Tag Archives: Lexington Opera House

Arts

UK Students Present South Pacific

Whether you’re into musicals or not, Rodgers and Hammerstein is pretty hard to beat. South Pacific, which first appeared on Broadway in 1949, represents a definite high point in the duo’s efforts, with many well-known numbers and sets.

When the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre decided on South Pacific for part of its season, it was done with much community and patron support. Dr. Everett McCorvey, who is the Director of UK Opera Theatre and largely responsible for bringing the Department to worldwide attention, shares with us in the following hinterview the reason South Pacific was chosen and the many factors that go into making an outstanding opera theatre company.

CS:    South Pacific. Good, strong musical theatre.

EM:   We’re starting to highlight “classical” musicals, because the reality is a lot of students are doing crossovers. We’ll have the greatest impact as a young artist training program.

CS:    Aside from creating a great evening, that’s really the bottom line, isn’t it?  That the students get what they need to be successful.

EM:   Absolutely. We have students that are performing on Broadway, on TV.

The goal is to graduate singers who can work. We can’t overlook musical theatre, and just be classical opera, as Broadway is doing is very well. When we did Phantom of the Opera a few years ago, it was a huge success. We broke all the records at the Lexington Opera House. Then we did Les Misérables, then Sweeney Todd, and now South Pacific. We have to apply for the right from the companies to present these shows, so that becomes a factor as well.

CS:    Is this a trend for opera companies, blending musicals and operas in their seasons?

EM:   If you look at opera companies around the country, they’re doing the same thing.

CS:    How are the roles chosen from the student body?

EM:   We look in our program to see who’s ready to be featured and be on the big stage. We’re the opera company for the city, not just the university, so we have a big obligation regarding quality assurance. On the one side, we take our patrons very seriously and want to offer the best; we knew we had enough singers to fill South Pacific and it would be an exciting show for the public.

CS:    How big is the production?

EM:   It’s a great cast of about 40 singers and and orchestra of about 40. We’re using the set that was built for the South Pacific revival, which was used at the Lincoln Center in New York. Young people go to Broadway to see these shows more than they do pure opera these days. Opera companies are trying to engage the young people; we want them to attend the productions, otherwise it’s difficult for the art form to survive.

CS:    So this same phenomenon is definitely happening in other places?

EM:   In the next 10-12 years I predict opera companies will take over doing musicals and the other stuff. What’s interesting is that most of the shows that come back to Broadway are revivals; there are very few new shows.

South Pacific ran for almost 2000 performances after premiering in 1949. James. A. Michener wrote the book, Tales of the South Pacific, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947 and became the germ of South Pacific, the musical. There have been many revivals and offshoots from the original, including a very successful 2008 Broadway revival.

CS:    How long or will this way of mixing musical theatre and opera continue?

EM:   The mission of our program is to be the best training program in the country. That being said, it’s important to me that we stay current. We are trending and trying to be a part of this new paradigm that is happening to American Musical Theatre. We will still do traditional opera as students must still be trained in this repertoire.

CS:    How many are currently in the program at UK?

EM:   About 133 in the Voice Program. 80-90 are undergraduates and 30-40 are graduates. We recruit from all over the world for our people.

CS:    So, when it comes time to sit down and roundtable about upcoming shows, what will teach the most and who you have in the student body become hot topics.

EM:   Of course. We vote on which shows are done. These include people who are voice teachers and voice coaches. We look at what stock we have and whether or not the show will work. We’re already talking about shows for the next year and the year after.

CS:    Tell me more about the cast of South Pacific.

EM:   Jenna Day, who was the former Miss Kentucky, plays Nellie Forbush. This was a role originated by Larry Hagman’s mother, Mary Martin, in the late 1940s. André Campelo plays Emile de Becque, a French ex-patriot. He plays it beautifully and has a great accent to go with it. For South Pacific, the challenge is that there is a lot of dialogue, and the singers have to be able to grab the nuances of the language. Typically for operas, they are played by people 35-50 years old, so we also have a decent age range of students between the undergraduate and graduate programs.

“Bali Ha’i,” “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair,” “Some Enchanted Evening,” “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” “Happy Talk,” “Younger Than Springtime” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy,” are all well-known and oft-performed pieces from South Pacific. Following is a link to a Mary Martin televised London performance from 1952:

CS:    It seems that students have to be more and more versatile in today’s world to be able to work; I’m sure competition is as thick or thicker today, yes?

