Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Whistle While You Work

Behind the scenes at Boston Lyric Opera we have administrators of diverse backgrounds and interests working away to bring you beautiful opera. Do we listen to music at work? What do we listen to while we work? It's not all opera all time around here.

Here's what a few of our staff have to say about their listening habits at work:

Heather Laplante, Annual Fund Manager:
Music by Matt Nathanson is my go-to during the workday. It’s mellow, fun, and I’m a sucker for a boy with a guitar.

Nicholas G. Russell, Director of Artistic Operations:
Daytime, I tend not to be listening to music as background--but occasionally am checking recordings or youtube on certain singers.

If I am working late, or weekends, I am more likely to put on 'unsolicited' recordings either of singers seeking work, or composers, looking for a house to put on their work.

With so much listening involved in my day to day activity, I rarely put on music as 'background' as I find myself getting distracted from the work I am doing--listening too much to the music, evaluating it, and not focusing on the task at hand ... so sometimes the best music for me is the white noise of whatever is going on in the background ...

David Cullen, Accounting Manager:
I listen to a mix of opera and Broadway show tunes. When I’m working on a difficult project, I find that Bach, Mozart and Philip Glass help me to concentrate quite well.

What do you listen to while you work? What helps you focus?

More selections from the BLO staff next week!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tis the season!

Please join BLO and your fellow Bostonians this Thursday (12/1) at the 70th Annual Boston Common Tree Lighting when two of our 2011/2012 Emerging Artists Michelle Trainor and David Cushing will sing a few holiday selections to warm the crowd!
The event is scheduled from 6 to 8pm, with Michelle and David singing around 6:15pm.
For more information, visit the full event listing
Happy Holidays!

Monday, November 21, 2011


We’re celebrating 35 seasons of opera by sharing your BLO stories. Your story is unique and makes BLO what it is today.

Here’s one from Noah:
"Macbeth at BLO was the first opera I've ever seen. As a child of the ‘80s, the theater I grew up with had more Schwarzenegger than Soprano; I didn't know Pre-Madonna from Prima Donna.  But opening night at Macbeth changed that for me. My husband and I were captivated by the story and enchanted by the chorus--but most of all we loved Lady Macbeth. She had us from open to close. Even after her death we were both hoping that a new ghost scene might get added to the plot just so she could give an encore."

What’s your BLO story?  Please share it with us below.  Or send it to

In appreciation of sharing your story, all storytellers will receive an invitation to the 2012/2013 Season launch party in spring 2012.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Operatic Recipes

Tired of boring old roast turkey and pumpkin pie?

Try a few new recipes from some operatic kitchen wizards (or in this case to be more specific ... witches). These are excerpted from A Book of (Culinary) Spells which was published by the Medea Press in neighboring Salem for our Hocus Pocus Gala patrons in October and we'd like to share some of them with you ... but be careful in your preparation ... strange things can happen! Bon Appetit!

Do you have a favorite seasonal dish? Perhaps you have an operatic recipe waiting in the wings? Share yours and win your own copy of A Book of (Culinary) Spells for more spooky recipes!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

the wilder things at Macbeth

Charlotte Wilder, creator and author of the wilder things, attended our production of Macbeth and as an ardent classical music and opera fan, shares her thoughts with us.

Wilder Happenings: Boston Lyric Opera's "MacBeth" 

(and what one wears to go see it)
Opera is in my blood. Literally. My grandfather Hugo Weisgall was a composer who wrote over ten operas; his last, Esther, was the season opener for New York City Opera's reopening in 2009. It therefore follows that I grew up listening to opera and classical music (my parents met when my father studied music with Hugo). In fact, when I was in elementary school the only music I listened to was classical, with the exceptions of big band jazz and the occasional Beatles or Rolling Stones album. You can imagine how embarassing it must have been to live through the Spice Girls and not know it, but that's for another post. I can assure you I'm more up-to-date these days. 

BLO Exposed, continued

During last Wednesday's performance of Macbeth, we held our first ever BLO Exposed: An intermission conversation bringing you closer to the opera. We featured BLO Music Director David Angus in conversation with artists from Macbeth live from the stage. We took questions from the audience, who tweeted us their questions. (@BostLyricOpera)

We didn't get to all the questions, so we've answered more of them here! Join us at a Wednesday performance during intermission for the next installment of BLO Exposed.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


I'm breezily skipping over some of the more familiar MACBETH movies (which are certainly not to be thus ignored) Polanski, Welles, what I call the Judi Dench MACBETH (with Ian Mckellen ... directed by Trevor Nunn ... highly recommended by the way), etc. to get at some other takes.

