Monday, October 26, 2009

Interview with 'Family Dynamics' Co-Creator Allyson Ditchey

Operatic Saint Louis recently interviewed Allyson Ditchey, librettist and stage director of Family Dynamics - The Funeral, a new music-theatre piece opening this weekend. (production information below the interview).
Operatic Saint Louis: Family Dynamics - The Funeral focuses on the journey of its protagonist--Betty--from this life into the afterlife. Can you offer some background on this pivotal character?

Allyson Ditchey: Betty struggles with her transition into the afterlife because she is not quite ready to let go of her old life. I think she is a very relatable character--she's quirky, she's loving, she has strong opinions, she's childish. She's a mixture of mature and immature qualities--adult and childlike.

OSL: What inspired you to pen the libretto of Family Dynamics?

AD: A series of funerals that I attended with my family inspired me. We always talk about incidents within our family funerals that would make great scenes in movies, so I finally decided to write something. While writing, I really was interested in exploring spectrums of personalities. In thinking about the presentation of the piece, I also decided to use a lot of color and black-and-white to represent these personalities. For example, the funeral attendees are dressed all in black, but have brightly-colored accessories to represent their differences and unique attributes. Betty is dressed in white to represent the purity of her soul and that she is now part of a different physical realm. The Guide is in gray to represent the in-between as well as a compilation of Betty's choices in life. The Officiator is in black-and-white to represent his connection between earth-based life and the afterlife.

OSL: How long did the writing process take, and when did William Lenihan become involved as composer?

AD: The process took me roughly six weeks. I asked Bill to write the music when I first thought of creating the piece before I ever started writing anything. We always discussed writing things together--probably on and off for a year or so--but we never did. With this idea, I just said "let's do it" and Bill agreed. So we set a schedule for ourselves and now here we are frantically trying to stick to it!

OSL: Family "drama" makes for one of the most compelling subjects in literature, theatre, opera and film. Do any of your own family experiences play out in Family Dynamics?

AD: Definitely. One scene that comes to mind is Scene Three. The grandma is trying to take a picture and it pretty much takes her about twenty minutes to take four pictures due to all of the chaos. That was my family photo experience growing up.

OSL: Among the characters, what kind of personality types can we expect to see on display at the funeral?

AD: All kinds: the quiet, soft-spoken son; the always-trying-to-be-helpful son's wife; the energetic grandchildren; the old cowboy husband; the quirky cousins, etc.

OSL: Could you elaborate on how the physical production/set design helps to tell the story?

AD: I would have loved to stage the work in-the-round, but I couldn't for a few reasons, so what I've tried to do is design a set that allows for the characters to move onstage and offstage easily so that they can sort of float into their scenes. Also, the main characters talk about repeated patterns in life and the sort of cyclical journey that people go on when they are trying to work through a problem. This definitely plays into the actual physical way in which the two main characters move around the stage.

OSL: What types of voices did you and Bill have in mind when casting?

AD: When casting, we definitely wanted classically-trained singers. The music is pretty difficult in the sense that the ranges and the interval leaps are large and there are high tessituras. We actually knew that the soprano Megan Higgins would be singing the part of Betty, so we were able to do a lot of extra things due to the fact that she has a beautiful high range and an agile voice. It was really nice to have that freedom.

OSL: The title Family Dynamics is followed by: "The Funeral." Does this leave open the possibility of future compositions revolving around other family gatherings?

AD: Absolutely. I already have in mind two more short pieces: "The Wedding" and "The Reunion."

Operatic Saint Louis: If you were speaking with a person on the fence about attending this production, what would your selling points be?

Allyson Ditchey: I would say that if you are interested in new works, if you like music and theatre and visually interesting things, then you will probably enjoy this piece. It is sort of a feel-good comedy--don't let the title fool you. There are moments of strangeness and seriousness as well. We also feature fantastic oil paintings by Reno-based artist Naomi Ferrall.

Family Dynamics - The Funeral runs this weekend, with performances on October 30 and 31 @ 8pm. Venue is Satori, an artists space (Located in Midtown--3003 Locust). Tickets are $15 General Admission/$10 Students, and can be reserved for will call or purchased at the door. Cash or check only. Please inquire at or call 530.604.1431

Friday, October 23, 2009

New Piece 'Family Dynamics' Opens Next Weekend

Family Dynamics - The Funeral is an original music-theatre piece with libretto by Allyson Ditchey and musical score by William Lenihan, which opens next weekend (Oct 30-31). Betty, recently deceased, attends her own funeral and is horrified by the way people are behaving. With the help of a mysterious guide, she finds herself examining her life in different ways, and slowly transitioning into her afterlife - letting go of the people she loved.

Ditchey is a local soprano and freelance stage manager with a Master of Music in Vocal Performance from Washington University. Lenihan serves as lecturer and Director of Jazz Performance for the Washington University Music Department. Librettist and composer have collaborated with several local singers to premiere this one-act piece, which strives to place equal value on theatre, music and visual components in order to tell a multi-dimensional, invigorating story. The works of visual artist Naomi Ferrall of Reno, Nevada will be featured in the production.

