Lyric Opera of Chicago

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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:

Lyric U: Baritones in opera

Have you tuned into Lyric U? Check out our new video library, which starts with an in-depth exploration of the baritone in opera with Sir Andrew Davis, Anthony Freud, and Renée Fleming. Plus, check out some video highlights of the greatest baritone arias on stage this season.

Have you tuned into Lyric U? It's Lyric's new resource for things opera, giving everyone an easy way to explore, discover, and engage. Whether you're new to the art form and looking for Opera 101 or an aficionado who wants to earn a PhD in Advanced Opera Studies, let Lyric U guide the way with this ever-expanding video library.

One of the new features on Lyric U is "From Soprano to Bass: Exploring Voice in Opera." Sir Andrew Davis, Renée Fleming, and Anthony Freud are your guides through the seven different categories of the human voice in this in-depth video series.

The first video in the series focuses on the baritone. This vocal range might be stuck in the middle of tenor and bass, but the baritone is definitely not a voice that can be easily overlooked. Some of the most famous roles in opera are portrayed by baritones-the ultimate bad boy in Mozart's Don Giovanni, the resourceful fixer Figaro in Rossini's The Barber of Seville, the king of the gods Wotan in Wagner's Ring cycle, and the great title roles in Verdi's Rigoletto, Falstaff, and Simon Boccanegra

 

Want to hear more? Below are video samples of some of the great baritone showcases that you can hear as part of Lyric's 2014-15 season.

Il Trovatore  - "Il balen del suo sorriso"

In Act 2 "The Gypsy" of Verdi's Il Trovatore, the villainous Count di Luna sings of his devotion to Leonora, who has decided to enter a convent because she believes her true love Manrico is dead. Though di Luna's song speaks to a beautiful love, he is actually plotting to kidnap her - thinking that the convent is the only obstacle to their happiness. Ryan Opera Center alum Quinn Kelsey takes on the role at Lyric from October 27 to November 29. 

 

(Dmitri Hvorostovsky, Metropolitan Opera, 2011)

Porgy and Bess  - "I Got Plenty O' Nuttin'"

This quintessential American opera has many timeless songs, including "Summertime" and "Bess, You Is My Woman Now, but one of Porgy's most famous arias is this ode to his simple life. Lyric favorite Eric Owens brings this iconic role to Chicago from November 17 to December 20. 

 

(Lawrence Winters, Columbia Masterworks recording, 1951)

Tosca - Te Deum

Scarpia, the police chief who is ruthlessly hunting the rebel artist Cavaradossi, sings of his lust and terrible plan to force Tosca into loving him, against the backdrop of a prayer. This season, two singers take on this villianous role: Evgeny Nikitin (Lyric debut, January 24 to February 5) and Mark Delavan (February 27 to March 14). 

 

(George Gagnidze, Metropolitan Opera, 2009)

Tannhäuser  - "O du mein holder Abendstern" (Song of the Evening Star)

This aria from Act 3 of Tannhäuser is in the pantheon of one of the most beautiful arias ever written, and is one of Wagner's most haunting melodies. Wolfram von Eschenbach loves the faithful and chaste Elisabeth, but she is in love with Tannhäuser; in this aria, he has a premonition of her death. Gerald Finley stars as Wolfram at Lyric from February 9 to March 6. 

 

(Peter Mattei, Staatsoper Berlin, 2014)

Don Giovanni  - "Deh vieni all finestra"

While posing as his right-hand man Leporello, Don Giovanni serenades the maid of his former conquest Donna Elvira with this lovely aria from Act Two. Mariusz Kwiecień stars in Lyric's hot-blooded new production through October 29. 

