This concert version of Porgy and Bess is a very important event,but it does bring to mind the smoldering issue of racism, which I address in these first few paragraphs. If you would prefer not to be reminded how uneven the playing field is, skip down to the advance story on the concert itself.
Women and minorities are still under-represented in America’s symphony orchestras. Though to be fair – especially considering how slowly such institutions and their benefactors change – the Boston Symphony Orchestra (BSO) has made great strides. 75 years ago all the players were pretty much white men, except for the harp and flute which were the exceptions for women, and eventually the strings.
I was in the BSO’s promotion office in 1978 when the only thing we had to brag about was Ann Hobson Pilot who was named Principal Harpist in 1980. There was a campaign to oust Seiji Ozawa among some members of the critical community who felt he wasn’t sufficiently European to understand the great composers. It wasn’t easy changing things back then, and unfortunately, it is still a struggle today. And just as opportunities are opening up, the funding for music training in America’s schools continues to dwindle and dry up. How can minorities be better represented when the ladder for their training was pulled up years ago. The saddest part is that the lack of musical education in the schools is undermining the audience for classical music – and jazz! – as music becomes just another commodity to be sold at a profit.
Only in recent decades have we seen women in the brass and percussion sections. Women and conductors in the darker shades were still a rarity until the BSO recently selected the gifted Thomas Wilkins as one of its conductors. He led the Great American Songbook concert on Labor Day weekend at Tanglewood. The BSO is the first major orchestra in America to have a black conductor, though one wonders why he was not chosen to lead this Porgy and Bess. Perhaps it is the fact that the Gershwin’s music is universal, though in that case, why an all-black cast of singers. Thoughts to ponder while enjoying this exceptional series of concerts.
The BSO was among the first orchestras to dare to break the taboo on Euro-centric conductors when it hired the wonderful Seiji Ozama as its music director back in the 1970′s. I mention all these things because of the disconnect of an all black cast to sing, an almost all white orchestra to play. Could racism and sexism still be at work, perhaps subliminally? I read -not too long ago – a debate over whether women violinists had the ability to play, say, a Beethoven andante with the same force and understanding of a man. But I have played in a string section, and there is just so much force you can use with your bow until the sound produced gets ugly.
Of course, the focus of any discussion should be on the ultimate music produced, regardless of who plays. We’ll leave the rest of this discussion for another time.
This Porgy and Bess promises to be as exciting as its earlier incarnation at Tanglewood in 2011.
Here is the whole story from the BSO:
ENGLISH CONDUCTOR BRAMWELL TOVEY LEADS CONCERT PERFORMANCES
OF GERSHWIN’S PORGY AND BESS SEPTEMBER 27-29, 2012
Performances to take place Thursday, September 27, Friday, September 28,
and Saturday, September 29, at 8 p.m.
Reprising one of the highlights of Tanglewood 2011, English conductor Bramwell Tovey, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, a distinguished cast of soloists, and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus present three performances September 27–29 of George Gershwin’s great American masterpiece, the blues-and-jazz-inflected Porgy and Bess, a view of African-American life in the South Carolina fishing community of Catfish Row during the 1920s. The cast for these concert performances is headlined by Alfred Walker and Laquita Mitchell in the title roles and also includes sopranos Alison Buchanan, Angel Blue, and Marquita Lister; mezzo-soprano Krysty Swann; contralto Gwendolyn Brown; tenors Calvin Lee, Jermaine Smith, andChauncey Packer; and baritones Gregg Baker, Patrick Blackwell, John Fulton, Robert Honeysucker, andLeon Williams.
Described by Gershwin as an “American folk opera,” Porgy and Bess is the story of a crippled beggar who lives in the slums of Charleston, South Carolina. After meeting Bess, the girlfriend of a dishonest and violent dock worker, Porgy gets caught up in a web of drugs, murder, and—most dangerous of all—love as he and his fellow men (and women) struggle to endure an existence filled with social, emotional, and existential hardship. Though its plot is dark, Porgy and Bess is ultimately a profound and inspiring tale of the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity.
The show, which made history by presenting an entirely African-American cast, premiered on Broadway in 1935 to popular acclaim, but only slowly gained traction in the traditional world of opera—not least because of the hybrid nature of the music, which combines classical, jazz, folk, and African-American spiritual idioms in a structure that is part opera, part operetta, and part musical theater. The score, with lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin, contains some of Gershwin’s greatest and most popular songs— including “Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “Bess, You Is My Woman Now,” “I Loves You Porgy,” and “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin”—and, three-quarters of a century after it first appeared, has finally assumed its rightful place among the greatest works of American music.
