Getting to know….Isola Jones

Getting to know…Isola Jones

Journey to the MET

Written by:  Linda A. Jaussi

Many great artists and musicians have lived on this earth since time has been measured.  Each brings their own unique beautiful talent to brighten and uplift our lives.  In my conversations with them, they all have faced some difficulty or have come from a difficult life circumstance.  Isola Jones is such a performer.  She feels her success comes from one source.  She often quotes,  “Put on the whole armor of God…”  Ephesians 6:11

Mezzo Soprano, Isola Jones was born in Chicago, Illinois.  By looks, you would guess she is an exotic princess.  I asked her, “what is your background?”

Isola smiled.  She is often asked about her ancestry.  “I am African American, and Native American, from the Cherokee tribe.  My grandmother was fair-skinned as was the man who fathered my mother.”  She proposed that perhaps she was also a bit Scottish.

Growing up, Isola’s favorite movie was Sleeping Beauty.  She loved watching it.  The year Walt Disney re-released Sleeping Beauty, Isola was attending a round table discussion at Liszt Hall, where the MET does the intermission feature for the Saturday radio broadcast.  Next to her sat Mary Costa, who had just become her new best friend.  They were laughing not really paying attention when Jamie, another friend, seated in the audience took their picture.   Later that week, Jamie invited Isola to see Sleeping Beauty on the big screen.  As she sat in the theater, she  read the credits listing the voices for the characters.   She was shocked to see her new friend’s name.  Mary Costa was the voice of Sleeping Beauty.  She had no idea!

As a youth, Isola was especially influenced by Leontyne Price.  She heard Leontyne Price singing on the television.  “She had such a beautiful voice.”  Isola fell instantly in love with Price and her singing style. She tried to imitate it.  In that magical moment, Isola was transformed and her life took a whole new direction.

Isola sang in the Chicago Symphony Chorus and was the understudy for Yvonne Minton, singing the Verdi Requiem.  Just like in the movies, (I’m remembering a scene from Phantom of The Opera)  Minton became ill for the final dress rehearsal.  Isola was summoned to the stage.  On one side of her stood Luciano Pavarotti.  On her other side was Leontyne Price.  When the rehearsal finished, Pavarotti and Price grabbed her hand and squeezed it.  Minton returned for the performance, but Isola Jones had made an impression.  Based on the strength of that afternoon, doors began to open for her.  She was no longer just a voice in the chorus, but a recognizable talent and important people wanted to meet and listen to her.

“My audition at the MET came about in this way.  When the Chicago Symphony was in New York doing Flying Dutchman, I was asked to sing a solo audition for James LeVine at the MET.  I was a kid out of the chorus.  I was thinking, ‘shouldn’t you speak a foreign language, shouldn’t you have some experience singing opera, shouldn’t you have experience, just in general?’  My answer was, no.  I did not think I was ready.”

Isola went back to Chicago and continued to study.  “My voice teacher and I were not the best of friends, but I could not pull away from the situation.”  She continued to sing in the chorus for The Chicago Symphony.  About a year later, she finally made a decision that changed her life.  “I made one decision.  I decided I was done with this organization I was singing with.  I did not care if I did not have any money, any friends, nothing.  I’m done.  That was on a Sunday evening.  Monday, the MET called me.  I had not had any contact with them in a year.  Again, they were asking if I would like to sing a solo audition for Jimmy Levine.  This time I said yes, because I had a ticket to go to New York and I knew that this was God.  I still did not have any experience.  I still did not have a really reliable vocal technique.”  She trusted in God and said, “Let’s do this.”

“I sang my audition at Carnegie Hall.  It was less than stellar.”  Jimmy LeVine asked Isola if she was studying with anyone.  She replied, “No.”

Mr. Levine told Isola that she needed a little more training.  Isola went back to her motel room and called a friend.  She bemoaned that God had brought her to New York and she had blown it.  The audition was a disaster.  The friend calmly said, “Don’t worry.  There was only one person there.  (Perhaps he meant one person that mattered.)  God.”  That statement cheered her up.

