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Our Donation Campaign is Underway!  

Please make a tax-deductible contribution to the Opera Guild of Rochester to support our programs in opera education, outreach, and grants to opera performances.

We've added Bravo Nights, Opera Meet-ups and Opera Week activities this year and we want to continue expanding and attracting new opera fans with your help!

You can donate securely via Pay Pal or mail a check to Opera Guild of Rochester, PO Box 25613, Rochester, NY 14625. Please include an email or other address for your tax receipt. Levels start at $50 for an individual and $80 per couple. All donors receive an invitation to the Annual Donor Recital in May, and those who donate above the Comprimario level ($100) may request extra tickets. For further information about our programs and activities, see the feature on ' Beat the Blahs' and From Your Opera Guild. Volunteering also makes a great contribution!


Edition Viva Voce, December  2018

The Opera Guild of Rochester, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization with a mission to support opera and opera education in the greater Rochester area.

The Guild presents free opera lectures at local libraries, tours to productions of local opera companies and the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and our popular Beat-the-Blahs, Haskell Rosenberg Memorial Series, at Temple B'rith Kodesh in Brighton.

This newsletter is sent via eMail each month, currently to over 3,000 subscribers.  For a free subscription send your contact details, including your eMail address, to

Our Website and Facebook pages serve as a clearinghouse for local and regional opera, concert, and recital information, with links to other music organizations in our area. Please visit our Website at   

For up-to-date information on opera-related news and events, please visit us on

Some events are now being recorded.  Click the YouTube logo to visit us there.
For OGR Channel
Reader Article submission deadline for the next issue is the 15th of the previous month.


Dec 2     Rochester Oratorio Society                 A City Sings
Dec 6     Nickel City Opera                                  Broadway and Opera
Dec 15   Met HD                                                    La Traviata
Dec 15   Eastman Community Music School    Winterfest
Dec 20   Third Thursday at the MAG                  An Italian Baroque Christmas

ACitySIngsA City Sings for the Season

The Rochester Oratorio Society, Dec 2, 3pm, Port of Rochester, free with donated item.
The most joyful afternoon of the year returns when the ROS and special friends The Hochstein Youth Singers, Borinquen Dance Theatre, The Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Male Chorus, Spiritus Christi Gospel Choir, and ROCMusic Collaborative gather at the Port of Rochester for a concert of music and dance to benefit Action for a Better Community. Free of charge. Donations of food, clothing and personal care items accepted at the door. Sponsored by Canandaigua National Bank, Nocon & Associates, and Henderson Family Ford Foundation.


Each year since 1998, the Eastman Community Music School showcases the talent and musicianship of its students during an annual celebration of the winter season, typically held the last Saturday before the December, this year on Saturday, December 15. An extravaganza of concurrent performances in venues across the Eastman School of Music campus, Winterfest features ensembles and students ranging in age from elementary school to adults. The day-long celebration features a wide array of music styles and ensemble types, and includes holiday favorites on each program. All performance s are free and open to the public. For more information, Click Here .

ThirdThursdayThird Thursday at the MAG: An Italian Baroque Christmas, December 20, 2018

7:30 PM 9:00 PM 
Memorial Art Gallery 500 University Avenue Rochester, NY 14607 United States (map)

The Eastman School of Music will present a concert with the reconstructed Italian Baroque organ in the Museum's Fountain Court. Seating is limited, and provided on a first-come basis. Admission is free with Admission to the Gallery. Thursday from 5 PM to closing admission is half-price. Admission is free for UR Faculty, staff and students with ID.

BeatBlahBeat the Blahs, The Haskell Rosenberg Memorial Series
The 2019 Beat the Blahs program has been generously underwritten 
by Angeta D. Borgstedt, M.D.

***PLEASE NOTE CHANGE ON JAN 20TH!*** On our program handout for 2018-19,  Elektra is listed. It has been  changed to  Arabella , below.

Opera DVDs on the big screen, introductions by Opera Guild docents, refreshments at intermission. 
Temple B'rith Kodesh, 2131 Elmwood Avenue, Sundays, 1-5 pm.

Jan 6 1-5 p.m. Gounod's Mireille
Opera Talk, David Dean
One of Gounod's "French Provence" operas from 1864 and perhaps the first French impressionist opera.

