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The Incredible Lightness of Die Fledermaus

Fluffy, frivolous and fun, this classic is the very definition of what operetta should be.

Knoxville Opera’s production of Strauss’s intoxicating operetta stars Russian soprano, Julia Lima. Die Fledermaus, or The Bat, is a classic operetta. Which raises the perennial question: How does operetta differ from opera? Some would say the difference is that in operetta, you stand on the furniture, which is guaranteed to occur in this production. Operetta could also be described as something like a halfway house between opera and musical theater. Unlike most opera, Fledermaus has spoken dialogue. This ads a general lightness to the theatrical approach. The Strauss operetta is a tuneful high-society comedy which premiered in 1874. The bat of the title is a reference to a costume once worn to a party by Eisenstein, one of many turns in the hilarious storyline.

Fledermaus is known for its effervescent music, not its dramatic logic but rest assured that you’ll have a great time laughing in between the catchy tunes and zany plot. This operetta is fun, the cast and crew are fun.

Donata Cucinotta and Sean Anderson

They work long hours in rehearsals and cut up a bit in their off-time and have even more fun. Just check our Facebook “behind-the-scenes” photos for a peek of this motley crew of professionals enjoying their craft. You’ll see masks, funny faces and a few more masks. In fact, we encourage the audience to wear their favorite mask to the performances to feel more in tune with the storyline. There are still some good seats for this weekend’s performances and if you call our box office today through Wednesday and say “MASK”, I’ll give you 15% off of sections P, A, B. You can also click here 24/7 http://ow.ly/egdFO. Don’t wait, do it now. We’ll see you at the Opera!

Subscription Renewal Extended!

Renew Your Subscription!
We’ve had an overwhelming amount of requests for an extension from subscribers who are either traveling or finalizing their travel schedules for this season. If you’re a subscriber from last season, and haven’t yet renewed your subscription, we’ve extended the deadline through this Friday (13th). Why should you renew your season tickets?

Best Seats: Access to claim your best seats long before anyone else. Subscribers receive first-choice seating and save 10% off individual performance prices.
Renewals: Subscribers can renew their same seats for the following year and are the first in line to move to better seats.
Flexibility: ONLY subscribers can exchange their tickets to different performances if the need arises. Lost tickets are never a problem. Replacements can be provided in advance or at the door.
Privileges: Share your email address and we’ll make sure you are the first to learn of our special events and the latest news including a subscription to Bravo!, your insider’s guide to the world of Knoxville Opera and Knoxville Opera Guild, synopses, biographies, articles, news and more.
Service: Knoxville Opera has some of the best employees around who know that YOU are our first priority!

An amazing transformation is taking place at Knoxville Opera and YOU are a part of that transformation. As the 2012/13 season begins, it gives me great pleasure to thank you for your past support and welcome you to a new year of extraordinary music and theater on our stage. With your support, the performing arts are alive with Knoxville Opera!

Join us in celebrating our 35th anniversary. We want you to take part of this exciting season of unparalleled artistic excellence. The partnership between community and opera is just as important as the one between maestro and musicians. Be a part of the moment. Help us fulfill the promise of great music that lies ahead by renewing and/or upgrading your subscription and enhancing your support with a tax-deductible gift for our current and future education programs. Bring the power of music to young people, while ensuring our future. The result is magical music making that gets better and better.

Did you know we produced an arts education initiative this season with a robust program known as The Shakespeare Project? This innovative program was performed for free this past January in 14 Knox County middle schools for over 12,500 students and faculty as a 45 minute version of Romeo and Juliette (in English) for 4th – 8th grade students. The program was so successful that Knoxville Opera will produce a similar series called The Cinderella Project for 2nd – 8th grade students next season. We are deeply committed to cultivating young people’s relationship with the performing arts, enriching their lives and enhancing their education. Your contribution will ensure the continuation and expansion of this commitment and our goal to reach thousands of people with the magnificent power and excitement of opera.

I look forward to welcoming you back and we’ll see you at the opera!

