Archive for the ‘Interview’ Category

Interview with Robert Wood, Photo-Op Conductor

Today we bring you an interview with Photo-Op’s conductor, Robert Wood.  Robert is also UrbanArias’ Executive and artistic director.  He shares his particular take on Photo-Op, as well as a sneak-peak for what’s to come…

From your perspective, what is Photo-Op about?

I think Photo-Op is a commentary on modern presidential campaigning. It’s about how running for president can totally alter who you are – your persona, your judgment, your moral compass.

What are the particular challenges of this piece, musically?

Photo-Op is very complex, although it may not sound that way on a first hearing. Most of the challenges are rhythmical – Conrad Cummings loves syncopation and loves presenting material multiple times with slight rhythmical alterations. It’s very hard to memorize!

What made you decide to pick this particular piece for Urban Arias?

I really like Conrad’s music, and when he showed me Photo-Op in 2010, I thought, “we need to do that in 2012, it would be perfect in an election year. The libretto is only two pages long, and sounds like a Da-Da version of stump speeches – it’s funny and also a little sad that so little has changed in American politics since it was written in 1989.

How does working with a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists differ from working on larger works?

In small works, you need to cast singers and engage players very carefully. When there are only two singers and four players involved, one weak link, or unenthusiastic performer, can pull the whole show down. In a larger piece, if someone in a small role or a player without a lot of solos isn’t great, the audience won’t notice as much because that person is not a fifth of the whole opera.

What do you think Urban Arias brings to the DC/VA arts scene?

No one else is doing what UrbanArias does: producing only short operas that were written within the last 40 years and casting them with nationally-known artists. I think we bring very high-quality opera to the area, which embraces the avant-garde in other artistic media, and which is turning out to embrace us as well. I also think we’re an excellent addition to the rich complement of opera that exists in the DC area already – Washington National Opera, Washington Concert Opera, Opera Lafayette, the In Series, to name a few – each of us brings a specific take, or a specific kind of repertory to the area, and I think audiences enjoy that.

What do you hope the audience takes away from their experience?

I hope that opera lovers find that they enjoy new work and that they hear and appreciate singers they may not already know; and I hope that newcomers to the art form leave the theater thinking that opera is much more approachable and interesting than they may have thought it was.

What can we expect to see from UrbanArias in the future?

More short new operas! We’re producing the world premiere of Gergory Spears’ Paul’s Case next April; it’s based on a very compelling and intense story by Willa Cather. We’re also going to continue giving programs of “opera shorts” and “opera improv” – we will be at Strathmore Mansion with our program “Blind Dates,” which was such a hit at IOTA Club and Cafe, on March 22 next year.

Photo-Op opens on Saturday, September 8th at Artisphere in Arlington.  Performances continue on Sept. 9th, 14th, and 15th.  Tickets are $22, or $17 for students and seniors.  You may purchase them on the Artisphere ticketing website.

Interview with Photo-Op director Alan Paul

UrbanArias’ new production of Photo-Op by Conrad Cummings and James Siena opens this weekend.  Photo-Op is a 60-minute opera about the absurdity of modern presidential politics. All of the obligatory campaign events are included: stump speeches, rope lines, debates, sound bites, and, of course, photo-ops reduced to the absurd – taking familiar “politician-speak” and turning it on its head. Photo-Op is by the same composer as UrbanArias’ hit Positions 1956 – Cummings’ minimalist-influenced score is hard-hitting but harmonious.

Director Alan Paul has joined us for an interview about Photo-Op and his role as director.

From your perspective, what is Photo-Op about?

Photo-Op tells the story of a presidential candidate and his wife on the election trail.  The opera examines the public and personal tolls a campaign takes and the price of running for our country’s highest office.

What are the particular challenges of this piece, dramatically?

The beautiful challenge of directing this piece is that writers have left it so open-ended.  The libretto fits on two pages and the writers do not tell us anything about who the characters are or what their journey is, only that they are a soprano and a baritone.  Having this flexibility has given us the ability to really tailor the story to what elections are like in 2012, even though the candidate is fictional and in no way a representation of Obama or Romney.  It allows us to examine our own frustrations and dreams about what elections mean to us at exactly this moment in time.

How have you approached this production of Photo-Op?

I have tried to capture, in a non-partisan way, the country’s feelings about the electoral process.  And I have also tried to take a closer look at the personal reasons for many of the public decisions we see, since one always intrudes on the other.  It has been fun to come home and see the Convention on TV after rehearsal every night, and we have worked hard to make the opera as current as we possibly can.

What previous opera directing experience do you have?

I have been an opera lover my whole life, but I didn’t direct my first opera until Robert asked me to direct the double bill of Before Breakfast and The Filthy Habit for UrbanArias last spring.   I will follow Photo-Op with a double bill of Dido and Aeneas and El Amor Brujo for The In Series in November, and I hope to continue working in opera.

How does your directing and rehearsal process for Photo-Op differ from the way you would approach something at the Shakespeare Theatre?

The main difference is the wonderful addition of singers, dancers, a conductor, and a choreographer.  I love collaboration, so it’s a particular joy for me to have so many people to bounce ideas off of and work with that I wouldn’t normally have.  And when your collaborators are Robert Wood and Lucy Bowen McCauley, the level of fun we have in rehearsal approaches giddiness.

What are the particular challenges and advantages of working with UrbanArias and companies like it?

What makes UrbanArias so special is that Robert picks material that is so musically exciting and that you won’t see anywhere else.  New operatic works by American composers are so rarely produced, so to have a home for them in Northern Virginia is a great thing for the opera community and for the DC Metropolitan Area.

What do you hope the audience takes away from their experience?

I hope audiences take a closer look at presidential campaigns, and come to understand that we share the same challenges and hopes on both sides of the aisle.

Photo-Op opens on Saturday, September 8th at Artisphere in Arlington.  Performances continue on Sept. 9th, 14th, and 15th.  Tickets are $22, or $17 for students and seniors.  You may purchase them on the Artisphere ticketing website.

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