From the opening notes of the famed overture, you realize why the music in “Candide” has remained so beloved over the years. There’s a shoulders-back, ready-to-strut, nearly giddy feel of adventure ahead. But there’s also something about Leonard Bernstein’s music that hints at danger and complexity: a sense that the way forward won’t be nearly as bright and carefree as you’d like to think.
Frankly, after watching the Fresno Grand Opera production of “Candide” that opened Friday at the Shaghoian Hall, I’d rather listen to a concert of music from the show than watch the staged version. This production features accomplished singing from a cheery cast of principals. Director Joseph Bascetta finds some creative ways to stage the action in a small space, and he keeps the bewildering plot barreling along at a brisk pace. But the line between satire and slapstick in “Candide” is difficult to navigate. What comes across as brilliantly acerbic and biting on the page, as penned by Voltaire in his classic work on which this operetta is based, becomes on the stage overly broad and bloated. I felt as if I were watching more an academic exercise, a historical salute, and less an emotionally fulfilling operatic experience.
Fresno Grand Opera will present its final production of the 2012-13 season this weekend with Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide.” This comic show-stopper blends operetta, musical and grand opera traditions. Two of the best-known songs are “Glitter and Be Gay” and “Make Our Garden Grow.”
I’m giving away two tickets to Friday’s 8 p.m. opening night performance at the Shaghoian Concert Hall. To enter, leave a comment on this post. If you’d like, tell us what you think of the Shaghoian and its acoustics — or why you’d like to see a production there for the first time.
The deadline for entry is 10 a.m. Wednesday. I’ll be informing winners by email Wednesday morning, so please check at that time. If you win, you’ll be able to pick your tickets at Will Call. Rules are on the jump.
“A Life in 4 Seasons,” a multimedia event paired with Vivaldi’s famed set of four violin concertos, was meant by Fresno Grand Opera’s Thi Nguyen and filmmaker Cooper Sy Blumenthal to go beyond the traditional associations that most listeners have with the music. In other words: no gorgeous images of nature depicting the changing of the seasons.
Instead, the audience for the premiere Saturday night at the Shaghoian Hall was confronted with a specific visual narrative following a couple from youthful marriage to old age. In this way, Nguyen and Blumenthal hoped to embrace both the lighter and heavier textures of Vivaldi’s score, which is infused with a great deal of urgency and plaintiveness. A life cannot always consist of those heady, first-bud days of early spring, alas.
Reinterpreting “The Four Seasons” in such a striking new way is an intriguing idea, especially considering that the composer based his music on a series of anonymous sonnets that themselves offer a strong narrative flair. I admire Nguyen’s desire to craft an innovative interpretation rather than simply offer yet one more concert featuring the famous score.
But the overall project is a complete disappointment. Not only does the film fail to build upon and expand the emotional range of the music, it actually fights against Vivaldi’s work itself. By the end, I was tempted to ditch the film — which was projected behind the musicians as Nguyen, the violin soloist, and the small Fresno Chamber Orchestra played — and just listen to the stirring performance.
The Bee didn’t plan it this way, but it certainly made for interesting timing. The Fresno Philharmonic’s first subscription concerts in the new Shaghoian Hall took place the same weekend that The Bee’s George Hostetter filled us in on the shaky finances of the city’s Convention Center.
That’s because the center includes the Saroyan Theatre, in which the Fresno Philharmonic used to perform exclusively. For its three performances of the Mozart Requiem this past weekend, the orchestra turned to the smaller Shaghoian on the campus of Clovis North High School. (The orchestra did perform previously in the hall in 2010 in a non-subscription concert.)
If I were reduced to just one word to describe Katherine Jenkins in concert, I’d pick “charming.” With her radiant good looks, beautiful voice, courtly manners and shyly fetching stage charisma, it’s almost like having a princess come sing for you. In her first Fresno appearance Sunday at the Warnors Theatre, she offered an elegant evening to an audience ecstatic to see her.
