A Cappella U

I’ve been listening to the A Cappella U podcast lately. There are so far about 13 episodes produced since fall 2005. The podcast focuses exclusively on the current collegiate a cappella scene, which had its roots in the ivy league glee club tradition, but clearly went in some new directions in recent decades.

songbooksEpisode 13 features part 1 of an interview with arranger Deke Sharon. Sharon founded the Contemporary A Cappella Society (CASA), and he arranged the first two CASA songbooks back in the early 90’s. [ Much of Makeshift’s contemporary repertoire is drawn from the CASA songbook series.]

Sharon was active in collegiate a cappella in the late 80’s, and he described it as monotonous, mostly based on rich vocal arrangements from the 50’s-70’s like doowop and CSN&Y. In the 90’s Sharon was influential in moving toward what collegiate a cappella is today, which is to have lots of percusion. mulit-layered instrument emulation, plus microphone enhancment with the unashamed objective being to wholly imitate popular top 40 or alternative radio hits. And if you listen to the current contemporary AC scene, both collegiate and pro, it is pretty amazing, and hard to believe its all human voice. There’s a group that has simulated from start to finish Pink Floyd’s entire album Dark Side of the Moon, a cappella.

My opinion is that its a nice parlor trick, but if you want to sound like a drum kit, electric guitar and a synthesizer, then hire a band. I prefer a cappella vocal arrangments that emphasize the unadorned voice in song and musical blend. Like with Barbershop, doo-wop, madrigals, or rich choral arrangements. And when we do tackle contemporary popular songs,I think its more interesting to interpret them in purely vocal style, without electronic embellishments.

Then again, I don’t have vocal percusion talents, arranging skills, a large singing group, or even the technology needed to produce this modern stuff. So I’ll stick with what I like.

pshaw. Kids today!

B.

Carol Vaness

Ms. Vaness is Floria Tosca. She has sung the role with Pavaratti at the Met. I found a review of a CD recording on Amazon.com:

Vaness w/Pavoriti“…First of all let me say that Carol Vaness will go down on my list as one of the greatest living Tosca’s on record. This horribly underrecorded artist is captured in this role at the height of her vocal powers. Vaness confirms that American singers have and continue to be just as exellent if not superior to their European counterparts. Vaness possesses a bright and silvery lirico spinto soprano with that famous Italian “ping.” Her voice abounds in beauty, pathos and power. Her voice is by no means huge, but rather dramatically piercing and very flexible which is what is needed for this role. She understands this role well, and uses her musicality to intelligently convey the varying emotions and demands that this role puts upon a singer. Her portrayal is tightly but exquisitly controlled. Never once does she resort to screeting or screaming but uses her voice to act the part with applomb. The most thrilling aspect of her portrayal are her unbelievable high notes. Tosca is one of the most high and difficult of all soprano roles. But Tosca’s high tessitura poses no threats to this Diva who hurles high notes into the stratosphere as if they were silver javelins without any strain whatsoever!!!!! Vaness has built into her high notes this subtle quivery, nervous vibrato which I find immensely gratifying. In the final Act when she sings “O Scarpia, Avanti a Dio!!!! I was completely mesmerized. Her’s is the most impressive I have ever heard and is even superior to La Divina herself, YES FOLKS IT’S THAT POWERFUL. She doesn’t just sing this last line, but she holds the note for at least 7 seconds so that the final chords of the music can envelope her voice.”

She is also the boldest actor I’ve yet seen on an opera stage! She is huge; I don’t think its possible to overact this particular role. The show opens this friday, 4/21. Good seats still available. Backstage pictures to come.

Update 4/24:
Review from the Orlando Sentinel:

3 first-rate leads elevate Orlando Opera’s ‘Tosca’

Scott Warfield
Special to the Sentinel

April 23, 2006

Although Central Florida has come to rely on the Orlando Opera for quality productions featuring superior singers, the company’s guest performers usually have reputations that place them outside the first rank of international stars.

The Orlando Opera’s production of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca, which premiered Friday night at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre, is thus an exception. It features one of the biggest names in recent memory to appear on stage with the local company.

Carol Vaness, whose three-decade career includes leading roles in major houses on both sides of the Atlantic, more than lived up to her billing and reputation as the title heroine. Yet even with her name recognition, Vaness was only one of several outstanding voices heard in this production.

In fact, if forced to rank the cast, baritone Grant Youngblood in the role of Scarpia, the head of the secret police, was the star of the evening, if only by the breadth of a few hairs. His creation of a marvelously evil character through his resonant voice and realistic acting made him the dramatic catalyst of this melodrama.

