Originality is hard to find. Because one idea stems from another, inspiration and originality have to walk hand in hand. The best work comes from those who knowingly bring their past into the creation process, not turning away from it but rather using it to their fullest advantage. Exciting work starts with passion and with the need to share that intensity with others through your craft.
I came blind to Opera Omaha. I was the last dancer to sign on to Semele and only by happenstance when a friend who was slated to do the production bowed out last minute and recommended me to replace him. I had never met Director James Darrah, but because I had long-time friendships with two of the dancers and was familiar with Choreographer Gustavo Ramìrez Sansano, I signed on immediately.
The first week of work consisted of rehearsals for only the Opera Omaha gala with the five dancers and our Semele, soprano (and new best friend) Mary Feminear. It was a concentrated workshop process consisting mostly of improvisation. We all dove in: dancers, singer, director, choreographer. Where some of us had previously worked together, others were complete strangers, and yet none of it seemed to matter; a unique familiarity was born. The second week brought in the rest of the principals and the chorus to start Semele rehearsals. After only two lightning fast weeks, it’s clear how standout this team and Opera Omaha is.
Collaboration is the answer to advancing forward, not only here in the beautiful worlds of opera and dance, theatre and music, but in any professional career. Change comes when people start looking outside of themselves, when they start to notice how important human relationships are and how vital other outlooks are to developing their own. When minds come together, there is the potential for the new to spark, for the unheard of to thunder.
James Darrah is unlike anyone I’ve ever met. His rehearsal process is unabashed, loose, fiery. After the first rehearsal, I spoke to my mom on the phone and told her how motivating it was to work with someone who was almost innocently obsessed with his work, who literally throws himself into every word and movement. James’ work ethic and honest excitement for opera, something so rooted in history (and let’s face it, Semele is 243 years old) is joyously contagious, spilling out into the room. When it happens, you can see everyone running toward it, careful not to miss out on its power.
Gustavo Ramìrez Sansano’s role here in Semele is quite different than what he normally does, but his attention to detail and to specifics is something rare to behold. As James gives us insight into every character throughout the scene we’re rehearsing, narrating their thoughts and suggesting their actions, Gustavo stands quietly to the side, his brain dissecting the room, the music, what James is saying and how movement can best complement it all. He’ll say something that can pull a scene together in the blink of an eye, with a gesture, look, transition or lift. His musicality seems to be his mode of survival. He finds it easily, relying on his expertise, yet never repeating an idea in the same setting.
Working with Darrah and Ramìrez Sansano is a like stepping into that room in your house that has taken years to perfect. There’s the massive painting that splashes across one wall, colorful and dynamic, unable to be ignored. Then there are the other pieces in the room, subtle enough to complement the painting, yet essential to the flow of the room, permeating the walls and spreading into the rest of the house. Darrah and Ramìrez have created the type of partnership that comes on subconsciously and surges past any expectation.
Opera Omaha – Darrah, Ramìrez, the singers, dancers, musicians, and everyone behind the scenes – has in fact created something original, inspiring and incredibly exciting, through collaboration. We’ve all brought our strengths, weaknesses and passions to this multimedia production of the beautiful piece that is Semele. All of us have been working for a lifetime in our respective fields and I think I speak for everyone when I say that this is a one of a kind experience, which these days is a very hard thing to find.
George Frideric Handel
Friday, April 8, 7:30 p.m. | Sunday, April 10, 2 p.m.
Click here for tickets or call (402) 345-0606.
Working as assistant director on SEMELE puts me in direct communication with both Director James Darrah and the team at Opera Omaha. Being a part of the central nervous system of the production is exciting and rewarding, but also means that I am very busy attending to each piece of the puzzle. Here’s what a typical day during rehearsals is like:
8:00 a.m. – Morning Routine
I wake up and cook myself a large breakfast to begin the day. I am from New York City, and Opera Omaha provides me housing while here for rehearsals. I may review notes for the previous day’s rehearsals, double check rehearsal reports or work on projects of my own.
Today I arrive at the Holland Performing Arts Center to prepare for our rehearsal with the dancers in our show. We rehearse here when working complicated dance sequences because the sprung, hardwood floors are better for the dancers’ joints. I meet with our Stage Manager who is already setting up the space.