The next day Ms. Jones was in the MET doing some performances with The American Ballet Theater.  She ran into Jimmy Levine.  She apologized to him for singing so badly.  He told her not to worry, he just wanted to talk to her before she left New York, but he never called.  “I figured he doesn’t want to deliver bad news face-to-face.  That’s OK.  I don’t like to receive bad news face-to-face.”

A year later, Isola was still working in Chicago.  One day, she was watching TV with the sound down and singing Habanera when the phone rang.  It was the Metropolitan Opera offering her a grocery list of roles to learn.  Excitedly, she sold all her furniture, packed her music books and clothes, and left for New York.

In New York, a friend helped Isola locate a place to live with thick walls where she could practice singing.  The Ansonia Hotel “looks as if it was plucked up out of the middle of France and sat down in the middle of Manhattan.”  It did not have windows.  More quaint, it had French doors with little balconies.  It was a new experience for Ms. Jones to be in New York on her own.  Her eyes twinkled as she recalled what her first night was like.  “I plopped down my books, clothes and records then went down to the lobby to find some food.”  There, she ran into an old friend, a Baritone from Chicago, who had recently gotten a contract in a German theater to sing for three years. The next day he called Isola to see if she knew anyone who needed furniture?  Isola told him, “bring everything to me.”  She had everything she needed down to the teacup and teaspoon.

During Isola’s first week at the MET she received training from the Italian coach, Alberta Maziello   Ms. Jones described Alberta as a very scary woman.  “She wore a turban and smoked cigars.”  Maziello didn’t want to hear Isola sing.  She only wanted her to speak the Italian for Maddalena from Rigoletto.  Isola laughed as she explained, “I said something that just made her crazy.”  Maziello got on the phone and got Isola a private Italian coach.  The next thing she knew, Isola Jones was singing in the second live telecast, ever, from The Metropolitan Opera in the featured role of Maddalena from Rigoletto.  This all came from one decision…to leave a really bad situation. Just like Abraham, he leaves Orr and he asks God, “Where are we going?” God says, “I’ll tell you when we get there.” That’s how I felt.  I am just going.  God’s got your back.”

During her years at the MET, Isola’s voice developed and matured.  She recalled how being trained by the finest voices in the world was a blessing to her own vocal development. She sang as a leading lady singing opposite  Pavarotti and Domingo.  Imagine what it was like having some of the best singers in the world singing up close and in your face?

Isola sang 16 successful seasons at The Metropolitan Opera, including over 500 performances, beginning in 1977.  While performing in the West she was asked to join the faculty at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix, Arizona.  She continues to perform around the nation and teaches others that wonderful vocal technique that dialed in her voice.

The role of Our Lady of Guadalupe, from the opera, Guadalupe, Our Lady of the Roses, was written for Isola Jones.  She wrote one of the songs for herself.  The opera recants the legend of a poor Mexican Native and his encounter with Our Lady of Guadalupe (Mary, the Mother of Christ).  The music is unique for opera.  It has rich native (Aztec) undertones.  Composer James DeMars included Native American flutes and drums in the score.  The original recording features  R. Carlos Nakai , famed Native American flutist.  Also, performing are:  Robert Breault as Juan Diego, Carole FitzPatrick as La Malinche, Robert Barefield as Bishop Zumarraga, and Fr. Jorge Rodriguez Eagar as Don Valeriano.

Isola’s Favorites

Q.  What is your favorite food?

A.  I love chinese food.  The Chinese, in terms of cuisine, have the right idea.  They give you everything.  It’s like opera which includes all the art forms.  Chinese food has got hot, sweet, sour, crunchy, and savory.

Q.  What is your most favorite place that you have visited?

A.  Paris is beautiful.    Parisian women can dress so simply, but it is so exquisite, so elegant.  I love the French language.  I sing a lot of French Opera.  (Isola is best known for the role, Carmen.)  If you are talking about a place I would like to visit, that would be Tahiti, or Bora Bora.  Give me someplace subtropical.

Q.  Do you have a favorite color?

A.  I like red and blue.

Q.  Do you have a favorite book or author?

A.  I think Diana Gabaldon is so brilliant.  I love her Outlander series.  She is celebrating 20 years from her first publishing now.

