Indiana University Bloomington

Review: Remarkable young talent a highlight of Saturday’s opera performance

The performance requirements are steep for Gaetano Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” currently in local revival, courtesy of Indiana University Opera Theater.

The popular opera is at the heart of “bel canto” repertory, “bel canto” meaning “beautiful sound.” But in addition to demanding tones that gratify the ears, the “Lucia” score asks for singers who can project and contribute exciting vocal drama.

After all, the story speaks of cruelty, deceit, murder and madness. Profusely melodic though the music used to tell the tale of poor Lucy, it must be propelled to listeners with great passion. No wimpy tone production allowed.

Well, fear not, those of you who’ve yet to hear what’s going on in the Musical Arts Center: The current production of “Lucia di Lammermoor” strikes both at the eardrums and the heart, while staying true to the traditions of early 19th-century bel canto. Donizetti is being amazingly well served by one and all, most surely by the focus of everything that happens, the heroine, the soprano who portrays the title character. On Saturday evening, a remarkable young talent was to be seen: Rose-Antoinette Bellino. Without the right Lucia, there is no reason for a performance of the opera. Bellino is the right Lucia.

I write of Saturday’s Lucia only because, not wishing to contribute throated hacking to the soundscape, I remained away from last Friday evening’s opening. But I returned to duty for Saturday’s repeat, and I intend to catch up with the other cast this coming weekend.

The production’s conductor, Gary Thor Wedow, had told me during the rehearsal period about his hopes for audience reaction when the final curtain falls. “Shouldn’t opera transport us, inspire us and take us out of ourselves,” he posed. “This is such a moving story of faithful young love destroyed by clan warfare. It’s gloomy, yes, but the music is so magnificently uplifting and romantic that I know we will be inspired by it, forget our personal troubles for a while, cleanse our soul weeping for poor Lucia, and become bigger, more feeling people.”

After hearing and seeing the newly put-together “Lucia,” I can buy into Maestro Wedow’s expectation. He, indeed, must be credited for critical portions of the production’s success. Artistically steeped in historically informed performance (hewing to musical methods practiced when the opera was written), he fine-tuned the cast’s vocalizations to what seems a likely reproduction of what Donizetti expected from his chosen singers.

The pit ensemble, the IU Concert Orchestra, likewise evidenced a feel for nuances and lighter articulation than one often gets these days in readings of early Romantic, pre-Verdi operas. Instrumental sounds produced were often loud, never leaden. The Walter Huff chorus, superbly trained, fell right into line with Wedow’s intentions.

The stage sets impressed. Created by the gifted visiting set and costume designer Philip Witcomb, their Gothic resonance and sorrowful, oppressive presence served as an evocative environment for the evil and moral decay they bear witness to: the destruction of the sweetly innocent and unwitting heroine. Patrick Mero’s lighting accentuated the darkness of the unfolding plot. Nineteenth-century costumes interestingly brought the story compellingly closer to now in substance.

Another well-chosen visitor, Jose Maria Condemi, put to the task of directing cast and chorus, placed emphasis on the melodramatics attached to Lucia’s personal tragedy. He gave three-dimensional villainy and/or cowardice to most who affect Lucia’s existence: her nasty brother Enrico Ashton, set on saving himself and the family name at the expense of his sensitive sister, played with sneering gusto and sung in resonant baritone by Ian Murrell; the Ashton family chaplain Raimondo, more of an intriguer than councilor, sung by a fine bass-baritone, Julian Morris; Arturo, Lucia’s husband-for-one-fateful-night, portrayed in proper self-glory by tenor Joseph Ittoop; and Ashton estate busybody Normanno, a role fulfilled by another well-toned tenor, Doowon Kim. On the right side, of course, is Lucia’s attendant Alisa, sung neatly by mezzo Yujia Chen.

The significant and unhappy role of Lucia’s lover Edgardo was taken by Joseph McBrayer, who displayed a ringing tenor and notable stage presence. His big scene follows Lucia’s demise and covers the character’s realization that he, too, has been duped, that Lucia did not betray him but that her brother plotted successfully to part them. Edgardo’s suicide concludes the opera.

So, let me return to Saturday’s Lucia. Rose-Antoinette Bellino shaped a fully developed tragic creature emotionally tossed about like a victim in a whirling cage. One sees in her performance a girl of a woman smitten with love for life and Edgardo. Her descent into despair and death was heartrending to view.

And because of Bellino’s brilliant vocal acrobatics, Lucia’s tortured existence becomes — again as Donizetti undoubtedly would have wished — exhilarating. The rangy soprano sang with astonishing accuracy and assurance and thrust. As actress, she was alternately limber and frail, a figure magnetic to watch. Musically, she accomplished the famous Mad Scene in memorable fashion.

Rightfully, Saturday’s audience cheered.

