Tuesday, May 22, 2007

They Trap Wolves, Don't They?

I've been told that the new Wolf Trap Opera Studio has a Facebook page. (Thank goodness I'm not on Facebook... what I don't know can't hurt me:))

What does tickle me is that supposedly there's a picture of an actual wolf trap instead of the WT logo. Perhaps that's why PETA keeps trying to get us to change our name.


Volpone rehearsals start on Thursday, but we're keeping busy with prep for Steve Blier's first concert next Saturday. Berlin Night Life - Songs from Berlin's theaters and cabarets, exploring the sexual mores and political currents of Berlin during the Roaring 20's. This is great material, and the cast is doing it proud.

These concerts typically involve 4 of our singers, but the special attraction in this one is a set of songs by the Comedian Harmonists - a male quintet. Hard to describe - spend 40 seconds here and you'll understand.

"The Power of Music Lifts and Heals"

Thanks to Jessica Duchen for pointing us to this article on Maxim Vengerov. Music therapy is in my roots, and although I don't regret having left the profession (and anyway, there's plenty of therapy to do in the opera world...), I am still deepy touched by these kinds of things. It's humbling, grounding, inspiring and comforting all at once.

I was doing some research last night for a program piece, and I spent some time with Eric Plaut's Grand Opera: Mirror of the Western Mind. His treatment of Carmen included an exploration of art vs. entertainment. Not a new discussion, to be sure. But his summary stuck with me. "Entertainment tends to reinforce prejudices.... Offering new insights is a hallmark of art."

There's nothing here about music being hard (art) or easy (entertainment), good or bad. Plenty of music that's intended to be art is bad. And lots of entertainment is harder than it looks. His point, I believe, is that Carmen (and many great pieces of music) are both.

When music speaks to us "where we live," with little effort on our part to go out and meet it, well then, it's entertainment. The part about reinforcing prejudice doesn't have entirely negative connotations - it just means that we like our entertainment to fit neatly into our world view and require little of us.

Conversely, art asks something of us. Not so it can be "good for us" (really hate that spoonful of sugar argument), but so we can grow. So we can move on, open up to all life has to offer, and enjoy the ride. But art can only do this if it has an entryway - the listener has to be open to the fact that there may be worthwhile things in life outside her existence. And that seems to be increasingly rare.

I remember one of Alex Ross' columns shortly after 9/11, when he talked about the fact that we have to make room for "difficult music." Whenever we are threatened, whenever our personal and collective resources are low, we can really only absorb that which reinforces things we know and hold dear. It takes courage and calm to welcome something that feels foreign.

I've wandered, but happily so. Thanks to Maxim Vengerov.

Back to Work

Tweaking stage management laptops. Finding audio clips for radio ads. Writing audition feedback. (Note to self: next year, cite a deadline for requesting feedback...) Writing Carmen supertitles. Editing video from Volpone seminar. Planning for first podcast of the season!

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