BOC Alumni Profile: Rachele Schmiege

Rachele Schmiege_0101This month’s feature interview is one of BOC’s illustrious alumni, soprano Rachele Schmiege. A graduate of New England Conservatory and a BOC Member for 5 years, Rachele propelled herself into a career of singing numerous roles all over the country, as well as with many New England regional companies.

We talked to Rachele about the challenges and joys of a life of a singer balancing gigs, day-jobs, traveling and much more! Find out more about Rachele on her website:

What job did you have when you were in BOC? (i.e. – committee, team, staff, etc.)

I had numerous jobs while I was in BOC: Christina English and I were membership Co-Chairs for a while, then I was on the special events team and later I became the Special Events Chair.

What roles did you have with BOC? Which one was your favorite?

I was in the inaugural production of Iphigénie en Aulide as the Goddess Diana. Other roles included: Queen of the Night in the Magic Flute, Beth in Little Women and Frasquita in Carmen, Voluptua in Pizza con Funghi and Blanche in Dialogue of the Carmelites.

Rachele backstage with some of the BOC Carmen cast, 2009. From left to right: Jean Paul Putney, Kristina Riegle, Michael Sakir, Brooke Larimer, Brendan Buckley, Rachele Schmiege
Rachele backstage with some of the BOC Carmen cast, 2009. From left to right: John Paul Putney, Kristina Riegle, Michael Sakir, Brooke Larimer, Brendan Buckley, Rachele Schmiege
BOC Little Women 2
Rachele performing the role of “Beth” in Little Women, next to other BOC alumni Beth Lytwynec.

What’s something that you wish you would’ve known about a singing career when you were leaving graduate school?  In other words – what DON’T the conservatories tell you?

At the time, New England Conservatory did not have any entrepreneurship classes. I’m pretty sure about half my graduating class believed that they were going to graduate and step right into a Young Artist Program, The Metropolitan Opera or a busy singing career. As great as this would have been, this is not the reality of classical singing: there is a lot of hustle, a lot of “thinking outside the box,” and a lot of hard work and heartache. I had to learn these lessons as I went along and sometimes they were hard lessons. I’m happy to report that NEC now has a great Entrepreneurship Program and I volunteer as a mentor to help guide young singers.

There’s a lot of debate going around about YAP’s and their function as catalysts for young artists into careers. What’s your take on this, and did you find the YAP’s you participated in a worthwhile experience?

I was fortunate enough to have a few different Young Artist experiences that have shaped my current musical career. They provided contacts, experiences and useful tools to fill the void between graduate school and a singing career. I think that the right program can really help a young career move forward, but some can really burn a singer out. I have known talented colleagues that have been used and abused by these programs. Do your research and talk to colleagues to find out which might be the best fit for you! Also, Young Artist programs are not the only way to start a career: get inventive and make opportunities if you find that this road is proving to be challenging.

Do you have a dream role?  Have you sung it yet?  If yes, what’s a role that you haven’t sung that you can’t wait to sing?

Rachele performing her dream role in La Traviata at Hubbard Hall Opera
Rachele performing her dream role in La Traviata at Hubbard Hall Opera

About two years ago, I closed La Traviata with Hubbard Hall Opera with an amazing sense of accomplishment and dread. I had just premiered my dream role… what next? Since then, I have created a larger list of dream roles, but I also want to perform La Traviata again. Once you fall that deeply in love with a role, there is an intense need to do it again. I can’t wait until the next time!

What kind of music do you listen to beyond opera and classical?  Do you have a favorite band or artist?

I listen to everything! I love pop, club, country, disco, golden oldies… you name it, I will probably listen to it. I do love opera, but often my ears need a break and a simpler chord progression.

What’s your favorite piece of music (opera, song, theater or otherwise) and why?

Verdi’s Requiem … do I really need to explain why? Its glorious!!! Grab your drink of choice and really listen to the piece. I discover something new every time I sing or listen to this piece.

On singing careers – Do you think the nature of making a career of singing in opera is changing?  If so, how do you think the experience of BOC can help a young singer prepare for their next stage?

When I was in BOC, there was a great sense of team work. I know that my experience in BOC as the Special Events chair helped me to land my first day job… and let’s face it, we all need help paying the bills between and during gigs. Sadly, making a living as a singer is a hard road and very few singers can make this their sole job. I know singers that are singing at the best houses in our country and also working at law offices, yoga studios and marketing firms. BOC taught me valuable skills: how to solicit companies for goods and services, work with donors and confidential information, teamwork and running a committee. Paying the bills is not really optional… Having a correlating career is often necessary and developing your tool box of skills will not only help you in your opera career, but help you everywhere in life.

On opera as an art form – How do you think opera is evolving and changing with the times?  Or do you think it’s staying the same?  Do you prefer opera to be reinvented or remain the same?

I think companies have to evolve and reinvent to keep their doors open. Gone are the days of resting on laurels and assuming that the company process is “good enough.” PR and Marketing is key and social media is not an option. The one thing that should stay the same is the quality and the standard of productions: great singers telling a worthwhile story. Personally, I love a good show: reinvent it, keep it traditional, set it in Vegas… As long as it makes sense, I see nothing wrong with it.

What are some of the sacrifices you’ve had to make in order to be a successful singer?

I would not call them “sacrifices” per se, but I have made choices to advance my career that have taken me away from family, friends, vacations and life events.  On the other hand I have also made choices not to advance my career by turning down gigs that have not paid enough that were a “great opportunity” or took me away from home for too long.  The key to this career is balance and making decisions that are right for you in the moment and at that stage in your career.  Sometimes there is regret, but you can’t beat yourself up over the things that “might” have happened.

What’s next for you?

I have a very exciting 2015-2016 season! This year I am revisiting favorites, playing a fairy tale princess, reuniting with favorite colleagues, returning to opera companies and making company debuts! Stay tuned and find updates on my website at:

Sing it Rachele!
Sing it Rachele!

16 Tips for Singers on Moving to a New City

My dear blog readers,

First and foremost, I apologize that I haven’t posted in some time; it’s been a crazy few months with a wedding (Yay I’m Married!) and now… very sadly, a move.  This will be my final post as your blog editor but I have decided to use this opportunity to tell you about my experience so far in relocating as an emerging professional.

Sadie Gregg, former head of marketing and PR, has also recently moved all the way to Portland, OR.  Sadie and I are known for writing viral Buzzfeed articles… and that is the format we have chosen for today’s post.

1. Make a list of pros and cons before you move.  Make sure you know what you’re getting yourself into and that you’ve really thought it through. 


2. But also accept the fact that you’ll never actually know if this is the right decision.  Even if you’ve made literally hundreds of pros and cons lists (see #1)


3. If you’re actually excited to move, ride that wave out, man.  Because, it turns out, the actual process of moving sucks no matter if you’re excited or bummed.  You’re all like, “YAY I just packed the kitchen.  Oh wait, I still have like… 9,436,843 more things to pack…” 


4.Start cold emailing people pretty much every day of your life until you land some gigs.  And know that some of those gigs might be a little questionable. 


5. Start searching for your new day job BEFORE you move.  Because job searching  is never going to be fun.


6. If you’re moving to your hometown, anticipate all of your friends saying this very phrase simultaneously “OMG LET’S HANG OUT LIKE ALL THE TIME” 


7. Pack to make sure that you know EXACTLY where all your music is.  You know, just in case one of those cold emails lands you a gig where you have to sing a bunch of obscure music that you haven’t actually learned but are certain you have it in one of your hundreds of music books but is invariably packed away in some indiscriminate box for the rest of eternity…AKA you’re never finding it ever again unless you have a card catalog for your moving boxes.   


