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Opera academy concludes with big sound

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The event: the double-billed one-act operas “Cavalleria rusticana” and “Pagliacci,” presented by the first ever Fresno Opera and Orchestra Summer Academy at Fresno State.

The background: With the loss of Summer Arts, Fresno State’s College of Arts and Humanities is hoping to fill some of the void left by the loss of that celebrated institution. The college teamed up with the Youth Orchestras of Fresno to organize the two-week academy, which included talented pre-college and college instrumentalists and college singers. In the first week, academy participants traveled to Los Angeles to perform at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. In the second, they rehearsed intensively for the opera performances.

The scene: The Fresno State Concert Hall on Sunday afternoon, converted into a theater space with a small makeshift stage, is dominated by the massive 75-plus-piece orchestra, conducted by Thomas Loewenheim. About 20 singers fill out the cast and chorus.

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Guest bloggers: An unforgettable concert at L.A.’s Walt Disney Concert Hall

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For a week now, Fresno State has been the scene of some very talented singers and instrumentalists. The Fresno Opera and Orchestra Summer Academy – dubbed FOOSA for short — is a new initiative born of a collaboration between the Youth Orchestras of Fresno and Fresno State. According to press materials, the three artistic directors—Thomas Loewenheim (pictured above) and Anthony Radford of Fresno State and Scott Piper of the University of Michigan—dreamed of a summer festival that would feature the best aspects of summer orchestral programs and the best aspects of summer opera programs, allowing an unusual degree of interaction between singers and instrumentalists.

You can read my interview with Piper from Thursday’s Life section here. On Friday, the FOOSA horde traveled to Los Angeles for an appearance at the renowned Disney Concert Hall. Now they’re back in Fresno preparing for a big weekend event: performances 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday of the paired operas “Cavalleria rusticana” and “Pagliacci.”

The Beehive asked two students to write a couple of guest blogs for us about the experience. Meet Christina Swanson and Tomer Eres, both students at the University of Michigan studying with Piper. They’ll be back later this week on the Beehive with their thoughts about this weekend’s opera lineup. They wrote this entry from L.A.

Hello to everyone from the City of Angels! Despite having only two days to explore the greater LA area, we here at FOOSA have been having quite the blast. Yesterday, we stopped at the Santa Monica pier after the long drive from CSU Fresno to enjoy the sea and have a great dinner at Bubba Gump’s. We spent an hour exploring the pier, and taking in the sights and smells of the ocean. It was a truly humbling experience to spend time on the beach with my fellow studio mates and Scott Piper from the University of Michigan, along with the great Laura Pedersen. It’s amazing how our passions can connect us from across a country.

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Win tickets to ‘Love Conquers All’

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I give a big plug in Friday’s 7 section for the Youth Orchestras of Fresno’s second annual “Love Conquers All” Sunday concert at the Saroyan Theatre — and for good reason. Last year’s concert was great, and one of the major reasons — professional tenor Scott Piper — is coming back for an encore. (My take on last year’s concert is here.) He and soprano Laura Pedersen, backed by the Youth Philharmonic, will begin the concert with duets by Puccini and Verdi, then sing favorites from “West Side Story.”

I have four tickets to the 7 p.m. Sunday concert to give to one lucky Beehive reader. Here’s how this giveaway will work: Leave a comment on this post telling us your favorite song from “West Side Story.” I’ll pick the THIRD comment on this post as the winner. (Think of this like a call into a radio station contest.) I won’t publish any comments until we have our winner.

You’ll be able to pick up your tickets at Will Call on Sunday.

No repeat entries, please. Check your email soon after entering to see if you’re the winner. Complete rules are on the jump.

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A stirring Youth Philharmonic Orchestra concert

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The scene: the Shaghoian Concert Hall on Sunday evening for the “Love Conquers All” dessert-auction fund raiser for the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. On stage: the 120 members of the advanced Youth Philharmonic Orchestra, looking elegantly older than their years in concert dress, with a nearly full house of family, friends and opera lovers in the audience.

On the podium: the always energetic Thomas Loewenheim, who manages to seem both crisply professional and indulgently paternalistic when it comes to contemplating his vast brood of budding musicians.

The entrance: First the orchestra performs the prelude to “Rigoletto.” Then, as the players strike up the opening notes of the famous aria “La donna e mobile” — if I could just hum a few bars in print I’m sure you’d instantly take up the tune — we hear the soloist, Scott Piper, from the back of the auditorium. He strides down the side aisle and then through the center of the house, voice booming, and as he passes directly in front of my seat, I swear I can actually feel the sound vibrations emanating from him. He’s like a human sub-woofer.

The energy: It’s palpable. Piper, an acclaimed professional singer, has a joyous, infectiously warm demeanor that makes clear he loves opera — and these kids. As for the musicians, accompanying opera singers is a tough business, and even when the orchestra sounds young in terms of musical texture and intonation, the attitude and self-confidence of the players is positively grown-up.

The diva: Layna Chianakas is on hand, too, making a fitting professional companion to Piper, pouring much more emotion and drama into her arias than you usually see in a concert setting.

The encore: After a boisterous finale of “Carmen,” Piper takes the stage one last time for the wildly popular “Nessun dorma.” He’s joined at the conclusion by Chianakas, ending the evening on a sweeping, extravagant note. For a concert built around an intermission bidding on fancy desserts, the folks with musical sweet tooths were the ones who walked out with the real sugar high.

Donald’s weekend picks

1. LOVE AND OPERA
Tenor Scott Piper headlines “Love Conquers All,” the fundraising concert by Youth Orchestras of Fresno. He’ll be joined by soprano Layna Chianakas and the Youth Philharmonic Orchestra for a program of arias and duets from favorite operas. 7 p.m. Sunday, Shaghoian Concert Hall. [Details]

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Donald’s weekend picks

1. A SMOOCH FROM THE YOUTH PHILHARMONIC
Valentine’s Day weekend is jam-packed with worthwhile events, many of them benefits. (Mike and I write about eight of the options in Friday’s 7 cover story.) One concert that looks especially promising is “Love Conquers All,” a fund-raiser for the Youth Orchestras of Fresno. Guest artist and acclaimed tenor Scott Piper joins the orchestra in a selection of favorite romantic arias. A dessert auction following the concert will give you a chance to satisfy your sweet tooth as well. Below, Piper works with Henry Woolf and Sophia Liang.

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