Wolf Trap Opera

The Future of Opera

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

 

January 21, 2014
by Kim
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The Best Friends of All

Screenshot 2014-01-21 20.09.08.pngLast weekend I had the honor of performing at a memorial service for two of Wolf Trap Opera’s longest and dearest friends, Keith and Barbara Severin. Today’s brief post is dedicated to them and to all of the beautiful people out there who donate their resources, time, energy and efforts to help sustain and promote companies like ours.

Our industry is pretty obsessed with attracting young patrons. Ideally, this obsession is focused on giving students and young adults a chance to discover opera so that some of them (let’s be real here: just a few of them, as opera is an amazing but very specific taste) can begin their lifelong love affair with Verdi. But too often our pursuit of youth careens out of control. One day we turn around and realize that we’re completely focused on trying to appeal to 20-somethings. And when we fail (as we will do in this exercise, again and again), that sense of failure seeps into our culture. Into our work. If the Millennials don’t flock into the theatre, something must be wrong.

Sorry; that was a little harsh. Of course, it’s incumbent on us to connect with every generation in a way that gives them a chance to get acquainted with opera. Not for a minute would I suggest that we close our art form off in a historical bubble with nary a thought about our future audience. What I do hate, though, is the way that the pursuit of all things hip has the potential to kick our current sustaining generation to the curb.

For sure, it’s flattering for a fusty old art form to brush itself off enough to be attractive to a busy younger generation. But every time I learn more about the fascinating lives lived by our older donors and patrons, I am struck by a feeling of gratitude and humility that these people choose to support us. These people, who have made a lifetime of valuable and varied contributions to the world around us – they choose us. Talk about being flattered.

I wasn’t sure where I was going with this, but I think I won’t edit it too severely. Please accept it in the spirit in which is was offered. And remember to thank all of the Keiths and Barbaras who lavish seemingly unending good will on your efforts.

December 24, 2013
by Kim
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Buone Feste, Amici!

Warm winter wishes go out to all of you from your friends at Wolf Trap!

Christmas came early here at WTOC, in the form of the news that we will be adding a new person to our year-round team. Know anyone who wants to help us make opera magic and promote the best amazing young talent in the business? Job posting here.

I’ll be back in 2014. Happy New Year, all!

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December 12, 2013
by Kim
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Aria Frequency: Observations

Today’s post is for those of you who are fans of the Aria Frequency Lists, my annual autumn accounting of the popularity of various audition arias. Our audition application website captures singers’ arias lists (or “packages”) in a way that allows us to churn out this data every year. (For those of you who wonder why we don’t use Yap Tracker: this is one of the reasons.)

Curl up with some hot chocolate. This will take a while.

Lists on the left of the graphics reflect the frequency with which singers included arias in their 4-aria “package.” Lists on the right show how often certain arias were offered as first choices in the audition room.

SOPRANOS

SopranoObservations…

Mozart

  • Pamina was listed by 22% of singers but didn’t show up a single time as a first choice. She’s probably in audition packages because she fills a common German requirement for light lyrics. Wisely, ladies rarely open with this aria, which is deceptively difficult to sing well.
  • Blondchen isn’t listed frequently because she’s a special case, with that freaky high E; but many of the sopranos who list her make a point of starting with her, so she shows up fairly frequently.
  • Susanna makes a strong showing on both lists, predictably.

English

  • Anne Trulove and Susannah are near the top of the package list, most likely to fulfill a common English aria requirement.
    • Anne is rarely offered first – most likely due to length. It’s wise not to start with the whole scene, butI really think that sopranos shouldn’t hesitate to offer “Quietly, Night” or “I Go to Him” as stand-alone arias if they want to.
    • As for Susannah, she is usually an afterthought, not often what lyrics choose to lead with.

Verdi, Rossini, Donizetti

  • Gilda is thankfully not offered as often as she is listed. “Caro nome” requires real stylistic maturity, and that’s rare in a 20-something. (On the other hand, Bellini’s Giulietta shows up more often than she should… O quante volte must I hear this aria sung blandly…?)
  • Violetta isn’t listed by (or sung by) a lot of sopranos, but the ladies who use it tend to open with it. With varying results, as you might suspect. Proceed with caution.

French

  • Manon makes frequent appearances, but she doesn’t seem to be as ubiquitous as in recent seasons.
  • Micaela and Juliette are listed a lot but were rarely used as audition openers. Not sure why Juliette doesn’t appear more often.
  • Marguerite held her own in the middle of the pack; a nice trend, as that aria seemed to have fallen out of favor for a while, and it’s quite useful and effective in audition.