A musician of striking versatility, GRAMMY® Award-winning conductor Bramwell Tovey is acknowledged around the world for his artistic depth and his warm, charismatic personality on the podium. Tovey’s career as a conductor is uniquely enhanced by his work as a composer and pianist, lending him a remarkable musical perspective. His tenures as music director with the Vancouver Symphony, Luxembourg Philharmonic, and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestras have been characterized by his expertise in operatic, choral, British, and contemporary repertoire. Mr. Tovey who is entering his twelfth season as Music Director of the Vancouver Symphony, also continues as Principal Guest Conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, and as founding host and conductor of the New York Philharmonic’s Summertime Classics series at Avery Fisher Hall. An esteemed guest conductor, Mr. Tovey has worked with orchestras in the United States and Europe including the London Philharmonic, London Symphony, and Frankfurt Radio Orchestra. In North America, Mr. Tovey has made guest appearances with the orchestras of Baltimore, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Seattle, and Montreal as well as ongoing performances with Toronto, where his trumpet concerto, commissioned by that orchestra, received its premiere in winter of 2009 as a preview of his first full-length opera, The Inventor, which was premiered in Calgary in winter 2011.
Gaining rapid international and national acclaim for his commanding performances, bass-baritone Alfred Walker sings his first American performances of the title role of Der fliegende Holländer with Boston Lyric Opera and joins the roster of the Teatro alla Scala for its production of the same work in the 2012-13 season. He returns to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for Verdi’s Requiem in addition to the Metropolitan Opera for Il trovatore and Don Giovanni. Mr. Walker recently triumphed in the title role of Der fliegende Holländer at Theater Basel and returned to that company for his first performances as Amfortas in Parsifal and as Amonasro in Aida. Other recent performances include Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde at Angers Nantes Opera and Opéra de Dijon, Creonte in Medea with Opéra national de Lorraine in Nancy, and Il Prologo in Gnecchi’s Cassandra with Deutsche Oper Berlin. His celebrated characterization of Orest in Elektra has been seen at Teatro alla Scala, Seattle Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, and Spain’s San Sebastián Festival, and he received great acclaim for performances of Allazim in the Peter Sellars’ production of Zaide at the Festival d’Aix en Provence, Wiener Festwochen, London’s Barbican Center, and Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival. A graduate of Dillard University, Loyola University, and the Metropolitan Opera Lindemann Young Artist Program, the New Orleans native is the recipient of awards from the George London Foundation, Palm Beach Opera Competition, Houston Opera Studio’s Eleanor McCollum Competition, and the Sullivan Foundation career grant.
Soprano Laquita Mitchell consistently earns acclaim in eminent opera companies throughout North America and Europe. Already in her young career, she has appeared with the Los Angeles Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, Washington National Opera, and Opéra-Comique in Paris, among many others. Recent engagements include the role of Sharon in Terrance McNally’s Master Class at the Kennedy Center; her Atlanta Opera debut as Bess in Porgy and Bess; her Lyric Opera of Chicago debut as Clara in Porgy and Bess; Musetta in La Bohème in a return to the Los Angeles Opera; Mimì in La Bohème at the Utah Symphony and Opera; Leonora in Il trovatore with Nashville Opera; Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with Florentine Opera, Portland Opera, and Opera New Jersey; Micaëla in Carmen with New York City Opera and the former Opera Pacific; Bess in Porgy and Bess at San Francisco Opera and New Jersey State Opera; and Clara in Porgy and Bess with Los Angeles Opera, Washington National Opera, Opéra Comique in Paris, and on tour in Caen and Granada, Spain. Ms. Mitchell completed her master of music degree and the Professional Studies Certificate at the Manhattan School of Music, and also completed undergraduate studies at Westminster Choir College.
Originally from Bedford, England, soprano Alison Buchanan graduated from the Guildhall School of Music, where she won the Maggie Teyte Competition in 1991; she gave a recital at the Royal Opera House as part of the prize. She also received a Wingate Scholarship and a Countess of Munster award enabling her to study for her master’s degree at the Curtis Institute. Recent engagements include her role debut as Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxoswith Birmingham Opera Company and Opera Du Monde; her Carnegie Hall debut as soprano soloist in Mozart’sRequiem, and Nedda in I Pagliacci with Pegasus and English Touring Opera. Ms. Buchanan sang a concert performance of Peter Grimes with Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra at the London Barbican and Avery Fisher Hall and, in the spring of 2004, made her Michigan Opera Theatre debut as First Lady in Die Zauberflöte. She made her New York City Opera debut in 2002, performing the role of Bess in Porgy and Bess. She has since sung the role with Mobile Opera and again with Delaware Opera. She has also performed as the soprano soloist in concert versions of Porgy and Bess with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marin Alsop, and will be performing in a similar concert with the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra.
