Boulder Opera to present Verdi’s ‘Il trovatore’

Performances will be at the Dairy Arts Center March 19 and 20. 

By Izzy Fincher March 15 at 12:15 p.m.

What is the secret to pulling off Verdi’s Il trovatore? According to the Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, it’s easy—as long as you have “four of the greatest singers in the world.”

As part of their 10th Anniversary Season, the Boulder Opera Company will present Il trovatore (The troubadour) March 19 and 20 at the Dairy Arts Center. With scenic projections, a reduced orchestra and a chorus, this four-act opera is one of the company’s most ambitious, large-scale productions to date. 

Azucena (Dianela Acosta) in the Boulder Opera production of Verdi’s Il trovatore

Il trovatore is a hard opera to present, with four principal roles that require large, dramatic voices and demanding vocal techniques. This is especially true for the lead female characters. The Romany woman Azucena (played by Dianela Acosta) needs a lyrical yet dramatic mezzo soprano with a large range, while noblewoman Leonora (Michelle Diggs-Thompson) needs a coloratura soprano voice that is both flexible and hefty. 

“Now that I have been singing for a while, I think that Verdi has kind of settled in my voice,” Diggs-Thompson says. “I don’t think I would have been able to pull off this role 20 years ago.”

Beyond this, the opera poses an artistic challenge—that of bringing to life an impossibly melodramatic storyline with twisted characters in a relatable way. Set in 16th-century war-torn Spain, this blood-curdling tale of revenge features burning babies, kidnapping, beheading, gypsy curses and death by poison.

Premiered in 1853, Il trovatore is a part of a group of three operas by Verdi, along with Rigoletto (1851) and La traviata (1853), that represented a fundamental shift in his dramatic style. Il trovatore is based on Spanish playwright Antonio García Gutiérrez’s first commercial success, El trovador (The troubadour) of 1836. 

For the adaptation, Verdi worked with prolific librettist Salvadore Cammarano, best known for Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor. In his correspondence with Cammarano, Verdi urged the playwright to stay true to the sensationalism in the original play, stating “the more unusual and bizarre the better.” Initially, he wanted to call the opera La zingara (The Gypsy), in honor of Azucena, who is at the heart of the melodrama. 

The Count di Luna (Karl Butterman)

The plot centers around a twisted love triangle. In the kingdom of Aragon, Count Di Luna (Karl Butterman), a nobleman in the service of the prince, is madly in love with Leonora, one of the Queen’s noblewomen. But she is in love with another man: Manrico (Nathan Snyder), a troubadour and officer in the army of the Prince of Urgel and Azucena’s son, who is leading rebel forces against the monarchy.

“Manrico is a hot-head,” says Snyder. “Verdi writes him in such a bombastic way. It’s electrifying.”

“This story is so powerful (because) it deals with three faces of love,” stage director Gene Roberts says. “It deals with romantic love at the center of the story. It deals with the fierceness of a mother’s love and how that lasts over many years. But the one that seems to be the most powerful in this story and the undoing of everyone is obsessive love.”

But what drives the opera forward is a thirst for revenge, which is introduced in the convoluted backstory. Years ago, a Romany woman set a curse upon Di Luna’s infant brother, causing the child to become sick. The Count had the woman burned at the stake. To avenge her mother, the woman’s daughter—Azucena—kidnapped the infant and supposedly threw him into the fire. The Count swears to get his revenge, though this will ultimately destroy him and those he loves. 

“When you are really obsessed with the thought of vengeance, it colors everything, even love,” Roberts says. “Love can become really obsessive. If you can’t have it, no one can have it. Focusing on your vendetta, rather than forgiving those around you, can blind you from seeing those who are close to you.

“There are surprises in this story until the last eight measures of music.”

Manrico (Nathan Snyder center-right) confronts (L-R) the Count di Luna (Karl Butterman) and Ferrando (Allen Adair)

Despite the melodramatic plot, Il trovatore features some of Verdi’s most profound and innovative music. 

