artist interview

Artist Interview Series: Orchestra Manager and Clarinetist, Calvin Falwell

You have put together the Ash Lawn / Charlottesville Opera from national auditions for six years.  How do you spread the word to attract high level players and how do they audition?

Yes, this my sixth year as orchestra manager and I have loved every minute of it!  When we have an opening in the orchestra I make sure to get the word out to as many orchestras as possible.  Over the years I have compiled a list of over 100 personnel managers from various orchestras around the country.  As the company has grown over the years so has the orchestra. When an opening does occur I have noticed that the number of applicants has grown along with the overall quality.  Additionally, we rely on word of mouth from our regular festival musicians. This is very important since the orchestra is the musical backbone of the production.  If you sacrifice quality in the orchestra it can really drag the overall production down.  So, it is imperative that we find the best players. 

What are you looking for in a player?
There are a number of things that we look for in a player.  The most essential areas are rhythm, intonation (pitch) and sound.  If the player is deficient one of these areas then we will not be inclined to hire them.  Finally, experience and solid references are a absolute must.  

I'm sure you'd agree that the level of the orchestra improves every year -- do most players want to return to C'ville?
We have an excellent retention rate of 90%.  We also allow our regular players to choose one production if they are unable to stay for the entire summer.  This final part is important because we want to retain the best players as we can, so we try to offer flexibility.  In the last few years we have started offering competitive contracts that matches with many companies of the same size. This last part is key to optimal retention. 

When the orchestra is not rehearsing or performing, is there a camaraderie or do orchestral musicians prefer privacy and solitude?
Absolutely, we enjoy hanging out!  We enjoy hiking, running, cycling and exploring the areas many wineries.  Not to mention C'Ville's excellent restaurant scene. Each summer musicians hold chamber music parties and read thought some of the great works for our instruments. Personally, I am an avid cyclist so I try to ride at leas 1000-1200 miles during the summer. Charlottesville is an amazing place for outdoor activities and each year I look forward to it!

In addition to contracting the orchestra, you play the clarinet and the bass clarinet. What is the difference between those two instruments and what pieces have important parts for the bass clarinet?

The big difference is that the bass clarinet is an octave lower than the Bb Clarinet.  I like to think of the bass clarinet as the "Barry White" of the orchestra.  When the bass clarinet has a solo it is usually to add another level of depth/color to the scene.  Some of my favorite parts to play are works by Mahler, Wagner, Puccini, Copland and Strauss.  Fun fact, I have commissioned 6 concertos for bass clarinet and orchestra and recorded a CD featuring three of them.  The Concerto by composer Todd Goodman actually won the American Prize for Composition in 2014 and I recently performed that work with the National Symphony of Guatemala.

Artist Interview Series: Oklahoma! Stage Director, Mary Birnbaum


You put together our semi-staged La traviata in less than a week -- are you looking forward to having three weeks of rehearsal?
It's fun now! Yes, I am very much looking forward to having three weeks of rehearsal! It's enough to try things, to change things and also to really work together to build the world of OKLAHOMA! 

Oklahoma! was composed 75 years ago -- how does this piece resonate today?
In 2017, we are hungry for work that discusses what it means to be American - just look at the success of Hamilton. In these times where national identity is in question and ever-changing, it's interesting to look back at a time before we were official, when a community was making up the rules as they needed them, and having to decide on right and wrong among themselves. I love the scene where the entire town rules Curly innocent because it seems so ad-hoc and fundamentally Democratic. Another big point of resonance is how independent and willful the female characters are. Both Laurey and Ado Annie know their value and exactly what they want. 

Although you work mostly in opera, you're a big musical theater buff!
What I love most about modern musical theater is its subversiveness and daring in the face of social norms. Oftentimes, musicals deal in characters that are struggling - to fit in, to accomplish their out-of-reach goals, to survive - and through the amazing superpower of music, we understand and empathize with the internal lives of these folks. People like Jud, who are pariahs, have songs like "Lonely Room", and immediately we understand them better. Musicals really are American Opera. 

