You Won’t Believe What Trump Did This Time

Trump'd (OperaWorks)userpic=theatre_ticketsDid you hear about how Donald Trump, two Sunday’s ago, took pictures of his private parts and sent them to his gay lover while at a campaign rally? I know, I was there. Evidence, yet again, that Trump had actually sold his soul to the Devil.

(waits for a pause)

OK, it wasn’t really Donald Trump. It was Donald Trump as seen through the eyes of opera singers. Perhaps I should explain.

One of our treats every summer is attending the performance component of the Advanced Artists Program of Operaworks (FB). The Advanced Artist Program is for operatic performers in graduate school or beyond, who want to work in-depth on their repertoire – dramatically, musically, and physically. It’s goal is to teach the performers the “other” side of opera beyond singing. In particular, the not only learn how to address the business and marketing side, but they learn how to act and move on stage as actors and actresses — how to relate to other characters as characters, not just stand in front of a piano and sing. The program culminates with two performance shows of improvised opera. The show consists of three acts, not necessarily related. For each act, the students pick a location and come up with one paragraph bios of their characters and their relationship to the other characters in their act. They then pick arias, from both operas and other musical theatre, for each character to relate to another character. Improvising dialogue, they now put these characters and arias into a show. Here’s an example bio or two from this year’s program:

  • Ivanka Trump (Zeledón) is an American businesswoman, who is dedicated to making America great again, one shoe at a time. She is a staunch supporter of her father, whenever iti s most convenient to her.
  • A dental hygienist, Stephanie Hollenberg has been working for Daughters & Sons Dentistry for six years, where she instigated the increasingly popular “Tooth Fairy Tuesdays.” In her free time, she enjoys frequenting wine bars and shopping at the Container Store.

This year, the three locations chosen were a Subway Station in New York at 4am, an Art Museum, and a Trump Rally at said art museum. There was a connected story line. In Act I, they were getting the area ready for a Trump rally, when some Trump workers indicated they had something on the Donald. Act II focused on how the Devil was controlling the art in the art museum. Act III was the aforementioned Trump rally, where the aforementioned sexting occurred.

It is hard to relate the full details of the story, but here’s a summary of the singers, characters, and arias, in order:

Act One: An Abandoned NYC Subway Station at 4 A.M.

Singer / Character Aria Opera | Composer
Amy Selby (FB), an enthusiastic, youthful hipster, a techie, interested in jamming at NYCRavers events. Je veux vivre Roméo Et Juliette | Charles-François Gounod
/ Emerald Lessley (FB), a domestic engineer with an Etsy business. Come scoglio Cosí Fan Tutte | W. A. Mozart
Colin Campbell (FB), a TMZ sound engineering in a troubled marriage to Emerald. En fermant les yeux Manon | Jules Massenet
/ Glenn Fernandez (FB), a promising accountant at Trump Towers, recently let go during a cost cutting attempt. Si, ritrovarla io giuro La Cenerentola | Gioacchino Rossini
\ Jessine Johnson (FB), a resident of the Columbus Circle subway station. Regnava nel silenzio Lucia Di Lammermoor | Gaetano Donizetti
Maggie Finnegan (FB), part of Trump’s Secret Service detail, into folk music. I never travel without one Postcard From Morocco | Dominick Argento
Stephanie Hollenberg (FB), a dental hygienist dressed as a tooth fairy. Piangerò la sorte mia Giulio Cesare | George Frideric Händel
/ Jon Ellis (FB), an Exec VP of Corporate Finance for Trump Towers Inc. Ch’ella mì creda La Fanciulla Del West | Giacomo Puccini
\ Morgan Harrington (FB), Ellis’ executive assistant and secret lover. Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata Don Giovanni | W. A. Mozart
Margaret Izard, one of the cities finest janitors. Chacun à son goût Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss

Act Two: An Art Museum above the Subway Station at 4 A.M.

Singer / Character Aria Opera | Composer
Shannon McAleb (FB), who studied art at Columbia University, but is now working restoring the great works of art in NYC. Chi il bel sogno di Doretta? La Rondine | Giacomo Puccini
Aphrodite of Arles (Catherine Leech (FB)), full of love, passion, and desires intimacy with the Devil. Non so più Le Nozze Di Figaro | W. A. Mozart
Sophie (Yoo Ri Clark (FB)), a socialite admired for her timeless beauty and elegance. Glitter & Be Gay Candide | Leonard Bernstein
Bacchus (Adam Cromer (FB)), the God of Feats, of Wine, and of Pleasure. Giunto sul passo estremo Mefistofele | Arrigo Boito
The Devil (Vanja Schoch (FB)), the oldest enemy of humanity. Endless Pleasure Semele | George Frideric Händel
/ Rick (Wes Hunter (FB)), a homeless man who has lost everything. Un’aura amorosa Così Fan Tutte| W. A. Mozart
\ The Degas Ballerina (Hillary Esqueda (FB)), who left the loves of her life to be here. Who Is There to Love Me? A Hand of Bridge | Samuel Barber
Camila (Erin Moran/FB), the Spanish Dancer in El Jaleo. Près des ramparts de Séville Carmen | Georges Bizet
Katya (Ashley Biehl (FB)), the soul trapped in El Lissitzky’s “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” Volta la terrea Un Ballo in Maschera | Giuseppe Verdi
Lady with a Helmet of Hair (Claire Choquette (FB)), from Picasso’s Blue Period Illustratevi o cieli Il Ritorno D’ulisse In Patria | Claudio Monteverdi
ALL Chi il bel sogno di Doretta? La Rondine | Giacomo Puccini

Act Three: The Next Morning at the Art Museum

Singer / Character Aria Opera | Composer
Jen (Zen Wu (FB)), representing CNN and the newest member of the Trump Press Pool, looking for a story amidst the gossip Ah, fors ‘è lui La Traviata | Giuseppe Verdi
Aimee Bobbins (Mackenzie Rogers (FB)), an avid NRA enthusiast and conservative voter. Nobles seigneur, salut! Les Hugoneuots | Giacomo Meyerbeer
Kat Smith (Katrina Deininger (FB)), an advocate for peace in the US and worldwide, who wants to give hugs to everyone. Du gai soleil Werther | Jules Massenet
Kevin Werther (Kimberly Hann/FB), a loyal member of the Trump security detail, faithful to the Trump family. Hence, Iris hence away Semele | George Frideric Händel
/ Julio Ramirez (José Mongelós (FB)), Trump’s official hair masseur, Gertlestein’s assistant. Dies Bildnis ist bezaubern schön Die Zauberflöte | W. A. Mozart
\ Lauren (Lauren James (FB)), a well-known TMZ reporter. Il est doux, il est bon Hérodiade | Jules Massenet
/ Sarah Coulter (Jessie Shulman (FB)), manager of the Trump campaign since April 2016 Svegliatevi nel core Giulio Cesare | George Frideric Händel
\ Rhonda Gertlestein (Kelly Ferguson (FB)), Trump’s celebrity hairstylist. Io son l’umile ancella Adriana Lecouvveur | Francesco Ciléa
Ashley Phelps (Ashley McKinstry/FB), great-granddaughter of Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church. I Want Magic A Streetcar Named Desire | André Previn
Ivanka Trump (Isabella Zeledón), Trump’s daughter. Ci’io mai vi possa Siroe Re Di Persia | George Frideric Händel
Donald Trump (Marcy McKee (FB)), a wonderful, amazing entrepreneur Dich theure Halle Trannhäuser | Richard Wagner
ALL Libiamo ne’lieti calici La Traviata | Giuseppe Verdi

Overall, the event was very entertaining, and the singers not only performed well, but they interacted with other players well. This was especially true in the first act.

Technical Credits: Stage Direction: Zeffin Quinn Hollis (FB). Movement Coach: Dr. Paula Thomson. Improvisation Coach: Laura Parker. Artistic Director: Ann Baltz (FB). Additional faculty and Operaworks staff is listed on the Operaworks site.

* * *

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB), the  Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB), and I plan to renew my mini-subscription at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB). Past subscriptions have included  The Colony Theatre (FB) (which went dormant in 2016), and Repertory East Playhouse (“REP”) (FB) in Newhall (which entered radio silence in 2016). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:  August is a bit more open in terms of theatre. The first weekend just has a Jethawks game on Sunday; the second weekend has a Bar Mitzvah.  The third weekend brings another event from the wonderful counter-cultural orchestra, Muse/ique (FB) — American/Rhapsody — a celebration of George Gershwin. Late August sees us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. September returns to conventional theatre. The first weekend has a HOLD for Calendar Girls at The Group Rep (FB). The second weekend may be another Muse/ique (FB) event — Summer/Time, a reimagined retelling of Porgy and Bess. The third weekend has a HOLD for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Mark Taper Forum (FB). The last weekend is The Hunchback of Notre Dame at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB).

Continuing the look ahead: October is a bit more booked. The first weekend brings Dear World at the Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) and Our Town at Actors Co-op (FB), as well as the start of the High Holy Days. The second weekend has another Valley Performing Arts Center (VPAC) (FB) event: this time for Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis. The third weekend has yet another VPAC event: An Evening with Kelli O’Hara on Friday, as well as tickets for Evita at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) on Saturday. The following weekend brings Turn of the Screw at Actors Co-op (FB) on October 22 and the new Tumbleweed Festival (FB) on October 23. The last weekend of October brings Linden Waddell’s Hello Again, The Songs of Allen Sherman at Temple Ahavat Shalom (a joint fundraiser for MoTAS and Sisterhood). Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, October is also the North Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and it looks like a theatre in Pasadena will be presenting the musical Funny Girl. November is still in the planning stages, but we know it will include Hedwig and the Angry Inch at  the Hollywood Pantages (FB); a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum (FB) [excuse me, “Southern California Railway Museum”]; the Nottingham Festival (FB); and possibly Little Women at the Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.

