The 2015-16 season will kick off with a special Season Opening Gala Concert on September 26 that highlights the great talents of the Austin Opera Orchestra. Rising dramatic soprano Heidi Melton will be joined by Rachele Gilmore, and Liz Cass, led by principal conductor Richard Buckley, in selections from beloved operas by Wagner and Strauss including Tristan und Isolde, Der Rosenkavalier, Salome, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg & more.
Wagner – Rienzi Overture
Wagner – Tristan und Isolde, Prelude and Liebestod
Strauss – Der Rosenkavalier excerpts, includes presentation of the Rose and the Trio
Strauss – Salome, Dance of the Seven Veils
Strauss – Salome, Final Scene
Wagner – Prelude to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg
Vocal selections from the Season Opening Gala Concert will be sung in German with the English translation projected above the stage.
Learn more about the featured Season Opening Gala Concert artists in the above “Featured Artists” and “Q&A” tabs.
Please note: Season subscriptions do not include tickets to the Season Opening Gala Concert. Tickets to the Gala Concert must be purchased separately.
Heidi Melton, soprano – The young American dramatic soprano Heidi Melton has been called “the Wagnerian voice we have been waiting for since Flagstad and Nilsson” (La Presse), a voice that is “big, gleaming and tonally resplendent” (San Francisco Chronicle).
Melton’s recent appearances include her return to the Deutsche Oper Berlin in two Ring Cycles, a debut as Sieglinde under the baton of Zubin Mehta at Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía in Valencia. Ms. Melton sang her first Siegfried Brünnhilde in concert with Opéra National de Bordeaux, as well as the “Immolation Scene”and “Liebestod” for Wagner concerts in Bordeaux and on tour in France. Ms. Melton debuted at North Carolina Opera as the Foreign Princess in a concert performance of Rusalka and in excerpts from Un ballo in maschera and Tristan und Isolde with the Alabama Symphony.
Ms. Melton recently had a successful return to the Metropolitan Opera as the Third Norn in the new Robert Lepage production of Götterdämmerung under Fabio Luisi and subsequently returned for complete cycles of Der Ring des Nibelungen. Ms. Melton was a member of the ensemble at Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe where she sang new productions of Lohengrin as Elsa, Les Troyens as Didon, Venus/Elisabeth in Tannhäuser, Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, as well as revival performances of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier and Der Ring des Nibelungen.
In concert, Heidi Melton made her Italian debut under Kirill Petrenko and Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della RAI in Torino as Gutrune and the Third Norn in a concert performance of Götterdämmerung. In the summer of 2013, Ms. Melton made her debut at the BBC Proms as Elisabeth in a concert performance of Tannhäuser with Donald Runnicles and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. She also returned to the Festival de Lanaudière in Québec singing Elsa in Lohengrin under Yannick Nézet-Séguin with his Orchestre Métropolitain and then to the Aspen Music Festival for a Verdi/Wagner program with bass-baritone Eric Owens and conductor Robert Spano.
Deutsche Oper Berlin, Die Walküre – “Heidi Melton’s Sieglinde stole the show with her huge, expressive voice and powerful singing…she was never once drowned out by the orchestra, as were some of the others. Further, she’s a good actress, and brought across Sieglinde’s hope, fear, and grief very well.” – Operapalais
Aspen Music Festival, Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 – “The soloists, who each got a turn at the forefront, all acquitted themselves admirably, especially Heidi Melton, a last-minute substitute for Angela Meade. Melton’s muscular, cutting sound had a creamy sheen that made it rich and warm, ideal for the role of Magna Peccatrix.” – Harvey Steiman, Aspen Times
Rachele Gilmore, coloratura soprano – Rachele Gilmore has established herself as one of America’s most sought after coloratura sopranos, and continues to thrill audiences around the globe combining what Opera News describes as a “silvery soprano..with an effortlessness that thrills her audience.” She is regular performer in America, Europe, and Asia and is consistently praised for being “the vocal standout” and a dynamic actress; “displaying more talent and charm than any one person should be allowed to possess.”
Rachele Gilmore’s recent engagements include the title role in Lucia di Lammermoor for her debut at Opéra de Lille; La Monnaie in Brussels for Ophélie in Hamlet; Olympia in Les contes d’Hoffmann with the Bayerische Staatsoper; Gilda with Opera Colorado; and a return to the Glimmerglass Festival, as Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. Future seasons include performances with Opera Omaha, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and NCPA Beijing. Ms. Gilmore made a “show-stopping” debut with the Metropolitan Opera in the role of Olympia in Les contes d’Hoffman, according the Classical Source. “She brought down the house with her flawless coloratura,” solidifying her position as one of the most exciting young coloraturas to watch.