By Peter Jacobi | H-T reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com

Review: Pacifica transcends changing of the guard with ease

It seems as if it was painless, even without problems.

That cannot have been totally so. When there are changes in personnel that make up an ensemble, such as a string quartet of long standing, the process that takes musicians away and takes others in simply must be jarring. And the change in the Pacifica Quartet, the Indiana University School of Music’s faculty string quartet in residence, was dramatic: two of its long-time members left for other opportunities at one time. Two successors had to be found at one time.

Well, now the ensemble is about a year into its changed membership. We’ve had several opportunities to hear the altered cast in performance. One can report, or at least I can report: all is well.

On listening to the re-formed Pacifica last Friday evening in Auer Hall, I heard a world-class string quartet that is still a world-class string quartet, performing – as it has since I first had the privilege of hearing this remarkable chamber ensemble live or on recordings – at a supreme and distinctive level of quality. The unifying purpose remains. The precision of attack has not weakened. The carefully resolved interpretation is present. The sense of playing as a unit while allowing individual voices to shine through the total weave has been sustained.

Certainly, one misses the familiar elements, now gone: second violinist Sibbi Bernhardssohn and violist Masumi Per Rostad; they were part of the package we came to know. But violinist Austin Hartman and violist Guy Ben-Zioni as added to the remaining first violinist Simin Ganatra and cellist Brandon Vamos, we’ve discovered, have kept the Pacifica a quartet of equally high stature.

That was once again fully noticeable on Friday when the quartet performed Beethoven’s late String Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132, and then – with pianist Emile Naoumoff – Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Opus 44.

The Beethoven, one of those unfathomable creations emanating from the interior depths of the composer’s by-then soundless existence, has biographical roots. Beethoven had been gravely ill, even while engaged in writing it. The early movements reflect severe melancholy mirroring his response to the parlous physical condition. And then, Beethoven’s health improved. He changed the content of the quartet, casting away two gloomy movements and replacing them with three totally different in character, one of which he inscribed with the words (translated into English): “Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent, in the Lydian mode,” the others with music containing a greater joy to express Beethoven’s rebounding spirit.

Musicians take quite a journey moving through the music brought on by these musings. The Pacifica’s journey shifted powerfully from the sad and wistful and subdued to a hymn of reverence and, finally, to a celebration. Traveling along, one heard an emotional sojourn riveting for ears and heart, the composer’s thoughts distilled. The four musicians interconnected for a tour de force close-up of Beethoven’s super-sensitive mind in action.

The very different Schumann Piano Quintet brought Naoumoff, the Pacifica’s faculty colleague from the piano department, to the Steinway. Professor Naoumoff is an incredibly gifted keyboard technician who easily makes the piano his submissive own. And that he surely did on Friday for a score that balances the pianist against the four string players, making each responsible for an equal share of what the music offers; the pianist provides half of the sound output, the string ensemble the other half. Performance becomes a balancing act.

Friday’s four-versus-one quintet balanced, without doubt. Naoumoff, never afraid to set a listener’s ears ringing, kept his sometimes writ-large interpretive inclinations in sync with his string colleagues for a truly engaging, vibrant reading of Schumann at his most engaging and vibrant. The teamwork proved graceful and jubilant, worthy of the jubilant audience response that followed.

All’s well with the remastered Pacifica and with their concert colleague, pianist Naoumoff. That was comforting to hear and good to let you know, if you weren’t there.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2018

Review: Pacifica transcends changing of the guard with ease

It seems as if it was painless, even without problems.

That cannot have been totally so. When there are changes in personnel that make up an ensemble, such as a string quartet of long standing, the process that takes musicians away and takes others in simply must be jarring. And the change in the Pacifica Quartet, the Indiana University School of Music’s faculty string quartet in residence, was dramatic: two of its long-time members left for other opportunities at one time. Two successors had to be found at one time.

Well, now the ensemble is about a year into its changed membership. We’ve had several opportunities to hear the altered cast in performance. One can report, or at least I can report: all is well.

On listening to the re-formed Pacifica last Friday evening in Auer Hall, I heard a world-class string quartet that is still a world-class string quartet, performing – as it has since I first had the privilege of hearing this remarkable chamber ensemble live or on recordings – at a supreme and distinctive level of quality. The unifying purpose remains. The precision of attack has not weakened. The carefully resolved interpretation is present. The sense of playing as a unit while allowing individual voices to shine through the total weave has been sustained.

Certainly, one misses the familiar elements, now gone: second violinist Sibbi Bernhardssohn and violist Masumi Per Rostad; they were part of the package we came to know. But violinist Austin Hartman and violist Guy Ben-Zioni as added to the remaining first violinist Simin Ganatra and cellist Brandon Vamos, we’ve discovered, have kept the Pacifica a quartet of equally high stature.