8. Take this opportunity to go through your music.  Get rid of old crappy copies that you’ve made.  Start over new.  A move is a perfect opportunity purge.  Out with the old and in with the new!


9. There is a chance that you’ll make some pretty good connections right away.  People will offer you gigs without even hearing you sing.  Kind of cool that all that hard work you’ve put into making your résumé beautiful has actually paid off, am I right? 


10.  Take on the attitude of “everything’s going to be okay” even if you don’t know that.  Go confidently in whatever direction you decide because sometimes, that’s all you can do. 


11. If you happen to be moving with a spouse or partner, ALWAYS discuss whether this move is good for BOTH of you.  Even if they’re not a musician, these discussions must happen.  Moving is a big deal.  


12. Sometimes your job makes you an offer that is really hard to refuse even though you’ve already made up your mind about the move.  If you really like your job, this is one of the hardest things ever.  If you don’t, well… 


13. One of the hardest parts about moving as a singer is saying goodbye to your voice teacher.  No way around this. 

14. And saying goodbye to your friends is probably just as hard.  But, look at the bright side, you have friends to stay with when you visit!  


15. Some unrelated and rather interesting information; make sure your landlord has put your security deposit and last month’s rent in an interest bearing account before you vacate.  And ensure that your next landlord does the same thing.  People are greedy and seedy and not very nice sometimes.  Don’t find that out the hard way (like I did…)


16. Last but not least, don’t forget to thank the people you’ve worked with… either in person, over the phone, drop them a note, send them smoke signals, whichever format you choose… just make sure that people know you value the time they have devoted to you and your development.  

On that note, thank you, Boston Opera Collaborative, for all of your time, your beautiful art, and for helping me to become a better musician.  I will miss you all dearly but look forward to when we are reunited.  This isn’t goodbye… it’s just see you later.

Truly yours,

Lawren and Sadie


Whatever the Music May be Worth: An interview with Ned Rorem



I recently had the privilege and pleasure of speaking with Mr. Ned Rorem.  As soon as I got word that we would be speaking, I very frantically began to devour any and every interview, article, program note, and Wikipedia article that I could find to learn what I could about him.  The more I read, the more I gleaned of what I might expect when speaking to Ned.  Ned comes off as a confident, honest, opinionated, and fiercely loyal man.  In his repertoire are hundreds of songs, 7 operas (12 if you count each of the Fables individually), 3 symphonies, and a vast number of orchestral, chamber, and choral pieces.  As someone who is just barely emerging as a professional musician, you can imagine how intimidated I was in preparing for this call.

The day of the interview arrived.  I was a pile of nerves.  I had a million doubts and worries; what if my questions weren’t good enough?  What if he didn’t like me?  What if I sounded stupid or uninformed?  As the clock ticked closer to 5:15, when our call was scheduled, one of my coworkers offered me a beer.  I gratefully accepted in hopes that it would help to calm my nerves.  I cautiously dialed his number (I still can’t believe I have Ned Rorem’s phone number) and as we spoke, I realized I didn’t need anything to calm my nerves. Ned was so kind and earnest.  As my anxiety melted away, I was left with a sense of wonder and awe of a man I have admired for many years.  My questions are italicized, while Ned’s responses are in bold.


Our Town is a classic in the repertoire of American literature and plays.  What drew you to this piece as material for your wildly successful opera?

Interestingly, it’s very attractive.  I’m not the first person to want to do it.  Aaron Copland did the music for the movie.  I wouldn’t even have done it if I hadn’t gotten the rights.  A lot of composers have wanted to do it.  It’s such a well known play, whatever the music may be worth.


In an interview with J.D McClathy from 1999, you said that “music is the most abstract of the arts, painting the most concrete.”  With this attitude, I wondered what your experience was in collaborating with McClatchy?  What did you want to bring out most in the text?  

I just wanted to clarify the text as I have.  Any changes I made to the libretto were done long before.  I wanted to write a listenable text, whatever the music may be worth.


You have written 7 operas, but you have said that song is your preferred medium in writing for the voice.  Our Town is certainly a landmark for modern American opera (and one of the most beautiful, in my opinion).   Why do you prefer song to opera? What has drawn you to both?

It used to be so.  I’m the only person in America for years that was even writing song and in those days, there were still singers [performing song].  I can’t even think of one composer in present day that specializes in song.  I also like writing in my own language.  It’s very funny that Americans would take a text in any language but their own (God knows Americans are full of themselves).  Virgil Thomson has written, in his native tongue, some pretty good operas.



You’ve given Boston Opera Collaborative your permission to change the role of the Stage Manager from a tenor to a soprano.  Is there a reason for your flexibility?  Do you view your work as evolving even still or do you feel it’s more concrete?

I’m not much against it.  I think that music is music.  I don’t see why Tosca can’t be done by a man.  Once I’ve written a piece, I forget about it.  I’m just pleased that my music is played.


You have said that you hope to be remembered for your piece, “Aftermath”.  You held fast to your pacifist beliefs in the wake of 9/11.  Are you writing anything in reaction to the current events?  ISIS?  Ferguson and now, Baltimore?

No, I’m not.  I’m not writing anything.  I’ve more or less said everything I’ve had to say.  I don’t think that music necessarily politically influences the world.  I’m trying to think of a piece that is very powerful and has influence on the world and I can’t.  I don’t think that in times of war that you have to write about lilies of the valley.  Right now, I’m not doing anything.  I’m only writing right now on commissions. 



I often have difficulty justifying my continued pursuit of music.  As someone who has been wildly successful in this field, what advice would you give to an emerging artist/professional?  What made you continue?

Money and performances.  I think there’s something tragic about someone who just writes a piece for the the hell of it.  I think you should have something in mind- a performance in mind.  I think it’s insane to just write something.  Nobody is writing songs any more.  I can’t think of any singers who specialize in the singing of songs.  Plus when American singers give recitals, they sing in every language but their own.  


You have said that you feel like you may have said everything you have ever wanted to say, as an author and as a composer.  Is there anything you wished you had written more of?  Less of?  Anything you would take back if you could?

No.  I don’t.  If I had a commission somehow, to write another piece,  I would do it.  But if I died right now, I would not be ashamed of what I leave.  Americans are specialists but in France people do more than one thing.  And even if they are only writers they do poetry and novels as well.  I wrote for the same reason as anyone would.  I wouldn’t do it unless I knew someone would read it.


I inquired into his writing of “The Paris Diary” asking how he felt about his publisher changing the order of some of his words- and commented that I felt he was courageous for being so open about his sexuality in a time when society was far more cruel to the gay community.

I wouldn’t have let it be published unless I was okay with it.  I was very open about my sexuality… I didn’t think of it as courage.  I just wrote what I wrote.


Ned with Gary Graffman and Andre Previn


 Are there any young composers that you are currently interested in or new works that you’ve been following?

I’m having a hard time thinking of anyone.  [I listen] Less now than I used to because I’m getting older.  I’m not interested in teaching any more.  It takes so much out of me.  But I try to keep up with who’s doing what. 



