Friday, October 21, 2011

Capulet et Montagues in Livermore Valley

Singers were transported on the new Ruby Hill Wine Tour Bus.
Singers from the recently concluded fall Livermore Valley Opera (LVO) production of Roméo et Juliette took their days off during the busy rehearsal weeks, and were given the royal treatment at some of our Livermore Valley wineries, including : Les Chênes, La Rochelle, Concannon Vineyards, Occasio, Ruby Hill Winery, and Nottingham Cellars, the provider of our opening night gala wine.

It was a special treat to take a behind the scenes tour of Concannon Vineyards with it's state-of-the-art bottling line, and now one of the largest wineries in California. Small and medium-sized wineries were on the tour to give our visiting artists the "full flavor" of our valley appellation.

L to R: Bernardo, Norman and Christian.
After all this local education, and since it was in the middle of harvest season, singers were invited to join the fun and help pick, weigh and measure the "brix" at the Norman and Stephanie Petermeier’s home vineyard, Villa per Dué. Norman is the enologist at Ruby Hill Winery and Stephanie is a member of the Livermore Valley Opera board of directors, and is the event chair of the upcoming LVO 20th Anniversary Celebration on January, 28, 2012.

You can see that Montague (Christian Reinert who was Romeo) and Capulet (Bernardo Bermudez) are getting along just fine offstage enjoying the process of making wine.

Please visit our Facebook page for more photos of this fun time!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Location, Location, Location

Revon set design mock up for Roméo et Juliette
No, not retail, we're talking strictly opera here. "Roméo et Juliette," the opera by French composer Charles Gounod is what's next for Livermore Valley Opera, and Opening Night is September 24th. (Tickets anyone...?)

The music is simply beautiful, and although this opera is just the 28th most popular, according to Opera America, Juliette's aria "Je veux vivre" is possibly one of the most requested. (At least it was at the recent Opera in the Vineyard event held by LVO!) I am listening to several renditions of this area as I write this blog post, Joan Sutherland, Maria Callas, and Spanish soprano Montserrat Caballé  -- (vote for your favorite in the comments!).

You will get to hear this music live, fully staged, and you can do it for less than what you'd spend on dinner, parking and gas to get into San Francisco from the Tri-Valley. And, you'll be much closer to the stage.

Set Designer Jean-François Revon says he listens to the music over and over again to create a set design that both suits the opera and addresses the stage director's unique vision. He has designed more than 350 sets and has been working with the directors and volunteers at LVO for the last eight years. He has been instrumental in helping the company grow into the emerging professional opera it is today. In 2007, LVO made a huge transition from the Livermore High School auditorium to the 507-seat Bankhead Theater.

"Livermore Valley Opera has a true advantage being a smaller company. It is a privilege [for a stage director] to create their own piece with a custom set. It is a huge selling point for the company," according to Revon.

"It was very easy to work with Bill Murray, a true pleasure. His vision was specific and clear and easy for me to design for."

When asked what was particularly challenging about this opera set, he said it was the "number of locations," six locations en total, over five ACTS. "That's a lot for an opera," says Revon. In all that time, this is only the second time Revon has designed a set for Roméo et Juliette.

Bill Rabe, Set Construction
Roméo et Juliette  is a very ambitious undertaking for LVO in its 20th anniversary season. The set changes must appear uncomplicated, challenging when there are so many. Stage Director Bill Murray's vision was to use windows and color as symbols and a way of emoting, through the scenic changes. Audiences will notice, or perhaps simply feel, the way light and artistry have tugged at their emotions as the scene changes from a ballroom party scene to an out of doors, to a prison, outdoors (totally difference location, of course), to Juliette's bedroom, and to the final tomb scene.

