We have talked about the explorers who made The Andrée Expedition, and now we turn to the singer who will perform The Andrée Expedition- Baritone Michael Chioldi.
Michael has performed at nearly every major American opera house, including The Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera. Signature roles include Scarpia in Tosca with Hawaii Opera Theater, Ft. Worth Opera, New York City Opera, and Spain's Opera de Oviedo; Jochanaan in Salome with Utah Opera, Virginia Opera, and the Saito Kinen Festival in Japan; the title role of Macbeth with Michigan Opera Theatre and Palm Beach Opera, Enrico in Lucia di Lammermoor with Washington National Opera, Utah Opera, and New Orleans Opera; and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly with Washington National Opera and in a nationwide broadcast on the PBS television series Live from Lincoln Center, which received an Emmy award in 2008.
So how did we get him to come sing for The Vermont Opera Project? It turns out that Michael has ties to Vermont. His family started the Chioldi Granite Corporation, which set up shop in downtown Barre at the Chioldi Brothers around 1907. Last winter, Michael was singing the role of Rigoletto for the Palm Beach Opera, where our Managing Director Jeff Bruckerhoff works as the Director of Production. Jeff and Michael have worked together several times before and have talked in the past about bringing opera to Vermont. We knew we needed a vibrant and compelling peformer to sing The Andrée Expedition and Michael was thrilled to help us in realizing our second season. Michael is known for his portrayal of Rigoletto, Scarpia in Tosca, and Sharpless in Madama Butterfly; however, we are lucky to have him sing The Andrée Expedition for the first time.
Don't miss this opportunity to hear him in this tour de force role! Buy your tickets today! Click here to purchase tickets.
Michael Chioldi singing "Te Deum" in Tosca for Opera Oviedo.
“Isn’t it all perhaps the expression of an extremely strong sense of individuality which cannot bear the thought of living and dying like a man of the ranks, forgotten by coming generations? Is this ambition?” - Solomon August Andrée
The Andrée Expedition was the brain child of Solomon Augustus Andrée, who swept away by the adventure and excitement of polar exploration was determined to find the North Pole and was certain that using a hot air balloon would be the way to get there. During the height of Arctic exploration, over 1000 men would attempt to reach the North Pole and of that over 700 died. Why did he think he would be successful? Or did he? There are hints in his writing and in the will he left behind that he grew to understand that the journey would fail. By then he had raised money from luminaries all over Sweden including the King himself, pride would not allow him to back out.
Andrée was 43 years old when the balloon The Eagle disappeared from the sky. He was born in Grenna, Sweden and was introduced to balloon travel while visiting the United States for the World’s Fair. He returned to Sweden where he studied air electricity with a group scientists, including Nils Eckholm, who would later loudly criticize his plans for the Arctic journey. He was unmarried and deeply devoted to his mother. Beyond his passion for balloons, he worked at the patent office until the expedition in 1897.
At 27, Nils Strindberg he was the youngest of the explorers. He was a respected young scientist and a passionate photographer. He was also newly in love and engaged to be married to Anna Charlier to whom he wrote love letters throughout the journey. We know that he was the first explorer to die in October 1897 because he was the only one who was buried. When the remains of the expedition were found in 1930, 5 rolls of undeveloped film were found and of that 85 photos were developed giving us a remarkable window in to the journey. His love letters and journals finally made their way home to Anna in 1930. For her part, Anna never fully recovered from his untimely death.
Knut Fraenkel was a last minute replacement for Nils Ekholm, who backed out of the expedition after a disastrous launch attempt in 1896 and went on to loudly discredit Andrée and his plans for the journey. Little was known of Fraenkel, who was 28 years old. He was not a scientist, but had worked on the railroads and was recruited presumably for his physical strength. He took measurements and plotted the stars, but he did not keep a journal as did Strindberg and Andrée. In Argento’s The Andrée Expedition, he is the a narrator bringing the story together.
Much has been made of Andrée's character and of how ill prepared his team was for the rigors of Arctic exploration. The men brought tuxedos to wear to meet dignitaries when they landed successfully in San Francisco, but they were physically unprepared for the rigors of travel over polar ice. It has been said that Andrée knew that the journey was doomed from the start and that he manipulated his younger compatriots into carrying on. No one will ever know for sure what happened or why they went. But as Fraekel sings at the end of The Andrée Expedition:
“It is clear to me now that Andrée knew from the start that our journey was doomed. And I think I understand what made him persevere to the end: in the years to come, when our frozen bodies have been found and returned to home to Sweden, the bright elusive glory he sought will be his after all.”
There are several fascinating books on The Andrée Expedition.
You can also visit the Wikipedia page for a quick but thorough overview.