Jenkins noted that the concert was a year to the day she started her TV program “Dancing with the Stars.” She’s been a well-established name in the U.K. for years now, but success on the program catapulted her to far greater fame in the U.S. than before. Those in the audience hoping for dancing had to settle for just a few moves and a sweetly sung “I Could Have Danced All Night,” but she did tell those gathered that “it seems strange to be standing in one spot and not shimmy.”
Chances are you know Katherine Jenkins from her stellar performance on last year’s “Dancing with the Stars.” But in the U.K., she’s better known as sort of a much younger and prettier version of Andrea Bocelli. Her performance style of choice is a glamorous concert hall with full orchestra, where she sings a mix of classical and pop crossover hits.
Two lucky Beehive readers each will win a pair of tickets to Sunday’s big 7:30 p.m. concert at Warnors Theatre. These seats would regularly cost $49.50 each.
This is a quickie contest. Here’s how it will work: Leave a comment on this post. (Feel free to tell us what you think of Jenkins’ turn on “Dancing with the Stars” if you’d like.) I’ll pick the SECOND and FIFTH comments on this post as the winners. (Think of this like a call into a radio station contest.) I won’t publish any comments until we have our winner.
One cautionary note: These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to come down to The Bee’s front lobby by 5 p.m. to pick them up if you’re a winner.
No repeat entries, please. Check your email tonight to see if you’re the winner. Complete rules are on the jump.
GARBAGE INTO GOLD AT ARTE AMERICAS
My favorite of the three new shows at Arte Americas — all under the umbrella theme of environmental sustainability — is the wonderful “Nothing Wasted,” a group show from local artists who recycled used materials into artistic gems. Francisco Vargas’ “Red Baby Grand,” which he repurposed from a piano burned in a house fire, is worth the trip alone. A statewide touring show titled “Ignite” offers a serious look at the environmental problems facing California. Read my cover story in Friday’s 7 about the Arte exhibitions. Plus: Here’s a video I made featuring artist Ann Savageau, a UC Davis professor who made a piece for “Ignite” about the Central Valley. A reception for “Nothing Wasted” will be held Sunday. [Details]
Fresno Grand Opera is trying something completely different for its next production. “A Life in 4 Seasons” is a multimedia musical experience featuring Vivaldi’s famed music paired with an original film. Thi Nguyen, the opera’s associate artistic director, wrote the screenplay for the film, which was directed by Long Beach filmmaker Cooper Sy Blumenthal and features a narrative about a couple’s relationship. The images are heavily geared toward the artistic, with the intention of augmenting the musical experience. Nguyen will play solo violin in “The Four Seasons” backed by a chamber orchestra.
Here’s the best part for Beehive readers: I have THREE pairs of tickets to give away to Saturday’s 8 p.m. performance at the Shaghoian Hall.
To enter the giveaway, leave a comment on this post. (If you’d like, tell us your feelings about “The Four Seasons.”) I’ll pick three comments at random. Each winner will receive two tickets. No repeat entries, please. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to come down to The Bee’s front lobby by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up. Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Thursday. Be sure to check your email after the deadline, because that’s how I’ll inform winners. Complete rules are after the jump.
The opening performance Friday of Fresno Grand Opera’s “La Rondine” was a significant milestone for the company. Why? Not for the title or the singing (which was first-rate by the amiable and impassioned Rebecca Davis and Chad A. Johnson in the leading roles) — but for the venue. “La Rondine” marks the first time Fresno Grand Opera has presented a fully staged production in the 750-seat Shaghoian Hall. That’s a much smaller space than the much larger Saroyan Theatre, where the company has performed for more than a decade.
So it was with anticipation — and some trepidation — that I attended the performance. The beautiful new hall, acclaimed for its acoustics, promises a chance for a warm and intimate experience well suited to this tender, smaller-scale gem by Giocomo Puccini. But it also poses a challenge in terms of producing a fully staged work. With a much smaller stage than the Saroyan, no orchestra pit and no way of flying in scenery, my gut feeling was it would be harder to put a sense of “Grand” in a Fresno Grand Opera production there.
