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An Insider's Guide to ANNA BOLENA

Donizetti's bel canto masterpiece, Anna Bolena, is on stage at Lyric from December 6 through January 16. Learn more about the passion, intrigue, and betrayal at the court of Henry VIII with this inside look at the history, aesthetic, and cast of his new-to-Chicago production.

Donizetti's bel canto masterpiece, Anna Bolena, is on stage at Lyric from December 6 through January 16. Go inside the intrigue and betrayal at the court of Henry VIII with this inside look at the history, aesthetic, and cast of his new-to-Chicago production.

Two rivals battle for the ultimate prize: Queen of England. Fiery and passionate, Anne Boleyn (Sondra Radvanovsky) seduced Henry VIII (John Relyea) and started a revolution, but now she's been replaced-in his heart and his bed-by the demure Jane Seymour (Jamie Barton). As her enemies scheme, Anne confronts memories of her first love, Percy (Bryan Hymel in his Lyric debut), and bravely faces her inevitable fall, while Jane finds herself overcome by guilt. See superstars Sondra Radvanovsky and Jamie Barton face off in this thrilling showcase of their vocal and dramatic prowess.

This production is conducted by Patrick Summers and directed by Kevin Newbury, who are both making their Lyric debuts. 

Articles with insights from the cast and creative team 

A Pair of Dynamic Debuts: Kevin Newbury and Patrick Summers bring Anna Bolena to life
Director Kevin Newbury and conductor Patrick Summers take you inside their preparations for Donizetti's work. Though both Newbury and Summers are officially debuting with this production, neither is a stranger to each other—or to Chicago. Learn more about their Lyric connections in this article from the Fall 2014 issue of Lyric Opera News.  READ MORE

 

From Bolena to Bel Canto: The eclectic tastes of Kevin Newbury
Debuting stage director Kevin Newbury is an in-demand director in both opera and theater, and his first feature film, Monsura is Waiting, has been garnering critical acclaim on the film festival circuit. He recently sat down for a brief Q&A about his many passions, including world premieres, directing bel canto gems like Anna Bolena, and Chicago architecture! READ MORE

 



Vocal Feast: Anna Bolena 
Bel canto! It means literally "beautiful singing," and we think of it whenever Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti come to mind. When you experience Anna Bolena, what exactly will you be hearing? Fabulously beautiful sounds, of course, but in this opera, a beautiful voice is just the beginning. READ MORE 

Backstage Look: Prepping costumes for Anna Bolena
Lyric's costume director Maureen Reilly discusses what she and her team do every summer to help make sure the beautiful period costumes for Bolena are ready for the December opening night. READ MORE

 

Anna Bolena Audio Preview

Music director Sir Andrew Davis shares the synopsis and excerpts from Donizetti's Anna Bolena. Recordings used by permission of EMI Classics.

Opera 101: When a cover singer gets “the call”

Second-year Ryan Opera Center member  Richard Ollarsaba is covering roles in Don Giovanni and Capriccio and has had the very unusual experience of being asked to perform in both operas in the span of one week. He takes us through the process of being a cover singer and what happens when the call comes.

Second-year Ryan Opera Center member Richard Ollarsaba is living the dream of a young opera singer. This talented bass-baritone is covering Mariusz Kwiecień in the title role of Don Giovanni and David Govertsen as the Majordomo in Capriccio.  (He is also in the cast as a servant). In a completely unprecedented turn of events, he was asked to go on in both roles within one week.

On Wednesday, October 8, he performed the Don for the matinee performance, subbing for the indisposed Kwiecień. The following Wednesday, Peter Rose (La Roche in Capriccio) could not perform, which put the domino effect into motion: Govertsen performed the role of La Roche; Ollarsaba performed as the Majordomo; and Lyric Opera Chorus member Kenneth Nichols took Ollarsaba's place as one of the servants in the ensemble.

First things first - what is a cover?

Basically the cover is an operatic understudy. Ollarsaba describes it as, "being ready in the event that the principal artist that you are covering is unable to perform." Now that he's done it, he also adds: "It's a lot of responsibility and you don't fully realize that until you're actually doing it. This is what you prepare for; this is exactly why they hired you. You have to be ready to go."

Practice makes perfect

At Lyric, covering a principal role is a thorough and intense process. "We are present from day one of rehearsals and we are obligated to be at every rehearsal up until the first performance, which is different from a lot of other companies I've been acquainted with," says Ollarsaba. At other companies, the covers are only brought in during the tech period to learn the blocking and other stage directions. 