P.S. If you are a contributor, your membership expired on 6-30-12. Please renew soon so that you won’t miss out on any of the benefits of membership as the new season unfolds. If you have any questions regarding membership or subscriptions, please contact Joey DiMenno at 865-524-0795 x25 jdimenno@KnoxvilleOpera.com or Michael Torano x28 mtorano@KnoxvilleOpera.com.

Rossini is now International!

Saturday, April 28th 11:00am – 9:00pm Downtown Knoxville

The Rossini Festival is one of the region’s largest and most beloved special event. It serves as a celebration of the performing arts.

“The performing arts are much too diverse to promote as one culture. The Italian flair we’ve enjoyed for the first 10 years is being enhanced by German, Hispanic, Asian, French and American foods and beverages as we expand the event”, says Knoxville Opera Marketing and Public Relations Director Michael Torano. “We welcome Cellular Sales as a new sponsor for this 11th Annual Rossini Festival. They will be exhibiting at Market Street and Union Avenue.”

For 10 years, the Rossini Festival was primarily modeled as an Italian Street Fair. The Knoxville Opera Rossini Festival International Street Fair introduces the color and excitement of opera to attendees, many of who are experiencing opera for the first time. This is the only Rossini Festival in the U.S. and one of only two in the world, the other of which takes place in Rossini’s birthplace of Pesaro, Italy. Knoxville’s event is a celebration of the performing, visual and culinary arts with an emphasis on opera and International culture featuring a full day of live entertainment with over 800 entertainers, and a multitude of artisans showcasing superior traditions of the Southeast’s finest craftsmanship and a family-friendly KidsZone of engaging activities on Market Square.

“We have a surprise for Knoxville this year. Through a strategic partnership, Chez Liberty and Constellation Brands present The Wine Experience at Knoxville Opera’s Rossini Festival and International Street Fair. All along Gay Street, attendees will enjoy offerings from Knoxville’s most extensive wine list at Chez Liberty”, continues Torano. “In the Chez Liberty/Constellation Brands Wine Experience tent in the Krutch Park Extension across from the main stage, patrons will be able to choose from an extensive array of timed wine tastings throughout the day including appearances by Michael Leidel of Riedel Stemware, Napa Cabs, Oregon Pinot Noirs, Bloody Marys, Varietals, French Champagnes, Bracket rums and gins among others.”
For details go to RossiniFestival.org or call 865.524.0795 x28.

Arts in Education?

By Michael Torano, Director of Marketing and Public Relations

Where are the arts in our schools?

“When I was a student, I remember music, dance, drawing, singing classes”.  I hear this quite consistently in my discussions with patrons, corporate sponsors, and fellow parents.  As a father of two boys, ages 15 and 8, I have to say, I share this sentiment.  There just doesn’t seem to be much these days in the classrooms regarding artistic education much less, the performing arts.  I’m sure this has much to do with changes in curriculum and budgets and what schools boards deem “necessary” or “frivolous” in educating our youth.  I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field but it doesn’t take an expert to notice that the arts are a virtual ghost in public schools.  Where will tomorrow’s adults gain exposure to the beauty of dance, the majesty of music in orchestra or the magnificence of the human voice?  Will we leave this entirely to top 40 radio or Dancing With The Stars?

 
We’ve always strived to fill this void in public schools through our education and outreach programs.  Many don’t realize that Knoxville Opera is much more than fully-staged opera productions at the Tennessee Theatre.  Each year, we produce and perform well over 100 community and education outreach events primarily for K-12 students in public schools.  These are concerts, Opera 101 interactive engagements and even staged performances such as this season’s Shakespeare Project in cooperation with Dr. Jim McIntryre, Superintendent of Knox County Schools.