That was once again fully noticeable on Friday when the quartet performed Beethoven’s late String Quartet in A Minor, Opus 132, and then – with pianist Emile Naoumoff – Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Opus 44.

The Beethoven, one of those unfathomable creations emanating from the interior depths of the composer’s by-then soundless existence, has biographical roots. Beethoven had been gravely ill, even while engaged in writing it. The early movements reflect severe melancholy mirroring his response to the parlous physical condition. And then, Beethoven’s health improved. He changed the content of the quartet, casting away two gloomy movements and replacing them with three totally different in character, one of which he inscribed with the words (translated into English): “Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent, in the Lydian mode,” the others with music containing a greater joy to express Beethoven’s rebounding spirit.

Musicians take quite a journey moving through the music brought on by these musings. The Pacifica’s journey shifted powerfully from the sad and wistful and subdued to a hymn of reverence and, finally, to a celebration. Traveling along, one heard an emotional sojourn riveting for ears and heart, the composer’s thoughts distilled. The four musicians interconnected for a tour de force close-up of Beethoven’s super-sensitive mind in action.

The very different Schumann Piano Quintet brought Naoumoff, the Pacifica’s faculty colleague from the piano department, to the Steinway. Professor Naoumoff is an incredibly gifted keyboard technician who easily makes the piano his submissive own. And that he surely did on Friday for a score that balances the pianist against the four string players, making each responsible for an equal share of what the music offers; the pianist provides half of the sound output, the string ensemble the other half. Performance becomes a balancing act.

Friday’s four-versus-one quintet balanced, without doubt. Naoumoff, never afraid to set a listener’s ears ringing, kept his sometimes writ-large interpretive inclinations in sync with his string colleagues for a truly engaging, vibrant reading of Schumann at his most engaging and vibrant. The teamwork proved graceful and jubilant, worthy of the jubilant audience response that followed.

All’s well with the remastered Pacifica and with their concert colleague, pianist Naoumoff. That was comforting to hear and good to let you know, if you weren’t there.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2018

 

Going for baroque: A chat with Eiddwen Harrhy

Eiddwen Harrhy coaches a Jacobs School of Music student.

Eiddwen Harrhy coaches a Jacobs School of Music student.

The name’s Eiddwen (IDE-when in “American”). Eiddwen Harrhy. (Ms. Harrhy if you’re nasty.)

A renowned soprano and baroque opera specialist, Harrhy has been coaching Jacobs School of Music voice students for eight years as part of The Handel Project, sponsored by the Georgina Joshi Foundation in honor of Joshi, a former Jacobs student. The next work in the series is a free performance of Handel’s “Alexander’s Feast” at 8 p.m. Feb. 13 in Auer Hall.

As a four-year-old girl in southern Wales, Harrhy tripped through the light fantastic of the storybook garden across the back lane to take piano lessons from her neighbor and get a “sweetie” before skipping back.

She was first exposed to music at chapel three times each Sunday, and sometimes mid-week as well. She first heard the great oratorios at her grandfather’s chapel, in eastern Wales. All made an indelible impression.

After studying voice and piano at the Royal Manchester College of Music, Harrhy became a professional singer, eventually subbing for an ill voice coach about five years before she retired from performing. She enjoyed it so much, she knew it was what she wanted to do after leaving the stage. “This is the best thing ever,” she exclaimed. “If I had put my feet up and done nothing, I would have gone crazy, I think. Years later, I absolutely love it. And I certainly love coming here—this is the crème de la crème for me.

“When one is offered any kind of teaching opportunity in an institution like this, if it doesn’t work, and if you don’t like it, you don’t come back. And I can’t wait to come back. Luckily, I have been able to every year—eight years running, now—because one year we do an opera, and the next year we do an oratorio.”

IU Opera Theater's 2017 production of Handel's "Rodelinda."

IU Opera Theater’s 2017 production of Handel’s “Rodelinda.”

So exactly what does she do at Jacobs?

“I don’t come here as a singing teacher, because obviously you have a wonderful roster of singing teachers,” Harrhy explained. “Because I’ve done it, I think I understand what students have to do on stage—sing, act, dance, move about. They have text, they have a language. The combination is enormous, and it’s difficult for them to work all that out on their own. I try to complement what they are doing with their teacher.”

In addition to helping with students’ pronunciation and diction, Harrhy tries “To instill in them the love of text—because the text is all important. The music comes out of the text because that’s the way the composer wrote it. The composer got hold of some text, whether they wrote it themselves or had a librettist, and the music came after that. The actual pronunciation of the text is very, very important. If the text is projected to the audience with conviction, it makes a real impact, and heightens the experience.

“And acting, in general, has gotten much, much better. You need to be much more expressive, because you have to communicate to people, that’s what it’s all about.”

Why does she do it here?