When we hung up the phone, I was filled with such awe and joy;  I was and still am so inspired by Ned’s confidence in the quality of his work and in himself.    And now, I can live my life knowing that I have heard the voice of one of the greatest composers of modern opera and been able to share his voice with you all here.  So, from all of us in Boston Opera Collaborative:


Thank you, Ned Rorem.  You are an inspiration to all of us.



Singing Through Cancer

Guest post by singing roster member Stephanie Mann (who can be seen in BOC’s upcoming production of Our Town as “Mrs. Gibbs”), on how she sang her way through cancer.

‘I have been through Hell and have come out singing’

When I was asked to write a Blog post about my experience with ‘singing through major adversity’, I really wasn’t entirely sure how to start. Everyone has adversity in their lives and ‘major’ is a broad term. I knew what it meant though.

I am a Soprano and a Cancer Survivor.

As I thought about this post and wondered what to focus on and what points to make, I finally decided to talk about what singing did for me while dealing with all of this.

I honestly don’t think I could have gotten through without my singing and performance schedule.

Right before I was diagnosed with Stage I Breast Cancer, I had been cast as ‘Fiordiligi’ in a production of Cosi fan tutte. I was so excited to be working on this show and when everything crashed down, I was urged by my parents and doctors to back out of the production. I didn’t have to think too long before I told them that if I backed out, if I didn’t perform, then I wouldn’t be sure that I would be able to get through all of this.

Stephanie Mann 3
Stephanie as “Fiordiligi” with BOC Alumna Christina English as “Dorabella.”


I auditioned for a musical less than a week after my surgery.

It was the music that kept me going. It was the learning of the piece and the staging and performances that got me through my surgery and my first two rounds of chemotherapy. It was the wonderfully supportive cast and artistic staff of that production who got me through my hair loss, weight loss, and appetite loss.

What I wasn’t warned about was the phenomena commonly known as ‘chemo-brain’. Like many singers, I work a day job and working on music when I wasn’t at work (and sometimes when I was). I drilled the words and music so many times and I would have it down cold. But ‘chemo-brain’ would strike and suddenly, I couldn’t remember a thing! It was always at different parts in recits or ensembles; never the same place twice. I only had one performance, out of four, where I didn’t lose my place somewhere. Maybe it could have been worse in that as a performer, I had trained to be able to memorize and retain large amounts of text and music. But it wasn’t limited just to Mozart.

When that production ended, I swiftly entered rehearsals for a production of The Scarlet Pimpernel. I had spoken at length with a friend on the West Coast who was going through the same thing I was, only a couple of months ahead of me. She was, herself, a dancer, and knew the need to make art as well as the healing power it has. The director knew what was going on, but I didn’t announce it to anyone else. The first person to guess was one of the men in the cast who was actually a Doctor. Others swiftly followed until it was known…but again, it was the very need to perform that got me through the rest of my chemotherapy treatments and the bone aches. I finished my treatment right before opening of the show and did the performances exhausted and bald (I had 4 wigs in the show!), but I made it and had a blast!

Stehpanie Mann 1
Backstage napping during ‘Pimpernel’ (I totally don’t remember falling asleep…ever).
Stephanie Mann 5
One of the fun wigs I got to wear during ‘Pimpernel’!

Immediately afterwards (while still bald), I was invited into a concert production of Wagner operas as well as a concert production of Don Giovanni. I never stopped singing; not even when I felt nauseous or in pain from the surgery or chemotherapy and not even when I was so exhausted that I fell asleep backstage. I still had coachings even when my breath control was pretty much shot because my body was so weak and tired.

Because if I stopped, I wouldn’t be able to make it through everything that I had to get through.

I really didn’t feel like I was through it all until I was singing in an outdoor concert event that August and, during a break, one of the audience members came up to me and asked, “I don’t mean to pry, but do you have cancer?” I told her that I had recently finished my treatments but yes, I did. She said that she was an Oncology nurse and noticed my port scar (the port was still in as I had continuing treatment for a year) which was why she asked. She then said that I sounded beautiful and was amazing for being able to do what I was doing.

It was then that I took ownership of my scars and realized that I had, indeed, come through this singing.

It was Stage I and the tumor was completely removed with surgery, but because of my age and the type it was, chemotherapy and radiation were strongly advised. I have scars that I never dreamed I’d have. I have to get through appearance issues and strength and all of the unknowns that come with chemo (no one knows how anyone will truly react). I still have an enjoyment of coconut despite having two coconut popsicles at every chemo appointment (twice a month from January to May) to try and prevent mouth sores that could stop me from singing. I have had to deal with the stares and the snarky comments about my sexual preferences once I started going without my wigs/turbans/hats as my hair started growing back.

Stephanie Mann 2
My visit home after finishing treatments…3 generations of us!


The side-effect of all this was that performing gave me drive so I wouldn’t just lay down and stop. It was music that gave me strength. It was the love of the art that pushed me through everything onto those stages every night. And it was the support of my friends, family, and colleagues who showed me that people are truly amazing and we take our relationships with them for granted.

And I never stopped singing.

The Many Talented Guest Artists of Rinaldo

Michael Sakir, Guest Conductor


The very talented conductor Michael Sakir is no stranger to Boston Opera Collaborative.  In fact, you might remember him from BOC’s production of Dead Man Walking or one of the three other shows including Little Women (2010), Carmen (2009) or The Magic Flute (2008).  He joins us for his fifth show (that’s right, FIVE SHOWS!) to conduct the upcoming production of Rinaldo.  Returning to BOC is like “coming home” for Michael and over his seven years as a guest conductor with BOC, it has become like “family” to him.   “This is my first Baroque opera.  It has been a thrill and a wonderful challenge to dive into an area of repertoire that I thought I would never be a part of,” he said. When the opportunity to work with co-artistic directors Greg Smucker and Patricia Weinmann presented itself, Michael was very excited; “who better to dip my toes into the world of early music than with a company and with individuals with whom I am already dear friends?”

Michael spends most of his time conducting 19th century Italian opera and contemporary American opera, but is very excited to venture into the world of early music with BOC.  He already has an impressive list of operas in his repertoire including Dead Man Walking, Little Women, and The Tender Land, to name a few but his hunger for opera isn’t yet satisfied. When I asked, out of curiosity, what he would love to conduct,  Michael paused, pulled out a list and listed his top 3; Ariadne auf Naxos by Richard Strauss, Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano, and even Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Mezzo-soprano Courtney Miller, composer Jake Heggie, & stage director David Gram – Jake Heggie’s DEAD MAN WALKING – Boston Opera Collaborative – March 2013

In addition to making this journey with BOC, Michael will be also be making his maiden voyage with the New Vintage Baroque ensemble.  According to him, “The Boston early music scene is very small but very active,” which led to the partnership with NVB.  Michael befriended the co-founder of NVB, Lindsay McIntosh, when they were both attending Boston Conservatory.  The partnership with New Vintage Baroque turned out to be, “a perfect match”, as they are, “an ensemble dedicated to storytelling and to drama and theatricality, which is perfect for [Rinaldo].”


Lindsay McIntosh, Co-Founder of New Vintage Baroque and Oboist



Lindsay McIntosh joins us from New Vintage Baroque as one of the founding members and the oboist in the group.  Similar to BOC, Lindsay is as active behind the scenes as she is in performing.  She says, “I oversee and guided all projects that are NVB. I guess you could say there is nothing I don’t do for New Vintage Baroque. My co- artistic directors Francis Liu and Clay Zeller-Townson help me tremendously in steering this amazing ship that is NVB.”

