Friday, April 29, 2011

What Are You Listening To This Weekend?

Happy Friday.

What are you listening to this weekend?

We'll be catching our last two performances of Faust (tonight and Sunday). It's really a special opera with a special cast. It's also the first opera we saw live many moons ago so it has a special place in our heart.

Saturday we'll finally catch up with a band we've wanted to see live for a long time - The Tree Ring. We've been loving their Generous Shadows LP when it came out a few months back but with opera season it's been hard to catch them (or anyone) in concert lately. They're playing in support of the Donkeys Saturday night at Sushi Gallery.

After that we'll put the iPod on shuffle and listen to what comes.

Have a great weekend and share your picks down below.

FAUST OperaSpotlight

A little delayed, but here nonetheless, our OperaSpotlight FAUST program

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Message From Salvatore Licitra

Salvatore Licitra has posted a message on his website announcing his cancellation with us.

As all of us here at the Aria Serious tower have helped a friend move at one time or another we know how debilitating even minor back pain can be. All of us here wish Salvatore a speedy recovery. We'll welcome him in 2013.

Dear Friends,

I am very sorry to inform you that due to a severe back injury I am forced to cancel my concert in Baton Rouge as well as my role debut as Don Jose in Carmen at the San Diego Opera. I suffered a disk herniation which came, of course, unexpected and probably is still an aftereffect of an accident I had in 2009. At the moment I am in a lot of pain and flying is not an option. I am glad when I manage to get on a chair! The doctors ordered me to rest for at least 25 days which destroys my wish to sing in Baton Rouge and at the San Diego Opera.

I put a lot of work into preparation for the debut and am very sad and upset about not being able to perform as scheduled. However, I wish for a quick recovery and hope to see you all when I am back on track hopefully soon.

Love, Salvatore Licitra

10 Interesting Facts About Carmen

It was another long elevator ride from the parking garage where we cornered Dr. Nic and asked him to give us 10 interesting facts about Carmen. Sure, we might have hit the buttons so we stopped at every floor and refused to let him off until he shared what he knew, but in the end, it was worth it. With Carmen rehearsals now underway, today seems like a perfect time to share 10 Interesting Facts About Carmen:

1. Carmen was not a flop at its premiere at the Opéra-Comique in Paris on March 3, 1875. It ran for 45 performances, well into June of that year.

2. Carmen was certainly a controversial subject for the usually tepid Opéra-Comique which only staged operas with sentimental, semi-serious plots, never tragedies.

3. The orchestra at the Opéra-Comique rebelled against the demands of the score and the chorus, unused to actually having to act onstage, threatened mass resignation.

4. Carmen was based on a novella by Prosper Mérimée who travelled extensively through Spain and heard stories similar to the story of the doomed gypsy who eventually became the central figure in his work.

5. The opera Carmen can arguably be said to be about Don José, as he is the character who changes in the course of the drama, the protagonist. Carmen does not change, which is usually the description of an antagonist in a play or opera.

6. Carmen and Don José never sing the same tune in the opera. We must wait until Act Four to hear Carmen sing a duet with someone who shares identical music and it’s not with Don José; it’s with Escamillo, the matador.

7. Every time Carmen opens her mouth in this opera, the accompanying music is a dance form: habanera, seguidilla, gypsy dance. Even the ‘card aria’ (“En vain pour éviter”) is a slow dance of death.

8. Carmen was more popular in Italy than in France in the late 19th century and was influential in the creation of the verismo operatic style made popular by Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci.

9. One of the directors of the Opéra-Comique resigned in a huff because of the more shocking elements in Carmen’s libretto: onstage violence, an independent, amorously loose central character and women smoking!

10. We have Léon Carvalho to thank not only for the creation of Faust at the Théâtre Lyrique, but for offering Bizet the opportunity to write an opera for the Comique, where Carvalho was now the intendant. (At least this time he didn’t offer his wife, Caroline, one of the lead roles!)

