© Heins Creative
Rimrock Opera plans 'Tosca,'
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.
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.
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
buffs anticipate October 'Carmen'
Posted: Thursday, August
8, 2002 11:00 pm
first regular season for Rimrock
Opera in Billings is moving into its
weekend's standing ovations for
"Tosca," the season will pick up
again Oct. 25, with the first of two
performances of "Carmen," Bizet's
timeless classic of romance and
murder. The performances will be at
the Alberta Bair Theater.
"Carmen" will be directed by Douglas
Nagel, ROC artistic director who
sang the part of the villain Scarpia
in "Tosca." The performance features
Billings native and acclaimed tenor
Brandon Jovanovich as Don Jose, with
mezzo soprano Michelle Berger Johner
as Carmen. Nagel, Jovanovich and
Johner are natives of Billings. Jan
Michael Kliewer sings Escamillo. The
second performance of "Carmen" is
set for Sunday, Oct. 27 at 2 p.m.
Local talent rounds out the
"Carmen" cast as it did in "Tosca."
William Mouat plays Zuniga in Carmen
and his wife, Stephanie Dudash
Mouat, plays Frasquita.
Diva plays 'Carmen' for hometown
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette
Arts & Entertainment Editor |
Posted: Thursday, October 17, 2002
years ago, Michelle Berger Johner
signed on to play the seductive
gypsy girl in "Carmen." A lot has
happened since then, but in show biz
tradition, the singer has weathered
some storms, sharpened her insight
and grown from her troubles.
don't especially care for 'the
D-word,' but that's what happened
and I have a lot of friends here, so
why not be honest?" she asked.
A divorce after many years of
marriage encouraged "Mimi," as the
Billings native is known, to return
to her birth name, Michelle Berger,
which in Europe she pronounces in
the French way, "Mimi Ber-jay."
And, she said, "As one always does,
one grows through change and
difficulty. I think I am a better
Carmen now, for what the past two
years have brought my way."
Mayer/Gazette Staff Berger as Carmen
and Gayle as Don Jose, in a moment
of passion. Love triangle: From
left, baritone Jan Michael Kleiwer
sings Escamillio the toreador;
Michelle Berger, the flirtatious
gypsy Carmen and tenor Kenneth Gayle
the soldier Don Jose.
As often happens, along with the
travails has come something
wonderful, the metaphoric cloud with
a silver lining. "I'm having a new,
fabulous relationship," she said of
her friendship with singer Gregg
Baker, a Broadway sinter best known
for his Porgy in the signature
wonderful to have someone new and
exciting in my life after a
disastrous divorce," she said. The
change in her life is also giving
the internationally known singer
pause to consider her future and
that of her two children.
Although raised in a European
environment, they have traveled to
the U.S. frequently (Berger's mother
still lives in Billings) and could
easily adjust to life stateside,
enjoying her life. As she found
music healed after the death of her
father, well-known Billings attorney
Arnie Berger, she discovered music a
tonic after the divorce. "It is so
critical to have somewhere to
channel your energies," she said.
"You use everything that has
happened to you. You pull all the
emotion into the next part, refine
it and use it to enhance what you do
Touring the great
opera houses, Berger has played to a
widely ranging audience. "The
Italians, of course, show their
enthusiasm. Opera is part of the
culture, in their blood. The Swiss
are so inward, they have no reaction
at first. The air feels stale at
first. You don't get back anything
for a while. When you finally feel
their appreciation, it's a relief."
Performing the title role in
"Carmen" in the town where she grew
up, she said, "may be my most
difficult challenge. You know, they
say the hometown audience is the
toughest and most scary."
And, she says, next weekend will be
bittersweet because her dad, who
died several years ago, loved the
"He always wanted
to see me in that role. He would
have been just thrilled," she said.
And, she laughs when describing
how she's prepared her mother for
the sexy innuendo and physical play
in the production.
character is a very sexual creature,
completely aware of her physicality.
She loves power and knows how to get
what she wants," said Berger. "
She's sensual and body-oriented. I
just wanted to prepare my mom for
that. When I talked to her about it,
she just chuckled."
