Monday | Feb 08, 2010

Mozart in a Winter Wonderland!

by Kelly Markgraf

Since arriving in Omaha, I’ve been struck by — or at least reminded of –two things. The midwestern snow, and the undeniable genius and beauty of Mozart. The former I knew well growing up, as a native of Wisconsin. The latter I’ve certainly been acquainted with for some time, but this is the persistently pleasant way in which Mozart surprises you: no matter how well you think you know the music (or your role; I’ve performed this one with three other companies), you are, without fail, caught up in the radiant beauty of a moment you’ve never quite noticed before. Creeping up on you, the power of the music in Le Nozze di Figaro is that it is at once so simple and multi-layered. It speaks directly to the heart of listeners, both newcomers and veterans, and we walk away from the performance feeling illuminated.

For me this last week of rehearsals has been like a warm blanket. Coming back to a role that l love dearly during a full year of living on the road out of suitcases is like coming home. The trials of this vagabondian experiment have left my wife and I longing for a place to hang our hats — other than our storage unit in Manhattan. We thought, “Sure, let’s do it! We’re young, we’ll save money on rent, and just live wherever the jobs are.” Fast forward nine months and we’re aching for just the psychological comfort of being able to picture Home.

Fortunately, I’ve found myself in the company of a stellar cast, led by a trailblazing stage director and an unflappably creative conductor. This is one show that won’t have any of the characteristics that have been the bane of opera over the last few generations: poor acting, or “park ‘n’ bark” singing. You’ll find attractive young singers that can move and act just as well as they sing. With a plot that centers around a lecherous upper-class guy attempting to sleep with his servant’s fiance on the same day as their wedding, imagine something more along the lines of “Desperate Housewives” or “Nip and Tuck” — yes, really. Populate an incredible comic drama with performers like this, and you’ve got one memorable night in the theatre. I hope you’ll join us!

Kelly Markgraf, Baritone, is playing the adulterous Count Almaviva in Opera Omaha’s production of Mozart’s Comic Masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro.

Praised by the New York Times for his “charismatic” and “heart-stirring” singing, Baritone Kelly Markgraf makes his Opera Omaha debut with this season’s Nozze di Figaro. This past Fall brought his debut with New York City Opera as Masetto in their new production of Don Giovanni. Recent successes include Mamoud in a staged concert version of John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer, conducted by the composer, and Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff (Juilliard Opera Center), as well as his Carnegie Hall debut in the West Side Story portion of the all-Bernstein program that opened the 2008-09 season and was nationally televised, under Michael Tilson Thomas. Also in the 2008-09 season, Mr. Markgraf debuted with Pittsburgh Opera as Ragged Man in Ricky Ian Gordon’s The Grapes of Wrath (a role he created in the World Premiere at Minnesota Opera in 2007), and sang the role of the Bosun in Paul Curran’s production of Billy Budd at Santa Fe Opera, under the baton of Edo de Waart. A winner of numerous prestigious awards, including the top prizes in the Opera Index and Sullivan Foundation competitions, he maintains an active concert schedule, recently making his Carnegie Hall recital debut under the auspices of the Marilyn Horne Foundation. In March 2010 he returns to Pittsburgh Opera as Escamillo in Carmen, and will return to Opera Omaha in 2011 for the title role in Don Giovanni.

Tickets start at just $19.

Friday | February 26, 2010 | 7:30p
Sunday | February 28, 2010 | 2:00p

Click Here for Tickets

Tuesday | Feb 02, 2010

Ode to Homewood Suites

by Monica Yunus

O! My

Omaha is a new city for me. In fact, this is my first time in Nebraska. I love coming to a new city: restaurants to explore, new sites and the new rhythm that characterizes every city. I haven’t spent much time in the Midwest but I have a lot of friends who grew up here and the one thing I do know about Midwesterners is that they are polite and friendly- always. So it should come as no surprise that the hotel we are staying in, the downtown Homewood Suites, shares the same philosophy.

Homewood Suites is fantastic! When you are away from home for months at a time, you start to miss the little things. Maybe its your favorite fleece blanket, the gadgets in your kitchen, your pets. And there are always nerves the first night in a new hotel- will the bed be comfortable, is the tv from the next room over going to keep me up, and on and on.

