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Opera group offers ‘Tosca’ this weekend

Two behind-the-scenes faces in Rimrock Opera Company’s upcoming “Tosca” production have a deep love for the production and a longstanding affection for Douglas Nagel, the company’s artistic director.

The workers – assistant director Dorinda Doolittle and conductor Robert Ashens – both have roots in Oregon, known for its lively artistic life. And they agree that Montanans and Oregonians artfully blend their love of nature and the lively arts.

Rimrock Opera plans ‘Tosca,’ ‘Carmen’

Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2002 11:00 pm
The first regular season for Rimrock Opera in Billings opens Saturday, Aug. 2, with first of two performances of “Tosca,” one of opera’s masterpieces of love, seduction and betrayal.

The season picks up again on Oct. 25, with the first of two performances of “Carmen,” Bizet’s timeless classic of romance and murder. Both are at the Alberta Bair Theater, where same-seat season tickets are available at (406) 256-6052. The price on the season ticket with reserved seat is $50, $35, $20 and $10 per show.

Individual ticket sales begin April 1 as season ticket sales continue. After April 1, season ticket buyers may not find the same seat for both performances. Individual tickets are priced at $55, $40, $25 and $15 per show.

“Tosca,” the lively Italian classic, features Rimrock Opera Artistic Director Douglas Nagel as Scarpia. Nagel also directs. It will be sung in Italian with English text projected above the stage. The performance also features Deborah Longino as Floria Tosca and Randolph Locke as Cavaradossi. The conductor is Robert Ashens. Performances are set for 8 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 2 and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 4 .

“Carmen” opens Friday, Oct. 25. The performance features Billings native and acclaimed tenor Brandon Jovanovich as Don Jose, with mezzo soprano Michelle Berger Johner as Carmen. Jan Michael Kliewer sings Escamillo.
Billings Gazette Story:  Teen-view-the-power-of-opera-is-open-to-everyone

Group Photo

Tosca: Rimrock Opera Company presents challenging fare
Christene Meyers Gazette Entertainment Editor | Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2002 11:00 pm

It’s got all the passion and drama of life: love, jealousy, seduction, betrayal and death.

“Tosca” runs the operatic gamut with Giacommo Puccini’s classic tale of intrigue, romance and politics in 19th Century Rome.

“It’s a twisted tale of love and betrayal,” says Douglas Nagal, whose Rimrock Opera Company production is gearing into final rehearsals for next weekend’s performances.

“We’ve got a splendid cast,” says the animated director, who plays the villain, Baron Scarpia, himself. “We’ve got voices that will knock ’em dead in the last row of the balcony.”

Nagel is thrilled with the cast of more than 50, including professional friends and colleagues wooed to Montana by him, plus talented local and regional singers of all ages. “We’ve got real powerhouses in the leads,” says Nagel. “And it rolls right down through the ranks to every voice in the chorus.”
Soprano Deborah Longino plays Floria Tosca.

The Mississippi native, who grew up singing nearly every leading role in musical theater, says she got the part by accident.

“I was a houseguest in Doug’s home,” she recalls, “and I was warming up for a concert, doing scales and arpeggios. That evening, he said, ‘You’re my Tosca’ and I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding’ but he wasn’t so here I am.”
Says Nagel, “I heard it in her voice – the power, the passion. And I needed voices to match the power of mine.”

The demure singer says she’s portraying the challenging Tosca as “a woman of complete passion. She runs the gamut, with great sincerity. I want people to really feel when she’s angry, frightened, jealous. She is a real, full character. There’s no grey for her. Everything is black and white”

Longino has sung many of the great roles, including Desdemona in Verdi’s “Otello,” and Donna Elvira in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” She has entertained with Opera Santa Barbara, Fort Worth Opera and New York’s Henry Street Playhouse. She describes the company as “talented, fun loving and dedicated. We don’t have prima donnas,” she says. “No hot-house flowers. We’re here to work.”

As Tosca’s lover, Mario Cavaradossi, Nagel picked tenor Randolph Locke.