Verdi incorporates elements of Spanish music, such as flamenco rhythms and guitar-like textures, as well as Moorish and Romany music. There are numerous quotable melodies, including the iconic “Anvil Chorus” in Act II with clanging anvils, triangles, cymbals and drums, Azucena’s “Stride la vampa,” Manrico’s “Di quella pira” and Leonora’s “Miserere.”

“Verdi has this powerful way of completely melding the drama and the music,” Snyder says. “He puts it right into your face, and it’s a blast.”

# # # # #

Il trovatore
By Giuseppe Verdi and Salvadore Cammarano
Boulder Opera Company
Jorge Salazar, conductor; Gene Roberts, stage director
With Michelle Diggs-Thompson, Nathan Snyder, Karl Butterman and Dianela Acosta
Performed in Italian with English titles 

7 p.m. Saturday, March 19
3 p.m. Sunday, March 20
Gordon Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center


Performance “unlike anything you’ve ever experienced” comes to the Dairy

Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble’s Gray Cat and the Flounder Friday and Saturday

By Peter Alexander Oct. 1 at 5:10 p.m.


The Gray Cat and the Flounder may be the only musical show you will ever see that includes a song about the Dewey Decimal System.

The show, which will be presented Friday and Saturday (Oct. 4 and 5) by the Dairy Arts Center and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble, celebrates the lives of Joe Newcomer (the flounder) and his wife Bernadette Callory (the gray cat), who was a librarian. Newcomer, an amateur cartoonist and longtime supporter of PNME, commissioned The Gray Cat in Callory’s memory. His cartoons, collected over their 46-year marriage, are used within the performance.


Composer Kieren MacMillan

The show was created by composer Kieren MacMillan together with PNME director Kevin Noe. PNME presented The Gray Cat and the Flounder this past summer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in multi-media performances featuring diverse musical styles, animation, shadow puppetry, spoken narration, and state-of-the art binaural sound design. Reviews from the festival hailed the show as “strikingly original” and “exceptionally uplifting.”

In a home performances, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette critic Elizabeth Bloom called the show “difficult to classify. Is it an opera?” she wrote. “A musical? A chamber music concert? A children’s show, filled with puppetry and cartoons?”

It is certainly more than a children’s show The first half is funny, quirky, sometimes downright silly, but the second half faces the loss of Newcomer’s life partner, ending with a performance of Callory’s favorite song, Stephen Foster’s “Beautiful Dreamer,” which Newcomer sang to her on her deathbed.


Jeffrey Nytch

The Boulder performance is presented by PNME and the Dairy Arts Center in partnership with the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Entrepreneurship Center for Music. Professor Jeffrey Nytch, the director of the center, has long been associated with PNME.

He got his start in music administration as executive director of the group, a position that ultimately led him to the Entrepreneurship Center at CU. He has maintained his relationship with PNME, serving as board president, and also performs as the narrator of The Gray Cat, a role he filled in Edinburgh.

“It’s a complete blast,” Nytch says of his role as narrator. “The show is filled with puns, as a tribute to both of them—they were both really into puns. And so there’s a whole bunch of really groan-worthy puns.”

But at the midway point, after an absurdly funny, over-the-top shadow-puppet ballet, the mood suddenly changes. “We do a very quick shift,” Nytch says. “The show from then on out takes a much more serious turn. You get the audience laughing to set them up for something more serious. And so the end of the show is very cathartic.”

The musical styles range from pure Broadway to the Stephen Foster arrangements, to pieces that are more modern—“unmistakably of our time, although not especially crazy, or crunchy,” Nytch says. And yes, it includes a piece about the Dewey Decimal System.

“Bernadette was a librarian, we wanted to in some way to celebrate that part of who she was,” Nytch says. “There’s a piece for marimba and solo clarinet and spoken word, where the text is taken from Dewey’s own introduction to his system. The music uses the numerological and organizational structures of the Dewey Decimal System to create the musical material. It’s an absolutely brilliant piece!”

binaural mic

Members of PNME with binaural microphone

The most innovative aspect of the show may be the binaural sound design. The sound is transmitted from the stage through a binaural microphone to the headphones worn by each member of the audience. “We travel with the cabling and the infrastructure, which has to be laid down in advance,” Nytch explains. “We have 180 (headphones), so we only sell 180 tickets.

