Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Win Tickets to The Detroit Science Center!

In honor of the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day and the upcoming production of The Very Last Green Thing, showing at the Detroit Opera House, Saturday, April 24, the Michigan Opera Theater will be hosting a competition asking participants to describe how their family is "going green" for a chance to win a family 4-pack of tickets to the Detroit Science Center.

Participants are encouraged to describe, in 100 words or less, how their family "goes green" and have until 5 p.m. tomorrow, Thursday, April 22 (Earth Day), to enter the competition. Contestants can send their responses to with "The Very Last Green Thing Competition" entered in the subject line of the email.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Neoclassical music meets Rock in Trans-Siberian Orchestra's performance of Beethoven's Last Night 2010

The Detroit Opera House lends its stage to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in their performance of "Beethoven's Last Night". The multi-platinum selling orchestra which is known for producing christmas carols in a rock opera style, will be performing at the opera house during their 2010 tour Wednesday, April 21, 2010.

"Beethoven's Last Night" which was released in 2000, as the bands first non-christmas album, tells the story of Beethoven's final night on earth, during which he meets fate, her son Twist and Mephistopheles, one of the seven princes of hell. "Beethoven's Last Night" is one of TSO's gold-selling albums and peaked Billboard Charts at number 165.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra was founded in 1996 by Paul O'Niell and friends, Jon Oliva, Robert Kinkel and Al Pitrelli. The orchestra is largely known for incorporating neoclassical, symphonic music with progressive hard rock/metal. The orchestra also stages elaborate concerts with a full light show complete with pyrotechnics. While recording the group requires a 60-piece orchestra and choir and 14 vocalists, 14 musicians and 2 narrators while on stage.

Before founding Trans-Siberian Orchestra Paul O'Niell worked with rock bands managing and producing big names like Aerosmith, Humble Pie and the Scorpions. O'Niell now works as the orchestra's composer, lyricist and producer along with Jon Oliva who works also works as the composer. Robert Kinkel works as the orchestras co-producer, key board player, and Music Director and Al Pitrelli works as the guitarist and Music Director.

Trans-Siberian Orchestra's albums have included five studio albums and six compilation albums. Among them are 1996's Christmas Eve & Other Stories, 1998's The Christmas Attic, 2004's The Lost Christmas Eve and 2006's live Prince of Peace (Live).

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Queen of the Night: An interview with Soprano Jennifer Rowley

Cast in the leading female role as Donna Anna, in Michigan Opera Theater’s production of Don Giovanni, you never would've guessed that this is the singers first time appearing in the opera, let alone in the role. You also would’ve never guessed that the singer is a relatively young artist who made her operatic debut back in 2003, as The First Lady, in Cleveland Opera’s production of "The Magic Flute.”

Born and raised in Ohio, the soprano admits that her introduction to opera was “funny”- explaining that she hadn’t heard her first opera until she was 21. “I sang in choir and in musicals but that was about it; I also liked sports,” Rowley said. “My high school choir director suggested that I take voice lessons, I eventually did, then my voice teacher recommended that I try opera but I wanted to sing musical theatre,” her focus then, as an undergrad at Baldwin-Wallace’s Conservatory of Music. All that changed when her voice teacher encouraged her to sing Mozart's "Queen of the Night" aria, which the budding artist did successfully, a feat rarely accomplished by young opera singers, she tells me. “I switched to opera in my sophomore year even though I still hadn’t seen one,” she laughs.

Shortly after that, Rowley was picked as the very first student to participate in an exchange program for young artists with the Instituto Superior del Arte of the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While she was there she studied Italian and saw her first opera La Traviata which she fell in love with. When she returned to Baldwin-Wallace she began to study acting more seriously especially in her last two years, the subject eventually became her minor, “ I studied the Stanislavski method and Shakespeare, I also studied a lot of period pieces, as I felt these were important because operas are usually very traditional.” After that Rowley attended Indiana University’s School of Music in pursuit of her Masters degree. “The program focused only on the musical side” she said, happy that she had made the decision to take acting as an undergrad. In the summer between her second and third year as a graduate student she left IU for Middlebury College, a language immersion college in Vermont, where she studied in the German for Singers program. “They teach every language you can possibly think of,” she says, “from the time you arrive to the time you leave everything is taught in another language.” “I returned to IU fluent in German before I graduated” she laughs.

