Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Get Ready for the New Year with the Met's Saturday Matinee Archival Broadcast of Strauss's "Die Fledermaus" from 1951

St. Louis Public Radio will carry the Met Opera's archival broadcast of Richard Strauss's Die Fledermaus from 1951 on their HD channel, KWMU-3 beginning at 12 noon.

WETA's web site says:
The light-hearted work, a traditional New Year’s favorite at opera companies, features an extraordinary cast led by longtime Philadelphia Orchestra music director Eugene Ormandy in his Met debut season: Patrice Munsel as Adele, Marguerite Piazza as Rosalinde, Risë Stevens as Prince Orlofsky, Richard Tucker as Alfred, John Brownlee as Dr. Falke, Charles Kullman as Eisenstein, and Oscar-nominated comic actor Jack Gilford in the speaking role of Frosch.

Munsel, just 25 years old at the time of this broadcast, had a major success in the role of the ambitious maid Adele. She was already an established Met star by 1951, having made her Met debut in Thomas’s Mignon eight years earlier at the age of 18. Piazza—well-known to television audiences for her regular role on Sid Caesar’s enormously popular “Your Show of Shows” —- made her Met debut in the role of Rosalinde and went on to a long career in cabaret, Broadway, and television. This season’s performances of Fledermaus were the only times Stevens and Tucker sang in the operetta in their long and acclaimed Met careers, each of which spanned four decades and included hundreds of performances.

The single intermission will include “In Memoriam,” a tribute to Met stars who have passed away during the previous year. Among the artists to be featured are Giorgio Tozzi, Cornell MacNeil, and Salvatore Licitra.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Donizetti's "La Fille du Régiment" Met Saturday Matinee Broadast

St. Louis Public Radio will carry the Met Opera broadcast of Gaetano Donizetti’s La Fille du Régiment on their HD channel, KWMU-3 beginning at 12 noon. Approximate running time 2 hours, 50 minutes with intermission at approximately 1:20 p.m.

The Met's web site says:
Nino Machaidze is Donizetti’s spunky heroine in Laurent Pelly’s witty production. Her Tonio is Lawrence Brownlee, who delivers all nine high Cs of his famous aria with aplomb, and Kiri Te Kanawa is the Duchess of Krakenthorp
Caitlin McKechney, writing on The Classical Review web site says:
Donizetti’s comedies offer a mix of the bel canto fireworks of Rossini and an anticipation of Verdian majesty with a touch of Gilbert and Sullivan humor. La Fille may be one of Donizetti’s best-known operas, but it is largely famous for Ah mes amis, the “Mount Everest” of tenor arias with its nine high C’s.

Lawrence Brownlee delivered a magnificent rendition of the star-making aria, which famously catapulted a young Pavarotti to fame in the Met’s 1972 production. As the love-struck Tonio, Brownlee’s tone was full and even throughout, providing a bravura delivery of the Act 1 show-stopper. The tenor was also endearingly awkward in his lederhosen as he professes his love of Marie, the adopted daughter of the resident French soldiers, his vocal triumphs even more satisfying coming from this underdog character.

But, despite the renown of that famous aria, the show really belongs to Marie, who was enthusiastically portrayed and compellingly sung by Nino Machaidze. The Georgian soprano was spunky and appropriately tom-boyish, managing to bring dramatic interest to the regimental battle cry of the Act I Chacun le sait, turning the potentially sing-songy aria into an acrobatic display of comic gold.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Liping Zhang Stars as Madama Butterfly on Met's Saturday Matinee Broadcast

St. Louis Public Radio will carry the Met Opera broadcast of Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly on their HD channel, KWMU-3 beginning at 12 noon. Approximate running time 3 hours, 10 minutes with intermissions at approximately 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.

The Met says:
Anthony Minghella’s breathtakingly beautiful staging returns with Liping Zhang as the tragic heroine. Robert Dean Smith and Marcello Giordani share the role of the faithless Pinkerton and Plácido Domingo conducts.
In the December 8, 2011, New York Times, Steve Smith writes:
Puccini’s sumptuous music, potently allusive and ideally flowing as if unspooled in an endless thread, is the most obvious and unshakable asset in any account of Butterfly. The story, however familiar, is reliably gripping; the characters are relatable, whether through pity or revulsion.

The current production — created by Anthony Minghella at the English National Opera, introduced at the Met in 2006 as the calling card of the Peter Gelb era and now keenly stewarded by Carolyn Choa, the director and choreographer — is among the most effective productions Mr. Gelb has brought into the house.

A compelling Cio-Cio-San, the geisha of the title, is crucial; Liping Zhang, a Chinese-Canadian soprano who has sung the part at the Met and elsewhere around the world, was an arresting presence. She sang vividly and affectingly, and acted with palpable commitment.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Gounod's "Faust" Saturday Met Matinee Broadcast and High Definition Transmission

Jonas Kaufmann as Faust

St. Louis Public Radio will carry the Met Opera broadcast of Charles Gounod’s Faust on their HD channel, KWMU-3 beginning at 12 noon. Approximate running time 3 hours, 40 minutes with intermissions at approximately 12:50 p.m. and 2:15 p.m.

You may also listen to Faust via a live stream of the broadcast.

The Met says:
With Jonas Kaufmann in the title role, René Pape as the devil, and Marina Poplavskaya as Marguerite, Gounod’s classic retelling of the Faust legend couldn’t be better served. Tony Award-winning director Des McAnuff updates the story to the first half of the 20th century with a production that won praise in London last season. Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts on the heels of his Don Carlo success.
In the New York Times, November 30, 2011, Anthony Tommasini wrote:
It is best to put aside any knowledge you may have of Goethe when attending a performance of Gounod’s Faust. There is beautiful music -— stirring ensembles and a few gotcha arias —- in Gounod’s score. But this melodramatic opera is anything but philosophical.

