Opera Omaha’s Resident Music Director and Chorus Master, J. Gawf, is a soft-spoken, quiet man. Every morning, he enters the office greeting people as he meets them and heads for his domain of diction recording and score marking in the corner of our building. As quiet as J. is in the office, he is commanding in the rehearsal room. Our Opera Omaha chorus members will tell you that he is demanding, exacting, and unfailingly professional as a chorus master and a pianist. Our productions benefit greatly from J.’s expertise in music and proficiency in chorus preparation and conducting. We are fortunate to have him as our full-time, permanent music director.
J. answered a few questions to give you a little more insight into the man behind the music. It turns out that he likes cities and beaches, French opera, and nearly always has music running through his head. The full Q & A is below.
Q: Where do you like to travel? A: I have been fortunate to travel much of the Northern Hemisphere and now want to concentrate on seeing the Southern cities such as Buenos Aires, Sydney and Cape Town. I always prefer cities to beaches although a combination of both is ideal! The perfect combination is a city where I can go to the beach by day and the theater in the evening.
Q: If you could conduct any piece of music, which would you choose? A: Any French opera. Many of the French operas are no longer in the standard repertoire so we don’t have the opportunity to see/hear these very often. Love all of the Massenet works, love Poulenc, Debussy and also the rarely performed Meyerbeer operas.
Q: List three things about you that aren’t in your bio. A: I have a passion for situation comedies. I think Seth MacFarlane is brilliant. In my waking hours I constantly have music in my head, usually the music of what I am currently working upon. When not in production, the music in my head is a grab bag of works previously performed. It’s fascinating to wait and see what will pop up next in my head, I never know.
You can catch J. in action and hear his magnificent piano stylings at three upcoming Opera Omaha events on August 10, August 30, and September 13. This Saturday, August 10, J. plays piano as Opera Omaha presents selections from John Harbison’s opera The Great Gatsby. On August 30 at 6:00pm, J. and a singer will perform using the Opera Omaha piano that is part of the Omaha Creative Institute’s “Play Me, I’m Yours” public art project in Rockbrook Village. On September 13 at 7:30pm, J. plays piano for the “Opera Outdoors” concert presented by Opera Omaha as part of Midtown Crossing at Turner Park’s “End of Summer” concert series. Don’t miss these fantastic opportunities to witness the piano stylings of the incomparable J. Gawf.
J.’s biography is varied and includes experience across the United States. This is the official version:
A native of Oklahoma, J. is currently in his 10th season as Resident Music Director with Opera Omaha and his 5th season as Chorus Master for the Opera Omaha Chorus. He has helped prepare education and outreach programs with the Omaha Symphony, Nebraska Choral Arts Society, Omaha Area Youth Orchestras, The Rose Theater, and many Omaha area high schools and middle schools. J. has, in the recent past, prepared the world premieres of David DiChiera’s Cyrano for Michigan Opera Theater, Ned Rorem’s Our Town for Lake George Opera and the Opera Omaha premieres of Anthony Davis’ Wakonda’s Dream and Paul Moravec’s The Blizzard Voices. He has also prepared works with Augusta Opera and New Jersey Opera Theater.
On August 10 at 2pm and 5pm, Opera Omaha is presenting selections from John Harbison’s opera, The Great Gatsby, as part of the Joslyn Castle’s summer literary festival honoring the life and work of F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is fantastic timing for fans of Gatsby! You could spend weeks of your summer immersed in the book and related works like the recent movie release by Warner Brothers, the Joslyn Castle literary festival, and our presentation of excerpts from the opera. It could be a very 1920s summer!
The artwork below, by visual artist Colleen Clark, illustrates the feeling and elements of the story that Fitzgerald penned and Harbison set to music. Join us at 1850 Farnam Street on August 10 at 2pm or 5pm and enjoy the music and the tale of The Great Gatsby. Tickets are $20. A $5 discount is available for Joslyn Castle members and Opera Omaha subscribers. Click here to buy online or call 402-595-2199.
Today, while searching for something else, I stumbled upon a blog post by Omaha author Leo Adam Biga. The post is about an article written by Mr. Biga in 1990 about Opera Omaha’s Fall Festival starring a very youthful Renee Fleming. It is a story worth reading. It reminds us of our local history, enriched by all area arts organizations.
