Wagner Singers Competition

Well…back from a lovely evening. This…on the heels…of one of the hottest days in Seattle. Much hotter than it was in SLC today. Go figure. I managed to spend the day walking miles over the city including up and down Nob Hill, Queen Anne and into Pike Place Market. A good day.

I had dinner tonight tonight with and agent and a critic. You would think this was like swimming in shark infested waters. However, the agent I have known for nearly fifteen years (is this possible?) and the critic was new to me but we had a lovely meal, nonetheless. The lovely thing…and somehow we landed on this topic…we all basically said that we were working towards the same end: forwarding an art form. What a great base from which to begin a friendship!

I forgot to mention that I had the great privilege to be introduced to Ben Heppner. He is not only the reigning Wagner heroic tenor of our generation, he’s one heck of a nice guy! I had a lovely conversation with him during the intermission and…guess what? His daughter has just settled in none other than Salt Lake City. There may be something with which to work there!

Tonight was really fun. I’ve long believed that all opera lovers enjoy a good young artist competition. What’s not too love? You start with great operatic music and then add young singers who are passionate about the art form and are giving it their all to break into the business and become a star. What better recipe could one ask for? What makes this particular competition special is the fact that it combines these factors with the magnificence of the music of Richard Wagner. (Note: I think I’ve shared this but I am a devotee of the music of Wagner.)

It’s worth sharing that Seattle Opera has a penchant for Wagner operas. The former general director began a tradition that the current one has transformed into something quite special. Seattle Opera presents the Ring Cycle every four years and other Wagner works in between and has established a world wide reputation for the quality of these presentations.   Their current General Director is also recognized as one of the leading figures in Wagnerian opera.  Basically, next to Bayreuth and the Met you might as well go to Seattle to see Wagner done well.  So…that’s why coming here for a Wagner singers competition is a worthwhile thing.

Here’s the other reason: the purpose of this competition is not to decide who is the best current singer of this particularly demanding repertoire.  What this competition is about is finding the next generation of Wagner artists.  Fun, yes?  In fact, by rules of the competition, no applicant may have sung a significant major role in a Wagner opera.  So what we heard tonight were young-ish artist who may have a significant career in this repertoire but quite honestly aren’t ready to take on such demands immediately.  Trust me, singing an aria and singing a role are two entirely different things.

 So we heard arias from Parsifal, Meistersinger, Tannhaüser and most of The Ring; all with orchestra and on the stage of the McCaw Opera House.  What a wonderful night.

 Tonights competitors were again an international lot representing Australia, Great Britain, Germany, South Africa, Sweden, Canada and the United States.  As mentioned before, Speight and Maestro Asher Fisch heard semi finalists in Munich, London and New York before choosing eight finalists to come to Seattle.

 I’m going to begin offering the opportunity to join me on such trips and I couldn’t think of a better one than this competition which should happen again in two years.  I think you might really enjoy it.

 When I hear who the winners were, I’ll be sure to post again…

Back on the road – Seattle

Well folks, I never quite wrapped up the Santa Fe trip.  I guess I suffer some from…look at that…Michael Phelps just won another gold medal…attention deficit disorder.

Quickly…Santa Fe was another magical experience.  The last night we were there included a dinner hosted by the outgoing General Director, Richard Gaddes (he’s retiring) at “the ranch” and a wonderful performance of Handel’s Radamisto.  I must admit, while baroque opera plots tend to be somewhat convoluted by nature, Radamisto may take the prize.  I won’t go into the story as…really…in baroque opera it doesn’t matter anyway.

What DOES matter is orchestra and singers; the rest is details.  Yes, cool staging is great and this was a typical David Alden production which means someone is cross-dressing and the major set element is going to be a big, dominating wall.  We were not disappointed (note: while typical elements, David Alden does do some incredibly imaginative stuff in his productions).  David Daniels was the star vehicle for this production…he was great in the slow numbers and almost great in the faster pieces.  The big news is Heidi Stober once again stole the show.  Some of you will remember Heidi Stober from Utah Opera’s Ensemble Program, the young artist training program.  She was also First Lady in our Magic Flute a few years ago.  Heidi has gone on to become a real phenom in the world of opera.  This coming season she has a lovely multi-production contract with the Berlin State Opera.  We’re so PROUD of her!  She even managed to steal the show while dressed in a male, fat-suit with a fez atop a comb-over wig.  No mistaking the voice, however.

