Russian Liederabend to showcase Yale Opera singers

On Wednesday, Dec. 5, Yale Opera will present a Russian Liederabend (“evening of songs”) featuring a wide array of Russian vocal music, from solo songs and arias to ensemble pieces. The program will include works by such composers as Tchaikovsky, Borodin, Glinka, Shebalin, Pakhmutova, and Rachmaninoff.

With Yale Opera’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin slated for two performances in February, Russian was a natural choice for the language of this year’s Liederabend. Integral to both projects is Emily Olin, Lecturer in Voice and Opera at the School of Music, who organized the Liederabend and will perform as the evening’s collaborative pianist. Olin put together the concert program with current Yale Opera singers in mind, tailoring musical selections to students’ individual voices.

In addition to her musical guidance, Olin has taught weekly Russian language classes and diction coachings throughout the semester. Soprano Laura Nielsen ’20MM described Olin as “an incredible resource” for the singers in the opera program. “In addition to her warm and loving personality,” Nielsen said, “she has a wonderful way of communicating subtle differences in pronunciation and helping us non-native speakers improve our Russian.”

Singing in Russian presents challenges for many singers. For Nielsen, one of the most difficult aspects of learning Russian music has been becoming proficient in reading Cyrillic. “I have only just started to be able to absorb this new alphabet and the new sounds that it includes,” Nielsen said. “I have to do so much extra work in reading that it makes learning a piece much more challenging than learning a piece in English, Italian, or French.” In many undergraduate vocal programs, it is not unusual for students to focus on Italian, French, and German repertoire, and to skip Russian works entirely. “I am so grateful to have been exposed to so much more Russian music this year,” Nielsen said.

In addition to showing off their newly enhanced Russian language skills, Yale Opera singers look forward to sharing rarely heard repertoire. “I am singing a wonderful aria from a Russian adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew by Vissarion Shebalin, written in 1957,” Nielsen said. She hopes people will come to broaden their musical horizons and to hear “the best of what each of the singers has to offer.”

Yale Opera’s Russian Liederabend, on Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 7:30 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall in Sprague Memorial Hall, is free and open to the public.

Published November 29, 2018
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YSM Alumni News | November 2018

Molly Joyce. Photo by Nadine Sherman

Flutist Amanda Baker ’00MM returned to Yale in April 2018 to become Senior Associate Director for Young Alumni for the Yale Alumni Fund. She was also a guest lecturer this spring at the University of Hartford, where she taught “Entrepreneurship in the Arts,” and continues to teach flute at Eastern Connecticut State University.

Double Bassist Mark Elliot Bergman ’97MM received a Performing Arts Fellowship in Music from the Wyoming Arts Council, one of four recipients in the state. Bergman’s winning original compositions include Ondine, The Temple, and Shenandoah Suite, a string trio commemorating the 75th anniversary of the founding of Shenandoah National Park.

Violist Emily Grace Brandenburg ’17MMA was named Administrative Assistant at the McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. MORE

Published November 7, 2018
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Soprano Leah Brzyski ’19MM, on preparing for Yale Opera’s Fall Scenes productions

Leah Brzyski

Each year, Yale Opera presents two programs of scenes from beloved and important works. Parts are assigned at the beginning of the academic year, giving singers relatively little time to learn, memorize, and inhabit their roles—sometimes more than one and in different languages. We spoke with soprano Leah Brzyski ’19MM about her preparation for this year’s programs and about developing as a singer and performer here at YSM.

Q: What roles will you be performing in this year’s Fall Scenes program, and what has the preparation experience been like?

A: This year I could not be more excited for our scenes production because I have the opportunity to perform two of my dream roles: Blonde from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Ophelia from Ambroise Thomas’ Hamlet. While the characters are quite different, each has such a strong willfulness and passion about them that makes digging into their music so appealing. The preparation for my roles this year has been really rejuvenating. After being gone all summer, coming back to dive headfirst into these powerful pieces has been such a driving force behind the semester.