“What a binaural microphone does is recreate sounds the way our ears hear sound. The microphone is actually shaped like a human head and has microphones in each of the ears. You hear not just direction, where it is coming from, but also proximity. I do a little demo at the beginning where I go right up in the right ear of the microphone and whisper gently, and you would swear that I was whispering in your right ear.

“It creates this incredibly saturated sound world that’s unlike anything, I guarantee you, that you’ve ever experienced.”

# # # # #

The Gray Cat and the Flounder
Music by Kieren MacMillan; story by Kevin Noe and Kieren MacMillan
Performed by the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4 and 5
Gordon Gamm Theater, Dairy Arts Center

Tickets: Here or call 303-444-7328

NB: Edited to correct typos and punctuation errors 11:20 p.m. Oct. 1.



“Musica Prima” will be a musical adventure for performer and listeners Dec. 3

Charles Wetherbee plays an electronic 5-string violin at the Diary

By Peter Alexander Dec. 2 at 2 p.m.

music-at-the-dairy-right-sideLooking for a musical adventure? The Dairy Arts Center has one on tap Monday (7:30 p.m. Dec. 3).

Charles Wetherbee, violin professor at the CU College of Music and concertmaster of the Boulder Philharmonic, will perform one Colorado and three world premieres for a program titled “Musica Prima” (First music). Each work calls for solo violin, although they are not strictly speaking unaccompanied, since they all incorporate electronics, including real-time feedback loops, computer-generated sounds and visual media.


Five-string amplified violin

But that is only part of the adventure. Wetherbee is playing on what is a new instrument for him: an amplified five-string violin. And If you’ve never seen a five-string violin, you are not alone.

“It’s a little experimental,” Wetherbee says, but for him that’s a good thing. “The advance of technology is something that’s exciting, and that expands the musical landscape for us.”

And no, you can’t just buy one at your local music store (although they can be found online). “I was contacted by a representative of a company that wanted me to demo their instrument,” Wetherbee explains. “It coincided with my embarking on (the program of premieres), so it was good  timing.”

The instrument he will play is an acoustic violin with an amplification hookup built in. The addition of the fifth string, tuned to C below the G string, allows the instrument to play music down into the range of the viola, but it has its challenges.

Charles Wetherbee.2

Charles Wetherbee

“It is a little tricky,” Wetherbee says. “On a (four-string) violin or viola, you instinctively know which string you’re going to, with your bow and fingers. But when there’s five it can be a little confusing, and it takes a little extra care and attention.”

The oldest work on the program is Isola Prima (First Island) for 8-channel tape and solo viola, part of a suite of three pieces by Italian composer Nicola Sani. Composed in 1998 and recorded in 2009, it has never been performed live in the United States.

“It’s a really interesting and atmospheric work,” Wetherbee says. “It’s an exploration of the sound of the instrument, (with) recorded sounds of the string instrument combined with the live participation of the performer.”

Two of the world premiere pieces are by Colorado natives, Monica Bolles and Zachary Patten. Bolles’s Architect uses video and audio of the audience, recorded as they arrive, which is fed through a computer that responds to the performer’s improvisations.

“Her work is very interesting,” Wetherbee says. “As I play louder or softer, faster or slower, (the computer) responds. It doesn’t do the same thing every time—it’s like AI (Artificial Intelligence). It has the capacity to perform differently every time I play, and then I respond depending on what I’m hearing the computer do.”


Pando aspen grove in Utah

Patten’s piece, titled Pando, is partly improvised and incorporates visual images and sounds recorded inside one of the largest living organisms on earth, an aspen grove in Utah. Known as Pando, the grove of 47,000 trees emerges from a single root system, covers 107 acres, and is estimated to weigh more than 6,000 tons. Patten spent time inside Pando, where he captured both visual and audio elements used in his piece.

The fourth piece and third world premiere is Songs of the Wanderers by Chinese composer Fuhong Shi. Like the others, it combines both visuals and a auditory track with live performance. It was inspired by Dunhuang, a way station in far western China that was a part of the legendary Silk Road.

