Arizona ArtBeat: Phoenix Opera

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Phoenix Opera’s Artistic Director John Massaro and Creative Director Gail Dubinbaum discuss the organization’s upcoming performances, including its January 10th opera gala featuring internationally acclaimed Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky.

Ted Simons: On tonight's Arizona Artbeat we look at the Phoenix opera, the non-profit is starting the new year with a performance featuring Russian Baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. Here to tell us more about the Phoenix opera are the founders, artistic director John Massaro and creative director Gail Dubinbaum. Good to have you both here. Thanks for joining us. And who is Dmitri Hvorostovsky, and how did you get him?

John Massaro: Well, his friends call him dema, which is easier to pronounce. He's probably the greatest male singer in the world. He started out his career winning the Cardiff, singer of the world competition, and since then, has had an international career and sings regularly with the met, and I am sure you have seen him on PBS programs for many years.

Ted Simons: And now he's headed for Phoenix. Why? How did you get him?

Gail Dubinbaum: He's from Siberia, and this is January in Phoenix. [Laughter] So, really, we're very honored. This is an auspicious occasion. This is a big cultural event for Phoenix, and people are, I am proud to say, coming from all over the world to see this performance next Tuesday night at the Orpheum.
Ted Simons: And what will he be performing in the performance?

Gail Dubinbaum: Well, the Maestro knows this, better than I, but a lot of the repertoire that he is singing, he will be performing at the metropolitan opera this year, the roles, so he's singing arias from Rigoletto, Traviata, arias from Russian operas, and we'll have of course the orchestra and the Phoenix opera chorus, over 100 people on the stage, it will be very thrilling.

Ted Simons: That's quite a production. Just from a distance, I don't know these work but who decides what he's going to perform?

John Massaro: Actually, what he's performing he decides. And in the correct order. And then, what I did was, basically, supplement with other pieces that compliment what he's doing. So, the orchestra will be performing some pieces alone, and then the orchestra and chorus as well.

Ted Simons: I am not sure I got the answer as to how did you get him? What's he doing here?

John Massaro: Well he was on the, on a break from the Chicago lyric, performing there Saturday night. And he doesn't have to be at the metropolitan opera until Thursday, so, he happened to have four days free in his schedule, and I must have called at the right time. [Laughter]

Ted Simons: Good job. Must be very persuasive. Phoenix opera, talk to us about how long you've been in town and why you decided, in an area that has got an opera company.

Gail Dubinbaum: It's got two now.
Ted Simons: It's got two now.
Gail Dubinbaum: Yes, you asked that question, four years ago, our anniversary, and you did not even send flowers. We were here four years ago the night before, December 26, and the night before our first opera. We have done eight performances, and this is our eighth performance, and every time we have performed, we have set the bar higher and higher and higher. And after La Boheme the one that we did last spring, we thought all right, what are we going to do now? So we thought we're going to really hit it out of the ballpark this time, and we thought, Phoenix is a great city, it has so much to offer, and let's, our mission is to bring international opera to Phoenix. Bring the best that we can produce to life in Phoenix, and that's why we decided to get, I think, the greatest superstar in the world, Dmitri Hvorostovsky. He's here, and I think that people are wildly excited to come here and hear him live. They are used to seeing him in the movies or on TV. This is his first time here in Phoenix.

Ted Simons: Talk about Phoenix audiences. Talk about the ability to have two companies here -- this is Arizona. This is Phoenix. We're not used to having a couple of opera companies here. And can we sustain it? Can we support it?

John Massaro: We're growing. We have surprised ourselves everybody season because we expand the number of programs that we do. What we do at the Orpheum is a part of, of what the season is like. We do performances with the, the musical instrument museum, and we do performances at the wild horse casino, and then we go out and we do outreach performances in the community. So, we never would have dreamed four years ago that we would have expanded in that way because our original intention was just to do the main stage shows at the Orpheum theater. But, we have found that we've been able to fill out our entire season with all these extra performances.

Ted Simons: And talk about the audience for opera. Here in Arizona, this is, obviously, ground zero for you guys. What do you say? Younger, older, new? Are they changing? Evolving?

John Massaro: I think it's a mixed group. It seems to go across the demographics, especially for the matinee h.d., and Gail is usually the host for those on Saturday, which are always sold out, and it's, it's a mixed crowd, and the same thing for our programs. We have people who, who, from children through octogenarians.

Gail Dubinbaum: And our mission is education and entertainment, so we bring this art form to life, and we surprise people all the time, and we always sell out, have great success, and we are developing the audience, and that's, that's a, a great thing that, that has worked to our advantage because once someone sees us perform in one venue, then they come back time and time again, so our audiences have grown over the years.

Ted Simons: And I was going to ask, how do you convince folks, neophytes and otherwise, convince folks to give opera a try?

Gail Dubinbaum: Can you say pasta?

Ted Simons: Pasta.

Gail Dubinbaum: Pizza?

Ted Simons: Pizza.

Gail Dubinbaum: You speak Italian, now we're going and we're going to do Italian arias. Our singers have so much personality, warmth, charm. I usually engage the audience. We bring the audience into this, and then the thrill of the human voice really superb performers and people get excited.

Ted Simons: What do we have coming up on the calendar?

John Massaro: After this we're doing a performance for Valentine's Day at the musical instrument museum called "come away with me." And then we have several performances out in Sun City.

Gail Dubinbaum: Fatal attractions, I mean we're all over the valley, but I really hope that people will come on Tuesday night to the Orpheum theater to hear the legendary Dmitri Hvorostovsky in concert. This is going to be exciting.

Ted Simons: And the neophytes, again, if you go out there and just think this is going to be interesting this is new and exciting, I don't know what I'm doing here but I like this, what do you listen for? What do you look for?

Gail Dubinbaum: The human voice is, is the greatest communication of all. But people feel it. They feel the intensity, the passion, the sizzle of the music, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky is a phenomenon ally exciting performer. A great communicator, great actor. He's a gorgeous man. On "People" magazine's top 50 list, I mean, it's a pleasure to watch him, as well as hear him. But you can listen and learn about the translations and understand and study the music, but really, it's so natural, the music is just thrilling. It touches our hearts. It moves us, and it's just pure emotion.

>> So don't think too much when you are enjoying the music.

John Massaro: And there are about 3,000 or so videos on youtube, and anybody can go and look him up and see what he's all about. Listen to his gorgeous voice and see why he won the "People" magazine award. [Laughter]

Ted Simons: All right. Ok. Congratulations. It sounds like an exciting performance and good luck and good luck with the rest of the season. Appreciate it.

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