Wolf Trap Opera

The Future of Opera

August 15, 2014
by Kim

Spotlight on the Studio!

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Last night’s Studio Spotlight performance for Wolf Trap Members was a rousing success. These terrific undergrad and first-year grad singers outdid themselves in a program directed by Alison Moritz, conducted by Stephanie Rhodes, and played by Emily Senturia and Michael Sherman.

They did outstanding work in a summer that included chorus assignments in three operas, an Instant Opera project, the Les Six concert of French vocal music, supporting roles in Les mamelles de Tirésias (tickets still available for tomorrow night!) and countless seminars and coachings. This morning, they were here in audition attire starting at 10:30 for auditions in front of our guest panel of VIPs from four opera companies and two management firms. They have our admiration, respect and gratitude!

Flight (Dove)
Opening Scene: “Look! Up there…Darling!”
Refugee – G. Thomas Allen
Controller – Evan Kardon
Bill – Joshua Sanders
Tina – Liv Redpath


Eugene Onegin (Tchaikovsky)
Act I, Scenes 5-6: “Mesdames! Ya na sebya vzyal smyelost…Kak shchastliv”
Lenski – Michael Anderson
Onegin – Harry Greenleaf
Larina – Anna Engländer
Tatiana – Nicolette Book
Olga – Megan Samarin


Zaide (Mozart)
Trio: “O selige Wonne”
Zaide – Annalise Dzwonczyk
Gomatz – Joshua Sanders
Allazim – Alex Rosen


Il barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini)
“Oh cielo!…All’idea di quel metallo”
Almaviva – Martin Clark
Figaro – Harry Greenleaf


Die Zauberflöte (Mozart)
Act I Quintet: “Hm! hm! hm!”
Papageno – Alex Rosen
Tamino – Eric Ferring
First Lady – Nicolette Book
Second Lady – Megan Samarin
Third Lady – Anna Engländer


Pelléas et Mélisande (Debussy)
Act II, Scene 1: “Vous ne savez pas”
Pelléas – Harry Greenleaf
Mélisande – Anna Engländer


Le nozze di Figaro (Mozart)
Act I Recit, Aria, Trio: “Va là…Non so più…Cosa sento!”
Susanna – Evan Kardon
Cherubino – Kara Sainz
Count – Michael Adams
Basilio – Martin Clark


Carmen (Bizet)
Quintet: “Nous avons en tête une affaire”
Dancaïro – Michael Adams
Frasquita – Liv Redpath
Mercédès – Kara Sainz
Remendado – Michael Anderson
Carmen – Megan Samarin


Orfeo ed Euridice (Gluck)
Act III Recit, Aria, Finale: “Ecco un nu0vo tormento…Che farò…Trionfi Amore”
Orfeo – G. Thomas Allen
Euridice – Liv Redpath
Amore – Annalise Dzwonczyk


Tirésias & Matelot – Take a Peek!

August 6, 2014 by Kim | 0 comments

Last night’s final technical rehearsal was a true delight. Slide shows below.

The double bill is not to be missed; if you don’t have your tickets, you should really do something about that. Seriously. It’s 35 minutes of dark Cocteau drama with jazz-infused Milhaud, followed by an hour of eye-popping surrealism and fizzy Poulenc. And you’re out the door by 9:30. :)

Le pauvre matelot (If you can’t see the slideshow, go here.)

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Les mamelles de Tirésias (If you can’t see the slideshow, go here.)

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This gallery contains 45 photos

July 29, 2014
by Kim

Au revoir, Carmen

Well, that happened. Personal bests from our singers, an unbelievably beautiful summer night, and 6,000 souls in the audience. Hundreds of people onstage and off pulled our little company through its biggest project of the year, and it was a night to remember.

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View from the stage at curtain time

We got a lot of press (good, bad, rarely indifferent…) for the technological elements we incorporated into the audience experience. During Carmen, we allowed lawn patrons to choose to receive supertitle translations on their personal devices (phones, tablets, Google Glass), and we captured stage-perspective (and backstage) videos and photos then downloaded them to the internet. (If you’re interested, check out the footage here.)

Opera is a venerable art form, and tinkering with it is not for the faint of heart. Truthfully, if I were reading about all of this without having experienced it firsthand, I would probably be skeptical, too. But once the noise dies down, two true things remain. First, my team and I have a deep abiding love for this art form, and we went to extraordinary lengths to see that none of these ancillary activities in any way jeopardized or trivialized the opera itself. For after all, it’s the singing and the story that are the Main Thing. Second, these extra little innovations drew attention to opera (no mean feat in this crowded information age) and attracted some new audience members. We could do worse.

