REALLY RETRO: Expect the Spanish Inquisition! Behind the Impossible Dream with Capitol City Opera Company Music Director Catherine Giel Before MAN OF LA MANCHA Tilts This Weekend at Conant Performing Arts Center

Posted on: Mar 22nd, 2017 By:

Catherine Giel. Photo credit: Shane Desmond-Williams

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Capitol City Opera Company’s production of MAN OF LA MANCHA runs this Friday March 24 and Saturday March 25 at 8 p.m. and Sunday March 26 at 3 p.m. at Oglethorpe University’s Conant Performing Arts Center. Check here for tickets.

MAN OF LA MANCHA is a musical based on CervantesDON QUIXOTE, and even those unfamiliar with the Tony Award-winning production, the Oscar-nominated 1972 movie starring Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren, or the 17th century novel are likely aware of the characters, the imagery and its lead song, “The Impossible Dream,” here rendered by Elvis Presley. It tells a timeless tale of friendship, love and courage in the face of insurmountable odds. I’m guessing. I’ve never seen it. But I’ll get a chance to fix that this weekend!

Music Director Catherine Giel took a break from her busy schedule recently to discuss the show with ATLRetro.

ATLRetro: Thank you for taking a few minutes before the show this weekend. Is everyone excited?

Catherine Giel: I can’t express enough how excited this cast and crew are. This team has had a really special synergy and everyone is so thrilled to bring a great production to the stage. This is one of the most artistically challenging things we’ve tackled and I think it’s come out beautifully.

What is the Capitol City Opera Company? How long have you been with them?

Capitol City Opera is a company dedicated to nurturing and developing the careers of young professional singers. We are helping them prepare for the great stages of the world by giving them the opportunity to learn roles and perform at a professional level. There is so much talent right here in our city! We also have an outstanding educational component, Capitol City Opera Outreach for Children, that brings one-hour long “children’s operas” into schools and community spaces. We are trying to grow a young audience for opera in addition to developing young performers. I joined the company in the spring of 2010—it’s hard to believe it’s already been seven years. But that’s just a drop in the bucket of the 34 years this company has been in existence.

What are some of the highlights of your tenure there?

There have been many moments I’ve been proud of, both artistically and personally. A few years ago we did a world premiere of Curtis Bryant’s THE SECRET AGENT. That was probably one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences I’ve had with this company. Bringing a new work to life is liberating because there is no precedent, but also terrifying because there is no precedent! We worked directly with the composer throughout and I think the product was really something special. The whole production is up on our YouTube page for anyone that wants to check it out. On a personal level, I’ve experienced a lot of moments of pride when I see a singer grow in a role from the beginning of the process to the end, when I see them have a breakthrough with their technique or understanding of the character. That’s the real reason I do this—to see those lightbulb moments when performers make huge strides in their development and to give them a vehicle to do something they can really be proud of.

What exactly does the Music Director do for a production like Man of La Mancha?

The quick and dirty summary is that I help prepare the singers for the show. This process has many layers. It’s encouraging their technique that will both serve the character as well as help them sing their best. And speaking of character, that’s something that takes quite a bit of study outside of the musical score. We have a lot of discussions about a character’s motivation for singing or saying certain things, and this often informs their delivery of the vocal line. Preparing the music for an opera is full of nuances of color, tone, timing, and expression. At the end of the day, it’s all subjective and we have to hope the audiences enjoy what we’ve created. I also work with our conductor (who happens to be my husband) in preparing the orchestra, which takes separate rehearsals and a lot of planning outside of our work with the singers. Because we use smaller chamber orchestras for our productions, I’m usually behind the piano for the performances, where most people in my position hand the reigns to the conductor and get to sit in the audience to watch. I’ve only gotten to watch from the audience once, when we needed no piano accompaniment, and I was a nervous wreck the whole time so maybe it’s better this way.

Jonathan Sphuler (Cervantes/Don Quixote) tries on his make-up backstage at Capitol City Opera’s Man of La Mancha. Credit: Michael Nutter.

