Tuesday | Oct 04, 2011

It’s More Than Just a Concert

 In a little more than one week, Opera Omaha kicks off its 54th Season with the glorious This is Opera!   As we prepare for this season opening event, people are asking me,  “But, isn’t this just a concert?”  My answer is always, “Yes, but it’s so much more than that”.

We are proud to welcome James de Blasis back to Opera Omaha to direct a cast of all stars that are known and beloved by Omaha audiences.  Mr. de Blasis has a long history not only with Opera Omaha, but with American opera in general.  He served as General Director and Artistic Director of Cincinnati Opera for many years.  He directed across the country, bringing opera to life in places from El Paso to New York City.  He has a special place in Opera Omaha history as an integral part of Opera Omaha’s evolution from the all-volunteer Omaha Civic Opera Society into the fully fledged professional opera company that it is today.  Omaha audiences still speak of his Lucia di Lammermoor, starring famed soprano Beverly Sills, that opened the newly renovated Orpheum Theater in 1975.  I am lucky to have been in many planning meetings with de Blasis and the production team as they sketch out This is Opera! and I can assure you that this will be no “park and bark” concert.  De Blasis is bringing all of his skills together to entertain and impress an audience.

The fantastic cast will bring de Blasis’ vision to life.  Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, Arnold Rawls, Todd Thomas, and Stacey Rishoi join 48 members of the Opera Omaha Chorus and the Omaha Symphony to perform some of the best music in operatic history.  You won’t want to miss Arnold Rawls performing “Nessun Dorma” from Puuccini’s Turandot. The Kansas City Star said this of Rawls’s recent triumphant performance at the Kansas City Lyric Opera, “…Any Calaf, I suppose, will be judged by the quality of his third-act aria, “Nessun dorma,” the most familiar melody in the score and tenor Arnold Rawls gives it a bravura reading. The intensity of his performance earned a spontaneous burst of applause.”  Blancke-Biggs wowed Omaha audiences performing the title roles of Tosca and Aida.  Thomas appeared just last spring in Madama Butterfly and Rishoi returns for the second time in company history after appearing in Little Women.   These are some powerful voices and you won’t be disappointed in how they sound together on the gorgeous Orpheum Theater Stage.    I often say that seeing the fantastic architecture of the Orpheum Theater is worth the price of admission.  This historic theater is such an important part of this city and Omaha is proud to host such a great place for opera.

I invite you to participate in the silent auction taking place before This is Opera! in the lobby of the Orpheum Theater.  A special toast with complimentary champagne launches the bidding at 6:00 pm.  Several opera stars and important artists from Opera Omaha’s 54 year history donated items for your bidding pleasure. A plate signed by famed soprano Beverly Sills, a copy of soprano Renee Fleming’s autobiography signed by the artist, a Jun Kaneko print of the Madama Butterfly wedding, and a pastel painting by famed conductor, Joseph Rescigno are just a few of the unique objects featured.  Many other items will be available including dinner parties, wine, and Chicago Opera Theater tickets.  All proceeds from the auction go to the Opera Omaha Guild which helps fund the educational efforts of Opera Omaha.

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear great performances of magnificent music in a beautiful venue. Join us for This is Opera! We look forward to seeing you on October 15!

Click here to buy your tickets today!

Brad Watkins
Opera Omaha Communications Director

Thursday | Sep 15, 2011

Opera Omaha’s “Hansel & Gretel” School Performances

This November, Opera Omaha will offer all area elementary schools the opportunity to see the classic opera, Hansel & Gretel at the Rose Theater in Omaha, Nebraska.

Original Design of Opera Omaha’s Hansel & Gretel by Jim Othuse

Opera Omaha has created a new one-hour version of the classic opera by Engelbert Humperdinck.  Based on a 19th-c German fairy tale, Opera Omaha’s adaptation is less “grim” than the Brothers Grimm version.  The spunky children of a poor broom-maker still get lost in the woods, where they encounter a magical cottage of sweets and its elderly occupant.  But this “witch” is more comic than evil and the clever brother and sister soon turn danger into delights.  This new version is true to Humperdinck’s music, but suitable for children 6 or older.  The production will be performed in English, and feature English and  Spanish translations projected above the stage.  The artistic staff of this production include J. Gawf ,conductor; Henry McCarthy, stage director; and James Othuse, Production Designer.