American soprano Angel Blue received a master of music degree in opera performance from UCLA and a bachelor of music from the University of Redlands in Redlands, California. In the 2008-09 season, she made her debut with San Francisco Opera as Clara in Porgy and Bess, was soloist with the Valdosta Symphony in Valdosta, Georgia, in Honegger’s King David, and performed with the Korean Symphony Orchestra Germany in Seoul and Busan. She has also sung with the Riverside Philharmonic, the Adrian Symphony in Adrian, Michigan, Giro Italia tour under Alberto Zedda throughout Italy, the Madrilenos por Haiti concert with La Orquesta Clasica de Espana in Madrid, a gala evening with Thomas Hampson in Budapest, and at the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia as Micaëla in Carmen led by Zubin Mehta.
International opera star Marquita Lister has earned worldwide critical praise for the past two decades. Her repertoire includes the works of Verdi, Puccini, Gershwin, and Strauss, and she has been heard in the most prestigious opera houses, including San Francisco, Houston, Montreal, Buenos Aires, Berlin, Paris, and La Scala. She has sung many of opera’s most coveted roles, including Aida, Salome, Tosca, and Lady Macbeth, and her performance as Bessin New York City Opera’s Emmy-nominated production of Porgy and Bess earned her the company’s NYCO Diva Award. She was Salome at the Strauss 100th Anniversary performances at Dresden’s Semperoper, an unprecedented honor for an African-American soprano. Other roles include Alice Ford in Falstaff at the Portland Opera, Salome in Austin, Liu in Turandot in Baltimore and Tosca in Vancouver. Ms. Lister has appeared in television productions with the Boston Pops and the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as well as on PBS’s Live from Lincoln Center. She has recorded George Gershwin’s Blue Monday and excerpts from Porgy and Bess for Telarc Records with the Cincinnati Pops, and can be heard on the Albany Records recording of Edward Knight’s Where the Sunsets Bleed. In 2006, she recorded the critically acclaimed Porgy and Bess CD for Decca Records. An alumna of the New England Conservatory and the Tanglewood Music Center, she made her BSO debut as Serena inPorgy and Bess at Tanglewood in 2011.
Mezzo-soprano Krysty Swann is the recipient of the New York City Opera 2009 Richard F. Gold Career Grant and the 2008 Intermezzo Foundation Award, given by the prestigious Elardo International Opera Competition. In the 2010-11 season, Ms. Swann performed Handel’s Messiah with the Rochester Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the role of Lola in Cavalleria rusticanawith the Opera Orchestra of New York conducted by Alberto Veronisi. She also covered Schwerleite in Die Walküre with the Metropolitan Opera, and participated in the Bregenz Festival in Austria. Ms. Swann appeared as Emilia in Kurt Weill and Ira Gershwin’s The Firebrand of Florence with the Collegiate Chorale conducted by Ted Sperling and an opera gala concert with Springfield Symphony Orchestra. Ms. Swan participated in various outreach programs with New York City Opera and returned to the New York City Opera as Suzuki inMadama Butterfly.
In 2010, for the 75th Anniversary of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, contralto Gwendolyn Brown performed her highly acclaimed signature role of Maria in the Francesca Zambello production for Washington National Opera, Grand Rapids Opera, and with PAB Productions (Michael Capasso, producer).She has performed the role with BB Productions in Germany, New Orleans Opera, Seattle Opera, and in Amsterdam and Brussels. Critically acclaimed for her work in opera, concert and symphonic works, Ms. Brown has performed such roles as Baba in The Medium, The Mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors, Fricka in Das Rheingold, Kabanicha inKátya Kabanová, and Filippyevna in Eugene Onegin. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Gwendolyn Brown obtained her bachelor of arts in music at Fisk University, in Nashville, TN, and pursued her master’s degree in vocal performance at the University of Memphis. Ms. Brown’s awards include regional winner with the Metropolitan Opera Council in Memphis; finalist with the Metropolitan Opera Council for the Central Region in Chicago; finalist for the Altamura/Caruso International Voice Competition Study Grants, semi-finalist for the New York Oratorio Society Solo Auditions, and awards from Classical Singer Magazine and the National Opera Association.