My verdict? Mostly positive. This “La Rondine,” which closes Sunday with a matinee performance, has some wonderful musical and dramatic moments. Veteran artistic director Joseph Bascetta is a consummate pro, and his concept for the production and his meticulous yet fluid staging are inspired (marred only by some lackluster dancing by the chorus). And the Italian-born conductor Valerio Galli, in his American debut, offered a clean, precise and even jaunty interpretation of the score that still offered a swell of romanticism. But the scenic and lighting design — and the balance between orchestra and singers on opening night — left a little to be desired. I think the company has some room for improvement when it comes to using this space to present the top-notch regional opera productions its loyal audiences have come to expect.
1. FRESNO GRAND OPERA’S ‘LA RONDINE’
Tonight’s opening night performance is a big deal. It marks the first time Fresno Grand Opera will attempt a fully staged performance (with lights, set and costumes) at the Shaghoian Hall. With only about 750 seats, this venue is about a third smaller than the Saroyan Theatre, where the company has staged operas for more than a decade. Fresno Grand Opera picked an intimate opera for this more intimate venue, and I’m curious to see the results. I wrote about the venue change — and checked in with lead singers Rebecca Davis and Chad A. Johnson — in my Sunday Spotlight column. And I focus on the Italian conductor Valerio Galli, pictured below, who is making his American debut, in Friday’s 7 section. [Details]
If you thought last weekend was busy, wait till you see this one. Be sure to see our full coverage in Friday’s 7, including a roundup of classical music concerts.
1. SEE ‘ORDINARY DAYS’
It’s beautiful. There are only three performances left: 8 p.m. Friday; and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday. Director Anthony Taylor’s Q&A interview is here, and my review is here. [Details]
UPDATE: Congratulations to winner Jan Quezada. Enjoy!
ORIGINAL POST: Here’s a prime last-minute ticket giveaway from your friends at the Beehive: a lucky reader will get two seats to the much-anticipated Kristin Chenoweth concert at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Saroyan Theatre.
I wrote about Chenoweth’s coming appearance with the Fresno Grand Opera Orchestra in Sunday’s Spotlight section. She’s a charmer, I can tell you that for sure.
To enter our giveaway, leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite Kristin Chenoweth song, Broadway show or TV series (either in a starring or guest role). I’ll pick one winner at random who will receive two tickets. This is a quick turnaround: Deadline is 2:30 p.m. today. If you enter, please remember to check your email, because that’s how I’ll be notifying winners. These tickets will be available at Will Call on performance night.
Rules are on the jump.
1. LISTEN TO CHAD HOOPES SHOOT AND SCORE ON VIOLIN
The Fresno Philharmonic welcomes young violin virtuoso Chad Hoopes back to Fresno. Don’t miss my interview with Hoopes in today’s 7 section. [Details]
UPDATE 4:50 p.m.: Lots more details on the end of the opera strike can be found in my news story, now up on fresnobee.com.
ORIGINAL ENTRY 9:30 a.m. 10/25: Word comes this morning from the local musicians union that the strike against Fresno Grand Opera is over. Larry Gardner, president of the local union, writes:
Yesterday we agreed to work under our old agreement until 8/31/13. The strike against the Fresno Grand Opera is ended and they have been removed from the AFM (American Federation of Musicians) Unfair list.
Musicians have been on strike against the opera since March 27, when players formed a picket line hours before a concert with Renee Fleming. The local musicians union had been working with an expired contract with Fresno Grand Opera since October 2010. It approved a strike vote in November 2011 and reaffirmed that vote the day before the Fleming concert. The most contentious issue involved the opera’s hiring practices. Gardner said at the time that musicians are hired as little as two days before a concert — too little time for musicians to prepare.
The show went on.
Despite all the drama off stage — an ongoing strike by local union musicians, along with the replacement just four days ago of three principal performers after the national actors’ union supported the striking musicians — Fresno Grand Opera steamed on schedule into the Saroyan Theatre Friday night with “Show Boat.”
