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VOTE: What’s Your Favorite Violin Concerto?

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Hear excerpts from these concertos below.

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QUIZ: How Well Do You Know Basic Music Theory?

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Janni Younge Productions Reimagines Stravinsky’s “Firebird” by Blending Puppetry and Dance

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Janni Young Productions combines dance and puppetry in a new version of Stravinsky’s “The Firebird”

Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird changed the history of dance when it premiered in Paris during the summer of 1910. It was the first ballet produced by Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes with a completely original score, the first of several that Stravinsky would compose for the company, and the first work that brought Stravinsky significant notoriety. Later, he would go on to compose other works for the Ballets Russes including Petrushka, Pulcinella, Les Noces, and most famously, The Rite of Spring.

The Firebird is inspired by a mythological tale about a Prince who destroys an evil villain, Kastchei the Immortal, with the help of a magic bird. And while The Firebird has been staged and restaged by every major choreographer, a new version of Stravinsky’s classic ballet by Janni Younge Productions has something few other versions do: puppets!

While on a busy tour that makes a stop at Ravinia, just outside of Chicago, on Tuesday, July 26, 2016, Janni Younge spoke about her company’s unique production.

What first attracted you to The Firebird?

First, I think it was the fact that The Firebird has this mythological content behind the story. I have always been very strongly attracted to Russian mythology and fairytales because I believe they have an enormous resonance with us as human beings and so that has a big appeal to me.

I also was attracted to the music itself; the depth, the richness, the incredible variation inside of each piece and inside of the piece as a whole, which holds an enormous amount of content.

What was your approach to developing this unique production?

My first approach to making any piece is to try and find where I relate to the theme or whatever it is that I have chosen to work on. So I am really asking myself: what does The Firebird story mean to me, who are the characters for me, and who would they be in my world?

First I thought of the character of the Prince Ivan, who is a young person who’s kind of on a quest or rite of passage where he ventures into this dangerous place, this unknown world of Kastchei and encounters this incredible force of the Firebird.

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Janni Younge creating a puppet for her production of “The Firebird”

That initial set up was very provocative to me and it felt very relevant to the journey of an artist, and particularly as a South African artist, which invovles going into a space of uncertainty and discovering something. It also reminds me of the space of our country as we are moving beyond this idealized world of the new democracy and beginning to look deeper into who we are as a nation. So I tried drawing parallels between the psychology of an individual going on a journey of self-discovery, social discovery, and societal discovery at the same time; that was the entry point into the work.

How did you begin to workshop your ideas?

Initially when we were working, we developed these metaphorical figures for the different key element in the production. We have this figure that we call a seeker, which is the equivalent of Prince Ivan who’s on a journey of discovery. Then there are all the forces and factors that the Seeker, who is a woman in our case, encounters. She encounters the Firebird, the figure of passion and inspiration, and then she also encounters self-doubt, societal doubt, anxiety, and the destructive and critical energy. We had those very clearly polarized.

Over a year ago, in May 2015, we held our first creative workshop. At that time we all began to explore and dig deeper into who these figures are and what they represent. It became very obvious to me and to my cause that the line between good and evil is not that clear; it’s not that all things creative are good and all things doubtful are bad, but actually there is a necessity both within ourselves and in our society to arrange those things into a relationship.

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There is a growing tension between the forces of Kastchei,  the forces of doubt and destruction, and the forces of creation and the good. But then you start to see that turn around and as they confront each other, more and more they blend into one. The bird becomes abrasive and the beast becomes something that is almost protecting the figure of the Seeker as she seeks to defend her independence. It sort of twists and turns around itself until finally she is able to reach some kind of balance, and that is the figure we’ve created, a dragon that’s really a combination of the bird and the beast.

What is your philosophy to creating or working with puppets?