Georgina Joshi

Georgina Joshi

Harrhy taught Joshi during the young student’s undergraduate years at the Royal College of Music in London. Afterward, Joshi decided to pursue her master’s at the Jacobs School of Music. Her studies were cut short when she and four other Jacobs students died in a 2006 plane crash.

“Every time somebody asks me about her, I start to get these great big emotions and tears in my eyes,” said Harrhy. “Georgina had such grace and style, and she was a total, total musician from top to toe. Plus her work ethic was astounding. She was genuinely the most beautiful, wonderfully hearted young woman. And apart from all of that, she could sing! What more could I want from a student?

“I’d introduced her to the works of Handel, so her parents came up with the idea of having some kind of Handel work in her memory every year. They thought, and I’m eternally grateful to them, that it would be nice if I could work with the students here because I had been involved with her. So we have this sort of never-ending thread.

“Sometimes I think, ‘Isn’t it incredible? Georgina’s walked all these pathways, been on that stage, in that hall. Her aura is so present, and that, to me, is the most wonderful thing. It thrills me because I know I’m not coming back to a sad place. It’s not a sad place at all. I find it one of the most special places in my life, really.”

Advice for students?

“Whatever’s on stage—from music to dance to theater—go see it, you’ll learn something. It’s not just a case of ‘I’m standing at the front singing my piece, and they’re all accompanying me’—oh, no, it’s not like that at all. You’re a unit, you’re a team.”

When I enthused about her helping to instill such values in her students, because we’ve all met the person who thinks they are the star, she said, “Oh, yes, and you just ignore them—because the ones who are the real stars are not like that at all, of course.”

Exactly. Georgina Joshi was proof of that.

Stephen Pratt receives prestigious awards

Stephen Pratt

Stephen Pratt, professor of music and chair of the Department of Bands, received the Outstanding Hoosier Musician Award on Jan. 12 at the Indiana Music Education Association’s (IMEA) annual professional development conference in Fort Wayne. The award gives recognition to an individual who has contributed to the advancement of music education in the state of Indiana and who has contributed outstanding service to local, state and national music organizations.

The award was presented by Lissa May, associate dean of instruction at the Jacobs School of Music and former president of IMEA, and Kevin Gerrity, associate professor of music education at Ball State University and current president of IMEA.

In addition, Pratt recently received the Paula Crider Outstanding Band Director Award from the national council of Tau Beta Sigma. The award is presented to those college and university band directors who have distinguished themselves in the field of university bands and also support and promote the purposes and qualities of Tau Beta Sigma. The award may be given once every biennium in conjunction with the national convention.

The award ceremony took place at the Tau Beta Sigma reception at the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago on Dec. 21. The award was presented by Kyle R. Glaser, Tau Beta Sigma national vice-president for professional relations and associate director of bands at Texas State University-San Marcos, and Jonathan Markowski, Tau Beta Sigma national president.

Pratt will retire at the end of the 2017-18 academic year, after 34 years on faculty at the Jacobs School of Music. His final concert as a Jacobs faculty member will be at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 15, in the Musical Arts Center.

Jake Gunnar Walsh and Katherine Bodor winners of 2018 NOTUS contest

Jake Gunnar Walsh and Katherine Bodor have been named the first- and second-prize winners, respectively, of the 2018 NOTUS Student Composition Contest at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music. Both are graduate students working toward master’s degrees in composition.

Jake Gunnar Walsh Walsh is a composer, performer and educator originally from Rhode Island. He is currently pursuing a double master’s degree in oboe performance and music composition, studying oboe with Linda Strommen and Roger Roe, and composition with Claude Baker. Walsh graduated from Ithaca College in 2015, where he earned two degrees in oboe and composition.

His first-prize work is “I See Words in Color” for mixed chorus a cappella. “The text is taken from the poem ‘Synesthesia,’ written by one of my dearest friends, Kristin Vegh,” said Walsh. “I see Kristin’s poem as an intimate glimpse into her own experience with synesthesia, seeing the hues inherent in certain letters, and entire spectrums of colors hidden within words. It was my wish to take this sensory synthesis a step further with my piece and supply the musical soundscape for what it would be like to not only see the color of words, but hear those colors brought to life in a fully synesthetic experience of poetry, color and music.”

Currently pursuing an M.M. in Composition with Don Freund, Bodor graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2016 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Science, with a second major in music composition. Her love of contemporary a cappella led her to her current work as an arranger and producer with The Vocal Company, a recording studio where some of the most prominent collegiate and high school a cappella groups create exciting, award-winning music.

Katherine Bodor Bodor’s second-prize work is “Two Songs of Solitude” for mixed chorus a cappella. “There is a sense of philosophical peace that can only be gained when you learn to really live with yourself and your shortcomings,” she explained. “I believe we all struggle in some way—whether we admit it to ourselves or not—with that simple push and pull: the need for social acceptance and human interaction versus the desire to utterly retreat into one’s self. While it may take a lifetime to find some sort of balance, I believe ‘Two Songs of Solitude’ offers, with beautiful clarity of language, a glimpse into how that balance might be manifested.”

