Special Interview with Wolf Trap Opera Company
The interviews all started here! We published our very first one back in February. Did any of our readers attend Wolf Trap this season? Did anyone go see a production? Let’s hear about it! Also, if you haven’t checked out the Wolf Trap blog, you must! It is FULL of excellent audition season feedback. There’s even an “aria frequency list” …turns out lots of sopranos are starting with “Je suis encor” this season – mental note taken! Oh, and Wolf Trap says, “It’s totally fine to offer just an A section of a da capo aria if the entire aria would take 7-8 minutes to sing.” This news makes my life!
Revisit the interview below and then check out Kim Witman’s blog here: http://www.wolftrapopera.org/blog/
by Melissa Wimbish
Operagasm is thrilled to bring you a special interview with the director of one of the most successful Young Artist Programs (YAP) in the country! Kim Witman of the Wolf Trap Opera Company is celebrating today’s announcement of the WTOC 2010 season by doing guest blog posts and interviews in a few places across the blogosphere.
Link back to Kim’s blog at www.wolftrapopera.blogspot.com for a complete list – all of the links should be active by midday on Tuesday, February 9. Read on for the inside scoop on this year’s Wolf Trap artists, repertoire, and some helpful audition tips from Kim!
Melissa Wimbish: Can you start by telling me a little bit about Wolf Trap?
Kim Witman: Wolf Trap Opera is a young artist training company whose complete roster is made of emerging singers. We are under the umbrella of the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts.
MW: Your upcoming season includes 3 all-new productions, conceived and designed for your theater. Can you tell us about the productions and why they were chosen?
KW: We choose our repertoire in response to the best singing we hear in each fall’s nationwide audition tour. In a bit of reverse engineering, we pick the singers then search for the operas and roles that are the best fit. This year, that translated into Mozart’s Zaide, Rossini’s Turk in Italy, and Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Once the rep is chosen, we hire directors and designers to craft productions that best fit our singers, our (peculiar but magical) small theatre and our audience.
MW: Can you tell us anything special about this season’s cast? What is the age range? What is the experience level on average? Is this different from most Young Artist Programs or pretty average? Would you say it is a diverse group?
KW: This year’s roster comprises 16 young artists. The age range is 25-34, and most of our artists have earned at least one graduate or post-graduate degree and participated in multiple young artist programs. Our Filene Young Artists tend to be a bit further advanced in their career development than singers in many other YAPs, because at Wolf Trap (unlike in many other programs), our singers take the responsibility for all leading and featured roles (instead of cover, supporting, or chorus assignments).
We do have a second tier of singers, our Studio Artists. These younger singers are either undergraduates or first-year grad students. They’re at the beginning of their journeys, and they’ll leave us to go on to other YAPs. (This summer we welcome back a Studio Artist from 2007 who is “graduating” to Filene Young Artist status!)
And yes, it’s a diverse group by most standards. Singers from every part of this country, with a weird critical mass – 6 of them – from Texas (what’s that about?), and one singer from Seoul, Korea. They trained at a wide range of conservatories and universities. There are 6 girls and 10 guys (it was a big baritone and bass year on the audition tour), and the ethnic diversity includes Korean, Caucasian and African American heritages. There are former band geeks, a basketball player, a Springsteen cover band leader, Green Bay & Cowboys fans, amateur photographers, a doting uncle, an aspiring pianist and a serious hiker. In other words, just like your friends and neighbors.
MW: What advice would you give to young artists auditioning for WTOC? What are you looking for in an applicant?
KW: Here’s what we’re looking for in a Filene Young Artist:
- Emerging professional singers who are at an interim point between academic training and full-time professional careers.
- Most FYAs are currently enrolled in a graduate or professional degree program, or not more than 2-3 years past completion of academic training and/or full-time young artist program work.
Advice? Be sure you’re in our sweet spot as described in the profile. (If not, there are plenty of other training programs for which you might qualify – do your research.) Then pick the material that’s at the intersection of 1) what you are most comfortable singing and 2) what showcases your unique assets.
MW: I don’t know that I have ever heard of a virtual season launch. How do you feel this particular tactic will increase interest in Wolf Trap’s upcoming season?
KW: It’s more about increasing awareness of our company as a whole. Most of what I’m writing today is to add texture to our public profile. Our traditional marketing (website, two direct mail pieces, and a handful of newspaper ads) is still the primary way of filling our seats, but it’s limited to just-the-facts. Title, date & time. I’m looking beyond that to increase awareness of our mission and our unique nature, and the dynamic nature of the blogosphere seems to be a great way to start.
MW: Steven Blier is on your roster this season, how will he be interacting with the artists?
KW: Steve will create two new recitals to showcase two 4-person casts. That means that eight of our artists will spend a week in intensive rehearsals with Steve and will perform with him at The Barns.
MW: Can you tell us more about the improvisation project, Instant Opera! ? How has it been received by audiences in the past? How do the artists seem to benefit from this project?
KW: Wow, that’s a whole blog post in itself. Here’s the Cliffs Notes description:
Using a Mad Libs format, the cast takes story ideas from the audience. The formula: Once upon a time in a ____ (location), there was a _____ (character) and _____ (another character). Every day they would ________(action), until ______ (a new character) came along and ______ (action). The audience then votes on a “happy” or “sad” ending, and the cast gets 3 minutes offstage to come up with a game plan.
The cast makes up the story and delivers it via English recitative. The pianist tries to stay on track as the singers improvise through the circle of fifths. Whenever the pianist senses an aria coming on, s/he launches into the introduction of an aria snippet. The aria excerpts (about a minute each) are sung in original language, and are used as placeholders and magnifiers for emotions and situations. The cast also works in “La ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni with improvised English lyrics. Somehow, in about 20 minutes, they get to the end of the prescribed Mad Lib story, and it’s all topped it all off with a finale.
I have no idea how this actually works, but it does.
The audiences (kids of all ages and their families) eat it up. The whole idea that grown-ups stand up there and sing their way (without microphones!) through a crazy story is entertaining in itself. And the audience really loves the interactive nature of the whole thing.
The singers are usually terrified at first but come away from this project with an unshakable confidence in their stagecraft and a surprisingly deep and organic knowledge of recitative.
MW: How do you feel blogging has impacted the business of opera, especially at WTOC?
KW: I can’t say how it has impacted the business, but I know in my bones that our company is stronger because of our blog. The evidence is anecdotal, for sure, but there’s enough of it that it shouldn’t be ignored. Our patrons, our artists and their families, the Wolf Trap staff – everyone has the opportunity to gain a deeper knowledge of why we exist and what we do best.
Announcing the 2010 Wolf Trap Opera Company Season
10 performances of 3 operas, 2 recitals with Steven Blier and 5 performances of Instant Opera!
Tickets go on sale to the general public on March 13.
For advance sales and priority handling, become a Wolf Trap member.
In celebration of the announcement of WTOC’s 2010 season, I am doing guest posts and interviews in various locations across the blogosphere. Find out more about us than you ever wanted to know by clicking through!
First, links to the official sites via the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts
Rossini’s The Turk in Italy
Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream