Monday, March 30, 2009

Stephen Lord's Interview Q & A's

This is the last part of our interview series for The Elixir of Love. We will have more updates about the Detroit Opera House later this week! Enjoy.

Stephen Lord

What steps do you have to take in order to prepare for the show?

In order for me to prepare for this show, I have to know the singers- In this sort of music you have to know what the singers can and cannot do- you have to rehearse with the singers and have the same common goals. And hopefully the acting will come as we continue to rehearse.

When people start gathering for the production, what is a typical day like for you?

I have to be with the singers individually so we get to know and trust each other. So my typical day I will have an hour or hour and a half with just me the piano and the person and I can hear how they sing it and we come to an agreement. Then we start putting people together so they get to know each other. This is usually a two day process. If we don't establish that rapport in the beginning you don't get a complete product.

How would you compare Elixir of Love to other operas you may have conducted?

To quote Benjamin Brittan “the notes are all the same, they're just arranged differently.” This is a comedy with a lot of heart and I try to find the operas with the most honest sentiment. Its funny, but its also about a lovers misunderstanding. It has its own life in itself. I wouldn't conduct it if I didn't love it.

What is your favorite score of music to conduct?

My favorite operas to conduct are Norma, Salome, and the Marriage of Figaro.

What do you find most fulfilling about your job?

Communicating with my performers. When we're all on the same wave length, theres no feeling like it. Its a love fest. Its the give and take between us as performers. Its the unsaid things thats the most fulfilling part of it.

Is there any kind of unique story you could tell that you have experienced?

I started my career here- my first job is at the MOT doing the barber of Seville on tour. We opened in Alpena, MI, that's where my career started. I'll always be very thankful for starting me on this wild path. And I've been doing this for 35 years. In Michigan I made some of my most significant professional friends first and we've stayed friends this 35 years.

I read in your bio that you have conducted both traditional and contemporary works- Do you
favor one style over another?

Yeah, I favor the traditional ones because they're the ones that need the most help. They've become cliché written, you have to invent the musical demands opposed to contemporary. You have to find out whats behind the notes and not just do the notes.

What kind of relationship do you have to have with the singers in order for the score to come together?

I'm reuniting myself with old friends, but I have several cast members I've never met before, but its establishing new relationships and its very wonderful once you've been in the business for a long time. And I hope it shows to the public. We cant forget in opera that we have the singers but we also have the orchestra, and we have to bring them into the family as we do it.

Anything else you would like to share?

Historically people have found relief from the grind of everyday and the hard times that they have they found it through art and hopefully In these bad times, we can give them back some of what they have invested in by spending money thats hard to come by. Hopefully they'll feel rewarded by us.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

OPERA-TUNE-ITY Continued...

Hello again! As promised, here are Ken's interview questions and answers. Look forward to seeing Stephen Lord's questions and answers tomorrow!

Ken Saltzman

As stage manager for The Elixir of Love, what kind of preparation are you responsible for?

I do a lot of information gathering to prepare the foundation for a good rehearsal process. I prepare a score that I work out of which becomes my production book containing all the cues for the show. I also am the scheduler so I am gathering all the info from the conductor and staff members to coordinate all our production meetings and rehearsals. I touch base with all of the guest artists and make sure that everyone knows whats going on- that everyone is informed and that there are as few surprises as possible. I also work with my two assistants that help me with all of the preparations. We prepare paper work for the rest of the Production team, the rehearsal hall for day-to-day rehearsals, and divide responsibilities to balance our work load.

As we approach the show, what is a typical day in your shoes like?

There are three phases to a shows progress: the preparations and rehearsal period, the tech process, and performances. I prepare a daily schedule, I distribute rehearsal notes to the different departments and keep everyone informed of what’s happening in rehearsals to lay the foundation for tech week. During tech week, everything grows exponentially when we move to the stage. We inform our Stage Hands and Wardrobe and Wigs/Make-up colleagues of what they need to do to support the show. And in the performance process we make sure that everyone is does what they are responsible for so that everything goes swimmingly. It’s a live performance so anything can happen.

