C&V Roundup: The Last Three Sessions

January 20, 2012

Rachel Peters, guest blogger
Composers & the Voice Composer Fellow, 2011-12

It’s been a long time since you’ve heard about what goes on behind closed doors in our C&V laboratory. There are now three classes to describe, so as Inigo Montoya says in The Princess Bride, “Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” And fellow Fellows, please chime in if I’ve misremembered or omitted something.

December 12th: We whisked through our final Role Analysis roundup, then onto acting class, where we worked with our partners to identify and agree upon beat changes in our assigned scenes from Ibsen’s Ghosts. Each team read their scene in front of the group with these discoveries in mind.

In the evening our singers were back to perform our second pieces. Let me just say that if you think opera is fusty and outmoded, we are here to prove you wrong! Topics for the evening included but were not limited to stalking, S&M, a transgender Jewish wedding, racist cops, and robot love. We began with Amy singing Ronnie’s absolutely heartbreaking “When I Find You,” another installment from her Holocaust-era opera The Waiting Woman. Then Rebecca sang my “Pronoun”; the take-home message for me was that writing the approach to the note is everything and can change the sound entirely. Justin treated us to another of Sara and Zach’s monodramas, “Installing your Blinds,” by turns lilting and sinister. Next up was Brandon’s interpretation of Mika’s setting of Rob Stephenson’s text, “O Song,” full of potent and timeless images. Equally potent are Mika’s tempo markings and instructions. My favorite is the last [instruction]: “Basically don’t make a big deal of it.” Jorell sang two songs in a row, Sidney’s harrowing “Stop and Frisk” and Rob’s playfully twisted “A Man’s Needs.”  Also from Rob’s Fetish (An Erotic Opera) was Andrea’s plaintive performance of “Talk to Me.”

December 19th: Our ranks were severely diminished by flu season and awards season- only three of us were present for an evening of acting and libretto study. After a new warm-up game called “Big Booty,” we had a chance to delve deeply into some physical character work for Ghosts based on 1) a highly detailed questionnaire Kathleen gave us 2) some people-watching we’d done with our characters in mind. Ronnie and were both assigned to play Mrs. Alving, and I was fascinated by our very different takes on her physicality. Then we played our scenes in different styles to change up what could become rote line readings. This included telenovela and, of course, opera.

Maestro Steve led us through a final sweep of Tosca libretto/score analysis (see previous blog entries for burning questions and some answers thereto), then we read William Ball’s libretto to Lee Hoiby’s A Month in the Country. We discussed potential choices of fach/range for each character relative to age and type, then Steve revealed how Hoiby went along with or against them and why.

January 17th: Special guest star Charles Jarden started off the afternoon with a chat about the logistics of producing new work and a helpfully candid/candidly helpful Q&A. Then it was on to Improv with Terry. Highlights included “Freeze Transformation,” identifying given circumstances when walking from somewhere specific and then to somewhere specific, grappling with a difficult imaginary object, free association singing based on a (not musical but literal) theme, and a game I can only call “Bippity Bippity Bop/Jello/Airplane/Elephant.” Reportedly we now have a robust toolbox from which to build longer form improve scenes.

In the evening, we heard the singers perform our third pieces. Again, we were not quite a full house, but those who were there did benefit greatly from the extra time. First came Rob’s “Soprano’s Lament” for Amy. This song, which features a lot of patter and what Amy called “chewy words,” mainly in one particular place in her range, led to a very productive discussion about stepwise vs. leap motion up to climactic high notes and optimal ways to navigate back and forth across the passaggio. Rob was open to experimenting with some changes as Amy got to try out what felt best. After that, Brandon sang my cabaret standard-ish “Baby in a Jar” (lyrics by Robert Maddock). Everyone offered up a variety of suggestions for interpretation, and after incorporating a few things I had not previously considered, the result was better than I ever imagined. Next came Sidney and Daniel’s clever interpolation of Walt Whitman’s text into another narrative. It is a terrific study of what can be done while the singer stays on only one or two notes for long stretches. Justin’s stalwart and fiery execution is proof that what looks like a lot of one thing on the page can take on all sorts of colors. The incredibly athletic piano part helps the cause too—Go Mila! Finally, Jorell sang Sara’s and Zach’s latest monodrama, “Shush, Love.” (It was Morbid Lullaby Night at C&V!) Sara, Zach and I hail from MuSiCal ThEaTrE lAnD, among other places. Every time they present I am pleasantly shocked at how they careen wildly from tropes of contemporary musical theatre sound to something altogether different; this new piece was certainly no exception. It seems to be a trademark that gets more refined every time, which is especially fun because their characters are always so blissfully sick.

