Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Great God Gold

Yesterday, the news that there is a shortage of Rosco gold paint. Go figure. Just in time for the painting of our Volpone set, which is a not-so-subtle metaphor for uh... gold.

And today, these photos from the shop - the building of the rake (the stage floor that's angled toward the audience) and construction of the Volpone walls (which contain a very large number of windows that open a la Hee-Haw... or was it Laugh-In?)

Notes from the Continent

This, via Nick's blog. A former Wolf-Trapper, Nick is reporting on his career.

"Yesterday I did a short interview with a young woman who is filming a student documentary on American opera singers in Europe. One of the questions she asked me was: what have I learned from my work? I told her that among the many things that I have discovered, I have learned that the world is not black and white, but contains mostly various shades of grey, and that I feel good about myself when I maintain my integrity and honesty."

We should all discover such things in our work.

The Music of the Future

As we rehearse our 3-year-old opera, I was enchanted to find this in my InBox (from Composers Datebook) - a reminder that all music was once "new."

"The work on first hearing is generally unintelligible and not enjoyable . . . Musical people as a rule have not yet got 'educated' by the music of the future up to the point where they may enjoy passages bereft of all tonality, by meanderings through doors of modulation, around corners of accidentals, and through mazes of chromatics that lead nowhere unless it be to the realm of giddiness." (The work in question: Brahms' Serenade #1 at its first U.S. performance in 1882.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day in Rehearsal

Congratulations to TL, who became an American citizen on Friday. Not too many new Americans have the pleasure of celebrating by singing the Star Spangled Banner with the backup of an entire opera company.

Volpone music rehearsals have been calm, methodical, and illuminating. We buffered in an extra 4 days of rehearsal for this show, and I believe that having had the time to sift through this score thoroughly will prove invaluable.

Stagings have just begun in earnest. Act 1, Scene 1. Volpone pretends that he's dying. His "frends" visit one by one, ostensibly to pay their respect, but in truth bringing expensive gifts to curry Volpone's favor so that they'll have a prominent place in his will. The joke's on them, of course, as Volpone and his servant intend to abscond with the loot.

Today, Corvina* brings a gold candlestick. (In a Whole Foods bag, it seems:))

[*Corvina: The Raven. Corvina is Bonario's mother, yet she would quickly trade her mother's milk for an ounce of gold. She is imposing and overbearing, not all that bright, and not all that pleasant.]

And, downstairs, rehearsals continue for this weekend's Berlin Night Life concert. Pictured - the Comedian Harmonists, hard at work on Mein kleiner grüner Kaktus.

Tomorrow: the arrival of the Wolf Trap Opera Studio. As our Studio Administrator told me today in an email, "I ran into them in a huge group as they were unpacking what looked like a full-fledged cross-country move... There is a lot of energy going on in this group."

Can't wait.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Wie lange noch. With Potato Salad

Today, the first in the series of our "Little Lunch Music" mini-concerts. Our office environment is very open, and once you start singing Kurt Weill in the atrium, there's no escaping it! But as far as I can tell (from our trial concerts last summer), the WT Foundation employees enjoy their noontime musical diversion.

We Love Our Interns
Picnic this afternoon at the scene shop, in honor of our interns. We could not function without them!

Tonight, working through some paperwork while listening to the audio monitor feed of tonight's Prairie Home Companion show. It's happening about 50 feet away onstage, but I'm sitting at a desk typing while I listen to it (as if it were a radio show...hmm...). Beautiful night outside, with Garrison talking to 6,000 of his closest friends and Billy Collins reading his poetry.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

And.... We're Off

Free-floating anxiety in the building today, as the Volpone cast gathers for the first time and slogs, uh..... sings through the score. :)

The design presentation revealed a unit set (what other kind is there in The Barns?) that functions as a huge gold framework for the story. Which is, of course, is about lust. Primarily for money, but it's not the object of the lust that's the important thing. And it's a good reminder that 401 years ago, Ben Jonson wrote this play and set it in what was at that time the most opulent city in Europe - Venice.