Christene Meyers Gazette
Arts & Entertainment Editor |
Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2002
It's got sex
appeal, glamour, love, anger and
It's Rimrock Opera
Company's "Carmen" and opera buffs
won't want to miss it.
"I had to
teach the cigarette girls to flirt,"
says Douglas Nagel, artistic
director of ROC. "They hadn't really
cruised before. Now they know how."
Nagel is thrilled to be bringing the
famed Georges Bizet piece to the
Alberta Bair Theater, with a men's
chorus from Montana and Wyoming, and
some stellar voices in the principal
His choice for the
coveted role of Carmen is Michelle
Berger, a Billings Senior High
School graduate based in
Switzerland. Berger has sung many of
the great roles in operas as varied
as "Rigoletto" and "Rapunzel," and
she brings an extensive concert
repertoire to her hometown stage,
from Schubert and Mozart masses to
Vivaldi and Beethoven. She is also a
fan of musical theater and light
opera, and sang Buttercup in "HMS
Pinafore" and Catrasha in "Mikado."
Berger says her Carmen will be
lusty, sexy and "fully in control of
everything she does. She's out
there, completely in her body and in
life." Says Berger, "It's a kick,
but a terrifying one, to be singing
for the hometown crowd. But I am
thrilled to be doing this, in my
dad's memory." Berger, known as Mimi
to her friends, is daughter of the
distinguished late Billings attorney
Arnie Berger, a lifelong opera lover
and member of the Al Bedoo Shrine
Band with many other musical
his cast as "gangbusters." His Don
Jose is "a rising star, a tremendous
force on stage." He is speaking of
Kenneth Gayle, an alumnus of Lyric
Opera Center and well known in the
Chicago area for his powerful yet
the dashing Corporal of Dragoons
with Spanish flare, Nagel says. The
action passes in Seville in the year
1820, and the tempestuous
relationship between Don Jose and
the feisty Carmen sets up the story
in the opera's early scenes.
"We're working with the notion that
opera communicates human truths,"
says Gayle. "These are human beings
caught up in life's situations. We
don't judge our characters. We let
them speak and try to make them come
alive - whether they make good or
raves at Lyric Opera of Chicago in
"Romeo and Juliette" and "La
Nagel says he is
having a ball setting the scene for
the tragic love triangle between
Carmen, Don Jose and Escamillo, the
toreador, played by Powell, Wyo.,
music coach Jan Michael Kliewer.
"Mimi and I clicked
immediately," says Kliewer,
complimenting the leading lady for
her passionate approach to one of
opera's most haughty, passionate but
faithless characters. "She's got the
stuff. I think the audience will
feel the emotions as we bring our
characters to life."
comfort zone was well established
when the company came together
earlier this month. Conductor Dean
Williamson has worked with Gayle at
Seattle Opera, where Williamson is
conductor. Berger and Nagel are old
friends; both are Billings natives.
Nagel's "right-hand girl" brings
another consistent element. Faithful
Dorinda Doolittle, of Medford, Ore.,
worked with Nagel for years at Rogue
Valley projects and has been ROC's
assistant director since its
inception. Nagel is also thrilled
with his supporting cast, including
Billings Studio Theatre's Gregory
director David Barnett, another
veteran, is chorus master. Concert
master is longtime Billings Symphony
violinist Mary LaMonaca, heading a
professional pit. Lavish sets and
costumes come from Stivanello of New
York and Pro Eto of Austin, Texas,
who provided sets and costumes for
The show's wig
coordinator is Danyale Cook of
Boise, Idaho. Wigs are from San
Francisco's Theatrical Hairgoods.
"Everything has to look right,"
says Nagel, who expects the
two-performances to sell out.
"Tosca," presented early in the
summer, met with a rousing reception
but not full houses.
opera previewed Tuesday night to a
small house and Thursday in a
shortened version to an enthusiastic
student audience as part of ABT's
education outreach productions.
Other old hands round out the
production, including Jeff Boschee
on lighting design, Deann Leckie as
props master, Sandi Rabas as
rehearsal accompanist and Bernie
Rose serving as production manager.
The opera will be sung in
French, with English supertitles
projected above the stage and the
dialogue delivered in English.
