Friday, February 22, 2013

Divertissement: Opera goes to Hollywood

"Ballet Scene from Meyerbeer's Opera Robert Le Diable"
by Edgard Degas - Courtesy V&A Museum
Have you ever had that feeling of déjà vu, or should I say déjà entendu, when attending an opera performance?  The tune sounds familiar, but you know you have never seen this opera...or even heard it before.

It can happen to anyone, from the seasoned opera goer to the layman attending his first performance.  The fact of the matter is, everyone is familiar with opera; most people just don't know it.  We are exposed to it on a daily basis.  Turn on your television and you will see a Kohler commercial set to " Lassa" from Bellini's I Puritani; watch a Bond movie and get thrown into the middle of a Tosca performance; read Tolstoy's War and Peace and you will be transported to an opera house in Russia; go to any museum and imagine yourself at the opera.

Many people have been watching opera since they were little...and most of them remember.  Ask the average person if they have ever heard opera before and they will all give you the same answer: "I watched The Rabbit of Seville when I was young."  One would hope that everyone who ever saw this cartoon would be a major opera lover by now, but sometimes the exposure to opera in (recent) pop culture does more harm than good.

Movies have shaped audiences' views for generations, but unfortunately movies have often created the wrong image when it comes to opera.  Two movies are especially to blame for this 'damaged' view of opera, namely Moonstruck and Pretty Woman.  While these actually put opera in a positive light, they are also to blame for the current static vision of the art form.  The old war horses at the Met, such as La Bohème, are still the most popular operas in the repertoire; even bringing in young suitors and their dates, hoping to get the same reaction as Richard Gere or Nicholas Cage.  When many people think of opera, they have a certain image in their mind: what they saw in the movies (usually a very traditional performance), older people, fancy clothes and expensive dinners.  Movies often reinforce the opera stereotype; it symbolizes high class.  It is represented as boring, loud, elitist and stuffy.  Two recent movies come to mind that do exactly this: The Intouchables and The Adventures of TinTin (one hour and fifteen minutes into the movie).

My own introduction to opera came through a movie, and luckily I took my exposure to opera further than most people.  As so often goes in college, I waited until the last minute to take care of my assignment for my English class: compare an independent movie and a mainstream movie.  I am glad I went to see "The Sea Inside" because it changed my life.  One of the most poignant scenes in the movie takes place as Ramón, the movie's protagonist who is a quadriplegic, imagines flying over the Spanish mountains towards the sea as he listens to Puccini's Nessum Dorma.  At that moment I did not know where the aria was from, but as soon as I got home I looked it up and bought my first ticket to the Met in 2005 to go see Turandot.

Opera really grabs my attention when it is featured in a movie, no matter how it is used.  There are several ways this can happen:
  • As part of the story line, as is the case in Lucine Visconti's Senso
  • As part of the soundtrack to set the mood, as in Apocalypse Now
  • As an actual movie, such as Kenneth Branagh's The Magic Flute

With the Oscars coming up on Sunday, it is interesting to look at the marriage between opera and movies.  Even Lincoln, one of Sunday's Oscar contenders, features an unexpected opera scene.  Many viewers of the movie will be surprised to find out that Lincoln was a life-long opera lover.  It is rumored he had an aria from Frederick von Flotow's opera "Martha" performed at his second inaugural and he attended a performance of The Magic Flute a week before he was assassinated.  Since Spielberg was obsessed with making his latest movie as historically accurate as possible, even going as far as recording the sound of Lincoln's actual watch, this opera scene had to be as accurate as possible as well.  The Metropolitan Opera helped him with this, providing Spielberg with pictures from their earliest Faust productions.  The day is after all March 18, 1865 and Lincoln is attending a performance of Faust by the German Opera Company at the Grover's Theater in DC with his wife.  They are watching the Garden Scene in Act III.  Often opera scenes are lip-synched in movies, but this Faust and Marguerite (found through Facebook), sang the actual scene in front of the actors.  The only piece added later was the orchestra.    

This is just one example of how opera plays an important part in movies.  Check back in the next few days for more on this topic.  Meanwhile, leave a comment telling us all about your favorite opera moments in movies, television shows...

The Washington Post - Opera in film: Suspenseful, glamorous and overpowering
OperaVore - 'Lincoln' Reveals 16th President's Passion for Opera
NYTimes - How Hollywood Films are Killing Opera

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Where are they now: Sofia Antonakos

Sofia Antonakos

Since winning the Encouragement Award at the District Auditions, Sofia has competed in the Liederkranz Competitions while continuing to study with her singing teacher Mark Oswald. She has put her prize money towards more voice lessons with him.

Competing in auditions is a big part of a singer's life, like Sofia says: "I am getting ready to submit my application to Placido Domingo's Operalia Competition coming up in March. I will continue to compete throughout the year and sing as much as I can."

Sofia's favorite opera is Puccini's Tosca, which is in line with the performance she did last year about the life of Maria Callas. "She is my favorite opera singer. We talked about her life and loves; and I performed her beloved arias."

And how did Sofia feel about auditioning with the Monc Eastern Region?

"I was very excited to compete in this competition. It was a great experience for me. I learned a lot from talking to the judges; they gave me insight on my voice and what I should work on next. I also learned that competing is an art and you have to really work hard and prepare yourself. There are a lot of great singers out there and we can all learn from each other as well. I really enjoyed being a part of the Monc auditions; it helped me grow as a singer and it made me a big fan of other singers. I can't wait to do it again next year."

