Yale Opera’s production of “The Magic Flute” asks what it means to be human

Dustin Wills

Theater director Dustin Wills, a 2014 graduate of the Yale School of Drama, says there is a reckoning happening in his industry, an accountability for what one is putting on stage and what that work has to say socially and politically. “That’s where I’m coming from,” he said recently, during rehearsals for Yale Opera’s new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, which he is directing. The 1791 opera, a Singspiel, was Mozart’s last. It added punctuation to his life and to an Age of Reason that was giving way to Romanticism. The story of The Magic Flute, crafted by librettist Emanuel Schikaneder, explored and celebrated Enlightenment ideals, the flaws of which, Wills pointed out, we are dealing with today. A movement that was born of goodwill, Wills said, forgot those who were not white, male European landowners.

“It would be irresponsible for me to allow this opera to happen in a vacuum,” Wills said. And while he can’t change the libretto, he has used the work as a vehicle for revisiting the original inquiry. “What is our modern-day equivalent of this movement?” he asked. Male-focused heroism, for one thing, is “really old nonsense,” Wills said, mentioning his own struggles with playing roles steeped in male stereotypes. With that in mind, he has reframed the focus—which Schikaneder trained on Tamino—to equally include Pamina. Wills’ fundamental inquiry is: What does it mean to be human?

The answer, to Wills, can be found, in part, in our relationship with artificial intelligence. “AI today is the exact same experiment,” he said, revisiting Enlightenment-period themes of egalitarianism and individualism. “You have to really investigate what a human is. In Saudi Arabia, they gave citizenship to a robot.” Wills’ turn directing The Magic Flute brings up the same moral questions that 18th century philosophers and artists were asking in their time. And that, he believes, is part of the responsibility of the artist who is faced with staying true to a piece of work while bringing it into a modern-day context without going too far. “If we’re not making attempts to find that line,” Wills said, “I don’t know how much of an audience in the future there’s going to be.” In other words, “How do you reconcile these beautiful, amazing old works with politics that are potentially very harmful and triggering today?”

The goal, he said, “is really to be absolutely more inclusive, to try to open the door wider to more people.” This production, he explained, gives us the opportunity to take a break from the chaos around us and also leaves us with questions to ask ourselves and one another. It is his job, he said, to push members of an audience beyond their comfort zones. “The artists are the ones who’re up all night thinking about the future,” he said.

It’s not all about angst, though. “We rehearse from a place of joy at all times,” he said, “because that’s what’s at the center of this thing.”

Soprano Anush Avetisyan ’18MM, who is sharing the role of Pamina with soprano Sylvia D’Eramo ’18MM, said, “It has truly been a joy working with Dustin on this production of The Magic Flute. What I have noticed and really appreciated is Dustin’s commitment to the work at hand. His vision and personality are rare in this world and I am grateful for them every day of rehearsal.”

Yale Opera presents a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the Shubert Theatre Feb. 16-18.




Published February 9, 2018
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Guest post: baritone Zachary Johnson ’17MM ’18MMA, on performing Opera Scenes

Baritone Zachary Johnson

On a chilly day in February 2015, I walked into Doris Yarick-Cross’ office for my audition interview. Nervous, and very excited, I answered a series of well-thought-out questions about my education, musicianship, and hopes for the future. I remember the interview well, but there will always be one question that sticks out to me: “Can you learn and memorize music quickly?” I answered, sang my audition, and later accepted my position and moved to New Haven the following September. Within the first week of school I was given a large envelope of music for my first production at Yale: Opera Scenes. I was to perform four different roles, in four different opera scenes — two in Italian, one in German, and one in English. I had just over a month to learn the repertoire, work with coaches, and sing the music from memory. I had my work cut out for me, but I thought back to that interview question and knew that this is what is expected from a singer in this program, and I was not going back down.

“Così fan tutte,” 2017

Opera scenes are an incredibly useful venture for singers, especially young singers intending to pursue a career in opera. While teaching us how to learn multiple styles of music in multiple languages at once, they also help us develop the skill of switching gears emotionally, mentally, and physically as we jump from character to character. I can remember transforming from an eccentric, dancing butler to a slow, dim-witted carpenter all in one night. What is unique about the Yale Opera is that the scenes programs are fully costumed and staged, so each snippet of these incredible operas can stand alone and tell their own stories. We get to work with incredibly talented vocal coaches that help us achieve a deeper understanding of the music and text so we are fully prepared to step on stage and bring these stories to life. Strengthening the ability to jump from character to character and language to language is an extremely useful skill for all opera singers, and Opera Scenes is one of the best programs for that. Following our scenes program in the fall, we perform a complete, fully staged production at the Shubert Theatre. The work chosen is usually one we performed a scene from the previous semester, which is an incredibly useful feature of the Yale Opera program. While developing the skill of balancing multiple roles is important, diving into an entire role and being able to understand the growth and trajectory of a single character is equally as vital for a young singer. the Yale Opera provides its singers with opportunities for both, and you will finish this program with a quicker mind, a thicker resume, and the skills you will absolutely need to balance the multifaceted workload of a professional opera singer.

