Wednesday | Apr 14, 2010

The “I Do’s” in Singing

by Jennifer Berkebile

We were first asked to write a blog for Opera Omaha about four weeks ago. I was assigned the last date, but that didn’t stop me from immediately starting to brainstorm ideas. I’ve never written a blog before, frankly, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone really wanting to read my thoughts and opinions on random topics, but I accepted the task (obviously) and was determined to write something interesting, current, and pertaining to the music world. Well, that was four weeks ago….

Now I’m offering you something totally different than what I first had in mind. But it is personal, hopefully interesting, and kind of pertaining to the music world. There are four people in our house and every one of us is currently in various stages of a personal relationship. Two are married, the other two in serious relationships. Two are involved with singers (me being one of them), one with a writer, and one with a dancer turned sales genius. We’ve spent many a night first getting to hear the stories of how/when/where we each met our significant others and later stories of how we were all going to make it through the months spent apart. I am sure my blog today is tainted by the fact that I haven’t really seen my significant other in over two months, living on phone calls and video chats, and that I only have to wait 10 more days before we are reunited again. It’s hard not to get excited.

All relationships are hard. My parents did not have an incredibly easy marriage, but it has lasted and I am grateful to have witnessed both their struggles and reconciliations. Their relationship taught me a lot about what I wanted and saw for my own personal life. A normal relationship is hard work, but add in all the elements of a beginning career in opera and the odds really become stacked against you.

Everything that makes opera singing grand and exciting: the constant traveling to new places, the pride of working for yourself and being contracted for your talent, the thrill of performing and auditioning, the fulfillment of spending hours with a score learning every detail to better your art; can be murder to a personal life. How do you make it work then? I was talking to one of my housemates the other night about this very issue. He said that, right now, we’re doing what we absolutely love, what we were made to do. Our partners must do the same thing in their lives too, or we will never be happy together. I believe his statement. And if that’s the case, then I actually get off a little easy. My partner is a singer! What luck! We have the same passion; we were made to do the same thing; we get each other. I completely understand his want and need to pursue this dream, but does that mean that our relationship is doomed to take a back seat to our careers? Honestly, I cannot answer that now. I do not know. Yes, there have been sacrifices made already and we are just starting our lives together. It’s interesting to think about our future, because even though we know we will be together, our career paths are still very unknown and we are forced to take everything day by day. You never know when a company will call or a gig will come up, so you have to be ready to change plans, budget in visits, make compromises, and put forth the effort needed to sustain weeks away from each other. It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. We as singers get to test that theory year-round.

I recently attended an intimate masterclass given by the great soprano Virginia Zeani, who was married to the well-known bass Nicola Rossi-Lemeni. She addressed her marriage during the class and told us why they were so successful in their relationship for so many years. She said you must love each other “too much” and that was the only way to survive together. I liked that statement very much and I think it is a good representation of the depth of commitment needed for such a demanding career. I have faith in my relationship; we are independent people but we are stronger together than apart and we will both work at keeping our lives fulfilled and happy. I am excited to see what the future has in store for the both of us, and I am certain that whatever happens our lives will be filled with “too much” love.

Jennifer Berkebile just completed touring Nebraska and Western Iowa with Opera Omaha’s Voices in Residence, a series of engaging, interactive, multi-media classroom performances created for students in middle school, high school or college, the performances provide a framework for experiencing the interaction of word s and music – the essence of opera. She will appear in Opera Omaha’s celebration of the great American musical So in Love with Broadway.

Lyric Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Berkebile is thrilled to be a part of the Voices in Residence Program with Opera Omaha this season! A MMus graduate from the Eastman School of Music, Jennifer studies under Ms. Rita Shane. Jennifer most recently was a member of the Gerdine Young Artist Program with Opera Theatre of St. Louis and will be returning this season to make her debut in the world premier of Peter Ash’s The Golden Ticket. Previous honors include winning the Jessie Kneisel German Lieder Competition as well as being chosen to participate in the Marilyn Horne Masterclass for the Foundation’s The Song Continues…2007 Festival. She has been a participant in the Resident Artist Program with the Berkshire Opera Company where she was in Hansel and Gretel and Madama Butterfly as well as participating in numerous song and aria concerts where she “unfurled a voluminous, opulent voice in a richly expressive performance of Respighi’s gorgeous Il Tramonto” (Music&Vision, August 2006). A native of Belle Vernon, Pennsylvania, Jennifer received her BMus Degree at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music under Dr. Jonathan Retzlaff and currently resides in New York City.

Tickets for So in Love with Broadway start at just $19.