How would you describe the show and specifically the music? Is there orchestral accompaniment?

MAN OF LA MANCHA is allowing us to dip our toes into music theater. It’s definitely not an opera but still requires some excellent technical and artistic singing. It also has the additional challenges of dialogue like you would see in a regular play, which opera singers don’t often get to experience. The music has a distinctly Spanish flair, with prominent guitar solos and flamenco-like rhythms. At times it’s playful and upbeat and at other times, beautifully poignant and even heartbreaking. There is a lot of variety in this score and several melodies get stuck in your head for days. We are using a seven piece orchestra to accompany this production, who will be visible on stage and a part of the action with the rest of the cast, as opposed to stuck down in a pit where you never get to see them.


It was performed originally over 50 years ago and has been revived many times on Broadway since. How familiar were you with any of the past stage productions? How about the 1972 Peter O’Toole / Sophia Loren film?

I think it’s a testament to what a great show MAN OF LA MANCHA is that it’s been done so many times and even made into a movie. In fact, the 1972 film is quite true to the original score and dialogue and was a nice reference to have as we were preparing our version. There are also several wonderful Broadway recordings out there, each with their own unique spin on the show. I hope that we will also bring our own individual flavor and some novelty to the table, especially since I imagine many of our audience members will be familiar with the music.

What does your version offer fans of the musical and fans of musical theater in general?

We have stayed true to the original score and the book (that’s the part with the spoken dialogue). For instance, Aldonza’s number “What Does He Want With Me” often gets cut, but it’s so beautiful and Rachel Eve sings it so well, it would have been criminal to eliminate it. We also do this production with 21 cast members, which is the bare minimum, meaning that everyone has an important part to play. In a traditional opera, you may have a handful of principal cast members and everyone else is in the ensemble, but in this show everyone is essential and you become really familiar with them throughout the performance. Also, the Conant Performing Arts Center at Oglethorpe University is a fairly intimate venue, allowing you to feel like you are part of the action. And I don’t want to give away too much, but the way we plan to immerse the audience into this show right from the beginning is going to be really special.

Do you have a favorite song or scene? Is there one in particular you expect audiences to really love?

I think everyone loves “To Dream the Impossible Dream.” It’s a powerful song in or out of context of the show. The lyrics really encompass the longing that we all have as humans to strive to be our best, to fight the good fight, and triumph over wrongs. I think there is also a very charming scene between Sancho, Don Quixote’s squire, and Aldonza in which Sancho is trying to get her to give him a “token” to give to his knight and also attempting to read her a passionate missive written by Don Quixote, only….neither of them can read. Another particularly excellent scene is the fight between Don Quixote and a band of rough muleteers. I’ll just say that a giant spinning ladder and some acrobatics are involved.

I understand you are also a professional pianist and vocal coach. Do you perform regularly? Do you specialize in a particular singing style?

I am and I do! I perform mostly as an accompanist for singers and instrumentalists in concert, I rarely do solo recitals anymore. That’s not on purpose, I just haven’t had the time or opportunity and I truly enjoy collaborating with other artists more than playing alone. And I regularly coach opera singers as they prepare for roles, auditions, and competitions not just in Atlanta, but around the country. I would say I specialize in opera and art song, but I’ve been known to do the occasional bit of jazz and pop music. Just don’t ask me to teach you “Let It Go.”

Michael Lindsay, Albert Clark, Sean Savage, Damien Rasheed, Xavier Durden, and Rachel Eve Holmes receive musical instruction at a rehearsal for Man of La Mancha. Photo credit: Catherine Giel.

What’s next for you and Capital City Opera?

