The Last Waltz of the Gilded Age

“Perhaps he thinks I’m unfaithful; perhaps he thinks I love another, but I’m merely married!” -  Rosalinde
Act I:  Die Fledermaus

“Hofball in Wien” by Gause

As illogical as it is, the Zeitgeist of Western culture seems to take a perverse cue from our passing from one century into the next. Of course, there is no logical reason for this. The moon spins around the earth and the earth around the sun and the sun spins around the Milky Way, and the Milky Way spins around… you get it.  It’s all in one long series of circles with only our ever-changing view of the stars to mark the passage, but Europeans seem to make a change, and a radical change, just because a page is to be torn from a calendar.In the last decade of the 1400s Columbus sailed for India and changed the future of several continents forever, and at the same time Michelangelo changed sculpture and painting forever. In the last decade of the 1500s, a group of men in Florence created opera and changed the course of music forever; at the same time, Shakespeare was creating a new direction for drama and Caravaggio was turning perspective painting inside out; they changed theatre and art forever. By the end of the 1600s Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu unified France and established an absolute monarchy inherited by Louis XIV. In the last decade of the 1700s the French executed their king and queen and reversed the relationship between the governed and the government, changing all of Europe forever. And in the last decades of the 1800s there was one last sigh of the two-thousand-year-old idle class. It sighed to a waltz and died in a war.

The 20th century seems to have been predominantly occupied by a series of wars and financial disasters and that, unfortunately, didn’t change with the passing into the 21st century. However, the Internet did make its presence felt in the last decade of the 20th century and one might accurately predict that it changed the world forever. Today, at least from my perspective, it is difficult to conceive the lifestyle of the 19th-century upper crust, brittle with elegance, rife naughtiness, and numbed by ennui. While reading A Picture of Dorian Gray, I can’t imagine myself living that life, where the day began by pulling a cord to summon a valet who would arrive with tea and the morning’s invitations to dinners and balls, when afternoons were spent accepting the most promising of those invitations, and evenings were spent, if nothing else was on, dining at private clubs with intimate friends, attending the second act of an opera or play, and meeting friends for supper at midnight, before going home with one’s mistress(or dancer from the second act), only to begin it all again the next afternoon. There is no alarm clock to shatter the early morning, no traffic to suffer through on the way to the office, no office…  Truly, I can’t imagine it (or can’t admit to imagining it).

It is said that Die Fledermaus and The Merry Widow were the very last gasp of that idle class, a last hurrah before catastrophe. Both are very fine examples of the lightness of this existence and of its bold extravagance that supported by investments, rents, or ruinous loans and lines of credit. But it was a house that would not stand. It was called a house of mirth by Edith Wharton (“The hearts of the wise are in the house of mourning; but the hearts of fools are in the house of mirth.” Ecclesiastes 7:4).

Composer Johann Strauss II

Baron von Eisenstein and his lovely young wife live in a house of mirth in Vienna, but no one would have guessed that at the time.It seemed that the dancing would go on forever. Die Fledermaus is entirely concerned with happy music and comic timing. Their lives kept in motion by the waltz and ruled by a new king, “Long live Champagne the First!”The Gilded Age was a giddy world for the robber barons, given over to pleasure. By the time Die Fledermaus was on the boards (1874) in Vienna, the conventions of marriage had become even less respected than they were in the 18th century. However, in the 19th century the Queen Victoria cast a long shadow and the conventions of matrimony were strictly observed, socially, and ignored privately, but only as long as the secret was closely kept. A husband or wife who was discovered on the wrong side of these conventions was cast out of society along with the children, and only enormous wealth could redeem their descendents. Marriage was in a display case, and on a marble and gilt pedestal that was just tall enough to put marital fidelity a bit out of reach in this rarefied world of dinner parties, grand balls, and midnight suppers. Courtesans and brothels were thriving.

