Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Movin' On

Moving on without a backward glance. ("Don't Look Back!" Words to live by.... Second only to the supertitle translation for the B section of Ascalax's aria in the Underworld: "Constant torture is better than false hope.")

Le Comte Ory has one more week of rehearsal before we move into the theatre. I spied the following screen saver on our Stage Management Intern's computer:

Wolf Trap Opera presents Le Comte Ory.
It's a lot like Spamalot, with a little Mel Brooks thrown in.
And it's Rossini. In French.
With a flying cow.

The Craziest Thing You Ever Did For Love

WETA-FM is running a contest in connection with our July 22 Romeo et Juliette with the NSO. Write in now and win some tickets! Our Romeo sang "Ah, leve-toi soleil" in our company concert last weekend, and I can't wait to hear the cast dig into the entire score.

Orpheus Post-Mortem (no pun intended)

Final performance last Sunday. Excuse me if I repeat myself, but I'm just extraordinarily proud of the cast and crew. Why? The singers invested themselves so fully in the story that a 3-hour baroque opera had real momentum. Absolutely everyone kept the energy positive and the work focused during a difficult tech period. All of the musicians allowed the baroque ornamentation to breathe, live, and serve both the music and the drama. All of this with an average age onstage of about 26, and an average age backstage of much less.

Flowers 6.28.06

Partial day off today, enough to pay a visit to the garden. Love this time of year. Yarrow and coneflowers in full bloom, the butterfly bush is already working its magic, and the frogs are battling with the lavender.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Day in the Life

What all fashionable denizens of the Underworld are wearing these days.



Friday, 6/23/06

9:15am: Emails
Calm, reassuringly boring start to the day, spent answering correspondence. What did we do before we had email? Did we talk to people on the phone? Did we remember any of what we said?

11:15am: Costume load-in
Costume rentals for Figaro arriving. Since our shop is full of Ory and Orpheus costumes at the moment, this meant that the administrative staff (me, the Program Coordinator, and our intern) retrieved the costumes and put them in temporary storage.

12:30pm: Grants meeting
Brainstorming about upcoming grant applications for the opera company and for our chamber music radio series (Center Stage from Wolf Trap).

1:00pm: Lunch.
Wendy's take-out, dripping all over notes for my comments for tomorrow afternoon's company concert.

2:15pm: Rehearsal
...for "What A Movie" segment for tomorrow's concert. Hawai'ian shirts and leis.

3:00pm: More prep for tomorrow's concert.
Find tenor aria from Koenigin von Saba. Sketch in some more remarks. Try to find my chops...

4:15pm: Scheduling
Wrestle some of next week's scheduling issues to the ground. Too many people in too few places for too few hours. Gridlock.

5:00pm: Rehearsals for tomorrow's concert.
Actually, that's an overstatement. We just sort of sing/play through the arias to feel better about having said we were rehearsing them...

5:45pm: Inside the Opera prep
Set up audio and powerpoint for tonight's pre-show talk.

6:00pm: Meeting with NEA site visitor.
Was supposed to be over dinner, but there was too much to cover. Gazed longingly at the food.

7:00pm: Inside the Opera pre-show talk.
Didn't get asked too many questions that I couldn't answer.

7:50pm: Dinner?
Looped back to find the lovely sandwiches and salad that we didn't get to eat earlier. Gone!! (Discovered later over at the theatre, thanks goodness!)
8:00pm: Orpheus performance #3.

11:20pm: Set the theatre
...for tomorrow's company concert for the Wolf Trap Associates.

11:30pm: Practice.
Has anyone seen my chops?


Concert for the Wolf Trap Associates

Always a lovely event. Receptive, enthusiastic, warm audience. Each of our singers gets to perform an aria/song of his/her choice. Today's menu:

O mio babbino caro
Nobles Seigneurs, salut
Ah, Pescator
Klänge der Heimat
Magische Töne
Jeremy Little, tenor
Nandi's Love Song
In quegli anni
Se vuol ballare
Que les destins prosperes
Von ewiger Liebe
Sein wir wieder gut
Donde lieta
È sogno
Ain’t It a Pretty Night?
Silver Aria
Ah, lêve-toi, soleil
What a Movie!
It's always a privilege for me to sit at the piano and make music with each year's group of artists, and this afternoon was a highlight of the summer. Group photo of this year's fabulous group ensemble:
One more Orpheus tomorrow. Improv training for Instant Opera! starts Monday. Comte Ory proceeds apace. Figaro and Romeo prep continues.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Show To Die For

Not going to go into great depth about Orpheus press. Go to this explanation in last summer's blog if you want to know why. I couldn't resist this photo, though, from the front page of yesterday's DC Examiner. Happily about as far from a typical Arts & Culture hit as you can get:)

If you want to know more about how the critics felt, go here, here, and here. More importantly, audiences have loved it, and we've been extremely proud of our artists and crew.

