Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Grinding the Gears

Deep into Carmen mode - suddenly and brutally. It always seems as if we should be able to pull off a concert opera with minimal staff and less fuss. But it's always far harder that I remember. (Yes, we all know my memory is not my best feature.) Why can I not learn?

Anyway, all is fine, but we are drowning in the details. Like how to get the refund for the parking ticket validation at the Kennedy Center after the ticket personnel go home. And why it takes so very long to peel off those damn sticky labels and put them in the supertitle score. (At left, in my satellite office in the Hall of Nations...) Note to self: Hire someone to do the &($*% supertitles next year.

But tonight's rehearsal (with the NSO, Denyce Graves, Simon O'Neill, WTOC and World Children's Choir) was exhilarating. Largely due to the magic and mastery of conductor Stephen Lord, who I continue to be able to talk into spending time with us at The Trap. It's the 30th anniversary of his Wolf Trap debut, too, but who's counting? (Doktor Faust, 1977) I learn more about what's happening in the business of opera from Stephen in 4 days than I do the rest of the entire year. And I invariably come away from it thinking that perhaps I need to find another line of work:)

Nice press for last weekend's opening of Volpone. Last I checked, we still had tickets for this coming weekend. There's been a lot of activity, but I don't think it's sold out just yet.

Monday, June 25, 2007

We're Still Here!

When there's time to blog, there's not a whole lot to report. And when there's a lot happening (euphemism for not keeping my head above the operatic waters), there's no time to blog.

Thus, this week-long silence.


Nice web feature on - go here to listen.
A week of indescribable ups and downs, putting this show on its feet. A tense tech week and bumpy dress rehearsal (no surprise there) led to a terrific first set of performances. Audiences just love this piece. Justice Ginsberg was there today, enjoying her favorite part of this opera - the courtroom scenes.

All photos by Carol Pratt.

The Judges


Birds of Prey: (L-R) Cornaccio, Corvina, Voltore




The Moscateers (L-R) Epicene, Nano, Castrato

Big Daddy Fox

Death by Aria

Yesterday, our annual parade of party pieces for the Wolf Trap Associates. Not really "Death by Aria", as we fondly christened the event decades ago. Everything from verismo to Broadway, with a virtuoso Falstaff fugue ending by the Studio. Photos later.

Wait, There's More

It's been a series of long days broken only by a raucous 50th birthday celebration on Thursday. (And of course, now that I'm that old, I have the right to complain, right?)

Documenting a few days-in-the-life as a way of convincing myself that I'm tired not just because I'm old, and also to demonstrate to the loyal readership that the blog silence wasn't deliberate...


9:30 - Facilitate radio interview with Volpone composer & librettist. (Sent unsuspecting colleague to Baltimore with the duo.)

10:30 - Practice the piano (a.k.a. omigod where are my chops) for lunchtime concert.

11:15 - Prepare for NEA luncheon

12:00 - Bash through arias and Falstaff finale at lunch concert. Escape with dignity reasonably intact.

12:45 - Make brief presentation for visiting NEA panel.

2:00 - Make corrections to supertitles for tonight's Volpone opening.

3:30 - Run through more arias for tomorrow's donor concert. Try to remember how to transpose. (Where are my chops? Did I suddenly get stupider now that I'm 50???)

5:00 - Ask intern to please do surgery on powerpoint presentation for preshow talk.

6:00 - Load supertitle corrections into the file. Negotiate with cranky projector

6:30 - Give a passing thought to what I might say at the preshow talk.

7:05 - Breathe sigh of relief as composer and librettist show up at preshow talk and happily dominate the conversation.

7:45 - Check in at box office. Only a few last-minute surprises.

8:05 - Enjoy opening performance, with exception of cranky supertitle projector that is cutting off some of the cues.

10:30 - Curtain. General rejoicing.

11:00 - More practicing for tomorrow's donor concert.

12:30 - Try to write notes for remarks for tomorrow's concert.

