Opera in Asia

It’s been a long while since I have posted. Please forgive me! Life and projects have a way of taking over. I’ve been focusing on a new job for the past few years, adjusting to life after divorce and experiencing a whirlwind of activity in Asia. My first forays to this amazing part of the world was as part of a team starting a new opera company in Hong Kong: More Than Musical. Its founder, Rumiko Hasegawa, and I met in New York at a lunch arranged by my friend and colleague Wei-En Hsu. At this meeting Rumiko described how she became involved in opera (she spent her career in the world of finance) and how she felt opera should be produced differently from what she had experienced in Hong Kong. She believes that opera should be performed in very intimate spaces, so that the audience is actually IN the story, as opposed to observing it from a distance. She also feels that the classics should be shortened, that there should be a bar for socializing and that the operas should be viewed through a contemporary lens. The moment I heard her describe her vision, I said “Sign me up!”

So started my adventure. In the past three years we have produced adaptations of La Traviata and Tosca (entitled The Kiss of Tosca).
Both productions were very successful (Traviata was presented twice) and the company is well on its way. Their next project is a contemporary adaptation of Carmen, directed by my colleague and former student, Jennifer Williams.

Since then, I have had the privilege of teaching acting masterclasses in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Wuhan, Seoul and Tokyo. I have been so impressed with the talented singers in Asia, long known for wonderful natural voices. But I have also experienced them as intelligent, hard-working artists very open to improving their acting skills as well. Acting training for opera singers is very limited in Asia. Nonetheless, I found everyone I worked with able to understand the concepts and bring forth excellent work.

I hope to be able to continue my work there as well as visit more countries in the incredibly rich world of Asia. More to come…

Des Moines Metro Opera

A few weeks back I had the pleasure of finally making it to Des Moines Metro Opera to experience its unique theater, which I had read and heard about for years. It did not disappoint. It’s a very intimate theater, seating app. 500, in a thrust configuration with the audience wrapping evenly around both sides of the stage. Its most interesting feature is having the orchestra pit located within the playing area, so the performers can be positioned downstage of the pit as well as upstage and to the sides of it. This feature enables the action to be even closer to the public. The acoustic is good, not as dry as most theaters of this type, and the stage house itself is quite wide and reasonably tall, so that one gets an “epic” feeling.

I attended two performances and gave an acting seminar to their young artist program singers. My first evening was Dead Man Walking in its Iowa premiere. Jake Heggie was in attendance and I enjoyed chatting with him. When I was head of Cincinnati Opera, we offered a production of this work–the first company to do so after its world premiere in San Francisco–and it was a wonderful experience for our community. The same could be said about the Des Moines project, for which both Sister Helen Prejean and Jake attended and gave talks. These two wonderful people are extremely generous in going around to companies and involving the community. Hats off to them both.

The production was clean and strong and I was really struck by how the resemblance of the performer playing Sister Helen to the real Helen Prejean. Pretty remarkable, not only in appearance but in spunky behavior. Everyone in the cast gave it their all and the band sounded terrific.

The next evening I attended La Traviata, which featured a couple of former students of mine in the leads. Caitlyn Lynch was doing the role only for the second time and was really wonderful, sounding fresh and full, able to pull off the vocal demands in the first act and then evolve the sound to encompass the greater depth of tone required by the later acts. Diego Silva was a lovely Alfredo, beautiful tone to the voice and for his first time out with the role did very well. Todd Thomas is someone I worked with many years ago and great to see him in action again after so many years, very convincing as an older, mature character. The chorus was absolutely spectacular–kudos to Lisa Hasson who prepared them. The production looked very sumptuous and Lillian Groag moved the actors around fluidly. She invented 4 silent clones of Violetta who appeared at various moments doing ghostly movement–I am always interested in such choices but I confess this one did not deliver a payoff for me.