I think that puppet performance is an extension of the performer. A puppet is an inanimate object given life by a performance. Puppets have a reasonable level of complexity, particularly when there are a number of performers being completely devoted to a single puppet and to giving it life. It usually sets up a very interesting parallel and situation where we are supporting, generating, and giving life to energies that exist within us. For me that is a very interesting point about puppetry; there is an illusion going on, but it’s a transparent illusion. You can see that the puppet is not really alive but somehow, there is an illusion that it is. So that combination is a very exciting thing for me conceptually and I really enjoy working with that inside of the work that I do.

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How do you think inanimate objects like puppets can move us in performance?

There is a moving quality in it because it is so fragile; you know that it can fall apart at any time. When you believe in it as an audience member, you’re giving so much to it; you’re giving so much to the performance when you chose to believe in it. I think it really has an evocative quality because of that. It wraps you up and involves you.

What artists do you admire?

Of course, William Kentridge, whose work I completely adore. I worked with him a bit over the past couple of years and he is just a wonderful human being as well as profoundly sensitive and amazingly moving artist. He goes forth communicating what is his real reflection of the world; he doesn’t add stuff just for the sake of adding things. I feel like his work has a real connection to his honest experience.

He has an extraordinary company. They create very dense illusions with puppet theater so that you are wrapped up in a world that is mysterious and surreal. He really opens the door to an unconscious world; it’s so seamless.

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How do you think making work in South Africa fuels your creativity?

There is enormous drive inside of our creativity. There is a real wealth of culture and a drive towards perfection that we have as a nation. Inside the complexity of all of our culture there is an enormous amount of commitment to perfection and doing good work. There’s also this struggle to make something happen and then when you make it happen, it just has to come with a huge level of commitment. There are definitely huge challenges to overcome when creating artwork in South Africa.

Are there any South African artists whose work you admire?

Well I love the work of Lara Foot, she is the director of the Baxter Theater but her own directorial work is very extraordinary. She works up an amazing combination of storytelling, which is very emotionally delicate, and also includes a touch of magical realism. So she takes things that have a very ‘everyday’ quality and context and she shifts them sideways and brings elements that are very provocative. There is a fabulous artist named Andrew Jackson who works with the body, movement, body in relation to other bodies, but also storytelling at the same time. He is someone who extraordinary things with his own physical body and telling stories.

To learn more about Younge’s production of The Firebird and information about upcoming performances, visit the company’s website.

Poem of the Week: Ocean Vuong’s “Toy Boat” Reflects on the Tragic Death of 12-Year Old Tamir Rice

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The family of Tamir Rice was recently awarded a settlement after a police officer fatally shot him

In this episode of PoetryNow, Ocean Vuong remembers Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy killed by police in Cleveland, OH in 2014. Tamir was seated on a swing in a park, playing with a toy gun, when he was shot by a 26-year old police officer, Timothy Loehmann. Rice’s family filed a federal lawsuit, and in April of 2016, a U.S. District Court ordered the city of Cleveland to pay the family a $6 million dollar settlement, according to CNN.

Vuong wrote “Toy Boy” as a response to Tamir’s death, saying, “I did not want to repeat the occurrences of the news.” Because Tamir was playing with a toy gun at the time he was apprehended by officers and then killed, Vuong muses over how something that’s “just a toy” can lead to very dangerous games. The poet also connects the violence Rice suffered with violence he experienced in his own life.

Violence has become “a part of the American psyche,” he says. “Poetry offers us a moment when it’s okay that no answer is ever certain. Violence is both historic and personal.”

Hear Vuong read and discuss “Toy Boat” by listening below.