The standard rap against Faust is that Gounod turns the characters into stereotypes, with music to match. As Gounod presents him, Faust, an embittered old philosopher who has signed a contract with the Devil, becomes just another in a line of dashing young tenor heroes pining for a young woman and showing off his top notes. Gounod’s Méphistophélès seems far too charming to be malevolent; and the pretty young Marguerite is a little shallow, smitten as much by a casket of jewels as by the young Faust’s ardor.
The High Definition transmission of Faust will be presented at AMC Esquire 7, 6706 Clayton Road; St. Louis Mills 18; 5555 Saint Louis Mills Boulevard; AMC Chesterfield 14, 3000 Chesterfield Mall; O'Fallon 14, 900 Caledonia Drive; and The Hett, McKendree College, 701 College Road, Lebanon, IL. Click here to buy tickets.

Watch a brief video by clicking here

Monday, December 5, 2011

Union Avenue Opera Presents Menotti's "Amahl and the Night Visitors" This Weekend

Union Avenue Opera adds to St. Louis' flourishing holiday music scene this weekend with Gian-Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and the Night Visitors, opening Friday evening. 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. It’s also a perfect way to bring the family together!

St. Charles native Ricky Johnson, veteran of UAO’s production, returns to sing the title role of Amahl. Last seen in her critically acclaimed performance as Mrs. Patrick DeRocher in this summer's Dead Man Walking, Mezzo-soprano Debra Hillabrand makes her role debut as Amahl’s Mother. Also fresh from their appearances in Dead Man Walking are Tenor Clark Sturdevant as King Kaspar and Baritone Robert Reed as King Melchior. Returning after his company debut in the 2010 production, 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. No stranger to UAO, Allyson Ditchey serves as stage director. UAO Artistic Director and Conductor Scott Schoonover will conduct a chamber orchestra.

Last season, UAO opened its doors to school children for a complimentary Thursday matinee performance and will do so again this year on December 8th at 10am. Inquire with the company for ticket availability.

Join fellow opera patrons for a FREE opening night lecture on Amahl and the Night Visitors in the UACC Fellowship Hall on Friday, December 9th at 7pm. Non-ticket buyers welcome.

Amahl and the Night Visitors runs December 9th (8pm), 10th (5pm) and 11th (3pm). Tickets range $15-$47 and are available by contacting the Union Avenue Opera Box Office at 314.361.2881 or visiting The opera was commissioned especially for television and was first performed by NBC Television Opera Theatre in 1951. The production will be performed in English with projected supertitles at Union Avenue Opera, 733 North Union Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108 and has a run time of approximately 50 minutes.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Renee Fleming Reprises Title Role in "Rodelinda" on Met Saturday Matinee on December 3

St. Louis Public Radio will carry the Met Opera broadcast of George Frideric Handels’s Rodelinda on their HD channel, KWMU-3 beginning at 11:30 a.m. Please note the half-hour earlier starting time.

You may also listen to Rodelinda via a live stream of the broadcast. Approximate running time 4 hours, 5 minutes. Intermissions at 12:30 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Renée Fleming, sensational in the 2004 Met premiere of Stephen Wadsworth’s much-heralded production, reprises the title role. She’s joined by Stephanie Blythe and countertenor Andreas Scholl, and Baroque specialist Harry Bicket conducts.

In the November 15, 2011, New York Times, James Oestreich writes:
In addition to Ms. Fleming’s star power, Stephen Wadsworth’s direction has received much credit for the production’s initial success and durability. And direction is surely needed.

The plot —- here updated more or less to the time the opera was written, 1725 -— defies quick description. It involves Bertarido, a king of Milan thought by most onstage, including his wife, Rodelinda, to be dead; his sister, Eduige, betrothed to Grimoaldo, who is now bent on claiming Rodelinda and, not incidentally, the throne; and two counselors to Grimoaldo: the sweet Unolfo, loyal to Bertarido (and aware that he is alive), and the irredeemably base Garibaldo, who meets an appropriate end at the point of Bertarido’s sword.

Opportunities for drama are obvious, but the work’s structure is unyielding. Ms. Fleming, in a Playbill interview, calls Rodelinda “a Handel opera with 30 arias and no ensembles.” Though she discounts the gorgeous duet that ends Act II and the lively quintet that ends the whole, she might have added that the arias are of the da capo variety: an A section giving way to B, then returning, however decorated or transformed.

Mr. Wadsworth’s pointed direction keeps the action moving forward even when the music circles back, though not without occasional distractions. For one, as Eduige, the formidable mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, sings at center stage, Rodelinda travels to a remote perch in the palace library — which, in Thomas Lynch’s set design, spans the stage —- to fetch a book for her son, Flavio. Who can ignore Ms. Fleming even when she is marking time?
The High Definition transmission of Rodelinda will be presented at AMC Esquire 7, 6706 Clayton Road; St. Louis Mills 18; 5555 Saint Louis Mills Boulevard; AMC Chesterfield 14, 3000 Chesterfield Mall; and O'Fallon 14, 900 Caledonia Drive. Click here to buy tickets.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis presents Joshua's Boots at the Touhill Performing Arts Center - Nov. 16 - 18

Opera for young people celebrates the achievements of a young African-American cowboy facing prejudice and adversity in the 1870’s American West

St. Louis, MO – Opera Theatre of Saint Louis (OTSL) will present school and public performances of Joshua’s Boots, an opera for young people featuring a cast of students from across the metro area, at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of University of Missouri – St. Louis on November 16-18.

Set in 1878, Joshua’s Boots is the story of a black teenager who flees from his Tennessee home to seek opportunity in the American West. After racial violence leaves him without a father, Joshua ends up in Dodge City where he is hired by the son of an ex-Confederate ranch owner. After battling hardship and prejudice, he eventually thrives as a cowboy – a fact symbolized by his handsome silver-tipped boots, an emblem of top achievement in the cowboys’ world. Introducing young audiences to opera and a new perspective on the American cowboy, Joshua’s Boots is recommended for families and children fourth grade through twelfth grade.