The native Texan, also with a musical theater background, says he is thrilled to be working with the Rimrock Company, says he is thrilled to be doing the role in memory of his beloved voice coach and mentor, Italo Tajo of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in Ohio.

“He actually had connections with Puccini,” says Locke. “He worked with older people who had worked with Puccinni, so he passed on the subtext to me and others.”

The greatest link, Locke says, “was Puccini’s accompanist and coach, Ricci. “So I try my best to convey the inspiration I got from him,” says Locke, who visits Tajo’s widow, Inelda, whenever he is near Cincinnati.

Locke recently sang Radames in Opera Memphis production of “Aida” conducted by Sherril Milnes. He has also headlined with Tulsa Philharmonic, Virginia Opera and Long Beach Symphony Orchestra.

As with his soprano, Nagel also wooed the tenor, whom he had worked with on a previous production of “Tosca” in Virginia.

“Doug’s a great networker,” says Locke, who aspires to do “Turandot,” perhaps with Nagel and Rimrock Opera Co.

“Every tenor wants to do that part and I’d love to do it here,” he says.
Other major roles are being performed by Ed Harris and William Mouat, well known to the area’s opera fans.

The high-powered cast is enhanced by sets from Stivanello Set Company in New York, costumes from Pro Eto Costumes in Austin, Texas, and the newly formed Rimrock Opera Orchestra, composed of area professional players. Jeff Boschee is lighting designer.

The opera will be sung in Italian with English text projected above the stage. It is two and one-half hours long with two intermissions.

“Tosca” was first performed 202 years ago in Rome, in 1800.


Larry Mayer/Gazette Staff Randolphe Locke and Deborah Longino are Tosca and her lover. Rimrock Opera Company’s final dress performance is next Wednesday then “Tosca” plays the ABT next Friday and next Sunday. ROC artistic director Douglas Nagel plays Scarpia, pictured with Longino. Nagel rehearses the cast.

Opera group offers ‘Tosca’ this weekend
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Arts & Entertainment Editor | Posted: Tuesday, July 30, 2002 11:00 pm

Two behind-the-scenes faces in Rimrock Opera Company’s upcoming “Tosca” production have a deep love for the production and a longstanding affection for Douglas Nagel, the company’s artistic director.

The workers – assistant director Dorinda Doolittle and conductor Robert Ashens – both have roots in Oregon, known for its lively artistic life. And they agree that Montanans and Oregonians artfully blend their love of nature and the lively arts.

Doolittle, of Medford, Ore., says, “In southern Oregon, the arts are a vital part of many people’s lives, as they are in Billings. I’m very fond of Billings, its spectacular setting against the Rimrocks, its friendly people, their support of the arts. Reminds me very much of the spirit in the Ashland and Medford areas.”

As assistant director, she is recruited to do much work throughout the community on behalf of the company. She was able to maneuver a badly needed cell phone from Teri Lincoln of Cellular One. And Martha Lane of Silver Hill Antiques loaned Doolittle a variety of exquisite and badly needed prop items to give the authentic touch to the tale set in 19th-century Rome.
“Everyone I’ve approached has said, ‘Sure, just tell us what you need,’ and so many in the private and business sectors have been so generous,” Doolittle says.

She is a trained singer, long involved in opera as a teacher in Southern California then a retired educator in Oregon. She met Nagel when he was directing and singing with Rogue Opera.

Nagel asked her to be his assistant, and she has been involved with Rimrock Opera Company since its inception five years ago.

Conductor Ashens has a more visible role in the production than Doolittle.
A native Midwesterner and now artistic director of Eugene Opera, he has been an educator more than 30 years and is an accomplished accompanist.
Married to a professional soprano, he says, “I relish coming together with people from diverse backgrounds, in a lovely part of the country to make beautiful music.”

He met Nagel during a collaborative effort on “La Boheme” with Opera Idaho in Boise.

Nagel, a Billings native, and Ashens, born in Kansas City, share a background where grassroots arts flourish and performers explore the outdoors between rehearsals.

The appreciation of nature and love of art go hand in hand, Nagel and Ashens agree.