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

CARMEN Cast Change

We have a cast change for Carmen. Our good friend Richard Leech will be returning to San Diego Opera to sing the role of Don Jose. Salvatore Licitra has withdrawn from these performances due to injury...

Cast Change Announcement – San Diego Opera

American tenor and San Diego Opera favorite, Richard Leech, returns to sing Don José in San Diego Opera’s upcoming Carmen.

San Diego, CA – American tenor Richard Leech, a longtime San Diego Opera favorite, has cleared his schedule and will sing the role of Don José in Carmen which opens on May 14, 2011 for four performances. Richard replaces Salvatore Licitra who has withdrawn from these performances due to the recurrence of a serious back injury. He has also canceled a scheduled concert with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. Salvatore will now make his Company debut as Radames in Aida in the 2013 season.

Richard Leech made his San Diego Opera debut in 1988 as Faust, returning in Lucia di Lammermoor, Werther, La bohème, Romeo and Juliet, A Masked Ball, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Cavalleria rusticana and Verdi Requiem. His first Don José in Carmen was with San Diego Opera in 1997 and he has since sung the role at Vienna State Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and The Metropolitan Opera, among others. Since his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1989 as Rodolfo in La bohème, he has given more than 170 performances there in Faust, Rigoletto, A Masked Ball, Lucia di Lammermoor, Romeo and Juliet, Madama Butterfly, The Elixir of Love, The Tales of Hoffmann, Tosca, and Mefistofele.

“When Richard heard of our need for a Don José, he quickly adjusted his schedule to return to San Diego. He will be the perfect balance for his colleagues including Georgian mezzo soprano Nino Surguladze as Carmen, soprano Talise Trevigne as Micaëla and baritone Wayne Tigges as Escamillo. I am delighted to add him to this strong cast, conducted by Edoardo Müller and directed by Sonja Frisell. He told me how much he looks forward to meeting many long-time friends among the audiences for Carmen,” adds San Diego Opera General and Artistic Director Ian Campbell.

Carmen opens Saturday, May 14, 2011 for four performances and was last performed by San Diego Opera in 2006.

FAUST Review Roundup #2

Two more Faust reviews this morning.

Operwarhorses says - Costello, Perez, Grimsley and Mulligan Brilliant in Spectacularly Staged "Faust" - which is something we can get behind.

Local Arts Critic Charelene Baldridge thinks Greer Grimsley just about steals the show.

You can read them both by clicking the links above.

Did you know all our reviews can be found here as they come in.

Did you go? Why not share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Podcast Monday

On this week's Podcast Monday, Dr. Nic sits down with Stephen Costello and Ailyn Perez who just made role debuts in Faust on Saturday.

You can download the podcast here.


Countdown to Curtain Concludes

Voice of San Diego's Arts coverage - Behind The Scene - has been backstage with us all week following what it takes to present grand opera. From building a set to cast changes, from makeup to costume fittings, if you have ever wanted to know what it takes to make opera happen, grab a chair and a computer screen. We always talk about opera being greater than the sum of its parts and this series captures this better than anything we've ever seen.

Countdown to Curtain - A 10 Part Series

Part 1 - Opera as Turducken

Part 2 - What Went Before

Part 3 - The Maestro of Construction

Part 4 - Costume Handiwork

Part 5 - A Cast Change Scramble

Part 6 - Let There Be Spotlight

Part 7 - Remember Rule Two

Part 8 - Voices from Above

Part 9 - Last Chance for Fixes

Part 10 - The Intensity of the Nerves

While You Were Out - Review Roundup Edition

Over the weekend:

Faust opened Saturday night and we have our first batch of reviews...

The OperaTattler enjoyed the changes from the San Francsico Opera production which used these same sets last year.

Meanwhile, praised the strong cast and conducting.

The San Diego Union-Tribune had some problems with the performance Saturday night.

OutWest Arts liked the strong cast and young singers in this production. applauded the taut direction.

OutwestArts called it our finest Faust yet. And he's seen them all.

Friday, April 22, 2011

FAUST by Eric Shanower

Updated: We've included a short interview with Eric down below.

