Thursday, January 29, 2015

Rise of the Small Opera Company, Part Four: Gateway Opera



What year was your company founded and by whom?

Gateway Opera was founded in 2014 by myself, Kate Reimann, and my husband, Matt Muncy. Our story can be found on the "about page" of our website. 

What is the mission of your company?
Our mission is best summed up in the tagline: “A gateway for audiences and performers.”

It means we seek to be a gateway to opera for new fans. We also are a gateway for emerging artists to a career in professional singing.

Who makes up your creative team and staff? What are their backgrounds?
Kate Reimann, Artistic Director, has been featured as a soloist with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and has sung with all four St. Louis opera companies: Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Union Avenue Opera, Winter Opera, and Gateway Opera. After receiving her Master of Music degree from Washington University, Kate spent a year singing with and learning from grassroots companies in Louisville, KY, Bloomington, IL and Vancouver, BC, and returned to St. Louis with a vision for Gateway Opera: serving artists and audience members through a new kind of opera experience.


Michaeleh Mentz, Development and Marketing Director  In the past two years she has worked independently with nonprofits in St. Louis on projects that include development planning, program evaluation, prospect research, grant writing, and grant program management. Michaeleh has a Masters of Public Policy and Administration and a Certificate of Nonprofit Management from the University of Missouri St. Louis. 
Matt Muncy, Operations Director, graduated from Purdue University with a degree in Computer Science. A computer engineer with over a decade of experience. Matt provides exemplary leadership, innovative solutions, and the ability to adapt to any situation. A self-motivated rock of stability, he has been invaluable in helping Gateway Opera move forward.

What do you see as being your most important contribution to the opera industry?
Providing professional opportunities for emerging artists, and showing new audience members how awesome opera can be.

What kind of opera do you produce? Describe your opera productions.

We produced one opera last year and have two planned for this year- all hour-long comedies sung in English. Our focus is contemporary opera and productions that will be appealing to seasoned opera-goers as well as "opera virgins." While the older generation is certainly welcome at our shows, we are not "your grandmother's opera company." We strive to produce opera that feels new, fresh and innovative.


What kind of performers do you look for in casting?

We look for artists with strong musicianship and acting skills who are committed to communicating with the audience and telling a story. We love to give opportunities to emerging artists looking to add leading roles to their resume.

Do you feel like you are reaching a new audience? Is it growing? What is the audience response?

Around half of the audience of our first show, Menotti's The Old Maid and the Thief,  had never been to an opera before, and we got an overwhelmingly positive response. Many of them told us, "I had no idea opera could be funny!" 

We certainly hope to grow our audience in upcoming productions, but continue our focus on presenting opera in intimate venues, because we really value that connection between performers and the audience that you can't get in a larger hall.



Do you think opera is dying?
We can all admit that audiences for some companies are dwindling and getting older. But as long as there are artists and producers committed to creating productions, as long as opera companies are open to growing, changing and adapting to the world we live in today, as long as there are people with an open mind willing to take a risk and attend their first opera, this art form will grow and thrive. It won't be the same as it was 200, 100, or 50 years ago. But it will still be that powerful, vital, thrilling force that combines the beauty of the human voice with the magic of story and drama.

For more information on Gateway Opera visit their website: http://www.gatewayopera.org/

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Networking Your Way In


Networking is one of the great secrets to success in business and singing is a business. The question is: how do you use networking to actually further your career as a singer and how do you get started?

1. Meet People. First, you need to meet the right people and you need to make a good impression. One way to connect with conductors is through coaching. Of course, you have to pay for it and a coach will only recommend you for a role if you are singing well and vocally ready to perform it. It is often easier to schedule a private coaching than an audition. 

Another way to meet contacts is through your current gigs and performances. Every time you do a show or performance you’re also auditioning for your next opportunity and expanding your network. 

2. Be the Person They Want to Hire Again. Have you ever done a gig with a colleague who didn’t know their music, was late to rehearsals, or had a bad attitude? Don’t be that person. Instead, be the person who always knows their music, is on time, ready to work, and who is fun to work with. This applies to coachings, rehearsals, and to paid and volunteer performances. One of the most effective ways to network is to be the colleague that everyone would be happy to work with again.


3. Connect Other People. Networking works when everyone does it. If you have to cancel a performance because of illness or a conflict, suggest another singer who you know can do a good job. Whenever you know someone who might be able to fill an available position, pass that information along to both the performer and the person trying to fill the position. They will remember and will probably be more likely to recommend you for an opening in the future.

