Eklund Opera will present Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin in Russian with English titles

‘Wonderfully Romantic piece’ is musically appealing, educationally valuable

By Peter Alexander March 14 at 1:22 p.m.

The University of Colorado Eklund Opera Program is doing something it has never done before: perform a full opera in Russian, with English surtitles.

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Publicity still for CU Opera production of Eguene Onegin. (Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado)

The opera is Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, one of the most well known and popular Russian operas, in and outside of Russia. Performances will be March 15–17 in Macky Auditorium. The cast of CU students will be directed by Leigh Holman, director of the Eklund Opera Program, and conducted by Nicholas Carthy, the program’s music director.

Eugene Onegin is about the unrequited love between Onegin, a bored ne’er-do-well aristocrat, and Tatyana, a naive country girl whose sister is engaged to Onegin’s friend, Lensky. Tatyana impulsively writes a letter declaring her love to Onegin, who brushes her aside.

Soon after, Onegin kills Lensky in an impetuous duel that neither man wants, and then wanders the world for several years in despair. Returning to St. Petersburg, he realizes he is in love with Tatyana, now married to an older nobleman. When he declares his love, Onegin finds the shoe is on the other foot, as Tatyana turns him aside out of loyalty to her husband.

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Nicholas Carthy

Carthy has wanted to conduct Eugene Onegin since he coached singers in a production at the Salzburg Festival 30 year ago. “I thought, ‘I really need to do this,’ and I’ve been waiting ever since,” he says.

Because it requires bigger voices, Onegin is not an opera that a university company can always perform. This year the stars aligned and the singers were available for Onegin at CU. Holman called Carthy while he was on sabbatical last year to say she thought this would be the year.

“We’re just excited to have the big voices now that can do [Onegin]”, she says.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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EugeneOnejin-X4 copyEugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky
CU Eklund Opera Program
Leigh Holman, director and Nicholas Carthy, conductor
Sets designed by Peter Dean Beck, costumes by Tom Robbins

7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, March 15 and 16
2 p.m. March 17
Macky Auditorium

Sung in Russian with English titles

Tickets 

 

 

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‘West Side Story’: 61 years old and still as relevant as today’s headlines

CU Eklund Opera presents Bernstein’s masterpiece

By Peter Alexander Oct. 25 at 12:15 p.m.

Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story opened on Broadway just over 61 years ago — Sept. 26, 1957 — but for Leigh Holman, the story does not get old.

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West Side Story cast members Christine Honein as Maria and Patrick Bessenbecher as Tony. Photo by Glenn Asakawa/University of Colorado.

Holman is the director of the Eklund Opera Program at the CU College of Music, which will be presenting Bernstein’s masterpiece Friday through Sunday, Oct. 26–28. The cast of CU students, freshman though graduate students, will be stage-directed by Holman. Guest conductor Philip Hesketh will lead the singers and student orchestra.

The show is a transplanted version of Romeo and Juliet, with New York street gangs replacing the rival families. The conflict is between immigrants and newer immigrants, the Jets and the Sharks, a white gang and a Puerto Rican gang.

West Side Story has a theme that’s important to talk about right now,” Holman says. “It’s a story about people who are immigrants, and nothing could be more relevant. When someone moves into our area, is in the workplace or in school with us, people who don’t look like us, what sort of fear ignites in us and how do we act upon that?

“To me it sounds like a story from 2018.”

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Art by Janalee Robison for CU Presents

West Side Story
By Leonard Bernstein
Book by Arthur Laurents; Lyrics by Stephen Sondheim
Eklund Opera Theater

7:30 pm. Friday Oct. 26 and Sunday, Oct. 27
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28
Macky Auditorium

Tickets

CU NOW presents selections from new opera by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer

If I Were You’ addresses questions of identity, life and death

By Peter Alexander June 14 at 6:30 p.m.

Jake Heggie, composer of the opera Dead Man Walking, and Gene Scheer, who wrote librettos for Heggie’s Moby Dick and It’s a Wonderful Life, are hard at work again.