MACBETH ... it's a cinematic natural--ruthless power struggles, violence, murder, insatiable ambition, ghosts, madness, a bit of kinky sex. In that direction MACBETH has translated with apparent ease from royal Scotland to a gang or criminal empire milieu--from JOE MACBETH (1995) a Ken Hughes film with Paul Douglas and Ruth Roman to the 2006 Australian MACBETH starring Sam Worthington (who went on to deal with all those blue people in AVATAR). Set and filmed in Melbourne it overlays Australian accents on top of Elizabethan blank verse for more or less maximum incomprehensibility. The expected violence and buckets of blood plus the seemingly inevitable nudity of the crazed Lady M seems generic and ultimately tiresome. Australians coping with blank verse, Shakespeare and a contemporary vision and psychology are on better display with Baz Luhrmann's ROMEO + JULIET (to my mind a pretty brilliant movie-- but others disagree violently).

, PA. is a 2002 film by Billy Morrissette set in 1970s and revolves around the desperate (and bloody) and eventually grotesque struggle for not a throne but a hamburger drive--in emporium in semi-rural Pennsylvania. Broadly satiric often very funny, it is ultimately dark and disturbing. Containing no verbal Shakespeare to speak of (and a lot ... a lot ... of profanity) it has a kind of manic charm and, yes, a kind of Shakespearean vitality and exuberance and madness. You'll probably either love it ... or hate it ... but you might check it out.

The MACBETH of Patrick Stewart (a film made for PBS and the BBC in 2011 from the stage production seen in New York and London) is for the most part a intense and gripping (and often truly terrifying) vision of the play but the Wes Craven--George Romero horror film trappings can get a little overdone and hence lose their shock. Kate Fleetwood is a neurotic very scary lady and Patrick Stewart speaks the intricate verse and illuminates the depths (both repellant and sympathetic) of Macbeth with profound conviction and even beauty. Set in a kind of mad underground world of a Soviet era dictatorship it is brutal and effective ... and you'll never be comfortable around nurses again. []

Just for fun (and after the Stewart film you may need some) check out Hogwarts:

And for the best Shakespearean film of all (at least in my opinion ... and many others) look at Kurosawa's THRONE OF BLOOD if you don't know it. MACBETH infiltrates a Japanese samurai culture and everybody wins (except for Macbeth...but then he gets one of the greatest death scenes in film) …

--John Conklin

Friday, November 11, 2011


“Blood and murder ignite us”–Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, duet, Act II

Blood and murder fueled the intense production of Boston Lyric Opera’s Macbeth this past Wednesday at The Citi Performing Arts Center Shubert Theatre. Although many people know the story of Macbeth—from those who studied the play in school to those who are Shakespeare aficionados-- the libretto and composition of Giuseppe Verdi’s Macbeth do not always follow the source material.

The score is filled with both sinister and powerful musical themes matched well with equally ominous text or parts of the plot. But, Verdi also composed interesting and specific harmonic choices, some that almost seem too bright or “major” sounding for what is actually being communicated. Those elements of the score, accompanied by David Schweizer’s abstract directorial choices and John Conklin’s somewhat primitive-looking artistry, are very creepy. In many instances this eerie juxtaposition comes to life through the chorus, whose controlled sound and jagged movements dominate several scenes.

At the outset during the overture, a stark stage of a single metal platform greeted the audience. Above this hung dozens of body bags; an unsettling images even for the most “seasoned” opera patron. The Macbeth’s lust for power increases as do the number of unjustified murders, and this progression is visually represented as death on the stage. With each murder (Duncan, Banquo, Lady Macduff and Lady Macbeth), the dead haunt the stage dressed in white. Whether depicted in the dangling body bags or lingering in poignant scenes, it seemed that the dead never quite leave this world, which provided the supernatural effect to the production. At the same time, this highlighted the underlying psychological effects each death has on the progression of the plot. The presence of the dead continues until the final moments of the opera when Macbeth is murdered by Macduff after his one final bloody attempt to maintain his position of power. He is then engulfed by the chorus, who wrap him and raise him up to join the other portentous body bags.

