“Startling,” “gripping” THE ECHO DRIFT finishes “virtuoso” run at Prototype Festival

January 26, 2018

On January 20, the world premiere of THE ECHO DRIFT, with music by Mikael Karlsson, libretto by Elle Kunnos de Voss & Kathryn Walat, directed by Mallory Catlett and conducted by Nicholas DeMaison completed its six-performance run at Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City as part of the 2018 Prototype Festival. Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert starred as a convicted murderer trapped in a timeless prison and is unexpectedly befriended by a moth (actor John Kelly) with an offer of a perceived way to freedom. The experimental chamber opera, performed by members of ICE Ensemble and enhanced by electronic soundscape and animation, was enthusiastically received by both audiences and critics alike.

Blythe Gaissert as Walker Loats in The Echo Drift

“a startling science fiction conceit kickstarted the gripping one-act The Echo Drift. In this world premiere work, an inmate in a futuristic prison gets a visit from a talking moth that tries to persuade her than she can escape by rejecting her conventional sense of time and space. Everything about this presentation was virtuoso, from the psychedelic snarls and slithers in composer Mikael Karlsson’s orchestra writing to the sly, ironic whispers of actor John Kelly as the Moth. But the heart of the piece was the bravura singing of Blythe Gaissert as the panicky prisoner, her smoky mezzo biting into the wide-ranging and relentless vocal part with the violent abandon of a starving shark.” – The Observer

Stark and intricate, propulsive and a little film-noir, “The Echo Drift” is most exciting when it is fast and cacophonous, nearly overwhelming the senses.” – The New York Times

a totally original and stunning, immersive piece… with a scintillating score composed by Mikael Karlsson, and a brilliant environmental production by Elle Kunnos de Voss in their first collaboration. … Gaissert is wonderful as Loats, giving herself over totally to the fantasy world that the creators have presented to her, more than holding her own vocally in the powerful and audacious orchestral setting–by turns jazzy, acoustic, electronic, melodic, atonal, soothing, blasting–that the composer has devised.” – Broadway World

“seventy immersive minutes of six-channel surround sound and projected animations … The score was modest, absorbing, and lush …  For a story about a convicted murderer in solitary confinement, The Echo Drift is surprisingly accessible and apolitical. … Gaissert and Kelly fully embraced the sophisticated score and meta set, and The Echo Drift balanced an immersive multidimensional experience with a refreshing affirmation of human solidarity.” – I Care If You Listen

“Nicholas DeMaison conducted with unwavering clarity, helped by seven superb musicians from the International Contemporary Ensemble. Levy Lorenzo’s electronics wizardry—effectively an eighth instrument—creates unusually vivid textures, such as the complex, machine-like chords repeated near the end, tolling like otherworldly bells. … It is hard to sufficiently praise soprano Blythe Gaissert as Loats, singing tirelessly over the course of the opera’s 70 minutes.” – Musical America

“The Echo Drift struck an admirable balance between evocative score and creative composition, and is easily worthy of a pure listen without the staging. Karlsson’s subtle but crucial electronic elements were particularly noteworthy, threading through the live performers with magnetic textures… singers and musicians alike made this small chamber opera a grand production.” – Seen and Heard International

In a tension-filled final day, Gaissert took ill and made the difficult decision not to perform. Her cover Kathryn Krasovec stepped in with only a few hours of rehearsal under her belt and gave a powerful performance that captivated the audience on the opera’s final night.

The Echo Drift was commissioned, developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects, HERE, and American Opera Projects. The Echo Drift was originally developed by Mikael Karlsson and Elle Kunnos de Voss in a full-length workshop presented by the Embassy of Sweden in Washington DC in 2014. Additional development was provided through the Opera Genesis Fellowship, a residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, made in partnership with American Opera Projects.

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“Magic” chamber dance opera Hagoromo premieres in sold-out run at BAM

November 19, 2015
Hagoromo world premiere

Photo by Mark Stephen Kornbluth for AOP.

American Opera Project’s high-profile production Hagoromo combined dazzling new-opera, dance, puppetry, and fashion, for its sold-out World Premiere run this November at the BAM Harvey Theatre as part of BAM’s 2015 Next Wave Festival. In this dance-opera, an angel’s cloak falls to earth where a fisherman claims it. The angel performs her heavenly dance to reclaim her cloak and return to the heavens.

The multi-genre collaboration began after flutist Claire Chase, director of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) which appeared in Hagoromo, asked David Michalek to choreograph her solo recital.  “Then she suggested that they try something bigger. The germ of an idea was born,” Marina Harss explained in The New York Times. The music for Hagoromo was composed by ICE member Nathan Davis, with a libretto by Brendan Pelsue, commissioned by AOP. The vocalists for the new-opera were Katalin Karolyi, singing for the angel, and Peter Tantsits, who was the voice of the fisherman. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus was also featured in the ensemble, aiding plot development and commentary.

