Reviews for the production of Das Rheingold at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 2018:
"Yet this presentation won over the doubters. It was musically and dramatically effective, and even revealed new aspects of Rheingold. For instance, the opening four and a half minutes are instrumental, starting with a low E flat, describing the creation of life growing from a single cell; and, more specifically, the bottom of the river Rhine. When played by orchestra the emphasis is on the repeated low note, given weight by brass instruments. Here, with Luke Housner alone on the piano, we were more cognizant of the ripple of broken chords and the waves of arpeggios that suggest an ascent through the water.
Housner coached the cast and supervised all the music, over two and a half hours without intermission, the longest single stretch of unbroken music in the Western world. Other Wagner operas are longer but are broken into several acts. His was a herculean task, achieved superbly. The cast was near-perfect. Their German enunciation was excellent, their articulation was clear. " - Steve Cohen, The Cultural Critic, January 2018.
"Almost immediately, I saw the wisdom in the project, which allows singers to develop Wagnerian narrative style without having to push. And if the lone pianist(!)—Luke Housner—couldn’t replicate a full orchestra, he was astonishingly effective and unflagging in lending shape and color to the marathon evening (2 hours and 25 minutes in a single act). Housner surely deserves the company’s MVP award." - David Fox, Philadelphia Magazine, January 26th, 2018.
"Longtime vocal master coach Luke Housner conjured up both gritty and sumptuous colors from the Steinway grand piano from which he conducted his singers." - Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local, January 24th, 2018.
"The conductor-free performance featured musical accompaniment by pianist Luke Housner, who alone managed to capture the myriad chromatic details and leitmotifs embedded throughout Wagner’s score." - Cameron Kelsall, Broad Street Review, January 25th, 2018.
Reviews for the production of Werther at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 2016:
"Massenet isn't always sturdy enough to survive on piano only. But even when you seemed to be missing something, Luke Housner's playing was a marvel. The final act actually thrived." - David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer, February 23rd, 2016.
"But Massenet's music creates a haunting atmosphere, and it sounded colorful as played on the piano by Luke Housner, the Academy of Vocal Arts's vocal coach. He used the published piano manuscript and added details from the full orchestral score. Housner has an impressive ability to project the drama of this opera brilliantly at the same time as directing the singers. "- Steve Cohen, The Cultural Critic, March 17th, 2016.
Reviews for the production of Pelléas et Mélisande at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 2012:
"Luke Housner prepared these performances and accompanied them masterfully on the piano, which seems appropriate. Debussy's best-known composition is Clair de lune, composed as a piano solo. Debussy's orchestral scoring is hard for singers to penetrate, and the almost constant presence of wind instruments, especially of oboe and bassoon, competes with the human voice. Housner had his cast sing the French text cleanly, without the percussive attacks that some opera singers bring." - Steve Cohen, Broad Street Review, February 28th, 2012.
"This conductor-less fully staged version was an unexpected boon to my enjoyment of the performance, surprisingly allowing more focus to linger on the singers and on Debussy’s lush interludes between acts and scenes."- Gale Martin, Bachtrack.com, March 5th, 2012
Reviews for the production of Arabella at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 2011:
"And yet Arabella received a loving and communicative performance at the Academy of Vocal Arts, with Luke Housner alone at a piano conducting a cast of AVA resident artists. This intimate production enabled some of Arabella’s overlooked qualities to emerge, giving the opera a stature that has evaded it during most of its history. Housner’s piano reduction also allows strands of counterpoint to become clear in ensembles that, in conventional performances, tend to get mushy." - Steve Cohen, Broad Street Review, February 22nd, 2011.