Now that memorized runs are done, we’re into our staging period, which is my favorite! We finally get to explore not just how [the characters] speak and sing, but how their bodies would react to a situation or another person. Not to mention our Stage Director, Chris Murrah, is one of the most artistically genius people I have ever met. He is full of unique insights and always allows us the freedom to explore and play rather than micromanaging every action we do on stage.

Q: What is the benefit and what are the challenges of having to learn multiple roles, in different styles and in different languages, in a short amount of time?

A: Every year we are assigned our roles and are given three weeks to learn and memorize all of our music. At the end of the three weeks we perform a memorized run for the voice faculty so that they can see how we’ve progressed. This process is always more than a little hectic—to memorize the notes, rhythms, language, but more so the characterization of your assignments in such little time. Just being able to physically produce the right sounds is nowhere near enough. You have to know what motivates [the characters], how they interact with the other characters, why they say and sing what they do, and so much more.

Last year I remember feeling like it was an impossible feat, but after hours and hours of weekly coaching, lessons, group rehearsals, and individual practice time, the music becomes so ingrained in you that every year we all manage to meet the deadline, (sometimes to our own surprise!). This quick learning process has actually benefited me in so many ways. Oftentimes, last minute opportunities to sing a concert or a role come up and you might only have a week or even a few days to accept and learn your music. Practicing that skill in a comfortable learning environment makes taking on professional tasks like that so much more manageable. This summer it helped me learn five roles in just a few months and prepare arias in different languages without much stress at all. This year, I noticed that the memorization of my music was so much easier, even though I had much more to learn. It’s a skill most of us don’t get to practice on our own time, so having it as part of the curriculum makes it a mandatory part of our skillset.

Q: What’s required of you, in terms of moving from one role to another in the course of one Fall Scenes production? How do the faculty help with this process?

Brzyski as the Queen of the Night in Yale Opera’s 2018 production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute”

A: The ability to switch back and forth between such contrasting roles is absolutely demanding. To go from singing a role in French about a woman who has gone mad to the point of suicide because of lost love to suddenly switching to singing a comedic maid who is cunning and pedantic and lighthearted in German is one heck of a transition. But, in a way, all of those unique qualities help you differentiate as a performer what it feels like to be one character versus the other. Last year, singing the all-consuming and powerful role of Queen of the Night as well as the loving and tender Fairy Godmother in Cendrillon at first seemed like an overwhelming transition. But those qualities help make up the identity of each character. After living in her shoes, I would never start thinking in French or singing in the same Fairy Godmother-esque floated lines when performing Queen and vice versa. At the end of the day, it’s the differences that make the switch easy. The faculty all help in this process of course, perfecting our diction, demonstrating style differences between composers, and creating characterization of our roles.

Q: In what ways have you learned from your peers throughout this process and in the Yale Opera program in general? How, in the past year, have you developed as an artist and in what ways has YSM’s opera program informed that growth?

A: I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to this amazing group of artists. There is never a rehearsal or recital or class where I don’t learn something from my peers. We all come from such unique and enriched backgrounds that it’s like a treasure trove of skills all sitting in the same classroom. I might hear someone singing an aria I have learned but they do something different in a cadenza or approach a note in such an amazing way that I can use and apply to my own singing. So often in our movement classes, when we’re improvising, someone will take a risk and do something completely unexpected, which makes you feel more willing to take risks yourself and work off of that energy. Many people here also speak several foreign languages and it’s so amazing to be able to ask for insight on translations and specifics on pronunciation from someone who is native to that language.

I owe the Yale Opera program so much of who I am as an artist. In our undergrad training, we broadly cover so many topics, languages, requirements, etc. But here, there is such great attention to detail given to specific skillsets that are absolutely necessary in order to succeed as an opera singer. French, German, Italian, and Russian diction are taught with such finesse and accuracy that sometimes I wonder how I stumbled my way through before my two years here. Most important, however, I have grown because I have been given the opportunity to act as an artist and take artistic liberties that I wouldn’t have been given at another university, such as picking my own recital repertoire, teaching voice students, singing for top managers in the business, and performing mature roles that challenge me. Not only am I a more technically savvy singer because of the skilled guidance of my voice teacher, Doris Yarick-Cross, but I am also a more confident and independent musician. Our faculty members are some of the most experienced, intelligent instructors in their field. Learning from them every day has most definitely paid off.

