Friday, March 23, 2007

I Narcisi Sono Sbocciati

Every year at this time I'm reminded of my Italian teacher Signora Spinelli. When I started visiting her DC apartment twice a week for my crash course in Italian, I spoke nary a word. She never spoke to me in English, and for months I thought my head would explode every time I went for a lesson. But eventually it all seeped in. That's the way children learn language. Excruciating sometimes, but amazingly effective.

One of the first phrases I understood, oddly enough, was one that she uttered on March day in 1982. "I narcisi sono sbocciati" - the daffodils have bloomed. And indeed they had, in the spectacular way they do in Rock Creek Park.

Not a single spring has passed in the last 25 years that I haven't uttered that phrase and thought of those Italian lessons. Full of tea and biscotti, and the reassuring murmurs of "bella e rotonda" as I passed through my first pregnancy. Resonating with cheers and murmured epithets as we listened to and critiqued the Saturday afternoon Met broadcasts. My Verdi and Puccini scores still carry the Italian-to-Italian translations that aided my progress from simple vocabulary to poetry.


I'm about to disappear into the springtime for two entire weeks. First of all, to ride my new bicycle and then sit for hours by the lake. Then, rested and refreshed, to embark on college visits with my son. I'll be back the second week of April, and postings will resume with renewed vigor. In the meantime, feel free to surf the archives. If you're looking for a place to start, scroll down. Ciao!


The Equation
When Grand Opera Isn't
A Response: The End of The Great Big American Voice
Audition Tour: New York - Day 1
Repertoire & Casting
Unedited Audition Comments
The Bassi Speak
Living Dangerously: More Unedited Audition Comments
Yes / And
Applicant Screening: The First Round
Audition Tour 2007

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Only If You're Not a Screwup

The twin mantras of Accountability and Consistency are part of my DNA. For much of my young adult life I felt as it I could wriggle away from their grasp. Not so. And a good thing, too, for it's probably because of my compulsive nature that I'm able to survive in arts management. Those huge creative talents that are recruited to run arts organizations are often very sexy on paper, but they usually flame out - hopefully without taking the organization with them. But for the rest of us earnest worker-bee types, it's hard to pull away from the to-do lists long enough to think globally and critically about where we want our organizations to be headed.

As I am reminded, consistency is not always a virtue.

A recent post on Butts in the Seats has me thinking about intangible things. An excerpt:

Most mission statements for arts organizations allude to providing quality to the community if they don't do so outright. But when the doors open, are you offering the very best quality, the top quality you can afford or the top quality people are willing to pay for? Or does your product fall right there in the middle of the bell curve--something of middling quality that the largest group of people is willing to pay for?

I have no answers. Yet.

What I Did Last Week
A weekly feature justifying my pre-season existence and sharing my administrative pain.

Stump Speeches: Met with new members of our boards, and in doing so, attemped to whip up a small frenzy of excitment for opera with people who have never seen one before. Failing that, tried to at least make myself appear to be a reasonably intelligent and approachable person that they might be willing to speak to again.

Charts, Grids, and Lists: Created seating charts for Box Office. Churned out weekly assignment grids for all artists and staff to be sure that no one is overbooked (or overlooked...) during any portion of the summer. Organized and distributed booking and contract information for next year's chamber music series.

Show Me the Money: Helped churn out some funding proposals, including the inevitable hardware and software tussle with creating audio/visual work samples.

Intern Interviews: Ah, the enthusiasm of the collegiate set. I could never have competed with any of these folks in my early 20's. Ambitious, energetic, focused, and determined.


My daughter spent spring break (last week) doing reclamation work in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana. She's back at school, trying to care as much about midterms and papers as she did before she spent a week working with people whose lives have been turned inside-out for the last year and a half.

Joseph & His *^#*$^#$% Dreamcoat

If you've followed this blog for a while, you might remember that I regularly indulge (!) in amateur musical theatre projects. This week brings 3 performances of Joseph - with 72 cast members between the ages of 7 & 18.

I persist because I believe that participating in a well-crafted theatrical production can be a memorable and formative experience in a young person's life. It feeds the soul, teaches discipline, allows for individual creativity, demonstrates the importance of teamwork and opens horizons all at the same time. But between trying to keep them all well, negotiating with their teachers and sports coaches about conflicting schedules, cajoling teenagers through their hormonal swings, and catching the little ones in that sweet spot between befuddlement and boredom, well... let's just say I'll sleep well come Sunday night. :)

(Photo credit Charlie Gandy)

Friday, March 09, 2007


Winter's last gasp brought our red-tailed hawk back to his perch outside my office window. I like to think he's waiting for the return of Volpone and its hawkish characters Corvina (the Crow) and Cornaccio (the Raven).

Tickets on sale today for this summer's performances! Start here.

The Studio Lives

The Wolf Trap Opera Studio is off and running. Josh Winograde (an alum of the WTOC and the boss of the inaugural year of the Studio) was here with us all week, and we made offers to 14 singers, all of which were accepted.

Listening to the studio auditions was a change from the status quo, and an ultimately refreshing one. It was a different kind of challenge - even more about recognizing potential than our "regular" auditions. When we choose our Filene Young Artist roster, we're looking for career potential, but we expect most of the big skill areas (vocal technique, language, style, deportment) to be almost fully formed. One can't and shouldn't expect that of a 21-year-old.

For those of you who are interested in such things, here are some demographic stats:

Academic status

  • 2 are enrolled in their first year of graduate study

  • 1 is between undergraduate and graduate study

  • 8 are getting their undergraduate degrees this year

  • 3 will be rising college seniors in the fall.

