Next Week at AVA: Russian Romances!

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Looking for a fun way to kick off the holiday season? Join us on Monday, December 17th and Tuesday December 18th for AVA’s thirtieth annual production of Russian Romances. AVA Russian repertoire vocal coach Ghenady Meirson has been directing this concert since his student days at the Curtis Institute of Music.

“Kevin McDowell and I attended Curtis around the same time and he sang in Russian Romances when we were both studying there,” explains Ghena. “When Kevin became Artistic Director at AVA, he brought me in to help set up a Russian language program. That’s how Russian Romances first made its way to AVA.”

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Ghenady Meirson joined AVA’s faculty in 1989

Historically, Russian romances are poetic, sentimental songs by early Russian composers, which contribute to a rich tradition of Russian music. Ghena’s Russian Romances concerts initially included only these traditional, older pieces, but over time they evolved and came to incorporate more modern music, as well as arias from operas and duets.

“This year we are performing some fun material that is not very well known and that is very easy to listen to,” says Ghena. “The first part of the concert will be chamber music —that includes cello, voice and piano. I’m on piano the entire evening. I’m very excited.”

Russian Romances is a great opportunity to discover Russian repertoire outside of the ordinary opera classics, as well as to learn how to sing in a chamber music setting,” says AVA’s third-year Resident Artist and soprano, Rebecca Gulinello.

This season’s performance will include guest artist, cellist Vivian Barton Dozor. The program will feature songs and ensembles by Russian composers such as Glinka, Borodin, Arensky, Taneyev, Glière, Medtner, Gretchaninoff, Cui, Prokofieff, Shostakovich and Sviridov.

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AVA’s 2017 production of Russian Romances 

Russian Romances offers AVA’s Resident Artists important exposure to the Russian language. Some Resident Artists have a good amount of experience with Russian repertoire, while others have none, so the concert represents an opportunity for them to practice and explore it. “The language is the main challenge, because the students are more experienced in Italian, French and German, which they spend more time studying,” explains Ghena. “Russian Romances is important in helping the students gain familiarity with Russian pronunciation and phonetics.”

While the concert is a valuable linguistic experience for the Resident Artists, Ghena emphasizes that the main goal is exceptional vocalism. “In the end, they have to be fluent enough to sing beautifully,” he says.

There’s nothing like some heartening Russian music on a cold, winter night… We look forward to seeing you all next week!

Written by  Tania Bagan

 

 

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Meet AVA Dean of Students and Costumer, Val Starr

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AVA’s 2018 production of Das Rheingold

Before an opera hits the stage, a lot of hard work goes on behind the scenes—and not only on the part of the singers. A successful opera is more than a purely acoustic experience: staging, props, lighting, choreography and costumes are all elements that are essential to rendering an operatic performance visually captivating and memorable. AVA’s costume designer and wardrobe coordinator, Val Starr, sat down to talk with us about the costuming aspect of opera—the work it entails, the challenges it presents and its importance to the art of opera.

Ms. Starr began embroidering at the age of seven under the guidance of her great-grandmother. She learned how to use a sewing machine shortly thereafter. “I always enjoyed sewing,” she says. “My mother used to let me help her make curtains and we always made our own Halloween costumes—I never had a store-bought one in my life. As a child I made clothes for my dolls and as I got older, I began making my own.”

Ms. Starr pursued her passion for sewing throughout high school and college, making costumes for dance and theatrical productions. She began her career in costuming in 1974, joining the wardrobe staff at the Curtis Institute of Music and assisting them with the dressing of The Tales of Hoffmann. Three years later, she moved to AVA’s wardrobe department.

The tasks Ms. Val’s title entails are many and varied. As costume designer, she figures out what the stage director would like each character in the production to look like. Based on that vision, she does research and then goes to a costume rental company in New York City to select costumes for each role. She spends three full days picking them out. “The Met Opera started the company I use, called TDF Costume Collection,” she says. “When the Met is finished with a production, they’ll donate their costumes—I like them because they’re usually high quality and sized for opera singers, rather than for tiny dancers and actors.”