We live in a different world. After the swinging 1960s, some of us are challenged by even the idea of adultery. This was not the case in 1870s Vienna, where the grand façade of Marriage stood as proudly as a bank on Wall Street today. In 1870s Vienna, the few who were banking on marital fidelity were thought naive. Thus Die Fledermaus, a comedy based on attempted adulteries, could and did have its world premiere on Easter Sunday. Rosalinde expresses a different worldview from ours when she remarks about her old lover: “Maybe he thinks I’ve been untrue; maybe he thinks I love another, but I’m merely married!”

Still, the book and lyrics are widely recognized as absolutely masterful, and so much so as to be crowned the epitome of the genre. In this salon farce, neither husband nor wife are truly blameless; both are up to their ears in sexual temptation and cover-up lies, rather like Lucy and Ricky, but with infidelity rather than an appearance at the Copacabana in the balance.

Opera San José’s 2004 production of Die Fledermaus at the Montgomery Theater. Photo by Bob Shomler.

It has been eight years since Opera San José last produced Die Fledermaus. We bid our farewell to the Montgomery Theater with those sentimental waltzes and bouncing polkas and all’s-well-that-end’s-well finale. Thinking that it’s high time to create a new production of Die Fledermaus for San José, we assembled a brilliant team to do just that. David Rohrbaugh, our music director, who has conducted dozens of Fledermaus productions, will be on the podium, keeping the myriad waltzes sparkling and lively.

Our stage director, Marc Jacobs, is making his OSJ debut with this production. He is widely experienced in musical theatre and is adept at both subtle and broad comedy, both of which weave through the entire texture of Die Fledermaus. There is not a single serious moment in this operetta, and Marc understands sight gags, high-kicking dances, and the surprising use of Mylar to add that sparkle unique to musical comedy. His approach to this project has been to please the audience, nothing more or less, and his first request was that we commission a new English version of the book. He wanted to go back to the German text of the world premiere, which he found engaging, comical, and never silly. That commission was given to David Scott Marley, who has previously created two modernized versions of Die Fledermaus in English, and who knows the original German book all but by heart. His English version of the original dialogue is crisp, dramatically well structured, and strips some of the accretions that have barnacled this timeless comedy over the past century. It is also efficient and to the point, which modern audiences will appreciate.

OSJ crew painting the Die Fledermaus show drop, designed by Charlie Smith.

Beginning in the von Eisenstein home then moving to a great Vienna ballroom, and ending in jail, this production traces Baron Gabriel von Eisenstein and his lovely wife from lovebirds to jailbirds by the end of the performance. And it’s all in good fun. The scenic design by Charlie Smith, who recently located to Sonoma from New York, and who is designing three productions for OSJ this season, was inspired by the great iron-and-glass flower conservatories of the 19th century. Furniture and ornament in the settings were inspired by the paintings of Gustav Klimt, with its swirling art nouveau decoration, which will be most evident in the ballroom scene.

Jacobs finds that Rosalinde, who recently retired from the stage to marry the baron, a well-to-do banker, is a bird in a gilded cage, thus the golden bars of the conservatory. He also believes that Rosalinde misses the creativity and adventure of her old life (and maybe her old lover, too), so that when the opportunity arises to get into a costume and perform a part, she instantly joins the fun. Unfortunately for her, she accepted the part without having read the “script”. Rosalinde is certainly in for an adventure; she is snared by this practical joke every bit as much as her husband.

Cathleen Edwards’s costume sketches for Die Fledermaus.

The joke is played out at a fabulous party in the Vienna home of a Russian, Prince Orlofsky, an enormously wealthy nineteen-year-old suffering from that malady particular to teenagers: I’ve-already-seen-it-all syndrome. This 19th century party scene is greatly dependent on summer ball gowns, and Cathleen Edwards has designed some really lovely things to float over the ballroom floor. Her costumes have been derived directly from art of the period and will shimmer when they need to, then bring us back to earth for the final scene, at least until Orlofsky and his entire party invades the jail for a bit of spontaneous fun and the final salute to champagne.

What 19th-century ball would be complete without waltzing? Not one. Choreographer Robyn Tribuzi will be working with dancers and chorus to create the beauty of the waltz as well as the vitality of the Thunder and Lightning Polka. Of course, some of these dancers will be a bit tipsy, but don’t blame them, blame it on too much champagne.

