Saturday, August 17, 2013

Huffington Post Article by Phil Chan. Martina and Prelude to Performance is featured! :)

Creativity Behind the Scenes: Preserving the Culture of Artistry
Posted: 08/15/2013 11:27 am
Several forms of dance notation do exist. Konstantin Sergeyev evacuated the Stepanov notation of The Sleeping Beauty (among many others as part of the Sergeyev Collection, currently housed at Harvard University) to the West during the 1917 Russian Revolution, which has since served as the blueprint for Sergei Diaghilev's production for the Ballet Russes and for many subsequent productions, most notably the Royal Ballet's interpretation, which maintains the international standard for that work (Prima Ballerina Margot Fonteyn solidified the work as the very heart of British classicism). However, the majority of the ballets today have come down to us the traditional way: roles passed down by hand from ballerina to ballerina. Despite the advent of video and recording technology, this tradition continues even today: each fresh generation gets passed down a little bit of distilled knowledge from the first production of any given artistic work. You cannot learn how to be a swan from a video.
A tremendous contribution to the art of ballet that is seldom recognized are the tireless artistic staff and coaches behind any given production. American Ballet Theatre is blessed with Irina Kolpakova, a former Kirov (Mariinsky) Ballerina known for her crystalline technique and unparalleled dramatic artistry. Since her retirement, she has devoted her non-performing career to the passing of this great dance legacy to the young dancers of today, offering up the experience ingrained in her very muscles achieved over years of repetition and discipline. Yet despite Ms. Kolpakova and full dedication of the artistic staff at the company, many of the magic details that make a great performance were notably absent in this last season's production of The Sleeping Beauty. While the standards of technique of the dancers remain high, what was lacking was the tie in between the steps, the music, and the theatricality -- the true beauty of a classical dance narrative.
At first, it may seem like the easy choice to blame poor organization, lazy dancers (if there is indeed such a thing at a professional level), or inexperienced coaches. As someone who is constantly fighting for more rehearsal weeks and resources for my dancers, I know firsthand that the culprit to a cutback in rehearsal weeks is a lack of funding. Productions are increasingly forced to be rushed onstage without adequate rehearsals, and reoccurring repertory is allocated even less time to be re-staged. This is not healthy for our dance companies and there's a disservice to our dance artists, who are more than able to give us inspired performances every night of their seasons.
Irina Kolpakova working with a young dancer at American Ballet Theatre. Photo by Renata Pavam.

While not the most glamorous comparison, Ms. Kolpakova, like the bacteria to sourdough bread, is what gives the final artistic product at American Ballet Theatre its unique and rich flavor; she is the culture and brings the knowledge of every previous generation with her. We therefore need to invest in our cultural resources like American Ballet Theatre and make sure Ms. Kolpakova, Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie, and the rest of the artistic staff is supported to maintain the highest level of dance theater. Because in this challenging funding environment, there is no room at the table for Wonderbread.
The dance community is still patiently waiting for funds to trickle down to the performing arts in the wake of the most catastrophic economic collapse in our country's modern era. An unfortunate casualty is that we risk cutting the artistic thread that is a crucial part of our history, leaving today's dancers grasping for a lost understanding of the repertory that they now learn from a video: the dancer reproduces instead of reinterprets.
Where do young dancers of today gain the confidence to tackle the great repertory? Where are the resources that help dancers explore and deepen their connection with the music, choreography, versatility and theatricality that are required by the repertory in today's companies? A program exists in opera, and has been providing this type of mentoring opportunity since 2005. Perhaps a lesson can be learned from across the plaza? With the loss this week of David Howard, a legendary ballet teacher and coach, the timeliness of this issue could not be more pressing.
I recently attended two performances with the Martina Arroyo Foundation's Prelude to Performance Series at the Danny Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Both Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman" and Donizetti's "L'Elisir d'Amor" were simply but effectively produced -- but beautifully and engagingly staged. These young singers looked the part and acted with rare conviction from emerging artists. It's immediately clear that the success of the format and accessibility of the program was due entirely to the outstanding mentoring opportunities found within the program. One forgets (and completely forgives) the comparisons possible to larger productions like those at the Metropolitan Opera, mounted with huge budgets and experiences international stars -- because of the truth in the performances of these exceptionally trained young singers.
Ms. Arroyo was a racial pioneer in the field of opera, and was a leading soprano with the Metropolitan Opera for a generation, appearing at the Paris Opera, London's Covent Garden, Milan's La Scala, the Vienna State Opera and the Buenos Aires Teatro Colón among many other major venues. Born in Harlem, Ms. Arroyo has since "dedicated her experience and expertise to the young emerging opera singers who aspire to follow in her footsteps." Under her foundation, Ms. Arroyo was able to create her Prelude to Performance program in 2005, crafted to address the skills that opera singers need to know to have a successful career.
Ms. Arroyo working young singers in her Role Class. Photo courtesy of the Martina Arroyo Foundation.

