful singing actors who are as prepared as they all are, you really hit the ground running,” Buchman said. “Sometimes when I have these fast-paced staging schedules, I sketch the blocking in first to give the singers an idea of where they’re going, and then go back and fill in details. I didn’t feel that was the right approach. I felt we needed to hit the details as we went along.”  Buchman didn’t want the singers to become entrenched in their interpretations too soon.

     

    Despite the fast pace of staging, Buchman didn’t feel that the singers were panicked. “This is a show where the actors have to give themselves over to the piece in quite an emotional way.  If there’s a part of the brain that has to stay fixated on the music, then it becomes very hard to let go. That’s the hardest thing about these fast rehearsal processes.”

     

    Buchman’s vision for A Streetcar Named Desire, he said, “is to dig us as deep into the layers of these very complex characters as far as we can go. There’s nothing about them that we can approach just on the surface.” He used the character of Stella, whose role is often seen as tertiary to the more volatile Stanley and Blanche, to illustrate. “What makes Stella leave home? “ He asked. “What drew Stella to a man like Stanley? What has she denied of her past that Blanche, by coming back, has brought back to the surface? Why, in the end, does she not choose to believe her sister? When you let the actors process these things --- they’re not black and white --- that’s where the richness of these roles comes from.”

     

    In preparing to direct a show, Buchman tries to work through each character’s arc and comes to rehearsal with an idea of something he feels works naturally. “But I try not to impose that on the artists. I really want to allow them to bring the path that they’ve envisioned for these characters. But as soon as I see them taking us in a direction where I don’t feel we’ll be able to get back to the bigger arc, that’s where I stop and pose questions. Together we find whether this path is something that’s more interesting than I originally planned, or if it’s not going to work with the next moment I’ve planned. You’ve got to honor singers’ instincts as actors and allow them to take ownership over their choices and their characters.”

     

    Your last chance to explore Buchman’s acclaimed vision for A Streetcar Named Desire comes on Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022, 7:30 PM and Saturday, Feb. 5, 2022, 7:30 PM at the Broward Performing Arts Center. See www.fgo.org for tickets.

  • Jumping out, jumping in
    01/16/2022

    CHANGING OUT THE DIVOS

    Baritone Hadleigh Adams sings the role of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. He joins us again in April as Hawkins Fuller in Fellow Travelers.

     

    Einspringen!

     

    What is that? It sounds like a particularly bouncy kind of antelope. In reality, it’s just another one of those fancy German words that means “to jump in.” In the world of opera, an Einspringen or a jump-in means precisely what it sounds like: a singer jumping into a role at the last minute.

     

    It doesn’t happen every show, but the need to replace a cast member happens pretty regularly for a wide variety of reasons. A performer could fall ill, have a personal situation arise, or receive the proverbial “offer you can’t refuse.” At some point in their careers, most successful singers must ask to be released from a contract so they can pursue an opportunity that they and their managers feel is especially important to career advancement.

     

    In the case of A Streetcar Named Desire, New Zealand baritone Hadleigh Adams is jumping into the key role of Stanley Kowalski after Steven LaBrie was invited to join the international tour of the opera ensemble Il Divo following the death of member Carlos Marin.

     

    It’s tough for everyone when this type of jump-in happens. The singer often agonizes over the decision. They usually are eager to sing the role they were hired for and understand that cancellations are very hard on the company they’re leaving. They also don’t want to burn any bridges.

     

    Casts are carefully selected for a variety of factors, including vocal balance and the artists' experience level, knowledge of the role,and other issues of compatibility. Contemporary roles are challenging to replace because relatively few qualified and available artists know them. Therefore, cancellations, especially last-minute, constitute a significant hardship for opera companies. 

     

    Jump-ins also place a lot of pressure on the artists. Opera singers in the US must show up with roles learned and memorized unless there are special circumstances such as a jump-in. In that case, the artistic staff not only understands but goes the extra mile to give the artist what they need to learn the role quickly and comfortably.