Of course, lighting will play an enormous part in creating the atmosphere that will support the lively, sparkling music, and Pamila Gray, with years of experience at lighting opera, musical comedy, and legitimate theatre ensure that you will always be aware of the emotional content as well as the dramatic direction as it develops during the course of each scene.

We have assembled a brilliant team of veteran theater-bloods who have been putting together this new production of Die Fledermaus for the past year, and as it begins to come together we are all very much looking forward to seeing this new production on stage, breathing fresh life into this classic musical comedy.

Why is that girl on stage dressed like a boy?

Former resident mezzo-soprano, Betany Coffland, as Idamante in Opera San José’s Idomeneo, photo credit: Pat Kirk, 2011

Opera San José: If you happened to see Opera San José’s productions of Idomeneo or Faust last season you might be pondering this very question, so we asked General Manager Larry Hancock to offer his insights on the evolution of trouser roles, roles that refer to any male character that is sung by a female singer, most often a mezzo soprano.  Opera audiences are asked to suspend disbelief and accept the character as male even if the singer is not, but how did the practice begin? According to Larry, we have to go back a few hundred years…

Hancock: Sexual ambiguity was rampant in opera for its first two hundred years. Opera began its history when Catholic churches were maintaining choirs with men who had been surgically altered to preserve their treble voices (women were not allowed to sing at mass, and it must have seemed a shame to lose closely trained and gifted boy sopranos just because they were turning into teenagers.) At any rate, Italy was entirely at ease with male sopranos and altos. It was then no stretch for these beautifully trained singers to make the short step from cathedrals to theatres and take on the roles of adolescent males as well as females of all ages. Except in France, where mutilating boys was thought horrific, castrati became the rock stars of the Baroque all over Europe. Even Baroque heroes sang in the treble range, from Orlando to Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great to Nero.

In modern times, Marilyn Horne and other important mezzo-sopranos brought these roles originally sung by castrati back to the stage.

(Marilyn Horne sings the title role in Vivaldi’s Orlando furiouso, San Franciso Opera, 1989)

Today we have a large number of countertenors (falsettists, not castrati), such as David Daniels, Brian Asawa, Terry Barber and many others, who are popular in the Baroque repertoire.

This practice of trouser roles has come down to modern audiences not only in Baroque operas but in many 19th-century French operas, and some others, as well. To mention a few, Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro features a mezzo-soprano in the role of fourteen-year-old Cherubino, while Gounod’s Faust features a mezzo-soprano as the adolescent Siébel.

(Frederica von Stade as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro, The Glyndebourne Festival in 1973)

Mezzo-soprano Tatiana Troyanos as “Octavian”

The same is true of Richard Strauss’s opera Der Rosenkavalier, which features a mezzo-soprano as Octavian.

Opera San José’s upcoming production of Johann Strauss’s operetta, Die Fledermaus, features a mezzo-soprano in the role of the oh-too-bored teenager, Prince Orlofsky. I have a suspicion that the reason for the 19th-century pants roles was more about seeing a woman’s legs than the quality of her voice… but that’s just an opinion.

Opera San José: And what about contemporary opera companies like Opera San José continuing the tradition of casting female singers in male roles?

According to writer Karen Finch of Suite101.com the reasons are largely historical:

Where the role was originally played by a castrato, the options are to cast a woman dressed in male costume, use a countertenor, or to drop the pitch of the role by an octave and cast a male tenor. Using the latter choice means that the dynamic and color of the role changes considerably. Countertenors are comparatively rare, so casting them is not a common solution. Using a woman offers the most authentic sound that is closest to the castrati of the time.

A second practice dates to the mid 1800s, when it was common to write leading male roles for high voices. This was after the decline of the castrati in the early 1800s, so it is thought that these parts were always intended as pants roles.

The other common tradition, which continues into contemporary operatic composition, is the casting of women as children and young adolescents, so again these parts were always intended to be played by women.