 
Today, we kick off our performances of Romeo & Juliette in the first of 14 Knox County middle schools.  This series will focus on public middle schools and has been a collaborative effort between Knoxville Opera and Knox County Schools.  This entire series of staged, costumed performances is a gift for the students of Knox County and specifically designed to fit into auditoriums and gymnasiums.  Lead by Maestro Brian Salesky who’s no stranger to the education scene, KO delights in presenting an abbreviated version of Gounod’s opera Romeo & Juliette in English for 4th-8th grade students….completely free of charge.  The whole series is presented at zero cost to Knox County Schools, the parents, kids, teachers, PTA’s or the schools themselves.  Knoxville Opera has successfully solicited private, foundation and corporate support of this endeavor to deliver opera performances directly to the students on their turf.  33 elementary schools are sending 4th-5th grade students to these middle school performances with bus transportation provided by Knoxville Opera, also free of charge.

Click to view a sample of The Shakespeare Project!

In addition to our many continuing programs we are particularly excited about our season-long Shakespeare Project.

 
Huge endeavor? Yes it is, but we feel it is an incredibly important aspect of education and we strive to continue to deliver this to our students.  In all, there will be over 12,500 students attending these performances January 10th – the 19th.  Tenor Stefan Barner and soprano Anna Eschbach, recent graduates of the University of Tennessee Opera Theatre program, will be singing Romeo and Juliette.  Bringing this presentation into the schools is a key element of our season-long Shakespeare Project cornerstoned by our productions of Romeo & Juliette (February 10, 12) and Verdi’s Otello (April 27, 29) at the Tennessee Theatre.  Knoxville Opera would like to humbly thank Walter Mencer, Instrumental Music Specialist of Knox County Schools, for working tirelessly for over six months to facilitate these in-school performances.  We’re in his debt for bringing this unique opportunity to our students.  Special thanks also to the Tennessee Arts Commission, Knox County, City of Knoxville, Arts & Heritage Fund, Pilot Flying J, Regal Entertainment Group, Comcast, Robert H. and Monica M. Cole Foundation, First Tennessee Foundation, Swann Endowment Fund, Rotary Club of Knoxville and National Endowment for the Arts for supporting this production.

For further information about the in-school performances or our other education/outreach initiatives or to support these goals, visit KnoxvilleOpera Education or contact Michael Torano at 865-524-0795 x28 or mtorano@KnoxvilleOpera.com.

I’ll see you…at the opera!

Le Masque Ball

by Mary Davis, President Elect Knoxville Opera Guild

Le Masque Ball, the major fundraiser of the Knoxville Opera Guild, was held on November 12 at Cherokee Country Club. As the name of the ball infers, many of the guests were decked out in unique and festive masks. Jeannine and Doug McKamey judged the mask contest. Dorothy Stair, wearing a stunning mask and costume, won the award for “Most Glorious.” “Most Creative Male” was Ed Green; “Most Creative Woman” was Townes Lavidge Osborn. Peter Acly won “Most Handsome Man.” David Torbett won the award for “Most Colorful.”

Committee co-chairs Jan Bechtel and Nancy Van Hook gathered over 100 items for the silent auction from local merchants and individual donors. Susan Ridgell organized the live auction, which included 12 travel items and a media package. Phyllis Driver chaired the committee that recruited benefactors, sponsors and patrons. Gaye Whittaker put together the publicity. Audrey Duncan and Mary Lynn Majors designed the decorations, which included pink lighting, paper lanterns and whimsical flower table centerpieces sporting masks. Angelyn Campbell spent countless hours recruiting table hosts and Susana Esrequis designed the clever and stunning graphics for the printed materials. Trish Maffeo and her committee selected a superb dinner, of which the highlights were Caesar salad and a duo of sliced beef tenderloin and barramundi. The meal was topped off with an awe inspiring chocolate ganache. Theresa Stone is to be especially congratulated for her Herculean work of taking reservations, arranging the table seating and financial management, both before and after the Ball.

