SummerFest 2007: Interview with Executive Producer John Menier

La Jolla Music Society and UCSD-TV have forged a unique partnership to share the magic of Summerfest with television and web audiences. We asked executive producer John Menier to tell us a bit more about the history and making of the series.

UCSD-TV: How did UCSD-TV’s partnership with La Jolla Music Society’s Summerfest begin?

JOHN MENIER: The exact details are shrouded in the mists of time, but I first made contact with La Jolla Music Society in 1993. At that time I was interested in one particular event, an appearance by composer Bright Sheng at the Athanaeum Music Library in La Jolla. The resulting program turned out very well, and over the next few years we gradually developed an enduring partnership with the Society.

UCSD-TV: What are some of your favorite moments from past Summerfest seasons?

JM: I’m fascinated by rehearsals, and I love documenting the creative process…

Read the Entire Interview

La Jolla Music Society Summerfest Web Site

Behind the Scenes of San Diego Operatalk! and San Diego Opera Spotlight

Behind the Scenes Photos
Bonus Video


Interview with Host Nick Reveles

Photo of Nicolas RevelesNick Reveles is the Geisel Director of Education & Outreach for the San Diego Opera

San Diego OperaTalk! and San Diego Opera Spotlight have brought the joy of opera to televisions across the county for over ten years. We sat down with the host of these two great programs to find out more about their history and the upcoming season.

UCSD-TV: What sparked your love of opera?

Nick Reveles: I had to teach 19th century Romanticism when I was first assigned to the music faculty at USD in 1977. Although I loved certain operas at that time (especially 20th century operas), I had no real interest in the operas of the “golden age.” So the summer before I began teaching I went into isolation and spent quality time with Verdi, Puccini and Wagner. It didn’t take long to get the bug and I’ve been infected ever since!

UCSD-TV: What is your favorite opera?

NR: Hard to say! I could better give you my top five! Wozzeck by Alban Berg (one of those 20th century operas that I’ve loved since the age of 15!!), Otello by Verdi, Don Giovanni by Mozart, Turandot by Puccini and Wagner’s Ring.

UCSD-TV: How did you become involved with San Diego OperaTalk! and San Diego Opera Spotlight?

NR: Our General Director Ian Campbell suggested OperaTalk!. Spotlight already existed, and I simply took over the interview portion of the show without ever being on screen. But when Ian asked me to write and host my own show, I met with director John Menier and fashioned with him pretty much what we have today — a half hour show about the history and culture of the operas we produce, as well as a significant amount of time about the music which I still think is something of a mystery to our audiences.

UCSD-TV: Opera Spotlight takes the audience back stage to see what goes on behind-the-scenes. What kinds of things do they get to see? What do you find they are most surprised by?

NR: Well of course John Menier and his crew get terrific B-role of rehearsals in the studio as well as onstage footage from the full-dress rehearsals. That’s always exciting for our audiences to see. But I’m still fascinated by the various “takes” on their roles that the singers present to us. You never know what they’re going to say and their responses to our questions can sometimes be provocative.

UCSD-TV: What is the most challenging aspect of bringing opera to a television audience?

NR: I’d say that from day one the most challenging aspect has been to write the script of OperaTalk! so that I’m talking not only to seasoned opera lovers but to people who are completely new to it. I’m always gratified when someone stops me on the street or at the mall or in a restaurant (and it happens with great regularity!) and tells me that they’re not particularly opera fans but they love watching the show and that it sometimes results in their buying tickets. Gotta love that!

UCSD-TV: You’ve been a member of the UCSD-TV family for quite some time. Do you have any war stories from opera shoots over the years?

NR: Oh, there are so many! Every time we tried to shoot in Balboa Park (a lovely location) we’d end up struggling with lawn mowers, leaf blowers and dump trucks that were constantly interrupting the shoot. We’ve pretty much given up on the park as an outdoor location…lovely spot, but impossible to deal with. We had to actually quit an early morning shoot there for the show on Il trovatore because it got too noisy. I also remember the shoot at the Point Loma Light House for Simon Boccanegra. It was an especially sunny day in June or July and yet our beloved director John insisted on lighting me AND using a reflector! I had to wear sun glasses, could barely read the cues, and ended up with the worst sunburn I’ve ever had in my life!!

