Michael Mayes on Dead Man Walking, Cut and Shoot, Texas, and social-justice opera

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Courtesy of Michael Mayes
Michael Mayes plays Joseph de Rocher in Central City Opera's production of Dead Man Walking.
Growing up in an East Texas trailer park gave Michael Mayes an edge on the other singers trying out for the role of Joseph De Rocher, the convicted murderer and rapist in Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie's opera Dead Man Walking. It's a part Mayes knows well; he grew up with guys like De Rocher, in a town called Cut and Shoot, Texas.

In advance of Central City Opera's production of Dead Man Walking, Westword spoke with Mayes about his role and the social justice work he does through opera.

See also: Sister Helen Prejean fights the death penalty with opera

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Broadway composer Andrew Lippa on I am Harvey Milk

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Courtesy of Denver Gay Men's Chorus
Denver Gay Men's Chorus rehearses for Andrew Lippa's I Am Harvey Milk.
California's first openly gay elected politician, Harvey Milk, was a feisty camera-shop owner turned political activist. He fought homophobia, commanded LGBTQ people to "come out," and struggled to build coalitions between oppressed communities. When fellow San Francisco city supervisor Dan White gunned him down in 1978, Milk became a martyr for the gay-rights movement. In advance of the Denver Gay Men's Chorus' performance of I Am Harvey Milk on June 8 in Fort Collins and June 12 in Denver, Westword spoke with critically acclaimed composer Andrew Lippa about the piece.

See also: Mike McNamara on quilting, AIDS and imperfection

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Another 100 Colorado Creatives: Eve Orenstein

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Eve Orenstein in Cinderella, performing with the Opera Colorado Outreach Ensemble.
#99: Eve Orenstein

New Jersey-born mezzo soprano Eve Orenstein was born into alternative culture: Her mother is a composer and her father an artist and designer who's known for creating the first inflatable furniture back in the '60s. But her own cultural love in life turned out to be opera, a classical genre she champions as a living art that's still growing and changing in the 21st century. To that end, she spearheaded Colorado's chapter of Opera on Tap, wherein opera singers let loose monthly for casual audiences in bars, breweries and other beer-friendly performance spaces, but she still also performs in the real thing, both here and back on the East Coast.

In her spare time? Orenstein addresses her other love -- local foodie culture -- through her other project, the food-swap club Mile High Swappers. We're amazed that a woman this busy even had time to sit down with the 100CC questionnaire, but she did, and her insights follow, with gusto.

See also: Another 100 Colorado Creatives: Chris Coleman


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Sister Helen Prejean fights the death penalty with opera

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Courtesy of Sister Helen Prejean
Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking.
Standing outside the Angola State Penitentiary after witnessing the execution of Patrick Sonnier, Sister Helen Prejean struggled to wrap her head around what she had just seen. After all, in the United States, executions are hidden from the public, and few people ever witness the state killing a person -- much less deal with the complexity of advocating for a murderer who's about to be executed at the same time they're trying to support the victims' families. As one of the nation's leading advocates in the fight to abolish the death penalty, Sister Prejean faces these tensions daily and uses the power of story to advance a nationwide dialogue about the immorality of capital punishment. The memoir of her work on death row, Dead Man Walking, was adapted into an Academy Award-winning film and, most recently, an opera, written by Terrence McNally and Jake Heggie. Sister Prejean will be in Denver for a screening and book signing on Wednesday, March 12, and a death-penalty symposium on Thursday, March 13, as part of Central City Opera's Prisons, Compassion and Redemption Project, a series of public events leading up to the July performance of Dead Man Walking. In advance of those appearances, Westword spoke with Sister Prejean about the opera, the death penalty and the role of art in addressing social issues.

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Photos: A suite of artworks will accompany the Playground Ensemble's performance at Dazzle

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Tia Christine: #2, "Columbine."
Conrad Kehn's Playground Ensemble, known for sharing difficult music from a modern age, is reaching back into the twentieth century canon of contemporary music to present twelve-tone composer Arnold Shoenberg's dark yet whimsical song cycle Pierrot Lunaire for tomorrow's Classical Night at Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge. But Playground will further shine its spotlight on Shoenberg's poetic cycle with a suite of Pierrot-themed artworks by local artists. Each of the seven artists -- Tony Achilles, Kalin Baker, Tia Christine, James Herbert, Eric Matelski, Henry Sanger and Peter Strange Yumi -- contributed three works, all of which will be on display at Dazzle, while some images will also be projected as the concert unfolds. The music starts at 7 p.m. March 4 and tickets are $12. Visit Mod Tickets online for reservations. Following is a sampler of Playground's artwork pastiche, noting which song each work represents.

