Monday, July 30, 2007

Problems Time Has Solved

My InBox.

Not my email InBox, which I reduce to almost zero on a regular basis. (It's a sickness.) Rather, it's my desk InBox to which I'm applying that most-wonderful-of-strategies: Problems Time Will Solve.

Everyone in my office knows not to put important mail in my real InBox during the summer. If I'm really meant to see something it ends up on my chair or on top of my computer keyboard. Yes, I get the hint.

And the InBox is overflowing. Really, it takes more time to get something to balance on top of it that it would be to just read it and get it over with. Still I persist. Yesterday I had to go searching for something that might've been buried. (It wasn't.) And I realized that almost everything in the InBox could now go directly into the trash. Hmmm.

Writer's Block

There are some problems time doesn't help, though. Like the fact that I've been trying to write an article for the Magic Flute printed program (we call it Center Lines) for weeks. It was due last Friday. And everything I start gets scrapped. I am going to write something tonight. If I have to stay up all night to do it. (And since I sleep so poorly these days, it may not make any difference.)

Wishing Upon a Star

Two more performances of L'Etoile to go. I am so fond of this piece. Not rocket science, and somewhat underwhelming if your taste skews to serious high art, but so satisfying on every other level.

Open Studio

Today marked the beginning of a week's worth of Wolf Trap Opera Studio classes open to invited guests. I had the honor of kicking it off, doing an auditions workshop. I really don't remember what I said or did, but I'm told it was useful and entertaining. Tomorrow - Italian recitative; later this week - acting, movement, and a scenes program.

Enough avoidance. Back to work. Wish I were a musicologist.... And I'm toiling away here, missing the Hippiefest...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Vive Ouf!

I've been told by several colleagues associated with our production of L’Étoile (opening tomorrow!) that I've neglected this most-enjoyable-of-operas in the blog. It seemed inconceivable, for most of my days lately have been consumed by all things L’Étoile. But it's true. Completely unintentional but true.

How to summarize a month's worth of Chabrier's sassy and sweet opera?

We ignored it for years, believing that the orchestration was too extensive for our mini-pit. Once we discovered this beautiful reduction (for you musicians and producers: strings plus and 2 percussion), we were sold. And this year's audition year netted the perfect cast.

Lazuli, the wandering peddler.

Princess Laoula with King Ouf

Lazuli with astrologer Siroco

Ouf with Aloës

Lazuli trying to escape


Hérisson de Porc-Epic

Lazuli & Laoula

Nous voyageons incognito

Photos 1, 2, 4, 9 by Carol Pratt
Photos 3, 5, 6, 7, 8 by Andrew Propp

To my chagrin, there are still tickets remaining for this 4-show run. Best tickets available next Friday (8/3), but also good ones to be had this weekend (tomorrow at 8, Sunday at 2) and for the final show (8/5 at 2.)

I Vant to be Alone

A day (well, almost 8 hours) by myself. And did I ever need it.

Yes, I know, too much solitary time is also a curse. But I haven't had a single morning, afternoon, evening, whatever of alone time in over 2 months. Have used my few days off to help my dad move. And the rest of the summer has been a blur of people. Lovely people (for the most part), mind you, but I've had my fill. (Now, if you are working at Wolf Trap and you're reading this, realize that this is not an admonition to avoid me...)

I'm a people person, but the cost can be high. Because I'm also a people pleaser, and no matter what the situation, precious energy is siphoned off for that purpose. Yes, I know it's not particularly wise or mature, but I've given up trying to change. The thing is, though, I'm the last one in line unless I'm the only one in the room. Therefore, my day alone today was the best drug money can't buy.

(And just in case you think I did noble things with my solitude, consider this. I was so disgusted trying to clean my house that I gave in and bought a Dyson. Yes, MI, I did it. And yes, I filled two of those canisters with dirt. Thought about blogging a picture, but I'm not sure I want you to know that much about me.)

See you at L’Étoile. Almost forgot... nice preview today in The Baltimore Sun.

Vive Ouf ! Vive notre Ouf, notre bon Ouf, le plus excellent des Ouf !

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Stars and Sillies

Thinking a lot about star power and large personalities. Three days' worth in this weekend's National Symphony Orchestra concerts: Lang Lang, James Galway, Marvin Hamlisch.

I worked the Lang Lang concert. It's always fascinating to see a pianist who's completely at home at the keyboard. There are pianists who conquer the instrument, who dominate it and make it speak volumes. But it doesn't always follow that the keyboard seems to be a completely natural extension of them. I'm not being articulate, but the distinction seems so very clear somewhere inside my head.