So…with a great Handel opera under our belts, we proceeded home…well…almost…we had a little mechanical issue with our vehicle…but…it only delayed us a day and what a place to have to spend it.  For those of you truly interested, ask me THAT story when you see me.  It’s kind of interesting.

Now, here I sit in my hotel in Seattle.  I must admit, I’m a huge fan of this city and this time of year it is even more amazing.  I refer to July and August in the Emerald City as the great lie: no rain, warm and lots of sun.  Not exactly what Seattle is known for.

So…why Seattle in August?  Principally, I’m here to see the second installment of Seattle Opera’s International Wagner Competition (IWC).  The first one was two years ago and it was a wonderful event.  The General Director here, Speight Jenkins, says this year’s talent is even better.   If you are unaware, Seattle is known for its commitment to the works of Richard Wagner which makes it a perfect place to hold the competition.  Speight hears singers in Munich, London and New York and brings the finalists to Seattle.  I can’t wait.  (I’ll write later about Seattle Opera’s dedication to the Ring Cycle, scheduled to happen again next summer.)

In the mean time, I took in Seattle Opera’s production of Aida this evening.  Now, Seattle Opera usually has two casts, especially for the popular operas.  I chose the “Silver Cast” as I know the artists in the “Gold Cast.”  Usually the Silver Cast members are a bit younger and from other countries.  This was the case tonight.  The title role and the Radames especially were interesting.  Watching people new to their role and still developing their talents is always a fun experience; you know the talent is there and to be part of seeing them grow is a whole different type of excitement.  Notable was  Margaret Jane Wray as Amneris and the conductor, Riccardo Frizza who delivered a lovely orchestral experience.  The sets and costumes were simple but evocative of ancient Egypt.  No major statement here, just good old fashioned grand opera.

More tomorrow…

Musician’s Note: Mormon Tabernacle Choir with the Utah Symphony

Julianne JohnsonA fantastic opportunity awaits you this Friday, August 15th: The chance to hear your world-renowned Utah Symphony along with its equally famed guests, Mack Wilberg and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We’ll be performing in our own heavenly backyard, the breathtakingly beautiful and refreshingly cool hillside venue at Deer Valley!

What could be better for the grand finale week of the Deer Valley® Music Festival?

I feel very fortunate to have had firsthand experience with both of these groups. Soon after returning to Salt Lake City from graduate school, I accepted an invitation to join the Tabernacle Choir. What a thrilling experience it was to be a part of this unique organization – essentially all amateurs, but in fact, as we know, one of the greatest and most beloved choirs in all the world. Its sheer numbers generate the kind of excitement and fervor you’ll feel listening to its stirring signature piece, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, but it can move you equally deep in your heart with tender renderings from Brahms Requiem to the lovely songs Shenandoah, and Waters Ripple and Flow.

As a singing member, in additional to performing weekly “from the crossroads of the West,” I traveled with the choir on tours to Nashville, Louisville, Washington D.C., Mexico City, Munich, Paris, and London. After relinquishing my spot in the choir (having in the meantime joined the Utah Symphony), I nevertheless have very fond additional memories of traveling with the choir on its tour to Eastern Europe in 1991, when in such cultural capitals as Budapest, Warsaw, and Moscow I can attest to the joy that the choir’s singing brought to those listeners who found themselves lucky enough to get tickets.

Of course, the Utah Symphony has taken marvelous tours as well, bringing our music to many areas of the United States over the years, as well as to South America (summer of ’71), England (’75), and the European Continent in ’66, ’77, ’81, ’86, and ’05. I have had the privilege of participating in all of these tours except the earliest two, as I joined the orchestra in the fall of 1971.