Not at this location. The hotel is new and from the moment I arrived, I felt welcomed. And talk about perks: breakfast every morning (and its not that powdered egg stuff either- real eggs!!), dinner four nights a week (again, very homey meals that are very tasty), beer on tap at dinner, as well as wine, and a 24 hour shuttle that will take you on your errand run, or out to your new fave restaurant, or to the drug store! Did I mention that they will do your grocery shopping for you?? No, I am not kidding! Give them your grocery list and they will run out and pick up every item for you!

Then, let me tell you about the room: I have a very spacious 2 room suite complete with not one, but two flat screen tvs, a comfy sofa, king size bed which is really comfortable, pillows galore, a kitchen with a knife that can actually cut an onion, a two top stove and a dishwasher, plus a full size fridge.

All of that, plus there is a great gym, a pool and a jacuzzi for our use.

You may say,” Why is she going on and on about the hotel??” Its because when you live in one so many months out of the year, you know what customer service can mean in your life- the difference between being happy on the road and able to perform well, or being an unhappy camper.

Here’s to you Homewood Suites, from one extremely happy camper!

Monica Yunus will be appearing as Countess Almaviva in Opera Omaha’s production of Mozart’s Comic Masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro.

During the 2009 – 2010 season Monica Yunus returns to the Metropolitan Opera as Novice in Suor Angelica and Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, and joins the Montana Lyric Opera as Gilda in Rigoletto. Recent engagements include Poussette in Manon, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Papagena in Die Zauberflöte, and Yvette in La Rondine all at the Metropolitan Opera, Norina in Don Pasquale with Syracuse Opera, Zémire in Zémire et Azor with Arizona Opera, Lucia in the North American Premiere of Zandonai’s La Farsa Amorosa with Teatro Grattacielo at Alice Tully Hall in New York, and Argentine in the American Premiere of Gluck’s L’ile de Merlin at the Spoleto Festival USA. Performances on the concert stage have taken her from the Tilles Center in New York, to the University of Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala City, to The Al Bustan International Festival of Music and Arts in Beirut, Lebanon, to The Jordan Festival where she performed with Placido Domingo, to countless recitals throughout the US and abroad.

Tickets start at just $19.

Friday | February 26, 2010 | 7:30p
Sunday | February 28, 2010 | 2:00p

Click Here for Tickets

Friday | Jan 15, 2010

Mozart 101 with Sheri – Class #2

I’ve been listening to Mozart for a month and I can safely say there’s been no increase in my IQ. I proved what scientists have known for years—there’s no real ‘Mozart Effect.’ Listening to music-any music-that transports you to a relaxed and peaceful state of mind will prepare the brain for mental challenge. Although, I would argue, hearing Ave Verum Corpus elevates even the most stoic listener to a higher emotional plane.

During the second class of Mozart 101, Dr. James Sorrell attempted to clarify what constitutes genius. One of the most fascinating aspects of Mozart’s genius was his ability to span various forms of music. From the bawdy Leck Mir den Arsch to the transcendent Ave Verum Corpus, he treats each composition with equal care and reverence. He wrote operas that appealed to kings and statesman as well as butchers and bakers.

My friend Tara would argue that whatever soothes a child to sleep is the result of pure genius. Even an infant is sensitive to the peaceful strains of String Quartet No. 14 in G Major versus the enthusiastic bowing of an adolescent cellist. Human beings are sensitive to music. I write fiction and I have a musical library to match the emotional mood I’m attempting to convey in the story. Weepy self-introspection calls for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 14 in C sharp Minor. When I need energy, only Mozart will suffice.

Dr. Sorrell points out that Mozart defied the common myths of genius: fading talent, the trap of unattainable standards, the shaky pedestal of a Boy Wonder and the insidious poison that is boredom. Mozart highlighted common themes in his operas that still resonate today: love, loss, anger, forgiveness, jealousy and abandonment. Mozart remained a prolific composer until his death.