Other notable appearances included: her European debut with Deutsch Oper am Rhein, singing Blondchen in Die entführung aus dem Serial, a return to Toledo for Mahler’s 2nd Symphony with the Toledo Symphony, Adele in Die Fledermaus with Opera New Jersey, her debut with Opera Hong Kong for a series of Opera Gala Concerts, and two Carnegie Hall appearances performing Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass.
Opera Omaha, Rigoletto – “Rachele Gilmore, who sang the role of Gilda, was the audience favorite. Her crystalline voice and sensual shaping of ‘Caro nome’ had just the right amount of desire and innocence to realize her character vividly.” – Kevin Hanrahan, Opera News
Boston Lyric Opera, Ariadne auf Naxos – “As Zerbinetta, soprano Rachele Gilmore, in sunglasses and Gibson Girl bloomers, displayed more talent and charm than any one person should be allowed to possess. In her hands, “Grossmächtige Prinzessin” was not merely an astonishing pyrotechnical display (although it certainly was that) but a joyous expression of Zerbinetta’s character, the bushels of notes and baskets of embellishments an overflowing abundance in keeping with her view of life and love.” -Kalen Ratzlaff, Opera News
Liz Cass, mezzo-soprano – Liz Cass is a mezzo-soprano of unique brilliance, depth, and agility. Her voice adapts easily to fit a wide array of repertoire and styles. Ms. Cass has star quality that radiates through her portrayals on the operatic stage, in concert, and beyond.
Liz makes her home in Austin, Texas and is a regular soloist with Austin Opera, The Austin Symphony, Austin Chamber Music Center, Austin Classical Guitar Society, and Chorus Austin. Each year, Ms. Cass travels to Guatemala City and Antigua, Guatemala to perform Handel’s Messiah. Liz Cass formed the brilliant and dynamic operatic quintet, MARGOT, in April of 2013. Members include Julia Taylor, Liz Cass, Paul Sanchez, Phillip Hill, and Cynthia Wilson. MARGOT is quickly becoming a sought after chamber ensemble.
In addition to keeping up with her busy performance schedule, Liz is the Community Liason with the Armstrong Community Music School where she maintains a large and diverse vocal studio. Ms. Cass is a producer of the Opera Lady video series and executive producer of Local Opera Local Artists (LOLA) who recently produced an all-female production of La Bohème called La Femme Bohème.
Heidi Melton will make her Austin Opera debut, onstage with Austin Opera principal conductor Richard Buckley, our robust 80-member orchestra, and a full program from Strauss and Wagner. It will be a powerhouse of a performance and season opening.
In anticipation of this one-time event, we sat down with Ms. Melton to learn more about her. She’s truly captivating, and we immediately fell in love.
We know you will too.
As a self-identified Wagner-geek, what do you love most about his music?
EVERYTHING. The man knows drama. I find his music is perfectly sculpted. It grabs you from the very first chord and doesn’t release you until the very end. It fills me completely when I sing it.
I think what I love most about Wagner’s music is that it takes everyone prisoner. You can feel a collective sigh at the end of a Wagner Opera. Everyone in the audience has had all of the feelings forced out of them and they aren’t just applauding the artists on stage, but they’re applauding their own experience and journey. It is definitely a group effort. It’s pretty magical.
What attracted you to opera?
My attraction to opera was not an immediate one. I did not grow up listening to or attending opera. It was something that I slowly and deeply fell in love with.
I believe the reason I am so drawn to opera is that it takes me completely out of every day, ordinary life. It is big and brash and beautiful, and it completely consumes me. I don’t know that there is a more complete or comprehensive art form.
What has been your most memorable role?
Oh, I can’t choose! Every role that I do is my favorite for some reason or another while I am singing it.
If I absolutely had to choose, I think at this point it would be Sieglinde. I have sung Sieglinde in San Francisco, Berlin, Toronto, Dallas, Montreal, Glasgow, Valencia, Edinburgh, Baltimore and Karlsruhe. She is an incredibly strong woman and a fighter.
It is always a pleasure to take her journey with her, from a beaten and abused woman to one that is full of love, life and hope…and it doesn’t hurt that she has some of the most beautiful music ever composed!
