Tag Archives: opera

Meeting Flicka (The Incomparable Frederica von Stade)

8232A confession: I’ve been interviewing celebrities of varying renown or infamy for more years than I care to admit, and thought that I’d long ago ceased to be star-struck. Yet, when I first met celebrated mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade (known affectionately by family, colleagues and fans as “Flicka,”), I alternately gushed and stammered like a schoolboy. I doubtless made a fool of myself, but Flicka was much too gracious to point this out; instead, she immediately put me at ease.

Why was I uncharacteristically giddy? Consider that the phrases “living legend” and “national treasure” are nearly as abused and overused as the term “genius,” and may denote nothing more than exceptional longevity. Occasionally, though – just every so often – an artist comes along who is fully deserving of these accolades, by dint of both their creative achievements and an inspirational personality. Flicka is one such artist, and great fun to be around, besides.

As well as being an iconic performer in traditional operas (both her Cherubino and Octavian are considered definitive), Flicka is known for encouraging modern American composers, and one of her most fruitful and enduring creative partnerships has been with composer Jake Heggie. She was an early champion of Heggie’s work and he has written both song cycles and opera roles for her, most notably in “Dead Man Walking” and “Three Decembers.” Their most recent collaboration is “Great Scott,” which had its West Coast premiere at San Diego Opera in May 2016. During her sojourn in San Diego Flicka sat down with SDO General Director David Bennett under the auspices of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UC San Diego, for a wide-ranging conversation about her life and career. As one audience member noted, Flicka proved to be as far from the popular image of the temperamental artist as one can be, displaying an easy charm and a modesty that belies her status as one of the music world’s most beloved stars.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with her resumé, which includes stints on “Prairie Home Companion” and appearances with Carol Burnett, as well as singing at the White House, the Winter Olympics, and with Monty Python’s Eric Idle, where she appeared as a Valkyrie in a winged helmet for a duet rendition of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” Not the sort of thing one would expect from a more, shall we say, conventional diva. In the course of her long career Flicka has proven to be an immensely effective advocate for the arts and arts education, and an enthusiastic popularizer of opera and art song. She continues to work to further the careers of talented young singers and composers.

I was star-struck so you don’t have to be. Watch Flicka’s conversation with David Bennett and I think you’ll learn, as I did, that all of the exceptional things said about her – about her talent, her integrity, her generosity, and her sweetness – are true.

Watch A Conversation with Frederica von Stade.

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Contributed by Producer, John Menier

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Re-thinking Lilith

8232Leonardo da Vinci famously observed that “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” However, it’s also been noted many times that art must breathe and evolve. In this spirit, artists occasionally seize an opportunity to re-examine and re-fashion an earlier work, with the goal of imbuing it with fresh insights and nuances gained through time and distance.

Such is the case with Lilith, an opera by composer Anthony Davis and librettist Allan Havis that premiered at UC San Diego in 2009. Lilith explores and celebrates the ageless erotic myth of Lilith, Adam’s apocryphal first wife who preceded Eve in the Garden of Eden and was subsequently exiled. That premiere production featured a cast of veteran singers supported by a jazz-influenced ensemble in a “concert” (i.e., unstaged) version of the complete work.

8232Forward to Fall 2015, and a workshop production of the first five scenes of Lilith semi-staged for a small audience. Workshop productions, common in theatre (though less so in opera) allow the creators to explore and refine the work in an intimate setting. Freed from the pressures attendant to a full staging, the artists are encouraged to experiment and take risks. Acclaimed Stage Director Keturah Stickann, Visual & Interactive Designer Peter Torpey, and their collaborators bring their combined theatrical experience to bear on this “re-creation” of the opera, making extensive use of windows, mirrors, screens and shadows to reflect the myriad contours of a female identity – Lilith – betrayed and split into two halves. Projections are strategically employed as visual representations of the paradoxes of Lilith’s roles in Paradise and in contemporary life.

The music also takes a different form. The cast is composed of young, up-and-coming singers, and rather than a larger ensemble Music Director Alan Johnson leads a piano/bass combo. Combined with the compact setting and innovative staging, the overall effect is to sharpen the focus on the eon-spanning conflicts between Lilith and Adam, and Lilith and the Creator.

