HOT General Director Simon Crookall continues The HOT Take series from the Santa Fe Opera Festival where opera fans and company representatives from around the world have gathered for one of the most popular opera festivals today.
Santa Fe Opera House is a beautiful venue, overlooking the Sierra, with a roof but no walls, even at the back of the stage. The thunderstorm which accompanied Don Giovanni this week could not have been a better background to the action. Lightening flashed across the sky throughout the performance, and a massive clap of thunder heralded the entrance of the Commendatore at the dramatic denouement.
The set, designed by Riccardo Hernandez, consisted of one large amorphous structure that was reminiscent of the Anish Kapoor sculptures I saw in English National Opera’s Tristan and Isolde. Here, the structure had the impression of a human head, reminding us of the constant presence of the Commendatore. It was beautifully lit, especially as the flames of hell engulfed the Don at the end of the performance.
Daniel Okulitch, who sang the title role for HOT in (2007) was a commanding Don – his sensual portrayal made it easy to see why no woman could resist him. The cast was uniformly strong, with notable performances from Kyle Ketelson (Leporello), Leah Crocetto (Donna Anna) and Keri Alkema (Donna Elvira). Crocetto managed to portray her character’s struggle between grief for her father and attraction to the mysterious stranger who tried to seduce her, and she easily rebuffed Don Ottavio’s feeble advances, played by Edgaras Montvidas. Alkema’s confident singing made Elvira the stronger of the two women in this production, helplessly in love with Giovanni, but determined to “do the right thing”.
Veteran conductor, John Noble, led with distinction. It was good to see his friend and former student, HOT regular, Hal France, in the audience.
Hawaii Opera Theatre Production Coordinator Jordan Sasaki typically works behind the scenes to make sure productions flow smoothly. But she will soon be on the other side of the curtain.
Sasaki will act the role of Lysander in the Hawaii Shakes Festival mid-August production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her involvement with opera through HOT has helped her prepare for the role, she said.
“I think to myself that I want to act with the same finesse that opera singers sing with,” Sasaki said. “As actors, we’re kind of obsessive about our voices, but being a singer is this whole other level of discipline.”
The role will challenge her, she said, as the play will be presented in two invented languages, forcing the actors to rely entirely on physicality, tone, and delivery to tell the story. Sasaki prepared by watching a previous HOT season’s Italian opera, II Trovatore, without paying attention to the English supertitles, and found that she could still follow the story without reading along.
“My hope is that A Midsummer Night’s Dream can achieve that, because we won’t have supertitles,” she said.
In rehearsal on Monday, Sasaki looked over her script and reminded herself of a line she sometimes had trouble remembering. With her heavy sword clanking against her hip, she prepared to take the stage.
Sasaki, 26, has found that she gravitates toward classical art forms. Her affinity for Shakespeare began at Florida International University, where she earned a bachelor’s of fine arts in theatre performance.
“There’s so much to benefit from – especially in these older art forms,” Sasaki said. “There’s a reason they’ve stuck around all these years.”
When Sasaki was younger, she said, some of her friends and family encouraged her to pursue traditional academics instead of the arts. They were concerned about her career opportunities if she only focused on theatre, she said.
But it’s clear now to see that Sasaki’s degree has been far from limiting. On top of her work with HOT and the Hawaii Shakes Festival, she is also writing two plays, and she hopes to submit one to a local play writing competition this year.
“The skills you learn doing performance I think you can apply almost anywhere, which I don’t think everyone realizes,” Sasaki said. “It isn’t stuck in a little box.”
Back in rehearsal for a Midsummer Night’s Dream, Sasaki took deep breaths from her diaphragm to project Lysander’s emphatic lines.
Without any amplification or English translations, her voice carried across the room – much like that of an opera singer.
By Allison Kronberg
Verdi’s Il Trovatore is beloved for many reasons. From the epic melodies of the “Anvil Chorus” to a larger than life tale, this opera has it all. It’s no wonder some of the greatest stars to ever grace the stage have been sought out to ‘sing’ it to life. Take a tour through history to see some the stars who have been a part of this beautiful story and remember why you fell in love with the music!