Written by Adolphus Hailstork with a libretto by Susan Kander, Joshua’s Boots was co-commissioned by OTSL and Lyric Opera of Kansas City in 1999. OTSL’s new production is directed by Michael Shell and conducted by Joseph Marcheso. The production is designed by Robert Morgan with costumes by Jennifer “J.C.” Krajicek and lighting by Joe Clapper.

Joshua’s Boots will be performed by a cast of twenty-one students from the metro area. Eight of the students are current participants or recent alumni of OTSL’s acclaimed Monsanto Artists-in-Training program, which provides college level voice instruction to select high school students throughout St. Louis city and county. The students will be joined by three young professional artists: soprano Katherine Jolly, a Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions winner and Yum-Yum in OTSL’s 2007 production of The Mikado; baritone Jorell Williams, a recent prizewinner of the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition; and tenor Kyle Erdős Knapp, an OTSL Gerdine Young Artist during the 2011 season.

Joshua’s Boots is made possible with a leadership gift from Dana Brown Charitable Trust, U.S. Bank Trustee and with generous support from Monsanto Fund, with special thanks to Pi Beta Phi/Sign of the Arrow. Joshua’s Boots is part of OTSL’s award-winning education and outreach programs, which annually reach nearly 11,500 children throughout Missouri and Illinois.

A public performance will be presented on Friday, November 18 at 7 p.m. at the Touhill Performing Arts Center, University of Missouri – St. Louis. Tickets are $12 per person and are available by calling (314) 516-4949 or (866) 516-4949 or online at

Four performances for schools will be held on Wednesday, November 16 at 11 a.m., Thursday, November 17 at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m., and Friday, November 18 at 10 a.m. Tickets for the school performances are $6 for students and teachers. Excerpts from the opera will also be performed for home school audiences on Wednesday, October 26 at 10:30 a.m. as part of the Missouri History Museum’s Homeschool Days program. Contact Dan Mayo at (314) 963-4251 or to reserve tickets for the school performances.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Winter Opera Saint Louis: The Fifth Season

Winter Opera Saint Louis' fifth season features a revue of American musical theater, a landmark in German opera and one of the most beloved Italian blockbusters. If that isn't enough operatic excitement, the company has recently acquired a new warehouse, permanent office space in the Hill neighborhood, a new venue and hired a music director. Company founder and artistic director Gina Galati shares her elation over the many improvements to the company's operations.

The company's permanent warehouse space "makes a big difference," says Galati. For the first three years of its existence, Winter Opera Saint Louis depended on the generosity of supportive individuals and arts organizations to help store accumulated props, sets and costumes. After discussing a need for storage space with production sponsor Dr. Daniel Phillips, Galati was soon approached by Phillips and Mark Tempkin with an offer of a 10,000 square foot warehouse they currently co-owned. The space has been in use since March, and Galati looks forward to the possibilities it will afford the company, primarily investment into more props, costumes and scenery. Once the space is filled, Galati wants to rent out inventory to other opera companies in the area. Above all, the artistic director finds having one dedicated storage location far easier on operations.

Winter Opera St. Louis Office, Marconi Ave
With a new storage space acquired, the hunt was on for permanent office space. Until mid-September, the opera office was set up in Galati's home on the Hill. The office situation was "getting to be too much in my house, and this is a logical progression," Galati says, "and in order for us to grow, we needed a workspace." The company found a partial sponsor for a space located on Marconi Avenue in the heart of the Hill neighborhood amidst popular establishments Amighetti's, Milo's and Gelato di Riso. Galati finds the location advantageous given the number of visitors to the Hill throughout the week. Even when the office is closed, passersby can take brochures from an outdoor stand. It is also quite fitting that Winter Opera Saint Louis' office sits right across the street from St. Ambrose Catholic Church, where the company (then under the name "New Opera Saint Louis") performed its inaugural production of Verdi's Rigoletto in 2007, followed by later productions of Don Pasquale, Gianni Schicchi and, most recently, Cavalleria Rusticana. Not surprisingly, Galati appreciates the lack of an office in her own home. "It's great to go to work and then go home with nothing from the office in my house!"

Skip Viragh Center for the Arts
The fifth season kicks off with Rodgers & Hammerstein's A Grand Night For Singing at a new venue both for Winter Opera Saint Louis and Chaminade Preparatory School: the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts. When Galati heard of Skip Viragh's generous gift to Chaminade, she engaged the opera company's lawyer to arrange a meeting with Chaminade's School Board President to propose a seasonal presence at the venue. Galati says Chaminade received "several recommendations from Washington University" including several calls of support from local Monsignors. "We used the Catholic connection, for sure," she says. Noting that Chaminade currently has no vocal program, she also hopes Winter Opera's presence can create music education opportunities for interested students. Once the company was granted permission to perform, Galati was quite pleased with the venue's reasonable rental price and hopes to make the Skip Viragh Center a permanent venue. "It's a little bit big for us," Galati remarks, "but we hope to attract a larger audience, of course, and keep plugging away. It takes time to gain the support of people to attend your productions and build a subscriber base." Winter Opera will be one of many professional companies featured at the Skip Viragh Center, including Bach Society of St. Louis and STAGES St. Louis.

