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Van Gogh and The Tell Tale Heart

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The idea of madness, of how far someone will go when pushed beyond the parameters of reason, has fascinated opera creators and audiences alike. This fascination reached its peak in the 19th Century with the bel canto Mad Scene; an almost fetishistic examination of the heroine in extremis, revealing her most private thoughts in a display of coloratura pyrotechnics.

The post-modern operatic equivalent of the Mad Scene is harder to categorize, but Long Beach Opera's latest double-bill, VAN GOGH and THE TELL-TALE HEART, would seem to qualify. There are differences, of course. The protagonists here are male and their messy, undiluted cries of anguish provide little of the safety and distance found in the bel canto formula of aria and cabaletta.

Michael Gordon's VAN GOGH is the first piece performed and, at just under an hour, the longer and more ambitious of the two. Based on letters exchanged between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother Theo, the opera explores the intimate thoughts of the artist in six distinct sections. While the libretto progresses chronologically through to Van Gogh's suicide (still debated by some), Director Andreas Mitisek eschews a strictly realistic staging.

A simple, two-level set outlines four playing spaces which could be enhanced by screens that offer an opportunity to view video projections (by Adam Flemming) of Van Gogh's artistic process. In the most claustrophobic of these "rooms" an actor impersonates the tortured painter.

Gordon's score commences with repetitive rhythms from the orchestra and disturbingly discordant harmonies from the three singers. But, as the opera progresses and becomes more reflective, the astringency of the music dissipates revealing a bluntly hard-edged, beauty. Both operas are accompanied by the impressively assured What’s Next Ensemble, conducted with nuance by Benjamin Makino.

Stewart Copeland (former drummer for the rock group, The Police) devises a heavily percussive and much more derivative score for his adaptation of Poe’s miniature masterpiece, THE TELL-TALE HEART. The production isn’t helped by production choices which diffuse the power of the tightly concentrated narrative with updating, an opening improvisation, busy staging, and a perpetrator named Edgar.

The singers, three of whom perform in both operas, are uniformly strong and committed. Ashley Knight reveals a graceful and musically accurate soprano, even in the most grating of the harmonies at the top of VAN GOGH. Jason Switzer’s vivid bass makes a powerful impression as does his ease with the most difficult physicality in the production, while John Matthew Myers’ sweetly ringing tenor is luxury casting for his roles. Robin Buck is an appropriately ominous as Poe’s self-absorbed narrator who is haunted by the beating heart of the man he has murdered.

As the non-singing Actor in both operas, Long Beach stalwart Mark Bringelson brings his usual disciplined focus to the roles of Vincent Van Gogh and the unnamed victim in HEART.

Expo Art Center  May 11 – May 19, 2013



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.