We are excited to announce a lecture-recital hosted by OperaBuffs “Inside Opera” Lecture Series, featuring composer-performer Jessie Downs, with performances from and discussions about the connections between her new opera and the operatic canon.
The lecture-recital will be held on June 12 from 10:30a.m. to 12p.m. at Tacoma Performing Arts Center, 351 Tacoma Avenue, Buffalo, NY 14216 and is FREE of charge. There is free parking in the venue lot. The event is mobility-challenged accessible and open to the public. All are welcome.
Dr. Downs will be joined by pianist Jonathon Vogtle and members of the cast of The Second Sight – Claudia Brown (Freyaria) and Beth White (Water Spirit). The trio will perform works by Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and Downs. The composer will talk about themes such as “reclaiming the mad scene,” “innocence and womanhood,” and “loss and faith” that run through both traditional opera and her new work.
Tickets for the opera premiere will be available for purchase, and donations to the production will be very gratefully accepted. We hope to see you there!
This week we introduce soprano Claudia Brown, who will be premiering the role of Freyaria, the empath mother, in The Second Sight this June. Claudia became Clinical Assistant Professor of Voice and Choral Music at UB 4 years ago and has done amazing things with the program. Having done her Masters of Music in Choral Studies at Cambridge in the UK, she has a masterful grasp of how to both perform and teach in the choral discipline. She is also a trained and experienced performer of opera and oratorio, with a clear, lithe, and shimmering sound. Both her sound and her outgoing and friendly demeanor make her a perfect fit for bringing to life the caring and optimistic Freyaria, whose playful coloratura brightens the world of the opera. Claudia sings with a number of Buffalo choirs. In this recent recording made by the BPO and Westminster Presbyterian of Handel’s Messiah, you can watch Claudia performing “If God Be For Us, Who Can Be Against Us”. Check it out, and remember to get your tickets to see Claudia – along with Ola Rafalo, Jessie Downs, and the Spirits of Sotto Voce – this June!
You can also read more about Claudia on our MEMBERS page.
Previously in our Second Sight premiere count-down, you’ve met composer-performer Jessie Downs (Sashatya) and mezzo-soprano Ola Rafalo (Diskana). This week we are proud to introduce other members of our cast – Beth White (Water Spirit), Julia Anne Cordani (Bird Spirit), and Suzanne Fatta (Frog Spirit). The Spirit music is a rich part of the opera, and we are so lucky to have 6 very unique vocalists bringing this complex music to life. Watch this video to hear and see these lovely ladies at work, visit our MEMBERS page to learn more about their backgrounds, and remember to get your tickets to hear them all live in June!
This week, the premiere cast of The Second Sight is thrilled to unveil a virtually produced recording of Act III Scene 1a “The Mourners’ Chorus.” Other than our June in Buffalo workshop in 2019, this is the only existing recording of a scene from the opera incorporating the sinfonietta orchestration with the vocalists.
The Premiere Cast of “The Second Sight” has put together a Classic(al) Mixtape – with recordings of a variety of classical arias and art songs – for “Sponsors” who donate $250 or more. As all give-backs are cumulative, at this donation level, you will also receive a Second Sight art print, an individualized page of the opera score,and of course a personalized thank you note recognizing your donation’s tax-deductible status. To donate: Go to https://www.asiwny.org/donate/ , then scroll down to choose “Donate to a Fiscal Sponsor Client” and write “for Sotto Voce” in the NOTES section!
This week, Sotto Voce is excited to share a clip of The Second Sight’s premiere prima donna Ola Rafalo working on her character Diskana’s opening aria, “There are shadows here.” Stay tuned for more clips from our hard-working cast, and remember to reserve your tickets so that you can experience how this all comes together in June!
The Second Sight still needs your help! In addition to being tax-deductible, donations to the opera are eligible for “give-backs” when a gift meets one of our sponsorship levels.
Today’s featured give-back is a pen plotted art poster, made by Sotto Voce’s Managing Director,Alex Huddleston. There are a few unique designs based on The Second Sight’s themes and aesthetic. Get yours today when you contribute $100 or more.
To donate online, visit ASI’s “Donate” page, scroll down and choose “Donate to a Fiscal Sponsor Client,” then write “for Sotto Voce” in the notes section. https://www.asiwny.org/donate/ You can also mail a check to ASI at the address below, and put “for Sotto Voce” on the Memo line.
Sotto Voce is thrilled to introduce mezzo-soprano Ola Rafalo to the Buffalo stage as the titular “Second Seer” in the June 2021 premiere of The Second Sight. Ms. Rafalo is the ideal Diskana in every way – she wields a voice of great power and expressivity, has a reverence both for tradition and innovation, and is herself a very spiritual woman in-tune with herself and the universe.
Ola’s voice is like a force of nature. When you listen to her recordings, you will no doubt be drawn in by the profound depth of her lower register that is matched in power by a brilliant upper range. You may also be entranced by the expressivity of her physical embodiment of the characters she portrays, coupled with the fluidity and intention with which she shapes a line. However, hearing recordings of Ola can not compare to hearing her live. Her voice is not just a sound, it is a sensation, a wave of vibrations that nearly knocks the wind out of you. She opens her mouth and suddenly the air is alive, and you are swimming in sound. If you have never experienced something like this, you will not want to miss your chance in Buffalo this June.
The repertoire Ms. Rafalo excels in is dramatic and sumptuous, and she always highlights a work’s unique colors. When she sings Verdi’s Ulrica, for example, the fortune-teller’s haunting melodies undulate with a primal force. However, her sound easily morphs into the sensuous entreaties of Saint-Saens’s Biblical heroine Dalila, with liquid tones that pool gently and then overflow with longing. While thus far in her career Ms. Rafalo is perhaps best known for her fierce and stunning portrayal of Carmen, she likewise champions lesser known works of the canon, including a great deal of Slavic repertoire to which she feels deeply connected through her Polish heritage.
