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.
Zoe is a familiar face to many in the Rutland Region as a dancer, teacher, and sculptor. We are so excited to have her join us for Orpheus and Euridice.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I live in Sudbury, VT (originally Hubbardton) and work as a dancer, choreographer, sculptor, and dance/art teacher. During the school-year I teach dance at a local dance studio, in summer I run art camps for kids, and in the in-between times I lead workshops in art and dance at local rec centers, libraries, and schools, choreograph for local theater companies, and work on my own choreography and artwork when I can. A lot of my time and energy is also currently devoted to raising my very busy 3-year-old daughter!
What is excites you about VTOP's production of Orpheus?
I am very excited by the site-specific aspect of this performance. I am interested in site-specific art, particularly dance, in my own work and have thoroughly enjoyed the beauty and challenges of all the site-specific projects of which I've been a part. I have danced on the concrete platform of a bridge crane, on the edge of a granite quarry (including on a platform installed just below the surface of the water), in a breeding barn, on the roof of a cow barn, as well as many other farm locations, and multiple sites around the Carving Studio and Sculpture Center, located on the grounds of West Rutland's former marble quarry. I am excited by the rawness and rich history of the Vermont Marble Museum space! I am also thrilled to be dancing in an opera, something I have never done before!
What are some of your favorite musicals or dance companies?
Some favorite shows include Rent, Les Misérables, Hair, and Cats. I have always and will always love and be inspired by the work of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Beyond this there are way too many to list!
How did you get your start as a dancer?
I started dancing at age 7. I took predominantly ballet from then through high school, but was also introduced to modern dance in 6th grade and fell in love. I switched to predominantly modern in college and have stuck with it ever since! I graduated from Smith College with a double major in dance and sculpture. I love sharing my passion for this art form with my students and audiences.
Even the best of opera fans can be shy when it comes to new works. In the past few days I have heard some concerns about the opera ranging from its length to concerns about the music. These are common concerns for new and even experienced opera goers. I compiled a 5 point list to help dispel this.
1. Opera is too long: In some cases yes, but Orpheus and Euridice is only 1 hour long. If you choose to come have a picnic dinner and hear Composer Ricky Ian Gordon speak and stay for the champagne toast on opening, THEN you might stretch it out to 3 hours or more, but otherwise we keep it short and sweet.
2. I won't understand what they are saying: Orpheus is in English and we have the entire libretto printed in the program as well as a synopsis. You should be able to easily understand the entire work.
3. I have never been to an opera and I am worried I won't like it: While we can't absolutely guarantee you will love it, we can assure you that there will be something to love. Opera is a true amalgamation of all of the performing arts and Orpheus is not an exception. You have great story telling, gorgeous music including a string quintet from the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, four unbelievably talented dancers, a set that equals an art installation, and the opportunity to meet and hear from one of the busiest living composers. There is something for everyone.
4. The music in modern opera is always strange and dissonant: Not the case for many new operas, and especially not for Orpheus and Euridice, of which New York Magazine said:"Both Gordon's text and music are couched in an accessible idiom of disarming lyrical directness, a cleverly disguised faux naïveté that always resolves dissonant situations with grace and a sure sense of dramatic effect — the mark of a born theater composer." Peter G. Davis. Still don't believe me? Then listen to this!
5. Opera is fancy. What do I wear?: While opening night at the Metropolitan opera calls for fancy duds, any night with VTOP does not. Wear comfortable clothing. The opera itself takes place in the Small Monuments Room on the lower level of the building. The room stays a steady 70 degrees or so. Not too hot and not too cold.
As you can see, there is no reason to be concerned. And I can assure you that this is an event NOT to be missed. So click here to get your tickets today and be part of something truly breath taking.
See you on August 12 and 13!