It’s Un Bel Di As We Welcome The Berkshire Opera Festival
By Lisa Green
Since the Berkshire Opera Company folded in 2008, opera productions have been conspicuously absent from the performing arts scene in the Berkshires. So when Jonathon Loy and Brian Garman, both accomplished opera directors and conductors, announced plans to form the Berkshire Opera Festival, it wasn’t only opera aficionados that applauded the venture. While the principals in the cast of the first production, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, come from elsewhere, Loy and Garman didn’t have to go far to cast and hire many of the chorus, musicians and creative team members.
“I’m very happy to say that about 90 percent of our chorus is from the area, and nearly half of the orchestra is local,” says Garman. “There’s such a wealth of talent in the Berkshires that it would have been foolish not to tap into it. Employing local musicians whenever possible is central to the vision of Berkshire Opera Festival.”
The 2016 inaugural festival season opens on Aug. 27. You’ll appreciate it even more knowing who some of the locals are — on stage, behind it, and in the pit.
Beckie Kravetz, Wigs and Makeup Designer
Kravetz [in photo, above] is a world-renowned theatrical mask maker, which is how she started in the business, but through that segued into designing wigs and makeup. In 1988, she became the resident mask maker for the Los Angeles Opera, where she also worked as a principal makeup artist and assistant wig maker. Now living in Cummington, she’s missed working on opera productions. “I had a connection with an LA Opera colleague who had worked with Jonathon Loy at the Met (Opera Company), so when I read about the new company I introduced myself to him. Coming back to work in my own backyard is an incredible thrill.”
International costume designer Charles Caine, a 20-year Met veteran (and Egremont resident), is also working on this production. He had done a previous “Butterfly” with another wig and makeup designer, Steven Horak, who had a big wig stock, and those will be put to use in the Berkshire production. So Kravetz is primarily focusing on the makeup. While Kravetz often does dramatic, stylized painting for opera singers, she says Loy wants a subtle version of the Butterfly look, so the makeup will be only slightly dramatized.
The biggest challenge, she says, is that everybody is on stage in the first 15 minutes of the opera. “That’s a lot of people to get into wigs and makeup before the show,” she says. Fortunately, she has two assistants — Horak and an intern — and she’ll also be doing a training session with the cast to show them how to get started on their makeup. “Cat’s-eye (liner) works well as Asian eye makeup, and that’s really in style right now, so a lot of people know how to do it.”
Steve Hassmer, Chorus and Uncle Yakuside
The tenor, who lives in Great Barrington, has a small part in Madama Butterfly’s story, as the uncle in the wedding scene. Hassmer’s degree was in music education, but he’s done more performing than teaching; he was in a national tour of My Fair Lady and worked on cruise ships for a while (a “survival job,” he calls it).
“After my wife finished dental school, we moved back east and I’ve been a stay-at-home dad, but in the past year I’ve been looking to get back into performing,” he says. He gave a concert last year in Stockbridge, has been taking voice lessons with the renowned opera singer Maureen O’Flynn, and has sung with Berkshire Lyric and The Cantilena Chamber Choir.
“It’s been such a treat listening to the world-class opera singers,” Hassmer says. “The Berkshire Opera Festival is super professional. Brian Garman is a fabulous musical director, and Jonathon Loy is great at running the rehearsals. It takes a lot of courage to do what these guys are doing, start up a company. They should be commended for trying to bring opera back to the Berkshires.”
Deane Prouty, Orchestra Contractor and Timpanist
Splitting his time between New Marlborough and New York City, Deane Prouty has to be one of the busiest guys in any music scene anywhere. As the orchestra contractor, he is responsible for hiring all of the musicians, holding auditions for the string players and many of the brass and wind players, to put together an orchestra of the highest quality. “We try to fill the roster first with local musicians, then we reach out farther to Albany, Springfield, and then New York,” he says.
Contracting also entails arranging the payroll schedule, collecting paperwork, and managing as a go-between for musicians and staff. He is responsible for arranging the venues for rehearsals and attending to the necessities — such as adequate lighting and room temperature — for the musicians. All of this is on top of being the timpanist, and schlepping the big kettle drums to and from the venues. (Aside from playing in both the Berkshires and New York, Prouty also runs a percussion rental and repair business in the city.)