UCSD-TV: It has been said that the audience for opera is shrinking. How should the opera world respond to this? Can opera connect to new audiences?

NR: Shows like OperaTalk! and Opera Spotlight go in the right direction. We’re responding in the Education Department here in the company by producing videos and podcasts that live on our web site. As well, they’re being hosted by YouTube (OperaTalk! and the Artists’ Roundtables) and iTunes (OperaTalk! and the new San Diego Opera Podcast). More presence in new media will help and I think our entire industry is realizing that we have to be on the cutting edge in order to compete for audience.

UCSD-TV: Opera has such a long, rich history, which can be overwhelming to someone new to the scene. What operas do you suggest for best acquainting oneself with opera?

NR: This season, probably the best operas to begin with would be the double bill of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci and Verdi’s Aida. They have all of the best and most immediately apparent glories of opera at its best: passion, spectacle, great singing and gorgeous music. You can’t miss with any of them!

UCSD-TV: What can viewers expect from the 12th season of Opera Spotlight and the 10th season of OperaTalk!?

NR: In Spotlight you’ll probably see more of an emphasis on personal responses from singers, stage directors and conductors about the works we produce. More footage from our Artists’ Roundtables will probably be used — this is one of those great events that not everyone knows about but should definitely come to. It’s an opportunity for a live audience to spend about an hour with these folks and find out what makes the opera tick. They are informal discussions and are always great fun! In OperaTalk! I’m going to try to get deeper into the music of these great works. It’s always a challenge, especially with only about 28 minutes of content allowable, but I’m always trying to think of new ways to approach opera “education” so I think you can expect something different in every show.


Bonus Video
Zandra Rhodes: Designing The Pearl Fishers
This excerpt from San Diego Opera Spotlight features British fashion icon Zandra Rhodes describing her process in designing sets and costumes for San Diego Opera’s premiere production of Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers.

San Diego Opera Roundtable: TannhauserUCSD-TV and San Diego Opera present a panel discussion about San Diego Opera’s production of Wagner’s Tannhauser featureing cast members Petra Lang, Camilla Nylund, and Robert Gambill; production designer James Mulder; conductor Gabor Otvos; and director Michael Hampe. Hosted by Dr. Nicolas Reveles.


Photos

An image from Tannhauser that faithfully depicts the famed Metropolitan Opera production by Gunther Schneider-Siemssen.Photo Copyright Marty Sohl

Director of Photography Matt Alioto, Producer/Director John Menier and Host Nick Reveles discuss the next shot of the day.

Photo Copyright Keturah Stickann

Host Nick Reveles shooting on location for San Diego OperaTalk!: Verdi’s Aida

A back stage look at the set of Wozzeck.

Photo Copyright Keturah Stickann

Richard Leech sings Turiddu and Jose Cura sings Canio in
Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci.
Photo Copyright Sasha Gusov and Cory Weaver


Prepping for an OperaTalk! interview with Zandra Rhodes.

Photo Copyright Keturah Stickann

Angela Gilbert is Mary Stuart in Mary, Queen of Scots.

Photo Copyright Turtle Julian

Nick Reveles at the piano as the UCSD-TV crew sets up the shot.Photo © Keturah Stickann

SummerFest 2007: Interview with Executive Producer John Menier

La Jolla Music Society and UCSD-TV have forged a unique partnership to share the magic of Summerfest with television and web audiences. We asked executive producer John Menier to tell us a bit more about the history and making of the series. UCSD-TV: How did UCSD-TV’s partnership with La Jolla Music Society’s Summerfest begin? JOHN […]

La Jolla Music Society and UCSD-TV have forged a unique partnership to share the magic of Summerfest with television and web audiences. We asked executive producer John Menier to tell us a bit more about the history and making of the series.

UCSD-TV: How did UCSD-TV’s partnership with La Jolla Music Society’s Summerfest begin?

