Archive for the ‘World’s Greatest City of Art and the Outdoors’ Category

From Oregon Arts Watch


Weekend MusicWatch: Opera old and new

Published March 15, 2013, in MUSIC

deadman walking

Michael Mayes stars in Eugene Opera’s Dead Man Walking.

Apologists for Oregon’s hidebound classical music institutions whine about how hard it is to program new music. Crusty old-school audiences (unlike every other performing art form in America) won’t take a chance on unfamiliar names, they claim. New works are expensive. Etc etc.

So what are we to make of plucky Eugene Opera? Seemingly moribund a few years ago, the company has resuscitated itself not by exclusively programming the usual top ten operas that make up a high percentage of American opera program, but instead by also including works by contemporary, West Coast composers. Last year, it was a well-received production of John Adams’s 1987 breakthrough, “Nixon in China,” and, opening this weekend at the Hult Center for two performances only, it’s another contemporary classic: San Francisco composer Jake Heggie’s “Dead Man Walking,” which has received more than 30 productions and rave reviews since its 2000 premiere.

The company’s general director since 2006, Mark Beudert, has built the production into a larger citywide discussion, with events at the University of Oregon law school, Eugene Public Library, City Club, and Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts, and including appearances by composer Heggie and by the author of the celebrated book the opera (and Tim Robbins’ masterful 1995 film) was based on, Sister Helen Prejean. Maybe Oregon’s other institutions can learn survival lessons from what once seemed to be a dead man singing.


Read Full Post »

Here’s a short film of the ARTWALK stop at the Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts (DIVA) on 1 March 2013, with me, Miriam Jordan (Board President of DIVA), and Paul Solomon (Executive Director of Sponsors, Inc.).


Read Full Post »

Local production tells the true story of a condemned prisonerBY BOB KEEFERThe Register-Guard

Published: 14 March 2013

When Michael Mayes dropped by The Register-Guard to have his photo taken last week, he caused a bit of a stir in the newsroom.

Not because the singer is handsome — he is — but because he looked, from the tattoo on his arm to his sleeveless shirt to his slicked-back hair and ’80s-style beard, like exactly the kind of tough guy you don’t want to meet in an alley — or anywhere else.

OK, he was in costume. And once we got to the photo studio, Mayes, like most opera singers I’ve met, proved to be utterly charming and intelligent.

That very dissonance between appearance and reality gets to the heart of “Dead Man Walking,” this weekend’s Eugene Opera production in which Mayes plays condemned murderer Joseph DeRocher.

The story is based on the book of the same name by Sister Helen Prejean, who is in town herself this week for the performance. The book also was made into a critically acclaimed 1995 film starring Sean Penn and Susan Sarandon, who won the Oscar for best actress.

The book, movie and opera tell the true story of a nun who is called to a Louisiana prison to counsel a man condemned to die for the rape and murder of a teenage girl and her boyfriend. The situation is stark and unyielding: There is no question in “Dead Man” of innocence, only the faint possibility of forgiveness and redemption.

Opera at its best

Eugene Opera’s is the fourth production of “Dead Man” Mayes has appeared in.

Mayes previously played a motorcycle cop and a prison guard in other productions before starring as DeRocher in last year’s production by Tulsa Opera.

The Tulsa World called it the city’s best arts event of the year, in part due to Mayes’ “superb” performance.

“It’s easy to play this guy as full of bluster,” Mayes said, “a raging bull. But I’ve had time for it to sink into my consciousness.

“There’s more to him than that.”

A hunky, easygoing young man from Texas — he’s been called a “rockabilly baritone” for his love of country music — Mayes says “Dead Man” is opera at its engaging best.

“I like this more than anything else in opera,” he said. “It’s my language. I can reach out and touch the kinds of people I grew up around in a way I can’t with ‘Barber of Seville.’

“When my family came and watched it in Tulsa, they actually understood it.”

Mayes says the best review he ever got came from a woman who contacted him on Facebook after seeing him in “Dead Man.”

“My daughter was murdered seven years ago,” she wrote. “The way you played Joseph changed the way I thought about the man who murdered my daughter.”

“He’s not an evil guy,” Mayes said of his character, despite the fact that in the first scene he stabs a young girl to death after raping her. “He’s definitely flawed and damaged. And what he did was terrible.