Regardless of tradition, trouser roles continue to be both a wonderful opportunity and challenge for female opera singers.  We hope you will suspend disbelief and join us for Die Fledermaus opening November 10th as resident mezzo-soprano, Nicole Birkland, and affiliate artist, Rebecca Krouner, alternate in one of the most famous trouser roles, Prince Orlofsky.

 

Interview with Cecilia Violetta López

 

Soprano Cecilia Violetta López

Cecilia Violetta López with Fellowship sponsors Profs. John Heineke and Catherine Montfort

“My parents worked as laborers in the fields near Rupert, Idaho. We kids worked alongside them. Mom would sing as she worked, so I guess you could say I was brought up to sing.” – Cecilia Violetta LópezBorn and raised in Idaho to Mexican parents, Opera San José’s new resident soprano Cecilia Violetta López discovered her passion for music as a young child when she was first introduced to mariachi music by her mother.  Her parents still live in the south central Idaho town where her mother now runs her own restaurant. Cecilia started teaching herself to play the piano as a young child and formal piano instruction began at the age of ten.  She became accomplished enough as a pianist to play in her church, and while in high school, she sang with local mariachi bands.

After graduating from high school, she moved to Las Vegas and began her work in the medical field.  She got a job as an orthopaedic assistant.  “I took out stitches, rolled casts, scheduled surgeries, that sort of thing.”  But music eventually called her.  On scholarship, she attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, majoring in music education and vocal performance, but when she was student teaching she realized “teaching was not for me, singing was.”  Studying mainly under the tutelage of Dr. Tod Fitzpatrick, Cecilia matriculated from UNLV with a Bachelors of Music in Vocal Performance.

While at UNLV López performed in her first opera singing Nella in Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.  “I am excited to now get to sing Lauretta in that same opera,” she said.  During her years at UNLV, Cecilia performed roles including Pamina (The Magic Flute), Poppea (L’incoronazione di Poppea), Gasparina (La Canterina), Kate Pinkerton (Madama Butterfly) and Micaëla (Carmen).

López chose to pursue a degree in vocal performance and she admits studying for her chosen field was intense. It included serious language preparation, mostly in Italian, French and German.  Ms. López’ additional training included traveling to Austria where she was a student in the American Institute of Musical Studies.  There she concentrated on vocal training, learning the German language and participated in master classes with Patricia Craig and Gabriele Lechner.  Ms. López furthered her training while attending the Hawai’i Performing Arts Festival working alongside mezzo-soprano, Juliana Gondek.  She continues lessons once a week with a teacher in San Francisco.

It was during her studies in the Hawai’i Performing Arts Festival in Kamuela, Hawai’i where López met former OSJ resident baritone Krassen Karagiozov.  Krassen later informed her that the company was auditioning for new artists and she should audition. López is now thrilled to be one of OSJ’s five new residents. She lives here in San José, while her husband and daughter remain in Las Vegas. “We Skype often, so that helps, and they visit me as often as they can.  My husband and daughter are both very supportive.” she said.

Her daughter Sara already has stage experience. She was in the Children’s Chorus in UNLV’s production of Carmen when she was six. “I took her to my rehearsals and finally asked her if she wanted to be in the chorus as soon as I saw that she expressed an interest in being with the other kids in the chorus, so I said okay. She showed remarkable stage presence. Soon she will start taking piano and violin lessons.”

When asked how she prepares for a role, López’s technique involves watching DVDs of the opera she is going to sing and listening to recordings.  She studies the plot and reads the background of the libretto, then reads her role in the language she will be singing and translates the words so it makes sense as a dialogue. She works with an accompanist an hour a day in addition to rehearsals, which are generally from 2:30 to 10:00 PM, with a dinner break.

Asked about her favorite singers, López sighed.  “It’s a toss-up for sopranos.  Leontyne Price or Renee Fleming.  I can’t chose. I favor Vittorio Grigolo, an Italian tenor, when it comes to male singers.”

