Corset Up and Remember to Breathe

downloadCorsets on stage: Sometimes we see them, sometimes we don’t. Corsets have certainly made a comeback since designer Coco Chanel knocked them out of daily wear for early 20th century women. However, actors and singers often find themselves wearing corsets as part of period costumes for roles set in anywhere from the 1500s to early 1900s.

This week, there’s a noticeable intersection of laced up undergarments with singers in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh singer Kara Cornell sings the role of sculptress Camille Claudel, an artist in her own right who was assistant to Auguste Rodin, in Into the Fire for Resonance Works | Pittsburgh on Friday and Saturday. The New York Times described the piece as one that “compresses a tragic life of operatic dimensions into a song cycle of great beauty and emotional resonance.”

Kara Cornell
Kara Cornell

On Sunday, final contestants in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Mildred Miller International Voice Competition sing at The Frick as “Undressed  – The History of Fashion in Underwear” has its weekend. The show features historical undergarments at the Point Breeze museum. Up to 10 singers selected during sessions (free to the public on Saturday at Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts) will compete for cash prizes and summer season roles. Those attending can take the exhibit before the contest and during intermission while the judges deliberate.

Kara shared her perspective as a singer most frequently corseted for one of her recurring roles, Carmen in Bizet’s opera. She’s twice sung the role for Pittsburgh Festival Opera as well as many other companies. The mezzo soprano is also often cast in “trouser roles”, but Kara brings a career singer’s perspective to the corset as a costume piece.

PITR: How often have you worn a corset for a role?

Cornell as Carmen
Cornell as Carmen

Kara: I really only wear a corset when I sing in Carmeneither the title role or the secondary character of Mercedes. So I don’t wear a corset for all of my performings, but I do Carmen enough that I decided to buy my own corset.

I’ve been able to dodge the corset in a lot of Handel and Mozart operas because I usually play the boy/men in those operas! Lucky me! As a singer who does not enjoy being bound up, I am lucky to have only worn tight corsets on the outside of my costume.

PITR:  Some say breathing against the corset might be at first different but a sometimes helpful experience. How does a singer learn to adapt to underpinnings that might appear to hinder breathing?

Kara:  Some of my colleagues really enjoy singing with a corset, and wear their personal corset under their audition outfit! The reason for this is because some singers like to feel a resistance when they breathe – expansion of the ribs is important for a lot of singers, so pushing the ribs against a corset or a tight dress helps them feel engaged around their entire ribcage.

Before I purchased my own corset, I would expand my ribs before I was tied into the corset. Sometimes they would be so tight that I couldn’t breathe! The corset I purchased ends above my belly button, so it makes me feel like I can let my stomach expand and I’m not as smushed.

PITR:  The sculptress Camille Claudel would have worn an Edwardian Corset, which creates a different silhouette than prior eras. It was known not only to constrict the waist and changed the emphasis on the stomach, but it caused the hips to jut out. Some women developed back injuries.

Kara:  I could also imagine Camille Claudel going sans corset, as she needed to have mobility in her body, in order to sculpt.

PITR:  Costumers also have multiple challenges…

Kara:  Buying my own assures that I have a well fitting corset that makes me look great AND makes me feel like I can still breathe. Another big issue with outer corsets is removing them quickly–if there is a quick change into another costume, untying a corset can be a real pain to do in 15 seconds.

Also, many quick changes happen in minimal lighting, because there isn’t always time to run back to the dressing room. The lack of light behind the stage curtain also makes it hard to see where the ties are on the corset, so a lot of time can be wasted. Some costume designers therefore cut a corset vertically and add velcro. This seems like a nice idea, but doesn’t always work because now the singer’s breathing can literally pop open the velcro!

22366282_10155832145656974_1927005191475115616_nOf course, singers in concert while singing from a role would not bring their own corset along for events such as Resonance Works program or a recital setting like the Miller Competition. No such trappings “out of costume” for these singers. But when you’re attending a full-out Elizabeth, Victorian, and Edwardian period production you may assume the actresses are in corsets. Most often, cast members work “laced up” for the whole show.

Aspects of period movement that include sitting, standing, and breathing in a corset are part of training. Nothing may accentuate one’s waist like a corset, but, then again, nothing may bring on the “vapors” as quickly on a hot day.

Women in the 20th century may have merrily torn off their corsets or burnt their bras, but laced undergarments give us an idea of the women who went before–how they had to get dressed (often only with assistance) and how their movement was limited while corseted.

On stage, knowing yourself and your corset are requirements for a good experience on stage. Just remember to breathe!

About the Events

Into the Fire/A Poet’s Love is presented by Resonance Works | Pittsburgh on Friday at 8 pm, PYCO School of Music Recital Hall, Wexford, and Saturday at 8 pm, Levy Hall, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Oakland.

The Mildred Miller International Voice Competition of Pittsburgh Festival Opera finals take place on Sunday from 2 to 5 pm in the intimate auditorium of the Frick Art & Historical Center, Point Breeze. A special online promo code for PITR readers (MILLER2017) now provides tickets for $10. All students are admitted free.

On Saturday, admission is free for all to hear the 20 semifinalists sing from 11 am to 1 pm and 3 to 6 pm, Kresge Theatre, Carnegie Mellon College of Fine Arts.

Undressed: A History of Fashion in Underwear opens on Saturday, October 12 at the Frick. Those attending the Miller finals on Sunday may also visit the Frick galleries.

Intermezzo

intermezzoPittsburgh Festival Opera continues to make good on its promise of producing Richard Strauss rarities, and for the fourth consecutive summer has revived one of the composer’s lesser known works. The company last year set the bar as high as it seemingly could go with its magnificent performances of The Silent Woman, but that was pretty much the same impression the previous summer’s Capriccio performances left, as did Ariadne on Naxos the summer before. Next summer will see what the company can do with Arabella, but last night’s performance of Intermezzo (another Pennsylvania first) was a quite excellent evening of majestic music and comedy.

The story of Intermezzo is based (and only somewhat loosely) on misunderstandings which occurred between the composer and his wife. In the early 1900’s, a letter meant for a conductor was sent by a woman to Strauss in error. His wife opened and read the letter, and it was with the greatest of difficulty that Strauss was able to convince her of his innocence. A separate incident, involving Mrs. Strauss’ head being briefly turned by a man who later tried to get money from her, is incorporated into the mix. Strauss apparently thought that setting these events to music – without telling his wife the plot of his latest opera – was a good idea. The composer describes the work as a “Bürgerliche Komödie mit sinfonischen Zwischenspielen,” and that mouthful translates into a “bourgeois comedy with symphonic interludes.”

Robert (Ryan Milstead) confronts Christine (Meghan DeWald) about the drawing that Baron Lummer (Jason Slayden) made of her.
Robert (Ryan Milstead) confronts Christine (Meghan DeWald) about the drawing that Baron Lummer (Jason Slayden) made of her.

