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Monday, December 22, 2008

Speakeasy with ASO performers Teri Dale Hansen and Eric Van Hoven

click to enlarge Soprano Teri Dale Hansen sings with the ASO on New Year's Eve.
  • Soprano Teri Dale Hansen sings with the ASO on New Year's Eve.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra bids farewell (and good riddance) to 2008 with the help of two powerhouse vocalists, soprano Teri Dale Hansen and tenor Eric Van Hoven, under the baton of conductor Michael Krajewski. Van Hoven made his New York debut with the New York City Opera and has impeccable classical credentials, while Hansen has won international recognition as a Kurt Weill specialist and a crossover artist who moves between opera and musical theater styles. Both former Florida State University students, they offer a tag-team discussion of the ASO’s New Year’s Eve show, which begins at 8 p.m. Dec. 31.

Do New Year’s Eve shows have a unique vibe?

Hansen: Absolutely. I think it’s pretty much a drunken vibe. We start the evening by drinking, which sets the tone early.

Van Hoven: This show, involving more classical music than usual, I find takes on an entirely different feeling. If it was a Lerner & Lowe revue, we’d spend the evening moving through their collaboration. In this one, because of the combination of early pieces and later ones, we’re bringing more of an updated feeling to the opera pieces. We don’t necessarily want to do it in character as we would in opera — we want to entertain and connect to the audience.

Hansen: It’s opera presented in an entertaining way, not like it’s been extracted from the original show. It’s an interactive show. It’s 3-D. It’s hands-on. Eric sings “La donne e mobile,” which is sung by the biggest cad in Rigoletto, so Eric’s going to go out in the house and accost all of the women.

Van Hoven: Not all of them. Just two or three.

click to enlarge Tenor Eric Van Hoven sings with the ASO on New Year's Eve.
  • Tenor Eric Van Hoven sings with the ASO on New Year's Eve.

Are there thematic connections between the compositions selected for the program?

Hansen: The title of the show is From Bohème to Broadway. One of the things we focus on is that opera has recently discovered a place on the Great White Way. Baz Luhrmann had his La Bohème, there’s recently been a Threepenny Opera, the New York Opera has done musicals, and the roots of Rent are in Puccini’s La Bohème. The romance of opera and Broadway is a wonderful theme for New Year’s Eve. Plus, for people who haven’t been to Broadway in the last few years, the program features songs from shows that either recently closed or are opening soon.

Is there a reason why shows like this frequently have the opera in the first act, and the Broadway songs in the second?

Van Hoven: From a singing standpoint, it’s easier to go from classical to Broadway. For classical, you need more chops, in layman’s terms, to get through it, so I’d rather do the classical first.

Hansen: From a program standpoint, in any Pops show, you want to go from the familiar to the incredibly popular, especially when people are imbibing through the evening. We get to songs from shows like West Side Story, which are deeply embedded in pop culture. In this country, opera hasn’t quite made the same transition into pop as it has in Europe. One crossover opera song is Francesco Sartori’s “Time to Say Goodbye,” which has an incredibly popular version by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman. It bridges the gap from first act to second.

Is the current economic downturn and overall scariness effecting your approach to the show?

Hansen: Yes. No one wants to come to an entertainment and be reminded of anything difficult.

Van Hoven: A lot of live entertainment is doing that now. It’s like with movies — studios won’t release anything that will bring people down. People really need escape.

As singers, are you always working on New Year’s Eve?

Hansen: Basically, yes. When you’re a performer, the public becomes part of your family. There’s tremendous joy, but tremendous responsibility for bringing happiness and joy. There’s part of your personhood that becomes public. If we weren’t singing on New Year’s Eve, it would be unusual and odd.

Have you ever had a memorable holiday show, when something unusual happened?

Hansen: I was doing my first Pops concert with the Houston Symphony, which had arranged for me to wear six different evening gowns, all from a local place, and also an almost $300,000 necklace. I was first going to do a piece from Die Fledermaus, and I was wearing an enormous fuchsia, hot pink dress, and this necklace that weighed me down, because I’m not a large person. And I had a police officer who escorted me from my dressing from all the way to the lip of the stage when I was wearing the necklace. And he stood there throughout the performance. That was unusual.

Van Hoven: Mine does not have a happy ending, actually. I was in my hometown doing a reunion fundraiser in Meridian, Miss., where a number of opera singers are from. I was just getting a sip of water beforehand when John Alexander said “Let me give you a kick in the butt for good luck.” Then he goes on stage and has this massive heart attack. I still had to go on, because they knew he’d want to do it that way, but I remember thinking “How am I going to do this?”

Hansen: I’ve always heard "Never follow children or animals," but not “Never follow a heart attack.” We have to end on a light note, so I’ll tell this one. I was doing a Holiday Pops show for the Portland Symphony, and some people in the audience had special needs. I sang “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which ends very softly: “So have yourself a merry little Christmas… now…” “Sonofabitch!” Someone in the audience had Tourette syndrome, and made an outburst in the split second after the finish but before the applause. I wondered, “Was that just a voice in my head?” Everyone backstage was doubled over with laughter.

(Photo courtesy Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)

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