Ms. Rafalo is truly a great technician as in the Golden Age of singing, producing a dramatic mezzo sound that is rarely heard in the modern era. She and The Second Sight’s composer Jessie Downs connected through their tutelage under master pedagogue Franco Bertacci and the profound experiences this very traditional teaching has had on them both. Ms. Rafalo approaches her singing with a steadfast reverence for tradition, and it shows; critics have recognized her as an inheritor of the great masters, someone who could become “the next Cossotto,” and juries have awarded her such accolades as the Maria Callas prize. At the same time, Ola is also very much a modern artist who pushes herself to go ever deeper in her understanding and interpretation of the music she sings. From her acting to her make-up artistry, her flute playing to her linguistic fluency, Ola brings so many diverse skills into her holistic practice of being an opera singer.
Sotto Voce will be celebrating this Women’s History month in a number of ways, including releasing a new socially-distanced recording project, posting previews of the The Second Sight recorded by the premiere cast, and sharing recordings from our members that celebrate the living tradition of fantastic works by women composers. To kick off the month, however, we decided to reflect upon the myriad of possible incarnations of “feminine spirit.”
Many who study the world’s ancient cultures believe that early societies were more often matriarchal than patriarchal. In these matriarchies, people would primarily worship feminine incarnations of the divine. A reoccurring theme across mythologies was that there were three components to this feminine spirit – standing loosely for three major life-stages, but also more abstractly symbolizing a variety of different life energies held in a natural balance. The goddess was not one thing, but a multitude within herself. The three most common aspects of the goddess are often referred to as “maiden,” “mother,” and “crone.”
The maiden is the primal life-force, with a desire to create and innovate and make whole. She is idealism and mischief and willfulness. The mother is the giver of life, but also the one who holds life in the balance and can in her power also choose to take it away. She is nurturing, but also disciplined and strong. The crone is the wise woman, ancient and eternal. She is the keeper of deep knowledge and a seer of visions, with access to the mysteries of the darkness. We often think of a “crone” as a frightening figure, but this is only because of our own fear and misunderstanding of death.
“I didn’t know about these archetypes when I first set out to write The Second Sight, but when I read about them in a book I bought last summer, I recognized the three central figures in my opera,” writes composer of The Second Sight, Jessie Downs. “Like this ancient feminine trinity, they encapsulate three major life stages and personas: Sashatya is a playful maiden (in the extreme, as a child), Freyaria is a strong and empathetic mother, and Diskana – although given no specific age – is a wise and experienced seer. Also like the goddess trinity, these three are deeply interconnected and the lines blur as to where one figure begins and the other ends.”
“I don’t believe there is any one way to ‘be feminine.’ I have often struggled with modern stereotypes of femininity that don’t gel with my understanding of myself, yet I deeply identify with being a woman – all the joys and struggles that such an identity entails. With my opera, I hope that the ancient idea of the sacred mutability of feminine spirit will be lifted up, honoring all the Maidens, Mothers, and Crones that have influenced my life thus far.”
Unlike composers from the classical canon – whose music is contextualized by a greater body of works – when hearing a new opera, it is important to learn about the individual and emergent voice of the composer in question. For this week’s post, we asked one of Jessie Downs’s frequent collaborators – pianist Jonathon Vogtle – to give an overview of her work for the audience of The Second Sight. He writes:
Jessie Down’s compositional style focuses on taking a specific image – [such as a] Van Gogh painting… and invoking the minutiae of that image as accurately as possible in sound.
“Jessie Down’s compositional style focuses on taking a specific image – be it a Van Gogh painting, a babbling brook, or a pack of fireflies emerging at twilight – and invoking the minutiae of that image as accurately as possible in sound. For example, in her Van Gogh-inspired vocal ensemble piece “castings of Light,” Ms. Downs not only captures the mood and shapes of the painting View of Saint Marie, but allows the listener to see each irregular, curving line that makes up its background. In the wind band piece “Dismal Harmony,” she does not stop at evoking the motions of the Dismal Brook’s water currents; instead she invites the audience to perceive every stone off of which the water ricochets, and every insect that congregates along its path. When she imitates a music-box – a recurrent sonic image in her output – the listener can both hear its haunting tune, and feel the metal pins being pulled across the tines of the cylinder.
In the wind band piece “Dismal Harmony,” she does not stop at evoking the motions of the Dismal Brook’s water currents; instead she invites the audience to perceive every stone off of which the water ricochets…
To accomplish all this, Ms. Down’s music makes ample use of extended technique and atypical instrumentation: microtonally sung phonemes, tea infusers struck with serving utensils, felt tipped guitar picks pulled over piano strings. Perhaps more important than this, however, is the creation of a sense of space; Ms. Down’s compositions are built to give each pitch time to appear, sustain, influence the harmonics around it, and then gradually dissipate. The end result is music that physically surrounds the listener, not with amorphous, formless shapes, but with the images that it hopes to reflect. The music is not avant-garde for the sake of novelty; it is meant to create richly detailed acoustic art.
Ms. Down’s compositions are built to give each pitch time to appear, sustain, influence the harmonics around it, and then gradually dissipate.
The question arises – How can one create that level of intimacy in a large-scale work like an opera? It would certainly require precise knowledge of vocal mechanics, different styles of singing, and the operatic canon. Fortunately, Ms. Downs’s experience as a soprano and vocal pedagogue would suggest that she is up to the task, and that the audience of her first opera The Second Sight is in for a treat.“