 Shelby Rhoades (Principal Coach), Mary Birnbaum (Stage Director), and Michelle Krisel (Artistic Director)

Shelby Rhoades (Principal Coach), Mary Birnbaum (Stage Director), and Michelle Krisel (Artistic Director)

Tell us a bit about your journey from Harvard to Paris to Juilliard....
I started directing at Harvard, which didn't have a formal theater department at that time. After college I thought I needed some formal training. I applied to Ecole Jacques Lecoq, where some of my biggest directing heroes (Julie Taymor, Simon McBurney, Ariane Mnouchkine) had gone, and got in. It was really special to return to Paris, where I had taken a year off before college to study voice, and I love the french language and aesthetic. I worked with my classmates to create physical theater pieces and work on design projects, which were all about using space and bodies to tell story. When I came back to New York, I started working for Stephen Wadsworth, whose work I admired in opera and theater. He brought me to assist him at Juilliard, and at that time, James and Ellen Marcus had given money to start a directing fellowship, for some lucky director to study with Stephen and alongside the talented members of the Vocal Arts community. Jacqueline Schmidt and Brian Zeger, the administrative and artistic heads of the department offered me the first fellowship and also asked me to teach an acting class for sophomore singers at the same time. I have been there for 7 years, and many of my most fruitful working relationships have come from being a member of that community. It's a privilege to work with Jennifer Zetlan and Tobias Greenhalgh on OKLAHOMA!, both people I met at Juilliard. And Jen was in the first opera I ever directed - Down in the Valley by Kurt Weill! 

“In the Age of Rigoletto: Evading the Censor, Imagining a Nation” A.E. Dick Howard

A talk given at the home of Mark and Anne Logan as a prelude to the Charlottesville Opera's performances of Verd's opera Rigoletto on July 9 at Virginia Tech and July 14, 16m and 19, 2017 at the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia

Artist Interview Series: Maestro Steven Jarvi

This is your seventh consecutive season conducting our opera -- you must really like working with Charlottesville Opera!

I love working here in Charlottesville! It’s become a summer home for me and my family. I’m so very proud of the musical growth that I’ve been able to witness and be a part of over my time here and every summer only gets better! It’s always a thrill for me to find out what amazing talent Michelle Krisel has found for us for the coming summer and this Rigoletto cast is certainly no exception. I also must add that I love working with the orchestra we have put together and developed over the years. The players come from incredible orchestras all across the country and LOVE Charlottesville. The pit is part of the Charlottesville Opera family and the audiences certainly respond accordingly. This opera company is a complete experience for me musically and personally and I will never take that for granted.

Does conducting Verdi's Rigoletto offer particular challenges and rewards?

Rigoletto is perfection! This opera was Verdi’s favorite and certainly one of my favorite in the repertoire. The challenges in this piece come from the fact we have very little historic knowledge of performance practice of this time period. In other words, we’re not quite sure how Verdi wanted to sound like based on the norms of the day. On the other hand, there are many traditions in this piece and sorting out what is the best dramatic choice musically and dramatically must be approached thoughtfully. This opera along with La Traviata and Il Trovatore represent a glorious middle period for Verdi. this is music that bridges the gap between bel canto and the more through composed style he adopts in Otello and Falstaff. Fancy words and references aside - this is important music and has an emotional impact that you will never forget. This is also the first time I have performed this opera since having a daughter (my lovely Alice). Just like having a young son made my experience with Madame Butterfly very emotional several seasons past, I now cannot help but imagine if Gilda were my own dear little girl.

 You are the former Resident Conductor of the St. Louis Symphony and Associate Conductor of the Kansas City Symphony.  How does conducting symphony differ from conducting opera?

The world of opera and symphonic life are VERY different. A symphony orchestra plays many, MANY concerts a year and so there is always an awareness of the clock. Time is money and musical clarity and efficiency is paramount. An opera takes place over a much longer period of time and the product ultimately can feel more personal. My wife calls opera rehearsals “opera camp” because we all become a little family over our time together. The storytelling and production elements that come into play make opera not only the ultimate art form, but also just a lot more touchy-feely than the orchestra world. I always tell my friends that we begin an orchestra rehearsal with an “A” at exactly 10 AM and we start an opera rehearsal with five minutes of hugs and kisses. Having a balance of both in my life is important and both come with different stresses and challenges.


How do you juggle a career and home life with two small, adorable children?
Speaking of balance and challenges….Juggling between being family and career becomes the great challenge for most musicians and especially the long stints of travel often involved in opera. I am so lucky to have a superhero wife, Joanne Brownstein Jarvi, who works remotely to allow her to be able to travel with me when necessary. This past season we traveled for work several different times and even all lived in a Residence Inn for a month while I conducted Le Nozze di Figaro in North Carolina. It has been a wonderful experience for Noah and Alice - they love to explore new places and love Charlottesville. We take them up to the mountains and try to make the most of the time traveling together. In the summer, we are the musical Griswalds and pack up every inch of the car, driving around the country for the summer, visiting friends and making music - I can’t think of anything better.  Currently, I’m just trying to be as present at home when I’m not traveling as possible and cherish every moment with them until the next week when I get the musical privilege of traveling to a great city and making music for a living.  