Jan 13 1-5 p.m. Mark Adamo's Little Women
Opera Talk, Carol Crocca
This production, with Joyce DiDonato and Katherine Ciesynski, is of "a beautifully crafted work, brilliantly molding Alcott's tale into operatic form." (The New Yorker) It is a coming-of-age story with a particular focus and great appeal for adults and children alike.

Jan 20 1-5 p.m. Richard Strauss's  Arabella
Opera Talk, Peter Dundas
From 1928. Librettist Hugo von Hofmannsthal convinced Strauss to abandon the dissonant style of Electra and to return the lyrical style of Rosenkavalier, with this delightful opera as the result. Today's production features Kiri te Kanawa.

Jan 27 1-5 p.m. Rimsky-Korsakov's  Golden Cockerel
Opera Talk, Art Axelrod
Rimsky-Korsakov's last opera. Two hours long, a satire on military ineptitude with mystical plot elements and beautiful arias and orchestral numbers.

If you are on our snail mail list, you may have received a green flyer which you may return with donation for your selected operas. However, anyone is welcome to come without pre-registration. If you would like to be on our snail-mail list, send your address to PO Box 25613, Rochester, 14625 or visit for more contact information.

GermanOperaEXPLORING GERMAN OPERA, Oasis Winter-Spring trimester

John Bouman, Retired Partner, Nixon Peabody LLP

With lectures and DVDs, we will study six German operas, beginning with two "rescue" operas: Mozart's comic singspiel "The Abduction from the Seraglio" (1782), in which the hero Belmonte attempts to rescue his beloved Konstanze from the seraglio (harem) of Pasha Selim; and "Fidelio"(1814), Beethoven's only opera, in which Leonore, disguised as a prison guard named "Fidelio," attempts to rescue her husband Florestan from death in a political prison. Also included is Carl Maria von Weber's "Der Freischutz" ( The Marksman or The Freeshooter, 1821), the first important German Romantic opera, in which young Max, who desires to become the head forester and marry Agathe, the head forester's daughter, must first pass a test of skill in marksmanship, famous for the chilling and supernatural "Wolf's Glen" scene. We will also see Wagner's early Romantic opera "Lohengrin" (1850), in which a mysterious knight appears in a boat drawn by a swan to defend the honor of Elsa, a young woman falsely accused of a crime, and to marry her, but only if she agrees never to ask him his name or where he came from; Richard Strauss' "Salome"(1905), a one-act opera based on the play by Oscar Wilde and famous (or infamous) for its "Dance of the Seven Veils" and the beheading of John the Baptist; and Alban Berg's "Wozzeck" (1925), a 20th century masterpiece in the avant-garde style, in which Wozzeck, a soldier who travels through a callous and at times sadistic world he doesn't understand, ends in tragedy.

12 Sessions, Wednesdays, 9:30 -11:00 am, January 9 - March 27

For further information, call Oasis between 9 am and 3 pm, M-F, at 585-730-8800 or visit

(For those wishing to explore opera without spending a lot of money)

FREE - Friends of Eastman Opera Voice Competition. Look for listing in February 2019 Viva Voce. 8 pm, Kilbourn Hall, Gibbs Street, Rochester.
FREE - The Lotte Lenya Competitionyoung multi-talented singer/actors performing both opera and musical theater selections.  See Viva Voce for Saturday in April, 11am-4 pm and an evening concert, Kilbourn Hall, Gibbs Street, Rochester.
FREE - Opera Guild Lectures in February and March (with many video selections) at Brighton Memorial Library, 7 pm, 2300 Elmwood Ave, Look for listing in January 2019 Viva Voce
$9/10 suggested donation - Opera Guild "Beat the Blahs."  Opera DVD presentations at Temple B'rith Kodesh.  
Four Sundays in January at 1 pm, see the 2019 schedule in this issue.  Pre-performance talk, refreshments at intermission, children and students always FREE.
$18 - Pre-recorded operas from the current season of the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden (London).  Queen of Spades, Feb. 24, 26; La traviata, March 24, 26; La forza del destino, April 28, 30; Faust, May 26, 28; followed by informal chats in the café.  The Little Theater, 240 East Ave, Rochester. See listing in Viva Voce.
$24; UR students $10 with ID - The Eastman Opera Season:  (Eastman voice students).  Pre-performance talks; see full listing in Viva Voce.
$25 per (senior) ticket - Metropolitan Opera simulcasts in HD of live performances on Saturdays usually at 1 pm.  An encore performance, not live, is given on the Wednesday following for $23.  Theaters are at Tinseltown, Eastview, Webster and Henrietta. See full listing and essays in Viva Voce.
FREE - Opera Guild Bravo Nights at The Little Café, live accompanied singers perform opera favorites in an informal atmosphere.  See Viva Voce for next date, in 2019.