Yale Opera presents its annual Fall Scenes programs on Friday & Saturday, Nov. 2 & 3, in Morse Recital Hall. 

DETAILS & TICKETS

Published October 24, 2018
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Doris Yarick-Cross and Richard Cross to retire at year’s end

Richard Cross and Doris Yarick-Cross

For decades, the Yale School of Music’s voice and opera programs have developed remarkable artists who have graced the stages of the world’s most prestigious venues and performed with celebrated opera companies and instrumental ensembles. Doris Yarick-Cross and Richard Cross, who have served on the School’s faculty since 1983 and 1995, respectively, have been an important part of those achievements. Today, we offer our gratitude to Doris and Richard, who, together, plan to retire at the end of the current academic year. Doris and Richard will teach currently enrolled students through the completion of their degree programs.

“In her initial contract, Doris was given the responsibility of establishing a professional opera program in the School of Music,” YSM Dean Robert Blocker said. “With her vision and leadership, Yale Opera has become an internationally renowned program where singers come to launch their careers as vocal artists.” Richard’s “inimitable teaching style and gift for languages has given generations of Yale Opera students unparalleled lyrical training,” Blocker said. “In partnership with Doris and our other stellar voice faculty and staff, Richard has played an essential role in shaping the lives of hundreds of ascendant singers.” MORE

Published October 16, 2018
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YSM alumni lead social-justice-focused vocal ensemble

Inspire: A Choir for Unity

In fall 2012, guitarist Mark Barden enjoyed playing a few gigs with his children James, Natalie, and Daniel. Then, on December 14 of that year, Daniel, a 7-year-old drummer, was among the elementary-school students who were murdered in their classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn. “I made my career as a musician up until the day of the tragedy,” Barden said. “A lot of folks would’ve assumed that music was my comfort” in the aftermath of the massacre. It has not been. “I had to get away from it for a while.” While Barden will not ever get away from the loss of his son, the loss drives him to protect others from gun violence. Barden is the founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise, whose mission is to “prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge so that no other parent experiences the senseless, horrific loss of their child.”

On Saturday, September 15, Sandy Hook Promise will partner with the New York City-based choral ensemble Inspire in presenting a vocal program called “Don’t Shoot, Just Listen.” A similar program was presented in November 2017 at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. As that program did, “this concert commemorates all those lost to gun violence and seeks to inspire unity and peace,” the ensemble’s website indicates. Inspire, a “choir for unity” that “seeks to promote unity through the power of song,” per its mission, is led by soprano and YSM alumna Megan Chartrand ’13MM, who serves as the group’s executive director. “Don’t Shoot, Just Listen” is designed, Chartrand said, to take the audience “through a series of emotions that somebody who’s experienced gun violence might go through.” The program will feature members of the Yale Glee Club.

“All people appreciate music,” Barden said. “To use that as a platform to connect people is just so powerful.” Representatives from Sandy Hook Promise will share the organization’s mission and objectives with the audience at the September 15 event.

“I think it really gets to the core of what the value of art is in our society,” said Yale Glee Club Director Jeffrey Douma, who is a member of Inspire’s artistic advisory board. “The arts make connections between people, and I think music does that particularly well. It’s something we all have in common.”

In organizing Inspire, the performances the ensemble presents, and the partnerships it enters into, Chartrand sought to use her artistic skills to make a difference in the world. “I feel on a daily basis overwhelmed by things I would like to help and improve,” she said. “Music is a skill that I possess, that everyone in Inspire possesses, and it’s a very powerful tool. We want to alleviate some of the pain in the world.” Beyond the choir’s performances, she pointed out, “we’re introducing people to organizations that fight this battle on a daily basis.