Apollinaire Scherr commended David Michalek‘s work in the Financial Times writing he “…has seamlessly integrated the worlds of experimental music, dance, theatre, opera, puppetry and fashion into a rich, sober whole.” David Michalek, known for his beautiful film work, bravely made his directing debut with the multi-genre Hagoromo, in collaboration with Bessie-award winning choreographer David Neumann.

Two of their performers were prior New York City ballet stars Wendy Whelan, and Jock Soto. Christina Pandolfi for Broadway World hailed Hagoromo “[A] multi-medium artistic portrait” which demonstrated “the sheer excellence of Whelan and Soto’s capacity for movement.”  Wendy Whelan‘s final heavenly dance cast a spell on the audience, with Alastair Macaulay with The New York Times elating “[Whelan] tips her torso strangely sideways, opens her palms quietly to the audience, or turns her head to regard Mr. Soto, we feel her magic.”

Wendy dancing

Photograph by Ioulex for The New Yorker

Two stars making their debut on the BAM Harvey Stage were the puppets which accompanied Wendy Whelan‘s final, spell-binding, dance. They seemed almost human to Andrew Blackmore-Dobbyn who wrote a review for Bachtrack. “The puppets “seemed to carry something essential of [Whelan’s] spirit when they moved with her synchronously. The power of those two puppets was such that I quickly forgot about the three black-clad and veiled operators that were required to make each of them dance.”

Arts Journal‘s Deborah Jowitt praised the creative team that “have together created moments of considerable beauty and imagination” including the “wonderfully effective” puppeteers and the “impressive” music of Nathan Davis that carried the dance of the “sensual” Soto and Whelan who “enters as smoothly as quiet water, extending one long leg and beautifully arched foot in a way that recalls Balanchine’s wish that a dancer should make her legs as flexible as an elephant’s trunk.”

“The results of this unusual collaboration were visually arresting, musically adventurous, dramatically taut, and choreographically appealing,” exclaimed Alexandra Ivanoff for the international news outlet Today’s Zaman. “Michalek’s clever use of stylistic features borrowed from the Noh theatre tradition matched up with Davis’ imaginative and programmatic palette of live sounds, both accompanimental and soloistic, generated the tricky energy flow needed to animate an essentially slow-motion visual life.” Ivanoff went on to praise soloists Tantsits and Karolyi who “employed their freakishly wide vocal ranges with both power and supreme subtlety throughout. The 20 girls of the youth chorus were astounding in their execution of a difficult score.”

Whelan and Soto dance in costumes by Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten. Photo by Mark Stephen Kornbluth for AOP.

Whelan and Soto dance in costumes by Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten. Photo by Mark Stephen Kornbluth for AOP.

Although the costumes were relatively simple, it was important that the angel’s cloak be as beautiful as possible. Vogue writer Kate Guadagnino observed “Naturally, a work whose plot hinges on an article of clothing also required an adept costume designer, and Michalek asked none other than Dries Van Noten.” The cloak was indeed heavenly. The gold, transparent, reflective material was all at once powerful, and luxurious.

Just as the fisherman gets a glimpse of heaven, so is the audience touched by an ethereal production. George Grella writes for NY Classical Review, “It’s a multimedia work that eschews the commonplace of video. Everything is live: music, dance, singing, narration, and puppetry. When all the elements are working at the same, high level, Hagoromo is magic, but there are also prosaic details and stretches that keep it earth-bound.”


AMERICAN OPERA PROJECTS PREMIERES AS ONE, A CHAMBER OPERA FOR TWO VOICES

July 3, 2014

 BY LAURA KAMINSKY, KIMBERLY REED, AND MARK CAMPBELL, AT BAM FISHER, SEPTEMBER 4-7, 2014

With mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke and Baritone Kelly Markgraf sharing the role of the transgender protagonist, and featuring the Fry Street quartet

 AsOne_Acosta WP image

BROOKLYN, NYAOP (American Opera Projects) announces the world premiere of As One, with music and concept by AOP’s newly-named composer in residence Laura Kaminsky, and with an original libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed. With compassion, candor, and humor, As One chronicles the experiences of a transgender person as she emerges into harmony with herself and the world around her. Performances take place at BAM Fisher (321 Ashland Place, Brooklyn, NY 11217) from September 4 and 6 at 7:30 pm, and September 7 at 3 pm. Tickets are $25 and will go on sale in mid-July at BAM.org/AsOne.