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CU NOW Rehearsal. L to R: Erin Hodgson, assistant to the composer and librettist; Gene Scheer, librettist; Jake Heggie, composer (photo by Glenn Asakawa)

Their latest project, an opera that addresses existential questions about identity, life and death, has brought them to Boulder and CU Eklund Opera’s New Operatic Workshop (CU NOW). Selected excerpts from the new work, If I Were You, will be presented to the public for free, performed by CU student singers.  The Composer Fellows’ Initiative (CFI), a separate project of CU NOW will present four short operas by CU composition students: three 8-minute works and one 30-minute work.

CU NOW invites a composer and librettist every year to come to Boulder for a couple of weeks in June as they develop a new opera and work with student singers. The composers have the opportunity to hear portions of their own work and make changes as necessary before it’s complete. As part of his association with CU NOW, Heggie has also been working with the students whose works will be presented by the Composer Fellows’ Initiative.

If I Were You, as Heggie describes it, is “a modern-day Faust story” with an overlay of Gothic romance. “It’s about a disillusioned young man who wishes he could be anyone else,” he says. Heggie and Scheer will decide which portions of the opera to perform during the workshop. They will introduce the musical excerpts to the audience and explain the plot as they go along.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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CU New Opera Workshop festival (CU NOW)
Leigh Holman, director
Jeremy Reger, director of music

 

If I Were You (selected excerpts)
Libretto by Gene Scheer
Music by Jake Heggie
Adam Turner, guest conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, June 15, and 2 p.m. Sunday, June 17
Music Theater, CU Imig Music Building

Composer Fellows’ Initiative (CU NOW—CFI)
Daniel Kellogg, managing director
Four short operas by student composers
Steven Aguillo, guest music director
Bud Coleman, stage director

7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 16
ATLAS Blackbox, Roser ATLAS Center

Performances free and open to the public

 

 

CU Eklund Opera melds Handel’s Ariodante with Game of Thrones

‘Probably a dozen of the greatest arias of the early 18th century’

By Peter Alexander April 26 at 11:40 p.m.

Handel’s opera Ariodante is as old as 1516 when its story was first recorded, and as new as today.

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Photo by Glenn Asakawa, courtesy of  CU Presents. L to R: Maureen Bailey, Rebecca Myers, Steven Groth

Its theme, the lynchpin of many operas, is timeless: a man being believed before a woman. “Hashtag MeToo, right?” Leigh Homan, the director of CU’s Eklund Opera Program, says. “This is so relevant!”

The next CU opera production, Ariodantewill be presented Thursday through Sunday (April 26–29) in the intimate Music Theatre. Holman is the stage director, and Zachary Carrettin, director of the Boulder Bach Festival, will conduct the orchestra and a cast of CU students.

For a Baroque opera, the plot is fairly simple, a human drama with no divine intervention and no magic. The scheming Polinesso wants to marry princess Ginevra in order to gain the throne of Scotland, but Ginevra and her father, the King, are celebrating her engagement to Ariodante. With the help of Dalinda, a lady-in-waiting, Polinesso frames Ginevra for infidelity. The King cancels the wedding and renounces his daughter.\

“It says a lot that they believe the male who’s not in the royal family over the princess,” Carretin says. But all is not lost: Ariodante, who is thought to have killed himself in despair, returns in time to implicate Polinesso, the latter is killed in a duel, and the opera ends with the villain vanquished and the true lovers wed.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Ariodante by George Frideric Handel
CU Eklund Opera Program
Zachary Carrettin, conductor
Leigh Holman, stage director

7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, April 26–28
2 p.m. Sunday, April 29
Music Theatre, Imig Music Building

Tickets 

 

CU Eklund Opera Brings Sondheim’s “Demon Barber” to the Macky stage

Victorian production with a twist aims to make Sweeney Todd at least human

By Peter Alexander March 15 at 1:50 p.m.

