Friday, December 31, 2010

Celebrate New Year's Day with Simon Rattle Conducting "Pelleas et Melisande" on KWMU-3


Celebrate New Year's Day with St. Louis Public Radio as they carry the Met broadcast of Pelléas et Mélisande on their HD channel, KWMU-3 beginning at 12 noon. Approximate running time 3 hours, 55 minutes. Intermission times at approximately 1:08 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.

Simon Rattle makes his Met debut conducting Debussy’s impressionistic masterpiece, starring Stéphane Degout, Magdalena Kožená, and Gerald Finley.

Anthony Tommisini writes in the New York Times:
It took until he was 55, but Simon Rattle finally made his Metropolitan Opera debut on Friday night. Mr. Rattle, who has been a major conductor for 30 years and the artistic director of the Berlin Philharmonic since 2002, led the season premiere of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, a revival of Jonathan Miller’s gothic 1995 production. At the end of this four-hour evening, some of the most ardent participants in the ovation for Mr. Rattle were the musicians in the orchestra pit, who stood and heartily applauded.

In perhaps the most impressive performance I have heard Mr. Rattle give, he drew lush and plangent yet clear-textured and purposeful playing from the great Met orchestra. He was blessed with what he described in an interview on “Charlie Rose” on Thursday night as a “dream cast”: the elegant French baritone Stéphane Degout as Pelléas, the alluring Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena (Mr. Rattle’s wife) as Mélisande, and the intelligent Canadian baritone Gerald Finley as Prince Golaud.
Click here to read the entire review.

Friday, December 17, 2010

KWMU-3 To Carry Met Broadcast of Don Carlo, Saturday, December 18, at 11:30 a.m.

Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II.

The Metropolitan Opera celebrates its 80th season of Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts -— the longest-running classical music series in American broadcast history -— with a 22-week season featuring many of the world’s greatest operatic artists, beginning Saturday, December 18. Broadcast live over the Toll Brothers-Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network, the season begins with Verdi’s grand epic Don Carlo.

St. Louis Public Radio will carry the Met broadcast of Don Carlo on their HD channel, KWMU-3 beginning at 11:30 a.m. Approximate running time 4 hours, 30 minutes. Intermission times at approximately 1:10 p.m. and 2:20 p.m.

The Met's production of Don Carlo will star Younghoon Lee in the title role with Marina Poplavskaya as Elisabeth de Valois, Anna Smirnova as Princess Eboli, Simon Keenlyside as Rodrigo, Ferruccio Furlanetto as Philip II, and Eric Halfvarson as the Grand Inquisitor. The conductor will be Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

Don Carlo was composed by Giuseppe Verdi, with the original French libretto by François Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle, based on the play by Friedrich Schiller. The Italian translation by Achille de Lauzières and Angelo Zanardini . The world premiere was given by the Paris Opera (Salle Le Peletier), on March 11, 1867 (French version). The U.S. premiere was given in New York by the Academy of Music on April 12, 1877 (five-act version, in Italian). The Metropolitan Opera premiere was given on December 23, 1920 (four-act version, in Italian.

From the Met's web site:
For Nicholas Hytner, Verdi’s Don Carlo is no mere operatic tragedy. A sprawling epic of powerful individuals clashing with each other and with destiny in 16th-century Spain, this “ferociously pessimistic drama” is about as dark and somber as Romantic opera gets. “But what makes it so attractive,” says Hytner, who made his Met debut directing the new production that opened November 22, “is that almost every individual in it fights, with every fiber of their being, against the opposition. Nobody gives in.” Tyrannical kings, despairing princes, and innocent young women are not in short supply in the world of opera, but few works of musical theater boast a dramatis personae of such depth, complexity, and passion as Don Carlo. “Not one of these characters is prepared to accept his or her own tragic destiny,” Hytner continues. “They fight. They scream. They holler. They deny what their inevitable end will be.”

KWMU-3 is a HD channel and online service dedicated to live classical music programming 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our hosts guide listeners into the heart of the classical repertoire, with carefully selected music that represent both classical favorites and lesser-known masterpieces, while ensuring that every hour of music is accessible and stimulating for novices and aficionados alike.

Lester Lynch Stars in "Here I Stand: A Tribute to Paul Robeson" at SLAM Friday, December 17

Lester Lynch as Porgy in an Lyric Opera of Chicago production.


The St. Louis Art Museum's "Art After 5" series will present Lester Lynch in "Here I Stand: A Tribute to Paul Robeson" in Grigg Gallery on Friday, December 17, at 7:00 p.m. Admission is free.

Rising operatic star Lester Lynch, who is recognized for a voice that it is commanding, rich and vocally, nuanced, presents an evening of song in honor of the legendary singer, activist, athlete, and actor Paul Robeson(1898–1976). Lynch will perform works by Schubert, Ravel, and Mussorgsky, as well as a selection of Negro spirituals.

Lester Lynch is known in St. Louis for his striking performances as Porgy in Porgy and Bess with Union Avenue Opera and as Sharpless in Madame Butterfly with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. Lynch is the recipient of many distinguished awards, including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the George London Vocal Competition, and the Sullivan Awards. His work with Opera Theatre of Saint Louis earned him the prestigious Richard Gaddes Award.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Preview of UAO's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" Opening Tonight

Union Avenue Opera continues its annual holiday tradition in presenting Gian-Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, which opens this evening. Enjoy an audiovisual preview of the current revival below:



Amahl and the Night Visitors runs December 10 (8pm), 11 (5pm) and 12 (3pm). Tickets range $15-$47 and are available by contacting the Union Avenue Opera Box Office at 314.361.2881 or visiting http://www.unionavenueopera.org/ For more details on this production, view this previous post.

Join Dr. Glen Bauer in the UACC Chapel at 7:15pm on Friday, December 10, 2010 for a brief insight on the history behind Amahl and the Night Visitors. This lecture is presented free of charge. Non-ticket buyers welcome.

The opera was commissioned especially for television and was first performed by NBC Television Opera Theatre in 1951. It will be presented in its original English language at Union Avenue Opera, 733 North Union Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108 and has a run time of approximately 50 minutes.

Washington University Opera Scenes This Tuesday

This weekend, Washington University Opera Workshop presents scenes from Mozart's Don Giovanni, Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, Gounod's Faust and Britten's Albert Herring.

Tim Ocel, stage director
Christine Armistead, musical director
Sandra Geary, Piano

The scenes program takes place Tuesday, December 14th at 8pm in the Ballroom of the Washington University 560 Music Center (560 Trinity Ave; University City). Admission is Free.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Union Avenue Opera Presents Holiday Production 'Amahl and the Night Visitors' December 10, 11, & 12

Union Avenue Opera continues its annual holiday tradition next weekend with Gian-Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors. Journey back in time to the Middle East during the first century, and meet the young, crippled shepherd Amahl, and his widowed mother. Their lives are changed forever by a mysterious star in the night sky and the arrival of three kings seeking a wondrous child. What follows is an enduring tale of the power of faith and how ordinary kindness leads to miracles. Amahl and the Night Visitors is sure to captivate audiences of every generation.

The cast of Amahl and the Night Visitors will feature Ricky Johnson and John Schultz alternating the role of Amahl (Johnson on Thur/Sat; Schultz on Fri/Sun). Mezzo-soprano Holly Wrensch returns to sing the role of Amahl’s Mother. Most recently seen as Tchaplitsky in Pikovaya Dama, Tenor Clark Sturdevant sings King Kaspar. UAO veteran Baritone Robert Reed sings King Melchior. Making his UAO debut, Bass-Baritone Todd Payne sings King Balthazar. Tenor Philip Touchette will sing The Page. A chorus of local singers and dancers rounds out the cast.