Maria Callas, Leonora
It’s hard not to identify Maria Callas with opera! The Original Diva, Ms. Callas first performed the role of Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore in Mexico City during June of 1950 at the Palacio de Bellas Arte.
Luciano Pavarotti, Manrico
Luciano Pavarotti is just one of many to perform as Manrico in Verdi’s Il Trovatore! Whether you fall in love with the character or can relate to his situation, you simply must hear the famous aria “Di quella pira” live!
Sherrill Milnes, Count di Luna
Sherill Milnes made his Metropolitan Opera Debut in 1965. Known for his Verdi Baritone roles, Il Trovatore’s Count di Luna was just one of the many ‘faces’ Mr. Milnes would wear in a long career. After 653 performances, Mr. Milnes made his final bow at The Met in 1997.
See HOT bring together some of the best voices today and fall in love once more with another beautiful chapter in the history of
Verdi’s ever popular, Il Trovatore!
From this week’s TGIF Cover Story by Steven Mark.
Great music has the ability to transcend time and space.
Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” which premiered nearly 225 years ago, not only has music that remains beloved over those two-plus centuries, but it also has a story that seems to fit seamlessly into any era. It is simply a fairy tale, which Hawaii Opera Theatre’s production emphasizes with an art-inspired presentation that frames the story as a series of pictures.
“It’s very beautiful, with images that are from paintings of Magritte,” said director Allison Grant. “They kind of resonate with you. You may not know what it’s from, but you think, ‘Oh, I recognize that.'”
Rene Magritte was a 20th-century Belgian artist whose witty surrealist paintings placed everyday items in unusual contexts. His images commonly contain objects that suggest the idea of a portal to another world, such as doors, windows and picture frames. “It’s all about going through picture frames, going to different dimensions,” Grant said.
Given that setting, this staging of “The Magic Flute” has a handsome prince, Tamino, suddenly appearing in an alien land as if by magic, not knowing how or why he got there, where is immediately threatened by a monster.
Tamino gets a sidekick, the comical bird catcher Papageno, and a heroic task, saving the life of Pamina, the kidnapped daughter of the Queen of the Night, along with a magic flute that can tame the wildest threat with its soothing melodies.
Though Mozart originally set the story in Egypt, some say the story is a reference to the secret Masonic rituals — the hero Tamino must pass tests of fire and water to win Pamina — while others say it shows a misogynist streak in Mozart, as its women are portrayed as being deceitful or untrustworthy.
YOU DON’T need to make quantum leaps into a world of arcane Victorian values or exotic customs to enjoy “The Magic Flute,” though.
Antonio Figueroa, a French-Canadian tenor who has portrayed Tamino on a nationwide tour of one production and is making his HOT debut in the role here, sees “many layers” to the story. He doesn’t see the opera as critical of women.
“If you look at the music, all the most beautiful music is going to the women: Pamina, the Queen of the Night,” he said. “You have melody, which is feminine, and rhythm, which is masculine, and Mozart was a genius of melody.”
Figueroa sees Tamino as “the guy in search of truth.”
“For me this story is about the journey of everybody in life,” he said. “When you look at the guy who has the wider consciousness, you look to Tamino.”
RETURNING TO HOT after a hilarious turn in “The Mikado” two years ago is Curt Olds as Papageno, whom he calls the buffoonish “Everyman” of the opera.
“I’m sort of the character that the audience steps through,” Olds said. “There’s princes and princesses that they relate to, too, but having that presence of Papageno in the piece let’s them think, ‘I can see myself there, too’ in this journey of morals and reaching for those things we all desire in life.”
Olds especially enjoys the role of Papageno because it requires a lot of acting. “The Magic Flute” is a “Singspiel” (singing play) containing a lot of spoken dialogue.
The performance will be in English, so the audience can instantly connect with the wordplay, but that won’t make it any easier on the cast.