In Utah we are indeed blessed to have two such preeminent musical organizations which are so outstanding and revered throughout the world. To experience them together in the same concert just does not happen every day, so please do not miss this concert! I believe it will remain happily in your memory for a long time to come.


Julianne Johnson
Violin, Utah Symphony

Mormon Tabernacle Choir with the Utah Symphony
Friday, August 15, 2008 at 7:30 PM
Deer Valley Snow Park Amphitheater

All Done For Vivace!

Well it’s been a hectic few days but I just put the final touches on the Vivace primer, printed and designed what felt like 5 gazillion posters and primers, got blankets, ordered balloons, organized the Vivace name badges for the Advisory Council, and printed out sign up sheets and Classical V Series order forms. Whew! I’m really getting excited for tonight’s event. Vivace partied at Time for Three’s (Tf3) performance last year at the 2007 Deer Valley® Music Festival. You can view the pics here. As you can see, the party was a lot of fun and may have gotten a little carried away with photos surrounding the cello car! Tf3 was a blast and I can’t wait for another fun night of hearing their music and then hanging out at Red Rock, Park City. Red Rock is providing free appetizers – yum!

Santa Fe 2

Hey all,

Saw Verdi’s FALSTAFF the other night.   I must admit, I think it is — musically — one of the most clever pieces of music ever written.  The story of the opera combines parts of both THE MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR and HENRY IV and is basically Verdi’s only pure comedy.  While it was a fun evening, perhaps not the best of Santa Fe Opera’s offerings.  To the company’s credit, they had to replace the title role (It’s not uncommon in large companies to change lead roles at some point in the run of performances.  The reason being that the world’s finest performers are quite busy and often can’t hang about for two or more months.)  It clearly changed the energy for the entire cast.  My inside sources tell me the conductor was also incorporating some faster than normal tempos that night which would have put the entire cast on edge.

The title role was performed by Anthony Michaels-Moore.  He’s a Brit and this is one of his signature roles.  Falstaff is a huge and difficult role.  It requires amazing acting skills and the ability to sing at all extremes of the voice as well as to make some unusual sounds.  He did all very well.  Again, while my inside sources tell me that the artist who performed the first part of the performance run was better, Mr. Michaels-Moore did an wonderful job.

Standouts of the evening were probably the Dame Quickly played by Nancy Maultsby and Fenton played by Norman Reinhardt.   The former is a vocally thankless role that requires the performer to run around the stage more than the rest of the cast put together and the latter requires a lighter but still romantic vocal quality.  Mr. Reinhardt played the role as virile as I have ever seen it.

The physical production (sets, costumes and lighting)  was pretty straightforward.  It incorporated a number of moments where we watched the set changing (called: a vista) which helped solve a number of the challenges of the piece (it moves from one location to another while the music is playing…also, Santa Fe Opera chose to combine acts one and two and thus having one intermission rather than two).  No big revelations; just a physical production that mostly facilitated and — perhaps most importantly — got out of the way of the music and interaction between the singers rather than steal any kind of focus or make a “statement.”

All in all a lovely evening.

This is the weekend that Santa Fe Opera invites opera company general/artistic directors and agents from around the world not only to see the shows, but also to hear the young artists in audition. Today we heard half of the forty apprentice artists participating in this summer’s festival (we hear the remaining artists tomorrow).  There was much good singing to be heard.  I was particularly impressed that a few of them are still finishing up grad school which means there are some good talents coming up to us.

Yesterday I met with an agent who represents some of the most famous singers in the industry.  He’s been a good friend for a number of years and has an excellent pair of ears. He also understands how to work with different sized companies including the Met as well as Utah Opera and much smaller companies.  If you saw DON GIOVANNI, the Donna Anna (Susanna Phillips) is one of his up and coming clients.  I look forward to bringing her back to Utah in 2010.   Oh yes, Renee Fleming is another.  Anyway, we had some really good discussion about casting for our upcoming seasons and I’m excited for what might happen in the future.