I didn't work the Galway concert because I had a technical rehearsal for L'Etoile. But I made a quick run over to the theatre to hear the Pines of Rome that was supposed to follow Galway's appearance. Got there a few minutes early, just in time for his Danny Boy encore. It was a long night, with several hours ahead yet, and the idea of Danny Boy wasn't particularly appealing. Guess I was having a music snob moment.

I have to say, though, that even though the idea felt like kitsch, the execution was completely satisfying. Simple, honest, heartfelt, unapologetic, all that good stuff. Followed by some gloriously bloated Respighi, complete with bird calls, 32' organ stops and herald trumpets from the U.S. Army Band. Emil de Cou called it a giant deep-friend symphonic Twinkie. (To truly appreciate Emil's wacky sense of humor, spend a couple of minutes with his YouTube ad for our NSO concerts.)

Life After the Woods

We finished up our week of Instant Opera with a couple of atypically glorious midsummer mornings. You've heard me talk a lot about this project, but I'm struck again and again by how well this experiment seems to have turned out. We started out 2 years ago with a goal that even we weren't sure we could reach. And we surpassed it.

What do the kids and their parents seem to learn from these crazy mornings of improvisational acting and singing?

That there are smart and funny 20-somethings who sing opera.

That they do it willingly and happily at 11am for hundreds of small children.

That the crazy conventions of opera are pretty simple after all. By the end of the show, everyone knows the difference between bravo, brava and bravi. They can also order a hamburger in recitative.

That there can be a sense of excitement and total investment in opera that has nothing to do with the stereotype of large immobile people in boring costumes parking and barking.

And, as if that weren't enough, what do the participants take away from the woods?

Well, for starters, that they can get up on stage and negotiate every curve ball thrown at them for 15 whole minutes and live to tell the tale.

That they have the recipe for Mozart recitative so firmly imprinted on their subconscious that they can navigate around the circle of fifths unerringly and convincingly.

That their colleagues are not only talented, they are also gracious.

That it's possible to bring their art to the uninitiated without boring themselves or patronizing the audience.

That almost nothing will happen to them onstage for the next 20 years that will surprise them.

Next year we're upping the ante. Improvised English text during the arias.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Once Upon a Time in Germany

Even though there were other important things happening today (a "Dressing for Operatic Success" seminar with costume guru Marsha Leboeuf, an all-too-entertaining L'Etoile run-through among others), I can't resist yet another storyboard from opera in the woods. Once again, all created by the several hundred children in the audience. One of whom, obviously, was recently in Germany :)

Once upon a time in a castle, a king and a princess (quite bored, they were)....

... swam every day (in the moat, of course)....

....until Harry Potter and a dragon.....

.... came along to fly with them.

Of course, there was a surprise character
(some evil guyfrom the Harry Potter books...
I'll have to get the name for you...
I'm not exactly up on all of that, sadly).

But there was a happy ending!

Tomorrow brings more Instant Opera, coachings for Magic Flute (which starts in 5, count 'em, 5 days...) and a National Symphony concert.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Happy Dragon

Today, in the woods.....

Once upon a time in a castle, a princess...

...and a wizard...

...galloped through the forest every day until a dragon...

...came along to kidnap the princess.

(There was a handsome prince, too.)
Gotta Love Instant Opera.

(Thanks for playing, Jeremy! You were brilliant!)

Monday, July 16, 2007

Notes from the Office Next Door

A Guest Post
In Which Many Kind-and-Slightly-Embarrassing Things Are Recounted

Having the office next to Kim’s is a trip, in all the best possible ways.

During the summer it’s a little like living next door to the Mayor - the personalities that drop in are varied and colorful: Studio artists pop by to borrow a Nico Castel libretto collection; colleagues from marketing drop in, armed with a list of questions and a digital recorder to tape a podcast; a Filene Young Artist asks questions about next steps; a team from Development comes in to brainstorm methods to convey news of a new project to receptive ears; a director from a past season stops by to say hello; a voice teacher interested in teaching for our community music school comes for an interview. Each visitor requires a different focus, a different set of questions.

But I'm the most frequent visitor.

There is a path worn in the carpet from my desk to the chair next to Kim's desk. Some days I'm only in there once or twice. But more often I've warmed that chair a half-dozen times before lunch. Sometimes it's to get advice. Sometimes it's to vent. Sometimes it's to ask if what we're doing is working, or if we need to rethink it. Sometimes it's to just listen.

(And sometimes, it's for a candy fix. Stress eaters, unite!)