1:45 - OK, I've had it.


10:15 - Open up the theatre. Check air conditioning. More time at the keyboard.

11:45 - It's as good as it's going to get. Change clothes and double-check notebook of music. Get cranky about being indoors on the most beautiful day of the whole summer.

1:00 - Brief Falstaff rehearsal

2:00 - Death by Aria. Lots of fun. Truly.

3:30 - Chat with patrons at reception, several of whom ask why I haven't written in the blog since Monday. :)

5:00 - Return to the office, work for a while, then decide to quit because I seem to be getting stupider by the minute.

7:30 - Decide to watch The Departed DVD with my husband while working on Carmen supertitles. Bad idea. Got totally lost in the movie. And heaven knows what effect it had on the titles.

10:00 - Tomorrow's another day.


10:00 - Follow through on various arrangements for local transportation for visiting artists; picking up, dropping off, getting food, etc.

11:00 - More changes on supertitles and more negotiations with cranky projector. Think we have it figured out.

12:30 - Now the projector for the preshow presentation is cranky, too. I really have the A/V touch this weekend, it seems.

1:00 - Happily allow composer and librettist to do the preshow talk.

2:00 - Spend the entire Volpone performance on the steps behind the curtain at the back of the house working on the schedule for tomorrow.

4:30 - Volpone curtain

5:00 - Geni audition for Magic Flute

5:15 - Carmen run-through (Figured I'd better go to Carmen rehearsal soon, since the assistant conductor recently sent me this photo of their progress. Frasquita as Cousin It.)

7:30 - Carmen production team meeting

8:30 - My daughter made dinner!

9:30 - Export Carmen supertitles. Trim, tweak, tease.

11:00 - Blog!

Back in a day or two. Promise.

Monday, June 18, 2007


sitzen: to sit / proben: to rehearse

The singers don't always sit during the Sitzprobe, but it's a much less active rehearsal than the rest - particularly for this sometimes-physical comedy. It's a time to temporarily shelve the costumes and props and focus on the music. The singers and orchestra hear each other for the first time. Some singers go back to their scores for the Sitz, some continue to operate only from memory. It's a really individual thing, and it has a lot to do with individual styles of learning.
Sometimes the Sitz becomes a Wandel, and the performers hit their marks on the stage, not really executing the blocking but generally ending up in the area of the stage from where a certain part of the score is sung.

The Sitz is one of my favorite touchstones in the production period, and one of my least favorite days in the summer. The former because it signifies the final coming-together of all of the wonderful and various elements of an opera. The latter because the orchestra pit in our theatre is a difficult place, desperately in need of renovation and enlargement. The players approach it with a mixture of tolerance and resignation, and squeezing 28 musicians into it for two productions every summer is an exercise in flexibility, good humour, and willingness to overlook the details for the greater good. Perhaps someday I won't dread the Sitz...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ramping Up

Friday Afternoon
A good time was had by all yesterday, recording our Volpone artist podcast. The result was longer than these things should be, but there's not enough time to do much editing. So grab a cup of coffee and settle back for a chat with us.

Download or listen here, and below at right!

Friday Evening
Overnight, the pace has quadrupled. This is nothing new, but somehow we forget it from show to show. Last night, final run-through in the rehearsal room. Typically called the "designer run" because the scenic, costume, and lighting designer get to see the piece the whole way through for the first time. But this one was also a "composer run" because John Musto arrived in time for it. Talk about ramping up the anxiety level... :)
Saturday Afternoon

This morning, we welcome the orchestra for their first rehearsal. About half of the group played this piece in its previous production, so we're starting a little further ahead than last time. Today and tomorrow we have the luxury of rehearsing in the Center for Education. Monday we move into the pit, and that's when my heart is in my throat. But I'll deal with that in a few days.

Saturday Evening
First technical rehearsal in the theatre. Some costumes, no wigs or makeup. It's all about dealing with the BMD and the "Laugh-in" windows.