I’ve been blessed with a bad memory. It delivers me from the temptation to look backward, to wax nostalgic, to yearn for the way things were. It forces me to live in the present and keep an ear to the future, and it demands always stretching toward what might be. We identify our company as “The Future of Opera,” for we exist to further the careers of the fabulously talented young singers on our roster. But this new generation of singers needs a new generation of patrons: people who are just as inquisitive, inspired, and dedicated. It’s incumbent on us to continually reinvent the culture around our art form so that the doors remain open. Once they get inside, some of them will stay for the singing. And that’s all that matters in the end.

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July 24, 2014
by Kim

Carmen, 3:54am

Producing opera is rarely a quiet endeavor. Except in overnight lighting cue sessions in outdoor theatres.

White noise from backstage fans. Modulated voices over headsets. Night sounds from the wildlife. Quiet conversations from the light-walking Assistant Stage Managers.

Tomorrow, the music continues, but for now, this is enough.

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July 20, 2014
by Kim

Carmen: Leaving the Room

We now leave the rehearsal room, that place that saw this production come to life and is now too small to hold it. It’s on to the Kennedy Center (orchestra rehearsals Tuesday and Wednesday) and the Filene Center stage (tech rehearsals Wednesday and Thursday night.)

I’ve been busier than usual in recent weeks and haven’t witnessed as many rehearsals as I would’ve liked. As a result, I was unprepared for the force of what hit me during yesterday’s final “room run.” I can’t quite find the right words to convey my enthusiasm about this production, so I’ll simply share a few photos from this weekend. If a run-through in a bare room with rehearsal props, random costume pieces and piano accompaniment was this powerful, then the implications for Friday night are wondrous.

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Bring on the National Symphony Orchestra, the projections, the costumes, the lights, the choruses… and you. See you there.


And the House was Full of Song

July 20, 2014 by Kim | 0 comments

We had some food for the soul as we prepared for Carmen tech week: two afternoons of A Houseful of Song with Steven Blier, Ying Fang, Renée Rapier, Eric Jurenas, Robert Watson and Tobias Greenhalgh. Ably assisted by David Hanlon, staged by Alison Moritz, lit by Robert H. Grimes and stage managed by Madeline Levy. A slideshow for your enjoyment.

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This gallery contains 24 photos

July 18, 2014
by Kim

Carmen 2.0 – Part Three

… in which Google Glasses meet Opera Glasses.

DropboxIn Part Two of this series, I mentioned that after I followed up on a Google Glass Explorer invitation last year, a bunch of us sat around Wolf Trap and brainstormed ways in which we could take advantage of wearable tech in the performing arts world. Those of us in opera made what seemed an obvious connection: the potential for Glass to lead the way in the development of the next wave of supertitle translation technology.

A Brief History

Before 1983, if you went to the opera, you had to really do some boning up on the plot and characters or be satisfied to go with the flow and appreciate the larger, emotionally broad aspects of the music and the singing.

carouselFirst Generation: In 1983, the Canadian Opera Company became the first to use projected supertitles (trademarked “Surtitles” since they were above (in French, “sur”) the stage instead of below like movie subtitles. The trend spread quickly. I was a supertitle operator during the first phase of my career at Washington National Opera and at Wolf Trap. In the old days, we used Kodak slide carousels, and creating the slides was a fairly expensive and labor-intensive process. (My earliest Wolf Trap memories were of keeping the trays of slides under electric blankets in the control booth so the condensation from the summer humidity wouldn’t ruin them:))

SeatbackLCDSecond Generation: In 1995, the Metropolitan Opera, in conjunction with Figaro Systems, rolled out seatback titles. This wonderful invention allows the patron to glance at the top of the seat in front of him, rather than tilting his head back to see a screen at the top of the stage. And it allows the user to customize translations, choosing among a menu of options instead of just English. Seatback titles also spread, but more slowly. They are an amazing thing, but because of the hardware installations required, they are prohibitively expensive for most of us.