Last season, UAO opened its doors to 569 school children to a complimentary Thursday matinee performance and will do so again this year on December 9th at 10am. Inquire with the company for ticket availability.

Amahl and the Night Visitors runs December 10 (8pm), 11 (5pm) and 12 (3pm). Tickets range $15-$47 and are available by contacting the Union Avenue Opera Box Office at 314.361.2881 or visiting http://www.unionavenueopera.org/ The opera was commissioned especially for television and was first performed by NBC Television Opera Theatre in 1951. It will be presented in its original English language at Union Avenue Opera, 733 North Union Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108 and has a run time of approximately 50 minutes.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Opera Theatre of St. Louis Announces $2 Million Gift from Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation

OTSL General Director Timothy O'Leary

MABEL DORN REEDER FOUNDATION WILL MAKE $2 MILLION GIFT TO OPERA THEATRE OF SAINT LOUIS

Largest-ever gift to Opera Theatre will benefit endowment and establish the "Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation Prize," recognizing extraordinary potential in early-career artists

General Director Timothy O'Leary announced a $2 million gift from the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation to help endow Opera Theatre's acclaimed professional development programs which train more than 60 of the country's finest emerging singers, technicians, and administrators each year. The gift represents the largest-ever single contribution that Opera Theatre has received in its 35-year history.

The gift also makes possible the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation Prize, recognizing extraordinary artistic potential in early-career artists and providing support for their continued artistic and professional development. Each year, beginning in the 2011 season, a committee comprising Opera Theatre's artistic leadership, management, and board representatives will select an artist with outstanding potential to make a significant contribution to the art form of opera. The award recipient will receive a $10,000 grant, which may be applied to expenses that will further his or her artistic and professional growth.

In honor of this extraordinary gift, Opera Theatre will establish The Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation Young Artist Education and Development Programs as the title of its comprehensive professional development initiatives, including the Gerdine Young Artist Program, the Emerson Behind the Curtain Program, the graduate study awards for Monsanto Artists-in-Training participants, and several others.

"We are deeply grateful for the tremendous generosity and transformational support of the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation," said General Director Timothy O'Leary. "Helping to endow these programs, which are at the very core of Opera Theatre's mission, will have a profound impact on our ability to identify, nurture, and launch the careers of the finest operatic artists of the current generation, as well as for generations to come."

The Foundation hopes this gift will encourage others to support St. Louis's greatest cultural assets, while honoring the generosity and compassion of Mabel Dorn Reeder. "Aunt Mabel was an inspiration, and believed in preserving things for future generations," said Mabel L. Purkerson, M.D., who is co-trustee of the Foundation, a professor emerita of medicine at Washington University, and a member of Opera Theatre's board of directors. "I try to honor her wishes with the Foundation."

Looking Ahead to 2011


"A strong endowment is especially crucial as we look ahead to a challenging funding environment in 2011 and beyond," said Spencer Burke, chairman of Opera Theatre's board of directors. "This tremendous gift from the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation provides an important boost at a critical point in our development, and will endow in perpetuity the annual support the Foundation has provided in recent years. We could not be more grateful."

Opera Theatre relies on generous support from the community to sustain quality and innovation. While many opera companies of a similar size generate nearly 40% of their operating budgets from ticket sales, Opera Theatre's ticket revenue is limited to just 26% of the budget by the beloved intimacy of its theater, even in the most successful year at the box office. Contributed revenue has increased more than 10% since 2008, helping the company to continue its tradition of balanced budgets despite the economic downturn. This year, Opera Theatre must raise more than $450,000 in new and increased support to make up for daunting institutional and governmental funding cuts and sustain a balanced budget for 2011.

About the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation

Mabel Dorn Reeder (1908-2007) grew up in the small town of McCormick, South Carolina, and was passionate about making a better world for future generations. The daughter of a prominent businessman and state senator, Mrs. Reeder graduated from Greenville Women's College and attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York. She then taught elementary school for several years before marrying Thomas H. Reeder and moving to Atlanta, Georgia, where she lived until her death at 98. Today, her passions for music, education, photography, animals, travel, and history are carried on through the work of the Mabel Dorn Reeder Foundation.

About Opera Theatre of Saint Louis

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is one of the leading American opera companies, known for a spring festival of inventive new productions featuring the finest American singers, sung in English, and accompanied by members of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra. As of 2010, Opera Theatre has presented 22 world premieres and 22 American premieres -- which is perhaps the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any U.S. company. Described by The Sunday Times of London as "one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare," and by Opera Today as, "the leading summer opera destination in the United States," Opera Theatre of Saint Louis welcomed visitors from 47 states and 10 foreign countries in 2010. Although the size of the theater limits box office income to 26% of the budget, the company has consistently produced work of the highest quality while never accumulating a deficit.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Winter Opera Saint Louis Featured on the Cover of the Ladue News


Pictured on the cover: tenor Benjamin Bunsold and soprano/artistic director Gina Galati in a scene from Gianni Schicchi.

Winter Opera Saint Louis was featured on the cover of the December 2010 issue of the Ladue News. Here's the complete article re-posted with the kind permission of the Ladue News.
Season of Song
by Tony DiMartino

Opera is full of unexpected plot twists, and so is the story of how a former business major, Gina Galati, became an opera singer. “I flunked an economics course when I was 19,” recalls Galati, artistic director of Winter Opera Saint Louis (formerly New Opera St. Louis). “I was at loose ends until my mom said, ‘You’ve always loved music. Why not switch majors?’ ” Mom was right: Galati went on to earn a master’s degree in opera, then studied in Italy. Soon, she was performing in operas here and abroad.

But her local ties were strong -- Galati’s family owns Dominic’s Ristorante on the Hill and Dominic’s Trattoria in Clayton. So Galati came home in 2007 and started her own nonprofit opera company. “I wanted St. Louisans to be able to enjoy opera all year round, not just during the summer months when Opera Theatre and Union Avenue Opera were in session,” she explains. The first production, Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto, sold out every performance three weeks before it opened. “It was encouraging to see so many people support a brand-new company,” she says.

Winter Opera Saint Louis begins its fourth season Nov. 12 through 14 with Opera Extravaganza!, a concert featuring famous opera choruses, duets and arias with piano accompaniment. Like many of this season’s shows, it takes place at different venues each night: Villa Maria Winery in Illinois, the St. Louis Woman’s Club on Lindell Boulevard and St. Ambrose Church on the Hill.

Next comes Holidays on the Hill, a program of Christmas music presented Dec. 8 and 15 at Dominic’s Ristorante. “It’s a special event, not part of the regular season,” Galati explains. The $150 ticket price includes a five-course dinner for two. The season continues Feb. 13, 18 and 20 with Verdi’s La Traviata, presented at Villa Marie Winery with piano accompaniment and the St. Louis Woman’s Club with orchestra. Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, performed with orchestra, closes the season March 12 and 13 at St. Ambrose Church.

New this season is music director Steven Jarvi, currently associate conductor at the Kansas City Symphony. “We’re so happy he’s joining us--he guest-conducted Barber of Seville last year, and impressed us with his energy, enthusiasm and creativity,” Galati says. Jarvi, too, was impressed: “Gina’s commitment to bringing only the best music and performers to St. Louis is absolute, as is her mission to extend the opera season,” he says. Jarvi, hailed by critics as “decisive and eloquent” and “potentially one of the greatest conductors of this century,” has worked with Washington National Opera, Baltimore Lyric Opera, New York City Opera, and New World Symphony in Miami Beach under Michael Tilson Thomas.

