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BWW Interview: Festival Opera's Zachary Gordin Working Out His Vocal Cords, His Body & The 2021 Season

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Festival Opera will be offering their first hybrid online/in person event post-pandemic - UN RAGGIO DI SPEME (RAY OF HOPE) July 11, 2021

BWW Interview: Festival Opera's Zachary Gordin Working Out His Vocal Cords, His Body & The 2021 Season

Festival Opera will be offering their first hybrid online/in person event since the pandemic restrictions loosened up - UN RAGGIO DI SPEME (RAY OF HOPE) July 11, 2021. Got the chance to chat with Festival Opera's general director Zachary Gordin on Festival Opera's upcoming season and staying sane during these safer-distanced times.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Zachary!

Very happy to chat with you, Gil!

These past few weeks have been such a confusing whirlwind of de-regulations. When did you get to finalize your 2021 season to include live audience events?
Indeed they have! I'm still reeling from 2020 and the first half of 2021. We had to reschedule all of our performances numerous times, and got up to speed with producing digital/online content. June 15th, we got the green light to produce one of our mainstage operas (A JAKE HEGGIE TRIPTYCH) and the final vocal recital of the season. Sadly, we have to push our production of CARMEN to 2023, since it's just too big of a show to produce with the level of safety I'd be comfortable with.

Your first show up UN RAGGIO DI SPEME (RAY OF HOPE) July 11th will be a hybrid of live audience and on demand streaming. When you started planning this production (featuring soprano Lila Khazoum with Maestro Alexander Katsman on piano), did you envision it as solely an online offering?
We initially planned this, and the other vocal recital this season (AND YET SHE PERSISTED) as live events for 2020, and then COVID hit. We produced PERSISTED as an HD video recital, and fortunately we were able to pivot back to a live event for RAGGIO while offering the video performance to our audience members that are far away, or not yet ready to attend a live event.

BWW Interview: Festival Opera's Zachary Gordin Working Out His Vocal Cords, His Body & The 2021 Season Festival Opera's next show up will be the world premiere of A JAKE HEGGIE TRIPTYPH August 13th and 15th for a live audience at Lesher Center for the Arts. Any chance of also streaming this show online for the at-home viewers?
We're working on possibilities for making video available. Between orchestra union restrictions and performance rights, video production can get tricky. Stay tuned for updates - I'm hopeful we can make this available to our audience.

Is your box office still limiting the amount of tickets available for live performances? What does Lesher Center for the Arts seat?
The Lesher Center is not limiting capacity, and will require masks for unvaccinated patrons. Capacity is about 800 seats in the Hofmann Theatre.

Has producing your BEHIND THE MASK and MIXED TAPE podcasts kept you creative and sane these past quarantine months?
Creative, yes. I'll let more qualified individuals assess my sanity, but having the opportunity to produce such beautiful and meaningful experiences with our artists has been wonderful. Once we got the pieces in place to produce digital media, the projects just flowed. I'm grateful for our production team, board members, and the wonderful artists we created these offerings for/with. Collaborating with, and highlighting talented folks is my favorite part of this work.

You were awarded Barihunks' first grant to mentor young singers in master classes with Center Stage Opera. Besides your technical expertise and experience as a countertenor, a baritone and a concert pianist; what performance edict do you always impress on your students?
Preparation is everything! Research the story you're telling, know what every word means (no matter what language you're working in), and show up fully prepared to every rehearsal. Come in to the process with answers rather than questions, but stay flexible and teachable. Know your voice and understand your technique, so that when a conductor or director asks you to try something you can immediately deliver the goods. Be a generous and helpful colleague, and get involved in the communities you are visiting and working in.

As part of Barihunk awarding you that grant in 2013, you were what month on the Barihunks 2014 charity calendar?
I really can't recall! I've participated in several editions of the calendar and have lost track. I'm always happy to snap a few photos to help raise money for young artists.

BWW Interview: Festival Opera's Zachary Gordin Working Out His Vocal Cords, His Body & The 2021 Season How close were you to your photogenic shape when they told you of the calendar shoot? 90%? 95%? What did you do to get to that 100%?
I would say I'm never fully 100%, but I typically work hard on diet and workout routine for 6-8 weeks before a shoot like that. I try to do a decent job of staying on course year-round, but I give myself some wiggle room for treats.

Without gyms to work out at during these pandemic months, did you develop your own home exercise routines?
I did! It was very difficult at first because I'm such a creature of habit and the ritual of gym visits had their own motivation built in. My partner and I managed to carve out time, and we pushed ourselves to work out with dumbbells, resistance bands, even chunks of concrete and rocks. We got outside and got creative, but I'm definitely happy to be back into an indoor/gym fitness routine.

Have you seen any correlation between your workout routines and your vocal prowess? Male opera singers traditionally were not into bodybuilding.
The really important part of my fitness journey as it relates to singing has been the development of my kinesthetic awareness. It's a key element in truly knowing how the voice and breath operate, and extremely helpful in explaining vocal technique as a teacher. I've always laughed at the notion that lifting weights will ruin a voice, generally perpetuated by people with no experience lifting. My physical training has definitely been an asset in my development as a singer, actor, and teacher.

Do you have a daily vocal warm-up?
I have a short series of things I do to check in with my body and breath. Mindfulness, humming, some simple scales and arpeggios. Nothing too complicated. Awareness is the most important element in any warmup.

What gives you the more gratification: Sustaining your high notes? Or repping out with your maximum weight?
I'm not a fan of the ego lift - always form and intention first. So, definitely high notes!

Here's another one: Hearing your standing ovation while taking your final bow on stage? Or seeing a young struggling student of yours finally get their lightbulb moment from your coaching?
BWW Interview: Festival Opera's Zachary Gordin Working Out His Vocal Cords, His Body & The 2021 Season 100% the lightbulb moment! Ovations are always this overwhelming moment of gratitude for me, but it's almost uncomfortable. Doing the work honestly and reliably is what I focus on. If the audience receives it, I've done my job.

What baritone role would you love to tackle?
Iago in OTHELLO, and Zurga in PEARL FISHERS. I've sung the music, but I'd love to get those guys performed!

With your full-time responsibilities as general director of Festival Opera and your various teaching/coaching duties, any plans for more piano recitals or show-stopping performances on stage?
I plan to keep performing until I can't! Roles, recordings, recitals, and more work as a pianist and conductor are coming up!

Thank you again, Zachary! I look forward to checking out UN RAGGIO DI SPEME online July 11th.
My pleasure! Thanks for such great questions!

For online viewing tickets, as well as in person tickets for UN RAGGIO DI SPEME July 11, 2021; log onto www.festivalopera.org


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