Friday | April 16, 2010 | 7:30p
Sunday | April 18, 2010 | 2:00p

Click Here for Tickets

Thursday | Apr 01, 2010

The Importance of Community

by Ric Furman

Did you know that right now you are part of over 150 different communities? Seem like a lot? It did to me. So I started thinking about it.

My family. Okay, that’s one. My neighborhood, my city, my state and nation, even the world. How about this group of 3 other singers I’m here with? I guess that would count as another. And the company here in Omaha or even Omaha itself, for the time I’m here, anyway. Then there’s the “singers world,” and beyond that the “opera world.” Okay, now I can see how these could add up. So why would I care?

I came to Omaha on February 21st and I’ll leave on April 19th. That’s two full months! Have you ever spent a day around people who hate you? When you can feel them sour because you just came in the room. Their conversation just stops.

Flip side: Remember a day, a whole day, with people you love. People who love you back. People who are happy just because you’re there.

Another illustration is this: remember back to junior high or high school and being at a dance or even a class where no one knew you were there. Even worse, they didn’t care. You weren’t even important enough to say “hi.”

What if you had to spend two months is one of those situations? Not too difficult to deside which one to chose, is it?

I can’t tell you how what a difference there is in a company where I feel welcome versus one where I’m just tolerated. I want the people of Omaha to understand that they really have something special here! And to please keep it coming!

Within the first week here nearly everyone at the Opera Omaha office found me, as well as the other Voices in Residence members (VIR’s) and told me they were glad I was here and that they were looking forward to the next two months with me. We were invited to two performances of Le Nozze di Figaro, the cast party, and both the Artistic Advisor and the General Director invited our group to dinner or lunch. At these events many board members and guild members came up and introduced themselves just to say “hi.” Amazingly, the public seems to be following suit.

This type of thing continued beyond the week. We’ve been treated well by more people than I can remember, though I wish I could. My time here is more than half over now and we’re still being treated like family or at least treasured friends.

Last weekend we had the honor of singing at a dinner for Eve and Fred Simon. It was a wonderful evening with great singing, skits, roast-like comedy, and, of course, great food. At the end of the evening there was a dessert reception where all were invited to come and personally thank Fred and Eve. Amazingly, before I could tell them thank you, they both thanked me for my part in the evening and for coming to O/O! This is a rare kind of class. A rare kind of grace.

Thank you to all of you who have taken a moment to say “hello” or gone out of your way to make us feel welcome. There is a good community here in Omaha. This is one place that has gotten it right. My hope is that anyone reading this will take a moment the next time they are at an O/O event, find someone on the staff there, and thank them. This is the kind of community we all need.

Ric Furman is enjoying touring Nebraska and Western Iowa with Opera Omaha’s
Voices in Residence, a series of engaging, interactive, multi-media classroom performances created for students in middle school, high school or college, the performances provide a framework for experiencing the interaction of word s and music – the essence of opera. Ric Furman will appear in Opera Omaha’s celebration of the great American musical So in Love with Broadway.

Ric Furman, tenor, studied at Western Illinois University and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music for his Bachelors and Masters respectively. Mr. Furman won two State National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Competitions and one Regional NATS Competition, as well as winning the District Metropolitan Opera Council Auditions and placing third at the Regional level. Mr. Furman is rapidly becoming much sought after on both the concert and opera stage. His roles include Rodolfo in La Boheme, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly, Alfredo in La Traviata, the Duke in Rigoletto, both Roméo and Tybalt in Roméo et Juliette, Chevalier de Danceny in The Dangerous Liaisons, Detlef in The Student Prince, Beppe in I Pagliacci, and two world premiers: Adam in Eve’s Odds and Jay in A Stranger’s Tale, as well as notable roles in Aïda, Don Carlo, Ainadamar, Carmen, Salome, Samson et Daliah, Dead Man Walking, Il viaggio a Reims, The Marriage of Figaro, Gianni Schicchi, Der Kaiser von Atlantis, Così fan tutte, The Tender Land, and Die Zauberflöte. Concert venues include Carnegie Hall, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and Dayton Philharmonic.

Tickets for So in Love with Broadway start at just $19.