Do you have a mantra or routine before going on stage?
I don’t know that I have an exact mantra. I try not to have too many habits or needs before I go on stage: being on the road as much as I am, and in many international cities, you are not always guaranteed to have everything you need around you. I always try to have my grandma’s ring with me (either on my finger or in my bra!) and I carry a picture of my nieces with me on stage always.
I definitely get nervous—the music means too much to me not to. So, I always tell myself that I can do it and that I am only human and can only do what I can do in that very instance. If I’m not on my team, how can I expect anyone else to be! And if there is a diet coke around . . . bonanza.
What is your dream role?
Isolde. Brünnhilde. Elektra. Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk. Fäberin. And if I were a baritone: Scarpia.
As Austin is a major music hub, we’re keen to know what you jam out to?
Anything and everything. If it touches me, I’m game. My music collection is completely crazy.
I don’t really listen to opera, unless I’m studying. In my opinion, it would be like a lawyer listening to tapes of trials. But I listen to lots of different types of music: pop, jazz, rock, classic rock, metal, bluegrass, country, rap, hip hop.
You wouldn’t believe the looks I get when people come into my dressing room, getting down to something that isn’t necessarily classical.
Describe what singing feels like.
Amazing. Terrifying. Exhilarating. Sweaty. It’s a complete full-body experience. It is like everything is vibrating from the inside out. It is one of the most amazing and addicting experiences in the world.
And sometimes, it feels like driving a Mack truck down an icy country lane.
Austin Opera principal conductor Richard Buckley will lead our robust 80-member orchestra through a full program from Strauss and Wagner, including Tristan und Isolde, Der Rosenkavalier, Salome, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg & more. It will be a moving, memorable season opening that everyone will be talking about.
In anticipation of this one-time event, we asked Richard to give us some background to the concert’s conception and highlights. Here’s what he shared.
In opening our 29th the season with a concert, why did you select from Wagner and Strauss?
This concert is part of the expansion of our company’s artistic vision and the first of what we hope will turn into an annual event. Starting in the 2016-17 Season, we will open our season in September with an entire semi-staged opera, which will also be made available on our subscription series. This concert of Wagner and Strauss is a starting point upon which we will build toward these semi-staged productions, which will fill in a gap of operatic repertoire that we have performed less frequently. And it is an excellent way for Austin’s opera aficionados to have a taste of this German Romantic music.
Program selections will come from operas that include Tristan und Isolde, Der Rosenkavalier, Salome, and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. What brought you to these pieces?
I first started my career in Seattle, helping prepare North America’s first full production of “The Ring,” so my musical exposure to Wagner came early. And through my years of symphonic conducting, these overtures and Tristan have been music I have performed frequently. Rosenkavalier is an opera I would love to perform in its entirety. This concert is a way to experience some of this amazing music in a kind of “favorite hits” way.
The orchestra will be 80-members strong, showcased onstage. What is it about the orchestral pieces you’ve selected that they showcase the talent of our orchestra?
All these pieces require great sensitivity, color, dynamics, attention to detail, and emotional involvement for every minute of the concert. The concentration and dedication to pull off this gigantic program has a real adrenalin push to it, and the challenge itself, I predict, will push our orchestra to perform at all-time great levels of artistry.
The evening will also feature Heidi Melton, Rachele Gilmore, and Liz Cass. What were you looking for in the singers that you selected?
Great voices that are new to the scene.
What are some of your favorite parts that we should be listening for?
The amazing brass fanfares in Rienzi; the heart wrenching farewell of Isolde to Tristan and her life, and their love; the great waltzes of Rosenkavalier along with the realization of new love between Octavian and Sophie; the trio, when the Marschallin comes to understand she is at that moment in life where she gives up her youth; Salome’s erotic dance, followed by her childish psycho-sick, perverted fondling of Jochanaan’s head, which she had chopped off; the incredible counterpoint of the Meistersinger overture that has a dark, deep color of string sound, big full brass, and scintillating woodwinds.
Austin favorite Liz Cass will perform onstage with Austin Opera principal conductor Richard Buckley, our powerful 80-member orchestra, and a blockbuster program from Strauss and Wagner.
Ms. Cass shared with us insights to her career and opera’s place in Austin. Not only is she an Austin-based mezzo soprano, she is also the Executive Producer of LOLA – Local Opera Local Artists. Her enthusiasm for the artform is nothing short of irresistible.
