A Conversation with Jason Dolmetsch About the 2012 HHOT Select Conservatory
On August 17 and 18 at 8 pm the Select Conservatory students at Hubbard Hall Opera Theater (HHOT) will present a double bill of two fully staged one-act operas by famous composers – Cox and Box (1866) by Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame) and Sir Francis Cowley Burnand, and Trouble in Tahiti (1951) by Leonard Bernstein. Both evenings are pay-what-you-will. Gail Burns sat down with director Jason Dolmetsch to find out more about the conservatory program and this exciting evening of opera.
Gail Burns: The HHOT Select Conservatory is an intensive, four-week workshop that teaches college and graduate-level students the basic and finer points of classical and musical theatre performance from the perspectives of both actor and singer. How are singers chosen for this program?
Jason Dolmetsch: We hold auditions both locally and in New York City and select our students based on the supporting and chorus roles we need filled in our main stage production, which is Mozart and Shickenader’s The Magic Flute this year, so we knew we would have a largely male Conservatory group because there are so many men in that opera. Half of the Conservatory students are performing title roles in Magic Flute and the other half are in chorus. Last year they presented Dido and Aeneas and a reduced version of Hansel and Gretel in 2010.
Gail: There is no tuition fee, so how do the students live while they are here?
Jason: Conservatory students live with local residents during the weeks they are rehearsing. They have private voice lessons, private song coachings, and a series of master classes on subjects related to the field, but also are coached in acting technique, movement and monologue audition preparation.
This year Aliana de la Guardia, the General Manager of Guerilla Opera – a group which will be presenting their work Heart of a Dog here at Hubbard Hall in September – was up last week doing intensive movement workshop. Janet Scurria gave text and monologue workshops, and Mariah Sanford White gave a one day lesson in standard British dialect for Cox and Box.
Gail: How did you chose this fascinating combination of operas for the Conservatory group this year? I can see it appealing to both Savoyards and Bernstein aficionados, both of whom are legion.
Jason: Cox and Boxis the kind of standard late 19th century English comedy I particularly love and the roles fit the guys we had. Sullivan is fun and tuneful with a traditional sound, so the more modern Bernstein music is a great comparison. I didn’t realize until after I had selected the works that these were the first opera compositions for both Bernstein and Sullivan. You can hear the nascent themes they expanded in their later work in these pieces.
Gail: I am a particular fan of Trouble in Tahiti, which I first heard in 1975 when I was just eighteen. I missed the Berkshire Opera performance a few years back and thought this would be my first chance to hear this wonderful music again, but was surprised to be treated to some big chunks of it in We Are Women: A Bernstein Cabaret at the Colonial Theatre just a few days ago. Hearing it now at age 55 as I approach my 31st wedding anniversary, I was struck by how insightful the piece is. Bernstein really conveys the difficulties of a long-term relationship. He expanded the piece into a full length opera, A Quiet Place, in 1983, but I don’t think he improved upon it.
Jason: Trouble in Tahiti is almost perfect just as it is. It is so bare bones and so stripped down with both a lot of specificity and very little at the same time. You can really empathize with characters. But I disagree with you that Bernstein was writing about people as old and long-married as you, Gail. Sam and Dinah are in their early thirties, so our young performers aren’t too far from them in age. They aren’t newlyweds but this is a mature marriage. This is a cusp point for both of them, the time when you are finding out that life isn’t always what you want it to be.
Gail: You are singing in the “Greek” chorus trio who comment on the action in Trouble In Tahiti with a mixture of mid-20th century radio/TV jingles and scat. I just love the sound Bernstein has created for them.
Jason: Where a traditional Greek chorus tells the truth that the characters cannot see, this chorus lies. The juxtaposition of the Sam/Dinah tragedy with the chorus perpetuating the myth of what life is supposed to be is wonderful.
As for me, my last classical recital was in 2004, so I am feeling bold tackling this music!
Gail: I heard your Conservatory students last week in The Magic Flute and I know that audiences are in for a treat. But while these two upcoming shows are fully staged with piano accompaniment by Musical Director Elizabeth Bonomo, this is billed as a workshop performance, hence the pay-what-you-will admission.
Jason: Yes, these are singers with varying ranges of experiences from those who hold their Master’s Degree to those still studying for their Bachelor’s undergraduate, but we’ve had a good rehearsal period. Both works are fully staged, although we’ve cut the dialogue from Cox and Box, but not elaborately so. It is still a work in progress.
Gail: In what order will the operas be presented?
Jason: Cox and Box comes first and then Trouble in Tahiti. I want to make the audience laugh and then give them the serious stuff.
About Cox and Box
In Cox and Box, Sergeant Bouncer, an old soldier, has a scheme to get double rent from a single room. His unsuspecting tenants are Mr. Cox, a hatter who works by day, and Mr. Box, a printer who works by night. Inevitably, the two bump into each other and hilarity ensues. It was Arthur Sullivan’s first successful comic opera. Sullivan wrote this piece five years before his first opera with W. S. Gilbert, Thespis.
About Trouble in Tahiti
In Trouble in Tahiti, love isn’t always easy. Amid a seemingly idyllic suburban backdrop, a 1950’s marriage has had both ups and downs. There is much to learn and feel as two young people try to find their way. Trouble in Tahiti is a one-act opera in seven scenes composed by Leonard Bernstein with an English libretto by the composer. The opera also features a scat singing jazz trio; Bernstein refers to them as “A Greek chorus born of the radio commercial”. They sing in quasi-gibberish, sounding like an advertising jingle, contrasting with the young couple’s lament.