Steven Jarvi
Last season, Galati announced the hiring of Conductor Steven Jarvi, Associate Conductor at the Kansas City Symphony and New York City Opera, as Winter Opera Saint Louis' Music Director. In 2009, Jarvi conducted Winter Opera's The Barber of Seville and returned earlier this year for La Traviata. Jarvi came into contact with Gina Galati through a mutual friend at the New World Symphony in Miami Beach. "Some good words were put in and Gina decided to give me a try," Jarvi says. "I feel like we got along and respected each other right away." One of the first developments under the partnership of Galati and Jarvi was the addition of New York City as an audition site for the company in order to expand the company's singer base. In April, both were involved in a production of Rigoletto with Opera Company of Brooklyn, and took the opportunity to hear singers during their time spent in the area. "It was a big success for us," says Galati. "We heard about 56 singers--some managed, some non-managed. We found some really terrific people." Jarvi was pleased because the auditions helped "put us on the map ... and be a small part of that incredibly vibrant opera community that populates upper Manhattan." All in all, Jarvi is excited to help advance Winter Opera Saint Louis' mission. "I really like St. Louis as a community and I look forward to being more and more involved in shaping opera in the area."

In planning the upcoming season, Jarvi says that Puccini's La Bohème came up in discussion immediately. This will be Jarvi's first full Bohème, having served as Associate Conductor on the last New York City Opera production at Lincoln Center and conducting only segments or single acts of the piece. Jarvi shares a story about his first opera audition for Placido Domingo's Young Artist Program, in which he was instructed to conduct and sing all of Act I: "I learned it within an inch of my life," he says. Jarvi's hard work paid off when Domingo instructed him to conduct "Donde lietà" while the opera star sang. "I may be the only person to have ever heard Domingo sing Mimì." Galati has several good reasons to produce Bohème, especially at the Skip Viragh Center: "We always want to involve children, so it will be great to have a children's chorus once again. If we are going to have this big theatre, we might as well make it a big splash!"

"With Bohème as an anchor," Jarvi says, "we thought of what we could perform that was different from what has been done in the past but also could be performed with a smaller orchestra at the Saint Louis Woman's Club." Thus, Richard Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos was chosen. Jarvi finds the German chamber opera "perfect for the kind of stage and theater that the Woman's Club offers." Galati felt that it was time to add a German opera to the company repertory and give some young singers the opportunity to perform it. "It will be a nice change to step out of our bounds," she says, and adds that with the dinner before (or after, depending) a production at the Woman's Club, "it's always a big event!"

Bohème and Ariadne chosen, Galati knew that the first-ever production at the Skip Viragh Center would need to be something lighter in order to attract new audience members and ease into the logistics of a much larger space before jumping into a big opera. "We had hoped to do a Pops Concert," she says, but the cost of full orchestrations was prohibitive. After searching high and low, Galati discovered A Grand Night for Singing, a 1993 Tony nominated musical revue of Rodgers & Hammerstein songs. This production was affordable and dovetailed well with Jarvi and Galati's desire to perform a piece in English from the American musical theater. Having conducted several Pops Concerts with the Kansas City Symphony, Jarvi is excited to dive into repertoire that holds a special place for him as a child. "I grew up with all of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals that were turned into films. My mother couldn't get enough of them," he says. Just last year, Jarvi had the honor of performing with the Von Trapp Family Singers (descendants of the Captain and Maria) and was moved over the most simple songs. "These tunes carry a lot of emotional weight for me since they are tied into so many memories of my childhood."

Winter Opera Saint Louis' fifth season begins with Rodgers & Hammerstein's A Grand Night for Singing on Friday, November 4th (8pm) and Sunday, November 6th (4pm) at the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts on the campus of Chaminade Preparatory School, 425 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO. Tickets can be purchased by calling 314-865-0038 or visiting the company's website: where you can find more information on Ariadne auf Naxos, La Bohème and other special events throughout the year.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Winter Opera St. Louis, Broadway Style!

Winter Opera Saint Louis kicks off its fifth season with musical theater sung by big operatic voices in a production of A Grand Night For Singing, a Tony-nominated revue of songs from the Rodgers & Hammerstein canon. Beloved favorites from The King and I, Oklahoma!, South Pacific, The Sound of Music and many more will be heard from soloists, ensemble, dancers and orchestra under the baton of WOSTL Music Director Steven Jarvi. Expect to hear performances from company founder and Artistic Director Soprano Gina Galati, Tenors Keith Boyer, Marc Schapman, Mezzo-soprano Nora Teipen and Baritone Eric McCluskey to name a few.

Performances take place Friday, November 4th (8pm) and Sunday, November 6th (4pm) at the newly-opened Siefert Theater at the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts on the campus of Chaminade College Preparatory School. Tickets can be purchased by calling 314-865-0038 or visiting the company's new online ticketing site:

Keep visiting Operatic Saint Louis in the coming weeks for further coverage on Grand Night as well several exciting developments for Winter Opera Saint Louis in its new season.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Opera Theatre Hosts Warehouse Sale - This Saturday!

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is hosting its bi-annual warehouse sale this Saturday, September 17 from 9am to 3pm at the Witaker Opera Warehouse, 4607 Mcree Ave, between Aspen Spas and Rivertown Foods.

Hundreds of costume and thousands of shoes, gloves, hats, and other accessories will be available for purchase at great prices. It's the perfect chance to find that one-of-a-kind Halloween costume (like the robot costumes from The Tales of Hoffman, pictured to the right) and take home a piece of Opera Theatre history from your favorite production.

In addition to costumes, furniture and hand props will be available as well. All major credit cards are accepted. Doors open at 9am - shoppers are encouraged to arrive early to get first access to the best deals.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Critics on "Dead Man Walking"

Union Avenue Opera's Dead Man Walking has earned praise from Sarah Bryan Miller of the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch, Gerry Kowarsky of Two on the Aisle, Chris Gibson of and Chuck Lavazzi of KDHX and Operatic Saint Louis. Here is a sampling of what they had to say:

Chuck Lavazzi:

"...a searing and riveting presentation that is simply one of best local opera productions since Opera Theatre’s Glorianna back in 2005..."