Academic affiliations ( one singer from each school except as noted)

  • Indiana University

  • Ithaca College

  • James Madison University

  • The Juilliard School (2 singers)

  • New England Conservatory

  • Roosevelt University's Chicago College of Performing Arts

  • Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts

  • Temple University

  • University of Maryland

  • University of North Texas (2 singers)

  • University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music (2 singers)

You Go, Girl

Great news from the March edition of Opera News. I was on staff here in the mid-90's when Emily Pulley sang Cleopatra and Fiordiligi at The Barns. She's a salt-of-the-earth lady with a heart of gold and her feet firmly planted on the ground.

Thinking of Emily and that Cosi production reminds me of one of those performances when my life flashed before my eyes. I was playing the harpsichord, and she and her colleagues were singing the recitative that leads into the Act I Trio. Someone jumped ahead a couple of lines. No problem. Modulate quick like a bunny and catch up to them. Then a few lines later, someone decided to loop back and pick up the lines that were missed. OK.... But then of course, when we re-arrived at the lines that had already been sung (following this?), the decision was made to skip over them. Landing us mere seconds away from a cadence that absolutely had to be in E major, or we would've crash-landed in E Major.

It was one of those 20-second moments that play out in slow motion. I must've sounded like I was playing some godforsaken 12-tone arrangement of a Mozart recitative. Perhaps that's why I enjoy Instant Opera so much :)

Need to Re-Fuel

Today was one of those days... struggling with a DVD work sample for a grant application and feeling fogged-in and disconnected. I'm more than a little tired and stupid, so I'll stop here. Off to tonight's chamber music concert by the Borromeo Quartet. Scroll down for some stolen bits of humor below, if you have a few more moments to waste :)

Completely Recreational

This YouTube clip came to me through so many different channels last week that I can't imagine that anyone hasn't seen it yet. As someone who squared off with Rachmaninoff's piano music in public for the very first time this year, I was particularly charmed.

How to Cook a Conductor

As Victor Borge reminded us, humor is truth. I have no idea how to attribute the recipe below. But as someone who has had to follow and mirror opera conductors from my backstage conducting post, I especially like the part about "vague, slow, circular motions."

One large conductor, or two small assistant conductors
26 large garlic cloves
Crisco or other solid vegetable shortening (lard may be used)
1 cask cheap wine
1 lb. alfalfa sprouts
2 lbs. assorted yuppie food, such as tofu or yogurt
One abused orchestra

First, catch a Conductor. Remove the tail and horns. Carefully separate the large ego and reserve for sauce. Remove any batons, pencils (on permanent loan from the Principal Second Violin) and long articulations and discard. Remove the hearing aid and discard (it never worked anyway).

Examine your conductor carefully - many of them are mostly large intestine. If you have such a Conductor, you will have to discard it and catch another. Clean the Conductor as you would a squid, but do not separate the tentacles from the body. If you have an older Conductor, such as one from a Major Symphony Orchestra or Summer Music Festival, you may wish to tenderize by pounding the Conductor on a rock with timpani mallets or by smashing the Conductor between two large cymbals.

Next, pour 1/2 of the cask of wine into a bath tub and soak the Conductor in the wine for at least 12 hours (exceptions: British, German and some Canadian Conductors have a natural beery taste which some people like and the wine might not marry well with this flavor. Use your judgment).

When the Conductor is sufficiently marinated, remove any clothes the Conductor may be wearing and rub it all over with the garlic. Then cover your Conductor with the Crisco. using vague, slow circular motions. Take care to cover every inch of the Conductor's body with the shortening. If this looks like fun, you can cover yourself with Crisco too, removing clothes first.

Next, take your orchestra and put as much music out as the stands will hold without falling over, and make sure that there are lots of really loud passages for everyone, big loud chords for the winds and brass, and lots and lots of tremolos for the strings. (Bruckner might be appropriate). Rehearse these passages several times, making certain that the brass and winds are always playing as loud as they can and the strings are tremolo-ing at their highest speed. This should ensure adequate flames for cooking your Conductor. If not, insist on taking every repeat and be sure to add the second repeats in really large symphonies.

Ideally, you should choose your repertoire to have as many repeats as possible, but if you have a piece with no repeats in it at all, just add some, claiming that you have seen the original, and there was an ink blot there that "looked like a repeat" to you and had obviously been missed by every other fool who had looked at this score. If taking all the repeats does not generate sufficient flames, burn the complete set of score and parts to all of the Bruckner symphonies.

When the flames have died down to a medium inferno, place your Conductor on top of your orchestra (they won't mind as they are used to it) until it is well tanned, the hair turns back to its natural color and all of the fat has dripped out. Be careful not to overcook or your Conductor could end up tasting like stuffed ham.

Make a sauce by combining the ego, sprouts and ketchup to taste, placing it all in the blender and pureeing until smooth. If the ego is bitter, sweeten with honey to taste. Slice your Conductor as you would any turkey. Serve accompanied by the assorted yuppie food and the remaining wine with the sauce on the side.

WARNING: Due to environmental toxins present in conductor feeding areas, such as heavy metals, oily residue from intensive PR machinery manufacture, and extraordinarily high concentrations of E.coli, cryptosporidium, and other hazardous organisms associated with animal wastes, the Departments for Conductor Decimation (DCD) recommend that the consumption of conductors be limited to one per season. Overconsumption of conductors has been implicated in the epidemiology of a virulent condition known as "Bataan fever." Symptoms of this disorder include swelling of the brain, spasms in the extremities, delusions of competence, auditory hallucinations and excessive longevity.


Bataan Fever indeed. We know it well. See you next week.