We’ve always got something coming up! We do a monthly series called Dinner and a Diva at Petite Violette restaurant. Each month we feature highlights from a different opera with our best singers and a narrator to guide the audience through the story. This takes place over an excellent three course meal with wine and happens every third Tuesday of the month. We also have a really fun event called Win, Dine, and Win coming up on April 7. This is an evening of food and games, including an aria auction that has gotten pretty competitive! This summer is the 25th anniversary of On The Light Side and this is our biggest fundraiser of the year. It’s an indoor BYOP (bring your own picnic) and we have a cast of singers that perform a cabaret-style show of music theater hits. This year’s theme is “The Golden Age of Broadway.” This is a hugely popular event and usually sells out. It’s the last Friday and Saturday nights in July. And of course we are preparing for the next mainstage show….details to come on that soon! Information on all these events and more can be found on our website at www.ccityopera.org

Thanks again for your time. Anything else you’d like to mention?

Only that we appreciate the support from our audiences so, so much. We are a local company, staffed with local talent, local set painters, designers, costume makers, sound engineers, etc. etc. We think of ourselves like a family and we truly dedicate everything we have to creating a great product. We hope you will come to one of our events and see what we are all about and learn about how we are working in the Atlanta community to spread some great art and love for opera. It’s what we are truly passionate about. Also, we are super hip with the social media, so you can find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

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RETRO REVIEW: Giallo Magnifique: Dario Argento’s DEEP RED in Rare Italian Cut Screens Saturday at Buried Alive Film Festival

Posted on: Nov 13th, 2015 By:

Profondo_Rosso_posterBuried Alive Film Festival and Splatter Cinema Presents the rare Italian original cut of DEEP RED (1975); Dir. Dario Argento; Starring David Hemmings and Daria Nicolodi; Saturday, November 14 @ 10:00 p.m.; Synchronicity Theater; Tickets $10 (or included with a $50 festival pass) here; Trailer here.

By Aleck Bennett
Contributing Writer

As part of the Buried Alive Film Festival, Splatter Cinema will be hosting a 40th anniversary screening at Synchronicity Theater of what is, quite simply, one of the greatest thrillers ever made: Dario Argento’s groundbreaking giallo DEEP RED. To miss this in its rare Italian original cut (22 minutes longer than the US version), would be to offend the very gods of cinema, so it would be best to play it safe and plan to attend.

From the late 1920s forward in Italy, a series of cheap paperback editions of murder mysteries featuring eye-catching artwork was issued by the publishing group Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. The success of these editions led to other publshers to also release mysteries under their own banners while imitating Mondadori’s cover designs. The common design element? The color yellow used as a background. As a result, over time all murder mysteries in Italy would come to be called “yellow.” Or, in Italian, giallo.

Mario Bava set in stone the tropes and archetypes of the cinematic giallo in the early 1960s with films such as THE GIRL WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and BLOOD AND BLACK LACE. The wild success of these films—and their blending of brutal violence with stylish camerawork and set design, all set to equally stylish musical scores—led to a whole host of other filmmakers jumping on the giallo bandwagon and establishing themselves as forces to be reckoned with in the Italian film industry. Antonio Margheriti, Umberto Lenzi, Riccardo Freda…all dipped their toes into the waters of the giallo and built careers off their early successes. But none of them took the genre to new extremes like one particular filmmaker: Dario Argento.

schultz-figueroa-web2Beginning with his “Animal Trilogy” (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, CAT O’ NINE TAILS and FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET), Argento took Bava’s sense of visual style to a whole other level. Deep focus, graceful camera movements, exquisitely detailed set design and carefully crafted compositions were the hallmarks of his aesthetic. His impossibly twisty plots and outstanding soundtracks worked hand-in-hand with his visual style and led him to be regarded as the Italian Hitchcock. But his work on the Animal Trilogy was merely a prelude to his masterpiece: DEEP RED (aka PROFONDO ROSSO).

Jazz pianist Marcus Daly (David Hemmings) witnesses a woman’s murder, and decides to investigate the case himself after realizing that a painting he saw in her apartment is now missing. Accompanied by reporter Gianna Brezzi (Daria Nicolodi), he tries to tie together the loose clues he has assembled and the one detail he cannot quite remember, while other women across the city are being murdered and he himself is targeted.