The original opera premiered in December, 1893, and was called “a masterpiece of the highest quality.” Combining Wagnerian techniques and traditional German folk songs, Hänsel und Gretel was an instant and overwhelming success.

Children and parents alike will recognize familiar characters and situations:  older sister Gretel is annoyingly “good” and more than a bit bossy towards her younger brother Hansel.  Hansel finds it hard to concentrate on one thing at a time and is totally focused on food – real and imaginary!  Like many of today’s youngsters, they are left to amuse themselves at home, while their parents struggle to make a living for the family.  Sent to the woods by their angry mother to find strawberries to replace the cream they have spilled, they soon lose track of the time as darkness falls and many fears, both imaginary and real, loom large in their dream lives.

Do they imagine the Sandman who replaces those fears with pleasant dreams?  Are the angels they dream about real – or figments of their overactive imaginations?  And what about the Witch – is she the “stranger” they’ve always been warned to avoid?  Or a friendly rescuer who will provide the food and treats they have longed for?

The brother and sister must learn to support one another, to find clever solutions to their problems and to exercise good judgment.  Their adventure makes them more mature and more appreciative of one another and their hard-working parents.

Performances will be held November 7 – 11, 2011 at 11am and 1pm each day.  The performance will last approximately one hour.  Thanks to generous donations, these performances are being offered FREE of charge to your school.

To receive the information packet and the order form contact Brad Watkins at or 402.346.4398 x204.

Public performances of Hansel & Gretel are November 11-13, 2011.
Click here for ticket information.

Thursday | Aug 11, 2011

Opera Omaha Guild’s Cotillion

The following narrative was written by Gloria Dunbar, a long time teacher at the Opera Omaha Guild’s Cotillion.

From an article in a magazine regarding Cotillion classes of dance and etiquette in San Diego, Mary Ann Strasheim, a member of the Opera Omaha Guild board had the interest and the vision to learn more about it for an Opera Omaha activity. She contracted Mr. Benjamin, founder of the classes there. Then she had a meeting at her home of a newly formed committee for it and reported on her information.
    In the fall of 1985, 6th, 7th and 8th graders of the Omaha schools were sent invitations with approximately 100 responding and a meeting at the then Red Lion Hotel for instruction by Mr. Benjamin and his son Peter. The beginning of learning dancing and social graces had begun!
    One distinction for the Omaha Cotillion was the innovation of formal dinners to be taught for table manners and other etiquette.  Knowing Gloria Dunbar was a teacher of etiquette and especially formal dining, she was asked about teaching dining manners for a four course formal dinner to the young people. She agreed it would be a great interesting idea! The addition to the classes has each young person having a formal dinner reservation planned and arranged for them once during the six week sessions. 
    In 1978, John Young was appointed as the instructor to take the place of Mr. Benjamin. He was an elementary school teacher with a great deal of experience teaching. He focused on ballroom dancing and the art of conversation and communicating. Since his appointment, Young’s wife, Sarah, has been the liaison of the Cotillion to the Opera Guild Board and has been helping with advising each succeeding Chairman and Committee members as well as attending all events.  Each year the  Cotillion Chairman and Committee members have done a masterful job of handling invitations, registrations, choice of classes, dinner reservations, comings and goings, the graduation dinner dance and a myriad of details.  They are to be congratulated for the superb growth throughout the years.
    With the continued growth Kent Day, also an excellent teacher, was added as a dance class instructor. This enabled two classes to be taught at once.  Also the age of the attendees had now been limited to sixth graders only. In the 90’s reservations grew to 200 or more. In 2006 the attendance was 340.
    Gloria Dunbar continued with one dinner each week until two dinners were needed. These were taught one after another. From 1993, she had an assistant. Her granddaughter, Heather, had been a graduate in the first Cotillion class in 1985. It was a good choice for her to assist as with her background of UNL  graduate with a major in French, and living a semester in France it was great fun and meaningful with her speaking of French phrases  used during dining. The formal dinner presented to the young people is 4 courses each lasting 15 minutes. The first course is fruit cocktail followed by an entrée then a salad and finished with a scrumptious dessert. Each young person has a place card for seating it begins with the young gentlemen learning to seat the young ladies. From there use of napkins, silverware, plate placement, glasses, and passing food and condiments are all subjects taught during dinner.
    Melinda Merth, a teacher who has assisted Gloria during the summer classes of “White Gloves and Party Manners” at the Durham western Heritage Museum joined her as her assistant.  During these 21 years the Cotillion has been held at the Red Lion Hotel, the Omaha Club, the UNO Thompson Alumni Center, and now the Omaha Marriott – Regency.  Many acquaintances are renewed and many friends are made in the 6 weeks of the Cotillion Classes with the theme of “Manners do Matter”.