There are wonderful moments in this show — and some uneven and bland ones, too. (And on Friday a few too many opening-night jitters.) But overall this “Show Boat” is a nice production of an important piece of theater history. The play might seem a little creaky at times in terms of narrative and structure, but it offers glorious music and lyrics by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Strong performances from some of the principal performers (who came from both the opera and musical-theater worlds) add a nice polish to the show, and it’s fun to watch hard working and talented community-theater actors get to do their thing as members of the ensemble on the big Saroyan stage.
There’s one additional performance of “Show Boat” 2 p.m. today (Saturday).
There are just hours to go before Fresno Grand Opera’s last production of the 2011-12 season, “Show Boat,” opens. Because of the strike against the opera company by the local musicians union, which I’ve covered in great detail, I think it’s safe to say that no production in local history has divided the community so sharply even before the downbeat.
Within minutes of posting my regular Weekend Picks Beehive compilation feature on Facebook — which did not include “Show Boat” because I knew I’d need to devote an entire post to the complexities of the issue — a reader asked: “and what about SHOWBOAT?”
I’m seeing the show tonight and plan to post a review and recap of the evening, probably in the wee hours. I think the whole experience will be fascinating. It’s only human nature to view any kind of art through one’s own subjective filters, and how an audience member feels about the strike will likely color perceptions. (On Facebook, some people have already talked about how great the show will be, while others say it will be substandard.) As a critic, I have to try to leave all the baggage of the show at the door and approach it purely as an artistic experience.
Before I get into a recap of strike-related stuff, I’ll point you to my traditional-style preview piece in Friday’s 7 section. In an interview with stage director Valerie Rachelle, I trace the importance of “Show Boat” in the musical theater canon and talk about specifics of the Fresno production. Jessica Medoff, pictured, who plays the leading role of Magnolia in the historic musical, comes to Fresno Grand Opera production after experience in both operatic and musical theater roles with such companies as Opera New Jersey and Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theater.
UPDATE 5:30 p.m.: I talked with Ronald D. Eichman, the general director of Fresno Grand Opera, who confirms that the three members of Actors’ Equity who were in the production will not perform in “Show Boat.”
“They have been recast, and so the show is not impacted in any way,” Eichman said. “We have exceptional artists who will be on stage. We will not be deterred. ‘Show Boat’ will happen as scheduled.”
He would not name the three Equity actors involved.
ORIGINAL POST: There’s a new development in the ongoing strike by local musicians against Fresno Grand Opera. National leadership for the Actors’ Equity Association, the union for professional actors, voted yesterday to support the musicians union and instructed its members not to perform in “Show Boat,” which opens Friday.
Larry Gardner, president of Local 12 of the American Federation of Musicians, says it’s his understanding that three principal cast members who are members of Actors’ Equity have left the show.
It’s time for me to take off my columnist/hard-news writer hat and put on my entertainment blogger/writer hat. Though I’ve spent a lot of time recently following the strike against Fresno Grand Opera, I also need to cover the company’s production of “Show Boat” — which opens Friday night at the Saroyan Theatre — like any other significant upcoming cultural event.
With that in mind, I have two pairs of good orchestra seats (each one with a face value of $62.50) to give away to the opera: one pair for 8 p.m. Friday and the other for 2 p.m. Saturday.
“Show Boat,” written in 1927, is a major part of theater history — it’s considered the first true “book” Broadway musical that seamlessly integrates storyline and music. The characters are far more three-dimensional than in vaudeville entertainments and operettas in the past, and creators Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II dared to tackle elaborate and unconventional topics.
To enter, leave a comment on this post telling us whether you’d like to attend the Friday performance, the Saturday performance, or either. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to come down to The Bee’s front lobby by 5 p.m. Friday to pick them up.
Deadline is 10 a.m. Wednesday.
