Monday | Dec 14, 2015

Giacomo Puccini

Opera Omaha’s The Girl of the Golden West is Feb. 12 & 14, 2016 at the Orpheum Theater. Learn more about the man behind the music, Giacomo Puccini

The Man:

Giacomo Antonia Domenico Michele Secondo Maria Puccini was born in on the 22nd of December 1858 in the town of Lucca, Tuscany. One of nine children, Giacomo Puccini was part of a musical dynasty established by his great-great grandfather, who was also named Giacomo. For two centuries the family had been tightly enveloped in the musical life of the Cathedral of San Martino in Lucca, acting as both musicians and musical directors. The young Puccini began his musical education at an early age, as a result of his family’s business. First tutored by his uncles, Giacomo would also study under the composers Antonio Bazzini and Amilcare Ponchielli at the Milan Conservatory. Shortly after the death of his mother in 1884, Puccini moved to Monza, a town near Milan, bringing with him his sweetheart, Elvira Gemignani, who happened to be married to another man. In 1886 Puccini and Elvira had a son, Antonio, and the family increased again in size as Elvira’s daughter, Fosca, came to live with the pair. In 1891 the family moved to Torre del Lago, a fishing village in Tuscany, where Giacomo and Elvira were legally married in 1904, following the death of her previous husband. Although the union would continue to be riddled with affairs, Puccini found a personal refuge in the Italian countryside, where he could freely drive automobiles and pursue his love of hunting. In 1924 another passion of Puccini’s would become the cause of his death—a longtime consumption of Toscano cigars and cigarettes resulted in the development of a serious throat cancer. Following a difficult surgery, Giacomo Puccini passed away on November 29 in Brussels, clutching the incomplete score of his famed Turandot.

His World:

The latter half of the 19th century saw the rise of new political powers and technological innovations. While Giacomo Puccini was only a boy in Lucca, the world was fraught with war and other movements of violence. 1860 saw the onset of the American Civil War, which would be carried out over a bloody five years on the western side of the Atlantic. The assassination of Abraham Lincoln would occur in 1865, and London would be terrorized by a string of murders attributed to Jack the Ripper in 1888. Although the growing international influence of the British, Russian, and German Empires, as well as the United States, clearly marks the intensifying struggles for power, which would give way to World Wars I and II, the late 19th century also saw notable human achievements. The Suez Canal between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea was opened in 1869. The first commercial automobile was sold by Karl Benz in 1886 and construction on the Statue of Liberty was begun that same year. Dialogue raised by the American Civil War and European colonialism led to the abolition of legal slavery. Artists and composers such as Van Gogh, Wagner and Tchaikovsky were creating masterworks, and significant works of literature were produced by Oscar Wilde, Robert Lewis Stevenson, and H.G. Wells among others. With the rise of the 20th century came the invention of the airplane by the Wright brothers in 1903 and the first television broadcast in 1909. Yet this period of giddy innovation and invention was brought to a halt with the onset of World War I in 1914. Despite the tumultuous social atmosphere in Europe at this time, made even more volatile by the growth of nationalist policies, Puccini remained stoutly indifferent towards politics of any sort.

Opera Omaha's 2011 production of Puccini's Madama Butterfly

Opera Omaha’s 2011 production of Puccini’s Madama Butterfly

His Music:

A predominant composer of late-Romantic Opera, Puccini is best known for his famous works La Bohème and Madama Butterfly, as well as Tosca and Turandot, although these account for only four of his twelve operatic creations. Puccini also wrote sacred and secular music for orchestra and chamber ensembles, as well as songs for voice and piano. Among these, the mass Messa di Gloria and string quartet Crisantemi are perhaps the most notable. Of course, connections between all of Puccini’s works are simple to find, as the composer often made use of a single melody in multiple works; transcribing and transposing the figure to suite his needs. While it is tempting to think of this compositional methodology as a sort of self-plagiarism, it was in fact a practice utilized by many composers at the time.

