Madeline Ross

To freely and fully embrace all possibilities

Questions for Queer Opera singers and stage director Rebecca Herman

Queer Opera is nearly upon us. This weekend’s trio of concerts at Portland State’s Lincoln Hall Studio Theater feature opera scenes and art songs, all given the QO twist, and if you can manage to escape from The Empire these shows’ll rock your socks right off. Queer Opera: Experience is two nights of opera scenes, this Saturday and Sunday; Queer Opera: Song is a Sunday afternoon’s worth of English art songs.

You’ve heard enough from me already, so I thought it was time to let the gang speak for themselves. We spoke by email with stage director Rebecca Herman and four of the singers performing this weekend; their answers have been condensed and edited for clarity and flow.

Today’s guests:

  • Rebecca Herman, Opera Stage Director and Producer, she/her.
  • Sam Peters, soprano, they/she. Performing as The Count in Le Nozze di Figaro, Alcindoro in La Bohème, and Mercedes in Carmen.
  • Lisa Neher, mezzo-soprano, she/her. Performing as Idamante in Idomeneo and as Octavian in Der Rosenkavalier.
  • Lydia O’Brien, mezzo-soprano, she/her. Performing title role in Carmen and Colline in La Bohème; singing “Let Beauty Awake” from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Songs of Travel.
  • Madeline Ross, soprano, she/her. Performing as Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier and Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. Singing William Walton’s “Daphne.”

Arts Watch: What is the earliest musical “a-ha” moment you can remember? A song, an album, a concert, a class, a performance, etc. The thing that caught your ear and made you stop and say, “wait a minute, this music thing, I want to do that for real.”

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‘The Little Prince’: flight of imagination

Artistic director Justin Ralls, who conducts this weekend’s Opera Theater Oregon’s production, sees Saint-Exupery’s story as “a metaphor for that revitalizing world of imagination and creativity”

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

This weekend at downtown Portland’s lovely Dolores Winningstad Theatre, Opera Theater Oregon premieres its new production of The Little Prince. That’s the whole run, so if you’re going you’d better get a move on. The opera—with libretto by British playwright Nicholas Wright and music by British composer Rachel Portman (best known for her award-winning film scores and the music Jim Henson’s The Storyteller series)—is sung in English and based on the popular novel by French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

This is the second season with OTO for artistic co-directors Justin Ralls and Nicholas Meyer, the composer-singer team who brought us Ralls’s Two Yosemites for their inaugural season with the independent opera company last year. Joining them in this year’s production are some of the area’s finest singers. Superstar mezzo-soprano Hannah Penn plays The Fox (a raisonneur sort of character who gets most of the best lines); composer, Resonance Ensemble bass-baritone, and ArtsWatch contributor Damien Geter sings The King (and one of the baobab trees). In the starring roles, we’ve got baritone and Aquilon Music Festival founder and festival coordinator Anton Belov as The Pilot, and tiny soprano Catherine Olson as the titular prince. It’s worth going to just for the vocal cast.

Belov and Olson in OTO’s ‘The Little Prince.’ Photo: Theodore Sweeney

Portman’s score is, well, Portmany—melodic, bright and a little moody, heavily indebted to normal classical music—and I look forward to hearing how Ralls handles another composer’s music, having only heard him conduct his own. He is a fine composer in his own right, student of UO-based composer Robert Kyr and one of many younger voices who are finally beginning to bloom (Nokuthula Ngwenyama and Andy Akiho also come to mind). OTO will premiere his new opera, Song of the Most Beautiful Bird of the Forest, next season.

Ralls is also a passionate advocate for creativity as a form of resistance, as evidenced in his brilliant and prescient 2015 essay “The Power of Creation in an Age of Destruction,” an impassioned and well-reasoned manifesto that you should take a moment to read—after you’ve finished the following interview, that is. Ralls’s answers have been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity.

The Little Prince, Verdi style

In redefining the mission of Opera Theater Oregon we [artistic directors Ralls and Meyer and executive director Lisa Lipton] wanted to focus on contemporary works, work that is in English specifically to reach our audience, works from diverse composers, and works that aren’t necessarily represented.

The Little Prince was on our radar, and we all reviewed it and thought it would be a great fit for us in our second production. Two Yosemites was a big work, and pretty heavy in its content and its musical language. We wanted to not repeat that, but have something that opens it up to an even larger audience and attract people that had never been to an opera before, and younger audiences.

Catherine Olson plays the title role in Opera Theater Oregon’s ‘The Little Prince.’ Photo: Theodore Sweeney

The Little Prince was ideal for us because of the accessibility of the music and the variety of roles. There’s ten-plus characters, but those characters don’t sing an entire opera—they have cameo appearances. So we’re able to feature a lot of different singers with a very practical economy of means. We’ve been talking about it as “The Little Prince, Verdi style.”

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