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Sweeney, Sweeney, Sweeney, SWEEEEEEENEEEEY!!!!!!

Wow, what an incredible ride it has been to the premiere of Sweeney Todd - full of ups and downs, challenges, and fun. The premiere was just over a week ago, and we've had one other performance since then, which was the tremendously successful Caritas Luzern Theater Gala, where they were able to raise over 60,000 CHF for people in need! We were all thrilled to be a part of it and help out in our small way. It was our best performance yet, but I'm really looking forward to future performances and honing the piece even more: it's incredibly complex and timing is everything. Here are some of my favorite shots from the show (thanks so much to Tanja Dorendorf of T+T Foto for these fantastic photos):

Also, in the run-up to our premiere of Sweeney, our local newspaper printed an interview between me and Urs Mattenberger (the head music critic at the paper) about my time at the Luzern Theater thus far. If you're interested to read it, I have included a translation of the text below.

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"I will always be homesick for Luzern"

SINGERS He has a dream-role in the musical-thriller 'Sweeney Todd': Todd Boyce takes stock of five years at the Luzerner Theater, which he will be leaving with the change in directorship.

Interview by Urs Mattenberger

Born in 1983 in Wisconsin, the American Todd Boyce has belonged to the ensemble of the Luzerner Theater for four years. Before he too leaves the house with the change in directorship at the end of this season, he will stand on stage in four final productions - first Britten's 'Albert Herring' (two more shows on November 13th and 29th), and now in the musical-thriller 'Sweeney Todd' by Stephen Sondheim. There Boyce plays the main role of the barber, who was innocently condemned and who with his straight razor undertakes a rampage for revenge.

Todd Boyce, with the change in directorship you will be leaving Luzern after five seasons. Are such shifts simply part of the job description, or does melancholy also come into play?

Obviously, a new Artistic Director wants to present an individual face. Of course, the principal performers are a part of that, because they are effectively the eyes or the mouth in this face. In that way, I consider such a change quite normal. However, emotions also come into play - due the the theater, but also due to Luzern. (He indicates the windows of the theater's foyer and beyond the Jesuit Church and the Reuss river.) You can look, walk, or jog wherever you like - this city is beautiful in every direction. I think I will always be a little homesick for Luzern.

The theater here is deemed to be a springboard for young singers. What is next for you?

I am happy that I can switch to the ensemble in Bern as of next season. That is a step forward not least because the house is bigger and they have the possibility to engage more guest singers. It is also important that it has a bigger orchestra pit, which makes a wider range of repertoire possible than here in Luzern.

In regard to the plans for a new theater here in Luzern, the significance of an ensemble is also in discussion. You are switching now from one to another. What is the advantage in comparison to working free-lance?

For young singers, an ensemble has the big advantage that one can build up his repertoire with important roles and allow the voice to develop. It is critical that the selection for this development is considered, and that is where Domonique Mentha here in Luzern paid close attention. Additionally, in an ensemble you can sing a piece for 30 performances and therefore in later performances also try some things out, for example, you can develop a role in a somewhat different direction.

You have also been brilliant in comic rolls - from Bel Canto to the musical-thriller "Sweeney Todd." Does that indicate a predilection for American Showbiz, as a reviewer once put it?

No, there I would not like to tie myself down at all or get pushed into a corner. In which direction I will develop - more character, comic, or serious roles - I myself can't even really say. The male voice continues to develop and gains size until the age of about 40. Until then, many doors are still open. And in my early 30's, I'd like to still keep them open.

You won't be singing much Wagner though. In a questionnaire for a competition you joked that you have to watch out you don't fall asleep.

That was a joke with a wink at my brother, who is also a singer and who, with his heavier voice, seems predestined for Wagner. But Wagner operas really are very long and composed so that one can flounder if he doesn't understand all the references. My voice was never meant for a role like Wotan, but I've already studied the role of Wolfram in "Tannhäuser" and found that to be absolutely fascinating.

On the Blog on your homepage, you praised the highly conventional production of Puccini's "La Boheme" at Luzerner Theater. As a singer, is one happy when he finally is allowed just to sing and doesn't have to do gymnastics onstage?

No, this had nothing to do with that. We rehearsed with that director for weeks until every gesture and every detail was finely tuned. Of course, it was not a brand new vision in that production, but that is not always necessary. For me, productions are always strong when everything is developed out of a basic idea. That can be, as in this case, simply the piece as it is, but also as with our production of "La Traviata," a entirely new interpretation. I just don't like it when effects are super-imposed, which belong neither to the one nor the other.

