Meet the Star of ‘Morning Star’

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Soprano Twyla Robinson creates the role of Becky Felderman in Morning Star.

Soprano Twyla Robinson used to ride her bike on her family’s farm in Louisiana—-now she sings on the world’s greatest stages. In our world premiere of Morning Star, she portrays Becky Felderman, a character who leads her family through times of incredible difficulty and uncertainty.

So, just who is the woman behind the character? Read on to find out!

Where are you from? Did you grow up around music?
I’m from Denham Springs, Louisiana, which, back in the day, was just farmland between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. My Dad was a safety inspector and my mom was an RN. I also grew up with one brother, who was actually on the pro rodeo circuit and now is a farrier, so he shoes horses for a living. As far as being musical, there is a lot of latent musical talent in my family but nobody ever made their living doing it. Both my parents played piano and I have various aunts and uncles who are fiddlers—-I am from the south after all!

When you go back home, what is the one thing you look forward to the most?
Oh, heavens—-this is Cajun country, so when I go back to the area I get the authentic food! Although, what I really look forward to most is spending time with family. It’s all about that home nucleus, and the things I associate with home are the people and how we celebrate.

Do you remember when you decided you wanted to be a singer?
I could tell you the date, time, and even what the weather was like on the day I made the decision to sing! I was on my bike and we had a bank of mailboxes down by a giant oak tree. Now, these were not what you think of as mailboxes; they were basically tin cans that your delivery person would stuff full of mail. Anyway, I was on my bike, and I saw the sun coming through the trees,and it just hit me: “I’m gonna be a singer!” At the time I thought I was going to sing country or gospel because that’s what I knew.

When did you begin to consider classical voice as an avenue for your career?
The desire to sing opera didn’t come until college. I lived in a small, somewhat poor, town and the schools only offered band. This is Louisiana after all, so where there are football teams, there are marching bands. So, I joined up and played the French horn, which was actually my first major in college. One of the things that makes, say, a rock concert so amazing is that the music is so powerful and booming that it almost moves right through you. I experienced that same sensation the first time I heard opera. The difference was that it was the human voice and completely acoustic. Of course, wanting to be a singer all my life and loving that sensation, you can imagine it was a bit of a fait accompli! So, I added voice as another major to see how far I could take it and here we are.

You play Becky Felderman, the lead character in Morning Star. What has been the most interesting aspect of the process so far?
For me, I would say it’s that for the first time, I’m not playing a princess or something similar where the audience automatically likes me. Becky has a horrific past and is faced with tough decisions. I’ve been fascinated with the machinations of my brain to shy away from the hard bits because of how people may see the character. Ron Daniels [the director] has been very tough with me to make sure that Becky stays in a place of complete honesty, and that I allow the audience to make their own decision about her. There will be audience members who don’t like her and don’t agree with her choices, and I have to be ok with that.

You’ve performed with Cincinnati Opera over the period of a few years. What is the biggest change that you’ve seen over the course of your time here?
The first time I came here, Washington Park was just a gravel pit that we used for parking! The neighborhood around it was kind of bombed out. Then, I came back two years later and it was this gorgeous park and I thought, “How did they do that?” I came back for the third time, and not only is the park still gorgeous, but the community is absolutely vibrant. It seems like every afternoon when I walk through, there are families playing in the fountain and concerts. Strangers even just start talking to me! There’s this open, family feel to the area. I want to go spend time in the park today and sit and talk with a total stranger! That is a vastly different experience from my first time here in Cincinnati.

This is the all-important question. You’ve been here so many times that you’re basically an honorary Cincinnatian. What is your opinion on Cincinnati chili and Graeter’s?
Well, because I live in Texas, we have a very different view of chili, but I like it! I usually have it over a hot dog. I’m still getting used to the chili over pasta concept—-I’ve gotta give it time. But, let’s be honest—-if you don’t like Graeter’s ice cream, there’s something wrong with you! I haven’t had any yet this time around, but I’ve got to go soon. As far as flavors go, anything involving blueberry will probably be going into my cup.

Jamie Barton: Behind the Award

Jamie Barton sings Azucena in our upcoming production of Il Trovatore.

Mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton sings Azucena in our upcoming production of Il Trovatore.