Artist Interview Series: Albert Sherman

Stupendous Stage Director Sherman:


As a resident stage director at New York City Opera for 30 years, give us some of your thoughts on the rise (and fall) of this important institution.

The New York City Opera was an important institution for many reasons. Known as "The People's Opera" it made attending opera affordable with tickets as low as $2.50 when it first opened its doors over 70 years ago. The company presented numerous world premieres of operas many of which became staples of the operatic repertoire. Some of these included Floyd's Susannah, Hoiby's Summer and Smoke and Ward's The Crucible to name a few. The company was known for presenting innovative and dramatically exciting productions of standard repertoire. Some of these included Madame Butterfly and La Traviata directed by Frank Corsaro, Boito's Mephistofele directed by Tito Capobianco who also directed Beverly Sills in The Three Queen Operas by Donizetti and Le Nozze di Figaro directed by John Copley. In addition, the company presented exciting production of musical theater and operetta. Some of which included Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music, Bernstein's Candide and Lehar's The Merry Widow.

The company later championed the Baroque Opera revival presenting numerous productions of Handel, Rameau, Monteverdi and Lully operas. Many of these productions featured such singers as David Daniels, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, Carol Vaness, Erie Mills and Lisa Saffer.

One of the most important aspects of the company was that it provided an opportunity to help launch the careers of many singers who would later go on to sing in many national and international companies. These singers included Beverly Sills, Samuel Ramey, Placido Domingo, Jose Carreras, Jerry Hadley, Matthew Polenzani, Richard Stilwell and Christine Goerke to name just a few. The fall of the original New York City Opera was a great cultural loss not only to New York City but to the world of the arts. It was a true ensemble repertory company which was, and still is, a rare thing in the world of opera. But I am hopeful that the new NYCO will continue to grow and succeed so that it can fulfill the void and continue the legacy of the original company.

You have assisted perhaps the most important producer and director of musical theater, Harold Prince, on productions of Candide and Sweeney Todd, among others.  Tell us a bit about working with this titan and your thoughts on the juncture between musical theater and opera.

Working with Mr. Prince was an education in itself. Not only have I have been fortunate enough to work with him on these musical theater productions but also on some of his operatic productions, especially Don Giovanni, which I later directed when the production was remounted many times. But whether it is musical theater or opera, he brings the same work ethic and values to both worlds.

Mr. Prince's productions are well thought out and brilliantly crafted. Every detail from production values to the process of honing dialogue are carefully thought out. He is not only a great director but also a masterful producer. He carefully chooses his cast and designers and allows them to contribute their artistic talents but helps guide them so that in the end a production flows and in some ways is a beautifully orchestrated machine of sorts. But you are never aware of this. However, in order to achieve these results it takes many weeks to accomplish this. Candide alone was a six week rehearsal period.

It was an honor and a privilege when Mr. Prince entrusted me to direct his production of Sweeney Todd for Portland Opera last year. I was very nervous about doing this as I had only assisted him on the production at NYCO but had never directed the entire production. Needless to say I was very nervous about doing this and felt I had a huge responsibility not only to do justice to this great production but to fulfill the trust of the man who was responsible for bringing me to the New York City Opera. In the end the production was a huge success and Mr. Prince was very pleased with the job that I had undertaken.


This will not be your first production of Rigoletto - how have your thoughts evolved on this masterpiece?

This will be my second production of Rigoletto. But in between I have worked with a number of directors on a number of different productions.

I have lived with this opera since I was a child. I love the piece and no matter how many times I am exposed to it, I always learn something new about the score and the libretto. Part of this is due to experience and part in the contribution of each conductor and cast. But in the end I am there to service Verdi and try to do justice to what I feel is what he wanted.


You are originally from Richmond -- are you looking forward to spending the summer back in Virginia?

Yes, I am very much looking forward to being back in Virginia and am very grateful to Michelle Kriesel for giving me the opportunity to work in my home state again.

I was first exposed to opera on stage at an early age when Boris Goldovsky came through Richmond on tour with his company where I saw The Barber of Seville and La Traviata. It opened a whole new world for me and in many ways was responsible for putting me on the path that I ended up taking.