According to the press-release, in "Sweeney Todd" the director Johannes Pölzgutter has taken the shock-element out of the show and transported it into the imagination of the audience. To which of the described categories of production does that belong?

First of all, I have to say that it is fantastic fun to collaborate with Pölzgutter. He has so much imagination and so many ideas, that they can barely be accommodated in one piece. As far as the gory shock-elements go: they absolutely exist in our production, but they are not prominently displayed. Rather they are presented with humor and also with a lot of imagination as an accessory to the characters, which are the main focus here.

You belong naturally to a generation which grew up with electronic games...

You mean...(he moves his fingers on an imaginary controller)?

Yes, what was your favorite game?

"Super Mario Bros." of course. (laughs)

Today's games are much more spectacular. Does theater by the same token need to pump up the shock-dose in order to keep up?

No, I don't think so. Theater works differently and is not a direct competitor to film or new media. In the theater, the sensory experience is the determining factor and it is where you can find an interaction between the performance onstage and the audience. That is what makes it so special. The audience and the way in which they react, laugh, boo, or perhaps even take a nap, that contributes to the energy of every performance.

Was there a key moment in this respect over your five years here in Luzern?

My biggest challenge in that respect was probably "Kiss Me, Kate." That was my first appearance with spoken dialogue, and had no idea if and when the audience would laugh. It really is the audience that makes each evening different and interesting.

I have only ever once experienced an assault of boos here in Luzern, when Orfeus (in the Gluck version) sexually abused the the corpse of Euridice. Does the audience in Luzern react more reservedly than elsewhere?

During my time in the Opera Studio in Munich, the reactions were somewhat more severe, because the audience there doesn't let you get away with anything. But I would not say that Luzerners are reserved. Quite the opposite. In conversations with audience members before and after performances or on the street where I am sometimes spontaneously approached, I am amazed at how varied and open our audience is. That does not make the farewell any easier.

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Mahler and Puccini

Me, Beni Santora & Adrian Meyer (the founders of MuskWerk Luzern), and Aviel Zuckermann- photos by Tanja Dorendorf, Ingo Höhn, and Edith Held, respectively

Me, Beni Santora & Adrian Meyer (the founders of MuskWerk Luzern), and Aviel Zuckermann- photos by Tanja Dorendorf, Ingo Höhn, and Edith Held, respectively

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to join the Ensemble Metropolis in a new concert series called "MusikWerk Luzern" and under the sensitive musical direction of Ariel Zuckermann in a performance of Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). Anyone who knows these songs knows how very special they are, and particularly in the Schönberg adaption, which requires high soloistic ability from all musicians involved. It's unfortunately rare that I get to do art song with my operatic schedule, so I really savored this evening. The ensemble played everything with incredible skill and attention to detail, and I was proud to be a part of it. The Neue Luzerner Zeitung gave a great review of the performance, to which you can find a link here: http://musikwerkluzern.ch/assets/bilder/NLZ-Kritik-26.01.15.pdf. An English translation of the sections relevant to my performance be found under the Reviews tab here on my website.

At the theater, we're currently working intensively our next production of La Boheme. I'll be singing the role of the painter, Marcello. For those of you who might not be familiar with this show, I'll give a brief synopsis. On Christmas Eve in 1830's Paris, a poor poet (Rodolfo) falls in love with a young seamstress (Mimi) who is suffering from tuberculosis. The relationship is intense and tumultuous and won't make it through the winter because she tragically dies within a couple months. That's basically it. The parallel love story is of Marcello (a painter) and Musetta (probably a singer or an actress, but it's never clearly stated what she does apart from going on dates with rich older men and tormenting Marcello).

Boris Schäfer (Conductor), Achim Thorwald (Director), Jutta Böhnert (Mimi), Carlo Cho (Rodolfo), Carla Maffioletti (Musetta), Todd Boyce (Marcello), Flurin Caduff (Schaunard), Szymon Chojnacki (Colline)

Boris Schäfer (Conductor), Achim Thorwald (Director), Jutta Böhnert (Mimi), Carlo Cho (Rodolfo), Carla Maffioletti (Musetta), Todd Boyce (Marcello), Flurin Caduff (Schaunard), Szymon Chojnacki (Colline)

In contrast to the current fashion of new opera productions in German-speaking areas of Europe, our fearless director(I really do mean that non-ironically), Achim Thorwald, has set our production in 1830's Paris. He loves the story in its original form and wants to tell it as it was intended by Puccini: no politics, just intense emotions. He very obviously finds this piece magical, as we all do (I'm speaking on behalf of the cast here). That's not to say he hasn't brought in any interpretation at all, that's of course not the case, but it doesn't irritate! And I'm very happy to have this as my first La Boheme experience.  I think this is really one of those pieces which transforms the audience into children. By that I don't mean they become innocent again, or naive. To the contrary, I think it's essential that the audience has  worldy experience in order to grasp Mimi and Rodolfo's purity in order to contrast with Musetta and Marcello . What I mean is, the show unlocks the audience's access to elemental emotions, which get suppressed by growing up and daily life, etc. This will be a production purely to relish and enjoy, and hopefully, we won't be the only ones shedding a tear as Mimi tragically dies at the end.