10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. – Dance Class/Rehearsal
Our dancers start the day by taking class, led by choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansaro. With Gustavo’s encouragement, I join in the warm up so I can stretch a bit too. By 11:30 a.m., James Darrah arrives and we begin working parts of the show. What excites me most about this production is the amount of movement that weaves through each scene. The character of Ino is sung offstage and portrayed by a dancer onstage, so today we focus on one of her first arias. I take notes in my production book for later reference.
12:30–1:30 p.m. – Lunch
James, Janice (our onstage Ino) and projections designer Adam grab lunch nearby at Culprit Café. I’ve really loved all the food here in Omaha. There are so many great places to eat!
1:30–5:00 p.m. – Staging Rehearsal
We return to rehearsal, this time with some of our principal singers. It is always exciting to watch the principals incorporate movement to their performances, and with a show like SEMELE they are constantly a part of the action. Today’s rehearsal is particularly fun because we are trying new lifts with Mary Feminear, our Semele.
5:00–7:00 p.m. – Dinner
I drive back to my housing to make myself dinner in our longer break. I find that cooking for myself is always a great way to shake off any stress from the day or just to have some quiet time alone.
7:00–10:00 p.m. – Chorus Rehearsal
Our chorus of twenty rehearses at Opera Omaha’s studio in the evenings, and tonight we are covering a lot of new material. As assistant director, I track their movement throughout the show and help fill in any singers who have missed a rehearsal. These nights are always great because we get to complete the pictures created during the day with the principals alone. Opera Omaha’s chorus is especially willing to try new things, and James empowers them to make their own discoveries throughout the show. We really have a lot of fun!
Today was a particularly long day, but full of new ideas for the production. There is a constant sense of play in James’ rehearsals, and I think this sentiment is what keeps everyone excited and charged about the piece. We have so much more to discover before moving to the theatre, and every day I wake up and can’t wait to see what happens next.
The personification of the rainbow and a messenger to the gods, Iris is also considered a goddess of the sea and sky. As a messenger, Iris acts as a conduit between divine and mortal beings and travels on the rainbow with great speed to every corner of the world, as well as into the sea and underworld. She is often portrayed with a winged staff, much like the messenger god Hermes, and in art is commonly seen as a rainbow or as a lovely young woman with wings on her shoulders. Iris is the daughter of the sea god Thaumas and nymph Electra and sister to the Harpies. She is married to Zephyrus, the god of the west wind, and some sources name Pothos as their son.
While the Greeks believed that Iris served all Olympians as a messenger, it was not until the Roman period that she gained her close affiliation with the goddess Juno (or Hera). In fact, in Virgil’s Aeneid, the famous epic describing the Trojan prince Aeneas’ founding of Rome, Iris is dispatched by Juno to pluck a lock of hair from the Carthaginian queen Dido, spelling the woman’s fate. Later Iris was sent to stir up the Trojan women who were traveling in Aeneas’ party. Once riled, the women set fire to four of Aeneas’ ships, greatly hindering the company’s ability to depart from the island of Sicily.
April 8, 7:30 p.m. | April 10, 2 p.m.
CLICK HERE for tickets.
Also known by his Greek name, Hypnos, the god Somnus is the embodiment of sleep. His mother is Nyx, goddess of night, his father Erebus, god of darkness, and his twin brother is said to be Thanatos, the personification of death. According to Greek mythology, the home of Somnus is a cave so deep that it is never touched by the light of day. There is no door or gate at the entrance of the dwelling, so that Somnus might not be awakened by squeaking hinges. The river Lethe, the river of forgetfulness, is said to flow through Somnus’ home, and the entrance of the cave is planted with poppies and other hypnotic blooms.
