Monday | Oct 21, 2013

Twelve Days of Carmen–Day One

Welcome to the “Twelve Days of Carmen”! This is a series of blog articles, based on videos shot at the Strauss Performing Art Center in community partnership between Opera Omaha and University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Communication Fine Arts and Media, CFAM.

We begin the 12 Days with the music of Carmen.

A few words from Conductor, Hal France about the process so far:

We’ve been cooking up some opera. Tonight, the company of Carmen will meet one more time in the Opera Omaha rehearsal space with our marvelous Director/Chef, Lillian Groag. The room will be packed with performers and the production team that will put this “baby” in the oven; the Orpheum Theater. It’s been an outstanding three weeks with everybody working together to bring out the many flavors of the story. Last night, the Omaha Symphony joined the mix. They bring Bizet’s brilliant orchestrations to life, a key ingredient in this opera recipe. But, the proof’s in the pudding! Don’t miss your opportunity to see all of this hard work come together on stage November 1 and 3.

And now, a few words from Opera Omaha on how to buy tickets. Visit Ticket Omaha online or call 402-345-0606 to purchase by phone.

Thursday | Oct 17, 2013

Meet the Artist–Jonathan Burton

Tenor Jonathan Burton faces a daunting task as he fills the role of Don José in our production of Carmen. He is required to be dashing with a bad boy undertone while convincing us that he loves (or at least lusts after) the title character. Mr. Burton’s acting is wonderful and, like all opera singers, he does this while singing beautifully. He performs feats of voice that don’t seem humanly possible until you see and hear them in person.

Don’t miss your chance to see Tenor Jonathan Burton’s Don Jose during Opera Omaha’s production of Carmen in Omaha’s beautiful Orpheum Theater on November 1 and 3. Click here to buy tickets online or call 402-345-0606 to purchase by phone. Join us! You’ll regret missing this one.

More information about Opera Omaha’s production of Carmen is available by clicking here.

The biography below and photo above are from Mr. Burton’s website and are available through his artist management company, Mirshak Artists Management.


Young American tenor Jonathan Burton has been praised for having “thrilling power and beauty” (Baltimore Sun) and for being “the real find in this production…an engaging all-around singer with a powerful, full-bodied sound.” (Opera News) During the 2012-2013 season Mr. Burton can be heard as Cavaradossi in Tosca with Kentucky Opera, Calaf in Turandot with Sarasota Opera and Rodolfo in La bohème with the Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman where he “was charming as Rodolfo. His voice was strong and passionate, and as Rodolfo he was smitten and sweet.” (Times of Oman) Upcoming seasons include roles with the Castleton Festival and Dayton Opera, among others. Engagements for the tenor during the 2011-2012 season included Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Opera on the James and with Shreveport Opera, and Cavaradossi in Tosca with Opera New Jersey and the Utah Festival Opera where The Deseret News reported “Burton’s tenor dynamics throughout the production are particularly noteworthy. He sings to be felt. Burton and Hanson could both give lessons on singing with passion and heart and not just to hit the right notes.” With Lyric Opera of Virginia he sang Don Jose in Carmen and with the Castleton Festival he portrayed Rodolfo in their production of La bohème. Recent engagements for this Ohio native include Cavaradossi in Tosca with Annapolis Opera and Opera on the James, Don José in Carmen with Central City Opera and Opera Omaha, Rodolfo in La bohème with Palm Beach Opera, Canio in Pagliacci with Annapolis Opera, and Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with Phoenix Opera. In addition, he has performed numerous supporting roles with Florida Grand Opera, Opera Omaha, and Palm Beach Opera. On the concert stage he has been engaged by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra to sing Rene Clausen’s A New Creation, the Lexington Philharmonic for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Southern Ohio Symphony Orchestra for Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra for Verdi’s Requiem. His formative years included engagements with the Southern Ohio Light Opera Company where he performed over twenty leading roles with the company, including Alfred in Die Fledermaus, Camille in The Merry Widow, and Caliph in Kismet. Mr. Burton studied at Westminster Choir College and the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati and was a member of Florida Grand Opera’s Young Artist Program.