I’ll notify the winner via e-mail — so please leave a real e-mail address and please check it. Duplicate entries are not allowed. I reserve the right to pick another winner if you haven’t responded to a notification email in a timely manner. You’re ineligible if you’ve won anything from the Beehive in the past 30 days. Full rules on the jump.
The strike against the Fresno Grand Opera by local musicians, which was called the night of the April 27 Renee Fleming concert, is still on. That means there will be picket lines at performances of “Show Boat,” the opera company’s last production of the season, on Friday and Saturday at the Saroyan Theatre.
I have a lengthy column in Sunday’s Spotlight section about the whole messy issue, which has turned quite bitter. In it I summarize the key positions of both the union and management and dive into some of the thornier issues of the strike itself. We’ve also posted full statements from both sides at fresnobee.com. (The management statement is here. The union statement is here.) If you have the fortitude, you can wade through all the charges and countercharges yourself.
I interviewed lots of people for my column, many of whom did not want to go on the record. One person I wanted to include in the piece was Edna Garabedian, the founder of the Fresno International Grand Opera, the organization that evolved into Fresno Grand Opera. (She parted ways with the organization early on.) She now is the artistic director of the California Opera Association. With her distinguished professional career as a singer and her years of observation of the Fresno opera scene, I wanted to get her perspective on the strike. Her emailed answers to my questions arrived too late to use in the print version of my column, but I wanted to include them here online to get yet another voice into the mix.
Question: What was your reaction to the way the Renee Fleming concert unfolded?
Answer: I was deeply saddened for all parties. There were many alternative
possibilities and choices that are common to the experienced administrative opera
world that could have been followed.
Still have questions about last week’s strike against the Fresno Grand Opera? I devoted my Sunday Spotlight column to an expanded discussion of the issue. Here you’ll find the two sides summarized, with comments both from union leadership and the management of Fresno Grand Opera. I include a recap of the concert itself and my take on what to look for in coming weeks. Local 12 of the American Federation of Musicians is still on strike against Fresno Grand Opera. The next scheduled performance is “Showboat” on May 11.
In keeping with the “taking stock” nature of my column, I’m curious what Beehive readers think about the situation after having time to digest it all. Do you support the union’s labor action? Do you side with management? Do you think there will be an acceptable resolution before the next performance?
Bee photo / Craig Kohlruss
The ramifications of Tuesday’s Renee Fleming concert continue. The local musicians union called a strike against Fresno Grand Opera hours before the concert began, citing unfair hiring practices and a year-plus effort to reach a new contract with the company. Fleming went on to perform anyway, essentially performing a recital with piano and filling part of her truncated hour-long program with a “talk-show”-style interaction with the audience.
Several audience members I talked to loved the impromptu nature of the event, citing Fleming’s dedication and spontaneity. Others were saddened by the abbreviated nature of the program and the missed opportunity to hear the opera superstar perform with a full orchestra.
Today I reached Larry Gardner, president of Local 12 of the American Federation of Musicians, and asked him for an update. He told me the local remains on strike against Fresno Grand Opera. (He also emphasized that this coming weekend’s pops concert with the Fresno Philharmonic is in no way impacted by Tuesday’s labor action; the Philharmonic is covered by a separate contract.)
Gardner said the Fresno Grand Opera has been placed on the American Federation of Musicians “International Unfair List.” That means union musicians who accept work from the company could be subject to fines and penalties.
A phone call and email to Ronald D. Eichman, general director of the Fresno Grand Opera, were not returned today. When I talked to Eichman Tuesday night, he expressed disappointment that musicians walked away from the negotiating table. “We have a group of people who are choosing not to play, and we’re going to continue to operate as we always do,” he said.
I’ll be continuing to follow this story. Fresno Grand Opera’s “Show Boat” is scheduled to open May 11.
Here’s a story I just posted on Fresnobee.com:
Tonight’s Renee Fleming concert could be in jeopardy because the orchestra members say they will refuse to play if their union agreement isn’t reached by curtain time with Fresno Grand Opera.
