Tag Archives: Opera in the Rock

Little Rock Look Back: William Grant Still

Long known as the Dean of African American composers, Dr. William Grant Still was a legend in his own lifetime.

Dr. Still, who wrote more than 150 compositions ranging from operas to arrangements of folk themes, is best known as a pioneer. He was the first African-American in the United States to have a symphonic composition performed by a major orchestra. He was the first to conduct a major symphony orchestra in the US; the first to conduct a major symphony in the south; first to conduct a white radio orchestra in New York City; first to have an opera produced by a major company. Dr. Still was also the first African-American to have an opera televised over a national network

Dr. Still was born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi to parents who were teachers and musicians. When Dr. Still was only a few months old, his father died and his mother took him to Little Rock. Inspired by RCA Red Seal operatic recordings, his musical education began with violin lessons.  He graduated from Gibbs High School in Little Rock.

After his studies at Wilberforce University and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, he played in orchestras and orchestrated for various employers including the great W. C. Handy. For several years he arranged and conducted the “Deep River Hour” over CBS and WOR.  He also played in the orchestra for the 1921 musical Shuffle Along, which was the first Broadway musical to feature an all African-American cast and writing team.

In the 1920’s, Still made his first appearances as a serious composer in New York. Several fellowships and commissions followed. In 1994, his “Festive Overture” captured the Jubilee prize of the Cincinnati Symphony orchestra. In 1953, he won a Freedoms Foundation Award for “To You, America!” which honored West Point’s Sesquicentennial Celebration. In 1961, he received honors for this orchestral work, “The Peaceful Land”. Dr. Still also received numerous honorary degrees from various colleges and universities, as well as various awards and a citation from Arkansas Governor Dale Bumpers in 1972.

In 1939, Dr. Still married journalist and concert pianist Verna Avery, who became his principal collaborator. They remained together until Dr. Still’s death in 1978.  In a proclamation marking the centennial of Dr. Still’s birth, President Bill Clinton praised the composer for creating “works of such beauty and passion that they pierced the artificial barriers of race, nationality and time.”

In 1995, Dr. Still was posthumously inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.  In 2016, the ballroom at Robinson Center was named in his honor.  Earlier this month, Opera in the Rock performed Still’s opera Troubled Island.

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LR native William Grant Still’s opera TROUBLED ISLAND produced by Opera in the Rock this weekend

Little Rock native William Grant Still was the leading African American composer of classical music throughout most of the 20th century.  In 1949, his composition, Troubled Island became the first grand opera written by an African American to be produced by a major company.  It premiered with the New York City Opera in 1949.

This weekend, Opera in the Rock is presenting a rare fully-staged production of Troubled Island.  It will be at the UA Pulaski Tech’s Center for Humanities and Arts on the evening of May 4 (7:30pm) and afternoon of May 6 (3:00pm).  The work is being performed by a cast of local and regional operatic talent.

The libretto for the opera was written by Langston Hughes and Verna Arvey.  The story is set in Haiti in 1791.  Jean Jacques Dessalines declares himself emperor of an independent Haiti. Corruption, revolution and assassination ensue.

Ronald Jensen-McDaniel is singing the role of Dessalines.  Others in the cast include Jordan Murdock, Jannette Robinson, Charles Moore, Nisheedah Golden, Anthony K. Valley,  and Chris Straw.

Arlene Biebesheimer is the artistic director of Opera in the Rock.

Arkansas Gives today from 8am to 8pm

If you are like me, you’ve been receiving notifications about Arkansas Gives Day for months.  Well, today is the day!  From 8am until 8pm, you can help grow the love for Arkansas’s nonprofit organizations by making a donation to the charity of your choice.  The event is sponsored by the Arkansas Community Foundation.

As a special incentive to give, each gift made through ArkansasGives on April 6, 2017, will be matched with additional bonus dollars; the more you give, the more bonus dollars your favorite charity will receive.

Nonprofit organizations and other tax-exempt charitable organizations may participate if they:

  • Are headquartered in Arkansas or have a base of operations in Arkansas.
  • Have 501(c)(3) tax exempt status under IRS code AND are qualified as a 509(a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) organization or as a private operating foundation.

The minimum amount is $25; there is no maximum amount you may give. You may designate up to 10 charities per transaction.

Accepted Forms of Payment: Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express credit cards online.
You will receive an email receipt of your gift; please retain it for tax purposes. Unless you choose to remain anonymous, your donor information will be sent to the nonprofits to which you give.

Here is a list of cultural organizations which offer services within the boundaries of the City of Little Rock.

 

There are MANY MANY MANY other worthy nonprofits which are participating. But since this is a culture blog, only the cultural institutions are listed.  But please consider visiting the website and perusing the entire list.

Creative Class 2016: Bonnie Montgomery

cc16-montgomeryA true and multi-faceted artist,  Bonnie Montgomery has an artistic vision that transcends classification and genre.

Following the release of EPs “Cruel” (2012) and “Joy” (2013), Bonnie released her self-titled LP in December 2014 on Nathan Howdeshell’s (of Gossip) Portland/Arkansas label Fast Weapons.

Bonnie’s southern debut album showcases her powerful operatic voice while her music blends elements of classic country with spaghetti western and traditional Ozark folk song.  Backed by a rowdy, virtuosic hillbilly band, Bonnie has toured on her recent album extensively throughout the U.S.  The album’s critical acclaim alongside her wild and law-less live performances have earned Montgomery the title of the Ameripolitan Outlaw Female 2016.