Serena Shannari painting the ground row.
For an LVO first, Scenic Painter Serina Shannari, has used the technique of painting with hot wax on at least two canvasses depicting windows in Acts I (ballroom) and IV (bedroom). The wax gives a "glass-like" quality to to the set piece and helps exaggerate the color using light creatively, thanks to collaborative Lighting Designer Kevin Bautch. In particular, you will notice the effect on the stained glass window in the bedroom scene. A light box technique is used in the prison scene to give depth and darkness to the moment. Shannari has trained LVO volunteers over the years of collaboration to assist her with painting, which translates into cost savings for the company.
Volunteers Jill Evanko and Sue Rabe

In all, it is a $10,000+ set, a bargain in the opera world. LVO is accomplishing this  feat thanks to donated lumber and a dedicated team of  highly-skilled set construction volunteers lead by Bill Rabe. He and Revon have worked together over the years to translate a visiting stage director's unique visions into magic on stage.  LVO now enjoys professional company member status with the national arts organization Opera America. Bill and his crew create plans based on the Revon designs, working from mock up images, so they can actually build the set that you will see on stage. LVO's set construction crew includes:  Rich Sutherland, Harald Kipp, Brian Maxwell, Larry Snyder, and even cast member Ernie Alvarez helped construct for a couple of days between rehearsals.

What's next for Jean-Francois?  The Crucible

Don't miss the final Roméo et Juliette preview this weekend, always free and open to the public:
  • Livermore Main Library on Sun. 9/18 @ 2pm

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Free Opera Previews

Art by Lauren Covey
LVO is presenting a series of free public performances at various Tri-Valley locations this month, beginning with the Harvest Festival at Concannon Vineyard this weekend.

If you'd like to hear some beautiful singing from our upcoming Roméo et Juliette, which opens September 24th, here is the complete schedule:
  • September 4, 1:00 p.m., Concannon Vineyard at the Harvest Festival in Livermore
  • September 7, 6:30 p.m., Dublin Library
  • September 8, 12:00 p.m., Dublin Senior Center
  • September 11, 2:00 p.m, Pleasanton Library
  • September 15, 1:00 p.m., Pleasanton Senior Center
  • September 18, 2:00 p.m., Livermore Main Library
Most of the programs are an hour long. LVO is also conducting outreach to schools, 50-minute periods between August 29 to September 22, thanks to a funding from Wells Fargo and the Pleasanton Curtural Arts Council

Special thanks to orchestra coordinator and former board member Gary Sears for putting this program together.

See below for the key to the schedule of singers, many of whom are cast in roles for Romeo et Juliette, also accompanists, and when Stage Director Bill Murray will be joining them.

Participating artists:
Bill Murray, Romeo et Juliette Stage Director
Melody King, soprano, cover for Juliette
Bernardo Bermudez, bass, Count Capulet
Roberto Perlas Gomez, baritone, Mercutio
Christie Hageman, soprano, Juliette
Christian Reinert, tenor, Romeo
Nikolas (Nik) Nackley, baritione, Gregario
Micah Naler, violin
Danielle Naler, accompanist
Bruce Olstad, accompanist

Venue - Performer/Speaker:
Concannon Vineyard - Michelle Rice
Dublin Library - Melody, Bernardo, Danielle
Dublin Senior Center - Melody, Roberto, Danielle
Pleasanton Library - Christie, Christian, Bill, Micah, Danielle
Pleasanton Senior Center - Melody, Nik, Danielle
Livermore Main Library - Christie, Bernardo, Bill, Bruce

Artwork by Lauren Covey of Livermore, first place winner in LVO's  Roméo et Juliette opera art contest.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Dialogue with a Diva

We first posted about the Yankee Diva in June 2009. She is a mezzo soprano currently calling The Met her home, and she is also a teacher and a blogger. Here is her new URL:

She has a great following on the stage and online. Her photos and observations are refreshing musings indeed.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ashley’s First Opera

This is the story of how a 5-year-old was introduced to opera by her grandmother,  Stephanie Petermeier, who is an opera board member and Chairing our upcoming 20th Anniversary Celebration event in January 2012.

