Friday, May 31, 2013

New Fangled Opera Festival

Though the roots go back even further, as an art form opera was invented in the mid 1500s in the Italian city of Florence by a group of musicians, poets and intellects (known collectively as the Camerata de' Bardi) who gathered to discuss and guide trends in the arts, especially music and drama.

Educated in Latin and Greek, the Camerata de' Bardi held high regard for classical Greek theatre and their musings about what original Greek productions would have been like lead them to conclude that they would have been performed with music playing in the background. The Camerata's musical experiments led to the development of the stile recitativo, which resembles sung ordinary speech more than a formal musical composition. Essentially, it’s at the opposite end of the spectrum from the aria that we today associate with opera.

Opera has undergone significant changes over the past 400 years and today we are lucky enough to witness the creation of new operatic compositions thanks to a new, exciting festival at the University of New Orleans – New Fangled Opera.

UNO Festival Brings New Operas to New Orleans

By Phillip McMullen

New Orleans is a city famous for its musical diversity and, this summer, New Fangled Opera embraces this tradition with whole-hearted enthusiasm. Founded by Chris and Shelley Burton, New Fangled Opera's mission is to make opera accessible to a wider audience and showcases the talents of contemporary American composers.  Young singers and directors from all over the country have gathered to present seven fully staged one-act operas on June 7 and 8 at the Performing Arts Building at the University of New Orleans. 

The cast of Quantum Mechanic learning
 the big dance finale.
These operas run the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime; John Bilotta's quirky Quantum Mechanic details the trials and tribulations of Mrs. Shroedinger as her dessert deflates and hilarity ensues as her refrigerator repairman creates a rupture in the fabric of the space time continuum. Aesop and the doowop quark sisters rush in to lend a hand.

An Accidental Affair by Timothy Brown is the classic story of a girl who's mother has decided what's best for her teenage daughter (in this case, to play bugle) but the girl won't see reason and runs away to become a jazz trumpeter. 

Yvonne Freckmann wrote Close Encounter of the Hillbilly Kind after a bus stop encounter in Louisville. This tragic love story features a bright young music student and her Romeo... a toothless 48 year old with a thing for girls with accents wearing hats. 

Another work featuring a classic encounter is Charles Halka's Layover, about two women from very different walks of life finding common ground while waiting for their respective flights.

Got butter? Paula Dean does in the opera
Krispy Kremes and Butter Queen.
Jennifer Jolley's Krispy Kremes and Butter Queens is the hysterical story of what happens when Paula Dean gets her just desserts and chokes to death on the "Lady's Brunch Burger;" a classic hamburger with fried egg, bacon, and cheese served on a burger bun of, what else? Glazed donuts.  Let's just say she has some explaining to do when she gets to heaven.

Also dealing with the afterlife is Jeremy Beck's Review, the deliciously catty meanderings of seven contrastingly clueless people.

Rounding out the program is The Mortal Thoughts of Lady Macbeth composed by Veronika Krausas; a look at the mental disintegration of Lady Macbeth led into her private damnation by the three witches.

One of the most exciting parts of performing contemporary opera is the opportunity for musicians and composers to work together: many of these composers will be present for the final rehearsals and the performances of their works.  Additionally, singers, directors, and composers will be available at a 'meet and greet' cocktail party the evening of June 6 (contact New Fangled Opera for more information on this unique opportunity).

Chris and Shelley Burton's exciting summer festival has brought together some of the most talented young musicians in the country and, with the support of the New Orleans community, has created a musical experience of which this historic “first city of opera” can be proud.  For more information, including sponsorship opportunities, please visit

About the author:

Phillip McMullen is an active performer in the upstate New York area for fifteen years where he currently serves as tenor soloist for St. Paul’s cathedral of Syracuse. Educated at the Crane School of Music under Dr. Deborah Massell, he performs regularly for Syracuse Opera (most recently in Carmina Burana, Tosca, Sweeney Todd and Nozze di Figaro). A sought after recitalist, recent engagements have included Barber’s Dover Beach with pianist Sabine Krantz, Vaughn Williams’s song cycle Along the Field with violinist Joshua Diesti, and Dreams and Desires, an aria program accompanied by Dr. Joseph Downing. Mr. McMullen studies privately with tenor Marcus Haddock.

About the festival founders:

Shelley Burton, a native of Plano, TX, holds a Master of Music from Loyola University New Orleans and a Bachelor of Music from Baylor University. Shelley has a passion for new operatic works; she has sung in two world premieres: Virginia Snow in the Lionel Lackey’s “mini-opera” From Little to Less and most recently Alita Allegra in Chris Burton’s The Self Portrait of Jonathan Jenkins. She has appeared in productions of Les Pecheurs de perles, Un ballo in Maschera, and Carmina Burana with the New Orleans Opera Chorus, and as a soloist for the company’s popular casual concert series “Opera on Tap.” Recent roles include Ein Sklave in Strauss’s Salome, Wanda in Offenbach’s The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein, Venus in Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers and Berginelle in Offenbach’s Le Perichole. She has been seen onstage as a soprano soloist in Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s Cantata No. 51, Dubois’s The Seven Last Words of Christ, and Britten’s Ceremony of Carols and has performed opera and recitals in Germany, France, Texas, Kansas, and Louisiana.

Chris D. Burton is a composer and conductor.  He studied composition at Baylor University under Scott McAllister and at the Florida State University under Ladislav Kubik.  Burton’s works have received performances on three continents and have received a number of awards including being a finalist in the ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composers Competition.
Burton’s love for opera began after meeting Shelley.  His first opera, The Self-Portrait of Jonathan Jenkins, was left unfinished in 2010 and completed the summer of 2012 for its premiere at the New Orleans Fringe Festival in November.  Under Burton’s baton, a cast of 12 put on the production with its full orchestration over 4 nights of performances.  Since then, he has begun work on a number of short operatic works and has plan for another large-scale work in the near future.
Burton conducts for New Fangled Opera.  He studied choral cunducting under Andre Thomas at FSU and has directed ensembles in church choirs since then.  He loves to work with other musicians in collaborative projects and looks forward to helping new music come to life through New Fangled Opera.

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