Among those present were Dan McGehee, President of Knoxville Opera; Phyllis Driver, President of the Knoxville Opera Guild; and Mary Davis, Chairman of Le Masque. Maestro Brian Salesky and wife Diana hosted a “ladies only” table seating Courtney Manrod, Felicia Hoehne, Jeanie Melton, Evelyn Jack, Leslie Parent, Carolyn Turner and Stephanie Levy. Cathy and Mark Hill hosted a table that included daughter Laura Davis and husband Shelton from Atlanta, as well as Robert Hill and Emily Kueny, Ellen Robinson and Peter Acly, Pat and Alan Rutenberg and Roman Botcharnikov. Theresa Stone hosted a table that included five former presidents of the Knoxville Symphony League in addition to herself — Rosemary Gilliam, Willene Chalmers, Jackie Newman, Joanne Mounger and Rose Moseley. During and after dinner the guests danced to the lively music from Patton James and the Synchromatics. Caesar Stair and the guests at his table particularly tripped the light fantastic until the Ball finally ended around midnight.

For more information about Knoxville Opera Guild or upcoming events including Monday Night Opera dinner concert, Opening Night Dinners, the KOG Martini Party and KOG Croquet Tournament, please visit: http://knoxvilleoperaguild.org/

The Romance of Romeo!

by Brian Salesky, Executive Director and Conductor

Zulimar López-Hernández as Juliette

Noah Stewart as Romeo

Knoxville Opera will be celebrating and performing music and drama inspired by the world’s most famous star-crossed lovers throughout January and February and you are invited to luxuriate in the romance! The highlight of this celebration is our Valentine’s weekend production of Gounod’s lush French grand opera Romeo & Juliette at the Tennessee Theatre. On February 10th and 12th rising stars Zulimar López-Hernández and Noah Stewart will both excite and break your heart at the ball, on the balcony, in the bedroom and on the bier. Metropolitan Opera bass Andrew Wentzel, in the role of Friar Laurence, will officiate their onstage wedding. Tickets are selling fast, so I encourage you to purchase yours as soon as possible!

Here are additional opportunities for you and our entire community to revel in the glorious music inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

  • January 6 – March 4 Shakespeare in Music & Art Exhibit at the Knoxville Museum of Art.
  • January 10 – 19 14 performances of an abbreviated English version of Gounod’s Romeo & Juliette opera for 12,500 students in grades 4-8 at Knox County middle schools.
  • January 16 6:00 Knoxville Opera Guild’s Monday Night Opera dinner concert at Echo Bistro & Wine Bar on Kingston Pike featuring the artists of our school production in scenes from the opera and West Side Story.
  • January 19 7:30 Heavenly Opera concert at Church of the Ascension on Northshore Drive featuring the principal stars of our Romeo & Juliette production in selections from Romeo & Juliette, Otello, West Side Story, Tosca, Manon, Cavalleria Rusticana, Susannah, Beatrice di Tenda, Le Cid, The Siege of Corinth, Moses in Egypt and Maria Stuarda!
  • January 21 4:30 African-American Voices: Noah Stewart in Song and Conversation at the UT Black Cultural Center, 1800 Melrose Avenue (free parking).
  • January 22 3:00 Oak Ridge Community Concert at the Oak Ridge High School Performing Arts Center featuring the principal stars of our Romeo & Juliette production and the Oak Ridge Chorus in selections from Romeo & Juliette, West Side Story, Carmen, Tosca, The Marriage of Figaro, Cavalleria Rusticana, Le Cid and The Siege of Corinth!
  • February 8 6:30 Romeo & Juliette Student Dress Rehearsal at the Tennessee Theatre. The final rehearsal of the opera is open to all students free of charge thanks to the generosity of Comcast.
  • February 11 5:30 Dark Lady Night on the stage of the Tennessee Theatre. A unique, romantic Valentine dinner concert on the set of Romeo & Juliette featuring music from Romeo & Juliette, Otello, Falstaff, West Side Story and Kiss Me Kate.
  • February 12 2:30 Romeo & Juliette performance at the Tennessee Theatre. A limited number of free student tickets are available to public high school students upon request from Knox County public high school teachers.

For more information and tickets to these events please call (865) 524-0795 ext. 1.