A monodrama for two voices sharing one central role, AOP commissioned the one-act chamber opera specifically for internationally-acclaimed singers (and real-life husband and wife) Kelly Markgraf, baritone, and Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano, who share the role of the protagonist. The production is directed by Ken Cazan, with music direction by Steven Osgood, and features the Utah-based Fry Street Quartet. The production design by David Jacques includes film by transgender filmmaker Kimberly Reed, director of the award-winning documentary, Prodigal Sons. Costume design is by Sara Jean Tosetti.The performance is the culmination of AOP’s participation in the BAM Professional Development Program, a professional training program led by BAM and the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center.

 

Free panel discussions with the artists will take place after the September 4 (“Creating As One,” moderator TBA) and September 7 performances (“Gender Identity in As One,” moderated by Jean Malpas, Director, Gender and Family Project at the Ackerman Institute for the Family).

 

A second production of As One will take place at the Caine School of the Arts at Utah State University in April, 2015.

 

ABOUT AS ONE:

 

For many years composer Laura Kaminsky has concerned herself with political and social issues in her music. Her compositions have included works about the natural world and environment (Rising Tide; Terra Terribilis), political and social issues (Vukovar Trio; And Trouble Came: An African AIDS Diary), and works which have been inspired by visual art concepts and artists (Cadmium Yellow, The Full Range of Blue). As a married lesbian, Kaminsky was intrigued by a 2008 article in the New York Times about the legal implications of a marriage in which one of the parties transitioned from male to female, which transformed the couple from hetero- to homo- sexual. For Kaminsky, the story also raised questions about self-identity, including what one is willing to give up in order to simply be oneself. It prompted her first ideas for a musical theater work on the topic. In 2011 Kaminsky saw Kimberly Reed’s documentary film, Prodigal Sons, the story of Reed, a transgender woman, and her return home to Montana for her high school reunion. The composer was moved by the story and was taken with Reed’s artistic sensibility; she wrote to Reed, asking for a meeting. Ms. Reed was intrigued by the concept and agreed to collaborate.

 

While Ms. Kaminksy and Ms. Reed had a concept and visuals, they had not come up with a story. That’s when they turned to librettist Mark Campbell (who is most known for writing the libretto for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, Silent Night). In their first meeting, Mr. Campbell asked Ms. Reed to relate her own experiences and, moved by her humor, bravery and compassion, began envisioning a story about the journey of a transgender person from youth to adulthood. The resultant libretto, written by both Ms. Reed and Mr. Campbell, is told in three parts and is organized into songs that were inspired by Ms. Reed’s story, the stories of other transgender people, and the themes they felt were necessary to explore.

 

As One was developed through public workshops at AOP under its First Chance program. AOP has developed and/or produced over 20 world premiere operas, many of which started within First Chance, including most recently a sold-out co-production of Lera Auerbach’s The Blind (Lincoln Center Festival 2013), Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness (Royal Opera House, London), and Gregory Spears’ Paul’s Case (UrbanArias, PROTOTYPE, Pittsburgh Opera).

 

Commissioned by American Opera Projects, As One is supported in part by funding from OPERA America’s Opera Discovery Grants for Female Composers Program, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, the New York State Legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Art Works, Bronx Council on the Arts, Purchase College Development Fund, Tanner Fund, Jeremy T. Smith Fund, Dr. Coco Lazaroff, Lynn Loacker, Judith O. Rubin, and many generous individuals. Special thanks to Purchase College Conservatory of Music and Utah State University. As One is presented by AOP as part of the BAM/DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center Professional Development Program (PDP).

Creators Kimberly Reed, Laura Kaminsky, and Mark Campbell (with Mila Henry in bg) at early AOP workshop of As One.

Creators Kimberly Reed, Laura Kaminsky, and Mark Campbell (with Mila Henry in bg) at early AOP workshop of As One.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS:

 

Laura Kaminsky, recently appointed Composer-in-Residence at American Opera Projects, has received commissions, fellowships, and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Koussevitzky Music Foundation, Opera America, and the Copland Fund, among others. She has received six ASCAP-Chamber Music America Awards for Adventuresome Programming and is the recipient of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage 2010 Chopin Award. She is on the faculty at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College/SUNY. Her music is recorded on the Albany, Mode, MSR, Innova and CRI labels.

 

Mark Campbell is one of the most in-demand librettists working in opera today. His last opera, Silent Night, which he wrote with composer Kevin Puts, received the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in music. He has written nine operatic works, including Later the Same Evening, Volpone, Bastianello/Lucrezia and Rappahannock County. He is currently working on operas based on the novels The Manchurian Candidate (Minnesota Opera, 2015; composer: Kevin Puts), The Shining (Minnesota Opera, 2016, composer: Paul Moravec), The Trial of Elizabeth Cree (Opera Philadelphia, 2017; composer: Kevin Puts) and the play Dinner at Eight (Minnesota Opera 2017, composer: William Bolcom).