As wardrobe coordinator, Ms. Starr is responsible for fitting and altering those costumes when they arrive and preparing them for the stage. “Sometimes costumes are made in such a complicated way that it’s next to impossible to take them apart,” she explains. “But most of them are set up so that each piece is a separate, finished unit that is easy to alter.”

Finding, fixing up and fitting the right costumes can be extremely challenging. If the stage director asks for something unusual or that dates back to a time period more modern than 1915, most outfits available at TDF do not come from the Met and are either vintage or have been made for actors, rather than for singers. Vintage fabric can be 30 to 50 years old and often doesn’t stand up to the punishment of half a dozen dress rehearsals and performances. On the other hand, costumes designed for actors tend to be too small for opera singers.

Ms. Starr recalls some of the costuming quasi-disasters that have taken place over the years at AVA. “The first time we did Ariadne auf Naxos, for the 1979-1980 season, I had a vintage, black and white, diamond-patterned costume for Harlequin,” she says. “It was a very old Met piece I had to reline, and you heard it rip every time the actor moved! It looked absolutely fabulous on stage—it was black velvet and white satin—but it was so old that it was just dying.” Since then, there have (sadly) been other instances of costumes falling apart on stage. “In 2012 we did L’elisir d’amore,” Ms. Starr recounts. “Our production was set in the 1940s… Thank goodness girls wore sweaters over their dresses during that time, because all the vintage dresses’ underarms disintegrated during the performance!”

Of course, these AVA costuming nightmares are outweighed by plenty of success stories. “My favorite production I did the costumes for was Jules Massenet’s Manon in 2014,” reflects Ms. Starr. “It’s set in the 18th century and those costumes were lovely. The director had the ball scene done in all black and white and it was truly stunning. Das Rienghold and Hansel and Gretel were also a lot of fun because I got to work with fantasy costumes.”

 

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Scenes from AVA’s 2014 production of Manon

The art of costuming, and therefore of sewing, is intrinsically tied to the art of opera: well-chosen and well-fitted costumes are not only key to an aesthetically remarkable performance but are vital to enhancing the power of a story. Ms. Starr, who has been working in the costume department of opera for 41 years, knows this well, and while some may argue that sewing is a dying craft, she makes it a point to keep it alive. “We used to learn how sew in high school in home economics class, but they don’t have that anymore,” she says. “But both my boys, growing up in my house and performing on the AVA stage, learned how to sew and how to run a sewing machine because I made very sure to teach them.”

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Humble beginnings. The AVA roster of singers is an impressive one – many have gone on to win major awards, including eight Richard Tucker Awards and four Beverly Sills Artist Awards, in addition to being winners of major competitions including but not limited to the Metropolitan Opera Auditions, the George London Foundation, and the Loren L. Zachary Society. All this flourishing success has its roots in the basement of the theater, which serves as kitchen/costume shop/green room and storage. Val Starr, dean of students, is also our costume designer. During any given show, this is her permanent spot – spending countless hours at this Singer Sewing machine. Any AVA singer has seen her tireless work and is familiar with this little nook of the building.

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Written by Tania Bagan

Resident Artist News: Summer 2018

AVA Resident Artists and recent graduates have been busy this spring, and have very busy summers ahead! Here’s a look at some of their recent and upcoming plans…

Piotr Buszewski recently made his professional debut at the New York City Opera as the title role in Il Pigmalione. In May, he will be making his Memphis Symphony Orchestra debut in Berlioz’s Te Deum. This summer, he will be singing in Rigoletto and Seven Deadly Sins, both at Wolf Trap.

Earlier this spring, Mackenzie Gotcher performed the role of Cavaradossi in Permian Basin Opera‘s production of Tosca. This summer, he will be singing the role of Captain Nolan in Doctor Atomic at Santa Fe Opera.

