Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A note on Owensboro

Lisa Hasson, Thomson Smillie and Clark Sturdevant rehearse for Madama Butterfly at Artspace in Louisville.

Many may or may not know that Kentucky Opera went to Owensboro recently to perform a semi staged version of Madama Butterfly with the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra. It seems as though other Orchestras are coordinating with opera companies to produce smaller less expensive semi staged concerts like this. Check out Nicks Notes here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Audition Advice

David Roth just got back from the BIG Apple where he was holding auditions for mainstage artists.

Last week Deanna Hoying listened to over 80 singers vie for the four postions in Kentucky Opera's Studio Artists Program.

I sat down with her to talk about how it was going...

Me: So, how are the auditions going?

Deanna Hoying: "I've been really happy about this year's auditions. We have more artists audtioning and from all over the country even the west coast. I think the program has been gaining attention within the young artist circles. Our program offers great opportunity for a young singer to directly work with mainstage artists and conductors while performing compromario roles as well as attending master classes. More than that, I think the Composer Workshop gives Kentucky Opera more crediblity with young singers because it offers a valuable and unique opportunity for these students to work directly with living composers, which isn't available anywhere else.

Me: What advice would you give someone who is about to sing for you?

DH: Your audition starts before you arrive. Your headshot should actually look like you. If you change your hair dramatically, get a new head shot. If you headshot is 10 years old, get a new headshot. We need to know what you look like because we are actually casting for real roles on stage.

ME Interjecting: (This is advice not just for those new to auditioning. I can't tell you how often we get a black and white headshot thats 25 years old from mainstage artists. It's pretty rediculous and we often joke about it. Who looks least like their headshots. And one more thing. You can always take the color out but you can't add it in. Don't do black and white!)

DH: If you are on time, you are late. If you are 30 minues early, you are on time. If we finish someone 4 minutes early and you are not there, it does count against you and you will have to work harder when you get in the room. Allow for traffic, parking and accidents. No one will fault you for being early, but you will always be at fault for being late.

Don't make excuses when you walk in the door. If you have a cold, we will be able to hear it. It's a part of the deal, people get sick and still have to sing.

Moc auditions are a great idea. Get your friends together and sing for eachother, sing for your family, strangers, who ever you can get to listen to you and take the criticism. Have them tell you how you look, how you're standing, if you are too stiff. The entire presentation is the package, and the more feedback you get, the more confident you will feel when you get in the room.

Sing something that you do well. That is the most important thing. You only have 10 minutes. You have to wow us in that 10 minutes and if you don't get it in the first three, it's not going to happen. I can tell in the first breath or the first two notes if this is going to be sublime or a bomb, so I would rather hear a brilliant Sempre Libre than an awful attempt at Sarah's Aria from Jake Heggie's The End of the Affair. Don't bring in something you're working on, bring in something you have.

Don't be afraid to get into character. When someone stands static and stiff it makes them look nervous (whether they are or not)and it doesn't tell us anything about them. If you can get into character a bit but not over do it, it will tell us that you know the plot, who you are supposed to be, how you are feeling and that you can ACT. Opera is a lot about the voice but it's also acting. Those who are animated always get noticed.

Have a couple of unique pieces on your rep list. Somthing that's not done all the time but something you do well. We don't want an entire day of Carmen, Figaro or Flute. If it's unusual we will probably ask you to do it, so don't put it on the list unless you can actually sing it well. We also will look for modern pieces by American composers. So many singers can't sing in english, and with the Composers Workshop, it will be a part of the program regardless of what the Kentucky Opera puts on the mainstage. We will also look for works by our friends, Carslile Floyd, Jake Heggie or Ben Moore. These gentlemen have been to our house and have worked with our kids and we love them and love to hear them. Again, only if you can actually sing it and sing it well. You've got to know it like you know your name.

In any way you can make yourself stand out in the best way possible, do so.

We will be announcing the new Studio Artists in January. Check back to see who wins!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Wagnerian on Of Mice and Men

Dear Opera Lovers,
When I was young my maternal grandmother used to take me grocery shopping with her. I soon came to realize that my grandmother was extremely rigid with her grocery buying list. The two of us used to pass aisle after aisle of products just to find the one that my grandmother had bought for the past 50 or so years in a row. I am now grateful for the extra exercise my grandmother subjected me to (good physique, tight buns…you get the idea) but I remember I could not understand why she did not want to try something new. “Grandmother”, I used to ask, “Why don’t you try this new brand of brown mustard?” hoping I would score a new treat waiting patiently to be discovered. “Oh no” she would reply with a horrified expression on her face, “you know as well as I do (insert brand name here) is the one I have been buying for years and the one I trust.” So we continued our shopping trips month after month, always going through this strange routine as if we were a broken record.

Yes, my dear friends, this is Christos “The Wagnerian” Dimitriadis and I am not writing about my childhood traumas. This is my usual opera review column and you are on the right page. I just wanted to start my article this way, in order to make a comparison between my childhood experience and the similarities I find with many of my fellow opera lovers. Of Mice and Men was indeed something new for our Louisville palate; it was indeed an opera that most of us might not even have heard of before. It was, however, a great American opera, a great American story of our roots, of pain, turmoil, dreams and yearning. We, however, did exactly what my grandmother used to do when I was a little kid, stick with the usual same brand of mustard!! I have nothing against the standard repertory; in fact, I wept uncontrollably at the Kentucky Opera performance of La Traviata with Mrs. Futral in the lead role, and I’m sure I will have a similar response to Madame Butterfly next season. Nevertheless, why do we, as the operatic audience, continue to be so limited in our selection of opera performances? Why do we want to listen to the same thing twenty times a year but never venture towards something new? Some of you may argue it is because you believe these are the best selections, the best operas and that is why we always love them. I would disagree 100% with this notion because even with famous composers we have not even scratched the surface of their operatic genius. For example, Donizetti composed a total of 70 operas but unfortunately most of us have only heard of 3 or 4 of his works. Few know other Donizetti masterpieces such as Poliuto, Fausta or La Favorita. I do not mean to be abrasive but I did feel great disappointment inside my heart when I realized that Louisvillians did not fully support Of Mice and Men (especially with Mr. Floyd being present and visiting our town) the way it should have been supported; and without wanting to be harsh with my fellow sports fans, if the Cardinals were facing a 3rd grade team in basketball or football tickets would be selling faster than one can say “sesame.” It is a true shame indeed for a town that boasts on its plethora of artistic offerings.

In my usual articles, I would continue by analyzing how I felt about the performance, not so much as a critic because I am not (we have critics in our community, please see Mr. Adler, who are great at what they do) but more as an opera lover and a regular human being. And I can tell you, I was moved, I was thrilled, and I was elated to be in the Brown Theatre for Of Mice and Men. I was glad to experience an opera company who is a leader, who is not afraid to take risks and showcase operas that will expand its operatic audience to a new breed, a new appreciation status, a Kentucky Opera Company that chooses to try another brand of brown mustard!! Thus, I rest my case and I implore you to read the critique that Mr. Adler, our respected critic, printed for the Courier Journal; it says it all and I have to say it is the first time that Mr. Adler and I fully agree and see eye to eye. So, as you read it just think that I would have written the exact same thing. I applaud Kentucky Opera for having a vision outside of the ordinary and for bringing to the forefront a boldness which will become a trademark and guiding light for the future. So, please join me for the opera next season and also in my quest for other, bolder, spicier and more flavorful brands of brown mustard!! VIVA VOCE!!

Christos “The Wagnerian” Dimitriadis
Other Reviews: