Wolf Trap Opera

The Future of Opera

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.

July 13, 2014
by Kim

Jukebox Update: Sunday a.m.

Good morning, opera friends! Our young artists enjoyed an amazing panel discussion yesterday with Eric Owens and four of his colleagues. (A longer update to come when there’s time.) Unfortunately, Eric was feeling ill last night, and he’s doing a bit worse this morning and will not be able to sing on today’s Aria Jukebox concert. Just a little advance notice for those of you who are coming today.

It’s still going to be a terrific afternoon of opera, and I know you’ll enjoy yourself. Repertoire menu below! (And no, we’re not performing 56 arias… Each singer will perform whichever of his/her four options is chosen by the audience:))



Mireille Asselin

Handel                       Amore è qual vento                                        Orlando

Louiguy / Piaf                 La vie en rose

Mozart                      Deh vieni non tardar                        Le nozze di Figaro

Strauss                    Adele’s Audition Aria                           Die Fledermaus

Tracy Cox

Barber                       Do Not Utter a Word                                      Vanessa

Massenet                  Il est doux, il est bon                                   Hérodiade

Rodgers                 You’ll Never Walk Alone                                  Carousel

Verdi                         Pace, pace mio Dio                       La forza del destino

Ying Fang

Donizetti                Prendi, per me sei libero                         L’elisir d’amore

Handel              Endless pleasure, endless love                               Semele

Massenet             Je suis encor tout étourdie                                    Manon

Sullivan                    Poor Wandering One              The Pirates of Penzance

Melinda Whittington

Gounod                           Jewel Song                                                 Faust

Porter                      The Tale of the Oyster               Fifty Million Frenchmen

Puccini                 Chi il bel sogno di Doretta                               La rondine

Verdi                            Ernani, involami                                            Ernani    



Maya Lahyani

Bizet                          En vain pour éviter                                        Carmen

Donizetti                 Il segreto di esser felici                          Lucrezia Borgia

Porter                            Love For Sale                              The New Yorkers

Saint-Säens         Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix                    Samson et Dalila

Renée Rapier

Bellini            Se Romeo t’uccise un figlio             I Capuleti  ed i Montecchi

Gershwin                              Vodka

Rossini                            Cruda sorte                               L’Italiana in Algeri

Tchaikovsky                   Pauline’s Aria                       The Queen of Spades

Virginie Verrez

Barber              Must the winter come so soon?                             Vanessa

Mozart            Non so più cosa son, cosa faccio              Le nozze di Figaro

Mozart                           Voi che sapete                            Le nozze di Figaro

Straus           Komm, komm Held meiner Träume            Der Tapfere Soldat



Eric Jurenas

Britten                            I know a bank             A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Handel                           Venti, turbine                                             Rinaldo

Handel                    Dove sei, amato bene?                                  Rodelinda

Mozart                 Venga pur minacci e frema               Mitridate Re di Ponto



Robert Watson

Cilea                   É la solita storia del pastore                            L’Arlesiana

Massenet             O souverain, ô juge, ô père                                    Le Cid

Puccini                        Addio fiorito asil                           Madame Butterfly

Wagner                           Winterstürme                                      Die Walküre



Norman Garrett

Massenet                       Vision fugitive                                        Hérodiade

Verdi                  O, Carlo ascolta…Io morrò…                             Don Carlo

Verdi                  Ford’s Monologue (È sogno)                                 Falstaff

Wagner              O du mein holder Abendstern                          Tannhäuser

Tobias Greenhalgh

Donizetti                Bella siccome un angelo                           Don Pasquale

Korngold             Mein Sehnen, mein Wähnen                       Die Tote Stadt

Loewe                   If Ever I Would Leave You                                  Camelot

Rossini                        Largo al factotum                       Il barbiere di Siviglia

Joo Won Kang

Massenet                       Vision fugitive                                        Hérodiade

Rossini                        Largo al factotum                       Il barbiere di Siviglia

Tchaikovsky                  Yeletsky’s Aria                       The Queen of Spades

Verdi                     O, Carlo ascolta…Io morro…                           Don Carlo



Jeongcheol Cha

Britten              Within this frail crucible of light           The Rape of Lucretia

Mozart                           Se vuol ballare                            Le nozze di Figaro

Rachmaninoff               Aleko’s Cavatina                                             Aleko

Wagner              O du mein holder Abendstern                          Tannhäuser

Ryan Speedo Green

Gershwin                   I got plenty o’ nuttin                           Porgy and Bess

Mozart    Solche hergelaufne Laffen               Die Entführung aus dem Serail

Rossini                            La calunnia                            Il barbiere di Siviglia

Verdi    Infelice! E tuo credevi  Ernani

July 9, 2014
by Kim

Owens & the Jukebox

I’m happily at the piano this week, preparing for Sunday’s Aria Jukebox. My days are once again filled with Verdi, Rossini, Wagner, Puccini, Donizetti, Massenet, Mozart and more. Jukebox is always a wonderful time for both performers and audience, but this year it will be even more amazing thanks to the participation of Artist in Residence Eric Owens.

Eric_Owens_-_Audition_Headshot_-_credit_Dario_AcostaTake a few minutes and listen to his Classical Conversation with WETA’s Marilyn Cooley, and come to The Barns on Sunday to hear Eric, this year’s roster of artists and a special guest!