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Antilope now in performances...

On Wednesday, we had a very well-attended and -received premiere performance of Die Antilope by Johannes Maria Staud, libretto Durs Grünbein. For my part, I can say I thought it was quite successful and it was a good run-through of the piece. Great energy from everyone in the cast. Tonight, we have our second performance, and I really looking forward to giving an even better show without the nerves of the premiere.

The first reviews have started coming out, and they're overwhelmingly positive. Not just for the performers but for the piece as a whole. At the party afterward there were many people who said they wanted to see it a second time, which is a great indication of the enthusiasm with which it was received. I feel really lucky to be a part of the project and am looking forward to the next performances. Above, some photos taken by the talented Tanja Dorendorf of T+T Foto.

If you understand German, or just would like to see and hear a little teaser of the show, here's a trailer from art-tv:

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Die Antilope (The Antelope)

Photo copyright Matthias Creuziger

Photo copyright Matthias Creuziger

We're already hard at work with our next new production and world premiere. The piece is called "Die Antilope," and was written by Johannes Maria Staud, an Austrian composer, who also happened to celebrate his 40th birthday yesterday. Happy Birthday, Johannes! The other night, we shared a meal after rehearsal here in Luzern, and although it was immediately obvious to me when I met him for the first time a few months ago, it occurred to me again just how warm-hearted a person he is, in addition to being an exciting compositional talent.

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The libretto for Die Antilope is an original creation by poet and author, Durs Grünbein, who, together with the composer, developed the thematic ideas with inspiration from such works as Eleutheria by Samuel Beckett, Herman Melville's Bartleby, as well as Martin Scorsese's After Hours. The characters for our piece are based on cardboard cut-out versions of office colleagues, secretaries, and bosses, as well as detached young adult smart phone addicts, bag-ladies, sadistic doctors, and over-sharing middle-aged women. The opening scene of the opera finds the main character, Victor, at a business party. He is unwilling or unable to join in the celebration or to connect with any of the other characters, and inexplicably throws himself out of the 13th-story window. Before he does so, he sings an aria in which he lists the names of dozens of different types of antelopes from all over the world. The following scenes find Victor in a series of sometimes bizarre, sometimes ordinary situations where he interacts with the other characters or the environment in his own peculiar way.

Playing the part of Victor has posed challenges for me. It's a part so unlike any other part I've played before that at first I was at a loss. During the learning process, I of course knew that Victor would need to be the golden thread which ties the whole production together, but unfortunately for me, he hardly speaks a single coherent word in the whole piece. So I had only a few clues as to his motivations for doing anything at all. The plot (not to be confused with 'storyline' because it's not a story in the normal sense of the word), is a set of abstract scenes, where Victor is present but separate, and in most cases doesn't say anything or speaks in backwards Baudelaire text, or disjointed Esperanto, or just says 'rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.'

Es·pe·ran·to

ˌespəˈräntō/

noun

  1. an artificial language devised in 1887 as an international medium of communication, based on roots from the chief European languages.

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Victor's isolation was obviously a crucial focus to the piece, and realizing this was my first step toward breaking the code. Then I had to decide if the isolation was externally imposed or self-imposed. Unfortunately, the answer I came up with was: both and neither. In some scenes, the other characters desire Victor's company and interaction, in other scenes, he is pushed away. Likewise, he sometimes seems to want to communicate something (he doesn't necessarily have to speak at all! He didn't have  to go to the party, etc.), but he also rejects interaction as often as he seeks it. So Victor needs to have sympathetic aspects as well as repellent. Don't we all? The repellent things about him were relatively easy to find, but the sympathetic side took a bit of digging.