Larry Gardner, president of Local 12 of the American Federation of Musicians, said the union broke off talks at 5 p.m. The negotiations were the latest in an attempt to come to an agreement on a new contract.
Members authorized a strike at a vote taken Monday, Gardner said. Contract negotiations between the union and the Fresno Grand Opera started in fall 2010, he said. (The union has a separate contract with the Fresno Philharmonic.) The most contentious issue involves the opera’s hiring practices, Gardner wrote in a news release.
“Under the current agreement, musicians are hired from a roster of contract musicians by seat and rank. Local 12 AFM has been frustrated with the employer’s manner of hiring musicians. In many instances during this season, (the opera) has waited until one to two weeks prior to major productions and performances to hire musicians. This is not acceptable. Musical integrity and continuity of the ensemble are compromised by (Fresno Grand Opera’s) ‘revolving door’ hiring practices.”
Asked in an interview how the labor action would affect this evening’s performance, Gardner said musicians plan to be at the Saroyan Theatre “to walk the walk” in a picket line.
An email and phone call to Ronald D. Eichman, the opera’s general director, went unanswered late this afternoon.
Gardner said there’s still a line of communication open between the union and opera management.
The concert is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m.
It’s quite a coup for Fresno Grand Opera to land RenÃ©e Fleming, “America’s favorite soprano,” for a return concert. She performs 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Saroyan Theatre. (There are still a few tickets available, I’m told.) With a travel schedule as busy as hers, it can be hard to coordinate an advance interview with someone with the star wattage of Ms. Fleming. She graciously agreed to answer a few questions by email, but I didn’t receive the answers in time to get them into Tuesday’s Life section coverage of the concert. (Here’s the story I pulled together for the print edition.) So you can consider the interview below a Beehive exclusive.
To mark Fleming’s visit, I’ll follow her interview with a repost of the bigger piece I wrote about her in December 2007 in her first appearance with Fresno Grand Opera.
Question: People here still talk about the warmth of your performance in Fresno and the rapt attention of the audience. Do you find that you get a similar response when you travel to medium-sized cities? Is it something of a treat to get out of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, say?
Answer: I haven’t noticed a difference between audiences dependent on the size of the city, although programming is more challenging for me in cities I sing in often, by making sure I’m not singing redundant repertoire. I do enjoy meeting new audiences and visiting new places, as well as returning to those where i’ve received a warm welcome, and Fresno would certainly be in that category.
Photo: Decca/Andrew Eccles
UPDATE: Congratulations to our winner, Gabby Guagliaone.
ORIGINAL POST: How would you like to hear Renee Fleming, one of the most beloved opera singers in the world, sing live with the Fresno Grand Opera Orchestra? Now’s your chance. We’re giving away two ORCHESTRA seats to the most prestigious classical-music event of the year. Fleming performs 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Saroyan Theatre.
To enter, leave a comment below telling us why you want to hear Ms. Fleming sing. If you have a favorite opera role or album of hers, you can share that with readers. Don’t feel intimidated if you don’t know her repertoire — simply saying you want to hear her acclaimed voice is just fine. We’ll pick our winner at random.
These are great seats (Row Q center) that would normally go for $97.50 each, so this is quite the giveaway.
Deadline to enter is 10 a.m. Monday. These are paper tickets, so you’ll need to be able to pick them up at The Bee’s front counter by 5 p.m. Tuesday. We’ll notify the winner via e-mail, so please leave a valid e-mail address and please check it by 11 a.m. Monday. (We reserve the right to pick another winner if we don’t hear back from you.) You’re ineligible if you’ve won something from us in the past 30 days. No multiple entries allowed. Complete rules after the jump.
1. MUSIC YOU CAN SEE
The Fresno Philharmonic is offering a pops program of “photochoreography” — matching beautiful photographic images with such stalwart composers as Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber. I did an interview with the creator of photochoreography in Thursday’s Life section. [8 p.m. Friday at the Saroyan; details here.]