Stephen Sondheim’s demon barber of Fleet Street is a hard character to like. He is after all a serial killer with a dark heart, but with a production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, Leigh Holman of CU’s Eklund Opera Program aims to make him likable.

At least a little.

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Sklyer Schlenker (Sweeney Todd) and Erin Hodgson (Mrs. Lovett) in the CU Eklund Opera production of  Sweeney Todd. Photo courtesy CU Presents.

“I don’t want him to appear already as a villain” at the beginning of the show, she says. “I want to see a human being, and it’s not until he learns what (happened) to his wife that we start to see the change” into a calculated killer.

“I want to see that arc,” she says. “He’s an anti-hero that’s cutting throats, but somehow you find yourself on his side.”

The production of Sweeney Todd by CU’s Eklund Opera program, with Holman’s semi-likable anti-hero and the rest of the gory story, will take the Macky Auditorium stage this weekend, with performances Friday through Sunday (March 16–18). The cast and orchestra of CU students will be led by guest conductor Caleb Harris, a member of the Vanderbilt University faculty who is a sabbatical replacement for CU’s Nick Carthy.

Other artistic contributors to the production include set and lighting designer Peter Dean Back, costume designer Tom Robbins, chorus master Jeremy Reger and choreographer Stephen Bertles. In addition to CU students, the cast will include CU faculty Andrew Garland as Todd and guest artist and CU alumnus Wei Wu as Judge Turpin.

Read more in Boulder Weekly.

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Sweeney Todd
Eklund Opera Program, University of Colorado, Boulder
Leigh Holman, director
Caleb Harris, conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, March 16 and Saturday, March 17
2 p.m. Sunday, March 18
Macky Auditorium

Tickets

More information available here.
View the full program here.

Lehár’s Merry Widow waltzes into Macky Auditorium (and does other dances, too)

Classic Viennese operetta gives its characters a second chance Oct. 27–29

By Peter Alexander

Franz Lehár’s Merry Widow, the classic Viennese operetta, is a delicious platform for wonderful singing, graceful dancing, colorful costumes, and an inexhaustible supply of humor. But in the hands of stage director Leigh Holman, director of the CU Eklund Opera Program, there is a serious side too.

The Merry Widow-X4The CU production will be presented Friday–Sunday, Oct. 27–29, in Macky Auditorium. Nicholas Carthy will conduct an orchestra and cast of CU students. Other artistic staff of the production are set and lighting designer Peter Dean Beck; costume designer Tom Robbins; choreographer Stephen Bertles; and technical director Ron Mueller.

The major roles are double cast, with different singers on Saturday and Friday/Sunday. The performances will be sung in German with English titles.

“People think of it as light, and it is a funny show,” Holman says. “But I’ve taken a little bit more serious tone with it—not to scare anyone off because it’s still very hilarious and fun, but I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about second chances.”

In fact, it’s a second chance for the two main characters that drives the plot of The Merry Widow.

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Leigh Holman

As the operetta opens, the fictional east-European country of Pontevedro is facing a budget crisis. At their embassy in Paris, the ambassador hopes to arrange the marriage of the wealthy widow Hanna Glawari with Ponetvedro’s most eligible bachelor, Danilo. That would, he believes, save the country by keeping her money in Pontevedro. But Paris is filled with men—bachelors and married alike—who would love to get their hands on her and her money, making the ambassador’s matchmaking all the more urgent.

Of course there are many other comic-opera complications with many other couples, but you want to keep your eye on the ball, which is the Hanna-Danilo relationship. As Holman explains, this is where the second chance comes in, because they have a history.

“They fell in love years ago when she was a farm girl,” Holman says. “He was wealthy and a nobleman, and his uncle did not approve of their relationship.” Because Danilo hesitated to oppose his uncle, Hanna ended the relationship and got revenge by marrying another wealthy suitor.

