Such a pleasant group, considering.
Alle Menschen werden Brüder
(The tenor still has another summer in him, with any luck!)
Bye, guys. We'll miss you!
Alle Menschen werden Brüder
(The tenor still has another summer in him, with any luck!)
Bye, guys. We'll miss you!
Posted by Kim at 11:34 PM
There's probably absolutely nothing new I could post here on the subject of auditioning. Four years of audition tour blogging has pretty much tapped out the topic. As I was considering the prospect of reigning over an Open Studio audition class this morning, it felt as if I had absolutely nothing to say. I haven't been in the audition groove since last winter, and the just the idea of thinking about it made me tired. But then the singing started, and it all felt familiar. Just like riding a bike, I guess.
It helped that these young singers are really so very musical, intuitive, smart, and gifted with naturally healthy, beautiful instruments. We've been preparing to say goodbye to these 16, getting their comments about their Wolf Trap summer, and trying to help however we can with next steps. One of those steps is making sure they put their best foot forward every time they step into the audition room.
I only had a chance to hear 6 of them today, and there's never enough time to really cover everything. It's made a little tougher by the fact that there is an invited audience (hence the term Open Studio), and some conversations are only effective when they're private. But these folks are amazingly sanguine about all of the wide-ranging advice they're receiving at this part of their developing careers.
I was talking a few days ago to one of our Filene Young Artists, and she mentioned an image that she's found useful when trying to describe what it takes to be an effective and honest performing artist: You must have the biggest, warmest, softest heart imaginable; then you must put it in a strong steel cage.
Without heart, artists become entertaining musical acrobats. Without the cage, your heart can be eaten alive before you know it.
I'm impressed by these Studio Artists' willingness to continually seek feedback, criticism, and suggestions - while fighting off the human tendency toward self-protection and defensiveness. We who don't daily put ourselves up there on the stage as an easy target for everyone's opinions and preferences should pay heed.
Posted by Kim at 10:36 PM
This morning we kicked off the 2008 version of Open Studio. For 5 days we offer an opportunity for Wolf Trap donors to see inside the workings of our newest venture - the Wolf Trap Opera Studio.
All sessions begin with an introduction by WTOS' fearless leader Josh Winograde. (Who will momentarily leave us for a Big Job. But we'll forgive him.)
This morning, he introduced our own Eric Melear - coach, chorusmaster, WTOS Music Director, and most recently, Alcina conductor.
Eric demonstrated how a conductor works with singers - demystifying some of what goes on in a conductor's mind for both the audience and the singers in the room. (You'll notice that I said "some of"... I think the rest will always be a mystery:)
We take so much of our business for granted that it's quite a lot of fun to be able to shed some light on it for audience members who clearly love the art form and have a seemingly endless supply of questions about how it all fits together.
I had big plans for podcasts this summer, and I'm conceding defeat. Too few hours and too many competing demands. But a bunch of our singers got together today to free-associate about their careers, the challenges and rewards of the opera business, and what they wish they had known when they were 20 :)
In the post-season, I'll edit our hour-long ramblings into a few shorter chunks and post here on the blog. Thanks, guys.
I've been nagging Bob all summer to finish his daily schedule program, but I'm having to take 3rd place in his life, after his job and his pre-VTech assignments. (Well, if I'm honest, I'm kinda 5th in line after those two things, his girlfriend, and his crazy fast computer.)
I did nab Bob long enough this evening to update all of the code for the 2009 audition applications. I think we nailed it. We'll test for a few days, and with any luck we'll go live next week. First application deadline is September 30.
Posted by Kim at 11:22 PM
It's so difficult to communicate those things that are most important. We have 3 weeks to go yet, but I am already partially in the post-season game of trying to characterize what happened here in these 14 weeks that are WTOC 2008.
I'm ahead of myself partially because the minute the curtain comes down, it will be necessary to summarize what just happened - artistically, fiscally, philosophically, and logistically. We must do this in order to avoid making the same mistakes twice (and I guess to also stand a better chance of replicating our successes). And as I wrestle with how to communicate what really happens here, I realize that the two main ways in which we report on our season are not acceptable in and of themselves.