The composer has written “The happiness, fury, sorrow, and joy of the world are all vividly presented in the unrivaled colored frescos and sculptures in the grottos of Dunhuang. Time corrodes the tangible materiality of the world, but human emotions and spirit endure.”

“It’s a pretty big adventure, and I’m excited to be doing this,” Wetherbee says of the program. “I hope people are curious and want to come out and hear it.

“It’s really going to be some beautiful, beautiful music, some explorations—and really fun.”

# # # # #


Musica Prima
Charles Wetherbee, five-string amplified violin

Architect by Monica Bolles (world premiere)
Songs of the Wanderers by Fuhong Shi (world premiere)
Pando by Zachary Patten (world premiere)
Isola Prima by Nicola Sani (Colorado premiere)

7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3
Carsen Theater, Dairy Arts Center

James Bailey returns to the Dairy Saturday to open jazz series

“From Peru to Mexico” features cello-guitar duo with Alfredo Muro

By Peter Alexander


James Bailey, former music curator at the Dairy Arts Center

James Bailey, the former music curator at the Dairy Arts Center, moved to Mexico last year, “to open myself up to whatever happens next,” he says.

What happened next included quite a bit of performing, and now he is back in Boulder to play for the opening of the “Jazz at the Dairy” series at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16, in the Dairy’s Gordon Gamm Theater (tickets available here). Bailey will be the cello half of a guitar-cello duo with Peruvian guitarist Alfredo Muro. Together they will perform “From Peru to Mexico,” a program of Latin jazz and other music for their instruments.

With an extensive international career as a solo guitarist, Muro was originally booked at the Diary as part of a current North American tour. When Bailey was able to be in Boulder this weekend, they decided to add some of their duo repertoire to the program.

“Part of (the concert) will be what it was originally going to be, which is him performing alone,” Bailey says. “And then the other part will be the duo portion. There are elements of jazz to what we do, but I think the (main) jazz component will be his part of the program.”


Guitarist Alfredo Muro

Bailey and Muro have performed together for three years. They first met when Bailey booked Muro for a concert at Dazzle in Denver. They became friends and soon formed a duo. Since then they have performed whenever they can get together, most recently this summer at the San Miguel Chamber Music Festival in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where Bailey now lives.

“It’s a unique combination, the cello and guitar, and it really works well,” Bailey says. “Balance-wise it works out well. The thing that we’ve been surprised by is how much people like that combination, especially with Latin music. It’s just something that’s not heard very often.”

Bailey says they have not decided yet what they will play for the Dairy program, which will be announced from the stage. “I’m sure we will decide that afternoon how we’re going to do it,” he says. Very likely they will intersperse duo performances with Muro’s solo pieces.

“A good part of the concert will be music from Brazil,” Bailey says. The duo “will be playing some traditional Brazilian jazz pieces. We’ll also play two pieces from Peru, and a suite of pieces that are either written by Bach, or influenced by Bach, that will venture further off the jazz chart.”

Since moving to Mexico, “I’m being asked to perform a lot of different things,” he says. In addition to the duo performances at the chamber music festival, “I did a jazz ballad with a jazz pianist, I’m doing a Kol Nidre Jewish service, I’m putting together a repertoire of Mexican music with a jazz guitarist who lives in San Miguel, a woman who has a wonderful Bösendorfer grand in her living room wants to work on some Beethoven sonatas, and there are a couple of string players who want to put together a string quartet.”

A native of Peru, Muro performs a wide variety of styles, many based in South American folk idioms, as well as jazz and classical guitar. He has a particular interest in many varieties of Brazilian music, including choros, frevo and bossa nova, but he also has an extensive repertoire of classical guitar and has performed with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.

# # # # #

Jazz at the Dairy: From Peru to Mexico
Alfredo Muro, guitar, and James Baily, cello
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 16
Gordon Gamm Theater



CU Faculty Tuesdays, free and live-streamed, offer a fascinating potpourri of repertoire

With several performances on the calendar, pianist David Korevaar’s plate is full

By Peter Alexander

The summer has ended and fall has arrived.

