SEAN PANIKKAR – Tenor, Pittsburgh Opera

Ahoy! Tonight, ‘Burgh Vivant is with Tenor Sean Panikkar on the set of Pittsburgh Opera’s production of MOBY DICK, by Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer, performing March 17, 20, 23 & 25, 2018. For tickets and more information, visit www.pittsburghopera.org  Continue reading “SEAN PANIKKAR – Tenor, Pittsburgh Opera”

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SEAN PANIKKAR - Tenor, Pittsburgh Opera
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LIZ BERLIN – Co-Owner, Mr. Smalls Theatre

TONIGHT: get to know Liz Berlin, co-owner of Mr. Smalls Theatre, and member of the band Rusted Root! All topics are on the table, including Snoop Dogg, how the theatre got its name, and the upcoming Social Justice Disco on December 14th, 2017. Also, how do you desanctify a church? All this and more tonight on ‘Burgh Vivant! Visit Mr Smalls Theatre at www.mrsmalls.com . For tickets and more information on Dec. 14th’s Social Justice Disco, click here: http://ticketf.ly/2BJ6JXa  Continue reading “LIZ BERLIN – Co-Owner, Mr. Smalls Theatre”

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LIZ BERLIN - Co-Owner, Mr. Smalls Theatre
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Liz Berlin: Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh performs at Mr. Smalls

This January, two Pittsburgh musical giants collide: Mr. Smalls Theatre and The Mendelssohn Choir! Liz Berlin, Co-Owner of Mr. Smalls (which typically hosts the likes of Snoop Dogg and Pittsburgh’s own cosmic Jazz Chanteuse, Phat Man Dee), chats about the Choir’s upcoming venture into the words and music of legendary folksinger, Bob Dylan. It’s a modern/classic fusion, both in program and venue! Don’t miss this rare opportunity to enjoy The Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh’s presentation of The Music of Bob Dylan, January 25th through 28th, 2018, with composer and conductor Steve Hackman and the Robert Page Music Director of the Mendelssohn Choir Matthew Mehaffey. For tickets and more information, visit www.themendelssohn.orgContinue reading “Liz Berlin: Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh performs at Mr. Smalls”

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Liz Berlin: Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh performs at Mr. Smalls
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Pittsburgh Festival Opera honors First Place Winner Meghan Kasanders at 7th Mildred Miller Competition

PITTSBURGH, PA (October 24, 2017) — First Place Winner Meghan Kasanders, 26, led the field of nine finalists at Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Seventh Annual Mildred Miller International Voice Competition with her performances of Dich, teure Halle from Wagner’s Tannhäuser and “Come scoglio” from Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte on Sunday, Oct. 22 at The Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh.

The New York-based soprano received a $6,000 prize supported by Pittsburgh Festival Opera Board Member Phyllis Sidwell.

The slate of winners also included:

Shannon Jennings, 29, soprano, Pittsburgh, PA – Second Prize of $5,000, made possible by anonymous donor.

Melinda Whittington, 33, soprano, Charlotte, NC – Rob Chafin Third Prize of $4,000, made possible by Jamini Davies.

Corrie Stallings, 29, mezzo soprano, Pittsburgh, PA – Mildred Miller Mezzo-Soprano Prize, supported by Mildred Miller Posvar who announced her endowment of this new $1,000 award on stage.

Errin Duane Brooks, 32, tenor, New York, NY – Audience Favorite Prize, a $1,000 award made possible by Pittsburgh Festival Opera Board President Dr. Eugene and Barbara Myers, and selected via a vote by audience members.

Jeff Byrnes, 28, baritone, Detroit, MI – Judges’ Commendation and contract offer, with all finalists receiving a special commendation made possible by an anonymous donor for their participation.

The finalists were joined on stage by Company founder, competition judge, and competition namesake Mildred Miller Posvar, Pittsburgh Festival Opera Artistic Director Jonathan Eaton, and host Jim Cunningham of WQED-FM who introduced the singers during the three-hour event in the Frick’s intimate theater.

In 2017, the panel of five judges included: Mildred Miller Posvar, founder of Pittsburgh Festival Opera and acclaimed Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano; Jonathan Eaton, Artistic Director of Pittsburgh Festival Opera and Professor of Music/Margot and Bill Winspear Chair in Opera

Studies, University of North Texas College of Music; Robert Chafin, tenor, Assistant Professor of Voice, West Virginia University School of Music; Timothy LeFebvre, baritone and Associate Professor of Singing, Oberlin College Conservatory; and Jane Eaglen, dramatic soprano, whose storied career includes leading roles in the operas of Wagner, Verdi, and Puccini among many others. Her international performance and teaching career has taken her to the leading opera houses and academic centers of the world.