Director Peter Kazaras referred to the The Grifters in describing the title character and his sidekick. Implement the scheme and move on. Nice parallel.

The Power of the Right Frequency

Minnesota Public Radio has this "myth-buster" piece about singers breaking glass. Don't believe it for a moment.

It was sometime around 1987. We were rehearsing for a scenes concert for the large amphitheatre, and the rehearsal was being held in The Barns, our chamber venue. The entire 60+ piece orchestra and soloists were arrayed on the floor of the theatre (our chairs are movable). There are sliding glass doors on either side of the house. During the bass/baritone duet from Luisa Miller, the full low frequency complement on house left (singers, celli, basses, trombones...) must've tickled the think-paned glass in just the right place, and it cracked from top to bottom. I wouldn't have believed it if I wasn't there.

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!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Bike to Work Day!

It's May 18, Bike-To-Work-Day in the Washington D.C. area. My husband is a serious cyclist, and when I bought him a new bike for his birthday (a big one...birthday, that is...) last winter, I decided to get myself a modest little hybrid. Of course, I can't keep up with him, but I'm trying.

I passed (actually, I was mostly passed by) 50-60 cyclists on the way to work this morning, and they were all guys. Now, there are women cyclists out there, but they don't so much seem to be biking to work. It's easy to see why.

The longer commute on two wheels is not the problem. It's the helmet hair, the refusal of makeup to stick on sweaty faces (yuck...sorry...), and the difficulty of carrying a change of clothes, a computer, and the slimmed-down contents of a purse in a backpack. Not to mention a Carmen score or two.

Anyway, I got to feel healthy and virtuous today, and the bike does look good in my office:)

Welcome to Wolf Trap!

I love overhearing bits of advice that the returning Trappers impart to the initiates. Things like "They have the best hot dogs - crunchy and chewy at the same time!" (The Vienna Inn)

Thursday, May 17, 2007


Mixed with the excitement of company arrivals are notes of frustration and regret.

Our much-anticipated upcoming recording of Volpone is not to be. This is not the place to spin out all of the confusing and irritating details, but the American Federation of Musicians told us that there's no nationally approved recording agreement whose conditions our company meets, and the local doesn't have the ability to negotiate individual agreements with organizations. I know - those statements are probably not as conclusive as they sound. But it has taken us months to get to this impasse with the AFM, and I'm sure it would take us many more months to get out of it.

The bottom line is that we've run out of time. We had so wanted to get this terrific piece out there in circulation, and it's tough to walk away from it. For now, the goal is to sort all of this out after the season so that when our next new fabulous operatic comedy hits the stage, we'll be ready to capture and share it.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ready... Set... Delegate!

From the time we choose our roster in early winter, the Company grows exponentially. And, for those first 6 months, everything from finances to pre-production planning to personnel to company management (travel, housing) is handled by 2.5 people. (Susan's not really a half-person, she's just lucky enough to work part-time:)) As winter turns to spring, the load gets heavier and more unwieldy. But then it's finally May, and the reinforcements arrive.

This week our office staff is almost doubled as we welcome our Administrative Intern and our Music Administrator. Thursday brings the first stage management team, and next week we're joined fulltime by our Studio Administrator. The scene shop and costume shops are up and running (Volpone set model above). Delegation becomes the order of the day, and with each new arrival, another set of tasks is swept off my desk. (I could get used to this!)

Can't Argue With That

This marvelous quotable quote from the brand-new June summer festival issue of Opera News: "Wolf Trap Opera Company shoots the promising to prominence." Rock on! There's a nice write-up on our whole season - you should be able to see it on as of June 1.

Garden Cam

The Washington area just enjoyed two consecutive beautiful spring days (sadly, about half of the typical allotment for the year...), part of which I spent happily digging in the dirt. This week's stand-outs are the columbine and coral bells I brought in from my grandmother's garden 20 years ago.

Could you answer these questions?