4. Offer Something. Don’t ever think of networking as just a way to get a job; look for what you can offer to other people. This way they will want to help you, too, whether it’s a connection to a conductor or to a performance venue.

5. Stay in Touch. In the digital age, it is incredibly easy to stay connected with people. Besides Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social networking sites, many singers maintain a blog, newsletter or even send postcards to keep business contacts updated about their current activities. Don’t lose touch with contacts, even if all you do is occasionally “like” their posts on Facebook. Someone who doesn’t remember who you are or how they know you is no longer really part of your network, so keep your contacts alive. 


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Rise of the Small Opera Company, Part Three: Opera On Tap

What year was your company founded and by whom?
Opera on Tap (OOT) was born in 2005 at Freddy’s Bar and Backroom in Brooklyn and incorporated in 2007. It was founded by three opera singers, Anne Hiatt, Carla Fisk, and Jessica Miller Rauch.

What began as a small monthly gathering of ambitious, classically trained singers looking for more performance opportunities, has grown into a producing organization that has gained a loyal audience base and national recognition as an innovative force on the classical music scene. Through its Chapter program, which now has sixteen vibrant national chapters, OOT has created a large network of performers, creators, and supporters.

What is the mission of your company?
Our mission is to:
  • Expose new audiences to opera and classical music by taking opera and classical music out of the concert hall and performing it in alternative venues.
  • To aid young performers in their development by giving them the opportunity to perform, and to promote and support them through our organization.
  • To help promote new classical works of contemporary classical and operatic composers
Who makes up your creative team and staff? What are their backgrounds?
Opera on Tap is run almost entirely by singers who believe in Opera on Tap’s mission. Executive and Artistic diva Anne Hiatt runs the New York chapter and oversees the national organization. Each chapter organization is run independently by one or two singer-administrators.

What do you see as being your most important contribution to the opera industry? 
Our biggest contribution to the industry is that we open people’s eyes and ears to the fact that opera isn’t elitist or stuffy. Opera is relatable and exciting, especially when it’s performed mere feet away. We pride ourselves on the fact that we reach an audience that often has never been to an opera performance before.

What kind of opera do you produce? Describe your opera productions.  
We produce opera that is fun, irreverent, and engaging. Mostly our chapters perform opera concerts, but some have performed full operas. 

Opera on Tap has started a commissioning series called the Roadworks Series which produces modern, immersive, and affecting new operas and supports up and coming local composers. Each production is intended to be presented in the kind of intimate alternative spaces that we frequent. Operas are premiered in New York and then toured to various OOT chapters across the country.

Our first commission, SMASHED: The Carrie Nation Story by James Barry, is less than an hour long, hilarious, and mostly about beer. It premiered in 2013 and just received its third production at the New York International Fringe Festival this summer.
What kind of performers do you look for in casting?
We look for performers who are first and foremost strong singers. We also look for artists who are dynamic performers, willing to take risks, able to work a room and not above singing in a dive-bar. Our roster is made up of a diverse group of talented singers who are starting to develop their careers.
Do you feel like you are reaching a new audience? Is it growing? What is the audience response?
We do feel that we are reaching an audience beyond the usual suspects. Our audiences are a mixed bunch (and it depends on the location): Some audience members are already opera lovers who come for the intimate experience Opera on Tap offers and others are people who don’t know a thing about opera but are curious about the sounds coming from our performance spaces. We’ve found that the audience response overall is very enthusiastic.
Do you think opera is dying? 
We think Opera is evolving, not dying.

For more information on Opera On Tap visit their website: http://www.operaontap.org/

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Fached-Up: The Quest for Your True Voice

Most singers don’t worry too much about their fach, or vocal category, when they first start studying singing. If an undergraduate voice student asks their fach, most teachers will simply respond with some version of, “Let’s talk about this when you’re older.” But once you reach a certain point in your studies, fach becomes necessary. It’s your identity as a singer. It defines the roles you sing, the shows you audition for, even how you dress and style your hair for auditions. 

So what do you do when, for some reason, the fach doesn’t fit? 

I started studying voice as an older, returning student. In my undergraduate studies, like most young singers, I sang a lot of art song and basic lyric repertoire. Much of it was on the bigger lyric side, but in retrospect I thought that was simply because I was older than my colleagues. 

In grad school, however, I started with a new teacher who tried to make my voice smaller. And she succeeded so well that for years, everyone who heard me agreed with her assessment of my fach. 

Except casting directors. They didn’t comment on my fach; they simply weren’t interested in me. 