"Baritone Jordan Shanahan doesn’t so much sing and act the role of de Rocher as inhabit it. Ditto for soprano Debra Hillabrand as de Rocher’s long-suffering mother. Their scenes neatly capture their characters’ tragic situation... Tim Ocel’s direction is clear and focused, assisted by Patrick Huber’s set... Artistic director and conductor Scott Schoonover holds Jake Heggie’s complex and evocative score together beautifully... Kaitlyn Breen’s lighting nicely delineates playing areas and Teresa Doggett’s costumes effectively capture the feel of rural 1980s Louisiana..."

"Union Avenue deserves hearty applause for bringing this work to St. Louis for the first time."
Chris Gibson:

"Elise Quagliata and Jordan Shanahan...are absolutely riveting and brave in their performances... Shanahan's confession aria is worth the price of admission alone... Tim Ocel's direction finds the heart at the center of this terrible happening, and Scott Schoonover conducts the orchestra, drawing all he can dramatically from their expert playing...

Union Avenue Opera's production of Dead Man Walking is a must-see event, heavy and searing, but well worth the humanity and the pain of forgiveness, for the sheer joy of seeing masterful performers at work."
Gerry Kowarsky:

"The richness of the score is fully evident in the playing of the orchestra conducted by Scott Schoonover… The acting has the kind of detail and moment-to-moment responsiveness that we'd be lucky to see on any stage, not just in opera. For this we have to give credit to the director Tim Ocel… Teresa Doggett provided fine period costumes. The spare set design by Patrick Huber was evocative and flexible, as was Kaitlyn Breen's lighting."

"...the most involving production of an opera I've ever attended...a landmark of St. Louis theatre."
Sarah Bryan Miller:

"Elise Quagliata gave the role Prejean's authentic strength and humor, fears and faith, and sang throughout with a dark, expressive voice that was strong in the upper register... [B]aritone Jordan Shanahan gave the convicted murderer Joseph de Rocher a completely human complexity that mixed the killer's darkness with a spiritual spark. His fine baritone voice sounded beautiful or rough in turn when his music called for it, and it was intelligently used throughout, in the service of the drama... [S]oprano Marlissa Hudson's portrayal [of Sister Rose] was warm, loving and slightly sassy, with a soaring high voice that didn't quit... As Joseph's mother, mezzo-soprano Debra Hillabrand gave a moving, well-sung performance that conveyed her character's grief and fears... As Owen Hart, father of the murdered girl, David Dillard was dramatically strong..."

"Artistic director Scott Schoonover, director Tim Ocel and everyone else involved really knocked themselves out for this one. It's probably the finest production that UAO has ever done."
Dead Man Walking continues its run this weekend: August 26 & 27. All performances begin at 8pm and take place at Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 N. Union Blvd in St. Louis. Sung in English with projected English supertitles. Tickets range $30-52. Student Rush Tickets are $15 with valid Student ID (cash only) for any remaining seats available 15 minutes before curtain. To purchase Tickets or find more information about Union Avenue Opera, please call 314.361.2881 or visit

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"Dead Man Walking" at Union Avenue Opera August 19 through 27, 2011

Jordan Shanahan and Elise Quagliata
© Ron Lindsey, 2011, All rights reserved

As I’ve noted in the past, Union Avenue Opera isn’t shy about tackling material that pushes the company’s artistic and physical limits. Sometimes, as with last month’s Turandot, the results have been mixed. With the local premiere of Dead Man Walking, the result is a searing and riveting presentation that is simply one of best local opera productions since Opera Theatre’s Glorianna back in 2005. Union Avenue couldn’t have chosen a better way to end their 2011 season.

Absolutely every aspect of Union Avenue’s work is spot on. The cast, headed by mezzo Elise Qualgiata as Sister Helen Prejean, is first-rate both vocally and theatrically—as good a collection of singers and actors (some roles are non-singing) as you will find anywhere. Tim Ocel’s direction is clear and focused, assisted by Patrick Huber’s set, which makes smart use of large, mobile chain-link fence units to suggest the oppressive prison atmosphere and also enable fast and fluid scene changes. Artistic director and conductor Scott Schoonover holds Jake Heggie’s complex and evocative score together beautifully, despite the challenges presented by the large number of singers and the difficult acoustics of the Union Avenue space. Kaitlyn Breen’s lighting nicely delineates playing areas and Teresa Doggett’s costumes effectively capture the feel of rural 1980s Louisiana.

The libretto—by noted playwright Terrence McNally, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s memoir of her experiences ministering to convicted killers in the Louisiana prison system—is literate and imaginative. It might benefit for an edit here and there, especially in the long “driving to Angola” scene and during some moments in the second act that struck me a repetitive, but on the whole it’s a remarkably gripping and, for the most part, even-handed look at the difficult emotional and ethical questions raised by America’s justice, prison, and execution system. The character of convicted murderer Joseph de Rocher is, perhaps, less repellant and more willing to seek atonement than the real-life killers that Sister Helen counseled, but this IS fiction, after all. You can’t put real life on stage without considerable modification.

Baritone Jordan Shanahan doesn’t so much sing and act the role of de Rocher as inhabit it. Ditto for soprano Debra Hillabrand as de Rocher’s long-suffering mother. Their scenes neatly capture their characters’ tragic situation. David Dillard, Stephanie Tennill, Cecelia Stearman and Jon Garrett create a powerful quartet of murder victim parents. Robert Reed is a strong presence as the sympathetic Angola warden George Benton, nicely contrasting with Clark Sturdevant’s work as the callous prison chaplain, Father Grenville. Phillip Touchette has a charming cameo as a motorcycle cop who stops the speeding Sister Helen on her way to Angola, only to tear up the ticket as ask her to pray for his sick mother.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Dead Man Walking, though, is the score. Mr. Heggie’s music is clearly “modern” without any of the deliberately off-putting clangor that characterizes a lot of the newer stuff in concert halls these days. Southern American folk, blues and popular music ideas are woven neatly and seamlessly into the aural fabric. It’s both accessible and smart, which is a neat trick.