For many musicians, finding a niche in the musical world takes some time.  For Lindsay, Baroque music “found” her rather late in her undergraduate career.  She took a class for Baroque ornamentation while studying at Boston University.  She says, “At first the sound of a baroque oboe along side a modern oboe was a bit awkward to my ears but the teacher, Marc Schachmann, immediately picked up the vibe that I really loved playing baroque music.”  It was at his urging that she began taking private lessons geared specifically towards Baroque oboe and everything sort of clicked.  “It was a little like fate,” she says.

New Vintage Baroque was born of Lindsay’s discovery and subsequent love of early and Baroque music.  Lindsay commissioned a, “rap cantata” from composer  Doug Balliett (composer and narrator of NVB).  She approached co-founder Frances Liu, who, “at the time was in the Juilliard Historical performance program with me, asking him if he’d like to be part of this rap cantata, then quickly after that conversation New Vintage Baroque was born.”


New Vintage Baroque at the Gershwin Hotel
New Vintage Baroque at the Gershwin Hotel

When guest conductor Michael Sakir approached Lindsay about collaborating with BOC on Rinaldo, she was, “over the moon”.  She says, “I commend BOC in hiring a historical group to be their opera pit, the sound you will hear is like no other…”  Additionally, she lauds Rinaldo as one of Handel’s most beautiful operas and is really excited to work with, “the talented cast of Rinaldo.

Following Rinaldo, NVB will be very busy, “closing our very successful second season May 8-10th, with a program and a new commission from Oracle Hysterical all about the Passionate Pilgrimage.”  In their 3rd season, they begin with, ” a regional tour of our inaugural season featuring Doug Balliett’s rap cantatas, then we will commission a new piece by Simon Frisch, where he will be writing us a song cycle in the lost language of Breton, then we will later tour Brittany France in the summer of 2016.”  Their 3rd season closes with an opera by Doug Balliett based on the life of Alexander Hamilton, taking place, “in the historical Morris-Jumel Mansion, where Hamilton resided.”


Tommy Neblett, Choreographer


Coming to us from the Boston Conservatory and Prometheus Dance, Tommy Neblett is an incredible guest to Boston Opera Collaborative.  Mr. Neblett and his wife, Diane, are long-time friends to artistic director, Patricia Weinmann, so when he was asked to join the artistic team for Rinaldo, he was thrilled.  He says, “I love opera, I’ve always loved opera… and I love working with opera.  My wife Diane and I used to be choreographers with Opera Boston.”  While engaged with Opera Boston, Mr. Neblett worked on Les pêcheurs de perles, Alceste, Nixon in China, among others.  It was through this that he found his unexpected joy in working with opera singers.  I am not the most graceful so I had to know how he felt about working with opera singers.  He said, “All in good nature, I find it challenging [to work with opera singers] but it’s a good challenge.  I love being in a room filled with singing.  It is just ethereal to me.”

In his 27 years with Prometheus Dance, Tommy and Diane have had the opportunity to travel around the world and explore in ways he never imagine.  One of the highlights of this international career includes a performance, “in Spain in front of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela at midnight.”  In addition to Prometheus, Tommy and Diane have a second company called The Elders Ensemble where, “we choreograph specifically for [elderly women], plus we choreograph some inter-generational pieces where the [young professionals] dance with the elderly women.”  He highlights this as one of his favorite opportunities as a choreographer, calling it “heart-warming” and “precious”.

Tommy’s area of expertise is modern dance, which he characterizes as, “very technical and very athletic” and often focused on many social issues from rape to genocide.  The piece Apocalypsis was based on the Kosovo War and “one of the best things we’ve ever done for the company”.  Devil’s Wedding, another piece, was inspired by the book Reading Lolita in Tehran and focused on women’s rights in the Middle East.  Prometheus has even been commissioned to choreograph a piece based on Tourette syndrome, an experience that Tommy says was enlightening and beautiful.  The process involved videotaping people with exhibiting the involuntary movements associated with the disorder called “tics” and translating those into dance.  The project culminated in a benefit performance for the Tourette community.  Mr. Neblett says he’s enjoyed working on pieces with social impact; however, the company is striving to bring lighter pieces into their repertoire, saying he and his wife, “don’t want to be pigeonholed into just one category.”


Check out this video of excerpts from a show that Tommy and his wife Diane choreographed!

BOC Alumni Profile: Christina English

Christina English


Known for her “agile mezzo-soprano voice” and “striking” presence, Christina English brings dramatic commitment and musical sensitivity to a versatile array of opera, concert and musical theater performances throughout the New England area. Christina’s recent performances include her “intriguing” portrayal (The Boston Globe) of the hateful stepmother Háta in Smetana’s The Bartered Bride with Boston Midsummer Opera, and an extended 7-week run as Cinderella’s stepsister Florinda in Sondheim’s Into the Woods with Lyric Stage Company of Boston. She has also recently appeared as a soloist with Odyssey Opera, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, and Guerrilla Opera, and was an active member of Boston Opera Collaborative for 7 years.


Engagements in the 2014-15 season include: Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston; regular school performances with the Handel & Haydn Society outreach vocal quartet; Pasatieri’s Signor Deluso at Music on Norway Pond; and her ensemble debut with Boston Baroque in Bach’s St. John Passion. Christina is a founding member of Lorelei Ensemble, a women’s vocal chamber ensemble dedicated to the performance of new works for women’s voices. She recently appeared with Lorelei in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Kansas, as well as in the Jordan Hall premiere of The Debrecen Passion by Kati Agócs with Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Upcoming engagements with Lorelei include a chamber performance at Sloane Merrill Gallery in Beacon Hill; residencies and performances with the Mt. Holyoke Chamber Singers and Handel & Haydn Society Women’s Chorus; performances at the ACDA and Chorus America conferences; and Shelter, a concert featuring two world premieres and a collaboration with Chinese calligrapher Mike Mei.



1      What has been your involvement with BOC (i.e. roles, other performances, work experiences administrative, committee, etc.)?

 I performed in the ensemble of BOC’s first full production, Iphigénie en Aulide; Don Giovanni (chorus); Suor Angelica (La Badessa/Zelatrice);Little Women (Meg); Carmen (Mercédès); Orpheus in the Underworld (Public Opinion); various scenes programs and concerts. ADMIN: I was co-chair of membership (alongide Rachele Schmiege) shortly after I joined BOC in 2006. I also served as Clerk, Special Events chair, and on the Dead Man Walking task force.


2      How has membership with BOC affected your career?  The behind the scenes work and the singing?

Being a part of BOC was a wonderful learning experience that also created lots of opportunities for me. Doing behind the scenes work helped prepare me for the work that goes on behind the scenes of my own career. I learned networking and development skills, and built relationships with colleagues and patrons that I maintain to this day. Performance-wise, I was able to add several great roles to my resume during my time in BOC, keeping my resume up-to-date and relevant, and gaining valuable experience working with talented directors and conductors.


Christina portraying a very sassy Mercedes in BOC's Carmen
Christina portraying a very sassy Mercedes in BOC’s Carmen



  1. What’s something that you wish you would’ve known about a singing career when you were leaving graduate school?  In other words – what DON’T the conservatories tell you?