“We want opera to be accessible to everyone,” Galati says. “We strive to keep ticket prices low--from $20 to $40, and even less for student tickets, which are available the day of the performance. We’re attracting a lot of young people.” Eventually, she wants to find a permanent venue for the company, which is made up of local and international performers. “But for now, we’re enjoying the opportunity to change the perception that opera is stuffy and hard to understand,” she says. “Like reality TV, opera is full of quirky characters, sex scandals and lovers quarrels. The difference is, opera is set to some of the most beautiful, exciting music ever written.”

Friday, October 22, 2010

Union Avenue Opera Presents Opera Gala Concert


On Saturday, October 30th at 8:00pm, Union Avenue Opera presents an evening of your favorite arias, duets, sextets, choruses and overtures from some of the world's most beloved operas. Glorious music will fill the air as UAO alumni share the stage with the talented musicians of its orchestra. The event was conceived by UAO's fine orchestra (members of the American Federation of Musicians), and all musicians, including orchestra, chorus and principals, are donating their services for the evening.

Several singers from seasons past will be on hand to perform: Patrick Blackwell (Porgy, Porgy and Bess '07), Joy Boland (Ines, Il Trovatore '09), Keith Boyer (Ferrando, Così fan tutte '00), Erica Cochran (Marie, La fille du régiment), David Dillard (Sulpice, La fille du régiment), Gina Galati (Giorgetta, Il Tabarro '08), Debra Hillabrand (Pauline, Pikovaya Dama), Denise Knowlton (Ruth, Pirates of Penzance), Elise LaBarge (Edith, Pirates of Penzance), Alexandra LoBianco (pictured above as Leonora, Il Trovatore '09), Nicholas Simpson (Quint, Turn of the Screw '07), Cecelia Stearman (Countess, Pikovaya Dama), Todd von Felker (Tomsky, Pikovaya Dama) and a chorus of more than 30.

Tom Sudholt serves as Master of Ceremonies for the event.

Performances:Saturday, October 30, 2010 at 8:00pm

Location: Union Avenue Opera | 733 N. Union Blvd | St. Louis, MO 63108

Tickets:
  • $250 - Patron Level (Includes Premium Seat, Post-Gala Champagne Reception at The Rialto Ballroom and $125 Tax-Deductible Donation)
  • $50 - Reserved Center
  • $35 - General Admission
For additional information, or to purchase tickets, please call Union Avenue Opera at 314.361.2881 or visit www.unionavenueopera.org.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Opera Theatre of St. Louis Presents Gerdine Young Artists as Part of Opera on the GO!


Opera Theatre of St. Louis reports:
Opera on the GO! hits the road this month for a two-week tour. Fusing video media, live performance by five Gerdine Young Artists, and three interactive opera workshops, this acclaimed program introduces thousands of K-12 students to opera.

Designed for young people in grades 3-12, the program ends with a 30 minute semi-staged performance by four of OTSL's outstanding Gerdine Young Artists with piano accompaniment.

Made possible with support from Target Stores and Build-A-Bear Workshop, Inc.

There are three opportunities for the public to experience this innovative education program:

Saturday, October 23 -- FREE Donor Preview
1:30 p.m., Sally S. Levy Opera Center
Call (314) 963-4320 or email RSVP@opera-stl.org to reserve your spot today. Please indicate how many guests will be attending the workshops and/or performances.

Friday, November 5 -- Public Performances
2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Touhill Performing Arts Center
Tickets are $10 and can be purchased by calling (314) 516-4949.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Critical Notices for 'Pikovaya Dama'

Sarah Bryan Miller of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Chris Gibson of BroadwayWorld.com, Gerry Kowarsky of Two on the Aisle and Steve Callahan of KDHX have seen Union Avenue Opera's Pikovaya Dama. Here's a sampling of what they had to say about the production:
"[Pikovaya Dama] has one of Tchaikovsky's most luxuriously melodic, voice-friendly scores a score which got a fine performance on Friday night at Union Avenue Opera...Artistic director-conductor Scott Schoonover assembled a really impressive group of singers...Everyone's Russian was excellent...The singers were assisted dramatically by director Tim Ocel's intelligent staging...This "Queen of Spades" has a winning hand." --Sarah Bryan Miller

"Scott Schoonover conducts the lush orchestral ensemble with considerable aplomb, while Tim Ocel deftly guides the actors through their paces on stage...The Union Avenue Opera have played their "trump card" with a resplendently dark production of this tragic tale." --Chris Gibson

"The cast at Union Avenue is really strong from top to bottom. Conductor Scott Schoonover and his orchestra produced a rich sound as did the chorus. Tim Ocel's stage direction was clear and fluent." --Gerry Kowarsky

"The collection of voices in
Pikovaya Dama is among the very best I've heard in the many years I've been enjoying this company's fine work...The somber melodrama is broken with the occasional shaft of light—a chorus of children, some charming folksongs, an engaging Daphnis and Chloe pastorale...All in all stage director Tim Ocel and music director Scott Schoonover have made Pikovaya Dama yet another feather in the cap of the Union Avenue Opera Company." --Steve Callahan
Pikovaya Dama concludes its run this weekend: Friday, August 27th and Saturday, August 28. Performances begin at 8pm. Sung in Russian with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, please visit http://www.unionavenueopera.org/ or call 314.361.2881

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sneak Peek at UAO's "Pikovaya Dama"--Opening Tonight

Union Avenue Opera's Pikovaya Dama ("The Queen of Spades") opens tonight. Take a sneak peek at the cast and production design in the slideshow below. For more insight into this production, be sure to read Operatic Saint Louis' recent interview with stage director Tim Ocel.



Pikovaya Dama opens tonight and will run for three more performances on August 21, 27 & 28. Performances begin at 8pm. Sung in Russian with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, visit http://www.unionavenueopera.org/ or call 314.361.2881

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Interview with 'Pikovaya Dama' Director Tim Ocel

Operatic Saint Louis recently interviewed Tim Ocel, stage director of Union Avenue Opera’s Pikovaya Dama. Ocel has staged productions at diverse venues such as Opera Theatre St. Louis, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Sacramento Theatre Company and Boston Lyric Opera. He has also served on the faculty of the University of Kansas-Lawrence, directing several mainstage operas and scene programs. This fall, Tim joins the performance faculty of the Music Department at Washington University. Pikovaya Dama marks his first full summer production with Union Avenue Opera.

Operatic Saint Louis: What qualities of Pikovaya Dama’s score and libretto "spoke" to you in particular when preparing the opera for staging?

Tim Ocel: Tchaikovsky's genius in consistently setting a specific psychological movement through the story was truly inspiring. The interior lives of each character is so well depicted. Pikovaya Dama is practically Wagnerian in its use of musical thematic material. Tchaikovsky didn't avoid complicated or unique vocal settings. As an example, note the brief septet for principal men plus male chorus in the final scene--almost Billy Budd-like in quality. This makes for a rich and intriguing evening.

OSL: Opera composers and librettists have been known to embellish, modify or even deviate from the original literary source. In your mind, how does Peter and Modest Tchaikovsky's vision of Pikovaya Dama compare with the original Pushkin short story?

TO: They did contrive some changes to the Pushkin. The most noticeable is that at the beginning of the opera's story, Gherman is truly in love with Lisa; in the short story he is only using her to gain the secret of the cards. Lisa is a poor ward of the Countess in the book, but in the opera she is a granddaughter. The opera is actually more psychologically complex than the short story, where the Pushkin is clearer is in it's class structures and prejudices.

OSL: Has the Russian text been a particular challenge in preparation?

TO: It's taking us longer to finesse the surtitles, but since I always head to the Nico Castel word for word translations for any opera I direct, this was essentially the same process.

OSL: Among the arias and ensembles of Tchaikovsky’s score, which were the most engaging to you? Do you have any particular favorites?