Dead Man Walking is an emotionally draining and sometimes difficult work that is not for the faint of heart or mind, but it’s well worth seeing and hearing. It’s good to know that serious, theatrically canny composers are still writing operas out there, and Union Avenue deserves hearty applause for bringing this work to St. Louis for the first time.

The opera runs through August 27 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union at Enright in the Central West End. It’s sung in English with projected titles that are easily visible throughout the theatre. That’s a plus, given how unintelligible some of the lyrics are rendered by the acoustics, especially in the big choral scenes. For more information, you may visit

Friday, August 19, 2011

Q & A With Elise Quagliata of "Dead Man Walking"

Elise Quagliata
Mezzo-soprano Elise Quagliata sings the leading role of Sr. Helen Prejean in Union Avenue Opera's Dead Man Walking. This production marks Elise's company debut. Operatic Saint Louis recently engaged her in a Q & A session where she offers her perspective and thoughts on the piece.

What was your particular process in inhabiting the role of Sr. Helen Prejean?
I started by researching Helen. She's all about transparency...transparency of her mission and of herself. I followed the links on her site to death penalty info sites and found some on my own, as well. I read all the statistics I could get my hands on. It was hard. The stats are jarring and disturbing. Her book gives enormous insight into what she calls this "secret ritual" of capital punishment. But there are also a lot of unbiased sites that give history and statistical analysis about the death penalty. This prepped me in understanding why this is so important to her. I empathized and understood her mission. It's most compelling to me because she's so focused on the humanity. I ask myself constantly if I would be able to do this: find love in my heart for someone who did something so brutal. I had to understand how she was able to do that before I could move forward and truly inhabit that moment of forgiveness.
Why do you believe the character of Sr. Helen takes a huge leap by meeting with Joseph De Rocher in person despite such strong warnings from Sr. Rose and the resulting frustration and animosity from the parents of De Rocher's victims? Are her choices possibly born of fascination with danger or risk?
Having spoken to Sister Helen the other day, she seems like an exceptionally focused person. She believes in her mission wholeheartedly, and it seems as though very little would get in her way. She pushes through in the opera because she's a self-proclaimed "hothead", as she states in the aria, a bit of a bull in a china shop, as it were, but also because she's invested. She's invested with this relationship she cultivated through letters and perhaps there were some promises to visit, etc. When he finally does ask her to go, she has to because she gave her word. Helen is a DO-er. I think she THINKS after. And she certainly did during this first experience. There was no precedent set. She couldn't do everything correctly right out of the gate. There has to be a learning curve with a situation as delicate as juggling an inmate, parents of victims, her friends...she has a lot of balls in the air. And I believe she was able to figure out how to do this process correctly only after there were some feelings hurt the first time.
Are there moments in the opera that you have found difficulty finding your way into as an actor?
The most challenging moment for me was the confession scene. How could I hear his confession and then give him the gift of forgiveness? I'm an actor who feels everything, and I want the audience to feel the honesty with which I perform everything I sing. I struggled making the moment she forgives him real because I couldn't understand how she found that genuine compassion. Elise Quagliata is not yet so enlightened. But I kept reading about her, trying to understand her mission, and finally I spoke with her. This helped enormously. Also with Tim's help, a lot of repetition and introspection, I feel we got there. I honestly do forgive him in that scene now.
Elise Quagliata & Marlissa Hudson
Conversely, are there any moments in which you immediately knew what you wanted to do?
The ease and beauty of Helen and Rose's relationship was simpler for me. Rose is a beautifully written foil to Helen's impetuousness. I understood that relationship well. I am a bit like Helen in my "full steam ahead" attitude. I have been called stubborn in my day (just ask my husband!) I have friends like Rose who keep me grounded and mindful. I love and enjoy this relationship being played out on stage. Rose's protectiveness and the unconditional love she shows Helen really gives Helen the strength to carry on with Joe until the end.
What are the most affecting moments in the opera for you?
Anytime Joe shows his vulnerability. Anytime we see the human Joe is. It's easy to stick this label on him--and it's not INcorrect to do so: RAPIST, MURDERER. But all Helen sees is the human. "Strip away the ego and all you're left with is the purest essence...that's the human I wanted to save."--This is something I wrote down from our most recent conversation. In the opera, Joe gives Helen a lot to work with. He often cracks open to reveal his pulpy, vulnerable self. These moments are most affecting for me: the Elvis moment they share, the confession, and of course his apology to the parents.
Jake Heggie's music is at times tonal yet modernistic, with seemingly constant exposition in its musical development rather than repetition heard so often in the standard opera repertoire. What have you found to be the strengths of this score, especially in its interplay with the libretto?
This music is brilliant because each motif or theme has a personality, character or action associated with it. It comes with connotation. The intense 5/8 represents the crime, but the 6/8, which harmonically resembles the crime, seems to represent the institution of jail and those affiliated with it. When these themes interplay and are transformed, it's similar to dynamic character transformation. Nothing is static, musically or textually. That's the genius of the piece. As a listener, you experience the journey with us not only through our words, but also through the harmonic and thematic transformations. McNally's libretto is smart, smart, smart. Obviously, he's a brilliant writer. The libretto and Heggie's music beautifully complement each other.

Jordan Shanahan & Elise Quagliata
Sr. Helen Prejean is an outspoken voice against capital punishment; the character in the opera reflects this viewpoint. Do you believe that the opera makes any sort of statement about or against the death penalty?
The opera forces the audience to examine the question. There's distance in a book or a movie; you don't necessarily have that visceral experience you get in the theater. Seeing this in person, hearing the screams, the tears, feeling that intensity, forces the audience to examine their own feelings about the issue. As Sister Helen said to me, "I am a window pane into a secret ritual." It's up to the audience whether they want to peer in and learn more.
What can you say to convince someone who might be on the fence about attending Dead Man Walking?
Art is entertainment, but art also pushes boundaries. Come see an historical work that is beautifully staged, wonderfully sung and engages the heart and mind.
Visit for more information on her upcoming career. All images ©Ron Lindsey, 2011.