Q.  Do you have favorite music?

A.  My favorite music is whatever I am singing at the time.  I even like some new age music because it can be very inspiring and calming.  I like Enya, Mozart, Mahler, Bizet, and Dvorac’s, Song to the Moon.  I like good music that is soothing.  I like to listen to it while I am driving to keep me calm behind the wheel.

Q.  What do you like to do in your spare time?

A.  Movies, I love movies, and educational TV such as PBS.  There is an AMC Theater in The Esplanade where you sit in a suite.  It has call buttons where you can call for a waiter.  They serve real food and it is fantastic.

Q.  Is this what you call a TV dinner?

A.  It’s not a grandma’s TV dinner.  This is real food and it is so convenient.  You don’t have to smuggle food into the theater anymore.

Q.  If you had five words or statements to describe yourself, what would they be?

A.  I am hoping this is true about myself.  I hope to be honest. sincere, communicative, and trustworthy.  One thing I am working on is to be generous of spirit, trying not to be critical.  It is easy to be critical of people.  We need to be more generous and more understanding.  Usually, when I criticize somebody else, I am guilty of it.

Q.  If you were to create your own perfect world, what would you include?

A.  I would include someplace tropical, music, art, and beautiful things to look at.  People, I do like people.  Bring the people, animals, and lots and lots of honey.  Honey is very medicinal.  I’ll say this as a caveat.  I have allergies.  As soon as I started using honey, drinking it in hot teas, I stopped having allergy symptoms.  They have gone away.  I think it is something with bees that are pollinating these little plants or cross-pollinating them that is somehow building up an immunity in my system.  I want honey in my perfect universe and chocolate.  Another  trick she swears by is oil of Oregano.  It’s a good antibiotic.  (I tried it).  You don’t want to use too much at a time.  It can be hard to keep down.)

PerformBefore Dorothy, Wicked Returns

PerformBefore Dorothy, Wicked Returns.

Written by:  Linda A. Jaussi.

The Broadway musical WICKED celebrates its seventh anniversary this March.  I met with Steve Quinn, the company manager at The Gammage Auditorium in Tempe, Arizona, as props and scenery from the road tour were unloaded.  He pointed to a large circular contraption on the stage as it was being hoisted into the air.  “You are just in time to see Glenda’s bubble.”  The bubble looked like heavy steel. I pondered how strong it must be to hold even a petite actress as it carries her through the air.

A large dragon looming, (perhaps it was flying) over the  proscenium arch, was already in place and was the most prominent feature in the set.  It’s wing span filled the stage head.  Company Manager, Quinn explained that set designer, Eugene Lee, saw WICKED as a flashback story that takes place in the time dragon clock.  Lee won a TONY for his work.

The theme, for WICKED, comes from a children’s story called The Wonderful Wizard of Oz written L. Frank Baum in 1900.  He wrote 13 sequels.  Baum worked to get his story on stage.  The Wizard of Oz opened in Chicago in 1902 before going on Broadway.  It toured until 1911.  Then, in 1939 the famous Wizard of Oz film was produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.   There have been many adaptions and versions of the classic Wizard of Oz throughout the years. Based on the book WICKED written by Gregory McGuir, the scene adaption creates OZ some time before Dorothy arrives over the rainbow.

In McGuir’s version, two young women (witches) meet at college.  One is popular, beautiful and petite. The other, a talented witch, had emerald green skin and is not quite so adored.  At first, the coeds did not like each other.  In fact, you could say they loathed each other.  Are things as they appear?  Does having green skin make you a bad person?  It’s a comparable moral reminding viewers that being different, or having disabilities, or special abilities is not a bad thing.  The two roomies learn to respect each other and develop a friendship. Being such a good person, Galinda who later becomes, Glinda, wants to spread her magic and teach Elphaba how to be more popular.

Musician and Lyricist, Steven Schwartz collaborated with the Emmy Award winning writer, Winnie Holzman to develop the plot.  They used the same idea, telling the villains point of view, as McGuir’s book, but varied considerably adding new relationships between the good and bad witches.

