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Rock Opera Journal: Two in “Valhella” cast, on hard work behind BROS’ party image

...and how they entered the weird world of rock-and-roll-ified Norse legend

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society, shown here at Washington’s H Street festival, premiers its latest full-length work Friday

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society, shown here at Washington’s H Street festival, premiers its latest full-length work Friday

Photo by: Baltimore Rock Opera Society

There’s a drama within the drama over at The Baltimore Rock Opera Society, which is premiering its third original full-length Wagnerian-style rock opera this week, Valhella: The Ragnarøkoperetta:

Can turning Norse legends into rock-n-roll theater evolve from the goofy idea of a handful of former college buddies to an artistic juggernaut? (Of course, we’re also interested in whether the three brothers in Valhella succeed in their magical quest.)

Hoping to pierce these mysteries – and get a hit off the seemingly boundless energy of the BROS – The Brew asked a couple of cast members to write about their work on Valhella, which premiers Friday at the Autograph Playhouse on West 25th Street. (More info here.)

Kerry Brady _ From the Seats to the Stage

Kerry Brady

Kerry Brady, part of the cast of "Valhella: The Ragnarøkoperetta"

I first witnessed the epic talents of the Baltimore Rock Opera Society in the winter of 2010. A friend of mine was performing in Gründlehämmer, and since I was already booked for all of their performance dates, he offered to sneak me into one of the technical rehearsals so I could see what I was missing.

I entered the decommissioned church where the play was to take place and was greeted by a set constructed mainly of painted cardboard, surrounded by piles of half-completed props and costumes. Small groups of people were scattered throughout the space, working diligently to finish everything before opening night.

The show itself was still rough and unpolished (which is actually pretty normal for a rehearsal during tech week), but the level of energy and commitment to the material more than made up for its shortcomings.

The next BROS production, which took place in summer 2011, was even more ambitious. Not one, but two original rock operas (Amphion and The Terrible Secret of Lunastus, respectively) had been scheduled to be performed back-to-back on the same night.

Wagner-inspired Rock Opera: An evolving art form

The group had already learned quite a bit from their earlier experiences with the first full-length effort, Gründlehämmer. The sets were bigger, the lights were brighter, and they had even managed to secure a performance space inside an actual theater instead of the old church. Despite a few minor technical flaws, it was a pretty impressive theatrical spectacle that left a majority of the audience cheering in the aisles during the finale.

When plans for Valhella were announced, I made certain to clear my calendar in order to attend the auditions. I was both excited and a little nervous after finding out that I had been cast in the production.

Beer, opera and rock and roll

After all, the BROS have a reputation for indulging in beer, hardcore rock music, and a fraternity-like atmosphere.  I am not a ‘rock star’ by any means, so participation in a work of this caliber was sure to be a daunting task for me.

Adding to my concerns was the fact that Valhella is a brand new, completely original work… one that is still developing and fluctuating with less than ten days to go (at the time of this writing) until opening night.  It is a major undertaking for any professional theater company, especially one so recently established.

The BROS are well on their way to becoming one of the more professionally-run theaters in Baltimore.  They are supported by a tireless group of volunteers who labor around the clock to make sure that every aspect of the production is as epically awesome as it should be. Sure, they all know how to have a good time… but the work still comes first.

Everyone involved, both onstage and off, is completely dedicated to creating a memorable experience for the audience. It has been a truly collaborative effort, and I have been consistently impressed by the creativity and ingenuity with which these artists approach their work. With each new production, they have gained more knowledge and experience to help refine their creative vision and grow their influence throughout Baltimore’s artistic community. I look forward to seeing what they come up with next.

Kerry Brady studied acting at Towson University and has appeared with, among others, The Mobtown Players, Fells Point Corner Theatre, Baltimore Improv Group (BIG), and the Strand Theater Company. She played Lady Macbeth in the Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s  recent Macbeth.  During the week, she works in a Baltimore real estate firm.