     

    This may all sound like a lot of fuss and stress --- and it is! But it is also a normal part of opera life. And while we expect you’d be impressed with Hadleigh Adams whether or not you knew he was performing this Herculean task, it can’t help but add to the excitement of opening night when you see this consummate musician step on the stage in the epic role he learned start to finish in just a couple of weeks. Don’t miss this exciting performance ---get your tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire today at www.fgo.org. January 22 – February 5 in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

  • A SINGER'S FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
    12/30/2021

    AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE FIRST DAY OF REHEARSALS 

     

    The Doral Opera Center is humming with energy. In just a few days, our A Streetcar Named Desire artists arrive to begin rehearsals for the January 22 premiere. That’s right: we will put together this complicated work in just two short weeks. Every moment of every day counts.  

    The first day sets the pace. Singers jokingly refer to the first day of rehearsal as the “first day of school.” It’s exciting. You’re starting a new production and meeting new people who will be very important to you over the next couple of weeks. Often, you are meeting new colleagues who you may be expected to shortly pretend to know very well, including various forms of physical intimacy (yes, it’s as awkward as it sounds). You may also get to see old friends --- always one of the best parts of being an itinerant artist.  

     

    You’re also learning a great deal. The “first day of school” is when everyone gets to know one another and initial expectations are laid out. What does a typical first day of rehearsal look like? 

     

    The “first day of school” is a big day, especially for the stars, conductor, director, rehearsal pianist, and stage managers, who are present and working almost all the time. Most of the time, the artists arrive the day before rehearsal begins, although it’s not unheard of for a busy schedule to mean you rush offstage from one performance, wiping the makeup off as you run to the plane that will take you to your next gig.  

     

    Sometimes there is a company meeting to start, during which the General Director welcomes everyone. And introductions are made, including the administrative, production, and artistic staff. The stage director then discusses his or her vision for the show; the conductor may offer some general comments; and usually you get a peek at the set and costume design.  

     

    Next, it’s time for the first musical rehearsal. This is a read-through of the entire score with piano, so everybody can see where they stand. Initial tempi (the speeds of the pieces) are set. The conductor makes notes about where singers like to breathe, where they need more time, where they might like to speed up a bit, and so on. They decide how they will conduct certain measures to offer the greatest clarity. All the artists are making preliminary artistic decisions as they begin to understand how they can best work together. It’s a very exciting time.  

     

    After a break, staging begins. FGO does not own its performance venues, so we rehearse in the Balfe Rehearsal Studio here at the Doral Opera Center. In the beginning, rehearsals always take place with piano (it would be enormously expensive and complicated to work with a full orchestra every time, and it's simply not needed). Staging rehearsals, especially in the beginning, don't happen on the set you'll see in the theater, either, or in costume, or even with real props. Most of the time, the artists rehearse in their street clothes (though they may have rehearsal skirts or items like hats and gloves to work with). They also use rehearsal props. Think of them as understudies for the real props that will be used on stage! They might look similar or have similar functions, or you may be handed a rolled-up towel to serve as a baby. The looks aren't important; it's just important that you can work with them in staging and it's not a big deal if they get damaged. Rehearsal processes can get rough at times! 

     

    Not everyone will be called to every rehearsal, either.  If your character isn’t involved in a scene, you may have a costume or wig fitting, musical coaching, interview, or simply have the time off. Perhaps there will be a welcome dinner hosted by the board or patrons, but there might just be … more staging. With only two weeks to get a show on its feet, there is no time to waste. 

     

    This template, of course, varies from company to company and also depends on who’s in charge. The director generally sets the schedule, with input from the conductor and other personnel who need some of the artist’s time (usually the wardrobe or wig/makeup department, but also marketing and sometimes development). It can feel like everyone wants a piece of you, but it’s all in service of making you, the singer, look and feel great as you do your job. That’s the other thing that makes First Day of School so exciting and fun --- the knowledge that everyone is glad you’re finally here, and that you have the opportunity to make art together. What could be better than that? 