Mercifully, Mr. Grünbein wrote an short monologue for Victor in the fourth scene when he encounters an abstract sculpture. Initially, I thought the aggressive rant was tongue in cheek; a self-conscious critique of his own work (Grünbein's). But following Victor's outburst, the sculpture begins to speak to him his own language. During the sculpture's aria, he takes a closer look, cleans off some bird droppings, and falls asleep beneath it. I realized it could be seen as a metaphor for Victor's own inner struggle. That his monologue, though directed angrily at the sculpture, could be seen as frustration with himself for his own shortcomings. Directly following this scene, he sings for the first time in German when he lands comfortably (and inexplicably) in the middle of a zoo among the animals. It is as if he's had an emotional breakthrough and in learning to appreciate the sculpture, or at least to accept it, Victor learns self-appreciation.

We still have two weeks before the premiere now, but I'm feeling more and more comfortable with this enigmatic character, and hopefully, I'll continue to find ways to relate to him and create a bridge for the audience into a piece which is, let's be honest, not for beginners.

Hopefully, I'll manage to write another update before the premiere. Stay tuned!

 

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Don Pasquale premieres in Luzern

We already have two performances of Don Pasquale behind us; both with nearly sold-out houses! The premiere was a resounding success for our director, Johannes Pölzgutter, and a great deal of fun for me. I've wanted to do this role ever since I wrote a character study of Malatesta back in college. I had such luck to do it for the first time with a director who allowed the show to be light, humorous, charming, and logical while still creating something totally original. That may seem obvious to many American or British opera goers who know a bit about opera buffa, but in German-speaking houses this does NOT go without saying!

Most of the characters in opera buffa are pulled directly out of the Italian commedia dell' arte tradition. Our director's ideal was that the each character (Pasquale, Norina, Ernesto, and Malatesta) would slowly morph into their corresponding commedia dell' arte characters (Pantalone, Colombina, Pagliaccio, and Dottore) throughout the show. A simple, but effective idea, which gave us more to play than just the conversations between the characters, which can become tiresome if too dutifully-played. More photos can be found in my Galleries section, but also here at the Luzerner Theater website, where you can also find more production photos.

Translated reviews will follow soon in my "Reviews" section. Check back soon for updates!

 

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Season 2014/15 announced!

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The repertoire has been officially announced for the coming season (2014/15) here at Luzerner Theater. Look forward to seeing me in La Boheme (Marcello), Ariadne auf Naxos (Harlekin), and in two world premieres - Die Antilope by Johannes Maria Stoud with Libretto by Durs Grünbein and Cantos de Sirena, which is a new production by La Fura dels Baus.

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Kiss Me, Kate Premiere

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Kiss Me, Kate Premiere

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Last week, we premiered Dominique Mentha's new production of Kiss Me, Kate at Luzerner Theater. We're doing the production in German instead of the original English with a fantastic translation, which is often funnier than the original and often: dirtier. It hasn't been a walk in the park for me, but it is a complete joy to perform this challenging role with all it's strophic songs and German dialogues. 

German speakers can find a description of the show with video clips here:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF0sZ8IoIuY

Non-German speakers can watch it too, of course. They're just not allowed to understand anything. 

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NEW SEASON 2013/14

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After 3 weeks back home visiting family and traveling all around southern Wisconsin, then further travels to Munich (studies with Richard Trimborn)  and visiting friends, I'm back in Luzern and gearing up for the news season. This year I'm working on Kiss Me, Kate, Cenerentola (again), Carmen, and Don Pasquale. But first, I'm off to Darmstadt for a quick Carmina Burana and In Orbe Rotundo by Enjott Schneider. I did the world premiere of Enjott's "sister piece" to Carmina back in 2010, and it's a pleasure to get to perform the piece again for the 3rd time now! This time with the Darmstädter Residenzspiele. More information here. Looking forward! And if you didn't catch Cenerentola before the season ended, No Worries! We're picking it up again starting September 14th. Further performance dates here.

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Satyricon Premiere Tomorrow!

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Tomorrow is our premiere of Satyricon (1976) by Bruno Maderna. The scenes have been assembled from a collection of Greek poetry by Petronius, translated into English, French, German, and Latin, and shaped into a loose plot that has centers around the motives of extreme wealth and inevitable death.

With only one exception, Maderna handles the subject matter exclusively in a satirical way. For example, when a character begins vainly monologing about his own memorial monument, Maderna comments by setting it to 'Stars and Stripes Forever.' Or when when the character details the adorning sculpture of a broken vase next to a crying little boy, Maderna sets it to the melodramatic quotation from Gluck's Orpheo: 'Che faro senza Euridice.' 

We have a fantastic concept from our director, Johannes Pölzgutter and costume designer, Axel E. Schneider, but the main highlight is the comedy of Johannes' direction. He has appropriately chosen to develop the themes of dark humor that Maderna wove in throughout the show.

