Archive for the ‘the stage’ Category

Three Notable Female Vocal Jazz Discoveries

Since I run my design biz from my home office, I have the freedom to follow my musical whims throughout a workday. But, I tend to craft a pretty predictable soundtrack. Almost without fail, I start the day with the equivalent of aural wallpaper: low-key, instrumental, classical music (ie: KDFC, or an iTunes playlist). It helps me focus, and offers just the right flavor and vibe to support my work, as I find my daily mojo.

Around the time 11:30 – noon rolls around, I normally make a switch over to jazz. I’ve grown to love 1.FM, Adore Jazz, a primarily vocal jazz station offered on iTunes. By the time 4pm hits, I’m usually on my way to pop, rock, bluegrass, or dance. Unless it’s friday, in which case I make that transition much earlier. But I digress…

Adore Jazz has introduced me to a slew of artists I’d likely not otherwise know. For that I am very thankful. I wanted to share and highlight a few of the best discoveries. Perhaps you jazz/vocals aficionados already know these singers well, but they feel to me to be unjustly under the radar, and were certainly outside of my mainstream. I’m not sure why this is so, as I’ve quickly grown to consider them some of the finest, certainly of the contemporary crop.

Stacey Kent

In trying to describe Stacey Kent to a friend, I likened her to a modern-day Blossom Dearie. She has an impossibly sweet tone. Coming from another artist, it could threaten to be cloying, but her delivery is so honest, it never rings false. She feels very much a product of a different time (ie: 50s-60s)…not only calling to mind Blossom, but also Astrud Gilberto.

Stacey, a Jersey girl, has been nominated for a Grammy, so I suppose she’s hardly a best-kept secret, but I’ve never heard another vocal-phile reference her, or heard her recordings in another venue or on a different station.

Continue Reading About Jazz Discoveries—>

jcm’s Top 10 Best LIVE Performances of ‘10

It’s that time again! I’m serving up my second annual Top 10 LIVE Performances of the year. It’s a follow-up to my ‘09 list. Sadly, there are no Broadway shows on this list. I plan on remedying that in 2011!

1. Die Walküre, San Francisco Opera (Details)

This production offered one of the finest casts that could possibly be assembled for this opera (and The Ring) in the current operatic landscape. The production said some new things, and offered a few fresh perspectives, but didn’t try too hard, or overshadow the score. Maestro Runnicles is a Wagnerian master, and he and the orchestra rose to the occasion again. Yeah, I was a “Supernumerary” in the production, but I was able to watch much of it from the orchestra during rehearsals, and even accounting for my bias, this would still takes my top spot. Enjoy my full review here.

Mark Delavan (Wotan) & Nina Stemme (Brünnhilde); Photo by Cory Weaver

2. Scalpel! The Musical, Brava Theatre (Details)

Can you say fun? It had me at the opening number, with countless heals and drag runway walks. It was the first show I’ve seen in the Brava, and I immediately loved this venue…the warm lighting, the urban ambience, and the straight, raked seating offering direct views. Even with all the camp and hijinks, the entire cast was completely committed to the material. This was the second mounting of the show, and my fingers are crossed that it returns yet again. Apparently, there was a bit of a curse on the production, with multiple cast injuries (including a very unfortunate broken leg for leading man, Mike Finn), but they pushed through, with some quick and fortuitous replacements and prevailed. Picturing Sara Moore as “poop-raking” TV reporter Kitty Kelly (“Hardballs” host) still makes me laugh.

 

Emily McGowan: Fritzy, Arturo Galster: Pepper Van Allen, Cindy Goldfield: Jacqueline Bulgari

3. Heidi Melton: Salon at the Rex, The Rex Hotel (Details)

To hear Heidi Melton plead in spoken french AND debut her chest voice was alone faint-worthy, and positively scintillating. And, to hear her in repertoire much outside her core operatic rep and comfort genres was a treat (ie: Irving Berlin and Kurt Weill cabaret, and Korngold songs). Her rendition of Berlin’s “Always” left not a dry eye in the audience. (Her Noe Valley Chamber Music Recital a few weeks before was also very beautiful). No thanks to the Adler “Future is Now” concert, which was on the same night, the recital was over all too soon (evidenced by a jcm quotation here and here)! I stuck around and imbibed and dined at the bar…I wanted to savor the spell Heidi had cast.

 

Continuing Reading jcm’s Top 10! —>

Animated Holiday Greeting: from jcm to you!

Dear Readers & Friends,

 

Please click on the image or link below (and kindly turn up your volume) to enjoy my holiday greeting to you:

Winter Gifts


Many blessings & best wishes to you and yours!

Soprano Rhoslyn Jones’ Official Website Launched!

Enjoy the newest in my “Diva Website Series” (that’s tongue-in-cheek…well, perhaps it shouldn’t be?):

www.rhoslynjones.com just went LIVE!


Visit this new website to keep up and connect with San Francisco Opera Merola & Adler alumni, “The delicious diva,” soprano Rhoslyn Jones. Experience her amazing artistry, musings, repertoire, acclaim, and don’t miss out on her upcoming performances!

