This is National Opera Week, October 23-November 1, 2015. Celebrate by coming to our eerily beautiful chamber opera, Britten’s The Turn of the Screw, on October 30 or November 1.
My name is Katie and I’m the Office Manager for Eugene Opera. In this vlog series I’m hoping to give you a glimpse into what goes on behind the scenes here at the opera. But not just literally backstage – also the exciting inter-workings of life at the office.
Behind every successful opera performance, there is a Company Manager who sent everyone 400 e-mails before they even got into town to sing. The fact that I’m a singer myself only makes this end of the process even more operatic.
Today’s inaugural entry? WHY EUGENE OPERA? Let me tell you what’s awesome about our company. Complete with a moment of bursting into song at the end…and the beginning…and halfway through.
#KTOM #artsadmin #operaticoffice #SweeneyTodd
Embedded Images by Cliff Coles, Attic Media, Asbury Design
Images of the West arrest the eye
By Bob Keefer
For The Register-Guard
PUBLISHED: 12:00 A.M., MARCH 13
Here in the maritime Northwest — with our gray skies, perpetual rain and evergreen forests — it’s easy to forget we’re just a half a day’s drive from the other West — the one tamed by cowboys, carpeted by sagebrush and overarched by endless big skies.
A new exhibit at Eugene’s White Lotus Gallery takes a look at that other West through the eyes of five local artists, including four photographers and one printmaker and painter.
“The Golden West,” which runs for another month, was put together in conjunction with Eugene Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s “Girl of the Golden West,” which runs this weekend at the Hult Center.
Let’s start with the work of Charles Search. His black-and-white photographs of the open landscapes of the inland West combine great craft and deep subtlety. Yes, we’ve seen lots of pictures of this landscape before. But look again at Search’s work.
His 2009 photo “Spring Respite at Alkali Flat” — printed the old-fashioned way, in a darkroom on gelatin-silver paper — offers a surprising composition, with heavy clouds and dark mountains above balanced only by pale reflections in the desert lake bed below.
The composition shouldn’t work — the photo should be top heavy — and yet, somehow, it’s beautifully and satisfyingly composed.
A second image by Search is also compelling. His 2004 “Down From the Mountain,” a wide, panoramic view of distant mountains with a river in front, is again just odd enough in its construction to catch the eye despite its common subject matter.
Search also has several large-format portraits of cowboys. They veer a bit into sentimentality but are engaging nonetheless.
White Lotus regulars will be familiar with the color photography of Eugene’s Gary Tepfer. Best known for his work in Mongolia and Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly, he is one of the last color darkroom printers still working in this digital age.
Shooting with a square-format camera, Tepfer makes exquisite color prints using the venerable Cibachrome or Ilfochrome process, which gives beautiful and archival color prints with a great color range. Sadly, the Ilford company announced its last production run of the paper in 2012, so I hope Tepfer stocked up.
His work in this show includes images from Canyon de Chelly as well as Oregon’s Owyhee River country. One picture, “Hogan Interior,” captures the inside of a Navajo cabin in lush warm tones. But even better are landscapes such as his 1992 “Red Clay Cliffs,” which has all the poise and perfection of a finely done painting.
David Butler is a photographer that I hadn’t encountered in the past. His simple “Bodie, Interior,” a modest look at a chair inside a cabin, is a great study in understated color.
Rich Bergeman’s work in the show strives to capture the perfect detail in small black-and-white shots, such as a set of picket fences caught in a yard in Harney County’s Frenchglen or the door of an old jailhouse in Antelope.
Finally, sprinkled into the midst of all this photography are the quite different portraits of cowgirls and ranch women done by Eugene artist Lynda Lanker. Done in a variety of mediums, mostly printmaking processes of various kinds, the portraits are spare, monochromatic and intimate, showing us the human side of the Western landscape.
Much of the work in the show has been seen before in other exhibitions. What makes this new exhibit especially appealing is the way the White Lotus has arranged the work not by artist or by subject matter but almost as a conversation between the pieces.