Prouty was a member of the former Berkshire Opera for eight seasons, so he was able to bring many of those musicians into the BOF. With his familiarity of the region, he says, “I’ve been able to help Brian Garman with Berkshire issues.”
Maia Robbins-Zust, Technical Director
Loy and Garman contacted Robbins-Zust, owner of Berkshire Production Resources, about three years ago when they were first dreaming up BOF. “They said they knew I was a technical director in the area, and could I advise them,” she says. She was the technical director for the Berkshire Opera Company until it folded, so it was a natural for her to take on the position again.
Robbins-Zust is responsible for everything on the production end — building the sets, adjusting the lighting, overseeing the wardrobe staff and supertitles. There are separate scenic and lighting designers, and it just so happens that the scenic designer, Steven Dubay, was a student of hers at Williams College (where she is the technical director of the theater department) a decade ago.
The company is renting theater space at Berkshire Community College to build the sets, and have hired some of the students there to work on the production. Which is a good thing, because there’s a growing need for technical services. “For a rural area like Berkshire County, there are more stagehands than usual because there’s so much here, and theater companies are producing year round now.”
Paula Farbman, Chorus Member and Cio Cio San’s Mother
Lee resident Paula Farbman was a voice major in college (she studied at Juilliard when she was in high school) and a high school chorus teacher in Long Island. She also taught private voice lessons. The soprano sings with The Cantilena Chamber Choir and several other local choruses, but this is the first costumed stage production she’s been in.
“I auditioned for the chorus, and got the role of the mother, singing within the chorus,” Farbman says. “It’s going to be fun. It’s not easy memorizing parts as we get older, but it’s nice singing with a lot of younger singers.”
Farbman thinks the chorus has a good blend, and she’s just as complimentary of the Berkshire Opera Festival staff. “They’re certainly very professional,” she says. “Every day is planned out, and they’re respectful of our time. I really have to say I’m impressed with all of the staff. Having sung a lot, I have a pretty good idea if people know what they’re doing, and these people really do.”
Richard Mickey, Cellist
Opera has been an essential element of Richard Mickey’s career from the beginning, having played with the Philadelphia Lyric Opera Company and the Philadelphia Grand Opera Company as a young student. As a member of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, he worked under music directors who were major opera conductors, so he played a number of concert-form operas.
A Fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center for three years, he moved to the area in 1980, and is a busy freelancer. The Stockbridge resident is also a regular member of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Berkshire Lyric Theatre and many other orchestras.
Like some of the other musicians and creative staff, Mickey introduced himself to the Berkshire Opera Festival directors when he saw a news article announcing its intentions. “I’m very impressed with the group and the leadership,” Mickey says. “And I love the Colonial Theatre. It’s a wonderful asset to the Berkshires.”
Berkshire Opera Festival at The Colonial Theatre
August 27, August 30 & September 2 at 7:30 p.m.
111 South Street, Pittsfield, MA
Reserve tickets here or call (413) 997-4444.
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Chatham Dance Festival: Last Time In The Tent
By Amy Krzanik
RIOULT Dance NY
This August might be your last opportunity to see a Chatham Dance Festival performance in the tent at PS21. No, not because it’s closing up shop, but a key feature of it is changing forever. According to founder and board president Judy Grunberg, the organization hopes to retire its famous saddlespan tent next year in favor of a brand-new black-box theater being built a few hundred yards away.
So now is the time to experience one (or more — an all-dance pass is the best deal) of the hand-picked performances to get the full PS21 experience that audiences have been enjoying for the past decade.
Weekend one kicks off this Friday and Saturday with RIOULT Dance NY, Pascal Rioult’s modern dance company known for its sensual, articulate and musical works.
The second weekend, August 19 and 20, welcomes The Chase Brock Experience, a Brooklyn-based contemporary dance company led by Brock, who’s choreographed everything from Broadway shows (Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark) to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. The program will include a pieced titled The Song That I Sing; Or, Meow So Pretty, which the company describes as “equal parts Blue Ridge and Brooklyn” and a “restless, sexy, strummy work [that] employs a mash-up of tap, finger-tutting, clogging, hip-hop, square dance, step dance, jumpstyle and jazz.”