There have been two distinct reactions from people when I tell them that VTOP is presenting an opera about three Swedish explorers who attempted to reach the North Pole via hot air balloon. Both could be described as amazement but in entirely different ways. One is that a song cycle could be written about such an unlikely subject and could it possibly be any good and one is that a song cycle could be written about such an unusual subject and that sounds really interesting.
I will admit that when I first heard of The Andrée Expedition from our director Cynthia Stokes, who was then directing it for her own company San Diego City Opera, that I was in the first camp: someone wrote an opera about what?!? I couldn’t imagine how it could be a compelling story. And then I heard it. And I learned a bit more about what S.A. Andrée, Nils Strindberg, and Knut Fraenkel endured and I realized it was a gorgeous and intensely compelling story of three brave and crazy men.
There are ways to hear it via YouTube. I would recommend this recording with Bengt Norfers singing. I have listed other books and will continue to write on this.
I invite you to listen and enjoy this wonderful piece!
The Vermont Opera Project is actively seeking enthusiastic, experienced board members to help guide the organization as it grows.
Our Mission and Goals:
To bring new and rarely performed operas to unexpected locations in Vermont.
Our long term goals are to establish a summer festival season which includes one or more fully staged opera productions and several concerts around Vermont.
Established in 2015, VTOP’s debut concert was “An afternoon of American Song” featuring Soprano Suzanne Kantorski, Clarinetist Wesley Christensen, and Baritone Darik Knutsen at the College of St Joseph, which was enthusiastically received.
In August 2016, we collaborated with the Vermont Marble Museum as well as the Vermont Symphony Orchestra to create Orpheus and Euridice. It was a huge success with Jim Lowe of the Rutland Times Argus calling it a “fascinating” and “a beautiful animated classic painting with music”.
Orpheus and Euridice also toured to the National Gallery of Art where the Washington Post declared the action “a mix of the ceremonial and the coltish” and “This ‘Orpheus’ is a remarkably unified work… (the) direction and choreography were also well balanced, as was the excellent instrumental ensemble.”
The Board of Directors currently includes successful business owners, entrepreneurs, artists, and non-profit leaders. We are looking for professionals with a love of opera and a desire to help grow a vibrant young company.
We need you if:
Would you like to know more about VTOP? We invite you to visit our website at VTOperaProject.com, see our active social media profile on Facebook and twitter as well as videos of our work on our YouTube Channel by visiting https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCR6yLDu87ZPcgN83Sk-XiaQ
We are looking to expand the size and scope of our board of directors by May 1. If you would like an application, please contact General Director Quincy Bruckerhoff.
I don't know about you, but I am always on the hunt for a good book.
Luckily our next opera The Andrée Expedition has given me plenty of new reading material about a subject that I know almost nothing about- Arctic exploration. I have found two great books directly on the subject of Andrée's fantastic voyage: The Ice Balloon by Alec Wilkinson and Andrée's Story; the Complete Record of his Polar Flight, 1897.
I have spent more than a little time trying to understand why anyone would choose to leave family and home behind to travel to almost certain death by freezing, bear attack, or starvation. I have to say I still don't quite get it, but it makes for a compelling story.
The Ice Balloon by Alec Wilkinson is a fascinating account of the heroic age of Arctic exploration and specifically the journey of S. A. Andrée and his cohorts Nils Strindberg and Knut Fraenkel. Not only does it tell the story of Andrée, but of several other expeditions that all met with varying degrees of tragedy. It also illuminates the perception of the unknown arctic and and what drove men to do such crazy acts (spoiler: science mostly).
A fair reviewer would admit that there are some slow spots in the book and that a lot of pages are dedicated to expeditions of Adolphus Greeley (a bit gruesome due to some instances of cannibalism) and Fritjoff Hansen, which grew frustrating when all I wanted to read about is Andrée and the balloon. There is a good bit of biographical information about Andrée, Strindberg, and Fraenkel and an excellent overview of their journey as well as the lives of those they left behind.
Overall I give it 3 and 1/2 stars.
If you would like to purchase a copy, you can click here to do so from Amazon, although I am sure the folks at Phoenix Books downtown would order it for you.
Can you imagine a world with our GPS? Some of you probably can remember using maps, but can you remember a world where the maps were still being created? It has been a little over a century since the age of exploration and yet that time when parts of the map were blank and brave or crazy men risked their lives to discover new places still captures the imagination.