Performances: October 30 & 31 at 8pm

Venue: Satori, an artists space; located in Midtown (3003 Locust)

Tickets: $15 General Admission/$10 Students; Please inquire at or call 530.604.1431; Tickets can be reserved at will call or purchased at the door. Cash or check only.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

KFUO-Classic 99 Sold

KFUO-Classic 99 (99.1 FM), the radio home of the Metropolitan Opera broadcast has been sold. Below is an e-mail that was sent out by the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.
The sale of St. Louis’ only classical music station was announced this morning, Tuesday, October 6, 2009. KFUO-Classic 99 (99.1 FM), which is owned by the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, was sold to Gateway Creative Broadcasting, which plans to change the station to JOY FM, a contemporary Christian music station. The sale is pending approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). You may read the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s report on the sale here.

KFUO-Classic 99 has been providing classical music to the St. Louis community for over 60 years. The Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra has a long and valued relationship with KFUO. During the 2009-2010 season, Saturday night orchestral concerts have been broadcast live on Classic 99. The SLSO is one of only a handful of orchestras in the United States to offer live broadcasts.

The SLSO, along with many of its fans and friends in the local artistic community, believes the loss of KFUO-Classic 99 would diminish the cultural diversity of the St. Louis community. With the loss of KFUO, the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra, one of the cultural jewels of the city, would lose a vital advocate. The sounds of classical music over the region’s airwaves would be silenced.

We suggest that you express your opinion on the pending sale of KFUO. You may contact the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod via its website or e-mail its Board of Directors: Or you may reach the Synod by phone 1-888-THE-LCMS (843-5267). You may also contact the FCC via its website or e-mail

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"O Pioneers!" Premieres Friday

Barbara Harbach's opera O Pioneers!, based on the 1913 novel by Willa Cather, makes its world premiere this weekend at the Blanche M. Touhill PAC on the campus of UMSL.

In a recent radio interview, Harbach stated that her inspiration to write O Pioneers! stemmed from an earlier commission of a symphony based upon another Willa Cather novel--One of Ours--which enamored her to the author's works. She also believes that the original novel has "all the elements that an opera needs: long-term loving relationships, sibling rivalry and murder."

The Collaborators & Designers

Harbach worked with librettist Jonathan Yordy, director of public relations at UMSL, to adapt the Willa Cather novel. Artistic Director/Conductor Scott Schoonover, of Union Avenue Opera, has assembled a cast of professional singers, a 16-member chorus and a 32-piece orchestra. Mark Meier, who has worked extensively at UAO and Muddy River Opera Company stages the production. Dimensions Dance Center provides a troupe of dancers. Allyson Ditchey stage manages. Patrick Huber, Felia Davenport and Kimberly Klearman design the sets, costumes and lighting, respectively.

The Cast

Soprano Gina Galati, founder of New Opera St. Louis, heads the cast as Alexandra Bergson, a strong, prosperous, reserved pioneer woman. Tenor Thomas Wazelle sings the role of Emil Bergson, Alexandra's educated, well-traveled youngest brother. UAO veteran soprano Ann Hoyt appears as Marie Shabata, a lively, yet unhappily-married bohemian woman. Portraying Marie's jealous husband, Frank, is baritone Ian Greenlaw. Baritone David Dillard returns to St. Louis to sing the role of rustic seer Ivar. Making his St. Louis debut, tenor Robert Boldin sings the role of Carl Linstrum, Alexandra's childhood friend and rekindled love interest. Tenor Joshua Stanton sings the role of Amédée, Emil's close friend. Tenor Philip Touchette and Baritone Thomas Sitzler portray Alexandra's disapproving, bumbling brothers Oscar and Lou.
Last week, Barbara Harbach, Mark Meier and Scott Schoonover sat down with Steve Potter of 90.7 KWMU's Cityscape to discuss the opera and its production. The Cityscape program may be heard here. Sarah Bryan Miller of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has written an article in advance of the production.

O Pioneers! runs October 9 & 10 at 8:00 pm in the Anheuser Busch Hall of the Blanche M. Touhill PAC. Visit the Touhill PAC website for tickets and more information.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Composer Barbara Harbach to appear on KWMU's "Cityscape"

UMSL professor and composer Barbara Harbach will be a guest on tomorrow's episode of Cityscape on 90.7 KWMU (airing at 11am) to discuss her latest composition: an operatic adaptation of Willa Cather's 1913 novel O Pioneers!, which will be given a fully-staged world premiere October 9th and 10th at the Touhill PAC on the UMSL campus.

The production team of O Pioneers! includes Artistic Director/Conductor Scott Schoonover and Chicago-based stage director Mark James Meier, both of whom have assembled a cast of professional singers. Jonathan Yordy provides the libretto. Designing the production are Patrick Huber (sets), Felia Davenport (costumes) and Kimberly Klearman (lighting).

Cityscape with host Steve Potter airs tomorrow, Friday October 2nd, at 11am-12pm on 90.7 KWMU.

O Pioneers! runs October 9 & 10 at 8pm at the Touhill PAC. For tickets and more information on the opera, click here to visit the Touhill PAC Website.