     

    Come see our artists put it all together in A Streetcar Named Desire, January 22- February 5. Get your tickets today!

     

  • From iconic play to iconic opera
    12/21/2021

    HOW A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE BECAME AN OPERA

     

    A Tennessee Williams play set as an opera is incredibly rare. Over the years, Williams was approached many times by composers hoping to transform one of his masterpieces into an opera, and the most requested title? A Streetcar Named Desire.

     

    One by one, Williams turned his would-be collaborators down. He granted permission for his works to be set to music twice during his lifetime. In 1955, he allowed an acquaintance from his artistic circles, the British composer Raffaello de Banfield, to set his 1946 one-act, Lord Byron’s Love Letter.

     

    Sixteen years later, impressed with the work of composer Lee Hoiby, Williams opened his catalog and gave permission for Hoiby to set any play he pleased. Hoiby chose Summer and Smoke, a work from the same period as A Streetcar Named Desire, with many similar themes.

     

    It took six long years for the famous cinema, jazz, and classical composer/pianist/conductor André Previn to negotiate permission from the Tennessee Williams estate to adapt his most iconic play into what would become an iconic opera. A Streetcar Named Desire is the only other major Williams play to be set as an opera. Permission was granted by Williams’ estate for a commission from San Francisco Opera in 1994.

     

    For years, critics had remarked on the operatic scope of the play. Tensely dramatic from the moment the curtain rises, rich with poetic language that somehow sounds natural in the soft accents of the South, A Streetcar Named Desire seemed a natural choice for transition to the lyric stage. That’s before we even get to the music. From the ever-present rinky-dink blues piano to the increasingly sinister “Varsouviana” folk dance that repeats in protagonist Blanche DuBois’s head, the music is critical to the play, almost a character in itself. It’s as if Williams imagined a cinematic underscoring. There was no better choice to adapt the play into an opera than André Previn. With 41 film scores to his credit, including classics like Irma La DouceElmer Gantry, Gigi, and Long Day’s Journey into Night, Previn brilliantly set librettist Philip Littlel’s adaptation in a way that underscores the action beautifully and dramatically.

     

    If you love the play, the opera will not disappoint you. Adapted many times as a film, made-for-TV movies, and even a Spanish-language version produced by a local Latinx theatre troupe, A Streetcar Named Desire is a classic worthy of many retellings. And if you aren’t familiar with the story, you’ll enjoy experiencing Williams’ powerful storytelling enhanced Previn’s tremendous score and the most unique use of the human voice ever imagined.

     

    Get your tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire.

  • Dressing the Divas
    12/14/2021

    HOWARD TSVI KAPLAN, COSTUME DESIGNER, SKETCHES A STUNNING STREETCAR

     

    One of the great hidden treasures of the backstage opera world is Mr. Howard Tsvi Kaplan, costume designer extraordinaire. Ask any singer --- they’ve worn his costumes. If they’re lucky, like sopranos Elizabeth Caballero and Rebecca Krynski Cox (our Blanche and Stella for January’s A Streetcar Named Desire), he has designed costumes especially for them. Howard has designed hundreds of operas, plays, and musical theatre productions --- more than he can remember when put on the spot.

     

    Many opera companies rent costumes for a particular show from a variety of rental companies. One of the biggest and best-known is Malabar Limited (which currently boasts no fewer than nine of Howard’s complete show designs for rent). FGO usually rents, but for a show like Streetcar, which requires many detailed pieces, we decided to build our costumes. And that’s where Howard comes in.

     

    “I wanted Blanche’s clothes to be more eccentric than she’s sometimes portrayed,” he says.  “There are lots of details, like making the buttonholes on her white suit red or using both shiny and matte sides of the fabric in her designs. I wanted her to be colorful. With such a big house and such a great-shaped performer, I was looking for things to help emphasize the lines and give more geometry to the clothes.”

