Friday | Feb 12, 2010

Cell Phones

by Jason Hardy

I’m always amused by the rush to the cell phones with stage management announces “please take a 10-minute break” in rehearsal. Within moments, singers reach for their various devices and are whisked away to another part of the world. Some may laugh while exchanging text messages from friends while others make a quick call to see how their kids are doing. We check our email, give our regularly-scheduled status updates on our Facebook or Twitter page, or perhaps do a bit of web surfing. We can check the NBA scores from last night, get movie showtimes, find out how much snow has fallen back home, and find out what new life-altering technology is about to be released by Apple.
And we can do all of this from our cell phones!

Technology is so cool. Except when it isn’t.

I hate my cell phone. A few days ago, I had just finished a conversation with my kids when my “smartphone” became totally useless.
Let me tell you – nothing gets the brain more focused on logistics than figuring out when and where one can go to get a cell phone fixed or replaced. What a hassle!!!!

My phone is my constant companion, and it’s moments such as these that I realize just how much I rely on this little bit of technology. How else can I get a play-by-play about a family wedding I missed , find out how many girl scout cookies my daughter sold, or hear details of my son’s audition for the school play.

On the road we miss a lot of holidays and special events, taking comfort in that voice or those thumbs on the other end of our cell
phone. This weekend is Valentine’s Day, for instance. However, it
just so happens that this time, thanks to ANOTHER marvel of engineering and technology, my Valentine is flying here to see me this weekend. In fact, she arrives this afternoon!

So I’ve gotta run to rehearsal. During my first break, you can bet I’ll be checking the latest weather forecast, track the real-time status of her flight , and figure out showtimes for our movie date tonight.

I love my cell phone.

Jason Hardy appears with Opera Omaha as Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart’s Comic Masterpiece.

Mr. Hardy was most recently seen in the title role in Le nozze di Figaro with Opera Cleveland, Cadmus/Somnus in Semele with Florentine Opera, Leporello in Don Giovanni with Connecticut Opera, Colline in La Bohème with Nashville Opera, and as the bass soloist in Stravinsky’s Les Noces with the New York City Ballet, and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. 2009-2010 engagements include Leporello in Don Giovanni with Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra, Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro Opera Birmingham, and a return to Atlanta Opera as the Speaker in Die Zauberflöte. Concert engagements include Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with National Philharmonic, the Mozart Requiem with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, Handel’s Messiah with the Richmond Symphony, and a recital under the auspices of the Marilyn Horne Foundation.

Tickets start at just $19.

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

Click Here for Tickets

Wednesday | Feb 10, 2010


by Maureen Francis

At home, I’ll study my score while working out on the eliptical. While walking to the train station for an audition I’ll go over the recitative with my imaginary Figaro, ignoring the curious glances of neighbors. While at my son’s wrestling tournament I had my Mozart on my lap in the bleachers, making sure I looked up in time to see his match! While folding laundry and emptying the dishwasher, I’ll test my knowledge of the Act 2 finale and see if the movement does not distract me from an entrance. Until finally my six year old yells, “Enough Mozart Mom!!”

Little does he realize that before he arrived, I was on a stage, that I was very pregnant with his older brother while singing Rosina (our Countess in her younger years – and quite a reach as she was a virginal teenager) and that he himself was a stowaway during a Carmina Burana in Washington DC. I practice at night because the music helps them to fall asleep, or in the quiet afternoon when they are in school. In any case, I felt my Susanna was ready for Omaha. I had done my homework and now I can focus on my music for one entire month – ah, life finally simplified. Or is it?

Susanna is a role I’ve wanted to do for some time and I am thrilled to finally have the opportunity, but I am discovering that her chaotic life is not so different from my own. Our fantastic director Garnett Bruce brings his great perspective to the table and then lets the singer contribute so that it really is a communal process of creation. And this woman is the mulit-tasker. She consoles, avoids, schemes, cleans, makes tea, plays dress-up with Cherubino, hides evidence, reveals evidence, oh, you get the idea. And beautiful artists with incredible stage instincts surround her!

At home, I rarely sit down. It’s a waste of time, because inevitably someone will need something as soon as I do. Susanna rarely sits. Perhaps for a minute until she realizes she needs to hide in a closet. I was beginning to wonder if my character shoes were too small, until I realized Ms. Susanna doesn’t really rest the tootsies. At the end of the day, I go back to my hotel, rest my feet and smile because it is the exact same feeling I have when I’m home. I am contributing to a wonderful masterpiece; I am in awe of Mr. Mozart and the divine within him. At the end of the day, my husband and I will take a deep breath after our little “master”pieces are finally tucked in bed. I am dying to put my feet up with Michael and my boys will call out, “Mom, are you gonna practice?” It is the only proven tactic to guarantee that they will fall asleep and not get out of bed 15 times. And it’s God’s little way of reminding me of the beauty in multi-tasking.

Maureen Francis, Soprano, appears as Susanna in Opera Omaha’s production of Mozart’s Comic Masterpiece The Marriage of Figaro.

Fondly remembered for her Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance, Maureen Francis returns this season as Susanna. Following Omaha, Francis travels to Italy where she takes on the role of Morgana in Handel’s Alcina followed by operetta concerts in Asheville, NC and concerts throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. As a frequent guest of Chattanooga Symphony and Opera, she recently added the role of Musetta in La Bohème. Other roles include Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera with Bergen Opera in Bergen, Norway, the title role in Massenet’s Cendrillon, Gilda in Rigoletto, Julie Jordan in Carousel, and Gretel in Hänsel and Gretel. She has debuted with Los Angeles Opera in the world premiere of Elliot Goldenthal’s opera Grendel singing the role of Dargonette directed by the world-renowned Julie Taymor. Her signature role, Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia, became the vehicle for her European debut at the Festival Lecco, Italy.

Tickets start at just $19.

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

Click Here for Tickets

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.



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