Secret of the Resonating Chambers

Opera Tampa Singer Vanessa Rodriguez reveals the four parts of the body to “place” the voice. Plus, she shows how to hit those high notes with no microphone.

“It’s the Tweety Bird end of the spectrum,” says Vanessa Rodriguez. We’d asked her to explain what she meant when she told us she was a coloratura soprano. “We sing all the notes, all the notes, people don’t want to sing—high notes, fancy runs, we do it all.”

Born in Queens, New York, Rodriguez studied voice at the University of South Florida in Tampa, eventually finding her way to small roles in big operas and building her career. She started as an ambassador with Opera Tampa Singers in 2013, and this season she appears as Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro and as Angelina in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury this summer. She’ll also take on the role of Green Alien/Blonda in Opera Orlando’s Star Trek-interpretation of Mozart’s comedy, The Abduction from the Seraglio.

We have a powerhouse opera season launching this weekend with Rossini’s The Barber of Seville, followed by Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro in March and culminating in Verdi’s Macbeth in April.

We aren’t opera singers here at Caught in the Act, so we sat down with Rodriguez and asked her to give us a crash course in singing, starting with the basics: posture, breathing and placement. Here’s her tutorial, complete with glorious “head” placement and a demonstration of “nasal” singing that made us want to burst into Ethel Merman impressions.

Enjoy!

The Precocious Host Who’s the Most

Seth Black-Diamond and the new Straz web series, Milkshakes & Opera

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Jorge Parodi and Seth Black-Diamond start the filming of Milkshakes & Opera with a cheers.

On January 12, Opera Tampa launched its first-ever web series geared towards kids. The idea? Take a well-loved local 11-year-old performer, give him a hosting gig and sit him across from equally well-loved opera conductors to gab about opera and drink milkshakes donated by Chik-Fil-A. Throw in a surprise cameo by The Cow (“Enjoy Mor Opera”), and you’ve got a hit.

Caught in the Act crashed the most recent taping of Milkshakes & Opera, getting the delightful host, Seth Black-Diamond, to give us a quick look behind the scenes before his guest for the day, The Barber of Seville conductor Jorge Parodi, took a seat on the purple couch. Seth, a student here at the Patel Conservatory, performed in the children’s chorus of Tosca with Opera Tampa and already has a love of the form.

Here’s our behind-the-scenes video, where you can meet Seth as he gives you a quick run-down of the set and introduces you to his camera crew. You’ll also meet Catalina Nieto, our digital marketing manager who created the show, who explains how she found Seth. After that, enjoy some behind-the-scenes pics of Seth’s interview.

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First things first.

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Getting mic’d up.

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Lights …

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… Camera …

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… Action! It’s interview time.

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Make sure you’ve liked Opera Tampa on Facebook to keep up with Milkshakes & Opera and all the extra info and cool facts about the opera world and the world of opera in Tampa.

If you missed the first episode, where Seth interviews Opera Tampa Managing Director Robin Stamper, who conducts this season’s The Marriage of Figaro, you can catch it here:

Want to see the next episode starring Jorge Parodi? Look for it on the Opera Tampa Facebook page the week of Jan. 29.

School-Girl Crush

The Straz Center’s 96-year-old volunteer extraordinaire, Margaret Goodson, dishes on her love of Forever Plaid.

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Caught in the Act writer Marlowe Moore Fairbanks interviewing long-time Straz Center volunteer and Plaid fan Margaret Goodson.

There are certain things people just know about Tampa:

Cigars.

Cuban sandwiches.

Sports.

Magic Mike.

And Margaret Goodson.

If a place is lucky, it will have one spectacular person so ingrained in its culture and identity that you can’t separate the two. Margaret is that person for us. Everybody knows her, everybody loves her—and Margaret loves The Plaids.

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Margaret keeps this photo on her desk here at The Straz.