Reviews for the production of Capriccio at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 2010:
"Following up his successful performances of Elektra for the Academy of Vocal Arts several years ago, Luke Housner has prepared a delectable production of Capriccio that drew enthusiastic approval on opening night from a capacity audience in the Helen Corning Warden Theater. Presiding at the keyboard, Housner revealed the lyrical beauty of Strauss final opera, or “conversation piece for music,” as the composer and his librettist, Clemens Krauss, preferred. Yes, one could miss the masterful orchestration as well as the instrumental detail of the full score, but Housner played with such compelling beauty and musical mastery it hardly mattered. He honed his talented cast into a taut ensemble. The big concerted numbers unfolded with rare precision but also with a passionate edge. Housner shaped this long score with a fine feel for the climaxes and also underlined the soaring lyricism in Strauss’ music." - Robert Baxter, ConcertoNet.com
Reviews for the production of Kát'a Kabanová at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 2008:
"The unsung hero in the production was music director Luke Housner, who once again was cast an orchestra of one, playing a piano reduction of this astringent score with aplomb and sensitivity." - Diana Burgwyn, Opera Now, May/June 2008.
"Leading the performance from the piano, Housner hones his singers into a taut musical ensemble. Janácek's orchestration has unique instrumental colors, but Housner's piano recreates the drama in this taut score." - Robert Baxter, ConcertoNet.com and the Courier Post, February 25th, 2008. "On Friday night, Mr. Housner played Janácek's roiling, dense, narrative structures with sustained dimension and framed some electric performances." -Lewis Whittington, The Bulletin, February 27th, 2008.
"Luke Housner also performed heroically and expressively at the keyboard. One can't claim that the full richness and wonder of the mature Moravian composer's orchestration got conveyed -- many of the glories of this 1921 score are orchestral-- but beyond his tour de force Housner provided color, rhythm and a sound basis for the singers' performances." -David Shengold, City Paper, March 6th, 2008.
Review for the production of The Student Prince, 2007:
"As music director and performance pianist, Housner brought imaginative keyboard artistry and supportive vocal sensitivity to the task of steering Saturday afternoon's rendition from the Steinway. His playing propelled the score with rhythmic vitality, timbral variety, and theatrical energy." - Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local
Reviews for the production of Vanessa at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 2007:
"Presiding over the performance from his piano, music director Luke Housner conveys much of the intense color and deep emotion coursing through the score. The cast responds with strong performances." -- Robert Baxter, Courier Post, February 28th, 2007.
"Luke Housner played brilliantly and revealed some unusual aspects of the score. Vanessa’s first look at Anatol, for instance, and Erica’s announcement that she’s pregnant, benefit from hearing piano rather than a thundering orchestra. At those moments Samuel Barber relied too much on volume to overwhelm his audience. During most of the evening the piano underscored the singing and put more-than-normal focus on voices." -- Steve Cohen, Broad Street Review, March 18th, 2007.
Reviews for the production of Das Rheingold at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 2006:
"Luke Housner is the man most directly responsible for this triumph. As the production's music director and performance pianist, he marshaled his forces with inspired intensity supported by intellectual integrity opening night. His playing at the Steinway didn't quite replicate all the shimmering tones of Wagner's scoring, but his efforts were so supportive that they effectively made the piano a character in Wagner's own libretto, just as the composer intended the full orchestra to be. He also elicited excellent singing of dramatic potency and musical expressivity from his young cast, enabling them to perform like seasoned veterans." -- Michael Caruso, News of Delaware County/Classical, March 1st, 2006.
"The first step was eliminating the orchestra altogether and relying on Luke Housner to function as both piano accompanist and overall music director. Before the howls of timbral purists rise to a deafening crescendo at the mere thought of doing without Wagner's broad palette of instrumental colors and the scintillating moods and profound emotions they convey, let me hasten to point out that Wagner's music is more than merely colorful. Beneath and behind the shimmering style is a spiritual substance that forms the core of Wagner's personal, ethical and moral philosophy as delineated in the entire Ring of the Nibelung cycle. Das Rheingold's libretto, fashioned by the composer, launches an epic tale of greed and ambition gone mad and doomed to eventual catastrophe. Of course, had Housner been unable to proffer sufficient support from the keyboard for his singers, the entire effort would have flopped miserably. Fortunately, he provided expert accompaniment so that the piano, instead of the orchestra, acted as a narrative character in the story." -- Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local
"Music director and pianist Luke Housner shapes a masterful musical performance. Playing non-stop for more than two hours, he must have fingers of steel. But those fingers also reveal most of the beauty and nuance in Wagner's score" -- Robert Baxter, Courier Post, February 22nd, 2006.
