CityBeat Blogs - Opera <![CDATA[Corbett Foundation's Final Gift Goes to CCM's Opera Department ]]>

In August, the Corbett Foundation announced it was closing shop, ending one of the city's most generous streams of philanthropy. It turns out that there was still one more gift in the hopper.

On Tuesday, The University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music's J. Ralph Corbett Distinguished Chair of Opera received the final award of $1 million, a gift that will provide additional support for scholarships, touring productions, an archive and partial support of the named professorship currently held by Robin Guarino.

CCM's Opera Department is one of the nation's finest. Two of its recent graduates were winners in the Metropolitan Opera's national auditions, and its alumni perform in theaters all over the world.

Robin Guarino is one of the most sought-after directors and has staged productions at the Metropolitan Opera, Indiana University, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, San Francisco Opera and Brooklyn Academy of Music. 

<![CDATA[Comic Musical Duo Igudesman & Joo Performs at SCPA Tonight]]>

Comic musical duo Igudesman & Joo performs at the School for Creative and Performing Arts’ Mayerson Theater tonight, presented by the Constella Festival. Korean-British pianist Richard Hyung-ki Joo and Russian violinist Aleksey Igudesman mix Classical music with other popular genres and humor for a wholly entertaining performance. Check out this popular performance (which has more than 7 million YouTube views):


CityBeat writer Anne Arenstein spoke to Joo about the duo's unique spin on performing the classics.

It was hate at first sight when Igudesman and Joo met. There’s a hilarious account of what brought them together on their website, but according to Joo, the moment of truth came a couple of months later. 

“We shared the notion that the Classical music world which we loved so much was taking itself way too seriously,” Joo says. “Going to concerts was like going to a funeral.”

“We were young and we didn’t know much but we knew Classical music was full of life,” he continues. “Through our own projects and the music we wrote, we could at least create events that we would want to go to.”

Go here to read the full interview.

"An Evening with Igudesman and Joo" takes place at 8 p.m. tonight at SCPA’s Mayerson Theater, 108 W. Central Parkway, Over-the-Rhine. More information and tickets: 513-549-7175 or

<![CDATA[REVIEW: Cincinnati Opera's 'La Calisto']]>

Don't walk. Run to the School for Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) to catch the remaining performances of La Calisto, an opera composed in 1653 that's equal parts romance and raunch, performed by a superb cast of singers, instrumentalists and dancers who are all clearly having a wonderful time.

Composer Franceso Cavalli was savvy enough to take opera out of palaces and into public theaters, where he made a fortune. He used the story of virgin Calisto, a follower of the goddess Diana, who is seduced by Jove and transformed into a bear by the vengeful Juno. Diana has her own problems with hormones and so does another of her followers. There's not much sacred and a lot of profane, not to mention profanity.

There's a lot of transformation going on: Jove disguises himself as Diana to get it on with Calisto, meaning that bass baritone Daniel Okulitch puts on a long white robe, dons a wig and sings in convincing falsetto. A horny follower of Diana is sung by a male, a high soprano takes on the role of a frustrated satyr — and just what gender are the rest of Pan's satyrs and Diana's huntresses? Ted Huffman's staging is witty and occasionally wild; the battle between Pan's and Diana's tribes seems to involve more than the six or seven dancers onstage, thanks to the acrobatic choreography of Zack Winokur.

Okulitch sings Jove with the requisite authority and gravitas, which also renders him ridiculous when lust for Calisto overtakes him. Okulitch is equally adept singing in falsetto, which is no easy task when it involves vocal ornamentation. Andrew Garland, a great recitalist with innate comic instincts, is a natural as Jove's gofer Mercury.

Aaron Blake may be diminutive in stature but he has a huge, ringing tenor, and he was a hilarious Pan. Michael Maniaci sang Diana's lover Endymion, his pure male soprano giving the role genuine tenderness. Lyric tenor Thomas Michael Allen sang the role of libidinous nymph Linfea.

The women are all excellent, especially soprano Nathalie Paulin, a convincingly innocent Calisto. Mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano was a formidable Diana, singing with authority and melting emotion. Alisa Jordheim's agile soprano easily handled the demands of the frustrated Satirino, and Alexandra Deshorties embodies vengeance and fury as Juno.

The chamber orchestra is joined by the phenomenal Catacoustic Consort and during intermission, a lot of the audience stopped by the orchestra pit to check out the theorbos, Baroque harp, lirone and viola da gamba. Conductor David Bates led a lively, nuanced reading of the score.

The action plays out on a unit set used for last year's Galileo Galilei, with a wonderful star curtain that descends as Calisto ascends to the heavens to become Ursa Major, or the Big Dipper.

La Calisto is Cincinnati Opera's first Baroque opera and they couldn't have made a better choice. It's heavenly.

La Calisto, presented by Cincinnati Opera, continues July 23, 25 and 27 at SCPA's Corbett Theater. More info here.