Guest Blogger
The first person this season to take me up on my guest blogger offer is bass Thomas Florio - come see and hear him as Judge 3 (from Brooklyn, I believe:) in Volpone!

One of the opportunities we're given as part of the new Studio Artist program is a series of Professional Development Classes given by some of the more seasoned artists involved in the Wolf Trap Opera productions. Last week we had a wonderful masterclass with Volpone director Peter Kazaras, and a couple days ago we had a class with Sara Jobin, the conductor of Volpone, who gave us all kinds of hints, tips, and general-things-you-really-ought-to-know-as-a-young-singer. We had the opportunity to ask questions, and at one point I asked about politics in the professional opera world. As young singers we’re all told that politics can play a potentially large role in determining our careers; making the wrong impression at the wrong time with the wrong person can end your career before it’s started, and there’s very little room for error.

I asked Sara just how prevalent these politics are, when our experience at Wolf Trap thus far has shown so little. If they really do play such a large role, I wondered why we haven’t seen them here. Josh Winograde (the Administrative Fellow in charge of the Studio) and Sara looked at each other and immediately agreed that Wolf Trap is very much a special place in the world of opera. The atmosphere here is a simple one of mutual artistry and cooperation. That’s not to say this place is perfect (the drawback to being in the middle of a beautiful woodland setting is that fast food isn’t exactly around the corner), but it’s sure got a lot going for it. If you get the chance, you should come see for yourself – Volpone opens on Friday. ;-)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Always Eat the Chocolate

Total grab bag today. Things are moving very fast here (public disclosure coming soon), and there's not much time to blog, to say the least.


"It's not even half bad." Coach Thomas Lausmann, about something... I can't remember what, but it was pertinent.

"I burned the damn popcorn. Knew I should've just eaten the chocolate." Me, during a particular severe bout of nervous eating.

This, from Sunday's New York Times, a terrific article on pianist Leon Fleisher. My favorite moment, a quote highlighted in the print version: The imperative: 'Use your fingers and your hands 'in the service of an idea.' The extrapolation, of course: 'Always use your voice in the service of an idea.'

Singer of the World

Follow our friend and Wolf Trap alum Ryan McKinny during his adventures at the Cardiff competition. Check out Ryan's bio on the official site.

Photo Shoot!

Fun today with some promotional photos of Volpone and Celia.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Moscateers and the BMD

Above: The Moscateers.

Volpone has 4 servants. In addition to his main man Mosca, there are (left to right) Nano, Epicene, and Castrato. The Moscateers.

Quotes of the Day

From fabulous Bradon McDonald of the Mark Morris Dance Group, during his morning dance/movement class with our Studio (how lucky can we get...), responding to some difficulty with the choreography: "I understand, but I won't take the blame."

Exactly. I will remember and use this.

From our brilliant Volpone director (who, I am duly informed, does read the blog:)): "Whoever first said "the genius is in the details" must have been thinking about physical comedy!" (Actually I thought the devil was in the details, but perhaps we're just being positive here.)

Drama: Easy

Comedy: Hard

Ah, but oh so worth it!


At left, the BMD, a.k.a. the Box of Many Drawers. Stage mangement's affectionate term for the rehearsal mock-up of a large multi-facted scenic element that becomes a bed, a bridge, a courtroom witness box... you get the idea.

Today's Particularly Appropriate Word of the Day

Golconda \gahl-KAHN-duh\ noun : a rich mine; broadly : a source of great wealth. As in, Volpone's three greedy and gullible avian friends.


Saturday was my day off. (Yeah!)

Got to see my son and his girlfriend off to the prom. (Aren't they adorable?) And spent some time with my visiting in-laws who brought the most beautiful strawberries from the farm. Four hours from field to table - nothing you can buy at the grocery store can touch it.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Big Daddy Fox

Volpone (L) and Mosca hatch their scheme in Act 1 Scene 1.

