“Mesmerizing”, “marvelous” Paradise Interrupted premieres at Spoleto Festival

June 1, 2015

The AOP-developed opera Paradise Interrupted received favorable press when it premiered at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, SC this past  week.  Drawing inspiration from the legend of Adam and Eve, as well as the Chinese story of The Peony Pavilion, Paradise Interrupted combines strong visual and aural effects, to tell the moving story of a woman’s journey towards self-realization.  Combining composer Huang Ruo (Dr. Sun Yat-sen), visual artist Jennifer Wen Ma (opening and closing ceremonies of Olympics Beijing 2008), and singer Qian Yi (Peony Pavilion), this riveting production has critics raving about a new genre of opera: installation opera.

Paradise Interrupted picture

Adam Parker of the Charleston Post and Courier praised the production, calling it “an original work that beautifully blends Eastern and Western styles and presents five fine singers with remarkable stamina and expression.” He also states: “had there been no music at all, just the staging, this would have been a marvelous, immersive experience. But there was music, fascinating music, lyrical, often rhythmic music.”

At the Spoleto Journal, Jerry Bowles, raved about Jennifer Wen Ma’s stunning visual effects: “Set against an ever changing backdrop of abstract digital images that reflect the singer’s mood shifts, the garden that greets the audience of Paradise Interrupted is an assemblage of laser-cut paper painted with black ink that is unfolded, accordian-like, and closed up again by the performers throughout the drama. The effect is that the garden appears to move in response to the singers’ voices.”

Heidi Waleson of the Wall Street Journal says that” composer Huang Ruo and the artist Jennifer Wen Ma “have gloriously fused Western and Chinese idioms, modernity and tradition, to create a mesmerizing new work that is part opera, part dynamic art installation.”  She also compliments that”Mr. Huang’s music for The Woman takes off from the melismatic, pitch-bending, slightly nasal kunqu vocal style, and makes it even more haunting and melodic.”

At Charleston City Paper, Elizabeth Pandolfi raves that it “…is a courageous, unique, and complicated piece of theater.”  She also goes on to compliment the opera’s success in blending traditional Chinese singing and stories with Western musical elements: “The orchestra, consisting of both Western and Chinese instruments, was exceptional, and together Qian and the four male singers — she sang in the Chinese operatic style, and the men in the Western style — created a surreal, otherworldly sound that completely embodied the dream-like world the Woman was wandering through”

Read the Q&A with singer Qian Yi.

Read the profile on the complex technical design of Paradise Interrupted.

 


US premiere of Heart of Darkness has sold-out run in San Francisco

May 4, 2015

On May 2, Opera Parallèle presented the US premiere of the AOP-developed opera Heart of Darkness at San Francisco’s trendy industrial Z-space. The new production by Brian Staufenbiel featuring designs by artist Matt Kish and conducted by Nicole Paiement sold out each of its four performances.

Composed by Grammy-nominated Tarik O’Regan, using a libretto by Tom Phillips, the opera is based on the novel by Joseph Conrad, and explores the excesses and depravities of European colonialism in the African Congo. AOP, in conjuction with OperaGenesis, started developing the opera in 2006. In 2011 critics raved for the sold-out world premiere at London’s Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio.  At last it has arrived to the US and is gathering more critical acclaim:

From San Francisco Chronicle:

“the kaleidoscopic inventiveness of O’Regan’s score”

“In O’Regan’s music — dexterously conducted by Artistic Director Nicole Paiement and sung by a splendid cast — the rich feints and ambiguities of Conrad’s tale find sonorous expression. A veil of uncertainty often settles over the music, thanks to shifting instrumental textures and a harmonic palette that seems inclined to change direction at a moment’s notice, like a rising mist off the water.”

From Bachtrack:

“O’Regan’s fine music was complemented by the Opera Parallèle’s thoughtful production and a superb set of musicians under Nicole Paiement’s magical baton.” [4 out of 5 stars]

From San Francisco Classical Voice:

“[Heart of Darkness’s] brevity and eloquence, as well as the small forces it requires, make it a natural for adventurous opera companies everywhere. … O’Regan creates a continuously shifting musical tapestry and many gorgeous effects. His orchestration is exceptionally beautiful [and] consistently inventive.”

From San Jose Mercury News:

“[Composer Tarik O’Regan], often compared to Benjamin Britten, employs a beguiling neo-tonal palette, and this score offered plenty of evidence of his skill at writing for orchestra.”

Shawnette Sulker and Philip Skinner in Opera Parallèle’s U.S. premiere of Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness at Z Space. Photo: Steve DiBartolomeo

Listen to composer Tarik O’Regan on San Francisco public radio discuss the opera’s new production and the importance of AOP’s development process. (Interview begins at 6:00.)