The advantage to this process at Lyric is having complete access to the music and staging rehearsals: "You see the entire process, so when things change on a dime in rehearsals, you're actually there to see it instead of just hearing about it days later."

Once the rehearsal period moves to the stage, all of the covers participate in cover staging, which is an abbreviated scene-by-scene runthrough so the covers can go through the blocking to address the technical aspects: "This gives us the opportunity to flesh out the characters the way the principals did, just in case we do have to go on."

Ollarsaba had the added benefit of studying and performing the title role in the Ryan Opera Center's summer workshop production of Don Giovanni (pictured right). 

When the phone rings…

For Don Giovanni, Ollarsaba had to work quickly: "I found out for sure at 10am for a 2pm curtain that Mariusz was not going to perform that day. I was as calm and composed as I could be in that situation, but that didn't stop the adrenaline from pumping through my body."

He not only had to be prepared to sing the role, but also cope with the very dramatic staging:  "There are, of course, a lot of variables that you specifically have not rehearsed with the cast on the completed set. I was very well acquainted with the production from having sat in on rehearsals, and on a few occasions I was able to rehearse scenes when Mariusz wasn't available, but having to do an entire show, on short notice, was very surreal."

As the performance drew closer, "I tried very hard not to let my subconscious check in and say 'Do you know what's going on?' I tried very much to say to myself, 'No, it's all about the music and the production.'"

Don Giovanni, of course, has some very intimate and visceral moments with the characters of Donna Anna (Marina Rebeka) and Zerlina (Andriana Chuchman), but Ollarsaba credits the cast for putting him at ease: "They are all the utmost professionals and they all knew exactly what needed to be done. They could not have been more supportive and courteous. With everyone, I kept asking, 'What do you need?' and they could answer, 'No, no, no, what do you need?'"

After such a high-profile substiution the week before, Ollarsaba felt a bit more at ease as the Majordomo during Capriccio:  "We had a little more notice, and it helped that it was an evening performance so I had more time during the day. I love Capriccio, it's very conversational and less action-packed - there are not any specific technical things that you need to accomplish. It's very realistic, so it was a lot easier to go into that. The overall atmosphere was a lot more relaxed."

(Ollarsaba, far left, with his fellow servants in Capriccio)

Costume crunch time

In addition to having to prepare to sing on short notice, Ollarsaba still had to find something to wear as Don Giovanni. The costume department's priority for any production is perfecting the principals' wardrobe. They do not create duplicate costumes for the covers, so in the event of a substitution, everyone has to work quickly. 

"I probably wore about 10 or maybe 20% of Mariusz's actual costumes. He and I are such different body types, so they really couldn't use most of his pieces on me," he laughs. (Ollarsaba is one of the tallest singers at Lyric!) He was able to wear one coat and one robe - for the rest, the wardrobe staff culled pieces from the stock collection to create a series of costumes that mimicked very closely Ana Kuzmanic's period-specific designs. (Don Giovanni's robe, pictured right)

Ollarsaba was already in the cast as one of the servants in Countess Madeleine's household in Capriccio, so the staff was able to fairly easily adapt his existing costume to fit the Majordomo's role.

Staying focused in performance

Ollarsaba went on and the show proceeded without a hitch, though much of his performance in Don Giovanni is still a blur: "I don't know I how I did! I had some ears in the audience, and there was a good reception for sure. But as far as what I thought of myself, I just wanted to make sure that I did my job and lived up to the expectations of the cast and the production, so it could still go on smoothly for an audience."

The one time that he was able to actually think about what he was doing was at the very end of the show, during the technically dazzling descent into hell devised by director Robert Falls and set designer Walt Spangler.

"I will say that the descent was the easiest part of the whole show. One, because it's literally the last two minutes. Two, because the table does all the work and I just have to sing my lines and hang on. It was actually the one time during the show where I was able to check in and think 'This is a lot of fun!' My responsibility in the show was coming to an end, so I could just be like a little kid. I'm sliding down a table, and there's a giant hole with lights and smoke coming out of it. I couldn't help smiling."  

