AOP and OOT’s new mission (if you choose to accept it)

February 29, 2012

OPERAtion BrooklynOn March 25 & 26, 2012, American Opera Projects and Opera on Tap will give the go sign to their newest collaboration – OPERAtion Brooklyn. After 10 performances of their series Opera Grows in Brooklyn, AOP and OOT will return to Galapagos Art Space with this new series that presents “the most daring of contemporary opera and song in a relaxed, nightclub-style evening that encourage[s] drinks and discussion as part of the new classical experience. ”

“We were looking for a direction to take Opera Grows in Brooklyn in 2012,” says AOP Producing Director Matt Gray, who co-produces the event with OOT’s Artistic Director Anne Hiatt, “and after assessing the successes of that series, we realized we most enjoyed ourselves when we were producing bigger and bolder. So, we decided to do fewer shows during the year, but make those we do real can’t-miss events. To convey this commitment we felt a new name was in order, something that showed our passion and determination for presenting the best of Brooklyn’s contemporary opera scene.”

OPERAtion Brooklyn

David Del Tredici

David Del Tredici

OPERAtion Brooklyn will kick off with a two-evening festival of Alice in Wonderland-inspired works called Curiouser & Curiouser, featuring a performance by the composer most musically associated with Lewis Carroll – David Del Tredici. Celebrating his 75th birthday the week before, Del Tredici, practically a legend of New York’s contemporary classical scene, will play piano for a revival of his 1986 work for soprano and 10-piece orchestra Haddocks’ Eyes, based on a section of Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. Excerpts from the Alice-inspired operas Dreaming of Wonderland (Manly Romero, composer) and Wonderglass (Susan Botti, composer) will also take audiences down the operatic rabbit hole.

As if that weren’t enough,  “Curiouser & Curiouser” will feature intermezzos from a collection of New York’s top circus-burlesque artists in a two-part program entitled “Through the Peeping Glass.” Producer Rita MenWeep has put together a mixture of acrobats (Joshua Dean, Ben Franklin), contortionists (Miss Ekaterina), and burlesque stars (Jenny C’est Quoi, Tigger!Creamy Stevens) who will portray some of the most iconic characters in Wonderland in the most unexpected of ways.

Rita MenWeep as the Red Queen

Rita MenWeep as the Red Queen

How did burlesque and opera come together? “I’ve known Rita for years,” says Gray. “I was actually in a play where she did her first-ever burlesque act. After one of our Opera Grows in Brooklyn performances I was thrilled to find that the late-night act was her burlesque version of The Wizard of Oz. Seeing the crossover happen between our audiences, we both thought, ‘Man, it would be great to get these people together. They don’t know what they’re missing.”

American Opera Projects and Opera on Tap have been artists-in-residence at Galapagos Art Space since 2009. The venue, just off the waterfront in DUMBO, Brooklyn, has been a primary destination for both new music and burlesque since it was founded by Artistic Director Robert Elmes in 1995.

“What’s funny is that the fans of neo-classical/opera and the fans of neo-burlesque know that both genres are misunderstood as either too highbrow or too lowbrow, respectively,” says Opera on Tap’s Anne Ricci. “We hope to prove to the unfamiliars how wrong they are on both those counts. But we’re not middlebrow, either!” she laughingly adds.

Tickets for Curiouser & Curiouser are available at Galapagos’s website here. Complete OPERAtion Brooklyn program information is available at www.operationbrooklyn.com.

David Del Tredici Photo Credit: Paula Court

Meryl Streep: From Miranda to Margaret, Julia to…Sills?

February 24, 2012

Oh, Meryl.  Not only can you embody Margaret Thatcher and voice Julia Child, but you’re an opera singer too?

Well, sort of.

During an NPR “Fresh Air” interview on Monday, February 6th (summarized in this LA Times article the next day), Streep revealed that she studied voice with Estelle Liebling, who also taught America’s soprano-sweetheart Beverly Sills.  Though she hated opera as a teenager- admitting she didn’t feel comfortable performing opera because it was often in a language she couldn’t quite grasp- the actress went on to explain how her vocal training influenced her versatile speaking voice, stating

  “I learned the importance of breath. There was a thing I learned in my lessons from Estelle — to breathe from your back. She would always say, there’s room in the back — that you expand three dimensionally. … I use it all.”

Still, Streep confessed that she loved singing and “had a very good coloratura voice.”  Too bad she didn’t keep it up.  She should have something to fall back on in case her career doesn’t take off.


The Art & Soul of the Appoggiatura

February 20, 2012

Last Sunday, British singer-songwriter Adele swept the Grammy awards, winning six Grammys and wowing the live and television audiences alike with her hit song, “Rolling in the Deep.”  She’s been at the top of the Billboard charts for almost 21 weeks, and her powerful return after a year recovering from vocal surgery has only strengthened her natural reputation for soulful ballads, emotional lyrics, and…appoggiatura?

Yes, you heard us correctly.  We just used the term “appoggiatura” in the same paragraph as “Adele,” and we’re not talking about Die Fledermaus.  But we weren’t the first- the Wall Street Journal pointed this out pre-Grammys in an article published on February 11, 2012.

According to the WSJ, an appoggiatura, in layman’s terms, is “a type of ornamental note that clashes with the melody just enough to create a dissonant sound,” which is then followed by the anticipated note or melody.  Although Adele’s hit “Rolling in the Deep” has dominated the airwaves lately, researchers have found that Adele’s ballad “Someone Like You” has had such an emotional effect on listeners that they start crying.  Similar to countless operatic composers, (i.e. Puccini’s “Vissi d’arte”), Adele often adds an appoggiatura-like motif at the end of her held notes before leading to a new harmony.  University of British Columbia psychologist Dr. Martin Guhn  points out that Adele sets up a restrained mood in “Someone Like You,” both musically and emotionally, so much so that when she deviates from what our ear expects, it causes our nervous system to go on “high alert,” whether through tears or chills.

Could it be that today’s popular music is getting closer to opera than we may realize?  In opera’s Golden Age, the vocal writing of both genres often overlapped, continuing through the Big Band era and into the Rat Pack (Sinatra singing La ci darem, anyone?)  Even the blind-audition concept of NBC’s The Voice encourages the judges to let the music itself  turn their swivel chairs around, whether through emotional context or riffing.  It’s true this Adele may not be able to sing “The Laughing Song” by Strauss, but at least she’s forcing non-opera listeners to be moved by the emotions of her voice.


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