On the concert stage he has been engaged by the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra to sing Rene Clausen’s A New Creation, the Lexington Philharmonic for Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, Southern Ohio Symphony Orchestra for Handel’s Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah, and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra for Verdi’s Requiem.

His formative years included engagements with the Southern Ohio Light Opera Company where he performed over twenty leading roles with the company, including Alfred in Die Fledermaus, Camille in The Merry Widow, and Caliph in Kismet.

Mr. Burton studied at Westminster Choir College as well as the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati and was a member of Florida Grand Opera’s Young Artist Program.


Monday | Oct 14, 2013

Meet the Artist–Leann Sandel-Pantaleo

In our most recent blog article, we described the title character in Carmen as “murderous” and “lustful”. Who is the woman singing that part on stage for Opera Omaha this November? The kind, vivacious mezzo-soprano, Leann Sandel-Pantaleo. She is, although not murderous in real life, capable and convincing on stage. The singer’s biography and a link to her website is below. Enjoy!

Don’t miss your chance to see Ms. Sandel-Pantaleo on stage in Omaha’s Orpheum Theater on November 1 or 3. Tickets are selling fast! To buy tickets, click here or call 402-345-0606 today.

Leann Sandel-Pantaleo

Leann Sandel-Pantaleo   Biography provided by Fletcher Artists Management

Following recent performances of Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana, Leann Sandel-Pantaleo was praised by the Portland Press Herald with the exclamation that “she has a glorious voice…. and she took fire.”

This season, Ms. Sandel-Pantaleo returns to Lyric Opera of Chicago to cover Jezibaba in Rusalka, and joins both Opera Omaha and Tulsa Opera as the title role in Carmen.

During the 2012-2013 season, Ms. Sandel-Pantaleo joined theLyric Opera of Chicago, to cover the Witch in Hänsel und Gretel, and returned to Teatro alla Scala and the Berlin Staatsoper as Siegrune in Die Walküre, and to North Carolina Opera, as Amneris in Aida. She also sang Siegrune at the BBC Proms in London.

The mezzo-soprano’s 2011-2012 season began with the title role in Carmen with North Carolina Opera, and continued with Verdi’s Requiem at Carnegie Hall, and a return to the Staatsoper Unter den Linden for further performances of Siegrune.

Ms. Sandel-Pantaleo began the 2010-2011 season covering the title role in Carmen at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and later debuted at Teatro alla Scala and the Staatsoper Unter den Linden as Siegrune in Die Walküre.

In the summer of 2010, she bowed as Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana with Chautauqua Opera. In the 2009-10 season, she returned to the title role of Carmen with Utah Opera, and sang her first performances of Bluebeard’s Castle with Fondazione Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi under the baton of Oleg Caetani.

In the 2008-09 season, Ms. Sandel-Pantaleo made debuts at Houston Grand Opera as Ursule in Béatrice et Bénédict followed by Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and San Francisco Opera as Flora in La traviata. She also sang further performances of the title role in Carmen with Hawaii Opera Theater and returned to the Metropolitan Opera to reprise Siegrune in Die Walküre.

Other recent performances to her credit include Amneris in Aida with both Portland Opera and El Paso Opera, Santuzza in Cavalleria rusticana with PORT Opera, and the title role of Carmen with Chautauqua Opera. She has joined the Metropolitan Opera for previous performances of Siegrune in Die Walküre and Flora in La traviata as well as numerous other productions including Die Ägyptische Helena, Luisa Miller, Manon, and Parsifal.

On the concert stage, she has recently joined the Brooklyn Philharmonic for Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and has appeared as soloist at other symphony orchestras including those of Indianapolis, Alabama, Erie, Pacific, Nevada, La Jolla, Evansville, San Diego, Westchester, and Lafayette.