Strauss’ usual librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, wanted nothing to do with the project. Strauss was turned down by a couple of other writers, and one wrote text that wasn’t quite what Strauss had in mind. Hermann Bahr, a distinguished German critic and author, who had written the draft which hadn’t impressed Strauss, suggested that he write the book himself. Strauss becomes “Robert Storch,” a famous conductor in the finished opera, and his wife, Pauline, is represented by “Christine.” The story goes that after the opera premiered in Dresden in 1924, soprano Lotte Lehmann (who had just created the role of Christine) congratulated the startled Pauline Strauss on the “marvelous present” her husband had given her. There are a couple of versions of her response to Lehmann, all containing the word “damn.”

Like a number of his other operas, Strauss’ Intermezzo includes no overture – the singers hit the ground running within seconds of the orchestra’s first tones. The composer’s majestic orchestration, complex, ravishingly beautiful, and virtually continuous, is one of the finest features of this work, and it was played remarkably well and conducted with a thorough sympathy with the music by Brett McMunn. He has demonstrated before that he is quite capable of bringing Strauss’ colorful scores vividly to life, and he proved his abilities again last night. The stamina of the instrumentalists made his vision possible, and all are to be congratulated on a performance that greatly pleased the audience.

Baron Lummer (Jason Slayden) bringing Christine (Meghan DeWald) flowers.
Baron Lummer (Jason Slayden) bringing Christine (Meghan DeWald) flowers.

The lion’s share of the opera falls on the shoulders of the leading soprano role, Christine Storch. The part is astonishingly difficult. Almost continuously she must deliver a huge amount of text at a breakneck speed, with few moments of slowly sustained singing. Demanding half-spoken, half-sung “patter” to use of the uppermost flights of the soprano range in rafter-rattling fortissimo passages, it’s by no means a role for the faint of heart. Only the most highly skilled of singing actresses can hope to make a success of the part, and last night Meghan DeWald did exactly that. In voice, action, appearance and more she was outstanding. This remarkably gifted woman gave a performance encompassing the use of a magnificent voice and charming, comedic acting skills that aren’t likely to be forgotten anytime soon by those on hand last night to see and hear her.

Strauss modestly confines his counterpart, Robert Storch, the conductor, to a comparatively short portion of the first act, bringing him more to the fore in the second, but this does not mean that the role is an easy one. Ryan Milstead sang and acted the role quite well, and the chemistry between he and Ms. DeWald was rather enchanting, and the comic bickering between the two, which could not hide a deep and abiding love between the two characters, was great fun throughout. Maggie Burr, as Anna, the long-suffering maid, was a comic delight who sang the part well and did more acting with her face than many can do with their entire bodies. Jason Slayden, as “Baron Lummer,” the young Lothario type who briefly captures Christine’s half-hearted fancy, certainly looked the part and has a voice which is quite pleasing.

Ryan Milstead as Robert Storch.
Ryan Milstead as Robert Storch.

For the most part, the other roles are sung (or spoken), in the second act, and all were in the hands of artists who made the most of their opportunities – and the audience wish that their parts were larger. Adam Hollick was quite engaging as the lawyer Christine visits in her attempt to start divorce proceedings against the quite innocent Robert, and here again the entertaining results came largely through the chemistry he shared with Ms. DeWald. Others who came and went all too quickly were Elise Mark (the attorney’s wife), Robert Chafin (Stroh), Robert Gerold (A Commercial Counselor), Evan Koons (A Legal Counselor), Adam Cioffari (A Celebrated Singer), Marie Anello (Fanny), Lori Carrau (Marie) and Heather Hale (Resi). A charming young lad named Jake Blackledge spoke a few lines as the Storchs’ son Franzl, and won all when he offered his distraught mother a teddy bear.

The ensemble, including Thomas Cilluffo, Diego Del Valle, Kelsey Fredriksen, Chunghee Lee, Francesca Molinaro, John Teresi and Terriq White, had their work cut out for them, mainly in the shifting of the opera’s numerous scenes. Some of these were quite effective, and thanks to Hank Bullington’s innovative projection and scenic designs, the audience was treated to children (Maggie Belliston, Sasha Cowan, Lila Weber and Simon Weber) tobogganing in snow, and at one point saw a large opera audience staring back at them.

Only one performance remains – Sunday, July 23, at 2:30 p.m. Please see and hear this Strauss rarity that you’re not likely to have a chance at any time soon, locally or otherwise!

For tickets and more, visit Pittsburgh Festival Opera.

The Production Team for Intermezzo –

 Conductor, Brent McMunn; Director, Jonathan Eaton; English Translation, Andrew Porter; Scenic and Projection Design, Hank Bullington; Pianists, Stephen Variames and Soo-Yeon Park; Costume Design, Krista Ivan; Lighting Design, Madeleine Steineck; Hair and Makeup Design, Rikkilee Rose; Assistant Director, Eunbi Cho; Stage Manager, Kathleen Stakenas; Assistant Stage Managers, Lauren Wickett and Katy Click

Photography – Patti Brahim

Xerxes

xerxesPittsburgh Festival Opera gave the first of three performances of Händel’s Xerxes last night, and it was a delightfully rare opportunity to hear this seldom performed “Baroque” music. The work premiered in London in 1738, and flopped after a handful of performances. The famous “Ombra mai fu” opening aria survived to become a standard with concert singers many decades later; is in the repertories of most organists, and has been recorded by tenors, contraltos and counter-tenors from the earliest days of “phonographic” history until the present. But the opera itself virtually disappeared until the 1920’s. Its original production failed because it was not the type of opera early 18th century listeners were accustomed to and enjoyed – the arias were not of the long, three-movement “da capo” variety so popular at the time, and its comic elements were perceived as out of place. Audiences preferred either the comic or tragic, with little tolerance of the middle road, and the admixture of “noble” characters with those of a “common” sort was a distinct deviation from what was acceptable on the stage, to say nothing of life in general in those days.

Händel composed the opera (“Serses” in the original Italian, as that language’s alphabet does not include “x”) to a libretto with a rather complex history. Nicolò Minato wrote the first version, for an opera of the same name by Francesco Cavalli, first heard in Rome in 1654. Silvio Stampiglia adapted Minato’s book for composer Giovanni Bononcini’s 1694 opera. There is some disagreement among music historians regarding who reworked Stampaglia’s version for Händel, but all are loosely based on King Xerxes of ancient Persia and, with slight variations, real people and events in his life.