MEZZOS

Mezzo

Observations…

English

  • Erika’s “Must the Winter” is inescapable in audition packages (due to a common English aria requirement for sure), but she wasn’t offered as a first choice once. Not once. Can’t say I object. Although we did default to Erika a few times when the first aria offered gave us few clues about legato.
  • Lucretia is more and more popular. But be careful, ladies: you need real contralto guts for “Give him this orchid,” and you need to sing (not scream) the introductory scene.

French

  • “Va” is ubiquitous. And we’re not complaining. In our context, Charlotte is a defensible way for mezzos to spend their first two minutes in the audition room. Lets us wrap our minds around the sound in fairly quickly and guarantees a substantial second aria choice.
  • Dalila was only listed by a few mezzos (she’s a fairly mature sing for young artists), but most of the ladies who sing her made a point of offering her first.
  • In recent years, Stephano has almost completely eclipsed Siebel.

German

  • Few mezzos can sing the Composer well. And he is offered far more frequently than he should be. It’s probably a personal bias, but I find that most of the time I learn more about your liabilities than your assets in this short opener.

Italian

  • Cherubino has generally deserted us. He used to surface regularly, but not so much any more. Don’t really know what to make of this. If I had to draw conclusions, I think that he gets short shrift because his arias don’t win competitions.

TENORS

TenorObservations…

Mozart

  • Tamino is the Mozart aria nearest the top of both lists, although he’s referenced in packages far more often than he’s actually proffered. What’s surprising is that Ferrando surfaced more frequently than Ottavio. Don’t know that I can read too much into this, though.

English

  • Tom Rakewell, Sam from Street Scene and Bolcom’s “New York Lights” are the top English arias offered (actually, crazily, in 3 of the top 4 spots), but the Male Chorus from Britten’s Lucretia beat both of them to the audition room. I think this just means that for the guys who sing the Britten, they trust that aria to show off their stuff more than the more lyric voices who sing Tom, Sam and Rodolpho.

Italian/French

  • The Duke’s “Questa o quella” is the tenor’s version of “Va”: feel out the room, easy your way into a Bb, and only use up a few minutes.
  • Ramiro’s aria is listed far more frequently than it’s sung: I think that many of the guys who sing him also sing Tonio, and they are far more likely to open with “Ah mes amis.”
  • Jose and Roméo were frequently listed but never offered (until we asked for them:))

BARITONES

Baritone

Observations…

Italian

  • The Count and Figaro lead the pack both in the listings and the offerings. For good reasons.
  • Silvio is the go-to for lyric baritones.

German

  • Pierrot’s Tanzlied is consistently popular, but rarely shows guys in the best light. (See Mezzos: Composer) I know that the German aria is a tough decision, and many of you wisely wait to attack Wolfram. Harlekin, while short and sweet, telegraphs little, and Papageno’s “Suicide” scene is more of a character exercise in the audition room. But for programs without a German language requirement, you might want to think twice about starting with this one.

French

  • Valentin and Mercutio are reliable and frequent choices, for lyric and light lyric voices respectively. And of course, they serve different dramatic and stylistic purposes within the large context the the audition package.

English

  • Billy Budd and Horace Tabor show up on lists, but not a single baritone chose to open with an English aria.
  • Charlie’s aria from Three Decembers is increasingly common on lists.

BASSES & BASS-BARITONES

BassObservations…

Mozart

  • Leporello is the hands-down winner in audition packages, but no one opened with him. I get it. Too long.
  • Figaro still makes appearances with “Se vuol ballare,” but I miss “Aprite.” And “Non più andrai” for that matter.
  • Nobody sings Sarastro. Don’t know what that means.

Italian

  • The “Lacerato spirito” bass national anthem wasn’t listed by the majority of basses, but as a start, it took first place. If you have the F# and the gravitas for this, then go for it. But if you’re more of a basso cantante, and your bass extension is still a work in progress, I’m not sure this is the best course.
  • Banquo’s is the most common Verdi aria included on lists, but it doesn’t make it into the room often.

 END NOTES

Although in some ways, a month-long audition tour can feel like the Groundhog Day movie, there is far more variety than you might think. Yes, there is repetition, most of it necessary. But this fall we heard 326 different arias from our Filene Young Artist applicants. That’s astonishing. Music from four centuries, in seven languages, from hundreds of singers. Comedy, tragedy, beauty, drama. If you’re one of the people who make the music, thank you. If you’re back at Wolf Trap waiting for the fruits of our audition labors, never fear. This was a beautifully strong showing, and we’re culling a fascinating season from a handful of the best singers we heard. Details coming in 2014.

