Theatre

Two Minutes with…Valerie Ferris

She’s danced for the robe, been thrown into an oven, and donned a mustache as a member of the “Barnabaes.” No, it’s not Jefferson Mays as Salome D’Ysquith- it’s Valerie Ferris, one of the most well-known teen dancers on Staten Island. She’s currently enrolled at the University of Rhode Island and fast approaching triple threat status, having played Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd and a principal dancer in both Aida and Hello, Dolly! This weekend, Miss Ferris and I conversed on Facebook. Our Puccini thanks go out to her for being this week’s TWO MINUTES subject.

~Your birthday: April 4th

~Coffee or tea: Coffee

~Favorite Sondheim showSweeney Todd


~Favorite Rodgers and Hammerstein showCinderella


~Favorite Lady Gaga song: “You and I”


~Favorite operaAida


~Favorite playwright: Arthur Miller


~An underrated showOn the Town


~The dream role to end them all: Veronica Sawyer from Heathers


~Last movie you sawInside Out


~Was it any good: Yes (and she cried)


~The best ice cream flavor: Mint chocolate chip

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Writing

Spotlight: Operatic Starbucks

Hi, dilettantes. It’s been a pretty slow week, so for your reading pleasure and entertainment, here is some opera humor inspired by literarystarbucks and theatricalstarbucks on Tumblr. I happen to think these sites are very funny, especially if you’re extra-familiar with the mannerisms and trademarks of the pop culture figures. Feel free to post your own in the comments, but keep it loving!

Renee Fleming tries out a new Starbucks in the city. Unfortunately, it gets extremely bad reviews and shuts down a few weeks later.

Anna Netrebko shows up at Starbucks wearing a skimpy red dress. Everyone else in the cafe is dressed in black suits, both the men and the women. Without even trying, she is hired as the next head barista.

Nannerl Mozart walks up to the counter. She eloquently orders a beautiful, nuanced drink, but then the barista gives it to her brother Wolfgang.

Giacomo Puccini walks up to the counter with his trademark hat and a lit cigarette. When the barista presents him with his order, he barks that it is too romantic and dies before he can finish it.

Giuseppe Verdi walks up to the counter. He is accompanied by a 100-person chorus of people dressed in Egyptian garb. Before he leaves, he writes an aria that becomes the cafe’s national anthem.

Ludwig van Beethoven walks up to the counter. In ASL, he orders just one large drink. Just one. Unfortunately, it is overshadowed by the brilliance of his previous orders and nobody gives it enough thought.

Kathleen Battle struts up to the counter and demands the most complicated, elaborate thing on the menu. When she exits, the whole place bursts into applause.

Luciano Pavarotti tries to place his order in a dignified manner, but every time he opens his mouth, he shatters all of the cafe’s windows.

Sarah Caldwell is the manager of a new Starbucks. Sadly, her career background causes her managerial techniques to be grandiose and even a little bizarre. Frank Rich tears the establishment apart in his review.

Florence Foster Jenkins clears the entire room when she places her order. However, a day later, the owners of the cafe still receive a benevolent million-dollar donation from her estate.

Film and Television

Spotlight: A Semi-Definitive Listing of Opera in Pop Culture

This week, my cyber-friend Cindy of Opera Bracelets shared a link on Facebook about the artistic director of a New York county philharmonic and his comparison of La traviata to the movie Pretty Woman. Upon spotting the link, I vehemently agreed with Cindy that this guy couldn’t have been more off-base. Nonetheless, it did get me thinking about operas that have been re-imagined for the modern audience- whether through film, theatre, or some other medium entirely! Friends, I present to you a lofty undertaking: making a list of as many operatic references in pop culture as we can. Be sure to comment with ones that aren’t already listed! You will be credited for your contribution!