NOTUS will perform the world premiere of both works at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, in Auer Hall as part of the concert program “Different Ways to Pray.” The concert will also feature music of Karin Rehnqvist, Byron Smith, Nilo Alcala, former IU student Nicolas Chuaqui and NOTUS: IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble director Dominick DiOrio, associate professor of music (choral conducting).

The composition contest judges also awarded two honorable mentions—for John William Griffith’s “Gloria” and Jamie Kunselman’s “Requiem for a Light.”

Judges for the competition included Chris Albanese, assistant professor of music (choral conducting) and director of the Singing Hoosiers; Allan Armstrong, post-doctoral scholar and visiting assistant professor of music (chamber and collaborative music); and Larry Groupé, visiting professor of music (composition: music scoring for visual media).

The contest is an initiative of DiOrio, who did not take part in the judging panel. The submission of scores was anonymous, and the judges did not see names or identifying information until after final decisions were made. The annual competition is open to all current undergraduate and graduate students at the Jacobs School of Music.

Jake Gunnar Walsh (b. 1993) is a composer, performer and educator from Chepachet, Rhode Island. He is currently pursuing a double master’s degree in oboe performance and music composition at Indiana University, studying oboe with Linda Strommen and Roger Roe, and composition with Claude Baker. Walsh graduated from Ithaca College in 2015 with a double B.M. degree in Oboe Performance and Music Composition, studying oboe with Paige Morgan, and composition with Dana Wilson and Jorge Villavicencio Grossmann. While at Ithaca College, Walsh received the Joseph Downey Composition Prize in 2014 for his art song Root Cellar composed for baritone and piano. In addition, he was a winner of the Smadbeck Composition prize in 2015 for his Chamber Wind Ensemble work Hive. Walsh has participated in masterclasses and lessons with such distinguished composers such as Melinda Wagner, Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez, Tansy Davies, Michael Gandolfi, Augusta Read Thomas, and Eric Ewazen. Recently, Walsh has had his music performed on such diverse stages as the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival Emerging Composers concert in New York, NY; the Nebraska Chamber Players’ Concerts on the Creek in Lincoln, NE; Sun Sneeze! New Music Festival in Dallas, TX; RE: New Music at the Slate Arts and Performance in Chicago, IL; and the 2017 Texas Music Educators National Association Conference in San Antonio, TX. In addition to his work as a composer, Walsh is passionate about premiering and commissioning new works for the oboe and English horn, and specializes in the performance of contemporary music.

Katherine Bodor (b. 1994) graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 2016 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering Applied Science and a second major in Music Composition, studying under Christopher Stark and Martin Kennedy. She has premiered new music with ensembles including the Third Wheel Trio, the Six Degree Singers, and the Washington University Chamber Choir. Currently pursuing an M.M. in Composition under Don Freund at the Jacobs School of Music, Bodor hopes to pursue music that viscerally impacts the listener while exploring what it means to be human. She is looking forward to premieres in 2018 with Chamber Project St. Louis, the Indiana University Symphonic Band and MacPhail Music Center.

Prior to undergrad, Bodor was classically trained in piano at MacPhail; during undergrad, she arranged for and directed a student-run a cappella group and fell in love with vocal expression. Her love of contemporary a cappella led her to her current work as an arranger and producer with The Vocal Company, a recording studio where some of the most prominent collegiate and high school a cappella groups create exciting, award-winning music.

Busking for opera

Alice Barbe and Jonathan Rickert love opera, and they want other people to have the chance to also.

They love it so much that they decided to donate their proceeds from busking at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market to Reimagining Opera for Kids (ROK), a non-profit Bloomington arts and education organization dedicated to introducing children to opera and to giving developing professional musicians the opportunity to hone their performance skills.

The organization was founded 10 years ago by director Kim Carballo, academic specialist at the Jacobs School of Music and coordinating opera coach with IU Opera Theater. ROK is a community partner for a class she instructs, Community Engagement in Performing Arts.

After the $200 donation, Carballo partnered with IU Opera Theater, who offered 40 tickets to seating anywhere in the Musical Arts Center for its current production of It’s a Wonderful Life. They were distributed to elementary school students and their families, who may not otherwise have a chance to see a live theater production, by Jacobs alumna Maggie Olivo, a teacher at Bloomington’s Fairview Elementary School, another community partner for Carballo’s course.

Barbe, an eleventh-grade homeschooled student and accomplished cellist, pianist, and chamber musician, played cello at the summer busking gigs while Rickert, a junior at Bloomington High School North and accomplished violinist, violist, and trumpeter, played violin.