Dead Man Walking opens tonight. The production runs August 19, 20, 26 & 27. All performances begin at 8pm and take place at Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 N. Union Blvd in St. Louis. Sung in English with projected English supertitles. Tickets range $30-52. Student Rush Tickets are $15 with valid Student ID (cash only) for any remaining seats available 15 minutes before curtain. To purchase Tickets or find more information about Union Avenue Opera, please call 314.361.2881 or visit

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reflections from Principal Singers of "Dead Man Walking"

Mezzo-sopranos Cecelia Stearman and Debra Hillabrand appear in the Missouri Premiere of Dead Man Walking, opening this Friday. Stearman sings the role of Jade Boucher, mother of a murdered young man. Hillabrand sings the role of Mrs. Patrick De Rocher, mother of the convicted murderer. Both singers offer their thoughts and reflections on Dead Man Walking, especially how it has impacted them as an artist and a person.

Cecelia Stearman:
Jade Boucher

“It’s just an opera,” I keep telling myself… “It’s not your real life…” But each day, each evening when I go home from rehearsals, I take it all with me-the pain, the contemplation, the love, the forgiveness, the “understanding of humanity…” It’s all there. This part of Jade Boucher has moved me more than I knew was possible. I have been stirred to the core. But for me, the greatest impact has come from the blatant Christian subject matter: fallen, sinful man and a loving, forgiving God, even to the very end; and how that reality affects all of us and how we relate to each other, if we respond in like fashion with love and forgiveness and if we are to get the most out of “this journey.”

My sweet mother, a minister’s wife, began a maximum security prison ministry to women in Mississippi, after her retirement. This Southern belle, seemingly naïve, seemingly underprepared, went 1-2 times a week to maximum security to meet with known killers and those who still declared they were innocent. She treated them with such love and compassion. I was always impressed by this, but couldn’t begin to understand her desire to do what she did, until I started working on this show. Dead Man Walking is an incredible love story between a nun and an accused killer. It began simply with a letter and turned into a til-death-do-us-part relationship. In the opera (differing from the actual accounts in the book), the accused is indeed the killer. And, by the time he finally confesses to it, it doesn’t matter: Sister Helen already loved “Joseph.” And she forgave him. She forgave him because she believed that was what “her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” wanted her to do. She forgave him, and in his death, it seems that he received new life.

This is the “salvation story,” as we call it in evangelical circles. And in most situations today, to keep from “offending anyone,” lines like, “I will be the face of Christ for you,” are rare, omitted. But that’s a direct quote from the book. That’s exactly what Sister Helen said to Patrick Sonnier (Joseph, in the opera) and it’s incredible that the writers of the opera were brave enough to put it in just like that. But if they hadn’t, this would not be the same story. It had to be in there, because it is Sister Helen’s story. This text cannot be improved upon! It is powerful and it is sweet. It is sad, but with love being the constant undercurrent, it is beautiful. It brings me joy, as I sing, even through my tears. You see, I am the mother of one of the murdered teens. I should hate Joseph with all that I am. But, in the end, I feel some pain for him, as he asks the parents’ forgiveness for what he has done. It is as if, in that very minute, years of hate are wiped away. In the end I find myself weeping, not so much for my child anymore… I weep that I am free to forgive.

One year my mom asked me to do give a “concert” for some of the prisoners. They had been given special permission to come to the chapel. Of course, I was worried how my voice would be received. I was expecting country-loving, Motown-loving types. But each song I sang seemed to touch them. By the middle of the concert, my heart was so full that I wept. I had done many concerts by then, but that is still one of my sweetest memories. I suppose that when one is that alone, that persecuted, that to have anyone care for you is so appreciated, so surprising… That’s another part of this relationship between Sister Helen and “Joseph” that is so sweet, so unforgettable, to me. He was so appreciative. He was so greatful to her for her friendship, and later, her love. He wasn’t a horrible, cold killer when she visited. He was “human.”

I want to personally thank Sister Helen Prejean for her commitent that started her on “this journey” and for the commitment to it that lead her to record it for us all.

Debra Hillabrand:
Mrs. Patrick De Rocher

I can't say how much I love performing modern works. The sky is the limit for the composer, and he/she is free to write so much drama and emotion into the vocal lines and the whole piece. Jake Heggie certainly uses this freedom effectively, and the collaboration with Terrence McNally provides a monumental work that I am honored to be singing. On a personal and artistic level, I am thrilled to be singing a role written for Frederica von Stade. She has been an idol and role model of mine for years, and I get chills when I think about it!

The role has been emotionally draining and, more importantly, extremely rewarding at the same time. I've never left rehearsals this exhausted, but with the feeling of pride of being involved in something so very special. I've been getting in touch with my maternal side and all the delights and pain that go along with it: the love, happiness, guilt, worry. I can’t imagine what it’ll really be like. The work as a whole has such a strong message of love for all human-kind in which I whole-heartedly believe—so on a personal level, I'm very proud to be a part of a group delivering this message.

Dead Man Walking opens Friday, August 19 and will run for three more performances on August 20, 26 & 27. All performances begin at 8pm and take place at Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 N. Union Blvd in St. Louis. Sung in English with projected English supertitles. Tickets range $30-52. Student Rush Tickets are $15 with valid Student ID (cash only) for any remaining seats available 15 minutes before curtain. To purchase Tickets or find more information about Union Avenue Opera, please call 314.361.2881 or visit

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Missouri Premiere of "Dead Man Walking" Opens Friday at UAO

Union Avenue Opera concludes its 17th summer season with the highly-anticipated Missouri premiere of Jake Heggie's opera Dead Man Walking. Based upon the book of the same name by activist and author Sr. Helen Prejean, this opera tells the story of a nun's journey of faith tested by her controversial decision to give spiritual counsel to a convicted murderer on death row despite warnings from her fellow sisters, skepticism from the prison staff and animosity from the parents of the murder victims. This true-life story of compassion and redemption explores the depths of human evil and goodness.