Andrey Nemzer (Xerxes) with dancers Weylin Gomez and Mils James
Andrey Nemzer (Xerxes) with dancers Weylin Gomez and Mils James

A quick synopsis of the three act opera – Xerxes loves and is determined to marry Romilda, a daughter of Ariodate, one of the king’s generals. But Romilda is also loved by Arsamene, Xerxes’ brother. Atalanta, Romilda’s sister, is in love with Arsamene. Amastre, Xerxes’ abandoned fiancée, disguises herself as a man to seek revenge. Atalanta’s amusing attempts to convince all that Arsamene loves her causes a series of complicated misunderstandings, while the comic servant Elviro pops in and out to liven up the confusion of mistaken identity and love letters helped to fall into the wrong hands. The opera ends with a quick resolution that reunites Xerxes with Amastre, and Arsamene with Romilda. The mighty king is humbly forgiving, Atalanta does not appear to be especially distressed that her sister is the victor in their sibling rivalry, and no one is killed. It takes an exceptional group of singing actors and strong direction to keep up interest in such doings, and Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s production, fortunately, has both.

Bonnie Frauenthal (Atalanta) and Lara Lynn McGill (Romilda)
Bonnie Frauenthal (Atalanta) and Lara Lynn McGill (Romilda)

Written in the age of the castrato, today it is a showpiece for the counter-tenor. Not as strong a work as Händel’s Julius Caesar (which was outstandingly presented by the company last summer) it has been said that the elements of Xerxes that fared so poorly with its first audiences are precisely those which make it so appealing to audiences nearly three centuries later, and that this is true was amply demonstrated last evening. The audience loved it, and the performance ended in an ovation that was quite a roar of approval.

It is doubtful that this would be the case if the production did not have such a strong ensemble of talent, onstage and off. The cast is one of exceptional excellence. The orchestra, augmented by Chatham Baroque’s Andrew Fouts (violin), Patricia Halverson (viola de gamba) and Scott Pauley (theorbo) was conducted by Walter Morales, and the last named gentleman has proven on several occasions that he truly understands and loves the music of this genre. He proved it again last night quite successfully. Metropolitan Opera director Dan Rigazzi returned to work the same wonders he did with Julius Caesar, and the production as a whole is a well-choreographed, colorfully costumed and entertaining evening, despite a slight monotony in some of the music and a comparatively mild plot that doesn’t quite seem to fit a mighty king.

James Eder (Elviro), background, and Daniel Moody (Arsamene)
James Eder (Elviro), background, and Daniel Moody (Arsamene)

Andrey Nemzer, in the title role, made the most of the demanding music written for the character. Händel screws the tessitura up to a very high register, and pretty much keeps it there throughout. Nemzer was formidable in appearance, and poured out the vocal line with apparent ease, a feat quite impossible for all but the most highly skilled and talented performer of this vocal range. His voice is huge and brilliant, and his singing and acting of the fatiguing role pleased the audience greatly. Fellow counter-tenor Daniel Moody, as Arsamene, made a fine showing with the vastly more varied music Händel wrote for his role. His performance was a highlight of the evening, despite costuming, makeup and hair designs which gave him a slightly disconcerting resemblance to a carnival’s bearded lady.

Lara Lynn McGill sang the demanding role of Romilda quite effectively. As she has proven on a number of occasions in this and other roles, her voice is one of great strength and beauty, and of exquisite color in both sustained fortissimo passages and the most delicate pianissimo tones. She acts with

Emily Harmon (Amastre)
Emily Harmon (Amastre)

subtle nuances that are quite effective, and in appearance presents a vision of blonde beauty that would have quite startled the inhabitants of ancient Persia. Bonnie Frauenthal, as Romilda’s sister Atalanta, sang the role’s music quite impressively, and acted the part with a charming sense of comic innocence. She, too, was an audience favorite.

Emily Harmon, as Amastre, displayed her velvety mezzo-soprano voice to its best advantage in the more sustained passages of the last act. James Eder (Elviro) was a comic delight, and his bass voice is one of ample quality and quantity. Evan Koons (Ariodate) made the most of a role that offers little opportunity until the third and final act, displaying a powerful bass and an engaging flare for comic timing.

Evan Koons (Ariodate)
Evan Koons (Ariodate)

Dancers Weylin Gomez and Mils James underlined much of the action with exotic and picturesque effectiveness. A talented ensemble, consisting of Nicolas Barilar, Richard Block, Diego Del Valle, Rodolfo Giron, Chunghee Lee, Francesca Molinaro, Hannah Shea, Emily Weaver, and Terriq White, much like the majority of the leading singers, enunciated the surprisingly good English translation with much clarity.

Xerxes will be repeated only twice, tomorrow at the 2 p.m. matinee, and July 22 at 7:30, and lovers of beautiful singing of Baroque music are highly encouraged to take advantage of this impressive production.

For tickets, a more detailed synopsis, interesting historical facts and much more, visit Pittsburgh Festival Opera.

The Production Team for Xerxes –

Director, Daniel Ragazzi; Conductor, Walter Morales; Assistant Conductor, Jon Erik Schreiber; Pianists, Steven Liening and Yu-Ju Wu; Choreographer, Greer Reed; Scenic and Projection Design, Hank Bullington; Costume Design, Tony Sirk; Lighting Design, Bob Steineck; Hair and Makeup Design, Rikkilee Rose; Assistant Director, Briana Sosenheimer; Stage Manager, Emma Squire; Assistant Stage Managers, Courtney Chaplin and Lauren Wickett.

Photography: Patti Brahim

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

sweeny_toddStephen Sondheim’s musical adaptation of Sweeney Todd has been entertaining audiences for nearly forty years, and last night’s performance of the work by Pittsburgh Festival Opera did much to explain the show’s enduring popularity. In Sondheim’s creation of the musical, he used a 1973 play by Christopher Bond as his inspiration, but the title character dates as far back as the 1840s, when Victorian era readers of popular fiction, called “penny dreadfuls,” were introduced to him in a serialized weekly magazine story called “The String of Pearls.” A few dramatic adaptations of the “urban legend” span the 1860s to the 1960s, but Sondheim’s musical spin on the macabre tale is the one which will probably still be performed forty years from now.

The award-winning “thriller,” probably the darkest musical ever written, tells the morbid tale of a Victorian era barber who returns to London after years of Sweeney_HeaderAustralian exile, seeking revenge on the corrupt judge who banished him in order to pursue his wife. When it seems revenge might elude him, Sweeney swears vengeance on all, using the tools of his trade to slash the throats of as many people as he can, while his business partner, Mrs. Lovett, a baker, cooks the bodies into meat pies for sale to an unsuspecting public. But that lovely lady has been keeping serious secrets from Sweeney, regarding awful doings during his absence, and she lives to regret it. Many plot twists and characters make for a busy couple of oddly engaging hours of entertainment. Sweeney Todd, considered by many to be Sondheim’s greatest score, is almost operatic in spots, and of great intensity – musically and dramatically. Whether that’s all true is, as always, in the ear of the beholder, but there is no denying that the work is one of the most successful achievements in American musical theater in the last half century – possibly longer.

As presented by Pittsburgh Festival Opera, Sweeney Todd is, for the most part, a successful production of the classic. In the main, the staging is effective, although a few intensely dramatic moments fall a little flat, easily explained by the limited stage trappings of the Falk Auditorium at Winchester Thurston. The costuming and lighting leave little to be desired, and the clever use of projections is almost always successful. One or two shortcuts are taken, but the brief self-flagellation scene, which has occasionally ruffled feathers and been removed from some productions, remains. There is a large amount of talent in the cast, and the behind-the-scenes orchestra, conducted by Douglas Levine, is well up to providing the instrumental support for the singers.

No Caption NecessaryBaritone Andrew Cummings was effective as the brooding, morose, murderous barber, Benjamin Barker (alias Sweeney Todd). He certainly looked the part, acted it well, and sang with a steady voice which gained in mellow quality and quantity as the performance progressed. His enunciation of the text was quite distinct, which came in handy when the surtitles projected above the stage failed. This technical snafu created a problem for some of the other singers, but every word he sang was distinctly discernible, though they seemed to lack any trace of the English accent that most of the others adopted. Anna Singer was quite in her element as Mrs. Lovett, and gave the best performance I’ve heard her offer to date. Her singing and acting of the unique character were highlights of the evening, and she seemed to be thoroughly enjoying herself. In a few lighter-hearted spots, she hopped about most delightfully, resembling Mrs. Garrett from “The Facts of Life” at last driven to depravity by Blair Warner and Tootie.

Adam Hollick (Antony Hope) and April Amante (Johanna Barker)
Adam Hollick (Antony Hope) and April Amante (Johanna Barker)

An outstanding performance was given by Adam Hollick, as Anthony Hope, the young sailor who rescues Sweeney at sea during his escape back to England, and who falls in love with the barber’s beautiful young daughter. He acted the part with enthusiastic vivacity, sang very well, and, while maybe such things shouldn’t matter, his “movie star” good looks certainly didn’t detract from his appeal. John Teresi, a young tenor, was riveting as Tobias Ragg, a character referred to as a “simpleton” in the book; a young man who works first for a con-man, then Mrs. Lovett, but is not so simple that he cannot sense and fear the sinister side of Sweeney. The part is sometimes sung by a boy soprano, and he looked much like one, but the quality of his singing and acting made it clear that he is a very young adult with a promising future.

Adam Cioffari, as the evil Judge Turpin, sang and acted the part quite acceptably, but was a bit too youthful looking to present a thoroughly convincing portrayal of the role. The make-up department could easily make him look at least the same age as Sweeney, if not older. The versatile Robert Frankenberry, as the judge’s equally slimy Beadle Bamford, demonstrated a clear conception of his part, and sang with an occasional over-abundance of tone. This was noticeable a few times with some of the other singers in concerted numbers. In ensembles where a few characters should have sung in equal unison, the results sounded like singing contests.

Lesley Baird as the Beggar Woman
Lesley Baird as the Beggar Woman

Lesley Baird delivered an intense performance of the “Beggar Woman,” Lucy Barker, Sweeney’s wife, cast aside by the Judge years before, reduced to a crone in rags, unrecognized by her husband. April Amante was young Johanna, her daughter, claimed by the Judge as his ward – and prospective bride, locked up in Bedlam so that Anthony can’t romance her. Both sang their roles with voices of fine quality – and quantity. Thomas Cilluffo, in the small role of Adolfo Pirelli, the faux-“Eyetalian” hair tonic swindler, sang and acted in a manner that made one wish the part were larger.

The ensemble contained a large array of talent – Alex Longnecker, Maggie Burr, Jenne Carey, Lori Carrau, Kasey Cwynar-Foye, Robert Gerold (who displayed his powerful singing and acting abilities as Lockdown in A Gathering of Sons), Angela Joy Lamb, Elise Mark, Jordan Speranzo, Bill Townsend and Michele Renee Williams all rounded out a strong cast.

The audience was moderately large, but should have filled every seat. At the close of the performance, those in attendance expressed enthusiasm, loud and long, and in no uncertain terms.

Sweeney Todd will receive four repetitions throughout this month. For dates, performance times, tickets and much more, please visit Pittsburgh Festival Opera.

The Production Team of Sweeney Todd –

Music and Lyrics, Stephen Sondheim; Book, Hugh Wheeler; Director, Tomé Cousin; Conductor, Douglas Levine; Scenic and Projection Design, Hank Bullington; Costume Design, Rachel Wyatt; Lighting Design, Bob Steineck; Hair and Makeup Design, Jina Pounds; Assistant Director, Ian Silverman; Stage Manager, Kathleen Stakenas; Assistant Stage Managers, Francesca Mamlin and Katy Click

Photography – Patti Brahim

“If I Loved You…” – Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s New Revue

r&hIn keeping with its long, distinguished and successful history of world premieres and making old music new again, Pittsburgh Festival Opera this summer is producing If I Loved You… – a revue featuring the best of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s prolific output of memorable Broadway blockbusters. Jonathan Eaton and Rob Frankenberry have proven on a number of occasions that they are particularly adept at this type of creative endeavor, and have chosen the Broadway legends’ greatest hits, combining them into a new revue,  which, using the premise of an audition, explores all aspects of romance against a very musical backdrop.

This clever setting treats listeners to much from the best of such classics as “Carousel,” “State Fair,” “Flower Drum Song,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music” – in all, thirty-two hits from these works are heard in full or partially, and guest composer Stephen Sondheim’s “Not Getting Married Today,” from “Company,” is included as an additional treat. The new musical revue takes audiences behind the scenes, so to speak, of a typical musical audition, and the joys – and disappointments – that come with this highly competitive trade.

Snuggery Farm
Snuggery Farm

In what Artistic and General Director Jonathan Eaton has called “a constellation of personalities,” the new revue he directs this summer uses a combination of innovations that promises to appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes. “There’s ‘The Bad Boy’ whom everyone loves to hate and ends up loving, like the Billy character from ‘Carousel,’” he added, while other character types include “The Young Woman Who Wants To Be a Broadway Star” and “The Older, Wiser, Comedic Woman.” The revue features many of the company’s best vocalists, and that says a great deal, as Pittsburgh Festival Opera includes quite a few exceptionally talented singing actors on its roster. The abundance and quality of the company’s talent – on the stage and behind the scenes – seems to increase from summer to summer.

Front Row: (l-r): Emily Weaver, Angela Joy Lamb, Marie Anello, and Kelsey Fredrikson Back Row (l-r):  Bill Townsend, Ryan Milstead, Thomas Cillufo, Alex Longnecker
Front Row: (l-r): Emily Weaver, Angela Joy Lamb, Marie Anello, and Kelsey Fredrikson
Back Row (l-r): Bill Townsend, Ryan Milstead, Thomas Cillufo, Alex Longnecker

“Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” “People Will Say We’re In Love,” “June is Bustin’ Out All Over,” “There is Nothin’ Like a Dame,” and “The Sound of Music” are just a few of the tunes incorporated into the revue. The exceptional cast includes Marie Anello, Thomas Cilluffo, Kelsey Fredriksen, Angela Joy Lamb, Alex Longnecker, Ryan Milstead, Bill Townsend and Emily Weaver. The exceptionally gifted Rob Frankenberry conducts.

There is only one more chance to catch the show at Snuggery Farm in Sewickley – Sunday, July 2, at 7:30. A reasonably priced gourmet barbecue preceding the show starts at 6:00 on the terraces. If I Loved You… will also be performed in the Falk Auditorium at Winchester Thurston, Shadyside, on the Sundays of July 9 and 16, both starting at 6:30.

For tickets, additional production information and more, visit Pittsburgh Festival Opera. Great photos are included on the company’s Facebook page.

If I Loved You… is a summer musical treat that shouldn’t be missed.

A Gathering of Sons – World Premiere

AGOSLast night was an auspicious collection of “firsts” – Pittsburgh Festival Opera presented its first performance of the summer under their re-branded company name, and the opera chosen for the occasion was the world premiere of the much anticipated A Gathering of Sons. It wasn’t the company’s first world premiere; it was the 28th in its forty years’ worth of history, but it was the second of its especially commissioned works in its “Music That Matters” series – operas taking on pertinent issues facing our society as their subject material. Much has been written here over the last months regarding the opera, so that only a brief outline of the plot is necessary, and the difficult task of creating a coherent impression of such a highly complex, intricately crafted musical creation – after a single hearing – will be the intent of this review.

With a libretto by Dr. Tameka Cage Conley and music by composer Dwayne Fulton (who was on hand last night for the premiere), the opera tells as much as possible of the story of “Lockdown” (a white police officer with obvious, deeply disturbing issues), Victor (one of the young black men who is victimized), “City” (Victor’s brother, also a police officer and a new father), the anguish of parents, and, to use the program notes’ description, a “collection of spirits that watch over the world.” Much poetic license must be allowed in employing the last named, for it is difficult and tricky business in opera to rely on abstract ideas voiced by characters such as “The Sky That Can’t Stop Seeing,” “The Speaking Earth,” and a large assortment of others, but the alternative is supplying the “flesh-and-blood” singing actors with sufficient material to convey such concepts, which would require a colossal amount of work, and would result in an opera of an unendurable length. In the main, the “spirits” work, even if their numbers and contributions require intense concentration, but the opera, quite understandably, is by no means light and breezy, and several hearings or a close study of the libretto might be necessary to take it all in.

Glock reprimands Lockdown as the Sons and Great Father look on. (l-r) The Sons, Kevin Maynor (Glock), and Leslie Howard (Great Father)
Glock reprimands Lockdown as the Sons and Great Father look on. (l-r) The Sons, Kevin Maynor (Glock), and Leslie Howard (Great Father)

The very gifted Mr. Robert Frankenberry orchestrated Mr. Fulton’s music, and conducted last night, as he will at the remaining performances, instead of the original plan of the composer doing the conducting. Through clever use of a string quartet, alto saxophone, flute, two keyboards, and drums, he quite appropriately makes the music pulsate unobtrusively, and at the same time creates the proper balance of instrumental color to support and accentuate the action of the singers. The playing of the instrumentalists was a prominent feature of the evening, and Mr. Frankenberry is to be commended on so successfully grasping the type of “sound” the opera needs, committing it to paper, and conveying his ideas and intentions to the players.

The Spirits of the Sky, the Earth, and the Waters mourn the loss of Victor. (l-r) Charlene Canty (The Sky That Can’t Stop Seeing), Demareus Cooper (The Speaking Earth), and Michele Williams (The Waters)
The Spirits of the Sky, the Earth, and the Waters mourn the loss of Victor. (l-r) Charlene Canty (The Sky That Can’t Stop Seeing), Demareus Cooper (The Speaking Earth), and Michele Renee Williams (The Waters)

There was a great deal of vocal talent in the Mt. Ararat Baptist Church last night – the first venue of the opera’s “tour.” The remaining performances will remove the slight sense of nervousness that was apparent in a couple of them. I expected much of Miles Wilson-Toliver (City), the gifted young baritone, and he delivered the riveting performance that was anticipated. He has a strong voice of a distinctly individual timbre, and throughout the evening provided much of the finest singing that was heard. In appearance and stage presence, he is a handsome man and a talented, sympathetic actor. Much the same may be said of Robert Gerold (Lockdown), a fine looking, powerfully voiced young singer whose performance in the second act was a display of incredibly intense acting that was almost agonizing to watch, so thoroughly did he portray the tortured character. The storm raging outside last night added even more drama to this scene, as lightning flashes splashed through the stained glass arches above the performing area.

Victor protects his magic from the rogue cop, Lockdown. (l-r) Terriq White (Victor), Robert Gerold (Lockdown)
Victor protects his magic from the rogue cop, Lockdown. (l-r) Terriq White (Victor), Robert Gerold (Lockdown)

Denise Sheffey-Powell, as Victoria, the widowed mother of Victor and City, gave a performance that was captivating – vocally and dramatically – and she brought out the anguish, strength and dignity of the character in a way as to make her contribution a decided “stand-out.” Adrianna Cleveland, as Violet, City’s pregnant wife, was another “human” character who acted and sang her part with dramatic intensity, her strong soprano all the more astonishing as she did the bulk of her singing flat on her back – by no means an easy thing to do! Terriq White (Victor) acted his role very effectively, and his voice shows great promise for his future. The large cast also includes small, non-singing roles, such as the Medics (Lesley Baird and Sam Lothard), and Jenne Carey had a little singing to do as the Doctor.

The “spirit” roles were many and for the most part handled quite effectively. Prominent among them were Demareus Cooper (The Speaking Earth), whose cavernously low tones and appearance fit the role well; Charlene Canty (The Sky That Can’t Stop Seeing), whose brilliant soprano poured through appropriately blue-painted lips; Michele Renee Williams (The Waters); counter-tenor Rudy Giron (The Blood), and the sonorous bass, Kevin Maynor (Glock). There were many “Sons” to represent those who were fallen before Victor, and a few others in the large, well managed ensemble.

Victor accepts his choice. Terriq White (Victor)
Victor accepts his choice. Terriq White (Victor)

The audience was a gratifying feature of the performance. Racially, sexually – even religiously – it was very diverse. A word to future audiences who might shy away because they don’t particularly care for opera: the influences of jazz, R & B and gospel make this work stand apart from the stereotyped conception of that genre of music. No spinto soprano tosses off trills to vapid text, and no lyric tenor sings the same lines this way and that to display his vocal accomplishments. It’s a unique “musical experience” that provides a much broader appeal to varying tastes. The music is sung in English, and by singers quite capable of enunciating the text so that it can be understood. Since the main points behind A Gathering of Sons are diversity and enlightened acceptance, it can be stated that the mission of all concerned was accomplished, and patronage of the remaining, quite reasonably priced performances is highly encouraged.

For tickets, performance dates, times, venues – the entire libretto – and more, visit Pittsburgh Festival Opera (click on “Performances” if you wish to purchase tickets online).

The “Production Team” for last night’s A Gathering of Sons –

Robert Frankenberry, Conductor and Orchestrator; Mark Clayton Southers, Director; Randy Kovitz, Fight Choreographer; Charles Rowe, Pianist; Hank Bullington, Scenic and Projection Design; Tony Sirk, Costume Design; Bob Steineck, Lighting Design; Jina Pounds, Hair and Makeup Design; Julia Black, Sound Design; Michelle Lee Betts, Stage Manager; Ericka Royster, Assistant Stage Manager.

Pittsburgh Festival Opera photos by Patti Brahim

PITR’s Top 5 Picks for Summer 2017

Let’s dive right into our Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this summer!

Marcus Stevens (2)#5 – An Act of God – Pittsburgh Public Theater: A relatively new play, premiering on Broadway in 2015, An Act of God is a one-act comedy that originally started out as a series of tweets that evolved into the book of which the play was adapted from. Point Park University graduate Marcus Stevens plays God, joined by his sidekicks: angels Gabriel and Michael (John Shepard and Tim McGeever), in this comedy opening at the Pittsburgh Public June 9. For tickets and more information click here. 

#4 – Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play – 12 Peers Theater: Once you catch 12 Peer’s current production of Thom Pain: Based on Mr. Burns ImageNothing starring Pittsburgh’s own Matt Henderson, we’re sure you’ll be itching to see what else they have to offer. Opening August 3, Mr. Burns shoots us some years into the future after the apocalypse where we meet a handful of survivors trying to recreate a particular episode of “The Simpsons”. Fast forwarding into the future for Act 2, and even further for Act 3,  these reenactments become main forms of entertainment and eventually myths decades later. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#3 – Hot Metal Musicals – Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP):Since Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyits creation, MTAP has set out to help create and promote new musicals and the artists creating them in Pittsburgh. The incubator was established in 2011 by Erik Schark and is now currently led by executive director Stephanie Riso, managing director Jeanne Drennan, and advisor Steve Cuden. The first Hot Metal Musicals showcase in 2015 was one of our first major events of that year, and after seeing the talents Pittsburgh had to offer then, we’re sure this year’s showcase on July 17 will knock our socks off. For tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Momentum Festival – City Theatre Company: City Theatre, known as yt17-momentum-featurePittsburgh’s home for new plays, delivers on their promise to keep things fresh and new again this year by finishing out their season with their annual page-to-stage festival: Momentum. Featuring 5 different staged readings, this year’s lineup will include not one, but two shows in progress that will be fully produced in their 2017-2018 season. Hop in for a meet and greet and a staged reading this weekend starting June 1! For more information, click here!

18556456_10155486793559873_589745343035013449_o#1 – WordPlay – Bricolage Production Company: Sure, for the second year in a row, we’ve named Bricolage’s storytelling show WordPlay the #1 show we’re looking forward to this summer. But this time, WordPlay is no ordinary WordPlay. This time, Bricolage as team up with PERSAD CENTER, the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ community. Featuring tunes by Tracksploitation and stories by Nyri Bakkalian, Brian Broome, Cindy Howes, kelly e. parker and Ciora Thomas. And, as usual, hosted by Creator and Co-Producer Alan Olifson. Don’t miss out on this special edition WordPlay this weekend, starting June 2. Tickets and more information can be found here.

Summer Preview 2017

Summer Logo

A Letter from the Editor,

I would like to wish a happy unofficial start of summer to our marvelous readers! Because of you, we made it through another year here at Pittsburgh in the Round! As a special treat, we’ve put together one of our best season previews yet, including updates from old friends like MTAP and the Pittsburgh CLO, new friends like Split Stage Productions, and not one, but two Artist Spotlights!

Summertime is one of the busiest times of year for the Pittsburgh theater community, making it one of the busiest seasons for us here at Pittsburgh in the Round. There will be no shortage of reviews and articles and you may even see a few PITR exclusives!

With the release of this Summer Preview 2017, we’d also like to announce our latest Site Sponsor, the newly renamed Pittsburgh Festival Opera (formerly the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh). To find out more about their upcoming season, keep scrolling! If you or your theater or business would like to be featured in any of our advertising spots, please don’t hesitate to contact us at info@pghintheround.com!

Our team here keeps on growing so we’ll have plenty of content to keep you busy this summer. We would love to take this opportunity to thank all of you who continue to read the content we work so hard to bring you, engage with us on social media, and support all of these local theaters and companies that help the arts grow and thrive in Pittsburgh.

Here’s to another great summer,

Mara E. Nadolski
Editor in Chief, Pittsburgh in the Round


Let’s dive right into our Top 5 shows we’re looking forward to this summer!

Marcus Stevens (2)#5 – An Act of God – Pittsburgh Public Theater: A relatively new play, premiering on Broadway in 2015, An Act of God is a one-act comedy that originally started out as a series of tweets that evolved into the book of which the play was adapted from. Point Park University graduate Marcus Stevens plays God, joined by his sidekicks: angels Gabriel and Michael (John Shepard and Tim McGeever), in this comedy opening at the Pittsburgh Public June 9. For tickets and more information click here. 

#4 – Mr. Burns, a Post-Electric Play – 12 Peers Theater: Once you catch 12 Peer’s current production of Thom Pain: Based on Mr. Burns ImageNothing starring Pittsburgh’s own Matt Henderson, we’re sure you’ll be itching to see what else they have to offer. Opening August 3, Mr. Burns shoots us some years into the future after the apocalypse where we meet a handful of survivors trying to recreate a particular episode of “The Simpsons”. Fast forwarding into the future for Act 2, and even further for Act 3,  these reenactments become main forms of entertainment and eventually myths decades later. For tickets and more information, click here. 

#3 – Hot Metal Musicals – Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh (MTAP): Since Email-Blast-Image-c.PG-Web1-copyits creation, MTAP has set out to help create and promote new musicals and the artists creating them in Pittsburgh. The incubator was established in 2011 by Erik Schark and is now currently led by executive director Stephanie Riso, managing director Jeanne Drennan, and advisor Steve Cuden. The first Hot Metal Musicals showcase in 2015 was one of our first major events of that year, and after seeing the talents Pittsburgh had to offer then, we’re sure this year’s showcase on July 17 will knock our socks off. For tickets and more information click here. 

#2 – Momentum Festival – City Theatre Company: City Theatre, known as yt17-momentum-featurePittsburgh’s home for new plays, delivers on their promise to keep things fresh and new again this year by finishing out their season with their annual page-to-stage festival: Momentum. Featuring 5 different staged readings, this year’s lineup will include not one, but two shows in progress that will be fully produced in their 2017-2018 season. Hop in for a meet and greet and a staged reading this weekend starting June 1! For more information, click here!

18556456_10155486793559873_589745343035013449_o#1 – WordPlay – Bricolage Production Company: Sure, for the second year in a row, we’ve named Bricolage’s storytelling show WordPlay the #1 show we’re looking forward to this summer. But this time, WordPlay is no ordinary WordPlay. This time, Bricolage as team up with PERSAD CENTER, the nation’s second oldest licensed mental health counseling center specifically created to serve the LGBTQ community. Featuring tunes by Tracksploitation and stories by Nyri Bakkalian, Brian Broome, Cindy Howes, kelly e. parker and Ciora Thomas. And, as usual, hosted by Creator and Co-Producer Alan Olifson. Don’t miss out on this special edition WordPlay this weekend, starting June 2. Tickets and more information can be found here

If musicals are more your style, don’t worry, George has our 5 Musicals You Don’t Want to Miss this Summer here. 

Learn a little more about the people you’ve been hearing about for all these years in our Artist Spotlight series. This time around we’ve got two for you! Get the scoop on costume designer Tony Sirk and musical theater actor Quinn Patrick Shannon. 

Our opera expert George is always a regular at the Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s summer shows so he’s got the inside scoop on their upcoming season hereThey’ve even commissioned a new opera they’ll be debuting this year, Nicole went a step further and got us some more information on the new show A Gathering of Sons. 

Throughline Theatre Company has a new home and a new season to tell us about! Ringa even got a sneak peak on their 3rd show, check it out here

If our Top 5 Musicals article wasn’t enough to meet your musical needs, George caught up with Split Stage Productions and the Pittsburgh CLO!

Kinetic Theatre Company has some fun planned for us this summer and fall, check out Stephen’s preview here. 

In preparation of MTAP’s upcoming Hot Metal Musicals this July, reacquaint yourself with the Musical Theatre Artists of Pittsburgh here. 

And last, but not least, a group of young Pittsburgh artists have come together to produce a cabaret night to showcase female talent in the industry to support Planned Parenthood, find out more here. 


 

Missing something? Here are some review highlights from the last few months!

Watch: A Haunting by Real/Time Interventions

The Philadelphia Story at Little Lake Theatre

La Rondine by Undercroft Opera

Anything Goes at McKeesport Little Theater

Falstaff by Resonance Works

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Prime Stage

Hercules Didn’t Wade in the Water at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre

Sive at PICT Classic Theatre

Tarzan by Pittsburgh Musical Theatre

Wife U at Carnegie Mellon Universtiy

The Summer King at the Pittsburgh Opera

What’s Missing?  by Corningworks

4.48 Psychosis at off the WALL

Collaborators by Quantum Theatre

Baltimore at the University of Pittsburgh

Sweet Charity at the Pittsburgh Playhouse

Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson by the Duquesne Red Masquers

Who’s Afraid of iVirginia Woolf? by Cup-A-Jo Productions

Everything Old is New Again – Pittsburgh Festival Opera Coming Soon!

616883292_780x439To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the ambitious Opera Theater of Pittsburgh has rebranded as “Pittsburgh Festival Opera,” and will continue to offer musical innovations and rarities that have been steadily growing in quality over the past few summers. This summer’s performances start June 15, and will run through the greater part of July, so the company’s capacity for work hasn’t diminished, and there is every reason to believe that the quality of its work will equal or surpass what it has offered for a number of years.

“While our main productions take place in an extended summer season,” Jonathan Eaton (the company’s Artistic and General Director) stated in a recent press release, “our commitment to the next generation of both artists and audiences is maintained year-round with our education programs. We are thrilled that audiences and critics support us as a cherished addition to the summer cultural calendar. We continue to produce our mix of new operas, rarely-performed works, and reinvented classics with passion and commitment. We realize that it has come to define our company more and more – so we feel it is now time to change our name to Pittsburgh Festival Opera to better reflect our activities.”

gathering_of_sonsThis season promises all of the above, and begins with the second commissioned work in the company’s “Music that Matters” series of new operas taking on contemporary issues. A Gathering of Sons, outlined in detail by our writer Jacob Spears in February, will start this summer’s productions on June 15. This world-premiere is a new “social justice opera,” composed by Dwayne Fulton, set to a libretto by Tameka Cage Conley, and in music with jazz, gospel and modern classical influences, tells the story of a young black man, a white police officer, parents of a newborn child, and “a collection of spirits who watch over the world.” Several performances will be given “on tour” in a few local venues before its first performance at the Falk Auditorium of Winchester Thurston on July 1. For a closer look at A Gathering of Sons take a look at Nicole Tafe’s article here. 

Stephen Sondheim’s and Hugh Wheeler’s Tony Award winning Sweeney sweeny_toddTodd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, is this summer’s “musical,” and will receive five performances beginning Friday, July 7, at the Falk Auditorium, running through the month until Saturday, July 22. The popular work is staged by international director Tomé Cousin, conducted by Douglas Levine, and will feature well known local singers, such as Anna Singer (Mrs. Lovett) and Robert Frankenberry (Beadle), with baritone Andrew Cummings in the title role. The production seems sure to provide a little ghoulishly fun musical entertainment.

Since Pittsburgh Opera Festival has for the past couple of summers educated xerxesme to the fact that I genuinely, deeply appreciate the very old operas of Georg Friedrich Händel – something I never knew before – his masterpiece Xerxes on the list this year pleases me greatly. A combination of the comic and romantic, the opera will star Metropolitan Opera counter-tenor Andrey Nemzer as Xerxes, the King Persia. Still more Metropolitan Opera Company influence will be brought to the front in these performances, as the work will be staged by that company’s director, Dan Rigazzi. Three performances will commence on Friday, July 14,  with repetitions on Sunday, July 16, and Saturday, July 22. Walter Morales will conduct the orchestra, augmented by the always magnificent Chatham Baroque ensemble. The cast will also include singers (Lara Lynn McGill, to name but one) who have lent their abundant talent in previous summers.

Richard Strauss’ Intermezzo will be the fourth in the company’s series of rarely-performed works by that German master, and will be directed by Jonathan Eaton, with Brent McMunn conducting. It’s a semi-autobiographicalintermezzo treatment of a troubled marriage; Paul Thomason wrote an interesting history of the real life events which led up to Strauss’ composition of the work, which premiered in Dresden in 1924. It was slow to reach the United States, the first professionally staged performance done by Santa Fe Opera (also in an English translation, as will be Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s) in 1984. It was performed in a concert version at Carnegie Hall in New York in 1986, but was never done in a fully staged version in that city until New York City Opera produced it in 1999. Pittsburgh Opera Festival’s revival of the rarity will mark its premiere in Pennsylvania. It will receive only two performances, at the Falk Auditorium – Friday evening, July 21, and Sunday afternoon, July 23. Eaton and McMunn accomplished wonders with last summer’s The Silent Woman, so there’s every reason to expect the same results this year.