December 11, 2013
by Kim
1 Comment

Just When You Think No One Is Listening…

contestToday’s contest on Wolf Trap’s Facebook Page (go ahead, click it, like it, you know you want to…) asked patrons to submit their favorite Wolf Trap memory. The Wolf Trap Foundation is our parent organization, and it presents hundreds of concerts every year across a dizzying array of genres. We love opera, you and I, but our beloved art form doesn’t have the pop culture power that can compete with the likes of Riverdance, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin and Train. So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the following entry in today’s contest:

I think there is one moment that changed me forever. On August 24, 2011, I went to “Opera’s Greatest Hits from Wolf Trap Opera’s Alumni Stars” not because I really wanted to, but because I had to write a school assignment for my music appreciation class. I sat towards the back, just trying to get it over with. After a few minutes, I became immersed in the music. At the intermission, I asked if I could move to one of the seats in the pit since it wasn’t totally full. That night changed me completely. I had an all-new appreciation for a new type of music. From that moment on, I started trying to sing as much as I could and improve my own singing ability. Now I’m studying music in school and learning to sing opera myself! I think that if I hadn’t been forced to write that paper, I would never have come to appreciate that style of music, which is what I primarily listen to now.

I needed a little boost, and there it is.

Tomorrow, here on the blog, we get all nerdy. The aria frequency lists are now updated with the first choices of this fall’s singers, and tomorrow we’ll do some sexy data analysis. I know. You can hardly wait.

November 27, 2013
by Kim
0 comments

Recognizing Talent

I drop back into the blogosphere today after a few weeks of radio silence brought to you by the post-audition-tour casting frenzy. We’re consumed with the first step of our freakishly fast pre-production process which takes us from a blank slate to opening night in 6 months. And of course, until the smoke begins to clear, I won’t be able to share any of this with you :(

Until then, we’ll take a few side journeys.

Today’s comes courtesy of this article in the Financial Times, in which Meg Wolitzer explores the murky link between talent and success. I was reminded of this piece last week, during part of the American Voices symposium at the Kennedy Center. On Friday afternoon’s panel, Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Anthony Freud spoke briefly about how we are increasingly bad at distinguishing between the excellent and the successful.  And all of this came crashing down on me in the wake of the 600 auditions I heard this fall.

Ms. Wolitzer wrote,

“We profess to love talent, and yet what we sometimes love more is the anointing that follows the revelation of talent.”

There are plenty of ways to observe this in the crazy, wonderful and misleading world of reality TV talent shows. Once the public has anointed the talented performer, they feel that success and talent are conjoined. This happens so much, and in increasingly public ways, that musicians in 21st-century America are repeatedly pulled away from the art in favor of a focus on “success.” And the audience – those wonderful people who consume our product – feels increasingly less capable of trusting its own instincts and more dependent on the media culture to tell it what to think.

This parlays into the audition room in a slightly different way. Our selection process is not blind to the artist’s previous accomplishments; in fact, folks get through our screening process largely because we see that they have managed to distinguish themselves in another area – a competition, a highly-selective graduate school, a competitive apprentice program. So the tendency is to tell ourselves a story about how good we think they’ll be, since (referring back to Ms. Wolitzer) the talent has already been anointed. This is dangerous. Our task in the audition room is to allow the talent to reveal itself and to resist jumping on a bandwagon. Some of the folks we choose as finalists in our auditions are also in the select few chosen by colleagues; others are not. If we take our responsibility seriously, once we get to the audition room, we must be blind to the previous anointing.

One more quote, this one with a direct message to the singers out there:

“The evolution went from doing the thing and not caring what it was called; to doing the thing and realising there might be some measure of talent involved; to doing the thing but being preoccupied while doing it about when, if ever, success would arrive with its money, celebrity and stratospheric thread-count. And sometimes trying to game the system, seeing if changing things a bit might bring success more quickly.”

The author is speaking of an attitudinal shift within her young professional circle in the 1980′s, but this same shift happens today, but with a speed we never could have guessed a few decades ago. Yes, we all need success. We need money to pay our bills and some level of validation to give us strength when we falter. But I have one request of young musicians: Do whatever you can to stay in the first stage of this evolution. Go ahead and gussy up your résumé and give due diligence to what it means to become a young independent professional artist. But don’t let that be your main focus. Do the thing. Do it well, love it, suck it dry, share it whenever you can. The rest will follow.