Pianists for the competition were James Lesniak and Stephen Variames.

Explore the Pittsburgh Festival Opera Facebook page for the live videos and news on all the award winners.

ABOUT THE MILDRED MILLER COMPETITION WINNER

American soprano Meghan Kasanders is quickly gaining recognition as a promising young dramatic voice. Ms. Kasanders is currently working towards an Artist Diploma in Opera Studies (ADOS) at the Marcus Institute for Vocal Arts at The Juilliard School, New York City. After a recent tour of singing Berta in The Barber of Seville with Des Moines Metro Opera’s ‘Opera Iowa’, Ms. Kasanders sings her company debut with Opera Saratoga in Saratoga Springs, New York in June. As an Apprentice Artist there, she will cover Alice Ford in Verdi’s Falstaff, and sing the role of Sadie Pollock in Cradle Will Rock, directed by John Mauceri. Ms. Kasanders will make another company debut with Union Avenue Opera in St. Louis, Missouri, returning to a favorite role, Gertrude (Mutter) in Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel.  Read more at: https://www.meghankasanders.com/

ABOUT PITTSBURGH FESTIVAL OPERA

Celebrating 41st Season in 2018

Pittsburgh Festival Opera was founded in 1978 by Mildred Miller Posvar, acclaimed Metropolitan Opera mezzo-soprano. In its 19th year under Artistic Director Jonathan Eaton, the Festival launches its 41st season of innovative and intimate opera and music events, June 29-July 22, 2018:

  • Rhinegold, the opening opera in the reprise of its “Pittsburgh Ring,” a multi-season run of Wagner’s four opera master work in Jonathan Dove’s acclaimed English version, first produced in Pittsburgh by the company in 2005-2006. Rhinegold opens the series with the three other operas following through 2021 when all four Ring Cycle operas will be staged.
  • La boheme, in a new 1960’s production inspired by the work of Pittsburgh-born artist Andy Warhol. Puccini’s tragic romance will be transported from Paris to the artist garrets and streets of mid-century America.
  • Arabella by Richard Strauss, in a continuing series of rare and ravishing Richard Strauss operas. Arabella is the fifth Strauss opera to be featured in recent summer seasons.

In addition, a workshop for the company’s 29th world premiere project, “Fight for the Right,” will be a featured part of the summer season.  “Fight for the Right” is a global commissioning competition for composers and librettists to propose new works based on themes of women’s and girls’ education. From the pool of submissions, four teams will be selected to present scenes from their work in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s 2018 season. From that performance, one work will be chosen to be developed into a full-length opera for the 2019 season, continuing the company’s “Music That Matters” series—presenting new works on issues relevant to modern audiences.

Other programming includes a Saturday morning family opera (Goldie B. Locks) and recitals featuring members of the Young Professional Artists Program.

Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Mainstage is the 360-seat Falk Auditorium, Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh’s thriving East End. Events are also held in community venues during the season and throughout the year. Details and schedules at: PittsburghFestivalOpera.org

Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s Mildred Miller International Voice Competition heats up this weekend

By Dave Zuchowski, ‘Burgh Vivant

Pittsburgh Festival Opera announces Semi-Finalists for the Mildred Miller International Voice Competition. Emerging vocal artists between the ages of 18 and 35 who are accomplished but not yet able to sustain themselves in their profession, will compete for cash prizes as well as be given a chance to be cast in solo roles for the company’s 41st season.