At 23, Rowley made her debut as The First Lady in the Cleveland Opera’s production of "The Magic Flute" “It was amazing, I was in my hometown and all my family lived close by, it was an awesome experience” she said of her debut. The singer also got to work with Conductor Anton Coppola, a highly regarded conductor in the world of opera. For the first rehearsal with the orchestra the conductor asked her to sing “Queen of the Night” because the singer cast as the Queen was unavailable. “I don’t know how he knew I could sing it,” she said recalling the moment. “I was really nervous, I was the youngest in the cast and was singing with established opera singers like Cythia Haymon-Coleman.” “When it was my turn to sing the conductor pointed to me and said, “Are you ready child?” she said, playfully imitating the conductor. After she got done singing the aria all the singers and members of the orchestra stood up and applauded her. “That normally doesn’t happen,” she said still amazed. Impressed by her singing Coppola told the artist that she was a star. “It was a huge honor for me” she says recalling the moment.

After graduating from IU, the soprano moved to New York where she met her current voice coach, Rita Shane. She also traveled to Italy to study at the Teatro Communale di Bologna as a young artist. There she took voice lessons and acting in Italian, the program was also a language immersion program.

A typical performance day for the singer, she tells me, “Is all about relaxation.” “I usually sleep very late, my voice is at it’s peak at around three or four in the afternoon, so I trick my body into getting into that mode by sleeping later during performance days,” she says. The singer tells me that breakfast is also very important emphasizing protein. “I usually have eggs with toast and peanut butter- I have to have peanut butter. I also drink two-to-three cups of coconut water, then I don’t eat for the rest to the day.” Explains the singer, out of fear of developing acid reflux or a stomachache during the night of her performance, she also likes to eat fruit. The singer doesn’t usually like to talk during performance days instead she chooses to stay quiet. She also drinks cups hot water with a slice of lemon and honey, a trick she learned from her voice instructor. When explaining what its like for her backstage she tells me that she tries to stay calm and have fun-usually arriving to the theatre an hour and a half before, with her laptop in-hand listening to pop music. After the performance is over she tells me that she’s usually very hungry and needs at least one beer.

Non-performance or auditions days are similar to performance days for the artist in terms of caring for her voice and in trying to maintain a calm and relaxed demeanor. She tells me that its just as important to take care of yourself during audition season, as one can audition twice a day, 2-4 times a week. Audition season in NY typically runs from mid September to mid December, ending about a week before Christmas. “We’re all usually sick during the holiday,” she jokes, implying that the illnesses they work so hard to fight off eventually catch up to them.

Of all the roles Rowley has appeared in her favorite wasn't as a performer but as a cover or stand-in as Violetta in Verdi’s Opera “La Traviata,” while working with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. The singer got the opportunity to sing the role during the first week of rehearsals due to the late arrival of the opera singer originally cast for the part. “It affected me so deeply” she said, of the musical experience, “you know what’s going on emotionally because of what is written in the music, even if you have no idea what is being said” she says. “It was such an honor, I left the room crying everyday”, “Even the novel “La dame aux camellias” by Dumas is so touching, it’s a story about immense love, it leaves me speechless, the opera is unbelievable and has never been matched by anything I’ve performed since.”

When asked about her current role as Donna Anna in Mozart’s Opera Don Giovanni Rowley explains that while it was the most difficult role she’s ever worked on, she never thought she would sing Donna Anna. “ I always thought of it as a “big girl” role,” she said, clarifying the fact that she’s still making the transition from young to established artist. “I always thought I had to be at the top of my game,” said the singer. Although Rowley felt this way she knew playing the role was “the next best step” so she began working on it while in Italy. “It turns out that it was the right step and I was completely wrong in my thinking, the role fits like a glove,” Rowley said.

To prepare for her roles the singer delves into research about the characters, the period and the story itself. “I want to know as much as possible” says Rowley. To successfully play Donna Anna she feels that its important for the actor to figure out what it is the character wants and what the character has to do to get what she wants. “Its all about what the audience doesn’t know” explains the singer “to be and to do, you have to understand who they [the characters] are and where they are coming from because it defines the very way you go about getting what you want in the scene” she says quoting an admired thespian thinker. The singer describes Donna Anna as a conundrum or the pivot of the opera. She says as an actor you have to ask yourself if you are going to go for the truth or deceit when playing Donna Anna. The truth being that, Donna Anna had no idea that the man in her room was Don Giovanni and that he raped her; or the deceit being that, she knew it was Don Giovanni, claimed to think it was Don Ottavio and that it is actually guilt, that motivates her to avenge her fathers death throughout the opera. “The way you choose to play it, decides how the rest of the opera changes or follows.” “You have to come in with a distinct choice” she says, pointing out that the director and creator, John Pascoe, for MOT’s production chooses “the truth”.