Call (402) 345-0606 or click here for tickets to Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West Feb. 12 & 14 at the Orpheum Theater.

Monday | Nov 16, 2015

Expression through music at the Omaha Children’s Museum

papganoEvery person is born making sound – just think of what that means! When our new-born voices first cried out to the world, we took steps towards being able to communicate with one another and to express ourselves. The voice is a powerful instrument – not just as a tool for communication, but also for musical expression! It’s no wonder that we find music to be so emotionally powerful, as sound is something that we can manipulate from such an early age.

Actually, sound is an amazing conveyor of feeling in more than one way. Firstly, sound can be physically felt. Maybe you’ve heard of how elephants use a very low, deep pitch to communicate over long distances. This is called a “rumble” and the elephants don’t hear this with their characteristically large ears, but rather feel the sound through the bottoms of their feet as it travels through the earth! Some dance-artists have also made use of the physicality of sound – by changing the levels of audio output, deaf dancers are actually able to feel sound patterns and choreograph movement to music that they are otherwise unable to hear.

Secondly, sound can be used to express personal feelings and even character! If you pay close attention to orchestral music, especially that written for opera, you might discover that the music ebbs and builds both in volume and the number of instruments playing at one time. You might also notice that certain melodies or rhythms will reoccur at certain points in the music. All of what you hear is meant to represent and supplement the meaning of vocal text and the actions of performers on the stage. In fact, emotions can often be presented in music without anyone acting out the meaning. Particular sets of musical notes, which musicians name the Major and minor modes, are often interpreted as sounding happy, sad, or even triumphant!

At Opera Omaha we find the emotional characteristics of music and sound very exciting. As part of National Opera Week, we partnered with the Omaha Children’s Museum on a children-oriented workshop led by Opera Omaha’s Resident Music Director J. Gawf on October 25. Our “Musical Explorers: The Magic Flute” allowed children to learn how singers use their voice to express feelings in song, and give them the opportunity to try a few things out for themselves. Music from Mozart’s The Magic Flute provides wonderful material for young and old alike, as this heroic opera contains narratives of love, sadness, hope, and, of course, good triumphing over evil. Throughout the month of November the Omaha Children’s Museum is offering children a chance to create puppets and other crafts relating to the colorful and beloved Magic Flute character Papageno!

Have you ever thought about the benefit of the arts in the growth and development of your children?  Arts projects and performances provide children with fun opportunities to develop their creativity and self-expression, but here are some additional and lesser known benefits of introducing the arts into your child’s life.  Arts practice and performance promotes self-esteem and fosters communication skills.  It also encourages creative and analytical thinking, as well as problem solving and self-expression.  The fall events offered at the Omaha Children’s Museum offer a perfect chance to introduce the arts and music into the life of your child.  Let them try out the opera—perhaps singing will spark new ideas and provide a fun method of emotional expression!

If you’re looking for more ways to interact with The Magic Flute, join Opera Omaha and Omaha Children’s Museum at Film Streams on Saturday, December 12th at noon for a live screening of Mozart’s classic from the Metropolitan Opera. Children who bring along their colorful Papageno puppets from the Omaha Children’s Museum will receive free popcorn—a perfect treat for the child who likes to munch along to the music! Purchase tickets for the whole family at

Thursday | Oct 08, 2015

Get to Know The Barber of Seville: Director’s Vision

By Director, Michael Shell

SHELL, MICHAEL- COURTESY OF MICHAEL SHELLMedThe Barber of Seville is a love story. It is a story of two people — Rosina and Almaviva, a Count in disguise — overcoming obstacles to be together.  And with the help of an ingenious barber, they outwit Bartolo, Rosina’s guardian, and are united. The story is funny, passionate, and quite frankly, totally absurd.  Rossini was a master at this type of storytelling. His music, always fresh and vibrant, makes all of these elements come alive and the absurd plausible.