It took me several years after graduate school to find a teacher and a coach who suggested that I was singing with only a fraction of my true voice. It took quite a few years after that for me to relax the tension I had developed enough to open up my real sound. Interestingly, now I’m revisiting some of the arias I sang back in undergrad—and now they work. (It’s nice that I remember some of them, too!)

So how do you know if you’re singing the wrong fach, and what can you do? 

First, trust your instincts. As a singer, your instrument is your body, and you have lived in it your entire life. Since we can’t hear our own voices exactly as they sound to others, we need outside voices to give us feedback. However, if your teacher and coaches tell you everything is fine, but your voice, body, and instincts are telling you there’s a problem, pay attention to that. For me, one clue was that I always struggled with high notes, and unlike most lighter sopranos, I had no extension at all. And for years, none of my teachers could explain why. Other clues could be something like the inability to sing softly or loudly, or an uneven or unpleasant vibrato. These problems can develop even after you’ve started a professional career. And sometimes your voice changes, and the repertoire that was perfect for you five years ago no longer fits. 

If you suspect that you need to make a fach change, the second thing you need to do is to find a teacher or coach who can hear the potential in your voice and who can guide you through it. That is much easier said than done, as not all teachers will notice the specific technical problems that can turn your voice into a fake version of itself. If you are having problems with your voice, take lessons from several teachers until you find one who clicks and who you believe can help you. 

If you’re a working singer going through a fach change, you might end up having to take a break of six months, a year, or even longer to work through the change. That’s a difficult decision to make, especially if you’re making a significant portion of your income through singing. But if you need some time to solidify your new technique, taking that break is an investment in your future career. 

In the end, fach is about identity. Your voice, personality, and looks all play a part. Sometimes it takes some time to find the right repertoire, but when you do, you’ll know it!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Rise of the Small Opera Company, Part Two: Pacific Opera Project



As promised in recent article, "Rise of the Small Opera Company," we will be featuring small opera companies from across the country, in order to gain their perspective on opera today. We are thrilled to kick off this new Sexi Soprano Series with: Pacific Opera Project.

What year was your company founded and by whom?  
July 2011. Josh Shaw and Stephen Karr

What is the mission of your company? 
We have the usual five sentence mission statement, but most of the time we reduce it to this:  Accessible. Affordable. ENTERTAINING. Opera.  

Who makes up your creative team and staff? What are their backgrounds?
Myself (Josh Shaw), artistic director and essentially executive director, and Stephen Karr music director. I come from a singer background and had sung about 40 roles or so before switching to directing only. I found myself doing more and more in the productions I was cast in to make them better- building sets, making my own costumes, helping with publicity. Eventually I said, "Why am I doing all this for other companies? Wouldn't it be easier to just do it all exactly how I want to do it?"  

Stephen comes from a coach/accompanist background and was looking for conducting opportunities.  We worked on a production of Cosi several years before POP came into place, (he was the assistant conductor and pianist, and I was singing Ferrando) we were no more than acquaintances in 2011.  When the idea to form a company came to me, I put out an ad in LA and Stephen was by far the best candidate for the job. You couldn't find two guys with more opposing views of life, but it has been an incredible partnership thus far.  

What do you see as being your most important contribution to the opera industry?
One of two things: Providing a place for young, talented singers to really be able to perform to their fullest and without the hindrances of opera "conventions". Or, our success in introducing opera to new audiences. We don't have actual numbers, but I think it is safe to say that at least 20% of every audience has never seen an opera before.

What kind of opera do you produce? Describe your opera productions.
The most common word tossed around is "irreverent." This is a misnomer we happily accept. In fact we have nothing but reverence for the art. We just believe our art must be inviting and entertaining to be viable and appreciated by the regular person off the street. Zany, wild, on the edge of good taste are all words that have been used to describe us. But, what I always make sure to point out, is excellent singing and acting are ALWAYS the base of what we do.

Our most definitive production has to be La Bohème AKA "The Hipsters." Set in the actual neighborhood where it is performed, La Bohème is a party. The audience is as close as five feet from the stage. Our "ironically clever" liberally translated supertitles mention establishments, streets, and people from the neighborhood.