The Prelude to Performance program is six weeks of classes, music coachings, stagings and masterclasses which result in the performance of fully staged operas with orchestra in original language. Sessions include Role Class (character development, historical perspective, understanding of text) taught by Ms. Arroyo, Libretto Class (which treats the libretto of the operas like a play, and, depending on the language, includes sessions with foreign language professors), stage craft, movement and combat, sessions with costume designers and makeup artists, as well as Master Classes with leading singers from the Met (live streamed for accessibility on the web for the first time this year.) The program for students 20-35, has been tuition-free since 2011, with a goal of providing stipends for singers in the near future. As a result of deciding to make acceptance into the program based on the voice alone as opposed to financial means, the quality and ethnic diversity of the students shot through the roof. (Funders interested in breaking barriers: Pay attention to this model!) This is partly funded by their annual Gala (their tenth anniversary event will be on November 4).
The culmination of this program is what I saw over a weekend, two exceptional productions which featured the most committed and polished young talent rising to the challenge of timeless repertory with confidence and sincerity. This is not only the future of opera, but a strong way to build younger audiences; the second night I brought a few friends -- all under 40 -- who said that it was a wonderful (non-intimidating) opera experience, with tickets in their price range. They said it felt fresh -- like bread out of the oven.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Review of Friday Night's Les Contes d'Hoffmann (

Friday, July 12, 2013


Won Whi Choi and Kirsten Scott (photo by Jen Joyce Davis)
At world famous opera houses, singers fly in from all over the world, generally experienced in the role for which they have been hired; they have the briefest of rehearsal times.  Not so at Martina Arroyo's Prelude to Performance, a program she began a decade ago.  Participants in the program are chosen by audition from a large field of applicants and given scholarships; they spend a considerable period of time in concentrated study, focusing mainly on character development and authenticity.  Coaches and master teachers help them hone their skills.  The results are impressive.  The young singers, many on the cusp of major careers, work together as an ensemble and give a performance of convincing authenticity.

We do not go to the opera to learn about current events and politics; we go to be transported to another time and place.  This goal is best achieved by supporting the intentions of the composer and librettist and this is something at which Prelude to Performance excels.  We do not see machine guns, cell phones or black leather coats.  We see what audiences saw when the opera was first premiered.  In the case of Les Contes d'Hoffman, that was 1881 at the Opéra Comique.  Jacques Offenbach had seen a play entitled Les Contes Fantastique d'Hoffman, written in 1851 by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, which had woven together a number of stories written by E.T.A. Hoffman between 1814 and 1819; he chose Mr. Barbier as his librettist.  Poor Mr. Offenbach died shortly before the premiere and had not finished orchestrating the work.  Fervent musical scholarship has nearly succeeded in eliminating the spurious changes to the work and come up with a definitive version.

The framework of the story is the character Hoffman recounting the three great loves of his life and his realization that his current lady love, the diva Stella, is an amalgam of all three-- the young girl, the musician and the courtesan.  The theme of the story is the devotion of the artist to his craft versus the pursuit of love.  The character The Muse takes on the identity of Hoffman's best friend Nicklausse and takes part in all three of his adventures, always trying to rescue him from his ill-fated romantic adventures so that he may devote his life to art.  Each act has a villain, the personification of evil and Hoffman's nemesis.

In last night's cast, tenor Won Whi Choi impressed us with his beautiful singing and convincing acting.  His Hoffman was well into his cups during the Prologue, doing a memorable rendition of "Kleinzach"; he created a sympathetic poet who cannot take care of himself and really needs The Muse to bail him out.  The power of his voice grew as the evening progressed and he shone both in his arias and in his duets.

As The Muse, Kirsten Scott created a winning character and sang with a lovely evenness of tone throughout her register.  One sensed the worthiness of her motives and the resourcefulness of her strategies.  We particularly enjoyed her "Violin Aria".

As the perennial heavy, bass-baritone Yuriy Yurchuk was evil personified.  In the tavern scene, he was the arrogant Councillor Lindorf who plots to steal the Prima Donna Stella away from Hoffman.  In the Olympia act, he portrayed the nasty Dr. Coppelius who sells Hoffman the magic glasses that make him see the doll as a real woman.  In the Antonia act, he is the wicked Dr. Miracle who causes Antonia's death.  In the Giulietta act he is the evil magician who bribes Giulietta with a diamond in order to steal Hoffman's reflection.  In every case, he created a different color of evil.  Let us not fail to mention the richness of his voice.  This man has low notes to spare!