Toy Boat

For Tamir Rice

yellow plastic
black sea

eye-shaped shard
on a darkened map

no shores now
to arrive — or
depart
no wind but
this waiting which
moves you

as if  the seconds
could be entered
& never left

toy boat — oarless
each wave
a green lamp
outlasted

toy boat
toy leaf  dropped
from a toy tree
waiting

waiting
as if the sp-
arrows
thinning above you
are not
already pierced
by their own names

Source: Poetry (April 2016)


More About theAuthor

Born in Saigon, poet and editor Ocean Vuong was raised in Hartford, Connecticut, and earned a BFA at Brooklyn College (CUNY). In his poems, he often explores transformation, desire, and violent loss. In a 2013 interview with Edward J. Rathke, Vuong discussed the relationship between form and content in his work, noting that “Besides being a vehicle for the poem’s movement, I see form as … an extension of the poem’s content, a space where tensions can be investigated even further. The way the poem moves through space, its enjambment or end-stopped line breaks, its utterances and stutters, all work in tangent with the poem’s conceit.” Acknowledging the ever-increasing number of possible directions each new turn in a poem creates, Vuong continued, “I think the strongest poems allow themselves to collapse completely before even suggesting resurrection or closure, and a manipulation of form can add another dimension to that collapse.”
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Vuong is the author of the poetry collections Night Sky With Exit Wounds (2016) and the chapbooks No (2013) and Burnings (2010), which was an Over the Rainbow selection by the American Library Association. His work has been translated into Hindi, Korean, Russian, and Vietnamese. His honors include fellowships from the Elizabeth George Foundation, Poets House, Kundiman, and the Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts as well as an Academy of American Poets Prize, an American Poetry Review Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets, a Pushcart Prize, and a Beloit Poetry Journal Chad Walsh Poetry Prize.

In 2014, Vuong was awarded a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He received a Whiting Award in 2016. He lives in Queens, New York, where he serves as managing editor for Thrush Press.

VIDEO: Lipizzaner Horses Dancing to Classical Music

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The Lipizzaner horses at Tempel Farms perform the quadrille

The Lipizzaner horses at Tempel Farms perform

Dressage is one of the most unique Olympic sports. Some horses, like the Lipizzaners at Tempel Farms, in Old Creek Mill, IL, turn the sport of dressage into an art. They can dance to classical music. WFMT visited Tempel Farms to see how everyone on two legs and four keep the ancient art of dressage alive today.

The horses at Tempel Farms are of the Lipizzaner breed, which traces its lineage back to the 16th century. The breed is named after the place where it was developed: Lipizza, or modern day Lipica, Slovenia.

Lipizzaners look distinctive because of their Romanesque noses, large eyes, broad chests, light coats, and muscular appearance. Originally, they were bred for both warfare and display.

But Lipizzaners aren’t all brawn and no brains. They are smart and sensitive animals, and can be trained in dressage. According to the United States Dressage Federation, “Dressage is a French term meaning ‘training’ and its purpose is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider.”

Some horses, like Lipizzaners, can be trained in advanced dressage movements and do complex, choreographed routines. The horses at Tempel Farms dance to the music of Mozart, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and others, in performances that are open to the public. Learn more about their training in the video below.

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The principles of dressage can be traced back as far as classical antiquity. One of the oldest surviving documents on the subject is Xenophon’s On Horsemanship, which dates to around 350 B.C.E. His principles of accentuating the horse’s natural strength and grace, and training through positive feedback and touch are still used today.

The classical art of dressage was revived in the Middle Ages, as horses became increasingly involved in warfare. Horses would wear heavy, elaborate armor like the riders they carried, and were incorporated into military parades as displays of power. In the Renaissance, rulers became increasingly interested in combining equestrian displays into festivals and celebrations. By the 16th century, when the Lipizzaner breed was developed, dressage reached new heights, and horses were fully incorporated into large-scale spectacles through equestrian ballets.

In fact, the word “carousel” comes from elaborate equestrian displays popular among ruling classes centuries ago. Groups of riders would gather in groups to perform routines. Often, each group had a theme, reflected in the costume of the rider and the horse, and through other elaborate carriages or floats.

If you think wedding celebrations today are over the top, imagine gathering twelve groups of friends on horseback, with each group themed to a different sign of the zodiac, to perform equestrian ballet with costumes, floats, and music for your nuptials!