About the Performers
· Mezzo-soprano Elaina Pullano of Dalton, MA, will sing Dinah in Trouble in Tahiti. She is an incoming sophomore at Williams College, with a double major in biology and music. Pullano began her solo career at age 13 and has been performing since then in various choirs and competitions. She currently studies with Keith Kibler at Williams and privately with Claude Corbeil of Stockbridge, MA.
· Soprano C. Paige Porter, who anchors the Chorus Trio in Trouble in Tahiti, recently completed her master’s degree at Manhattan School of Music, where she studied under Mignon Dunn. Recent opera work includes chorus in Tosca with Opera New Jersey, chorus in the U.S. premiere of Proserpina at Spoleto Festival USA, and the title role of Semele in Manhattan School’s Baroque Aria ensemble.
· Tenor Alexander Canovas of Bethlehem, NY, sings Box in Cox and Box and has been featured with the Ithaca College Opera, Johanna Meier Opera Theater Institute, and Opera Cowpokes. Canovas has worked with Brian DeMaris, David Lefkowich, Thomas Bagwell, and Elizabeth Hastings, among other artists. He has performed roles from a diverse repertoire, including Orfeo from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, The Vain Man from Portman’s The Little Prince, and Monostatos from Die Zauberflöte.
· Bass baritone Jeffrey Martin of Frederick, MD, is singing both Sam in Trouble in Tahiti and Bouncer in Cox and Box. He will begin his second year in the master’s program at Peabody Conservatory come September. He just finished playing his first Osmin with HHOT in June for the outreach production of Abduction from the Seraglio, and will debut his Leporello in Don Giovanni with Peabody Opera Theater at the Lyric Baltimore this fall.
· Baritone Joshua Gurwitz, who is singing Cox in Cox and Box, is a student at State University of New York at Albany majoring in general mathematics and music. He is currently studying with mezzo-soprano Frances Wittmann.
- Tenor Juan Ahumada. Jr. is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Performing Arts Management along with a Certificate in International Business, Culture, and Language. This summer he will make his debut as Pedrillo in Hubbard Hall Opera Theater’s production of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail in June. Juan has performed with UNI Opera Ensemble, most recently as Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Alfred in J.Strauss’s Die Fledermaus, and in concert as Il Duca (Verdi’s Rigoletto). Juan has been a First Place Winner in multiple divisions of the Iowa NATS competition, a First Place Winner of the Quad-Cities Opera Competition, the Bill Riley Talent competition of the Iowa State Fair, as well as being recognized by the Donna Reed Foundation. Juan currently studies with Dr. Jean McDonald.
- A long-time member of the Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall, Director Jason Dolmetsch, who sings the baritone part in the Trouble in Tahiti Trio, boasts an extensive acting resume and was honored by the Berkshire Gazette as one of the top ten regional stage actors for 2010. He makes his straight theater directing debut in 2013 with Healey’s The Drawer Boy.
Trained in classical voice, the multi-talented Dolmetsch finds particular satisfaction in working with young singers and has brought together several of HHOT’s critically acclaimned touring outreach productions including La Boheme, The Medium, and Abduction from the Seraglio. Because of his technological and carpentry skills and his innate sensitivity to the needs of the director and cast, Dolmetsch is much in demand as a production consultant and has been the in-house set and lighting designer for HHOT since 2005. In addition to the touring operas he has directed, he has also designed both lighting and set for Cosi fan tutte, La Tragedie de Carmen, Hansel and Gretel, and Dido and Aeneas. In his free time, Dolmetsch runs MSK Engineering, a successful Vermont-based civil firm.
- Musical Director and pianist Elizabeth Bonomo is active in recital, chamber music, and opera. As rehearsal pianist and coach, Bonomo has worked with the Tanglewood Institute, Hot Springs Music Festival, International Vocal Arts Instititute, and Opera for Humanity. She has been presented in song recitals and vocal chamber music concerts with the Austrian American Society, Boston Public Library, Boston University Opera Institute, The [Plain] Song, Brookline Public Library, and the Baldwin School. Bonomo earned a Bachelor of Music degree from The Eastman School of Music and is currently pursuing her Master’s degree at the Manhattan School of Music, under the tutelage of Zenon Fishbein.
Founded in 2008 by Jones, HHOT recently was named a semi-finalist to receive The American Prize for Opera Performance, Community Division, for its 2011 production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale. HHOT has presented three other critically acclaimed productions with orchestra, Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte (2008); Bizet/Brooks’s La Tragedie de Carmen (2009); and Humperdink’s Hansel and Gretel (2010). The upcoming season includes Guerilla Opera’s Heart of a Dog in September with chamber orchestra, a traveling La Boheme production in October with piano, and a February 2013 orchestra production of Verdi’s La Traviata in the GE Theater at Proctor’s.
Building off of the rich tradition of arts in the Cambridge Valley, HHOT seeks to bring yet another element of culture to an already bustling center. Its mission is to provide classically trained singers and instrumentalists in New England and upstate New York greater opportunities to create something beautiful close to home, while also giving rural audiences the chance to enjoy an opera without having to spend the night in a city to do so. Through the Select Conservatory, HHOT also provides young artists with the chance to perform key roles in a nurturing environment alongside experienced field professionals.
Hubbard Hall Opera Theater
Select Conservatory Program
Cox and Box Homepage
Trouble in Tahiti