While I've Got Your Attention

The remaining seats for this weekends two Orpheus performances are selling well in the wake of press coverage, but you could probably still snag a few, especially for Friday.

And... there are good seats still available for our performances in "The Big House" (Filene Center) - a concert staging of Romeo et Juliette on July 22 and a new production of Figaro on August 18 & 19. I've talked to lots of folks this week whose attendance at Orpheus was their introduction to opera, and they loved the beautiful music, the high drama, and the amazing talent and commitment that these young professionals bring to the stage. Opera at the Filene Center is just as magical, and I have exponentially more seats to sell there (let's see... over 800% more.... wow, I wish I hadn't just done that math....).

The Pressure Is Off!

Thank heavens for this reassuring link. Read the whole thing or skim excerpts below. The guilt I carry around regarding the frequency and length of my posts has now been lifted. (I carry around plenty other varieties of guilt, just in case you're wondering.)

  • What matters most is whether you are reaching your target audience (which may be narrow and focused), not necessarily how many people read your posts.
  • Frequent posting is actually starting to have a negative impact on loyalty... With too many posts, you run the risk of losing loyal readers, overwhelmed by the clutter you generate. Readers will start to tune off if your blog takes up too much of their time
  • Frequent posting creates the equivalent of a blogging landfill... The pressure of the first months to write frequently certainly contributes to people abandoning their blogs.

If you're not persuaded, you need to visit Bloggers Anonymous.

Happy Birthday To Me

Today is the company day off for this week, and I'm taking advantage of it by spending the day at home. It's my birthday (woo-hoo!), and it's a sign of my lowered expectations that being able to spend it dealing with emails and phone calls on my porch rather than in the office is more than I could ever wish for. That, and the phone call I just received from my daughter in France, and the lovely dinner that the guys in my household are going to cook for me tonight. (They don't know it yet, but they will soon.)

Sunday, June 18, 2006


Many things that seem like good ideas in February end up defeating us in June. I am a pro at overextending myself, and I occasionally unwisely foist that tendency on my work. The end of last week juxtaposed the opening of Orpheus, the kickoff of rehearsals for Comte Ory, and the first site visit of the production team for Figaro. Thank heavens we took Saturday off, for our margin for error was getting smaller every day, what with the accumulated fatigue in the office, in the shops, and in the theatre.

I was immensely proud of our first two Orpheus shows. Our young artists owned the stage and committed themselves to this music with no hesitation. Baroque ornamentation is a skill more akin to jazz than it is to much of classical singing, and it's often difficult to get singers to take the creative leap it requires. But these folks have met the challenge head-on.

We're also proud of all the interns and young professionals backstage and in the shops. All of the other small-budget companies out there know what I mean. The Orpheus scene shifts have taken us to the outer limits of what our tiny theatre will bear, and we've somehow lived to tell the tale. No fly space, no upstage, and almost no wing space, and we managed a complete changeover between acts. I wouldn't have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes.

How's Your Hearing?

The day off yesterday allowed me to catch up on the entire week's newspapers. The Washington Post reported on teenagers using high-frequency cell phone ringtones to escape detection by adults. The idea is that older ears can't hear the high-pitched "mosquito" ringtones. I had to find these ringtones and see for myself. Give it a try. (In case you're wondering, I was greatly relieved to find that my high-frequency hearing is still intact.)

Orpheus, or The Marvellous Constancy of Male Stupidity

This, displayed today in the dressing room hallway; believed to have been discovered by a member of our orchestra. Further excerpted below, but go here for the original, by minokh_shorah.

  • Queen: I love Orpheus. Orpheus loves Eurydice. Let's kill her.
  • Henchmaiden: Good idea! (They do so.)
  • Orpheus: Ohnoes! My wife is dying! Help!
  • Eurydice: Too late, I'm dead. (dies)
  • Orpheus: My life is over.
  • Orpheus's best friend: (eyeing a nymph) Say, you're kinda cute.
  • Nymph: Not interested. Creep.
  • Orpheus: (a little louder this time) My life is over.
  • Best friend: So quit your whining and go get her back.
  • Orpheus: Hey, good idea
  • Pluto: INTRUDER! ATTACK! -Wait, do I hear music?
  • Henchman: Pluto, Orpheus is here.
  • Orpheus: Gimme my wife back.
  • Pluto: Yeah, okay. In fact, I'm going to declare a holiday in the underworld.
  • Tormented souls: Thanks, Orpheus.
  • Henchman: Right, so, Orpheus, here's your wife. You're not allowed to look at her until you're back above ground. Oh, and it was the Queen that did it!
  • Orpheus: The Queen?!?
  • Eurydice: Whatever, just get me out of here. (ORPHEUS looks back.)
  • Eurydice: You idiot! I was almost there!
  • Queen: If Eurydice isn't still dead, I'm going to kill her.
  • Henchmaiden: There's something seriously wrong with you.
  • Orpheus: My life is over, and it's all your fault, you evil, evil woman.
  • Queen: But I love you! (ORPHEUS stares at her blankly. That is, he does the operatic equivalent of staring at her blankly, which is to sing at her disdainfully for a few minutes. The QUEEN gets really mad and organizes a MOB of ANGRY WOMEN, the 18th century equivalent of FEMINAZIS, who beat ORPHEUS to DEATH.)
  • Queen: (sobs) But I loved him!