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Exploring Relationships

Singed (Operaworks)userpic=theatre_ticketsEvery year we go to a fascinating show that is impossible to describe. The show is the finale of the Operaworks (FB) Advanced Artist Program called “Opera Reconstructed”. Here’s why this is so fascinating:

The Advanced Artist Program is for operatic performers in graduate school or beyond, who want to work in-depth on their repertoire – dramatically, musically, and physically. It’s goal is to teach the performers the “other” side of opera beyond singing. In particular, the not only learn how to address the business and marketing side, but they learn how to act and move on stage as actors and actresses — how to relate to other characters as characters, not just stand in front of a piano and sing. The program culminates with two performance shows of improvised opera. The show consists of three acts, not necessarily related. For each act, the students pick a location and come up with one paragraph bios of their characters and their relationship to the other characters in their act. They then pick arias, from both operas and other musical theatre, for each character to relate to another character. Improvising dialogue, they now put these characters and arias into a show. Here’s an example bio:

Brynne (Pulver), 42, was tragically murdered last year at her co-owned business, the speakeasy, Sassy Sally’s. She was the songstress for over fifteen years, and was a local favorite. A beloved mother, sister, and friend, she is survived by her daughter, Alexandra, and son-in-law Scott; her sister Johanna, and from what we are told, long-time lover Evelyn. Some say they still feel her presence in the speakeasy. Will she ever rest in peace?

If there is one constant in these shows, it is sex and violence. Perhaps this is because stronger emotions are easier to portray, to express. But the plots are convoluted (as one might expect from those familiar with opera), and remembering them a day after the fact can be difficult. It is also rare in these shows for a performer to sing more than one song — not a surprise when you have 32 performers and 32 songs in 2.5 hours.

This year the tree acts were only tangentially related: some characters from Act One reappeared in Act Three — even though it was almost 80 years later. Time discontinuity aside, that was really the only connection. Let’s look at the acts and the singers from what I remember.

Act One was called “The Speakeasy”, and took place in a 1920s speakeasy called Sassy Sally’s. Sally’s is run by Noelle (Thomson); she runs the establishment and interacts with all. Joanna (Watson) is the cigarette girl and assistant manager, and loves to daydream about her ex. Jaime (Billman) is coming off a messy divorce with Shelly (who reappears in Act Three). Evelyn (Tsen) was in love with Brynne (see above), and hasn’t been able to move on. But now she has feelings for Karen (Levandoski), a cop who was investigating the case.  Madelaine (M. Martinez) is the new songstress, and wants to end her days as a high-end prostitute. Maggie (Woolums) is a prep school graduate who was friends with Alexandra and Elena. Scott (Ballantine) was a guard at the state prison (which we see in the next act) and comes to the speakeasy after work. Alexandra (A. Martinez) is in a tumultuous marriage with Scott, and is also a bootlegger. Elena (Bird) has resorted to exotic dancing to support her drinking problem. Cole Perder (Douglas Sumi) was the speakeasy pianist, playing piano to fund his addiction.

Arias in this act were (in order) [🎶 title 🎼 composer 🎤 singer]:

To me, the most notable performer was Ms. Thomson — she was comfortable as her character and kept interacting with others and playing throughout.

Act Two, “The Prison”, took place in a prison. It seemed to concern a racial war between white prisoners and, umm, non-white prisoners (who were either Asian or Hispanic). The prisoners and other characters were: Carmen (Metry), a former foster child who found heroin on the streets; Mengtao (Zhou), a Chinese Black Widow who murdered seven boyfriends and is now in love with the guard, Nick (Harmantzis), who was brought up in an abusive environment and has pent up frustration and anger. Azur (Valcour) was sexually brutalized, and so strangled her oppressors and drank their blood. Katherine (Bruton) is a housewife with particular values, so she poisoned the blacks that moved into her neighborhood with arsenic. Christina (Ramos) had her child taken away, and is soon to be released — she’s also the only sane person in the unit. Eva (Kastner-Puschl) is a slutty murderer who killed her boyfriend, and subordinate to the leader of the “Whities” and makes out with the guard. Margaret (Boeckman) is a lifer who killed a nun who physically abused a friend, who is also under the rule of white supremacist Katherine. Lily (Barber) drowned her infant daughter and 3-yo son. Lau (Pu) is from a prominent family who killed her fiance. Elle (Logan) is a southern girl who had a psychotic break and dismembered the torso of her ex-husband. Quite a fun bunch. Tickling the keys was Dolores Cliburn (Mark Robson), a cross-dressing former piano instructor with a penchant for arson.

Arias in this act were (in order) [🎶 title 🎼 composer 🎤 singer]:

I’d list memorable performances, but I was so involved with watching this one I forgot to make any notes.

Act Three, “The Family Reunion”, brought together a large disfunctional family to see Grandpa Mark (Mark Robson). The family members were as follows: Katia (Kotcherguina), a fun-loving party-going college student.  Shelley (yes, the one divorced from Jaime of the first act) (Mitchell), who is still hurting from the divorce (80 years ago?). Laura (Remy), the father of the family who came out last year and is transitioning, trying to connect with her two daughters, Ekaterina/Katia and Lindsey, who is estranged from her sisters Anna and Sarah. Anna (Buck), the mother of three who just wants perfection, and who has cut ties with two of her rebellious children, Michelle and Jen. Carolyn (Forte) is married to Andrew (Metzger), the winner of a reality show. Jen (Hansen) is a feminist lesbian. Sarah (Baumgarten) is a single-mother to Andrew, and has found Jesus and judgement. Michelle (Drever) left home at 16 and is a paleontologist and does makeup. Lindsey (Fuson) is a defiant teenager feeling abandoned with her father’s transition and her sister going off to college.