One more character appears in every act as a servant and tenor Francisco Corredor deserves to be singled out for his contribution as comic relief.  His Cochenille moved as mechanically as Olympia causing the audience to burst into laughter; he was again hilarious as the hearing-impaired Frantz who would really prefer singing and dancing to serving Dr. Crespel.  In the Giulietta scene he portrayed Pitichinaccio.

Bass Benjamin Bloomfield made a fine Luther, absorbing all the good natured taunts of the students.  He appeared again as Crespel, Antonia's possessive father and later as Schlémil, one of Giulietta's lovers.  Again, he excelled at creating different characters.

Originally, the three important women's roles were sung by the same soprano and this is occasionally done in modern times.  Nonetheless, due to the drastically different types of voices called for, it seems better to cast each role with a different soprano.  Last night we loved the finely honed coloratura of Mizuho Takeshita as Olympia the mechanical doll.  A superb lyric soprano Lenora Green was affecting as Antonia who loves Hoffman and loves singing and must make a choice.  The larger voice of Tamara Rusqué was perfect for the wily courtesan Giulietta.

Walker Jermaine Jackson made a fine Spalanzani; Samuel Thompson did equally well as Hermann; Chantelle Grant sang the voice of Antonia's mother; and Meroe Khalia Adeeb made a great diva in the role of Stella.

Robert Lyall conducted and we heard some fine sounds, especially from the woodwinds and horns.  We appreciated the directorial choices of E. Loren Meeker who kept the action moving and told the story cleanly without any directorial conceits.  Costume design by Charles Caine was exactly right, as were Wig and Makeup Design by Steven Horak who did especially well with the villain roles.

The set design was not credited but the entire opera took place in Luther's Nurenberg tavern with half-timbered walls.  It was simple and it worked.  The three "Tales" utilized a minimum of furniture which brought the attention to the singers.  The singers were the stars last night.  Even the chorus, directed by Nicholas Fox, shone brightly.  The opera will be repeated Saturday night and we are eager to see the other cast.  We expect they will put as much magic in the magic realism as last night's cast. 

© meche kroop 

Monday, July 8, 2013

NY1 Roger Clark Morning Show Article from this Morning

Retired Opera Singer's Non-Profit Inspires Wide Range Of Talent

An opera singer whose career took her around the world is sharing her experience with young hopefuls in the city as part of a six week program conducted by her non-profit. NY1's Roger Clark filed the following report.

Singer Mizuho Takeshita performed the role of Olympia, a mechanical doll, in Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffman" Monday morning on Manhattan's Upper East Side. It's all part of a program founded by retired soprano and native New Yorker Martina Arroyo.
"They have language lessons, they have development of character lessons, combat, that's kind of fun they like that because that's when the girls get to beat the boys up, and they do," Arroyo said.
This is the ninth season of the Martina Arroyo Foundation's Prelude to Performance Program, which leads up to performances later this week at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Both "Tales of Hoffman" and Donizetti's "Elixir of Love" will be staged.
Forty-seven students from around the world were selected for the program from 500 applicants. They get the chance to work with Arroyo and some of the city's top coaches, conductors and directors.
"They have so many things going in their heads all at once: Languages, diction, character development," said "Elixir of Love" Director Tara Faircloth.
"It takes a different level of thinking, and a different way of working actually to get out of them what we need to get out of them," said "Elixir of Love" Conductor Willie Anthony Waters.
The program is a unique opportunity for these young talents to hone their skills and learn from someone who sang in many of the world's leading opera houses.
"She's wonderful and inspiring and definitely intimidating but in the best way possible," said Opera Singer Kirsten Scott.
"Patience, learning how to I guess believe in the process," said Opera Singer Jorell Williams.
"The Martina Foundation, this program does a really great job of selecting really good hearted people with a real passion for what we do," said Opera Singer Maggie Sczekan.
For Martina Arroyo, seeing that passion in action is gratifying.
"The arts needs all the help that we can get because you want to have future great singers and we do have them but we need to work to become from singers, to artists, to great," Arroyo said.
For ticket prices and more information on the program, visit

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Opera Vernacular

Hello everyone! I thought that I would blog today about some opera terminology that is used a lot during the process of preparing for an opera.  For example, the cast of Les Contes d'Hoffmann had our first wandelprobe yesterday. What is a "wandelprobe," you ask? It is a musical rehearsal with the orchestra in which we go through our staging, while singing.

