Wolf Trap Opera

The Future of Opera

March 31, 2014
by Kim

Slicing and Dicing

WP_20140331_003The scissors have been out for the entire month of March. A beautiful opera that lasts more than four hours must be trimmed. (And as so many of us know personally after a long winter of cold and sloth, trimming is hard work…) Yet, the musical scissors must be wielded, and almost an hour’s worth of music must go.

Now, I know there are those of you in my readership who are screaming “WHY?!?” And I can certainly empathize. I know Handel’s Julius Caesar pretty well. Probably a little too well. Around almost every corner lies music that I can’t bear to part with. But for many different reasons, it is important that our version come in somewhere between 3 and 3 ¼ hours.

Enjoying Baroque operas in their full-length uncut glory is a wonderful thing.  So why do we cut? I’m oversimplifying a bit, but I have two different motivations. And they don’t come in the order you might expect:

First and most important, expectations of a modern audience are wildly different than in Handel’s day. If you went to opera in the mid-18th-century, you probably didn’t do so after working a 10-day hour day. And you certainly didn’t sit quietly in the dark. You could move around and stretch, eat, talk, probably even play cards.  Of course, we’ve gained a lot with our modern opera decorum. (For example, you can actually hear most of the opera.) But the length and quality of sustained attention now required is dramatically different than what Handel imagined, and we want our audiences to experience the beauty and passion of this opera without feeling as if it’s an exercise in stamina.

Second, operas get more and more expensive the longer they go on. Not only in terms of performance costs, but also on the rehearsal side. And for a small frugal company, it’s important to focus resources so that things don’t sprawl too severely and can be done well. Most of our singers are debuting their roles (not just in Julius Caesar, but across the board), and trimming a Baroque role allows them to focus their efforts and energies, too. When they move on to do an uncut (or a slightly fatter) version elsewhere, it’s a luxury for them to be able to draw on this very focused experience and add just a bit to it.

The dangers in this process are numerous and not insignificant. Balance and proportion are key. The trimmed version must have integrity when viewed from many different perspectives – the presence and strength of each character in each act, the balance of different tempi and affects, the structural importance of the da capo aria (more on that in a subsequent post), the momentum and architecture of the story. For if an opera’s cut are ill-advised, the whole thing can backfire, and the performance will actually feel longer

I sometimes feel as if I’ve been given the gift of a fabulous family vacation but I have to choose to leave some of the children at home… But they’ll be fine, right? :)

March 28, 2014
by Kim
1 Comment

Tickets. On Sale. March 29.

Yeah, I know it’s cold. And wet. And dark. But summer is right around the corner…

2014 season tickets go on sale tomorrow – Saturday, March 29 at 10am !


Wolf Trap Opera homepage

Carmen… Outdoors at Wolf Trap’s beautiful amphitheatre. Just thinking about an opera picnic makes me happy right about now.

Giulio Cesare… Handel at The Barns is a beautiful thing.

Poulenc & Milhaud Double Bill… An intimate drama (Le pauvre matelot and one of the craziest times you’ll have at an opera house (Les mamelles de Tirésias.)

Houseful of Song with Steven Blier… Songs for the bedroom, the salon, the kitchen, the bathroom…

Aria Jukebox … Choose-your-own-operatic-adventure with me, the 2014 Artists and special guest Eric Owens (!)

Beethoven’s Ninth... Our singers appear with The Philadelphia Orchestra. Freude!!!

And more.

March 20, 2014
by Kim
1 Comment

Opera’s Silent Spring

On this vernal equinox, I was planning on getting you on the Wolf Trap Opera Handel train with a juicy post about the controversial process of deciding on musical cuts for our upcoming Giulio Cesare production. But I’ve been stopped in my tracks by yesterday’s opera news out of San Diego and the corresponding outpouring from my friends and colleagues. So I shall digress.

It’s been a long hard slog. Opera Cleveland, Opera Boston, San Antonio Opera, New York City Opera, Baltimore Opera… now San Diego. I guess we could be forgiven for some world weariness, and I guess I wouldn’t have been surprised if today’s Facebook and Twitter feeds were sort of fatalistic about this last closure. To the contrary: The vehemence and emotion is overwhelming. It almost seems more violent than during last fall’s NYCO death spiral. Perhaps we can no longer as easily hide behind the 2008 recession as the primary reason. Perhaps it’s just more maddening that a company with no overt signs of financial illness would shutter so apparently suddenly. Perhaps we’re finally being pushed over the edge.