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Orpheus Photo Gallery

Absolutely no time to write these last few days. Exhaustion setting in. I'm still young but I'm way too old to keep these kinds of hours:)

I'll resurface after tomorrow's opening. Meanwhile, a photo gallery from last night's dress rehearsal.

All photos credit Carol Pratt 2006.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Die Fledermaus...

... or "Like a Bat out of Hell"

Act II: The Underworld

Load-in of the Underworld set yesterday afternoon. It was so convincing that by mid-afternoon we had attracted a bat. He seemed very much at home, having flown into the dark theatre and escaped the bright sunshine outside.

My favorite part of all of this was in the rehearsal notes: "A bat flew into the barns in the afternoon. No real reason to report this other than to say that most of the shrieking came from boys."

I'm lapsing into mini-posts as things get busy. Two 14-hour days this weekend, what with technical and lighting rehearsals, chorus calls and orchestra readings. I indulged in 20 minutes of blog surfing this morning, catching up with what's happening in the rest of the world. Wish I had the time and energy to join in some of the exciting conversations about art, music, and life, but alas...

Sitzprobe tonight. A few hours to put aside worries about props and costumes, and remember what the opera sounds like. (And, for the tech staff, a blessed day in which to work without a rehearsal deadline looming at the end of it.) And, tomorrow, it all comes back together. Without the bat, of course. :)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Two Firsts

This afternoon brought the first orchestra rehearsal, held next door in the rehearsal room because the production team is in the theatre setting lighting cues. After spending last evening listening to the 120-player NSO (see below), I feared that my return to the baroque would be disappointing. Not so. Beautiful colors. Strings, recorders, oboe, bassoon, lute, harpsichord.

In the theatre tonight for the first technical rehearsal – “piano tech” – working on scenic and lighting issues. It’s called piano tech because the orchestra isn’t here yet, and the score is played on piano. Well, in our case, on two digital keyboards making various sounds; piano, harpsichord, lute, and organ.

(Snapshots are of tech rehearsal, as seen from my perch at the back of the theatre:)

Mahler or Mame?

Got to the Kennedy Center early last evening for the Mahler Eighth extravanganza. (Can’t risk being late for a show with no intermission.) Spent a few idle moments playing “Mahler or Mame?” – observing patrons walking toward the Grand Foyer and guessing whether they would turn right and head toward the Eisenhower Theatre for Mame! or left for the NSO’s Mahler Eighth. As you might suspect, it’s not hard to guess.

The Mahler was a magnificent experience. I know I’m supposed to think it’s too vulgar and garish for discerning ears. But once I got over the anxiety produced by its technical demands (choruses miles away from the conductor, soloists upstage of the orchestra, etc… just had to remember that they're not my problems!), I adored it.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Business As Usual

Busy, schizoid, borderline maddening day. (Kinda felt like Orasia, Orpheus' nemesis, at left:)

Started with a phone interview on Romeo et Juliette (for future play on Viva la Voce) - this is a wonderful thing, but my mind is stuck in the early 18th century at the moment. Then we recorded WTOC's first podcast - a link to be posted here shortly. Stay tuned, as they say.

A spirited battle ensued with computer software: Powerpoint vs. Word in the quest to print labels to put in the supertitle score. In order for the supertitle operator to align the English translations with the music during performances, s/he follows along in a cued musical score. We print the English translations on labels which are then pasted in the score. Getting the silly things to align correctly in a label template is a low-tech challenge but an irritating one.

Subsequently, I managed to screw up a transportation run and sent a driver to the wrong place to pick up one of our designers. Grrrrr.

Tonight, final rehearsal in the room. Run-through for the designers. I haven't spent nearly enough time in the room these last few weeks, and it's so satisfying to get back in the middle of the music.

Orpheus cast day off tomorrow, then into the theatre on Saturday, and the rehearsal room gets turned over to Comte Ory!