Hannah Ludwig will be going to the grand finals of the Loren L. Zachary Competition in Beverly Hills, and in June she is going to the finals of the James Toland Competition. She will be singing the Mozart Requiem at Carnegie Hall on May 26, and will also be performing the role of Isaura in Tancredi with the New York Teatro Nuovo festival program on July 28 and August 3.

Alexandra Nowakowski recently won second place in the Dorothy Lincoln Smith Competition. Along with Hannah, she will also be going to the grand finals of the Loren L. Zachary Competition and to the finals of the James Toland Competition. In July, she’ll be going to the Verbier Festival in Switzerland to sing Gilda in Rigoletto.

Daniel Noyola placed second in the New England Regionals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. This summer, he will be at Santa Fe Opera covering the role of Mustafà in L’italiana in Algeri. He also joins Houston Grand Opera’s Studio Artists in August, where he will be singing Masetto in Don Giovanni and Colline in La bohème.

Brent Michael Smith placed third in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Finals of the Metropolitan Opera Nationals Council Auditions. He will also compete in the semi-finals of the Opera Birmingham Competition in May, and he joins the Santa Fe Opera as an Apprentice Artist this summer singing Lakey in Ariadne auf Naxos and covering Truffaldino.

Oliver Sewell recently made his Carnegie Hall debut with the New England Symphonic Ensemble.

Ethan Simpson advanced to the semi-finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

Vanessa Vasquez will be singing Juliette in Roméo et Juliette at Wolf Trap this summer.

Matthew White recently won Top Prize in the Gerda Lissner Foundation International Vocal Competition and First Place in the Deborah Voigt International Vocal Competition.  He will make his role debut as Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly with The Princeton Festival next month.

And finally, AVA saves the day at Vero Beach Opera. Meryl Dominguez was at Vero Beach Opera in March to perform with Deborah Voigt, as part of her prize for placing third in the Deborah Voigt/VBO Foundation International Vocal Competition a year prior. Unfortunately due to inclement weather in the Northeast, Ms. Voigt was unable to travel and a replacement singer was needed with just four hours to spare. Thankfully and incredibly, fellow AVA Resident Artist Roy Hage was also in Florida, and was able to travel and perform with a very tight time crunch! This summer, Roy will be singing the role of Hoffman in Les contes d’Hoffmann for the Aspen Music Festival.

The final production of AVA’s 2017/18 opera season, La traviata, received rave reviews from Philadelphia Magazine, Chestnut Hill Local, The Cultural Critic and Broad Street Review.

Bravo to all of our Resident Artists!

Thank you to all who made this season an incredible one, we’re looking forward to seeing you throughout the 2018/19 season!

Be sure to stay-up-to-date with all AVA news by following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and signing up for our email list!

AVAround the World: Winter 2017

Welcome to another installment of AVA Alumni Around the World: Winter 2017 Edition. In this segment, we will be taking a look at the upcoming engagements our alumni are performing in all around the globe! Check below to see how our AVA alumni are welcoming in the new year in a big way:

Soprano Angela Meade will be performing the title role in Norma at the Metropolitan Opera through December 16. She will also be singing with Seattle Symphony December 28, 29, 30 in Beethoven: Symphony No. 9. She will perform a recital with Philadelphia Chamber Music Society at the Kimmel Center on January 7 and at Santa Fe on January 14. AVA will be hosting a Young Professionals event for this concert – stay tuned for details! Angela will also perform the title role in Semiramide at the Metropolitan Opera on February  19, 24, 28 and March 3, 6, 10, 14, 18. Lastly, she will perform Mahler: Symphony No. 8 with the Rotterdam Philharmonic on March 23 and 25.