Described as the “Heisman Trophy of opera” (The New York Times), the Richard Tucker Award is given to “an American singer poised on the edge of a major national and international career,” and has been awarded to such singers as Renée Fleming, Lawrence Brownlee, Stephanie Blythe, Ailyn Pérez, Angela Meade, Joyce DiDonato, and Stephen Costello.

We are lucky to have the 2015 winner of the prestigious award, mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton, on the Music Hall stage this week! Jamie will join the powerhouse cast of Il Trovatore (June 18 & 20 at Music Hall) to sing the role of Azucena for the first time.

We sat down with Jamie to get her personal perspective on winning such a public award.

Was it a goal of yours to win the Richard Tucker Award?
Since you don’t compete for the award (you’re chosen), it wasn’t so much a goal as it was a hope. Although, I don’t think I ever even dreamed they would consider me for it, much less give it to me!

How were you told that you won?
I was in my apartment in Houston, and, coincidentally, about have lunch with Christine Goerke (Richard Tucker Award recipient and Grammy Award winner) when Barry Tucker (President of the Richard Tucker Music Foundation) himself called me! When I realized it was Barry, there was a flip in my stomach. I thought, “Oh my gosh, what if he’s calling to tell me [I’ve won]?!” I had worked with the Richard Tucker Music Foundation for several years, and I was close with every person there. Barry had me on speaker phone with the whole office, and when they told me [I had won the award], I was speechless for the first time in a very long time, which moved very quickly into tears!

Who was the first person you told about receiving the award?
I was told I was the winner before it could be announced, so I had to keep it under my hat for three days! Once I was allowed to tell people, I told my parents first.

What was their reaction?
Oh, they cried. My mom said, “I knew it—I knew you’d get it!” But they may be a bit biased.

How is the Richard Tucker Award different from other awards you’ve won?
When I won the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, it felt like everybody knew. But for this one, the American public didn’t really know. The difference came when the The New York Times wrote an article saying that I had won the “Heisman Trophy of opera awards.” At that point, my family started getting calls from local newspapers for quotes! We were all just sort of blown away and because this is a truly American award, it feels more like a hometown thing, which makes it incredibly special.

OK, dying to know—the award comes with a cash prize, what is the one thing you purchased that you wouldn’t have if you hadn’t won?
My apartment! Honestly, thanks to the Tucker Award I felt like I could!

For more Jamie, visit jamiebartonmezzo.com.

MADAME BUTTERFLY: Keeping it in the Family

One of the world’s best-loved operas, Madame Butterfly, became a family affair for one Cincinnati family. For the children of lyric soprano Jeanne Goodman (stage name Jeanne Darrell), life on stage at Cincinnati Opera started at a young age.

One of the small but crucial characters in Madame Butterfly is the role of Butterfly’s son. In Italian, he is named Dolore, which translates to “Sorrow” or “Trouble.” Though the role does not require singing or speaking, it is still a uniquely difficult role to cast. Within the opera’s plot, Pinkerton is absent for three years, so the supernumerary, or “super,” cast in this role must be very young. Despite the age of the character, the super in the role of Trouble has a significant amount of acting to do on stage.

Lyric soprano Jeanne Goodman mostly retired from her opera career when she and her husband, Edward, started their family. As Edward taught history at Xavier University, Jeanne raised their four children at home in Cincinnati. Even though she traded rehearsal schedules for playdates and homework, Jeanne never really left the opera world.

Jeanne’s children became staples in Cincinnati Opera’s productions of Madame Butterfly. Beginning in 1951, Jim, Steve, Karen, and Patrice Goodman each took a turn playing Madame Butterfly’s son, Trouble. Jim became a local celebrity after the 1951 performances of Madame Butterfly, yet “no one is more surprised at the stage presence of the chubby, crew-cut three-and-a-half-year-old than his own parents.” (Cincinnati Times-Star, 1951). After Jim’s debut role, he promised to train his younger brother, Steve, 14 months old at the time, for the role.

Jim continued to be Trouble until Steve was old enough to inherit the role from his older brother. In 1958, Karen Goodman is believed to have become the first girl to play the role of Trouble in the history of Cincinnati Opera. At age 6, Karen “did it this time and got a tremendous hand from Zoo audiences” (The Cincinnati Post & Times-Star, 25 July 1958), despite the original script calling for a boy to be cast in the role. At the time of Karen’s opera debut, her younger sister, Patrice, was only two-and-a-half years old, not quite old enough to play Trouble just yet. However, only one year later the youngest Goodman inherited the role of Trouble and debuted in Cincinnati Opera’s 1959 production, featuring Barry Morell as Pinkerton and Elisabeth Carron as Cio-Cio-San.