From Sorrow to Joy
Orfeo ed Euridice
In Italian with English supertitles
Music by Christophe Willibald Gluck, Libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi
January 31, February 1 and 2 at 7:30 pm; February 3 at 2 pm, Annex 804 Black Box Studio

From Seduction to Damnation
Don Giovanni
In Italian with English supertitles
Music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte
April 4, 5, and 6 at 7:30 pm; April 7 at 2 pm, Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre

The Voice and Opera Department presents
L'enfant et les sortilèges (The Child and the Spells)
Sung in French and performed with piano
Music by Maurice Ravel, Libretto by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
May 3 and 4 at 7:30 pm, Annex 804 Black Box Studio

Eastman Theatre Box Office (585) 274-3000; To purchase tickets Click Here

Royal Opera House Film Series at The Little

Sunday performances at The Little are followed by informal meet-ups in the café to chat about the opera with other fans. Everyone is welcome.  

Sunday February 24 (Noon)
Tuesday February 26 (6 pm)
Est. RT: 3:30

Sunday March 24 (Noon)
Tuesday March 26 (6 pm)
Est. RT: 3:35

Sunday April 28 (Noon)
Tuesday April 30 (6 pm)
Est. RT: 4:15

Sunday May 26 (Noon)
Tuesday May 28 (6 pm)
Est. RT: 3:45

MetHD2018-2019SeasonMetropolitan Opera HD Season 2018-2019

Verdi, La Traviata
December 15, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Michael Mayer's richly textured new production, featuring a dazzling 18th-century setting that changes with the seasons. Soprano Diana Damrau plays the tragic heroine, Violetta, and tenor Juan Diego Flórez returns to the Met for the first time in five seasons to sing the role of Alfredo, Violetta's hapless lover. Baritone Quinn Kelsey is Alfredo's father, Germont, who destroys their relationship. For La traviata essay, Click Here. For more essays on Verdi's operas, go to the Reading Room at

Cilea, Adriana Lecouvreur
January 12, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Anna Netrebko sings the title role, based on the life of an actual 18th-century actress who dazzled audiences with her on- and off-stage passion. Piotr Becsala is her lover, Maurizio, and Gianandrea Noseda leads the orchestra. The story is superbly set by David McVicar in a working replica of a Baroque theater.

Bizet, Carmen
February 2, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Mezzo-soprano Clémentine Margaine reprises her remarkable portrayal of opera's ultimate seductress, a triumph in her 2017 debut performances of Bizet's masterpiece. Tenor Roberto Alagna is her lover, Don José, in Sir Richard Eyre's powerful production, a Met favorite since its 2009 premiere. Louis Langrée conducts.

Donizetti, La Fille du Régiment
March 2, 12:55
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Tenor Javier Camarena and soprano Pretty Yende team up for a feast of Donizetti's bel canto vocal fireworks-including the show-stopping tenor aria "Ah! Mes amis," with its nine high Cs. Maurizio Muraro is the comic Sergeant Sulpice, with mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe as the outlandish Marquise of Berkenfield and Enrique Mazzola in the pit.

Wagner, Die Walküre
March 30, 12:00 
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
In what is expected to be a Wagnerian event for the ages, soprano Christine Goerke plays Brünnhilde, Wotan's willful warrior daughter who loses her immortality in opera's most famous act of filial defiance. Tenor Stuart Skelton and soprano Eva-Maria Westbroek play the incestuous twins Siegmund and Sieglinde. Greer Grimsley sings Wotan, Fricka is Jamie Barton, and Hunding, Gunther Groissbock. Philippe Jordan conducts.

Poulenc, Dialogues des Carmélites
May 11, 12:00 PM 
Synopsis and other info: Click Here
Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads the classic John Dexter production of Poulenc's devastating story of faith and martyrdom. Mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard sings the touching role of Blanche and soprano Karita Mattila, a legend in her own time, returns to the Met as the Prioress.