A few of my colleagues are going through the naturalization process to become U.S. citizens. It's very exciting, and also entertaining when they ask those of us who were born into citizenship if we know the answers to the sample exam questions. (We nailed most of them, but were stumped by a few.) What I found a bit dismaying is that the study guide for the naturalization exam costs $49.95... Excuse me, but shouldn't it be free?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Administrating As Fast As I Can

Still worried about the pace of work these days. Too breathless. And the opera company doesn't even start trickling in for another few days. Too much scrambling and not enough traction leads to mistakes and misunderstandings. New resolve this week to s...l...o....w......... d.....o.....w.....n........

Plans for the Volpone recording continue apace, even as the funding and the details get fuzzier. A midweek meeting with the musicians' union was not promising. Still crunching, persevering, and hoping.

Love the set model photo for L'Etoile which just arrived in my InBox.

Already looking ahead to next fall's auditions. Need to try to integrate the Studio Artist auditions with those for the Filene Young Artist roster. And start earlier so it can all be done by early December. So here's your first notice: APPLICATION DEADLINES IN THE FALL WILL BE IN EARLY OCTOBER. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Three More Links

Lots of thought-provoking stuff out there in blogland, but since my internet carousing is limited to 15 minutes a day lately, I'm dealing in superficial content.

This one made me laugh till I cried. (Thanks to Chris Foley of the Collaborative Piano Blog.) I especially like the scene where the poor pianist bangs his hand into the lockers so he won't have to play any more... Anyone who put him/herself through school by accompanying everyone in sight will adore this.

And... Can You Tell the Difference? Test your ears - can you spot the digitized orchestra?

Finally... courtesy of Frazz: a new and compelling argument for arts education.
Happy Mother's Day

In honor of the occasion, I'm in Pennsylvania helping my dad plant my Mom's gardens for the summer. She passed away last fall, but this weekend she's with us. How else would we be able to tell the nasturtiums from the nicotania... the browallia from the begonias? We miss you, Mom.

And, what would Mother's Day be without those two adorable kids who turned me into a mother ... 21 and 17 years ago!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Short Attention Span

Lots of links today. I usually don't spend most of a post sending readers elsewhere, but I've been accumulating quite a few worthwhile re-directs - from the sublime to the truly ridiculous.

You've probably seen this, but just in case: John Cage on I've Got a Secret. I used to watch this show with my grandmother, so just seeing Garry Moore made me nostalgic. There are many fascinating things about this clip, not the least of which is that a "classical music" composer gets to perform an entire work on network television. And yes, Cage is treated as a little bit of a freak. But he's also taken more seriously than you might expect.

When warned that his performance might cause some tittering in the audience, the composer allows that he prefers laughter to tears. A mighty useful and sanguine approach. But my personal favorite part of the clip has to do with the restrictions and interpretation of the union contracts as regards the radios. Plus ça change…

I'm Sorry, But It Feels Better

This, from the Philadelphia Inquirer, reporting on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s new “multicast” concert – streamed to various university communities using the ultrafast Internet2 network:

Sunday's main mishap was at Penn, where the Internet2 connection wasn't achieved until after the concert began. Sorgenti, who was there, was still impressed. "The one question I had is, 'Does it feel as good as being in the concert hall?' " he said. "I'm sorry, but it feels better."

Ouch. I know there's more to this story than can be extrapolated from this brief quote, but there's some kernel of truth there, especially since the gentleman quoted is on the board of the Philadelphia Orchestra...

Farewell, Slava

Over a week has passed since Rostropovich passed, and although I certainly didn't know him well, I had the privilege of working with him about 20 years ago when he conducted a couple of Russian operas for the Washington (not-yet-National) Opera. It was inspiring to view this repertoire through his eyes, and his rehearsal-room "discussions" (in Russian, of course) with his wife/stage director Galina kept us all entertained.