It was earlier this week that the Aria Serious crew invited comic artist Eric Shanower back to the Civic Theatre, this time to sketch the gothic tale of Gounod's Faust. Those of you who frequent us might remember the wonderful collection Eric did for us in January for Turandot. You can see these drawing here.

Eric is a two time Eisner award winner and a New York Times bestselling author who's ongoing epic work, The Age of Bronze, is a detailed retelling of The Trojan War. Eric is also known for his Oz novels and comics. We've included a link to his home page and if you love comics, good storytelling and incredible art you owe yourself a visit. Seriously.

But enough with talk, and onto what you really came here to see - Faust as seen through the eyes of Eric Shanower. We've asked Eric for a short interview and should he respond we'll update this post with what he had to say. Comic artists live complicated lives, so it might take a few days.

Eric will join us in a few weeks for Carmen.

A conversation with Eric Shanower:

It's very good to have you back for us with FAUST. How did you like the show?

Shanower: I liked it a lot, to my surprise. I saw a production of
Faust a long time ago when I was a teenager. I’d been really looking forward to that one, because in the Tintin comics by Herge, there’s a recurring character, an opera diva named Bianca Castafiore. She’s always irrepressibly breaking into “The Jewel Song” from Faust, much to the chagrin of the other characters. So I wanted to hear the song. But I found the production so long and boring with so little action—very stand and sing—that I was greatly disappointed. (I do recall liking the costumes, though.)

So when you invited me to
Faust at San Diego Opera, I was willing but not very enthusiastic. But, wow, I loved the show! So much action, so much emotion, such beauty for the eyes and ears. I was really surprised.

It's been a few months since we last spoke. What are you working on these days?

Shanower: Pretty much the same thing as last time. I write and draw a comic book series retelling the Trojan War story,
Age of Bronze, published by Image Comics. And I write comics adaptations of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books for Marvel Comics—currently I’m adapting the fourth Oz book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. I have a few other smaller projects: turning a script for a presentation onAge of Bronze that I gave at an academic conference last fall into an article for a book collecting the papers given there; writing an introduction to a graphic novel collection of another Oz comic book series, Royal Historian of Oz by Tommy Kovac and Andy Hirsch, published by SLG; and a few other things it’s too early to mention in public.

When we spoke last you mentioned that Seattle's Ring Cycle was your favorite production you've ever seen. How was it to see and hear Greer again?

Shanower: Seattle’s current Ring Cycle was amazing. It made me think of Hal Foster’s
Prince Valiantcomics come to life. The millions they spent were certainly evident all over the stage with amazing special effects. I’ve always fallen asleep when I’ve tried to watch the Ring on video, so this was a completely different experience.

I was very happy to see and hear Greer Grimsley as Mephistofeles in
Faust. He has some riveting scenes, particularly in the last act with Marguerite in the church and then in the very last scene. I wish he would have stayed put more, though. He kept moving around stage and it was difficult to capture some of his more striking gestures. He also has the best costumes.

Actually the singer that impressed me the most was Brian Mulligan as Valentin. Since I saw a rehearsal, some of the singers were saving their voices for public performance, but Mulligan was full-on and his performance in the final act was quite stirring.

What did you think of production? You have a very distinct drawing style. Did this gothic production influence you in what you drew the other night?

Shanower: I thought the design was beautiful. I was pleasantly surprised to see the set and costume designer was Bob Perdziola. My partner David was a student of his, then his assistant on several shows, though not this one. So I’ve met Bob a few times.

The design influenced me to the extent of what I was trying to get down on paper objectively—to draw pretty much what I was seeing. It didn’t really influence me in any inspirational way, I don’t think.

Did the music?

The music didn’t really influence what I drew. My inspiration is really more visual and I think I tend to take cues from what’s going on in the story. Of course, when a singer holds a really impressive note for a long time, that’s great, because when the singer remains in one position it’s much easier to draw from. I found that
Faust had a lot more constant action than Turandot a couple months ago, so it was harder to capture things—maybe I need to alter my approach, be more gestural. This is only the second time I’ve done this, so I’m still exploring.