Friday, February 15, 2013

Where are they now: Sheherazade Holman

Sheherazade Holman

Mezzo-Soprano from Brooklyn, New York 
Age 22

OI: What have you been up to since the District Auditions?
SH: Since the Monc Auditions, I have been back in school full time continuing my education. I'm currently a senior attending Nyack College School of Music right here in the city and I will be graduating this May 2013! I am very excited. I am in the process of preparing myself for my senior recital along with my school's concert at Lincoln Center in April to celebrate the School of Music's 75th anniversary.

OI: What upcoming performances do you have planned?
SH: I am always singing in church when I am not in school or rehearsing for an engagement with the Gospel group I am in, called "David Metayer and One Accord". We have a scheduled engagement this Saturday February 16th at Boston College singing with other gospel artists. However, the most important date in my book for which I am now preparing is my senior recital which will be April 20th at 6pm at Nyack College. I am very excited about it as it will be bittersweet. It marks the end of one chapter in my life; getting my Bachelor's Degree. However, it marks a new beginning because I will be moving on to new challenges and obtaining my goals that I plan to reach. One goal being singing at the MET one day!

OI: Do you have a favorite opera?
SH: I don't really have a favorite, but if I had to choose an opera, I would say I enjoy the story of Carmen. I hope to become a great Carmen one day. I am actually going to see it March 1st at the MET. This will be my first opera that I will be seeing live and not on a television screen so I am excited.

OI: How important was winning the Encouragement Award to you?
SH: The prize money actually came at a time when I had no income. I was in the process of finding a job and being a full time college student. I had some priorities to attend to, so that money helped me to afford neccessities that I deemed helpful not only in my personal affairs but also towards school essentials as well.

OI: What did the experience of participating in the Monc Auditions teach you?

My experience of participating in the auditions taught me that my dream was actually in my grasp and it wasn't impossible. With hard work, dedication and perseverance I could actually have the opportunity to reach my dream. Since I was a little girl attending this performing arts school in Harlem, my love for music, especially classical music, was nurtured. I was afforded great opportunities to participate in performances, to travel and tour, and to be introduced to new languages and different repertoires. As I grew up, my love for great divas like Jessy Norman, Leontyne Price and my mentor Ms. Nakemia Riely, showed me that if I work hard, I could realize my dream of being a great and famous opera singer.
Having this opportunity to have my first opera competition be for the MET was so unreal to me, and till this day it's still amazing! The fact that I was able to stand before greatness was extraordinary and it showed me my dream of being an opera singer at the MET was obtainable! I'm so grateful for the opportunity I had to experience the audition process. It has taught me not only what I am capable of doing but it showed me what I need to do to be better and be more prepared. I see what it takes to be successful and I plan to come back to audition in the near future. I believe that the Monc Audition was only the beginning of many great auditions to come and I welcome every opportunity!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Where are they now: LaMarcus Miller

It is hard to believe that it has already been three months since the District Auditions, but it seemed the perfect time to get back in touch with our Encouragement Award winners (LaMarcus Miller, Sofia Antonakos and Sheherazade Holman) and see what they have been up to since the District Auditions.

LaMarcus Miller

2012 Winner of  Nico Castel International Master Singer
Competition at Weil Hall

LaMarcus, a 25-year old Bass - Baritone originally from Texas, made his Carnegie Hall debut in January as a Baritone Soloist in Karl Jenkins' "The Armed Man".

In addition to this, he has signed with Embra Artists and he sang a recital at the Dallas Baptist University in Texas.  This summer, he will be singing and covering roles with the Utah Festival Opera, including Verdi's Otello.

In December, he sang the role of Palémon in Massenet's "Thais" at the Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater.  Thais is LaMarcus' favorite opera.

As part of the Encouragement Award, each singer received a $200 cash prize.  When asked what the prize money did for him, LaMarcus told me he used his to compete in more auditions.  As to his experience auditioning with Monc, he had the following to say:
"It was my first time to participate and everyone was very warm and welcoming!"

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gala 2013 as Photographed by Rebecca Fay: The Performance

Once again, all photographs "Courtesy of Rebecca Fay".

The Performances

Finding the perfect seat upstairs before the performance begins.
MONC ER Chair Lara Marcon welcoming the crowd

Moments before the performance...listening to Eric Owens introducing each aria.  Unfortunately Felicia Moore could not join us for the evening due to illness.
Region Finals Winner Karen Vuong singing "Quando m'en Vo" from Puccini's La Bohème 

Takaoki Onishi singing "Ah! per sempre" from Bellini's I Puritani

Water Break
Eric Owens introducing the arias 
The crowd laughing out loud when listening to Eric's explanation of "Tanzlied" from Die Tote Stadt by Korngold

Dan Franklin Smith doing a marvelous job accompanying the singers.
The surprise of the night: Eric Owens performing "Some Enchanted Evening" from Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific

Curtain Call.  
A Standing Ovation

The stars of the evening: Takaoki Onishi, Karen Vuong, Eric Owens and Dan Franklin Smith
John Re and Charles Palmer
Moving downstairs for dessert and prosecco.
Auditions Director Stefanie Van Steelandt and Daniel Ferris

The Dessert

Neuhaus Chocolates

The Kosciuszko Foundation.  See you next year!