TO: My favorites are Prince Yeletsky's aria ("Ya vas lyublyu"), Lisa's final aria at the river ("Akh! istomilas ya goryem") and Gherman's scene sung against the imagined Church Choir. Act Two, Scene Two--in the Countess' bedroom--is gripping from first note to last. All of these are brilliant and beautiful.

OSL: Have there been any particular moments or scenes in the opera that you found especially challenging to stage, whether logistically, dramatically or both?

TO: The ghost appearance in the final scene has been challenging. I'm still not happy with it. The acting area is small, and more distance would help. More space in the park would be helpful, too.

OSL: Before rehearsals began, were there any moments in the opera that you were especially excited or intrigued to see come to life?

TO: Act Two, Scene Two.

OSL: Modest Tchaikovsky’s libretto calls for a number of locales and settings--a definite challenge in a space such as Union Avenue Christian Church. How did this performance space inform your vision of the piece when collaborating with scenic designer Patrick Huber?

TO: The UAO space is tiny so we went with simple, abstract, and claustrophobic. There are three movable walls to change the architectural angles in each scene. I wanted the visual scale to always be human sized. The UAO space is wide and shallow, thus it's a challenge to create any sense of depth.

OSL: Pikovaya Dama has, at times, been set in eras other than its traditional setting at the close of the 18th century during Catherine the Great’s reign. In collaboration with Teresa Doggett, what specific era of Russian history did you ultimately arrive at for the costume designs?

TO: We're setting it at time of composition (1890), mostly for practical reasons. The short story seems to be set in the 1830s. The opera pushes the dates back to 1780-1790. The Grétry opera quoted in this opera--Richard Coeur-de-Lion--was written in 1784 though I now wonder whether Tchaikovsky thought anyone would recognize it.

Operatic Saint Louis: What would you say to convince the “man on the street” to attend this production?

Tim Ocel: Opera lovers aren't able to experience this piece very often. This is a good chance to hear it on its feet and enjoy its merits. Theatre people will like its contemporary psychological insights. The “man on the street” will enjoy the beautiful and haunting melodies, an extremely talented cast, an intriguing and surprising story told clearly, and a peek into the genius of Mr. Tchaikovsky.
Pikovaya Dama opens this Friday, August 20th and will run for three more performances on August 21, 27 & 28. Performances begin at 8pm. Sung in Russian with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, visit http://www.unionavenueopera.org/ or call 314.361.2881

Saturday, August 14, 2010

UAO Presents "Pikovaya Dama"

(Pictured: Mathew Edwardsen & Cecelia Stearman)

19th century Russia sets the stage for Tchaikovsky's Pikovaya Dama ("The Queen of Spades"), a psychological thriller based on the Pushkin short story. Gherman has been searching for love and finds it in Lisa, the ward of an aged Countess whose colorful youth earned her the moniker: The Queen of Spades. Lisa is betrothed to Prince Yeletsky but finds herself in love with the mysterious Gherman. Gherman, obsessed with greed and the allure of the Countess’ supernatural card trick, demands the secret at gunpoint. Will he be inspired by love or destroyed by greed?

Pikovaya Dama will be Union Avenue Opera's second foray into the Russian repertoire, having produced another Tchaikovsky favorite Eugene Onegin in 2003. Click here for a complete synopsis of the opera.

Tenor Mathew Edwardsen, last seen here in 2008 as Luigi in Il tabarro, sings the role of Gherman. Soprano Sylvia Stoner, Hanna Glawari in last season's Die lustige Witwe, sings Lisa. Mezzo-soprano Cecelia Stearman portrays the Countess. Having made his UAO debut earlier this summer in The Pirates of Penzance, Baritone Todd von Felker sings Count Tomsky & Pluto (during an Intermezzo). Also returning from the cast of Pirates is Mezzo-soprano Debra Hillabrand as Paulina and Daphnis (during an Intermezzo) and Baritone Thomas Sitzler as Naroumov. Having last appeared as Ferrando in Così fan tutte with UAO, Tenor Keith Boyer sings Tchekalinsky. Tenor Clark Sturdevant, last seen as Ruiz in Il Trovatore, sings Tchaplitsky. Tenor Jon Garrett, seen as Hadji in last season's Lakmé, portrays the Master of Ceremonies. Soprano Elizabeth Schleicher will sing the role of Masha, Lisa's maid.

Artists making their UAO debut include Baritone Jordan Shanahan as Prince Yeletsky, Baritone Nicholas Probst as Sourin and Soprano Stella Markou as Chloë (during an Intermezzo).

Stage director Tim Ocel stages his first full production at Union Avenue Opera with Pikovaya Dama. Fiona Carmody, who last worked on Pirates, serves as Production Stage Manager. The design team includes Patrick Huber (scenic), Kaitlyn Breen (lighting) and Teresa Doggett (costumes). Pianist Alla Voskoboynikova serves as production répétiteur and Russian language coach. Scott Schoonover conducts.

UAO Artistic Director/Conductor Scott Schoonover and stage director Tim Ocel recently sat down with Steve Potter of Cityscape on 90.7 KWMU to discuss the production of Pikovaya Dama. Click here to listen.

Be sure not to miss a free opening night lecture on the opera, taking place Friday, August 20th at 7pm in the Chapel of Union Avenue Christian Church. (Non-ticket buyers welcome.)

Pikovaya Dama opens this Friday, August 20th and will run for three more performances on August 21, 27 & 28. Performances begin at 8pm. Sung in Russian with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, please visit http://www.unionavenueopera.org/ or call 314.361.2881

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

'Daughter' on YouTube

Click below for a teaser promo of La fille du Régiment on YouTube.

Be sure not to miss the critically acclaimed La fille du Régiment in its final weekend: Saturday, August 7th (8:00pm) and Sunday, August 8th (3:00pm). Sung in French with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. Get your tickets by visiting http://www.unionavenueopera.org/ or calling the box office at 314.361.2881 where there are special offers and discounts available!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Critical Notices for 'Daughter of the Regiment'

Sarah Bryan Miller of the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, Chuck Lavazzi of Operatic Saint Louis (see review one post below), Gerry Kowarsky of Two on the Aisle and Chris Gibson of BroadwayWorld have weighed in on Union Avenue Opera's La fille du Régiment. Here's a sampling of what they had to say:

The Production

"Union Avenue Opera's second offering of the season...is a hard one to cast. ... Artistic director Scott Schoonover assembled a good group of performers. ... Conductor Kostis Protopapas kept things moving brightly, and maintained good communications between stage and pit." --Sarah Bryan Miller

"The second production of [UAO's] 2010 season...is a truly charming piece of work with a pair of leads that I’d put up against anyone on the Opera Theatre of St. Louis stage. ... Conductor Kostis Protopapas does a nice job with the reduced orchestra in what has always seemed to me to be a rather challenging acoustic environment. ... The bottom line is that Union Avenue Opera’s La fille du régiment is a solid production of a lively and tuneful score by one of the masters of bel canto. You couldn’t ask for a better break from the oppressive heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer." --Chuck Lavazzi

"What a treat it was to hear such beautiful singing by [Gregory Schmidt] and by the soprano, Erica Cochran...The production was a winner, especially for its singing." --Gerry Kowarsky

"...Union Avenue Opera has produced a winning combination of mirth and merriment with their staging of this work. ... Kostis Protopapas dynamically conducts the orchestra, guiding the singers and the musicians with skill and precision. Jolly Stewart's stage direction keeps the tone light, and allows for some nice physical business here and there to keep things lively. Patrick Huber's scenery and lighting scheme are both simply, but effectively realized. Lyn DeMoss has also crafted a fine collection of costumes for this military exercise." --Chris Gibson