This summer VTOP will take you back to 1897, the year that Solomon Augustus Andrée, Nils Strindberg, and Knut Fraenkel attempted to explore the unknown arctic region in a hot air balloon. Their journey ultimately proved fatal, but 33 years later their journals, diaries, and camera were found. Composer Domonick Argento used those documents as the libretto for The Andrée Expedition, a gorgeous and compelling musical journey
The Andrée Expedition will be directed by Cynthia Stokes and our Music Director will be Laurie Rogers, who was the amazing pianist behind Orpheus and Euridice last year. Our design team includes Liliana Duque Piñeiro, who brilliantly designed the set for Orpheus and Jeff Bruckerhoff who did the lighting. We will also have projection designer Peter Torpey join us to create our Arctic world.
More details will be forthcoming, so please stay tuned.
Happy New Year! Admittedly it has been a while since I have blogged about anything relating to VTOP. But that isn't to say that we haven't been busy. After our huge success with Orpheus and Euridice both at the Vermont Marble Museum and the National Gallery of Art, I must admit I was a little worn out.
We had been so focused on creating Orpheus that we weren't as focused on how to move ahead once it was over. We quickly realized we needed to continue to build a strong board of directors and are very pleased to announce we have added Avaloy Lanning and Sandy Gartner to our board. We also began work on a strategic plan for the next 5 years. While that is still a work in progress, it has been hugely helpful to lay out a skeleton plan for the next 5 years and begin to see where we can and should take VTOP.
We have also been working hard to figure out exactly what we are producing next summer. There are so many wonderful new operas and song cycles, but as a fledgling company we need to find the right piece that is both artistically satisfying and fiscally responsible. We have decided to produce Dominick Argento's The Andree Expedition in August as well as a concert this spring. There are many details that need to be worked out, but that is a subject for another blog post.
We would be remiss if we did not thank each and every person who supported us last year. Creating Orpheus was a monumental effort that would not have happened with out you all.
Thank you again!
We open the show tomorrow. It is absolutely amazing and wouldn't be so with out the hard work of our artists. Meet Dancer Liam Saito, who is one of the many hardworking artists that make Orpheus and Euridice so special.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am 19 years old, and am a dancer in the Aspirant program at Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet, where I am training to be a professional Ballet Dancer. I was raised in Massachusetts, and moved to Winnipeg when I was 15 years old after being offered a scholarship to attend the Professional Division full time program which offers immersive and Intensive training for young dancers.
What was appealing to you about coming to Vermont to dance for VTOP?
When I heard about the opportunity to dance in Orpheus and Euridice, I was very excited to be a part of it, since not only am I always looking for professional opportunities but, it was a chance to dance in an opera (something I have never done before), and also perform so close to home. My Mother grew up in Castleton Vermont, and my grandparents still live there, so I have a connection to the area and have enjoyed spending time here this summer!
What is your favorite ballet?
One of my favorite pieces of music of all time is the entire score of the Ballet Romeo and Juliet by Prokofiev. It is so beautiful and cohesive throughout, and watching that Ballet and listening to that music as a child truly brought out my passion for dance and music.
Opening night is approaching quickly! And tickets are going just as quickly.
As of Friday, our tickets will only be available on our website (VTOperaProject.com/tickets) or at the door at the Marble Museum. Our box office at the Marble Museum will open at 5 pm and we will accept cash, check, or credit card. Tickets are $45 at the door. There will be a $2 processing fee for credit cards.
We can't wait to see you all there.
PS. Here is my favorite rehearsal photo of Wesley and Suzanne.
The role of Orpheus is played Clarinetist Wesley Christensen rather than sung. We caught up with him to talk about how he is balancing playing the clarinet with the demands of staging a lead role in the opera.
What is the typical role of a clarinetist in an opera?
Typically a clarinetist's role in an opera is to play in the pit orchestra. However, in this opera the clarinetist is the lead character, which requires being on stage, acting, dancing, and performing the music from memory.
At times I have found it difficult finding a way to interact with the characters and physical surroundings on stage while at the same time maintaining focus on the music. Acting while playing can be a challenge, because you can not speak or communicate through hand gestures or facial expressions. Running while playing is very difficult, I've tried it, and I wouldn't recommend it.
While demanding, I have also found this to be a very rewarding experience. This role pushes the boundaries of the clarinet and what is possible for an instrumentalist. I've learned to not just play the notes but to sing them and in that way I feel that the music that I'm playing is my voice flowing through the clarinet. This opera offers a new way for an instrumentalist to interact with the audience. I'm not just playing a concerto on stage standing in one spot, I'm moving around, interacting with others, and conveying a story.
How did you get started playing the Clarinet?
When I was 10 years old I ventured into the attic and found a funny looking black box. I opened it and found something that had strange metal keys. It turned out to be my mom's clarinet that she used in high school. I started taking lesson at school and immediately fell in love with it. I've been playing ever since.
What do you do when you are not playing Orpheus?
I live in Waterbury, VT. I am a freelance clarinetist in the area and I am on the faculty of the Monteverdi Music School in Montpelier, VT.