 

(Bryn Terfel, Metropolitan Opera, 2000)

Photo credits:

  • Top row: Quinn Kelsey (credit Dan Rest / Lyric Opera of Chicago); Evgeny Nikitin (credit Ken Howard / Metropolitan Opera)
  • Bottom row: Eric Owens in Porgy and Bess (credit Terrence McCarthy / San Francisco Opera); Mariusz Kwiecień stars as the title role in Don Giovanni (credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago)

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

Lyric Libations: DON GIOVANNI

Lyric's new production of Don Giovanni is so passionate that you need a cocktail just to relax after the show. Channel your favorite character with these beverages inspired by Mozart's masterpiece.

Lyric's new production of Don Giovanni is so passionate that you need a cocktail just to relax after the show. Channel your favorite character with these beverages inspired by Mozart's masterpiece.

The Don Juan 

Don Giovanni's voracious appetites are his downfall, and this drink might get you in trouble too. Like the lothario weaving his web of seduction, this drink's dangerous combination of tequila and rum has a sweet start, but an end that is not for the faint-of-heart.

  • 1 part dark rum
  • 1 part tequila
  • 1 part pineapple juice
  • ½ part grapefruit juice
  • Orange twist to garnish

Put lots of ice and all ingredients into a shaker and mix well for about 20 seconds.  Strain the mix into a chilled glass and add a twist to garnish. (Recipe from Mixed Cocktails)

Zerlina's Flirtini 

So it's your wedding day, and the champagne is flowing. Sure your peasant fiancé is loving and stable, but you can't help but cast your eyes over to the rich bad boy who just walked into the room. Why shouldn't you have it all? Get your flirt on with this sparkling drink in your hand. 

  • 1 ounce vodka
  • 2 ounces champagne
  • 2 ounces pineapple juice

Combine vodka, champagne, and pineapple juice in a highball or collins glass filled with ice. Makes 1 cocktail. For a party multiply recipe and mix in a pitcher. (Recipe from PopSugar)

The Commendatore's Corpse Reviver 

Whether you're hanging out in a cemetery or preparing for a very special dinner party, this cocktail is the perfect refresher for the recently deceased. 

  • 1 ounce gin
  • 1 ounce Cointreau
  • 1 ounce Lillet Blanc
  • 1 ounce fresh lemon juice
  • 1 dash absinthe
  • Orange peel for garnish

Shake all ingredients in a shaker, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish. (Recipe from Imbibe Magazine)

Seething Jealousy 

Sometimes the best way to deal with your raging jealousy is to drown it drown it in liquor. Maybe if Masetto would relax and have a few of these, he wouldn't find himself getting beat up and ridiculed at every turn.

  • 1 ounce sweet vermouth
  • ½  ounce Scotch
  • ½ ounce cherry brandy
  • ½ ounce fresh orange juice

Shake all ingredients with ice, then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. (Recipe from Chow.com)

Donna Anna's Vendetta 

This is the perfect way to seal a pact with your long-suffering fiancé to kill the man who murdered your father. The freshness of basil mixes with the richness of brandy to create an intoxicating brew. Possible side effects include the inability to get married for at least a year after drinking.

  • 1 ½ ounces vodka
  • 1 ½ ounces brandy
  • ¼ ounce Pernod
  • ¾ ounce bitters
  • 6 basil leaves, plus a sprig for garnish
  • Ice

Add the vodka, brandy, pernod, bitters, and basil leaves into a shaker loaded with ice. Shake until condensation forms around the shaker. Strain into a rocks glass with fresh ice and garnish with a basil sprig. (Recipe from The Daily Meal)

The Leporello 

Life is hard when your rich, entitled boss with a questionable moral compass is constantly looking to you to clean up his messes-that is when he's not trying to have you killed. When obsessive list making is not enough to calm your nerves, this very strong, very sweet, very complicated drink is another way to get away from it all.