Arias in this act were (in order) [🎶 title 🎼 composer 🎤 singer]:

Again, this was an act where I was so caught up following the performances that I failed to make notes.

Technical Credits: Stage Direction: Zeffin Quinn Hollis (FB). Movement Coach: Dr. Paula Thomson. Improvisation Coach: Laura Parker. Artistic Director: Ann Baltz (FB). Additional faculty and Operaworks staff is listed on the Operaworks site.

Alas, yesterday’s was the last performance. Operaworks (FB) will have a winter production on January 16, 2016, so look for it.

Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I subscribe at three theatres:  REP East (FB), The Colony Theatre (FB), and Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals).  I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows: August continues the theatre craziness, with a double header at Theatricum Botanicum (FB) the first weekend: “As You Like It” on Saturday, and the rescheduled “Green Grow The Lilacs” on Sunday.  The second weekend of August is equally busy, with “The Fabulous Lipitones” at  The Colony Theatre (FB) on Friday, our summer Mus-ique show on Saturday, and Concerts on the Green in Warner Park (with a Neil Diamond cover band) on Sunday. The third weekend of August is calmer, but only because we moved theatre off the weekend because my wife is driving my daughter’s car back to the bay area. As for me, I might very well go back to see the revised “Jesus Christ Superstar” at REP East (FB) — they are returning to have live music and I expect that will make a significant difference. The third week of August may see us back at REP East (FB) for their “secret seventh show”, which has been revealed to be “A Company of Wayward Saints“. After that we’ll need a vacation … but then again we might squeeze in Evita at the Maui Cultural Center (FB) the last weekend of August. September right now is mostly open, with the only ticketed show being “The Diviners” at REP East (FB) and a hold-the-date for “First Date” at The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts (FB). October will bring another Fringe Festival: the NoHo Fringe Festival (FB). October also has the following as ticketed or hold-the-dates: CSUN’s Urinetown (end of October – 10/30 or 11/1);  “The Best of Enemies” at The Colony Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/10); and  “Damn Yankees” at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) (Ticketed for Sat 10/17). As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

 

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Psst. It’s a Heist. Let’s Sing About It.

Operaworks - The Heistuserpic=ucla-csunTwo or so years ago, we discovered a really interesting program at CSUN. It is called Operaworks, and it’s goal is to make better Opera singers. The advanced artist program, which just concluded, has a slightly different specific goal: to teach opera singers how to “be” on stage. In their training, opera singers are taught to stand and sing in a formalized position. But to be effective in opera, they need to learn how to act — how to move, how to interact with others, how to tell stories with their movements, how to create personas that go beyond the areas. Each year in this program they bring together 30 or so graduate or newly performing singers. They come up with a theme, personas, and then select arias from their repertoires that might fit. They then improvise these areas into a through story, present two performances, and its gone for the year.

Today we saw the second performance. Sorry, you missed it. Try again next year.

This year’s performance was called “The Heist”. It was based on the story of an imaginary crime family called the Mezzos. I certainly won’t be able to tell you the full story, because I simply didn’t catch it all. But let’s try (and note that I’m doing this from memory, and was a bit drowsy from my migraine meds during the first act).

The first act was called “The Family Meeting”. It was essentially a cocktail party where different members of the Mezzo family were interacting. These included Giovanni Mezzo and his wife Holly. After a heist went wrong, Giovanni has gone into hiding. Holly is the mother of Amber Rose, Angela, Annie, Ricardo, and adopted son Angky. Annie lives in the bottle and is a hopeless drunk; AmberRose is the daddy’s girl; Angela is the caretaker of the family; Ricardo is the oldest son, trying to take his father’s place; and Angky, the adopted son who is betrothed to Anastasia, part of the family that killed Giovanni’s father. Also at the party is Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti, widow of Giacomo Carminotti and younger sister of Holly. Rebecca is the mother of Tara, who on her last job killed a bank teller and is suffering from PTSD. Also at the party is Lauren O’Donnell Mezzo, Ricardo’s wife; Baby, who got caught up in the family; and Mark Markson, the family legal counsel and sometimes pianist. As the party goes on, we move from character to character seeing the interplay; the party concludes with the announcement that there is going to be one last heist.

Arias in Act One were: Adele’s Laughing Song (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Annie Sherman as Annie Mezzo]; Czàrdàs (Die Fledermaus | Johann Strauss) [Rebecca Peterson as Rebecca Mezzo-Carminotti]; O wär ich schon (Fidelio | Ludwig van Beethoven) [Anastasia Malliaras as Anastasia Basso]; The Tower Aria (The Turn of the Screw | Benjamin Britten) [Tara Morrow as Tara Mezzo-Carminotti];  La Promessa (Giacchino Rossini) [Lauren Corcoran as Lauren O’Donnell Mezzo]; Dearest Mama (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Cristina Foster as Baby]; Una Furtiva Lagrima (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti) [Ricardo Mota as Ricardo Mezzo]; Steal Me, Sweet Thief (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angela De Venuto as Angela Mezzo]; When The Air Sings of Summer (The Old Maid and the Thief | G. Menotti) [Angky Budiardjono as Angky Mezzo]; Don’t Say a Word (Dead Man Walking | Jake Heggie) [Holly Seebach as Holly Mezzo]; and I Go To Him (The Rake’s Progress | Igor Stravinsky) [AmberRose Dische as AmberRose Mezzo]. Mark Robson was at the piano.