  1. Pretty much every aria in La boheme (Puccini)…Moonstruck
  2. Pretty much the entire premise of La bohemeJonathan Larson’s RENT
  3. “Largo al Factotum” from Il Barbiere di Siviglia (Rossini)…Mrs. Doubtfire
  4. The entire score, but NOT the libretto, of Carmen (Bizet)…Carmen Jones
  5. A performance of La traviata (Verdi)…Pretty Woman
  6. A cartoon spoof of Il Barbiere di SivigliaThe Rabbit of Seville
  7. The life of Maria Callas…Master Class
  8. The plot of Aida (Verdi) reset to pop music…Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA
  9. A retelling of Madama Butterfly (Puccini)…Miss Saigon
  10. “La donna e mobile” (Verdi) and “O mio babbino caro” (Puccini)…Too many TV commercials to name
  11. A performance of Lakme (Delibes)…The L Word
  12. A performance of Die Zauberflote (Mozart)…Amadeus
  13. Carmen extravaganza…PBS Arthur episode (Lights! Camera! Opera!)
  14. Cindy: “Habanera” from CarmenDisney/Pixar’s Up
  15. Cindy: Reference to the score of CarmenThe Bad News Bears
  16. Cindy: The “Barcarolle” from The Tales of Hoffman (Offenbach)…Life is Beautiful
  17. Cindy: Various references…What’s Opera, Doc? and Long Haired Hare
  18. Cindy: Die Fledermaus (Strauss) overture…Tom and Jerry
  19. Cindy: William Tell overture (Rossini)…The Lone Ranger
  20. Susan: “Doretta’s Aria” from La rondine (Puccini)…A Room with a View
  21. Lala: “Regnava nel silenzio” from Lucia di Lammermoor (Donizetti)…Beetlejuice
  22. Mary: “Nessun dorma” from Turandot (Puccini)…The Witches of EastwickThe Mirror Has Two Faces, etc.
  23. Cindy: “Nessun dorma” from TurandotBend It Like Beckham
  24. Cindy: La boheme Act 1 duet…Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  25. Cindy: “Letter Duet” from Il Nozze di Figaro (Mozart)…The Shawshank Redemption
Music

Critically Thinking- Is All Publicity Good Publicity? (A Nat’l Opera Week Essay)

The world of opera (and music in general…) seems to be bizarrely polarized when it comes to certain performers and productions; on one side of the coin there are those who will swear loyalty to a fault. On the other, there are people who absolutely despise whatever’s in question and will mock you if you disagree. And somewhere in the middle are those who at least try to be objective when analyzing the performing arts discipline. Ultimately, as with any business, all three of these groups are reactors to however the art decides to present itself. Backlash will be inevitable, but can that actually help the cause of the creators?

Take, for example, a controversial star of modern opera: Anna Netrebko. As a new dabbler in the art form I heard Netrebko and was blown away by her voice and beauty. At the time, it was clear to me why this Russian soprano has enjoyed so much success. Fast forward a few years, and I’ve realized that she is far from everyone’s favorite modern diva. People with much more knowledge than I scrutinize technical aspects of her voice, particularly when she sings bel canto, and there are even some who call her personal reputation into question. I recall a particularly biting YouTube comment in which the writer implied that Netrebko essentially slept her way to the top. But ultimately, does it really matter? In fact, have the opera community’s split views actually generated more interest in Anna?

Take, for example, the infamous Metropolitan Opera minimalist production of Verdi’s La traviata in which there was no set, Violetta wore a lone red mini dress, and the rest of the company was dressed like waiters. Netrebko was one of the sopranos to fill Violetta’s shoes, and while a handful of people think positively about this production, others feel it was a colossal failure. Whether or not it did fail is immaterial. After all, are we not still talking about it years after the fact? Is it not still remembered because of the stir it caused?

Also, I believe quite a bit of it has to do with how Anna carries herself in public appearances. Just Google some pictures; she’s always beautifully dressed, her hair and makeup always done. I have yet to find one of those beloved tabloid “celebrities without makeup!!!” shots. They say beauty is only skin deep, but in a profession where your look is just as important as your talent, Netrebko markets herself very well.

That is the great mystery of public relations in the entertainment industry, I suppose. Even if you can’t walk the walk, you can find success if you make enough people think you talk the talk. Personally, despite everything I’ve read, I still enjoy Anna Netrebko’s work. I can’t speak for everybody else, but I will say this much- they can turn on you in a dime. One slip (be it artistic or political) may cause years of branding work to go down the drain. Netrebko, I believe, navigates these turbulent waters successfully enough for her to continue getting high-profile work and maintaining over 200,000 Facebook Likes. No small feat, since (as Verdi’s Duke of Mantua might say) “Le persone sono mobile.”

Music

It’s NATIONAL OPERA WEEK!

My pal Cindy over at Opera Bracelets (which I spotlighted a while back) informed me of something remarkable- that this week coming up is National Opera Week! To celebrate, she’s selling her beautiful bracelets at a 15% discount when you use the code OperaWeek14. So you may want to check that out.

The one-person Puccini’s Chronicles team is naturally also going to celebrate National Opera Week. We’ll close out our October theme of opera-comique, but I’ll also be writing some extra articles on various classical music-related topics for all of you. As always, I’m accepting submissions of your own musical discourses as well. My email is faithjacobsen@gmail.com and you’re not limited to opera; as you may have noticed, Puccini’s Chronicles wants to nourish ALL forms of performing arts. (As long as they’re not in poor taste…but I suppose that’s a debate for another day altogether.)