Nickel City Opera Season

The Saturn Club, 
Thursday December 6 at 7pm

Hits from  Carousel, Les Miserables, A Little Night Music, Don Quichotte, The Sound of Music and many more! 
$25 per person, limited seating
For more information, please send an eMail to

Villa Maria College, May 24 and 26, 2019


The beloved classic opera by Verdi about a woman who is misunderstood and misguided. Violetta falls in love with Alfredo and loses everything. Memorable and popular tunes abound including the drinking chorus 'Libiamo!' Don't miss a full opera with costumes, sets, chorus and a full orchestra at the majestic 1250-seat Villa Maria College Theatre in Buffalo near Pine Ridge and Doat St. Plenty of parking, easy access and a great acoustic will leave your ears ringing with opera. 

Crouse-Hinds Theater at the John H. Mulroy Civic Center
Free conductor's talk an hour prior to each performance

Christian Capocaccia, Conductor
Symphoria Orchestra
Syracuse Opera Chorus, Ensemble

To purchase a subscription, Click Here
Mozart, Don Giovanni
Friday, February 1, 2019 at 8:00 PM  
Sunday, February 3, 2019 at 2:00 PM
Sung in Italian with English surtitles.

Ophelie Wolf, Director
Marcus DeLoach, Don Giovanni
Julia Ebner, Donna Anna
Pamela Armstrong, Donna Elvira
Robert Mellon, Leporello

Weill, Three Penny Opera
Friday, April 12, 2019 at 8:00 PM  
Sunday, April 14, 2019 at 2:00 PM  
Sung in English with English surtitles.
Cara Consilvio, Director
Peter Kendall Clark, Macheath
Ron Lloyd, Peachum
Melissa Parks, Ceila Peachum
Gregory Sheppard, Tiger Brown

To purchase single tickets, Click Here



Richard Strauss, ELEKTRA
For more details, Click Here
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, COSÌ FAN TUTTE
FEBRUARY 5 TO 23, 2019
For more details, Click Here
Giacomo Puccini, LA BOHÈME
APRIL 17 TO MAY 22, 2019
For more details, Click Here
Giuseppe Verdi, OTELLO
APRIL 27 TO MAY 21, 2019
For more details, Click Here


Feb 22 & March 1, 2019 - 7:30pm
Feb 24 & March 3, 2019 - 3:00pm
Tri-Cities Opera Center
315 Clinton Street
Binghamton, NY 13905

Three Decembers is a 90 minute one-act opera based on Terrence McNally's original script for Some Christmas Letters. The story takes place over three decades of the AIDS crisis, each section recalling the events of a December, as the characters struggle to connect when family secrets are revealed.

For details and tickets, Click Here

 April 28th, 2019 - 3pm
The Forum Theatre
236 Washington St.
Binghamton, NY 13901

Gilbert & Sullivan's beloved operetta takes place aboard the ship HMS Pinafore. The captain's daughter is in love with a lower class sailor although her father intends her for Sir Joseph Porter, the First Lord of the Admiralty. They declare their love for each other and eventually plan to elope. Will their plan succeed?

For details and tickets, Click Here

Pegasus Logo
2018-2019 Season

All concerts at Downtown United Presbyterian Church, 121 N. Fitzhugh Street, Rochester. Pre-concert talk at 3:15 pm, concert at 4:00 pm

For more information or to buy tickets, Click Here

February 24, 2019 @ 4 pm

It's a musical party as we celebrate with 17th century music and dance from Spain and the New World, including Bolivia, Peru, and Mexico.

April 7, 2019 @ 4 pm

"The magical duo Bedlam" (Fanfare Magazine) is Kayleen Sanchez, soprano, and Laudon Schuett, lute. Our first Pegasus Rising artists, they return to Rochester with a program of renaissance French and English lute songs. Sacred, secular, bawdy and tender!

Acis & Galatea
May 5, 2019 @ 4 pm

A semi-staged concert version of this beloved pastoral opera by Handel. Will the monster Polyphemus woo Galatea to his side? Michael Beattie, musical direction; Emily Cuk, stage direction.

SalonConcertsSalon Concerts with the Rochester Academy of Medicine

Join us for a performance by The Academy Salon Trio 
followed by a reception with the artists.
1441 East Avenue, 14610

21st Salon Concert Season

February 3, 2019
March 24, 2019
April 28, 2019

All concerts take place at 2:00 pm in the Lyon Family Salon in the Rochester Academy of Medicine. Tickets are $35 at the door, $30 with reservation by phone, online or message. $26 Academy Members with reservation and $5 student. Seating is extremely limited. For more information Click Here.