Erica Cochran

"Soprano Erica Cochran, as Marie, shows a mastery of comic timing and a light, nimble voice that would do credit to a more experienced singer. Coloratura and comedy are difficult enough individually; in combination they can be a major challenge, but Ms. Cochran excels at both." --CL

"Soprano Erica Cochran, as Marie...was pert and perky, and charming throughout. Her voice is light, but she's a true coloratura, with vocal flexibility and high notes to spare." --SBM

"Erica Cochran displays a lovely coloratura soprano voice that's ideally suited for Donizetti's expressive compositions as Marie. Cochran's playful performance is endearing, and she's nicely paired with tenor Gregory Schmidt." --CG

Gregory Schmidt

"Tenor Gregory Schmidt was a standout as Tonio: he has a big, ringing voice with a distinctive timbre of real beauty and the famous nine high Cs in "O mes amis" were absolutely flawless. He's a warm and appealing performer, and should have a great future." --SBM

"[Schmidt's] instrument is clear, accurate, and seamless throughout the role’s rather high tessitura. Opera audience love to hear a tenor bounce high Cs off the back wall and Mr. Schmidt has a head voice that can do just that. The opening night audience couldn’t get enough of it, applauding with gusto after his bravura air “Pour mon âme”— a song reckoned to be one of the most difficult in the repertoire." --CL

"Gregory Schmidt...proves himself quite capable of reaching the high notes this score demands." --CG

David Dillard
"Baritone David Dillard, last seen at UAO as the Police Sergeant in 'Pirates of Penzance,' seems to be making a career out of playing non-commissioned officers; here he was a likeable, vocally secure Sergeant Sulpice." --SBM

"Baritone David Dillard sings the buffo role of Sulpice with appropriate comic gusto and blends nicely with Ms. Cochran and Mr. Schmidt in their trios (“Tous les trios réunis” being the outstanding example)." --CL
Dixie Roberts
"Dixie Roberts is also impeccably funny as the self-consciously upper crust Marquise and while she only gets one really solid air to herself - “Pour une femme de mon nom” in the first scene - she delivers it in fine style." --CL

"Mezzo-soprano Dixie Roberts...played up [her role's] comic possibilities." --SBM
E. Scott Levin
"E. Scott Levin displays his substantial comic skills as the harassed butler Hortensius." --CL
Jolly Stewart
"Director Jolly Stewart has a nice comic cameo turn in the non-singing role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp." --CL

"Director Jolly Stewart is no stranger to St. Louis audiences, but this was her first appearance costumed and bewigged with UAO; she held the stage magisterially in the speaking role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp." --SBM
La fille du Régiment continues running this weekend: Saturday, August 7th (8:00pm) and Sunday, August 8th (3:00pm). Sung in French with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, please visit the Union Avenue Opera Website or call 314.361.2881

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Pistol-packin' mama

Erica Cochran as Marie
Union Avenue Opera is one of the hidden gems of the local musical theatre scene. Their productions may sometimes be a bit rough around the edges and their theatre in the remodeled sanctuary of the Union Avenue Christian Church may have its acoustic and sight line issues, but their artistic commitment and professionalism are beyond reproach. The second production of their 2010 season, Donizetti’s 1840 romantic opéra-comique romp La fille du régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment), is a truly charming piece of work with a pair of leads that I’d put up against anyone on the Opera Theatre of St. Louis stage.

The circumstances that led Donizetti to write a French romantic comedy were, ironically, less than joyous. His wife Virginia died in 1837 and the broken-hearted composer fled Italy for Paris where, as historian Herbert Weinstock notes, “he began a new life”. Originally written as a quick replacement for a delayed opera by another composer, La fille was initially greeted with indifference by the Parisian public and hostility by Berlioz (then music critic for the Journal des débats). Audiences quickly came around, however, and over the years the title role has become a favorite of high-flying sopranos from Jenny Lind to Joan Sutherland.

The titular daughter, Marie, is a war orphan adopted as a baby by the rather tender hearted French soldiers of the 21st Regiment. Now a beauty with the voice of an angel and a colorful military vocabulary, she loves and is loved by Tonio, who saved her from toppling off an Alp. Their love is opposed initially by her guardian, Sergeant Sulpice, and the other soldiers (who mistake Tonio for a spy) and then by the snobbish Marquise de Birkenfeld who, in a classic comic opera revelation, turns out to be Marie’s long-lost mother. All ends happily, of course, with plenty of rousing ensembles and solo vocal fireworks along the way.

Although still in the early stages of her career, soprano Erica Cochran, as Marie, shows a mastery of comic timing and a light, nimble voice that would do credit to a more experienced singer. Coloratura and comedy are difficult enough individually; in combination they can be a major challenge, but Ms. Cochran excels at both.

Tenor Gregory Schmidt looks, to my eyes, a bit too mature for the role of Tonio, but once he begins to sing all other considerations become secondary. History tells us that the original 1840 Tonio, Mécène Marié de l'Isle, had pitch problems. Had Mr. Schmidt lived back then history would have a different story to tell. His instrument is clear, accurate, and seamless throughout the role’s rather high tessitura. Opera audience love to hear a tenor bounce high Cs off the back wall and Mr. Schmidt has a head voice that can do just that. The opening night audience couldn’t get enough of it, applauding with gusto after his bravura air “Pour mon âme”— a song reckoned to be one of the most difficult in the repertoire.

Baritone David Dillard sings the buffo role of Sulpice with appropriate comic gusto and blends nicely with Ms. Cochran and Mr. Schmidt in their trios (“Tous les trios réunis” being the outstanding example). Contralto Dixie Roberts is also impeccably funny as the self-consciously upper crust Marquise and while she only gets one really solid air to herself - “Pour une femme d mon nom” in the first scene - she delivers it in fine style. Director Jolly Stewart has a nice comic cameo turn in the non-singing role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp and E. Scott Levin displays his substantial comic skills as the harassed butler Hortensius.

There’s no chorus master listed, so I’m not sure whom to congratulate for the fine sound of the ensemble. I can say that conductor Kostis Protopapas does a nice job with the reduced orchestra in what has always seemed to me to be a rather challenging acoustic environment. Director Stewart has, to my taste, given a bit too much stage business to her performers—comedy doesn’t necessarily require that the actors be in constant movement—but most of it works well enough.

There were some intonation issues and lighting problems on opening night and not all the ensemble members seemed equally invested in their roles, but those are minor complaints. The bottom line is that Union Avenue Opera’s La fille du régiment is a solid production of a lively and tuneful score by one of the masters of bel canto. You couldn’t ask for a better break from the oppressive heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer. Note that if you don't arrive on time to park in the church's small lot, the Metro Psychiatric Hospital next door allows audience members to park there as well.

It has been said, by the way, that interest in La fille du régiment tends to rise during wartime, given the libretto’s enthusiastic embrace of all things military. As someone who has lived in a world perpetually at war his entire life, I’m not wholly convinced of that correlation. To me, the backdrop of protracted conflict had rather the opposite effect, casting emotional shadows that were probably not part of the intention of authors Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges and Jean-François Bayard. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it seem to me that (to liberally paraphrase Milton) darkness need not be visible to discover regions of sorrow where peace and rest can never dwell.