WICKED has it’s own language and talking animals.  Dr. Dillamond, for example, is a professor and a goat.  When he disappears from school, questions arise as to his whereabouts.  It seems there is a conspiracy against talking animals.

As the audience explores the story behind WICKED we learn more about “The Wicked Witch of the West.”  The question is presented.  Is she (Elphaba, The Wicked Witch) really wicked?  Is she (Glinda, the Good Witch) really good?  It turns out it’s not easy growing up green.

The set for the story is massive.  It is a huge undertaking to present a top quality performance.  Quinn feels that if the audience is going to pay $100 to watch a show, then they should get $100 worth of show.  The set is all automated and laid out with precise calculations. It takes two and a half days to build the set.  The props are in constant repair.  For instance, the show is re-lamped every six weeks. The set, itself, cost fourteen million dollars and requires fourteen, 52 foot trailers to haul.  The costumes cost 2 million.   Multiply that by three and you have the amount of stage props required for the three Broadways shows running simultaneously in the United States: one on the Broadway stage in New York and two road companies.  There are also different casts performing in other parts of the world.

The road tour travels throughout the nation playing in old vaudeville houses to modern complexes.  The Gammage Auditorium is one the of the better theaters acoustically.  Manager Steve Quinn’s eyes twinkled when he explained the significance of performing in The Gammage.  ” It’s a historic building designed by the great Frank Lloyd Wright. The auditorium is unique.  It has no aisles.”  The seating is arranged in one continuous row from side to side.  The backstage is tight.  It’s is difficult to fit 75 cast and crew.  Local Arizonan’s affectionately refer to The Gammage as the birthday cake building because it looks like a large pink birthday cake.

Many persons accompany the road cast.  The show travels with 100 persons including: cast, make up artists, sound and lighting engineers, management, medical personnel, and a physical therapist.  People do get injured on the road, and the company works to maintain performers well being.

As in most major productions, there are particular moments that stick with us and catch phrases we continue to use, even after the show ends.  This show is filled with moments.  That’s what makes it so popular. There are many different moments.  The directors and managers work to make this show as fun, entertaining, and brilliant as the first show seven years ago.  They want people to find a reason to keep coming back.  Mr. Quinn suggested how wonderful it was to be working in a very successful show in a down economy.

Since the road tour began, Mr. Quinn has worked with 8 different Elphabas, and 7 different Glenda’s.  He explained that it’s a large commitment to tour with a Broadway Musical.  You have to be very dedicated.  You miss out on a lot of birthdays, and funerals.  The cast works six days a week doing 8 shows a week, 52 weeks of the year, covering twelve to fifteen locations.  Before WICKED, Steven Quinn worked with Les Miserables, and Hairspray.

The current cast includes:  Mamie Parris as Elphaba, The Wicked Witch of the West.  Parris is a Belt soprano  from Kansas City Missouri.  Katie Rose Clarke plays Galinda.  The soprano comes from Houston Texas.  Mark Jacoby casts some magic as the Wizard.  He has been in many Broadway productions.  There are 34 cast members and 6 traveling orchestra.  They are joined by 9 contracted local musicians hired by a private contractor.  WICKED opened on February 15th at the Gammage and runs through March 11.  Tickets are available at  http://asugammage.com/shows/2011-12-special-engagements/wicked.

The Arizona Music Show

The Arizona Music Show is a new reality program that focuses on the trials and tribulations of a small musical instrument repair/retail shop located in Arizona-USA.

One of the focuses of the program is to cover the daily operations of 2 stores owned by Russell Steele.  While each store AZ MUSIC (Phoenix, AZ), and AZ DRUM & MUSIC (Prescott, AZ) buy, sell and repair products locally both stores also ship name brand instruments and accessories world wide through ebay.

Other focuses of the program is to provide coverage of well known and independent artists from as far as the internet can reach.  Episode material is either filmed and produced by this company, or video material is submitted by talents looking for substantial exposure.

Program episodes also cover the progress generated from both stores training studios featuring student and instructor sessions.  The Arizona Music Show is broadcasted on Cable/Satellite to roughly 1.9 million homes weekly on AZTV, but anyone can watch full episodes by visiting TheArizonaMusicShow.com.