The memorable performance in Act One was Annie Sherman as the drunk Annie Mezzo — she was just a delight to watch through the entire act, both as the drunk and how she interacted with others.

Act Two is the actual heist, and takes place at the Bank. The characters we meet here are Erin Desjardins, a student about to graduate from high school and her French cousin, Rachelle Desjardins; Manon Elias, a Kim Kardashian-type at the bank with her boyfriend, commercial real estate giant Andrew Gold. Mary Silverstein, the bank manager and Magdaline Small, the bank teller;  Katherine Sullivan, a high-school English teacher; Noel Strand and Sean Faust, the bank guards; Kelly the bank heist manager and her new robber Crystal; and Karlos Keys, a security guard who enjoys playing piano more. Most of the act is the interaction between the characters. When the heist occurs, the manager is forced to open the silver vault. Katherine organizes the guard and the others to overpower the watchman, and they storm the vault. During the melee, Samantha Mezzo is shot.

Arias in Act Two were Laurie’s Song (The Tender Land | Aaron Copland) [Erin White as Erin Desjardins]; O Mio Babbino (Gianni Schicchi | Giacomo Puccini) [Rahel Moore as Manon Elias]; En Fermant Les Yeux (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Andrew Zimmerman as Andrew Gold]; Nun Eilt Herbei (The Merry Wives of Windsor | Otto Nicolai) [Kelly Rubinsohn as Kelly]; Meine Lippen, Sie Küssen (Guiditta | Franz Lehar) [Crystal Kim as Crystal]; Je Suis Encor (Manon | Jules Massenet) [Rachel Rosenberg as Rachelle Desjardins]; Come Now a Roundel (A Midsummer Night’s Dream | Benjamin Britten) [Magdaline Small as Magdaline Small]; The Silver Aria (The Ballad of Baby Doe | Douglas Moore) [Mary Harrod as Mary Silverstein]; Prendi, Per Me (L’Elisir D’Amore | Gaetano Donizetti); and Chacun Le Sait (La Fille Du Régiment | Gaetano Donizetti) [Katherine Sullivan as Katherine Sullivan]. Pianists were Nola Strand and Kelly Horsted.

Notable performances in Act Two were Crystal as the naive thief and Erin White with her opening song. My wife liked the clueless bank manager (Mary Harrod) and Rahel Moore as the golddigger.

Act Three takes place at the hospital afterwards. The characters we meet here include the hospital personnel: Sangeetha Ekambaram the head nurse; Brenna Johnson, an RN; her husband Dr. Joe Johnson; and Eric Zingermann, the intake clerk who dreams of a bigger career on the concert stage. We also meet Sarah Westbrook, a gold-digging bored housewife who has secret assignations with Dr. Joe; Megan, a local hypochondriac; Alice Beurre a new bride and her maid of honor, Beth; Marina, the new clown doctor, and Tascha, whose father was injured picking strawberries. Lastly, there is the aforementioned Samantha Mezzo, who was shot in the heist. This act is mostly the interactions between the characters, concluding with Samantha’s death.

Arias in Act Three were: Ophelia’s Mad Scene (Hamlet | Ambroise Thomas) [Megan Supina as Megan]; O Mon Fernand / Kommit Ein Schlanker (La Favorite | Gaetano Donizetti) / (Der Freischütz | Carl Maria von Weber) [Alice Chung as Alice Beurre / Elizabeth Sterling as Beth]; Je Veux Vivre (Roméo Et Juliette | Charles Gounod) [Sangeetha Ekambaram as Sangeetha Ekambaram]; Pauline’s Aria (Pique Dame | Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky) [Marina Kesler as Marina]; Madamina, Il Catalogo é questo (Don Giovanni | W. A. Mozart) [Brent Hetherington as Dr. Joe Johnson]; Svegliatevi Nei Core [Giulio Cesare | George Frederick Händel) [Tascha Anderson as Tascha]; Ouvre Ton Coeur (Georges Bizet) [Sarah Dudley as Sara Westbrook]; Things Change, Jo (Little Women | Mark Adamo) [Brenna Casey as Brenna Johnson]; and Emily’s Aria (Our Town | Ned Rorem) [Samantha Lax as Samantha Mezzo]. Eric Sedgwick was the pianist.

Notable performances in Act Three were Megan as the hypochondriac. My wife liked Brenna Casey.

Turning to the technical side, umm, well they didn’t say much. Sean Dennehy was the Stage Director, Julia Aks was the Assistant Stage Director, and Ann Baltz as the Artistic Director.

Look for the next Operaworks production in July 2015. You can sign up for their mailing list at http://www.operaworks.org/.

[Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience. I’ve been attending live theatre in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.]

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:  August starts with “Family Planning” at The Colony Theatre (FB) on 8/2. This is followed by “Buyer and Cellar” at the Mark Taper Forum on 8/9, and “Broadway Bound” at the Odyssey on 8/16 (directed by Jason Alexander). The following weekend we’ll be in Escondido, where there are a number of potential productions… including Two Gentlemen of Verona” at the Old Globe, and Pageant” at the Cygnet in Old Town. What they have at the Welk (“Oklahoma“), Patio Theatre (“Fiddler on the Roof“), and Moonlight Stage (“My Fair Lady“) are all retreads. August will end with the aforementioned “An Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein” at REP East (FB). I’m just starting to fill out September and October — so far, the plans include “The Great Gatsby” at Repertory East (FB), “What I Learned in Paris” at The Colony Theatre (FB), and “Pippin” at the Pantages (FB). November is also shaping up, with dates held for “Big Fish” at Musical Theatre West (FB), “Handle with Care” at The Colony Theatre (FB), the Nottingham Festival, “Sherlock Holmes and the Suicide Club” at REP East (FB), “Kinky Boots” at the Pantages (FB), and “She Loves Me” at Chance Theatre (FB) in Anaheim. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411.

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Opera in The Cloud

The Cloud by OperaWorksWhen we were planning the shows for my wife’s birthday weekend, one of the shows on Goldstar had a description that said: “Each year at OperaWorks, the company creates a new opera out of a mash-up of famous arias and scenes from the opera canon. Taking the pieces that mean something to each performer, adding improvised dialogue and working them together into an original story allows both performers and audience to connect to these classical works from a contemporary viewpoint, and of course, it is never boring! If you are an old hand at opera then you will appreciate the way old favorites are transformed by a new context. If you are new to the scene, this is a great introduction to a genre that’s often hard to understand for the uninitiated.”

An opera mash-up. This sounded neat and different and fun and something completely out of our normal sphere of traditional plays, musical theatre, dance, or concerts. So last night saw us at CSUN for “The Cloud“, the final production of the 26th edition of OperaWorks.

OperaWorks (as the programs director noted at the start of the performance) is a program that brings together a group of aspiring opera performers (usually college age), and teaches them the business. That is, it doesn’t teach them how to sing, but rather how to perform: how to act on stage, how to move in a non-operative fashion, how to interact with other characters on stage, and how to do the things that moves the student from being a “singer” to being a “performer”. The production we saw was the culmination of this year’s advanced artist program. The students in the program each selected an aria from whatever opera they wanted. They then combined them, created characters, created a storyline, and performed it. The result was fascinating–something that I (as a more traditional theatre audience) hadn’t seen before. I couldn’t understand the arias (other than what was in the program), but I could feel the emotion. The only indication the songs were out of context was the shifting language of the words. It was just wonderful.

The program was constructed as three acts. Just before each act, the audience was given a sheet listing the arias and the characters in that act. I’ll try to summarize these and comment on what I saw.

Act I took place in a New York Subway. There were a few basic storylines that interacted, ending up (as most operas do) with death. As the act opens, we see the characters on the subway. The first interaction is between Lindsay (Lindsay ReigelFB), a janitor, and Jenna (Jenna SiladieFB). They had been in rehab together; Lindsay made it out, but Jenna didn’t. Lindsay tries to convince Jenna to try again, but Jenna resists, singing “Voyons, Manon” (Manon, Jules Massenet). Jenna then interacts with Anna (Anna WardFB), who is obsessed with her cell phone. She sings “O luce de quest anima” (Linda de Chamounix, Donizetti) [O light of my life, I will only live for you] about her love of her cell phone. Jenna convinces her to try drugs instead. Other characters we meet over the course of the act include Alexis (Alexis Alfaro), who is looking to meet his love from the Internet, Alina (Alina Roitstein/FB). Alina, however, has a secret that only Madame Lavonna (Amanda McGarryFB), the owner of a high-end escort service, knows. Madame Lavonna, always on the lookout for talent, attempts to recruit Kimberly (Kimberly Waite/FB), a runaway needing money. Lavonna also has to deal with the departure of one of her top escorts, Lisa (Lisa Stidham). Lisa is leaving to be with Brendan (Brendan Stone), a former CEO of a large hedge fund company, fired for unethical business practices after his now ex-wife, Cass (Cass PanuskaFB) turned him in.  Cass is also in the subway, wandering and pregnant, living as a pickpocket. Anyway, Lavonna doesn’t want Lisa to leave, so she dispatches Alyssa (Alyssa Narum/FB) to kill her. Alyssa is a paid assassin working for Madame Lavonna; she is also Kimberly’s estranged sister and doesn’t want her to go work for the Madame. Lastly, playing piano was Kelly Trackarumblin (Kelly HorstedFB), the last of a long line of toll both operators.