So let’s relax, make some Earl Grey tea, buy some bracelets, and pop in our favorite Tosca recording as dilettantes everywhere rejoice. Xo

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Theatre

The Do’s and Don’ts of the Audition Process

DO

1. Know your audition song like the back of your hand.
2. Staple your headshot and resume together.
3. Ensure that you arrive on time and can stay until they dismiss you, not the other way around.
4. Be courteous and friendly to everyone there, not just the panel.
5. Dress appropriately and wear shoes for dancing.
6. Be willing to accept a role in the ensemble, especially if this is your first audition for the company.
7. Have fun, and think of the whole thing as an opportunity to perform, which is what you love to do! Right?

DON’T

1. Overeat or drink a lot of dairy before the audition.
2. Be like Karen and Ivy from SMASH and show up looking like Marilyn (or wearing a Phantom mask, or with green skin).
3. Act like you’re better than anyone. Ever.
4. Think that because you didn’t get a callback, you won’t be cast.
5. Automatically do an accent during cold readings, even for shows like Nine or My Fair Lady; always ask the panel first.
6. Let a mistake cool your fire; you can make up for it in another aspect of your audition.
7. Sing a pop song if you’re auditioning for an operetta, or vice-versa.

Footnote: The theme for the month of October is going to be OPERA-COMIQUE. Rising to popularity long before verismo, Bizet’s Carmen is one of the most famous examples of this style. That was also the very first opera I saw live at the Met!

Fine Arts

Spotlight: Opera Bracelets!

Hey there, everyone! So I recently made a wonderful discovery on the World Wide Web this week…a brilliant, innovative new way to tell the story of history’s finest operas…the Opera Bracelets company! This Rochester based business, independently owned by a husband and wife, sells unique handmade bracelets that use charms and beads to symbolize elements of operas from Die Zauberflote to La traviata. (My personal favorite is the Madama Butterfly story bracelet…

It has a wedding ring for Kate, an American flag for Pinkerton, and a Japanese fan for Cio Cio San. As for the dagger and blood-red teardrop beads at the top, well- I don’t think I need to tell you what they represent.

I think this enterprise is truly remarkable and a wonderfully creative way to show your appreciation for opera and the arts in general. Even if opera’s not your cup of tea, the bracelets themselves (ranging in price from $44 to $88) are simply gorgeous pieces of jewelry and would look excellent on your wrist…or a friend’s! So visit http://www.operabracelets.com to browse the shop and add some sparkle to your life. (Note: I am not affiliated with the company.)

The Aida bracelet.

Music

Shakespeare to Song

Playbill has a compilation on their website today of musicals that were based on the works of The Bard in honor of his birthday. But the pen of William Shakespeare has given rise to a whole musical revolution of performing arts inspired by his timeless tales. Musicals! Operas! Ballet! It goes on and on and on and on…I just had myself a little Journey moment there.

I CAPULETI E I MONTECCHI (Italian opera based on Romeo and Juliet, Vincenzo Bellini) Noteworthy in that there are only five main characters and that the Romeo role is played by a mezzo soprano in drag. Popular mezzo and soprano duo Elina Garanca and Anna Netrebko sang the lead roles with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra in 2008.

WEST SIDE STORY (American musical based on Romeo and Juliet, Leonard Bernstein) Considered to be one of the greatest musicals of all time, reset to New York gang neighborhoods in the 1950s-60s. Lead roles originated by Larry Kert and Carol Lawrence on Broadway, but the beauty of the music in this show has caused it to be performed for opera houses as well. In fact, I watched a fascinating documentary called “The Making of West Side Story,” which chronicles a recording session of the show by opera singers (Jose Carreras and Kiri te Kanawa) alongside Bernstein himself conducting the orchestra.

KISS ME KATE (American musical based on The Taming of the Shrew, Cole Porter) Probably the most popular Cole Porter show along with Anything Goes, this show-within-a-show follows the romantic entanglements of the four stars (and some gangsters?!) performing in the aforementioned Shakespearean comedy. Famous numbers include “Always True to You,” “Brush Up Your Shakespeare,” “Too Darn Hot,” “So in Love,” “I Hate Men,” and “Another Op’ning Another Show.”

OTELLO (Italian opera based on Othello, Giuseppe Verdi) The second-to-last opera written by Verdi. Notorious for producing three vocally and dramatically demanding roles, even by Verdi’s standards. Predictably, Othello is a tenor, Desdemona is a soprano, and Iago is a baritone. Verdi was hesitant to write this opera following the success of Aida and had gone into a semi-retirement.

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