<![CDATA[REVIEW: Nico Muhly's 'Two Boys' (Metropolitan Opera, New York)]]>

The main event Thursday evening was not a part of Performa 13. Instead, the evening saw my virgin visit to the Metropolitan Opera to take in the final night of composer (and frequent Cincinnati visitor) Nico Muhly's Two Boys. Muhly became the youngest composer to be commissioned by the Met when they asked him to create a new work in 2006. Having a run in 2011 in London in a co-production with English National Opera, Two Boys finally made its American debut last month.

Based on true events in Manchester, England, 10 years ago, the story centers on a seemingly normal 16-year-old boy and his involvement in a confusing web of chat room relationships that ultimately lead to him stabbing and nearly killing a 13-year-old boy. It was, shall we say, not your standard opera fare. While I've not been to many an opera in my life thus far, I don't imagine there have been many to have featured projected chat acronyms and two separate instances of onstage masturbation. But on to the show.

The story of Two Boys is a complicated one, without question. A young boy has been stabbed, his friend and the only witness, Brian, is the key suspect, and an over-worked and under-appreciated police detective is tasked with putting the pieces together in a case she never wanted to take. As we begin to learn more about Brian, we are shown a world of chat room conversations and desperate boys seeking connections that mean something. By the end, we understand that the young boy pretended to be three different people in various roles and chats with Brian, concocting an insanely complex story before, essentially, convincing Brian to stab him while he would repeat, “I love you, bro” to the dying boy. Everyone has access to a search engine, so I'll let you look up the story on your own...

A certain triumph for Two Boys is the set design and realization of an online world on a physical stage. Multiple large-scale projections land upon movable walls that dance across the stage at various depths. Frequently these walls become transparent and reveal young people inside, half-illuminated by laptop screens. The multimedia execution inspired and amazed, serving to highlight the production's digital world concept and add a new and exciting layer to a traditional performance form.

Knowing Muhly's work rather well, and having enjoyed the chance to see him twice in Cincinnati in the past 18 months as part of MusicNOW and Tatiana Berman's Constella Festival, I was eager to hear what he had done for Two Boys. I was somewhat surprised — though pleased — to find that this work did not veer too far from his compositional oeuvre; dark with intricate rhythms, the score never threatens to take complete control of the production, while the influence of modern composers like Benjamin Britten and Meredith Monk, as he acknowledged in the program notes, could be felt throughout. For me, the standout compositional moments came in the form of choral scenes performed by the company carrying laptops in their hands, faces lit and animated by the screens, feeling like a reference to the pull of the digital world and the countless hours young people like Brian spend seeking something of meaning in an environment of empty promises. Multi-layered lines repeating chat room requests and responses, the voices build to a disorienting swirl. In these moments, the marriage of precocity, tradition, and progressivism felt too immense to not hold your breath.

<![CDATA[Cincinnati-Trained Singer Is Making a Name]]>

For several years Joshua Jeremian seemed to be onstage everywhere in Cincinnati. He was a regular in opera productions at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, where he was pursuing a master’s degree and then an artist’s diploma (additional graduate-level training) as an opera singer. But he was glad to find performing opportunities with many Cincinnati perfroming arts institutions. In 2005 he played a pair of princes in Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s holiday musical, Sleeping Beauty. (In fact, the big-voiced baritone was nominated for a 2006 Cincinnati Entertainment Award for his performance at ETC.) ---

In 2010 he played the extroverted but lovelorn Marcello in a reduced version of Puccini’s La Bohème that Cincinnati toured around Greater Cincinnati (including a couple of bars — a great place for the rowdy Parisian artists to raise some hell). Earlier this year he was onstage at the Carnegie Center in Covington, playing ne’er-do-well roustabout Billy Bigelow in a wonderfully sung production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel.

In addition to mainstage productions with Cincinnati Opera, he’s spent time with Seattle Opera (where he stole the show playing the title role in Verdi’s Falstaff in a young artists production), Spokane Opera, Wolf Trap Opera and Glimmerglass Opera in Cooperstown, N.Y. He’s also been a regular soloist with symphonies and pops orchestras from Cincinnati to Yakima, Wash.

Now Jeremiah seems to have caught on with New York City Opera, which is regrouping after financial challenges caused it to leave its longtime home in the State Theatre at Lincoln Center. NYCO is doing a abbreviated season at a variety of venues around the city, including several programs at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Last Thursday Jeremiah was part of a small ensemble singing the opening program for NYCO’s new season, Who Are You, New York?: The Songs of Rufus Wainwright. The evening at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln Center received favorable marks from Anthony Tommasini, classical music critic for The New York Times. (Tommasini on Rufus Wainwright.)

The nice thing about all this is that Joshua Jeremiah is a great guy. Everyone who has worked with him has loved his larger-than-life presence, his acting skills, his  boisterous sense of humor and a singing voice that’s a force of nature. It’s nice to see him advancing his career so successfully.