Something In This Box…

Obsession….lust….jealousy….rage….grief. These words conjure the foundation of most every opera as well as the plot of most episodes of The Real Housewives of…

La Traviata, Verdi’s poignant story of an exquisite, glamorous courtesan who abandons the man of her dreams out of her love for him. He comes from a notable family and her background threatens to destroy his reputation. The story is set in Paris in the 1840’s but could easily be placed in New York, Dallas or any metropolitan area today. It’s a crowd pleaser because it not only has gorgeous music but the universal themes most everyone can relate to. Opera is the art form capable of captivating audiences with the magnificence of what the voice can do. Human passion is the underlying theme and ultimately, the greatest attraction.

Come for the music….stay for the passion. Verdi’s genius stimulates drama in the music he wrote. This is arguably one of the top 5 operas of all time along with La Boheme and Madame Butterfly and the first time Knoxville Opera has produced it in 14 years. Here’s a bit of trivia…La Traviata is the opera Richard Gere took Julia Roberts to see in Pretty Woman. The scene where he snaps the necklace case shut on her fingers was improvised by Gere and her now-famous laugh was totally genuine. The filmmakers liked it so much they decided to keep it in. The ruby necklace really did cost $250,000. While filming, a security man from the jewelry store equipped with a gun was constantly standing behind the director. The three tableaux used during the opera scene are when Violetta meets Alfredo at a party, Violetta abandons Alfredo at his father’s request and the final scene where Violetta dies (did I just spoil the ending?). In the final scene, Edward “serenades” Vivian with a recording of an aria from La Traviata. The aria has a vocal solo followed by the theme on strings and trumpet. That arrangement was not from the original opera but adapted for the film.

Our production of La Traviata welcomes veteran stage director, Keturah Stickann who directed Knoxville Opera’s production of Manon last season. She has also either directed or choreographed with Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Atlanta Opera and New York City Opera among others. We’re very pleased to also welcome back Metropolitan Opera soprano Joyce El-Khoury to portray the legendary Violetta and exciting tenor Zach Borichevsky as the heartbroken Alfredo. For a synopsis and more information on our production, visit http://ow.ly/6ucw3. Tickets are available for Friday night and Sunday matinee performances on October 28th and 30th. La Traviata is one of the three world-class productions in Knoxville Opera’s Season of Star-Crossed Lovers and part of the 2011-2012 season subscription including Gounod’s Romeo & Juliette and Verdi’s Otello. This promises to be an incredible season and we look forward to welcoming you back to the wonderful world of opera.

Tah-tah for now and I’ll see you at the opera!

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Viva Rossini!

Knoxville Opera delivers culture to downtown Knoxville for citizens and visitors of East Tennessee. As we celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Knoxville Opera’s Rossini Festival and Italian Street Fair, we gratefully look back on our beginnings with founding underwriters Dr. Monroe and Sandra Trout. Their gifts and insights have contributed to culture and community for opera lovers and the beautiful city of Knoxville. The centerpiece is the Italian Street Fair from 11:00 – 9:00 on Saturday, April 9th covering 12 blocks of downtown Gay Street and the Market Square District. The Street Fair features mouthwatering Italian foods and beverages, an upscale artisan’s market and four outdoor stages of live music and dance. The Rossini Festival is an idea with soul and a gift of love for the people of East Tennessee – love of arts, of culture and character. The awakening of Spring each year is heralded by the return of Rossini and civic festivities and joyous celebration on the streets of downtown Knoxville. Knoxville is blessed with a vibrant arts community as well as a top three school in the U.S. for operatic study in the University of Tennessee. We have Maestro Brian Salesky for Knoxville Opera, Maestro Lucas Richmond for Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director Calvin MacLean for Clarence Brown Theatre and Executive Director David Butler for Knoxville Museum of Art.

“Events such as the Rossini Festival play a significant role in the revitalization of downtown Knoxville…” – Mike Ragsdale, former Knox County Mayor

What is Rossini?