It may not seem like it when it reaches 90°, but you can be certain. Not only is it Labor Day Weekend, the official end of summer, but the fall music has season has, in fact, already begun. The first of the CU College of Music Faculty Tuesday concerts was already last week, when pianist David Korevaar and violinist Harumi Rhodes played a program of sonatas for violin and piano by Beethoven, Janáček and Schumann.


Grusin Hall, home of “Faculty Tuesdays”

That series continues tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 5, with a Faculty Tuesday debut by baritone Andrew Garland performing a program titled “The Quest” with pianist Jeremy Reger. Future Faculty Tuesday events, listed here, will feature guests from the Cleveland Orchestra Sept. 12, Korevaar and violist Geraldine Walther performing “Chopin on the Viola” Sept. 26, and a fascinating potpourri of other topics and programs through the fall.

The Faculty Tuesday concerts are all at 7:30 in Grusin Music Hall, and all are free. Even better, you can watch from home and avoid the parking free-for-all around campus: the College of Music will provide live streaming of these events, available through the “CU Presents” button on the Faculty Tuesdays Web page listing of each event.


Pianist David Korenaar, Helen and Peter Weir Professor of Piano at CU, Boulder

None of the music faculty will be busier this fall than Korevaar, who shows up on four more Faculty Tuesdays in addition to his series-opening recital with Rhodes last week: “Chopin on the Viola” with Walther Sept. 26; “Finnish Celebration” with eight other faculty members Oct. 24; “Schubert and More” with violinist Charles Wetherbee Oct. 31; and “Signs Games+Messages” with Rhodes, Walther and cellist David Requiro Nov. 28.

Not letting any grass grow under his feet or on his keyboard, Korevaar also inaugurates the new CU@The Dairy series at the Dairy Arts Center on Thursday, Sept. 7, playing and conducting two of Mozart’s piano concertos. And as if that weren’t enough, he will be performing Beethoven’s Fantasy for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra, op. 80, with the Boulder Philharmonic at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14 in Macky Auditorium (tickets here).

“Yeah, there’s a lot on the plate,” Korevaar admits.

Thursday’s concert at the Diary, titled “Miraculous Mozart,” will feature two of Mozart’s piano concertos, K449 in E-flat major and K450 in B-flat major. They were both written in the same year, 1784, and of the two Korevaar identifies the second as the more difficult. “Mozart wrote a letter to his father,” he says, “and he said [K450] is the hardest thing he’s ever written. I might not disagree—it’s a tough piece, so obviously virtuoso.”

You will be able to read more about Korevaar, the Mozart concertos, and CU@The Dairy on this Web page and in the next issue of Boulder Weekly on Thursday, Sept. 7.

Once ‘the twain shall meet’ at The Dairy

Reena Esmail brings Indian and Western music together

By Peter Alexander


Composer Reena Esmail joins East and West. Photo by Rachel Garcia.

“East is East and West is West,” Rudyard Kipling famously wrote, “and never the twain shall meet.”

Kipling never met Reena Esmail. A composer who is thoroughly trained in both Western and North Indian classical music, she comfortably combines the two in her personal experiences and work. And bringing that cross-cultural blend to a broader public has become her mission.

Together with composer/percussionist Payton MacDonald, Esmail leads Shastra, an organization that aims to musically overthrow Kipling’s poetic decree. Or as the website states, Shastra “connects musicians working in both the Indian and Western musical traditions.”

Esmail and MacDonald bring their boundary-breaking project to the Dairy Arts Center in “Shastra! Indian/Western Fusion,” a concert featuring Front Range artists. “It’s basically a single evening of artists who do this kind of collaboration,” Esmail says. “It’s musicians but there’s also dance.”

In addition to the concert, The Dairy will present MacDonald’s film Sonic Divide in the Boedecker Theater. The film documents MacDonald’s 2016 bicycle ride along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, from Antelope Wells, New Mexico, to Banff, Canada. He rode the 2,500-plus mile route alone, stopping along the way to perform music composed specifically for the event.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.