Screenshot 2014-07-17 22.36.39Almost 20 years later, MobiTxtushers in the Third Generation of supertitles. Google Glass has given us a glimpse of what the future might hold regarding wearable tech that will allow the user to seamlessly incorporate translations into her field of vision. Of course, very few of us are on the bleeding edge of technology, and most of us don’t wear Glass. The terrific thing about MobiTxt™ is that it also works on mobile phones and tablets.

The Great Carmen Lawn Experiment

I’m sure your head is spinning. Cell phones in the opera audience? No worries, we are staying one step ahead of you.

We’re setting aside a large portion of the lawn that is device-free, so that if you don’t want anyone near you using their phone or Glass, you can still enjoy the performance without these distractions. The supertitle display is white text on a black background, so screen bleed is minimal. And the wifi network that hosts the supertitles is a closed one (no internet access.) The wifi signal won’t be available in the house, so device use will be discouraged there, as is the typical practice.

A Creative Community

Opera has an old school, status quo reputation, but there are wonderfully entrepreneurial and creative folks in our business. When we first started flirting with Glass, we turned to Thomas Rhodes, a member of the Fort Worth Opera team. Thomas has been out there at the forefront of opera and new tech, and we knew he’d be able to advise us on which of our colleagues had already done some work in this area. Sure enough, he connected us with Eric Einhorn (a director with whom we had already had the pleasure of collaborating), who was planning a test of MobiTxt wireless supertitles for a June 2014 performance of Pygmalion by his innovative company On Site Opera. We put all of our heads together on the next step, and we ended up here!

No one knows where this will lead, but the journey itself is good news.

Countdown to Carmen

The blog will be buzzing over this next week, with regular and increasingly frequent updates leading up to July 25. Come along for the ride.

July 18, 2014
by Kim

Carmen 2.0 – Part Two

Pogue GlassDavid Pogue is going to be in my opera!!! OMG!!!

Sorry. Had to get the fangirl reaction out of the way. I know there are opera lovers out there who toil away providing valuable science and engineering services to society, many of whom wish they had continued with piano lessons and become musicians. I sit here on the other side, having made music my livelihood, occasionally wishing I had followed my math muse and become a different kind of nerd.

Glass: Our Back Story

I followed up on a Google Glass Explorer invitation last year, and a bunch of us sat around Wolf Trap, brainstorming ways in which wearable tech might make a unique contribution to our performing arts world. We discussed and abandoned many things, but two themes resonated for us. The first: the potential for Glass to lead the way in the development of the next wave of supertitle translation technology. (Explored in Part Three of this blog series.) The second: the ability of Glass to be assimilated into complicated environments in order to share first-person perspectives not available to the average Joe.

I was inspired by the story of a real-world explorer who was incorporating Glass into his work in Antarctica. He relishes the ability this technology affords him to share his truly unique point of view with the world, and he feels it enhances his storytelling when he shares his experiences. Now, I’m no wilderness adventurer. But I am part of a small community of arts professionals who share the experience of being inside the complicated, energetic and fascinating machine that is a professional opera production. And although I can gush (and have done so) about the excitement of a performance night, words don’t always suffice. So we decided to take our audience with us on this Carmen ride, #throughGlass.

Carmen #throughGlass

David Pogue is the perfect man for this particular job. He got a music degree, worked on Broadway, wrote Opera for Dummies, was the New York Times tech correspondent and founded Yahoo Tech. He will be the first Glass-wearing Spanish gypsy opera super in the history of the world, and next Friday, he will share his Carmen experience with all of us. David and several WTO production staff members will use Glass to record short video snippets and take photos all the way from the makeup chair to the stage to the curtain calls.

We will not be filming an entire opera with Glass, and you will not be able to experience large portions of the performance this way. Because after all, this additional point-of-view is an enhancement of the actual opera. It is not the thing itself. (Forgot what The Main Thing is? Go back here.) It’s an add-on; a bit of texture that will give patrons an idea of what goes on behind the scenes and how it feels to be on the large Filene Center stage surrounded by over 200 instrumentalists and singers. And since Glass is wearable, it is easily integrated into the theatrical environment.

A few words about the mechanics, for those of you who are interested: We will upload content periodically to both our Google Plus page (plus.google.com/+WTOpera) and our Facebook page (facebook.com/WolfTrapOperaCompany). There will be new content available at three different points: before the show starts at 8:15 (check it out while you picnic), during intermission (around 9:35) and after the show (about 10:45).