Many of our operas, and hopefully eventually all of our operas, offer seating at a table with a bottle of wine and food (for the ridiculously low price of $100 for a table of four). We've made a commitment from the very beginning to keep our venues small--under 250 ideally--so that our audience can experience the power of a human voice hitting them and literally shaking their body.  
We've done 13 productions in just over three years. Some highlights include our Tosca where the audience, actors, and 22 piece orchestra moved venues each act from a sanctuary to a theater, to the roof of the church; our Barber of Seville set in current day Hollywood; our LA premiere of Cavalli's La Calisto set on a post-apocalyptic playground (this show featured no less than 50 penis jokes, a bear, water-boarding on a see-saw, and satyrs with 2ft long functioning furry penises); a Così fan tutte set a la "Gone with the Wind;" and our Nozze set as "Scarface."

When picking shows and concepts, we always ask two questions: 
1) How can we do this so that anyone off the street can immediately relate to this show.  
2) What can we do to make this "news?"  (Just letting people know we exist has been the number one difficulty in the Los Angeles market. So much competition.)

What kind of performers do you look for in casting?
No hiding it. We look for people who look the part. Now, a lot of times that means we are looking for Ken & Barbie. But other times it means we are looking for overweight people or short people or (this one will probably get me in trouble) people of a certain race or ethnicity. (When you are setting Nozze in Miami, you want hispanic looking people. When you are setting Così as Gone with the Wind, you can't very well have a black Confederate soldier.) Look, movie casting does this all the time and no one cares. Opera is far far behind the curve on this and so damn afraid of being "not PC." Let me stress--it's a buyers market as a casting director. In nearly every case I could cast a tall one, a short one, a fat one, a skinny one--all equally talented singers, musicians, and actors--so why in the world would I not choose the one that looks "just right?"

Do you feel like you are reaching a new audience? Is it growing? What is the audience response?
Absolutely. Our audience reach is easily doubling every 6 months. Our revival of Bohème is nearly sold-out a month in advance. This table set up has been huge for us. (If people don't start copying it, they are missing the boat.) It makes it so much easier for an opera fan to buy a table of four and then say to their friend, "Hey, I've got an extra seat for this weekend. Come check it out. It's only $25 and it comes with food and wine."  

We started with 4 sold-out performances of Trouble in Tahiti just over three years ago.  That was about 300 people total. 1200 people saw our Tosca and we turned away another 100.

Our audiences are THE BEST. They are half "newbies" who don't know any of "the rules" and half lifetime opera lovers who really appreciate the level of artistry. My favorite moment ever in POP history is the opening night of La Bohème when the audience began applauding in the middle of Rodolfo's High "C" in Che gelida. They couldn't even wait till the song was over! I get choked up just thinking about it. That's when I knew we were doing something special to "save" opera. 

Do you think opera is dying? 
Who knows? Who cares? I can't worry about that problem. I'm having too much fun doing what we are doing. It is certainly changing and I think for the better. Any one who says, "There just aren't voices like there used to be" is not out there hearing the 350 auditions a year that I am. And even if the "legendary" voices aren't as common, isn't it okay to sacrifice just a bit of vocal horsepower for some entertainment value? 

For more information on the Pacific Opera Project visit their website: http://www.pacificoperaproject.com/

Coming up next time on "Rise of the Small Opera Company" Opera On Tap!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Time is Now



Here we are again! We’ve eaten a feast, been through the trials of auditions, put up and taken down decorations, spent time with family and friends, and stayed up till midnight to see the New Year come in! 

Now what?

Now’s the time to reevaluate where you are and make some decisions of where you would like to go, and set goals to achieve them. 

What can you reevaluate? 

Your Singing
Your Auditions/ Performances
Your Resume / Headshot / Branding
Your Acting
Your Language Skills

Things you can control! 

In order to help asses where you are, ask yourself the following questions:

How is your vocal technique?
How often are you coaching?
How often are you seeing a voice teacher?
Are your voice teachers and/or coaches helping you improve?
If the answer is no, do you want to start working with someone new?
How do you find a new coach or teacher? (Another article…coming soon)
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Did you get the auditions you wanted?
Do you think you auditioned well?
How are your recordings?
How good is your headshot? Does it look like you?
Do you feel comfortable acting?
Did you portray your characters well in auditions? 
Do you know what you’re singing about?
Did you do too much acting?
How good are your languages? 
Stylistically, how are you within each of your pieces? 
Do you understand who each of your characters are?

Now, we all know that you can do your absolute best and be the obvious choice and still not get hired, because the people holding the auditions decide to go with someone they know over you, even though you were just as good, if not better.  However, we are only going to focus on what you can control, not the things you can't.

Once you let go of the things you can’t control and focus on the things you can, you will be more confident and happier, even when you don’t get cast, because you will know that you did everything you could, to be the best you could be, and that is all you can do! 