Conservatories would do their students a big service if they would more deeply address the personal, emotional, and practical aspects of having a career. For example, how might you support yourself when you are first starting out, rather than expect that you will instantly have a successful, bill-paying career or follow the prescribed YAP to mainstage path? How do you envision your daily life as a working musician, and how does this align (or not) with the realities of a singing career? How do you maintain friendships and relationships amidst the pressures and challenges of a competitive and stressful business?  Speaking of this business: practical training in the business side of singing is lacking at many conservatories. The Entrepreneurial Musicianship program at NEC, which developed shortly after I left, is a great example of such a program, and I am seeing these programs pop up more frequently at conservatories. As a singer, you are a product and, unless you have management, you are your own boss, employee, and management team. All that said, I don’t think we can expect any one person or entity (like a conservatory) to tell us everything we need to know about this career. We need to ask questions, learning as much as we can about people who are working in this business and how they have navigated all these issues. Young singers should also seek out as many different learning opportunities as they can; I learned a lot of these things that “conservatories don’t teach” from my participation in programs like Seagle Music Colony, OperaWorks, and Brevard Music Center. Find out where you lack knowledge or understanding, and figure out where to get more information and advice. Build yourself a team of people you trust who can help you navigate all these issues.

4      Do you have a dream role?  Have you sung it yet?  If yes, what’s role that you haven’t sung that you can’t wait to sing?

I have sung Meg in Little Women, but Jo is at the top of my list of dream roles. I identify much more with her character than with Meg, and would love to take on such a complex and vocally challenging role. 


5      What kind of music do you listen to beyond opera and classical?  Do you have a favorite band or artist?

I generally only listen to opera for study purposes; I’m more likely to be listening to an indie band or meditative/ambient music. Music I’ve been listening to lately includes Lucius, Pollens, Kishi Bashi, and Macklemore; and sometimes, I just need to put on some Queen and belt my brains out.


6      What’s your favorite piece of music (opera, song, theater or otherwise) and why?

I honestly can’t pick a favorite. I love to match music to my mood, the seasons, and my activities, so my “favorite” really varies with these conditions.


7      How do you think opera is evolving and changing with the times?  Or do you think it’s staying the same?  Do you prefer opera to be reinvented or remain the same?

I think there needs to be a balance of the two things. There is something to be said for a traditional opera that is presented clearly and simply, allowing the music to speak for itself. However, there is so much potential in trying new things with old material, presenting operas in alternative venues or with unusual stagings that can bring out different elements of the story. Also, new compositions are just as important to this art as the traditional canon. Composers today are telling stories that are relevant to today’s audiences using a musical language that is more accessible, or perhaps more innovative, than traditional opera. This is a vital part of keeping our art alive, and doing our part as a generation of singers to contribute to an art form that is still living, no matter how many people will try to tell us it is dying!


8      Tell us about your most memorable or unique performance experience!

After college, I performed Le nozze di Figaro with Operafestival di Roma in a courtyard near Piazza Navona. My most memorable experience is actually not of being onstage, but of waiting backstage during the overture and looking up at the sky, hearing Mozart’s beautiful music resonate within the space. The audience was dressed casually, people were eating ice cream and snacks, children were quietly watching, and it just seemed to me to be a perfect moment in time. I try to remember that feeling whenever I perform – that I am creating something beautiful and new every time I walk onto a stage, and the audience is there to be swept away with me.


9      What activities do you enjoy beyond singing?

I can’t wait to get back on my bicycle after all this snow melts! Because I’m taking a break from yoga after a wrist injury, I had the bright idea to take up running (well…let’s call it jogging), which I’m really enjoying. I love going to concerts, museums and events with friends and hanging out with my handsome cat Arturo and my equally handsome boyfriend Jameson (an actual person, not the whiskey).


10  What’s next for you?!  

I have a busy spring with Lorelei Ensemble, starting with a chamber performance at Sloane Merrill Gallery in Beacon Hill on April 1 – come join us! We’ll have hors d’oeuvres and cocktails served alongside beautiful music and art –  April Fool’s jokes not included.


Guest Post: Dane Palmer “In Defense of Pop: Ke$ha, Chiptune, and why you should listen to the radio”


Dane Palmer

Dane Palmer is a Boston-based marimbist, bike mechanic, and theater technician.  Recently graduating from Boston Conservatory, he has performed all over, most recently in Shenzhen, China. Dane is currently commissioning pieces from many sources, all based on showing the commonalities between popular music and classical.

“I do think it’s important that people who profess to really be interested in music….to expose themselves to the width and breadth of the music available to them, and in this day and age that’s everything.” -Chris Thile-

I have a day job. I’ve spent the last 5 years paying my bills as a freelance theatre technician and bike mechanic in Boston.  Every day working with people who don’t listen to music that we define as ‘intellectually stimulating’. We would get to work and turn on the radio. I spent a long time fighting this by plugging myself into my phone and listening to what I wanted to listen to. But after a while this became anti-social and boring. So I unplugged, and started living with what was on the radio that day. After a while, I found myself analyzing whatever was playing and noticed there was a lot more to pop music than I had been told.

The biggest realization I had was that 99% of the time you’ll hear pop music it’s recorded. This means it’s the same every time. But it also means that every single sound is permanent. The performer or producer is saddled with the weight of this performance being concrete. One of the things that I like the most about performing live is that as soon as I play a note, I can’t get it back. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong. But they don’t have this luxury. Now they also have the luxury of being able to try as many times as they want until they get it right. Which just means that they have no reason for it not to be perfect. That just seems insane to me. The only thing that’s acceptable in the popular music world is perfection.

I tried to discuss this with friends and classmates. As soon as I mentioned ‘pop music’ in any capacity, they turned off. They would stop listening and thinking and participating at all. I’d ask their opinion on different artists and they would have never heard of songs that have hit number one on charts all over the world.

I’m going to very briefly show you some of the thought behind a song that many of my colleagues consider to be a horrible crime against music. And explain where it all came from. Some terms you may need to know for any of this to make sense:

Chiptune Here’s an example of chiptune style. (credit to Trey Frey. Check him out. He’s awesome.)

8-bit : a computer architecture which was used to make early video games on systems like Super Nintendo and Gameboy. Chiptunes were originally written using these early computers and today the sound is emulated in much more complex programs that recreate the restrictions that these early computers had.

Synthesizer : A sound creating device often times built to look and play like a piano. All it does is synthesize sounds with timbral parameters created by the musician. I will shorten this word to it’s common name of ‘synth’.

Kesha’s song “Tik Tok” is heavily influenced by a style of music called chiptune. If you don’t know what chiptunes are think Gameboy or Super Nintendo. The song starts off with her singing over a very standard chiptune sound that is acting as the chord structure and the bass line at the same time. It’s very simple, but it’s job is to show the key and create a rhythmic opposition to the melody line. Then starting at ~00:17 the drums come in. Still very simple (just bass drum and snare) but this is very typical in a chiptune song, and Kesha follows chiptune rules extensively. The synth notes are inverted to add a sense of movement upward and create a growing sense of excitement. As the chorus starts, the synth sound changes slightly to add more body and and depth to the sound. The original sound still can be heard in the background helping to fill out the sound. Hi-hat is also added to have more rhythmic drive going forward.

So far we have 6 layers. Bass synth, mid-range synth, bass drum, hi-hat, and 2 layers of vocals. One of the biggest restrictions of chiptunes is that they can only have 8 layers of sounds (chiptune is derived from an 8-bit computer system. 8-bit = 8 sounds).