This episode includes commentary and a live performance from Metal Elvis.  Inkless Magazine is the “official” reporting e-mag of “The Arizona Music Show”, and will continue to cover this Docu/Reality show in future issues.

Sit back, turn it up, “and enjoy the show” InklessMagazine.com

Put Your “Jack” Hancock There

Written by:  Linda A. Jaussi.

 

The Patriotic Hancock lineage has defended The United States of America from its earliest days.  Bostonian, John Hancock, was President of the Continental Congress when he signed The Declaration of Independence.  William Hancock died when Loyalist soldiers opened fire on his home in Alloways Creek, NJ.  Jack Hancock is a World War II purple heart honoree.  From the outside, Jack looks like a kind grandpa with a jolly attitude, but his life is filled with wisdom and experience.

 

Jack Hancock grew up in Arkansas where his father operated a dry cleaning business.  When clients could not afford to pay, his father accepted barter.   As a result, Jack took piano lessons and tapped danced in recitals.  When his parents divorced, he moved to Portland, Oregon where his mother remarried.  At age 17, Jack dropped out of high school.  He fibbed about his age and joined The U.S. Army.  He served his first tour in the Pacific stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington where his regiment constructed barracks.  At Fort Richardson, in Alaska, Jack remembered going to Anchorage to march in a parade.  When he returned to Fort Richardson, he learned that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.  Immediately, the army went on the offensive.  On June 3rd, 1942, a Japanese aircraft carrier strikeforce attacked Dutch Harbor on Unalaska.  Then, Japanese forces invaded the Aleutian  Islands and occupied Attu and Kiska.

After the troubles in Alaska, Jack returned to the U.S. interior and entered Cadet School.  Jack was a sharp young man.  The U.S. Army Air Force only took cadets with IQ scores over 127.  In December 1943, the military closed all the cadet schools and reassigned  its students.  Believing he would not go to battle, Jack married his high school sweetheart, who had moved to Whittier, California.  A week later, he boarded a ship leaving Mississippi for Marcelles, France.  He fought with the 254th Infantry in the U.S. 3rd Army as a heavy arms specialist.

 

Jack participated in the battle over the Colmar pocket.  Colmar had been a manufacturing center for mustard gas during World War I.  Old, unstable tanks were still stored inside the city.  Careful assault plans were drawn up avoiding the tanks.   Chemical burns from mustard gas created lesions within twenty-four hours after exposure, and later lead to cancer.  On  January 1st, 1945, Nazi troops had a strong hold in Colmar.  They mocked the rag-tattered  US Army that huddled on a hill in freezing cold and snow.

At twilight, the 63rd Division began  its march toward the front.  In the distance, reddish flames burst into the air as big guns fired several hundreds of pounds filled with phosphorous explosives.  Artillery shells followed.  Some guns had lines and grooves inside the barrel that kept shells rotating as they shot out.  The Germans were notorious for throwing artillery.   American soldiers became accustomed to the distinctive hissing, whining sound, the screech of the “Screeming Meemies.”  Read More….

The Book of Mormon in review

TONY JUDGE, COLLEEN JENNINGS-ROGGENSACK.

Written by:  Linda A. Jaussi.

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think, great American Theater?  Most likely, Broadway flashed before you in big lighted marquees.  When you ponder the musical stage’s greatest contributors, you may point to Hal Prince, Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Kristen Chenoweth.  But, out in the audience, somewhere amidst the crowds, Colleen Jennings- Roggensack may be taking notes. Colleen is the only Tony Awards Judge living in Arizona.  She is female, African America, a mother, a wife, former dancer, Director of ASU Gammage, Assistant Director of Cultural Affairs and a massive fine arts promoter.

I caught up with Colleen in her Tempe office.  It was a tight squeeze in her busy schedule.  She was just back from New York and had only an hour before rushing off to a lunch meeting.  When my hour was up, her assistant knocked on the door to remind her, it was time to move on. Director, Jennings-Roggensack treks back and forth between the west and the east coast several times a year.  While in New York, she catches three or four performances each trip; and is always watching for the next show stopper.