     

    Howard’s design process begins very much like a singer who is preparing a new role. First, he reads the libretto and any source material --- in the case of Streetcar, librettist Phillip Littell’s nearly word-for-word interpretation of the original Tennessee Williams’ play --- and then begins to research the period from a historical perspective. He researches online and in his own collection of books and vintage patterns. “I always read the sources and do the research,” Howard says, noting that knowing the performer and body type he’s designing is a great advantage. “It’s important to me to emphasize the silhouette of the period,” he says.

     

    For Streetcar, Howard says, a lot of the looks he discovered in his research were either too fancy or too subdued. So he perused vintage patterns and historical reproduction clothing sites to find what he was looking for, and created storyboards that include fabric swatches, photos, patterns, and notes. “I didn’t feel a need to re-render them,” Howard says, referring to the step in the design process in which the designer sketches his or her vision for the finished costumes. “The storyboards help your collaborators in the shop know what you’re looking for in the shapes. All the info is basically on those patterns.”

     

    Not every costume is being built. There are a few vintage pieces in the show. Be on the lookout for the Nurse’s authentic 1940s suit, many of the men’s vests, and some of the high-waisted pants, which were purchased from a military surplus company. Other pieces are purchased through companies that create period replica clothing prized by certain countercultures and fans. “A lot of everyday items like aprons and pants wore out,” Howard explains. “We’re purchasing replicas and will age the clothing to make it look like it’s old. You can buy period bowling shirts and pants, or t-shirts with buttons.” Here’s a fun fact: the über-macho Stanley Kowalski will be wearing women’s t-shirts for a better fit. “T-shirts from that period were skintight,” Howard explains.  

     

    He also describes his choices for Steven LaBrie, the artist who will sing the role of Stanley. “Steven LaBrie has a great shape to be Stanley --- he looks like he’s been out working all day. I chose rayon knits for his shirts so they would fit the body --- high-waisted pants with tapered tops. I like clothes for him with a little geometric blocking. Bold stripes, larger scale patterns which can be seen from the back of the house.”

     

    Stanley’s wife, Stella, is pregnant throughout much of the show, and Howard wanted to find silhouettes that showed the progression of the pregnancy. “I loved the pattern covers of the maternity outfits and tried to get as close to them as possible,” he says.

     

    The action takes place during a sultry New Orleans summer, so it’s especially important that the clothing reflect the results of heat and humidity. “We’re not pressing Blanche’s travel dress,” Howard says. “It’s linen and the natural wrinkles will show that she’s been traveling.” The wardrobe artists will stain t-shirts to make them look sweaty. “I think people think we can just go buy an old pair of shoes,” says Howard. “It’s the aging of the clothing, finding the right yellowed t-shirt with the right stains that read from a distance, or buying a brand new pair of shoes and taking them from the grinder and dragging them behind a car. We had to wash Stella’s fabric twenty-five times in Borax just to get it a little limper.”

     

     

    Being a relatively modern and realistic show, Streetcar’s fashions are a far cry from the extravagant velvets and luscious silks we’ll see in our March production of Rigoletto (yes, Howard designed that one, too, and it’s one of his favorites). Still, if you’re a fan of 40s’ style, you’ll love the looks Howard and his team have whipped up, from Blanche’s pristine white traveling suit to her periwinkle blue lace and chiffon ball gown complete with rhinestone tiara. And there’s nothing quite like seeing an artist bring a costume design to life, even as the costume itself helps the artist embody the character. It’s theatrical magic.

     

    Blanche DuBois, the great fan of magic and illusion, would approve.

    Get your tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire today.