The bridge takes a lot of these layers away, using only a synth sound that is much more rounded than the initial synth sound, very quiet hi-hat, and vocals. Eventually adding in two more layers of a bass drum and an arpeggiated synth in the background.

The final chorus uses the same six instruments as the original choruses, but also adds the arpeggiated synthesizer and another vocal layer acting as a descant in the background of the main vocals.

This is a very quick and dirty analyzation of how and why Kesha uses the sounds she does and how her layering is influenced by chiptunes and 8-bit music. There are many other rules and constraints she is following, along with many reasons she chooses the sounds that she used, but I’ll save that for a later time.

Just for comparison’s sake, here is an chiptune exclusive version of Tik Tok posted by ‘FrankJavCee’ on youtube. You can easily hear how the sounds in Kesha’s version are almost identical to the sounds that chiptunes are able to make.

This explanation is not to make you like the song. Or to make you like Kesha. It’s just to show that there is a reason to listen and try to understand every genre of music. No music is beneath anybody. It’s rather eye opening to be able to pull the same amount of care and construction out of a Kesha song as I would pull from a composed academic work. The biggest differences are usually where the intellectual emphasis is placed.

I like to think that gaining this knowledge of styles of popular music, and incorporating it into programming concerts and recitals is a way to get new audience members in the door. By applying culturally relevant rules and ideas, we have a chance to make music that is culturally relevant again.

I’ll leave you with a video made by Chris Thile, a mandolin specialist who has performed with artists as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma and Bela Fleck. The quote at the beginning of this post is from this video. He is asked to talk about his opinions on the way that audiences respond to different genre’s of music, and how that affects him as a performer.

Other works to check out:

Penelope by Sarah Kirkland Snider (on spotify)

Dance tracks by Steve Mackey (on spotify)

Behind the Scenes of Werther: Massenet, French opera composer extraordinaire

For my final post on the history behind the stunning opera, Werther, and our new and innovative production, Les Lettres de Werther, I would like to take you on a journey through the life of the composer, Jules Massenet!  I have to say, it was difficult to track down reliable information about Monsieur Massenet and the more I read, it became clearer as to why.  Massenet was just a good guy.  He wasn’t surrounded by controversy.  He didn’t suffer through poverty.  And he just sort of kept to himself.  He was just a good dude who wrote sublime music.

I am Massenet and I am judging you.

So, just to give you the sort of key points, I’ll start from the very beginning (a very good place to start).


  • Born on May 12th, 1842, into a commercial family in the provinces of France
  • Followed a very typical progression for French composers at the time and entered the Paris Conservatoire at at 10, where he studied piano and solfege
  • Later moved to Italy where he won the Prix de Rome (1863) for his cantata David Rizzio
  • While in Italy, he met his soon-to-be-wife, Louise-Constance “Ninon” de Gressy.  They were married in 1866, and their only child, Juliette, was born in 1868

    Massenet with his other companion. His dog.
  • His first opera, Le Grand’ Tante, premiered in 1867
    • Not particularly well-received; one reviewer said Massenet was better suited to be a symphonist.  But this speaks to his compositional style of “sweeping and sensuous melodies” and almost Wagnerian instrumentation, at times.
  • When the Franco-Prussian (or Franco-German) war broke out in 1870, Massenet served in the National Guard
  • Following the war, Massenet’s career moved forward, but not strictly opera
    • Le Roi de Lahore– opera- written in 1877.  Explores a very popular theme of opera at the time; religion and romantic love.
    • Incidental music is gaining more popularity
  • He also gained his seat at the Paris Conservatoire at this time, where he taught other well-known composers like Reynaldo Hahn and Marc-Antoine Charpentier.  He stayed at the Conservatoire for over 18 years.
  • Hériodiade premiered in 1879- a less controversial operatic version of the story of Salome and John the Baptist
  • March of 1882- Massenet began work on one of his most successful and well-known operas, Manon.  It was originally written as an opéra- comique (which, is a false cognate, this does NOT mean comic opera; it is an opera with spoken dialogue and arias)
    • The success of Manon gave Massenet the financial freedom to compose without restraint.
    • Manon, “confirmed Massenet’s now unchallenged position as the leading opera composer of his generation”
  • Le Cid (written in 1884, premiered in 1885)- a grand opera based on the “tragicomendy” by Pierre Corneille
  • In 1885, Massenet began work on Werther, the opera on which we are truly focused.
    • Interestingly, Massenet actually traveled to Wetzlar, where Goethe had conceived The Sorrows of Young Werther
    • While he didn’t compose exclusively in Wetzlar, it did provide a tremendous amount of inspiration and the push that Massenet needed to complete the opera
    • Werther received its premier in Vienna in 1892
      • It was first turned down by the Opéra-Comique because they preferred not to stage tragedies

  • Esclarmonde was Massenet’s next endeavor.  The title role in this was composed with 22-year old American soprano, Sybil Sanderson, in mind.
    • Massenet composed a few operas for Miss Sanderson
    • This was perhaps his most “Wagnerian” work

      Sybil Sanderson as Esclamonde. She was apparently quite the hottie at the time.
  • Amadis was his next opera but this was not premiered until almost 10 years after he died.
  • Le Mage premiered in 1891 and was similar to Aida in plot
    • contained large crowd scenes and ballet
    • one of his least successful operas
  • After traveling to Vienna for the premier of Werther, Massenet found his inspiration for his next opera in Anatole France’s sensational Thaïs
  • Thaïs is again focused on religion and romantic love, following the story of a priest who falls for a prostitute.  Had its premier in 1894 with Sybil Sanderson singing the title role
  • His compositional output was incredible during this time.  Le Portrait de Manon premiered in May, two months after Thaïs, followed by La Navarraise in June.  And, both Grisélidis and Cendrillon were completed by the end of 1895.
  • Cendrillon… or Cinderella!
  • In 1896, the head of the Paris Conservatoire passed away, prompting Massenet to leave his post.
  • The Grove Encyclopedia had this to say of Massenet’s style and resistance to change:
    • “Although he had absorbed the Wagnerian ethos as far as he felt it to be useful, he was untouched by new trends emergine in the 1890s from Russia, Vienna, and on his very doorstep in PAris.  Few would have expected him to change direction as he approached the age of 60, nor did he.”
  • Sadly, Massenet struggled and lost his battle to abdominal cancer on August 13th, 1912.  He was 70 years old.

From my readings, Massenet was often criticized for being overly-sentimental or unimaginative.  But if you examine the time in which his career was at it’s apex and when he began to slow down from a compositional standpoint, he was fairly innovative for his day.  And, like any respectable musician, he had a style and stuck to it.  I mean, I can’t be mad about that.  I hate it when I listen to the debut album of a band and love it and then the come out with something completely different for their follow-up.  Can anyone say “sell out”?!


Massenet wrote over 30 operas in his 70 years, not to mention, a wealth of instrumental music and song.  He, “lacked all trace of abrasiveness or aggression that we have come to expect from great composers” and wasn’t, “dishonest, nor scheming nor grasping”.  Because of his great success, he was widely envied which might explain why many accused him of being “unadventurous”; they were most likely just jealous of his success.  Debussy once said in La Revue blanche,

“…It is well-known how his music is vibrant with fleeting sensations, little bursts of feeling and embraces that we wish would last forever.  The harmonies are like the arms, the melodies like the napes of necks.  We gaze into the ladies’ eyes, dying to know their thoughts…” (The Faber Book of Opera, 348)


He was known to rise early, saying, “save your mornings for composing or orchestration without waiting for inspiration.”  He would complete incredible amounts of work very quickly; the orchestration for La Navarraise, for example, was completed in 9 days… and was 257 pages in length.  And for such a high volume of work, his scores are apparently remarkably neat and almost diary-like, with notes about the daily events or weather often scribbled in the margins.