Happy Thanksgivvukah to you and yours. Here’s wishing you’ll enjoy a little respite with friends or family in the next few days. I’ll be back in December with three new hunks of audition tour data for you: the list of arias offered as first choices by both of our artist tiers, and a brand new look at the university and conservatory affiliations of our entire audition pool and our finalists!

November 12, 2013
by Kim
0 comments

89,425

We’ve spent the last month or so listening and writing, thinking and writing, analyzing and writing. So much writing. 89, 425 words, actually.* A novel-length output just north of Orwell’s 1984 (88,942) and south of Tolkien’s The Hobbit (95,022).

A lot of words for sure. But how else to keep track of 590 singers?

We don’t use a form or checklist or any other external organization tool. I learned long ago that if I’m trying to categorize my responses in real time, I do not listen well. Oddly enough, our stream-of-consciousness remarks provide an amazingly helpful and detailed picture of our 20 days in the audition room.

Now the real work begins, as we make sense of what we’ve heard and try to translate our 55 Filene Young Artist finalists into repertoire that showcases 15-20 of them. Wish us luck.

*Yes, I’m a data geek. The beauty of our database is that with one gesture, I can export all comments to a text file and do a word count. :) 

November 5, 2013
by Kim
1 Comment

2014 Audition Tour: South by Southwest

2013-10-30 10.42.02-2I’m told that typical casualties of Mercury in Retrograde are travel problems and mechanical breakdowns. Houston is typically one of the happiest stops on our audition tour, but this year it seems that Mercury had other plans for our Texan trip. I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

It started with a 4-hour mechanical-difficulty delay flying out of San Francisco (complete with a takeoff that was immediately turned back around), which resulted in our missing the connecting flight in Austin. By the time we arrived, the airport was shutting down for the night. So Thelma and Louise rented a car and hopped on the highway, singing along with Billy Joel and Journey all the way to Houston.

The 14-hour travel day was followed by a series of technical malfunctions – the computer broadband card decided to give up, and I broke both my phone Bluetooth headset and my lovely analog watch. There were flash floods and tornado warnings, and we got lost in the underground tunnels trying to avoid the deluge after we lost our umbrellas. (And after it was over, luggage was lost on the next travel leg.) All in all, a hot mess.

Thank heaven for the singing.

There was beautiful music making by the 78 singers who auditioned for us, and some terrific Verdi delivered by the cast of Houston Grand Opera’s Aida. There was also a uniquely entertaining audition WP_20131030_002monologue by one of our 2013 Studio Artists, a chance to catch up with former Trappers in our Houston Meetup (at left), and opportunities to meet colleagues both old and new. Houston was redeemed, and Mercury was blamed.

An Arizonan Interlude…

Since there were three days before we were due in Cincinnati, I somehow decided that was just enough time to head to Arizona for a recital and a master class. On Sunday, WTOC alum Ryan McKinny and I rocked the matinee performance at Phoenix’s Musical Instrument Museum, in Arizona Opera’s Voice Lab series. And on Monday, the Pullin Opera Studio artists and I explored audition arias for some of Arizona Opera’s donors and supporters. All of it was a ruse to have a chance to visit Ryan Taylor, former WTOC Manager of Community Development and current Arizona Opera General Director. (The weekend also included a reunion with Ollie the Wonder Dachshund, rattlesnake brats, human-sized Jenga, and a brisk Sunday morning swim.)

Cincinnati and Vienna remain; 5 more days of arias. The short list is beginning to telescope a little more, and we’ll see how it morphs and responds to the inspiration of the 153 singers we’ll hear between now and next Tuesday!

October 27, 2013
by Kim
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Audition Tour 2014: Singing on the Left Coast

2013-10-25 18.07.39-2Auditions in LA got us off to a marvelous start for our west coast leg. (My own Pacific sojourn had already started with a brief personal trip to Seattle, where sadly, the lack of a Young Artist Program at Seattle Opera now means that it is no longer a must-hear stop on our audition travels.) Today, we fly to San Francisco, with any luck… Right now we’re in a holding pattern at LAX.

While a delayed flight is usually bad news, today it bears unexpected fruit. Extra quality time at AA Gate 46B means that I got to finish and upload the 2014 Soprano Aria Frequency List!!!

Our auditions day in residence in Rehearsal Room 1 at LA Opera was like a crazy family reunion, with visits from WTOC staff members, singer alumni, and dear colleagues. Add to that a Saturday spent with friends in the out of doors, and little things like airport delays don’t make a dent.

2013-10-25 18.12.55-2Above: The singer’s view. Well, almost. Typically the Rock Star “Pow” Pianist is on the other side of the room. :)