 

Kimberly Reed’s work has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, NPR, and in Details Magazine. Her work has made her one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film.” Kimberly Reed directed and produced Prodigal Sons, a “whiplash doc that heralds an exciting talent.” Prodigal Sons landed on many Best of the Year lists and garnered 14 Audience and Jury awards, including the International Film Critics’ FIPRESCI Prize. Ms. Reed was recognized in OUT Magazine’s “Out 100,” and as Towleroad’s “Best LGBT Character of the Film Year” in 2010.

 

Grammy Award-winning mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke has been called “the luminous standout” (New York Times) and “equal parts poise, radiance and elegant directness” (Opera News). Ms. Cooke’s past season included performances with the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, and Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester, among others. Additional highlights included a production of Anna Bolena at the Opéra National de Bordeaux; recitals at Wigmore Hall, Emory University, and Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. Her recordings are available on Bridge, Naxos, and Music@Menlo Live labels, as well as her solo album on Yarlung Records.

 

In addition to As One, Kelly Markgraf’s 2014-15 calendar features his debut in the role of Don Pizarro in Fidelio with Madison Opera, and the role of Heathcliff in a concert and subsequent recording of Carlisle Floyd’s Wuthering Heights with Florentine Opera. He returns to Florentine later in the season as Belcore in L’elisir d’amore, and makes his debut with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Last season brought a debut with Austin Lyric Opera, performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Green Bay Symphony, and Bach’s St. Mathew Passion with the Oratorio Society of NY at Carnegie Hall.

 

Hailed as “a triumph of ensemble playing” (New York Times), Fry Street Quartet has perfected a “blend of technical precision and scorching spontaneity” (The Strad). The ensemble began its international career in 2002 as cultural ambassadors to the Balkan States, sponsored by Carnegie Hall and the U.S. Department of State. They previously collaborated with composer Laura Kaminsky in a multi-disciplinary performance with physicist Dr. Robert Davies, called The Crossroads Project. The Fry Street Quartet holds the Endowed String Quartet Residency at the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

 

Ken Cazan is Resident Stage Director for the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California. He has directed more than 100 productions for more than 40 opera companies, including the Santa Fe Opera, Atlanta Opera, Seattle Opera, Opera Theater of St. Louis, Opera Omaha, Austin Lyric Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Hamilton, Portland Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, and Syracuse Opera, among others. Mr. Cazan holds a B.F.A. in acting, directing, and dance from Syracuse University.

 

Steven Osgood, conductor. Notable engagements include: Xenakis’ Oresteia (world premiere, Miller Theater); Tan Dun’s Marco Polo (De Nederlands Opera), La traviata (Edmonton Opera), Tosca (Chautauqua Opera), Conrad Susa’s Transformations (Juilliard Opera). As Artistic Director of AOP from 2001 to 2008, he conducted the world premieres of Paula Kimper’s Patience and Sarah (1998 Lincoln Center Festival), and Janice Hamer’s Lost Childhood (Tel Aviv, 2007). He also created and is artistic director for the company’s nationally recognized Composers & the Voice Workshop Series, soon entering its eighth season.

 

The BAM Professional Development Program (BAM PDP) is a 9-month program that utilizes the strengths of both institutions to provide professional development training and deeply discounted theater and rehearsal studio rental to an annual selection of qualifying non-profit arts organizations. Through the program, supported by Brooklyn Community Foundation and The New York Community Trust, BAM and the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the Kennedy Center, strive to help arts organizations expand their skill base, increase their institutional capacity, and build necessary foundations for their long-term success. The program culminates with each participating company presenting a self-funded production in the BAM Fisher’s Fishman Theater Space.

 

For more information about transgender issues please visit the GLAAD WEBSITE.


AOP Performance Review: “In the Penal Colony”

October 19, 2011

Three cheers for In the Penal Colony, presented by AOP and the String Orchestra of Brooklyn at Saint Ann and the Holy Trinity on October 1st!

Bass Matt Boehler and Tenor Jason Papowitz, along with conductor Eli Spindel and director Sam Helfrich, were halfway to the reception hall when they were called back to the stage by prolonged applause for a second curtain call.  AOP and SOB’s presentation of Philip Glass’s In the Penal Colony (based on the short story by Franz Kafka) was an evening abuzz with a newfound and zealous appreciation for Glass’s classic opera, not lessened by the fact that it featured a full string orchestra as opposed to the usual string quintet called for in the score.

“Sung and played quite beautifully”—New York Classical Review

“Superb diction, an eerie, caressing lyricism”—The Wall Street Journal

“Playing that illuminated every mood of this haunting score”—The New York Times

Press Links:

Wall Street Journal        The New York Times        The Classical Review


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