ROK performance

“Jonathan and I really enjoy playing music with each other, and we thought it would be fun to go busking together at the farmers’ market,” said Barbe, now living in Atlanta. “We wanted our busking proceeds to go to a worthy music-related cause, so we gave most of our earnings to exposing children to live opera, especially those who might otherwise not be able to experience it.

“I was a cellist and narrator for ROK in 2013-14, so I got to see firsthand the impact that live opera can have on kids. That experience ended up extremely formative and inspiring to me, actually. Jonathan and I felt that ROK does amazing work and is a very worthwhile cause. We are very grateful to Kim Carballo for her support and her incredible drive and passion to get things done.”

“I have played violin a few times with ROK this semester, and I hope to be more involved in the future,” said Rickert. “Both Alice and I have known Kim for a long time and are aware of the great work she and her organization do, bringing live opera to kids and reducing the financial barrier to an experience that has proven formative for both of us and many others.”

Barbe has studied piano for 13 years, most recently with William Ransom of Emory University, Daniel Inamorato and Kati Gleiser in Bloomington, and Nicolas Marzinotto of the Luxembourg Conservatory. She has also been studying cello, for 11 years, most recently with Martha Gerschefski in Atlanta, Jean Adolphe of the Metz Conservatory in France, and Janusz Kubiak of Indiana University. A passionate advocate of music technology as a way to educate people about both music and science, Barbe leads a team of 12 Georgia Tech students to create new digital musical instruments in an ongoing effort called Project Music Connector.

Rickert has studied violin for 10 years, five of them with the IU String Academy under teachers including Emily Nehus, Christina Hightower, Brenda Brenner, and Mimi Zweig. On violin, viola, and mandolin, he has participated in the pit orchestras of Cardinal Stage Company’s productions of Oliver! and West Side Story, and will be heard in its upcoming Peter Pan. He has worked for seven years as a player and teacher in the Strings Program at the Project School under the direction of Emily Nehus. Rickert also studies trumpet with Will Koehler and plays in the jazz and marching bands at Bloomington High School North.

IU Opera Theater to present collegiate premiere of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

WHAT: “It’s a Wonderful Life” by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer
WHEN: Nov. 10, 11, 16, and 17 at 7:30 p.m.
WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., IU Bloomington campus
TICKETS: Purchase tickets at the Musical Arts Center box office Monday-Friday 11:30a.m.-5:30 p.m. (812-855-7433) or online. A discounted price is available for all students through the box office.
VIDEO-STREAMING: Nov. 10 and 11 only, at IUMusicLive!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nov. 2, 2017

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana University Opera Theater, at the IU Jacobs School of Music, is pleased to present the collegiate premiere of Jake Heggie’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” with a libretto by Gene Scheer, at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10, 11, 16 and 17 at the Musical Arts Center in Bloomington. The Nov. 10 and 11 performances will be video-streamed live via IUMusicLive!

The Jacobs School of Music joined Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera as a co-commissioner and co-producer of this work based on Frank Capra’s iconic 1946 film of the same name. The opera received its world premiere at Houston Grand Opera in December.

The IU Opera Theater production will feature several of the same artistic team members from Houston: director Leonard Foglia, set designer Robert Brill and costume designer David Woolard. New Jacobs faculty member David Neely will conduct.

Jacobs alumnus Patrick Summers, artistic and music director of Houston Grand Opera, conducted the December production and was the first to approach Jacobs dean Gwyn Richards about a possible partnership after speaking with Heggie in 2010.

“My great friend and collaborator Patrick Summers invited me to participate in a project at Houston Grand Opera to create a family-friendly holiday piece,” said Heggie. “We considered beloved stories that return every Christmas. I knew ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was exactly the story I wanted to pursue—it is emotionally big enough to fill an opera house, and to me it makes sense for these characters to sing, not just speak.”

Driving the plot in Heggie’s version is upwardly mobile angel Clara, intent on earning her wings. She is given the chance to do so if she can help George Bailey as he stands on a bridge on Christmas Eve and contemplates jumping into the river below to end his life.

“The big challenge was to find a way to reconceive the story as an opera,” said Heggie. “That meant lots of changes, cuts and tough choices. One of the most obvious is that Clarence, the angel in the movie, has become Clara, the angel in the opera. Vocal casting is everything in opera, and this allows us to have a soprano voice, Clara, and a tenor voice, George Bailey, as our two leads instead of two male voices.”

Heggie and Scheer have been rehearsing with the IU Opera Theater cast as well as interacting with other Jacobs students in various events, including a voice master class, a composition forum and an entrepreneurial panel discussion and luncheon.

Heggie said that after the premiere, he and Scheer knew they had some work to do to make the opera stronger. They cut about 10 percent of the original and then expanded act two for character and story development.