This is much more complicated than one sees in the simplified world of music theatre. I’m sure most of this is due to the nature of the mashup, but I also understand convoluted stories and characters are traditional in the opera world. Arias in the act, other than ones I mentioned above, were “Dies Bildnis is bezaubernd schön” (Die Zauberflöte, Mozart); “In uomini, in soldati” (Così fan tutte, Mozart); “Ma quando tornerai” (Alcina, Händel), “Warm as the Autumn Light” (The Ballad of Baby Doe, Moore); “Notre amour” (Fauré), “Que fais-tu, blance tourerelle” (Roméo et Juliette, Gounod), “Hence, hence, Iris hence away!” (Semele, Händel), “Je veux vivre dans la reve” (Roméo et Juliette, Gounod), and “Dove sono i bei momenti” (Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart). Of course, the artists did a wonderful job with the music. Watching them sing you could see that they love this music; you could also see how an opera singer sings differently than a musical theatre performer. Where I saw this most was when Cass Panuska was singing her Mozart aria. She appears to be pregnant in real life, and it was fascinating to watch the muscles in her diaphragm move her baby as she sang. What a wonderful way to be rocked to sleep! You don’t see that power and concentration in a typical musical theatre performer. What was more interesting in this act was watching the artists deal with being actors: creating characters, even if they were in the background. I noticed this particularly in the movements of Jenna in the background, who stayed in character as the drug addict, or Alyssa slinking around as the assassin (as well as the movements of Cass, who was sneaking around stealing things). About the only negative here (which was truly minor) was Amanda’s Madame Lavonna. Her singing voice was wonderful, but a couple of times her speaking voice had more of the operatic timber to it than did any other character.  But that’s truly minor; the performances here were wonderful.

Act II was completely different. Act II took place in a wax museum (they said it was abandoned, but an abandoned museum wouldn’t be putting up new displays or have a guard). As in “Night at the Museum”, the waxworks come alive in the evening and interact with each other. The quest for love was a big theme here: both between the characters, and between the guard and one of the mannequins who is currently characterless. This act opened with the guard, Josef (Josef Curtis/FB) bringing in Dasha (Dasha JensenFB), a confused mannequin stripped of her identity, longing to be touched. Watching this is Annalise (Annalise BelnapFB), a teenager lost in drug addition. Other characters in the wax museum were  Dorothy Louise Taliaferro “Del” Martin (Maria BellancaFB), the first lesbian to be married in California; “Del” was in love with Melissa Scott (Alyssa Callaghan/FB), a pastor in denial about her porn star past. Scott is loved by Dr. Homer Adkins (Anthony Whitson-MartiniFB), a chemist who has trouble accepting the relationship. Also at the museum is Lolita Lebrón (Zohaniris Torres/FB), a Puerto Rico nationalist, Louise Ranier (Meera CrowFB), the first woman to win two consecutive Oscars; Charlotte Brontë (Isabella IvyFB), the author of Jayne Eyre; Selena Quintanilla (Andrea FloresFB), the Queen of Tejano Music, and Walter Hagan (Daniel Hunter-Holly), a professional golfer. No real relationships here, other than the fact that Hagan is a womanizer and attempts to hit on anything (which naturally evokes reactions in the other characters–particularly Lolita Lebrón. Liberace (Eric SedgwickFB) was at the piano.

Arias in Act II were “Lonely House (Street Scene, Weill); “Je suis encor tout étourdie” (Manon, Massenet); “When the air sings of summer” (The Old Maid and the Thief, Menotti), “Meine Lippen, sie Küßen so heiß” (Giuditta, Lehár); “Canto Negro” (Cinco Canciones Negras, Montsalvatge), “Regnava nel silenzio” (Lucia de Lammermoor, Donizetti), “Vedrai, carino” (Don Giovanni, Mozart), “Nobles seigneurs, salut!” (Les Huguenots, Meyerbeer), “La maja y el ruiseñor” (Goyescas, Granados), “Vedró mentr’io sospiro (Le nozze di Figaro, Mozart), “Chévere” (Cinco Canciones Negras, Montsalvatge), and “Chi il bel sogno di Doretta” (La Rondine, Puccini). As in Act I, the singing her was top-notch; I was particuarly taken by the performances by Zohaniris Torres, Maria Bellance, Isabella Ivy, and in particular, Dasha Jensen. Jensen was remarkable especially because her costume permitted one to watch her incredible muscle control. Again, it was also fun to watch the artists learn to play characters, in particular Ivy’s Brontë, Bellanca’s Martin, the anger and interactions between Hunter-Holly’s Hagan and Whitson-Martini’s Adkins, and the fire and anger of Torres’ Lebrón.

Act III was the inspiration for the title of the piece, as it takes place in the Internet cloud. Yes, yes, I know — but we’re dealing with opera folks, not engineers like me… so suspend your disbelief (just like you did when you watched Tron). We’re introduced to the cloud through Erin (Erin AndersonFB), an “oracle” who can connect you with any information in exchange for “likes”. As the act begins, we meet Simon (Simon BarradFB), a porn start who has become addicted to his own sexually-deviant website. Simon has created a virus, Sarah (Sarah YoungFB) and unleashed it to destroy the Internet in order to reconnect with Tiffany (Tiffany MortensenFB), his former love. Opposing Simon are Karen (Karen Hogle Brown), an online website hosts who controls Simon through sexual addition, and Alex (Alexandra HillFB), a CIA spy on a mission to prevent the attack. Erin, the Oracle, directs Alex to talk to Greg (Gregory VoinierFB), Simon’s business parter, who is now focused on Jessica (Jessica VadneyFB), an online reality-sex star. Greg is estranged from his daughter, Laurel (Laurel Semerdjian/FB), who is looking for love online to deal with her desk job at the CIA. Lastly, Tiffany is supported by Theresa (Theresa PilzFB), the avatar of her deceased mother. Overseeing this all is HRH Kevin (Kevin BylsmaFB), the all knowing all seeing pianist CEO of the Universe.