“Don Quichotte,” 2016

In my third year here at the Yale School of Music, I still think back to that interview. I think back to that question. I will admit, in February 2015, that my answer lacked confidence. I was unsure if I possessed what it takes to be an opera singer. If you were to ask me the same question today, another chilly day, in November 2017, I would smile, think back on the incredible amount of opportunities I have been given in this program to develop as a singer, a musician, and a human being, and give you the most confident “Yes.”


Published November 2, 2017
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Yale Opera prepares for Fall Opera Scenes programs

Richard Cross, left, and Doris Yarick-Cross

Shortly after arriving at the Yale School of Music to study in the Yale Opera program, ascendant vocalists are handed an envelope containing the repertoire they’re expected to learn and memorize for the Fall Opera Scenes performances. This year, those concerts take place on November 3 and November 4 and feature excerpts from classic and contemporary operas.

The repertoire is chosen by faculty soprano and Yale Opera Artistic Director Doris Yarick-Cross and YSM faculty bass-baritone Richard Cross with each student’s development in mind. That approach, Yarick-Cross said, is “how we can best get them ready for their future. We choose the roles that we feel will give them the best opportunity to progress.

“What we try to do is give them the tools to be professionals,” Yarick-Cross said. “Our students get hired because they’re prepared.”

And that means going beyond the vocal parts, “to break through inhibitions,” Cross said. “To become a convincing character on stage” isn’t just about singing and acting, he said. “It’s also internalizing the repertoire” — “to get them into the habit of meeting the demands” that will be placed on them throughout their careers, Yarick-Cross added.

As much as the repertoire for the Fall Opera Scenes programs is chosen with pedagogy in mind, the Yale Opera audience is also part of the programming equation. While “La Bohème is perfect for young singers,” Cross said, pointing out that the characters in that opera are themselves young, it’s long been an audience favorite, too.

Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, based on Sister Helen Prejean’s 1993 book of the same title, has been appreciated by audiences since its premiere in 2000 at the San Francisco Opera. The New Haven audience, Yarick-Cross said, will be “overwhelmed by the Heggie.” Likewise, she said, the first act of Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos will appeal to local concertgoers. “I think they will really like it,” Yarick-Cross said. “It will be new to most of them. There’s a lot going on” and “There is some wonderful singing.”

On Friday and Saturday, November 3 and November 4, the Yale Opera presents performances of scenes from Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte and Don Giovanni, Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Massenet’s Cendrillon, Puccini’s La Bohème, Humperdinck’s Hänsel und Gretel, Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia, and Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos


Published October 26, 2017
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Yale Opera presents “Così fan tutte” at Shubert Theater for 3 shows


Chas Rader-Shieber. Photo by Bridget Elliot

New Haven Register | By Joe Amarante

If you’re not taking advantage of the best entertainment options Yale University has to offer, it’s on you. Yale Opera, for example, does a sterling job, and the next opportunity to see a polished production comes Feb. 17-19 at the Shubert Theatre.

Così fan tutte offers not only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s impeccable music (the overture should be very familiar) but also comedy and, as classicfm.com puts it, “a satirical tale of love that takes a cynical swipe at men and women.”

Chas Rader-Shieber, the veteran opera stage director handling the two-act production for the first time since the mid-2000s, said while he’s done unconventional things with certain operas before, there’s no reason to mess with this one.


Published February 13, 2017
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Paweł Konik reaches finals of “Le Grand Prix de l’Opéra”

Paweł Konik | Photo by Anna Płóciennik

Paweł Konik | Photo by Anna Płóciennik

Earlier this month, bass-baritone Paweł Konik reached the final round of “Le Grand Prix de l’Opéra,” the International Voice Competition organized by the Bucharest National Opera. Konik earned a special Excellency Prize, presented by the Russian Embassy, for his interpretation of “Aleko’s Cavatina” from Rachmaninoff’s Aleko. He also performed “Vedro mentr’io sospiro” from Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and “O du mein holder Abendstern” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser.