Events surrounding the Missouri premiere include media appearances, book signings and a speaking engagement by Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, who will also attend the opening night performance. Union Avenue Opera and Union Avenue Christian Church are excited and grateful to welcome Sr. Helen to St. Louis to share in this premiere.

Making her Union Avenue Opera debut, Mezzo-soprano Elise Quagliata sings the role of Sr. Helen Prejean. Returning after his UAO debut as Prince Yeletsky in last season's Pikovaya Dama, Baritone Jordan Shanahan sings the role of convicted murderer Joseph De Rocher. Mezzo-soprano Debra Hillabrand, also last seen in Pikovaya Dama as Paulina, portrays Mrs. Patrick De Rocher. Last heard as Bess in 2007's Porgy and Bess, Soprano Marlissa Hudson returns to sing the role of Sr. Rose. Fresh from his engagement as Pang in Turandot, Tenor Clark Sturdevant portrays Fr. Grenville, a prison chaplain. Baritone Robert Reed, King Melchior in the recent Amahl, sings the role of Warden George Benton.

Baritone David Dillard, seen as Sulpice in last season's La fille du régiment, is Owen Hart, father of the murdered girl. Soprano Stephanie Tennill, last seen in 2001 as Berta in The Barber of Seville, sings Kitty Hart. Tenor Jon Garrett, most recently seen as The Emperor in Turandot, is Howard Boucher, father of the murdered boy. Mezzo-soprano Cecelia Stearman, the Countess in last season's Pikovaya Dama, sings Jade Boucher. Soprano Joy Boland and Mezzo-soprano Victoria Carmichael portray Sisters Catherine and Lilliane, respectively. Baritones Thomas Sitzler and Nathan Ruggles sing the roles of Prison Guards. Tenor Philip Touchette sings the role of a Motorcycle Cop. The Union Avenue Opera chorus and children's chorus rounds out the cast.

UAO Artistic Director Scott Schoonover conducts. Stage Director Tim Ocel returns to UAO after staging last season's critically-acclaimed Pikovaya Dama. Allyson Ditchey serves as Stage Manager. The Design team includes Set Designer Patrick Huber, Costume Designer Teresa Doggett and Lighting Designer Kaitlyn Breen. Pianist Nancy Mayo serves as production répetiteur.

Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ
Several educational opportunities surround the production. On Thursday, August 18 at 8:00pm, Union Avenue Christian Church presents "Sharing the Deepest Desire: An Evening With Sr. Helen Prejean." This event is open to the Public; a free will offering will be taken. Sr. Helen will speak in front of the set. A book signing will follow in the Fellowship Hall of UACC. Books will be available for purchase at the event. Click here for more info. On opening night, August 19, Dr. Glen Bauer of Webster University will also give a lecture on the opera at 7pm (one hour before curtain) in the UACC Fellowship Hall. Lecture is open to the public; no ticket to the production required.

Media coverage and further reading: FOX 2 News In The Morning interviews Sr. Helen at 7:40am Friday morning; Cityscape on 90.7 KWMU this Friday (11:00am) welcomes guests Sr. Helen and Tim Ocel; Patricia Rice of The Beacon previews the production and interviews Sr. Helen; Sarah Bryan Miller profiles composer Jake Heggie in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch; Gary Scott of examines the larger issues posed by the opera, its score and libretto.

You can also visit Operatic St. Louis for some upcoming Q & A sessions and reflections from the cast members.

Dead Man Walking opens Friday, August 19 and will run for three more performances on August 20, 26 & 27. All performances begin at 8pm and take place at Union Avenue Christian Church located at 733 N. Union Blvd in St. Louis. Sung in English with projected English supertitles. Tickets range $30-52. Student Rush Tickets are $15 with valid Student ID (cash only) for any remaining seats available 15 minutes before curtain. To purchase Tickets or find more information about Union Avenue Opera, please call 314.361.2881 or visit

Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Cityscape" on 90.7 KWMU to Feature Guests Sr. Helen Prejean and Tim Ocel

KWMU 90.7 FM's broadcast of Cityscape this Friday, August 20th, features Union Avenue Opera's Dead Man Walking. Host Steve Potter welcomes onto the program Sr. Helen Prejean, CSJ, and Stage Director Tim Ocel to discuss the production opening that evening.

Cityscape airs on KWMU 90.7 FM at 11:00am-Noon this Friday, August 20th and will be repeated at 10:00pm that evening. You may also listen to archived audio of the program on KWMU's Website.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Set Model for UAO's "Dead Man Walking"

Take a look at some shots of the set model for Union Avenue Opera's Dead Man Walking. You may click on images to view a larger resolution.

Director Tim Ocel and Set Designer Patrick Huber have collaborated on a design which suggests the various locales inside and outside of the Louisiana State Penitentiary. The model takes into account the architecture of the apse and pulpit areas of Union Avenue Christian Church's Sanctuary.

Several chain-link fence units will be used to create confined spaces, long hallways in the prison, etc.

Up center, there will be a 2'-tall stage-within-the-stage serving as various playing areas--most notably the meeting places of Sr. Helen and Joseph De Rocher.

Lining the church's apse, a gallery gives playing space to the various characters commenting on or merely watching the action below.

In order to help bring the action into the house, prison cells have been placed on the balconies at house right and house left.

Dead Man Walking opens next weekend, running August 19, 20, 26 and 27. All performances begin at 8pm. Production sung in English with projected English supertitles. Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church; 733 N. Union Blvd, St. Louis, 63108. To purchase Tickets or find more information about Union Avenue Opera, please call 314.361.2881 or visit