If you need help answering some of the questions, ask your trusted colleagues who have heard and seen you perform recently. Send your recordings to them and have them give you honest feedback. in order to better serve yourself and your art, you must ask yourself: "Do I just want to be told what I want to hear, or do I want to hear the truth of someone else's opinion?" Just make sure you have the “right” trusted colleagues. Part of this means trusting yourself – you know your voice better than anyone else. It’s your voice. Record it and listen to yourself critically with the intention of making it better. 

SET GOALS:

Now that you’ve done some self-evaluation, decide what you would like to improve upon and set goals.  Ask yourself: “How can I achieve this goal?” and then begin working towards achieving it. (Check out Sexi Soprano Article “A Day in the Life of Soprano for how to set yourself up for success.)

Last year, I decided I wanted to work with a coach who would push me. Someone who wouldn’t just tell me what I wanted to hear, someone who worked with people who are consistently getting hired and who would tell me what I needed to fix, because my goal is to work. To me, it doesn’t mater if people think I’m good, it matters if they hire me. So, I decided to begin working with a coach I had only worked with a couple of times, but who was really hard on me, and all of his singers are top notch, singing at major opera houses. At first, it was really difficult. It meant that I was going to need to get to New York more often, (I also wanted to work with my teacher who happens to work in the same building, so that’s helpful), but this decision was expensive. I had to take on more voice students, and arrange to teach them on days that still left a few days a week in a row open to be able to get to New York and back without missing any days of work! It was also difficult because he was really tough and I didn’t know if I could do what he was asking, it was different than what other coaches had told me. But, after two sessions, I made a decision that I believed in this coach's artistic choices, and that the suggestions he made I could achieve. This was the best work I had ever done, it was extremely rewarding, and I was seeing and hearing results! My recordings are the best they have ever been, and I doubled my auditions this year. Now every time I walk out of an audition I know I did my best. That’s all I can do. 

It takes time, but in order to reach your goals, you must be willing to do the work and create a routine f and believe in yourself, the results will be epic! Someone recently told me that I was a reasonably unreasonable person, meaning, “You take a risk with the expectation of a big payoff for an outcome that is unlikely!” 


So, I challenge you to be reasonably unreasonable this year, and go out and make some things happen!  The time is Now! 

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

How to Be a Pianist’s Best Friend: Tips for Organizing Your Audition Music




There’s a lot that goes into preparing for an audition. You have to practice, stage your arias, format your resume, and pick out the perfect audition outfit. One thing that can easily be overlooked is your accompanist folder, and that can make or break your audition! Here are a few tips that can help make your audition run a bit smoother (and make your pianist love you!):

  • Never use plastic sleeves for your music. They are difficult to turn, and can reflect the lovely fluorescent lighting and make the music hard to read. Also, this should go without saying, but make sure your pages are double-sided! And, for the love of God, when you are copying your music and arranging it in your folder, be hyper-aware of page numbers and page order. Nothing is worse than finding out you’re missing a page when you’re about to walk into the audition room!

  • Label each piece. A great way to do this is to use colored tab dividers with the composer name or the title of the aria so that your pianist can flip to your next piece without you having to walk over and find it for them. I also like to have a repertoire list right in front when you open my binder so that my pianist can have a run-down of what I’m offering.

  • Clearly mark cuts and don’t be shy about taking the time to explain them to your pianist. I like to use a bracket to mark the beginning of the cut, I make a big (but neat) x through any stanzas that are cut, and then I draw a bold bracket where the cut ends. And for good measure, I put a nice, neat star above the measure where we pick back up after the cut. You can also cover any measures that are cut with paper when you are making your photocopies, so that all that is left is white space, as opposed to a crossed-out measure. That way, your page looks even tidier.

  • Mark breaths and tempo changes. This one is easy to forget about – if you’re anything like me, you mark the crap out of your music when you’re learning a piece, so you have to make a clean photocopy for your pianist so that they can actually read it. Don’t forget to mark your breaths and tempo changes in the vocal and piano line so that your pianist will be right with you.

Now that the logistics are out of the way, don’t forget to introduce yourself and greet your pianist warmly when you offer them your music. They’re on your team, and you want to connect with them before you embark on your 5-10 minute collaboration! And make sure to thank them on your way out of the room. Chances are, they are either a contracted pianist in your area (which means they might play for you again someday), or a coach or the music director for the auditioning company! Taking the time to make your music neat and easy to navigate not only helps your pianist, it helps you!

Image courtesy of amfroey at feeedigitalphotos.net