Podcast 52: Opera Theater of St. Louis, Opera Saratoga, Women Composers and dell’Arte Opera Ensemble

Peter, Brooke & Chuck engage in an rousing roundtable about opera productions from near and far, including Opera Theater of St. Louis, Opera Saratoga and the Mostly Mozart Festival, as well as the Recipients of the Commissioning Grants for Women Composers

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  • Bernstein’s MASS at Mostly Mozart Festival
  • Eighth Grade, a new movie by director/writer Bo Burnham
  • Opera America Conference 2018, St. Louis, MO
    • Attended panels on
      • Color conscious casting
      • Women in opera
      • Community Responsibility
    • John Adams, composer was the Keynote Speaker
    • Laura Kaminsky, composer participated on some panels

Opera Theatre of St. Louis

  • Regina by Marc Blitzstein
    • based on the play The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman
    • James Robinson, director
    • Stephen Lord, conductor
    • Susan Graham, Regina
    • James Morris, Ben Hubbard
    • Ron Raines, Oscar Hubbard
    • Susanna Phillips, Birdie Hubbard
  • Orfeo by Gluck
    • (Set in a 1980’s punk neon style)
    • Ron Daniels, director
    • Katarzyna Skarpetowska, choreographer
    • Big Muddy Dance Company
    • Jennifer Johnson Cano, Orfeo
    • Andriana Chuchman, Euridice
  • An American Soldier
    • Huang Ruo, composer
    • David Henry Hwang, librettist
    • Andrew Stenson, Danny Chen
    • Mika Shigematsu, Mother Chen
    • Wayne Tigges, Sargent Aaron Marcum
    • Kathleen Kim, Josephine Young
  • La Traviata by Verdi (in English)
    • Patricia Racette, director
    • The Director made some distinct small changes that helped to focus and support Violetta’s story better.

Peter, Chuck, Brooke

  • MASS by Leonard Bernstein, (w/ additional texts by Stephen Schwartz)
    • Mostly Mozart Festival 2018 at David Geffen Hall
    • Deborah Borda, President/CEO – New York Philharmonic
    • Louis Langree, conductor
    • Elkanah Pulitzer, director
    • Nmon Ford, The Celebrant
      • He was superb throughout, but especially in the “Our Father” and the long scena “Things Get Broken”
    • Young People’s Chorus of New York
    • Elizabeth Nunez, Associate Artistic Director
    • Concert Chorale of New York
      • James Bagwell, Director
    • Hadleigh Adams, Michael Kelly, Street Singers
    • Used the original Bernstein recordings that are played along with the live performance.
    • Choreography, we felt it mostly got in the way or was stilted
    • Jesus Christ Superstar by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice premiered only one year before MASS in 1970.
    • MASS received a production at Carnegie Hall and United Palace Theater in October 2008
      • Marin Alsop, conductor
      • Kevin Newbury, director
      • Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
      • Chuck feels that this was a much better production of the work, although the Celebrant for the recent presentation was superior.


  • Opera Saratoga Summer Festival 2018
    • Saratoga Performing Arts Center
    • Lawrence Edelson, Artistic & General Director
    • Jonathan Blalock, Devolopment & Patron Services Manager
    • The Merry Widow by Franz Lehar
      • John de los Santos, director/choreographer
      • Anthony Barrese, conductor
    • Vinkensport, or the Finch Opera
      • David T. Little, composer and new orchestrations
      • Royce Vavrek, librettist
      • Garrett Obrycki, Baritone (Sings aria about letting his Finch go.)
      • Opera is about a competitive Finch singing contest.
      • The characters appear to be as trapped as their encaged finches.
    • Rocking Horse Winner (based on a D.H. Lawrence short story)
      • Gareth Williams, composer
      • Anna Chatterton, librettist
      • Tyler Nelson, Tenor – sings the Rocking Horse Winner
      • Opera is about a boy on the autistic spectrum who while riding his rocking horse can see/predict what horse is going to win a race at the racetrack. He hopes that all this monetary wealth will make his mother happy, it doesn’t. Eventually he rides himself to death.
    • The Consul, by Gian Carlo Menotti
      • Lawrence Edelson, director
      • Andrew Bisantz, conductor
      • Meghan Kansanders, Magda Sorel
      • Deborah Nansteel, Mother
      • Jennifer Panara, The Secretary
      • Tyler Nelson, The Magician
      • Opera is about a family trying to escape from a dictatorship.
      • Magda’s husband is wanted by the government, but is able to escape. he sends for his wife and child, but their meeting with the Consul is constantly stalled and they don’t live to see freedom.

Opera America Commissioning Grants 2018-2019 — These grants go to member opera companies to support their production of commissioned opera by a female composer.

  • Beth Morrison Projects
    • Adoration by Mary Kouyoumdjian, composer & Royce Vavrek, librettist
  • On Site Opera
    • Lady Murasaki and the Tale of Genji by Michi Wiancko, composer and Deborah Brevoort, librettist
  • Opera On Tap
    • Looking At You by Kamala Sankaram, composer & Rob Handel, librettist
  • Opera Philadelphia (to be produced as part of Festival 020)
    • Ashes by Jennifer Higdon, composer & Jerry Dye, librettist
  • Washington National Opera
    • Taking Up Serpents by Kamala Sankaram & Jerry Dye, librettist
    • Opera On Tap – La Cenerentola on the Playground – Kamala Sankaram played the accordion in the band

CLIP: LOOKING AT YOU by Kamala Sankaram & Rob Handel

  • Ethan tries to contact Dorothy through her Fitbit.
  • Jonathan Blalock, Ethan
  • Rachel Calloway, Dorothy
    • Rachel also sang Mother in Sumeida’s Song by Mohammed Fairouz

Hartt School of Music

  • Peter Szep’s Alma Mater
  • Operas done while at school there:
  • Manon by Massanet
  • Susannah by Carlisle Floyd

Jennifer Higdon

CLIP: ZAKA by Jennifer Higdon, an instrumental chamber work
Eighth Blackbird from their album “Strange Imaginary Animals”

  • Blue Cathedral, orchestral work
  • Cold Mountain, an opera by Higdon and librettist, Gene Scheer.

dell’Arte Opera Ensemble Interviews

Owen Horsley, director – Don Giovanni (by Wofgang Amadeus Mozart)

  • First time directing both for dell’Arte and of an opera, comes from classical theater – Royal Shakespeare Company & Cheek By Jowl in England.
  • Bard City is the Shakespeare training program he created.
  • His approach to directing has always been musical and rhythmical.
  • He ass’t directed on a productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream co-created by the RSC and Garsington Opera in 2015 using all of the music that Mendelssohn composed for the play.
  • Chris Fecteau, Artistic Director and Co-Conductor has chosen to do present the Viennese version of Don Giovanni. Instead of the more frequently chosen ending where all the other main characters come back onstage and sing a moralistic finale number, here the opera ends with the Don being dragged down to hell by the Commendatore.
  • Why do we tell these classic stories now?
  • Owen sees this opera about relationships between genders, about seduction, but also about potential abuse. In this post #MeToo era, we need to look at this story in a different way, make it about calling out the system of hierarchal abuse.
  • He has set it within the construct of the entertainment business looking at the competition, the ambition and the dynamic between an aesthetic world and and ethical world. Don Giovanni represents the aesthetic, which people are drawn towards and he uses/abuses that power over them, working to get people into situations that could ruin them.
  • After their interactions with Giovanni, Donna Elvira and Donna Anna respond to something more ethical. Their plight is to succeed despite their past and to expose him.
    The set is an abstracted hotel so we can see the difference between the private and the public; what regularly goes on behind closed doors in the entertainment industry.
  • There is a cast of 8 leads and an ensemble of 6, all the leads are double cast.
    In auditions Owen was looking for singers who could shift their amazing vocal techniques into service of character and telling the story.
  • He has been working strongly with the singers to make both the recitatives and arias dramatically active. Each character is trying to effect a change in the person they are singing to or with.
    Chris wanted this production to have a relentless nature to it, so that it never stops moving forward. It makes it seem like the end of an aria is crashing on top of the start of the next recitative.
  • Salome by Oscar Wilde
    • Royal Shakespeare Company
    • Owen Horsley, director
    • Matthew Tennyson, Salome
    • There were two major reasons that the RSC wanted to produce this play in 2017 at Stratford on Avon.
    • Last year marked the 50th Anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in the U.K. and the RSC wanted to recognize that.
    • A man was cast as Salome, none of the personal pronouns were changed so it created a level of ambiguity throughout the play, thus recognizing the new breakdown in gender categories.
    • Perfume Genius, a Seattle based solo artist was approached and gave Owen permission to use his music. It was newly orchestrated and used
      throughout this production of Salome.
    • The production broke open new conversations between audience members. It also developed a following amongst teenagers, especially young women.
  • What’s next for Owen?
    • May Days by David Edgar
    • Royal Shakespeare Company
    • Mischief Festivals at The Other Place
  • In a new age of radical leftism and global politics, this new version of David Edgar’s 1983 award-winning hit play has startling parallels to the political revolution of the Millennial Generation. Maydays tells the story of the idealistic young who came of age in 1968 and were drawn into revolutionary politics; of defection from east to west as well as from left to right. It is told through a number of interlocking stories, across three continents and 25 years of tumultuous history.

Bea Goodwin, director – La Cifra (The Code) by Antonion Salieri, USA premiere

  • Bea started working with dell’Arte three seasons ago as an ass’t director to Kyle Pfortmiller for La Traviata. In that same season, she directed Act One of La Rondine in the Scenes Program. She had never been an assistant before, or directed an opera.
  • How does the music of the opera support and propel the drama forward?
  • Calisto was her first experience with continuo accompanied recitative.
  • Co-Conductors Charles Weaver & Chris Fecteau told her that Calisto was written for actors who sing.
    • Working in collaboration with them, she learned how everything is connected in opera.
  • With La Cifra she didn’t have a lot of music to start with.
  • Bea has a degree in theater Arts from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
  • Wroxton College is a division of FDU housed in a modernized 17th Century manor house in Oxfordshire, England, Students can spend a full semester abroad there.
    • While there, Bea was attending at least 3 shows a week to support her program concentration: Theater Through the Body.
    • She also received a minor in British Studies.
    • They were to prepare for each production by reading the play or libretto in English and then see the piece in it’s original language.
      • Uncle Vanya in Russian, Madame Butterfly in Italian, etc.
      • The goal was to see how the story was told through body language without reading the supertitles and then relate that to what they had read.
    • For Madame Butterfly, they read the libretto and then saw a ballet version done to the opera score by Giacomo Puccini.
    • Northern Ballet Company
      • David Nixon, OBE – Choreographer, Costume & Set designer
      • It began with a sequence that was not in the libretto, Butterfly’s father committing suicide. It was a stunning dance of ritualistic death, he had these long sleeves and as he sliced his stomach open, the sleeves unraveled and a full red backdrop was revealed behind him. Then, when Butterfly chooses to commit suicide she performs the same dance with the same costume/set presentation.
        That was Bea’s “lightbulb” experience about what theater could support.
  • With the Music of La Cifra every section is so purposeful to bringing the story forward, it almost dictates what the physical blocking should be.
  • Chris Fecteau worked on reconstructing this score. The opera had recently been done in Europe, but there remains hardly any research materials available about the original production.
  • She had the libretto and the score and chose to look at this opera as if it is a new operatic work.
  • It is a farce that appears to be using a Commedia style story.
    • A man stole and hid a noble girl for a really long time in the highlands of Scotland. A Scottish nobleman comes along searching for her.
    • One daughter believes she is the missing girl, while the other “daughter” begins to realize that she is that girl. Meanwhile, the father is going crazy as the identities are coming clear.
  • The character archetypes supported her directing the opera in the Commedia dell’Arte style, as they are constantly speaking in asides to the audience and have recognizable Commedia character traits.
  • During the opening Symphonia, Bea has staged the ensemble to introduce the audience to the village and their place in it as they set up the space.
  • Speak Now Theatre Company
    • A devised theater group that Bea founded after graduating from University.
    • They receive commissions form various organizations to create pieces about relevant issues: eating disorders, drunk driving, drug rings in High School.
    • It was crucial in developing her as an artist and figuring out what she wanted to give to the theater world. It taught her how to portray story and bring attention to people/communities that have not been able to get their voices heard.
    • She has had younger university students shadow her as she created the devised theater works and has now handed over the reigns of the company to them. One student, Sierra has created a work about “sexualization in a college setting”. As part of it, she examines what books are on the required reading lists for high school students. I.E., Lolita by Nabokov is on the must read list, while A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is banned!
    • She looks at how our psyches are crafted through the books we read and discuss and what behaviors or attitudes arise from that.



  • The Creation by Franz Joseph Haydn – sung in German
    • Mostly Mozart Festival, Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center
    • Laurence Equilbey, conductor
    • Carlus Padrissa, director
    • La Fura dels Baus, multi-media group
    • Accentus – choir
    • Insula Orchestra
    • Choir and orchestra are in residence at La Seine Musicale near Paris.
    • This is Haydn’s take on the Creation Myth, however, it doesn’t make any mention of original sin. Named characters are the 3 Angels: Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael then adding Adam and Eve in the 3rd section all supported by a large choir. The orchestration and harmonics of this composition was ahead of it’s time because of the use of dissonance and chromaticism.
    • There was lot of flying of the angels via harnesses and eventually a small rolling
      aquarium was brought to center stage. The choir members were dressed like refugees from Paradise, expelled because of war, or due to natural, economic, political or religious reasons.
    • There were problems with the supertitles note being viewable by the whole audience. Either too high up on the rolling scrim walls on stage, or the font size too small for the two screens on either side of the orchestra. The choir all were holding large white helium balloons that were used to create designs or to frame the stage action. Unfortunately, during the 3rd section when they went out into the orchestra aisles, but their balloons then blocked the view of Adam & Eve center stage for mezzanine audience.
    • Chuck first was introduced to the work of La Fura dels Baus at the Edinburgh International Festival for an original multi-media music theater work done in Catalan.

We’re looking for volunteers and others with a passion for the future of opera please reach out to us at comments@indieopera.com

Credits: Peter Szep, Chuck Sachs, Brooke Larimer, Walker Lewis, Matthew Wilson (Audio Engineer), Peter Szep (Editor)

Musical Credits

Opera Theater of St. Louis – with the St. Louis Symphony

Regina by Marc Blitzstein

  • Stephen Lord, conductor

Orfeo by Gluck

An American Soldier

  • Andrew Stenson, Danny Chen
  • Mika Shigematsu, Mother Chen
  • La Traviata by Verdi (in English)


Kamala Sankaram

  • Looking at you
  • Cast:
    • Dorothy- Rachel Calloway
    • Ethan- Jonathan Blalock
    • Samuel McCoy- conductor
    • Charity Wicks DePinto- piano
    • Jeff Hudgins- alto saxophone
    • Ed RosenBerg- tenor saxophone
    • Josh Sinton- baritone saxophone

Mary Kouyoumdjian, Everlastingness (from “Gorky”); Libretto by Royce Vavrek


  • Excerpts from a song cycle (MichiWianko performed/recorded)
  • 9 Death Haiku, based on the poetry of 17th century Buddhist monks in Japan

Opera Saratoga

  • Merry Widow
  • Vinkensport – Conductor David Alan Miller
  • Rocking Horse Winner
  • The Consul
    • Magda Sorel – Meghan Kasanders
    • John Sorel – Robert Wesley Mason
    • Mother – Deborah Nansteel
    • Andrew Bisantz, conductor

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