  • YOU CAN HEAR THE STREETCAR IN THE MUSIC
    12/03/2021

    Maestro Gregory Buchalter tells us what to listen for and how he prepares a score like A Streetcar Named Desire

     

    “You can hear the streetcar in the music.”

     

    Maestro Greg Buchalter, conductor for FGO’s upcoming A Streetcar Named Desire, is excited about  --- well, pretty much everything about Andre Previn’s setting of the 1947 Pulitzer Prize-winning Tennessee Williams play.

     

    “I’m very passionate about Previn’s work,” Buchalter says. “I’ve always admired him very much. I wish he were still alive so I could have a conversation with him.”

     

    He described the opening chords, in which you can hear a streetcar rattling down the tracks and picking up speed, the cinematic influences on the score from Previn’s work as a film composer, and the jazz elements, such as a special jazz ensemble within the orchestra that frequently plays independently of the orchestra for dramatic effect.

     

    “The great thing about Streetcar is that it follows the play almost exactly. That was a great headstart that Previn had,” Buchalter says. “He sometimes deliberately creates dissonance in dramatic moments. There are other places where it’s so tonal. He creates the music very well in terms of the characters."

     

    Previn’s score is new to most South Florida audiences. Asked what to listen for, the maestro recommended paying attention to the use of tonality versus dissonance in the music. Previn uses stable-sounding tonality for peaceful moments, such as Stella’s old-fashioned, melodic, lush harmonies in her jazz-influenced aria “I can hardly stand it.” But when she clashes with Stanley, the music becomes angry, dissonant, violent. The pattern repeats itself throughout the opera, underscoring the action onstage and the emotions of the characters.

     

    Buchalter is also new to the Streetcar score. He is often asked to take on contemporary pieces. Asked how he prepares a score like Streetcar, he offered,” What I always tell people is because the subject matter came before the music, I start with that. If it’s an opera I don’t know,  I start with the text. I translate. When I have the actual text in front of me, not the story but the actually text, I imagine that I’m the composer and think about how I would set it.”

     

    He also reads the source material --- plays or books that the story might originate from --- and watches any film versions, seeking to understand why the composer chose to set text as he or she did. Next, he plays through the score on the piano to immerse himself in its full picture.

     

    Buchalter also prepares by coaching the singers, like Elizabeth Caballero, who will sing the difficult and taxing role of Blanche DuBois. “We’re getting a head start in our collaboration which helps me learn the score too.”

     

    A score never really comes together, however, until after the first musical rehearsal, Buchalter says. “One of the last operas I conducted was La bohème --- one of the most frequently performed operas. I know it really well. But flexibility is the most important part for anybody in the arts. Even though I know how it should go, my tempos don’t mean anything until I get to know the voices. Until I meet my new cast, I really don’t know how it’s going to go.”

     

    The Streetcar cast arrives on January 7 to begin the fascinating rehearsal process. As they collaborate and learn from Buchalter, stage director Jeffrey Buchman, and each other, the confusing scramble of words and notes on the page will coalesce into lyric theatre magic.

     

    “Every person I work with I learn something from,” Buchalter says of the process. “There’s no formula, especially when working with singers. Every singer is unique.” 

    Jump aboard this Streetcar!

  • What is the Studio and why are we celebrating with it?
    11/29/2021

     

    Here in the opera offices, we’re decorating for the holiday season. As we string lighted garlands and select beloved ornaments to adorn our desks we are serenaded by the sounds of our Studio Artists as they prepare for the annual Holiday Pops concert on December 4. No elevator music in the opera offices --- all our music is live and lively! It’s one of our perks.

     

    Holiday Pops is one of the many concerts our Studio Artists perform throughout the season in Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. The SAs, as we call them, are a very special group of singers who have risen to the top in a grueling competition not unlike America’s Got Talent (or maybe the Hunger Games). Every fall, thousands of young singers across the nation apply to audition for Florida Grand Opera’s Studio. Only five hundred are heard; and of those, only seven are chosen seven to come to Miami as the city’s hottest young opera stars. This is indeed an elite group.