Massenet was a simple man with a good heart.  He hated public speaking and never regarded himself a writer unless it came to his colleagues and family.  In fact, it has been noted that he would only give speeches when called to deliver funeral eulogies for his loved ones.  While mildly morbid and depressing, it just shows what a stand up guy he was.


I will leave you with this quote from the Grove Encyclopedia:

“Few would challenge the claim of Werther to be Massenet’s masterpiece, a work in which intense personal feeling is expressed in a modern chromatic language, touching on the sentimental at times, and crafted with immense skill…The orchestration is masterly… and the harmonic style is intensely powerful…”

Les Lettres de Werther is a beautiful distillation of an opera that is arguably Massenet’s greatest work.  This incredibly rich and poignant amalgamation of The Sorrows of Young Werther and Massnet’s music make for an intoxicating and thrilling opera.   This is opera at it’s best.  Do not miss it.

Les Lettres de Werther



Behind the Scenes of Werther: The Life and Times of Goethe

Today marks day two of the history of Les Lettres des Werther, an informative, yet casual series on the events and people behind this glorious work of art.


Today, I’d like to talk about the novel. Werther (the opera by Massenet, for clarity) is based on the epistolary novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I am not ashamed to admit that I had absolutely no clue what “epistolary” meant and resorted to using Google to assist. An epistolary novel is “a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used.” Bam. Fact number one. Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther is an epistolary novel. Take the word epistolary and save it for a fancy dinner party. It’s bound to impress someone.


The very handsome man himself… Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


To get more information about Goethe, I enlisted the help of two very knowledgeable professors from my alma mater, Shepherd University. Dr. David Gonzol and the lovely Miss Brooke Evers were very kind to provide me with some very poignant information on Goethe.

Here are some of the important take-aways from their history lesson on Goethe:

From the lovely Miss Evers, who is a Fulbright Scholar and spent time studying in Vienna (so she’s definitely well qualified to speak about Goethe!):

  • Goethe was true “Renaissance Man.” He was extremely intelligent and inquisitive in many different fields, including science (biology, barometrics, color theory), theology, social/political thought, and of course literature.
  • Goethe wrote Werther in 1774, and it was this work that is said to have truly charged the Romantic period. The book was an overnight sensation, and it became all the rage to dress and behave as Werther the character did (“Werther Fever”) — even so far that it sparked a rage of suicides across Europe. (Napoleon is said to have loved the book so much that he carried it on his person at all times and read it at least seven times. It actually is a very good read (and not long!) if you are ever up for it.)
  • It is semi-autobiographical Lawren chiming in here, Goethe apparently had a relationship with a married woman by the name of Charlotte Buff. According to Wikipedia (the most accurate source… not,) “The outer shape of the work’s plot is widely taken over from what Goethe experienced during his Wetzlar time with Charlotte Buff and her fiancé, Johann Christian Kestner as well as from the suicide of the author’s friend Karl Wilhelm Jerusalem; in it, Goethe made a desperate passion of what was in reality a hearty and relaxed friendship.”  There’s a movie called “Young Goethe In Love”… got a 6.2 rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  It’s probably terrible.
  • Goethe was disgusted by the public’s obsession with Werther (calling it a “sickness”) and, I believe, even to some degree regretted having written the novel later on.
  • He’s notorious for having many complicated relationships along the way. I think there are a total of 8 known major-ish affairs with women throughout his life?
  • Otherwise, he was himself musical — played piano/harpsichord, factored music into all of his major literary works, and loved the opera, especially Mozart. He said: “He who does not love music does not deserve to be called a human being; he who merely loves it is only half a human being; but he who makes music is a whole human being.” Quite the compliment for those of us musicians!
  • Goethe also valued the individual, the Mensch, fitting in with the change in social thought at that time (and perhaps contributing to it.)
  • He expressed himself emotionally, but valued personal restraint — it was the Romantics who revered him who took emotional expression to the extreme.
  • Also, he was interested in our natural origins, evident in his interest in researching and reviving folk poetry and music (there is often a folk-style element to his poetry) his scientific studies, his love of nature, and contributions to revival of Ancient Greece in elements of German culture.
  • Elements of his style:
    • Characteristics of Poetry
      • Lyric poetry, folk-style –– rhyme scheme, expresses feelings; use of folk poetry – strophic, simple, etc.
      • Extremely musical –Use of vowel colors  (“Word-tone images” –Sams)
      • Imagery
      • Everyday language- elevated into beautiful poetryVoice of the Individual
      • Phrasal freedom within metric structure– Phrasing not bound to meter, and yet it provides a structure;creates a “solemn prose”
      • Symbolism and signs
      • Romantic subjects: love, nature, longing
      • Draws on personal life experiences and thoughts
      • Doesn’t translate well– Eric Sams: “…Despite Goethe’s transcendent genius and deserved renown his poetry is so resistant to translation as to be all but inaccessible to English-speaking readers or listeners.  This is because the very qualities that make it so sweetly or sharply savory in its native idiom may often taste insipid for alien tongues.  The simple words remain, but their subtle and significant blends are all too easily lost

Dr. Gonzol was very kind to provide this highlight on another of Goethe’s works, Faust. He says,

“Germane to the whole Goethe question is this observation by Dr. Djikolngar Maouyo; he was at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, Department of Physiology, in 2004. He said, “One’s behavior is determined by one’s philosophy, and one’s philosophy is determined by one’s theology.” That is true of any age and culture and explains a great deal. Since Faust evinces a theology of salvation by being pretty good–even a mere wanting to be good–not by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross–a new philosophy has to be found, and Faust (and Goethe) took pains (lots of lumps, I am sure) to find a new (life-) philosophy and new actions. The other Romantics took to this, even Mendelssohn to a degree, though he became a strong, truly believing Christian. Things really changed in the 1800s–among the upper classes, the most. Why else, when operas used to be about heroes or heroines (there’s Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare, absolutely dazzling in her multiple-sharp keys), would a show celebrate “a country girl, gay, pretty, and thoughtless,” as the Victor Book tells it (p. 193)? What an odd celebration! It paves the way for James Dean, and even what The New York Times in 2004 scathingly termed the “inexplicable rage” (talk about pointless) of Metallica.”


So there you have it. Goethe was a pretty radical dude whose life was colorful, rich, and just as messy and complicated as anyone else! Knowing this information about Goethe has helped me to understand Werther in a much more intimate way; Werther was just a man (in essence, he is Goethe). He just wanted what we all want; to be loved. I think we can all learn a lesson from Goethe. Instead of killing ourselves over unrequited love, we should be a little more sensible and write a novel about it instead. Perhaps we will become famous and spark a literary movement in our honor. Or maybe we’ll just continue to live our lives and understand that we are not alone and things do get better.


This is a guess as to how Werther would be in modern day. #genius


Thank you to Dr. Gonzol and Brooke Evers for providing your very thorough and pertinent knowledge for this post. Representing Shepherd University! It sure is great to be a Shepherd Ram.