Go see it on your way to the opera.
Bob Keefer is a regular reviewer of art for The Register-Guard.
The Golden West
What: Prints and photographs of the American West
When: Through April 12
Where: White Lotus Gallery, 767 Willamette St.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
Contact: 541-345-3276 or wlotus.com
The bold West sings its way into the heart of Eugene
A tale of the American frontier, translated by Giacomo Puccini
PUBLISHED: 12:00 A.M., MARCH 13
The wild, wild West comes to the stage this weekend — sure as shootin’ — as Eugene Opera presents “The Girl of the Golden West.”
It’s a classic spaghetti Western love triangle, set in Gold Rush-era California: good woman (rough-and-tough outside, heart of gold within) falls in love with misunderstood bandit, breaking the heart of honorable sheriff who loves her so much that he lets them both get away.
And it’s a spaghetti Western in another way, too, because it was written by Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, one of the biggest names in opera — you can even call it “La Fanciulla del West” if you want — for the New York Metropolitan Opera, which first performed it in 1910.
It was quite an event back then. Enrico Caruso sang the part of bad guy Dick Johnson, aka Ramerrez, to Emmi Destinn’s Minnie. And Arturo Toscanini himself conducted.
Wow again, because the three leads in the show — soprano Emily Pulley as Minnie, tenor Raul Melo as Johnson/Ramerrez and baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson as Sheriff Rance — all are veterans of the Metropolitan Opera stage.
They’ll be joined by Eugene’s own William Hulings as Ashby, the Wells Fargo agent on the trail of the bandit, and Brennen Guillory, a Lutheran pastor from Junction City who plays Nick, the bartender.
Andrew Bisantz — now in his fourth season as Eugene Opera’s music director, besides working with orchestras all over the country and the world — will conduct.
Pulley has sung the role of Minnie for years, and it has personal as well as professional meaning for her.
“I remember the first time I saw the show, I fell in love with the character,” she said. “That time period is part of the myth of the American West, and if I’d lived in that time, Minnie is the character I would hope to have been.”
Then Pulley pulls out her cellphone and scrolls through photos until she comes to one of her great-great grandfather, John Frederich Grau.
“He called himself J. Fred, and he was a sheriff in the Oklahoma Territory at about the same time this opera is set, so I think of him,” she said.
“I love this show because Minnie — she’s one of only two women among the main characters — is sister, mother, friend and teacher to all of the miners. She even teaches them about the Bible.
“This is basically a story of redemption in the Old West. These are all such human, human characters.”
For Melo, singing the Johnson/Ramerrez role is a first.
“I’m really excited to be doing it; I get to be a cowboy,” Melo said. “This opera is the trope for practically every movie Western, with the good woman who sees the good in a man and saves him from the wrong path.
“Even the music from this opera has been stolen for all kinds of other movies, including the big love tune in ‘Phantom of the Opera.’ Same key and everything.”
Melo has plumbed the depths of his role, a combination of the bandit Ramerrez and the pretender cowboy, Johnson.
“What I’m trying to do is not to act like I’m not a bandit, just not to say it,” he said. “So the question is, ‘Why is this character a bandit?’
“And the answer is, because this is all part of history. It’s a very complex backstory.”
A history lesson
The opera takes place circa 1900, about the time the U.S. government declared the end of the Western frontier, Melo said.
“Before that, parts of the West had been under Spanish control for centuries, then Mexican, and then American,” he said.
As time passed and governance changed, “Land was taken away from many of the big landholders — some of them were even killed — their cattle were stolen and their way of live destroyed. There was nothing left for their sons but to become bandits, and of course there was also some taking of revenge.”
But in the opera, Melo gets “only 12 measures” to convey this complicated history.
“I have this crazy, very difficult thing to sing: Yes, I’m a bandit; no, I didn’t rob you; yes, I’m ashamed; that’s the way life is — and then I have this high note that lasts for six measures.”
It’s not so much the difficulty of holding the note that concerns him, but “the dread of what color I turn,” Melo quipped. “No amount of makeup will cover that purple.”