See also: 100 Colorado Creatives: Conrad Kehn

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Cabaret Otaku and the NDK anime con community join forces to help one of their own

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Inoli Shiba Costumes
The Cabaret Otaku company in rehearsal for The Medium.
When Nan Desu Kan staff member Becca Cressler collapsed on stage during the Cosplay contest at this year's anime convention, everyone in the building stepped in to help. After two grand mal seizures and an extended hospital stay, the uninsured Cressler was left with mounting medical bills -- but again, her community was there to support her.

This Friday, October 18, Cabaret Otaku -- a troupe that brings traditional opera to the stage through the anime and cosplay community -- will be performing Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium, and donating the entirety of the evening's proceeds to the Cresslers.

See also: Nan Desu Kan 2013: Twenty unforgettable cosplay costumes

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Nancy Stohlman on flash novels and The Monster Opera, debuting as an opera Friday

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From Nancy Stohlman
Nancy Stohlman can do it all. She can create new genres of literature, write operas and teach you how to do both. Someday she hopes to become a pirate, but in the meantime her new flash novel The Monster Opera will be transformed into an opera on Friday, October 4 at the Mercury Cafe. In the novel, a writer travels to Mexico to find inspiration to write -- but there are monsters everywhere waiting for her. It turns into a "gothic literary noir, a genre-bending novel-meets-libretto that combines recitative with dialogue, aria with prose, and ultimately asks the question: Who owns a story?," explains Stohlman. In advance of the opera's debut, we talked with her about being a revolutionary in her craft, some childhood memories and finding the confidence to produce authentic work.

See also: Kinky Mink Loves the '80s

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Andrew Litton joins Colorado Symphony Orchestra as music director

Categories: Classical Music

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Andrew Litton.
From the dark days of two years ago, when the Colorado Symphony Orchestra was facing big losses and worse morale, the situation keeps getting brighter, with innovative programming attracting more support -- and expanded audiences. And this morning the spotlight will shine on the CSO's new music director: conductor Andrew Litton.

He's a familiar face at the symphony: Last September 1 the musical superstar came on as artistic director. "Though I was not looking for a formal relationship with another orchestra," he said at the time, "my decision to assume the role of artistic advisor of the Colorado Symphony was made simple for me. It's all about the relationship with the musicians. This is a very special group of players with an exceptional level of positive energy, dedication, and an intensity that I treasure. We enjoy a great relationship and a vital common vision to make the best possible music for the people of Denver and Colorado. While I can't fulfill the obligations of another music directorship right now, the perfect compromise is to assume the role of artistic advisor and is my dream come true."


See also:

- Colorado Symphony Orchestra welcomes Andrew Litton into the fold
- Photos: Colorado Symphony and Nathaniel Rateliff working on Beck's Song Reader
- The Colorado Symphony Orchestra struggles on

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Grammy winner Libby Larsen will work with CU Opera on A Wrinkle in Time

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The work of composer Libby Larsen is some of the most performed in American history. She created more than 500 pieces of music -- and more than fifty CDs -- spanning every major genre, from opera and chorus, to orchestral and classical. USA Today referred to her as "the only English-speaking composer since Benjamin Britten who matches great verse with fine music so intelligently and expressively."

This weekend, Larsen will make her way to Boulder to present the first act of her operatic adaption of the timeless classic, A Wrinkle in Time. Shows will take place tonight and Saturday, June 15, at 7 p.m., and on Sunday, June 16, at 2 p.m.

See also:
- The 2013 Westword Music Showcase schedule
- CU's Leigh Holman pays tribute to American opera with Susannah
- Free Negativland Shows at CU's Old Main Theatre


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100 Colorado Creatives: Conrad Kehn

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#75: Conrad Kehn

The opening sentence of Conrad Kehn's professional bio kind of says it all: "Conrad Kehn is a composer, improviser, performer, educator, writer and artist." But that's the glib definition of a guy who, under the skin of his basic vita, is hellbent on spreading the joy of making and sharing and being a part of music that is sometimes difficult, all while never assuming that any audience is too dumb -- or immature -- to appreciate it.

See also:
- Soundpaint with Walter Thompson and the Playground tonight at the Auraria campus
- With its Mile High Voltage Festival, the Newman Center makes classical music more accessible to the masses
- 100 Colorado Creatives: Mark McCoin

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