Vaness, as the opera diva trapped in Scarpia’s web, played well against Youngblood. She was believably distraught and agitated as her lover, the painter Mario Cavaradossi, was tortured by Scarpia’s henchmen. She also sang a nicely shaped “Vissi d’arte,” Puccini’s paean to art and love, in the second act. Her voice retains a rich and strong middle register, although one can hear a small wobble creeping into her top notes.

Stephen Mark Brown rounded out the trio of excellent leads. As Cavaradossi, he was less of a vocal presence in the middle act but contributed two well-received arias in the first and third acts.

The high point of the evening was the riveting confrontation among the three principals in the second act. Robert Swedberg, general director of the Orlando Opera who also served as stage director for this production, kept things moving quickly up to Tosca’s murder of Scarpia. This was followed by the brief third act, where Scarpia’s double-cross leads to the deaths of the two lovers.

The three leads were surrounded by a fine group of supporting singers. Christopher Holloway, as Sciarrone, was a useful underling for defining Scarpia’s character in the second act, and Craig Irvin ably filled the modest but key role of Cesare Angelotti. Jason Budd provided a welcome bit of comic relief as the Sacristan. All were in top form vocally.

In the pit, conductor Andreas Mitisek made his Orlando debut with this production. He honed the Orlando Philharmonic to a razor-sharp edge, which made the orchestra virtually another character in the drama.

Add in some nice sets on loan from the Seattle Opera, and there’s very little to criticize and much to praise in the Orlando Opera’s final production of a very good season. Fans will want to catch this Tosca, because the 2006-07 season doesn’t begin for another six months.

Scott Warfield is an assistant professor of music history at the University of Central Florida.


Pandora’s BoX

Our long delayed appearance at this monthly art/goth/industrial performance event finally came together.

Downtown producer Jonathan caught a set by Makeshift at an open mic last fall, and shared his vision for this monthly event, and invited us to take part. We had our reservations, and some schedule conflicts with initial booking dates, but we made it for a 10pm set on sunday 3/26 at a heavy metal bar in a strip mall.

We did a short set starting out with classic barbershop and segueing through some of our popular doo-wop and concluding with Bohemian Rhapsody and Zombie. The crowd went nuts. We were amplified louder than we’ve ever been. The occasional screaming feedback only adding to the ambience. The crowd danced, they sang along, they rushed the stage. Here’s Pete’s pithy assessment:

Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2006 10:16:10 -0800 (PST)
From: Pete Anderson

I will have to say that I was a bit of a skeptic regarding our gig last night….I will say it may have been one of the best audiences we have sang in front of. I was especially proud of our group and that we could sing through 2 women kissing, a guy with no shirt on but black wings on his back and another girl hitting a girl on the backside with a whip! Did I mention the guy with the rope around his neck! What a RIOT!!!!!!

There was a couple of videographers active, and lots of photographs. It will probably turn up on the Pandoras BoX website…(beware the site is marginally NSFW)

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Makeshift at Pandoras BoX
Makeshift 03-26-06

New photos from the event:

PBIM001741

PBIM001719

Sitzprobe

mitasekOne of my favorite steps in the opera production process is the Sitzprobe. Its the rehearsal where all the musical elements are brought together for the first time — the orchestra, the principals and the chorus. We meet in a rehearsal hall and the Maestro runs through the entire opera from top to bottom. The principals usually sing in full voice (as opposed to sometimes ‘marking’ in dress rehearsals), and us chorus members don’t have to worry about staging, blocking or even memorization. We just sit and listen and sing. Its always a treat to be that close and personal and involved with something so immense, classical, historical and musical. opera chorusToday’s sitzprobe for the upcoming production of Tosca includes the 55 piece Orlando Philharmonic, over 50 chorusters including a dozen children, Soprano Carol Vaness, and Viennese conductor Andreas Mitatek.

Tosca by the Orlando Opera opens next friday, April 21. The chorus parts are quite minor and I have very little stage time, although I was selected for the firing squad which comes on stage at the finale to shoot the tenor. We are getting real rifles with blanks. cool.

technote: these photos are 20 minutes old as I write this on break and upload via wireless connection at the rehearsal hall

RIP folding aluminum lawn chairs

Lawn Chairs MIA
These are apparently completely discontinued…. I think they are far superior to the sagging canvas camp chairs that have become so popular. These are more comfortable, easier to setup and lighter in weight. But they stopped making them. I haven’t seen one in a discount store for a couple of years. I found a manufacturer, and have been googling and froogling and buy.com’ing and I’m striking out. (yes, I found a couple of steel-framed ones, but they are heavy and expensive).

UPDATE: Friday night on a whim Linda and I cruised through a K-Mart near our dinner restaurant, and lo and behold, they had the chairs, in three models no less. I picked up one classic style and one short beach chair style.