Sunday, September 17, 2017

Crossing with Rod Gilfry makes NY debut at BAM

Rod Gilfry as Walt Whitman in Crossing
Matthew Aucoin's opera Crossing is making its New York premiere at the Brooklyn Academy of Music from October 3-8. The ageless barihunk Rod Gilfry returns in the role of Walt Whitmen, whose Civil War diary that he kept while working as a nurse inspired the opera.

Crossing explores how the individual experiences of soldiers are remembered and told. As Whitman listens to wounded veterans share their memories and messages, he forges a bond with a soldier who forces him to examine his own role as writer and poet. The opera, directed by Diane Paulus, begins with Walt Whitman's prologue, delivered while facing the audience in front a bunch of rickety hospital beds. Whitman sings, “What is it, then, between us?,” a key line from his poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” While caring for the injured soldiers, Whitman is drawn to a haunted-looking soldier names John Wormley, who is sung by tenor Alexander Lewis. The opera deals with a number of "crossings," including between poet and reader, performer and audience, and the contradictory elements of Walt Whitman himself.

The cast also includes a spate of barihunks, including Davone Tines as a South Carolina slave, Hadleigh Adams, Michael Kelly as a soldier, Ben Lowe, Matthew Patrick Morris and Jorell Williams. Tickets are available online.

The opera heads to California for its West Coast premiere in May 2018 for a concert performance at the Los Angeles Opera, which also stars Rod Gilfry. The opera originally premiered in May 2015 at the Shubert Theater in Boston.

Anthony Reed takes his act to San Francisco nightclub

Bass-barihunk Anthony Reed (Photo: Andrew Bogard)
The San Francisco Opera continues its popular Opera Pop-Up series with bass-barihunk Anthony Reed and director Aria Umezawa, who are teaming up for Operatronica. The latest offering is geared toward those who are curious about opera and like EDM music.

The duo will hit San Francisco's nightclub Mezzanine along with DJ troupe Loves Company, who will grind out some opera related late night beats. General admission is $20 and VIP access is available for $40. Tickets include a swag bag and a chance to meet the artists.

For those who want to hear Anthony Reed in a traditional opera, he's performing Orest's tutor in Richard Strauss' Elektra and Doctor Grenvil in Verdi's La traviata with the San Francisco Opera. Tickets are available online and performances run through September 26th.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Q&A with Barihunk and Fitness Instructor Zacharias Niedzwiecki

Zacharias Niedzwiecki
Chicago-based barihunk Zacharias Niedzwiecki is new to our site and came to our attention earlier this year when he performed in Purcell's The Fairy Queen at Long Beach Opera. He received his undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, where he performed in numerous productions, including the role of Connie Rivers in the collegiate premiere of Ricky Ian Gordon's The Grapes of Wrath, Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance as The Pirate King, Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann as Schlémiel, Kurt Weill's Mahagonny Songspiel as Jimmy/Cypress Stark, and Puccini's La Bohème as Colline.

Niedzwiecki is in his second year as a member of the Professional Diploma in Opera Program at Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts in conjunction with Chicago Opera Theater. Last season he made his debut this with Chicago Opera Theater in Frank Martin’s The Love Potion as Duke Hoël, covered the role of Oberon in Purcell’s The Fairy Queen with Chicago Opera Theater and Long Beach Opera, and appeared in the US premiere of Phillip Glass’ The Perfect American.

This season you can see Zacharias with Chicago Opera Theater in Menotti’s The Consul as Assan, the world premiere of Kevin Puts’ Elizabeth Cree as both Mr. Etcher and Karl Marx. He will also be covering multiple roles with the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Gregory Spears’s opera Fellow Travelers.

Niedzwiecki is also a cycle instructor and yoga teacher keeps his body as fit as his voice. He answered some questions for us about his career, his fitness routine and a little about his personal interests.
Zacharias Niedzwiecki in Long Beach Opera's The Fairy Queen (photo: Liz Lauren)
1. What drew you to a career in opera? I was first drawn to the beauty of opera. When I was young, I thought that it was the most beautiful art form I ever experienced. I wanted to somehow be that beautiful too, so I aspired to be an opera singer. Somehow those aspirations became reality. 

2. You are a cycle instructor and yoga teacher. Tell us about that and what got you started in fitness? I first got started in fitness simply to get in shape. I didn't feel entirely comfortable in my own skin so I made the choice to change that. Years later is just part of my lifestyle, besides teaching fitness working out everyday is just part of my routine. Some people read the paper with their coffee in the morning, I workout. 