How do you juggle life between your role as a singer and administrator of ACMS and LOLA, plus your other projects?
Great question! I cannot live without my Google calendar, voice lessons, and lists upon lists upon lists. All of these jobs including my voice studio of 30+ students require much time and attention. One thing I tell myself to keep going is, “If you don’t do what is in your heart and mind, no one will”.
What is it like going from the intimate settings of LOLA performances to the auditorium stage? What do you like most about each setting?
There is nothing quite like either experience. As a trained opera singer, to perform with a skilled professional orchestra is like nothing else on planet earth. In the best cases it feels like I am a piece in a jigsaw puzzle that is falling into place. Maestro Buckley is incredibly sensitive to that balance of powers between the human voice and orchestra. Austin is in for such a treat with this season opener!
Performing in more intimate settings brings an immediacy to the action and story telling that can be very exciting and raw. Whether in a large hall or a smaller space, it is all about the quality of the story telling and the musicianship. Both offer opportunities for experiencing the totality of the human experience.
Why is opera so special to you?
Opera has grown on me. Ha! That’s a funny thing for an opera singer, right? I grew up in a classical music home, but I wasn’t smitten with opera. I have always loved singing; the study of it and the teaching of it. Until I was in my mid twenties, I wouldn’t listen to opera for fun or go to the opera for fun, it was always for study. But over time I have come to see that opera is everything! All that human beings experience on an emotional, cerebral, physical, and spiritual level is found here. Opera was born in the spirit of bringing together all of the art forms and it remains loyal to its mission to this day.
What are some of the more interesting places you’ve performed and what is your favorite role?
Each year, I sing in Antigua, Guatemala at the Casa Santo Domingo which began as a monastery in 1538 and is now a 5-star hotel with several museums and art gallaries. They have done a beautiful job of preserving the ruins. We perform in front of an ancient chancel at night, it is pure magic. Antigua, Guatemala, is a Unesco World Heritage Site and should without a doubt be on any world traveler’s list.
My favorite roles are Komponist from R. Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos and Hermia from Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Sophisticated, human, redemptive.
What are the differences in singing German repertoire versus Italian and French?
Aside from a few consonants and umlauts, nothing.
Why is opera important to Austin?
We are lucky to live in a city whose citizens are interested in experiencing the broad spectrum of the arts. Because opera is the totality of the human experience, it is vital to a city whose heart beats the rhythm of music and humanity.
We are thrilled to be featuring coloratura soprano Rachele Gilmore onstage with Austin Opera principal conductor Richard Buckley, our powerful 80-member orchestra, and an incredible program from Strauss and Wagner.
We had a moment between rehearsals to ask Ms. Gilmore a few questions about her artistry. Want to know what it feels like to sing in the stratosphere? Read on. We cannot wait to hear her live.
What are the differences in singing German repertoire versus Italian and French?
I would say mostly the way the language feels in your mouth. There is a certain way that consonants need to be approached when singing in German which takes some time to get used to. To some, German can seem like a harsh sounding language, but it is actually very beautiful to sing in, and there are so many expressive colors you can make using the words
What attracted you to opera?
I had a fantastic choir director in high school who introduced me to classical music. There was just something about it that spoke to me, I guess more of a feeling than anything. I also loved the challenge of it as opposed to other styles of music I had sung before, especially learning vocal technique and singing in different languages.
What has been your most memorable role?
It’s hard to choose just one, but I would say Lucia di Lammermoor. It’s the role I feel most at home in, and I also met my husband singing Lucia!
How did you get your start?
I moved to New York city after school, and it was basically just a few years of a lot of persistence and A LOT of auditions.
What is your mantra before going on stage?
This was passed on to me by another singer who attributed it to James Levine: Just keep breathing!
What is your dream role?
I’ve been fortunate to have already sung so many of my dream roles, but if there is one I haven’t yet it is La Fille du Régiment, which I happen to be performing next season!
Austin loves its music. So we’re keen to know what you jam out to?
I mostly listen to older music. A few of my favorite artists are Led Zeppelin, Joni Mitchell, Queen, Pearl Jam. I also love listening to Jazz.
What does it feel like to sing in the stratosphere?
Well, sort of a whole lot of nothing! My brain just sort of empties when I sing a really high note and I can’t think about too much. It always takes a few seconds for me to regain focus after a particularly long one. Maybe too much blood rushing to the head!