Performances of La fille du régiment continue through August 8th at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union in the Central West End. For more information, you may call 314-361-2881 or visit the web site at unionavenueopera.org. The opera is sung in French with projected English supertitles easily visible from nearly all of the house.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"La fille du Régiment" Opens Friday Night at UAO


(Pictured: Gregory Schmidt & Erica Cochran; Photo: John Lamb)

A tour-de-force for high coloratura voices, culminated by the aria "Ah mes amis" made famous by Pavarotti with its mind boggling 9 high Cs, Gaetano Donizetti's La fille du Régiment ("The Daughter of the Regiment") will open this Friday at Union Avenue Opera. The rambunctious tomboy Marie, an orphan girl raised by France's 21st infantry and serving as its vivandière, is sure to capture hearts, but how will her 'fathers' feel about her falling in love with Tonio, a mere civilian...and an Austrian? The comedic plot takes a twist as Marie learns of regal family ties and is betrothed to an aristocrat. Will the regiment save their 'daughter' from a loveless marriage?

Soprano Erica Cochran, returning to Union Avenue Opera after her debut in 2007's Suor Angelica (Suor Genovieffa) and Gianni Schicchi (Nella), sings Marie. Fresh from his appearance in The Pirates of Penzance, Baritone David Dillard takes on the role of Sergeant Sulpice, Marie's "head father." Baritone E. Scott Levin, Baron Zeta in last season's Die lustige Witwe, appears as Hortensius. Three artists make their UAO debut in this production, including Tenor Gregory Schmidt as Tonio, Mezzo-soprano Dixie Roberts as La Marquise de Berkenfeld and Baritone Cory Schantz as the Corporal.

UAO Principal Stage Director Jolly Stewart stages her thirteenth production with the company. Sarah Rugo serves as Stage Manager. The design team includes Patrick Huber (scenic and lighting) and Lyn DeMoss (costumes). Pianist Nancy Mayo serves as production répétiteur. Kostis Protopapas, of Tulsa Opera, serves as guest conductor. Protopapas was recently interviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about his experience conducting this production. The interview may be read by clicking here.

Be sure not to miss a free opening night lecture on the opera, taking place July 30 at 7pm in the Chapel of Union Avenue Christian Church. (Non-ticket buyers welcome.)

La fille du Régiment runs July 30, 31, August 7 & 8(M). Performances begin at 8pm, except 3pm matinee on Sunday, the 8th. Sung in French with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, please visit the Union Avenue Opera Website or call 314.361.2881

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Interview with 'Fille' Director Jolly Stewart

Operatic Saint Louis interviewed Union Avenue Opera's Principal Stage Director Jolly Stewart about the company's upcoming production of La fille du Régiment. Stewart recently retired from the performance faculty of Washington University after twenty years of teaching. She founded the University's opera program and celebrated her last school year with a production of Die Fledermaus in March. La fille du Régiment marks her thirteenth production with the company.
Operatic Saint Louis: In preparing this opera, what qualities of the score and libretto intrigued you?

Jolly Stewart: The music is delightful. What a sing for both the Marie and the Tonio. Rip snorting difficult and exciting arias, which are sung with great beauty and style by our two singers, Erica Cochran and Gregory Schmidt. One hears bel canto at its best in this opera.

As far as the libretto is concerned, we tried to get the essence of the story told, allowing the wit and charm of the characters to blossom as much as possible.

OSL: This production will be your first Donizetti opera at UAO. How does the experience compare with staging a Mozart, Strauss or Puccini work?

JS: As a director, the thing that draws me into a piece the most is examining the music and text for the "human-ness" in each character. In the music of Mozart, Strauss, and Puccini we hear and see some of the greatest painters and illustrators of character.

In La fille du Regiment we observe great warmth in the relationship between Marie and Sulpice, who is more or less the "head dad." David Dillard, singing Sulpice, your readers might be interested to know, jumped in at the last minute for a singer who canceled. David has been a most fortuitous addition to the cast.

With numerous arias, duets and trios, Marie exhibits as many feelings and emotions as any of the heroines of the above mentioned composers. We also are able to observe the deep love the whole regiment has for Marie. The Marquise is constantly chased by her past and present demons and finally is able to conquer them by a stroke of great love and generosity. Tonio is also exuberantly defined by Donizetti in the famous "high C aria". Then later in the Romance, we see him at his most vulnerable and appealing, as he tries to win the Marquise's approval.

Staging a full Donizetti opera has been an unexpected joy and pleasure.

OSL: Donizetti's score certainly does not want for engaging, sprightly arias and ensembles. Among them, do you have any favorites in particular? What should audiences look out for?

JS: Goodness! Fille is packed with jewels. For exquisite lyricism I would choose Marie's "Il faut partir". For pyrotechnics you can't beat "A mes amis" (the famous tenor aria) and also surprisingly Marie's little aria within the trio at the top of Act II. For me the most delightful piece is the trio Marie, Tonio and Sulpice sing in Act II. Absolutely delicious.

OSL: Have any arias or ensembles been a particular joy or challenge to stage?

JS: The aforementioned trio was a challenge because there is a lot of stage business or choreography. I tried to simplify it by almost always doing the same gesture on the same little word phrases. It is intricate and tricky, but so much fun.

OSL: The success of La fille du Régiment can rise or fall on the strengths of its leading soprano and tenor, given the precedents set by Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, Natalie Dessay, Juan Diego Florez and Luciano Pavarotti. What qualities did UAO look for in finding the best possible Marie and Tonio?

JS: Stamina is certainly an important quality, but so much more. In a house the size of Union Avenue Opera, the audience is a real participant. Because of that, we look for people who not only can sing the roles extremely well, but who are also believable visually. Erica Cochran sang with Union Avenue Opera a few years ago in the Puccini Double Bill, so we know her work very well. She is a wonderful singer, extremely musical, a very good actress and has the perfect personality for a "close up" Marie. Greg Schmidt sang a great audition for us in New York and also came highly recommended by Kostis Protopapas, our guest conductor.

OSL: Union Avenue Opera will be presenting Fille in its original French with a libretto driven partially by spoken dialogue. Which version of the Saint-Georges & Bayard dialogue will be featured in this production?

JS: With the expert help of a close friend, Bruce Donnell, who has staged this opera many many times at the Met, San Francisco and numerous other houses, the dialogue has been adapted from several different versions. Kostis and I did some more adjusting as we got into the dialogue rehearsals.

OSL: Dialogue in a foreign-language opera can prove to be more difficult than musical passages, where the inflection is given by the composer's setting of words. How have your singers adapted to the demands of the French?

JS: It has been a challenge for us all, but I think, a good one. Kostis has been immeasurably helpful. We have all learned from him.

OSL: In coordinating the design and look of this production and its locales/era, what sort of inspirations have you had with scenic designer Patrick Huber and costume designer Lyn DeMoss?

JS: I was interested in creating a cartoon look for the sets, cut outs, etc. Then I wanted to throw onto that a very real and touching story.

Patrick Huber, as always, immediately came up with ideas which were exactly what I had imagined. We talked about the artists Paul Klee and Edward Gorey as a starting place. I think mostly for the whimsical feeling I was looking for. I had not worked with Lyn DeMoss before and have found her to have a great and beautiful imagination.

We decided to do the piece not too long after the start of the 19th Century, because of the conflict at that time in Tyrol between the French and an Austrian rebel, Andreas Hofer.

OSL: Audiences will be treated to your cameo in the brief but hilarious role of La Duchesse de Krakenthorp in Act Two. How does it feel to be back onstage after years of being on the other side of the footlights?

JS: Now that's a loaded question! I am looking forward to it. With the help of Sarah Rugo, my excellent Stage Manager and Assistant, I think I can leave the director's seat for a few minutes.

Operatic Saint Louis: What would your "sales pitch" be for anyone unfamiliar with or unsure about attending La fille du Régiment?