From your Opera Guild 

Although our surprise singers at the Public Market were rained out, we did have two events for Opera Week. At St. John Bosco School, East Rochester, Kurt Griffen and  Alexandria Beal, accompanied by Zalina Fedetov sang arias and a duet for the assembled students, who ranged from the elementary grades through high school. And at Sunday brunch at the Brown Hound, Shaya Greathouse and Mark Daniels popped up unexpectedly to sing, a happening that certainly brought opera to the attention of the diners in a new and affecting way!
We are very happy to announce the coming election of two new board members. Mary Bonaccio has been working for the Opera Guild for some years as Chair of the Communications Committee, and she will continue in that role. She has been responsible for coordinating all our publicity, as well as bringing new ideas and activities to fruition. Working with her committee, Mary is in charge of Bravo Nights and meet-ups at the Little Café after Covent Garden opera presentations, and pulled together the plans for Opera Week. She and her husband, Bob Green, have also generously shared the resources of their company, The Verdi Group, a direct marketing agency where Mary is the Director of Client Services, in promoting the Opera Guild.

David Dean is a retired neurosurgeon who, fortunately for us, moved to our area from Texas a few years ago for family reasons.  In Texas, he was on the Board of Directors of the San Antonio Symphony. He has become involved in several Guild activities, from mailings to lectures to Beat the Blahs, lending his quiet brand of common sense, knowledge and love for opera to our group.

Happy Holidays
Carol Crocca, President

Please consider the Opera Guild of Rochester among your charitable organizations for 2018-19. Donations to the Opera Guild of Rochester are fully tax deductible and donors will receive an invitation to the Annual Recital in May 2019, which includes a dessert reception with the artists.

Enjoy our free Lecture/Listening series, which you can download from the Website at by clicking on Reading Room. While at our Website you can also learn about our opera program at Temple B'rith Kodesh, and our opera trips to regional opera companies including the Glimmerglass Festival.

Cindy B Advert


As an Amici, your contribution in any amount is greatly appreciated. All donation levels receive an invitation to the Annual Recital; those listed below will be given priority until a date specified on the invitation, and at the Comprimario level and above may request extra tickets.

Chorus: $50 per person, $80 per couple.
Comprimario: $100-$149.
Primo: $150-$199.
Maestro: $200-$299.
Impresario: $300 or more. 

You may also mail a check to Opera Guild of Rochester, P.O. Box 25613, Rochester, NY 14625. Please include an email or other address for your tax receipt.

Return to Contents

OperaEssaysOpera Essays

This section brings you articles written by Opera Guild docents, previously distributed at HD performances. Other essays previously published as Reader Articles are also published in this section. All these essays are available on the Website in the Reading Room.

LaTraviataLa traviata: Who was she?

By Carol Crocca

We know the immediate source of the opera was a play by Alexander Dumas, fils, titled
La dame aux camilias. Verdi saw the play in Paris in 1852, with his then mistress, Giuseppina Strepponi. (It was at this time that they began living together, not a matter of much social opprobrium among the artists and their patrons in Paris.) But there has been speculation over the years as to whether there is a relationship between the character Violetta, the courtesan, and Giuseppina, Verdi's mistress and later, wife.

The play was based on Dumas' autobiographical novel of the same name, about his relationship with a courtesan, Marie Duplessis. Courtesans did not walk the streets, but led a luxurious life maintained by their clients, who were "respectable." Marie Duplessis taught herself to read and write so that she could converse with her company on cultural and political subjects. She was obsessed by the novel
Manon Lescout, in which a courtesan rejects the man she loves because he cannot keep her in the luxury to which she has become accustomed. This was the reason Marie broke off her relationship with Dumas, both in reality and in the play.

As to the opera, it is true to many facets of Marie's character and some facts of her relationship with Dumas. She was touched by his concern for her health, they did retreat to the country for a while, there was a request that she break off the relationship, although not for the reason given in the opera, she was insulted by him, she did acts of charity, and she died of tuberculosis at the age of 23. But the Violetta who unselfishly gives up Alfredo for the sake of his family, who has sold her own possessions to contribute to their household, who describes her Parisian life-style as a desert, and hopes to be redeemed by her dedication to a new life - this Violetta was created by Verdi and is an entirely different creature from Marie Duplessis.