Next installment: The Story, Right in Your Hands. But before that, enjoy this look at last month’s tech load-in of Giulio Cesare at The Barns, #throughGlass, courtesy of Technical Director Tim McCormick.

July 17, 2014
by Kim

Carmen 2.0 – Part One

La Traviata-23I have been facing inward these last few weeks, preparing the Great Ship Carmen for its sailing. Battening down the hatches, clearing the decks, all those things. But now it’s time to bring all of you into the excitement as we head toward this one-night-only event in Wolf Trap’s beautiful amphitheater, the Filene Center. (photo from last year’s performance of La traviata)

This is the first of three posts addressing the various additional opportunities we’re offering our audience next Friday night. If you’re a press release kind of person, go here for just the facts. If you want my highly unscientific subjective take on all of this, keep on reading.

First, A Word about the Main Thing

We are pulling out all the stops for an exciting performance of one of the most popular operas of all time. The music – lush, dramatic, effervescent – will be performed by the best of a new generation of opera singers, in collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra. Scenic punch will be provided by custom-designed projections on a 60-foot-wide screen and a new costume design with vivid Mediterranean colors. Drama will be delivered in spades by a cast of which I am already extremely proud. This is the Main Thing. It’s a a substantial thing, steeped in history and enhanced by young talent and energy. It stands on its own, requires no apologies or further gussying up. We never lose sight of it.

Next, the News

So why are we layering on all of these bells and whistles? Why are we offering Google Glass views from the stage and behind the scenes with our tech-celebrity-super David Pogue? (Details in Part 2 of this blog series.) Why are we delivering supertitles (English translations) via wifi to Google Glass and smartphones on the lawn? (See Part 3.) Thank you for allowing me to explain.

The extent to which 21st-century technology touches most of our lives is nothing short of astounding. And as we all know (and are mostly learning the hard way…), this is not always a good thing. I do believe that one of opera’s biggest assets is its lack of dependance on “technology.” Opera is a long-form, immersive, single-minded, almost meditative art, and it can provide an antidote to the skittish fast-forward feeling we get from the digital parts of our days. It’s incumbent on us who know and love this quirky and extreme form of expression not to apologize for it or succumb to the temptation to consider inferior to pop culture.

OK, OK, I know… That last paragraph was written by a woman who wants to put Google Glass in her opera next week? Seriously? Yes.

Will these kinds of experiments convert legions of opera fans? Of course not. We are a people who love the raw beauty and power of the naked human voice. You might come for the bells and whistles (or the Glass or the wireless supertitles), but you’re going to stay for the singing and the story-telling. So what in the world are we doing? We are, bluntly, reimagining our gateway drugs. We are identifying the entry points to our art form and wrestling them to the ground so they have fewer hard edges, brick walls or scary gaping holes.

If you are reading this, you probably love opera. (Or you love someone who does.:)) And every day, one of you is introducing a new fan to opera. It has always been thus and will hopefully always be. But potential opera lovers are not touched by our culture at large in the same way they used to be. Back in the day, media outlets gave serious ink, air time and credibility to critics and cultural emissaries who were able to shape the national discussion. Now, everyone is his own curator. Crowd-sourcing can be a great thing, but if the option of Carmen never makes it in front of your eyes, well, it simply doesn’t exist. For that, we are dependent on 21st-century media (professional and social). And getting the attention of that media requires increasingly new ideas, creative tweaks, unusual hooks.

This might sound crass to you, but it’s a perfectly normal part of life for those of us who love niche art forms and struggle to get them noticed. This is not new. And the simple act of aligning “technology” with one of Western music’s oldest art forms can seem incongruous. The incongruity isn’t the point, but it can sometimes grab the attention of people who aren’t already looking in our direction.

21st-century audiences are used to context, texture, and many layers of engagement. People who want to try on opera for size need to be able to do so in an environment that has some familiarity; increasingly, that means an environment that is wired and connected. Will some of these dabblers mature into opera lovers who can disappear for hours upon end into music that transports them to another place and time? Perhaps a few of them will. But I don’t know that it’s fair to expect them to start there.

It’s not easy for us to engage in this fast-moving cultural transition, but we have to do it. Technology is not the point. (Remember where we started, paragraphs ago? No? Then scroll up and review The Main Thing.) Technology is just a tool. But unless we exercise this muscle, we won’t figure out how to use this tool or be able to make an informed decision about whether we should.

Next: The Glass-Eye View of Carmen. Stay tuned.