Her door is always open. As a fledgling administrator, I am hugely grateful that she's willing to share her experience. It's been an eye opener; to work with someone who is so into process, who is willing to rework ideas from the ground up.

And she's fun to work with. Beat that.

Over the next week we move into a period of juggling: operas, recitals, Studio classes, guest lecturers, and Symphony concerts. And on top of that it's time to think about the audition process, what's working this summer, what should be tweaked for next year. It's difficult to reflect when you're playing whac-a-mole, but we'll try. Don't be terribly disappointed if you don't hear as much as you'd like from us over the next week or two; rather, stop by and say "bonjour!" after a performance of L'Etoile. We'd love to see you!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

So Little Time

The days just crowd in on themselves, and the choice of sleeping or blogging is a common one. So there's much to catch up on.

Anti-Master Class

Today, three of our singers talked to and worked with some high school singers. It's gratifying work, and our artists are always more than happy to volunteer. When we first started doing these classes, it surprised me that I'd have so many volunteers that I'd actually have to turn people down. And they always enter into it in such a positive, supportive way. (I call them Anti-Master Classes because I've seen my share of Master Classes whose unspoken agenda is to gratify the ego of the master artist. We are not going down that road.)


Yesterday, Yoga for Singers with Suzanne Jackson. I took the picture at left before class, at which time I was anticipating stretching out on one of those mats. Alas, yoga also gave way to the siren song of Friday at my desk. But I was doing Downward Dog in spirit.

Rehearsal Notes

Every evening, the Production Stage Manager of whatever show is in rehearsal sends notes to all of the folks involved with the show -
Costumes, Set/Tech, Lighting/Electrics, Sound, Music, Wigs/Make-up, Props, Administration... The notes indicate what happened in rehearsal that day and give marching orders for problems to be solved and tasks to accomplish.

I particularly liked this L'Etoile note from earlier this week: "The sound of clocks is defined as 7000 Czechoslovakian clocks ticking not in unison, and increasing in volume over approximately 1:15 of music." I haven't been in L'Etoile rehearsal nearly enough, and I plan to remedy that very soon!

On the other hand, I received a detailed email this week about technical specs for our production rental of Magic Flute. Not coming from the technical theatre side of this business, I am easily confused. Suffice to say that I got a little lost in this part: "Lighting & effects rental includes: 2 Dry Ice foggers, 2 Bridge Spots: Source Four 26 degree 750watt with iris and spot yokes, (8) + (2 spare) Rosco twin spins on four rovers." (Actually, I understand more of that than I used to. The Technical Education of Ms. Witman proceeds apace.

Personal Best

It is only July 14, and I have finished all of the supertitles for the summer!!! (Well, L'Etoile and Flute are still in draft version, but the hard work is done.)

Auditions? In July?

Yes, it seems rudely early to be spending hours a day working on the fall audition tour. But our poster and applications are being printed in the next couple of weeks, and the information needs to be on the website in early August. So here we are, searching airline schedules and renting audition spaces. (Did you know it's horrendously expensive to fly from Philadelphia to Cincinnati? Had to redo the routing to avoid it.)

If you want to audition for us next fall, look for the information early. Application deadines are at the beginning of October this year. And we're auditioning for both the Filene Young Artist program and the Studio during the same time period (roughly October 28 through November 21). I'll publish details very soon.

Once Upon a Time

Instant Opera! starts in a few days. Rehearsals are winding up, and we are so ready. Tomorrow we invite our colleagues to become our first audience, and on Tuesday we take our lives in our hands in front of 7-year-olds. Today's rehearsal plots involved Spiderman, Hilary Duff, a pancake house and Harry Potter. Much more Instant Opera! news to follow this week.

Difficult News

Our business is reeling from this week's news about Jerry Hadley. I only worked with Jerry briefly in the 80's when his career was taking off and I was the third-assistant-rehearsal-pianist-in-the-corner. Of course our hearts go out to his family and friends, and it's wrenching to imagine the amount of pain he must've been bearing. Tragedy can hit in all walks of life, but this hits home with us because we understand so well the difficulties and challenges of our business.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Still Counting

I'm not so good with blog statistics. Occasionally I look at them, but not so much lately. I have the same uneasy relationship with them as I do with box office numbers. My mental health, such as it is, depends on my doing the best I can at whatever I'm thrown at, but stopping short of getting emotionally invested about how many people care.