Follow the link below to Mr. Biga’s blog and read this wonderful article, rich with local flavor and enhanced with players from other locations. Enjoy!
Tweeting The Final Dress
Last night we had a final dress rehearsal and, as these things go, it was the kind of result I hope for. Lots of promise, but still room for improvement.
The Omaha Symphony’s sound and the acoustical walls of Bluebeard’s castle are a match!! Thank you, Julia Noulin-Merat and Andrew Eggert for creating this great sound environment. The lighting and video projection designs of Allen Hahn and S. Katy Tucker are stunning, as are the performances of Natasha Grimm, Claire Goodwillie, and Bret Samson from Ballet Nebraska. Nils Haaland as Bluebeard’s butler is perfectly cast. Of course, we are honored to have Samuel Ramey on our stage in the title role and the magnificent Kara Shay Thomson as Judith.
Hard work and careful assembly of a talented team of people has paid off for Opera Omaha. Kudos to Roger Weitz and his production staff of Steve Grair, J. Gawf, Blythe Watkins, and Cammy Watkins. They have stewarded this show for the past year with professionalism and elegance. I’ve been impressed with our wonderful Stage Managers, Sarah Hall and Jenna Link, and so happy to be working again with the crew and Opera Omaha Craftsman’s Guild at the Orpheum. It’s great to return to the Craftsman’s Canteen and it’s home baked treats!
Yesterday evening, Opera Omaha invited people to watch the final dress rehearsal and share their experience moment to moment through Twitter. I looked forward to reading what people thought. I find this format to be full of potential. There are compelling reasons for public discourse and communication about the arts in our world.
The creative artists of music, theater, visual arts, literature, design, dance, film, and opera reflected on what they saw around them. They had the opportunity to tell stories, share images, and give voice to those reflections. Experiencing art involves our ability and willingness to self-reflect. Art is communication that takes aim at the most important moments of life when the daily buzz quiets so that we can think. Art and social media share the desire to communicate life experience beyond the ordinary.
It’s exciting to think about what may happen when social media and art find a meaningful relationship. I appreciated the reactions and comments on Twitter from the Orpheum last night! People had interesting things to say. Thanks for the tweets and bravo Opera Omaha for starting the conversation.
The date is Sunday, April 14th, the time is 7:30 p.m. As I write this, I’m sitting in the 10th row of the gorgeously elaborate Orpheum Theater, and my Pandora radio is set to the Omaha Symphony, Kara Shay Thomson, and Samuel Ramey – oh, wait, no – this is real life, and we’re 30 minutes into the first joint rehearsal with singers and orchestra!
Seeing a whopping 70 members of the Omaha Symphony (including an extra brass section and two harps, ladies and gentlemen) incorporated so beautifully into the set for Bluebeard’s Castle makes me even more excited about Andrew and Julia’s concept for this production, if that’s even possible. Of course, seating the entire orchestra on stage for a staged opera is a very rare occurrence, but that’s not the only reason I’m so keen on it. I’ve already talked at some length about three of Bluebeard’s characters: Bluebeard, his newest wife, Judith, and the Speaker. Tonight, a fourth, and major, character makes an entrance – the castle itself.
Bluebeard’s castle is a living entity, and in Bartok’s groundbreaking score, the orchestra creaks and sighs; it moans and trembles. The symphony embodies the castle just as much as Julia Noulin-Merat’s amazing designs. It is only fitting that they are completely surrounded by, and made part of, the labyrinth that forms Bluebeard’s castle. Beyond all aesthetics, it truly is such a pleasure to watch wonderful musicians play such fascinating music.
*Oh my goodness, I have to interrupt this perfectly formulated blog post to report that Kara Shay is singing her first high C in the theater, supported by the entire orchestra. It is earth-shattering. Seriously, that note alone is worth the price of admission.
The next few days will be comprised of hours and hours of light and projection cues, spacing rehearsal with the dancers from Ballet Nebraska, a piano dress/tech rehearsal, and a wandleprobe (where the orchestra, singers, and blocking come together for the first time). This all leads up to the final orchestra dress on Wednesday evening, featuring Opera Omaha’s first ever Tweet Seats! Check in on Twitter at #bbcastle on Wednesday night for the first informal reviews!
And, if you are still ticketless, don’t miss out! Visit Ticket Omaha online or call 402-345-0606 to reserve your seats for either Friday, April 19 or Sunday, April 21.
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