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Bard Conservatory's Graduate Program in Vocal Arts Presents Two One-Act Operas at the Fisher Center

Mark Primoff


ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—The Graduate Program in Vocal Arts of The Bard College Conservatory of Music presents two evenings of opera at Bard’s acoustically superb Sosnoff Theater of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, March 21, and Saturday, March 22, at 8:00 p.m. The program features the world premiere of the Conservatory-commissioned one-act opera A Bird in Your Ear, by David Bruce, and the first fully staged abridged, one-act version of Virgil Thomson’s Four Saints in Three Acts. Individual tickets are $15, $25, and $50* (*includes priority seating and a pre-performance reception with the artists on March 21).

Dawn Upshaw, artistic director of the Conservatory’s Graduate Program in Vocal Arts, says, “It has been my experience that new opera can provide a wide canvas and a wealth of opportunity for the meeting of musical minds. I am delighted that the Bard Vocal Arts Program inaugurates its opera program with two works that offer tremendous possibilities for collaboration.”

The operas are directed by Doug Fitch, with set design by Fitch and Edouard Getaz, head of Intercontinental Pictures, the production company that is coproducing the program. Fitch describes their set for the operas as “an innovative live animation and projection technique.” James Bagwell conducts the Bard College Conservatory Orchestra and Bard College Chamber Singers. Andrew Hill is the lighting designer; Yoshi Takao the costume designer. All the roles are sung by master’s degree students in the Conservatory’s Graduate Program in Vocal Arts.

Upshaw commissioned David Bruce to write A Bird in Your Ear for the inaugural opera production of the Vocal Arts Program (VAP) after hearing his work Piosenki, premiered by two singers from VAP and written for the 2007 Carnegie Hall Osvaldo Golijov / Dawn Upshaw Workshop for Composers and Singers (a Professional Training Workshop of The Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall).

A Bird in Your Ear, with libretto by Alasdair Middleton, is based on a Russian folk tale called “The Language of the Birds,” which explores the importance of listening to nature, of forgiveness, and much more. Commissioned by The Bard College Conservatory of Music, the opera features soprano Kristin Ezell as Narrator I, soprano Melissa Wegner as Narrator II, mezzo-soprano Tania Maria Rodriguez as Narrator III, soprano Chanel Wood as Nightingale, soprano Yulia Van Doren as Bird with Golden Plumage, soprano Rie Miyake as Princess, tenor Sung Eun Lee as Ivan, and bass-baritone Yohan Yi as Captain, Merchant, and King.

Four Saints in Three Acts, with libretto by Gertrude Stein, is the first fully staged production of the one-act abridged version created by Thomson in 1954 for a commercial recording. Without a traditional plotline, the opera is based on the religious life of St. Teresa of Avila, St. Ignatius of Loyola, and the younger saints who are their companions and students, including St. Settlement (St. Teresa’s confidante) and St. Chavez (St. Ignatius’ aide-de-camp). This production includes soprano Maghan Stewart as St. Teresa I, mezzo-soprano Solange Merdinian as St. Teresa II, soprano Rachel Schutz as St. Settlement, tenor Patrick Cook as St. Chavez and St. Stephen, baritone Yang Yang as St. Ignatius, mezzo-soprano Julie Anne Miller as The Commère, and bass-baritone Yohan Yi as The Compère.

Of the libretto, Gertrude Stein said, “Please do not try to construe the words of this opera literally or to seek in it any abstruse symbolism. If, by means of the poet’s liberties with logic and the composer’s constant use of the simplest elements in our musical vernacular, something is here evoked of the childlike gaiety and mystical strength of lives devoted in common to nonmaterialistic end, the authors will consider their message to have been communicated.”

Upshaw selected the first two classes of the VAP through extensive international auditions. Performing in the two one-act operas are graduate students from the United States: Patrick Cook ’09 of Maryland, Kristin Ezell ’08 of Texas, Julie Anne Miller ’08 of California, Tania Maria Rodriguez ’09 of Florida, Yulia Van Doren ’08 of Massachusetts; Chanel Wood ’08 of Texas; from Canada: Maghan Stewart ’08; from South America: Solange Merdinian ’09 (Argentina) and Melissa Wegner ’08 (Colombia and U.S.); from Wales: Rachel Schutz ’09; and from Asia: Sung Eun Lee ’09 and Yohan Yi ’08 (South Korea), Rie Miyake ’09 (Japan), and Yang Yang ’08 (China).