<![CDATA[Stage Door: Opera Season Begins]]>

Not much theater as summer gets rolling locally, but it is time for Cincinnati Opera, which opened its 91st season on Thursday with a production of Verdi's Rigoletto. It's a tragic story about a foolish father who tries to protect his daughter by hiding her away from the world, leading to her death. ---

Rigoletto, the jester, is played powerfully by Stephen Powell, while the role of the vile Duke, who loves them and leaves them, is taken on by Rod Dixon, his first time in this role. But most memorable of all is Sarah Coburn as Gilda, Rigoletto's ill-fated young daughter: She sings difficult arias effortlessly and is a convincing actress to booth. Read Anne Arenstein's preview piece, including interviews with Powell and Coburn (pictured), here. The pair are also interviewed in the below video preview from the Opera.

There's one more performance, Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are still available; call 513-241-2742 or visit the Opera's site here.

<![CDATA[Stage Door: Fantasticks and Opera Gala]]>

The Cincinnati Playhouse's production of The Fantasticks is a great choice for theater this weekend, but you might have a hard time finding seats. I've had two friends tell me they tried to get in and were told that the performance they hoped for was sold out. You can try to get on a waiting list (box office number is 513-421-3888) for a show that's really worth seeing.---

Failing that, let me offer a shameless plug for my day job, inspired by the cover feature about Cincinnati Opera for this week's issue of CityBeat by Anne Arenstein. When I'm not writing my own occasional theater features and reviews for CityBeat, I work at the Opera. This weekend is the kick-off for the 2010 season. That might not immediately strike you as a big deal, but as you'll read in Anne's cover feature, Cincinnati Opera began performing 90 years ago. There is only one opera company in the United States that's been at this longer — New York City's Metropolitan Opera!

To mark this significant milestone, Cincinnati Opera (which moved from its amphitheater at the Zoo to Music Hall in 1972) is presenting a kind of "greatest hits" program on Saturday evening at 8 p.m. Each of the company's nine decades will be represented by arias and big choral numbers; on the bill are some of today's great singers — including Denyce Graves, who sang the title role in Margaret Garner, the sold-out 2005 hit commissioned by Cincinnati Opera in honor of the Freedom Center's opening. The evening will be hosted by Sherrill Milnes and Carol Neblett, two veteran singers who have a history with lots of local connections.

Even if you're not a regular operagoer, you'll recognize a lot of the music, made all the better by the opera's "pit band," the Cincinnati Symphony. There are still plenty of seats available. You can find more about the program and special deals at

<![CDATA[Your 2009 Opera Idol]]>

Last night before the sold-out opening performance of Cincinnati Opera's performance of Carmen, soprano Margaret Russo was named the winner of the first "Opera Idol" contest. Russo — a 25-year-old copywriter from Zionsville, Ind. — will receive a $3,500 contract with Cincinnati Opera. ---Russo competed against an initial 160 amateur vocalists and made it through several rounds of judging (luckily, Paula Abdul was nowhere to be seen); videos of the six finalists were posted on the Opera's Web site for public voting (over 10,000 people voted) and Russo came out on top.

Russo — who now resides in Columbia-Tusculum — had an auspicious start in opera at the age of 6, when she imitated her first grade teacher's vibrato and received a detention. The teacher saw the potential and taught Russo a scale to sing instead of punishing her, offering that she should take voice lessons instead of mimicking her teacher. She eventually studied singing at Xavier University.

Unlike American Idol, Russo will not be subjected to Resee's Peanut Butter Cups commercials, bad movies or a cheesey revue-style tour with her co-finalists. Look for her in a future Cincinnati Opera production.

Artistic Director Evans Mirageas, in a press release, says, “I said it from the stage of the Aronoff Center at our Opera Idol concert, and I meant it: Cincinnati's got talent. I am delighted Margaret Russo has won our first ever Opera Idol competition. She is a poised young woman with a lovely voice and lots of potential.”

Here's Russo's finalist video, singing the aria “Quando me’n vo”from Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohme (after her win was announced, Russo gave an encore performance of the aria last night, accompanied by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under conductor Henri Venanzi):

<![CDATA[The Met in a Movie Theater]]>

On Saturday afternoon, I attended my first "Met Opera: Live in HD" transmission at the Regal Cinema in Deerfield Township — John Adams' Doctor Atomic. ---

I'd been told the Regal was less crowded than the Showcase in Springdale, which often sells out, and it was — only 50 people attended, counting my wife and me. (That might be because Doctor Atomic is a new, contemporary opera.) There were problems — a transmission line moved up and down the screen throughout the performance. Although you got used to it, I definitely wanted perfection for the $20-plus ticket price. But otherwise, it was a terrific experience.

This opera, a solemn and serious work about Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer and the testing of the first atomic bomb in New Mexico, has a strong story line to go with its powerful music and set design and demands committed acting and singing. The changing, fluid camera work took us right up into the faces of the performers — baritone Gerald Finley as Oppenheimer was gripping. What a way to see an opera!

There was also a documentary about Oppenheimer and an interview with Finley just before intermission. This being a movie theater, there were anomalies. During the intermission, you could see parents and kids attending Madagascar 2 load up on over-sized portions of junk food — high culture meets some of the more unpleasant dietary aspects of pop. And some operagoers bought their own snacks, although they weren't noisy while eating. There will be an encore presentation at 7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Regal and the Showcases in Springdale and Florence. I highly recommend it. For the rest of the season, visit