I was assigned to conduct backstage during The Tsar's Bride, and it was one of my first assistant conducting assignments. I was terrified, and he knew it. For those of you who don't know, the job of the backstage conductor is to watch the conductor's image on a TV screen and mirror it so that the performers who sing or play offstage are coordinated with one another and with the orchestra in the pit. The rub is that due to the delay in the backstage sound reaching the audience, you have to be about a second or so ahead of the real conductor. So you're mirroring somewhat that is yet to happen. And Slava, bless his heart, wasn't that easy to mirror anyway:)

Just so happens that most of the chorus I was conducting offstage was sung without accompaniment - it dovetailed with the orchestra, but the bulk of it was in the clear. During rehearsals I dutifully stared at the screen and pumped my arms in tempo. At the first performance, Slava got to the place in the score where the orchestra stopped, and he leaned back, folded his arms and smiled. Now, how hard could it be, you ask? All I had to do was continue keeping time in 2/4 so that the Oprichniks kept singing. But my brain had been turned off - I wasn't thinking, just keeping time like a robot. My life flashed before my eyes, but of course, all went swimmingly. He saw me in the hallway and grinned - said he knew I could fly solo.

This Week at the Trap

Getting a Little Less Stupid: I'm still consumed with research on what I hope will be our upcoming recording of Volpone. I'm actually getting comfortable with some of the terminology and I'm beginning to trust my instincts a bit. We have to make a go/no-go decision about it very very soon, though.

Wordsmithing: Our copy deadline for the first program (Center Lines) of the summer is on Wednesday, and a lot of these last few days has been spent finalizing art bios, refining synopses and other program articles, and trying to make the whole season fit in 20 pages!

The New Media: Trying to figure out exactly how much time and energy we can afford to put into things like blogging, podcasting, and YouTubing (ooh, I love that as a verb...) this summer. It's an exciting new world, but most of these efforts don't pay off in the short run. And, like most organizations, we have no new employees we can send frolicking in this particular playground, so efforts can't be frivolous. (Yes, frolicking. Isn't that what YouTubing sounds like it is?)

And... We're working on travel arrangements for our artists and staff, finishing up housing assignments for the summer, auditioning boys for the genii in Magic Flute, writing supertitles, watching box office reports, and crunching budget numbers.

Next week we welcome interns, seasonal administrative staff, music staff, stage managers, and the first wave of singers.

The Importance of Good Diction

If you're in need of a good laugh, go here, courtesy of my colleague JoAnn from Peabody Conservatory.

(P.S. Here are the real words:
Blessed city, heavenly Salem, vision dear of peace and love
Who of living stones art builded in the height of heaven above
And, with angel hosts encircled, as a bride dost earthward move
From celestial realms descending, bridal glory round thee shed,
Meet for him whose love espoused thee, to thy Lord shalt thou be led
All thy streets and all thy bulwarks of pure gold are fashioned.)

Back to Vienna

Congratulations to Washington Concert Opera for their recent Otello (Rossini's version). Yesterday's Post proclaimed the discovery of tenor Kenneth Tarver - a former Wolf Trapper. As were Otello cast members Elizabeth Futral, Bruce Ford and David Langan. And let's not forget WCO conductor and Artistic Director Antony Walker.

"The human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter."
(Mark Twain)

The final day of last week's Opera America conference brought a terrific presentation of scenes from new operas - some already premiered, some under development. The artists were from the Florida Grand Opera Studio, and they did outstanding work. I loved the chance to hear this wide range of new music, but I did draw one sobering conclusion. Aside from the one excerpt from a children's opera (the witty Three Pigs Remix), there wasn't a comic opera in the batch.

I can appreciate a composer's desire to write music that is touching and dramatic. But there has to be a place for laughter. Why does it seem to be largely avoided in the spectrum of new works? Is it because if you write a comedy your work won't be taken seriously? Or (more likely), it's just too damn hard to do it well.

Of course, I have an ulterior motive in mentioning this, and you may have guessed it. We're bringing back John Musto's and Mark Campbell's Volpone next month. A 21st-century opera that manages to be smart, tuneful, and funny.

This is a Test

Getting out of Miami, that is. Ended up in one of those twilight-zone detours through the bowels of the airport. And we thought the Dulles people-movers were a pain...