During the Trojan War, Juno (Hera) called on Somnus to aid her in tricking Jupiter (Zeus). Jupiter was quite adamant that the gods not involve themselves too heavily in the mortal affairs of the Trojan War. Juno, strongly favoring the Greek faction, devised a plan that would allow her to turn the tides of the battle without her consort’s knowledge. After washing herself with ambrosia and weaving flowers through her hair, she went first to Aphrodite and tricked the goddess into giving her a charm that would entice Jupiter. Having done this, Juno went to Somnus and asked for his aid in putting Jupiter to sleep. Somnus was reluctant to do this, as a furious Jupiter had easily discovered his involvement in a previous plot of Juno’s. He refused to help Juno when she attempted to bribe him with an indestructible golden chair, but relented when Juno promised to arrange a marriage with the Grace Pasithea, a deity of hallucination and relaxation. Once she had everything arranged, Juno flew to Jupiter on Mount Ida where she enticed him with the charm from Aphrodite. Somnus, hidden under a pine tree and cloaked in a thick mist, worked his power over Jupiter, causing the god to fall fast asleep. Juno then went to Poseidon, god of the sea, and convinced him to aid the Greeks by sending storms and earthquakes against the Trojans, thus changing the course of the war to suite Juno’s desires. Jupiter never learned of Somnus’ involvement.
April 8, 7:30 p.m. | April 10, 2 p.m.
CLICK HERE for tickets.
The Juno of Handel’s Semele is best considered as the ancient Greek goddess Hera. As the Greek and Roman cultures came into contact with one another, these two great goddesses became so associated with one another as to be almost indistinguishable. Since the myth of Semele has Greek origins, however, Hera is undoubtedly the proper name of the divine queen who stands as Handel’s antagonist.
In her role as Queen of the Gods, Hera is said to rule over marriage, women, childbirth and family. Hera is occasionally portrayed as a warlike deity, which may be tied to her association with the lion, but her symbols additionally include the cuckoo, peacock and cow.
Hera and Her Children…
Although she is a goddess of marriage and childbirth, Hera is less notable as a mother. Being disgusted with the ugliness of her son Hephaestus (god of metalworking and masonry), Hera is said to have thrown him from Mount Olympus, making the god a cripple. In order to revenge himself on his mother, Hephaestus crafted a magical throne, which would not allow Hera to stand back up once she sat on it. Hephaestus only released his mother once she presented him with Aphrodite (goddess of love and beauty) as his wife.
During the Trojan War, Hera and her son Ares (god of war) found themselves supporting different armies. Noticing that Ares was actively assisting the Trojans, Hera convinced Zeus and Athena (goddess of wisdom and war) to drive Ares away from the battlefield. Zeus granted his permission and Athena helped to drive a spear into Ares’ body, causing him to flee to Mount Olympus.
Hera’s Famous Jealousy
The jealousy that Hera feels for Semele, Zeus’ new lover, is one of the key forces which drives the plot of Handel’s opera. In fact, the jealously of the goddess was often believed to have played a role in the outcome of much larger events, such as the Trojan War. Yet the goddess and her fellows on Olympus are perhaps better remembered for their vanity, best illustrated in the following story:
When the hero Peleus married the nymph Thetis, all the gods and goddesses were invited to the wedding, as well as important mortals. Eris, however, the goddess of discord, had not been invited. Being justifiably annoyed at this turn of events, Eris took a golden apple inscribed with “to the fairest” and threw it among the goddesses at the wedding. The three most prominent goddesses, Aphrodite, Hera and Athena, all believed herself to be the fairest, and thus the rightful owner of the apple. Requiring a way to settle matters once and for all, the trio of goddesses turned to Zeus, asking him to be the judge of their beauty. Seeing the danger in the choice before him, Zeus passed the matter on to the Trojan prince, Paris. Even after seeing each of the goddesses unclothed, Paris was unable to make a choice between them, prompting the goddesses to offer various bribes. Hera, as Queen of the Gods, promised to grant Paris control over all of Europe and Asia. As the goddess of wisdom and war, Athena pledged wisdom, fame, and glory in battle. Ruling over sexuality and love, Aphrodite offered Paris the most beautiful woman in the world as a wife, the famous, or perhaps infamous, Spartan Queen Helen. Persuaded by Aphrodite’s offer, Paris named her the rightful owner of the apple, simultaneously enraging the other two goddesses. Consequently he sparked the Trojan War by kidnapping the Spartan Queen.
April 8, 7:30 p.m. | April 10, 2 p.m.
CLICK HERE for tickets.
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