JOHN MENIER: The exact details are shrouded in the mists of time, but I first made contact with La Jolla Music Society in 1993. At that time I was interested in one particular event, an appearance by composer Bright Sheng at the Athanaeum Music Library in La Jolla. The resulting program turned out very well, and over the next few years we gradually developed an enduring partnership with the Society.

UCSD-TV: What are some of your favorite moments from past Summerfest seasons?

JM: I’m fascinated by rehearsals, and I love documenting the creative process. As a fan of, and advocate for, new music, it’s been a particular treat to watch such creative talents as Tan Dun, John Adams, Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter refine their work with some of the world’s best musicians, and to share their processes with a wider audience. The opportunity to interview them is a rare privelege as well.

There are many favorite moments. I have fond memories of L’Histoire du Soldat with conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, narrator John Rubinstein and choreographer John Malashock; Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera, with violinist Cho-Liang Lin and pipa virtuoso Wu Man; John Adams rehearsing his Shaker Loops; Richard Tognetti and the Australian Chamber Orchestra rehearsing their SummerFest concert; and the blending of chamber music and contemporary choreography by Allyson Green, especially for Tan Dun’s Elegy: Snow in June, an exciting and profoundly moving piece which featured UCSD’s own master percussionist, Steven Schick.

UCSD-TV: Shooting a live performance is quite different from shooting a studio interview. What are the primary challenges and what is a typical Summerfest shoot like?

JM: The biggest challenge is reconciling the intricate demands of multi-camera television production with the presenter’s requirements for live performance. We simply don’t have the same control over the concert venue that we take for granted in the studio. It’s really a process of negotiation, with regard to lighting, camera and microphone placement, and audio recording. I work closely with SummerFest’s production staff and stage management to ensure that we get what we need without compromising the performance, or inconveniencing the concert musicians or patrons. Fortunately, over time we’ve earned the Society’s trust, which makes my job much easier, as does the quality of their staff and of our production crew. It’s been a mutually respectful and beneficial partnership.

UCSD-TV: What can the UCSD-TV audience expect from this season’s performances?

JM: As in seasons past, viewers can expect SummerFest’s eclectic blend of established chamber repertoire, overlooked works by renowned composers, and new music commissioned for the festival. And, since I just can’t seem to stay out of rehearsals, you can expect behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with composers and musicians. Beginning this year, viewers may also visit our website for “bonus features” such as extended interviews, pre-concert lectures, etc. It’s all part of our determination to add value to the viewer’s experience by going beyond the concert hall.

Watch online videos and learn more about La Jolla Music Society SummerFest.

San Diego Spotlight’s Carmen Wins Bronze Telly Award

(Press Release Excerpt) Four diverse programs from University of California, San Diego Television (UCSD-TV) were each honored with a Telly Award, an international competition honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs. One program, San Diego Canyonlands, received the highest honor — the Silver Telly — while San Diego Opera Spotlight: Carmen, State […]

(Press Release Excerpt) Four diverse programs from University of California, San Diego Television (UCSD-TV) were each honored with a Telly Award, an international competition honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs. One program, San Diego Canyonlands, received the highest honor — the Silver Telly — while San Diego Opera Spotlight: Carmen, State of Minds: Fall 2006 and Health Matters: Healthful Benefits of Pets each received a Bronze Telly Award.

The first of UCSD-TV’s three Bronze awards went to San Diego Opera Spotlight: Carmen, a backstage look at the local production of Georges Bizet’s verismo masterpiece. The half-hour program is part of San Diego Opera Spotlight’s tenth anniversary season and was produced by UCSD-TV’s John Menier in partnership with San Diego Opera.

Learn more about San Diego Opera Spotlight.

Interview with David Pellow and Jorge Mariscal for Growing Activism

What role does activism play on a college campus? Does it leave marks on not only the people who participate but the places where it occurs? In the series Growing Activism, UCSD-TV follows two professors as they share with students the history of campus activism at UC San Diego. We asked Professors David Pellow and Jorge Mariscal to tell us a bit more about this project.

UCSD-TV: What do you hope to accomplish by bringing activists to campus?

DAVID PELLOW: We hope to (re)invigorate a passion for the broader relevance of a college education in the United States today. Education, in my experience, should be about critical thinking, engaged learning and listening, and transformative action aimed at improving societies. Anything less than that is unacceptable.