______________________________

Vangie Ridgaway _ Caution: Rock Opera Work in Progress

Vangie Ridgaway sings the role of one of the fate-spinning Norse Narns in "Valhella: The Ragnarøkoperetta"

Vangie Ridgaway sings the role of one of the fate-spinning Norse Narns in "Valhella: The Ragnarøkoperetta"

What exactly is a “rock opera”? As a genre, I think it is still evolving, since the canon of existing shows that fall under that title is still pretty limited. Still, I always found it to be something of an inherent contradiction. Is it an opera that rocks? Is it a rock show with a plot? Or is it something else entirely?

I come from a classical background, so “rock” was never really my thing, at least vocally. That said, I loved watching the Society’s previous shows, including last fall’s production of Phantom of the Paradise.

I wanted to become involved; I just wasn’t sure if there would be a place for someone like me to contribute. However, Valhella, really piqued my interest. Before going into the audition, I discovered that there would be a trio of individuals (the three “Norns” of Norse mythology, female figures who rule the destiny of gods and men) who required a more operatic sound than any previous BROS characters.

Audition in a cold theater

Encouraged, I discarded my usual musical theatre audition songs in favor of a French aria from my classical repertoire. I ended up singing it a cappella, probably off-key, and cracking on the high notes (the theatre in January is VERY cold); but somehow I got the part anyway.

As a BROS first-timer, I’ve discovered a lot of things that I like about working the group. For one thing, I really appreciate how open they are to allowing new blood into the group. I wasn’t the only rookie this go-around; actually, the cast is almost entirely composed of people who have never been in a BROS show before.

I’m also constantly impressed by the devotion and enthusiasm of everyone involved, from the actors and band to the tech crew to the army of volunteers who build props and set pieces into the wee hours of the morning.

There at the creation

A major part of the BROS mission is a commitment to producing new and original works; and so everyone contributes to shaping the show. As an actor and a singer, I rarely have such an opportunity to be part of the creative process.

Working on the musical parts of the show was especially fun. As we learned the songs, we were given a lot of leeway to experiment and play around with harmonies and vocal decorations. In addition, at the time of our audition, the writing of the music was still very much in progress.

As a result, the composer of many of the vocal songs in the show (the very talented Erica Patoka) was able to tailor the music to our voice styles and ranges, resulting in a type of sound never before heard in a BROS show.

In the end, Valhella is a captivating mix of things old and new. The rock and spectacle that the BROS are famous for is definitely still there. However, Valhella shows an evolution towards a new type of sound that is sure to appeal to lovers of both “rock” and “opera” alike.

The final result, in my humble opinion, is nothing short of magical.

Evangeline “Vangie” Ridgaway received her BA in English and French from Wellesley College in Boston, Massachusetts, and lives in Baltimore with her husband, as well as a beagle and two cats. By day, she’s a freelance writer and editor in the educational publishing field. Nights, she’s a fate-spinning Norn in Valhella and, to better prepare for that role, is currently teaching herself how to weave. 

 

 

 

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  • Unellu

    Who writes the songs– other than Patoka?  The lyrics?  Who composes the music?  Did someone write a modern adaptation of the old Norse tale?  Do the songs evolve from the story or the story from the songs?  Who is responsible for the costumes–the entire cast?  Are these college buddies trained musicians?  This sounds more like rock theater than rock opera.   

    • Anonymous

      Come see the show, read the program, and find out! We have classically trained singers and musicians, MICA trained costume designers, and the most beautiful set I’ve ever seen in Baltimore theater. Just because BROS is volunteer-based doesn’t mean our quality suffers. What BROS lacks in money it makes up for in heart! 

  • Gerald Neily

    Tonite: “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” as authorized by Peter Gabriel at the Howard Theater in DC. http://thehowardtheatre.com/show/2012/05/08/the-musical-box/

    “Is it opera?” That’s a question true artists would not ask, only marketers looking for an angle or journalists looking for “a drama within the drama”. Certainly Richard Wagner (or Peter Gabriel) didn’t obsess over such amid their legion of 19th to 21st century critics. That said, there do seem to be an awful lot of external references in “Valhella”.

