Friday | Mar 08, 2013

The intersection of visual and operatic art

Photo by Jim Scholz. Opera Omaha’s 2013 production of The Magic Flute. Designs by Jun Kaneko.

The Jun Kaneko-designed production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute played to sold out houses in San Francisco and Omaha. Patrons marveled at the artistic presentation. At intermission and after the performance, audience members praised the costumes and the visual masterpiece created by not only the scenic art work, but the combination of staging, costumes, wigs, and makeup in concert with the background imagery. This co-production involving an internationally known visual artist and multiple opera companies is heralded as a magnificent achievement. The Kaneko-designed production of The Magic Flute is all of those things, but the spirit of cooperation and partnership between artistic communities is not new.

Collaboration between the visual arts community and producers of opera is a standard feature of opera performance. Opera is comprised of multiple art forms. A fully staged opera production includes visual art in the form of set pieces and paintings, costumes, props, lighting, and staging. The performers are required to be fantastic singers and proficient actors. The element of drama or comedy within the libretto must be portrayed along with the, sometimes astonishing, vocal feats required by the musical score.

Historically, to meet the scenic demands of the stage, professional artists (usually painters) were employed by opera and theater companies. As available technology evolves, so do the artistic possibilities. The changing world of visual art, and that of opera, presents new opportunities for cooperation between the art forms.

In 2006, Opera Omaha partnered with Kaneko to design the set, props, and costumes for Puccini’s Madama Butterfly. In 2008, visual artist Catherine Ferguson worked with Opera Omaha to create a dramatic and brilliantly colorful production of Verdi’s Aida. The photo below beautifully illustrates Ferguson’s vision for what the audience would see on the stage. The picture is created through the use of set pieces, costumes, and props that complete the stunning visual image.

Photo by Jim Scholz. Opera Omaha’s 2008 production of Aida. All designs by Catherine Ferguson.

For Opera Omaha’s final performances of the 2012-2013 season, we partner with scenic designer Julia Noulin-Merat to create a new production of Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle. When you attend the opera, you will see the artist’s vision as it complements the incomparable singing of Samuel Ramey and Kara Shay Thomson. The artistic elements will, as always, be used to illustrate the story and to create a visual and auditory masterpiece to enhance the audience experience.

Tickets for our April 19 and 21, 2013 performances of Bluebeard’s Castle are available online or by calling 402-345-0606. Don’t miss your chance to see the intersection of visual and operatic art at its finest. We look forward to seeing you there!

If you’re interested in learning more about Bluebeard’s Castle and the use of visual art in opera production, Friends of Art at the University of Nebraska at Omaha is hosting an event on Sunday, March 10 to explore these topics. Hal France, our conductor for Bluebeard’s Castle, is the featured speaker. The event begins at 6:00pm with a wine and appetizer reception following the talk. Admission is $20, free to UNO students with MAV cards, or $3 to students with student I.D.s. Contact information and more is available on the organization’s Facebook page.


Wednesday | Feb 13, 2013

Meet the Artist: Papageno, Corey McKern

Papageno, as described by the host in a recent Omaha radio station interview, serves as the “comic relief” in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. The role was originally sung by the opera’s librettist, Emanuel Schikaneder, and may be one of the most widely-recognized roles in opera. Papageno is described by harmonia mundi  in the following manner:

Papageno : the birdcatcher, a clumsy, comical character…The attribute of this ‘know-all’ who really knows nothing is a set of panpipes that can charm birds (he will also make incidental use of a set of magic bells). In a sense he lies at the centre of the opera: his failed, even parodic initiation sets in perspective the gravity of the itinerary followed by the Tamino/Pamina couple and the solemnity of a discourse which thus always remains human and accessible. He emerges as an amiable coward with a tendency to put his foot in it, deeply in love with life and with his Papagena, and his feathered person and catchy tunes add a touch of bright colour to the austere interplay of shadows and light which structures the drama (

We are pleased and honored to welcome baritone, Corey McKern back to Opera Omaha for this role. You may have seen him previously as Slook in our February 2012 production of The Marriage Contract. Mr. McKern sings the role of Papageno in Opera Omaha’s production of The Magic Flute with great skill and just the right amount of sulky humor. He possesses both the operatic and theatrical chops to accurately portray both the longing and the mirth in the role.