No question about what makes a good singer as far as Cecilia Violetta López is concerned.  “Genuine passion and love for the music.  A singer who goes through the sacrifice and dedication to learn a role should eventually be able to genuinely communicate the emotions the composer is trying to portray.  Music is very powerful and has the ability to move people with beautiful melodies and harmonies.  Making music and a character personal can take it one step further and really create an illusion for the listener–pretty soon, language barriers dissappear.  If one didn’t have a personal connection with the character, it would just be pretty music, and, as we say in the field, it would be considered a ‘park and bark’ moment.”

“Music should uplift the listener, even “gloomy” music. As a listener I want to be transported to the world the composer or performer take themselves to when they are musically inspired. …when I sing, it’s like all of my emotions come out.  What I’m expressing, what I’m feeling, I want everyone, including those in the very back row, to feel.”

López, a Heineke/Montfort Fellow, loves the way the other resident artists are genuinely nice, kind, and welcoming. Preparing a different role for every opera is a challenge she looks forward to. “I am honored to be here.”

Ms. López’s professional accomplishments include the title role in Suor Angelica with Opera San Luis Obispo, a role she will be reprising this season for Opera San José and Zerlina in Don Giovanni with Opera Las Vegas.

Don’t miss Cecilia Violetta López in her debut with Opera San José as Leïla in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers, opening September 8 at the California Theatre in downtown San José.

 

Some Thoughts on The Pearl Fishers – Part III

Another Pearl Fishers challenge for a California audience is an absence of cultural awareness. Hindu thought and religious practice was a complete unknown for these Parisian librettists. Today, Indians chuckle throughout this opera at such a brilliant display of perfect ignorance. Clearly, their goal was not an accurate picture of a distant culture. The opera was modeled on Spontini’s La vestale (ancient Rome!) and Bellini’s Norma (ancient Gaul!!). The Pearl Fishers was not exactly a National Geographic special. The goal was to create an idealized exotic atmosphere, put the trouble in paradise, and invent an escape route, much like Hollywood films of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s (you get the drift). This approach is nothing new.

Now we come to the best-friends-forever relationship between Zurga and Nadir. In the 19th century, close, affectionate, friendships were highly prized, and especially so as friendships between the sexes were virtually impossible. During the course of the 20th century, especially in this country, such warm, platonic friendships have all but disappeared. We have a completely different perception of friendship, and our closest friends would more than likely appear as mere acquaintances to young adults of the 19th century. Their friendship, from our vantage point, displayed surprisingly effusive language and affection.

Last of all we come to Leïla: a woman with a past, a woman with a secret, a woman in love. What could be more intriguing than this lovely, veiled woman, the 19th-century equivalent of a vestal virgin? Every man in the village, and the women, too, must have been wondering what she looked like, where she came from, what made her special, and whether or not she could keep the dark forces of evil at bay while they were swimming with sharks. Members of the Jockey Club must have been wondering at least some of the same things from their box seats in the Théâtre Lyrique.

Leïla is listed in the score as a priestess. There are Hindu priests and priestesses, past and present, but I wonder if any of them tried to keep malevolent spirits at bay through song. However, in an idealized island paradise imagined by 19th-century Parisians, this couldn’t have been much of a stretch.

The trick to enjoy The Pearl Fishers is to enter into this lush tropical scene with the hope of hearing one of the most lavishly beautiful scores in the repertoire. Number after number is simply beautiful, deliciously beautiful, enchantingly beautiful. The choruses are in turn lively, dreamy, overwhelming, distant, and spectacular, with rich harmonies and effective rhythms. The duets are immortal, and the arias are stunning.

So, if you can forgive the cultural ignorance of the librettists and go with the flow of the plot, you might find that The Pearl Fishers is one of the most rewarding evenings you have ever spent in a theatre. We are doing all in our power to ensure that experience for you, and we do have quite a bit of experience at succeeding with The Pearl Fishers.

Thanks to Kirti Venkatasawmy (my French tutor) and Vijay Vaidyanathan (for his insightful comments).

Some Thoughts on The Pearl Fishers – Part II

Place_du_Chatelet

The Théâtre Lyrique (centre right), Paris, where The Pearl Fishers received its first performance on September 30, 1863.