  • ½ ounce white rum
  • 1 ½ ounces golden rum
  • 1 ounce dark rum
  • ½ ounce 151-proof rum
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon pineapple juice
  • 1 teaspoon papaya juice
  • 1 teaspoon superfine sugar

Stir together all these ingredients except the 151 and pour into a 14-ounce collins glass three-fourths full of cracked ice. Float the 151 as a lid (by pouring it into a spoon and gently dipping it under the surface of the drink). Then, if the spirit moves you, take a match to this mixture; it will burn. Garnish with mint (either straight or dipped in lime juice and then superfine sugar) and/or fruit. (Recipe from Esquire)

Photo credits:

  • Don Giovanni production photos credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

Critics love Lyric's “bold, provocative, hot-blooded” DON GIOVANNI

Lyric's Diamond Anniversary season has started off in style. Critics are raving about the new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni from renowned director Robert Falls of the Goodman Theatre, with Lyric's music director Sir Andrew Davis on the podium. Seductive and stunning, this is the can't-miss event of the fall season. Here are just a few reasons why.

Lyric's Diamond Anniversary season has started off in style. Critics are raving about the new production of Mozart's Don Giovanni from renowned director Robert Falls of the Goodman Theatre, with Lyric's music director Sir Andrew Davis on the podium. Seductive and stunning, this is the can't-miss event of the fall season. Here are just a few reasons why. 

Robert Falls's audacious staging 

"Falls' bold, provocative, hot-blooded new production of 'Don Giovanni' opened Lyric's 60th anniversary season Saturday night at the Civic Opera House, and it had the audience cheering for numerous reasons. … This 'Don Giovanni' is as nourishing to the eye as it is to the ear and mind." - John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

"Director Robert Falls' fresh, boldly conceived staging infused new life into Mozart's dramma giocoso. " - Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

"Falls’s fast-moving staging has an eye for the opera’s comedy and even more for its sexuality." - George Loomis, Financial Times

"Bob Falls has found a way to connect in a fresh way with a work we know and a work we love." - Andrew Patner, WFMT

"The production of Giovanni, which just opened at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, is a glorious triumph for Falls, and a spectacular opening to the Lyric's 60th season. Falls re-imagination of Don Giovanni has it all—passion, sex, heartbreak, murder, jealousy, and revenge. " - Betty Mohr, Le Bon Travel and Culture

"[Lyric's] cast and crew throw themselves into Falls' approach, and what results is an impressive theatrical and musically intensive brew that will have you laughing one minute while gasping with indignation the next." - Scott C. Morgan, Daily Herald 

"Moving the story of Don Juan from its seventeenth century origins to circa 1920s Spain proves to be a great decision by Falls. It manages to strip the production of stuffy periodicity while placing it into a time more familiar to the contemporary audience yet distant enough that the story’s messy morality seems plausible." - Brian Hieggelke, New City

"This new production proves that modern practice can combine with classic opera to create art of the highest order. This 'Don Giovanni' should not be missed." - M.L. Rantala, Hyde Park Herald

"Run, do not walk, to the Civic Opera House and catch this show." - Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

The exceptional cast 

"A more appealing cast could hardly have been assembled for Mozart’s 'Don Giovanni' than the vocally resplendent, good-looking singers who inhabit the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s new production and season opener." - Lawrence B. Johnson, Chicago on the Aisle

"Polish baritone Mariusz Kwiecień is one of the world's best Don Giovannis, a trim, handsome bundle of raging testosterone. " - Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times 

"The Polish baritone wielded his robust, burnished baritone with such elegant style and tonal beauty, it was easy to understand why all the women of Europe are dropping at his feet." - Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

"Puerto Rican soprano Ana María Martínez is wonderfully fiery with a dusky sound as the revenge-bent Donna Elvira (she also clearly relishes her 'modern woman' role reconceptualization—even arriving via motorcycle)." - Scott C. Morgan, Daily Herald 

"It's a tribute to Kyle Ketelsen that he held his own with Kwiecień's Don, more than is usually the case. The bass-baritone delivered a nimble and witty Catalog Aria and firmly brought out the servant's seething resentment as well as the men's camaraderie with a natural conversational quality to their rapid-fire exchanges." - Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

"I found [Marina Rebeka's] Donna Anna superb: The sound was creamy, voluminous and steady as a laser, with plenty of fiery temperament to match the dramatic thrust of her singing." - John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

Andriana Chuchman "brought a charming yet vixenish quality to the good-girl flirt and sang her two arias with notably youthful spirit." - Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

"...bass-baritone Michael Sumuel deftly captured Masetto's mix of jealous male and vulnerable lover." - Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times

Antonio Poli's "ardent, tender arias shaped Don Ottavio, often a bland cipher, into the opera's sole voice of reason." - Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times 

"Andrea Silvestrelli's Commendatore was towering in height and sonorous of voice" - Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

 Sir Andrew Davis and the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus 

"Lyric music director Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Lyric Orchestra with plenty of panache, bringing out the light and dark colors of Mozart's timeless score with buoyant style." - Scott C. Morgan, Daily Herald

"...conductor Andrew Davis’ eloquent and expressive musical direction was greatly to be savored, as was a precise and buoyant performance by the Lyric Opera Orchestra. Add to that the exuberant yet disciplined singing by the Lyric Chorus and the last element was in place for a musically rewarding night." - Lawrence B. Johnson, Chicago on the Aisle

"…music director Andrew Davis drew lithe, elegant, stylish playing from his fine orchestra that felt all of a piece with the Don's high-stakes games of seduction." - John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

"the magnificence of the production should also be credited to Sir Andrew Davis, who at the helm of Lyric’s exceptional orchestra, gives his all to Mozart’s delicious score; [and] to Michael Black who brings out the best in Lyric’s chorus..." - Betty Mohr, Le Bon Travel and Culture

The fantastic sets and costumes 

"Walt Spangler's sets and Ana Kuzmanic's costumes persuasively and colourfully suggest urban Seville, including a handsome townhouse for the Commendatore, seen from the street, and a church interior dominated by a statue of Mary for the Sextet scene of Act 2." - George Loomis, Financial Times  

"Not only are the sets something to behold, but so too are the ravishing costumes by Ana Kuzmanic that evoke the carefree flamboyance of the Jazz Age." - Betty Mohr, Le Bon Travel and Culture

"The contributions of frequent Falls collaborators Ana Kuzmanic (costume design) and Walt Spangler (sets) deserve equal billing with the performers. The production lives in black and white and gray, but splashes of color – blood, flowers – transcend decoration and become metaphor for the proximity of sensuality and death herein." - Brian Hieggelke,New City

"Between designer Walt Spangler's fetching Spanish sets and Ana Kuzmanic's stylish 1920s costumes (a temporal relocation that Mozart surely would have adored), this 'Don Giovanni' has an integrated look and feel that not only works but also allows for doses of broad, updated humor." - Lawrence B. Johnson, Chicago on the Aisle

"Walt Spangler's scenic design is consistently imaginative, centered on a traditional balconied facade of a Spanish house as unit set with striking splashes of flowers and color." - Lawrence A. Johnson, Chicago Classical Review

"…in the ball scene, [Ana Kuzmanic's] lavishly stylized, brocade and velvet costumes for Donna Elvira, Donna Anna (Marina Rebeka) and Don Ottavio (Antonio Poli) clearly delineated the chasm between the aristocrats and the common folk, an important point for Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte. " - Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times

The spectacular final scene 

"While everything about the opera soars, the climactic scene (which I won't spoil), in which Giovanni is sent to hell, is jaw-dropping stunning. This is the best Don Giovanni I have ever seen. Opera lovers will be talking about it for a long time." - Betty Mohr, Le Bon Travel and Culture

"There is a juicily melodramatic death scene for the Don whose surprising details I will not spoil by revealing." - John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

Photo credits:

  • Don Giovanni photos credit Todd Rosenberg / Lyric Opera of Chicago

 

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