We are poised to take over the opera world in 2012. Thanks as always to all the performers, coaches, and teachers. Next session: more Improv with Terry and Acting with Kathleen.


Funny, sexy MODEL LOVE to premiere at Lincoln Center w NORA by its side

September 16, 2011

J. David Jackson's MODEL LOVE premieres October 2. IMAGE: Erik and Julie, NYC, 2006, Photograph by Skye Parrott

On Sunday, October 2, 4pm and 7:30pm, American Opera Projects will present the world premiere of Model Love, a humorous staged song-cycle about contemporary relationships with jazz and rock elements by composer J. David Jackson based on texts by British comedian Henry Normal, and the one-act opera monodrama Nora, In the Great Outdoors, music by Daniel Felsenfeld and libretto by Will Eno, that continues the final scene of Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House moments after Nora abandons her family. The event will be held at Lincoln Center’s Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse. Tickets are $25, $50 for VIP reserve seating, available at www.operaprojects.org.

“Fun, energetic and curious song cycle interested in M-M-W threesome. R U what I M looking 4?” Model Love is a 30-minute song cycle fusing contemporary art song with blues, jazz ,and rock set for three singers (mezzo-soprano Rosalie Sullivan, baritone Gregory Gerbrandt, and tenor Jeremy Little) chamber orchestra and rock band. Based on texts from Nude Modelling for the Afterlife by BAFTA award winning poet/comedian Henry Normal with music by J. David Jackson, Model Love mixes musical styles and genres in a way that humorously (and accurately) represents the variegated emotions and situations of contemporary love affairs. J. David Jackson conducts.

Nora, In the Great Outdoors

Kirsten Chambers will sing the title role in the Felsenfeld/Eno monodrama

Using an icy climate crossed with a fragile-yet-eruptive emotional state of mind as musical grist, Nora, In the Great Outdoors is a take on the ending of Ibsen’s seminal “A Doll’s House,” especially its famous final stage direction, the first collaboration between composer Daniel Felsenfeld and playwright Will Eno. The monodrama takes over immediately where Ibsen leaves off, when the heroine abandons her family, her marriage her security, and perhaps the most famous slammed door in the history of drama. Commissioned by American Opera Projects, Nora, In the Great Outdoors, is a monodrama for soprano and piano trio and will star Kirsten Chambers in the title role. Keith Chambers conducts.


Putting the Chambers in Chamber Opera

September 15, 2011

Soprano Kirsten Chambers slams the door for Nora on Oct 2 at the Kaplan Penthouse

AOP is happy to announce that soprano Kirsten Chambers will perform the role of Ibsen’s heroine Nora in the Felsenfeld-Eno monodrama, Nora, In the Great Outdoors on October 2 at Kaplan Penthouse, 4pm and 7:30pm. And she will be put through her dramatic paces by none other than her husband Keith Chambers who will conduct the performances. Seems Nora can never escape controlling husbands.

Using an icy climate crossed with a fragile-yet-eruptive emotional state of mind as musical grist, Nora, In the Great Outdoors is a take on the ending of Ibsen’s seminal “A Doll’s House,” especially its famous final stage direction, the first collaboration between composer Daniel Felsenfeld and playwright Will Eno. The monodrama takes over immediately where Ibsen leaves off, when the heroine abandons her family, her marriage her security, and perhaps the most famous slammed door in the history of drama. The work is commissioned by AOP as part of its Monodrama program.

A studio recording of Nora was held last month in Yonkers with Caroline Worra in the title role.


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