A classically trained singer whose southern roots run deep, Bonnie has taken her raucous, high-art spin on golden-era country/western music through the U.S. and Europe.

Bonnie’s composition of the modern folk opera “Billy Blythe”, about the childhood of Bill Clinton, previewed in New York, and has earned her the attention of publications such as The New Yorker, The Economist, The Huffington Post and the London Daily Telegraph.  The opera had its official world premiere by Opera Ithaca in April 2016 in Ithaca, NY.  In September it was staged by Opera in the Rock, and an upcoming production is to be staged at Ouachita Baptist University.

Today is #ArkansasGives Day

Arkansas GivesIf you are like me, you’ve been receiving notifications about Arkansas Gives Day for months.  Well, today is the day!  From 8am until 8pm, you can help grow the love for Arkansas’s nonprofit organizations by making a donation to the charity of your choice.  The event is sponsored by the Arkansas Community Foundation.

As a special incentive to give, each gift made through ArkansasGives on April 7, 2016 will be matched with additional bonus dollars; the more you give, the more bonus dollars your favorite charity will receive.

Nonprofit organizations and other tax-exempt charitable organizations may participate if they:

  • Are headquartered in Arkansas or have a base of operations in Arkansas.
  • Are a member of the Arkansas Nonprofit Alliance.
  • Have 501c3 tax exempt status under IRS code AND are qualified as a 509(a)(1), (a)(2) or (a)(3) organization or as a private operating foundation.

The minimum amount is $25; there is no maximum amount you may give. You may designate up to 10 charities per transaction.

Accepted Forms of Payment: Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express credit cards online.
You will receive an email receipt of your gift; please retain it for tax purposes. Unless you choose to remain anonymous, your donor information will be sent to the nonprofits to which you give.

Here is a list of cultural organizations which offer services within the boundaries of the City of Little Rock.

There are MANY MANY MANY other worthy nonprofits which are participating. But since this is a culture blog, only the cultural institutions are listed.  But please consider visiting the website and perusing the entire list.

15 Highlights of 2015 – Opera in the Rock and ASO presented THE MAGIC FLUTE

680 Magic Flute LogoFully-staged, full-length opera returned to the Rock for the first time in over a decade tonight and tomorrow!

The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Philip Mann, Music Director and Conductor, in partnership with Opera In The Rock, opens the 2014-2015 Intimate Neighborhood Concerts series with Mozart’s Magic Flute. Performances were on January 22 and Friday January 23 at the Albert Pike Masonic Center in downtown Little Rock.  Dancers from Arkansas Festival Ballet also appear in the performances which is stage directed by Robert Hupp, Producing Artistic Director of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) was written during the last year of Mozart’s life (1791). The opera was composed in the style of Singspiel (using sung and spoken text) and was an outlet for Mozart’s Masonic belief.

Magic Flute was an immediate success, performed over 100 times in the first two years of its existence. Mozart was not alive to see the 100th performance, having died only months after the premiere.

Tickets are $25; active duty military and student tickets are $10 are can be purchased online ; at the Albert Pike Masonic Center beginning 60 minutes prior to the concert; or by phone at 501-666-1761, ext. 100.  The Friday performance is sold out, but tickets remain for tonight’s opening.

CAST
Dana Pundt, Queen of the Night
Nicholas Nelson, Sarastro
Darren Drone, Papageno
Genevieve West Fulks, Papagena
Vernon DiCarlo, Tamino
Bonnie Frauenthal, Pamina

Others in the cast include Maria Fasciano DiCarlo, Stephanie Smittle, Kelley Ponder, Daniel Foltz-Morrison, Suzanne Banister, Kathryne Overturf, Satia Spencer, Robert Holden, Luke Frauenthal, Chase Burns and Sam Prescott

CHORUS
Sopranos: Alisa Dixon, Hayley Coughlin, Margaret McMurray, LaSheena Gordon
Altos: Claire Wilkinson, Melissa Wilcox, Sarah Blakey
Tenors: Adam Baldwin, Aaron Baker, Jonathan Treloggen, Josiah Wheeler, Sage Shaddox
Basses: J.J. Albrecht, Luke Frauenthal

PROGRAM
MOZART: Die Zauberflöte, K. 620 (text by Ruth and Thomas Martin)

Creative Class of 2015: Stephanie Smittle

resized_99263-smittle-v_47-16964_t300A few weeks ago, within the space of a few days, Stephanie Smittle went from originating two roles in an opera to singing with a Klezmer band.  This shows not only her versatility, but also the wide range of music offerings in Little Rock.

A lyric soprano, she is a native of Cave Springs and  holds a Bachelor’s of Philosophy degree from Hendrix College. Comfortable in a variety of genres, Smittle composes and performs her original work with the jazz-Americana group “The Smittle Band,” sings with acclaimed metal band Iron Tongue, leads an Arkansas-music-based duo called “Stephen y Stephanie,” and performs traditional Yiddish music with the Meshugga Klezmer Band.  From venues of a few seats to several hundred, there are few stages in Little Rock on which she has not performed.

Smittle’s operatic roles include: Fiordiligi in Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutte” with Opera in the Ozarks, Queen Anne and Queen Elizabeth Woodville in the premiere of Karen Griebling’s “Richard III: A Crown of Roses, A Crown of Thorns,” Second Lady in Mozart’s “Magic Flute” with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, performances with Opera in the Rock, as well as summer study in Italy as a scholar with the Oberlin Conservatory. Her oratorio performances include Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde,” Rutter’s “Requiem,” and Brahms’ “Ein Deutsches Requiem.”