The acting seminar started off in a very interesting way: a tornado sent us all to a secure basement room, after about 5 minutes of class activity! So the first singer and I did some talking work while we waited out the storm. The sky became incredibly dark to the point of seeming to be a very strange night sky–quite amazing. My wife Mari is from Iowa and confirmed seeing many such skies while growing up. After about 30 minutes of basement life, we resumed and had a lovely class.

Michael Egel, the General and Artistic Director of the company, is doing a stellar job taking over from Dr. Robert Larsen, who founded the company and led it for decades. Not an easy task taking the reins from such a legend! His approach is measured and gradual in terms of instituting the changes he envisions and the public is reacting very well. I wish him all the best for continued success at this gem of a company.

National Opera Association Convention Presentation

I just returned from New York City and the National Opera Association Convention at which I was a presenter for one of their sessions. The subject I was given was how to help singers improve their auditions and I was allowed 45 minutes to get the job done (!). Always up for a challenge, I thought about what I could say/do in the time frame to get something meaningful across, rather than simply offer “band-aid” advice. So I decided to focus on acting values and tried to narrow the focus down to one thing. I chose the topic of how to grip an audiences’ attention, how to be a riveting performer. It was an interesting exercise on how to distill the ideas and I put together a quick PowerPoint presentation to help give some coherence to what I had to say. If you are curious about it, go back to my Home page and click on the link in the “My Book” section and you will be able to view those ideas.

I hope you enjoy them! And please do be in touch with comments and questions.

July 2011

Atlantic Music FestivalAbout to venture off to Waterville, Maine, where the Atlantic Music Festival is in residence on the campus of Colby College. I will be teaching acting classes and directing scenes.

 

 

 

 

 

November 2008

OPERA NEWS review by Joanne Sydney Lessner for Das Liebesverbot just in: “Nicholas Muni’s brash staging, updated to 1950s Sicily, was a no-holds-barred descent into depravity, with guns waving, switchblades flashing, smoking, copulation and childbirth, occasionally short-circuited by sadistic fascists wielding cattle prods. This makes it sound dark and depressing, but in fact it was entertaining, fun and vital. Muni fully explored the extremes of culture clash — the club scene versus the cloister, real piety versus self-serving evangelism, louche Italy versus orderly Germany. He also humanized both Isabella, by giving her a secret cigarette stash and Fellini-esque scarf and sunglasses, and Friedrich, by introducing a silent love-child from his youthful liaison with Mariana. Muni made excellent use of Conklin’s set, with a great reveal for Friedrich, lurking functionaries on the catwalk and shadow-play against a hanging shield.”

October 2008

Nic is presently at Indiana University directing Prokofiev’s THE LOVE FOR THREE ORANGES for the first time in his career–and for which he has written a new english translation. Other projects he is preparing are THE TURN OF THE SCREW for Portland Opera and two projects for Cincinnati Conservatory: ARIADNE AUF NAXOS, for which he is writing a new english translation and an adaptation, and  POSTCARD FROM MORROCO. Also in the preparation process is LE NOZZE DI FIGARO for the New England Conservatory of Music, due for production in December.

September 2008

Further reviews for DAS LIEBESVERBOT has confirmed the wonderful success of Nic’s Glimmerglass Opera’s production this past summer. In the LONDON TIMES Literary Supplement, Joseph Horowitz wrote: “Nicholas Muni’s Glimmerglass production was as ingeniously sophisticated as the opera is sporadically callow. Muni and the designer John Conklin updated the action to the present day. The mafioso touches included leather jackets and shades. There was also plenty of sex, which lent credibility to Friedrich’s windy expostulations against depravity. By applying a grain of salt where Wagnerian excesses were least redeemable, Muni secured maximum impact and minimal disappointment. As revealed at Glimmerglass, Das Liebesverbot emerged – as it generally does not in the Wagner literature – as an exercise mightily freighted with great things to come. Though not remotely a candidate for repertoire status, this is an opera that deserves to travel – and so does the Muni/Conklin production.”

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