LVO is creating new "opera-tunities" to introduce children and youth to the magical world of opera, from the Ice Cream & Opera Sunday matinees to the new Student Dress Rehearsal Night. We also created OperaLive!, a series of free public outreach performances at libraries and community centers, and a student "poster" art contest, to introduce new fans, of all ages, to opera. Please check our website for details.

Here is Ashley's Story, as told by her grandmother:

It was the spring of 2004. At the tender age of five, Ashley begged me to take her to the opera.  I had taken my grown daughters Kristine and Julie to the opera the previous weekend and she wanted to know what it was all about.

Livermore Valley Opera (LVO) was then performing in the local high school and youth tickets were just $15, so I thought that if we only made it through ½ an opera that would be alright.  I was babysitting her one Saturday night, and I still had my playbill from the performance. We read every inch of it together, except the ending of the synopsis.  She was interested in all parts of this production of Madama Butterfly.

I decided to take her to the final Sunday matinee. We got dressed up for opera together and went to the Livermore High School theater with much anticipation.  Ashley’s eyes were glued to the stage.  I don’t think she moved in her seat at all.  When the First Act was over I asked, “Would you like to go home now?”  She answered, “Is it over?”

At Intermission, it was time to tell her about the tragic ending.  We sat outside eating the cookies, traditionally home-baked by volunteers at the original venue, and discussed what was going to happen next. I explained how none of it was real, but if she wanted to close her eyes, she could.  She was captivated again for the rest of the opera.  When Butterfly reached for the knife in the final act, she turned and buried her head in my shoulder.  I could feel her shuddering, and she remained there until I said, “It’s over,” and she turned back to the stage just in time to see Pinkerton arrive too late to help.

When Ashley returned home, this is how a five-year-old explained the plot to her parents:
"There was a man that told Pinkerton that it was not a real wedding, and told Butterfly that it was, and it was very sad.”
She is now decidedly hooked on opera for a lifetime, and we have enjoyed attending the LVO Sunday matinees as a family, with free ice cream at Intermission for all, and a tour backstage for the kids.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Poem Honoring Livermore Valley Opera

In Honor of the Livermore Valley Opera on its 20th Anniversary
by Charan Sue Wollard

any moment this paper may burst into song
mad notes curling its edges like fire
darkness doloroso pouring
forth in resonant timbre
from ink-smudged surfaces --
more than mere meter and rhyme
tripping like moonbeams --
sounds soaring, arias allegretto, fortissimo
beating the high rafters
till they tremble with joy
let us sing of Rossini, Puccini, Mozart
Wagner, Verdi, Gounod, Strauss
praise the mighty voices
of principals and chorus
praise too those unsung lovers
toiling in shadows
step out from behind the curtain,
take a bow, Livermore Valley Opera!
while this poem sings to you

Poet Laureate

Charan Sue Wollard is currently serving her second term as poet laureate of Livermore. She graciously offered to compose a poem to commemorate Livermore Valley Opera's 20th anniversary season which begins this month with our first event this weekend, Opera in the Vineyard, and will continue to build to a larger 20th Anniversary Celebration concert and dinner event in January 2012.

Ms. Wollard's poems have appeared in publications including the Carquinez Review, The Gathering and Crow Talk. Her first book, “In My Other Life,” a collection of original poems and paintings, was released in 2010 by Richer Resources Publishing.
We thank you Charan Sue for acknowledging our community's accomplishment in stewarding and supporting an opera company for 20 years.
She attends Ellen Bass's workshop, and is a member of Poet’s Society and the Ina Coolbrith Poetry Circle. Her work has won numerous awards, including Grand Prize at the 2004 Poets’ Dinner. She also manages the site

Wollard spent 27 years as a writer and editor for various Bay Area newspapers. Now a local Realtor, she writes a weekly real estate column for The Independent.

Her LVO poem will be published in a separate post!  We thank you Charan Sue for acknowledging our community's accomplishment in stewarding and supporting an opera company for 20 years.

