Friday, March 23, 2012

Artists Corner: Saraosta Opera Props Master Mary Houston

Artists Corner: Did you know that every prop you see on stage, from swords and furniture to the simple hankershief that brings down Otello's empire, is deeply researched, designed and created by our talented props crew? Sarasota Opera Props Master, Mary Houston, takes a minute to pull back the curtain on backstage to discuss the challenges she faced when given the task of creating the portrait of a young Vanessa that hangs over the fireplace in Samuel Barber's opera VANESSA.

As the prop coordinator here at the opera for the 2012 season, I've met the challenge of accumulating a myriad of elements for 4 distinctively different operatic works. One of the larger endeavors, which required the collaboration of several different departments and individuals, including myself, and quite of bit of time, was one of the main properties of the last show of the season, Vanessa. It is the near life size portrait of the character of Vanessa as portrayed by Kara Shay Thomson in Samuel Barber's opera of the same name.

I stepped into the role of prop coordinator in December. Prior to my arrival there had already been some discussion concerning how to make the portrait happen. Discussions had already taken place with Howard Kaplan, the resident costume designer as to Vanessa's wardrobe in the portrait. Georgianna Eberhard, the wigs and make-up designer had also been consulted. The materials they needed for their contributions had to be planned well in advance of a photo shoot which was tentatively scheduled to take place with Kara Shay, the week she arrived to begin rehearsals in early February.

Once I came on board, I realized we needed a photographer, an appropriate location for shooting, an historically accurate inspiration for the composition of the painting, and last but not least, a printer. My plan was to edit the photograph myself using photoshop, and transform the photograph into a believable painting, with the input of the set designer, Michael Schweikardt and the stage director, Michael Unger.

The painting is to have been made 20 years prior to the action of the opera, which would have made it around 1885. After completing research on portraiture in the late 19th century, we decided to loosely base our portrait on another very well known portrait, John Singer Sargent's "Madame X". The circumstances surrounding this painting, the scandal that ensued after its unveiling, and the somewhat "tabloid-ish" exploits of the Madame herself, who was indeed a real person, seemed appropriate fodder for our prop portrait.

Lucky for us, Rod Millington who was the publicity and production photographer for the opera this season, agreed to shoot the picture. Rod and I met prior to the photo shoot to determine its best location, based on natural light and the background. The photo shoot took place in early February. It was like any other fashion photo shoot you might imagine. Wardrobe and make up was on hand . I was styling and composing the picture with Rod, the photographer. The director Michael Unger was one hand as well to work with Kara Shay on her pose. It was truly a team effort. Once the shoot was done, I narrowed down the 60 or so images to one, and spent about 20 hours editing the photograph into a painting, which was printed on canvas in New York City, and shipped back, mounted to canvas stretcher bars and placed into the custom made frame on the set.

So, as you the reader can see, the seemingly simple painting over the mantle of the set in Vanessa, is not quite so simple after all. It took much coordination, planning and collaboration of several talented individuals to make it happen. For me as the prop coordinator, this was only one of almost 300 items that needed to be sourced, fabricated and coordinated for the 4 operas being produced this season. Something to keep in mind, as you enjoy watching these beautiful elaborate productions: In addition to the talented singers and musicians you see and hear during the performances, there is a very large group of talented individuals who's contribution is evident in all the elements you see on stage here at Sarasota Opera.

Mary Houston
Prop Coordinator
2012 Season, Sarasota Opera

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sarasota Opera 2012-2013 Season will feature Regional and World Premieres!

Sarasota Opera is pleased to announce its 2012 – 2013 Fall and Winter Seasons!

2012 Fall Season
The 2012 Fall Sarasota Opera Season will open with Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto [rih-go-leht-to], based off of Victor Hugo’s play “Le Roi s’Amuse” and the opera chosen to be the first performed in the newly renovated opera house when it re-opened in 2008. The story follows a hunchbacked jester as he tries to shield his daughter Gilda from the evils of the world only to have it unveiled that she is in love with the lascivious Duke of Mantua who has deceived her to win her heart. Rigoletto will open on October 26, 2012 and run through November 12, 2012.

In addition, the fall season will include the world premiere performance of Sarasota Youth Opera’s newest commission, Little Nemo in Slumberland, music by Daron Hagen and libretto by J.D. McClatchy.

Little Nemo in Slumberland will be a Co-Production with the University of Kentucky Opera Theater and will utilize a new leading edge, innovative theater technology, SCRIBE (Self-Contained Rapidly Integratable Background Environment), that was piloted at the University of Kentucky. This technology, which has been successfully used in productions at the University of Kentucky Opera Theater and The Atlanta Opera, will help meet the creative challenge presented by bringing such a fantasy based story to life. There will be two performances on November 10 and 11, 2012.

2013 Winter Festival
The 2013 Sarasota Opera Winter Festival will open with the Sarasota Opera premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s vocally extravagant final opera Turandot [too-ran-dough] which features some of the composers most glorious music including the famous tenor aria “Nessum Dorma” (None shall sleep). Set in Ancient China, Turandot is based off an ancient Persian fairy tale which tells the story of a beautiful princess who men travelled all over the world to win the heart of by solving three riddles. Answer incorrectly and lose your head. Answer correctly and melt the heart of the ice princess Turandot.