The Chase Brock Experience
On August 26 and 27, Dance Heginbotham (whose founder, choreographer John Heginbotham, received the 2014 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award), will perform some of its favorite works. The group is celebrated for, among other things, its “athleticism, theatricality, disarming wit and strangeness.”
PS21 favorite Parsons Dance will return to close out the season on Sept. 2 and 3. Warning: tickets to their annual performances sell out fast.
Each year the Festival tries more and more to incorporate the “behind the scenes” of dance, says Grunberg, so the audience can learn more about the companies. Dancers go into the schools, give lectures, and hold workshops for children and adults. This year, the Chatham Public Library will host a talk with Chase Brock; members of Dance Heginbotham will lead an inter-generational dance class for all ages and abilities; and Parsons Dance will hold three sessions geared toward teens.
“We want to bring the very best companies in so as to develop a knowledgeable dance audience in this area,” Grunberg says. The goal is to curate a varied lineup, with each troupe having its own unique flavor and style. “Everyone has a body and everyone moves,” she says. “Even people who think they aren’t interested in dance can find something they like here.”
Chatham Dance Festival at PS21
Friday, August 12—Saturday, September 3
2980 State Route 66, Chatham, NY
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Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) Plays On
Leonard Bernstein at BUTI. Photos courtesy Boston University Tanglewood Institute.
By Jeremy D. Goodwin
One of Andrew Hitz’s fondest memories from his four summers at the Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) is the night he got in trouble.
As a wide-eyed teenager soaking up all things musical, the aspiring tuba player had the chance to see the great Leonard Bernstein conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood, in what would turn out to be the maestro’s last concert ever. (He died a few months later.)
Determined to shake Bernstein’s hand after the performance, Hitz missed the last shuttle bus up the road to campus, and straggled in long after curfew.
“We got yelled at by the resident assistants. We said, ‘But we met Leonard Bernstein!’ They didn’t care,” Hitz says with a hearty chuckle. The incredible thing in retrospect is that, in the context of a program that gives its students a kind of skeleton key to the behind-the-scenes action at Tanglewood, this particular rendezvous with greatness was not an adequate excuse.
“Experiences like that were a little surreal then and they are even more surreal now, looking back on them,” the tuba player says. Hitz, who relishes time at his family’s lakeside cottage in Otis during the summers, toured the world as a member of Boston Brass for 14 years, and now teaches music students, plays selected gigs, and hosts a podcast about the world of professional brass players.
Pianist Lang Lang coaching a BUTI student.
The BSO’s own Tanglewood Music Center, whose fellows are college-aged or older, has the higher public profile. But BUTI creates its own beehive of activity while mostly serving high school students. Some of those teenagers you sometimes see lugging instrument cases alongside Rt. 183 on the way from the West Street campus to Tanglewood will be some of tomorrow’s classical-music stars. But you can hear them now; BUTI presents more than 70 performances each season that are open to the public. Almost all are free.
This is BUTI’s 50th season. On August 6, a day of campus tours, a piano recital and an alumni panel discussion will culminate in a 50th anniversary show at Ozawa Hall at 2:30 p.m., emceed by Berkshire favorite and BUTI alumna Lauren Ambrose. Other alumni range from Harry Connick, Jr. to Ken-David Masur, assistant conductor for the BSO, who led a program earlier this summer at Tanglewood featuring famed soprano Renee Fleming.
Lauren Ambrose, BUTI alumna.
The August 6 concert will feature commissions by BUTI alumni Nico Muhly and Timo Andres.
“I would like to think that there are a million such places scattered around the world,” Muhly says of BUTI, “but to me it feels like a unique thing. It certainly was in my life. It was a defining musical and social thing. It’s why I’m a composer at all.”
After his time in the program, which gives students access to leading professionals in the field and all the musical magic of Tanglewood, Muhly became the youngest composer to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, and has been a rising star on the scene, writing across genres. He’s written a score for the New York City Ballet, arranged work by pop stars like Rufus Wainwright and Sufjan Stevens, and wrote the music for the 2013 Broadway revival of “The Glass Menagerie.” He’s also been no stranger to the Berkshires since his time at BUTI, writing a commission for the Aston Magna Festival in 2014.
Composer/alum Nico Muhly.
“It was the first time I realized that this is a viable way an adult can behave,” Muhly says of his time in Lenox. “As a kid, saying you want to be a composer is like saying you want to be an astronaut. Then you turn up and go, not only can I do it, but it can be this great thing that happens in this beautiful landscape with all these fun people.”