It took me over an hour tonight to read all of the various outpourings on my Facebook feed. These weren’t rants; they were astonishingly thoughtful and deeply felt messages and comments. And they seem to run in three big threads.

First, frustration with financial models. Controversies over and challenges with budget management, artist compensation, overhead, ticket sales, contributed income, all of it. This I won’t touch here, for it’s too complex and fraught. But it’s a frequent source of anger among those people who depend on opera for their livelihood.

Second, the change in how children are (well, mostly aren’t) introduced to and involved with music while they’re of school age. This thread is closely related to a discussion of the increasingly exponentially fast changes in the way we consume culture – high and low. There’s a lot of sorrow and anger about how music isn’t part of our kids’ education any more. I get it, I do. But I’m also married to a teacher. And I see the almost complete futility of hanging the future of opera in this country on this particular issue. I empathize with the heart of this argument, but even though it would be noble to tilt at this windmill, I won’t. It’s all wrong, but it’s bigger than us.

And then, there’s the part of the discussion to which I feel I can contribute. It’s focused on those people who are predisposed to love opera, and who probably would’ve become fans in an earlier generation. The ones who crave our particular brand of expression, drama, music, and art. They are intellectually and emotionally curious, and their psyches resonate sympathetically with our art form. No, opera is not for everyone, but it is and always has been for these people. And somehow fewer and fewer of them seem to be finding us. Or if they do, something is proving to be enough of a liability to keep them from coming back and forming a long-term relationship. This is the problem I feel compelled to try to help solve.

We are planning to recruit a small group of opera newbies to participate in a study that will span Wolf Trap Opera’s 2014 season. At the end of it, we hope to have some frank, sobering and potentially useful data on why we might not be making fans out of people who are in our sweet spot. The whole classical music business has been running in circles these last few years trying every new toy to appeal to pop culture sensibilities. But I increasingly feel that we’re chasing after the wrong people in the wrong way.

More details as we get our process in place. Till then, I feel compelled to leave you on a positive note. Although this news and these trends are certainly disturbing, they are balanced by a constantly surprising amount of passion, good intentions, energy, optimism and sheer love that opera folk – artists, worker bees, and fans – have for this crazy thing we do. It must be worthwhile if it can capture the imagination of such marvelous people. And these people will find a way to get to the heart of the problem and chart a course for our next chapter.

March 11, 2014
by Kim

Handel, Bizet, Milhaud & Poulenc!

There is so much to tell you. And very shortly, I will do so. Until then, this is a great place to start: www.wolftrap.org/opera

2014 will bring us a new roster of fabulous principal singers, a talented group of Studio Artists, an iconic Baroque opera, a top-ten grand opera in the amphitheatre, and two rare French gems. And more, of course.

I’ll be back in a few days to tell stories of how we got here and what to expect at Wolf Trap Opera this summer. Tickets are on sale now to Wolf Trap members and become available to the general public on March 29.

Got a few more minutes? I would like to introduce the 2014 Filene Young Artists! Click on the headshots for more information on each of them.

MireilleAsselin_sopranoTracyCox_sopranoYingFang_soprano MelindaWhittington_soprano MayaLahyani_mezzo-sopranoRenéeRapier_mezzo-sopranoCarolynSproule_mezzo-sopranoVirginieVerrez_mezzo-sopranoJohnHoliday_countertenorEricJurenas_countertenorKevinRay_tenorRobertWatson_tenorNorman_Garrett_baritoneTobiasGreenhalgh_baritone JooWonKang_baritoneJeongcheolCha_bass-baritoneRyanSpeedoGren_bass-baritone

Left to right,
by row:

Sopranos Mireille Asselin, Tracy Cox, Ying Fang & Melinda Whittington

Mezzo-sopranos Maya Lahyani, Renée Rapier, Carolyn Sproule & Virginie Verrez 

Countertenors John Holiday & Eric Jurenas 

Tenors Kevin Ray & Robert Watson 

Baritones Norman Garrett, Tobias Greenhalgh & Joo Won Kang 

Bass-baritones Jeongcheol Cha & Ryan Speedo Green

March 3, 2014
by Kim

Done with Winter Yet?