When it comes to being on the losing end in the pursuit of Minnie, St. Clair Nicholson said, the sheriff may be the antagonist, “but he’s not evil.”
“He feels his own kind of love, but he’s a man of honor,” he said. “His honor and his obsession battle within him, but he keeps his word.”
It may all be a bit melodramatic, but that’s the way of both spaghetti Western movies and operas, “and I think this one is a masterpiece that really appeals to people,” St. Clair Nicholson said.
A genuine horse opera
As for Hulings, “The Girl of the Golden West” is his debut performance with Eugene Opera, “and I’m excited to be in the same room with these folks,” he said.
“I’m continually watching what they do, and they’ve been tremendously welcoming, and I’m also trying to bring my theater experience along.”
This production is a premiere for Eugene Opera, and general director Mark Beudert sees it as a real crowd-pleaser.
Even for people who don’t know much about opera or think they don’t like it, “This won’t be boring,” Beudert said, because of the spirited acting this group of opera singers is known for, the nontraditional cowboy costuming, the American West plot line and the participation of local people who make up the supporting cast.
At the same time, he said, coming to it with an appreciation of history that recognizes the contributions — and confrontations — among people of all cultures who settled the West also is important.
“This opera is not like fast food. You have to chew it, but it’s tasty, and it’s good,” Beudert said. “And it’s being performed by people who want to share the meal with everyone.”
Follow Randi on Twitter @BjornstadRandi. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Girl of the Golden West
When: 7:30 p.m. March 14 and 2:30 p.m. March 16
Where: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street
Isn’t that the greatest headline? It’s from an article in this week’s Eugene Weekly, about Eugene Opera and our production of Dead Man Walking:
Opera: Not Dead
A few years ago, the Eugene Opera seemed moribund — a “dead man walking,” to use the phrase applied in prison to an inmate condemned to death. But in the past couple of years, it’s gotten a reprieve — or rather engineered a resurrection. Instead of taking the timid, ultimately self-defeating course of pandering to an aging core audience with endless recyclings of the same top ten operatic/symphonic warhorses (see: Portland Opera, Eugene Symphony, Oregon Symphony) by dead European composers, artistic director Mark Beudert decided to embrace the present and future, choosing contemporary American works by the great West Coast composer John Adams (Nixon in China) and, opening this weekend, Dead Man Walkingby another acclaimed Bay Area-based star, Jake Heggie.
Since its premiere in 2000, Heggie and playwright Terrence McNally’s compelling opera has put the lie to two tired myths about contemporary classical music to rest: that it never survives beyond its premiere (it’s been produced over 30 times) and that it has to be musically off-putting. Heggie knows how to write engagingly for voice; he could have easily been a Broadway composer. Based on the book by Sister Helen Prejean (later turned into a powerful movie starring Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn), Dead Man Walking, which chronicles a nun’s struggle to help a condemned murderer find redemption, is perfectly suited for the high drama and passion that opera does so well.
How can Eugene Opera succeed by looking forward when so many other conservative classical music institutions go so rigidly retro? First, it makes sense that contemporary audiences — not the supposedly close-minded core audiences so many companies build their subscription series around, but the broad audience of people who love music — will be interested in art that deals with contemporary concerns. Second, the opera has embedded it, like Nixon, in a larger tapestry of city wide events — Prisons, Compassion, and Peace — that started in January and continues with a conference at the UO Law School and other events at the Eugene Public Library, City Club, Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts and more, including talks by Sister Prejean and Heggie. (See the Opera’s website for details.) By explicitly connecting contemporary classical music to contemporary culture, Eugene Opera is helping make opera relevant to 21st-century Oregon.
Here’s a short film of the ARTWALK stop at the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts (DIVA) on 1 March 2013, with me, Miriam Jordan (Board President of DIVA), and Paul Solomon (Executive Director of Sponsors, Inc.).
Published: 14 March 2013
When Michael Mayes dropped by The Register-Guard to have his photo taken last week, he caused a bit of a stir in the newsroom.