“We performers are vessels through which an artistic vision flows,” Ashens says. “Places like Montana and Oregon inspire passion because of their beauty.”

Nagel says he uses the draw of Montana’s beauty to entice professional singers here for little more than a stipend “because it’s such a great place to visit.”

Ashens finds it interesting that both Oregon and Montana have opera companies in fairly small cities. The natural beauty of the Yellowstone River valley, he says, “inspires us as we perfect our art.”

“If we can bring the passion of ‘Tosca’ across the footlights to the audience and share the fun we have had while conveying a beautiful story, then we have succeeded,” he says.

Ashens says he was thrilled with the sound at his first rehearsal, after arriving in Billings on Bastille Day, July 14.

“Something happens to the nervous system when we hear and see a great performance,” he says. “We don’t just want to be entertained. We want to be stimulated, galvanized. ‘Tosca’ will do this and more.” -- Christene Meyers

LARRY MAYER/Gazette Staff Conductor Robert Ashens and assistant director Dorinda Doolittle are both Oregonians, working behind the scenes in Billings on the upcoming “Tosca” opera production. They find many similarities in the Oregon and Montana arts scenes.

‘Tosca’ opera grand theater

CHRISTENE MEYERS Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2002 11:00 pm

Opera is not just about music.

It’s about grand theater with all its show biz trappings: larger-than-life sets, muted lighting, costumes that convince but don’t overwhelm, the essential and all important orchestra, knock-out voices and big hair.

So fasten your seat belts and forget your ear horns, folks.

Rimrock Opera Company’s “Tosca” has all the above and more. It’s big, big, big, from the top of those wigs to the power on stage and in the orchestra pit.

That’s due in large part to the vision and talent of Douglas Nagel. In typically zealous fashion, Nagel both directs and stars in “Tosca.”

The Billings native, ROC’s artistic director, delivers the goods from both sides of the footlights in this ambitious and rewarding production.

As the villain in this operatic melodrama, Nagel raises the rafters as chief of police Baron Scarpia. His textured delivery gives evil life to his Iago-like figure, a man of immense cunning and duplicity determined to turn singer Floria Tosca’s affections away from her lover and toward him alone.

As he tricks the lovely title character into thinking her lover faithless, we revel in Nagel’s booming baritone and subtle gestures. We admire his ability to achieve the difficult: acting without a trace of the poseur in a production one himself directs.

Other voices rise to the occasion, matching the power and polished theatricality of Nagel’s. As Tosca, Deborah Longino captures the longing, liveliness and innocence of her character, then the sadness and futility of her plight. Her expressive soprano can be sexy and flirtatious, indignant and despairing.

Opposite her, tenor Randolph Locke’s painter Cavaradossi is a good-looking powerhouse. He captures the bravado and indignation of his wronged character with tremendous emotion. His sense of pitch nails each note right-on, then lets the effect linger. These pros make their love scenes sizzle.

A host of other well tuned voices delivers important support and an ear pleasing mix of styles, notably William Mouat, Ed Harris and Joseph Massman, as key characters in the storm story of love and betrayal. The large ensemble, with enthusiastic youth, is occasionally so powerful it competes with the soloists – but that happened rarely at the final dress rehearsal, which brought the small preview crowd to its feet.

Robert Ashens conducts the newly formed ROC orchestra with passion and precision. The players sound fabulous, from the bassoon to the piccolo and horns, with delightful fullness from the strings and lovely variations in the dynamics.

Puccini’s classic tale, set in 19th Century Rome, is beautifully lit by Jeff Boschee and rendered in a handsome period set on loan from Stivanello Co., New York. Pro Eto Costumes of Austin, Texas, dresses the huge cast in gorgeous gowns, choir robes, priests’ and nuns’ habits and royal finery, with a half-dozen dressers and Ellen Johnson’s adroit costume co-ordination.

There’s a separate credit for the winning wigs, rented in San Francisco and handled by Gerri Englert of Billings. Hair today and gone tomorrow. But bravos all around to “Tosca.” Now we have “Carmen” to anticipate.