“The IU rehearsals have been extremely helpful, and the singers incredibly game to try additional cuts and changes,” Heggie said. “I think we rewrote two key lines plus cut another 30 to 40 measures of music. All of it to help streamline the piece and move the story along. You can only learn these things when hearing the piece done, so this has been an incredible opportunity for us creatively. I think we are just about set with it—we’ll know for sure when we see it performed on the stage in front of the audience here. In any case, the piece is quite different from the premiere last year.”

“What an unforgettable experience it has been for our students to work directly with the creators of ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer,” said Richards, David Henry Jacobs Bicentennial Dean. “Rarely does an artist, this early in their career, have a firsthand view of the creative process, as our students have had with this production. And to have this opportunity with such fine people, in such an engaging musical and dramatic creation, is the experience of a lifetime!”

“I’m completely in love with our cast, chorus and team here,” said Heggie. “Their energy and enthusiasm is palpable. I love college productions because students are always ‘all in.’ It’s a great energy to put on a show and get it to the stage.”

Tickets for “It’s a Wonderful Life” may be purchased at the Musical Arts Center box office Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. (812-855-7433) or online.

MEDIA CONTACT
Linda Cajigas
Assistant Director of Communications
IU Jacobs School of Music
812-856-3882 | lcajigas@indiana.edu

Pictured: Cadie Jordan (Clara) in a technical rehearsal as other students singing in the “Angel Chorus” look on.

REVIEW: Baroque Orchestra – A magical performance

Bloomington Herald Times | By Peter Jacobi H-T reviewer | 

It was one of those unexpected moments.

It came in the middle of Wednesday evening’s performance by the Indiana University Baroque Orchestra of 17th century music. As the players switched positions to perform selections from 17th century Italian composer Luigi Rossi’s opera “L’Orfeo,” a diminutive figure diffidently entered the stage, as if seeking to avoid being noticed. He took a seat, folded his hands on lap, and waited.

Through two selections, a Passacaille and a Corrente, he waited, motionlessly. And then he stood, Elijah McCormack stood, and plaintively raised his voice: countertenor you might call it, soprano he prefers to call it. “Lasciate Averno, o pene, e me, e me seguite,” McCormack sang. “Leave Hell, O pains, and follow me!”

Orfeo has lost his beloved Euridice and laments. Young Elijah McCormack sang in Italian that rolled off his tongue, in language that bled from the heart. His voice, his manner, his being turned into the disconsolate youth weeping for the return of his beloved.

The performance proved magical, one of those rare times when a musical experience takes breath and all externals away. “But why delay dying,” came the message, “if death, by happy chance, can bring me back to the lovely cause of my suffering? To die! To die!”

In a hush, the music ended. McCormack stood motionless, his face almost expressionless, but somehow grieving, too.

Then, the silence was broken by a hesitant smattering of applause. The applause grew. And grew. Cheers punctured the applause. In tandem, applause and cheers continued. Finally, timidly, the soloist bowed as his face broke slowly into a smile.

Just that one aria would have made the evening. However, the Baroque Orchestra provided a full hour of period goodies under the label, “A Program of Seventeenth Century Song and Dance.” One heard fine readings of four other works of the period.

With glowing trumpets, orchestra members Jens Jacobsen and Julia Bell added bright and brilliant sounds to the Serenada in C for Trumpets, Strings and Continuo by the Moravian composer and trumpeter Pavel Josef Vejvanovsky. The German composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber’s “Mensa Sonora, Pars III,” proved to be a series of lovely and lively dances, well played, as was the French-born/German Georg Muffat’s Concerto Number 4, “Dulce somnium,” enriched by solo violinists Sarah Cranor and Micah Fleming, along with cellist Kevin Flynn.

Wednesday’s program ended on an Italian note: Arcangelo Corelli’s joyful Concerto grosso in F Major, Opus 6, Number 6, thrillingly enlivened by another pair of violinists from the ensemble, Clara Scholtes and Emily Leung.

One wondered throughout the concert: Where was Stanley Ritchie, listed as the program’s director? The orchestra had been led by members from within its ranks, most prominently violinist Sarah Cranor. And all had gone swimmingly. Yet, was the eminent Professor Ritchie missing?

He wasn’t. When, during the final round of applause for the night’s program, violinist Scholtes pointed toward the balcony at Auer Hall’s rear, a figure appeared. It was director Ritchie. He had been there all along and, at that moment, stood up to accept deserved praise for his preparation of this excellent Baroque Orchestra program.

IU Opera brings a steampunk aesthetic to ‘L’Etoile’ production

By 

Linda Pisano, professor of costume design, points out some of the details in the costumes that make them steam punk during preparation for next week's steam punk style L'Étoile, at the Musical Arts Center.