“We feel sort of powerless,” said Inspire soprano Eleanor Killiam ’15 BS, who sang with the Glee Club as an undergraduate at Yale. “This feels like a really great way to use our talents for good, and that feels really rewarding.”

Knox Sutterfield ’14MM, one of Inspire’s associate artistic directors, studied choral conducting at the School of Music. “This idea of community building,” he said, “is so essential to our mission.”

Inspire: A Choir for Unity will present “Don’t Shoot, Just Listen” on Saturday, September 15, at 7:30 p.m., in Yale University’s Marquand Chapel. Learn more here.

INSPIRE: A CHOIR FOR UNITY

SANDY HOOK PROMISE

Published September 10, 2018
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YSM Alumni News | September 2018

Reena Esmail. Photo by Rachel Garcia

Sandbox Percussion, a group comprised of Jonathan Allen ’13MM ’14AD, Victor Caccese ’13MM, Ian Rosenbaum ’10MM ’11AD, and Terry Sweeney ’15MM, recently signed on with Blu Ocean Arts Music Management company.

Hornist Jocelyn Crawford Carr ’08MM was appointed third horn of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.

Composer Reena Esmail ’11MM ’14MMA ’18DMA has been elected to the executive board of New Music USA.

Pianists Juan Carlos Fernández-Nieto ’09MM ’10AD and Sun-A Park ’16AD ’17MMA participated in the Santander International Piano Competition in Spain. Park advanced to the semifinals, while Fernández-Nieto advanced to the finals and took home the Canon Audience Prize.

Guitarists Thomas Flippin ’07MM ’08AD and Christopher Mallett ’09MM, performing as Duo Noire, released an album called Night Triptych on New Focus Recordings. The album features several world-premiere recordings of newly commissioned works by women composers.

Keyboardist Stephen Gamboa ’16AD was named Music Director at Bethesda Lutheran Church in New Haven.

David Gier

David Gier ’85MM ’86MMA ’92DMA has been appointed Dean of the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theater & Dance. He was also named the Paul Boylan Collegiate Professor of Music.

Composers Trevor Gureckis ’07MM and Jay Wadley ’07MM ’08AD, founders of the artist collective Found Object Music Productions, have been nominated for an Emmy Award for their work on the sixth season of HBO’s VICE.

Conductor Ng Tian Hui ’10MM was named the conductor of the Pioneer Valley Symphony in Greenfield, Mass.

Pianist Wenbin Jin ’13MM ’15AD was awarded the Liszt Ferenc Society’s International Grand Prix du Disque for his Naxos recording of Liszt’s Grandes études, S. 137. An award ceremony will take place on Liszt’s birthday, October 24, in Budapest.

Pianist Fantee Jones ’18MMA, violinist Sissi Yuqing Zhang MMA, and violinist Kyung Min Lee ’17MM toured Asia this past summer as Ensemble Trois.

Clarinetist Emil Khudyev ’11MM received tenure at the Seattle Symphony & Opera Players’ Organization in June.

Soprano Jihee Kim ’11AD received third prize at the Riccardo Zandonai Competition this summer at the Musica Riva Festival in Italy.

Conductor Jahja Ling ’80MMA ’85DMA is the subject of an exhibition at the Bonita Museum and Cultural Center in California. Running through the end of September, the exhibition charts the highlights of Maestro Ling’s career and includes interactive elements to introduce visitors to the world of orchestral conducting.

Alasdair Neale. Photo by Lucy Gellman

Conductor Alasdair Neale ’85MM ’86MMA has been named Music Director of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, beginning in the 2019-2020 season.

Composer Tawnie Olson ’99MM ’00AD was awarded the 2018 Barlow Prize from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition and will compose a new major work for SATB choir. The Barlow Endowment, based at Brigham Young University, also awarded composer Andy Akiho ’11MM a grant to compose a work for Sandbox Percussion.