Some other opera jargon include:

Blocking: Blocking is also known as "staging"

Sitzprobe: A rehearsal with both the singers and the orchestra, without blocking

Stage Left: The left side of the stage, when facing the audience

Stage Right: The right side of the stage when, when facing the audience

Maestro: The conductor of the opera

Compramario role: Supporting role

Coach: Someone who helps singers with the interpretation of their roles, cleaning up musical issues, and also helping the singers with their diction

More about our tech week process will follow after the Fourth of July! Happy Holidays!

Monday, July 1, 2013

5 Minutes with some of the Cast of Les Contes d'Hoffmann!

Name: Benjamin Bloomfield

Where you're from: Bow, NH
Character you are playing: Crespel, Luther, Schlemil

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): Crespel: anxious, fatherly Schlemil: desperate, hollow Luther: jolly

Favorite line that you sing: "malheureux enfant..."

Favorite part in the opera: Antonia finale
Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hofmann: great music, great drama, great story

Name: Joseph Michael Brent

Where you're from: New York City
Character you are are playing: E.T.A. Hoffmann

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): Romantic, human, maudlin, eccentric, mercurial

Favorite line that you sing: "Le fut-il, S'il me la fait aimer, je consens qu'il me damne... allons"

Favorite part in the opera: The entirety of Coppelius' music.

Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hofmann: Hoffmann is one of most amazing and fascinating characters in history and the opera captures much of his greatness and reputation.
This opera is both educating and morally driven. Further more, the melodies, characters and stories will speak for themselves.  

Name: Francsico Corredor 

Where you're from: Queens, NYC native of Colombian, Puerto Rican, and Spanish decent.

Character you are playing: Andrès, Cochenille, Frantz, Pitichinnacio.

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): Andrès is bourgeois. Cochenille is naïve in a positive child-like manner. Frantz is passionate yet talentless. Pitichinnacio is defensive.

Favorite line that you sing: as Cochenille "A-a-tten-ti-on!"

Favorite part in the opera: between the finale of the Olympia act and the Antonia, mother, dr.Miracle trio.

Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hofmann: this is an amazing piece of work that has survived the test of time despite its many discrepancies. It's about love and lost, good and evil. It's funny and sad. All of these make me want to say it's just so French. It's one of those operas that has everything.

Name: Mika Estrin

Where you're from: Atlanta, GA

Character you are playing: Auditing Antonia

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): 1) passionate 2) conflicted 3) determined 4) loving 5) profound

Favorite line that you sing: ma mere est c'etait en moi ranimée, mon coeur en chantent cryoait l'ecouté.

Favorite part in the opera: I love the final trio in the Antonia act, because it is composed of so many emotional and musical layers. The conflicting forces of good and evil are heard clearly through the orchestration, and it seems to have a power that propels the scene forward.Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hofmann: Les Contes d'Hoffman is a multi-faceted and complex story that is centered around a very straight forward and universal emotional journey of a simple man. Any and every person can relate and take something away from this opera, and simultaneously the audience member will be transported by the luscious music and drama that envelopes the story.

Name: Chantelle Grant

Where you're from: Toronto, Ontario Canada

Character you are playing: The voice of Antonia's Mother

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): Grand, Glamours, Selfish, Manipulative, Spectral

Favorite line that you sing: "Ma voix t'appelle comme autrefois chante toujours ma fille, chante!"

Favorite part in the opera: The barcarolle

Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hofmann: Aside from the glorious music and gorgeous pageantry. Hoffmann is is beautiful coming of age tale which speaks to our responsibilities as artists, lovers and as a society. 

Name: Lenora Green

Where you're from: Macon, GA

Character you are playing:Antonia

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): Lonely, Young, Passionate, Brave, Sentimental

Favorite line that you sing:La rose nouvelle sourit au printemps. Las! combien de temp vivra t'elle.

Favorite part in the opera: My favorite part of the opera would have to be the trio between Hoffmann, Crespel and Dr. Miracle.  The music is so grand and animated.  I also love a good villain.

Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hoffmann: I think the public should come to see Les Contes d'Hoffmann because it is such a great opera.  Three wonderful stories that compliment each other very well by having their own personalities.  There is no room for boredom.  I am also impressed by the talent that we have on stage in this program.  It would be a shame not to come out and hear these wonderful singers.