This morning we had breakfast with the casting person from Houston Grand Opera and the Director of the Metropolitan National Council Auditions (e.g. the Met Auditions).  In addition, our own Carol Anderson joined us (she works for Santa Fe Opera in the summers along with our own chorus master, Susanne Sheston) and the new up and rising soprano star: Heidi Stober.  Heidi is enjoying her second summer in Santa Fe and we’ll see her perform in the Handel opera, RADAMISTO tomorrow night.  Heidi is an alum of our own Ensemble Program for young artists.  She went on to the Houston Grand Opera Studio program and this fall will be singing with Deustsche Oper in Berlin.  This is an amazing opportunity for Heidi to perform with an international company which — trust me on this — will lead to MANY more international performing opportunities.  I’m fairly sure this one is going to be a star.  And her beginnings were with Utah Opera!

Getting to the Gladys Knight Concert

As you may know, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) has undertaken a major project on Interstate 80 that includes replacing 12 bridges in just two months. You can learn more about the Innovate 80 project at www.udot.utah.gov/innovate80.

Utah Symphony | Utah Opera has worked closely with UDOT to ensure this project does not conflict with our summer Festival in Park City, and UDOT has been very helpful in adjusting road closure times to ensure our patrons can make it to and from the Festival from Salt Lake City.

At 7 PM on August 16 (the day of the Gladys Knight concert), UDOT will be closing all eastbound lanes on I-80 to replace the Lambs Canyon / Mt. Dell bridges. This closure means our guests traveling from Salt Lake City to Park City will be able to drive to our performance on I-80 but must be past the Mt. Dell bridge by 7 PM. Westbound traffic will not be affected by the road closure so travel back to Salt Lake City will remain unchanged.

Due to road closure on I-80, we will be opening the gates at 4:30 PM in anticipation of early arrivals. UDOT recommends that everyone be through Parley’s Canyon before 6:30 PM. We invite you to come up to Park City early and either have dinner in the city or bring a picnic to the hill and eat before the concert. Visit www.deervalleymusicfestival.org to see discounts you can receive with your concert ticket.

We will also have FM100 on-site starting at 3 PM with live on-air broadcasts and free giveaways. Stop by their Live Remote and enter to win a chance at FREE Deer Valley® lift passes for the 2008- 2009 ski season!

Thanks for your understanding! We hope you’ll plan ahead and come up early to have a great time in Park City.

Musician’s Note: “New World” Symphony

Joseph EvansI’ve been playing violin with the Utah Symphony for 12 years and feel very fortunate to have such a unique and fulfilling job.

One of the great things about playing in an orchestra is the opportunity to play great repertoire, like the “New World” Symphony, which is full of beautiful melodies and tone colors. To sit in the middle of an orchestra, feel the sound washing over me, and enjoy how the many parts fit together is quite an experience. I highly recommend it.

Another great piece in the repertoire we’ll be performing this week is the Beethoven Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. It has been one of my favorite pieces for as long as I can remember, and it was one of the first recordings of classical music I owned when I received a cassette tape of Itzhak Perlman for Christmas. I liked it so much I traded my entire coin collection (very valuable to a nine-year-old boy!) with a friend to get his orchestral score so I could read along with the tape. Now, I have more than 20 recordings of this concerto, and I still never get tired of it. Actually, one of my favorite performances of the piece was when Joseph Silverstein played it with the Utah Symphony many years ago; his warm sound and poised phrasing was ideal to me.

Please join us for these and more wonderful pieces at the Deer Valley® Music Festival!