     

    Why do singers fight so hard to join the FGO Studio? What is the Studio, anyway?

    Most opera singers begin their formal training in a university music department or a conservatory. They often supplement their studies in summer training programs, and once they graduate, audition for paid apprenticeships (also called Young Artist Programs or YAPs for short).

     

    In a YAP, singers usually receive training in subjects like languages, acting, finances, and the business of singing, in addition to vocal coaching. They may get to have voice lessons or masterclasses with visiting artists. They might perform opera scenes, concerts, touring children’s operas, and small mainstage roles, and even cover (understudy) larger roles. The YAP lasts anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the opera company sponsoring them. YAPs are an important stepping stone in career development because they provide additional training, experience, and connections. Usually, Young Artists are just starting their careers and do not have a great deal of professional experience. They are apprentices.

     

    Soprano Elizabeth Caballero will star as Blanche DuBois in this season's A Streetcar Named Desire.

    Instead of a YAP, FGO has a Studio Artist program. This select group of artists consists of early-career singers who are here to polish their skills and gain experience on a major stage. The emphasis is not on training, but on learning by doing. Yes, our Studio Artists perform concerts --- in fact, they have their own concert series --- but they also perform mainstage roles and when doing so, are considered to be no different than any other visiting artist. They are under the direction of Artistic Administration Mitch Roe and the artistic leadership of FGO General Director and CEO, Susan T. Danis.

     

    And the results? FGO’s Studio Artist program is internationally recognized as a highly competitive and comprehensive career development program. Graduates of the program include Grammy-winning soprano Jessica E. Jones, Metropolitan Opera bass-baritone Craig Colclough, and tenor Nicholas Huff who returns this season to appear alongside Miami’s own international star soprano and Studio alumna, Elizabeth Caballero, in this season’s A Streetcar Named Desire.

     

    So, when you come to the Holiday Pops Concert, you’re not just hearing some beautiful, fun, cheerful seasonal music. You’re hearing Christmas, Hannukah, secular popular songs, and opera performed by five of the crème de la crème of American rising stars. And once you hear them, you’ll understand why the holidays are especially jolly at FGO!

     

    Soprano Elizabeth Caballero will star as Blanche DuBois in this season's A Streetcar Named Desire.

  • Welcome backstage, where the magic happens!
    11/21/2021

     

    Everybody wants to know how the magic works. As much as we all love to hear the glorious music and see the beautiful costumes, sets, and lighting, it’s always a special treat to pull back the curtain and get a glimpse of the extraordinary efforts that go into creating a show --- especially opera.

     

    Why is opera worthy of such a callout? Richard Wagner had a special word for what opera is: Gesamtkunstwerk (geh-zam-koonst-verk). And while you may be tempted to respond “Gesundheit!,” this long German word translates simply to “collected artwork.” It means that opera is like a lovely quilt, made up of every kind of art you can think of. Painting, light sculpting, fashion, architecture, poetry, literature, dance, acting, instrumental and vocal music --- opera brings all art forms together in a delicious feast for the eyes and ears, and here at FGO’s brand new Backstage Blog, we’re going to show you how.

     

    You’ll get to see inside our costume shop where we’re building the beautiful period pieces for our January 22- February 5 production of A Streetcar Named Desire. You’ll witness the effort and the angst as hundreds of talented young singers vie for a position in our coveted Opera Studio --- and why they go to such lengths to win a position. You’ll have the opportunity submit questions and story ideas about the things you’ve always wanted to know. And you’ll ride along with our mainstage artists as they create the magic you’ll later see on stage.

     

    We want to hear from you, too! What have you always wanted to know about backstage business? Do you have a question for an artist, director, conductor, or designer? Ask here.

     

    “I want magic!” sings Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Stick with us here at the Backstage Blog, Blanche. We'll show you where the magic happens! 

     

 

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