Konik, a native of Poland, is a member of the Yale Opera program, where he studies with Doris Yarick-Cross and Richard Cross. Konik also worked on his competition repertoire with YSM faculty members Douglas Dickson, Timothy Shaindlin, and Kyle Swann. During the 2015-2016 concert season, Konik appeared in Yale Opera productions of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Massenet’s Don Quichotte. Prior to coming to Yale, Konik attended the Karol Szymanowski Academy of Music in Katowice. MORE

Published August 24, 2016
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[ in the press ]

Yale Opera’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ to chase midwinter’s chill

midsummerNew Haven Register | By Joe Amarante

When Yale Opera honcho Doris Yarick-Cross signed a director for the School of Music’s big February production, she didn’t just get a big name, but one with a pedigree that, it turns out, inspired the show’s Norwegian conductor when he was a boy.

Director Claudia Solti is the daughter of late-great conductor Georg Solti and former BBC presenterValerie Pitts. Sir Georg is best known for his work with opera companies in Europe and as longtime music director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. His daughter is making her Yale Opera debut with this opera about “the fickle nature of romantic love,” as she put it.

And in a release, Yarick-Cross said she chose Bergmann because, “I was convinced that his joyous, convincing and skillful handling of the orchestra was exactly what was needed for our production.”

The new production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Benjamin Britten’s atmospheric opera adapted from Shakespeare’s revered play, will take place Feb. 19-21 at the Shubert Theatre on College Street. MORE

Published February 12, 2016
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[ yale opera ]

Yale Opera presents A Midsummer Night’s Dream in February 2016

Rune Bergmann, conductor

Rune Bergmann, conductor

The Yale School of Music presents Yale Opera‘s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream this coming February 19–21. One of the most frequently performed operas today, Benjamin Britten’s atmospheric opera is adapted from Shakespeare’s revered play of the same title.

The production will be directed by Claudia Solti, making her Yale Opera debut. Known for her work in theatre and film as well as opera, Solti previously directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2011 with conductor Valery Gergiev.

Norwegian conductor Rune Bergmann will also make his Yale Opera debut. Currently music director of the Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra and the Fjord Cadenza Festival, Bergmann is considered “one of the most talented Scandinavian conductors” working today. MORE

Published December 17, 2015
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[ in the press ]

Arts Journal: Opera at Old Eli

Photo by Matt Fried

Photo by Matt Fried

Opera Sleth | Arts Journal
By Speight Jenkins

Doris Yarick Cross for more than thirty years has directed Yale Opera, a division of the Yale School of Music. She and her husband, Richard Cross, serve as the voice teachers for the program, a mammoth task. Such major artists as Matthew Polenzani, Patrick Carfizzi, Tamara Mumford, and Christian Van Horn have graduated from the program, which in every school year has fifteen artists, chosen from hundreds of applicants.  All of the singers in this “class” are working on their Master of Music degrees.

Three days in New Haven demonstrated to me the viability of the program,  allowed me to experience two performances of opera scenes, and have several hours with all the young artists involved. Though the majority of artists, all in their twenties, come from the United States, recruitment is international.  Young singers from Poland, China, Italy, and Canada joined their American colleagues. The two evenings of opera scenes at Yale’s Sprague Hall, fully staged and costumed, surveyed the repertory from Handel to Britten.


Published November 18, 2015
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[ concerts + events ]

Yale Opera presents its annual Fall Scenes November 7 & 8

Photo by Matt Fried

Photo by Matt Fried

The Yale Opera program at the Yale School of Music presents its annual Fall Opera Scenes on Saturday, November 7 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, November 8 at 2:00 pm. Each performance features a different selection of scenes from diverse operas.

A favorite of local audiences, the annual Fall Opera Scenes production will showcase the voice students of the highly selective Yale Opera program, which is directed by Doris Yarick-Cross.

This autumn’s production will also feature the work of stage director Marc Verzatt and musical directors Douglas Dickson and Timothy Shaindlin. John Carver Sullivan provides costume design, and Doug Harry is the lighting designer. MORE

Published October 13, 2015
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[ in the press ]

Three Yale divas on bill with New Haven Symphony Orchestra

Nicole Percifield, soprano

New Haven Register | By Joe Amarante

NEW HAVEN » Soprano trifecta. That could refer to three talented sopranos performing the week before Thanksgiving with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. Or to Nicole Percifield’s fall plans.

Percifield, Canadian-raised and Northeast-educated in Boston and New York, has three major singing gigs this autumn — Nov. 21 in the title role of “Suor Angelica” with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, her Carnegie Hall debut Dec. 7 with the Yale in New York series and teaming with the NHSO again just before Christmas as soprano soloist for three performances of “The Messiah.” MORE

Published November 20, 2014
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