All of the elements are in play here. The black-gloved killer. The half-remembered detail. The outsider protagonist dismissed by the police as a troublemaker. The meddling reporter. The brutal violence. But Argento assembles these key tropes into something wholly new and original. Visually, Argento uses art in general, and painting in particular, as a recurring thematic element. Beyond a painting holding a key detail that is needed to solve the mystery, key plot points are revealed via artwork. Argento even gives us a life-size, live-action depiction of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks early on to establish the importance of the visual arts and their accompanying artifice in the film’s world. In a word, the visual style is audacious.

But not as audacious, perhaps, as the film’s musical score. After having worked with the celebrated Italian film composer Ennio Morricone on the Animal Trilogy, Argento wanted something contemporary. He initially turned to jazz musician Giorgio Gaslini for the film’s music, but was unhappy with the results. Instead, he decided to go in a progressive rock direction and eventually found kindred spirits in local band Goblin. Their remarkable score winds up being incredibly catchy, complex, sinister, subtle and bombastic—somehow all at the same time. Their music ended up being the perfect complement to Argento’s visuals, managing to capture the essence of one medium in another. The reception to their breakthrough work was so intense, and the pairing of group and filmmaker so perfect, that Goblin (or the band’s leader, Claudio Simonetti) would continue to work on-and-off with Argento through the decades up to his latest film, DRACULA 3D.

Argento would return to the giallo again several times over the course of his career, most notably in films like TENEBRE and OPERA, but none of his work within the genre comes close to this masterpiece. It’s nearly flawless. The only complaint that I have with it is that the humorous and romantic scenes between Hemmings and Nicolodi tend to dissipate the building tension felt throughout the film. But that is such a slight complaint in comparison to the riches on offer in this brutal but beautiful movie. To see it at all is a rare treat. To see it in its original Italian cut on the big screen is a thing that should not be missed by anyone interested in seeing a director firing on all cylinders, at the top of his game, regardless of genre.

Aleck Bennett is a writer, blogger, pug warden, pop culture enthusiast, raconteur and bon vivant from the greater Atlanta area. Visit his blog at doctorsardonicus.wordpress.com.

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Really Retro: Raising an AleCon: Renaissance Music Stars Three Quarter Ale Celebrate Their First Decade with a Convention and Performance Festival!

Posted on: Aug 10th, 2012 By:

Three Quarter Ale. L-R: Rivka Levin, Dolph Amick, Becky Cormier Finch.

What do you do when your popular Celtic/Renaissance rock band hits 10 years old? If you are Three Quarter Ale, you throw a convention and festival for musicians, performers and fans of history-inspired musical theater and performance art. The three-day AleCon is this weekend (Aug 10-12) at Fabrefaction Theatre Company in Midtown and features performances not just by Three Quarter Ale but a host of other Ren bands and performance artists presenting magic to bellydancing. Other activities include panels on a variety of theatre, music and even film topics from stage combat and Irish dance to prop-building and financing art projects, as well as Killer Karaoke and daily costume contests.