For this productionI wanted to create an environment that not only allowed for Rossini’s brilliant blending of reality and borderline farce, but one that was also grounded firmly in Spain. For inspiration, my design team and I turned to the films of Pedro Almodóvar, which have all of the elements of a Rossini opera. Almodóvar is brilliant at walking the line between dramatic comedy and melodramatic absurdity. His films, rich with a vintage feel, are also deeply embedded in Spain and Spanish culture. But his films also embrace the surreal and random. Sometimes these notions are very theatrical and sometimes they are just depicting the randomness of life.

Part of the fun of Rossini’s music is that random interruption. At times, the action stops completely just so characters can sing about how crazy the situation is. At others, in the middle of an urgent getaway, for example, someone stops to sing at length about how urgent it is to leave right now — so long that he can’t escape in time. I wanted this production to embrace the random at a level that keeps the surprises fresh and is always entertaining.Barber014

We also bring Almodóvar’s sensibility towards his characters in terms of gender and sexuality. Rosina, the opera’s heroine, is usually depicted as an innocent, without sexual desire. This production gives her a little more teeth. Here, she is an assistant to Dr. Bartolo (an optometrist) looking for a life beyond the office walls (think of Almodóvar’s Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). She has desires, and it seems like this young man serenading her at the start of the opera might be able to fulfill them. She and that young man, Count Almaviva, never formally meet before falling in love. They rarely even speak to each other. It’s a physical spark between them. She has passionate feelings for the guy. If there was no desire for them to get together, than it would not work out. And we want it to work out!

To further root the production in Spain, we set it during the time of the Feria de Abril de Sevilla (“Seville April Fair”), which began as a livestock fair in the late 1800s and eventually became one of the largest to take place in Seville.   At many Fair events, including the opening bullfight, many women wear Flamenco dresses and dance a very specific type of Flamenco – the Sevillanas. The Fair still shows its origins with many horse-drawn carriages carrying people wearing traditional costumes that span centuries. Barber003The Festival is represented in this production by these random people that come in and out of the scenes. Figaro, in a sense is their gang leader. They show us, in their costuming, the history of the festival and give an unconventional quality to many moments including various change of scenes.

Using Almodóvar as our muse, in combination with characters who create the festival atmosphere that happens during the Feria de Abril, we are able to fully inhabit the zany world Rossini has created, and to tell its story in the kind of fresh and interesting way that his masterpiece deserves.

The Barber of Seville
Oct. 14, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18, 2 p.m.

Click here for tickets.

Saturday | Sep 26, 2015


Top 100

johncropFigaro’s entrance aria, “Largo al factotum,” has largely become the defining example of the operatic genre thanks to the memorable repetitions of the barber’s name and its boisterous melody. The tongue-twisting Italian syllables and the speed at which they are sung make this aria a considerably challenging piece in the baritone-singer’s repertoire. Perhaps “factotum” is included in the title of the piece not only to refer to the array of Figaro’s servantly duties, but also to the expanse of technique required from the singer; in Latin, the term means “to do everything” and the soloist is required to do just that. Baritone John Moore (pictured right) who plays Figaro in Opera Omaha’s upcoming production of The Barber of Seville stunned audiences with his incredible rendition of “Largo” at Opera Outdoors on Sept. 11 in Turner Park receiving a rare mid-concert standing ovation.

In Short

Barber008The clever and self-assured Figaro, whose profession gives this opera its name, helps a lovesick, young count disguise himself as a student, soldier, and music teacher in order to win the heart of the lovely Rosina and thwart the lecherous intentions of her guardian. A comedy through and through, The Barber of Seville guarantees a visually stunning and colorful event for the whole family, one replete with laughter, hijinks, popular melodies, and, of course, a happy ending.

Opening Night

Barber013The Barber of Seville had its premiere on February 20, 1816 at the Teatro Argentia in Rome and in 1825 became the first Opera to be sung in Italian in New York City. Versions of the opera had already premiered in the United States in English and French, yet these proved to be considerably less popular than the original, well-rhyming Italian libretto.