July 1, 2014
by Kim
1 Comment

July 1, 2014: A Day in the Life

10:40 am. Instant Opera at the Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods. The youngest opera fans, enthusiastically shouting “Bravo!” and helping our fabulous improv comedians (a.k.a. Studio Artists Evan, Anna, Josh, Alex and Michael and Coaching Fellow Michael) write and perform a world premiere opera set on Mars in which one of the characters is a an evil Zurtlecorn.Screenshot 2014-07-01 22.27.18

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 11:45am Telephone call with Allan Kozinn of the New York Times’ Arts Beat blog. Exciting news about Carmen, David Pogue, Google Glass and MobiTxt. Read the blog post. Or the press release!


1:20 pm. Tuesday Periodic  Table. Studio Artists get a crash course on patron and donor relations from guest faculty member Cory Lippiello.

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2:00 pm. Staff meeting celebration. Happy Birthday, Susan!!!

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3:15 pm. Carmen staging. Maya, Kevin, and director Tara Faircloth dig into Act 3.

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5:52 pm. World Cup viewing during rehearsal break brings together pianists, singers from all three of our operas. (Bravi, Team USA, for a helluva game.)


6:30 pm. Final Inside the Opera preshow talk for Cesare. Telling the people about the opera. In recent years, one of my favorite things to do.


7:15 pm. Ready for M&M. Sign-in board is prepped for start of Les mamelles di Tirésias and Le pauvre matelot rehearsal period tomorrow. Let’s get surrealistic.


8:38 pm. Greeting Opera Newbies at the first intermission!


9:01 pm. Stair sitting. Like you do. Attacking the email backlog while luxuriating in the Handel wafting off The Barns stage.


10:07 pm. Chair Stacking. A WTO Olympic sport, tonight delivered in style by Grant and Kevin (thanks, guys!!!), turning the room over from preshow talk to rehearsal.


10:44 pm. Farewell to Alexandria. Bravi Ying, John, Carolyn, Renée, Eric, JC, Alex, Kara, Antony & Co. We shall miss you.


June 29, 2014
by Kim

“Super” Stars

Guest post by Mina Asayesh-Brown

2014-06-24 18.17.37-1When I took a tour of The Barns at Wolf Trap as part of my summer copywriting internship, I never thought I would be performing in an opera on their stage just a few weeks later. Maybe the phrase “performing in an opera” is misleading: I’m a supernumerary (or “super” for short), a nonspeaking (and more importantly, non-singing) extra in Wolf Trap Opera’s production of Handel’s Giulio Cesare, a baroque piece that tells the thrilling and mostly fictional tale of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra’s courtship. I only recently learned how to pronounce the title of the show (Joo-lio Che-sar-ay) after avoiding saying it out loud for the first two weeks of rehearsal.

How does one become a super? In this particular Wolf Trap production, we came from all walks of life – a chemistry professor from Brigham Young University, an opera grad student from Maryland, several Wolf Trap employees, an experienced extra whose young daughter got a kick out of seeing her mom in costume. Some responded to Wolf Trap’s Facebook post, others (like myself) received an email advertising the position. Though I had little to no performing experience, I realized it was a rare opera-tunity, so I decided to go for it. My only qualifications were that I had a pulse, and I was free every night from 7-10. Thankfully, that was all they needed.

The process began with a series of costume fittings that forced me to accept the poking and prodding of several kind strangers. By the fourth round of fittings, I barely registered the hands adjusting my bust line. Needless to say, I bonded with the costume crew the fastest. A Cleopatra-style wig decked in golden beads (Egyptian bling) complements my French maid outfit, which also includes a pair of the highest heels I’ve ever worn. As an added challenge, the stage is covered in sand, and in one memorable scene my fellow maids and I have to scamper across without falling on our faces. I’ve taken necessary precautions and practiced my reaction to my inevitable wipeout ahead of time: once it happens, I’ll jump up and look angrily at the person closest to me, blaming them for making me trip. (Note – I have managed to stay upright throughout rehearsal, so let’s hope my track record continues to be injury-free.)

Working 9-5 and then rehearsing from 7-10 every day was a blessing and a curse: on one hand, it was brutally exhausting, but on the other hand, it gave my fellow super/intern John and I an excuse to eat way too much sugar so we could “have enough energy to get through the day.” And though we spent about the same amount of time complaining as we did actually rehearsing, there is something uniquely rewarding about being a part of a production, especially a show that features so many gifted individuals.

It’s not every day that an average Joe (or Jane?) like myself gets to share the stage with the future stars of the Metropolitan Opera. I often had to stop myself from “ooh”-ing and “ahh”-ing in the middle of the arias so I could pay attention and not miss my entrances. The Cesare principal cast members (and their counterparts in the ultra competitive world of opera) are some of the most dedicated, hardworking, remarkable artists around. Their commitment to this particular art form requires constant training, years of schooling, and a deep understanding and appreciation of the many languages in which operas are written, not to mention the physical demands of sustained vocal excellence.

The definition of supernumerary may mean that technically, we supers are excessive, but we do have value. We fill space. We add comic relief. We look cute. Most importantly, we help highlight the principals’ incredible work. If a great production is like a delicious meal, then we are the seasoning. We bring out the flavors that make it taste so damn good.