Linda Pisano, professor of costume design, points out some of the details in the costumes that make them steam punk during preparation for next week’s steam punk style L’Etoile, at the Musical Arts Center.  (Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

If illogical world leaders wore their true colors on the outside, they might be dressed like the comic villain in Indiana University Opera and Ballet Theater’s next production.

Alexis Emmanuel Chabrier’s “L’Etoile” (French for “The Star”) opens Friday at the Musical Arts Center in Bloomington. Written in 19th century France, it stars King Ouf, who celebrates his birthday by looking for someone to execute. When he meets a traveling salesman who he hopes to use to fulfill his birthday wish, he’s warned by his astrologer that Lazuli’s death will result in his own.

Director Alain Gauthier brought his vision of the surreal opera to Bloomington. The Montreal-based director, who has worked on productions of “L’Etoile” for professional opera companies, felt it called for a less traditional look and feel that echoed the time and place of its creation. He chose steampunk, a style known for incorporating metallics, steam-powered machinery and the technology of the 19th century.

Sometimes, Gauthier said, a steampunk-inspired aesthetic can appear dark and gloomy, integrating dark, metallic colors. However, “L’Etoile” has traditionally been produced with vibrant colors to capture the farcical qualities of the writing.

“If you Google ‘L’Etoile,’ you’ll see plenty of different, very colorful photos of productions,” he said. “It’s what it calls for … the possibilities are infinite.” The goal, he said, was to make the visual language match the story and music.

When brainstorming began for the show’s set, Gauthier’s inspiration played off of the science, technology and metal of 19th-century Paris. Set designer Tim McMath started by incorporating a metallic look with a greenish tint that captured the industrial feel of the era, and the color scheme evolved from there.

Gauthier wanted to integrate aspects of fantasy and fairy tale into the look of the production by introducing vibrant colors and shiny fabrics. “The piece calls for it, because it’s very silly,” he said. “There’s no boundaries when you have such a farce.”

As the color palette expanded to encompass that silly nature, new shades of pink and purple made their way into the design, along with brighter, shinier metallics. The colors and styles extend to the costumes, which represent different types of people in the story.

Costume designer Linda Pisano described the three classes of characters that appear on stage as oppressed, working class citizens; the court inside the palace; and visitors from elsewhere who disguise themselves as tailors. Each style takes steampunk aesthetics into a new direction with its own colors.

Costume designer Linda Pisano's renderings for L'Étoile show her vision for its characters.

Costume designer Linda Pisano’s renderings for “L’Etoile” show her vision for its characters.

Bright colors and steampunk styles blend with the clothing of the era in Pisano’s designs. She combined a Victorian gothic style with punk and glam rock elements — “sort of David Bowie, but with a more 18th-century effect,” she said — to give an air of pretension to the courtiers’ overall look.

“It will be very obvious on the set who belongs to the working class (autumnal colors), the outsider/visitors (black and gray) and the courtiers (fuchsia, lime, pastels, yellow),” Pisano wrote in an email. “It will be clear that the king controls this world. The root of the working class steampunk and the visiting gothic punk has firmly landed in the late 19th century. The courtiers have their root in 16th-18th century (which is a very broad range of three centuries) coupled with very modern elements (i.e. leopard skin leggings and leather) for not only fun visual candy to bring out the silliness of this court, but in some ways demonstrate the decadence and ostentatious world of an opulent yet oppressive monarchy.”

To make the visitors look more like outsiders when dropped into the bright pink and gold of the sets, they’re in darker, more classic steampunk attire. And because they’re in disguise, their look is more subtle. Defining the social classes is part of what makes the show more accessible, Pisano said. “This is a farce, and bringing a non-conventional silhouette provides a fun, if not quirky, sensibility for the audience.”

Audiences will be able to see King Ouf’s madness on the outside for the next two weekends as he takes the stage in his attire of opulent pink, gold and blinding rhinestones.

Props to be used in next week’s steam punk style L’Etoile, at the Musical Arts Center.
(Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

 

Linda Pisano, center, professor of costume design, and Sarah Akemon, left, wardrobe supervisor, help fit performer Patrick Conklin, a first year master’s student, during preparation for L’Etoile at the Musical Arts Center. (Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

Props to be used in next week’s steam punk style L’Etoile, at the Musical Arts Center.
(Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

 

Gwen Law, props master at Indiana University, right, and her assistant, Olivia Dagley, work on a chair that transforms into a replica of the Eiffel Tower. To be used in next week’s steam punk style L’Étoile, at the Musical Arts Center.
(Chris Howell | Herald-Times)

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Opera & Ballet Theater

WHAT: “L’Etoile” by Alexis Emmanuel Chamber.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21

WHERE: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., Bloomington

TICKETS: $16-$43; $10-28 for students. Reserved seating. Available at the MAC box office; 812-855-7433, music.indiana.edu/opera

© Herald-Times 2017