Growing up in Richmond, I had the good fortune to work at the Virginia Museum Theater starting at the age of 10 when I was cast in their production of The King and I. I continued to appear in productions until I graduated high school. And when I was not onstage in a production, I worked backstage on other productions learning about every aspect of technical theater. All of this was an invaluable experience and taught me a great deal. It created the foundation upon which I have continued to build upon in my career.

Artist Interview Series: Tobias Greenhalgh

Jet Setting Star Stops to Sing in Cville:

This year you perform in Germany, Austria, England, Hong Kong, and Brazil!  How do you deal with all the traveling and are you looking forward to coming to Charlottesville?

This season allows me to see many beautiful places in the world and I am traveling now more than I ever have before in my life. In fact, I believe that I travel intercontinentally about 12 times, with countless other domestic flights and train rides mixed in. In all honesty I find all of this traveling to be very challenging both physically and mentally. The most difficult part for me is that my sleeping pattern is constantly being disturbed, and because of this I’ve been forced to develop an extra-keen awareness for my sleeping rhythm. I've been lucky so far in terms of staying healthy, and have been able to manage my travels somewhat gracefully. With all of the difficulties aside, it is exhilarating to see so much of the world in such a short period of time. My life becomes more enriched with every new experience that I have, and it is an absolute pleasure to meet and work with such a variety of artists from all over the world.

  Franz Lehár Festival in Bad Ischl

 Franz Lehár Festival in Bad Ischl

Do you think of Jud as the 'bad guy' of Oklahoma!, or is he simply misunderstood'?

I never like to identify a character in labels. Every person has a reason for being the way they are. Every person has thoughts, emotions, needs, and desires. Figuring out exactly who Jud is underneath his gloomy and intimidating exterior will lead to a much more interesting experience for the audience and myself. Sometimes the ‘bad guy’ can be the most complex and riveting character in a piece. A good example of a ‘bad guy’ who fascinates me would be Daniel Day Lewis’ character in the film “There Will Be Blood”.

You perform operetta and Gilbert and Sullivan -- do you see similarities with the American musical?

There are definitely striking similarities between the two. Operetta is all about the timing, charm, wit, and it requires the performer to use their body to actively tell the story, and all of this goes for the American musical as well. Going back in history and looking at the progression from Operetta in Austria to England, and then seeing how it somehow transformed into the American musical fascinates me and shows just how connected these two performing styles are. More and more each day I am starting to see opera, operetta, and musicals all on the same playing field in my mind. Obviously each piece has its own voice and has varying requirements from the performers, but my approach and technique towards each role that I take on is virtually the same: lots of practice, lots of research, and hopefully growing a deep passion for the piece. I recently found out that Puccini had a large portrait of Lehar hanging in his home in Lucca and this blew my mind. The fact that the greatest Verismo composer of all time envied and adored one of the greatest Operetta composers of all time taught me that music is a language, and no matter what style a singer is performing, it is all related.

You went to Juilliard -- is it as rough and competitive as rumors have it?

 I spent 6 years at Juilliard and had a wide range of experiences during my time there. First and foremost, I wouldn’t have the career nor the lifestyle that I currently have had it not been for the education that I received at Juilliard. I learned an insurmountable amount about music, acting, business, and life in general (moving to NYC at age 18 makes you grow up fast!). Any amount of competition or harshness that I experienced there is nothing compared to what I sometimes experience in the real world, so I actually appreciate the pressure that I experienced as a student. Overall, it prepared me in every way for this career and I feel confident walking into most working situations. I would say that the best thing I gained from Juilliard is the ability to transition between various musical styles deftly, since there are such a wide variety of specialists on faculty. Today I feel equally at home in musicals as I do with contemporary music and Bel Canto. I love it all!

Artist Interview Series: Jennifer Zetlan

Leading Lady Laurey Returns to Cville Opera from The Met & Broadway:

  October 2016 World Premiere of Louis Karchin’s  Jane Eyre  with Center for Contemporary Opera

October 2016 World Premiere of Louis Karchin’s Jane Eyre with Center for Contemporary Opera

What have you been up to since Charlottesville saw your memorable performance of Pamina in Magic Flute in 2012?

Since our Magic Flute, I have been BUSY!  I have been part of countless opera productions, two of which were recorded and released (Two Boys at the Met and Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle at Seatle Opera), as well as numerous recitals, concerts with orchestra, world premieres, my Broadway debut, and I have made my European and South American opera and concert debuts.  AND of course I’ve been raising my beautiful daughter who was six months old during our last trip, and is now 5 years old and is just finishing Kindergarten

How exciting you have been part of the recent Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof -- how does your work in opera differ from your experience on Broadway?

