Sunday, July 31, 2005
Saturday, July 30, 2005
Our season often starts with our “death by aria” concert for the Wolf Trap Associates. (That’s not really the title. But you get the idea.) This is the first time it has ever happened this late in the summer. And it was a surprisingly atypical event. In early June, the performers don’t know one another well, and there’s always an element of jockeying for position, of worrying about whether you’re good enough. But after 2 operas, 2 concerts, and a stint in the woods, they’ve become great friends. And the relaxed atmosphere pervaded the whole afternoon. I got a chance to play the piano again (after a desperate get-my-chops-back-in-a-hurry series of practice sessions), and a good time was had by all.
The program: “Largo al factotum” (Il barbiere di Siviglia), “Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse" (Samson et Dalila), “Signore, ascolta” (Turandot), “Pronta io son » (Don Pasquale), “Wie schön ist doch die Musik (Die schweigsame Frau), “Heimliche Aufforderung" (Strauss), "Un soave non so che” (La cenerentola, of course), Magician’s Aria (The Consul), “Sonnet (1928)” (DeBlasio), “New York Lights” (A View from the Bridge), Black Max (Bolcom: Cabaret Songs), “Sweeter than Roses" (Purcell), “Dich, theure Halle" (Tannhäuser), JNNY (Sellars), and a surprise reunion of our certifiably crazy Instant Opera cast. This time, the adult version of opera improv. A brain surgeon and Brittany Spears, the latter of whom gave birth onstage. You had to be there.
By request, the Elizabeth Bishop sonnet set to music by Chris DeBlasio:
I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!
There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.
Posted by Kim at 11:28 AM
Friday, July 29, 2005
Posted by Kim at 11:29 AM
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Although it seems as if we’re looking ahead before we’ve even finished this season, we actually operate way behind the typical scenario. Most companies have known for many months what their 2006 seasons will comprise. Although we’re laying the groundwork for the singer auditions in November, we won’t know what our 2006 repertoire will be until the very end of 2005. That leaves a painfully small window of opportunity for our artistic teams; by the time we hire directors and designers, there’s often less than 3 months before plans and renderings are due. But we persist, because waiting until we hear this year’s “crop” of singers before choosing our repertoire means that we have the chance to hire the best people without having to worry how their voice types and talents will shoehorn into predetermined repertoire.
But I digress. Seven cities this fall, including, for the first time since 2001, Seattle, WA. (The regular stops are Philadelphia, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Houston, and Vienna, VA.) The application will go up on the website in about 2 weeks, and the first completed forms will arrive by the beginning of September. And so it goes. I’m already being asked if I’m going to do an audition blog again. The idea of it makes me tired, frankly. (I’m not doing such a hot job at getting these postings up in a timely fashion…) But maybe I’ll have a renewed sense of vigor and purpose and a delusional burst of energy and goodwill. Let’s hope not.
Posted by Kim at 11:29 AM
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
Normally, this is the quickest turn-around of the season. There’s no “buffer” of time between the 2nd and 3rd operas – it’s the only way to cram everything into 12 weeks. It means that singers who work on both operas (in this case, the three who are in both Giovanni and Cenerentola) rehearse the new opera between performances of the old one. But because Cenerentola has morphed into a concert staging, we’re starting rehearsals a bit late, and this week has turned into a mini respite. Lots of artist releases granted for out-of-town travel, with singers and staff taking advantage of this 4-day period to make a quick trip home, take a voice lesson, or just get out of town. Easy to reach your saturation point working a 6-day week all summer… especially in late July and August when it seems absolutely everyone else in Washington has headed for the beach or the mountains.
Doing preliminary coachings for Cenerentola and Where the Boys Are (recital), but otherwise, pretty quiet. As delicious as this downtime is, we only have it because of the downscaling of Cenerentola. And that makes it just a little less sweet.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
All of my matinee audience predictions have come to naught this summer. And I couldn’t be happier to be wrong. Great audience today! And again, marvelous work from all involved. To have these young singers deliver Italian recitative in such a vivid, detailed, and in-depth fashion is a real gift. From them, and from our music and language staff.
The weather cooperated, and our annual company picnic at my house tonight was magnificent. My hard-working and talented daughter (yes, I’m prejudiced) catered the whole thing, the weather was stunning (dry, upper-70’s, in Washington in July?) and the mood was relaxed. (An unintended side benefit of our revised Cinderella rehearsal schedule is that everyone has an easy few days ahead of them this week.)
The comraderie this season has been pretty extreme. These young professionals seems to truly enjoy one another’s company. Not an easy feat in a business full of outsized egos. Our Giovanni director actually said that he was considering sowing a few seeds of discontent in order to create a little drama in his cast. (Of course, he was just kidding!)