Hansel and Gretel will be this summer’s “family friendly” kiddie opera. Engelbert Humperdinck’s masterpiece (and, yes, there was a famous German hansel_and_gretelcomposer of that name long before the pop singer of the 1960’s), will be heavily cut to 40 minutes of the opera’s best moments, so as not to tax the attention span of its little patrons. In the early decades of the last century, the full, magnificently orchestrated version of the opera was a popular Saturday matinee at the Metropolitan, frequently with the famous Pittsburgh-born contralto Louise Homer in the role of the Witch. The opera will be performed in the more intimate Hilda Willis Room at Winchester Thurston, on Saturday mornings at 11:00, July 1, 8 and 15, with more than reasonable admission prices.

This summer’s Recital Series, Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s tradition of one-night concerts and special musical events, looks particularly appealing, and will include the “Three (Counter) Tenors,” with Metropolitan Opera star Andrey Nemzer, on Friday, June 30, followed by an opening night party. Daphne Alderson will provide the next entertainment, with “Leonard Cohen: A Hallelujah at Love Café,” on Thursday evening, July 13. Next up is “Mozart by Moonlight: a Garden of Operatic Delights,” with two full acts from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro,” performed in a moonlit garden, at the Falk Auditorium on Wednesday, July 19. Concluding the series will be “Songs of Richard Strauss,” featuring singers from the Young Professional Artists company on Saturday, July 22. All of the events, with the exception of “Mozart by Moonlight,” will take place at the First Unitarian Church, Shadyside.

Other features of this summer’s doings will be a “Discover Strauss Series,” and “If I Loved You,” a new “dramatic revue of star-spangled songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein” performed around the July 4 holiday weekend at Snuggery Farm in Sewickley Heights, and at the Falk Auditorium July 9 and 16. There will also be cabarets, opening night parties and other attractions, as usual.

For full details of Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s busy summer, tickets, more detailed information on special events and much more, please visit their new and colorful website. This ambitious, capable company is quite a summer musical treat, so drink up as much of it as you can! You won’t be disappointed.

We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #SummerwithPITR.

And don’t forget to sign up for our email blasts here. 

Music that Matters – A Gathering of Sons, Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s World Premiere

gathering of sonsPittsburgh Festival Opera’s 40th season will launch with an extraordinary opener as the company presents the world premiere of its commissioned jazz opera A Gathering of Sons.

The world premiere is a new social justice opera composed by Dwayne Fulton and includes influences of jazz, gospel, and modern-classical music, that bring to life a libretto by Tameka Cage Conley.  The opera has been further developed through a series of workshops that have taken place throughout the Pittsburgh area, in addition to highlighting performances from the opera and panel discussions.  It will be the 28th world premiere by Pittsburgh Festival opera, and the second commissioned work in the company’s “Music that Matters” series that promotes new operas focusing on contemporary issues.

A Gathering of Sons will take audiences on a mystical journey through the connected lives of Victor, Lockdown—a police officer, and a pair of Black parents.  A collection of spirits who watch over the world express the loss and gains of the community and “The Sky That Can’t Stop Seeing” confronts Lockdown shooting an unarmed citizen. The true power that his victim Victor possesses reveals the possibilities of hope and redemption.

Terriq White, as Victor, a young man
Terriq White, as Victor, a young man

“I chose this subject because I felt it was timely and important,” says Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Artistic and General Director Jonathan Eaton, who hopes this world premiere will cast a new light on some societal tensions in addition to ushering in some hope and a prospect of healing.  “Racial injustice in our country is a discussion that needs to be had–so why not have it in the opera house, too? Opera needs to respond to the world around us.”

Eaton took strides to ensure that A Gathering of Sons would be especially important to audiences in Pittsburgh.  While first considering the engagement of an international composer from Chicago to write the world premiere, Eaton decided that a Pittsburgh team was more necessary to making the extraordinary work matter to the Pittsburgh community. This led him to enlist Dwayne Fulton, Minister of Music at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church—a composer and director that Eaton has worked with before—and local author Dr. Tameka Cage Conley to take on the special project.

Robert Gerold as Lockdown, a police officer
Robert Gerold as Lockdown, a police officer

A Gathering of Sons promises to be unique in many ways, including musically.  The premiere of the production is orchestrated for alto saxophone, four solo strings, piano, keyboard, and drums.  “I think that A Gathering of Sons is going to sound like different things to different people,” says Music Director Robert Frankenberry. “Because we’re consciously looking to present a piece at the intersection of several cultural performative traditions, people are naturally going to put labels on the elements of the piece—and I think that’s OK.  It’s a true hybrid of musical styles, but it really just sounds like Dwayne Fulton to me—a fantastic musician who truly loves music—and it will be interesting to see what descriptive language audiences will attach to his music.”  Composer Fulton will conduct the world premiere.

Sung in English, the production will feature 15 cast members and a chorus of 12.  Pittsburgh Festival Opera chose a combination of regional artists that were cast by audition in addition to some professionals who have worked with Eaton and the company previously.  Members of the Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Young Professional Artists company will also be featured.

A Gathering of Sons Creative Team: (L to R) Director Mark Clayton Southers, Composer Dwayne Fulton, and Librettist Dr. Tameka Cage Conley
A Gathering of Sons Creative Team: (L to R) Director Mark Clayton Southers, Composer Dwayne Fulton, and Librettist Dr. Tameka Cage Conley

The opera’s setting is raw and unique as well and is under the stage direction of Mark Clayton Southers, founder of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company.  “The work is set in an urban world, but it quickly trespasses into a metaphysical world of spirits and ghosts,” says Eaton.  “Projection will help to make this transition, but otherwise, the only very special effects in this production are the singing, music, and drama—all of which will speak to one’s heart.”

A Gathering of Sons will tour three Pittsburgh partner venues including Mt. Ararat Baptist Church on Thursday, June 15 and Friday, June 16; Rodef Shalom Temple on Saturday, June 24; and Elise H. Hillman Auditorium, Kaufmann Center of Hill House on June 28 and 29.  The opera will take the Falk Auditorium stage on Friday, July 1 and Friday, July 8 as part of Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Mainstage program.  A short talkback with guest panelists will follow each Festival Mainstage performance.  Following the opening night performance on July 1, members of the creative team including Conley, Fulton, Clayton Southers and more, will speak from the stage about the creative journey that led to the world premiere.

For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.pittsburghfestivalopera.org or call the Box Office at 412.326.9687.

We would love to hear from our readers and follow along with your theater adventures so keep in touch with us on our FacebookTwitter, or Instagram using the hashtag #SummerwithPITR.

And don’t forget to sign up for our email blasts here.