(Angela Meade and Jamie Barton at The Met; Photo Credit: Marty Sohl/Metropolitan Opera)

Michael Fabiano will be singing the role of The Duke in Rigoletto at the Royal Opera house from Dec 14 -Jan 16. He will be performing the role of Edgardo in Lucia di Lammermoor at the Metropolitan Opera starting March 22. Finally, he will sing the role of Carrado in Il corsaro Paulau de at Les Arts Reina Sofia starting March 28.

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(Photo Credit: Opera Australia)

A big congratulations to mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato on another Grammy nomination – this year, 2017 Grammy nomination for Best Classical Vocal Solo! Since November, Joyce has been singing the title role in Semiramide at the Royal Opera House London. She will sing it through December 16.

Joyce will also be singing with Brentano String Quartet at Wigmore Hall, London on December 18 and 21. Also, on December 29, 30, and 31, she will perform in the Silvester Concerts with Berliner Philharmoniker. In January and February, she will sing the role of Sister Helen in Dead Man Walking at Teatro Real and Barbican Theatre.

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Soprano Ailyn Pérez will be performing in Germany from February 16-21 at Bayerische Staatsoper. There, she will sing the role of Micaela in Carmen. Beginning in April, Ailyn will perform the role of Juliette in Roméo et Juliette at the Metropolitan Opera alongside fellow AVA alum Bryan Hymel. Read her recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer here.

Bryan will also be performing in Faust at Deutsche Oper Berlin in Germany this summer! He recently received outstanding reviews from his performances at The Royal Opera – read here and here.

Photo: Dario Acosta

Allegra De Vita, mezzo-soprano, can be seen at the Washington National Opera a fair amount in this upcoming year. She will finish her run as The Fox in The Little Prince on December 17. Several other AVA alums can also be seen in The Little Prince: Christian Bowers and Michael Adams as the Pilot, and Christopher Kenney as the Businessman.

On January 19 and 21, Allegra will sing the role of Zagner Sister 2 in the new opera Proving Up, and starting in March, she will perform in Don Carlo singing the role of Tebaldo. Both performances are with the Washington National Opera.

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Stephen Costello and Joyce El-Khoury are in Madrid performing the Teatro Real’s new production of La bohème! Stephen can be seen as Rodolfo and Joyce as Musetta, both starting next week. In late January, Stephen will begin his run as the Duke in Rigoletto with Canadian Opera Company. Joyce’s album ÉCHO was recently listed as one of The Times and The Sunday Times’ Best Classical Albums of the Year!

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Stephen Costello and Joyce El-Khoury

Soprano Ellie Dehn will be performing as the Soprano Soloist in Handel’s Messiah with the Florida Orchestra on Dec 21, 22, and 23. Starting January 11, Ellie will be singing the role of Musetta in La bohème at Teatro di San Carlo.

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Finally, we have some exciting AVA Resident Artist news!

Please join us in congratulating two AVA Resident Artists and one alum who recently won scholarships from the Mario Lanza Institute!
Third Year Tenor Piotr Buzsewski – First Place
First Year Soprano Alexandra Razskazoff – Second Place
Baritone Jorge Espino (AVA ’17)- Fourth Place

AVA Master Vocal Coach Luke Housner was the competition’s accompanist.

Photo caption: L-R: Jorge Espino (4th place), Siena Licht Miller (3rd place), Alexandra Razskazoff (2nd place), Piotr Buzsewski (1st place) and accompanist Luke Housner.

 

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Four AVA Resident Artists will be heading to the The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts to perform for the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Region Finals in February. Please join us in congratulating Meryl Dominguez, Matthew White, Ethan Simpson and Brent Michael Smith! AVA Master Vocal Coach Richard A. Raub was once again the official pianist for the competition, and will also play at the Kennedy Center Region Finals.

To see more of what our Resident Artists have been up to recently, please visit this link.

It is never our intention to omit any AVA alumni. If you notice any discrepancies, please contact info@avaopera.org.

