"[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 MillerPikovaya 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
"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
Monday, August 23, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Operatic Saint Louis: What qualities of Pikovaya Dama’s score and libretto "spoke" to you in particular when preparing the opera for staging?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
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.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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." --SBMDixie Roberts
"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 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." --CLE. Scott Levin
"Mezzo-soprano Dixie Roberts...played up [her role's] comic possibilities." --SBM
"E. Scott Levin displays his substantial comic skills as the harassed butler Hortensius." --CLJolly Stewart
"Director Jolly Stewart has a nice comic cameo turn in the non-singing role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp." --CLLa 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
"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