Jolly Stewart: I can give you a really good one! I had never seen a live version of the opera before. It would not have been on the top ten wish list of operas I have yet to stage, but I have fallen head over heels in love with it. Beautiful music, very touching story, singers you have to love, conducted by a wonderfully musical and exacting conductor.
La fille du Régiment runs July 30, 31, August 7 & 8(M). Performances begin at 8pm, except 3pm matinee on Sunday, the 8th. Sung in French with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, please visit the Union Avenue Opera Website or call 314.361.2881

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"La fille du Régiment" in Rehearsal

Union Avenue Opera's La fille du Régiment is currently in staging rehearsals. Below, you can take a look at a slideshow of the cast in rehearsal of Act Two.



Pictured: Erica Cochran (Marie), Dixie Roberts (La Marquise de Berkenfeld), David Dillard (Sergeant Sulpice), Gregory Schmidt (Tonio), E. Scott Levin (Hortensius) and Jolly Stewart (La Duchesse de Krakenthorp)

La fille du Régiment runs July 30, 31, August 7 & 8(M). Performances begin at 8pm, except 3pm matinee on Sunday, the 8th. Sung in French with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, please visit the Union Avenue Opera Website or call 314.361.2881

Friday, July 16, 2010

"Pirates" Preview on YouTube

Click below for a preview of The Pirates of Penzance on YouTube including Stage Director Mark James Meier's comments on the operetta interspersed with footage of the cast.

The Pirates of Penzance continues its run tonight, running through the weekend: July 16, 17, 18(M). Performances begin at 8pm; 3pm matinee on Sunday. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. Sung in English with projected English supertitles. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, please visit the UAO Website or call 314.361.2881

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Critical Notices for "Pirates"

Sarah Bryan Miller of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bill Townsend of Examiner.com, Gerry Kowarsky of Two on the Aisle, Chris Gibson of BroadwayWorld.com and Sheila R. Schultz of KDHX have offered their critiques on Union Avenue Opera's production of The Pirates of Penzance. Here's a sampling of what they had to say:

The Production
"Gilbert & Sullivan's 'The Pirates of Penzance,' seen Friday night at Union Avenue Opera's season opener, is this company at its very best ... 'Pirates' received an energetic, consistently amusing production. Director Mark James Meier kept things moving nonstop with clever choreography and consistently spot-on timing, abetted by artistic director Scott Schoonover's zippy leadership in the pit. ... These 'Pirates' will steal your heart." --Sarah Bryan Miller

"Conductor and artistic director Scott Schoonover is superb at the music podium, and stage director Mark James Meier keeps things moving at a crisp pace." --Bill Townsend

"Director Mark James Meier has encouraged his cast to give buoyant performances that keep the mood light and the proceedings lively. ... The orchestra played beautifully under Scott Schoonover." --Gerry Kowarsky

"Conductor Scott Schoonover keeps the tone light while gracefully guiding the musicians and singers through their paces." --Chris Gibson

"['When the Foeman Bears His Steel'] is perfectly staged and the expertise of conductor Scott Schoonover is evident." --Sheila R. Schultz
Robert Boldin
"You'll note that Robert Boldin has a shining voice with great range." --BT

"Tenor Robert Boldin was a happy choice as Frederic, the 'slave of duty'; he is appropriately attractive in voice and person." --SBM

"Robert Boldin does fine work as Frederic, displaying a strong, pleasant voice, and handling the romantic lead with considerable aplomb." --CG

"Robert Boldin is very handsome. His voice and his stage presence are just right for the part." --GK
Victoria Botero
"Tiny soprano Victoria Botero looked great and played the do-gooder Mabel in appropriately over-the-top manner." --SBM

"Tiny Victoria Botero has a big soprano voice as Mabel." --BT

"Victoria Botero is a charmer as Mabel." --GK

"Soprano Victoria Botero is splendid as [Frederic's] love interest, Mabel, and she deftly glides her way through the coloratura passages the score provides." --CG

"Botero and Boldin enunciate clearly. Their voices merge with pleasing musical effect." --SRS
Denise Knowlton
"The role of Ruth, the piratical maid-of-all-work, is often given to a singer of limited vocal gifts, but mezzo-soprano Denise Knowlton combined fine comic timing with a really sumptuous voice." --SBM

"Denise Knowlton darn near steals the show as Ruth." --BT

"Denise Knowlton is an impressive singer." --GK

"Denise Knowlton amuses as Frederic's nurse, Ruth." --CG
Todd von Felker
"Todd von Felker, the Pirate King, swaggered nicely and sang effectively." --SBM

"Todd von Felker has a rich baritone as the Pirate King." --BT

"Felker is a gruff, hearty figure as the Pirate King." --GK

"Todd von Felker seems to be having a great deal of fun as the Pirate King." --CG

"Von Felker shines as the bewhiskered King with rich baritone delivery and infectious joie de vivre." --SRS
Andrew Papas
"Andrew Papas is a gregarious Major-General." --BT

"[Papas] has a rich voice and danced well." --SBM

"Andrew Papas cuts a completely comic figure as Major-General Stanley and he gets a lot of laughs." --GK

"Andrew Papas has the proper fussy temperament for the Major-General, and he pulls off his signature number in fine fashion." --CG

Design
"The daughters are clad in exquisite pastel confections when we meet them, each wearing a different color, thanks to costume designer Teresa Doggett. It helps distinguish every girl. Doggett's choice is wise, aesthetically appealing and not as obvious as you may imagine." --SRS

"[Schoonover is] aided by Patrick Huber's colorful scenery, Teresa Doggett's lovely costumes, and Kimberly Klearman's sharp lighting scheme." --CG
Secondaries and Ensemble
"The secondary roles were all nicely done. The chorus of daughters, pirates and policemen sang and danced to near perfection."--SBM

"We have fine singing from the other daughters: Elise LaBarge as Edith, Debra Hillabrand as Kate and Melissa Payton as Isabel. ... We saw nice work by Tom Sitzler as the Pirate King's lieutenant and David Dillard as the Police Sergeant." --GK

"A solid supporting cast includes: Tom Sitzler as Samuel, Elise LaBarge as Edith, Debra Hillabrand as Kate, Melissa Payton as Isabel, and David Dillard as the Sergeant of Police." --CG

The Pirates of Penzance continues its run tomorrow night, running through the weekend: July 16, 17, 18(M). Performances begin at 8pm; 3pm matinee on Sunday. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 Union Blvd in St. Louis. Sung in English with projected English supertitles. To purchase tickets or learn more about this production, please visit the UAO Website or call 314.361.2881

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"The Pirates of Penzance" Opens Friday Night at UAO

Come ride the high seas and frolic on the coast of Cornwall as Union Avenue Opera opens its sixteenth season with the celebrated Gilbert & Sullivan operetta The Pirates of Penzance. Frederic, mistakenly apprenticed to a band of pirates as a little lad by his nursery maid Ruth, is now 21 and thus freed from his piratical indentures. Having fallen in love with Mabel, a lovely daughter of a Major-General, his life as a noble member of society seems all secure...but once the Pirate King discovers a loophole in the terms of Frederic's indentures, the plot thickens! Enjoy the antics of soppy, silly pirates, virtuous Victorian maidens, bumbling British bobbies and a modern Major-General.

UAO last produced The Pirates of Penzance as a concert performance in 2002. For a full synopsis of the operetta, please click here.

(Photo: Robert Boldin & Victoria Botero)

In an interview with Sarah Bryan Miller of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Scott Schoonover offers his thoughts on the production and its director's vision:
"[Pirates is] one of my favorites," he says. "It was the obvious choice for me."