We've tried to get a few other artists to join us for Comic Book night but they always seem to cancel. One of the reasons I think you continue to show up is that you've had an early introduction to opera. We know your first opera was EUGENE ONEGIN but did you have an earlier introduction to opera or classical music?

Shanower: I remember when I was about five years old getting for Christmas a record titled something like
A Child’s Introduction to the Opera. I tried to listen to it a few times, but I don’t think I even got through side one. I remember the artwork on the cover much more than I remember any of the music that was on it. My parents took me to symphonies, ballets, museums, etc. I think they felt it was a natural responsibility to expose their children to higher culture—but I was much more interested in comic books. I always liked the theatre, however, and though my parents never took me to opera when I was pre-teen, I did go see a few operas as a teenager through my own choice when they were easily accessible and sung in English because I simply considered them not much different than plays and musicals. That’s how I saw Faust the first time.

Anything else you wish to share with us?

Shanower: Thanks for inviting me to draw during the opera again. I hope folks like what I produced, I hope they’ll go see Faust—it’s a really entertaining show. And I look forward to Carmen.

Artwork © copyright 2011 by Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Artwork © copyright 2011 by Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Countdown to Curtain

Behind-The-Scene, Voice of San Diego's excellent Arts blog, has been continuing their series on what it takes to present live grand opera.

Their most recent segment focuses on what we do when there is a last minute cast change. No, we don't run around screaming bloody murder; although that might be fun to try one day. We're actually all quite calm and you can read about it here.

More segments are coming including a look at lighting Faust. And, since it is called Countdown to Curtain, we'll have them backstage as the curtain rises on Saturday.

So go visit Behind-The-Scene. Not only does it have a bunch of stories about us (with excellent photos) it's filled with other Arts news you should know about.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Whistling Opera

In the brutal, puckered, lip-smacking world of international competitive whistling, it pays to know your opera arias...

Special thanks to reader Bill Houle who brought this to our attention.

A Cast Change for the Saturday, April 23 Performance of FAUST

We have a cast change to announce for the Saturday, April 23, 2011 performance of Faust.

Acclaimed American baritone Brian Mulligan will make his Company debut on Saturday, April 23, 2011 when he sings the role of Valentin in Gounod’s Faust, replacing the previously announced Joshua Hopkins who is ill.

Brian Mulligan recently sang Valentin with San Francisco Opera and will sing it at the Metropolitan Opera in December.

His 2011 season has included a number of roles at San Francisco Opera including Albert in Werther, Ragueneau in Cyrano de Bergerac and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly and in June he sings Klinghoffer in The Death of Klinghoffer with the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. In November he sings Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor with Washington Opera, having sung the role previously with English National Opera.

“It is always disappointing when an artist has worked hard rehearsing a role but is prevented by illness from singing, and I am sorry that Joshua is unable to appear on Saturday. But we are fortunate to have Brian Mulligan available to step in.

“Brian is an established artist who has performed Valentin previously, and has sufficient rehearsal time to work with the stage director, conductor and his colleagues to ensure an excellent Faust,” comments San Diego Opera General and Artistic Director Ian Campbell.

“Joshua Hopkins will be in our Carmen production opening on May 14 and will be fully back to health well before then.”

We're hoping Joshua will make his Company debut for the Tuesday performance and wish him a speedy recovery.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Stars in the Salon FAUST

For your viewing pleasure, the Stars in Salon for Faust which we filmed last week. Enjoy.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Podcast Monday

On this week's Podcast Monday we sit down with Greer Grimsley to talk about what it is like to sing all villians we love to hate. Do not adjust your bass. You can download the podcast here.

While You Were Out

Over the weekend some great San Diego Opera stories ran, but first the one that everyone is talking about...

- The Philadelphia Orchestra has filed for Bankruptcy.

Closer to home...

- Our tenor, Stephen Costello, continues exploring the rehearsals process of Faust in his ongoing opera diary series.