When asked to describe what it has been like working with the other singers of Don Giovanni, Rowley tells me that she’s an awe everyday. The singer describes working with soprano Kelly Kaduce as fascinating “You can tell she has made clear decisions, has a clear back story and always has an inner monologue going on for what her character wants in each scene." When describing what it has been like working with Robert, Burak and David she tells me that it has been educational listening the way the three phrase the Italian lyrics because they all speak Italian fluently and so beautifully. Rowley also says that she has no words when it comes to working with Don Giovanni’s conductor Christian Badea. “I’m just so blessed to be doing Donna Anna with this conductor, he’s so strong in what he wants from the singers, It’s been the greatest experience, he makes you a better singer.” She also described her experience working with the stage director, Chia Patino, as being “such a pleasure” as she’s so clear in what she wants.

When asked whether she has had the opportunity to tour the area, the singer tells me that she’s familiar with Detroit, actually having stayed in Royal Oak throughout her childhood. “Detroit is really interesting, I love the architecture,” says the artist. During her free time Rowley tells me that she walks along the river walk. She also tells me that, what she really wants to do, is go see the Tigers play on Opening Day. “They’re playing against Cleveland, my hometown” she says.

When asked about her musical preferences Rowley tells me that she enjoys listening to pop, rock and country music. She also likes listening to jazz and the blues. She’s currently into British musician, Jamie Cullum, a classically trained pianist who takes American pop music and twists them with jazz. She also likes listening to Matt Nathanson and Alison Krauss. The singer also tells me that she’s addicted to American Idol and is currently rooting for season’s finalist, Lee DeWyze.

Other than opera the artist loves to learn about wine and is a self professed “foodie”. She tells me how a trip to a vineyard in Tuscany sparked her love for wine. She also likes attending wine tastings and reading and about the different regions that make wine. The singer also states that New York is a fantastic place to live for someone who loves food as one can find something different to eat every night. It's not just eating the food that interests her she tells me it’s the fact that there’s a science behind the combining and the preparation of certain foods. The singer also loves sports particularly baseball and football. “The Colts let me down” she says referring to their super bowl loss. She also tells me that she’s plays on a softball team, and likes to play volleyball. The singer also has an interest in Spanish and Mexican art. When asked about her pet peeves Rowley tells me, singers who talk about singing all the time, “It should be left at the theatre,” she say’s laughing.

The last movie the singer saw was "Inglorious Basterds". “It was a fabulous movie, incredible acting” she said. The artist was impressed by actor, Christoph Waltz’s performance, who won an Oscar for his role in the movie. The singer also shares with me her favorite operas, Verdi’s "La Traviata" and Puccini’s "Tosca" and when asked if she has ever performed outside of opera she tells me that she has as a college and high school student appearing in musicals and in the choir. She also tells me that she would love to play the Prima Donna, Carlotta, in Phantom of the Opera. The farthest her career has taken her, geographically, is Buenos Aries, Argentina. And according to Rowley the hardest thing about being an opera singer is the politics involved in the business. “It really gets to you” she says. “A lot of times amazing singers don’t get heard because they don’t have the political connections to break into the business.” “It can be very hard and disappointing.”

The advice the young singer has for aspiring opera singers and those trying to make a career in the performing arts is that they should own who they are and own what they do. She also says that it’s important that they believe in themselves or no one else will believe in you either. “Being a singer is very hard and if you’re not set and happy with who you are and what you do better than anyone else, you won’t get there,” she says. She also says that it helps to have thick skin because there is so much more rejection than acceptance at times.

If Jennifer was not an opera singer she tells me that she would like to move to Napa or live in a villa in Tuscany to work in a vineyard. “I’m very interested in the wine making process and the life of the grape” she says.

You can see Jennifer Rowley as Donna Anna in MOT’s production of Don Giovanni at the Detroit Opera House, April 16th and the 18th. This production marks her debut with the company.