"There are some intricate
passages with the French, and the
chorus is rising to the occasion,"
'Carmen' will please opera-lovers
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Arts &
Entertainment Editor | Posted:
Friday, October 25, 2002 11:00 pm
"Carmen" is so user-friendly that
even that old curmudgeon and beer
drinker Archie Bunker would like it.
The Rimrock Opera Company
production is accessible in all the
important ways - lovely to look at,
delightful to hear and brimming with
the stuff that makes opera both
immortal and appealing.
Strong and pleasingly blended
voices, inventive direction,
engaging characters and sensitive
conducting of the area's best
players deliver the musical goods.
ROC artistic director Douglas
Nagel is passionate about the
Georges Bizet opera, the story of
the charming but ill-fated coquette,
whose beauty everyone knows -
work in 1820 in Spain's Gypsy
country of Seville, Bizet painted a
lush picture of factory life and
flowers, laughing girls, virtuous
soldiers, ego, mischief and passion
for the work shines like sherry in a
crystal snifter in this spirited
production at the Alberta Bair
Theater. It has had three
performances already this week,
including a preview and a student
show before Friday's opening.
Sunday's matinee caps the run.
Nagel picked a perfect-pitch
plum when he chose Michelle Berger
to play the flirtatious and
danger-loving title character.
Based in Switzerland with an
international career, Berger, a
Billings native, knows exactly what
to do with her rich, deep voice. She
lets it rise and plunge with
masterful control and an
understanding of both her
character's joie de vivre and her
fatal instinct. What fun to watch
her operate on Kenneth Gayle's
lovestruck-then-spurned Don Jose,
whose Spanish blood is roused by
Carmen despite the affections of the
gentle village girl Michaela.
Gayle, of Chicago Lyric Opera and
Seattle Opera renown, has a luminous
tenor voice, with evocative phrasing
and a resonance to match Berger's
tawny talent. The body language of
the two complements their first-rate
voices to full romantic effect. It's
hot, hot, hot.
music teacher Jan Michael Kliewer
tackles the part of the cocky
Escamillo, the bullfighter who
catches the fickle Carmen's eye. His
baritone has a power and bravado
that make him a perfect choice for
He, too, has an
appealing blend with Carmen, as she
at first plays the field, neither
repulsing nor accepting her
admirers, just stringing them along.
With all the principals firmly in
place, the plot thickens. Conductor
Dean Williamson of Seattle Opera
keeps the well-known and much-loved
music tuneful and sprightly. This
favorite opera should convert even
the diehard "I hate opera"
contingent. I'd bet my waning money
market on it.
business is a big part of the
has the men's and women's chorus in
the moment start to finish, and many
of the voices are fairly new to
theater and, heretofore, unaware of
the cardinal sins: upstaging and
master David Barnett of Billings
earns kudos here, too, for pulling
off some intricate French phrasing
in the ensemble numbers. (There are
English supertitles, borrowed from
Arizona Opera. But most folks know
the story, and the titles are high
above the stage and unobtrusive, so
one can ignore them.)
Excellent vocal support comes from
Heather Gottschalk and Gregory Paul
Johnson, who imbue their characters
with vulnerability and dignity.
Others in the cast pull yeoman's
duty, and the effect is mighty and
enthusiastic, even though some
voices are stronger than others.
The costumes from Pro Eto of
Texas are detailed and effective,
lovely pastels and earth tones, to
match the patina and dusty charm of
the New York sets from Stivanello.
Spanish street scenes, inns, and
picturesque landscape evoke the era
and handsomely frame the intrigue.
Jeff Boschee's lighting design
is muted, warm and likable, like the
familiar music itself. And what
perfect timing for some of opera's
prettiest duets, in the sudden
onslaught of winter.
season's earlier "Tosca" was a
delight for those who saw it, but
ROC did not make money on it during
the dog days of August.
worthy production deserves a full
house Sunday, to give the young
company the leg up it so richly
CHRISTENE MEYERS Gazette Arts &
Entertainment Editor | Posted:
Monday, October 21, 2002 11:00 pm
One calls himself "a CIA brat." The
other is known in Powell, Wyo., as
conductors. One also sings. The
other plays the piano.
weekend, Rimrock Opera Co.'s
production of "Carmen" will feature
the two talents on opposite sides of
the footlights - one as maestro of
the pit orchestra and the other as
the showy toreador.