Zacharias Niedzwiecki teaching yoga
3. Do you feel that being in shape helps you on stage?I absolutely feel that being in shape helps many aspects of stage. I first started with vinyasa yoga. I read so many articles about singers who have worked out and became too tight to be successful in an operatic career. I didn't want that so I chose yoga as a way to tone and refine my movements. Being in shape allows in my opinion for you to have more bodily awareness on stage and at the same time look good doing it. 

4. How do you respond to people who say that working out can restrict proper breathing for singers? As far as restricting proper breathing for singers I completely understand this thought, it's valid. For that reason I believe a work out regimen should be balanced. That's why I combine workouts in yoga, cycling, and interval training. Yoga itself is about breath and movement, lengthening the body and flexibility. Therefore I feel it is essential to incorporate yoga into all workouts routines. If and when I lift, I only lift so much that I can still have proper form and not so much weight that I ever strain. Regardless the voice should come first, if you notice something has begun to restrict your breath stop doing it. 
Zacharias Niedzwiecki
5. Do you think the advent of HD broadcasts has changed the expectation of how a singer should look? Absolutely, I believe it has cause viewers to once again rethink this art form. Opera is an aural art form and a visual art form. With this in mind, it now being broadcasted, and our more health conscious society I feel the expectation have shifted for you to not only sound incredible, but for you to also look the role and look good doing it. 

6. Are there any roles in particular that you really hope to get to perform someday? There are a couple, I would absolutely love to perform the role Hawkins Fuller from Fellow Travelers by Gregory Spears. The story is heart wrenching, the music is gorgeous and I would love to perform as a gay character. I would also like to perform the role of Escamillo from Carmen by Bizet. 

7. What other passions do you have aside from music? I am an avid botanist, my apartment in Chicago is filled with plants. I really enjoy learning about plants and spending time researching about them. I feel growing up gardening vegetables and flower at home in Northern Michigan instilled this passion.

Zacharias Niedzwiecki
8. What do you listen to other than opera? I listen to all kinds of music. Teaching both yoga and cycling and having to make these very different playlists I have to listen to and search through a large variety of music. I really enjoy lately electronic house with female vocals and more chill ambient music like Olafur Arnalds. 

9. Tell us something about yourself that people would be surprised to know. I took a year off from singing when I was 23 and became a research field technician of a Jaguar population density study in Panama. I lived there for about a year in the mountains, hiking everyday setting up camera traps along the mountain ridges.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Iowa Public Television to broadcast "Billy Budd" with Craig Verm

Craig Verm as Billy Budd (photos: Des Moines Metro Opera)
On September 29th, Iowa Public Television will broadcast the world premiere of the newly orchestrated version of Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd. The opera features barihunk Craig Verm, whose promo photo from this production were featured in our 2017 Barihunks Calendar. The episode will be available online.

The production, which was filmed in July, features a number of other singers familiar to readers, including Zachary James as the evil John Claggart, Michael Adams as Donald, Emmett O'Hanlon as the Novice's Friend and barihunk turned hunkentenor Chris Carr as Maintop. The all-male cast included 70 singers and was the largest ensemble in the 45 year history of the Des Moines Metro Opera. [Zachary James is slated to appear in our 2018 calendar].

The Iowa Public Television coverage includes behind-the-scenes footage and perspectives on the making of Billy Budd, the stage experience, the opera’s complex emotional themes, as well as interviews with Des Moines Metro Opera General and Artistic Director Michael Egel, conductor David Neely, stage director Kristine McIntyre and principal cast members.

Craig Verm as Billy Budd (photos: Des Moines Metro Opera)
“'Billy Budd' is a true masterpiece,” said Craig Verm, the baritone featured in the title role. “It’s epic in its scope of onstage forces of orchestration, of story, of morality, and of good and evil. It’s gripping. It’s magical.”

In 2007, Verm first appeared in the opera as the Novice's Friend in Pittsburgh opposite the Billy Budd of Nathan Gunn and the thrilling Claggart of Greer Grimsley. The production was directed by the woman who inspired Barihunks, Francesca Zambello.

Billy Budd had its world premier at London’s Royal Opera House on December 1, 1951 conducted by the composer with the role of Captain Vere sung by Britten’s partner Peter Pears. Billy Budd received its United States premiere in 1952 at the Indiana University Opera Company with Jack Gillaspy in the title role.