What other responsibilities do you have with coordination of all the people involved (cast, musicians, costumes, etc)?

I have contact with everyone for various reasons, from the General Director to the Stage Hands and front-of-house. I have to communicate with everyone.

Is the production of Elixir different than other operas? Is this opera more difficult or easier in any way?

Because it has been put in a more modern time, that changes things a bit. It’s a smaller show in some respects, the cast is smaller, the run of performances is shorter. But for the most part it’s another opera. This seems to be more manageable than many. It's one set that doesn't move, its a smaller Chorus, fewer Supers, fewer Principals, it’s a remount of a show that has been produced before so we are not recreating the wheel.

During the shows, what is your role and how do you make the opera run smoothly?

During performances I see myself as the calm voice through the chaos. It’s essentially up to the Maestro and Stage Management to guide all the variables involved to create a performance. Stage Management is responsible for cueing every entrance including the Maestro, every curtain rising, every lighting change, trouble-shooting when anything goes awry. Once the house lights go to half, there’s no stopping it. In a musical, the actors can improvise or the Orchestra can vamp if something goes wrong, but in opera it’s like a big snowball rolling downhill and there’s no stopping it once the house lights go out. I and my two Assistants do everything possible to support the Artists in giving their best performances.
What do you like most about being the stage manager for an opera?
Everyone has their own talents and I see a large part of mine trying to be a good facilitator so the artists can give their best. I like pulling all the different parts together and creating a whole with all of my colleagues. Its great to see from first rehearsal to closing night especially if it’s a real challenging piece. To see it all come together is very satisfying, along with earning the respect of my colleagues. I get a lot of satisfaction from working with great people.

Is there anything about your job that you would change?

If Stage Managers were compensated more closely to that of their colleagues, better Stage Managers would stay in the business longer.

Are there any unique stories you would like to share?

I was doing a show at which the Producer happened to be a bass baritone. And during the curtain call the Producer said something in a loud bass baritone voice and the stage hand thought I called the curtain in just as the singers lowered their heads for a bow. The curtain was motorized and could not be stopped. And the singers rose up from their bow a fraction of a second before the curtain clobbered them all. The moral of the story is- keep deep-voiced producers away from back stage at all times.

Anything else I can share with my readers?

This is my 8th season with MOT. It's my 27th year in this business. Carmen was my first opera here in 2001 and I’m excited to be doing it again in May. I feel very fortunate to have been entrusted with two world premieres with this Company where most Stage Managers rarely have the opportunity to do one. I'm looking forward to my 9th season.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Hello once again! I appologize that it has been so long from my last post, but I have some amazing interviews to share with you! The Elixir of Love will be at the Detroit Opera House performed by the Michigan Opera Theatre March 27- April 4 (buy tickets at I had a chance to interview the wonderful Soprano, Amanda Squitieri, Production Stage Manager, Ken Saltzman, and conductor, Stephen Lord. I asked them about opera and what it means to them.

Amanda Squitieri

What steps do you have to take in order to prepare for the show?

The first thing that you have to do is first of all make sure that its right for you, second if its a language thats not one of your languages, you start with the text first, because we are telling a story, and since we have words, the text is really important. I read the whole libretto first, and if its in Italian or English I just keep reading through and understand the story. If its in a language I don't know, I go to a diction coach and get a handle of of to pronounce it. And then, for me, once I have a handle on all of the words, the music comes a lot easier. I couldn't imagine just jumping into a piece and going straight to the music. Each language also has it's own melody. And then theres of course, where it takes place, what the people are like, what status your character has, the story- theres just a lot of research that goes into it. Then thinking about your character, you have to think about what you would bring to it. For example, Adina can seem mean, but shes educated and a land owner and she has certain standards and expectations, so you just kinda learn why people act the way they do and you can add the layers on after that.

What is a typical day like for you when you arrive at the Opera House?

The first thing we usually do is a music rehearsal whether its one on one or with a group and run through the whole thing and get to know each other musically a little bit. Before we start the staging.

How would you compare Elixir of Love to other operas you have been apart of?

I love the music, I love the text, its light and comic but it has depth also. Theres some musical lines and text that's pretty deep- its not just a typical slap stick comedy. It can be more than what it seems, its fun and beautiful.

What is your favorite score of music to sing?

I thought I did have one, but this past year, I learned the Cunning Little Vixen and I got introduced to the music...I'm at heart a Puccini girl, and I feel that is where I belong. I think Boheme, I had a lot of fun with Rondine- I think Puccini in general really touches me.

What do you find most fulfilling about your job?

That I get to do it. I am really thankful everyday that this is my job. The fact that I'm doing something that I've wanted to do since I was 12 is really special to me. I love that I get to come to work, tell stories, sing beautiful music, I get to do exactly what it is that I can imagine myself doing.

What sparked your involvement with opera?

I was about 12 years old and I was looking in the news paper and I saw there were auditions for The King And I and I asked my mom if I could audition for it. And I memorized a song from the videocassette and they took me. They were opera pushers and when I was 13 I started taking opera lessons with them, I learned every aria they gave me and I fell in love with it. Its just something that came to me, I didn't search out, but once I found it, I chased after it.

What is your favorite opera?

I don't have a favorite opera, I've sung everything from extreme modern opera to baroque opera. In the end I wind up putting everything I can into each piece I do. A lot of times you become apart of it. You want to tell them the best story that you can. In the end, you give it everything. Naturally you're going to love it.

What do you think makes opera singers unique compared to singers in musicals or pop singers?

First thing is that we have to have a technique that is healthy enough and strong enough to cut through an orchestra without being microphoned in pretty big spaces. Its a completely different way of singing.


Look forward to seeing Ken's interview tomorrow and Stephen's the day after!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Interview with Sarah Smith

Hello once again! As you may know, Romeo and Juliet is being performed this weekend at the DOH by the amazing American Ballet Theatre. I had the chance to interview a member of the corps de ballet, Sarah Smith. Here's what Sarah had to say:

At what age did you start dancing?

I started when I was six and I started to do the pre-professional training when I was 11.

What made you want to become a ballet dancer?

Honestly, I have a sister that is a year older than me, and I did everything she did. So when she started ballet class, I had to start ballet class too. At age 12, I did the ballet Giselle and that was my first big ballet and that’s when I knew I had to do it for a living.

Have you always wanted to dance with ABT?

Yes, it was always a dream to me. I had to dance somewhere, so I would dance for any company as long as I was making a living out of it.

What was you most challenging experience with dance?

I would say injury. My senior year in high school I had a stress fracture in my foot. Just anytime you’re injured its hard.

What was your most accomplishing experience with dance?

Definitely, getting into ABT.

How do you feel dance has made you a better person?

I think with the acting that’s involved, you have to take on so many different roles. It just makes you really get a feel for what each kind of person experiences. It’s also made me appreciate my body more.

What is a day in your shoes like at the ABT?

It varies a lot, but typically class then seven-hour rehearsals with a one-hour break. Some days we’ll have a longer time for breaks than others, it just depends. It’s most strenuous when we’re performing.

What other dreams would you like to accomplish in life?

I would love to have a family one day and experience life with family. If I find another passion with work, then that would be great too.

What do you like most about performing with ABT?

I would say the repertoire that we get to do, the choreographers we get to work with, the costumes, the set. The thing above all that is the people you get to work with, the company members are so great.

Do you have a message you would like to send out to dancers that are reading this blog?

Push through the times that get tough and don’t loose hope because its so rewarding once you get through it. Also, don’t take any one person’s opinion too seriously.

Do you have anything you would like to tell or say to readers in general?

Just love what you do and enjoy every minute of it, whether its ballet or anything.

So come see the show this weekend! I had a sneak-peak and I can say that it's absolutely breathtaking!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009