Tenor Calvin Lee has performed internationally with distinguished opera companies, including performances at Teatro alla Scala (Milan) with the Houston Grand Opera’s international tour of Porgy and Bess, National Opera de Paris, Bunkamura Theater (Japan), Teatro Real (Madrid), Theater Des Westens (Berlin), Paris Opéra Comique, Théâtre de Caen, Opéra Luxembourg, and the Granada Festival (Spain). He also sung Normanno in Lucia di Lammermoor with Opera Naples. In the United States Mr. Lee has performed at New Jersey State Opera, The Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, San Francisco Opera, Arkansas Symphony, Atlanta Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, and with regional companies throughout the country. His diverse repertoire includes operas of Strauss, Verdi, Wagner, and Puccini, as well as the four servants in Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Monostatos in Die Zauberflöte, Don Ottavio Don Giovanni, Beppe in Pagliacci, King Kaspar in Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Remus inTreemonisha. Mr. Lee holds advanced degrees from Conservatorio di Trento (Italy), New World School of the Arts (Miami, FL), and North Carolina School of the Arts.
Tenor Jermaine Smith is closely associated with the role of Sporting Life in Porgy and Bess, which recently served as his debut at Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Italy, Seattle Opera, and Tanglewood with the BSO, in addition to a concert performance at the Hollywood Bowl and in productions of the opera by Lyric Opera of Chicago and as part of Cape Town Opera’s guest engagement at the newly opened opera house in Oslo, Norway.. He has also performed the role in Japan, Germany, Sweden, Austria, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Sicily, the Canary Islands and in this country at Union Ave Opera, Opera Pacific, and in Francesca Zambello’s production at both Washington National Opera and Los Angeles Opera. Most recently he has brought his portrayal to Paris’s Opéra-Comique, the Theatre de Caen, the Granada Festival, the Opera de Luxembourg, and the Santa Fe Symphony. His other operatic repertoire includes the title role inJoshua’s Boots, Henry Davis in Street Scene, and Zodzetrick in Treemonisha. He has made many appearances with the St. Louis Symphony. Mr. Smith is an alumnus of the New England Conservatory of Music and a faculty member of Harris-Stowe State University.
American tenor Chauncey Packer is an exciting talent on the stages of opera houses in Europe and the United States. In recent years, Mr. Packer has performed the roles of Steuermann in Der fliegende Höllander with New Orleans Opera, Amon in Akhnaten with Atlanta Opera, and Alfredo in La traviata with the Pensacola Opera. He is also highly in demand for his portrayal of Sportin’ Life inPorgy and Bess; he recently made his San Francisco Opera debut in that role to rave reviews, and has performed the role with Opera Birmingham, Mobile Opera, Opera Grand Rapid, Pensacola Opera, Tulsa Opera, and in Europe with the Munich-based New York Harlem Productions tour. He has performed Porgy and Bess in Japan and toured with Opéra Comique performing Mingo and covering Sportin’ Life in Paris, Caen, Granada and Luxembourg. He is featured on the Porgy and Bess recording conducted by John Mauceri with Nashville Symphony, released in 2006 on Decca. The tenor is featured on New World Record’s Treemonisharecording in the role of Remus with Paragon Ragtime Orchestra. Originally from southern Alabama, Mr. Parker he received his undergraduate degree from University of Mobile and his master’s degree in music from University of New Orleans.
Baritone Gregg Baker made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1985 and has since performed leading roles with the major opera companies of Vienna, Verona, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Vancouver, and Baden-Baden, as well as with Michigan Opera Theatre, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Scottish National Opera, the Glyndebourne Festival, and many others. Mr. Baker has made significant debuts in recent seasons in the title roles in Verdi’s Macbeth and Rigoletto, to great critical acclaim. As a successful veteran of Broadway and a Lawrence Oliver Award nominee, Mr. Baker discovered his gift for and love of opera while performing the role of Crown in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. The Metropolitan Opera heard his performance in the Radio City Music Hall production and engaged him immediately for their production of the opera. He has performed at the MET numerous times since. Mr. Baker appeared in New Jersey State Opera’s Porgy and Bess production as Porgy. He performed Porgy and Bess with the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood in summer 2011.
Active in opera, oratorio and musical theater, bass-baritone Patrick Blackwell made two important concert debuts in summer 2011: under Lorin Maazel at the Castleton Festival, singing Porgy in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and the second in the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s rendition of Porgy and Bess under Bramwell Tovey at Tanglewood. He recently performed as Porgy in a full-scale production in St. Louis and also on tour in Europe. Mr. Blackwell’s 2011-12 season included performances as Tom in Un ballo in maschera inhis New Orleans Opera debut and a return to Fresno Grand Opera as Joe in Show Boat. Mr. Blackwell has also performed with the Lyric Opera of Chicago, New York City Opera, and Chamber Opera Chicago, among numerous others. Mr. Blackwell made his Carnegie Hall debut as the bass soloist in the world premiere of Earnestine Rogers Robinson’s Crucifixion. In addition to performing works by Mozart at the Arts Festival in North Korea, he has sung Fauré’s Requiem with the Fresno Philharmonic and the role of Osride in Rossini’s Mosé in Egittowith the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at New York’s Lincoln Center. Mr. Blackwell trained and studies with Enrico DiGuiseppe at the Juilliard School.