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Fox

I try to steer clear of press hype, but I have to call your attention to last weekend's Wall Street Journal. The online version is subscription-only, but you may be able to access this link. If not, here's the pertinent excerpt from The Best of the New Operas by Heidi Waleson:

The 30-odd operas on that "hear again" list run the gamut of subject and style. Some are strictly narrative, like Carlisle Floyd's "Cold Sassy Tree"; others, like Luciano Berio's "Un Re in Ascolto," layer and juxtapose events nonchronologically. In Kaija Saariaho's "L'amour de loin," everything takes place in the minds of the three protagonists; John Adams's "Nixon in China" reimagines a historical event. Astor Piazzolla's "María de Buenos Aires" is based on the tango; William Bolcom's "A Wedding" mixes in popular music styles; Salvatore Sciarrino's bizarre "Luci Mie Traditrici" relies as much on silence as it does on sound. John Musto's "Volpone" is a quicksilver comedy of musical and textual jokes; Olivier Messiaen's "Saint Francois d'Assise" is a slow-building, ecstatic vision; Tobias Picker's "Emmeline" hurtles relentlessly toward tragedy.

What each one has is a distinctive musical voice that explores the subject in a way that words alone could not and skillful text and dramaturgy that let that voice speak. This adds up to real theater. It's not enough to take a famous novel and make its characters sing, an increasingly popular choice among composers. That solution may provide a structure and a marketing hook, but if the characters aren't singing for a reason, all you're getting is a soundtrack or an illustration, and the audience will wonder why they bothered.


Last few days of Orpheus rehearsal before moving to the theatre. Orchestra begins to arrive today. Load-in started on Monday. Stage management prep work on Comte Ory begins today. Figaro team visits next week.

Monday, June 05, 2006

One Down, 17 To Go*

Only enough time for a quick post. I unplugged (well, mostly) yesterday, and as a result today will be a bit of a scramble. But worth it.

Saturday night's Spanish Treasure recital (cast photo at left) was gorgeous. If you're curious about what was sung, go here. Every classical singer should have some of this stuff in his or her repertoire. If only for the way it broadens the horizons of our claustrophobic notions of European music.

Thinking About Grendel

I've received some emails about last week's drama concerning the delay of Los Angeles' Grendel premiere. I have no inside track, nor do I have any particular expertise with these kinds of productions. But it occurs to me that if opera continues to try to compete with the 21st-century technological bells and whistles that our culture now takes for granted in other media , we will almost always lose. I shouldn't leave it at that, for I'm almost certainly going to be misunderstood. But I have to get back to work.

Flowers 6.04.06

The jackmanii clematis is blooming. I saw it with my own eyes on my day off yesterday :)

[*performances, that is.... 3 recitals, 4 improv, 1 concert, 10 opera in total]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Ursprache trumps Weltschmerz

I love the National Spelling Bee! Smart, single-mindedly focused, proudly unconventional kids. I can't spell a single word I've heard in the last half-hour. (Actually, I got luckier toward the end with Weltschmerz and Kundalini:) But I was plenty pissed that the announcer guy mis-pronounced sciolto as "shalltoh." You don't tell the kid that the derivation is Italian, then butcher the diction. Unfair! But in the end, the girls ruled the world. And it pays to study your German.

I try to keep up with Living and Working in the Creative Sector, though most of the time it just makes me feel stupid. Today's entry talks about the difference in "time horizons" between managers and executives:

Both managers and rank & file workers focus their attention and efforts on the present. Both work more in the “NOW” than do executives, whose jobs and responsibilities require them to primarily exercise a future-focus.

Well, if executives work in the future-focus, and managers focus on the present, what does that make me, given that lately I seem to be mired in the recent past, spending my days sweeping up messes that I've made?

Dozens of hours pass, and The List gets no shorter. Schedule harpsichord and organ delivery. Decide on temperament for said harpsichord. (I don’t know… surprise me….?) Schedule piano tunings. Talk to singers about Anti-Master Class in July (I’ll explain later). Change ad copy for next week. Help with photo shoot promoting new classes and private lessons for the fall. Talk to staff and colleagues about staffing pre-show lectures in July and August. Refine tech week schedule for Orpheus. Explain to managers who want to talk about chamber music bookings for 2008 that I just can’t think about that right now…

Zdenko G. Fibich

When I saw that Daniel Felsenfeld had an image of Faerie's Aire and Death Waltz on Felsenmusik, I knew I had to link to it. Used to have it on the wall of my old office. I could always find something in it that would make me smile. I have no idea if you can read any of it in your web browser, but it's worth a try.

Some of my favorite indications in the score:

If there is a 3rd clarinet, some violins may go.
Rests are imaginary.
Remove cattle from stage.
Slippage may occur.


Do you unplug? I'm getting worse and worse at it. Don't know when I've last gone more than 48 hours without email or cell phone. Talked to a colleague yesterday who's going to spend the next couple of weeks on a yacht off the Greek Islands. Totally unplugged. (She probably will never read this because she's so unplugged:)) It makes me happy just thinking about it.