Student advance discount tickets are offered to any student under the age of 25 with a valid full-time student ID through High 5 Tickets to the Arts (in addition to the $5 student rush tickets available for purchase in person on the day of events). To purchase $5 tickets in advance, visit ( or call the High 5 Hotline at 212-445-8587. Upon purchasing the tickets through High 5, students receive a voucher to be redeemed at the Fisher Center box office on the day of the event (limit, two tickets per student, with one ticket allowed for use by an accompanying adult).

To purchase tickets, call the Fisher Center box office at 845-758-7900 or visit the Fisher Center box office at


About The Bard College Conservatory of Music

Building on its distinguished history in the arts and education, Bard College launched The Bard College Conservatory of Music, which welcomed its first class in August 2005. Now in its third year, the Conservatory’s undergraduate program is guided by the principle that musicians should be broadly educated in the liberal arts and sciences to achieve their greatest potential. While training and studying for the bachelor of music degree with world-class musicians and teachers and performing in state-of-the-art facilities, such as the Frank Gehry–designed Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Conservatory students also pursue a bachelor of arts degree at Bard, one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. Robert Martin serves as director of the Conservatory, Melvin Chen as associate director.

About the Graduate Program in Vocal Arts

The Graduate Program in Vocal Arts is a two-year master of music degree conceived by soprano Dawn Upshaw. The course work is designed to support a broad-based approach to a singing career that extends from standard repertory to new music. Alongside weekly voice lessons and diction and repertory courses is training in acting, as well as core seminars that introduce and tie together the historical/cultural perspective, analytical tools, and performance skills that distinguish vocal and operatic performance at the highest level. In addition to artistic director Dawn Upshaw, the program includes associate director Kayo Iwama; voice teachers Edith Bers, Patricia Misslin, and Lorraine Nubar; diction coach Jennifer Ringo; Alexander Technique teachers Gwen Ellison and Judith Grodowitz; staff pianist Ying-Chien Lin; and career workshop coordinator Carol Yaple. Master classes have been held with conductor James Conlon; pianist Richard Goode; vocalists Phyllis Curtin, Timothy Hill, and Lucy Shelton; and directors JoAnne Akalaitis, Eve Shapiro, and Peter Sellars.

About the Composer

David Bruce is developing a growing international reputation, particularly in the field of opera and vocal music composition. Current commissions, in addition to A Bird in Your Ear, include a work for clarinetist Todd Palmer and the St. Lawrence String Quartet, commissioned by Carnegie Hall; a string quartet for Lake District Summer Music; an accordion concerto for New York’s Metropolis Ensemble (and accordionist Michael Ward-Bergeman); and a development commission from the Royal Opera House’s ROH2 for a new chamber opera.

In April 2007 the Carnegie Hall Corporation commissioned Piosenki, whose success led to a repeat performance in October by Ensemble ACJW at Weill Recital Hall. Of this performance, Anthony Tommasini writes, “This hypercharged work evokes the textures, colorings, and character of Polish folk music. The songs abound in pummeling rhythms, relentless dance meters, klezmer clarinet tunes, country fiddling, clanking chimes, stretches of clattering din, and passages of bittersweet lyricism.”

Bruce’s chamber opera Push! was commissioned by the Genesis Foundation and premiered in 2006 by Tête à Tête in London and on tour in the United Kingdom. Push! received extraordinary levels of critical acclaim and was critics’ choice for 2006 in both the Telegraph and Classical Music magazine. Previous commissions include the mini-operas Out of the Ordinary, for the Opera Group; Has It Happened Yet? for ENO Studios and Tête à Tête; Seven Tons of Dung for Tête à Tête; incidental music to the Trestle Theatre Company’s show The Smallest Person; and instrumental pieces for the London Sinfonietta, BBC Symphony Orchestra, New Music Players, and others.

Bruce was born in Connecticut to British parents (he holds both U.K. and U.S. citizenships). He began his undergraduate studies in music in 1988 at Nottingham University (composition tutors included Jim Fulkerson and Nicholas Sackman), before moving on to the Royal College of Music (1991–93), where he obtained a master’s degree in composition, studying with Tim Salter and George Benjamin; and a Ph.D. in composition at King’s College, London (1995–99), under the supervision of Sir Harrison Birtwistle. He won the Royal Philharmonic Society Composition Competition in 1994.

Complementing his work as a composer, Bruce runs the music and technology company Red Balloon Technology Ltd., whose sites include the popular sheet music site, the melody search engine, and the composers’ site CompositionToday.

About the Librettist

Alasdair Middleton’s work as a writer includes the librettos for The World Was All Before Them, Lessons From Harmony, and On London Fields (winner of a Royal Philharmonic Award 2005), all for Matthew King; The Feathered Friend for Helen Chadwick; The Hackney Chronicles, Red Riding Hood, On Spital Fields (winner of a Royal Philharmonic Award, 2006), The Enchanted Pig, and The Adventures of Pinocchio (Opera North), all for Jonathan Dove. His play Einmal was premiered at The Stoked Festival in London in the autumn of 2007.