Throughout all of this, the chorus represented the supernatural (the Weird Sisters) and reality (many times portraying soldiers, mobs, etc): another interesting choice by Verdi. Although sometimes the attention distracted from the nuances in the music by the busy staging, overall the energy on the stage and the energy within the music were matched. The driving force was the orchestra, which was especially good, thanks to an elegant approach to the score by Music Director David Angus. When at their full sound, along with the full force of the chorus, the musicians created some magical and pivotal moments. The role of Macbeth was played by Daniel Sutin and Lady Macbeth by Carter Scott, both making their BLO debuts. Each had strong musical moments individually, but were most effective as a conspiring, enabling couple. Banquo (Darren Stokes) had a full voice and had an effective ghostly presence. The moment that seemed to be the favorite of the night was Macduff’s famous aria “Ah, la paterna mano,” sung effortlessly and with elegant line by tenor Richard Crawley. John Irvin (Malcolm), Michelle Trainor (Lady in Waiting) and David Cushing (Doctor), all BLO Emerging Artists, sang well and were memorable despite their smaller roles. Overall, Macbeth was solid across the board and served as an artistic pioneer for the BLO productions to come!

As a singer, attending opera is essential for my education as a musician. But, it is something I also truly enjoy, because the experience is very different and beautiful each time! It was so great to see all of the other eager Boston students come to Wednesday’s Macbeth Student Night. For many of the students that attended, it was their first or second time at the opera, but said it is a cool experience for any age, and that they will definitely return! (Hope to see familiar faces at The Lighthouse!)

--Melanie Burbules, Boston University '14

Thursday, November 10, 2011

For the first time ever: BLO Exposed!

An intermission conversation series designed to bring you closer to the opera

On November 9 we held the first installment of BLO Exposed, featuring BLO Music Director David Angus in conversation with artists from Macbeth live from the stage. We took questions from the audience, who tweeted us their questions. (@BostLyricOpera)

Talking with Carter Scott (Lady Macbeth)
Tell us a bit about being an opera singer. What does it take to become a real singer?
I went through years of training: voice lessons, coaching, auditions, in addition to school and grad school. I continue to receive coaching and will throughout my career. My voice teacher attended the Final Dress Rehearsal, who was so insightful from dress rehearsal to opening that helped me make many wonderful adjustments to my performance. I've never had a voice teacher so involved before.
What do you think of the color yellow as the representation of hell?
Perhaps it was chosen because it contrasts so much with the red, I’m not sure.
What is the most challenging part of singing the role of Lady Macbeth?
The stamina! In this production, we’ve condensed the first two acts. You can sing an aria, but can you sing the whole show for five performances?

Talking with Kurt Hakansso
n (Supernumerary)
Supernumeraries (known as supers) are non-singing roles who volunteer to be a part of the show. They do it for nothing! Why?
How can you not love being in a theater like this, being surrounded by people like here? It’s incredible for you to hear, but even more for me to hear being surrounded by 40+ singers. Got started as a super years ago with La Boheme.
How does it feel being onstage with those creepy body bags?
I get to poke out the eyes and carry them around; it’s gruesome and fun.
How many shows have you been in with BLO?
This is my 9th show. The most challenging moment is the synchronized stomp, watching David in the pit.

Talking with Marie McCarville (Chorister)
Tell us a bit about your training and background.
I didn’t realize I’d end up living in Boston for so many years. I started at Oberlin in Ohio and then moved back to NY to be near my family. I wanted to sing more, so I applied to NEC and got accepted, which enabled me to audition for BLO. And I have been a proud member of the BLO since ‘07 La Boheme.
Do you think the chorus witches are meant to be undead zombie like creatures?
The director and choreographer told us: this is YOUR show—make YOUR character whomever you want it to be, so I chose to be a sociopath who likes to wear a lot of tribal makeup, but the witch to my left prefers to consider herself to be a zombie.
Tell us about what it is like to be backstage?
It’s way smaller than you think! You look at the stage and you think it’s huge, but it’s not! This is where you really start to bond with your castmates. Especially since you see us all wearing this warm leather and undergarments, I never expected it to be so hot back there, when you have a 38-person chorus ready to jump up on stage, you really need to stay hydrated.

Thank you for all your fabulous questions! We received so many questions we didn’t have time to answer, so we’ll answer more of them over the next few days here on the blog. We hope you enjoyed the first ever BLO Exposed and look forward to hearing from you at the next intermission conversation!