Hailing from Charlotte, North Carolina, baritone John Fulton has performed with Arizona Opera, Tulsa Opera, Opera Colorado, and Berkshire Opera, among others. This season brings his Berlin Philharmonic debut in a concert version of Porgy and Bessunder Sir Simon Rattle. Mr. Fulton has also performed Gershwin’s masterpiece under Lorin Maazel as part of the Castleton Festival and with the Boston Symphony under Bramwell Tovey at Tanglewood in August 2011. During the 2007-08 season, he debuted as a member of the New York Harlem Productions Inc. touring production of Porgy and Bess. With this company Mr. Fulton has performed the roles of Jake, Crown, and Jim in opera houses across Europe. Mr. Fulton was awarded the Richard F. Gold Career Grant and the Apprentice Artist Award at Central City and won the prestigious Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Wolf Lieder Competition. He studied voice with the Mark Oswald and his primary vocal coaches are Kathleen Kelly and Mark Trawka. Mr. Fulton attended UNC Greensboro before earning his master’s degree at the Eastman School of Music and his professional studies degree at Manhattan School of Music.
Baritone Robert Honeysucker is recognized internationally for his brilliant opera, concert and recital performances. Honored as 1995 “Musician of the Year” byBoston Globe critic Richard Dyer, Mr. Honeysucker and has also been a winner of the National Opera Association Artists Competition and a recipient of the New England Opera Club Jacopo Peri Award. Mr. Honeysucker has enjoyed many performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, including performing as bass soloist in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in celebration of Seiji Ozawa’s twenty-fifth season as music director, as well as in a concert performance of Beethoven’sFidelio ledby James Levine. He was the baritone soloist in the BSO’s performances of Wynton Marsalis’s All Rise under Kurt Masur at Symphony Hall and at Tanglewood, and has sung Copland’s Old American Songs led by Marin Alsop. In August 2011, Mr. Honeysucker joined the cast ofPorgy and Bess in the Boston Symphony’s Tanglewood performance. Among his many appearances with the Boston Pops are the Fourth of July concerts on the Esplanade under both John Williams and Keith Lockhart. Robert Honeysucker is a member of the voice faculties at the Boston Conservatory, New England Conservatory Extension School, and the Longy School of Music.
American baritone Leon Williams is well-versed in popular standards and show tunes as well as the classical literature. He has appeared on Broadway and on tour in the musical Ragtime, and has performed Christmas concerts with the Grand Rapids Symphony and a New Year’s Eve program with the Westfield Symphony. He is especially sought after for such repertoire as Mendelssohn’s Elijah, which he has performed with the Honolulu Symphony and Florida Orchestra, and Orff’sCarmina burana, which he performed with the Florida Orchestra, as well as the Baltimore, Reading, Alabama, Westchester, Grand Rapids, Jacksonville, Hartford, and Colorado symphonies, National Philharmonic, and the Berkshire Choral Festival). A much-in-demand Porgy and Bess principal, Leon Williams has sang Porgy under the direction of Yuri Temirkanov in St. Petersburg; Sportin’ Life with Markand Thakar and the Duluth-Superior Symphony, and Jake with the Boston Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic, as well as at Dallas Opera. Mr. Williams has won top prizes in the Naumburg, Joy-in-Singing, and Lola Wilson Hayes Competitions.
TICKET, SPONSORSHIP, AND OTHER PATRON INFORMATION
Subscriptions for the BSO’s 2012-13 season are available by calling the BSO Subscription Office at 888-266-7575 or online through the BSO’s website (www.bso.org). Single tickets are priced from $30 to $123. Regular-season Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings are priced from $31 to $113; Friday afternoons are priced from $30 to $108; concerts on Friday and Saturday evenings are priced from $33 to $123. Tickets may be purchased by phone through SymphonyCharge (617-266-1200 or888-266-1200), online through the BSO’s website (www.bso.org), or in person at the Symphony Hall Box Office (301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston). There is a $6.25 service fee for all tickets purchased online or by phone through SymphonyCharge.
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