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Lightening strikes twice for Danilo (Bryce Bartu) and Hanna (Anna Whiteway) in CU’s “Merry Widow.” (Photo by Glenn Asakawa)

“I wanted to deepen the understanding of the audience for what this couple had gone through,” Holman says. “So I decided to do a pantomime during the Overture, with a young Danilo and a young Hanna in front of the curtain. We get to experience their young love, and the situation where the uncle disapproves and Danilo hesitates. He eventually asks her to marry him, but she shows him her ring, that she’s already married. So we get all of that before the curtain opens.”

After the Overture, the curtain opens on the embassy party. Hanna’s much older husband has now died, leaving her a fortune, and Danilo has buried his sorrows by being a feckless man about Paris. ”They see each other again after all these years,” Holman explains. “Now they just love to spar with each other all the time, always testing each other.

“We really wanted to play on the idea, what would happen if we all got a do-over, if we had the chance to go back again? The question is, would we love to [do that]? We don’t know how it would end up, but we all wonder.”

This being operetta, you can count this second chance ending up with a happy outcome for all of the mixed-up couples. And you can also count on a lot of great entertainment along the way: a bit of farce and mistaken identities, gorgeous individual arias, hilarious ensembles, wonderful “Pontevedrian” folk music and costumes, and plenty of dancing.

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Conductor Nicholas Carthy

“We are having a wonderful time,” Holman says of herself and the cast. “It’s just a joy to go to work every day. We walk into the rehearsal hall and they’re all warming up, everybody’s dancing, the Viennese Waltz, the polka, the mazurka, the everything!”

Because Holman is devoted educator as well as opera director, “the everything” has great benefits for the students. “It’s the whole triple threat,” she says. “They’re singing, dancing, and acting with [spoken] dialog, so it’s a great opportunity for them. And comic timing! There really is an art to that and it’s something that has to be learned. They’re really grasping it and that’s exciting to see.

“Our goal is that when they leave CU they’re ready for whatever life brings. With musical theater and opera melding ever closer and closer together, I think this will get them ready for whatever opportunities they have.”

In other words, young opera singers have to be ready when they leave school because—unlike Hanna and Danilo—they won’t always get second chances when opportunities appear. And neither do audiences; The Merry Widow is only in Macky this weekend.

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The Merry Widow by Franz Lehár
CU Eklund Opera Program
Leigh Holman, stage director
Nicholas Carthy, music director and conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday & Saturday, Oct. 27 & 28
2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 29
Macky Auditorium

Tickets

CU NOW rewards audiences, composers and performers

Adamo’s Gospel of Mary Magdalene is getting an intimate makeover

By Peter Alexander

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2016 CU NOW rehearsal. Photo by Peter Alexander

CU NOW, the University of Colorado Eklund Opera Program’s annual New Opera Workshop, is one of the most rewarding events on the Boulder classical music scene.

It is an opportunity to see how operas are put together. It is an opportunity to hear new works, often before their professional world premieres, and possibly, through feedback sessions with the composer, to influence the final product. And falling between the end of the main music season and the beginning of the summer festivals, it comes at a time when the classical scene is starting to get dry.

And that’s just the benefits for the audience. It almost goes without saying that the composer has the reward of seeing his work in an informal setting, where he can tweak the score and make improvements, and the singers reap the reward of learning a new work and preparing it for the composer. I count that a win-win-win.

Usually a workshop for completely new works, the NOW program goes in a different direction this year. Composer Mark Adamo is in Boulder to re-work his Gospel of Mary Magdalene, which was premiered by the San Francisco Opera in 2013 (under conductor Michael Christie, known locally for his years at the Colorado Music Festival). Following the somewhat controversial premiere, Adamo decided to revise the opera to make it smaller in scope than the San Francisco production, more intimate, more human.

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Composer Mark Adamo

Or as he was quoted in the CU press release, he wanted the show to be “more witty and modern, a lot closer to Godspell.”

Complete performances of the re-worked Gospel of Mary Magdalene will be free and open to the public, 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday in the Imig Music Building Music Theater. The cast and ensemble of CU students and alumni will be accompanied by piano and harp.