Richard Ollarsaba will be on stage at Lyric as a servant in the remaining performances of Capriccio  on October 22, 25, and 28. You can also see him in Anna Bolena (Rochefort), Tosca (Angelotti) and The Passenger (SS officer) later this season. He is covering Henry VIII in Bolena and Biterolf in Tannhäuser

Photo credits:

  • Top: Richard Ollarsaba (credit Devon Cass); Monsieur Taupe and the Majordomo in Capriccio and the title role of Don Giovanni (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Ollarsaba as Don Giovanni in the Ryan Opera Center's summer workshop (credit Jaclyn Simpson / Lyric Opera of Chicago)
  • Ollarsaba and his fellow servants in Capriccio (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)

 

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Capturing CAPRICCIO's magic on screen

Strauss's Capriccio  (on stage Oct. 6-28) is an intimate and sophisticated opera that takes place at a party at a gorgeous estate. Four presentations will feature live high-definition video broadcast to four screens placed in the balconies. How does the opera go from stage to screen? Matt Hoffman from HMS Media explains the basics of live production.

Richard Strauss's final opera Capriccio  (on stage Oct. 6-28) is an intimate and sophisticated opera that takes place at a party at a gorgeous estate. The stylish production  set in the 1920s and features intricate art deco details and an all-star including Renée Fleming, Anne Sofie von Otter, Bo Skovhus, William Burden, Audun Iversen, and Peter Rose.

For those who do not want to miss a moment, four presentations will feature live high-definition video broadcast to four screens placed in the balconies on Oct. 9, 15, 22, and 28. How does the opera go from stage to screen? Matt Hoffman from HMS Media will be directing all four live broadcasts and took us through some of the basics of live production, which is an art unto itself. 

How many cameras will there be?

We will have 5 cameras: two in the back of the house, one left and one right, and a robotic camera in the orchestra pit.

How do you prepare for the live performance?

The HMS team attended and recorded the Capriccio dress rehearsal. As the television director, I have been studying that recording and making script notes about blocking, timing, and other technical cues that will affect our coverage. 

What does your script look like for the broadcast?

The script contains notes about who is singing and how the performers are blocked in each scene. We will not pre-determine every shot, and our TV production team will be making live decisions based on the actors' performances in the moment. Our coverage will be different each night. We are performing just like the singers on stage.

How do you communicate during the live performance?

My assistant director will be continuously updating us on what's happening next based on the script and our notes. I direct the cameras and call the sequence of shots to be featured on screen. My technical director operates the switcher per my instructions sending the video to the screens. It's a tightly choreographed collaboration among the four camera operators in the house and our technical team in the booth. Unplanned events can happen. We at HMS specialize in covering live theater, music, and dance and are prepared for anything!

What is the biggest challenge you face?

Our biggest challenge on Capriccio will be covering the large scenes featuring many performers, capturing the nuances of what every person is doing on stage.

What about these broadcasts might surprise audiences?

I think that most audience members might not realize just how many people are working behind the scenes to make the television coverage happen. If they were standing in the control booth, I think they might be amazed by the constant high level of communication and activity.

What is the most fun part of the broadcast?

When our television production team is humming along in perfect sync with the performers, it's a beautiful and exhilarating time for all involved.

Learn more about the custom-made video screens for this production in the October edition of Lyric Notes, our monthly enewsletter.

Photo credits:

  • A look at the video screens during the Capriccio dress rehearsal. (Photo by Andrew Cioffi / Lyric Opera of Chicago)

 

Sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll: DON GIOVANNI design preview

Can't wait for opening night of Lyric's brand-new production of Don Giovanni on September 27? Here's a sneak peek at some of the production's design elements to whet your appetite.

Can't wait for opening night of Lyric's brand-new production of Don Giovanni on September 27? Here's a sneak peek at some of the production's design elements to whet your appetite. 

Director Robert Falls and his creative team have updated the setting to 1920s Spain. "Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. It never stops; the perfect opera in many ways," as Falls told Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times.  

This updating of the opera's traditional setting (a first for Lyric!) gave set designer Walt Spangler a lot of room to play. Here's a look at the set and some of the period details that will be showcased on stage, including the motorcycle belonging to the fiery Donna Elvira. 

And here are some more casual close-ups of some of the production's props, snapped backstage during summer tech week. Pictured are some of the faux grapes that make up the onstage vineyard, the Commendatore's coffin, benches being stored backstage (these will be pews for the funeral scene), and some of the beautiful details on Don Giovanni's massive dinner table.

But the sets are only half of the fun. Here are some of the fabulous 1920s-inspired looks that innovative costume designer Ana Kuzmanic has created for the characters.

(Top row: Designs for Don Giovanni, Donna Elvira, and Donna Anna;
Bottom row: Designs for Leporello, Zerlina, and Don Ottavio)

Craving more? Get the inside scoop from the design team in this video:

 

Photo credits:

  • Don Giovanni set photos credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Don Giovanni summer tech photos credit Carrie Krol / Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Don Giovanni design sketches credit Ana Kuzmanic

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