"It's one of the best things Mark has ever done for us," Schoonover says. "He's choreographed every minute of the show. It's taking a lot of energy, especially from our chorus. They're drilling, drilling, drilling everything. There's going to be something to watch at every moment."
Tenor Robert Boldin, who audiences will remember as King Kaspar in last December's Amahl and the Night Visitors, returns to sing the role of Frederic. Soprano Victoria Botero returns to sing Mabel after her critically-acclaimed debut in 2008 as Adina in L'Elisir d'Amore. Mezzo-soprano Denise Knowlton, last seen as Mistress Quickly in 2005's Falstaff, sings Ruth. Baritone and UAO veteran David Dillard sings the Sergeant of Police. Baritones Todd von Felker as the Pirate King and Andrew Papas as Major-General Stanley make their UAO debut in this production.

Stage Director Mark James Meier, fresh from staging a successful Madama Butterfly at Muddy River Opera with internationally known Soprano Michèle Crider, returns for his eighth production with Union Avenue Opera. UMKC graduate student Fiona Carmody serves as Stage Manager. Among the production designers are Patrick Huber (sets), Teresa Doggett (costumes) and Kimberly Klearman (lighting). Pianist Vera Parkin serves as production répétiteur. Scott Schoonover conducts.

Two weeks ago, UAO Artistic Director/Conductor Scott Schoonover and Denise Knowlton sat down with Steve Potter of Cityscape on 90.7 KWMU to discuss the production of The Pirates of Penzance as well as the coming season. Click here to listen.

Be sure not to miss a free opening night lecture on the operetta, taking place July 9 at 7pm in the Chapel of Union Avenue Christian Church. (Non-ticket buyers welcome.)

The Pirates of Penzance opens Friday, July 9th and will run for four more performances July 10, 16, 17, 18(M). All performances begin at 8pm (matinee on 18th begins at 3pm) and take place at Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 N. Union Blvd in St. Louis. Sung in English with projected English supertitles.

To purchase tickets or find more information about Union Avenue Opera, please call 314.361.2881 or visit the UAO Website.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sneak Peek at UAO "Pirates" in Rehearsal

For a little sneak peek at rehearsal of Union Avenue Opera's The Pirates of Penzance, click on the YouTube video below.



Be sure to revisit Operatic Saint Louis to read more about The Pirates of Penzance which opens July 9th at UAO.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Union Avenue Opera: 16th Season Overview


Union Avenue Opera's 16th season commences on July 9th with Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance.

THE PRODUCTIONS

Audiences this season at UAO will ride the high seas and frolic on the beaches of Cornwall with Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance then traverse the rocky Tyrolean Alps of Gaetano Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment and experience love turned to obsession, Russian-style, in Tchaikovsky's Pikovaya Dama ("The Queen of Spades"). The season concludes with a newly-formed holiday tradition: Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. (Further information on Amahl will be released in the coming months.)

THE CREW

Chicago-based director Mark James Meier stages the upcoming The Pirates of Penzance. UAO Principal Stage Director Jolly Stewart will return later this month to stage La Fille du Régiment and teams up with guest conductor Kostis Protopapas, of Tulsa Opera. Director Tim Ocel returns to stage Pikovaya Dama, his first full production at Union Avenue Opera.

Set Designer Patrick Huber has designed a festival set for the summer season. Costume Designer Teresa Doggett is at the helm for The Pirates of Penzance and Pikovaya Dama, and Lyn DeMoss will make her costume design debut with UAO on La Fille du Régiment.

THE ARTISTS

UAO is excited to welcome back artists from past seasons.

Cast of Pirates: Robert Boldin (Frederic), Victoria Botero (Mabel, Pirates), Debra Hillabrand (Kate), David Dillard (Sergeant of Police), Denise Knowlton (Ruth), Elise LaBarge (Edith) and Thomas Sitzler (Samuel).

Cast of Fille: Erica Cochran (Marie), David Dillard (Sergeant Sulpice) and E. Scott Levin (Hortensius).

Cast of Pikovaya Dama: Keith Boyer (Tchekalinsky), Mathew Edwardsen (Ghermann), Jon Garrett (Master of Ceremonies), Debra Hillabrand (Paulina/Daphnis), Elizabeth Schleicher (Masha), Thomas Sitzler (Narumov), Cecelia Stearman (Countess), Sylvia Stoner (Lisa) and Clark Sturdevant (Tchaplitsky).

Several artists make their UAO debut this summer:
  • Baritone Todd von Felker (Pirate King, Pirates and Tomsky/Pluto, Pikovaya Dama)
  • Soprano Stella Markou (Chloë, Pikovaya Dama)
  • Baritone Andrew Papas (Major-General Stanley, Pirates)
  • Baritone Nick Probst (Sourin, Pikovaya Dama)
  • Mezzo-Soprano Dixie Roberts (La Marquise de Berkenfeld, Fille)
  • Baritone Cory Schantz (Corporal, Fille)
  • Tenor Gregory Schmidt (Tonio, Fille)
  • Baritone Jordan Shanahan (Prince Yeletsky, Pikovaya Dama)
  • Members of the Ensemble: Sopranos Caetlyn Van Buren, Lindsay Keller, Sarah Rodewald, Leann Schuering and Rachel Smith; Baritones Lawrence Lewis, Greg Storkan and Kevin Nicoletti.

Jolly Stewart will also make a special cameo in La Fille du Régiment as La Duchesse de Krakenthorp!

THE EVENTS

UAO continues its educational outreach to the public an event in conjunction with its production of La Fille du Régiment: High Tea on Saturday, July 24 at Union Avenue Opera. Patrons will have tea and petit fours, hear musical performances and get a sneak peek at the sets, costumes and staging of Fille. Ahead of the opening of Pikovaya Dama, UAO offers a Poker Night on Saturday, August 14 at the Regional Arts Commission Building. There will be a poker tournament complete with drinks and refreshments. Prizes will be awarded. For more information visit the UAO Website and visit this blog in the coming weeks.

TICKETS & PRODUCTION INFO

The Pirates of Penzance runs July 9, 10, 16, 17, 18(M). La Fille du Régiment runs July 30, 31, August 7, 8(M). Pikovaya Dama runs August 20, 21, 27, 28. All performances at 8pm, except matinee performances (marked 'M') at 3pm. Productions sung in original languages (English, French and Russian, respectively) with projected English supertitles.

To purchase tickets or find more information about UAO, please call 314.361.2881 or visit http://www.unionavenueopera.org/

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

90.7 FM's "Cityscape" Features Union Avenue Opera


KWMU 90.7 FM's "Cityscape" broadcast this Friday, June 25, will feature a discussion of Union Avenue Opera's 16th season, which includes productions of The Pirates of Penzance, La Fille du Régiment ("The Daughter of the Regiment") and Pikovaya Dama ("The Queen of Spades"). Joining host Steve Potter will be UAO Artistic Director/Conductor Scott Schoonover, Pikovaya Dama stage director Tim Ocel, and Mezzo-Soprano Denise Knowlton, appearing as Ruth in UAO's Pirates of Penzance.

"Cityscape" airs on KWMU 90.7 FM at 11:00am-Noon on Friday, June 25 and will be repeated at 10:00pm. You may also listen to an archived podcast, to be posted after the initial airing, on KWMU's website.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Union Avenue Opera hosts "Pirates on Deck" this Sunday

Union Avenue Opera hosts "Pirates on Deck" this Sunday, June 27th at 8pm. Grab your parrot, eye-patch and bandana and hustle your peg leg to the deck! That is a downtown loft deck with appetizers, drinks, and swashbuckling pirate performances from the cast of UAO's season opening production: Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance.

Catering donated by Mosaic, Bridge and Rooster. $50 per person; all proceeds benefit UAO. RSVP 314.361.2881 to attend.

Visit the UAO Website for more information on this event as well as the 16th season, which also includes Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment and Tchaikovsky's Pikovaya Dama.