Critics speak “As One” in praise of latest AOP opera

September 19, 2014

“As One is everything that we hope for in contemporary opera: topical, poignant, daring, and beautifully written.”
New York Classical Review

Kelly Markgraf and Sasha Cooke in "As One"

Kelly Markgraf and Sasha Cooke in “As One”. Photo by Ken Cazan.

On September 7, AOP’s opera “As One” completed a sold-out three-performance run at BAM’s Fishman Theater and the critical response has been overwhelmingly positive with declaring it “a piece that haunts and challenges” (Opera News), “artistically distinguished, socially important” (WQXR), that “satisfies in an entertaining and delicately moving way” (NY Observer). In the chamber opera by composer Laura Kaminsky, librettist Mark Campbell and librettist/filmmaker Kimberly Reed, a mezzo-soprano (Sasha Cooke) and a baritone (Kelly Markgraf) depict the experiences of its sole transgender protagonist, Hannah, as she endeavors to resolve the discord between her self and the outside world. The work featured performances by The Fry Street Quartet, stage direction by Ken Cazan, and music direction by Steven Osgood. Here is a sampling of the praise it received:

From New York Classical Review:

“American Opera Projects has produced a number of significant new pieces in its twenty-five-plus years, and the company’s latest does not disappoint.”

“As One is a remarkable piece, dealing with difficult and sensitive subject matter (even in a progressive city like New York, the topic of gender dysphoria still feels somewhat taboo) but showing not a hint of animus. There is no preaching here, only honest, earnest depiction of an experience. Obviously, the idea of gender identity is central to the work, but this is not a piece about gender identity, per se. It is rather a piece about a human being, Hannah, and her journey, her doubt, her fear, and eventually her joy.”

“The piece itself is formidable on all fronts, starting with an unassuming but nonetheless powerful libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed.”

“[Laura Kaminsky’s] remarkable score always seems to be in perfect harmony with the libretto.”

From Out.com:

AS ONE photo 1 by Ken Howard for AOP“The brilliance of As One is that the drama is (mostly) internal. With only one character, Hannah, that choice allows for a complex and nuanced portrayal of the coming out experience on stage.”

“The simplicity of their (Reed and Campbell’s) language gives the opera a stream-of-consciousness ease and accessibility. Voice is often a signifier of gender but the opera’s creators potently play with it here as a more symbolic marker of identity.”

“Composer Laura Kaminsky, who first conceived of the project (her first opera), has created a musical world that captures both the discordance of Hannah’s struggle and her growth toward personal harmony. Moments of playfulness, innocence and discovery…are tempered by moments of fear and loneliness. Kaminsky swirls all of these experiences together in layers of competing sounds and rhythms, revealing a complex emotional portrait of Hannah’s inner world.”

“The success and beauty of As One is that it reveals epic emotions within an intimate frame.”

From Opera News:

“The draw of As One, which has a libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed, lies in its very human depiction of the internal and external issues faced by transgender individuals in the twenty-first century…(it is) a piece that haunts and challenges its audience with questions about identity, authenticity, compassion and the human desire for self-love and peace.”

“Ken Cazan’s production had the singers and the players of the Fry Street Quartet co-exist and interact in the same space, creating a world that was as fantastical and dreamlike as it was gritty and real.”

“Together (Kelly) Markgraf and (Sasha) Cooke—who are husband and wife in real life—created one character with their fully committed physical and emotional connection.”

AS ONE photo 5 by Ken Howard for AOP“Leading with eloquence and focus was Steven Osgood, a champion of modern American opera…Osgood maintained the delicate balance with ease and an ear for the musical and dramatic arc of this compelling journey.”

From David Patrick Stearns/WQXR:

“Artistically distinguished, socially important…says so much with relatively modest means.”

“In a subject with so many ways to go wrong, composer Laura Kaminsky and co-librettists Mark Campbell (best known for Silent Night) and Kimberly Reed (once a star quarterback in Montana but now a female filmmaker) elegantly zeroed in on pivotal moments in the inner life of a single character named Hannah.”

“Musically, Kaminsky’s dramatically charged music has a tonal ambiguity that allows each scene to go where it needs to, and in a clear dramatic trajectory.”

“Baritone Kelly Markgraf sang with a robust, full-bodied voice that drove home the exterior/interior contrast of being masculine on the outside but moving in more feminine ways in unguarded moments. Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke had some of the opera’s more ecstatic writing, since the feminine part of Hannah’s life has the greatest discoveries. Both singers, who happen to be husband and wife, sang with beauty, intelligence and superb English diction.”

“Stage director Ken Cazan maintained Brechtian dislocation by keeping the accompanying Fry Street Quartet in the center of the stage. The lack of comprehensive realism in the stage pictures let you stand outside the story and take it in more objectively to more fully process the events at hand.”