Though there is no evidence that clearly states how the Goodman family had a lock on the Trouble role for nearly a decade, one contemporary journalist argued that it was because of famous soprano Dorothy Kirsten. Dorothy starred in the 1951 production of Madame Butterfly and was a close friend to Jeanne in their youth. She and Jeanne shared an apartment when they were music students in New York.

Though none of the Goodman children pursued careers in the arts, they have fond memories of their time with Cincinnati Opera. Today, Jim and Steve live abroad, in Thailand and Peru respectively, and Karen and Patrice live in the Cincinnati area.

J. Goodman and D. Kirsten 1951

A young Jim Goodman (Trouble) and Dorothy Kirsten (Cio-Cio-San) in Cincinnati Opera’s 1951 production.

Jim Goodman as Trouble 1951

Jim Goodman and fellow cast members on stage after a 1951 performance.

P. Goodman with B. Morell and E. Carron

Barry Morell (Pinkerton) and Elisabeth Carron (Cio-Cio-San), Patrice Goodman (Trouble) and Carron in Cincinnati Opera’s 1959 production.

Jeanne Goodman Headshot 1

Jeanne Goodman, stage name Jeanne Darrell.

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Jeanne Goodman.

10 Questions with Escamillo

Q&A interview with our Escamillo, Daniel Okulitch

Daniel Okulitch sings as Escamillo in Cincinnati Opera’s 2014 production of Carmen.

Daniel Okulitch If you’re attending any of Cincinnati Opera’s performances of Carmen this season, (which you definitely should), you will come across Escamillo, the cocky toreador who steals Carmen’s heart. We’d like to introduce you to the man behind the bullfighting cape, Daniel Okulitch. He may play a lot of villainous characters, but is he anything like them? Read on to find out!

Q: Who is your all-time favorite singer?
A: I don’t have just one, but Nina Simone, Tom Waits, Franco Corelli, Fritz Wunderlich, Sarah Vaughn are all on the top of the list.

Q: If you had a super power, what would it be?
A: Time travel

Q: You can’t go on stage without…
A: Making sure my fly is up

Q: List three words you think your friends would use to describe you.
A: Loyal, complex, stubborn

Q: What makes you cry?
A: Giacomo Puccini’s Suor Angelica

Q: What is your guilty pleasure movie or TV show?
A: I don’t believe in guilt 🙂

Q: What do you do on a typical night off?
A: In Cincinnati? Chat with friends, have a drink, play poker, and lose money at the Horseshoe…

Q: If you hadn’t become a singer, what would you have done?
A: No idea…but it wouldn’t likely be nearly as fun

Q: What is your weakness?
A: Apathy

Q: Which character you sing is most like you?
A: I play a lot of villains, so that’s a hard one. I like to think every character makes us discover new parts of ourselves, especially the dark sides.

10 Questions with Carmen

Q&A interview with Stacey Rishoi, the mezzo-soprano starring in our 2014 production of Carmen

Stacey Rishoi stars in Cincinnati Opera’s 2014 production of Carmen.

Our 94th Summer Festival opens with Bizet’s Carmen, June 12-22 at Music Hall. With just eight days until opening night, we wanted to give you a quick introduction to our Carmen, Stacey Rishoi. Read on to find out what Stacey has in common with her fiery character!

Q: What was the first opera you ever saw?
A: I remember Carmen being one of my first experiences with opera. I was playing in the pit orchestra during my violin studies at the University of Iowa. I always longed to be up on the stage singing, rather than playing down in the pit. I remember saying to myself as I watched and listened to the singers, “Hey…I can do that!”

Q: In what ways are you like Carmen?
A: I’m forthright, free, and do not do well being bossed around.

Q: Who is your all-time favorite singer?
A: Christa Ludwig, hands down

Q: List three words your friends would use to describe you.
A: Kind, focused, and genuine

Q: What was the last book you read?
A: Read a book? You know I have a toddler, right?

Q: What is your guilty pleasure TV show?
A: The Office

Q: What is your most treasured possession?
A: My violin

Q: If you hadn’t become a professional singer, what other careers would you have considered?
A: A zoologist or veterinarian

Q: What is your weakness?
A: Häagen-Dazs’s Dulce de Leche ice cream

Q: What advice can you give to us all to be more like Carmen?
A: Learn to accept what’s in front of you, have fun, stand your ground, and follow your passion!