Dean Williamson is from Seattle, and
baritone Jan Michael Kliewer is from
The two have come
together to perform integral roles
in the famed Georges Bizet opera.
ROC artistic director Douglas Nagel
says it will play every bit as
showily on stage of the Alberta Bair
Theater in autumn 2002 as it did at
the Opera Comique in Paris in the
spring of 1875.
tremendous talent from across the
country, and some right here in our
back yard," Nagel says. "We're
pulling out all the stops and going
for the sensuality, the romance, the
flirting, the sheer drama of the
characters. This production will get
people's attention and hold it."
Opera didn't always fascinate
maestro Williams. He grew up in the
Far East, the son of a CIA officer
and chuckles as he recalls falling
asleep watching "Madama Butterfly."
Williamson remembers being
lulled by the lyricism of the music
in "Butterfly," feeling peaceful and
content at his first exposure to the
doomed love affair between an
American officer and a Japanese
woman. But he doesn't remember
specifics about the performance.
"It was in Tokyo, and I was
about 9 or 10 and I dozed off. I
didn't last through the third act,"
It would be 10 years
before he saw an opera from start to
finish. By then, he was smitten.
"Growing up in Japan, I
developed a love of music, but music
of a different kind," he says. "The
opera bug didn't bite until we moved
back when I was in high school."
Born of a Chinese and English
mother and a German and Scots
father, Williamson's Eurasian
grounding may have eased the
transition to life on the
multiethnic West Coast. And, in
Seattle, he says, he became enthused
about piano study with a Japanese
"Landing there was
good fortune," he says, "because
it's a very international city and
the arts are flourishing, with
contributions from many cultures."
Williamson's career has included a
stint with London's Opera as a
virtuoso at the keyboard, then as
principal coach and pianist for
Seattle Opera. He is conductor for
Kliewer was earning a double
pedigree, too, in conducting and
A native of Southern
California, he grew up in a musical
household and for a time admits
"trying to run the other way" from a
"There was always
music in the house, with a wide
range of styles," he says. "And my
dad was a musician so he dragged me
"I tried to convince
myself to do something else, but it
rubbed off and music was the only
thing that made me truly happy."
Kliewer learned violin and
dabbled in composing and conducting
before he started formal singing
training. Then he became a
well-known baritone soloist in both
concert and opera, performing with
the Robert Page Singers, Cleveland
Orchestra Chorus and Kansas City
Choral Art Ensemble.
"Carmen," he takes on the showy role
of Escamillo. Next spring, he'll
tackle the role of Papageno in ROC's
production of "The Magic Flute."
Teaching for the past 13 years at
Northwest College, Kliewer focuses
on vocal and choral music, but he
also spends time on the podium, as
conductor of the Northwest Civic
Orchestra and teacher of music
"How well I know the
road between Powell and Billings,"
he says because he began commuting
last month for "Carmen" rehearsals.
He's been enjoying the scenery
of autumn and observes that his
involvement in the opera "deepens my
teaching ability and my professional
"It goes right back
to the college and the students," he
The two men - maestro
and performer - also share Nagel's
respect for education outreach and
are delighted that the Alberta Bair
Theater has booked a day-time
production of "Carmen" as one of its
critical for kids to have that early
exposure," Williamson says.
also applauds ROC's Nagel for taking
opera into the schools. Williamson
shares that passion as a founder of
Seattle Opera's Young Artists
Program, which sponsors school
"We all share a
belief in the importance of
connecting with kids," Kliewer
Both men developed
the connection with ROC through
Nagel, who, Williamson says, "is
very well-connected and knows who's
up to what in opera all over the
Kliewer says, "Doug
is really tuned into the wedding of
the drama and the music. I can feel
the momentum building. I've been
talking it up to the students, and
we've got whole families coming up
For those who
want to do a little home schooling
before curtain, the maestro and the
toreador rank the Bizet work among
their "top four Opera 101
favorites." The others are Mozart's
"The Marriage of Figaro," Rossini's
"The Barber of Seville" and
Puccini's "La Boheme."