Please keep your eyes peeled for my next entry on Jules Massenet, the man behind the music!

Behind the Scenes of Werther: Romanticism and La Belle Époque

Since we are getting ready to launch into tech week for our extraordinary production of Les Lettres des Werther, I thought it would be appropriate to give all of our lovely readers a little history lesson. Womp womp. If you are anything like me, I automatically have the urge to yawn when I hear the word “history”. My body can’t control it. It just happens. But, in my adult life, I’m finding that learning about what’s happened in the past can be extremely useful, especially when it comes to art. I have found that knowing a little bit about the creator of a piece of art or the history of what that time period was like can help you understand the art better. And, with opera, the more you understand, the more you can appreciate the piece. So… let me just give you the down low on this amazing work. Also, full disclosure here, I am by no means a historian. I am unabashedly using sources such as Wikipedia (my former professors would annihilate me for this), but to be fair, I also cracked open a few other very scholarly texts such as my History of Western Music text (this thing has been opened more in the past few days than it was during my entire career in undergrad), The Faber Book of Opera, and the Grove Encyclopedia of Music. So, while Wikipedia isn’t the best source, I’m supplementing with some pretty impressive scholarly texts.


In this entry, I plan to focus on three areas; Romanticism in literature and music, and the  La Belle Époque.


Historical context for the romantic movement:

  • Industrial Revolution is in full swing by now
  • The middle class was rising throughout the world.  Composers especially benefited from this because more people were attending their concerts!
  • The French Revolution (1789-1799)… yikes.  Began and ended before Romanticism really took hold but imagine the impact it had on French culture…


Let us first talk about Romanticism in literature.  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica it is an, ” attitude or intellectual orientation that characterized many works of literature, painting, music, architecture, criticism, and historiography in Western civilization over a period from the late 18th to the mid-19th century.”  Well, I know from what time period it originated.  But what IS it?  As with most movements in art, romanticism can be seen as a reaction to the neoclassic movement.  Where neoclassicism is neat and tidy, romanticism is messy and complicated.  That is not to say that classic art isn’t complicated.  It just maybe wasn’t as emotionally charged as romantic art.


Some key features of romanticism include but are not limited to; emphasis on the individual, the subjective, the irrational, the imaginative, the personal, the spontaneous, the emotional, the visionary, and the transcendental (  Themes of nature, the supernatural, beauty, emotion, nationalism were also prevalent in the literature of this movement.  Other authors associated with the Romantic movement are Mary Shelley , William Wordsworth, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Brontë sisters.

definitely a tear jerker

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther is considered an early romantic work, published in 1774.  Goethe did not consider himself a part of the romantic writer but his writing definitely exhibits symptoms of it.  Take his poem, Heidenröslein (Heather Rose)


Once a boy a Rosebud spied,
Heathrose fair and tender,
All array’d in youthful pride,–
Quickly to the spot he hied,
Ravished by her splendour.
Rosebud, rosebud, rosebud red,
Heathrose fair and tender!

Said the boy, “I’ll now pick thee,
Heathrose fair and tender!”
Said the rosebud, “I’ll prick thee,
So that thou’lt remember me,
Ne’er will I surrender!”
Rosebud, rosebud, rosebud red,

Heathrose fair and tender!
Now the cruel boy must pick
Heathrose fair and tender;
Rosebud did her best to prick,–
Vain ’twas ‘gainst her fate to kick–
She must needs surrender.
Rosebud, rosebud, rosebud red,
Heathrose fair and tender!


Interpret as you like, but you cannot refute the images of nature and beauty present in just this poem alone.  There are hundreds more where that came from!  But, there will be more on Goethe in an upcoming post!


Let us move on to the musical side of things.  There is some disagreement as to when romanticism truly became apparent in music.  Beethoven is arguably one of the earliest composers of the romantic era, though most would qualify him as a composer of the classical era.  Author E.T.A Hoffman argues that the music of Beethoven (and even Haydn and Mozart) conveys, “the monstrous and immeasurable,” a very romantic notion.  It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the true periodization of romantic music came along, coinciding with the new music discipline of musicology.  Guido Adler, one of the early proponents of musicology believed, “Beethoven and Franz Schubert [were] transitional but essentially Classical composers, with Romanticism achieving full maturity only in the post-Beethoven generation of Frédéric Chopin, Robert Schumann, Berlioz, and Franz Liszt” (Wikipedia, “Romanticism).


Romantic music is marked harmonies and chord progressions that were more daring, unusual, and unexpected.   Composers bid adieu to the typical I-V-I progressions and began exploring more colorful harmonies.  Programmatic music became very popular; that is, music that intended to evoke certain imagery or tell a specific story.  A great example of this is Má vlast (My homeland)  by Smetana.   In this six movement work, images of Smetana’s home country, Czechoslovakia, are evoked.  One of the classic examples that I fondly remember from my music history class is The Moldau, written to evoke the image of the river.  Smetana said,

“The composition describes the course of the Vltava, starting from the two small springs, the Cold and Warm Vltava, to the unification of both streams into a single current, the course of the Vltava through woods and meadows, through landscapes where a farmer’s wedding is celebrated, the round dance of the mermaids in the night’s moonshine: on the nearby rocks loom proud castles, palaces and ruins aloft. The Vltava swirls into the St John’s Rapids; then it widens and flows toward Prague, past the Vyšehrad, and then majestically vanishes into the distance, ending at the Labe”

Again, the general themes of romanticism (nature, imagery, beauty)are still present, even in the music.


Last but not least, let us talk briefly about La Belle Époque (The Beautiful Era).  As previously mentioned, France was recovering from the very bloody French Revolution as the romantic movement began to take hold.  This is important to keep in mind for a couple of reasons; while the Belle Époque began over 70 years after the French Revolution, it marked a “golden age” for France, and it was during this time that Jules Massenet began writing music.  Beginning in 1871 and ending with World War One, “It was also a period of stability that France enjoyed after the tumult of the early years of the French Third Republic, beginning with France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and the fall of General Georges Ernest Boulanger. The defeat of Boulanger, and the celebrations tied to the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris, launched an era of optimism and affluence. ” (Wikipedia, “Belle Époque”).   Feel free to read more about what happened to France between 1799 and 1871.  Mostly, it’s just a lot of political turmoil, Napoleon, and revolutions.  I would have to read way more in order to actually talk about this with any real authority and even then, I’d probably screw it up.  So… go find a book and read it if you’re really curious.


It would greatly exceed the length of just one post to truly go into detail about the great artists that were a part of this era but just to name a few, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Mucha, and Monet all rose to prominence during this time.  Art Nouveau (a personal favorite), became a stylistic smash hit, beginning in France and extending to many other countries.  Salon music became very fashionable, with many artists composing mélodies, or short pieces to be sung and accompanied usually on the piano.  Composers like Erik Satie, Claude Debussy,  Gabriel Fauré, and Camille Saint-Saëns and his pupil, Maurice Ravel, all came out of the Belle Époque era.


Alphonse Mucha- Art Nouveau


Suffice it to say that the Belle Époque was a good time to be a musician, or any artist for that matter.  People cared about the arts.  Art, music, and literature were all highly regarded.  Concerts were well attended.  With all this in mind, stay tuned for another history lesson.  The subject of my next post is Johann Goethe himself.  Get ready.  He was a pretty interesting guy!