The competition is named for the company’s founder, opera diva Mildred Miller, who firmly believes in supporting young singers. This year’s Seventh Mildred Miller International Voice Competition is scheduled for October 21 (the Semi-Final Round) and October 22 (the Final Round). According to Joel Goodloe, associate artistic director, 250 singers applied for the competition from 18 countries.
Eight singers, selected by the judges from Saturday’s Semi-Final Round pool of 20 candidates, will present arias during the Final Round. From these eight finalists, three will be selected as winners and a fourth will be chosen as “Audience Favorite.” Winners receive cash prizes ranging from $4,000 to $6,000 as well as offers for resident artist contracts in Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s 2018 summer season.
Besides Ms. Miller the other judges on the panel include Robert Chafin, Assistant Professor of Voice, West Virginia University School of Music Jonathan Eaton, Artistic Director of Pittsburgh Festival Opera and Professor of Music/Margot and Bill Winspear Chair in Opera Studies, University of North Texas Timothy LeFebvre, Associate Professor of Singing, Oberlin College Conservatory Jane Eaglen, Professor of Voice, New England Conservatory, Internationally acclaimed Wagnerian soprano.
Candidates for the Semi-Finals are featured in this mosaic.
In addition to being a member of the judging panel, Rob Chafin also serves as the Young Artist Program Director for Pittsburgh Festival Opera. He took time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions about the competition:
Q: Rob, I understand that each of the contestants get to pick five vocal selections for their audition and start off with one of these as their first choice. After listening to the first selection, the judges then confer and pick a second selection from their list.
A: Each contestant is given roughly ten to 15 minuets before the panel of judges and accompaniment is provided by Pittsburgh Festival Opera via James Lesniak, associate coach at Pittsburgh Opera and Stephen Varianes, head coach for Pittsburgh Festival Opera. At the end of Day One, the judges pick 8 of the 20 singers who go on to the finals the following day. One Day Two, they will again perform two songs from their pre-selected list. Cash prizes of $6,000, $5,000 and $4,000 are awarded the first, second and third place winners, with another $1,000 going to the winner of an Audience Favorite Award. On day two, the singers again select their first piece, then the judges will ask for another selection. Sometimes, the panel might chose to request a third piece, or a part of an aria or song, depending on time, to help with evaluating the singers. The judges try to ask for contrasting selections to help narrow down the field in the semi-finals and to award the prizes at the finals. Cash prizes for first, second and third are awarded to the winners during the competition, with an extra $3,000 given to those winners who come to Pittsburgh Festival Opera and sing a role with the company. The Audience Favorite Award is determined at the conclusion of the final round by the people in attendance and is then given at the Award’s Ceremony following deliberation by the judges. Sometimes the Audience Favorite and the judges’ decision are not the same, and that is what makes a competition so exciting. In order to assure fairness and clarity, the judges use a point system, listening to the singers and then ranking them based on many factors . We want to select complete musicians that would be ready to accept a leading role in a company, looking at such things as vocal color and beauty of tone, language skills, musical and artistic expression, dramatic energy and engagement to the text.
Q: As a judge, what do you look for in a singer and how does the panel finally manage to arrive at their final decisions?
A: Of course, a beautiful voice, produced in a healthy way, and the ability to sing with musicality is important, but I look for that singer who can make me put down my pencil or pen and just listen to their story. A chance to just sit back and relax and experience the talent they bring to the competition.
Q: In the same vein, how do you judge 20 singers, all of whom have great voices and are different performers, different genders, different voice types? What are some qualities a successful singer should have? What is the “it” factor?
A: As a competitor in these situations, it is often difficult to relax and be spontaneous, but that is something that makes a difference between winning and doing well. And, these days, singing is getting better and better, and the competition is fiercer. So my suggestion to emerging artists is to find YOUR voice and sing without pressure, because it is that unique talent and sound that will help you move forward in your career path. A successful singer needs a solid technique, nerves of steel and the ability to act without being over-the-top. In other words, be so prepared that you can forget all of that when you go out and announce your first piece and just show what you can do. Mesmerize us – make us laugh – make us cry – but, make concrete choices that will show us where you are. I think the thing that younger singers need to realize is that the judges are there and WANT you to do your best.
 Q: How does Pittsburgh Festival Opera connect rising singers with professional opportunities through the competition and to its season through training, roles and more?
A: During the summer, we try and connect the young artists with the directors, conductors, pianists and singers through coaching and different sessions. But, the networking happens all summer. As we come together at the first “death-by-aria” meeting, when all young artists arrive, we listen to each other, and the teaching and directorial staff have a chance to get acquainted to the singers again. Then, we make decisions on what the singers need and who would work better with the different young artists.
The Semifinal Round is scheduled from 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on October 21 at the Kresge Theater on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University, and the public is invited to attend free of charge although advance reservations are strongly recommended.
The Final Round is from 2 to 5 p.m. on October 22 at the Frick Art and Historical Center, 7227 Reynolds Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze neighborhood. WQED-FM’s Jim Cunningham will  host the Final Round.
For more information about the Pittsburgh Festival Opera, click here.