“It’s not the singing that makes you tired; it’s the spoken dialogue,” Olds said. “We tend to ‘fall off’ our breath when we’re speaking, because we speak in life, and you don’t support it the same way you do when you’re singing.”
“THE MAGIC FLUTE” offers plenty of enjoyable singing as well, particularly the vocal gymnastics of the famous Act 2 aria “Hell’s Vengeance,” in which the Queen of the Night implores her daughter to commit murder.
South Korean soprano So Young Park, who makes her HOT debut in this demanding role, says it requires stamina and preparation to consistently hit its top note, a high F.
“I have to plan it from the beginning; that’s just for one note,” she said, adding that the note helps her to feel the emotion of the moment, because “when you’re angry your voice gets higher.”
Park also has a major aria in Act 1, “Tremble not, my dear son,” which presents other challenges. “It starts with a really lyric, warm sound, and it turns to that evil side, with a lot of coloratura, so it’s kind of harder for me than the second aria.”
While the queen’s character has that ambiguity, there’s little of that with her co-conspirator, Monostatos, who is driven by lust but constrained by duty.
Portraying the role is Julius Ahn, who got his start in opera with the HOT chorus and now performs throughout the mainland and Canada. He too enjoys the acting aspect of the role, getting to be “the rascal out on stage.”
“He’s very primal. He’s driven by his desires, which he doesn’t get to have because he’s in a temple,” Ahn said. “He’s serving purity and light and fulfillment, and he doesn’t get to fulfill any of these primal desires he has as a man.”
HOT’s production was developed by Arizona Opera and was created by Daniel Rigazzi of the Metropolitan Opera. References to Magritte’s paintings are littered throughout the play, from costuming that ranges from steampunk to Elizabethan and props like the scooterlike skateboards that are ridden by three child-spirits who help Tamino and Papageno.
That all is in the service of a story and music so powerful that they’ve made “The Magic Flute” one of the most popular works in the opera repertoire.
“For me it’s more about the humanity of each character and how it touches us and how it touches the truth in each one of us,” Grant said. “But I really believe that the music really touches us and helps us find the divine within ourselves. It’s really uplifting music and it really hits the soul.”
The 2015-16 Opera Season kicks off this October with Mozart’s The Magic Flute!
On Sept. 30, 2015, starting at 10:00am, join HOT for an Opera Preview at the Honolulu Museum of Art’s Doris Duke Theatre.
Featuring a lecture by Dr. Lynne Johnson about the opera, this event is highlighted by an opportunity to hear from the Stars of HOT’s upcoming production, The Magic Flute.
This event is free to HOT and HMoA members!
For more information about the Opera Preview, contact HOT at (808) 596-7372.
Sweeney Todd rehearsals and the Opera Residency in Our Kaka’ako have come to a close! The cast and crew have moved to the Blaisdell and are gearing up for a whole mess of blood, meat pies, & more!
Enjoy these photos by David Takagi and whet your appetite for HOT’s final opera of the 2014/15 Opera Season!
Richard Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman takes center stage of the Blaisdell Concert Hall on Feb. 13, 15, & 17!
Will The Dutchman be set free of a curse to wander the seas for eternity? Will he find love? Find out for yourself and see this acclaimed The Flying Dutchman!
Buy your tickets online now and receive a special 25% discount on single tickets when you enter the promo code HOTINLOVE at checkout!
This production makes its way to Honolulu, by way of the Glimmerglass Festival in New York, and stars original cast members Ryan McKinny (The Dutchman), Melody Moore (Senta), & Jay Hunter Morris (Erik)!
You do not want to miss this epic experience!
(Photos by David Takagi)
Check out this amazing preview of HOT’s production of The Flying Dutchman starring Ryan McKinny, Melody Moore, & Jay Hunter Morris, as they are caught in a love triangle that has captivated audience for generations!
Buy your tickets now to The Flying Dutchman online and at www.HawaiiOpera.org or call the HOT Box Office at 808.596.7858!