Hilary Purrington ’17MMA is one of six composers whose work was played, workshopped, and recorded by the Philadelphia Orchestra under the direction of Assistant Conductor Kensho Watanabe ’09BS ’10MM.

Pianists Gabriele Strata ’19MM, Wenting Shi ’19MMA, and Yannick van de Velde ’20MMA took home awards from the Virtuoso & Belcanto Festival in Lucca, Italy. In the piano competition, Strata won first prize and Shi won third prize. Shi and van de Velde won first prize in the chamber music competition for their piano four-hands performance of The Rite of Spring.

 

Published September 7, 2018
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YSM Alumni News | May 2018

Pianist Tanya Bannister CERT was named president of the Concert Artists Guild. She succeeds Richard S. Weinert, who plans to retire in June after 18 years at the organization.

Violinist Qi Cao ’10MM won a position with the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra and will join the ensemble in September 2018. Cao has been a member of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra for five years.

The Jasper String Quartet. Photo by Dario Acosta

The Jasper String Quartet, which includes violinists John Freivogel ’10AD and Sae Chonabayashi, violist Sam Quintal ’10AD, and cellist Rachel Henderson Freivogel ’10AD, had their album Unbound named one of The New York Times’ “Top 25 Classical Albums of 2017.” The recording includes works by YSM alumni Judd Greenstein ’04MM, Caroline Shaw ’07MM, Missy Mazzoli ’06MM, Ted Hearne ’08MM ’09MMA ’14DMA, and David Lang ’83MMA ’89DMA and was released on the Sono Luminus and New Amsterdam labels.

Composers Michael Gilbertson ’13MM ’21DMA and Ted Hearne ’08MM ’09MMA ’14DMA were named co-finalists for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Gilbertson was nominated for his work Quartet, which was commissioned by the Verona Quartet, Concert Artists Guild, and BMI Foundation, and Hearne was nominated for his work Sound from the Bench, which was commissioned by Volti and The Crossing.

Darren Hicks

Darren Hicks ’14MM was appointed associate principal bassoonist of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Hicks has been a fellow at the New World Symphony, in Miami Beach, Fla., for the past three years.

Alumna Molly Joyce ’17MM and incoming students Alexis C. Lamb ’20MM and Peter Shin ’20MMA received ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) Foundation Morton Gould Young Composer Awards.

Violinist Dennis Kim ’98MM was named concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony in Orange County, Calif. Kim has served as concertmaster of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra since 2015.

Composers Yoshiaki Onishi ’07MM ’08AD and Carl Schimmel ’99MM were awarded Guggenheim Fellowships for music composition.

Two alumni received awards from the Richard Tucker Music Foundation. Bass-baritone Christian Van Horn ’02MM ’03AD received the Richard Tucker Award, and bass David Leigh ’14MM received a Sara Tucker Study Grant.

Published May 9, 2018
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Prizes awarded at annual Honors Banquet

Dean Robert Blocker

On Sunday, May 6, YSM Dean Robert Blocker told graduating students that he looks forward to hearing their music in venues around the world. The occasion was the School’s annual Honors Banquet, which was held this year at the Omni New Haven Hotel at Yale. Attendees included students and alumni, faculty and staff, YSM board members Mary Beth Buck, Walter Buck, and Stephanie Yu Lim, and emeritus staff and faculty members Rosemary Gould, Gene Kimball, Judy Long, and Mary-Jo Warren. Aimlee Laderman, whose late husband Ezra Laderman was a longtime member of the School’s composition faculty and from 1989 to 1995 served as Dean, was also in attendance.

Blocker announced that the Ian Mininberg Distinguished Service Award would be presented at Commencement, as this year’s recipient, composer Lori Laitman ’76MM, was unable to attend the Honors Banquet, at which the award is traditionally conferred. Blocker congratulated students who won or placed at competitions this year and acknowledged YSM’s Music in Schools Initiative, whose leadership — Director Rubén Rodríguez ’11MM, Associate Dean Michael Yaffe, and Yaffe’s assistant, Rachel Glodo — was recognized by the University in April with an Ivy Award for the work the program does at Yale and in the New Haven community. “Yale has no finer community engagement program than Music in Schools,” Blocker said.