Margaret turned 96 a few weeks ago, and she’s been with The Straz longer than almost anyone. She’s volunteered here for 30 years, doing all kinds of jobs to help save us time and money (hey, we’re a non-profit!), even stepping in to “play” the washed-up Little Orphan Annie character during a photo shoot for our Forbidden Broadway ad campaign years ago.

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Margaret posing as Little Orphan Annie for a Forbidden Broadway advertising campaign. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

It was here in the Jaeb Theater many, many moons ago when Margaret, coerced by a friend, attended Forever Plaid for the first time. “I can’t explain what happened. It was the songs, the show … and four handsome young men helps. I was hooked. I fell in love,” she says.

“I’ve had a school-girl crush on The Plaids a long time. Ever since the beginning. I’ve seen them everywhere I could—two times in Las Vegas. Once in Orlando. When the show is here I see it as many times as I can,” Margaret says, quickly acknowledging she could be considered a Plaid groupie. “Everybody who knows me knows Forever Plaid is ‘my show.’ It’s not like I like this one actor or have a crush on one character in particular. I love The Plaids no matter the show or where I see them. Although, I think Jinx may be my favorite character. He’s funny. And cute.”

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Our 2018 cast of Forever Plaid. That’s Jinx on the far left, followed by Sparky, Smudge and Frankie. (Photo: Rob/Harris Productions, Inc.)

We’ve produced Forever Plaid a lot over the years although the last time the quartet graced the Jaeb was 2008. Margaret is pretty much the only one with exclusive “Plaid privileges,” and, inevitably, she ends up becoming a fixture of the show’s run. “When the show is here, The Plaids find out I’m a fan. I get to go to the cast parties and help decorate the stage before shows and things like that. Whenever they’re here they accept me as part of the players. They know they can’t go onstage before I meet them.”

As a Forever Plaid aficionado, Margaret sees the show in a bigger picture. “There’s so much to the show. All the songs are good songs. There are hilarious moments. Everything that’s good is in Forever Plaid, and we can use a little bit of goodness in this country right now. I believe in this show. It hit me like a ton of bricks, and I’m crazy about it,” she says. “I hope I can instill a rebirth of the show. I think this is what people need right now.”

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Plaids from a previous Straz production wishing Margaret a happy birthday.

Margaret said it, so it must be so. The world needs Forever Plaid. Get your tickets here.

Would You Look at that View?

Astronaut Terry Virts and the Sunrise Over Earth from Space

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Photo: Terry Virts

Enya’s lilting, lovely Gaelic song “Storms in Africa” drifts in a slow, spiraling melody—perfect for floating in a clear bubble in space while watching the sun spill molten light across the Earth’s bold blue horizon and into the infinite blackness of space. From this bubble, it’s easy to see Earth’s distinct atmosphere and climate converge into swirling, sparking storms curling along the landscape.

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Sunrises and sunsets show details in the atmosphere. (Photo from Instagram: @astro_terry)

So did astronaut Terry Virts enjoy this view with Enya’s soundtrack playing aboard the International Space Station. Inside the Cupola, a seven-windowed compartment he designed and installed, akin to a ball turret on a fighter plane, Virts took more than 300,000 photographs. Many are sunrise and sunset photos, he will no doubt confess, when he comes here Jan. 16 for his lecture about this experience, A View from Above.

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Oh, hey Florida! (Photo from Instagram: @astro_terry)

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Photo: Terry Virts

Imagine being able to see the watery green glow of the aurora borealis swimming below you but above the Earth, the overhead view of the perplexingly precise Egyptian pyramids, city lights of Calcutta exploding against the darkened backdrop of night. Virts experienced these awe-inspiring sights daily, taking more photographs in space than any other astronaut.

From the Cupola, Virts held “a front row seat to creation,” as he tells it. He took this once-in-a-lifetime role very seriously, capturing footage for A Beautiful Planet, the IMAX film narrated by Jennifer Lawrence, his lecture, social media and his book, also titled A View from Above.

