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Contemporary Issues Forum

Steven Osgood to discuss the pull that opera has on kids and adults at Chautauqua Women’s Club

Steve_Osgood

When a much admired and beloved leader moves on — in this case, Jay Lesenger — the successor confronts an especially daunting transition. Happily,  during his first two seasons, Chautauqua Opera Company’s “new” general and artistic director, Steven Osgood ably demonstrated that he is up to the challenge.

Under Osgood’s leadership, a collection of 24 talented Young Artists not only perform indoors and on the Amphitheater stage on sets and in costumes, wigs and make-up crafted by the Chautauqua Opera’s world-class designers — but also outdoors wearing themed T-shirts during seemingly spontaneous “opera invasions.” They introduce Chautauquans throughout the grounds to a range of operatic music and engage with them through the sheer fun and versatility of opera.

This season, over 30 unique operatic events that are indicative of the splash that Osgood has been making by connecting opera’s past, present and future. They include six Opera Invasions, three Young Artist Open-Mic sessions and a series of celebrations: the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth, the 50th anniversary of the Young Artists Program and the third anniversary of Chautauqua Opera’s Composer-in-Residence Program.

Clearly, young adults and children are opera’s future.

At 9:15 a.m. Thursday, June 28 at the Chautauqua Women’s Club, Osgood will talk about “What happens when something is sung: Why all the kids today want to write opera,” as part of the CWC’s Chautauqua Speaks program.

Osgood isn’t kidding. Before the 2018 season even began, four of his 2018 Young Artists performed the fairy tale, The Bremen Town Musicians, for students in more than half of Chautauqua County’s approximately 30 elementary schools.

As a father of two children, aged 14 and 10, Osgood understands the importance of sharing opera with the young and the young at heart. Growing up as the son of a United Methodist pastor in the greater metropolitan New York region, he said he began “pounding on the piano” of his father’s first church, in Dix Hills, Long Island. Although he dabbled in others, the piano became his main instrument.

For Osgood, an awareness of opera did not occur until shortly before he earned his undergraduate degree in theater arts — which included just one music theory course — from Drew University and headed to New York to work in theater.

“I was going to be an actor, I was going to be a director, I was going to be a designer — all of those things. I had had no exposure to opera at all. And just reading about it in theater history textbooks, I said, ‘Wait a second, that sounds really interesting because it’s all of the music that I’ve loved for the last 16 years of my life and all of the theater that I love; I should look into that.'”

Steven Osgood, General and Artistic Director, Chautauqua Opera Company

In New York, Osgood interned and then became a company member with the Irondale Ensemble, an experimental theater company that uses improvisation in developing its own company-generated works.

“That gave me … a lot of leeway to just play with things,” Osgood said. “So I was reading about opera and exploring opera, and then (Irondale) needed a music director, so I became music director of the company, and I could create the company members’ musical events, and those became more operatic.”

After five years with Irondale, Osgood wanted to move from experimenting with operatic material to becoming an opera director. Deciding he should just go try it, he said he essentially jumped ship. He’d found the art form that gave him an outlet for all of the artistic in influences that had been a part of his life all along, but he just hadn’t known it.

Osgood said that his jump to opera “coincided with a real kick in American opera — the art form, the industry — for new American works.”

“And my theatrical background, where you basically do new theatrical works and you also do Ibsen, Chekov and Shakespeare, well, I was very well versed in the language of new works and creating and developing them,” Osgood said.

Without having pursued graduate studies in either opera or conducting, Osgood made his own way within the opera world via the old European apprenticeship model. He said he started out by playing the piano at Opera North, a summer music festival in Lebanon, New Hampshire — the only full-time professional opera company in the states of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Thus began his career to date as a freelance opera conductor.

“Opera is an art form for today. The people writing (operas) are facing the same issues and thoughts about life and the world, as are audience members,” Osgood said. “What I love about the balance of my career and repertoire is that by spending so much time with today, when I go historically, I’m programmed to look at it as a new piece.”

Nuland speaks on technology’s effect on med school training

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Lori Humphreys | Staff Writer

Sherwin Nuland
Sherwin Nuland

It’s unfortunate for modern Greece that there wasn’t an ancient resident who was interested in economics. If modern Greek financiers seem dicey, ancient Greek philosophers continue to influence modern thought. Why? Perhaps because they were first; perhaps because they were wise, and perhaps because as technology alters society, the question of what it means to be human, as opposed to machine, is being asked again. Arguably, the ancient Greeks began that conversation.

Sherwin Nuland will begin with the thoughts of Greek physician Hippocrates during his 3 p.m. Saturday Contemporary Issues Forum presentation, “The Goodness of the Physician: From Hippocrates to Hi–Tech” at the Hall of Philosophy. Nuland, former Yale-New Haven Hospital surgeon and professor at Yale University School of Medicine, will discuss his concern that, in Hippocratic terms, the role of “the goodness of physicians” is being leeched away by the emphasis on technology in current medical school training.

“In this age of high tech, objectivity, distancing, we forget that the physician has always been seen by the patient as an ideal,” Nuland said. “Patients look to the physician as a strong, comforting figure.”

He will point out that this historical view of the physician is used less and less and suggests “what we can do to bring it back.” Nuland speaks with conviction formed not only by personal experience but from a study of the history of medicine. If Nuland needs an historian credential, consider that the title of his first book is Doctors: The Biography of Medicine. A condensation of his historically aware, humane view of the practice of medicine is found in the commentary ending the first chapter of Nuland’s book, The Soul of Medicine: Tales from the Bedside.