Name: Smitha Johnson

Where you're from: Houston, TX
Character you are playing: Antonia (cover)

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): Passionate, naive, loyal, ambitious, intense

Favorite line that you sing: "T'aime je donc pour elle, ou l'aime he pour toi

Favorite part int the opera: the exchange between Dr. Miracle and Antonia that leads into the trio is one of the most eerie, yet compelling operatic writing I have ever cone across. I love that Dr. Miracle takes a multi-pronged approach into coercing Antonia back to her music; the most incredible part about the rhetoric that he uses is that he capitalizes on the doubts that are already in her head, so she thinks that it is her own mind that is deceiving her.

Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hoffmann I think this opera is one of the most unique works in the operatic repertoire. It encompasses such a wide range od emotions and brings to light the eternal struggle faced by all those who choose to pursue art. It has elements of comedy,drama and tragedy. All in all, it is a masterful retelling and reinterpretation of three remakably innovative stories written by the actual E.T.A. Hoffmann, and it is sure to leave audiences moved and inspired.

Name: Chae Seon Kim

Where you're from: South Korea

Character you are playing: Olympia(Cover)

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): Cute, Mechanical,Dollish, Emotionless,Calculated

Favorite line that you sing: Voila la chanson gentile, la chanson d'Olympia!

Favorite part in the opera: Antonia's last scene

Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hofmann: The Opera is funny and it shows Hoffmann's three different love stories.

Name:Tamara Rusqué

Where you're from: Toronto, Canada

Character you are playing: Giulietta

5 Adjectives that describe your character (s): Giulietta is magnetic, crafty, insatiable, dazzling and wicked
Favorite line that you sing: My favorite line is actually not sung. I most enjoy my evil cackle at the end of the act!

Favorite part in the opera: I am very fortunate to be singing the famous "Barcarolle" duet with the character of Nicklausse at the top of the third act. It's been one of my favorite melodies all my life.

Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hoffmann: To enjoy the extraordinary musical and theatrical gifts of my talented colleagues.

Name: Kirsten Scott

Where you're from: Dover, MA

Character you are playing: Nicklausse/Muse

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): Young, supportive, sarcastic, smart, thoughtful

Favorite line that you sing: "Notte giorno, mal dormire." Night and day, sleeping badly. This refers to Hoffmann being a mess in the prologue. It is sung with the tune of Leporello's opening aria in Don Giovanni (the opera that is happening next to the Tavern) and is the first moment that we get to see that Nicklausse is witty!

Favorite part in the opera: Prologue tavern scene, when I get to "bro out"

Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hofmann: It's an exciting, hilarious at times, and poignant story about relationships and how they effect art/creativity. The music is pretty good too!

Name: Janani Sridhar

Where you're from: Singapore, a tropical paradise!

Character you are playing: Antonia

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s): Vulnerable, driven, caring, torn, and hopeful

Favorite line that you sing: Quelle cette voix qui me troubles l'esprit? Est-ce l'enfer qui parle ou Dieu qui m'averit?

Favorite part in the opera: The Violin Aria in Act 2.

Why the public should come watch Les Contes d'Hofmann: It is an opera that will make you laugh, tug at your heartstrings, and make you feel in ways you have never felt before.

Name: Mizhuo Takeshita

Where you're from: Japan

Character you're playing: Olympia

5 Adjectives that describe your character(s):Doll, Machine, Mechanical, Stupid, Young girl

Favorite line that you sing: Oui!

Favorite part in ther opera: Act 1 (Olympia) Nicklausse's Aria

Why the public should come see Les Contes d'Hoffmann: It is wonderful music! Funny, mysterious, creepy and sad.. love and drink! Everyone is going to love it for sure! Please come see us!

Makeup Masterclass with Steven Horak

Last Friday, we were treated to a makeup masterclass with Steven Horak who does makeup for the Metropolitan Opera. He showed us different techniques for highlighting our features, to make them pop onstage.

For the men, he showed us how to define angles in their face to make them look more masculine, and also how to make them look more tanned, and rugged.

For the women, he taught us how to define our eyes and lips in a soft, and feminine way, that still allows our expressions to read in a large opera house.. Here're some pictures from the class.

                                                    Steven with our model, Joseph Brent.

                                          Joe showing us the side of his face that was just done.

                                                  Steven with our model, Mika Estrin.
Look at how super defined the features on the left side of Mika's face is!

Prelude to Performance

Hello everyone and welcome to the Martina Arroyo Foundation's Prelude to Performance blog!
I'm Janani Sridhar and I will be blogging about the program and also about Les Contes d'Hoffmann which is of the two operas that are being put up this summer.

Prelude to Performance got its name because it serves as an introduction to mainstage roles for us performers, before we launch onto the global platforms of our careers.

In this blog, I will be giving you little snapshots of what the program is like, and will also be taking you behind the curtain to see what some of the work that goes into making a successful opera! Stay tuned for more posts!