Your clicks will also help her site more swiftly climb to the top of the search engine results…so, thanks for clicking around!!!

(I designed and built it on the squarespace.com platform.)

Enjoy!

Dramatic Soprano Heidi Melton’s Official Website Launched!

I’m ecstatic to announce the launching of Heidi Melton’s Official NEW Website!

Click on the image or link below to visit her site. Once there, review her upcoming performances (book your flights!), sample her incredible artistry (via multimedia), read her blog musings, and more! She’s taking the opera world by storm. GO HEIDI!

I designed and built the site from start to finish (using the SquareSpace platform). It’s an honor be her friend, FANatic, AND web designer.

www.heidimeltonsoprano.com

A Koken’s “Butterfly”: Chapter 2

The Adventures of…


“Look! Up on the stage! It’s a samisan, it’s a parasol, it’s SUPER-KOKEN!
Slower than a drifting glacier, more stealthy than a leopard on the hunt.
Able to spin the turntable in a single hook.”

Further Feats: 40 minutes of standing in a demi-plié, 6 child’s poses, 30 minutes in a forward yoga lay, 16 turntable rotations, 1 death-defying silk drop catch, and more!

But, don’t all superheroes have baggage? Thus, I deliver my diagnosis of the Koken: In need of treatment for OCD and chronic inefficiency. These Kabuki-inspired characters in San Francisco Opera’s Madama Butterfly (of which I am 1 of 6) unfailingly offer up perfectly aligned prop placement and table settings, and impossibly measured, controlled movement. SICK!

From a serious perspective, I love exploring and learning different kinds of movement (and dance). Ours requires us to be very in sync, and move nearly as one, in an energized, yet internalized way (like the Tai Chi we trained in). It’s been the best workout I’ve gotten in ages (boy, those pliés are GREAT for the inner thighs!). I’m also savoring the meditative, spiritual practice I’m experiencing through the incredible presence this technique requires.

Given that our all-black costumes are very much like those of a ninja, our presence lends an air of intrigue and gravitas to the unfolding of the proceedings.

From left: Yvette Rosedale, Ronna Alexander, Joan Dickson, P.Z., Eliza Fox, Sherman Lee,   (Not pictured: Helen Lew; Photo by Betsy Kershner)

Demystifying Illusion & Stagecraft (WARNING: SPOILERS)


I’m amazed at how transforming the art of illusion and stagecraft are, when used so masterfully. Up-close and unlit, the set shows its almost 30 years, and doesn’t really “sing”…BUT, when lit, and from the house, it emerges full bloom into a seemingly living and breathing world. The fiber board panels with overlapping green carpet look like REAL stone and earth. The perforated metal panels that up-close look too thick and heavy-handed, appear exactly like paper screens. GENIUS!

The technological trick that enables the crew to rotate the turntable a calculated amount each time is a crafty system that includes UV painted numbers on the TT rim, that when black-lit from the side are visible only to the offstage crew. This ensures exact placements every time. WOW! Yes, the cat’s outta the bag, the Koken only pantomime the TT rotation, but it’s still a workout to make it look real, with right degree of physical tension.

Continue Experiencing a Koken’s Butterfly —>

“Toi Toi Toi” on SFO “Butterfly” Opening Night!

Inspired by a comment from La Cieca on one of my recent facebook statuses…here is the opening of my greeting to all my fellow Koken, cast, and creative staff tonight, on Opening Night of San Francisco Opera’s Madama Butterfly:

NorCal (Less Tragic) Parterre Gathering: Part the Second

Casta Divas

The City* might have been fogbound and frigid, and parterre.com may continue to offer up the occasional chill (via the Comments’ peanut gallery…aka The Real Housewives of Parterre?), but there was plenty of warm sunshine and good cheer still to be found in Petaluma.

On Oct. 2nd, Batty Masetto and Frank hosted an intimate, operatic-themed sit-down early dinner on their veranda, beneath a glorious specimen of a redwood…with Norma conceivably worshipping Irminsul just a mistletoe sprig away. Emanating from their home were live Callas selections…but, of course! jumping clapping man sang along with his best Callasian coloratura runs and disembodied high notes, from Ophélie’s Mad Scene to Abigaille’s “Anch’io dischiuso.”

 

The masterful Cassata alla Melba, a multi-layered ice-cream dream.

 

Cher Public Shares

An attempt to urge a garden-side duet (“Mira, o Norma;” “Sous le dôme épais;” or at least the Barcarolle) from Ching (an operaphile and sometime Parterrian) was unsuccessful. Meanwhile SF Guy shared details of the treasures in his extensive video library (dvds cleverly transferred from dusty Beta videos), including the original mounting of the Hal Prince Butterfly that I’m opening in next Tuesday at SFO! It was televised via Great Performances, with Anna Tomowa-Sintow and Peter Dvorsky.

The food would have made Alice Waters salivate, and the English garden turned Ina Garten green with envy. It was fresh, divine, AND oh so very operatic! Kudos to our hosts for their inventiveness, culinary skills and generosity!