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It's not exactly easy music to listen to, however it is much more approachable for a traditional opera audience than a lot of new music tends to be. If they can enjoy watching it half as much as we enjoy playing it, I just know it will be a huge success. In all, we're performing the piece 8 times through the 10th of April. More information about the piece with further production photos can be found here. My own part in this show is small, but it has been calibrated for maximum impact. I spend more time in the makeup chair than on the stage, but I really enjoy performing it anyway, and I'm looking forward to the premiere tomorrow!

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Traviata is Open!

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The premiere performance of La Traviata was a tremendous success for everybody involved. Reviews have been mostly good for the production, but really oustanding for the musical side of the cast. You can find some excerpts in my reviews page. I have to say, it was definitely our best run-through of the piece to-date, and I guess that is always the goal for opening night - to hit all the buttons and make it the best possible version of the show. As you can see in the production photos, Germont is not the typical "slightly greying, distinguished gentleman" that we expect from a more traditional production. Nor is he a manipulative bad-guy character, which is supposedly in fashion now in some updated European productions. Our Germont comes from a more traditional, family and christian-based, simpler community, and in that way, is set far apart from the Parisian atmosphere. Quite an interesting perspective, but at the same time, not a stretch at all from what we get in the libretto. More production photos and a promotional video can be found on the Luzerner Theater website.

We're now on the the second performance tonight. There will be a total of 19 performances until the end of May. Work has now already begun on the next project: Satyricon (Bruno Maderna), in which I have a small role, but it's an exciting new production of our former Assistent Director at the house, Johannes Pölzgutter. 

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La Traviata in Luzern

Tomorrow is opening night for our new production of La Traviata directed by Lorenzo Fioroni and conducted by James Gaffigan. The process for this show has been phenomenal and I'm so excited to be a part of it. I'll be sure to keep the website updated with reviews, production photos, etc. as they become available. I'm so glad for the opportunity and the challenge of a great role like this. In all, we will be performing the production 19 times, with three different conductors and one performance on the road as well. The exciting thing about this production though, is that it's so ingeniously staged that there is always something new to see or to play. Here's a backstage photo of my costume (along with Austrian tenor, Robert Maszl, who is singing Gastone) and a link to the Luzerner Theater's website where you can find further information about performances!

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Onto the next...

After a successful and enjoyable time back in Munich, I've now started working intensely on my next project: four songs by Joseph Marx and Hugo Wolf and a Pergolesi aria for my Lucerne Festival debut. The songs are charming, expressive, and beautiful, so I'm very excited to get to perform them in an orchestral version here at the KKL in Luzern.

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The concert in Munich was exactly the same concert as I performed with the Münchner Motettenchor a year and a half ago, except this time we performed both the both oratorios in a piano and percussion version. The composer, Enjott Schneider, stepped in to conduct the premiere of this new version of his piece, In Orbe Rotundo, and it was a great experience to be able to perform this new work in both versions in only two years. Here's a photo:

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Finale of Albert Herring + Warm Farewell

I have definitely enjoyed my stay here in Innsbruck, and taking part in this wonderful production led by our fearless leader Fr. Ks. Fassbaender (she officially has more abbreviations in front of her name when it's written officially, but I'm afraid I don't know what they all mean). I generally don't ask for autographs from people I've actually worked with regardless of how famous they are, but after a couple glasses of wine and a celebratory spirit I apparently don't mind so much. Good luck reading her handwriting...It's in German anyway...

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Now, I will head briefly back to Luzern before indulging in my first ever actual vacation, albeit a short one to the Black Forest. Then back to Munich for a repeat performance of Carmina Burana, which I performed two years ago with the Münchner Motettenchor...

"Todd Boyce, with his bright and yet striking baritone, dominated all facets between delicate greeting of spring, hot-blooded erotic desire, and earthy drunkeness." -Klaus Kalchschmid, Süddeutsche Zeitung, 12/8/2010

"The same praise goes for the young baritone, Todd Boyce, who carried most of the soloistic weight in the Carmina Burana and who made the success complete with [his] flexible voice and complete creative deployment." Tobias Hell, nmz online, 12/8/2010

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Premiere Albert Herring

The premiere last weekend (June 9th) at the Tiroler Landestheater in Innsbruck, Austria was a resounding success for Fr. Fassbaender, and the entire cast. I felt very proud to share the stage with my talented colleagues and Fr. Fassbaender herself, who received a standing ovation. Reviews are already trickling out, but of course all in German. Here's a link to one...translation to come soon!

http://www.der-neue-merker.eu/innsbruck-tiroler-landestheater-albert-herring-premiere

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