Pittsburgh Festival Opera opens Handel’s Comic Opera XERXES

by Dave Zuchowski, ‘Burgh Vivant.

George Frideric Handel’s opera “Xerxes” defies some of the preconceived notions audiences might have about the great Persian ruler, often billed as the “king of kings.” For one, who would have thought to create a comic opera about so august a historical figure?

Most times, persons of Xerxes rank are given the demigod treatment. Who would dare to tarnish the heroic image of one so high in the Pantheon of human history with such banal and cavalier treatment? 

Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s XERXES. Photo by Patti Brahim.

With this in mind, the plot also takes an astonishing, unexpected turn in its unfolding of the multiple romances and complicated intrigues that take place between the king, his brother, two sisters and a foreign princess. One would probably bet on Xerxes, an absolute ruler of the ancient mold, to come out on top in any amorous tug-of-war that pits him against less powerful suitors. Surprise! Such is not the case.

Another iconoclastic moment comes from the casting requirements. You’d probably expect so powerful a king and ruler to be sung by an alpha male voice such as a tenor or baritone. Instead, Handel’s opera calls for not one but two castrati, one of which portrays Xerxes, the other his brother, Arsamene.

In the Pittsburgh Festival Opera production which opens on the evening of July 14th at the Falk Auditorium in Shadyside, the cast is blessed by what director Daniel Rigazzi calls “two world class countertenors” (who sing in the same vocal range as their Baroque predecessors) who also happen to be two of the best regarded in the nation.

Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s XERXES. Photo by Patti Brahim.

“In the day of Baroque opera, countertenors were the pop stars of their era,” Rigazzi said. “There’s a place for this sort of masculinity in our own culture. Just look at the adulation commanded by the lead singers for Journey and Queen. As Baroque opera has come back into popularity, there are a lot more countertenors now – along with a lot more work for their talents.”

Starring in the title role, countertenor Andrey Nemzer has performed in each of the Festival Opera’s six summer seasons. Winner of the 2011 Mildred Miller International Voice Competition, Nemzer performed the role of Handel’s Julius Caesar last year for Pittsburgh Festival Opera and has made appearances at the Metropolitan Opera, Opera San Antonio, the Pittsburgh Symphony and more.

Cast in the role of Arsamene, countertenor Daniel Moody, a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory with a Master’s from the Yale School of Music and Institute of Sacred Music, has sung in several Early Music festivals and with numerous symphonies and music venues across the nation.

Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s XERXES. Photo by Patti Brahim.

Early on in the opera, be sure to listen for one of Xerxes’ aria highlights, “Ombra ma fu,” the only operatic love aria I know that’s sung to a tree. The fact that the tree is sacred only slightly diminishes the foolishness of this bit of regal eccentricity, which also turns out to be one of Handel’s best-known (and beautiful) melodies, often referred to as “Largo”

“Xerxes” is one of Handel’s later operas penned at a time when his career as a composer of opera was on the wane,” Rigazzi said. “At the time, he was experimenting with the aria form and rethinking convention.”

In his composition, Handel incorporated short, one-movement arias into the work in an era when audiences were accustomed to long, three-movement, de capo arias. This innovation plus his mix of comic elements into the work may have contributed to the opera’s early failure with his 18th century audience.

First performed as an oratorio in March 1738, “Xerxes” made the stage of the King’s Theater as an opera seria two weeks later but lasted for only five performances. For nearly 200 years, the work fell into obscurity until it reemerged onto the stage in the mid-1920s, along with a resurgence of interest in Baroque music. Today, it is one of Handel’s most popular operas, second only to “Julius Caesar.”

In preparing to direct to opera, Rigazzi said that a fascinating aspect of 18th century opera is the fact that the singers performed in front of painted roll drops with very little movement on their part, a practice not to the taste of modern audiences.

“Baroque operas are open-ended,” he said. “In more contemporary operas, the stage movements are almost always spelled out. For ‘Xerxes,’ I had to do a lot of research and investigation and study how each character changes through the arias.”

The opera’s libretto, written by Giovanni Bononcini, had been used multiple times before Handel set it to music. Rigazzi said, in the 18th century, librettos were frequently passed around and that composers were free to make any adjustments they deemed necessary.

“Handel had an amazing sense of drama,” Rigazzi said. “He really knew how to pace the story and was a master of theatricality.”

