OperaFix May 7, 2018

The New York Opera Fest continues this week with Cantanti Project’s Tabula Rasa, Hearbeat Opera’s Fidelio and Don Giovanni, HERE Arts Center’s “Symphonie Fantastique, and Bronx Opera’s “Der Freischutz” continuing through this weekend. Also Happening this week is Opera on Tap’s “Home Brewed Opera”, Rumplestiltskin at Rhymes with Opera, and the openings of “Aida” at Regina Opera, and Brooklyn College Opera Theater’s “Lucio Silla.”

If you are in London, George Benjamin’s “Lessons in Love and Violence” will have its premiere at London’s Royal Opera House on May 10. You may remember “Written on Skin,” which was recently performed at Opera Philadelphia. Lessons in Love and Violence is based on the life of King Edward the Second, who was famously deposed and Hideously Murdered for supposedly being gay.

And in LA: Opera Off Grand presents the West Coast premiere of Matthew Aucoin’s Crossing in two concert performances on May 25 and 26. bt

And now we have Chuck Sachs interviews with Heartbeat Opera’s Music Director and Arranger, Daniel Schlosberg, and Kelley Griffin who is singing Leah in Fidelio.

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Daniel Schlosberg, Orchestrator/Arranger/Music Director

What was the original impetus for these new arrangements?
There were practical considerations – opera in intimate spaces, they don’t have the luxury or space for an 80 piece orchestra. There’s not even an orchestra pit.
To create these immediate productions they (Heartbeat) decided what better way to re-invent the operas was to dive into the scores the same way that they dive deep into the characters and the story.

The first opera that he created new arrangements/orchestrations for was:

  • Daphnis and Chloe
  • Jacques Offenbach, composer
  • Franz Kafka, text

Lucia di Lammermoor is the production that he considers created the foundation of their style or work.

  • Louisa Proske, director

They placed Lucia in a sanitarium having these fever dreams of being the heroine of the story.

Daniel took that idea of madness & ran with it for the orchestration, favoring a variety of percussion instruments, toy piano, cortales and cymbals, pushing the boundaries of Bel Canto sound.

Donizetti’s orchestration is fairly straightforward.

The harp solo was changed to a vibraphone solo, which also was used to replace the flute during the vocal cadenza. Toy piano, Cortales and Cymbals were used during the Mad Scene, including going inside the piano to pluck strings and other effects.

These are not mere orchestral reductions, they are re-invisioning the opera’s scores.

Sunday In the Park With George

  • Stephen Sondheim, composer
  • James Lapine, librettist
  • Michael Starobin, orchestrator

Daniel created a new orchestrations of this score for Ethan Heard’s senior thesis Yale drama school production. Daniel was supervised by Starobin while creating this new version.


  • Stephen Sondheim, composer
  • John Weidman, librettist
  • Playwrights Horizons produced the original Off-Broadway production The band for this first production was 2 pianos and percussion
    • Paul Ford, pianist
    • Michael Starobin, pianist
    • Paul Gemignani, percussionist
  • The band was increased for the original recording and then subsequently increased again for the Broadway production at Studio 54.

Don Giovanni – new orchestration

Amadeus Mozart’s scores are adaptable for different sized ensembles. Daniel looked to these two works:

  • Clarinet Quintet
  • Clarinet Concerto

The relationship of the Clarinet in these two pieces is like an outsider. Chamber music is about groups of musicians in relation to other groups. The Quintet especially features a real dialogue between the Clarinet and the Strings. The opening of this work is what inspired Daniel for his new orchestration.

Don Giovanni is seen as a social outcast, an outsider, who is also a shapeshifter that can get under people’s skin. So, the pairing of Clarinet with this character makes perfect sense.

Fidelio – new orchestration

There will be both audio and video recordings of 6 Midwest prison choirs used in this production.

Ethan Heard was interested in making this story contemporary.

All the singing text is unchanged and in German. Marcus Scott and Ethan have totally rewritten the dialogue scenes and these are performed in English.
Set in America to take on the American Criminal Justice System.

Amanda Weber, a choral conductor was one of Daniel’s classmates at Yale School of Music. She started a program in Minnesota called: “Voices of Hope”, a choir based in a prison.

She connected Ethan & Daniel up with 5 other prison choir directors. They all went on to learn the prisoners chorale: “O Welche Lust”

Beethoven struggled with writing this opera. When he was approached to write it he said: “You have Rossini, why do you need Beethoven?”.

Once he did begin work, he was ruthless with his own cuts and revisions of the opera, thus Daniel felt he was given license to take a new look at the score and react to it.

The core of Heartbeat’s work is workshopping their new versions during their rehearsal periods, breathing life into the process of creating live opera.

What is next on Daniel’s creative schedule?

AWFUL EVENT! or The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln as Interpreted by the Unseen

  • Internal Organs of His Wife
  • Dustin Wills, director
  • Kate Tarker, playwright
  • Ars Nova – June 2016 premiere, ANT Fest, New York, NY
  • NYTW also provided assistance in developing this work.
  • A new workshop will be presented in May 2018 at Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, NY
  • Princess Grace Foundation Theater Residency
  • Singers play Mary Todd Lincoln’s internal organs.

La Boheme Warhola

  • Pittsburgh Festival Opera
  • Andy Warhol Museum
  • Louisa Proske was approached by them to create a new version of La Boheme with an Andy Warhol theme. It will be set in the Warhol Factory and the characters based on his entourage of people. Orchestral style may be leaning towards Velvet Underground.
    Produced in July 2018 at Falk Auditorium and the Andy Warhol Museum.

Kelly Griffin, Soprano

  • Leah/Lee in Fidelio
  • Ethan Heard, director

How was this rehearsal process different?

A director usually comes in with a static version of what they envision on the stage. All the character moves plotted out. Ethan looks at the drama as it is happening and also how the singer/actor is feeling at that moment. What do they think the character should be  doing. The work is very dynamic and flexible, it changes as the process goes along.

What is the concept for this production?

It addresses the massive imprisonment of ethnic minorities in America as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. We are giving a voice to people that would not otherwise have an opportunity to speak and be heard.

This production of Fidelio has been set in modern times.

This is her Heartbeat Opera company debut.

How is performing opera on such an intimate level?

Although it is a very intimate, Heartbeat’s scale is really on a grand scale. The cast is using the whole theater.

Kelly grew up in the Southern tier of New York State, the town of Allegheny. She went to Indiana Univeristy, then University of Cincinnati along with various Young Artist programs.

What’s next for Kelly?

Audition season

Has a project she is developing that includes ballet and song. Dancers involved are mostly affiliated with City Ballet as independent artists. Will be fully produced in 2019.

  • Silas Farley, choreographer
  • Met Live Arts
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Previewed this new work

What roles does she envision in the future for herself?

  • Lady Macbeth, Aida, Tosca
  • Generally the traditional canon, especially heroines written by Verdi

How is she adapting to the new orchestral arrangements for Fidelio?

  • Daniel Schlosberg, new orchestrator/arranger.
  • Cantata Profana, instrumental ensemble

This rehearsal process has been more like a workshop. The orchestra is engaged beyond playing their parts. Orchestration is still evolving and the musicians are making those changes right then and there.

How is the incorporation of the recorded prison choirs working?

They are meshing together recordings from 6 different Mid-Western prison choirs. The orchestra will playing live. It has taken the production to another level, to hear the prisoner voices and see their faces and have them honored that way.

Credits: Peter Szep producer/editor, Chuck Sachs, contributor

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