I say very little about this during the summer for a multitude of reasons, most of which I've enumerated here. (I'd look up the posts for you and link to them, but I'm too lazy.) I neither rail against nor enthusiastically embrace criticism. I try to remain aloof - something of a mildly interested bystander - and I believe that many of our artists are trying to learn a similar balance in their own relationship with the press.
But even as I describe this somewhat delusional, noble philosophy, I know that the first thing I'll reach for when trying to justify my existence to funders, supporters, board members, and colleagues is.... press quotes. Kinda makes me uneasy, but I don't have a good Plan B. When it's all done, I believe we all know what was great, what was good, and what didn't work out as well as we had hoped. But we don't have the street cred the press does. Even as I pretend an arts organization doesn't need good reviews, I realize how difficult it would be to continue to drum up support without them.
Numbers - of artists, of staff, of guest faculty, of patrons, of performances
Percentages - showing the elite nature of our artist pool, the success our singers enjoy after leaving us, the capacity to which our house was filled for performances
Dollars - where we saved a few bucks, the ways in which we were creative with our funding, the maddening essential things (travel and housing, anyone?) whose cost keep rising and taking a chunk out of the mission
The numbers tell a story, but perhaps not the right one. Certainly not the complete one. But I will reach for them again and again.
I have no idea, really. But I suppose the answer is related somehow to the reasons that this topic consumes me today.
I've been missing out on Strauss, and I finally got a dose this morning - a sing-through of the Opera (without its Prologue) in the rehearsal room. And even though we have more than two weeks left, and there is still work to be done, I was uncharacteristically touched and impressed by what I heard. I normally multi-task in the rehearsal room, industriously returning emails and creating spreadsheets while I listen. But today's rehearsal stopped me in my tracks more than once. And it is forcing me to wax philosophical.
This afternoon, our Filene Young Artists were generous enough to spend a lunch hour talking to the younger Studio Artists about the many young artist and apprentice programs in this country, giving first-hand advice and reactions to the seasons they spent in those programs. I expected a fair amount of "thank god that's over" in reaction to the entry-level YAPs that work their artists very hard. But there was not all that much of that, and quite a bit of affection and enthusiasm for those formative experiences. Mixed in with a dose of realism on the ways in which the business works and the ways in which you can benefit if you're smart.
And this past Saturday afternoon I heard a sing-through for the Britten Project that the Studio is preparing for its final performance this coming weekend. Again, a work in progress, but one that so clearly shows how much these singers have matured since I heard them in audition last fall - and even how their artistry has been shaped throughout this summer.
These are the real stories. And there are dozens of them, all of the details of which I will never really know. I do know that we are privileged to take part in helping people figure out how to be outstanding, generous, fascinating, and compelling artists who will have a big hand in making the world a more beautiful and interesting place for years to come. Somehow, I think this is why people give money to organizations like ours; this is one of the big reasons the loyal patrons get addicted; this is why folks work very hard for modest money in arts organizations. This is the real story, and I still have no idea how to tell it when it matters.
Posted by Kim at 9:06 PM
Posted by Kim at 10:20 PM
My boss AMM is fond of marveling (as she should) at the "soundtrack of her life." Thus, this sampling of my 24-hour soundtrack, here in the home stretch of July 2008.
July 25, 8:45 pm
Balcony scene from West Side Story, compliments of DA and LC, in concert with the National Symphony.
July 25, 9:48 pm
La bohème end of Act I with MO as Mimi and BG as Rodolfo. With aforementioned NSO.
July 25, 10:06 pm
Love Walked Right In (Gershwin) from The Goldwyn Follies, with LC channeling her inner 1940's MGM movie star.
July 25, 10:22 pm
Bolero. Normally not a fan, but when you're about 6 feet away from those horn players at the end, it's a real hoot.
July 25, 11:35 pm
I Kissed a Girl. On the Alcina mix CD in the car. You figure it out.
