Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Lately

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)

 

Subjects:

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

Sir Andrew’s Busy Summer

Lyric's eminent music director, Sir Andrew Davis, is back in Chicago preparing for our spectacular season-opening production of Don Giovanni. But where has he been all summer? Learn about his incredibly busy summer of globetrotting. 

Lyric's eminent music director, Sir Andrew Davis, is back in Chicago preparing for our spectacular season-opening production of Don Giovanni. He's been in town since late August to start preparations for Giovanni and to lead the annual Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park on September 6. He ended last season with an acclaimed production of Mozart's La Clemenza di Tito on March 23—but where has he been in between Mozart operas? Perhaps it's better to ask, "Where hasn't he been?"

In the span of a few short months, he's traveled from Chicago to Boston to London to New York to Toronto to Leipzig to Bergen to Manchester to Berlin back to Bergen to Melbourne back to Chicago back to London back to Melbourne to Edinburgh back to London back to Edinburgh to Amsterdam to Ulrichshusen to Copenhagen to Chicago! 3 continents, 14 cities, 34 performances, 2 recordings—all in 59 days…with a few precious moments in the middle for vacation.

Here are just three concert highlights from his incredible summer.

First Night of the Proms 

On July 18, Sir Andrew had the distinct honor of conducting the First Night of the BBC Proms. Davis was a familiar face on the podium in the 1990s as the former chief conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra, so this season marked a triumphant return. The Proms are the largest classical music festival in the world, and the evening was a showcase for Sir Andrew and the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, and the National Chorus of Wales. They performed Elgar's biblical oratorio The Kingdom with soloists Erin Wall (a Ryan Opera Center alumna!), Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Andrew Staples, and Christopher Purves

This was only the second time that this piece had been performed at the BBC Proms in its entirety (the first time also had Sir Andrew on the podium), and the result was magnificent. Here is just some of the praise from critics:

 "Once again balancing sumptuousness and transparency, he drew vivid playing from the orchestra, from the silvery violins down to the lowest depths of the Albert Hall organ, which was sometimes a big beast but often quiet enough merely to disturb the sweltering air in the hall." - Erica Jeal, The Guardian

"Andrew Davis made sure Elgar's amazingly colourful orchestration was touched in with a delicate chiaroscuro…. It would be easy to indulge the swirling harps and slithering chromatic basses, but by keeping the whole thing on a tight rein Davis ensured the integrity of the whole was preserved." Ivan Hewitt, The Telegraph

Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Tour

In addition to his role here at Lyric, Sir Andrew is also Chief Conductor of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, a position he took on in 2013. This summer, he conducted a number of concerts in Melbourne, but he also lead the orchestra on an incredible European tour. Stops included the Edinburgh International Festival, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival at Ulrichshusen in Germany, and the Tivoli Concert Hall in Copenhagen. Here's a short preview of their appearance from the Edinburgh Festival:

 

In addition to these prestigious festivals, the tour opened with the orchestra's BBC Proms debut on August 19  at Royal Albert Hall in London. As John Allison pointed out in his interview with Sir Andrew in The Telegraph, "No orchestra making its  Proms debut could wish for a better guide to that institution's rituals than Sir Andrew Davis, one of the most familiar faces in recent Proms history and a particular favourite of Last Night  audiences."

Read more about this tour at MSO's Backstage Blog from reporter Michael Shmith.

The Dream of Gerontius in Berlin 

As if the BBC Proms and a triumphant tour weren't enough, Sir Andrew found time to pop over to Germany to lead another great Elgar composition, The Dream of Gerontius, at the  Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin on June 1. Joining them were the combined choruses of the Rundfunkchor Berlin and RIAS Kammerchor and featured soloists Sarah Connolly, Brindley Sherratt, and Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts.

 

The piece, which describes a dying man of faith reflecting on his life, is widely considered Elgar's greatest choral work-one that cemented his reputation as a great composer—and is a great favorite of Sir Andrew's. This performance in Berlin was part of what could be called a "summer of Elgar" for Sir Andrew. He also performed The Dream of Gerontius with the the BBC Symphony Orchestra, with whom he also performed The Kingdom (at the Proms) and The Apostles, thus performing all three of Elgar's oratorios in the span of just a few months!

But wait...there's more!

In addition to these highlights, Sir Andrew led concerts with the New York Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, Bergen Philharmonic, and found time for recording sessions with the BBC Philharmonic and Bergen Philharmonic. Plus, he even managed to come back to Chicago for the working sessions for Bel Canto, the world premiere opera that is part of Lyric's 2015-16 season.

Photo credits:

  • Top L: Sir Andrew Davis puts on his shoes before a concert on the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra tour.  Courtesy Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
  • Top R: Sir Andrew leads the First Night of the Proms. Courtesy BBC.
  • Bottom: Melbourne Symphony Orchestra rehearses at Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms. Courtesy Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.

(Lyric Opera of Chicago does not own copyrights to any of the above videos.)

Select an image to pin

    << December 2014 >>
    Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4 5 6
    7 8 9 10 11 12 13
    14 15 16 17 18 19 20
    21 22 23 24 25 26 27
    28 29 30 31      

    Subjects

    Tags