- Have you seen Robert Wilson's installation at the Timken museum yet? Ian Campbell went and San Diego City Beat was there to get his reaction.

- Life is not the pits when you're making beautiful music. A look at the role the orchestra plays in our production of Faust (and opera in general).

- Do you read the Voice of San Diego's Behind-the-Scene Arts Blog? You should. Not only is it a great read, but this week they're running a series of articles on what it takes to present grand opera - namely, our Faust.

The first installment "Opera as Turducken" explores all the forces at work in opera.

The second, "What Went Before" shows the scope of planning it takes to create opera.

The third, "Maestro of Construction" details how quickly our crew can break down one set and build another in a grueling rehearsal week.

We'll have more as they appear!

Friday, April 15, 2011

What Are You Listening To This Weekend?

Happy Friday. What are you listening to this weekend?

Believe it or not the Aria Serious crew has nothing on tap for this weekend, so if you have a suggestion please post it below in the comment section.

We'll be back to opera next week, promise.

Make it a good one!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stars in the Salon - FAUST

Just a reminder that the stars of Fasut will be gathering in the Beverly Sills Salon on Thursday, April 14, 2011 at 5:30 PM to discuss the opera. Join us!

If you live elsewhere, we'll have it online a few days later - here and on Youtube.

If you have something you're dying to ask, post it below and we'll ask it for you.

Monday, April 11, 2011

10 Interesting Facts About Faust

A few weeks ago Dr. Nic shared with us 10 interesting things about Der Rosenkavalier, born out of an agonizing ride in the elevator where we stopped on every floor from the subterranean parking garage to the 18th floor.

Luckily we didn't have to recreate that experience to get 10 interesting facts about Faust...

1. There is a well-known Christmas carol hidden in Méphistophélès’ first aria, “Le veau d’or”, often called the “Golden Calf aria”.

2. The best known tune from Faust, Valentin’s aria “Avant de quitter”, was added in 1864, a couple of years after the premiere of the opera (1859) for performances in London. It was sung in English at those performances and the French version followed later.

3. Although the story of Faust is based on Goethe’s original verse play (1806), it only covers Part I of the poet’s version, avoiding the more philosophical depths of Part II.

4. The source of the story of Faust was an actual person, a Doctor Johann Georg Faustus who lived in the 16th century. The legend of his pact with the devil became popular through ballads and puppet plays, much like the original source of the Don Juan story in Spain. (Mozart’s Don Giovanni.)

5. The premiere of Faust at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris utilized spoken dialogue between the musical ‘numbers’. The dialogue was set to music by the composer for performances in other cities the following year.

6. A scene which you will almost never see in a performance of Faust is the Walpurgisnacht scene in which Méphistophélès takes Faust to a witches’ Sabbath, he meets some of the most beautiful women of history, sees a ballet and sings a drinking song. The scene is usually cut in order to expedite the dénouement.

7. Once upon a time Faust was among the top 3 or 4 operas in popularity. It now ranks #18 in Opera America’s list of most-performed operas in the U.S. Some lists, however, have it hovering between #20 and #25.

8. Faust opened the Metropolitan Opera house in 1883. It was sung in Italian, not French.

9. Gounod almost became a priest. He was very pious in his youth, and came under the influence of the Society of St. Sulpice in Paris, a religious order.

10. The first Marguerite was Caroline Carvalho, the wife of Léon Carvalho, the director or intendant of the Théâtre Lyrique where the opera was premiered.

Podcast Monday

This week's podcast sees Dr. Nic Reveles sitting down with our very own resident conductor, Karen Keltner. They talk about French grand opera, and the opening night of Faust which is quickly approaching. You can find the podcast here. Enjoy!

While We Were Out

Over the weekend:

- A subtraction: We've just learned that composer Daniel Catan passed away on Friday. We staged his Rappaccini’s Daughter in 1994 introducing him to the USA. It was the first opera by a Mexican composer ever staged in this country.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What Are You Listening To This Weekend?

Friday! Time to ask what we always ask - what are you listening to this weekend?