The image gallery below displays some of the more lavish carousels and equestrian ballets recorded, most from French the court of Louis XIV and the Saxon court at Dresden. One of the largest collections of surviving objects used in equestrian spectacles is housed in the Dresden State Art Collections, and can be viewed in a virtual tour here.

Dressage in the Renaissance and Baroque Eras

Today, there are over 11,000 Lipizzaner horses registered with the Lipizzan International Federation worldwide. Lipizzans horses are given two names – the first referring to the stud, and the second to the mare – to trace their lineage back to one of several originals dynasties that date back to the 16th century. One of the most famous centers for breeding and training stallions is the Spanish Riding School, which has been in operation for over 450 years. You can enjoy pictures of the Tempel Lipizzans, which trace their heritage back centuries, too, below.

Lipizzaner Horses at Tempel Farms

To learn more about the Tempel Lipizzans and Tempel Farms, located just outside of Chicago, visit the farm’s website.


Collaborative arts programming is made possible by the Richard and Mary L. Gray Artistic Collaboration Fund.


VIDEO: Sneak Peek of World Music Showcase Presented by WTTW and Old Town School of Folk Music

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Noura Mint Seymali

Noura Mint Seymali

Noura Mint Seymali

It’s no secret to Chicagoans that the Old Town School of Folk Music  offers diverse musical offerings.  WFMT’s sister station, WTTW, recently teamed up with the Old Town School to present a new program showcasing two world-renowned musicians: Aysenur Kolivar and Noura Mint Seymali.

Kolivar is a singer-composer who intends to preserve and revive the female vocal traditions of the Black Sea region in her native Turkey.  Seymali blends ancient musical traditions from her native Mauritania with modern, funk-inspired instrumentation.  

Both musicians visited the Old Town School and Chicago schools for performances and workshops.

WFMT host Candice Agree narrates the half hour program, which will air on WTTW on Friday, July 29 from 7:30-8:00 pm and Sunday, July 31 from 4:00-4:30 pm.

Watch the videos below for an exclusive sneak peek.


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For more information about the World Music Showcase, visit the WTTW website.

How Chicagoland Native Stacey Magiera Landed Her Dream Job as a Cirque du Soleil Artist

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Cirque du Soleil’s “TORUK – The First Flight” (Photo: Errisson Lawrence)

What is your dream job? For Chicagoland native Stacey Magiera, it’s being a Cirque du Soleil artist. Magiera grew up in the Chicago suburbs of Jefferson Park and Barrington, training in gymnastics at an early age. Later, as a college student at the University of Illinois-Chicago, she continued to pursue her passion for competitive gymnastics. Magiera spoke about her background, how she landed her dream job, and what it’s like performing with Cirque du Soleil as she returns to the Windy City for performances of Toruk: The First Flight

When did you start doing gymnastics?

I started gymnastics when I was 7 years old and I did club gymnastics for about 15 years. My parents put me in gymnastics because I was always tumbling around the house, jumping on the couches and vaulting over furniture. They wanted to save the furniture so they put me in the classes. I loved it so much.

It started out just being fun and then I started getting better so I made the team. So I started going to competitions and being in higher levels. As a punishment my parents would threaten, ‘If you’re not good, you can’t go to gymnastics.’

Stacey Magiera from Cirque du Soleil's TORUK - The First Flight

A young Stacey Magiera from Cirque du Soleil’s “TORUK – The First Flight”

How did you feel when you started competing?

It was very nerve-wracking at first and with club gymnastics there aren’t that many competitions a year, so you never really get used to it. Every competition is just very nerve-wracking and stressful. It wasn’t until I did high school gymnastics, I did two years at Barrington High School. There are multiple competitions per week. I got into the rhythm and I got very consistent. It was the same when I went to college – I did 4 years of division 1 college gymnastics at the University of Illinois-Chicago. So I got quite used to it.

Have you trained in other sports or arts?

