The kansas city symphony and opera singer show
Homecoming: The Kansas City Symphony Presents Joyce DiDonato
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The crowds that attended the Kansas City Symphony performances at the end of March with Prairie Village native Joyce DiDonato, now a world renowned opera sensation with the mezzo soprano voice, may have been witness to a little bit of history. The three performances were recorded, plus rehearsals, backstage interviews and a master class led by DiDonato, to be part of the PBS Summer Arts Festival, hosted by Anna Deavere Smith. The Kansas City show called Homecoming: The Kansas City Symphony Presents Joyce DiDonato will air July 20.
However, the hours and hours of work that went into coordinating and filming may be more similar to writing and staging a symphony than the audience realized. While the Symphony was rehearsing and learning the Rossini and Heggie pieces to perform with DiDonato, local producer Angee Simmons and executive producer Randy Mason were well and thoroughly immersed in planning the tapings.
Along with Simmons and Mason, national producer for PBS Jim Arntz was brought in. He has previously worked on the national PBS Fall Arts Festival. One of his main jobs here was writer. John Paulson, Arntz’s partner, serves as editor. “In this case, I got to serve as a storyteller, aiding in the interviews, rehearsal scenes and making sure the music helped to tell the story.”
The director onsite was Berlin musician Michael Beyer. Arntz says Beyer is the “go-to” man for theater, symphony and opera recordings. Another big name draw was Jeff Ravitz, who has served on Bruce Springsteen tours as lighting designer. His role was to create the right lighting to set off the architecture in Helzberg Hall and perfectly highlight both the symphony and DiDonato for the recording.
“Several dreams were fulfilled with this production,” Simmons says. “Each individual had the chance to work in the Kauffman Center and put forth their creative best. Helzberg Hall is an audio engineer’s dream when you think about the perfect acoustics. Joyce was a dream to work with and she even kept telling us how unbelievable it seemed that we were going to be part of this national stage. Michael Stern stopped in before the first rehearsal and asked about how collectively we could make it a great TV show. It just seemed that everyone was behind this effort. As a PBS station and for the city too, it’s a chance to put all the very best in front of a national audience. This hall is amazing. Joyce is amazing. The Symphony is amazing. It all just pops.”
Simmons says she was excited to discuss with DiDonato the important role that PBS plays in providing the arts to homes all over the country. “Of course she is a believer that the arts need to be supported in public media and that mirrors KCPT’s mission. She’s a big believer in exposing people, especially kids, to opera, symphony and other classical mediums. Being part of this show is another way to bring art to people’s living rooms. KCPT has been fortunate here in Kansas City that we work with the symphony each year to show Celebration at the Station each Memorial Day. This is just one more way we can highlight the incredible talent here.”
While the crew had long days and a crazy schedule, the satisfaction of a project done well for a national series was worth the tiring pace. “Personally it’s a dream project. It was the perfect set, the perfect players and the perfect crew. We were all like worker ants, moving about the hall with a precision that can be tough. It really is like a symphony as we all knew our parts within this intricate piece.”
Arntz, the PBS national producer and writer, says the show was recorded to be a more performance documentary rather than a straight performance of DiDonato and the Kansas City Symphony. “Instead of a concert film, classical music really needs more. By adding those interviews of the performers and her interaction with students, we give a context to the music and the experience. We all get to know the performers. And in so regards, the viewing audience gets to understand the music and the challenge of creating a concert and this documentary together.”
The project’s success hinges first on the good idea and then on who can make the project a success, Arntz says. As Simmons says, the pieces fell into place. “Joyce especially made the whole production great. She’s a winner. She has a great personality. Joyce told us all that this show is close to her heart as she got to sing in Helzberg Hall for the first time. The concert meant she also got to sing for her friends and family – something she doesn’t get to do that often.”
While the 11 cameras stationed around Helzberg Hall may have been awkward for some symphony goers, Arntz says he hopes the audience had an enhanced excitement because of the cameras and crew. “It’s really a big deal to be featured as an artistic town within a national context. PBS often features the opening of Carnegie Hall and concerts at Lincoln Center, both in New York. Maybe there will be some show from San Francisco or Los Angeles. Occasionally Chicago is featured. Honestly for a medium-sized city to get its symphony on air when the bigger players dominate is big. Credit goes to Kansas City Symphony Executive Director Frank Byrne and Conductor
Michael Stern for all the support.” He also praised the serendipitous pairing of
DiDonato and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Production funding came from the Hall Family Foundation; David T. Beals III Charitable Trust; Bank of America, Trustee; Richard J. Stern Foundation for the Arts; Commerce Bank, Trustee; Merrill Lynch; and PBS. l