* referring to San Francisco, NOT NY, however difficult that may be for a New Yorker to swallow.


Menu

Preludio:

Trittico di antipasti:
• Il Signor Bruschetta
• Ciliegine alla Martina (“Madama Butterballs”)
• Carciofi alla Callas (vinegar and honey)

Atto primo:

• Spaghetti alla Norma

Atto secondo:

• Bracioline di maiale alla “Scotto”-dito
(based on a traditional Scottadito, meaning “finger-blistering” or “burnt fingers,” and meant to be eaten hot, with the fingers)

• Finocchio al parmigiano (fennel)

Finale:

• Cassata alla Melba


Genius, Batty, Genius!!! (Batty conveys his apologies to the Italian language.)

Our first meeting was Parterrians @ the Pagoda, this time Parterrians in Petaluma. There were whisperings of the next gathering being in Oakland. That’ll need some alliterative help. Wanna be on the guest list? Drop me a line. Until next time…

Creating Kabuki Illusions in San Francisco Opera’s Upcoming “Madama Butterfly”

Honored & Humbled

I’m about to embark on one of my most exciting stage opportunities to date. Tomorrow night I dive into rehearsals for the San Francisco Opera production of Madama Butterfly. It’s the acclaimed 1982 Harold Prince (Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, etc.) production from Lyric Opera of Chicago, most recently seen in LOC’s ’08/09 season.

I’ll be one of six Koken, a Kabuki-style performer and stage assistant/
attendant. Traditionally, their duties include assisting the leading cast with properties and costumes, helping create special and supernatural effects to propel and enhance key plot points, and acting as puppeteers. Although done discreetly, all of this is done onstage, in plain view.

From Behind Black Cloth

We’ll be clothed in all-black costumes, including a robe with cloth belt, partially transparent, veiled hood, cloven boots, and gripper gloves. They are not unlike tailored, ninja costumes to my eyes. In my surfing (aka research), it seems as if our costuming may more accurately define us as a Kurombo (meaning “black fellow,” for the costumes), rather than a Koken (meaning “assistant”). They serve the same function, but are typically costumed differently. Read more about Kabuki and Koken history here, here and here.

Apparently, in this production, the Koken are onstage for most, if not all of the performance. There are extended sections in which only the Koken are onstage, including a 30-minute ritualistic pre-show, involving the set up of various props, which will also be repeated at intermission.

The production also features a turntable that rotates over 25 times in both directions. The Koken connect sturdy hooks on thick ropes to slots on the turntable to simulate its turning. Thank goodness this one is ALL illusion! (Although, it sounds like I’m going to still have to have really good knees.) I don’t want to reveal any of the other illusions, lest I spoil the surprise element. There is an effective, almost jewel-box-like intimacy to this production, as you can see in the photo above, perhaps necessitated by the turntable.

Tai Chi Preparation

In order to help us master the specificity of movement required, we will be training in Tai Chi. with Cory Chan of Kei Lun. Training in a 700+ year old Chinese martial arts practice for a Japanese-themed opera, you ask? (I asked the same thing.) Well, I’d never done Tai Chi, but the small sampling of it I got in the audition whet my palate, as it seems the perfect balance of meditation and dancer-like movement. It’s a great way to really “get in” one’s body, and the intricate sequences will help prepare the mind for the staging sequences that will be asked of us.

Our Production

Performances are October 12th through November 27th. Buy tickets here. Our cast will include Svetla Vassileva / Daniela Dessì (Cio-Cio-San/Butterfly), Stefano Secco (Pinkerton), Quinn Kelsey / Brian Mulligan (Sharpless) and recent Adler grad Daveda Karenas (Suzuki). Nicola Luisotti / Julian Kovatchev will conduct, and SFO regular Jose Maria Condemi will direct this remounting.

Here goes…I’m ecstatic! How lovely to be able to add a Puccini opera to my previous experiences in a Verdi, Wagner and Philip Glass opera. This opera has never been one of my favorites (other than the few obvious musical highlights), but I’m sure this experience will spark a new love affair with the score.

I leave you now with arguably the most famous selection from the opera, sung by a legendary Cio-Cio-San:

My Favorite Divas of This Generation

My responses to La Cieca’s quizzes and inquiries are often worthy fodder for re-posting here on jcm. Her current call for nominees is for “your favorite opera diva of this generation,” from which the surpreme list of ten will be crafted.

The acceptable career range is onstage between 1980 and 2010, BUT I took it upon myself to discluded any divas who had a large part of their primes BEFORE 1980 (begrudgingly discluding the queens of my Diva Totem: Price, Caballé, Ludwig, etc.), because they are really Golden Age holdovers, NOT really divas of THIS generation. For each the notable attributes are highlighted.

Here goes…they are essentially in order of my nomination, but I felt they were just too equal to assign a number to. Which of your favorites, or other truly deserving divas (OF THIS GENERATION!) have I left off?

Ileana Cotrubas
Limpid tone, truly affecting pathos.

Agnes Baltsa
Blazing coloratura, firm tone, balls-out ferocity.

Continue Meeting jcm’s Divas —>

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