So, now, who was Giuseppina Strepponi? She was the daughter of a musician, trained as a singer. Her father died when she was 16, leaving only debts. Because of her talent she was able to finish her training at the Conservatory in Milan on scholarship, after which she went to work to support her mother and younger siblings. Then, as now, aspiring female artists were sometimes led to obtain work in exchange for sexual favors to impresarios. Giuseppina was naïve, or unlucky, and had three pregnancies as a result of these liaisons, which society tended to overlook so long as they were not brought to public notice by the consequences. She had more than one lover, and later acknowledged that she had not handled her personal affairs very well. She compromised her career, not so much by her lifestyle as by the effect pregnancy, exhaustion and ill-health had on her reliability as a performer. And she compromised her reputation because she sang when she was pregnant, thereby advertising her failure to conform to society's hypocritical moral code.

At the end of her opera career, she went to Paris alone in 1851 to support herself by giving voice lessons and such concert work as her voice still allowed. Although she and Verdi were together from the time he arrived in Paris in 1852, they did not marry until 1859, for reasons that remain speculative, in a secret ceremony in a small town in Savoy. When they moved to Busseto before they were married, the citizenry refused to accept Giuseppina and treated her insultingly, which infuriated Verdi.

Was Giuseppina a courtesan? Was she a kept woman? No. She was a talented musician who was forced without preparation or guidance at the age of 19 to enter away from her family into the hectic world of opera. From the time they met in 1842, when her support as a prima donna was in part responsible for the decision to produce  Nabucco (his first success), she was a friend to Verdi and helped him with business matters. Later, as both mistress and wife, she was very much involved in his musical life. She knew English and aided him when this language was needed in his artistic or business dealings. She was treated as a wife from their time in Paris until she died, and together they adopted and nurtured the young cousin who became Verdi's heir. From her letters we know that Giuseppina was grateful to Verdi and referred to him as her "savior." But from what? Perhaps from a dreary, lonely life as a singer whose career was over, giving voice lessons and living on the margins of the artistic world; perhaps from the lack of respectability she suffered because of her prior life; perhaps as a woman, who sought the comforts of domesticity like most others, and whose opportunity to be his helpmate also provided many artistic satisfactions.

Equating this woman with Marie Duplessis makes no sense. Famous Verdi scholar Julian Budden, after disagreeing with an early commentator, had this to say about it:

"...[T]he notion that Verdi, while insisting on the respect due to the woman who now shared his life, should then have insulted her himself by portraying her as a demi-mondaine is surely preposterous. One can imagine his blind fury if the idea were put to him."

On the other hand, who knows what Verdi thought and felt as he and Piave, the librettist, worked on the opera? Was it his wife's suffering at the attitude of the Bussetani that urged him to make Violetta the courtesan with the heart of gold? Or his own humanity? Or his instinct for the theater? Or all of these? Perhaps it was Giuseppina who inspired Violetta's admirable qualities - her dignity, her modesty, her generosity, her strength in adversity. Verdi was a most private person, and in fact we will never know. In any case, the answer must be much more complex than the simple equation of one person with another. 
A Country Courtship

A review of a performance at the University of Rochester on October 12, presented by the University's Humanities Project and the Northeast Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies

By Rachel Stuhlman

Love in a Village is a compendium of mid-eighteenth century British taste in music. Debuting in 1762, it created a new genre, the pastiche opera. Although wildly popular in its day, racking up over 350 performances in London alone, Love in a Village has been forgotten. Jane Austen saw it many times, and we do not know it at all. So its revival for a single performance on October 12th was an important occasion, and an entirely satisfying one. 

The composer Thomas Arne and playwright Isaac Bickerstaff were both experienced men of the theater, well acquainted with popular taste. In his long career Arne wrote the music for ninety stage works; his opera Artaxerxes was greatly admired by Haydn. For thirty-two years he served as music director at Vauxhall, the pleasure garden where Londoners flocked for entertainment, eager to hear the latest music.

Arne and Bickerstaff were uniquely qualified to create the first pastiche opera. Arne knew what pleased the public and took full advantage of this knowledge when selecting the music for Love in a Village. Of the forty-two songs, from ballads to fully composed opera arias, Arne himself contributed five original songs and fourteen pieces repurposed from his earlier work. Carl Friedrich Abel wrote a lively new overture. Arne chose songs and arias by twelve composers, reflecting the taste for elegant Italianate music. Works by Handel, Boyce, Galuppi, Geminiani and others were set to a witty text. Bickerstaff loathed English music, so traditional ballads were reserved for the comic servants. The result was a strange musical discontinuity, with numbers whose brevity belied their sophistication. Excerpts from operatic arias and oratorios were sung minus the da capo section or second stanza; these abbreviated results leave the listener hanging.