You can you join the conversation:
1) Tell us YOUR BLO story. We can't wait to hear from you. (
2) Tweet your questions to @BostLyricOpera using the hashtag #BLOexposed
3) LIKE us on Facebook and post your question there!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Opening Night!

Last Friday night marked the opening of the 2011/2012 season at Boston Lyric Opera. I was honored and excited to be a part of the evening, particularly with the opening of Macbeth at the Shubert Theatre. I think the excitement was indeed infectious as everyone dressed up in their best opera-going and party attire for the occasion.

Macbeth is a new production for BLO as well as the commemorative opening of the 35th Anniversary Season for the company; so the evening was much anticipated. I could definitely tell that everyone was anxious to start the show and enjoy the opening night festivities over dessert and champagne afterwards at the Four Seasons in Downtown Boston.

Even though I love running a show, the real pay off comes when the curtain comes down and I talk to those who were in the audience and experienced the music and the action on the stage. It was wonderful to be able to talk to fellow opera lovers who attended the social festivities after the Macbeth opening to hear how each person reacted to the juxtaposition of Verdi’s music and story.

However, the good feedback for a stage manager comes when the audience notices the smooth run of a performance. So, not only did the singer/conductor/orchestra do their jobs well, but the stage management staff complemented their work by making sure that they could give a superb performance without distraction. That’s what makes a successful opera and opening night.

There are only three performances left! I hope to see you at the show!


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

BLO Exposed

An intermission conversation series designed to bring you closer to the opera

Join us on November 9 for the first installment featuring BLO Music Director David Angus in conversation with artists from Macbeth live from the stage. No need to go anywhere special—just stay in your seat during intermission and let this insider access come to you. You can even join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

To join the conversation:
1) Tweet your questions to @BostLyricOpera using the hashtag #BLOexposed
2) LIKE us on Facebook and post your question there!

We hope you’ll join us during intermission!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Loving that $3.50 ticket!

With so many great shows playing in the Boston area, and most only playing for a week or so, it’s hard to decide which ones to see and which ones to forgo … what’s a girl to do? On Friday night it came down to two shows for my friend Regina and I, one of them being BLO’s Macbeth. When we saw on BLO’s facebook page that they were selling a limited number of tickets for $3.50 in honor of the 35th Anniversary Season we knew that was a deal that we couldn’t pass up. We arrived at the Shubert at around 6pm, nervous that there were already 35 people in line in front of us–but we made it in time! We were about 10th or so in line and were able to get excellent seats (Orch Row B, seats 9 and 11) … but couldn’t believe we only had to pay $3.50 for a ticket. With our tickets now in hand, we went to grab a quick dinner before the show and arrived at the theatre for the 7:30pm curtain, and were still amazed at how close our seats were. From our seats we were able to appreciate the intricacies of the costumes and set pieces, and really tune in to all of the action onstage. Regina mentioned how much she loved the opportunity to experience the opera at such a great price: “It was an economical, enriching choice for a Friday night and now that I have been, I will definitely attend another show." When given the option of all these great productions it is hard to know if you made the right choice, but you definitely cannot beat awesome seats to such a great production for only $3.50!

--Katie McNamara, Emerson College

Friday, November 4, 2011

Musical men about town

By David Angus, Music Director

Well, tonight’s the opening of Macbeth–very exciting–and we are all winding ourselves up for a high energy performance. The Dress Rehearsal was a big success and the invited audiences were thrilled with it. First Night is always quite a nervous affair, wondering if everything will go right and if the audience will like it, but having such a good Dress Rehearsal sets us up well and means that the nervous excitement should all be positive.

Meanwhile, life goes on, and we are already getting going with the next project–The Lighthouse--in the background. We have been extremely lucky that the composer, Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, happens to be in the USA for a short tour at the moment, and is spending nearly 3 days in Boston. He lives on a remote island off the north of Scotland and is 77 years old, so he doesn’t travel to the US very often any more. He will be attending Macbeth tonight, but I spent most of yesterday with him.