2013-12-14 10.39.05-2

When we learned that the best date for Ryan McKinny to sing Schubert’s hauntingly beautiful Winterreise at The Barns this season was March 7, I thought that perhaps we would all be consumed by spring fever by this time of the year. Guess I was wrong. And although I am as ready for warmer temperature as any of you, it’s somehow fitting that I spend this office-is-closed-snow-day at home with my piano, the composer Schubert and the poet Müller, absorbing the remaining lessons that winter has to teach me.

2014-02-13 16.17.13-2

All of the Winterreise podcasts are now up here. You can listen to them directly from the web page. They’re between 3 and 10 minutes long; feel free to dip in and out. They are the completely subjective result of my own preparation to take this journey. (Over thirty years since I did so the last time…)

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My husband and I are renovating a cabin in the West Virginia hills, and I spent the Presidents Day storm snowbound there for a couple of days. It was perfect inspiration to dive deeper into this story (post photos are from that weekend.)

If you are developing cabin fever and have time to join us on Friday night, there are indeed still some tickets available.

February 18, 2014
by Kim

Winterreise: Chapter 1

Come with me on a winter journey. Yes, most of us are longing for spring. But there are still many beautiful and touching things that winter has to say to us before it goes.

Ryan McKinny and I have the privilege and pleasure of bringing Schubert’s Winterreise to The Barns on Friday, March 7. If you’re reading this from the DC area, I urge you to join us. As I prepare by immersing myself in this journey in song, I will be posting a series of 5 podcasts. Today’s entry: Songs 1 through 5.

Podcast musical excerpts by bass-baritone Ryan McKinny and pianist Sharolyn Kimmorley, from the 2010 Sydney Festival

February 14, 2014
by Kim
1 Comment


There are so many exciting things I can’t tell you yet about summer 2014…  But even though I can’t spill the beans until March 11, there are other stories to share while we wait.

Today, a shout out to someone who had a bigger impact on Wolf Trap than anyone I know. A few weeks ago, we celebrated the retirement of my boss Ann McKee, our Senior VP for Performing Arts & Education. Ann started her Wolf Trap career with the Opera Company in 1975, and she proceeded to crank out 39 years of unparalleled dedication, unflagging support, hard core enthusiasm, and tireless effort. (Her effect on my detail orientation surfaces even now as I debate the use of an Oxford comma in that previous sentence.) She believed in me when I was a musician making a mid-career transition to administration, and she climbed a whole bunch of mountains that solidified Wolf Trap’s reputation and made it the healthy robust organization it is.

So I want to point you here, even though this smacks a bit of self-promotion (a necessity in our business, of course, but something I generally steer clear of on the blog.) To honor Ann’s service to Wolf Trap, the Foundation has created an endowment fund in her name. And the Opera Company is extremely honored by her decision to target those funds in our direction in order to support future generations of young artists. Donations to the fund carry a beautiful 50% match, and gestures of all sizes are more than welcome. A fabulous way to thank a fabulous lady.

Looking ahead: I promise to tear myself away from the riveting work of generating artist contracts to share some of my thoughts as I prepare for Winterreise with Ryan McKinny. I know, I know… enough with winter already. But if you’re in the DC area on March 7, you really should come to The Barns. All of this snow and cold has made prep for this concert almost an organic, inevitable process. Many things are learned in the winters of our souls and our lives, and Schubert sheds beautiful light on them.

January 24, 2014
by Kim
1 Comment

Save the Dates!

The 2014 Season

While we wait for our complete season announcement in early March, I realize that many of our loyal fans are trying to work us into their busy summer travel schedules. To that end, I offer up these dates for summer 2014, just in case it helps! I know that repertoire would be helpful too, but we’re not quite there yet…  Allowing our choice of artists to shape the selection of repertoire is a critical part of our mission and an important part of our success, but it does mean that we aren’t able to get everything ready until late winter.

I do hope that I’ll see many of you at Wolf Trap this summer. We have a brilliant group of singers and some fascinating productions cooking. And it doesn’t hurt to dream about a time when the temperature stays out of the single digits for more than a few hours at a time…

Opera at The Barns

  • June 27, 29 & July 1
  • August 8, 10 & 16

Opera at the Filene Center

  • July 25

Recitals & Concerts

  • July 13
  • July 19 & 20