Friday | Oct 11, 2013

Carmen according to Director, Lillian Groag

Director, Lillian Groag

Lillian Groag has a lot to say about the way Carmen should appear on stage. In fact, she has a lot to say about the way every thing and everyone should be and look on stage. That’s a very good thing.

Miss Lilli, as the cast and crew call her, is Director for more than 100 people for Opera Omaha’s production of Georges Bizet’s perennially popular opera, Carmen. This production will be a little different, however, than anything you may have seen previously by that title. It may be a little less, well, maybe the word is “nice”. According to Miss Lilli, Carmen is anything but “nice”. She is murderous and lustful. She is greedy. The people around her, including the children, are no different. Life is difficult. Life is dirty.

It sounds like Lillian Groag may be building a Carmen that is nearly timeless. Her Director’s Notes, posted below, give some insight into the thoughts behind her direction. Enjoy!

CARMEN DIRECTOR’S NOTES By Lillian Groag, Director

When certain operas become so familiar as to become part of our culture, a curious thing happens: we assume a knowledge of them that is far from accurate.  Directors are not immune to this syndrome.  The plots of the handful of operas that form our canon, through overexposure and indiscriminate production habits, become blurred and we end up with approximations of a story we actually don’t know all that well.  How many of us are sure that Don Giovanni begins with the rape of Donna Anna and the murder of her father?  In fact, according to Da Ponte’s libretto, we don’t really know what happened in Anna’s bedroom.  The first time we see her she’s hanging on to Don Giovanni for dear life, trying to prevent him from leaving and, according to the words, it is the Commendatore who attacks Don Giovanni – who is unwilling to fight an old man – and not the other way around, getting himself killed in the process.  And … just how aware are we that Butterfly, far from being a dewy-eyed innocent, is a Geisha, a professional (yes, at 15) and thus perfectly aware of the terms of marriage contracts with European men, a custom dating at least from the 17th century?  Or that Mimi is a grisette returning to her previous client(s) after her Act III breakup with Rodolfo, which constitutes the reason for his constant jealousy?  Or that our beloved “bohemians” are boys from very good families “slumming” for a while, allowances cut by furious parents, no doubt the fun and games of Act I blatantly advertising major classical educations.  A future with the likes of Mimi and Musetta is as out of the question for them as that between Alfredo and Violetta.  And … do we realize that it is actually the Ethiopians who are the aggressors and not the Egyptians in Aida?  And so on.

Which brings us to our Carmen.  Traditionally represented as a facsimile of Rita Hayworth in the eponymous movie, with inevitable red hair, puffy white sleeves off the shoulder (the only concession to gypsy slovenliness) and golden hoop earrings, she is thought of as a “free spirit” cavorting with a sort of wild and crazy band reminiscent of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, causing minimum damage and maximum fun, stomping out vague approximations of flamenco.  And then she gets killed.  Now this story clearly cannot be the one that created the scandal of its opening night (and the weeks that followed) or was that audience smoking something funny?

The truth is, red-haired gypsies abounding only in opera and Hollywood movies of the 50s, that Carmen’s crowd is a gang of cutthroats who would be garroted on sight, as she herself would, if found in their company.  The troubling gypsy of Mérimée running about in stockings with holes in them and filthy red shoes dressed in a black shabby dress is lethal – as Micaela aptly notes.  Her white-washing in our time is part of the many casualties of the “wink-wink-nudge-nudge” approach in which certain “ladies” have been depicted on the opera stage.  Add Manon, Thais and Nedda among others, to the previous list.  It’s this very attitude that traditionally patronizes opera libretti (you can hear the chuckles during the Saturday afternoon Met Opera Quizzes from participants who claim to be devoted to the medium) and so the evening, conveniently sanitized, and bringing nothing much to think on, is easily put aside as soon as we are done with the pretty music and make our mad dash to the parking lot  lest our car should get away all on its own, like “Christine”, in the cult 70s horror film, and leave us stranded downtown to trudge our way home.