You could say it’s an opera festival…in fact it IS an opera festival. It couldn’t be one without opera and this year heralds two outstanding productions with six performances. Knoxville Opera will produce the Southeast U.S. Premiere of Bellini’s I Puritani with performances on Friday, April 8th at 8:00 pm and Sunday, April 10th at 2:30 pm at the historic Tennessee Theatre. UT Opera Theatre will produce Britten’s Albert Herring with performances on Saturday, April 9th at 2:30 and 8:00pm, Sunday, April 10th at 7:30pm and Monday, April 11th at 7:30pm at Bijou Theatre.

You could say it’s an arts showcase focusing primarily on the love of opera which encompasses various art forms and draws all types of artists. It’s the only Rossini Festival in the U.S. and one of only two in the world, the other of which takes place in Rossini’s birthplace of Pesaro, Italy. Knoxville’s event is a celebration of the performing, visual and culinary arts with an emphasis on opera and Italian culture featuring a full day of live entertainment on four outdoor stages, an upscale artisan’s market with over 100 booths showcasing superior traditions of the Southeast’s finest craftsmanship and a family-friendly KidsZone of engaging activities on Market Square. Culinary delights include Mediterranean-style wraps and gyros, Italian ice, Italian sausage, grilled meats, Italian pastries and pasta dishes from local and regional vendors.

“The Rossini Festival’s culture is extraordinary and serves as a wonderful model for other arts groups throughout the nation to emulate…” – Wayne Brown, Head of Music and Opera, National Endowment for the Arts

The Rossini Festival is one of the region’s largest and most beloved special events and born from the need for downtown attractions that center on the arts and desire to drive cultural tourism to the community. It serves as an introduction to the color and excitement of opera to attendees, many of whom are experiencing it for the first time. The Street Fair comes from humble beginnings drawing 6,000 its first year and has grown to attract attendance of over 75,000 under pristine weather conditions. It’s a taste of Europe in East Tennessee and celebrates the color, fun and excitement of opera and Italian culture. This type of cultural experience was once available only in America’s largest cities. Events such as this are part of the vibrant cultural fabric of a city and a critical element in Knoxville’s ability to retain and recruit the Nation’s top talent to this region.

So who is Rossini?

• Gioacchino Rossini was a famous composer born in Pesaro, Italy, 1792
• In 1812, when his first opera premiered in Italy, the 20-year old Rossini was already considered by most to be the leading composer in Italy
• Rossini and Beethoven were contemporaries. When the two met in 1822, the 29-year old Rossini had composed 32 operas while 51-year old Beethoven had composed just one.
• Rossini helped create and shape an entirely new form of opera called bel canto, which is a blend of “comedy, sentimentalism and drama” and composed over 40 operas.
• Rossini retired at age 37 and lived another 40 years virtually idle as a composer.
• He spent large amounts of time with his gardens in France, which were shaped like musical instruments

“The University of Tennessee enhances quality of life in communities throughout the state, and the partnership between Knoxville Opera and the School of Music at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is one that both enhances life in this community and the University’s ability to recruit top talent.” – University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro

What about this year?

I’m pleased to announce that once again, Knoxville Opera is partnering with Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee and functions as a drop point for donations to help address the nutritional needs of all people at risk of hunger. Each month Second Harvest feeds an average of 158,000 people in an 18-county service area. Donations are rewarded with discounted tickets to Knoxville Opera’s production of I Puritani. KO further enhances its commitment to keeping East Tennessee beautiful by supporting a green initiative. Each year, Knoxville Opera encourages food vendors to increase the use of recyclable or post-consumer waste containers and food ware when serving attendees of the Festival.
• Over 100 artisan booths
• Over 45 food and beverage booths (including meat on a stick)
• 4 outdoor stages with live entertainment by over 30 local/regional arts groups and over 800 entertainers
• Family-Friendly KidsZone of engaging, artful and fun activities for children and the young-at-heart
• 2 opera productions with 6 performances
• Did I mention “meat on a stick”? (there’s just not enough of that these days)

In conclusion, the Rossini Festival is our gift to the people of East Tennessee complete with the weekend full of opera, Italian food and wine, 40 hours of live entertainment on 4 stages, cultural arts including music, dance and song, handmade craftsmanship from highly skilled artisans, all wrapped up in a green, white and red ribbon of Italian Flair. It’s Italian….Knoxville Style!