A number of famous barihunks have sung the role of Billy Budd, who many believe was secretly desired by the evil Claggart. Famous barihunk Billy Budd's include John Chest, Simon Keenlyside, Richard Stilwell, Nathan Gunn, Rod Gilfry, Bo Skovhus, Thomas Hampson, Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Peter Mattei, Lauri Vasar, Lucas Meachem, Jacques Imbrailo, Daniel Belcher, Roderick Williams, Iurii Samoilov and Liam Bonner. 

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Baritones Sweep Wigmore/Kohn Song Competition


The "Battle of the Baritones" at the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition ended up with baritones taking all three of the top prizes. It repeats the baritone trifecta of the last competition in 2015, when Swiss bass Milan Siljanov took 1st Prize, German baritone Samuel Hasselhorn took 2nd Prize, and British baritone James Newby took 3rd Prize.

What started with 150 singers from 42 countries ended up coming down to the baritone trio, plus mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski, who walked away for the Richard Tauber prize for the best Schubert singing. You can watch the entire final round HERE.

First Prize went to New Zealand baritone Julien Van Mellaerts who received £10,000 and a Wigmore Hall recital offered at the discretion of the Director, Second Prize went to American baritone John Brancy who received £5,000 and Third Prize went to American baritone Josh Quinn who received £2,500.

The Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition has been around for fourteen years and attracts some of the top young vocal and piano talent in the world. Singers compete in tandem with an accompanist. This Competition recognizes the song tradition as a whole and requires contestants to perform in at least three languages. At the same time it honors the Lied’s place at the heart of the song repertoire and celebrates the Shakespearean stature of Schubert in the genre.

Baritones have historically fared well at the competition, with the amazing German baritone Dominik Köninger winning the top prize in 2011, Gavan Ring taking 2nd Prize in 2013, the famous 2015 trifecta and this year's repeat of baritones taking all three top prizes.  The Competition is held only in odd numbered years.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Battle of the Baritones at Wigmore/Kohn Competition?

John Brancy, Josh Quinn and Julien van Mellaerts
Three of the most talented young baritones in opera have made it to the final round of the Wigmore Hall/Kohn Foundation International Song Competition, which will be held on Thursday, September 7th. John Brancy, Josh Quinn, Julien van Mellaerts and compete alongside mezzo-soprano Clara Osowski, setting up a Battle of the Baritones (plus a low-voice female singer!).

You can watch the final round live online at the Wigmore/Kohn website at 6 PM GST/1 PM EST/10 AM PST.

You can watch the semi-final round HERE. Josh Quinn performed  Schubert's Memnon, Poulenc 4 Poèmes de Guillaume Apollinaire, Finnissy's Outside Fort Tregantle and Schubert's Der Zwerg. John Brancy performed Schubert's Liebeslauschen and Erlkönig, Frank Bridge's Love went a-riding, Faure's Dans la nymphée and Wolseley Charles' The green-eyed dragon. Julien van Mellaerts performed Der Einsame and Wandrers Nachtlied II, Gurney's In Flanders, Butterworth's Is my team plouging? and Poulenc's Les gars qui vont a la fete.

Google honors baritone Eduard Khil with doodle

Eduard Khil and his Google doodle
Google paid Russian baritone Eduard Khil the ultimate honor with creating a doodle for him on September 4th, which would have been his birthday. Khil was born in 1934 and died five years ago.

Despite having studied at the Leningrad Conservatory (now the Saint Petersburg Conservatory), having won numerous singing awards and going on to a career at the Saint Petersburg State Theatre Arts Academy, he became most famous for singing “I Am Glad Because I Am Finally Returning Back Home.” The song was posted on YouTube in 2009 and became known as the “trololo,” due to Khil repeating the phrase “trololo.” The track became an internet sensation and appeared on several television programs including “Family Guy,” "The Colbert Report" and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!

Lottery Fever clip from Family Guy featuring the Trololo Song:

The Trololo video first appeared on February 21, 2010, the most prominent of those being the "Trololo" website trololololololololololo.com that helped push the video into popular awareness, receiving more than 3,000,000 hits in its first month.

After his singing career faded in the early 1990s, Khil re-entered private life and worked in a cafe in Paris, singing cabaret. For his 75th birthday in 2009, Khil was awarded the "Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 4th Class" by Russia and the next year he performed in the St. Petersburg Victory Day Parade. Upon his death from a stroke in 2012, condolences came from all corners of the world, including from Russian President Vladimir Putin.