Thanks to Corey McKern and our music staff, you will see and hear a wonderful portrayal of Papageno when you join us on Friday, February 22 or Sunday, February 24 to see The Magic Flute. Tickets can be purchased online through Ticket Omaha or by phone at 402-345-0606. Don’t miss this your chance to see this enchanting production of a classic opera including marvelous singing.

To learn more about Mr. McKern, please visit his official website. His program biography and photo are below.

Baritone, Corey McKern

Corey McKern–Biography provided by the artist.


Award-winning baritone Corey McKern continuously earns critical acclaim and accolades in every appearance he makes. In his 10 performance run as Marcello in La bohème at the Santa Fe Opera last summer, the Santa Fe New Mexican said, “Corey McKern’s resolute, robust-voiced and rambunctious Marcello, a perfect picture of a wannabe Parisian painter, was one of the best I’ve ever heard.” This season, engagements include his debut with Austin Lyric Opera as Silvio in I Pagliacci, his role debut as Dandini in La Cenerentola with Nashville Opera, the Count in Le Nozze di Figaro with Syracuse Opera, Anthony in Sweeney Todd with Pensacola Opera, King Henry II in Becket with Long Island Masterworks, Papageno in Die Zauberflöte with Opera Birmingham, Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor with Opera Saratoga, and his debut with the St. Louis Symphony performing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and Wozzeck.

Tuesday | Feb 12, 2013

Meet the Artist: Tamino, Shawn Mathey

Tamino is the first character to appear on the stage in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. He has a bit of a rough time during the opera. He is irritated by the bird catcher, Papageno, attacked by a two-headed serpent, hunted by Monostatos for falling in love with Pamina, and taunted by the Three Ladies and their mistress, the Queen of the Night. Whew! That’s enough to destroy anyone’s power of positive thinking!

The nature of the story line requires the tenor singing Tamino to portray a wide range of emotions and physical movement in addition to being a phenomenal vocalist. Our Tamino, tenor, Shawn Mathey satisfies the demanding requirement’s of Mozart’s opera with grace and impressive vocal abilities. Mr. Mathey’s official biography is below. You can learn more about him on his web page.

Join us on Friday, February 22 or Sunday, February 24 to see Mr. Mathey bring light and life to the role of Tamino. His portrayal is sure to delight and entertain you. For tickets go online or call 402-345-0606. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Tenor, Shawn Mathey

TENOR, SHAWN MATHEY–Biography provided by artist
Tenor Shawn Mathey performs in the most important and distinguished opera companies and music festivals in the world including the Paris Opera, the Opernhaus Zurich, the Salzburg Festival, Aix-en-Provence Festival, the Theater an der Wien, and the Frankfurt Opera, among many others.

This season marks Shawn Mathey’s return to London for one of his signature roles, Tamino, at the English National Opera. He will reprise this role for further performances of Die Zauberflöte in Charlotte and Omaha. He will also be heard in an Opera Gala Concert at home in Toledo, OH. Further projects include returns to the Washington National Opera and the Cincinnati Opera, both in leading roles.

Last season, Mr. Mathey made auspicious debuts with the San Francisco Opera as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni, the Dallas Opera as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, the Lisbon Opera as Ferrando in Così Fan Tutte and the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome as Lysander in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Tuesday | Feb 05, 2013

To Tweet or not to Tweet

Photo Credit: Elmer Ellefson


To tweet or not to tweet during a performance. That is the question posed, on Twitter, of course, by the National Endowment for the Arts. It turns out that the question of allowing social media use during live performance is fraught with contention and, in some cases, disgust at the very idea. The responses continued for more than a week! That’s a long life for conversation limited to social media and 140 character replies.