I did about five years of dance and I took ballet, tap, jazz and pointe. I was on the dance company at the Bataille Academie in Barrington. The training for gymnastics got more intense, so it required more hours and I liked gymnastics better than dance so I dropped that. But in gymnastic floor exercises, you’re doing a dance routine with leaps and jumps and tumbling. So my dance training definitely helped with my gymnastics, I just enjoyed doing gymnastics more.

Stacey Magiera from Cirque du Soleil's TORUK - The First Flight

A young Stacey Magiera from Cirque du Soleil’s “TORUK – The First Flight”

How did you discover circus arts?

Everyone I knew in high school was done with gymnastics. College is kind of the end of the road. So I was getting scared when it was coming time to graduate because I wasn’t done and then all my friends on the team retired. I really wanted to find a way to keep doing gymnastics of some sort and performing.

I found out about Cirque de la Mer in San Diego. They taught me how to do Chinese poles and flying trapeze into the water. We did high dives and tumbling, so that was my transition into circus arts. It was such a blessing to find out about the performing world and that you could make it into a career and do it for a living.

When did you learn about Cirque du Soleil?

I saw Corteo in Chicago and it was a big-top tent show. Just walking into the tent I thought it was the most magical place. Then I saw the show and it inspired me to just keep training hard and so that maybe I could do this one day if I’m lucky.

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Stacy Magiera performing in “TORUK.” (Photo: Thierry Ballange)

What was the audition for Cirque du Soleil like?

I had no idea how to get into Cirque du Soleil. I thought it was just an amazing company and way beyond me. I learned about the audition process for Cirque du Soleil when working with Cirque de la Mer.

I made an audition tape of all of my skills both from Cirque de la Mer and gymnastics and I sent it in to Cirque du Soleil and I didn’t hear anything for about a year. I had moved to Alaska because my sister lived there and I was coaching gymnastics and still training every day at the gym in hopes that I’d get a call from Cirque du Soleil.

One day I was ice fishing in Alaska and got a call from Cirque du Soleil saying “Can you be in Montreal next week to be part of the creation for a brand new show?” I’m like, “Oh my gosh! Yes, of course!”

I was so excited and then the day before my flight a volcano erupted in Alaska so it grounded all the planes because of the ash in the air. No planes could come in or out so I was stuck in Alaska and I had to call Cirque and tell them that I was going to miss my flight and that I was really sorry. About two days later I was able to fly.

Are other Cirque performer’s backgrounds similar to yours?

Everyone has very different backgrounds, though many artists have a background in gymnastics. Some came from a circus background and they came from a circus family and started performing when they were five years old, traveling around the world.

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Can you tell me about training for your first Cirque du Soleil show?

My first show was Viva Elvis in 2009. We’re all put up in the Cirque du Soleil residence. It was such a culture shock going to Montreal and then joining a circus. It was so much fun living in the residence. We’re all living together and training together.

Cirque du Soleil headquarters is such a magical place. When you walk in, it’s such an eclectic, fun, creative group of people. There’s so much artwork around the building and they’ll re-do the artwork every year. There are people riding down the halls on unicycles and people have Mohawks and are walking down the hall juggling.

The training process was nine months until we opened and I was in Viva Elvis until 2012. Then I joined the show at the MGM Grand.

What are some of your most exciting memories in your first show

I remember when I first joined the show , I was learning an act that’s called “Climb” and the stage actually moves around and can go vertical. In this act, it spins around in circles and there are metal pegs popping out. It finishes with the stage completely vertical. Then an acrobat hangs on by one hand on a peg and does a 60-foot high fall onto an air bag. When I first saw the show I was like “That’s amazing. I don’t think I could ever do that.”

Then I joined the show and they were training me for it and it was so far-fetched for me to learn that, but it was gradual steps to get there. I eventually ended up doing it in show and I was the second woman ever to do that trick in the show. That was a real accomplishment for me.

Stacey Magiera in TORUK (Photo: Thierry Ballange)

Stacy Magiera performing on the Chinese poles in “TORUK”(Photo: Thierry Ballange)

Can you tell me about the training for Toruk, in which you’re currently performing?