Arias in Act III were “Come now a roundel” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Britten); “Come scoglio” (Così fan tutte, Mozart), “No word from Tom” (The Rake’s Progress, Stravinsky), “Smanie implacabili” (Così fan tutte, Mozart), “Vision fugitive” (Hérodiade, Massenet), “Be kind and courteous” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Britten), “Laurie’s Song” (The Tender Land, Copland), “Der Hölle Rache” (Die Zauberflöte, Mozart), “Flowers bring to every year” (The Rape of Lucretia, Britten),  “Pierrot’s Tanzlied” (Die Tote Stadt, Korngold), and the finale, “Des cendres de ton coeur, réchauffe ton génie” (Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Offenbach). Again, the singing was at the top of the game; in particular, the finale when all of the artists came together to blow the roof off the recital hall. But, of course, the focus wasn’t the singing, it was the acting. A particular standout here was Erin Anderson, who was in character throughout the intermission (handing out “likes” for the OperaWorks Facebook page); her behavior reminded me of the marionette’s from Wisdom 2116. It was also fun to watch her interaction with Jessica Vadney. Jessica was very, umm, well endowed, which worked well with her character as an online sex star. In a battle to get more “likes” with Erin, the interchange over chests (as Erin was much less endowed) was quite well played. Of course, as operas will do, there was lots of death in this one, including the death of the Internet (which troubled me — I was wondering if it was a reflection of the artists on the problems created by technology).

So, over these three acts, was there a theme? I think so, and it was essentially the same theme that we saw Friday night in Fluffy Bunnies: the search for a love and meaningful relationships.

[ETA: Here are some pictures of the production.]

This production also got me thinking about the differences between traditional “Musicals” and “Opera”. After all, there are some sung-through musicals — look at Evita, Sweeney Todd, Rent, and even productions such as The Pirates of Penzance. What makes these musicals as opposed to opera. Is it the style of the music? The style of the performance? Particular conventions of the story? This production got me curious about that, and the only way to find out is to attend more opera to see the difference.

Turning to the technical. The stage (as well as the entire recital hall) was adorned with pillars that were covered with pictures that either (a) reflected characters in the wax museum, (b) reflected characters in “the cloud”, or (c) reflected the individuals in the program. It was fascinating to wander around and look at these; they actually also provided props for use in Act III.  Lighting was a mixture of normal leikos and overhead lights that could be individually controlled. For the most part, this worked well, although there were times the stage was not lit as it should have been, or the focus was off slightly. This was probably an artifact of the recital hall; the normal stages were probably unavailable due to TADW productions. There was no program credit for lighting design. This production didn’t need any sound design, given the voices. From what I could determine, costumes were provided by the artists themselves; there was no program credit for costumes. Zeffin Quinn Hollis (FB) was the stage director.

OperaWorks is an annual program whose summer program is held at CSUN. There is one more performance of “The Cloud” at 2:00 pm today. Tickets are available at the door or online.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts: Next weekend sees us at a more traditional musical, specifically “Meet Me In St. Louis” at Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks. August has a bit less, as we’re going to have some vacation days and will be taking Erin to start UC Berkeley. We’ve only got two shows scheduled: “Memphis” at the Pantages at the beginning of the month, and Play Dates” at REP East at the end of the month. As an aside: we will be vacationing in Palm Springs, so if anyone knows of live theatre going on there in August, let me know. In September theatre activity resumes, beginning with “Blame It On Beckett” at the Colony Theatre on September 1 and “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” at REP East on September 29. I”m also looking into “Silence: The Musical” at the Hayworth Theatre, which starts September 8 and runs through December, and Xanadu” at DOMA, which starts September 7 and runs for about 3 weeks. October brings some traveling for family: the Cal Parents Weekend at UCB (looking less likely now), and the bat-mitzvah of a cousin in Fresno. It will also bring “American Fiesta” at the Colony Theatre, “The Book of Mormon” at Broadway LA/The Pantages, and 1776” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. Continuing the look ahead: November will bring “Moonlight and Magnolias” at REP East, which is booked for the end of the month. It may also bring Seminar” at The Ahmanson Theatre (still undecided on ticketing) and a concert performance of Raul Esparza at VPAC, especially if Erin flies in for it (he’s singing on her birthday). Non-theatrically, it will also bring “Day Out with Thomas” at OERM (certainly on some or all of Veterans Day weekend – November 10-11-12). Lastly, to close out the year, December has nothing formally scheduled (other than ACSAC), but will likely bring Anything Goes” at the Ahmanson, and may bring “Judy Collins” at VPAC. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

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