Following Turandot will be much in demand return of Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers (Les PĂȘcheurs de perles [lay peh-share deh peh-rl]), a proven favorite of Sarasota Opera audiences. Last seen in 2003, The Pearl Fishers features the famously infectious Act I duet for tenor and baritone “Au fond du temple saint”, in which our two heroes, Nadir and Zurga, reaffirm their pact of eternal friendship despite their mutual love for the priestess Leila.

Sarasota Opera will present the world premiere of a new critical edition (transcribed directly from Verdi’s manuscript) of Giuseppe Verdi’s second opera A King for a Day (Un giorno di regno) [oon jor-no di ray-no]), Verdi’s first comic opera (his only other comedy was his final opera Falstaff). A King for a Day is based on the play Le faux Stanislas by Alexandre Vincent Pineu-Duval. A true Verdi rarity, A King for a Day will be the 29th installment in the company’s continuing Verdi Cycle.

Of this production, Maestro DeRenzi says, “It is part of our artistic vision to present all of Verdi’s rarely performed works along with the more mainstream pieces. Our audience has come to recognize and appreciate the artistic value of these early works, and we are proud to be one of the only opera companies in the United States to present them.” 2013 will also mark the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birth.

Finally, Sarasota Opera will present Carlisle Floyd’s Of Mice and Men as a continuation of the American Classics Series. Premiered in 1969 at Seattle Opera, Floyd adapted the opera from the novella by John Steinbeck and wrote both the music and libretto himself. The opera stays faithful to Steinbeck’s story of two workers, George Milton and Lennie Small, struggling for work during the depression era as they pursue their hopes to achieve the American dream of owning their own farm one day. However, when a hard and cruel world forces them down a different path, George and Lennie are forced to say goodbye to the bright horizon they had envisioned for themselves.

As was done with the first two American Classics Series Operas, the 2011 production of The Crucible and the 2012 production of Vanessa, Sarasota Opera will design a series of education events around this production Of Mice and Men to help familiarize and educate the Sarasota Opera audience about this important work.

The four productions will run in rotation from February 9 through March 24, 2013.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Artist's Corner: Stage Director Stephanie Sundine

Stephanie Sundine, Stage Director for the upcoming production of Verdi's Tour-de-force masterpiece 'Otello', opening this Saturday, March 3rd, offers some thoughts on the process she went through in approaching the complex and exciting challenge of directing an opera of this level of complexity drawing on both personal experience as a performer and voices from the past.

Having performed the role of Desdemona, and directed the opera in a previous production, I had already done a great deal of work on Otello, including a complete translation of the text and stage directions. I’ve listened to the recording with Del Monaco/Tebaldi/Protti recording, with von Karajan conducting.

In preparation for the Sarasota Opera production, I turned to an important source. Giuseppe Verdi’s publisher, Giulio Ricordi, wrote a detailed accounting of the premiere of the opera, with the consent and collaboration of the composer and librettist. Every act is described and illustrated in exhaustive detail. Victor DeRenzi and I are using this information as much as possible in our production.

Tenor Joshua Kohl to open the Orioles' Pre-Season 3rd Year in a Row!

For the third year in a row, tenor and former baseball player Joshua Kohl will sing the National Anthem at the Baltimore Orioles’ first Spring Training game of the season against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, March 5th at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota.

A huge Chicago White Sox fan, he played ball throughout his youth and was a varsity player in high school. “I was an avid baseball player growing up and all through high school starting varsity as a freshman” he says. “There’s nothing better than hitting a home run in a game. It’s exhilarating!”

He loves it so much that he decided to forego the high school musical in his senior year to play on the team. “I figured I’d be singing for the rest of my life but this would be my last chance to play ball. The funny thing is that the odds for being successful in either field are probably about the same!”

However, today Mr. Kohl has hung up his cleats and is currently singing the principal role of Edgardo in Sarasota Opera’s 2012 production of Lucia di Lammermoor. He has also sung leading roles at opera companies such as Dallas Opera, Tulsa Opera, Nashville Opera and Hawaii Opera Theater.

Judging from the reviews he has received for his portrayal as Edgardo, he made the right decision. He was described as “powerful” by the Herald Tribune and Albert Cohen of applauded Mr. Kohl’s portrayal of the role writing, “He covered the entire emotional range from adoring lover to a furious whirlwind…”.

About being asked to sing the National Anthem for the third year in a row, he says, “Getting to sing the National Anthem is always a great experience. As for the Orioles, I remember going to the old Memorial Stadium, and then to Camden Yards. Going to card shows and stadiums growing up was such a great deal of fun. And yes, I cry at the end of FIELD OF DREAMS every time.”

Baseball and Opera continue to be family activities in Kohl’s household. His wife of 6 ½ years, soprano and Boston Red Sox fan Sarah Asmar, is currently singing the role of Frasquita in Carmen and is a Studio Artist at Sarasota Opera this season, has sung the National Anthem at Fenway Park.

Don’t miss your chance to see Joshua Kohl on stage! Performances of Lucia di Lammermoor will continue through March 23rd and tickets are available online at or by calling the Sarasota Opera Box Office at (941) 328-1300.