  • Ullenu

    I don’t like the idea of this; I once got a rock stuck in my shoe.  This rock was particularly painful, given that I have inverted soles and hip dysplasia due  to years of maintaining a good bloodline through “selective” breeding.  After a few years, this rock buried itself in the sole of my foot, and is now a constant pain.  I’d recommend no one see this “rock opera”, unless you want to have the same bad time I did with my now constantly aching foot!

    I will be spending my nights the next few weeks sounding out the words in a book someone just lent me, entitled “Noun Phrases: More than their Component Parts.”  I’m almost through the forward!

    • Bozorgmir

      hehe

  • Unellu

     Ullenu,
    Looks like in addition to hip dysplasia you also have brain atrophia.  Perhaps this is because you have a bigger rock in your brain than the one in your sole.  It gladdens me you are in constant pain.  You deserve it.  I bet you are the hell in Valhella.  Thank you for the review.  We will neither see the opera nor help you remove the rock in your soul.   Since you are better at plagiarism light than at originality,  a more appropriate name for you would be Uhellu.  That said you mean”I am almost through the foreword”.  But, “I am almost through the forward” would be OK too, since you sound destined for backward.   

  • Keith Becraft

    Valhella is the hottest thing Baltimore has seen since the fire of 1904. Get your tickets while you still can. Vahella tickets are going faster than anything Baltimore has seen since the Grand Prix of 2011. 

    • Gerald Neily

      Are the Vallhella BROS giving out 50,000 freebie tickets like our Grand Prix did? Will Vallhella be rejected by the national rock opera sanctioning organization like our Grand Prix has by in-de-car?

  • Unellu

    With BROS you have a mutual admiration society of self congratulatory saplings.  I hope they don’t suffer the fate of the Grand Prix or the 1904 fire–die out or be put out.  Their behavior, off stage, certainly doesn’t match the praise they have heaped on themselves.  

  • Tom Kiefaber

    This Brew article seems to be an ill-advised smashup between City Paper and the TSU Towerlight. Hopefully it’s not indicative of where The Brew honchos wish to take the publication.   

  • GMan

    Geez, with readers like these…

  • JOHNO

    LET ME GET A VALHELLYEAH FOR UNELLU FOR NOT COMING TO SEE OUR SHOWS FOREVER!!!

  • Unellu

    JOHNO,
    How do you know I didn’t or wouldn’t–go to see your show?  I hate operas but I love originals.  As long as your Hellyeah is not Porgy and Bess you have a chance with me and my kind.  Anyway, I’ve sent some nut cases who love opera your way–again, I say–truce.  Keep chugging out those originals.  Very few things are original these days and by marrying yourselves to the two women above, I hope you attain some polish and live long and prosper but if you insist on developing brain atrophia in addition to hip dysplasia prospects look bleak for that, I would say.   Stay off the bottle and as for the testosterone, a smidgen of estrogen, and more XX folks from the classical genre will do you guys some good.  I await the sarcastic Natty-Boh soaked reprisals.  The whole lot of you suffers from fragile egos.  The glowing write ups will make up for the few you’ve not bowled over completely, I hope.       

    • Keith Becraft

      This is a very complicated case, Unellu. You know, a lotta ins, a lotta outs, a lotta what-have-yous. And, uh, a lotta strands to keep in my head, man. Lotta strands in old Duder’s head. Fortunately, I’m adhering to a pretty strict, uh, drug regimen to keep my mind, you know, uh, limber. 

  • Fragile_Male_Ego

    VALHELLYEAH FOR UNELLU NOT REMEMBERING THEY WROTE THE PHRASE “We will neither see the opera nor help you remove the rock in your soul.  ” AND THEN SUCCEEDING  IN BEING EVEN MORE CONDESCENDING THAN THEY WERE PREVIOUSLY.  (The previous review is soaked in sarcastic Natty Boh.)

    (Please don’t respond with your cutting “wit” – my fragile ego couldn’t possibly take it!)

  • JOHNO
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