Q&A: CARMEN REDUX Creative Team

Interview with Brian Robertson and Lisa Hasson, the creative minds behind Cincinnati Opera’s Carmen Redux

Stage Manager Sydney Kuhlman, Music Director/Accompanist Lisa Hasson, cast members Luis Alejandro Orozco, Marco Cammarota, and Leah de Gruyl, Stage Director Brian Robertson, cast members Melisa Bonetti and Katy Lindhart, and Opera Outbound Coordinator Kemper Florin

Stage Manager Sydney Kuhlman, Music Director/Accompanist Lisa Hasson, cast members Luis Alejandro Orozco, Marco Cammarota, and Leah de Gruyl, Stage Director Brian Robertson, cast members Melisa Bonetti and Katy Lindhart, and Opera Outbound Coordinator Kemper Florin

by Melanie Schmid

We had a chance to sit down with the talented husband-and-wife team behind Cincinnati Opera’s Carmen Redux, Brian Robertson and Lisa Hasson. Carmen Redux is touring schools and community centers now through March 22 – a full schedule is listed here.

Q: How have you been involved with Cincinnati Opera in the past?

Lisa: This is our third Redux that we’ve worked on for Cincinnati Opera. We did La Bohème and The Magic Flute before this one. I’ve also played for several other educational tours with the opera on pieces that were originally written for children.

Brian: I worked for Cincinnati Opera from 1998-2002 in the education department and during the summer season. During that time, I directed a few productions and scripted a show called “Operacadabra.” Later on, I began scripting these Reduxes for Cincinnati Opera.
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Macy’s Arts Sampler: Catch the Spirit

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by Melanie Schmid

Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, May Festival Chorus, and Cincinnati Shakespeare Company together with ArtsWave present “Catch the Spirit!” at Macy’s Arts Sampler on Saturday, March 15 at 1 p.m. at historic Music Hall.

These five core organizations of the Cincinnati arts scene are coming together for a rare collaboration featuring music from such composers as Verdi, Mozart, Tchaikovsky, and more. CSO Associate Conductor Robert Treviño conducts the full Orchestra, while singers from the Opera, dancers from CBII (Cincinnati Ballet’s Second Company), actors from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, and the May Festival Chorus add stunning visual and musical elements seldom to be experienced on the same stage. This performance is free and open to the public and appropriate for all ages.

Come see Cincinnati Opera singers Amanda Pabyan, Jennifer Panara, Richard Troxell, and Charles Zachary Owen represent the Opera! We hope to see you there for this celebration of Cincinnati’s abundant arts culture.

PROGRAM:
“Mazurka” from Swan Lake Suite, Op. 20a by Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Cincinnati Ballet Second Company

“Vogliatemi bene,” Love Duet and Act I Finale from Madame Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini
Amanda Pabyan, soprano
Richard Troxell, tenor

“Soave sia il vento” (Terzettino) from Così Fan Tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Amanda Pabyan, soprano
Jennifer Panara, mezzo-soprano
Charles Zachary Owen, bass-baritone

Excerpt from “Libera me” from Requiem by Giuseppe Verdi
Amanda Pabyan, soprano
May Festival Chorus

“Hostias” from Requiem by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Cincinnati Ballet Second Company
May Festival Chorus

“Go Down, Moses” from The Ordering of Moses by R. Nathaniel Dett
May Festival Chorus

“Entrance of the Gods into Valhalla” from Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner

Artists featured in the program include:
Robert Treviño, conductor
Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Louis Langrée, Music Director
Cincinnati Opera, Evans Mirageas, Artistic Director
Charles Zachary Owen, bass-baritone
Amanda Pabyan, soprano
Jennifer Panara, mezzo-soprano
Richard Troxell, tenor
Cincinnati Ballet Second Company, Victoria Morgan, Artistic Director
Suzette Boyer Webb, Cincinnati Ballet Second Company Manager
Christopher Stowell, Choreography (“Hostias”)
Sabir Yapparov, Staging (“Mazurka”)
May Festival Chorus, Robert Porco, Director
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Jeremy Dubin, Artistic Associate & Ensemble Member
Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Brian Isaac Phillips, Producing Artistic Director