I prefer to believe (in my naïve, humanistic, Pollyannish way) that this is the natural state of people who are engaged in productive work with colleagues who also care deeply about their work, and who don’t feel threatened by the environment or the task at hand. (OK, don't gag... I warned you…)
Anyway, we’ve reached the top of the season’s hill, and it gets easier from here on out. (Well, maybe not easier, but at least there are fewer projects ahead.) Two more Giovanni performances, two recitals, and finally, Cinderella!
Saturday, July 23, 2005
We had set out to do two things; 1) bring the best things about opera to kids in a way that they couldn’t resist, and 2) do it in a way that engaged our own artists and gave them a chance to grow. Hard to imagine that we seem to have scored on both counts. Especially on the latter. Our six singers were challenged and intrigued in their work with Jim Doyle of Comedy Sportz, and they have new confidence about their abilities to weather any unexpected storm onstage.
Friday, July 22, 2005
To bring this piece to an audience in the so-intimate-it-feels-naked-sometimes atmosphere of The Barns is a scary and exhilarating thing. But to have them respond as they did this evening is well worth the risk. Everyone did their absolute best work, and that is itself is payoff enough for me.
I gave my first Giovanni pre-show talk at 7:00pm tonight, and I think I finished planning it at 6:55. Months ago (on paper), combining tech week, the writing of supertitles, preparation of the pre-show, and playing Instant Opera performances seemed reasonable. As my kids would say… NOT!!! I’ve been in more than a little over my head. I hope to survive, but if I don’t feel at least a little regret, I’m afraid I’ll push the envelope even further next time.
P.S. In the woods, Mariah Carey and Batman went sledding every day, until a bear came to eat Nemo.
Thursday, July 21, 2005
Once upon a time in a house, Cinderella and Manny Ramirez went to a pond until Captain Hook came to marry the princess. The mezzo-soprano Manny Ramirez was a big hit with most of the audience. Who says trouser roles stretch the imagination, anyway…
Day off rehearsal for Giovanni cast, and they need it. Terre Jones (Wolf Trap Foundation President & CEO) treated all of the young artists to lunch, and they had the day to rest and renew. Crews working hard in the theatre and costume shop to get ready for tomorrow’s opening.
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Today’s improv challenge: Once upon a time in a castle, a knight and a king played poker until a donkey came to eat the cards and ruin the game. Today’s improv opera “The Uninvited Guest”* is a natural companion to our other big event of the day…
…the dress rehearsal of Giovanni. Exceeding expectations, but still hard on everyone involved. Technical challenges to be solved, weary minds, bodies and voices to be rested.
*The kids’ uninvited guest was a donkey. Mozart’s was a walking, talking statue. :)
Tuesday, July 19, 2005
We finally had a chance to try out our improv project on real children, and we lived to tell the tale! Today’s “mad lib” format netted the following challenge: Once upon a time in a castle, a wizard and a janitor swam every day until a mean lifeguard came to drown the wizard.
The tale that unfolded during the improvised recitative was faithful to the suggested storyline, with the exception of the death of the wizard, who, of course, came back to life. (The audience chose a happy ending, thank goodness. Opera traditions notwithstanding, we've learned it’s not wise to kill off characters when the average patron age is 7.)
Somehow, we managed to fit in excerpts from Cenerentola’s aria “Una volta c’era un re”, Monostatos’ rage aria, Juliette’s waltz, and the Count’s aria from Marriage of Figaro. The kids were a great audience, and we left feeling that we had won a huge victory! They were very excited to learn about bravo/brava/bravi – showered us with much cheering throughout the performance.
Back in the real opera world, we’re in the theatre for orchestra tech of Giovanni. It’s been so gratifying to work on this masterpiece that we’ve forgotten how long it is, and how utterly exhausting it can be. Just so beautifully dense. Makes the minutes and hours fly by for the audience, but takes its toll on the performers. Just no place you can coast.
Again, didn’t get through the whole show. Budgetary restrictions are tough on an opera as long as this one. This means we’re going into the dress rehearsal not having been straight through the opera since last Friday. Not optimal, but then again, not at all uncommon in the ‘real world.’
Posted by Kim at 11:32 AM
Monday, July 18, 2005
Posted by Kim at 11:32 AM
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Giovanni contains more colorful Italian insults than almost any other opera I can think of. It’s a particular challenge to find good equivalents for its long list of epithets. The English language (or at least the portion that has come down to us here in the 21st century) seems to have a paucity of strong, non-vulgar, non-comical insults.
*Supertitles are the English translations that appear above the stage in most opera performances. Some people hate them, most love them. The downside is that they split your attention between the real people onstage and the screen above the stage. The payoff is that they exponentially enrich our understanding of the drama.
Posted by Kim at 11:33 AM
Saturday, July 16, 2005
Sorry, that was a little harsh. Truly, it’s not often that bad, and often the system does work. I know some colleagues who do wonderful master classes.