Opéra comique is a specific form of theatrical entertainment. It was firmly established during the 18th century, and by the time Bizet began composing it had deeply entrenched traditions and specific audience expectations. It was light entertainment (it was not Carmen). It consisted of consistently charming music, a bit of comedy, a little romance, a confusion or obstacle that threatened the romance, and a happy ending that indicated an impending fairy-tale marriage. American musical theatre had much the same expectations until West Side Story, which also did poorly at the box office in its initial run, though not nearly so bad as Carmen.Bizet was among those who thought opéra comique needed reform. In the opinions of these young librettists and composers, opéra comique had become calcified, predictable, boring. Carmen was meant to shake up that complaisant world, inject it with excitement, bring opéra comique into the 19th century. The 19th century wasn’t quite ready. The problems with The Pearl Fishers were subtler than those of Carmen, and there were mixed opinions about Pearl Fishers. All of Paris was unanimous in their abhorrence of Carmen, but for Pearl Fishers, audiences thought one thing, musicians another, and it seems that all but one reviewer disagreed with both of them. Berlioz was the dissenting voice; he praised Bizet’s Pearl Fishers.

The Pearl Fishers was first conceived as an opéra comique, which meant spoken dialogue, charming music, a chaste romance, and a happy ending. The thing that would set this opera apart was the exotic setting (ultimately Ceylon). Conceived as a perfumed island paradise where palm trees swayed beneath a starry sky surrounded by an azure sea, it was to be the very opposite of naturalism. The obstacle to the marriage of the soprano and tenor was supposed to be easily overcome: no undue suffering. A lot of this changed, perhaps because of the development of the libretto in Act III, when the librettists decided to set fire to the village. For any thinking person, this would result in the death of the baritone, who set the fire when the whole village was already thirsting for blood. This changed a lot, but not quite everything. There were still palm trees and starry skies, and a chaste romance, but now the music had to embody an execution and a rescue.

Bizet rose to the challenge with choral music of vengeful menace, fury heightened by frenzy. This was not an ending that anyone at the time would have expected, and Bizet prepared this last chorus with a gradually increasing sense of anger and peril. Thus the critics’ accusation of being under the influence of Verdi, whose operas were seen as too violent, too tragic. Also unwelcome was the new music of Wagner, which was too thick, too complex, too powerful, not cheerful, too long. Tannhäuser caused a riot at its Paris premiere in 1861, and Bizet had just gone on public record as lauding Wagner as a composer whose work should be known and understood.

Before The Pearl Fishers opened, Bizet decided (I haven’t found his reason yet) to replace the expected spoken dialogue with sung recitative. This gave the opera a sense of through-composed music and blurred the edges of discrete musical numbers, which may have led some to think of Wagner; however, more than anything Bizet composed in The Pearl Fishers, I suspect his praise for the despised Wagner is what garnered so much sharp criticism. Still, despite the fact that the opera was no longer an opéra comique, it still retained much of that scent and atmosphere, and perhaps threw the reviewers into confusion. The public was not confused; they approved enthusiastically and called Bizet to the stage for a bow (which the critics didn’t approve of at all). The opera ran for eighteen performances (perfectly respectable), alternating with The Marriage of Figaro.

So much for the opening, now on to a social consideration…

Stay tuned for the final installment of Larry’s thoughts on Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers

Some Thoughts on The Pearl Fishers: Part I

Georges BizetThis might seem a bit random, but as I have been reading about the life of Bizet and the creation, premiere, and reception of his first full-length opera, it has occurred to me that there are a few stumbling blocks that could compromise the modern viewer’s full enjoyment of this opera. If some of these confusions could be untangled in advance, they might allow audience members to enter more fully into the 19th-century esthetic, action, and music of The Pearl Fishersand enhance the enjoyment of that experience.