July 26, 12:20 am
The Schmuel Song from The Last Five Years. My son singing it in the shower.
July 26, 9:35 am
You Can't Stop the Beat from Hairspray. With yours truly at the piano because the Broadway ROCKS gang showed up without a pianist for their impromptu Saturday morning rehearsal. You never know in which ways those years of summer stock and dinner theatre will pay off.
July 26, 11:20 am
Circe, Circe! from Ariadne auf Naxos. Compressing an mp3 of yesterday's rehearsal so it can be sent winging through cyberspace to our German coach in Bayreuth!
July 26, 1:05 pm
Heil sei dem Tag Finale from Fidelio. Doing timings for next Thursday's Beethoven concert.
July 26, 3:00 pm
It's not 3 yet, but in my near future is a sing-through of the Wolf Trap Opera Studio's Britten Project.
I whine occasionally about this many-headed musical monster for which I work. There are disadvantages (and advantages) to representing the classical music niche within a large diverse performing arts organization. Although we try to close the gap between "art" and "commerce," I'm always on the impoverished side with hat in hand.
But in truth, one of the reasons I chose to work here is that I know how claustrophobia sets in when opera is my only music. And even though days like this can feed maddeningly fragmented, that's more a feature of sleep depivation than anything else :)
I missed the July 25 posting. Was heading toward a photo entry of last night's Romance Under the Stars performance with the NSO, but Blogger was not helpful. The 15-hour day was too long to struggle with technology at the end of it...
Posted by Kim at 1:14 PM
I spent today revising the web pages for the 2009 audition tour applications. Official links and details will follow soon, but it looks as if all auditions will take place between November 6-22. The first deadline will be September 30. We'll be in Houston, LA, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and, of course, Vienna.
Is There An Echo in Here?
Remember this? Today's news is that we have officially decided to kill the optional audio sample in our application process.
We've reached the tipping point where the easy availability of high-quality sound enhancement (Garage Band, anyone?) has rendered an audio CD or mp3 pretty useless as a diagnostic tool. In the last couple of years, the few audio samples that I allowed to push me over the edge in the screening process turned out to be red herrings. Voices that sounded almost nothing in person like they did on their recordings.
We didn't make this decision lightly, for I am all for gathering as much information as possible to make those difficult screening choices. If we were looking for truly raw talent and sheer potential, I might've held onto this longer. But the bottom line is that our program is designed for singers who've been through a substantial amount of training and other formative experiences. And that information does show up on paper. Not always in the same way for each person, but if we're diligent and intuitive enough about interpreting all of the details in the application and résumé, we get a good feel for it. We're just not getting a reasonable investment for the 100+ hours spent managing, cataloguing, and reviewing CDs and mp3s.
So, that's one less thing you have to worry about when preparing this particular application!
You might want to back up and visit yesterday's post, which has already generated a few comments.
Posted by Kim at 9:10 PM
Specifically, numbers on artist contracts.
These numbers aren't the ones you'd expect to see. You're probably thinking dollar signs. Or perhaps dates. Not so. These are the numbers you see when you step on the bathroom scale.
It's not a new phenomenon at all, but I wonder if its prevalence is on the rise. First you fight for/audition for a role, and prove that you can sing (and act) the #*&% out of it. You are offered a contract, but with a catch. In order to retain the gig, you have to weigh in. And if you can't hit and sustain the goal, you might just be out of work.
Athletes are no strangers to this. Actors (I would guess, especially those on the big screen) are probably completely used to it. And this isn't exactly news to opera singers. But even though the opera business is getting more and more fixated on physically attractive singers, I still have trouble wrapping my mind around (virtually) stepping on a scale before you're allowed onstage. Debby Voigt's little black dress notwithstanding.
Mind you, the recent conversations I've had on this topic do not concern obese people. This is about getting down to a fighting weight that can stand the scrutiny of a camera. It's about trying to make opera singers competitive visually with the rest of the celebrity circuit. And it's terribly confusing.