Today’s seminar, though, was a bit different. Three of our singers were on the panel, and four high school and college-age singers were the students. It was a chance for the younger singers to perform in front of an encouraging and well-meaning audience, and then to get some advice and feedback from the panel. We do this primarily because our folks remember so vividly what it was like to be 17, and they are great at offering advice about things like college, finding a voice teacher, choosing a summer apprentice program, and deciding if you really want to be a singer. The perenially surprising thing is that our singers love this more than anyone else in the room, and they’re always bursting with good will and encouragement.
Posted by Kim at 11:38 AM
Friday, July 15, 2005
Never a summer goes by without begging the indulgences of our favorite ENT. This season’s first (and with any luck, last) episode with vocal indisposition has been weathered. It takes so little for illness, allergy or fatigue to make a dent in voices that are performing the equivalent of vocal high-wire acts every day. The good news is that youth is kind, and young voices heal quickly. The bad news is that early-career singers don’t yet have a lot of experience with weathering these storms. When is a little bit of hoarseness a passing summer allergy or cold, and when is it a career-altering crisis? Fortunately, we’re almost always dealing with the former scenario, and after a few days of panic, the mechanism returns to normal.
Posted by Kim at 11:38 AM
Thursday, July 14, 2005
I am astonished daily by the enthusiasm with which our artists have thrown themselves into this improv business. It’s hardly second nature to any of us, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about whether or not we’d be able to meet this challenge. For me, it’s a bit of a return to my roots. I was a registered music therapist in a former life, and playing theatre games with my drama therapist colleague and our psychiatric patients was part of my early training. This has to be easier than that!!
Sunday, July 10, 2005
Semi-staging is a crazy-making thing. No one really knows what it is until it’s over. When you work on a full production, the basic goal is much easier to share. But this goal is harder to pin down. How do you work with a minimum amount of furniture and props, bring the scenes to life within the limitations of an 8-foot-deep downstage rectangle that's periodically shared with violin bows, and do it all in concert dress? Thank goodness we’ve now had a few years’ experience with this format. Doesn’t make the process simpler, but it does make it easier to recognize the free-floating anxiety that inevitably accompanies its birth. Our apprentice director Peter Kozma and coach Bruce Stasyna did a phenomenal job of shepherding this concert and turning it into an evening whose success surprised everyone but me. I’m not cocky by nature, but I was sure that the aggregate talent lavished on this project (singers, staff, musicians, crew) would crystallize into something we’d be proud of.
The moments of sheer grand opera brawn (Tosca, Aida, Trovatore) were flanked by almost transcendental moments (Hansel & Gretel, Butterfly) and thank-god-it’s-actually-funny gestures (Carmen, Mikado). The audience was responsive and supportive. And these singers who handled themselves like absolute pros have an average age of 26.
As requested, attached are the lyrics for Mikado song... Click here
Thursday, July 07, 2005
In a small-world scenario, we are working with Jim Doyle of Comedy Sportz. Our administrative intern’s sister is a member of the DC Comedy Sportz troupe, and she led us to Jim. We then found out that in his student days, Jim stage managed opera at Yale and worked under two of the stage directors at Wolf Trap this summer. Ours truly is a small business.
This afternoon Jim put 6 of our singers (and me, since I had the crazy idea to put myself onstage for this project) through some introductory improv exercises. Sobering and invigorating at the same time. We were looking for an “outreach” vehicle that would allow us to take opera to kids, represent the most fascinating parts of our art form at their best, and at the same time engage, challenge and energize our singers. And I think this is it. You’ll hear more about this in the coming week, I’m sure.
Wednesday, July 06, 2005
Off to the Kennedy Center this morning for the orchestra rehearsal of “Murder…Mayhem”. No matter how many times we do this, I love watching the reactions of our singers as they enter the Concert Hall. We take this collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra for granted sometimes (and we shouldn’t, of course), but the adrenaline hit that results from this first rehearsal is never diminished.
The singers handle it well, even though standing on the edge of the stage and singing Verdi with the entire NSO inches away is a little humbling. Even the most sanguine of them need to be reminded that this music was meant to be done with singers on the stage and a moderate-sized orchestra tucked away in a pit. Once we get to the Filene Center, amplification will smooth out the differences in placement and orchestration, and we’ll get to enjoy the voices as well as the luxurious orchestral sound. But for now, the name of the game is not to get sucked into thinking that you can compete with the entire NSO in a decibel game. That’s a pretty quick route to stripping the vocal gears and having nothing left for the concert.
Posted by Kim at 11:40 AM
Monday, July 04, 2005
Posted by Kim at 11:40 AM
Saturday, July 02, 2005
Posted by Kim at 11:41 AM
Friday, July 01, 2005
Posted by Kim at 11:41 AM