It's a busy musical week for the Aria Serious crew. We have a performance of Der Rosenkavalier tomorrow evening we're not going to miss and then we're spend some time getting to know Faust better. We picked the Richard Leech recording because he was our first Faust we ever saw here in San Diego in the late 1980's.

We'll roundup the weekend with a listen of the stunningly beautiful chamber pop of Diego Garcia's debut LP Laura. And then we'll get our dance on with the new Cold Cave LP Cherish The Light Years.

Share your listening plans below and please, make it a good one.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

#OperaPlot Contest and a Company Debut Announcement

San Diego Opera and the Aria Serious crew are very pleased to announce that we'll be taking part in this year's #OperaPlot contest. What's an #OperaPlot you ask? And while we're at it what's with that funny # sign too?

The #Operaplot contest started a few years ago on Twitter where people were asked to submit their favorite opera synopsis in 140 characters or less. People laughed. People sent them around the interwebz. People voted and winners were awarded. These winners received prizes. Yay, prizes!

Last year the lovely Danielle de Niese was the celebrity judge of the #OperaPlot contest. This year bass-baritone Eric Owens has the honors.

But Danielle de Niese is still part of this year's contest! See, Danielle de Niese will be making a Company and role debut as Norina in Don Pasquale as part of our 2012 season. We decided it would be nice to offer two Orchestra tickets to the Friday, March 16, 2012 performance of this opera.

Then Danielle said "we should give them a backstage tour, too." Now one does not say "no" to Danielle. So we added a pre-opera backstage tour.

"And CDs. I'll sign some CDs," she added. So we added some signed CDs to the prize.

"Cake? Do you like cake?" asked Danielle. "Of course. Who doesn't?" we answered hoping there was cake in our future. And there will be - because after the opera we'll take Danielle and the winner (and the rest of the cast of they want to come) out for a post performance dessert/coffee. It doesn't get any sweeter than that. And it really doesn't - because if we felt it was getting sweeter anywhere else in the world we'd just order more dessert. That's how we roll.

So, why not visit the official #OperaPlot page for rules and FAQs. And then tweet away (and don't forget to follow us once you get your shiny new Twitter account set up). For those who don't live in San Diego and was hoping their local opera company was giving something away in this contest, you might be in luck.

And now about that # symbol... People use the # symbol (or "hash tag" as it's called on Twitter) so other people can easily follow a topic in their newsfeed. For example, if you're following our Opera History project on Twitter you'll notice we preface everything with #operahistory - this enables people (and the search engines they use) to focus on this aspect of our timeline and ignore, say, all the Der Rosenkavalier reviews we've been posting this week if they so choose. You and a friend might talk about what's for lunch on Twitter and might preface those tweets with #whatsforlunch - but we digress, it's lunchtime now. Cake anyone?

Monday, April 4, 2011


Is now online, but for some reason we cannot embed it in this post. So you can click here to visit Youtube where the video lives. Please enjoy!

Podcast Monday

Some of you had the chance to hear the lovely Patrizia Ciofi's Sophie yesterday - now you can hear her again, this time in a fun and casual interview which makes up this week's podcast. Enjoy!

While We Were Out

Over the weekend we opened Der Rosenkavalier. How was it? We thought it went over great but why not read the reviews. The San Diego Union Tribune thought that it "soared" and Out West Arts had a great time visiting old Vienna.

We'll have more reviews in the next few days that you can read on our review page (which will be updated shortly with the two links from above).

In other news:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Der Rosenkavalier - In Photos

It's been a long technical rehearsal week but when the curtain rises on Sunday, it will have been worth it. Der Rosenkavalier is splendid. While we could sit here and write about how much we love this opera we'll let some pictures we took do it justice. All photos are by Ken Howard, 2011. Enjoy!

What Are You Listening To This Weekend?

Happy Friday! What are you listening to this weekend?

Do we even need to tell you what the Aria Serious crew will be listening to? Der Rosenkavalier, Der Rosenkavalier, Der Rosenkavalier.

Share your comments in the comment section below and please, make it a good one.