JORGE MARISCAL: We hope to provide models and inspiration so that students will feel empowered to take action on their own. The activists we spotlight believe long-term structural change should be the goal of all activism. Simply put, charity is not enough and faddish protests designed for media attention are counter-productive. Activism is a long-term, often a lifetime, commitment based on hope and courage.

UCSD-TV: How do you personally define activism?
DP: Activism comes in many forms: innovative imagination and thought; engaging dialogue, conversations, speech, and the written word; and the use of persuasion directed at one’s peers and at those who enjoy positions of privilege.

JM: Activists come together around issues of mutual concern with the goal of making change. Activists volunteer time and a great deal of energy in addition to carrying out family and professional responsibilities. This is especially true for student activists who are completing an academic career at a very competitive university while at the same time trying to effect change at that university and in the society at large.

UCSD-TV: How has your own activism informed your work on campus?

DP: I’ve been active in social and environmental justice work for more than 20 years and that experience shapes my teaching, student mentoring, and research everyday because those three things are ultimately done for the purpose of achieving a world that is more socially just and ecologically sustainable. So you see it in the content of the courses I teach and the substance of the research that I do as a scholar.

JM: I first became active in the Chicano/Latino Concilio in the late 1980s. Concilio was created with the goal of making UCSD more responsive to the Latino community. Over the years, I have conducted research and published articles on the history of UCSD. My knowledge of the founding principles of the campus and the structures that have regulated it over the decades allow me to analyze the current moment and to work with others to try to make the campus more inclusive and democratic.

UCSD-TV: You frequently invite guest speakers into your classroom. What have been some of your favorite insights/anecdotes that those speakers have shared?

DP: One speaker from Los Angeles was Saul Sarabia, a legal scholar/activist who does incredible work with university students and communities of color in that city. He reminded students that at the end of the day, if we haven’t taken care of ourselves, then we’re no good to anyone else. Specifically, he mentioned that many activists experience burnout due to overwork, or have health problems because they are overcommitted to “the cause.” He experienced this himself, but he bounced back and has remained an amazing asset for social change because he decided to set limits on how much of his time and energy he could give. As Cross-Cultural Center Director Edwina Welch likes to remind us, “don’t reproduce the conditions of your own oppression.” In other words, if we’re fighting oppression, it makes no sense to do so by adopting methods that end up creating oppressive situations for ourselves.

JM: Most of the speakers have said that individuals alone cannot make effective change. Change comes through collective action. They have also talked about the need to take care of one’s health and family needs as an activist because the danger of burnout is very high. My favorite speaker is probably Mr. Fernando Suarez who lost his only son during the invasion of Iraq. His son was a U.S. Marine who was not a citizen. Mr. Suarez has dedicated himself to the cause of peace. He tells young people that they can make a difference by getting an education and working in their communities.

UCSD-TV: How have students responded?

DP: The students have not only responded, in fact, they’ve been the driving force behind Growing Activism. They were the reason we launched this series. The students have always asked “What can I do?” or “Where can I go to get more involved in addressing this issue?” So that’s been wonderful because the classes, events, and the series itself were largely mobilized from the ground up, by student demand. Their response has been outstanding. Student attendance and participation at many of the events has been strong. In many cases, the question and answer discussion segments have been more interesting and informative than the presentations that preceded them!

JM: Students always respond very positively. There is a tremendous desire among this generation of students to make meaningful change in their society. What is lacking are the conduits for action and inspirational leadership. Although some of our students are cynical, many of them are not apathetic at all. This was quite apparent in the immigrant marches of 2006 and recent organizing around sustainability and global warming.

UCSD-TV: If a student, faculty member, or community member is interested in being more active on campus, where do you suggest they begin?

DP: They can come to the Cross-Cultural Center and get all the information they need to get hooked into a great network of active folks here!

JM: They need to identify what issue moves them the most. They then need to locate others with a passion for the same issue. From there they can either find an existing organization or create a new one. Making contact with off-campus groups is a must because UCSD is the epitome of the ivory tower.