EM:   Companies need these all-around arts people. People like Kelly O’Hare, who is making her Metropolitan Opera debut. The reality is the producers need the best performer, it doesn’t matter the particular skill; many skills are preferred. We’re looking at a more joint musical theatre program. Merged costume companies. We’re looking very hard at how we can collaborate, so we can serve the needs of the students. Once again, We want to ensure our graduates work when they get out. Ironically, they sometimes are our best recruiters.

CS:    Case in point?

EM:   Reginald Smith Jr. Earlier this year he won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. People see these awards and events on Facebook and Youtube and they seep into the public awareness. This includes, of course, potential students watching online and researching the best schools where they can hone their talents to eventually get work in the field they want.

CS:    Do you feel recruitment is a big issue at UK?

EM:   Alltech offers a big competition that recruits from everywhere and we bring in all kinds of people. They’ll send students to do concerts. Recruitment’s a big concern for any school, but it’s the usual deal: when big decisions have to be made for programs to be cut, the fine arts are always first. Ahead of the sciences, business and especially sports.

CS:    It seems that people are not weaned on the arts in the same way as the others you mentioned.

EM:   We work towards this with the young people so we develop arts appreciation into something else. Babies leave the hospital in UK basketball jerseys; fans are developed very purposely. We have Bourbon, horses, basketball and opera!

CS:    Patrons seem ready and eager to support.

EM:   Philanthropy in Lexington is at an all time high. I’m talking about individuals, not companies necessarily. They want to see UK at the top and they’re willing to support.

CS:    It seems opera at the University and State level has come so far, particularly since you’ve taken the helm. Many people agree. It’s not hyperbole.

EM:   It’s a collective effort, of course. I’m glad we’re growing in the right direction, growing students to their potentials and their employability.

CS:    With so many success stories, it seems that growth has been a constant factor over the last 15 years.

EM:   Definitely. The Richard Tucker Foundation publishes a list of companies each year that are the top in their field, and we were listed in that recently, which gave me a real thrill. We’re doing the right thing for our growth and our students.

CS:    Dr. McCorvey, as ever, it’s been wonderful talking with you.

EM:   Yes, thank you.

You can go to the Lexington Opera House website, where you will find info on South Pacific, tickets, and more on the seasons for the UK Opera Theatre and the Lexington Opera House.

http://www.lexingtonoperahouse.com/events/detail/uk-south-pacific

Photos by Philip Groshong Photography. AKA ‘Photo Phil’.

Arts

The Enchanting Ute Lemper: A New Year’s Concert to Remember

As 2014 comes to a close, Lexington bids farewell with a welcoming: a special New Year’s Eve performance of the incomparable chanteuse,  Ute Lemper.

Photo by Lucas Allen

Photo by Lucas Allen

The evening pays tribute to the sounds of the Moulin Rouge, including musical selections from Edith Piaf’s La Vie en Rose to Bertolt Brecht’s Surabaya Johnny.

The program begins with an orchestral Tribute Medley to the Moulin Rouge, concluding with Jacques Offenbach’s famous “Can-Can” from his satirical opera, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Ute Lemper takes the stage to perform classic French songs by some of the nation’s most beloved singers, Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel. After intermission, the show continues with the orchestral and cabaret selections of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht.

On the selection of Ute Lemper as the featured soloist of the NYE Celebration, LexPhil Music Director and Conductor, Scott Terrell describes Ute as, “an internationally acclaimed chanteuse that I am honored to bring to the LexPhil stage this season. Her range of cabaret songs from Edith Piaf to Bertolt Brecht will dazzle the audience for a truly memorable New Year’s Eve!”

Ms. Lemper, a native of Münster, Germany, spent her first eighteen years there, before traveling the world, living in Paris, and finally settling in New York City, on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

I chatted by phone with Ms. Lemper, concerning her upcoming date in Lexington, her many awards and talents, and what makes her tick.

You lived in Germany until you were 18. What made you leave at that time and pursue the arts?

I was in the original Viennese production of Cats after studying in Vienna in the early 80s. This was after I graduated from the Dance Academy in Cologne and the Max Reinhardt Seminary Drama School in Vienna.

And this led to other opportunities?

Yes. Particularly playing the original European Sally Bowles in Cabaret. This was in Paris. Then Velma Kelley in Chicago. We did that in London and New York, and I won the Olivier Award in London for the performance.

Then voice-overs for films dubbed for German-speaking audiences?

They called me to do the voice of Ariel for Disney’s Little Mermaid and for Esmeralda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame for the German-releases, yes.

But, more than anything, you’ve become known for singing Kurt Weill, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, and singers who have seemed absent in the last generation. Is that accurate?