Reactions to #2tweetornot2tweet ranged from this by @margogray:

“Tweet seats & tweet-friendly performances have grt potential for artist/aud interaction, like live DVD extras! @NEAarts #2tweetornot2tweet”

to this by @AnikaNoniRose:

“@NEAarts @operaomaha Tweeting during a performance is simply rude. Also, distracting for both the audience and performers”

As an arts organization, our primary focus is to bring live performance to the stage and into the community for an audience. When talking about anything that we do at Opera Omaha, the question is always, “How do we build our audience?” The possible applications of social media offer new opportunities with very little or no financial investment. This is a big deal in our world of growing expenses and shrinking budgets.

Although we were a little ahead of the #2tweetornot2tweet conversation on Twitter, it was a tweet by Palm Beach Opera that pushed us into having “the talk” within our own organization. This was the tweet that set us into motion, from @palmbeachopera:

“Registration to participate in Tweetseats for La Traviata is OPEN now! … Space is limited, so reserve your spot now.”

After a message of encouragement from our Chair of Long Range Planning, some internet-based research, and a chat with Ceci Dadisman at Palm Beach Opera, we made a decision. Opera Omaha will be stepping into the social media tide pool known as “Tweet Seats” during the final dress rehearsal of our April, 2013 production, Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle.

Initially, we’re offering Tweet Seats only during the final dress rehearsal, limiting the number of Tweet Seats to 10-15, inviting participants from our list of current Twitter followers, and will have a list of guidelines for our tweeters. The decision to offer Tweet Seats turned out to be an easy one. Our goal as a company is to share the productions that we, and the singers, work on all year long with a larger, more diverse audience. This is just one way to reach out. We’re willing to give it our best shot.


Thursday | Jan 31, 2013

Meet the Artist: Pamina, Monica Yunus

Who is Pamina? What part does she have in the storyline of The Magic Flute? According to a character analysis posted on harmonia mundi’s website, Pamina is:

“the object of both the noblest and the basest desires (Tamino and Monostatos respectively), she is Tamino’s reward for successfully undergoing his initiation. As the daughter of the Queen of the Night, she is torn between her filial love and her love for Tamino. She plays an active role on the path towards wisdom, leading Tamino behind her in the final trials. Mozart assigned her the most deeply-felt arias, quivering with emotion, sometimes desperate, in which she displays a nobility and resolution that foreshadow the qualities of the heroines of early Romanticism, such as Beethoven’s Leonore or Agathe in Der Freischütz.”

Soprano, Monica Yunus

There is no lady more suited to play a noble heroine than soprano, Monica Yunus. In additional to performing with The Metropolitan Opera, Washington National Opera, and an impressive list of European and U.S. opera companies, “Ms. Yunus is the Co-Director of Sing for Hope, a non-profit organization that mobilizes artists in volunteer service to benefit communities in need. (” Please take a moment to learn more about Sing for Hope through the organization’s website.

In the previous calendar year, Opera Omaha has been fortunate to welcome Monica Yunus as a special guest artist at KANEKO and the Joslyn Art Museum. We are thrilled to have Ms. Yunus return to Omaha to sing the role of Pamina in The Magic Flute. More information about the artist and humanitarian is available below and on her website.

The following biography was provided to Opera Omaha by Ms. Yunus.


Soprano Monic Yunus joins The Metropolitan Opera as Yvette in their production of La Rondine, Opera Omaha as Pamina in The Magic Flute, and The Wichita Symphony performances of Carmina Burana during the 2012-2013 season. Recent engagements include Norina in Don Pasquale with Opera Memphis, Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera with Washington National Opera, Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Austin Lyric Opera, Countess Almaviva in Le Nozze di Figaro with Opera Omaha, Gretel in Hansel and Gretel with Palm Beach Opera, and Adele in Die Fledermaus with Nashville Opera. She has joined The Metropolitan Opera for numerous productions including The Enchanted Island, Le Comte Ory, Die Zauberflöte, Manon, and Don Giovanni. Recent concert performances include engagements with Andrea Bocelli in Lajatico, Italy, with José Carerras at The Zouk Mikael International Festival in Lebanon, and with Plácido Domingo at The Jordan Festival in Amman, Jordan.



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