For the historically-informed new staging of this charming work we can thank four people and the support of the Humanities Project at the University of Rochester. Yale University's Todd Gilman is the expert on the theatrical music of Thomas Arne; he unearthed the full score of Love in a Village and directed this semi-staged performance. Music Director Larry Beckwith, who leads Confluence, formerly the Toronto Masque Theatre, served as Music Director, and the interval dances were provided by historical dance expert Dr. Peggy Murray. It was all pulled together by Executive Producer Katherine Mannheimer, Associate Professor of English at the University of Rochester.

The conventional plot of Love in a Village revolves around two young people fleeing forced marriages to persons they have never met. They assume disguises as lady's maid and gardener in the home of Woodcock, a comical Justice of the Peace. Rosetta and Young Meadow feel a mutual attraction, although both are uneasy that the other is so far beneath their own stations in life. In the final act it is discovered that, of course, they were intended for each other all along. The secondary couple play a variation on this theme. The gentleman Jack Eustace insinuates himself into the house under the guise of music master to Lucinda Woodcock, and the two lovers plan to elope together (shades of The Barber of Seville minus the lesson scene.) A hearty country squire Hawthorn makes his entrance with a song that would become a staple of British music, "The Miller on the Dee." And a bit of naughtiness is injected with the double-entendres of the sneaky servant Hodge. Such stock material was deftly realized by the playwright Isaac Bickerstaff, who fit new words to the exact cadences of appropriated songs and sprinkled the text with puns. Thomas Arne for his part played some musical jokes. Young Meadows' vocal line dips down at the words "Ye envious powers, why have ye placed, my fair one's lot so low?" 

Johan Joseph Zoffany. A Scene from "Love in a Village" by Isaac Bickerstaffe. Act 1, Scene 2, with Edward Shuter as Justice Woodcock, John Beard as Hawthorn, and John Dunstall as Hodge. (Wikimedia Commons image).

The singers on October 12 were very, very good. Arne had written the demanding role of Rosetta, complete with florid embellishments, for his protégé, the acclaimed opera singer Charlotte Brent. Toronto-based soprano Madison Angus started the evening singing sharp but quickly got herself back on key, finishing with a dazzling rendition of the bravura aria "The Traveler Benighted." Young Thomas Meadows was played by Ryan Downey, a singing actor with stage presence, excellent diction and timing and a pleasing voice. Ellen McAteer as Lucinda Woodcock sang beautifully and mugged appropriately. Her voice lies lower than Angus's, and the two women blended well together in their first duet, and played off each other with great verve throughout the evening. In an inspired bit of last-minute casting Larry Beckwith himself took over the role of Eustace, eliciting a howl from the orchestra with his line "I am no music master." Hawthorn was nicely played by Robert Kinar, and as the scoundrel Hodge, James Sandau delivered his lines in a broad working-class accent. The small pickup orchestra, mostly local musicians, responded to the lively tempos of maestro Beckwith with excellent playing on period instruments. In Act Three Sir William Meadows appeared in the person of none other than Arne scholar and director Todd Gilman to put all to rights. Gilman played the elder Meadows as a London dandy, complete with an absurd wig, whitened face and sparkling suit.

In most operatic performances, the audience is, mercifully, not invited to sing along, but on this occasion it was all part of the fun. Actually it was more of a mumble-along, as no one had a prior acquaintance with the words or any idea of the melody. Still, it seemed a good-natured way to conclude Act One.

In eighteenth-century London it was customary to end a comic entertainment with the entire cast dancing together on the stage. The traditional country dance chosen on this occasion was, for some peculiar reason, The Rakes of Rochester. Despite running for three hours, longer than a performance of Aida, Love in a Village remained buoyant throughout the evening. I left the theater grinning.

Renée Fleming: Inspiration and Practicality

By Carol Crocca

As an Eastman Visiting Distinguished Artist, Renée Fleming met with students, faculty, and members of the Friends of Eastman Opera in October at Hatch Hall for an informal conversation. It focused on her current activities and the concerns of students eager to benefit from her experience. Like other artists at the top of their professions whom I have encountered in non-performance situations, Ms. Fleming has nothing to prove to anyone, and shared both her successes and struggles openly and generously.