A while back, we made Three Quarter Ale vocalist/flutist/guitarist Ariana Pellayle, aka Becky Cormier Finch, Kool Kat of the Week for her ’80s revival band Denim Arcade, so this time we asked bandmate vocalist/harpist/percussionist Rosemary Quench, aka Rivka Levin, for the scoop on Alecon and the enduring appeal of Ren music.
ATLRetro: Ten years old is a big landmark for any band, but they don’t usually throw a convention and performance festival. How did you guys get the idea for AleCon and what inspired you to go all out?
Rivka Levin: It was my bandmate Dolph‘s [Amick, aka Wicked Pete Speakeasy] idea. We are all three actors and dancers as well as musicians, so paying tribute to all the various crafts in which we participate seemed like the thing to do! Plus, we’re kinda ambitious that way. We are so much more than just a band, and we are THRILLED to be able to do something huge to celebrate out 10th anniversary.
You’ve assembled a pretty impressive performance line-up. Was it challenging or more a matter of ask and they will come?
OHHHH yes, it was challenging. We first had to narrow down what panels might be interesting to the general population as well as professionals – AleCon is designed to appeal to any arts lover. Then we got on the horn and started talking to the many talented people we know. But being so talented, many of them were already booked! WONDERFUL for them, but it meant another round of “who would we like to hear speak or perform?” and more phone calls. On the other hand, we did have some folks who heard about what we were planning and approached us to ask if there was a way they could get in on it! So it was a bit of both, really.
AleCon also includes panels and workshops. Can you tell us a little bit about the range of programming and highlight a few cool learning opportunities?
Sure! One of the panels about which I’m most excited is the Musical Stylings panel. We’ve got three industry leaders – really AMAZING people – talking about how to take a melody and do something unique or different with it – like making a standard musical theater piece jazzy or making a jazz tune sound classical. They are so good at what they do, and I can’t wait to hear them share their knowledge!
We also have an Irish Dance workshop, a podcasting panel by some of Atlanta’s best, “Recording on a Budget” and even a Prop-making For Film panel featuring the man who does all the props for VAMPIRE DIARIES! And some of the most talented and varied performers lined up, too.
The full schedule can be seen at http://alecon.threequarterale.com.
I understand Three Quarter Ale has a secret origin story of sorts which will be revealed at AleCon. Can you divulge a bit of it or do we have to come to find out?
Oh, you’ll have to attend! Our characters are pretty malleable and timeless, so there are really many possibilities regarding their origin or story. But I have just finished an historical novel with one exciting version, which I’ll be debuting at AleCon on Sunday! Parts of it have been posted online, and it already has quite a following of readers who have been chomping at the bit for the last several chapters!

Three Quarter Ale as 2011 finalists in the Georgia Lottery All-Access Music contest.

You’re a trained opera singer and act at The New American Shakespeare Tavern, too. How do these skills inform your work with Three Quarter Ale?

As I said, all three of us are actors, and one of the most electrifying things about Three Quarter Ale is the stage show we put on. People really connect with these three characters, in part because they are so real. I think folks come to an event of ours as much to spend time with Rosemary, Ariana and Pete as they do to hear the music itself. That’s also why I’ve so enjoyed writing this novel! Watching these three lovable and imperfect people get into scrapes, lose their tempers, deal with being kidnapped by pirates, fall in love, argue with each other, comfort each other – it’s been SO much fun! And so very rewarding.
With regards to being an opera singer, Dolph (Wicked Pete) is very skilled at writing original music that makes the most of the skills Becky and I bring to the table. Much of what he writes for me, even if it’s got a heavy metal or ’60s rock chord structure, uses my classical voice. It makes for a very unique and interesting sound, and it’s something that our fans really appreciate about our music – that it’s truly OURS, and no other trio could do it quite the same way.

Three Quarter Ale plays coy. L-R: Becky, Dolph and Rivka.

Do you have a personal highlight/favorite moment in 10 years of Three Quarter Ale?

I think one we all share was our first CD release concert for our second CD, INTERTWINED. We always start each set or concert with our theme song, in which we shout a toast, “Drink Hail!” and the audience is cued to toast us back by shouting, “Wassail!”  We’d been doing the theme song for two or three years, and we knew our fans knew the cue…but still, when we shouted that first “Drink Hail!” and an entire theater full of people shouted back “Wassail!”, it was so loud and so enthusiastic that it literally rocked all three of us back on our heels! The sheer volume! The love that was pouring forth from folks who had driven all the way out just to celebrate with us! It was honestly elating, humbling, and beyond anything we expected. But who knows – maybe something at AleCon will top even that!!
After AleCon, what’s next for you and Three Quarter Ale?
Oh, heavens! Dolph’s working on a screenplay that gives an alternative version to the novel. We’ve got lots of new material not yet on a CD. We’ve even talked with some sequential artists about a Three Quarter Ale comic book or animated video. AAAAAND if you come to AleCon on Saturday night, you’ll see the surprise secret project we’ve been working on, too! Honestly, the possibilities are endless.
Note: All photographs are courtesy of Three Quarter Ale.

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