Bizet’s musical legacy hinges on one opera: Carmen. Composers will tell you that Carmen is expertly, even brilliantly constructed, and musicologists will point out that it is the very first of a new kind of opera (referred to as naturalism, which was spawned by literary realism in France, and called verismo in Italy), and it led to Pagliacci, Cavalleria rusticana, La bohème, Louise, and many, many others, arguably even Tosca. This approach began in 1840s France as a literary movement that championed the depiction of life as led by ordinary people. It accepted and illustrated the idea that heredity and social conditions, such as material and emotional want, have real impact on character and the decisions one makes because life itself limits and directs one’s choices. Balzac, Zola, Murger, and Mérimée (Mérimée wrote the 1845 novella on which Bizet based his 1875 Carmen) pioneered this new way of looking at society and individuals. They turned their attention away from palaces, castles, and knights in shining armor toward slums, brothels, and even Spanish Gypsies. That Bizet’s reputation entered the 20th century based on only one opera is due to the very constraints that were illustrated in the novels that began this movement.

Bizet lived in Paris during the mid 19th century. France was still experiencing sporadic, even violent, political unrest that had been unleashed by the French revolution. He would fight in the Franco-Prussian War, when the Prussians laid siege, shelled, starved, and occupied Paris. He would gather up his new wife, Geneviève Halévy, and retreat to the countryside during the Paris Commune, when angry dissidents took over the seat of French government and set fire to major parts of the city. Art does not thrive in times like these, times of financial collapse and general upheaval. In these conditions, costly art forms flounder and opera companies die.

Bizet began something in the neighborhood of thirty operas during the course of his 36 years (he composed his first staged work at age 18 and his last at age 35), but almost all of them were abandoned. Most were thwarted by the financial problems of the companies that had begun these projects. Several of the operas that were completed did not make it to an opening because of the financial insecurity of the producing companies. The Théâtre Lyrique, the one opera company in Paris that produced the work of up-and-coming composers, closed forever in these years, and the Opéra-Comique was shut down immediately after Carmen. In truth, it was the enormous box office failure of Carmen that brought about the demise of the Opéra-Comique, and the reasons for this failure also apply, to some extent, to the poor reception of The Pearl Fishers by the French press.

Stay tuned for Part II, where Larry discusses the specific form of theatrical entertainment known as Opéra-Comique and how it affected opera audience expectations during Bizet’s time.

Choosing Silicon Valley’s ‘Opera Idol’: The Sixth Annual Irene Dalis Vocal Competition

Every spring, Silicon Valley opera and classical music fans look forward to the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition — an event that showcases ten of the very finest voices in America. The sixth annual vocal competition is coming up (next Saturday, May 19th!), and we hope that you’re planning to join us for this special event.

The ten finalists will each prepare five arias of their choice, which they feel best demonstrate their talents and abilities. When they take the stage on Saturday afternoon, each singer will select one aria and the judges will request another from their list. At the end of the afternoon, the top three voices will be awarded $15,000 for first place; $10,000 for second; and $5,000 for third. In addition, every audience member will receive a ballot with their program, to vote for their favorite singer; the Audience Choice winner receives a check for $5,000!

A distinguished panel of judges is invited to select the top three winners of the competition. This year’s panel includes Henry Akina, General Director and Artistic Director of Hawaii Opera Theatre; Ward Holmquist, Artistic Director of the Lyric Opera of Kansas City; and Brad Trexell, Director of Artistic Operations of Opera Colorado.

Past winners of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition have gone on to highly successful careers in opera. To count down the final days before this year’s competition, we’ll be running a week-long series featuring the winners of the first five vocal competitions starting on Monday May 14th. See you at IDVC 2012!

The winners of the 2011 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Alexandra LoBianco; photo by Bob Shomler, 2011

OSJ Fans, we begin our countdown of past winners of the Irene Dalis Vocal Competition with the year 2011. Last year’s first place and Audience Choice winner, Alexandra LoBianco (soprano), also took first place at the 2011 Liederkranz Vocal Competition in New York City. Ms. LoBianco recently sang the role of Cio-Cio San in Baltimore Concert Opera’s performance of Madama Butterfly, and Kitty Hart for Tulsa Opera’s production of Dead Man Walking. In the coming season, she will be making her debut with Madison Opera in October, singing the role of Amelia in Verdi’s A Masked Ball, and embarking on a major European tour in December.