Reservations are now being taken for the 2011 Fall Cotillion. 

For more information or to receive an invitation please send an email to with the following information:

  • Student Name
  • School
  • Parents Name
  • Address
  • Phone
  • Cell Phone
  • Email Address

Monday | Aug 01, 2011

Introducing…Roger Weitz, part 1

Thursday | Jun 09, 2011

She Attacks Me Like a Leo

When I tell my 20-something friends that I work at the Opera, I receive looks of total and utter confusion.  First, they think I have mispronounced a word or am speaking in tongues regarding the industry I work in.  To combat this, I usually provide an obnoxious audible pitch with gaudy vibrato to clarify.  The majority of my friends don’t realize that opera is still a living art form, let alone a living art form in Omaha, NE.  And I can’t lie, it has been a challenge to recruit even my closest friends to give opera a chance.  But the thing is, they already like opera!  You already like opera!  If I were to tell you that there is opera in Twilight’s New Moon soundtrack, would you believe me? 

The band Muse is blowing up the world with their catchy, indie rock.  Yes, same lead singer that is expecting a baby with Kate Hudson.  Muse is credited with their creative and glorious instrumentation of typical rock instruments coupled with traditional symphonic instruments.  Can anyone say rocking bass clarinet solo?  If you are familiar with Muse’s “I Belong to You”, shamefully featured in Twilight’s New Moon soundtrack, you know the cute part of the song where Matt Bellamy starts singing in French.  Been there, sung that.  You are listening to opera.  And a pretty famous opera at that.  “I Belong to You” quotes the melody of the aria “Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix” from Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila.  This aria is featured in the second act, when Dalila cleverly attempts to butter up Samson into divulging the secret of his strength.  And no, I don’t think Matt is trying to butter Kate Hudson up, but maybe.  In “I Belong to You”, Matt chose to quote the last two lines of the aria, “Ah! Respond to my tenderness!  Fill me with ecstasy!”,  which is so Muse of him.  Add a walking bass line, several “just kidding, it’s not the end of the song” moments, and karaoke worthy lyrics such as “She attacks me like a leo”, and you have a song even Mozart would be tapping his toe to.

There are moments in the song when you can almost feel Matt Bellamy’s voice on your cheek, and that’s a lot like the feeling of an opera.  You feel the vibrato of the tenor’s voice in your chest, only it’s not due to being too close to the speakers.  CDs and youtube videos don’t do opera justice.  It’s real, live, unforgivable singing about the men that betrayed you and the ones that got away.  Muse proves that classical music is just as relevant and fantastic in 2011 as it was in the 1700’s.  I can no longer believe your “opera hating” tomfooleries.  Muse rocks opera with the help of sound equipment, Opera Omaha rocks opera without microphones.  Do the math.

Monica Marean



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