At the end of the night, Blocker expressed his gratitude to students, faculty, and staff for a wonderful year. “As one who at different moments has been touched by your talent and compassion,” he said, “I want to thank you on behalf of a wider audience.”


The following student prizes were presented during the Honors Banquet.

Brass and Woodwinds

The Thomas Daniel Nyfenger Memorial Prize, which is awarded to a graduating student who has demonstrated the highest standard of excellence in woodwind playing, was presented to oboist Lauren Williams. The John Swallow Prize, which is given to an outstanding brass player whose artistry and dedication have contributed to the department, was awarded to trombonist Zachary Haas.

Left to right: Dean Robert Blocker, Director of Choral Conducting Marguerite Brooks, Joseph Kemper, and Professor of Choral Conducting Jeffrey Douma

Left to right: Dean Robert Blocker, Director of Choral Conducting Marguerite Brooks, Joseph Kemper, and Professor of Choral Conducting Jeffrey Douma

Choral Conducting

The inaugural Robert Shaw Prize, given in honor of the renowned American choral conductor and awarded to a choral conducting major in the School of Music chosen by the choral conducting faculty for distinguished achievement, was presented to Joseph Kemper.

Composition

The Woods Chandler Memorial Prize for the best composition in a larger form written during the year was awarded to Krists Auznieks. The Rena Greenwald Memorial Prize for the best piano composition written during the year went to Alishan Gezgin. The John Day Jackson Prize for outstanding chamber music compositions written for strings with or without other instruments was presented to Fjóla Evans. The Frances E. Osborne Kellogg Memorial Prize for the best composition written in a contrapuntal style was given to Liliya Ugay. And the Ezra Laderman Prize for the best compositions written for musical theater or voice was awarded to Sophie Cash-Goldwasser and Eli Greenhoe.

Dean Robert Blocker, Sophie Cash-Goldwasser, Eli Greenhoe, and Professor of Composition Martin Bresnick

Left to right: Dean Robert Blocker, Sophie Cash-Goldwasser, Eli Greenhoe, and Professor of Composition Martin Bresnick

Guitar

The Eliot Fisk Prize, which is given to an outstanding guitarist whose artistic achievement and dedication have contributed greatly to the department, was awarded to Gunnlaugur Björnsson.

Organ

The Charles Ives Prize, which is awarded to an outstanding organ major, went to Diana Chou. The Julia R. Sherman Memorial Prize for excellence in organ playing was awarded to Matthew Daley.

Piano

The Charles S. Miller Prize, which is given to a gifted pianist who has done outstanding work during the first year of study, was awarded to Gabriele Strata. The Elizabeth Parisot Prize, which goes to outstanding pianists in the School of Music, was awarded to Dong Won Lee and Yannick Van de Velde.

Strings

The Georgina Lucy Grosvenor Memorial Prize, which is awarded to the violist in the graduating class whose performances while at Yale have exhibited the highest potential for success as a soloist or chamber musician in the field, was given to Julia Clancy. The Aldo Parisot Prize, which is awarded to gifted cellists who show promise for a concert career, was presented to Samuel DeCaprio and Bitnalee Pong. The Broadus Erle Prize, which is given to outstanding violinists in the School of Music, went to Laura Park, Alyssa Blackstone, and Dhyani Heath.

Voice

The David L. Kasdon Memorial Prize, which is awarded to an outstanding singer in the School of Music, went to Stephen Clark. The Smriti Deb Memorial Prize, which is given to an outstanding graduating singer who best reflects and exemplifies the ideals and values of Smriti Deb and her commitment to teaching low-income and underrepresented children, was awarded to Sylvia D’Eramo. And the Phyllis Curtin Career Entry Prize, whose purpose is to assist in launching the career of a graduating voice student who demonstrates exceptional talent as an artist and promise for professional success, was awarded to Bryan Murray.