Colleen actively pursues those performances she considers to be the finest and seeks to book them at The Gammage in Tempe, Arizona where Colleen is The Executive Director of the Gammage and ASU Assistant Director of Cultural Affairs.

Interestingly, Colleen’s parents unwittingly started their daughter on an arts mission when she was five years old.  The Jennings wanted their children to be well-groomed in the arts.  Colleen had a diverse upbringing, never calling anywhere in particular home.  Her father was in the military, so the family moved often.  Wherever they moved, Mr. and Mrs. Jennings exposed them to the culture in that area.  Colleen recalled her first exposure to the theater as a five year old after her family moved to New York City.  Her  parents could not afford good tickets to an opera, but wanted their children to experience a live performance.  They stood in the mezzanine for over two hours and listened.  “It was the most amazing thing I had ever heard,” said Director Jennings-Roggensack.  She did not get tired, or cry.  She stood in awe, just listening.  Good art has a way of reviving the soul and making us more refined, kind and caring as human beings.  It changed Colleen Jennings-Roggensack’s life forever and started her down a road that would help bring fine arts to the world and in particular, Arizona.

In essence, she is grooming the west with cultural arts, just has her art loving parents had done.  Under Colleen’s direction, The Gammage Auditorium has become one of the top Broadway Touring markets in the nation.  She actively seeks out the finest productions and works to book them at The Gammage.

This spring, The Gammage welcomed BILLY ELLIOT, and MAMMA MIA.  From June 7 -12, the classic, Les Miserables will his the Arizona stage.  Colleen’s efforts have been a great boost as an economic resource in the Valley of the Sun.  She has found ways to give back.  The Gammage has sponsored Army Family days for military families with loved ones stationed away.  From 1994 to 1997, Colleen was a Presidential appointee to the National Council on the Arts.  She has also worked with Creative Capital, which is one of the few fine arts councils offering grants to individuals; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the visual arts.

Colleen and her husband met in Colorado while attending college.  After school, Colleen moved to the East Coast and was mentored under the hand of two top fine arts directors.  She learned quickly and soon was promoted.  Later, she married her long time sweetheart.  Both professionals had jobs in different locations.  Somehow, they managed to maintain a strong, committed union.

Then, in 1992, the opportunity came for Colleen and her husband to have jobs in the same state, and in the same city.  The couple jumped at the chance.  At first, they did not know how long they would remain, perhaps a few years.  That was almost twenty years ago. Their daughter was born and raised in Arizona.

Early in the morning on May 3rd 2011, a few dozen phones rang.  Some wondered who could be calling so early.  When they heard the news, “You have been nominated for a Tony Award,” the sleep rubbed from their eyes and big smiles spread across their faces.

This years Tony Awards will air live, June 12th.  Colleen gave me a heads up on shows to look for.  Oddly, a show roughly and rudely based on the founding of American Religion, called THE BOOK OF MORMON, is getting a lot of attention with 14 Tony nominations, including Best Musical.  The show was written by The SOUTH PARK people, and as one might suppose, it is edgy, blatantly disrespectful, yet comical.  Some have called it, “a roasting.”  Don’t be fooled by the title.  The show is not about The Book of Mormon, or its heroes and heroines who lived on the American continent between 600 BC and 400 AD.  Rather, it is a crude history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.   Colleen recounted, that as far as she knows, only one person has walked out on the play.  Most take it in stride and laugh at the similarities they see in themselves.

Other shows receiving multiple nods this year include: another religious themed show based on the movie SISTER ACT.  HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS starring John Larroquette and Harry Potter’s, Daniel Radcliffe is nominated for 8 Tony Awards including best revival.  ANYTHING GOES starring Sutton Foster, and Joel Grey is nominated for 9 Tony Awards, including best revival.  CATCH ME IF YOU CAN has 4 nominations and stars Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz. It is based on the novel and movie of the same name.   SCOTTSBORO BOYS discusses prejudices in the 1930s. Other shows receiving multiple nominees include:  THE NORMAL HEART, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE,  and WAR HORSE.

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