Reviews for the production of Elektra at the Academy of Vocal Arts, 2004:
"Musical director and pianist Luke Housner replaced the huge orchestra demanded by Strauss,...Housner suggested much of the instrumental detail in Strauss' score. Playing with unfailing beauty of tone and astonishing stamina throughout the 95-minute performance, Housner supported the singers and guided them from one magnificent musical climax to another." -- Robert Baxter, Courier Post, March 2, 2004. Also published in Opera (London, UK) April 2004.
"A major reason for the success of AVA's production was the splendid piano playing of Luke Housner... Housner did proffer a plethora of tones and colors to support the singing with just the right mood and feel.." --Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local
Newspaper column by Kevin Bazzana appearing July 26, 2012 in Times Colonist of Victoria B.C. as preview for ViVace's Don Giovanni workshop:
These days, Victoria's summer classical-music season offers a huge range of music - for solo voices and choirs, organ and piano, chamber groups, brass and string ensembles, and orchestra.
It seems only a matter of time before someone decides that our "off-season" is sufficiently "on" to justify the staging of operas.
In the meantime, three chamber-scaled concert performances of Mozart's Don Giovanni will be given here next week under the auspices of an opera workshop run by a visiting American musician.
His name is Luke Housner, and he works as a vocal coach at the prestigious Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia and as a keyboard player for the Philadelphia Singers. A native of Massachusetts with music degrees from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Housner, 40, has lately been involved in operatic work of various kinds around the U.S. and elsewhere, including directing staged but conductor-less productions for which he also plays piano (standing in for the orchestra).
In 2009, Housner was a guest coach for the Vancouver Academy of Music and the Vancouver Summer Opera Workshops, and he has since returned annually to Vancouver to lead workshops culminating in concert performances of a Mozart opera. This year, he has added a workshop here, too, running from July 24 to Aug. 2 - hence this venture's name, Opera ViVace, an acronym derived from "Victoria and Vancouver Coaching Experience." (He also runs an annual summer workshop in Portland, Oregon, and will launch one in Toronto in August.)
"I am a one-man operation," Housner says. "I am not affiliated with any local organizations."
Local contacts help him with the logistics, but he requires no advertising beyond word of mouth: "There are many singers who have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities for being coached in and performing an entire operatic role."
The numbers bear him out: His inaugural Victoria workshop has attracted 16 singers, from as far away as Toronto and San Francisco. Most are graduate-level students, or young professionals just starting their careers and looking to boost their repertoires and résumés.
Soprano Sarah Vardy, for instance, who will play Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, is a Langford resident who holds a bachelor's degree from the Vancouver Academy of Music and already has considerable experience singing opera on stage. Vardy, 32, worked with Housner last summer in Vancouver and Portland and attended his Vancouver workshop earlier this month to play the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro. Housner, she says, offers immensely useful coaching of a calibre rarely available here: "He is like a singer's best friend. I wish I could carry him around everywhere in my back pocket."
The participants vote in advance on what they will perform. Housner says he has offered alternatives to Mozart - Die Fledermaus, Hansel and Gretel - but "Mozart always is victorious!" Fortunately, he says, "Mozart offers singers extremely valuable tools - vocally, musically and dramatically - which they can apply to virtually any other role they choose to undertake."
The 10-day workshop, divided between the University of Victoria and private homes in Langford, includes at least a week of intensive daily work, six hours or more per day, with participants coached, individually and as an ensemble, in various skills needed to interpret an operatic role, all the while preparing the chosen opera.
The three performances of Don Giovanni, to be given in a large rehearsal room at UVic's School of Music, will be concert-style, not staged, accompanied only by Housner on the piano, but they will include the complete opera, in Italian with projected English supertitles. Some roles have been double-or triple-cast in order to provide performance opportunities to everyone.