Although finishing her operatic career with  Der Rosenkavelier last season at the Met, Ms. Fleming is far from retirement. She has recently appeared at Carnegie Hall with Audra Macdonald (listen at ); tours often to cities across the country in recital; braved Broadway as Nettie Fowler in
Carousel; released a new CD,  Renée on Broadway ; been featured on the soundtrack of  T he Shape of Water a critically-acclaimed 2018 film; sings opera for Julianne Moore in the movie  Bel Canto ; is an artistic consultant on many projects at the Lyric Opera of Chicago; sang at the funeral of John McCain; and has an ongoing relationship with the Kennedy Center and the National Institute of Mental Health, where she lends her knowledge and prestige to research on music and the brain. Whew!

The students had good questions. About entering the professional world, Ms. Fleming talked about her own initial difficulties. She emphasized the importance of focusing on fundamentals in school: technique, languages, and musicianship, including music theory. She did not minimize the obstacles - in a world in which the opera audience seems to be diminishing, it is important to be well-grounded, versatile, open to new works, and creative in presenting oneself. A double major in another marketable skill is desirable. How to cope with rejection? A balance between relying on your own instinct for your strengths and best path forward and being open to constructive feedback form others. The artist needs "outside ears" as well as an inner voice. She candidly mentioned "lemmings" in the professional world: many of those with influence who nevertheless are dependent on someone else's leadership to declare a singer worthy. Persistence and resilience are key.

To a question about the difference between acting in opera and in musical theater, Ms. Fleming asked the student, "What do you think?" The student replied that in opera there was a notion that there is a "right way" of expressing the drama, while in the theater there is a process of exploration for the artist. Ms. Fleming said that ideally the environment should be open to exploration. She herself had an acting class that was helpful and benefitted by her marriage to an actor. She pointed out that in musical theater one is hired first on fitting the character type and acting, while in opera the voice is most important. Her interest in classic musicals derives in part from her up-bringing by high school music teachers to whom they were meat and drink, and her conviction that they should not be forgotten by younger generations.

How does she study a role? Ms. Fleming said to start with the text. She would translate it into her own words and pay close attention to markings in the score. She emphasized that being specific about the character, rather than treating the role generically, "separates the men from the boys." Listening to singers in their native language and different interpretations of a role on YouTube can also be helpful.

In her consulting work at Lyric Opera of Chicago, Ms. Fleming said she was interested in modern pieces reflecting social issues. "Very tired of mythology," she uses such criteria as diversity of composers, contemporary relevance, originality of voice, and craft in writing for voice and orchestra.

Balancing career and family is never easy in a profession which often demands constant travel. When very young, children may travel with you, and hers did, said Ms. Fleming, and at any age can be with you in summer. She scheduled appearances at the Met each year so she could be home for those stretches of time. When one of her daughters complained about too many nannies, she engaged their father more directly in their care.

Perhaps the most interesting details were revealed in Ms. Flemings's discussion of the transition from opera to musical theater. Getting used to amplification was difficult: her ears hurt from the noise level and "one gives up control to the person working the dials." Eventually, she learned the technical lingo and was able to accommodate to the lack of being able to feel the acoustic of the venue. Although the sound is somewhat "manufactured," she pointed out that being miked does help save the singers voices, especially when they must give eight performances per week. The technical set-up is important, however, and Ms. Fleming, (not dependent on Broadway for her next gig), took on the task of negotiating with technicians for better feedback from the system and volume control, on behalf of ensemble singers who could never complain.

Because of her movie soundtrack work, (which has been continuous since Immortal Beloved in 1994), Ms. Fleming was able to point out that movie people never let a movie be seen pre-release without the soundtrack because music is utterly integral to its dramatic effect. Her passionate conviction of the importance of music is evident in her work with NIMH. Music has been part of our humanity since the Neanderthals, she said, who possessed the same vocal apparatus as ourselves, and music activates more parts of the brain than any other activity. She recently suggested a collaboration between the Kennedy Center and the NIMH, and has developed a presentation she does in cities she visits about music and the mind/body connection.

There was even more, but I hope I have conveyed, in this long-enough article, the amazing diligence, talent, and generosity of this consummate artist, whom we may proudly claim as a Rochester-area native.

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