I have quite a bit more in my repertoire, like show tunes and original songs I’ve written. As a matter of fact, I’ve been writing a lot more of my own material in recent years, but I became known for singing the songs of these artists. I put out an album in 1987 called Ute Lemper sings Kurt Weill, and it was a huge success. In the early-90s I followed it with a second album of Weill’s songs and it did well too. I do Weill songs in my performances, among other pieces.

What do you feel is the common thread in your performances? What are you trying to achieve?

One common thread is to make a journey through time, to bring people on an historical journey. Making classical sounds more contemporary. But I have also fallen into this niche of keeping alive many songs that have fallen by the wayside or in some cases were purposely forgotten.

Purposely Forgotten?

Yes. Like many of the Weill songs, which were abandoned in post-war Germany because they reminded the people who lived through those times of the horrors. It’s only many years later that they can be reflected upon and brought out into the light. The wounds were too deep for decades.

Photo by Lucas Allen

Photo by Lucas Allen

I imagine you feel a strong connection to this, having grown up in post-war Germany?

Yes, it is part of my heritage, but this also happened when I went to live in Paris.

What exactly?

When I lived as a Parisian, I found myself becoming an ardent pupil of the French chanson. As a result, I have incorporated many of Edith Piaf’s songs and Brel’s pieces into my show.

For a sampling, here is Ute performing Piaf’s La Vie en Rose.

So you’ve become something of a torchbearer for these artists who may very well have been left behind?. 

I’m not sure if they would have been left behind, but each of them speaks to a certain time and place and the music is very good. I feel drawn to these more cabaret-style pieces. At one point I was a dancer in Maurice Bejart’s company. I paint. I have many creative and artistic outlets, but the song is what I’m really known for and what I do the most. And with my performances, they are a mish-mash of many songs, with many histories behind them. Many of the songs from one artist can sound and feel different, however. Weill is a good case in point. Like so many of his contemporaries, he had the first half of his career in Europe, then came to the States. The songs from later in his canon have a different feel than those earlier songs. This is what cabaret should be: a blending of many different tones and feelings for variety and appeal.

(Ute was part of the German reunification of artists after the Wall was torn down in 1989. She performed in Roger Waters’ staging of Pink Floyd’s album The Wall, celebrating Germany’s historic move toward peace and solidarity.)

You were part of the German unification after the Wall fell?

Yes. It was and still is a complicated process, unifying the artists from East and West. While it’s had its challenges, there has been no other day like it in history. Unbelievable and overwhelming. Most artists had difficulty even expressing the feelings of it in their work, it was so intense and powerful. I wrote a song, Ghosts of Berlin, concerning it.

Do you feel the unification has been good for Germany, 25 years past the demolition of the Wall?

Absolutely. Today we face other issues, like Solidarity tax.

Solidarity Tax? 

When the Wall fell, a Solidarity tax was imposed on West Germany to rebuild East Germany. While this was supposed to last only a few years, to get East Germany on their feet, it continues to this day. While West Germans are perhaps bitter about the tax, there is no doubt that the freeing of East Germany, and the money used to rebuild it from the West is nothing but a success story. Sadly, this cannot be said for many similar situations in the European Union.

Do you feel the wounds and ghosts of the past have healed and settled enough to bring out many of these songs in places so affected by wartime?

I did a concert with Zubin Mehta back in 1988. There were at least 50 holocaust survivors, people with numbers on their arms, that attended. One is not sure about the healing and settling, even with sufficient time passing.

What’s the next exciting step for Ute Lemper?

I’ll be doing a 70 years of liberation concert in Rome. I’m showcasing songs that were written in the death camps. Most are in Yiddish and German. I’m finishing up a great project with Paul Coelho called 9 Secrets, from his work, Manuscripts found in Accra. I did the original music for it, so I’m very excited about that.

I also released an album of love songs based on the poems of Pablo Neruda.

Ute, thank you so much for your time. Lexington’s lucky to have you for this special night!

Of course. Thank you!

Photo by Lucas Allen

Photo by Lucas Allen

Tickets to the New Year’s Eve Celebration range from $25-$75 with $11 student tickets as available. Special seating is also available for parties of four with bottle service of champagne at prices of $500 for cabaret tables and $600 for box seating. Price of the special seating includes one bottle of champagne. Bottle service is limited to ticket holders over 21-years of age. Valet parking is available for $10 per car at the Short Street Entrance to the Lexington Opera House.