Friday | April 16, 2010 | 7:30p
Sunday | April 18, 2010 | 2:00p

Click Here for Tickets

Wednesday | Mar 24, 2010

The Reason I am Singing Opera Today

by Maria Lindsey

When we get to the part of introducing ourselves in our “Voices in Residence” program for the schools/community members of Nebraska and Iowa we always say the same bits of information about ourselves. Since we started our performances for the community I have said the same thing… “Hi, My name is Maria Lindsey, I’m the Soprano of the group. I am from Fort Collins, Colorado and I received my undergraduate degree at BYU-Idaho, and am currently working towards my master’s degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. When I was in high school you never would have told me I would end up singing opera!” I hope that by sharing that last bit of information about myself with people who are new to opera I can help them realize that everyone is new to something at some point in their life and the first step is giving it a chance. Finding opera and having the chance to be a part of it, even in a small way every day, is something that I hope I never take for granted! I am so happy that I have the chance to bring the message of opera to people everyday in many different ways and in many different communities around Omaha.
One woman made a comment after one of our programs and said she was so excited that young people were taking the message of opera around to the schools. She said something to the effect of “participating in a live-performance art form is such a magical experience because there is a unique exchange of energy and emotion that takes place between singer and audience member that only happens in that moment”. This woman felt like youth today are missing out on this experience the more technology develops and that it is wonderful to perform at schools and teach them about an art form that they can participate in and enjoy, live, today. This woman really moved me and as hard as it is moving around the country and being away from loved ones to participate in whatever singing job comes next, I quickly remember that I am singing opera and that I have the chance to teach others about it too!
Disclaimer… I know I am still fairly new at this and that I have many years ahead of me that will include disappointment as well as success, I hope that I never lose track of why this art form is something I decided to dedicate my life to in the first place. As we bring the passionate, dramatic, comedic, uplifting, and inspiring aspects of opera to the communities around us I hope I am able to give back part of the joy that is the reason I am singing opera today.

Besides touring Nebraska and Western Iowa with Opera Omaha’s
Voices in Residence, a series of engaging, interactive, multi-media classroom performances created for students in middle school, high school or college, the performances provide a framework for experiencing the interaction of word s and music – the essence of opera, Maria Lindsey will appear in Opera Omaha’s celebration of the great American musical So in Love with Broadway.

Maria Lindsey, soprano from Fort Collins, Colorado, received her BMA degree in Voice from Brigham Young University-Idaho and is currently working on her MM degree in Voice at the University of Colorado. For the BYU-Idaho opera, she sang Pamina in The Magic Flute and Yum Yum in The Mikado. She has participated in scenes from Roméo et Juliette, Rigoletto, and Die Fledermaus. Most recently she was Adina in the Loveland Opera Theatre’s The Elixir of Love, and Miss Wordsworth in Albert Herring with CU Opera. This summer Maria was an apprentice with the prestigious Santa Fe Opera where she covered Coryphèe in their production of Alceste, as well as sang Juliette from Roméo et Juliette in the Santa Fe Opera’s Apprentice Opera Scenes.

Tickets for So in Love with Broadway start at just $19.

Friday | April 16, 2010 | 7:30p
Sunday | April 18, 2010 | 2:00p

Click Here for Tickets

Wednesday | Mar 17, 2010

Opera in the 21st Century

by Jonathan Stinson

From time to time, ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ and ‘American Idol’ allow an operatic vocalist to sing on their international telecast. Without exception, these operatic performances receive a standing ovation by the sixth note, continuing through the end of the aria. This standing ovation is largely comprised of high school and college students. So why do you think a young audience of teens and twenties would react so positively to a classical singer when they bought tickets hoping to hear the next pop star? Perhaps it’s merely a fascination of the unknown. But why do audiences attend performances of any kind? In the end, ‘American Idol’ audiences are no different than opera audiences. They want to be moved, to be entertained, to connect to the music, to connect to the lyrics, to give their lives over to the performer for an evening of alternate reality.

When I watched Paul Potts’ performance of “Nessun Dorma” on ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ (and the standing ovation that erupted within the second phrase), two things came to my mind. First, good for him! Now there is evidence that he had a small operatic career in the past, but as a current mobile-phone salesman, he handled the aria beautifully. But the most important thing for me was that I knew from that day that the future of opera is going to be just fine. The audience LOVED his aria. They could not get over how impressive his performance was. And all this from a mobile-phone salesman. If that London audience was so impressed with Mr. Potts, maybe they should take the tube to Covent Garden and see what they’ve been missing. The young people of today love opera, just don’t know it yet.

We of the Voices in Residence at Opera Omaha represent an extremely small sliver of what will become the future of opera. It is our job not to tell them why they should like opera, but that they already do. We have toured our 45-minute opera gala to several high schools, and the kids are universally amazed at how engaging the art form can be. In short, they leave our concert with a deep appreciation of what we do. If we can reach the youth of Nebraska in the way that Paul Potts reached the youth of England, opera in Nebraska has a very bright future. The youth of America have a hidden passion for opera, and it is our obligation and responsibility to help them discover it.