Not because the singer is handsome — he is — but because he looked, from the tattoo on his arm to his sleeveless shirt to his slicked-back hair and ’80s-style beard, like exactly the kind of tough guy you don’t want to meet in an alley — or anywhere else.
OK, he was in costume. And once we got to the photo studio, Mayes, like most opera singers I’ve met, proved to be utterly charming and intelligent.
That very dissonance between appearance and reality gets to the heart of “Dead Man Walking,” this weekend’s Eugene Opera production in which Mayes plays condemned murderer Joseph DeRocher.
The story is based on the book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, who is in town herself this week for the performance. The book also was made into a critically acclaimed 1995 film starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, who won the Oscar for best actress.
The book, movie and opera tell the true story of a nun who is called to a Louisiana prison to counsel a man condemned to die for the rape and murder of a teenage girl and her boyfriend. The situation is stark and unyielding: There is no question in “Dead Man” of innocence, only the faint possibility of forgiveness and redemption.
Opera at its best
Eugene Opera’s is the fourth production of “Dead Man” Mayes has appeared in.
Mayes previously played a motorcycle cop and a prison guard in other productions before starring as DeRocher in last year’s production by Tulsa Opera.
The Tulsa World called it the city’s best arts event of the year, in part due to Mayes’ “superb” performance.
“It’s easy to play this guy as full of bluster,” Mayes said, “a raging bull. But I’ve had time for it to sink into my consciousness.
“There’s more to him than that.”
A hunky, easygoing young man from Texas — he’s been called a “rockabilly baritone” for his love of country music — Mayes says “Dead Man” is opera at its engaging best.
“I like this more than anything else in opera,” he said. “It’s my language. I can reach out and touch the kinds of people I grew up around in a way I can’t with ‘Barber of Seville.’
“When my family came and watched it in Tulsa, they actually understood it.”
Mayes says the best review he ever got came from a woman who contacted him on Facebook after seeing him in “Dead Man.”
“My daughter was murdered seven years ago,” she wrote. “The way you played Joseph changed the way I thought about the man who murdered my daughter.”
“He’s not an evil guy,” Mayes said of his character, despite the fact that in the first scene he stabs a young girl to death after raping her. “He’s definitely flawed and damaged. And what he did was terrible.
“But it’s a series of terrible, terrible decisions that he makes.”
Playing the role of Sister Helen is British soprano Janis Kelly, who sang the role of Pat Nixon in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Nixon in China” in 2011.
This is her first experience with “Dead Man.”
“You really get what rape means in this show,” she said. “The rape is very graphic. It lets the audience in on a secret that the others aren’t aware of.”
That would be the exact nature of DeRocher’s guilt, which is undisputed but still complicated.
The opera, Kelly said, manages to tell the story of the rape and murder, DeRocher’s relationship with Sister Helen and his ultimate execution without ever being maudlin or even sentimental. And yet it doesn’t flinch from the reality of the story.
“The worst thing anybody can do is something that you can’t go back and change,” Kelly said.
The music, by Jake Heggie with lyrics by playwright Terrence McNally, has beautiful melodies and harmonies, the singer said, despite the opera’s harsh subject matter. “There is no point in making it dissonant and ugly,” she said.
Playing Mrs. DeRocher, Joseph’s mother, who begs the court to spare her son’s life, is Susanne Mentzer. Other major roles include Brooke Cagno as Sister Rose; Philip Engdahl as George Benton; George Shirley as Father Grenville; Laura Wayte as Kitty Hart; Mark Beudert as Owen Hart; Marieke Schuurs as Jade Boucher; and Sandy Naishtat as Howard Boucher.
The conductor is Andrew Bisantz; stage director is Sam Helfrich; chorus master is John Jantzi; children’s chorus master is David Fitch; stage manager is Erin Empey; costume designer is Jonna Hayden; lighting designer is Michael Peterson; scenery designer is Peter Beudert; and makeup designer is Sarah Clifford.
