2017 Winnipeg Fringe Festival Production

The Telephone Opera (Gian Carlo Menotti)

David Klassen: Director / Ben 
Noted for his “rich baritone” (Minneapolis Star Tribune) and praised for his savvy stagecraft, David Klassen’s versatility as a performer has brought him to the stage in New York, Minnesota, throughout the Canadian Prairies and beyond. Operatic performance highlights include the Minnesota premier performance as Valmont in Susa’s Dangerous Liaisons and an award-winning performance of the title role in Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Equally comfortable on the opera, oratorio and concert stages, Mr. Klassen has been engaged as a soloist by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Saskatoon Opera, Groundswell, The Chamber Players of St. Paul, Brandon Chamber Players and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra singing for a Canada Day audience of thirty thousand.  Directing credits include Anne of Green Gables (Steinbach Arts Council) and Die Fledermaus and The Merry Wives of Windsor (Canadian Mennonite University).

Naomi Forman: Lucy
“Mesmerizing” wrote the Winnipeg Free Press. “While she was onstage you couldn’t take your eyes off her – she has that kind of star power.” Naomi Forman is a soprano who refuses to be put in a box with credits that run the gamut from Mozart to Musical Theatre. Recent engagements for this versatile singing actor include Manitoba Opera, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the Calgary Bach Festival Society, Ottawa Chamber Music Festival and the Brandon Chamber Players. Most recently, she sang the role of Alice in Dry Cold’s production of THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Her production company, Naomi Forman Productions, created “StarBach’s: The Coffee Cantata”; an updated version of Bach’s classic for the triple-soy-venti set. Forman is a voice instructor at Brandon University. www.naomiforman.com

Madeline Hildebrandt: Piano
Acclaimed Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker describes Maddy as “an extraordinary young artist whose communicative skills convey the essence of all that she plays. Her pianism is of the highest level, and she has an instinctive understanding of beautiful sound.” Her playing has taken her from coast to coast in Canada and America, Italy, and Romania. Recent engagements include a concerto performance with the Thunder Bay Orchestra, a house concert tour throughout Manitoba with flutist Haley Marie, a cross-Canada tour with soprano Sarah Kirsch, and chamber music concerts with many of Winnipeg’s foremost classical musicians. She is a graduate of the University of British Columbia where she studied under distinguished pianist Jane Coop, and teaches piano at CMU.

Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti's opera The Telephone captures all of the intensity and anguish of a man's love for a woman, and a woman's love for...her phone...!?!

Produced by Naomi Forman (Naomi Forman Productions), and directed by David Klassen, The Telephone is about a love affair with, well, a telephone. Absurd? Kind of. Funny? Yes. Relevant? Definitely (I nearly plowed into a lamp post the other day because I suffer from this urgent need to text at all times). Sad confessions aside, The Telephone is a lot more hilarious than it is embarrassing.

Starring soprano Naomi Forman as Lucy, baritone David Klassen as her suitor, and pianist Madeline Hildebrand as The Voice of the Telephone, The Telephone is the perfect morsel of everything a light, quirky Fringe production should be. The show uses the original setting of Menotti's one-act opera from the 1950's, and is no less pertinent in the midst of today's social media epidemic.

A brief synopsis: Klassen's character, Ben, begrudgingly waits in earnest as Lucy (Forman) obsessively gossips and giggles into her sparkly purple telephone (Hildebrand's charismatic playing makes for an impressive ring-tone). Ben's hopes that he might seize the chance to woo Lucy begin to dwindle, amounting in a rant against "this two-head monster" that has stolen his love!

I won't spoil everything about the show, but the off-the-opera-grid epilogue makes it pretty clear that telephone technology will rule the day. While the first half of the show is exclusively Menotti, Forman threw some sass into the second half, writing an eclectic medley of pop tunes (Hey Menotti, call me maybe??)

"What I love most about Fringe is the opportunity it gives us to experiment with opera and all of its theatrics," says Forman, whose previous Fringe experience includes StarBach's: The Coffee Cantata (Naomi Forman Productions) based on the music of J.S. Bach.

"There are so many wonderful companies here in Manitoba who can hit the notes beautifully, but with the intimate Fringe setting we're able to bring a certain brand of comedy to opera. We don't have to play by the rules - we're all trained musicians, we all know the rules, which makes it a lot more fun to break them!"