Watching the original production, the supplemental features, and the new workshop production – cleverly titled [Re]Creating Lilith by Your Humble Correspondent – offers the viewer a rare opportunity to trace the creative evolution of a work from inception through refinement to re-definition. Da Vinci would be intrigued.

Watch [Re]Creating Lilith.

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Contributed by John Menier, UCTV Producer

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Lear on the 2nd Floor

Composer Anthony Davis presents a modern take on Shakespeare’s classic, King Lear.

Lear on the 2nd Floor tells the story of Nora Lear, a neuroscience researcher suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. As Nora loses her bearings and autonomy, she is increasingly at the mercy of her three quarreling daughters. In this version, Nora’s dead husband Mortimer is Shakespeare’s fool and her constant companion, as she wanders through a world where past and present blend and reality bends.

Davis’s music incorporates diverse styles and influences, ranging from classical opera to jazz to reggae. This performance by UC San Diego’s Kallisti Vocal Ensemble includes various music styles from classical opera to reggae, as well as a libretto by playwright Allan Havis.

Check out our other videos on opera.

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Bronze Bling for UCTV

We needed needed a little more bling around here!

After a terrific showing at the Aurora Awards, UCTV is adding to its 2013 tally with two bronze Telly Awards.

“Building It Better: Earthquake-Resilient Hospitals for the Future” nabbed the bronze in the Documentary category for its behind-the-scenes look at the rigorous earthquake testing UC San Diego researchers put their five-story mockup of a hospital through in order to better understand how the many complex systems within hospital buildings perform after earthquakes. Produced by UCTV’s Rich Wargo, in partnership with the California Seismic Safety Commission, the program explores the history of seismic safety for California’s hospital infrastructure, and what is being done to secure its future.

Also taking home the bronze for documentary was “San Diego Opera Spotlight: Moby-Dick,” producer John Menier’s in-depth look behind-the-scenes at the West Coast premiere of Jake Heggie’s “Moby-Dick,” based upon the classic novel by Herman Melville.

You also might recall our announcement last month that “The Skinny on Obesity: Sickeningly Sweet” was awarded the prestigious Silver Telly Award in the Health and Wellness category. Produced by Rich Wargo and Jennifer Ford, the program is one of seven episodes in the popular “The Skinny on Obesity” series, which premiered on the UCTV Prime YouTube original channel in April 2012.

The Telly Awards is the premier award honoring the finest film and video productions, groundbreaking web commercials, videos and films, and outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs.

Congratulations to the UCTV team!

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UCTV Programs Nab Three Telly Awards!

We’re proud to announce that three UC-produced programs have received Bronze Telly Awards!

The World’s Most Endangered Forests: Tropical Dry Forests of Oceania
Produced by first-time UCTV contributor Thomas Gillespie, professor of geography at UCLA, this half-hour documentary takes you to the beautiful southwest Pacific region of Oceania, where the forests have been reduced to less than one percent of their historic range. Professor Gillespie examines the biodiversity of woody plants and the local culture of some of the Pacific’s most threatened regions.

SummerFest 2009: Stewart Copeland, Composer
Produced by our sister channel at UC San Diego, UCSD-TV, this half-hour performance features original compositions by percussionist Stewart Copeland, best known as drummer for superstar rock band The Police. This is the first award for the SummerFest series and, after twelve years of partnering with La Jolla Music Society, we are confident it won’t be the last.

Opera Spotlight: Romeo and Juliet
Also from UCSD-TV, this 30-minute program gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look at San Diego Opera’s 2010 production of Gounod’s Shakespeare-inspired masterpiece. This is the fifth award for the Opera Spotlight series, which UCSD-TV and San Diego Opera have co-produced since 1995 — including this year with San Diego Opera’s 2011 season.

UCTV programs are no stranger to the Telly Awards, having picked up fifteen of them since 2004. The Telly Awards honor the very best local, regional, and cable television commercials and programs, as well as the finest video and film productions, and work created for the Web. Since 1978, their mission has been to strengthen the visual arts community by inspiring, promoting, and supporting creativity. The 31st Annual Telly Awards received over 13,000 entries from all 50 states and 5 continents.

Congratulations to our UC producers, program contributors and community partners!

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