Monday, May 2, 2011

NY Opera Weekend

This blog editor has finally been to The Metropolitan Opera. Truth be told, the real reason for the trip East was the opera being produced at the second stage adjacent, Séance on a Wet Afternoon. This new work had it's world premier at Santa Barbara Opera, a first opera by Stephen Schwartz of the musical theater world, both as composer and librettist. Most notably, he composed the score for Wicked.

The Séance matinee produced by New York City Opera was Sunday, so naturally, my travel companion and I were going to see what ever was at the Met on Saturday. That's a lot of opera for one weekend. We saw Cappriccio with René Flemming at the Met. It was a cerebral opera, the last one every composed by Richard Strauss, and the only part I really enjoyed was the comedic relief by the two ballet dancers. They were the best actors. We had excellent seats, and we noted the high proscenium arch, the beautiful golden curtain, and the chandeliers that raise when the show is about to begin. The titles, which one could play in German or English, that were embedded in the seats were the biggest surprise; the opera just didn't capture me.

For the same price ticket, more than $100 let's say, we saw Séance the next day. The set and lighting amazed us. The story had us on the edge of our seats, the chorus was huge and very engaging. Lauren Flanigan made a very convincing crazy person. The set was a 3-D house, made from some translucent material, rotated 360 degrees without a hitch when the scene called for it. They even "flew" a live human in the final act. We were highly entertained.

When all the applause was done, my friend turned to me and said, "why was that not a musical?" It certainly had similar qualities, only it was set to a live orchestra and the singers wore no mics. Now that our trip is over, we still marvel at the difference between the two opera experiences. I think I can appreciate even more the value that my new home town company, Livermore Valley Opera, offers.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


If you are an opera buff, you will know who the title refers to, and after observing the sold out Master Class she gave at the San Francisco Conservatory which began at 7:30 p.m. on April 12, 2011. By the end of the session, it was close to 10:15 p.m., we felt like we knew her well enough to call her by her nickname. She is a lady that has had an amazing opera career and exudes a warmth that goes directly against the stereotype of diva.

We watched in amazement as Frederica von Stade coached singers on stage, with a devoted opera audience of 150-200 people in attendance. The master class agenda indicated that five singers and one alternate would be coached. As each one came to center stage, graced with one grand piano and one collaborative keyboardist, Kristin Pankonin, they sang their selected aria for Flicka and for us. The selections were by well-known dead composers Handel, Mozart, Gounod and Menotti, plus one by Steward Wallace, still living.

German never sounded so beautiful as when Kelsey Harris sang "Ach, ichs Fuhl's" from Die Zauberflote. Each time we heard the natural instrument these fine artists, we wondered what Flicka could possibly improve? Her coaching style was incredibly warm and supportive, always staring with a genuine compliment. Her recurring theme for the night was to encourage each singer to employ the tool of "singing softly", not only to protect their voice, so they too can have as long and successful career, but to engage the audience with emotional complexity of a role presentation.

As a special guest, Flicka's good friend, mezzo-soprano Zheng Cao, came to the stage to lend her counsel to Yang Hai who sang "She Wanted the Mink". Cao debuted this in the role of Ruth and Liu Ling in the SF Opera world premier of The Bonesetter's Daughter in 2008. Ms. Cao will be a guest on honor at LVO's 20th Anniversary Celebration event on January 28, 2012.

Mezzo-soprano Sara Couden, who was Mamma Lucia in LVO's fall 2009 production of Cavalleria Rusticana was the alternate, and even thought the hour was late, Flicka allowed her to sing her electrifying rendition of "I Am Afraid" from Menotti's The Medium.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

'Night Out' Makes its Debut in Pleasanton

Please join us for a "Night Out", performances at 2:00 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton this coming Saturday, April 16.

A light-hearted opera in one act that takes place in a "diner on Main Street". Experience some of the world's best-loved arias as Miles and Mimi encounter the stylish Rupert and Remy on their night out.

Written by Sara Nealy and Music Direction by Alexander Katsman.