If you go: “Tosca” plays two ABT performances only, Friday, Aug. 2, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 4, at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $55. “Carmen” plays Oct. 25 and 27 at the ABT. A season ticket is available at great savings. Call (406) 256-6052.

Tonight yields first of 2 ‘Tosca’ performances

Posted: Thursday, August 1, 2002 11:00 pm
After a month of strenuous rehearsal, “Tosca,” the lively Italian classic by Giacomo Puccini, opens the first regular season for Rimrock Opera at the Alberta Bair Theater in Billings at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2. A second performance is set for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 4.

Considered one of opera’s masterpieces of love, seduction and betrayal, features Rimrock Opera artistic director Douglas Nagel as Chief of Police Scarpia. Nagel also directs the show.

The performance also features soprano Deborah Longino as Floria Tosca and tenor Randolph Locke as Tosca’s lover Mario Cavaradossi. Both Longino and Locke bring regional and international performance credentials to Rirnrock Opera Company’s performance.

The cast features area musicians and performers including: Ed Harris as Sacristan, William Mouat as Angelotti/Jailer, Alissa Rose as the Shepherd Boy.
The conductor for the two performances is Robert Ashens, artistic director of Eugene Opera in Eugene, Oregon. The Rimrock Opera Orchestra features local professional musicians.

“Tosca,” performed in three acts, will be sung in Italian with English text projected above the stage.

Honor choir youngsters given opera opportunity
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Arts & Entertainment Editor | Posted: Monday, July 29, 2002 11:00 pm

At any age, it’s important to find an outlet for talent.

The sooner the better, reasons Douglas Nagel, Rimrock Opera Company’s artistic director.

To prove the point, Nagel’s “Tosca” cast of nearly 50 includes 10 talented young singers.

Members of Billings teacher Cheryle Pittack’s Boys Honor Choir, the youths were chosen for their voices and stage presence. “Moxie,” it was called in the 1940s, and moxie it still is.

“They’re just magnificent,” says an admiring Nagel. “They have the talent, and, thank heaven, we have a place to use it. I only wish we’d had something like this in town when I was growing up.”

The opportunity for students to work with professionals is life-altering, Nagel says.

“Even if they don’t go on to professional careers, they’ll never forget this experience, and it will give them confidence in whatever they choose to do,” he says.

Nagel, a Billings Central Catholic High School graduate, says the experience offers the young many fringe benefits.

“They learn discipline. They get to watch things come together. And they get to sing with people who make their living through music,” he says:  “Tosca” leading lady, Deborah Longino, says that while growing up in rural Mississippi, “We had to drive to clear to New Orleans or Jacksonville to see the professionals. I could only dream about working with them and becoming an opera singer.”

The experience is worth its weight in gold, she says. “You can see the kids growing and learning,” she says. “They’re watching, learning, helping put the puzzle pieces together for a show. Language, costumes, acting, music, the set, the orchestra.”

Harrison Cooper, 10 years old and a student at Burlington Elementary, is an example of the talented youths, all subjected to the same grueling daily rehearsal schedule as the adults.

Cooper just finished the Venture Youth Conservatory’s run of “MacBeth,” in which he played the part of the young, slain Macduff boy who utters: “Mother, I am dead. They have killed me.”

He went straight from that to “Tosca,” working in a stint at the Venture Youth Conservatory summer camp. Comparing acting in theater with acting in opera, the precocious Harrison says, “In many ways it’s easier to sing on stage because there is an obvious rhythm.”

He tells Nagel that “making sure something is great is like watching grass grow – it takes loads of time and patience.”

“Tosca” rehearses twice a day, and each afternoon or evening, at the end of the practice, Nagel gives the kids a “high five.” He says he’s thrilled “that they are learning that opera can be cool.”

“I love working with the kids,” he says, “because they work very hard and they are soaking everything up like bright little sponges.”

Bob Zeller Photo
BOB ZELLAR/Gazette Staff Young singer and actor Harrison Cooper and Rimrock Opera Company artistic director Douglas Nagel confer during a recent rehearsal, with other young singers in the background. Cooper is one of 10 area student singers in the cast of “Tosca.”