Broadway was an amazing experience.  It was not always easy, but it was a huge education.  I referred to myself frequently as a tourist on Broadway as I learned the differences between the two worlds.  I was involved with the show for just about a year, from the start of rehearsals until I left because my performance schedule outside got to busy to balance both.  The schedule is quite rigorous, 8 shows a week is no joke!  It is emotionally and physically taxing, but also incredibly meaningful.  There is no way to replicate what it is like to do a show so many times- to know it so deep in the marrow of your bones.  Fiddler will always be with me in a very special way.  When I was working on Two Boys at the Met (also directed by Bart Sher, who directed Fiddler), I remember Bart kept saying things like “if we only had ‘real’ time” and at the time I remember thinking it was funny, because the Met had scheduled 5 weeks of rehearsal, which is a lot for an opera production.  Conversely, Fiddler had about 6 weeks of rehearsals, followed by tech, and then a full month of previews before opening.  Now I understand what he meant!

  Backstage at  Fiddler on the Roof  during a performance when I was on for Tzeitel.

Backstage at Fiddler on the Roof during a performance when I was on for Tzeitel.

There are things I learned in my Broadway experience that I hope to carry forward into all of my work; most notably the intimacy with a piece of theater or music.  You can KNOW Rigoletto or La Bohème, but maybe not the same way you can know something you’ve done 280 consecutive performances of.  So the challenge is how to deepen ones experience with a piece despite a shorter form schedule.




Does Oklahoma! and, in particular, the role of Laurey have a particular resonance for you?

I am really excited to delve into Oklahoma!. The creation of it was part of a pivot of the genre of music theater and I feel like I’m experiencing my own sort of turning point where I am finding my own version of what it means to be a singing actor— so I feel I’m in the right head space to meet this piece, which is exciting.  I love Laurey’s fire and individuality and can’t wait to explore with Stage Director Mary Birnbaum and all of my colleagues what it is that drives this story and makes it feel just as important to tell in 2017 as it felt was when it was written.

Artist Interview Series: Nathan Granner

Oh What a Beautiful Mornin' in Cville.

You have followed the most interesting career path:  you trained as an opera singer, you appeared on PBS as a member of Sony Masterworks The American Tenors, whose 2003 album was Number Five on Billboard's Crossover Classical Chart, and you're performing a musical with us!

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have the career I have.  I wouldn't wish a broken bone or the life of a career artist on anyone. So much goes into it. There are daunting hurdles and hidden pitfalls; the lack of stability can be quite unnerving... BUT I never dreamed I would be able to see and experience so much. I am still hungry for more though.

Although Oklahoma! takes place a hundred years ago, how do you feel that the piece and, in particular, Curly resonate today?

Although the labor is different, I see massive similarities in the hard-living lives people lead to this day. Sure, the machinery is different, but rural life is still rooted in a steep work ethic, faith and community. I have folks in my life that to this day are farmers and actual cowboys. Their lives are almost unreal compared to the shiny city and urban sprawl. I'm a city person now. But growing up in a really really small town in Iowa, I still feel my country roots and still grab a stalk of wheat to chew when I go out walking.

In 2008 you founded a weekly online Arts magazine in Kansas City -- are you concerned about the future of the arts?

That is a great question! The Kansas City Star laid off the Classical Music journalist, who covered the symphony, ballet and... the opera. We fought back and started our own publication. Because of the dedication and resilience of the writers and editorial staff at, this little organization covers the Kansas City metro more deeply than the local papers did in my lifetime.

I am NOT concerned about the arts in the USA! I AM concerned about how folks make a living as artists and as people who work in the sector. It's hard to connect the right dots though. Money and Art play their own parts and can often be used against each other, hurting the larger picture. But with the current struggles we have, I have seen heroes stand up and demand to be seen and heard. I have also seen a massive proliferation of GREAT ART in the past 20 years, since I was a kid working my way through the food-chain.

You have performed in as far flung places as Perm, Russia and Szczecin, Poland.  Are you looking forward to spending the summer in Charlottesville?

BEST thing about live theater is the chance for me to live and BE in a place for a good amount of time. I love to meet new people. Getting to know folks is really amazing. Not just the cast though, I mean being a townie. I love to gambol around town and find the hippest coffee shops and swanky eateries and divey-est dives. I quest for deep experiences.

It's been hard to plant my feet these past few years I have to admit. I'm always busy rustling up work or coming up with a new project... but I really cannot wait to settle down and call Charlottesville home, at least for a little while!