We began with a visit to the JFK Memorial Library, where we will perform his Lighthouse, and we showed him around and explained why we had chosen that location. I interviewed him (you will be able to see this on our website) and we caught up with each others' news.  We had worked together many years ago at Glyndebourne Opera and had also crossed paths at the Scottish Chamber Orchestra a few times. We also both studied at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, and both began our careers as music teachers in schools, so we have a lot of common background.
The view of Boston from Smith Hall, our venue for The Lighthouse
 Sir Peter, or “Max” as we all know him, is a remarkably sprightly man with a very alert mind, and he is highly articulate, so talking with him is very stimulating. I found out many new things about the opera, including several very spooky coincidences which you will hear about on the interview. 

We visited the museum while we were there and were taken back in time to our childhood memories by all the history and artifacts of that time. It was a real nostalgia trip. When JFK was assassinated I was an 8-year-old at boarding school in Cambridge, and Max was studying over here at Princeton. We both remembered clearly hearing the awful news.

We travelled back into Boston for a lovely lunch of Scallops at Legal Seafoods, where the waiter turned out to be a Musicology Major from Harvard, who was thrilled to meet Sir Peter–what a coincidence!
The trip ended with a visit to see the set for the Lighthouse under construction in Cambridge, and to have the model explained. Everyone is very excited about the whole concept and it is really going to be a very strong show.

We finished the day with a lovely dinner at the home of Esther Nelson, our General and Artistic Director, with some VIP guests and a delicious meal cooked by her husband, Bernd. All in all, a great way to relax before tonight’s big event!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Turning back the clock on ticket prices!


The first 35 people to arrive at the Shubert Theatre on the evening of Friday, November 4th will enjoy Boston Lyric Opera’s Opening Night performance of Verdi’s Macbeth for only $3.50. In celebration of its 35th Anniversary Season, the Company is reserving 35 seats and selling them at 1976’s opera ticket prices. Tickets may only be purchased in person and in cash; first come, first served. Macbeth runs through November 13th at the Shubert Theatre.

Friday, November 4, 2011
6:00PM – Ticket sales open; 7:30PM – Performance begins

Citi Performing Arts CenterSM Shubert Theatre
265 Tremont Street
Boston, MA

Celebrate 35 years of excellent entertainment!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Flying with 200% concentration

Music Director David Angus, photo by Michael Dwyer
David Angus, BLO’s Music Director, on the final rehearsals for Macbeth

Tonight’s the BIG one, where everything comes together for the first time. 

The thing I love about working on opera is the way it grows and grows. We start preparing at home on our own, then we get together and sing it through with piano, begin to sort out the staging, gradually add props, substitute costumes, bits of pretend scenery, and bring in the chorus. The director and designer know what they want it to look like, and I know what I want it to sound like, but we have to get to know each other and work together for several weeks to make a complete picture where everything coordinates and drives the piece forward in an exciting and intelligible way.

On the side, I prepare the orchestra and then we add the singers, but this week is the exciting week, when we first try things out on the actual stage. Tonight is the “Stage and Orchestra” where all the elements are put together and we see our show complete for the first time, with full costumes, wigs and makeup, and, for me, the most exciting element that has been missing, the lighting. It is an old joke in the business–whenever you see a tatty old bit of scenery or costume, someone always says “just wait until it’s lit”, but it’s true–lighting can transform everything, give instant atmosphere, change night into day, excitement into fear, just at the press of a button.

Darren K. Stokes, Carter Scott & Daniel Sutin
Opera is incredibly expensive to put on with all these different departments working so hard, quite apart from the actual performers–soloists, chorus and orchestra, so rehearsal time with everyone together is extremely limited by cost. Tonight I will have just under 3 hours with everyone to race through the entire opera, stopping to fix anything that is wrong in the music, whilst allowing the staging and lighting to run with minimal interference. It is an intense balancing act. I have to get to the end of the opera, but I have to fix things as well, so every time I am aware of anything wrong I have to make an instant analysis of how serious the problem is, whether it will fix itself next time, or if I really have to stop, explain, go back and do it again. Performances are easy in comparison–I just have to do the show, without any analysis or decision-making.

We started planning this show nearly 2 years ago, and tonight it will all come together for the first time, and we will know if we have a great show, just a good show, or a disaster! From all the elements that we have worked on so far, it has the makings of a great show, with wonderful singing and playing, and a very strong visual presentation. In 2 day’s time, we’ll know for sure, when we have the Dress Rehearsal and add the final element, an audience. But for me, tonight is the really exciting one, when I am flying with 200% concentration in a race against time, but also when we really see our show properly. I can’t wait!

(Rehearsal photo by David Angus)