Rossini’s headliner was first performed at the Opera Omaha as part of the 1963-64 operatic line-up and since then has been produced in five different seasons on the Orpheum Theater stage. 2015-16 marks the opera’s sixth production in Omaha, making it one of the most popular operas ever to be performed in this Midwestern city.

Leave it to the Critics

Barber002Despite its historical popularity (The Barber of Seville is among the world’s 10 most frequently produced operas) Rossini’s now famous comedy began its life onstage as a tremendous flop; the audience showed no hesitation in jeering and making a ruckus during the production itself and may even have contributed to a number of on-stage accidents. Fans of the composer Giovanni Paisiello, it is thought that these obtrusive audience members were protesting what they perceived as Rossini’s unjust appropriation of Paisiello’s own Barber of Seville opera, which had premiered earlier in 1782. Following the second performance, however, Rossini’s luck changed when audience members who were not devoted followers of Paisiello took note of the fluid melodies and skillful composition of the newer opera and insisted on rewarding Rossini with a standing ovation for his work.

For tickets to The Barber of Seville, call (402) 345-0606 or click here.

Friday | Sep 25, 2015

Get to know The Barber of Seville: Gioachino Rossini

The Man
RossiniBorn to two musicians in 1792, Gioachino Rossini was easily able to immerse himself in learning about music and theatre from a very young age. By the time he was 15, Rossini had already learned to play three instruments, sung in public, and even composed an opera series. His youth was spent in Italy composing and performing music and revolutionizing the traditional Italian opera buffa with embellished melodies, animated ensembles and new rhythms and dynamic effects.

After becoming bored with the Italians, Rossini chose to move to Paris in 1823 where he received a warm welcome. Rossini composed his final opera in 1829 and by this time had written one opera for each of the 38 years of his life. While he would continue to produce a handful of religious and instrumental works, the second half of Rossini’s life was spent largely in a self-imposed isolation. This relative solitude allowed the maestro to cultivate his other hobbies, such as playing piano and cooking, which he would pursue until his death in 1868.

His World
The Europe in which Gioachino Rossini spent his life was a continent on the peak of modernization. At the time Rossini was born, the United States of America had been an independent country for four years, and before he celebrated his tenth birthday, the composer had lived through the French Revolution. At age 20, the Napoleonic Wars were nearing their end and the Industrial Revolution was running at full-steam, churning out inventions and innovations in areas such as textiles, steam power, and iron production, and bringing with it numerous problems for human welfare, such as extensive pollution and harsh child-labor. Although Rossini’s father was imprisoned for his support of Napoleon’s failed claim to empire, the life of the composer himself seems to have been somewhat untouched by the political and economic tensions felt elsewhere in Europe at the time. Perhaps we ought to think of Rossini’s comic operas as a means used by the upper-class for distracting themselves from the social problems all around them.

His Music
At the time of his death, Rossini left the world with a powerful legacy in his music having composed a total of 279 works over his lifetime. These works consist of 23 instrumental pieces, 18 cantatas, 10 sacred works, 38 secular pieces, 40 operas and theatrical works, and a collection of 150 vocal and solo piano salon pieces intended for private performance in Rossini’s sitting room. Given this prolific output, it comes as no surprise that a number of Rossini’s compositions have become famous components of the early Romantic canon. Perhaps the most well-known of these are the operas Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville), La Cenerentola (Cinderella), La gazza ladra (The Thieving Magpie) and Guillaume Tell (William Tell), whose melodies have frequently featured in both film and television and are known to the young and old alike.

Opera Trivia
Despite what its grandiose music may lead you to believe, Rossini claimed to have composed The Barber of Seville in a matter of just a few weeks!

In a morning visit paid to the composer, it is claimed that Sir Arthur Sullivan observed Rossini working on a small piece of music.  When asked what the music was for, Rossini is said to have gravely answered, “It’s my dog’s birthday and I write a little piece for him every year.”



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