New BUTI executive director Hilary Field Respass is the first person to hold that job in a full-time capacity; her predecessors doubled as Boston University faculty. Along with another full-time hire, she’s been charged with finding ways for the program to be more self-supporting and not wholly dependent on the university.
“We’re in a period of really focusing on expanding our network of support,” Respass says, citing outreach among alumni and other fans of the program. “We’re really being aggressive and assertive about finding partners to expand our base of support and expand our programming.”
And so, 50 years on and largely outside of the public eye, the aspiring musicians at BUTI continue to play, practice and soak it all in. All of Tanglewood is their classroom, and, once in a while, there’s even a really good reason to miss curfew.
Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI) 50th Anniversary Celebration
Saturday, Aug. 6
9-10:30 a.m. Campus tours
11:30 a.m. Piano recital featuring students and alumni from the Young Artists Piano Program
12:45 p.m. Alumni panel discussion: “Changing Lives, Influencing the World”
2:30 p.m. 50th Anniversary Concert at Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood. Tickets: $20
4:30-6:30 p.m.: BUTI@50 Soiree post-concert reception. Tickets: $30
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Egremont Village Inn Brings Music Back To The Barn
By Lisa Green
When a family of professional musicians (plus one videographer) revitalize an inn that has a barn on its property, you can be sure the old saw, “hey kids, let’s have a show,” has entered their thoughts. If only it were that easy, or immediate. But after several years of renovations, the circa 1830s barn behind the Egremont Village Inn in South Egremont, Mass. is ready for its closeup. On July 8 and 9, the barn doors open and a live music series commences with a celebratory concert featuring Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw.
Gigi Teeley [left], a singer who has owned and run the Egremont Village Inn with family members since 2012, recalls how she fell madly in love with the barn when they bought the property, despite its failing roof, frequent flooding and odor strong enough to chase most people away. While the house was originally built in 1786, the barn followed some 40 years later and served as the horse stables. More recently, in the 70s and 80s, it was the site of the rather infamous Robbie Burns Pub, a honky tonk where folklore has it that legends such as Arlo Guthrie and Jerry Garcia exhibited some less-than-decorous behavior. Neighbors then weren’t amused, but Teeley says they needn’t worry about The Barn. The music will be acoustic, and the audience is limited to 50 max.
“We had to make fixing up the inn itself a priority, so we didn’t get to the barn right away,” Gigi says. “We weren’t even sure we were going to be able to tackle it. But during the brutal winter of 2014-2015, the barn was so stoic. If it didn’t collapse then, I figured it wanted to be here.”
The work in progress. Photo courtesy Egremont Village Inn.
A year-and-a-half of aggressive rebuilding ensued. Although the barn won’t be totally finished by the Crenshaw concert, it will be ready for music and listeners, who will settle themselves into an assortment of leather lounge chairs, church pews and tables. A new, sweet-smelling roof now sits up top, but vestiges of the old barn remain: a replacement bar rests upon the remnants of old barn doors; the guts of the old piano hang above the shelves of liquor, and an original stained glass window overlooks the staging area. A few old cigarette burns on the handsome original floors serve as echoes of the barn’s roadhouse past.
Like the group endeavor it takes to run the Egremont Village Inn, The Barn’s evolution has been a family project, and the Keene-Teely collaboration is distinctly suited to the task. Matriarch Sara Keene is a former singer and opera coach whose husband was Christopher Keene, longtime conductor and music director of the New York City Opera. She moved from Rhinebeck to purchase the old Weathervane Inn, and the family rallied around the business. Daughter Gigi, who performs and teaches at Bard College at Simon’s Rock, primarily manages the inn; her husband Tom Teely, a professional guitarist and singer/songwriter, is the jack-of-all-trades when he’s back from the road or producing albums for other musicians; Keene’s son, Nick Keene, a videographer, helps with management if he’s not off on a shoot. The Teely children, Jackson and Caitlin, who have inherited the music gene, have been hands on from the beginning.
The old honky tonk piano now adorns the wall.