From James Jorden/The New York Observer:

“…satisfies in an entertaining and delicately moving way…”

“Mr. Campbell and Ms. Reed’s text is wonderfully tactful, never reaching for grandiose effects.”

“(Ms. Kaminsky’s) setting of text is masterful, so natural and unaffected that the projected titles were superfluous.”

AS ONE photo 2 by Ken Howard for AOP“This world premiere boasted a cast as close to perfection as I can imagine…Ken Cazan staged the piece with subtlety and tact. Ms. Reed directed film segments that were projected around and someone (sic) on the action, starting in faded black and white and gradually blooming into rich color for the “Norway” finale. David Martin Jacques’ intricate lighting design added visual interest…and Sara Jean Tosetti’s costumes, simple hoodies and jeans, posed intriguing questions about the nature of masculinity.”

From [Q]onstage:

“MAGNIFICENT. Our story was made on September 4 at BAM Fisher in the Fishman Space. Composer Laura Kaminsky’s latest work, “As One” stole an entire house full of hearts. A spare stage and few props placed the focus firmly on the music, right where it should be. (Mark) Campbell and (Kimberly) Reed’s libretto has humor, pathos and that most elusive of qualities—true emotion.”

“The multi-media film is projected on translucent material of various sizes and heights, hung in the back of the room. The diaphanous presence of images seemed like thought made flesh.”

“Baritone Kelly Markgraf plays “Hannah before” with gentility, great thoughtfulness and presence, while mezzo soprano Sasha Cooke plays “Hannah after,” as dazzling with character as with the beauty of her voice….this work requires a very particular set of mad skills—these are brilliant singers and accomplished actors both. When they sing together, they are limerance.”

“The Fry Quartet transcend their music.”

From The New York Times:

“Ms. Kaminsky has sensitive collaborators in Mark Campbell, who wrote the libretto for Kevin Puts’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Silent Night,” and Kimberly Reed, whose documentary, “Prodigal Sons,” traces her own transgender life.”

“The baritone Kelly Markraf sings “Hannah before” with power and clarity. With knowing wit and vocal lushness, the mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke plays “Hannah after.”

“In Ken Cazan’s sparse staging, backed by scene-setting projections from Ms. Reed, the drama powerfully coheres.”

From Parterre Box:

“Kaminsky knows how to write for the voice, permitting beautiful voices to demonstrate their beauties, hitting emotional chords.”

AS ONE photo 4 by Ken Howard for AOP

From the Wall Street Journal:

“The double casting ingeniously sets out the male/female bifurcation of personality, and the two singers, with their matched vocal timbres and expressivity, make it believable. So does Ken Cazan’s choreographed direction.”

From Voce di meche:

“(As One) held our interest from start to finish—words such as TRANScendent and TRANSformation kept popping into our brain…If you are fortunate enough to get a ticket, don’t be surprised if you walk out TRANSformed.”

“(Although) Mr. Markgraf’s physical and forceful baritone are completely masculine, his skillful interpretation allowed us to realize the woman within. Ms. Cooke’s gleaming mezzo and soft appearance was tinged at appropriate moments with the called-for masculine quality as she portrayed “Hannah after.” The roles could not have been better acted or sung.”

“A remarkable feature of the work is the way the various artists were called upon to cross artistic boundaries….the singers were called upon to dance…the superb conductor Steven Osgood was called up to lay down his baton and assume the role of a schoolteacher…the members of the Fry Street Quartet not only played Ms. Kaminsky’s music with consummate artistry but also participated in the drama just a bit.”

“Stage director Ken Cazan…created the magic of having us see in our mind’s eye what was not onstage.”

“(Ms. Kaminsky’s) writing for the string quartet was nothing short of thrilling…and there were some thrilling moments when Ms. Cooke and Mr. Markgraf sang in gorgeous harmony (symbolic!) and in unison (even more symbolic!).”

Find complete As One reviews, interviews, and profiles at www.operaprojects.org/AsOne#asone_press


“And Death Shall Have No Dominion” comes to New York

June 18, 2014

And Death Shall Have No DominionThis Saturday, June 21, Composer Pete M. Wyer brings his piece “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” to New York in celebration of the centenary of Dylan Thomas’ birth. “And Death” is a participatory singing event for a synchronized headphone choir. People of all ages are invited to join. Participants do not need to be able to read music or have choral experience, and can sing in groups or by themselves. Using a new, free app (SusSync) that plays the accompaniment and synchronizes their mobile devices, participants will take a 45-minute mapped-out journey through lower Manhattan singing the words of Thomas, creating a moving tapestry that will eventually converge outside Poets House in Rockefeller Park.

Live accompaniment will be provided by the Asphalt Orchestra, a 12-piece ensemble that takes music from concert halls, rock clubs, and jazz basements to the streets and beyond. Feature vocalists include soprano Eleanor Taylor, mezzo Kathryn Krasovec, tenor Glenn Seven Allen, and baritone David Schmidt.