I’m not a genius and I’m honest about my complete lack of musical knowledge. But over the few last months of immersing myself in classical music, I’ve become adept at identifying the composer. I still can’t name the symphonies, but I’ve learned the musical personalities of Beethoven, Bach and Mozart. And, hey, if I can learn—anybody can. Perhaps there is a Mozart Effect.

Tuesday | Nov 17, 2009

Mozart 101 with Sherri, Class #1

In truth, I had orchestrated my own disaster. The memory of my eighth-grade field trip kept running through my head. A grumpy conductor had stopped the program in order to lecture our group on the proper etiquette of applause. I decided then and there never to pay good money to be chastised for spontaneous clapping. Twenty years later, I arrived late and frazzled to the small community theater hosting Mozart 101, sparing only a passing frown at the gentleman who had just beaten me to a prime parking space and added three minutes to my tardiness.

The program began with a few words from Opera Omaha General Director John Wehrle introducing a collaborative program between Omaha Conservatory of Music [] and Opera Omaha. To further this endeavor, two adolescents took the stage against a jumble of props from a recent play. A mannequin dressed in watch-cap and pea-coat watched benevolently as they prepared.

Jennifer and Jehong Ahn communicated with the nods, gestures and eye rolls exclusive to siblings before tucking their instruments under almost identical chins. And then they played. Like a cathartic release, the notes seemed to untangle the complexity of human emotion into pure, harmonic sound. Equally inspiring, Hannah Pinnt Music performed Mozart’s Concerto in D Major with accompanist Dr. Karen Sigers.

I carefully waited until everyone else in the theater began clapping before I joined in the applause.

Then poet Matt Mason[] entertained the audience with an historical perspective of 18th century poetry. Full of love and loss, tragedy and jealousy, poetry contains many of the same themes today as it did 200 years ago. Inspired by a play, Lorenzo Da Ponte wrote the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro, carefully removing any overt political humor that would alienate Emperor Joseph II, while exploiting current views of the day to entertain his audience.

Garnett Bruce ended the program with music from The Marriage of Figaro, reminding us that the human voice is one of the most beautiful instruments of all. For me, art should always inspire emotion. I wish that I had not been so intimidated all these years. I try to remember this: a true artist is passionate about their work, and a true intellect can converse at any level. Artists who love what they do want to share with you—not exclude you.

After all, art is not about what you wear to the theater, or whether or not the usher is rude to you, or feeling intimidated by a conductor. Opera is about the performance—people who have spent years refining their talent in order to share their passion with an audience. Mozart had a singular talent for creating music that was accessible to everyone. And the more you know, the less likely you are to be intimidated. I hope you’ll join me on December 7th for the next installment of Mozart 101. Performances by the likes of Jennifer, Jehong and Hannah should not be missed!

Monday | Nov 09, 2009

Mozart 101 with Sherri

Everything I know about Mozart I learned from the movie, Amadeus. If memory serves, the Viennese made some rather naughty-looking chocolates named after a part of the female anatomy, and Mozart had a silly laugh. In my defense, when the movie premiered twenty-five years ago, I was busy putting the perfect slouch on my leg warmers and teasing my hair to heights that would have made a Georgian-era wigmaker proud.

In an effort to overcome my meager knowledge of classical music, I bought an album entitled, “ Mozart for Your Mind”. With iPod in hand and an earnest desire to boost my brainpower, I sat down to listen. Keep in mind, I can’t read music, I’m tone deaf, and my singing voice can only be described as horrific.

Imagine my surprise when the composition reverberating through my ear buds resonated on a perfect emotional pitch! I sent Amadeus right to the top of my Netflix Queue. I mean, can you imagine the killer soundtrack? Then I started looking for ways to improve on my new-found appreciation of all things Mozart.

On Monday, November 9th, I’ll be joining Opera Omaha in a four-part lecture and performance series to learn more about the life and work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Please accompany me on the journey as we answer these burning questions: Can a person who once confused the word ‘opera’ with ‘Oprah’ be taught to appreciate classical music? And…In 150 years, will ‘rum balls’ be considered ‘naughty’?

PS: If there’s a good turnout, I might even be persuaded to reveal a picture of my 1980’s hairdo.
Sherri Shackelford | Mozart 101 student



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