I love Josh Winograde's translation of Volpone's name. (And Josh should know because he premiered the role.) "Volpe" means "fox" in Italian, and when the Italians put "" (pronounced oh-nay) at the end of a word, it means BIG. Josh says that Volpone means "Big Daddy Fox." And sure enough, that's apt.

This description of the title character from the libretto: Volpone is a voluptuary; he delights in all things sensual, be it gold or sex. He also has a quick sense of humor and genuinely enjoys exposing the hypocrites around him.
This week it's all Volpone all the time - a small window of pure concentration before Carmen intrudes. As of 6:30pm tonight, we've staged the entire thing. The first time around. That gives us a week to loop back and fix things that seemed like a good idea at the time. (I don't think PK reads the blog, so I'm safe.)

Seriously, after an entire opera gets "on its feet," it would be delusional to think that all of the first round of decisions were to hold. You learn a lot in those first 10 days of staging, and it makes sense to push rewind and see if all of those initial instincts were sound. And now we have a few days to do just that.

I got to have some fun today - went to rehearsal with my computer, intending to sit in the corner and attack my InBox while listening. Turns out there wasn't a pianist assigned to the ZauberKlavier. (The keyboard that magically shadows the singers so that their confidence level with the score continues to grow.)
So I got to play the piano keyboard instead of the Dell keyboard!But the most exciting thing about this photo is the truck in back of me - beginning to load in the set to the theatre!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Back from Berlin

Images and sounds from Saturday evening's fabulous Berlin Night Life:

"That Old Bilbao Moon"

Shopgirls' Duet


The Wolf Trap Comedian Harmonists sing "Mein Onkel Bumba"

For more photos, the program details and some audio clips, go here. Kudos to Steve Blier and cast for a memorable evening. If you missed it, there are a few tickets left for Steve's next extravaganza - Manhattan Diaries on August 11.

Back in Venice with Volpone

One of my favorite moments of the day is reading the stage management notes from the previous day's rehearsal. Included are all manner of critical and useful requests for props, rehearsal costume pieces, etc. But at the end of the report we often get quotes from rehearsal.

“They’re numbered on both sides now? Whoever came up with that – brilliant!” a tenor, on the music stands with the numbers for doors & windows, which had formerly been labeled only on the onstage side. “It’s the same on both sides? I’m so confused!” a baritone, on the same music stands. :)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Growing Pains

Not doing very well at keeping up with the blog on a daily basis, always striving to do better. But sometimes the choice lies in creating opera or talking about it.

Photos above - Berlin Night Life cast. Soloists and Comedian Harmonists.

Photos below - snapshots from rehearsal.

With Volpone in rehearsal, the Berlin Night Life performance this weekend, and the Studio program in full swing, we're trying to convince ourselves that our reach has not exceeded our grasp. Actually, it's not that bad, but we are sort of bumping into ourselves, trying to find that magic alignment of staff resources and spaces that allows us to do everything we'd like to. The daily schedule used to take up to 2 hours to create on a bad day... now 2 hours is the starting point. But it's getting a little easier each day.

The Studio seems thrilled to be here, and we're so excited about rolling out this program. And it would be delusional to think that we could increase the number of singers here by 75% with no growing pains. Then again, delusions are my life.

Nothing to Prove

Had a bad morning, but was cheered up on my way to work by this story on Weekend Edition. One of the semi-finalists in this weekend's Van Cliburn Amateur Competition talks about being an amateur musician. He appreciates the freedom of being "released from having to prove anything." Amen. All musicians - professional or amateur - do their best work when they're not trying to prove anything. But so often, those who depend on their performances for their livelihood (current or future) don't have that luxury.


The WTOC's spring newsletter is now on the WT website. Go there for more details on our season than can be gleaned from our regular web pages.


In further pursuit of lightening my mood, this from today's Quotes of the Day: Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children, and by children to adults. (Thomas Szasz)

And, to make you happy, here's a snippet of the Comedian Harmonists and Mein Onkel Bumba (who dances a mean rumba).