“But it’s a series of terrible, terrible decisions that he makes.”

Complicated guilt

Playing the role of Sister Helen is British soprano Janis Kelly, who sang the role of Pat Nixon in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Nixon in China” in 2011.

This is her first experience with “Dead Man.”

“You really get what rape means in this show,” she said. “The rape is very graphic. It lets the audience in on a secret that the others aren’t aware of.”

That would be the exact nature of De­Rocher’s guilt, which is undisputed but still complicated.

The opera, Kelly said, manages to tell the story of the rape and murder, DeRocher’s relationship with Sister Helen and his ultimate execution without ever being maudlin or even sentimental. And yet it doesn’t flinch from the reality of the story.

“The worst thing anybody can do is something that you can’t go back and change,” Kelly said.

The music, by Jake Heggie with lyrics by playwright Terrence McNally, has beautiful melodies and harmonies, the singer said, despite the opera’s harsh subject matter. “There is no point in making it dissonant and ugly,” she said.

Playing Mrs. DeRocher, Joseph’s mother, who begs the court to spare her son’s life, is Susanne Mentzer. Other major roles include Brooke Cagno as Sister Rose; Philip Engdahl as George Benton; George Shirley as Father Grenville; Laura Wayte as Kitty Hart; Mark Beudert as Owen Hart; Marieke Schuurs as Jade Boucher; and Sandy Naishtat as Howard Boucher.

The conductor is Andrew Bisantz; stage director is Sam Helfrich; chorus master is John Jantzi; children’s chorus master is David Fitch; stage manager is Erin Empey; costume designer is Jonna Hayden; lighting designer is Michael Peterson; scenery designer is Peter Beudert; and makeup designer is Sarah Clifford.

The opera’s presentation is accompanied by a number of other related events, including public appearances by Sister Helen and by composer Jake Heggie.

Opera Preview

Dead Man Walking

What: Opera by Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally, based on a book of the same title by Sister Helen Prejean

When: 7:30 p.m. March 15 and 2:30 p.m. March 16

Where: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center for the Performing Arts, Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street

Tickets: $20 to $84 at 541-682-5000 and HultCenter.org

Meet the author and composer: Heggie and Sister Helen will talk about the opera at 5:30 p.m. March 15 in The Studio at the Hult Center. Tickets are $25 at 541-682-5000 and HultCenter.org.

Related events

Book signing: Sister Helen talks and signs copies of “Dead Man Walking” at 2 p.m. March 16 at Eugene Public Library, 100 W. 10th Ave.

Gala dinner: Sister Helen is the keynote speaker at a fundraising dinner to honor Sponsors’ 40 years of prisoner reentry services in Lane County. 6 p.m. March 16 at Ford Alumni Center, 1720 E. 13th Ave. Tickets are $100 at SponsorsInc.org and 541-485-8341.

Readings: The Windfall Reading Series of the Library presents a program of readings, organized by Lane Literary Guild and Sponsors Inc., at 5:30 p.m. March 19 at Eugene Public Library, 100 W. 10th Ave.

Talk: After giving a history of prisons and alternative justice systems, Walidah Imarisha, author and adjunct professor in Portland State University’s department of Black Studies, will lead a conversation about alternatives to incarceration. 2 p.m. March 30, Eugene Public Library, 100 W. 10th Ave.

Read Full Post »

The Oregon Mozart Players, many of whom are in the Eugene Opera Orchestra, appear tonight at 730 PM at First Christian Church, 1166 Oak Street Eugene OR.    Go see them!

Intimate Encounters

Saturday, March 9 — 7:30 p.m. First Christian Church

Artistic Director Kuo goes back to his roots as a piano major at the University of Oregon when he plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 12 “a quattro”—with string quartet—as Mozart himself allowed it to be performed. Music by two of the world’s foremost living composers holds sway in the rest of this program, including Osvaldo Golijov’s tribute to the bandoneon, deemed “the best Piazzola tango Piazzola never wrote.”

Kelly Kuo, conductor
Deborah Nansteel, mezzo-soprano

Rossini: String Sonata No. 6 in D
Golijov: Last Round
Harbison: Mirabai Songs
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 12 in A Major, K. 414

Program notes

Read Full Post »