As for The Barn’s musical lineup, Tom and Gigi have pulled in friends and connections (both Tom and Gigi performed with Marshall Crenshaw in the Broadway musical “Beatlemania”). Nick contributed to the wish list, and they’ve been assisted by Seth Keyes, a booking agent, to help curate an eclectic lineup they’re calling “Gems of Many Genres.” The family plans to add more events to get maximum usage of the facility, and add more food to go with the full bar, but for now, The Barn will offer “noshes.”
Don’t be surprised to find some of the family members accompanying the acts every once in a while. After all, they put in the sweat equity to get the barn ready for a show.
Gems of Many Genres
The Barn at The Egremont Village Inn
17 Main Street, South Egremont, MA
July 8-9 Grand Opening Celebration: Marshall Crenshaw and Friends, 8 p.m. $35
July 15-17 Steph Campbell Live: “It Ain’t Over ‘til the Phat Lady Sings!” 8 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
July 23 Trout Fishing In America, family show at 2 p.m. (kids 12 and under $10); then again at 7 & 10 p.m.
July 30 Hyams and Lisa Rothauser in “Life, Who Knew,” 7 & 9 p.m.
August 6 John Davidson Sings Broadway Standards, 7 & 9 p.m.
August 13 Karen Oberlin Sings American Songbook/Cabaret, 7 & 9 p.m.
October 1 Roy Zimmerman “This Machine,” political satire, 7 & 9 p.m.
October 14 and 16 Linda Purl in “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Fri. at 8 p.m. & Sun. at 3 p.m.
The Grand Opening Show is $35, all the rest (unless noted) are $25.
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The Skivvies Perform Pop Songs ‘Au Naturel’
By Amy Krzanik
Why would two singers – a duo who harmonize and play cello and ukulele, among other instruments – ever need to coordinate the color of their underwear? It’s not because of some odd superstition the two share, but because their undergarments will be “on display,” so to speak, for their audience to see.
The singers in question, musical theater stars Lauren Molina and Nick Cearley, have been performing together since they met in 2003. But The Skivvies were born when the duo “took it to the next level” about four years ago with the release of a YouTube cover of Rihanna’s “We Found Love.” When Molina couldn’t find anything to wear, Cearley suggested doing their stripped down cover, well, stripped down.
“We were very nervous when we first did it,” he says, “but Lauren said to me, ‘If this is a bad idea, then we’ll just delete it.’” But after four videos turned into a sold-out live show in August of 2012, the two have gone on to tour the country with their act.
“When it started it was a fun little hobby, but it’s taken off and people love the theatricality of it,” Molina says. The goal is to present pop songs in a way the audience has never heard them done before, says Cearley. As you may have noticed, a lot of today’s hit songs offer only a few lines of inane lyrics repeated ad nauseam. “We like to exploit the lyrics of ridiculous songs, and expose the most absurd ones possible,” Cearley says.
For their Saturday, May 28 and Sunday, May 29 shows (three shows in all) at The Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, the duo will be backed by a live band and special Berkshire Theatre Group guests – Lindsay Nicole Chambers, who will play Audrey in the upcoming Little Shop of Horrors; Jen Harris from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof; and three actors from Fiorello. When asked if all guests also are required to perform sans pants, Cearley says… yes and no. “Everyone plays the game, but I think of it more like a sleepover or a costume party.” One of the skits will involve a mash-up of “Little Old Lady from Pasadena” and Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” creating the tale of a grandma who drives too fast, so maybe expect to see some grannie panties alongside the sexy lingerie.
The duo love the Berkshires, and will be back to perform for a third year at the Williamstown Theatre Festival on July 17 and 18 (where Molina made her WTF debut in 2011’s 10 Cents a Dance). You can also catch The Skivvies at Club Helsinki two days before, on July 15, in a benefit performance for AnimalKind. Animal charities are close to their hearts—both are vegetarians, and Molina works for NYC animal care centers as an adoption ambassador, fostering kittens and helping them find homes.
Although there will be skin, there will be no striptease at these shows, as Cearley and Molina like to focus on their music and witty repartee. As Molina says, “This show appeals to all ages. It’s fun and clever, and I think people will be surprised by how much they enjoy it.”
The Skivvies at The Colonial Theatre
111 South Street, Pittsfield, MA
Saturday at 8 p.m. & 10:30 p.m., $40
Sunday at 7 p.m., $40
Sunday show & post-show reception at Hotel on North, $65