Forman, Klassen, and Hildebrand all showcase a vibrant chemistry onstage that can only be achieved with a certain level of comfortability.

"We all know and trust one another," says Klassen. "I don't think I've ever gone on stage as calm as I was today because I knew that no matter what happened, I could rely on all parties involved."

The relaxed stage presence of the cast made it easier for the widely diverse audience to engage and have fun throughout the performance.

Important side note: this is a family friendly show - G-rated with a total running time of 45 minutes. Your 9-year-old may still choose Carly Rae Jepsen over Menotti, but who says you can't bring kids to an opera.

-Classic 107 FM, Winnipeg.  Written by Claudia Garcia de la Huerta

I was happy to dial up The Telephone, a charmingly retro comedic opera with the world's simplest plot: a guy tries to have a conversation with his girlfriend, who keeps getting interrupted by, yup, a telephone. Uh huh - that's it. That's the story.

This one-act opera was written in 1953, yet you could easily imagine the constantly ringing rotary phone onstage as an iPhone 6, the one your plugged-in friend furtively checks every 30 seconds when you're trying to connect over dinner. It's refreshing to see that all the hand-wringing about how technology is affecting our relationships is as old as, well, the telephone.

Soprano Naomi Forman and baritone David Klassen are vocal powerhouses with great comedic chops, and Winnipeg pianist Madeline Hildebrand provides lively accompaniment. By the time they bust out with an operatic re-enactment of Lionel Richie's "Hello," they had the audience eating out of the palms of their hands.

Don't put this show on hold – it's sure to be a hit, even with the non-opera crowd.            

(Sara Tate, CBC 🌟🌟🌟🌟)

Who would have guessed that Menotti’s comic one-act opera (sung in English) about society’s obsession with the telephone would ring even more true today than when first penned in 1947?

Brandon-based soprano Naomi Forman portrays the well-heeled Lucy, who entertains a steady stream of phone calls. Her own gentleman caller, local baritone David Klassen as Ben, desperately wants to propose, but keeps getting put on hold after Lucy’s rhinestone-trimmed phone (I want one) rings off the hook.

The 45-minute show directed by Klassen also features Winnipeg dynamo pianist Madeline Hildebrand, who tosses off Menotti’s knuckle-busting score with ease. Forman displays her powerhouse vocals during three solos including giddy coloratura passages, with her keen comedic skills equally matched by Klassen’s deadpan mugging. The latter’s heartrending solo "When the air sings of summer" shows off his richly resonant vocals and knack at fleshing out a seemingly one-dimensional, comic character with poignant humanity.

As a grand finale, Forman and Klassen lead a campy sing-along set of songs inspired by the phone. In an age of texting, tweeting, buzzing and beeping, The Telephone is more relevant than ever. 

(Holly Harris, Winnipeg Free Press: 🌟🌟🌟🌟)


"Best Bets"  (Kevin Prokosh, Winnipeg Free Press)

"With 181 choices, the Fringe Festival has something for every Fringer's mood."  Kevin's five "Best Bets" in five categories include THE TELEPHONE OPERA in the MUSIC category.

LOVE IS ON THE LINE in Gian Carlo Menotti's bite-sized comic opera about a man, a woman, and her telephone.  Set in the 1950’s, Lucy (played to the hilt by soprano Naomi Forman) is obsessed with her new telephone, and her beau Ben (beautifully sung by baritone David Klassen) can’t get a word in edgewise. Hullaballoo ensues, with a delightful twist in the ending. Pianist Madeline Hildebrandt’s radiates talent and is delightful to see and hear.

Sung in English and brought to you by the creator of the 2010 Fringe hit StarBach’s: The Coffee Cantata (CBC****) it’s opera like you’ve never seen it before! The professional cast is composed of faculty from Manitoba’s top music schools; BU, CMU and U of M, with direction by David Klassen. All three artists have had solo engagements with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and bring a wealth of experience gained from solo engagements with companies such as The Manitoba Opera Association, Dry Cold Productions, The Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Winnipeg and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet.  Revel in the beautiful acoustics of the Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall at the University of Winnipeg and enjoy the sounds of the Ashkenazy Steinway Grand Piano. The hall is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible.

Audience: General 
Running time: 45 minutes