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Great talent here in Knoxville

It’s great to be back in Knoxville! I just finished up a production of Carmen in South Africa and after 24 hours of flying, I am now here in Knoxville. I had so much fun working on last year’s production of Barber of Seville, and now I’ve returned for a very different kind of piece.

James Marvel - Stage Director of Knoxville Opera's production of I Puritani

Brian Salesky has a wonderful knack for attracting some of the world’s greatest talent to Knoxville Opera, and I couldn’t be more excited to work with this remarkably talented group of performers. I did my graduate work in the theatre department of University of Tennessee, but I’ve been directing opera almost exclusively since my graduation in 2000. My stage direction for this production will be traditional in some senses, but I will also be experimenting with some interesting spatial relationships and conceptual ideas that I believe will help to heighten the relationships between characters and provide an interesting commentary on English society during the time of their Civil War.

We are now a few days into our rehearsals, and things are already progressing well. I worked with Yegishe, who is playing Arturo, six years ago in Boston. His voice is really one of the most beautiful I have ever heard. Rachele Gilmore is remarkable as Elvira, and her aria and mad scene are certain to take your breath away. The show is entertaining from start to finish, but I won’t give away the ending here. I look forward to seeing you at the show!

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Who is Manon?

Keturah Stickann - Stage Director & Choreographer of Knoxville Opera's production of Manon

Who is Manon Lescaut? It was a question I asked myself over and over as I learned this opera and began to craft how I would put it on stage. She is an enigma to be sure. We like to call her a “sexpot” or a “femme fatale,” and she certainly embodies these things, but I think she is so much more. We meet her at such a young age – only 15 – and this allows us to watch the formation of a personality over the course of the opera. Working with Talise Trevigne has been a distinct pleasure because she is willing to explore Manon’s hidden depths with me, and on our spelunking mission we have discovered some very interesting things that have helped us make a well-rounded and mysterious character.

I think the most important thing to understand about this young woman is that she is not a nymphomaniac or a loose woman, but rather an opportunist. It just so happens that her body and ebullient femininity is what she has to give in exchange for the material goods and position in society she longs for so desperately. She is a bit Lilith, a bit Becky Sharp and a bit Scarlet O’Hara…and she’s not alone in this motley cast of characters. Her cousin, Lescaut, is the ultimate opportunist. Her third act lover, Bretigny, is an opportunist, the three actresses she reveres so much are opportunists. In fact, the only character who is NOT of this ilk is the Chevalier Des Grieux, and he is the one who remains to clean up the pieces of Manon’s messy messy life.

Besides the inimitable Talise Trevigne, I have been blessed with an incredible cast of acting singers who have been willing to let me guide them through the emotional minefields of this complex and gorgeous opera. It’s French theater at its finest and I am privileged to come to work every day and construct this 18th century world with the likes of Gran Wilson, Jonathan Beyer, Andrew Wentzel, Harry House and Scott Guinn. Each one brings distinct thoughts about their characters to our little room and I help them shape all of their dysfunctional personalities into a cohesive whole.

Our rehearsal process may not look interesting to most. There are a lot of hushed conversations about emotional direction, a lot of detailed repetition of when hands should touch shoulders and exactly when a look should happen in order to send those certain sparks directly into the audience. Detail is king in French opera, and I have a cast who pays attention so we work small in order to refine the big picture. My greatest hope is that what will result is a perfect little cut jewel, a bijou if you will, whose only flaws lie in the foibles of the characters trying so desperately to find their path to happiness.

Keturah Stickann

(Keturah is the extremely talented Stage Director and Choreographer of Knoxville Opera’s production of Massenet’s Manon, find more about Keturah here)

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