“And Death” commences at 11:00 am on Saturday, June 21 in various locations and converges at Rockefeller Park (Battery Park City) at 11:45 am. The event is being co-presented by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Make Music New York, and Poets House in association with American Opera Projects as part of the River To River Festival 2014.

For more information and to register, please go to http://makemusicny.org/summer-schedule/2014/features/downtown-sound/and-death-shall-have-no-dominion/

READ

the interview with Pete M. Wyer in THE HUFFINGTON POST

LISTEN

to the ADSHND profile on John Schaefer’s WNYC program NEW SOUNDS

WATCH

Pete M. Wyer’s video tour of And Death Shall Have No Dominion


Critics call PAUL’S CASE a “Masterpiece”

January 31, 2014

Image

Gregory Spears‘ opera Paul’s Case received high praise for its recent sold-out NYC premiere at PROTOtype Festival. Press called it a “masterpiece…tempting to call it ‘the best new opera I’ve heard in years'” (NY Observer) and “a taut, splendid operatic adaptation” (NY Times). Spears’ vocal writing was lauded as “ravishing” and “especially admirable” and librettist Kathryn Walat’s adaptation of the original Willa Cather short story “finely made” (New York Classical Review). Jonathan Blalock, who reprised his role from the opera’s premiere at UrbanArias last April, had “even more theatrical and vocal authority as Paul” (Wall Street Journal). AOP began development of the opera during the 2008-09 season of Composers & the Voice. A new production of the opera will appear at Pittsburgh Opera in February.


Baltimore Sun shines on upcoming “Lost Childhood” concert

November 6, 2013
TelAviv_Moran Abouloff, Guy Mannheim

Performers from AOP’s production of Lost Childhood in Tel Aviv, Israel (2009)

Commissioned and developed by AOPLost Childhood will be performed in concert at Strathmore Music Center in North Bethesda, MD on Saturday, November 9, 2013 at 8:00 PM. In his profile of the opera for The Baltimore Sun, Fine Arts critic Tim Smith marks the development of the opera from its historical inspiration to is upcoming concert for the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht (“The Night of Broken Glass”), on November 9-10, 1938, when a series of violent anti-Jewish pogroms occurred throughout Germany and elsewhere.

“… The opera focuses on a Jewish psychiatrist who eluded death as a boy in Poland during the war, and a German colleague born into a family with Nazi sympathies.

“It deals with post-Holocaust revenge, silence and denial, feelings that survivors on both sides, Jews and Germans, felt,” Hamer said. “And it raises questions of forgiveness. It’s a moral topic that is still relevant.”

The opera has been a long time in the making. Azrael and Hamer started on it around 1996. Various workshops were held over the years to develop the piece, most prominently through the organization that commissioned it, American Opera Projects in New York, as well as at the International Vocal Arts Institute in Tel Aviv.

The opera is in two acts with music by Janice Hamer and a libretto by Mary Azrael, and taken from the memoir of the same name by Holocaust survivor Yehuda Nir and Nir’s conversations with Gottfried Wagner (Wagner’s great-grandson).

READ THE FULL BALTIMORE SUN ARTICLE


OPERA AND DANCE: A PAS DE DEUX

November 5, 2013

opera america - wolf-in-skinsThe Magazine of Opera America, Fall 2013 _ Wolf-in-Skins

In its profile of the current fusion of opera and dance, the Fall 2013 issue of OPERA America Magazine singled out AOP’s Wolf-in-Skins as a prime example of the form.

Composer Gregory Spears, who is collaborating with librettist Christopher Williams on the opera Wolf-in-Skins, says that when it comes to propelling narrative opera and dance each have their own particular strengths. “Opera excels at portraying a character’s inner monologue and builds tension through anticipation and reflection,” he says, whereas dance is “action expressed through movement.”

Williams, a trained dancer, is also the works’ director and choreographer. “As a director, I have a tool belt from which I can pull out whatever tools are necessary to tell the story,” he says. “I don’t see boundaries between the art forms and each has an ideal way to convey the narrative at that moment.” In Wolf-in-Skins the Singers also dance.

Williams felt that the epic nature of Wolf-in-Skins required equal contributions from opera, dance and the visual arts, and takes his cues from Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk and Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, where collaborations were forged among Stravinsky, Debussy, Picasso, Matisse, Balanchine and Massine. Portions of Wolf-in-Skins were performed earlier this year with Philadelphia Dance projects and co-presented by American Opera Projects, which has also helped developed the work.

The complete article, written by Patricia Kiernan Johnson, is available online  to OPERA America members and  downloadable at the iTunes Store. Wolf-in-Skins is currently in development at AOP.


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