As someone who's fought with her own scale for over 4 decades (my first diet was at age nine), I'm just glad I'm not on that side of the footlights. Yes, singers should be fit and healthy, and excess weight does no one any good. But it's so odd to quantify it as a stipulation of employment in a different way than any other factor. (Does anyone make you sing the high C the minute you arrive, before they decide if you're allowed to keep working?) Then again, are there so many good singers that it doesn't matter if we siphon off the percentage that don't look like movie stars? (No comments, please; I don't really believe this. But it's worth stating it out loud.)
I love it when sheer vocal talent and prodigious musicianship line up perfectly with a body type that fits the character. In opera, as in life, what I want is for everyone is to occupy a physical space that doesn't impede their goals. But I've seen lots of women who aren't size 6 who are fit and comfortable enough in their bodies to be agile, versatile, and sexy onstage. And some of them are so riveting that it is we, the audience, who would have been poorer had they not been allowed to perform.
No answers here, just observations and open-ended questions. Discuss amongst yourselves.
Posted by Kim at 9:21 PM
Posted by Kim at 8:47 PM
I stayed home from the office today so I could write the Ariadne supertitles. Remember how cocky I was last spring when I finished Giorno months early? Well, Alcina was barely done in time, and now Ariadne is sneaking in under the wire.
It took 11 hours, but draft #1 is done! Over these next weeks it will undergo revisions suggested by our director and conductor, and it will be mercilessly examined by TL. (Keine Panik!)
There were three high points in the day.
First, the exchange between the Composer and Zerbinetta in the Prologue. I had forgotten so many of those details. Second, the challenging final scene, the draft script for which still bears lots of "FIX THIS" and "TOO CLUNKY" markings. It'll be a work in progress, for matching the quality and pacing of the language to the breathtaking elegaic music will not be easy. And, as every supertitler (is that a word?) knows, the best way to engender unintentional opera comedy is to miscalculate on the match between translations and music.
The third delight was the chance to give English to Zerbinetta. I absolutely adore her big scene, and although she's a bit of a mystery to conservative old me, I feel I would love to have her as a friend. An entertaining, daring, slightly kooky friend.
Posted by Kim at 11:07 PM
I've been put on notice.
WiseSoprano says that my recent blog posts (and recent Facebook status updates) need a serious attitude adjustment. I admit, I've been pretty tired and cranky lately. And since I tend to get to the blog after midnight, it doesn't have a prayer of being perky.
But Pollyanna is back, and Debbie Downer is gone. Two days in a row off from work (an actual weekend of sorts, the first in a couple of months), and I'm as good as new. Or at least good enough to get through the next month without whining :)
(I've been waiting for a month for the right time to use this picture.)
Posted by Kim at 11:26 PM
Take note of the name: Wolf Trap Opera Company.
In spite of recent evidence to the contrary, we are neither the Wolf Trap Song Company nor the Wolf Trap Comedy Improv Company. We did close one opera this week and begin rehearsals for another, but these last few days have been dominated by some wonderful things on the fringe.
This is not to diminish them. Rather, it is to take note of what an achievement it is to embrace them to such an extent that they feel vital, relevant, and essential to our creative lives.
This is the absolute mainstream of what opera singers do: Spend a lifetime optimizing the vocal mechanism; learn to communicate through sound, words, and physicality; don a costume and convincingly portray another being on the stage. Shamelessly generalized and summarized, but there you have it.
15 years ago at Wolf Trap, this is essentially what we did. But now we have the opportunity to stretch. Sometimes it feels great, sometimes it hurts a little, but we always walk taller when we're done.
The Wolf Trap Song Company
Five days digging into songs. Entire other worlds in mere minutes at a time. With no costumes or props, and in a foreign language. These people did it, and made us feel as if we would've been poorer for not having witnessed it.
We were lucky to have a peerless tour guide. I've always been in awe of Steve's encyclopedic knowledge of music, art, literature, culture... and I know that I could live several lifetimes and never know half as much. But his way of speaking to an audience - with humour, affection, clarity, and intelligence - is something to which we can all aspire.