A New Year’s Eve Dinner at Portofino’s will be hosted following the concert by LexPhil for $75 per person. Tickets include a three-course prix fixe menu and Champagne toast, and must be purchased in advance by December 26, 2014.  20 percent of dinner ticket is tax-deductible, as allowed by law, and will benefit LexPhil.

Ute Lemper will perform at the Lexington Opera House on December 31st at 7:30. To purchase tickets, click here, or call (859) 233-4226.

Arts

Phyne Art: UnderMain’s Sebastian chats with Brian Greene

Physicist Brian Greene

Physicist Brian Greene

The Lexington Philharmonic recently presented Heroes: Eroica and Icarus in the orchestra’s Lexington Opera House debut. UnderMain music writer Charles Sebastian chatted with renowned physicist Brian Greene who conceived this modern retelling of the Greek myth of Icarus, replacing the sun of the original with a black hole in space.

First, some background: Eroica or Heroic Symphony was composed in 1804 and originally dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte, though Beethoven later changed his mind. Longer and more richly textured than contemporary symphonic works of its day, the Eroica stands as a breakaway from the classical forms that preceded it. LexPhil conductor Scott Terrell contends that it is for this reason the symphony makes good sense adjacent to the Philip Glass score for Icarus on the Edge of Time.

The novella of Icarus was published in 2008 and sets the well-known story in space with images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The Philip Glass score was commissioned by the World Science Festival in New York, the brainchild of Greene. It has developed a great deal of momentum since its inaugural year in 2008. The film accompanying Icarus was created by surrealist filmmakers Al and Al, with a narrative by Brian Greene and playwright David Henry Hwang, who is perhaps best known for his award-winning play, M. Butterfly. In the Lexington performance, Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker will provide the narrative.

Here’s Sebastian’s conversation with Dr. Greene, speaking from his office in New York City:

What was the germ of Icarus? The one thing that let you know this was the story?

“The Greek myth had fascinated me since childhood, but the deeper piece is about being willing to go against the norm. Being willing to break out of the box with science or with anything is essential to progress and these are the things that create a whole new world. Science is a great story of adventure.”

Why use the media of film and music for science?

“Melding film and music with these scientific ideas I feel teaches science in a deeper way. The recognition of how science affects our daily lives is essential to the quality of our lives and our knowledge of the world around us and ourselves.”

You’re known mainly for your scientific writings. Are you still teaching?

“Oh yes! I maintain my position at Columbia University as a professor of mathematics and physics and I have my graduate students. Writing was a hobby that took off. It makes for a busy schedule. Then there is the World Science Festival, started by me and my wife.”

What role, if any, does education play in Icarus?

“Icarus fits with the general perspective in all my books, which is that they must make science penetrating. The language of science is math and many people have to have it translated. The ideas of science can be big and hard to fathom, and no one wants to feel stupid. By educating through the arts, these ideas are more accessible to most people.”

Was this your first time working with Philip Glass?

“Yes. I didn’t know what to expect. We met on a panel some time ago, he probably doesn’t remember it, but I do, because it happened to be where I met my wife. I sent him a story after the discussion. That was ten years ago.”

That sounds memorable. What was the collaboration with Glass like?

“Highly collaborative. He really wanted to understand the science behind Icarus. He asked me down to his studio one night around 11 o’clock. He was trying to understand how a black hole functions; he was very thorough with his questions and stayed open to my thoughts. Fortunately, we live in the same city, so it was a quick trip to his place.”

Whose decision was it to bring David Henry Hwang into the project?

“Glass’s. He had used Hwang on many previous projects as a librettist and felt it would add to the overall impact if he had a role in the writing.

How many times has Icarus been performed at this point?

“The Lexington performance is around 25. It’s been around the world in places as exotic as Malta.”

Had you delved into theatre or film prior to this?

“Yes. I developed another show that ran for three performances called Spooky Action, which deals with the concept of quantum entanglement. It premiered at the World Science Festival here in New York.”

What is the main ingredient for Icarus that you feel has made it a popular piece?

“I believe it works on so many different levels. Boys and men like it because it is a hero adventure, but then there is the science that goes along with it, that makes it different than the myth from which it’s borrowed.”

It’s obvious in this case that science is affecting the arts. Do you feel your piece somehow affects science, in reverse order?

“It’s a two-way street. Icarus may open up more avenues in art and it might dovetail back into science and somehow affect processes within it. It’s hard to say, but I would like to think that would be the case.”

How do you find working in collaboration?

“It’s one of the things that most excites me: working in new forms with others. I can spread my own wings in ways that are challenging and new.”

Will we hear more about Icarus?

“A sequel is planned, hopefully to coincide with the 100th anniversary of General Relativity.”