Now:  why should we give our attention to this dismal story of gypsies and “payos” (Romani for non gypsies)?  Well, the music is fantastic.  It has been called the “perfect opera”, and to many of us, it is.  But there is also a very good yarn to hold it up.  A volatile young man of good family (it’s Don José, after all) finds himself in a god-forsaken garrison in a bad neighborhood of Seville, with a grade (equivalent to “corporal”) unworthy of his birth and station.  There is a tobacco factory there and the “brunes cigarières” (so, mostly gypsies) have means of income other than the making of cigars and cigarettes during factory breaks.  What is this young man doing in an old military outpost so far from home in Navarre, across country, up in beautiful Basque land?  It turns out he’s killed a man already and has been presumably whisked away by his family in order to avoid incarceration or worse.  His mother sends his forgiveness and a lifeline in the form of marriage to the lovely Micaela, but there remains no doubt that José Lizarrabengoa is a very violent man who, true to character, ends up hopelessly entangled with a woman who cohabits with thieves and murderers on the criminal fringes of society.  In contemporary terms, she’d be a gang girl, body pierced and tattooed from head to toe, trafficking drugs across the border.   Twice in the course of the opera José tries to get away (in Acts I and II) and twice something happens to prevent it.  By Act III he is so deeply incriminated in her activities (army desertion and assault on a superior officer, just for starters) that his life is as good as lost.  By Act IV he is delusional, a deranged stalker about to commit yet another crime.  A typical story of sexual obsession and murder such as our fellow Americans watch every night on the TV tabloids.  Their ratings of which are over the top, by the way.  What’s so special about this one?

Well … Carmen herself.  At the last possible moment, and just like Don Giovanni, this basically unpalatable protagonist (with the great music) attains enormous stature by throwing the gauntlet down at Death’s feet and daring it to take her.  Of course, Death does.  It always wins.  But there is something about these two (Don Giovanni and Carmen) in their final stand, that makes them impressive and complete and sums up their claims to total freedom (an impossibility in society and to no good end in either case) and touches on that very human demand for “more life” – or as Philip Larkin puts it “this multi-petaled flower of being here”.  Somehow, the naked recall of the Impossible Battle we all lose rings true for us in all its futility.  We love Cyrano and Quixote especially because they are doomed to lose, and perhaps the battle cry of the Romantics in the near century between Giovanni and Carmen is as alive in the dirty gypsy girl as in the libertine aristocrat, both of whom wanted the world to belong to them.  They were wrong, of course, but aren’t they rather grand on their final face-off with the ultimate Enemy, mano a mano, in the empty space of that dusty Plaza de Toros or in the sumptuous dining-room everyone else has fled, making a great big fuss, refusing to give an inch?

Wednesday | Sep 11, 2013

Get on the bus!

Opera Omaha is offering free, round-trip bus service for Opera Outdoors on Friday, September 13. The service is available on a first come, first served basis. Two buses are scheduled to pick up passengers from The Union for Contemporary Art, 2417 Burdette Street, and from El Museo Latino, 4701 S 25th Street, at 5:15pm on Friday, September 13 for the concert in Turner Park at Midtown Crossing at 7:30pm. The buses will return to both The Union and El Museo Latino from Turner Park immediately following the performance.

What: FREE, round-trip bus service to Opera Outdoors at Turner Park in Midtown Crossing.

Where: Buses pick up at two locations, The Union for Contemporary Art, 2417 Burdette St, Omaha, and El Museo Latino, 4701 S. 25th Street, Omaha.

When: Buses pick up patrons at 5:15pm at The Union and El Museo Latino. Opera Outdoors begins at 7:30pm. Buses will return patrons to The Union and El Museo Latino immediately following Opera Outdoors, approximately 9:00pm.

Please contact Amy at or call Opera Omaha at 402-346-4398 for more information. We can’t wait to see you at Opera Outdoors!


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