“Science changes, but human nature does not. As long as one human being is called upon to treat another, bits of story will repeat themselves, similar dilemmas will be confronted and repetition of seemingly new challenges will appear as though for the first time.”

No wonder he begins with Hippocrates!

This is Nuland’s fourth visit to Chautauqua. He spoke at the Amphitheater in 1995, 1999 and 2003. He was founding member of the Bioethics Committee of the Yale- New Haven Hospital and since his retirement teaches undergraduate seminars in medical history and ethics at Yale University. He is the author of numerous books including the 1994 National Book Award winner The Way We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter, an international best-seller. These books and others are available at the Chautauqua Bookstore and Nuland will do a book signing after the lecture.

The Contemporary Issues Forum is sponsored by the Chautauqua Women’s Club.

Glasser maintains bird’s-eye view on the world

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Lori Humphreys | Staff Writer

Susan Glasser
Susan Glasser

Is it so unreasonable to experience a Chicken Little “the sky is falling” response to the current cascading changes in the international order that Americans have expected since the end of World War II?

Even an informed, attentive response to news of the “Arab Spring,” the rise of China, the economic crisis in Western democracies, might include looking up to be reassured that the sky isn’t falling.

Susan Glasser, editor-in-chief of Foreign Policy magazine and foreignpolicy.com, is the antithesis of Chicken Little.

Her description of  “What In The World Is Going On?” at the 3 p.m. Saturday Contemporary Issues Forum at the Hall of Philosophy reflects foreign policy of the “realpolitik” mode.

Glasser is unafraid to challenge popular orthodoxy. She said her comments will include what to make of the “Arab Spring” and what not to make of it.

“It is at our peril to imagine that democracy will be the result of the Arab revolutions,” she said. “Counter-revolutions have been as successful as revolutions. There is the example of Bahrain and the emerging authoritarian governments in the Russian states. Pakistan may be as realistic a model (for Egypt) as Poland.”

But what might prove most interesting to the audience is Glasser’s analysis of the important events reporters are missing. One is the possibility, indicative of her unwavering interest in Russia, of Vladimer Putin’s return as Russian president. Another is the hidden consequence of the “enormous rift” between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Continuing the avian metaphor, if there is anyone who has a bird’s-eye view of the world, it’s Glasser.

As editor-in-chief, she receives a daily update of world events. She was in charge of the 2009 launch of foreignpolicy.com, which has grown dramatically in the past two years.

“We had over 20 million visitors to the site when Osama bin Laden was killed,” Glasser said.

Under Glasser’s guidance, Foreign Policy has won two National Magazine Awards. She was co-chief of The Washington Post’s Moscow Bureau for four years and covered the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the battle of Tora Bora.

Glasser and her husband, New York Times White House correspondent Peter Baker, co-authored Kremlin Rising: Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the End of Revolution, which was published in 2005.

Glasser is a graduate of Harvard University. This is her first visit to Chautauqua.

The Contemporary Issues Forum is sponsored by the Chautauqua Women’s Club. Glasser’s presentation is underwritten by the Brown-Giffen Lectureship.

Brancaccio to give sobering assessment of economic future

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David Brancaccio

Lori Humphreys | Staff Writer

David Brancaccio, host and senior editor of “NOW” on PBS, is a self-described “wiseacre.” But he is also described in the 2000 Kirkus review of his book, Squandering Aimlessly, as providing “surprisingly shrewd instruction and sound financial advice, all embedded in appealing reportage.”

This combination of candid observation and insightful economic reporting suggests that Brancaccio’s presentation “Fixing the Future” at the Contemporary Issues Forum at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy may be the impetus for energetic dinner table conversation.

Brancaccio does not tiptoe around his opinions; he is direct and clear. His first premise is the conviction that, “the current economy is a giant mess, and it’s not going to fix itself. It is failing so many people.”

Though a sobering assessment, “Fixing the Future” is an optimist’s blueprint. It is not utopian but rather visionary, hopeful and perhaps tinged, but just tinged, with romanticism. It relies on the building of a new economy based on sustainability, community and another measure, other than money, to assess a person’s value. Brancaccio has traveled the United States from the Atlantic to the Pacific finding examples of an economic paradigm, which he thinks is “nibbling” at the old economy and will gradually replace it.

He envisions a world where programs like Sustainable Connections, a network that is developing regional and local economic relationships in Bellingham, Wash., will be the rule, rather than interesting and unique exceptions. He is seeking practical, economically feasible solutions, not utopian ones.

“These models are not inventing; they are remembering the idea of community,” he said.

Even a state government is exploring unorthodox possibilities. Brancaccio said he admires Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, who has created a new instrument, the Genuine Progress Indicator, to measure Maryland’s economic and social health.

“We should not be serving the grinding machine of GDP,” Brancaccio said.

There is a challenge to these ideas, however, that Brancaccio acknowledges. If it’s true that our society has defined a person’s value in terms of dollars, how will the money or value convention change?

Brancaccio’s answer: “As the movement grows, the cultural values are going to evolve.”

But not without pushback.

“The winners in our existing economy will fight to the death to protect its privileges,” he said.

Brancaccio received a Peabody Award for PBS’ “Marketplace.” He graduated from Wesleyan College, where he earned degrees in history and African studies. He received a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University.

This is Brancaccio’s first trip to Chautauqua, and he is looking forward to the place and his conversation with Chautauquans. His wife is joining him.

The Chautauqua Women’s Club sponsors the Contemporary Issues Forum.