About the Production Team

Conductor James Bagwell maintains an active schedule throughout the United States as a conductor of choral, operatic, and orchestral literature. In 2006 he made his major orchestra debut, leading the Jerusalem Symphony in two concerts, and in 2007 he led ubscription concerts with the Tulsa Symphony. In summer 2005 he led six sold-out performances of Copland’s The Tender Land as part of Bard SummerScape, which received unanimous praise from the New York Times, New Yorker, and Opera News. He returned to SummerScape in 2006 to conduct three Offenbach operettas, and in 2007 to lead a new production of The Sorcerer. Now in his ninth season as music director of Light Opera Oklahoma, he conducted three new productions for the 2007 summer festival season, including the OK Mozart International Music Festival in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. Bagwell is director of choruses for the Bard Music Festival, conducting and preparing choral works during the summer festival at the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard, and at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. He also prepares the Concert Chorale of New York for concerts with the American Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Mostly Mozart Festival, all in Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center. In 2005, he was named music director of the Dessoff Choirs in New York City, which has made three appearances at Carnegie Hall, most recently with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic in October 2007. Since 1997 he has been music director of the May Festival Youth Chorus in Cincinnati, conducting regularly during the May Festival, Carolfest, and outreach concerts throughout the Cincinnati area. He is artistic director of the New York Repertory Singers, and serves as conductor for the Berkshire Bach Society Choruses. Bagwell has worked with such noted conductors as Esa-Pekka Salonen, Michael Tilson Thomas, Louis Langrée, Leon Botstein, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Raymond Leppard, James Conlon, Christof Perick, Jesús López-Cobos, Erich Kunzel, Leon Fleischer, and Robert Shaw. In 2000 he joined the faculty of Bard College, where he is director of the Music Program.

Director and designer Doug Fitch has created opera productions for the Los Angeles Opera (Hansel and Gretel), Santa Fe Opera (Turandot), National Symphony (The Abduction from the Seraglio and L’Enfant et les sortileges), and, in 2006, for Tanglewood Music Festival, a triple bill of Hindemith’s There and Back, Stravinsky’s Mavra, and Elliott Carter’s What Next? the last of which was filmed and is slated to debut at MOMA in May. His live-projected miniature theater production of A Soldier’s Tale, featuring Pinchas Zukerman as the soldier’s violin, was performed in Avery Fisher Hall with soloists from the New York Philharmonic, and in Ottawa at the National Arts Center, after its original development with the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. For the New World Symphony, he created a production of Through Roses by Marc Neikrug, featuring actor John Rubenstein. His interest in visualizing music led to the development of a concert-theater production technique. Using lights, projections, smoke and mirrors he created an atmosphere for a performance of Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, followed by a full-stage shadow show of Swan Lake at Wolf Trap with the National Symphony, and a fully staged concert version of Das Rheingold for the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra with fog and reflective pools. As a visual artist, he presented several solo exhibitions: Amalgamations, an installation of resin furniture, seen at the Material ConneXion in New York; Mit Haut und Harren, a body of sculptural paintings using skin and hair as metaphors for sensory perception, currently on exhibit at the Charite Hospital in Berlin; and Organs of Emotion, a series of drawings and paintings that proposed a redesign for human anatomy that has been exhibited extensively throughout Germany. With longtime collaborator Mimi Oka, in Japan, New York, and France, he has created a series of Orphic Feasts, best described on the website Fitch lives in Brooklyn.

Designer Edouard Getaz, director of the production company Intercontinental Pictures, which is coproducing the operas, grew up in Switzerland, near the French-speaking city of Lausanne. He moved to New York in 2004 to dedicate himself to film direction and production, studying at New York University. In 2005 Virgin Red, a film he wrote and directed, was released. Getaz spent his teens organizing a music festival with his brother and some friends that became one of the largest jazz festivals in Switzerland (Cully Jazz Festival). He toured as a percussionist in the United States and Europe and worked for two years with Montreux Jazz Festival’s founder and producer Claude Nobs. Getaz also studied law and intellectual property, graduating from Fribourg Law School in 1999. He cofounded an event-communication agency, where he was artistic director for five years.

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A Bird in Your Ear was commissioned by The Bard College Conservatory of Music, with generous support from Mimi Levitt, for the world premiere performance at Bard in 2008.

Production support generously provided by The Merrill Family Charitable Foundation, Inc.

Special thanks to Edouard Getaz and Intercontinental Pictures for the live animation and projections for this production.


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This event was last updated on 03-23-2008