"I would certainly be interested in returning to Victoria in 2013," Housner says, though that may depend on whether he gets good audiences for Don Giovanni (as he routinely does in Vancouver). He evidently has no trouble attracting singers, anyway, and Vardy says her colleagues universally share her enthusiasm for his coaching.
Some singers follow him from city to city to take his workshops.
So he has demonstrated a need, or at least a desire, for his expertise here, and has won admirers in the process of addressing it. It seems a good bet that he will be back.
Newspaper article appeared in the Courier Post on 2/25/07 penned by Robert Baxter:
"Fingers of Steel" Unlike previous marathon performances, Cherry Hill pianist gets an intermission in AVA's 'Vanessa'
Luke Housner has a symphony orchestra in his fingers. You can hear that digital orchestra when the Cherry Hill pianist accompanies a cast of talented singers in performances of Samuel Barber's Vanessa at the Academy of Vocal Arts this week.
Vanessa is the latest in a series of rarely performed operas Housner has prepared and accompanied on the piano for AVA. Anyone who heard his performances of Strauss' Elektra three years ago knows the pianist has fingers of steel.
Housner played Strauss' gargantuan, 100-minute score without a break. He surpassed that feat last year when he led from the keyboard the first Philadelphia performance in decades of Wagner's Das Rheingold, a one-act opera that lasts 150 minutes.
In comparison, Housner says Barber's three-act romantic melodrama "is easy." He actually has an intermission during the two-hour performance.
As the opera opens, an aging aristocrat has been waiting for several decades for the return of the lover who deserted her. Anatol shows up, but he turns out to be the son of Vanessa's lover. He seduces her niece and then falls in love with Vanessa.
"The characters are marvelous," notes Housner, who serves as a vocal coach at AVA. "But it is easy to turn them into caricatures. (Stage director) Dorothy Danner and I are working hard to make them human."
Housner calls preparing an opera "a slow-brewing process."
He has been working with the cast since last fall. After coaching the singers one-on-one as they learn their roles, Housner begins an intense period of rehearsal for the full cast leading up to the opening night.
"As a vocal coach, I work on the notes, but I also help the singers with language, diction, musical interpretation and shaping the music," he explains.
"Unlike instrumentalists, singers do not begin to train their voices until they are 16 or even older. Most are not as musically developed as instrumentalists who begin their studies much younger. They need coaches to help them make music."
Housner began to study the piano seriously at 10. He entered Oberlin College Conservatory of Music as a piano performance major. After accompanying singers, he switched to a double major as accompanist and soloist.
"I enjoyed the collaborative aspect of working with singers in recitals," he explains.
After earning his Bachelor's degree, Housner enrolled at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana, where he studied vocal accompanying and coaching with John Wustman, a pianist who accompanied such legendary singers as Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Luciano Pavarotti.
A decade ago, Housner joined the AVA music faculty and the Curtis Institute of Music opera department. He now concentrates his work at AVA, but also performs as pianist, organist and harpsichordist and rehearsal pianist for other Philadelphia musical groups.
He has served as coach at opera festivals in Utah and Colorado. Two years ago, he prepared the singers for the Philadelphia Orchestra's concert performances of the third act of Wagner's Parsifal.
"The art of coaching really consists of learning to breathe with the singers," explains Housner. "Singers are unpredictable by nature. When the unexpected happens -- and it does -- we have to be ready to support them."
Housner loves working with vocalists but he married another pianist. His wife, Carmelita, is a native of Hong Kong. The couple is homeschooling their children, -- son Simon, 7, and daughter Faustina, 5.
"They both love opera and they both love to imitate opera singers," says Housner, who adds that his son wanted to be a giant in Das Rheingold. Both children will appear as peasants in AVA's production of Vanessa.
"Vanessa is challenging the singers and me," says Housner. "The libretto is in English, but I have to make sure all the accents in the cast -- Long Island, New Jersey and Rhode Island -- match but don't sound too affected. Performing an opera like this in an intimate theater with piano accompaniment is a gift for the singers. They have the chance to push themselves and grow."