For the show Toruk, it was about a four month process which is very short for a Cirque du Soleil show. Our days were super long in training.  We had a soft opening in November. We were in Montreal for one month and then in Shreveport, Louisiana for the rest of the time.

How is this show different than other Cirque du Soleil productions in which you’ve performed?

Every Cirque du Soleil show is different from each other, but our show is very different, in that it is story based. The whole show inspired by the world created in the film Avatar. The story’s told through acrobatics and projections and life-sized puppets. The projections make it seem like you’re in a 3-D world and that you’re in the world of Pandora. It takes you through different lands of desert, mountains, waterfalls and forests. You really feel like you’re in the movie.

Our show is a prequel to the movie, so it takes place thousands of years before the movie. In the movie it was about the sixth Na’vi that ever rode the Toruk, which is the giant, dragon-like creature. Our show is about the very first Na’vi to ride the Toruk.

What kinds of costumes do you wear in the show?

I have three costumes so it’s a quick change into all of those roles and different characters. There are five different clans in the show and I’m in three of them. I’m the chief of the Anurai clan and we do a balancing act on a spinning skeleton structure. I’m part of the Tipani clan which is a warrior clan that lives in the forest. It’s high-intensity. We’re climbing up and down poles. It’s a Chinese poles/articulated pole act and we’re fighting off viper wolves. I’m also part of the Omaticaya clan which is from the movie Avatar and I do an aerial act.

How long does it take you to get ready for the show?

It takes about an hour to do my makeup and then another half hour to put all the pieces of your costume on. It’s a full head-to-toe leotard/bodysuit. Then there are different accessories that go on top of that. Part of our original training was makeup classes. So we all learned how to do our own makeup. There’s a wardrobe team that takes care of all of our costume pieces and repairs them if need be. They’re in charge of the makeup if we run out of it. But we all know how to do our own makeup.

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Our first glimpse of the chief of clan invokes instant intrigue. (Photo: Youssef Shoufan Costume: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil)

What’s it like wearing so much makeup all the time?

They give us MAC face products to help with skincare. There are so many layers of creams we put on. Then you powder it to waterproof it. Then you put all different color powders on top of that. Then you’re putting on eyeliner, then fake lashes and then glow-in-the-dark dots, so it’s a lot of layers. We’ll use oil to break up all the creams and then facewash, a cleanser and then moisturizer every single day.

What are your favorite things about being a Cirque du Soleil artist?

It’s such a great company to work for. They really take care of us. Even though it has expanded into a much bigger company, I think there are 18 shows out right now, they really care about each person and about how you’re feeling. They’ll ask for your input about the show or if you have any ideas. They love to try them out. You don’t feel like you’re just a number, you feel like you’re part of the company.

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Over the years Cirque du Soleil has developed a three-layer make-up technique that enables artists to preserve their make-up during an entire performance despite perspiration. The artists put on their own make-up before each performance. (Photo: Youssef Shoufan Costume: Kym Barrett © 2015 Cirque du Soleil)

Do you feel like you are a part of the creative process when developing new shows like Toruk?

You’re thrown into a room with an apparatus that’s never been used before. All of the tricks in the show we created from scratch. They just said ‘See what you can come up with.’ We just train every single day and try different tricks and you see something someone else would do and then dare someone to do an even harder trick or you would tie a sequence into that. You just dare each other to do harder tricks until a choreographer comes in and pieces it together. It’s cool to be part of the original group of people because now any who comes in is learning tricks that I helped create. The show is always evolving. We have trainings every week to try and up the acrobatic level and still come up with new tricks.

What things are on your Chicago bucket list since you’re only in town for a short time?

I’d really like to go to Portillo’s and get a hot dog. I’d also like to go to Millennium Park. It’s interesting working with a cast of people from all over the world and from different cultures. Most of them have not been to Chicago before, so it’ll be cool to show them around and we might do a boat tour or go on a trolley and see the city.