Befitting a Baroque opera, Pittsburgh’s beloved Chatham Baroque ensemble forms the core of a 14 musician ensemble under the baton of Walter Morales. Set in Persia, “Xerxes” treatment by scenic designer, Hank Bullington, has, according to Rigazzi  “one foot in that ancient middle eastern country, one foot in the 18th century, but still retains a modern feel.” To add even more visual ambiance, Bullington incorporates a series of vibrant projections onto the set.

“A lot of different elements go into creating a fictitious world, an almost fairy tale  world of delight but one that realizes a unified whole,” said Rigazzi, who’s directed theater and opera for 25 years – everything from Shakespeare and Puccini to contemporary plays and musicals. Since 2008, he’s also been on the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera of New York.

“While I am a Handel enthusiast, I don’t consider myself a Baroque opera specialist,” said Rigazzi, who also directed last summer’s “Julius Caesar,” another Handel opera.

With a period orchestra, Handel’s glorious music and a cast of exceptional singers including two of the nation’s most respected countertenors, Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s “Xerxes” is a not-to-be-missed production.

Handel’s “Xerxes” is at the Falk Auditorium at the Winchester Thurston School, 555 Morewood Avenue in Pittsburgh (Shadyside) at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, July 14 and Saturday, July 22 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 16. Tickets and more information can be found HERE.

– DZ.

ANNA SINGER – Vocalist, Pittsburgh Festival Opera

TONIGHT: The delightful Anna Singer pays a visit to ‘Burgh Vivant in the middle of her run as Mrs. Lovett in SWEENY TODD with Pittsburgh Festival Opera – a production that ‘Burgh Vivant’s Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli calls “beautiful and macabre.” Three performances of Pittsburgh Festival Opera’s SWEENY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET remain: July 15th, 20th, and 22nd, 2017. For tickets and more information, visit www.pittsburghfestivalopera.org   Continue reading “ANNA SINGER – Vocalist, Pittsburgh Festival Opera”

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ANNA SINGER - Vocalist, Pittsburgh Festival Opera
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CHRISTOPHER HAHN – General Director, Pittsburgh Opera

TONIGHT: the distinguished and charming Christopher Hahn, General Director of Pittsburgh Opera! This evening, he and host Brian Edward share a martini and discuss what an Opera’s General Director actually does, the staying power of opera in Pittsburgh, and the exciting world premiere of Pittsburgh Opera’s THE SUMMER KING, the story of legendary baseball player Josh Gibson, who had some very close ties to Pittsburgh. The performance begins April 29th and runs through May 7th, 2017. For tickets and more information visit www.pittsburghopera.org. ‘Burgh Vivant films weekly at Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation in beautiful downtown Pittsburgh.   Continue reading “CHRISTOPHER HAHN – General Director, Pittsburgh Opera”

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CHRISTOPHER HAHN - General Director, Pittsburgh Opera
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ALEXANDRA LOUTSION – Soprano, Pittsburgh Opera

TONIGHT: Soprano Alexandra Loutsion chats about approaching the title role in Pittsburgh Opera’s TURANDOT, channeling Maria Callas, and the long lineage of famous Canonsburg vocalists! See Pittsburgh Opera’s production of Puccini’s TURANDOT, directed by Renaud Doucet, conducted by Antony Walker, performing at the Benedum Center March 25, 28, 31, and April 2, 2017. Tickets and more information at www.pittsburghopera.org. ‘Burgh Vivant films weekly at Point Park University’s Center for Media Innovation in beautiful downtown Pittsburgh.  Continue reading “ALEXANDRA LOUTSION – Soprano, Pittsburgh Opera”

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ALEXANDRA LOUTSION - Soprano, Pittsburgh Opera
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Review: POETRY UNPLUGGED: Music, Poetry & Activism

Mike “Buzz” Buzzelli drops in to chat about POETRY UNPLUGGED: MUSIC, POETRY, & ACTIVISM held on January 13th, 2017 at the August Wilson Center in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, presented by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. The event was hosted by Mahogany L. Browne (curator and host of NUYORICAN POETS CAFE) with DJ Jive Poetic, and special guests Gabriela Garcia Medina, Prentiss Powell, Nate James, the Brooklyn 2016 Slam Team, and W. Ellington Felton.   Continue reading “Review: POETRY UNPLUGGED: Music, Poetry & Activism”

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Review: POETRY UNPLUGGED: Music, Poetry & Activism
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