Jonathan Stinson is touring Nebraska and Western Iowa with Opera Omaha’s Voices in Residence, a series of engaging, interactive, multi-media classroom performances created for students in middle school, high school or college, the performances provide a framework for experiencing the interaction of word s and music – the essence of opera. Mr. Stinson will also appear in Opera Omaha’s celebration of the great American musical So in Love with Broadway.

Jonathan Stinson is enjoying a busy ’09-’10 season as Slim in Of Mice and Men and Peter in Hansel and Gretel for Kentucky Opera, a return to Cedar Rapids Opera for the Nazarene in Salome, and as both Antonio in The Marriage of Figaro and as baritone soloist in the upcoming So In Love With Broadway concert for Opera Omaha.

Mr. Stinson’s ’08-’09 season included appearances in La bohème with Lyric Opera of Kansas City, La traviata with Opera New Jersey and Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Rigoletto with Springfield Regional Opera, Cosi fan tutte with Cedar Rapids Opera, and The Marriage of Figaro for the Bay View Music Festival.

A Regional Finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in 2006, Mr. Stinson is a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory and Indiana University.

Tickets for So in Love with Broadway start at just $19.

Friday | April 16, 2010 | 7:30p
Sunday | April 18, 2010 | 2:00p

Click Here for Tickets

Friday | Feb 26, 2010

The Adventures of a 10 Year Old at the Opera

by Mark Calvert

My nephew, Jesse, came to visit me last weekend as we were in the thick of final rehearsals for Figaro. This creative and unique little boy lives in a tiny Kansas town (population 1,008) where opportunities to experience opera are non-existent. So, with some parental finagling so that Jesse could play hooky from school, we made arrangements for him to have a front row seat and see how we do it. I arranged to have him watch an orchestra stage rehearsal and – the next day – the piano dress rehearsal. Although I already knew he marches to his own drumbeat, I had no idea if he would like this process or find it boring. Kids do not hide their true feelings (years of performing for children tells me this), and I knew this little guy would be no exception.

He ate it all up! From the moment of the first downbeat of the first rehearsal, Jesse was entranced; not only by the beautiful, lush playing of the orchestra, but also by the singing, the language, and the intricate plot. In fact, Jesse really started to figure things out and began to bury his head in the music score, trying to untangle the new sounds of Italian in his ear. To his credit, by the end of the second day his Italian was shockingly good (kids are sponges for information).

I watched from the stage as Jesse walked through the theater (happily having the entire house to himself), listening and watching from different areas. I couldn’t believe that I ever thought that Le nozze di Figaro would ever be beyond the reach of a child. It is not: the music is complex, yet it leaves listeners of all ages humming the tunes; the story – from a literary masterpiece – has elements of humor, sadness, anger, and forgiveness; and the visual elements of staging, lights, costumes, and sets, only encourage kids to embrace their imaginations.

Jesse spent the second evening’s rehearsal “apprenticing” under the lighting designer, Jim Sale, and the director, Garnett Bruce. He freely offered his young, professional opinions, staked out his territory at the production table in the theater, and managed to stay awake, alert, and entertained through to the final curtain. (It should be noted, though, that the post-rehearsal production meeting immediately put him into deep sleep.)

I will go out on a limb and speak for myself and my fellow singers. When we are on stage in the middle of a performance, we love to hear the honest and spontaneous reactions from children (laughter, applause, booing the bad guy, etc.).

So, my suggestion is this: save the money on a baby sitter, spend five minutes to explain the plot of Le nozze di Figaro to your child, and treat your 10 year old to some Mozart.

Appearing before audiences of all ages at the Orpheum Theater, Mark Calvert will play the dual roles of Don Basilio and Don Curzio in Mozart’s Comic Masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro.

American tenor Mark Calvert has performed to critical acclaim with numerous European opera companies, including productions with the Stadttheater Gieben, the Schlossfestspiele Heidelberg, the Theater der Stadt Heidelberg, and the Kammeroper Konstanz. Between 2006 and 2009, he was an ensemble member of the Landestheater Linz (Austria), where his repertoire ranged from baroque to contemporary operas. He made his Italian debut with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi in Kurt Weill’s
The Seven Deadly Sins, and more recently, he sang Vašek in The Bartered Bride with the Aargauer Symphonie Orchester in Switzerland. A native of Wichita, Kansas, Calvert earned his degrees from Yale University School of Music and Lawrence University in Wisconsin. He received his early training with The Santa Fe Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Seattle Opera, Aspen Music Festival, and Pittsburgh Opera, where he was awarded the 2000 Richard F. Gold Career Grant from The Shoshana Foundation.

Tickets start at just $19.

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

Click Here for Tickets



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