The Wolf Trap Comedy Improv Company
We also spent the last 5 days performing wacky improvised comedy for children of all ages. Outside in the 90+ degree weather. At 11:00 in the morning. These people did it, and made it seem like the easiest, most enjoyable and natural thing in the world.
Because of them, over 2,000 children and adults know how to yell "Bravi!", order a sandwich in recitative, and cross the bridge over the creek singing "Mickey Mouse" to the tune of "Figaro!" from Barber of Seville.
Life on the Fringe
These things probably aren't what will constitute the bulk of our singers' professional lives. Nor will they reflect the gigs that will pay the bills in their careers. But the ability to breathe life into an exquisite song and the skill of always landing on their feet will serve them well - providing ballast and context to everything else they do.
Next week: Back to opera!
Posted by Kim at 1:24 AM
I first felt at home in this business when I discovered Eloise Ristad's A Soprano on Her Head. I had fallen into the opera world completely unintentionally, and it was as confounding as it was intriguing. But with this book I actually felt that there might be a place for me here. However, there was one piece of advice I could never absorb: Juggling.
The logic was perfect - that mastering the art of juggling couldn't help but make me a better performer. I bought into it completely, got an instructional video, and did my humiliating practice in private. To this day I can't even catch ball #2.
But I still have pursued the art of virtual juggling. Stay loose and calmly alert, and complete parts of your life will graciously share the stage with others. The summer is, of course, all about juggling. And sadly, every year, there is a moment when I feel the balls begin to slip from my grasp. They fall, in merciless succession, while I watch in frustration and anger. Every year I practice; staying limber, breathing deeply, and bathing in optimism. Still, there's no escaping this deterioration.
Life goes on, of course; but people are disappointed, goals are ill-met, and opportunities are missed. Yet the mantra is still true: It's Only Opera.
There's a tunnel vision that results from being too long immersed in anything. It creeps up on you stealthily, even though you know that too much of anything - even a good thing - is asking for trouble. So I seek to regain my peripheral vision.
A quick evening trip to a friend's exciting new venture was a good start. Actually getting to have a meal with the great people I live with helped a lot. And I was stunned at how good it felt to listen to my new mix-CD. Thanks, Morgana.
In spite of my personal funk, the typical amazing array of things took place at the Trap today.
There was show #4 of Instant Opera, wherein Pluto the Dog and a Silly Cow learned to jump rope while Tweety Bird was pursued by a mezzo-soprano Sylvester ("Thufferin' Thuccotash... Thmanie Implacabili!"). Ariadne auf Naxos is underway (photos next week), Tales from the Vienna Woods is ready for tomorrow night, and the Studio is finishing a week of dance classes (from which they've banned my camera:).
See you tomorrow night from the Wienerwald.
Posted by Kim at 10:28 PM
Saturday's concert with Steven Blier is called Tales from the Vienna Woods. The play on words is much appreciated here in the wilds of Vienna (Virginia). And the music is peerless.
Funny how different my perspective is, this time around. Steve did this same concert here 14 years ago, and I was involved in its preparation. (A member of our coaching staff rehearses the material with the singers in the two weeks prior to Steve's residency.) At that time, I was in the early years of my career, and my own experience with recitals was sadly typical of many pianists and singers. You know: a couple of unrelated sets per half, one in each major language, with a random aria as an encore.
Don't blame me; I simply knew no better. I had played more than my share of graduate recitals (both in school and afterward) because I was a whiz at sight-reading, I was empathetic to singers, and I needed the money. But I had no mentor, no good role models, no inspiration. That was all to change quickly as Steve opened my mind and my ears to the marvelous possibilities inherent in programming all kinds of songs.
In 1994, these Lieder (German songs) in the Tales from the Vienna Woods program bore a suffocating layer of tradition and mystery (the wrong kind). Rather than trying to get at the heart of the music and poetry and accept that my task was to find out how they spoke to me, I was struggling to replicate the "right" interpretation. It feels like a missed opportunity, but I can't beat up on my younger self too much. It took years of maturity and perspective before I could begin to accept that I might actually have something to say through the music.
