A Domingo protégé headed for stardom
For five seasons, baritone Trevor Scheunemann sang in the chorus of the Washington National Opera. Then, in 2005, he got noticed. Plácido Domingo heard him in two company productions and invited him to join its young-artists program. Three years later, Scheunemann, 30, seems poised for stardom.
Last year, he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in Handel’s Giulio Cesare. This past summer, he sang at England’s Glyndebourne Festival and at the legendary Proms concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall. “You have this massive hall,” Scheunemann says of the Proms performance, “there’s no air conditioning, and a thousand people are standing during an entire three-hour opera. Those are some die-hard opera fans.”
Scheunemann has a radiant baritone voice that spans a wide range of tonal colors, and his repertoire stretches from Monteverdi to Puccini. “I feel most comfortable in the bel-canto style,” he says, “but I certainly enjoy singing Mozart and the French repertoire, too—like the role I’m singing at the Washington National Opera.”
That role is Zurga in The Pearl Fishers, Georges Bizet’s gorgeous opera set in ancient Ceylon. “It’s a great, meaty role for the baritone,” Scheunemann says. “You’re not growling the whole time, which is fun for a change. The character is actually a noble person.”
Born in California, Scheunemann has lived in Columbia for the last 15 years. “Between Baltimore and Washington,” he says, “there are so many opportunities for young singers. In New York, it’s much harder to break through.”
Having Domingo as a mentor hasn’t hurt. “I attribute all of my success to him,” Scheunemann says. “He’s the one who recognized that I could be a soloist. Just the fact that I could spend time with him, be coached by him, was more valuable than any experience I’ve had. He’s incredibly generous with his time, and I feel completely lucky to have worked with him.”
Scheunemann sings in Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers October 1, 4, and 7 at the Kennedy Center Opera House. He performs with the Choral Arts Society of Washington March 29 at the National Presbyterian Church.
Telling stories through movement
“I didn’t want to stay my whole career in the second line of swans,” says Irina Tsikurishvili. “I wanted to be Giselle or Odette. I wanted to tell stories.”
Trained as a ballerina in Tbilisi, Georgia, she studied a rigorous curriculum that included pantomime, art history, and music. Today that training informs the artistically adventurous choreography she crafts for Synetic Theater, the company she cofounded in 2001 with her creative partner and husband, Paata. Their company—where movement, not words, tells the stories—has shaken up the theater community, and Tsikurishvili, who stars in many of the productions, has received an unprecedented six Helen Hayes Awards for choreography. “What she does is more than just theater,” says longtime DC dance critic George Jackson. “It has pattern, development, and resolution. She creates real dances with a freshness that sometimes reminds me of Mark Morris.”
Host and Guest, Synetic’s acclaimed 2002 adaptation of an epic Georgian poem of war and religious intolerance, is timely again. In response to the summer’s fighting in their homeland, the founders have remounted the production through November 9 at Rosslyn Spectrum. The Tsikurishvilis play husband and wife in a work that features armies of mock horseback-riding actors who spar in acrobatic fighting. Later in the season, Irina choreographs Dante’s Divine Comedy (February 6 through March 22) and then collaborates with Georgetown University’s theater department on Aristophanes’s stinging political satire Lysistrata (March 27 through April 26). In late spring, Synetic puts its wordless stamp on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Kennedy Center (May 28 through June 14), in which Tsikurishvili, who will be center stage, returns to her ballet background.
“Now I consider myself an actress who can dance and not a dancer who can act,” she says. “I love dance. It is my life, but my desire is to tell stories through movement. I don’t want to be left with just pretty pictures but [feel] empty in my heart.”
One name, many talents
This summer, LEA was among 50 local performers who appeared in a musical tribute to Joni Mitchell at Strathmore. When several music journalists got together after the show, they all had one name on their minds: LEA.
The little-known singer/songwriter who goes by one name—all capital letters—had stopped the show.
LEA, 30, grew up in Silver Spring in a house filled with music. In the 1970s, her father played trumpet with a soul band called Black Heat. Her mother and aunts performed as the Jones Family Gospel Singers, a group LEA joined at the age of eight. “I got gospel from my mother and funk from my dad,” she says.
But it wasn’t until she was a senior at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring and went to Germany as an exchange student that she formally studied music. Most of the students at the conservatory in Halle, Germany, had classical training. But the students and teachers were fascinated by LEA’s musical background and her big, soulful sound. Back home, she began to perform professionally, playing the acoustic guitar and writing songs in a style she calls “urban-contemporary folk.”
Her first CD earned Washington Area Music Association nominations for best debut album and best new artist. Last year, she was the artist in residence at Strathmore. Now she performs throughout the United States and Europe, appears regularly in Washington, is working on her seventh CD, and has cofounded an independent label called BigBee records. The label reflects LEA’s upbeat disposition. It’s dedicated to “making the world sweeter, one song at a time,” she says.
As for her name—short and bold, much like the singer herself: “It’s just the way I introduce myself,” says LEA, who still lives in Silver Spring, “how I see myself as a simple person.”
LEA performs at the Potter’s House in DC’s Adams Morgan the second Saturday of every month from 8 to 10 pm.
Dana Tai Soon Burgess
A bridge between two worlds
Dana Tai Soon Burgess founded his modern-dance company 16 years ago to bring together Asian and American dancers and ideas, and his best choreographic works hover between these two worlds. It’s no wonder his company has gained as much acclaim abroad on State Department–sponsored tours as it has at home in Washington. The son of a Korean-American mother and an Irish-Scottish-American father, Burgess, 40, grew up in Santa Fe, where Hispanic influences added to the mix.
His choreography, synthesizing Asian and American aesthetics, contains moments of quiet minimalism. But it’s also marked by the full-bodied technique of American contemporary dance: dancers whose torsos swoop, legs reach, and arms carve space in sculptural patterns.
Later this month, his “Hyphen”—which explores what it means to be a hyphenated American—has its world premiere at Lisner Auditorium. “As a company, we come from all over—Taiwan, Japan—and we often talk about our backgrounds and our personal experiences,” says Burgess, who teaches dance at George Washington University. “So I look at this idea of whether the hyphen connects or separates us in this new 21st-century America.”
Burgess sees a social element to modern dance, which he describes as “a common language” that can help in problem solving: “In looking at relationships all over the globe, the one language we can share is movement. Trust can be built through movement very quickly—and movement doesn’t hide anything.”
Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Company performs “Hyphen” and other works at Lisner Auditorium October 24 and 25.