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Virts inside the Cupola. (Photo: National Geographic Live)

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Virts looking up at Earth with all seven Cupola window shutters open. Despite the orientation of this photo, the Cupola is actually on the bottom. (Photo: NASA/National Geographic)

With as humbling and miraculous as his day-to-day job was during his mission on the International Space Station (ISS), the constant reminder of his separation from home, in time, wore on Virts and the crew. All the astronauts on this ISS expedition, though of differing countries, were Earthlings trapped in a capsule within sight of their home planet and no way to connect to it. “About halfway through my mission,” Virts wrote on his blog entry “Relaxing in Space” (12/2/17), “the Russian psychologists sent my Cosmonaut crewmates some ‘sounds from Earth,’ like waves, rain, birds chirping, a busy café at lunchtime, etc. Those sounds quickly became a favorite way for my whole crew to reconnect with Earth; everyone loved them, Americans, Italians, and Russians. I fell asleep to the sound of rain for about a month.”

Virts retired from NASA in August 2016, launching a new career as a lecturer and educator. He appears at The Straz as part of the National Geographic Live series, the first speaker of our season. To get more familiar with Virts before you come to his talk, follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

For tix to his lecture, get ‘em here.

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We wanted to personally interview Terry for this blog, but he was indisposed doing adventurous stuff in Antarctica and couldn’t talk with us by our deadline. And we thought it was cold last week in Florida. (Photo from Instagram: @astro_terry)

 

Bloody Hell, Mate

British Actors and Why We Love Them

Is it the accent? Perhaps some Stockholm Syndrome-like attachment to the crown? Aristocracy nostalgia?

Probably the accent.

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Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth in Netflix’s The Crown.

But that doesn’t explain Charlie Chaplin, now does it? Or British siren Vivien Leigh, who played both Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois, iconic (and Southern) American characters straight from our literary canon.

Today, look at another American not-so-literary canon, comic books, and many of the major superheroes — Spider-Man, Batman (the Christian Bale version), Superman, Doctor Strange, and of course, Professor X — reveal U.K. actors under the masks and capes of these good ol’American crusaders.

So, we love them without the accent. But with it?

We really love them.

Cast members of Downton Abbey read a scene from the show using American accents on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Laurence Olivier, Julie Andrews, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggi Smith, Judi Dench, Helen Mirren, Daniel Craig, Hugh Grant, Idris Elba, the entire cast of the Harry Potter franchise … We can argue we accept their colonization of our Hollywood empire based on the number of British actors taking over major film roles, especially in recent years. (Though not everyone loves this change, especially as uniquely American stories, like 12 Years a Slave, Lincoln and Selma starred British actors and the upcoming roles of Steve Jobs, Ernest Hemingway and Herman Melville will all go to Englishmen).

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Another reason — outside of the accent — that Americans love British actors nestles in the subconscious appreciation of artistic craft. British actors train in theater (there’s a reason why we jokingly refer to the “THEA-tah” when we talk about stage acting) and screen techniques, and American actors who studied craft are often penned into Strasberg or Meisner molds. Critics of acting craft often cite that a Briton’s flexibility in a role ties back to learning how to physically and vocally master Shakespeare and Noel Coward, so balancing the absurdities of superhero popcorn films with seriousness of intent works well for someone who has classical training and a lifetime of watching American TV and films. Then there’s Samuel L. Jackson’s joke-theory, which is that British actors aren’t better, “they’re just cheaper than we are.”

So, going back to the source — British actors doing theater — we arrive at the pinnacle of audience experience. We get the execution of master craft delivered by that accent. (Would we love Benedict Cumberbatch as much if he talked like he was from Tarpon Springs or Carbondale, Ill.? Hm. Yes. We probably would.)

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If you’re someone who loves British actors doing theater, remember that our National Theatre Live series continues with Game of Thrones’ Salladhor Saan actor Lucian Msamati playing Mozart in Amadeus. Then you can see a passel of British actors (with some Yanks thrown in for good measure) tackle American epic Angels in America, Parts 1 and 2.