VIDEO: Dr. Rob Istad Interviews THE RADIO HOUR Composer Jake Heggie and Conductor John Alexander, Parts 1 & 2
The internationally-acclaimed Pacific Chorale in Orange County, CA will be presenting a new work created by American opera composer Jake Heggie, and the versatile librettist Gene Scheer entitled "THE RADIO HOUR". The choral opera will be conducted by Pacific Chorale's Artistic Director, John Alexander, and stage-directed by James R. Taulli. The premiere work will be performed by the organization's chamber choir, The John Alexander Singers, accompanied by an 8-member ensemble of musicians who are members of Pacific Symphony. The performance is on Sunday, May 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, CA. Scroll down to see an interview with composer Jake Heggie and conductor John Alexander!
"Pacific Chorale is charting new territory with this premiere work in that we are combining the genres of choral music with opera," said John Alexander, Artistic Director and Conductor of the Chorale. "We are actually bringing the audience into the music and making it a personal experience for them by using dramatic elements to help tell the story."
The one-act (40-minute) work tells the story of a woman named "Nora" (played by Eve Himmelheber) who is feeling "down" and, as we all do, has to make a choice between the negative voices and the positive voices she hears in her head. When Nora's radio magically opens like a portal, she finds herself entering a world of music, like Alice stepping through the looking glass. Her experience there helps Nora to oversome the negative voices she hears - and transforms her in a way that makes her feel hopeful and positive, again.
"It was a challenge," Heggie admits, "to combine the idioms of opera, with its traditional emphasis on staging and soloists, and the collaborative but visually static choral art form." The solution he and Scheer finally hit upon was an ingenious twist on the monodrama: The sole character, Nora, is performed by a silent actress, performing in pantomime and dance. Her internal dialogue is supplied by the voices of a 2-part chorus (representing the negative voice or the positive voice) who become an integral and active part in the unfolding drama, rather than simply commenting upon, reacting to, or providing background for, the lead, as the traditional opera chorus might.
Jake Heggie is the acclaimed American composer of the operas Moby-Dick, Dead Man Walking (presented in Orange County by Opera Pacific in 2002), Three Decembers, The End of the Affair, To Hell and Back, At the Statue of Venus, and Out of Darkness. He has also composed more than 250 songs, as well as concerti, chamber music, choral and orchestral works. His songs, song cycles and operas are championed internationally by some of the most celebrated singers of our time, including William Burden, Stephen Costello, Joyce DiDonato, Nathan Gunn, Susan Graham, Ben Heppner, Jonathan Lemalu, Jay Hunter Morris, Patti LuPone, Robert Orth, Kiri Te Kanawa, Morgan Smith, Frederica von Stade, Talise Trevigne, and Bryn Terfel, to name a few. Heggie's operas have been produced internationally on five continents.
Librettist Gene Scheer has collaborated with Heggie on a number of projects, including the operas and stage works Another Sunrise, Moby-Dick, Three Decembers, To Hell and Back, --and the song cycle Camille Claudel: Into the Fire, which was premiered by Joyce di Donato and the Alexander String Quartet. He has also collaborated as librettist with Tobias Picker on the operas An American Tragedy and Thérèse Raquin, and with Jennifer Higdon on a recently completed operatic adaptation of Cold Mountain. He provided the words for Wynton Marsalis's "It Never Goes Away" and Steven Stucky's Grammy Award-nominated oratorio August 4, 1964 A composer in his own right, Scheer has also written songs for Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Stephanie Blythe, Jennifer Larmore, Denyce Graves, and Nathan Gunn.
"Opera is an evolving art form that grows richer through reinterpretation and reinvention," said Marc A. Scorca, President & CEO of Opera America. "THE RADIO HOUR is wonderfully innovative in concept, even as it reaches back to opera's origins in Greek drama. It combines art forms by promoting the choir into the leading role and portraying the main character through acting and dance. Opera is already a fusion of many arts, but "Radio Hour" intensifies the combination of music, acting and dance across traditional boundaries. It promises to be very exciting to a broad audience."
"I applaud Pacific Chorale and their co-commissioners (VocalEssence, The Philadelphia Singers and Conspirare) for presenting this innovative new choral opera," said Ann Meier Baker, President & CEO of Chorus America. "Today's audiences are looking for 'experiences' and this concert promises to deliver exactly that - through the combination of the choral, music, dance, and theater art forms."
As a special nod to the radio tradition, along with the premiere, Alexander has also programmed a musical tribute to legendary American choral conductor and bandmaster Fred Waring (1900-1984), consisting of classic American songbook selections by Louis Prima, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and Vincent Youmans. Together with his group The Pennsylvanians, Waring became a radio (and later television) institution during the mid-20th century, earning the sobriquet "The Man Who Taught America How to Sing". In addition to the countless audience members and performers who were profoundly influenced by Waring's own performances, broadcasts, and recordings, he had a profound impact on the American choral tradition through his protégée, iconic choral conductor Robert Shaw (1916-1999). Alexander rounds out this unique program, beginning with choral partsongs by composers Zoltán Kodály, Adolphus Hailstork, Theron Kirk and Edward Elgar.
"The Radio Hour" will take place at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, May 18th at the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. Tickets are $19-$129, available now through the Segerstrom Center for the Arts box office (www.scfta.org) and through Pacific Chorale (www.pacificchorale.org).
A "Supper Club" fundraiser will occur at The Center Club after the performance.
For tickets and additional information, contact Pacific Chorale at 714-662-2345.
The John Alexander Singers, Pacific Chorale's professional chamber choir, is a 24-voice ensemble of outstanding singers from throughout Southern California. While most of these singers also serve as part of the paid core to Pacific Chorale's 140-voice ensemble, their work with the John Alexander Singers focuses on specialized repertoire appropriate for a professional chamber chorus. In addition to its regular self-produced concerts, the John Alexander Singers' performance collaborations have included Musica Angelica, Los Angeles Philharmonic's "Green Umbrella" new music series, Kronos Quartet, Mark Morris Dance Company, The Royal Ballet of Covent Garden, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and Pacific Symphony.
The John Alexander Singers' first recording, Sweet Harmony, was released in 2001. The CD contains music by Lili Boulanger, Benjamin Britten, Cecil Effinger and Frank Ticheli. In addition, Sweet Harmony features the world premiere recordings of John Alexander's compositions "Sweet Harmony" and "In Praise of Music," as well as James Hopkins's cycle The Rossetti Songs, commissioned by the Pacific Chorale. The John Alexander Singers' recording, Shenandoah, released in 2008 by Gothic Records, features selections from the American folk song tradition. A new recording, American Voices, featuring works of various American composers, is currently in production, to be released on the Delos label. The John Alexander Singers have appeared as featured guest artists at conferences of both the American Choral Directors Association and Chorus America. They have served as the resident professional choir at the California State University Summer Arts Festivals at CSU Long Beach and the Humboldt State University. They also served as resident professional choir for the California Conducting Symposium, co-sponsored by Chorus America and CSU Fullerton. Orange County-based Pacific Chorale, the 140-voice resident choir of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, has been performing for 45 years - both nationally and internationally. Under the inspired guidance of Artistic Director and Conductor John Alexander, Pacific Chorale strives to preserve an Old World art form while at the same time infusing California's hallmark innovation and cultural independence by developing innovative new concepts in programming, and expanding the traditional concepts of choral repertoire and performance. In addition to its long-standing partnership with Pacific Symphony, Pacific Chorale has performed outstanding acclaimed performances around the world in 19 countries on four continents - and with 28 different orchestras, including many renowned ensembles both in the US and internationally.