Knowing the history of CU Now, Adamo says he was unsure about bringing a work that had already had a premiere, and a grand one at that, to Boulder. “Leigh (Holman, director of the Eklund Opera Program) talked to me about this, because ordinarily CU NOW does pieces before they’re given a premiere,” he says. “I wanted to revisit this because I’m not sure that the show that we staged (in San Francisco) was entirely the show that I meant.

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Leigh Holman

“It was a beautiful production, it was brilliantly cast, it was a beautiful set, it was a beautiful design, the direction was very sensitive, and yet . . . I didn’t feel like the tone was what I hoped for. And so Leigh said ‘we’re absolutely the place for that.’”

Adamo wrote both the libretto and the music for The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. The opera places Mary Magdalene at the center of the story, making her an important influence on Jesus’ teachings. Adamo’s libretto is based in part on the Gnostic Gospels, early Christian texts that were discovered in 1945. Not accepted by most Christian traditions, the Gnostic Gospels suggest that Jesus and Mary were lovers, and later married, and that Jesus was illegitimate.

The libretto grew out of Adamo’s own research, which was so thorough that the libretto even contains footnotes, some of which are sung. One important part of his goal was to counteract anti-female ideas of some Christian traditions. The opera opens with modern characters expressing their unease with the negativity toward sex and women that they have encountered in the church.

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San Francisco Opera production of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Set by David Korins. Photo by Cory Weaver.

In the San Francisco production, which Adamo describes as “more King of Kings, if you will, that kind of Biblical spectacular look,” the modern characters got much less emphasis than he wanted. “Given the grandeur and the somberness of the setting, it was a stage that you could not do anything remotely personal, or witty,” he says.

To shift the focus back to the modern characters, and their relationship with the Biblical characters they conjure from their imaginations, Adamo cut the cast from 72 including chorus down to 16. “In San Francisco we had the five seekers (modern believers) and the chorus in modern dress, and then the Biblical characters, and all the supporting characters,” he explains. All of that has been reduced to the four principals—Yeshua (Jesus), Mary Magdalene, Miriam (Mary) and Peter—plus a dozen ensemble singers who take the other roles.

The original production was 2½ hours of music, plus intermission, which some listeners found to be ponderous. Adamo says he has reduced that to under 2½ hours including intermission. “Here’s the joke,” he says, “Nothing has been cut. A five-minute opening has been added, and the running time is shorter than in San Francisco.”

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Mark Adamo

“It starts with me,” he admits. “I had under-marked the tempos to so dramatic a degree that when I went back to the score in preparation for this production, I was looking at the metronome markings and saying, ‘what was I thinking? Are these tempos sponsored by Ambien?’

“All of this needs to move much more conversationally. When I met with (conductor) Andrew (Bisantz), I said, ‘assume the metronome markings you’ve got are 12 (beats per minute) slow.’”

Finally, Adamo wanted a setting that was not as monumental as the San Francisco production. “Is there a setting that is illustrative of the concerns of the show, that allows more nimbleness and a wider variety of dramatic tones?” he asks. “I did come up with that,” he says, adding slyly, “I’ll leave the surprise for you if you see the show.”

Adamo is particularly happy that the smaller number of singers and the more intimate setting has shifted the emotional focus of the performance. “For the most part, the stress is squarely on what the performers are doing and how they are defining the space and the emotional terms of the piece, rather than anything more elaborate,” he says.

“That and making the whole stage into a group, rather than principals and then a chorus, have been the principal innovations, and it has been a delight.”

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CU NOW
Leigh Holman, founder and artistic/general director

The Gospel of Mary Magdalen
By Mark Adamo
Andrew Bisantz, conductor

7:30 p.m. Friday, June 16
2 p.m. Sunday, June 18
Music Theatre, Imig Music Building, CU

Free and open to the public

Advisory: These performances include adult content, sexual situations, and a stylized suggestion of violence, and may not be suitable for children.