Written by AVA Marketing/PR Intern Madison Miner. Madison Miner is a senior Communications major at West Chester University, and an intern in AVA’s Marketing Department.

Fall 2017: A Look Back

So far, this season at AVA has been a most memorable one. As the holiday season and break soon approaches, let’s take a look back at at all of the things our Resident Artists have been up to so far this year…

AVA has put on a number of incredible recitals and performances so far this year! Check below to reminisce:

AVA’s 2017 New Resident Artist Recital: 

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The new Resident Artists displayed their talent in this recital back in September. We were so happy to welcome them and are thrilled to see what they have in store in these next four years! Meet the new Resident Artists here.

Giargiari Bel Canto Competition

In early October, AVA’s Resident Artists competed in the annual Giargiari Bel Canto Competition, held at the Kimmel Center’s Perelman Theater. AVA alumnus and world-renowned bass-baritone James Morris, The Metropolitan Opera’s Joshua Winograde and Palm Beach Opera’s Scott Guzielek presided as the evening’s judges and award the prizes. The audience also had the opportunity to vote for their favorite singer! Philadelphia blogger Marissa Baum recapped the evening on her blog here.

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Congratulations to:
Claire de Monteil and Alexandra Razskazoff – First Prize Winners (tie)
Piotr Buszewski – Second Prize
Meryl Dominguez – Audience Favorite Prize

WRTI Winners
Roy Hage – First Place
Alexandra Nowakowski – Second Place
Piotr Buszewski
 – Third Place

Congratulations to all!

Verdi’s Il trovatore 

Next up, AVA’s stunning performances of Verdi’s classic Il trovatore in November. This was AVA’s first production of Verdi’s immortal classic in 20 years. This extraordinary opera started off AVA’s season in just the right way!

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Claire de monteil and Mackenzie Gotcher

With raving reviews from the Philadelphia Inquirer and DC Metro Theater, Il trovatore was definitely one to remember.

Along with performing here at AVA, many of our Resident Artists are experiencing amazing opportunities outside of these walls! Here are a few:

Resident Artist Roy Hage deserves congratulations on his performance as First Armored Man back in September in Opera Philadelphia‘s Die Zauberflöte!

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In October we congratulated fourth-year Resident Artist soprano Alexandra Nowakowski who won the Second Prize in the 2017 Gerda Lissner Lieder/Song Competition!

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Also, third-year Resident Artist soprano Meryl Dominguez won the Alfonso Cavaliere Memorial Scholarship this past October! Bravo!

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Resident Artist tenor Marco Cammarota sang the role of Cavaradossi in Arizona Opera‘s production of Puccini’s Tosca in November. You can check out the full cast here.

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Another artist to make an exciting debut was John Matthew Myers who performed as the tenor soloist a few weeks ago at Carnegie Hall with the Canterbury Choral Society!

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AVA Resident Artist Claire de Monteil will be making her French debut this December, as she will be singing the role of Simone in the comic opera Les Mousquetaires au couvent at Opéra Grand Avignon!

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Hannah Ludwig, mezzo-soprano will make her debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in Handel’s Messiah!

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Vanessa Vasquez earned a great review in Opera News for her performance of Liù in Des Moines Metro Opera’s production of Madama Butterfly.

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Congratulations to all of our Resident Artists for all of their hard work.

Even though the beginning of the season is coming to a close, the new year is just around the corner!

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Still to come this December: an evening of Russian Romances at AVA. The December 14th performance includes an event for young professionals!

Join us at AVA for three more incredible operas and three more incredible chances to see our Resident Artists shine! The first opera we will be performing is Das Rheingold opening on January 20. The next is Ariadne auf Naxos opening on February 24. And opening on April 21 Verdi’s classic, La traviata.

You do not want to miss out on this opportunity to see our Resident Artists take on these operas. We hope to see you in the new year!

Written by AVA PR/Marketing Intern Madison Miner