 

 

VIDEO: LIVE Backstage with Conductor Marin Alsop

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Conductor Marin Alsop leads the Grant Park Orchestra in three performances this week. She took time after her rehearsals in the Pritzker Pavilion in downtown Chicago to speak to WFMT host Dave Schwan and to answer your questions.

As a champion for new music, Alsop leads programs that feature works by modern and contemporary composers. On Wednesday, July 20, 2016 she conducts works by Philip Glass and Osvaldo Golijov – the later of whom will be present for the evening’s performance. On Friday, July 22 and Saturday, July 23, she leads performances of Johnson’s Harlem Symphony and Victory Stride, Ellington’s Slave Song/Come Sunday and Imagine My Frustration. For good measure, the orchestra will also play Dvořák’s American-inspired Symphony No. 9, From the New World.

Hear about the programs and more in the live discussion below. And be sure to tune in to Friday’s program, which will be broadcast live on WFMT and WFMT.com

Marin Alsop also spoke with WFMT before a recent appearance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra about many topics including why there aren’t more women behind the podium, and what it’s like working as a queer woman in the arts. Read the interview here.

15 Sopranos Singing One of the Craziest Coloratura Arias

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One of the most difficult coloratura arias in the entire operatic repertoire, “Les oiseaux dans la charmille,” comes from Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffman (Les contes d’Hoffmann). The piece is also known as “The Doll Song,” since the character who performs it, Olympia, is a mechanical doll. In the opera, Hoffman recounts how he was charmed by the automaton, co-created by Spalanzani and Coppélius. Though anyone could plainly see that Olympia was a machine, Coppélius sold Hoffman a pair of magical glasses that tricked him into thinking Olympia was a real woman.

Illustration from the 1881 première of Jacques Offenbach's Les contes d'Hoffmann, showing the Olympia act (the acts are often rearranged, so it's easier and more accurate to use this convention.

Illustration from the 1881 première of Jacques Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann, showing the Olympia act (the acts are often rearranged, so it’s easier and more accurate to use this convention.)

The song Olympia performs is as impressive as she is. Though the aria’s two verses and refrain have some difficult passage work already written into the score, most sopranos choose to crank up the coloratura by adding their own embellishments.

Many singers add embellishments when singing the second verse, since listeners are already familiar with the melody.  The second phrase of the verse, in particular, allows a lot of flexibility to add vocal fireworks.

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Hear how Kathleen Kim re-composes the music below.

 

There are also lots of opportunities to add cadenzas – moments when singers can do whatever they want (as long as the music director approves, of course!).

In most scores, the chance to insert a cadenza is indicated with a simple fermata, like in the last measure of the music shown below.

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Hear how Diana Damrau embellishes this single note by clicking below.

 

During the refrain, Offenbach wrote several repeated high notes.

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But below, hear how Sabine Devieilhe adds a few notes of her own.

 

And of course, you can’t end a grand aria without a grand cadenza. Offenbach wrote a cadenza in his original score.

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But, why not gild the lily? Hear Erin Morley’s cadenza below.

 

 

Enjoy full performances of Olympia’s aria below, and tell us your favorites in the comments.


  1. Kathleen Kim
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  2. Natalie Dessay
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John Williams Greets “Star Wars” Musicians Outside Home

Composer John Williams

Composer John Williams

Composer John Williams

Composer John Williams

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Two musicians have earned a greeting from legendary Hollywood film composer John Williams by playing his theme from “Star Wars” outside of his Los Angeles home.

A video posted on YouTube by Michael Miller shows him playing the famous theme on flugelhorn alongside 13-year-old trumpet player Bryce Hayashi on the sidewalk in front of Williams’ home. The performance drew the composer to his door, and he later walked down to shake hands with the musicians.

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The 84-year-old Williams joked that he didn’t think the teen would be able to hit the high notes, but he did.

Williams was honored with a life achievement award from the American Film Institute earlier this year. He’s also known for his composures for “Jaws,” the Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park series and other films.

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