Doctor of Musical Arts

The Friedmann Thesis Prize, which is awarded to a DMA candidate whose thesis is notable for its distinguished research, original perspective, in-depth engagement with its subject, and well-crafted presentation, was presented to composer Krists Auznieks.

Left to right: Dean Robert Blocker, Deputy Dean Melvin Chen, Sophiko Simsive, Leo Sussman, Scott Leger, Liliya Ugay, Director of Admissions and Alumni Affairs Donna You, Bora Kim, Sarah Saturnino, and James Simon Lee

Left to right: Dean Robert Blocker, Deputy Dean Melvin Chen, Sophiko Simsive, Leo Sussman, Scott Leger, Liliya Ugay, Director of Admissions and Alumni Affairs Donna Yoo, Bora Kim, Sarah Saturnino, and James Simon Lee

School

The Malcolm L. Mitchell and Donald M. Roberts, Class of 1957 Prize, which is given to an outstanding graduating teaching artist in the Music in Schools Initiative, was awarded to flutist Helen Hye Jin Park. The Philip Francis Nelson Prize, which is awarded to a graduating student whose musicianship is outstanding and who demonstrates curiosity, talent, and the entrepreneurial spirit in the many dimensions of the music profession, was presented to violist Florrie Marshall. The Presser Foundation Music Award, which is awarded to an outstanding returning student to advance his or her music education, went to Shawn Hutchison. And the Yale School of Music Alumni Association Prize, which is awarded to graduating students who have not only excelled in their respective fields but have also made important contributions to the general life of the School, was presented to clarinetist Graeme Johnson, violinist Bora Kim, choral conductor James Simon Lee, hornist Scott Leger, mezzo-soprano Sarah Saturnino, pianist Sophiko Simsive, flutist Leo Sussman, and composer Liliya Ugay.

Photos by Harold Shapiro.

Published May 8, 2018
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In Yale Opera’s “Hansel and Gretel,” the witch personifies the internet

In reimagining Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel for Yale Opera’s spring production, director John Giampietro found inspiration in the technology that consumes us even as we recognize the benefits of being so thoroughly connected.

In the libretto, written by the composer’s sister, Adelheid Wette, and based on the fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm, Hansel and Gretel are sent into the forest by their mother to pick strawberries, and to give her a break from their rambunctiousness. Learning this upon returning home, the children’s father expresses concern about a malevolent witch who lives in the forest, and he and his wife set out to find their children.

Giampietro wanted to ask, by way of the production, “How is this immediate to our world and our experience?” The Brooklyn, New York-based director pointed out that “in our modern-day world, we’re sort of lost as a civilization,” we’re having “our lost-in-the woods moment,” consumed by technology and asking ourselves, “What is real?”

In the Yale Opera production, the mother hooks the children up to a virtual realty game in which they enter a forest depicted by projected designs. To find and rescue their children from danger, the parents, too, have to enter a virtual reality and play the game.

Like the forest in the story, the internet, Giampietro said, “can be full of wonder. It can be full of magic. It can also be treacherous.” The witch, in Giampietro’s turn at Hansel and Gretel, is the personification of the internet’s harmfulness. The web “can consume us,” much like the witch tries to do to the children in the story of Hansel and Gretel, he said. In the Yale Opera production, Hansel and Gretel have to free themselves from the clutches of technology and return to reality.

As a society, Giampietro said, “we’re losing touch with what is real, which is human-to-human contact.” And in that regard, he said, “I think we all have the same fears and experience. I wanted to see how these morality tales or cautionary tales still apply to our world.” The irony of the internet, he pointed out, it is that while it is designed to bring us closer together, what it is really doing is creating gaps between us, leaving us starving for contact and meaningful relationships.

Yale Opera presents a fully staged production of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel on May 4&5 in the intimate Morse Recital Hall.

YALE OPERA DETAILS & TICKETS

Published April 27, 2018
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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.

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DUSTIN WILLS

Published February 9, 2018
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