Last year’s 2nd and 3rd place winners were gentlemen who are near and dear to Opera San José. We were pleased to welcome Evan Brummel (baritone) to the resident artist ensemble in the 2011-12 season (he thrilled audiences with his performances in Pagliacci, La traviata and Faust), and delighted in having former resident Christopher Bengochea (tenor) back on stage at the California for our company premiere of Mozart’s Idomeneo. Mr. Brummel will be returning as a resident in the 2012-13 season, and we’re looking forward to his performance in The Pearl Fishers, opening in September.

OSJ fans also delighted in seeing resident soprano Jouvanca Jean-Baptiste win the 2011 Wagnerian award after a blockbuster first season that included “fearless” performances in Anna Karenina, Tosca and La bohème. Ms. Jean-Baptiste continued to win rave reviews in the 2011-2012 season, with roles in Pagliacci, La traviata and Faust.

Join us tomorrow, for a catch-up with the winners of the 2010 competition!

The winners of the 2010 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Danielle Talamantes; photo by Bob Shomler, 2010

Following her 1st place and Audience Choice wins in the 2010 competition, Danielle Talamantes (soprano) was signed to a full cover contract with the Metropolitan Opera for the 2010-2011 season. Ms. Talamantes is a soprano in residence for this summer’s Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, and next season she will be covering the role of the Flower Maiden in the Met’s 2013 production of Wagner’s Parsifal. She will also be appearing with the National Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorale in Maryland this winter, as a soloist for Handel’s Messiah and Poulenc’s Gloria.

Jonathan Beyer (baritone), 2nd place winner in 2010, has gone on to perform with Opera Hong Kong, Oper Frankfurt, Knoxville Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, the Chicago Symphony, and recently sang the role of Wagner for the 2011 Metropolitan Opera production of Faust. In the month prior to the vocal competition, Mr. Beyer sang the role of Gardiner in the world premiere of Jake Heggie’s Moby Dick¬ with The Dallas Opera. In 2012, audiences will be able to see Mr. Beyer on stages from Boston, Texas and Virginia to Italy, France and Germany.

Jerett Gieseler (baritone), 3rd place winner in 2010, recently made debut performances as Zurga in Hawaii Opera Theater’s production of The Pearl Fishers, and Escamillo in with Opera Roanoke’s Carmen. Last year, in addition to performances of La bohème with Stockton Opera, Mr. Gieseler sang for the Neue Sinfonieorchester Berlin and made his debut in his homestate of Michigan, singing Figaro for Opera Grand Rapids’ production of The Barber of Seville.

The winners of the 2009 Irene Dalis Vocal Competition: where are they now?

Irene Dalis and Jordan Shanahan; photo by Bob Shomler, 2009

Jordan Shanahan (baritone), winner of the 2009 vocal competition 1st place and Audience Choice awards, went on to the Metropolitan Opera stage where he has sung in five productions, including the roles of Kallenbach in Satyagraha by Philip Glass, and Robert Oppenheimer in Dr. Atomic by John Adams. In addition to numerous performances and competition wins, he was profiled by industry magazine Opera News in 2010, and can be heard on two recordings of the music of Thomas Pasatieri: the Grammy nominated Divas of a Certain Ageand Songbook.

Of course, opera fans know that Mr. Shanahan’s wife, Audrey Luna (soprano), is an opera star in her own right. The 3rd place winner of the 2009 vocal competition, Ms. Luna was profiled in the April 2012 edition of Opera News. In the 2010-11 season, she made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, and Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos, and will return to their stage next season as Ariel in The Tempest.

Gregory Caroll (tenor) was the 2nd place vocal competition winner in 2009. Last year, in addition to principal roles with Spokane Opera, Opera Cleveland, Opera Lyra Ottawa and the Canadian Opera Company (among others!), he also sang in the San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program Schwabacher Summer Concert series, and covered the role of Neptune for Metropolitan Opera’s production of Enchanted Island. This summer, Mr. Carroll’s engagements will include Radamès (Aida) for Den Norske Opera in Oslo, Norway, and covering the roles of Pinkerton (Madame Butterfly) and Cavaradossi (Tosca) for Los Angeles Opera.