Joe Evans

Violin, Utah Symphony

A Santa Fe

Dear Opera Friends and Family,

So we left for the annul trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, yesterday.  For those unaware, Santa Fe hosts one of the best summer opera festivals in the world.  What does this mean?  Well, many places (such as Des Moines in my earlier posts) around the world offer the opportunity to go to a lovely place…say, Santa Fe, NM, and see one opera a night for up to a week.  Bayreuth (in Germany) is probably the best example, showcasing Wagner’s works but there are several other options.  This country actually has a number of opportunities; Opera Theatre of Saint Louis and Glimmerglass Opera are two of them (and highly recommended by this author).  One of the attractions for Julie and me attending this particular event is that we took the motorcycle and spent two lovely days getting here via the San Juan Skyway through Ouray, Silverton and Durango.  If you haven’t taken this road, you must.  Only caveat is you musn’t be afraid of heights.  We stayed at a B&B in Ouray called the Black Bear Inn.  Apparently, it is aptly named as one of the guests regaled us with a story of seeing a bear rummaging in the trash bin the morning of our arrival.  I’ve seen bears up close before and while I appreciate them and wish they were friendlier, I am fine if I don’t see one in close proximity ever again.  That stated, Ouray is an amazing little town reminiscent of some I have seen in Switzerland; a small valley at just under 8,000 feet surrounded by 13 and 14 thousand foot peaks.  All at the beginning of one of the most stunning roads ever created for auto (and, better yet, motorcycle).

So…we arrived here today after a lovely ride.  Santa Fe is truly a beautiful place and the clouds do something in this part of the world that I don’t see anywhere else.  Perfectly defined and yet undefinable all at the same time.   If you are a painter, you’ll find it mesmerizing. Clearly Georgia O’Keeffe did.

So, why am I here besides it being a lovely place?  As I stated earlier, festivals are a place to see multiple operas in short order.  So, beginning tomorrow (Tuesday) I see at least three operas in four nights.  Add to this, it is the week that Artistic and General Directors from around the country are invited and treated to networking events.  Also, auditions for all the young artists this summer are arranged in the actual performance space.  So…a chance to see world-class opera, make deals with colleagues from other companies and hear the next generation of opera artists.   Should be a good week.  I’ll keep “blogging” and let you know how it goes.


A Beethoven of Our Time: Joan Tower

As classical music fans, we’re always on the look-out to hear the latest and greatest in classical music and we wish we had had the opportunity to meet and hear Beethoven or Mozart live and in their day. Well here’s your chance to hear a Beethoven of today: Joan Tower. Ms. Tower is important not only because she’s one of just a handful of female composers who are actively composing, but mainly because she’s been a constant innovator and voice for modern classical music over the last five decades. She’s received three Grammy Awards, countless commissions and composition awards, and was the first female to receive the Grawemeyer Award in Composition. She’s been the composer-in-residence at several of the best orchestras in the world. Utah Symphony has enjoyed a five-year association with Ms. Tower through her tenure as composer-in-residence at our Deer Valley® Music Festival. If you want to hear the best and the brightest in classical music today, come to Deer Valley Resort this Friday.

Utah Symphony will perform her orchestral work, Made in America. This 15-minute piece is truly an American work in every sense of the word: through a partnership program between the American Symphony Orchestra League and Meet The Composer, this pieces “toured” all 50 states and was featured on programs by some 65 orchestras during the 2005-07 seasons. Over a span of two seasons, this piece saw more performances in more states than the much heralded Police reunion tour! Read Joan Tower’s program notes here. Greg Sandow, a classical music icon himself, writes about this grand undertaking here.

Musician’s Note: Bringing Classical Mystery Tour Back to Utah

The last time ‘Classical Mystery Tour‘ appeared with the Utah Symphony, I needed earplugs – to handle the roar of the audience!John Eckstein

As a Beatles fan, I understand the power of their music.  And yet I still couldn’t have predicted the level of excitement reached in Abravanel Hall during those concerts.  It was as if reality was suspended, and we were all transported back in time.  I’ve never seen an audience enjoy itself more.

For the last several years I’ve been hounding Utah Symphony Artistic Director Jeff Bram to get this ‘fab four’ back.  At meetings, parties, even at the grocery store, he hasn’t been safe.  He finally caved to the relentless pressure.

Come and join us for the music that defined an era, performed in the most beautiful concert setting you’ll ever find.

See you there!

Classical Mystery Tour
A Tribute to the Beatles with the Utah Symphony
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Deer Valley Snow Park Amphitheater
Learn more at deervalleymusicfestival.org >>