The opera’s presentation is accompanied by a number of other related events, including public appearances by Sister Helen and by composer Jake Heggie.
Dead Man Walking
What: Opera by Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally, based on a book of the same title by Sister Helen Prejean
When: 7:30 p.m. March 15 and 2:30 p.m. March 16
Where: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street
Tickets: $20 to $84 at 541-682-5000 and HultCenter.org
Meet the author and composer: Heggie and Sister Helen will talk about the opera at 5:30 p.m. March 15 in The Studio at the Hult Center. Tickets are $25 at 541-682-5000 and HultCenter.org.
Book signing: Sister Helen talks and signs copies of “Dead Man Walking” at 2 p.m. March 16 at Eugene Public Library, 100 W. 10th Ave.
Gala dinner: Sister Helen is the keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner to honor Sponsors’ 40 years of prisoner reentry services in Lane County. 6 p.m. March 16 at Ford Alumni Center, 1720 E. 13th Ave. Tickets are $100 at SponsorsInc.org and 541-485-8341.
Readings: The Windfall Reading Series of the Library presents a program of readings, organized by Lane Literary Guild and Sponsors Inc., at 5:30 p.m. March 19 at Eugene Public Library, 100 W. 10th Ave.
Talk: After giving a history of prisons and alternative justice systems, Walidah Imarisha, author and adjunct professor in Portland State University’s department of Black Studies, will lead a conversation about alternatives to incarceration. 2 p.m. March 30, Eugene Public Library, 100 W. 10th Ave.
An article that appeared in yesterday’s Register Guard:http://registerguard.com/rg/news/local/29570484-75/opera-prejean-kelly-dead-eugene.html.csp
A Eugene Opera performance unites art and its inspiration
BY BOB KEEFER
Published: Midnight, March 13
So what, exactly, is the first thing you do when you meet the person who is about to portray you in the opera version of your own life?
In the case of Sister Helen Prejean, it was to give soprano Janis Kelly an enormous hug.
The nun met the opera singer for the first time Tuesday afternoon at the Secret Garden, the Eugene bed and breakfast where both are staying this week as Eugene Opera prepares to stage “Dead Man Walking” at the Hult Center this weekend.
The opera, with music by Jake Heggie and words by Terrence McNally, is based on the more-or-less true story told in a book by Prejean — the characters are composites — about her work as a spiritual counselor to men on death row at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in the 1980s.
Prejean has experienced this strange encounter between truth and art several times before, attending “Dead Man Walking” operatic performances around the world.
“I’d guess about 10 times now,” she said as she and Kelly sipped tea and talked.
“One singer was so over-awed with my presence, Jake (Heggie) asked me to take her to lunch. I told her some Cajun jokes.”
The plain-spoken nun, with her twangy Southern accent, told Kelly about a production in Cincinnati in which a bit of strong language was excised from the show.
“Cincinnati was so laced tight,” said Prejean, adding that they wouldn’t allow the F-word in their production. Only Prejean, in reciting the line from the opera on Tuesday, used the actual word.
Kelly has never played a living person on stage, but she did sing the role of Pat Nixon in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Nixon in China” — with Nixon’s daughter in the audience.
That, she said, was intimidating in its own way. “I missed Pat Nixon by a few years,” Kelly said. “But having her daughter in the audience? Well, she was very charming.”
“Dead Man Walking” doesn’t flinch from the realities of either capital punishment or of the crime for which it is imposed, both women said.
In the very first scene, the audience witnesses the murder.
Kelly said some performers have been horrified in rehearsals at the scene’s starkness.
“It’s very gruesome,” she said.
Kelly has been fortunate not to have had any direct experience of capital punishment in her own life, so she listened attentively as Prejean talked about witnessing the executions of men at Angola.
“It’s not like being with someone dying in the hospital,” the nun said. “I couldn’t believe the first time that it was all happening. He’s fully alive, and in two hours — in an hour — he’s going to be fully dead. And he knows it. That’s why the death penalty is torture — because humans have imagination.”