This time around I'm not at the keyboard, so it's probably not fair to draw a parallel. But I will say that as I've walked in and out of the rehearsal room this week (usually to do something creative and inspiring like retrieve scheduling requests...), the music hits me with a completely different force. It doesn't intimidate me as much. I used to approach it with the politeness, deference and awe one might use with a respected authority figure. I still have to fight off those instincts, but I now have a chance at allowing it to speak to me like a trusted friend. To be sure, a friend who knows so much more about life and love than I ever will - but someone with whom I have a fighting chance at honesty.
I'm rambling, for while this is something that I feel in my gut, my left brain has yet to sort it out.
On a Lighter Note
This morning in the real Vienna woods, the Global Warming Witch was turned into a toad by Harry Potter. Fun times.
Posted by Kim at 9:58 PM
The creation of tomorrow's schedule took half of today. What's that about?
We desperately need a computer program (hint hint) to streamline this process. 36 people, 6 locations, 4 projects, 11 hours. The schedule itself is an internal document, but the proofing worksheet (at left) isn't. Bob Fincheimer, where are you?
This is indeed the thorniest part of the summer.
The Studio is doing a daily dance class and Italian language coachings. Having closed Alcina last night, they can now focus their staging time on their upcoming Britten Project scenes performance.
Four of our Filene Young Artists are performing in recital with Steve Blier on Saturday evening. Four others are in daily performances of Instant Opera at the Children's Theatre-in-the-Woods. And 15 singers are beginning the Ariadne auf Naxos rehearsal period.
Scooby Doo Fun, The Opera
Today in the woods (clockwise from upper left) Scooby-Doo and a bad-joke-telling Witch tried to teach Barney how to dance. I can't remember who the lovely princess with the flowers was, but she made it all better :)
(P.S. - You haven't really lived until you've heard a baritone try to replace the word "Fi-ga-ro" with "Scooby Snacks" in the "Largo" from Barber of Seville.)
I Have the Dumb
My colleague Rahree is a cat person. And a dog person. (Not sure how that works.) I've been pet-deprived all my life, but I still can appreciate well-done cat humour. This picture has graced my office door for a few days now. And it's getting truer by the minute.
Posted by Kim at 6:41 PM
And tonight at The Barns, we made our final departure from Alcina's island.
It truly was a magical place.
Posted by Kim at 12:33 AM
11:15 am - Work commences on the next day's schedule
12:40 pm - Turn on preshow powerpoint loop
1:45 pm - Bradamante warms up al fresco
1:55 pm - Life in the House Manager's office just feels like a multiple exposure
2:15 pm - Alcina Act 1 on the steps. Handel inside the curtain, check request forms outside.
2:55 pm - Piano moving. Don't ask.
3:10 pm - Instant Opera rehearsal
3:30 pm - So this is what the Alcina chorus does in Act II.
3:55 pm - F&B staff await second intermission
3:40 pm - Camera misplaced, then returned bearing mysterious photo
4:10 pm - Backstage left
5:25 pm - Crash in the lobby
6:35 pm - Opera Goes to the Improv Show #1. "In the Duck Blind"
8:45 pm - Opera Goes to the Improv show #2. "The Great Deficit"
11:55 pm - Baltimore Washington International Airport. Retrieve guest artist who had a 7-hour flight delay. Check out the flight options to Aruba.
2:07 am Monday - Post Version 3 of tomorrow's schedule. To bed by 3, then up at 4:30 to see my charming son off to college orientation.
Since July 13 really did feel as if it lasted for two days, it will hereby qualify as two blog postings. Taking the rest of the day off. See you Tuesday.
Posted by Kim at 11:58 AM
Posted by Kim at 9:32 PM
You've stumbled onto an inactive site. The Wolf Trap Opera Company blog was hosted here until early 2010. For fresh, up-to-date opera goodness, go to www.wolftrapopera.org!