Yes, that's a dangerous thing when you are trying to balance a budget and eke out some earned income. So on a professional level, I care greatly about whether or not we sell tickets. (I am the master of masochistic box office spreadsheets.) Likewise, I'm glad someone reads the blog, and I suppose that if no one did, I'd just quit. But I can't pay too much attention to the numbers and stay sane. If I had to personally market my services, I'd be unemployed. Just can't do the sales thing. Feels too much like asking your friends to vote for you for class president or something.

Rambling, I am, and too confessional for my own good. All by way of saying that I noticed a few weeks ago that the cumulative blog stats were pushing 100,000. And Saturday night we crossed the line! If you were my 100,000th reader, thank you.

My first car (1969 VW Bug) saw me through to 220,000 miles. And at each 100,000 I stopped wherever I was (once in the farm country of Pennsylvania, once on a side street in northeast DC) and had a little celebration. So I'll take a few seconds to celebrate this milestone and wonder if it bodes well for my sanity that I'm still doing this.

Field Trip. Literally.

Hiked back to the Children's Theatre-in-the-Woods with the Instant Opera cast today. This is when you truly realize that you have signed up to work at a National Park. It was 99 degrees, but spirits were high nonetheless.

Saturday, July 07, 2007


There's an email that goes out to all Wolf Trap Foundation employees the morning of the weekly Little Lunch Music concert. (So that if you'd like to attend you'll know what's coming up, and if you would like to avoid opera at all costs you can plan to be out of the building:) My colleague JW crafts these entertaining missives. This Friday's mini-concert had a different slant - here's the email:

Ever wanted to know exactly what to say to make a soprano rustle her feathers?

Want to know just what phrases will make a tenor get so defensive you can actually see the veins in his neck pop out while he is NOT singing?

Here are a few doozies:

  • You’re an opera singer? I LOVE “Phantom” … I’ve seen it a hundred times!
  • Which Cat would you most like to be? Can you sing me a bit of “Memories” right now? That’s MY favorite opera.
  • Isn’t Andrea Boccelli the BEST!!!??
  • Do you actually KNOW Josh Groban?

Why are these such fightin’ words? Because opera singers are FIERCELY protective over their art form, and the aforementioned shows and people, while perfectly lovely …

are not … no way no how, not in a million years, not upside-down, not in a possible space-time continuum, not in Greek nor on Mars …


Please join us TODAY for a lunchtime concert of fantastic “crossover” music which is …

definitely …



July 6 from 12:00 – 12:15 PM.

In the Earle Williams Learning Center … come listen from the balcony, the main level, or even your office!

“Crossover,” in classical music applies not to a man in a dress, as you may have suspected. Rather, crossover music would imply that although the style of the piece is somewhat more popular or casual than a typical classical selection, the requirements to sing it well demand a classical technique and training.

Basically … we would like to present for you three songs and a chorus which, while sung beautifully and by bona fide opera singers, are …

definitely …



FYI, the selections were "Me" from Beauty and the Beast, "I Never Has Seen Snow" from House of Flowers, and "Being Alive" from Company. (Photos courtesy of EM. Match the pictures to the songs:)


Improv games today with this year's casts for Instant Opera! I partook (is that a word?) for the first couple of hours, then had to go back to my boring grownup activities.

Today's serious comedy work involved Zip Zap Zup, The Name Game, Dr. Know-It-All, Tiger Martian Salesman, and Yes/And.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Pictures Only

After having taken two (count 'em, two!) consecutive days off, I'm far more clear-headed than I've been in weeks. I'm using my newfound (and I'm sure temporary) clarity to plow through the backlog on my desk, so today's blogging is images only. Little of substance, but a pretty good representation of life around here lately.

Instant Opera prep starts tomorrow - the fun is just beginning.

Ciao, Volpone. It was a wild ride.

L'Etoile design presentation

L'Etoile costume sketches (Carol Bailey)

L'Etoile set model (Erhard Rom)

Keeping me company outside my office window.

Today in the copy room. Life is a series of compromises.

Garden Cam. Late June in Zone 6. Gotta love it.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

In the Can

I've alluded to this, vaguely and cryptically, over these last weeks. As of 4 hours ago, we now have the raw material for a commercial live recording of Volpone. And this has been possibly the most frustrating and confounding journey of my professional life thus far.

The recording project was launched and cancelled more times than I can count. The path to today was littered with obstacles, aborted attempts, misinformation and misunderstandings. But it also included generous colleagues, helpful advice, supportive coworkers and bosses, and a learning curve that was so fierce that it demanded to be conquered.

I intend to articulate that process here in the blog. It's critical that other small organizations have the chance to learn from our mistakes and our successes. Very little of this journey is private or confidential, and there are no real villains. Yet it was a bigger mess than almost anything I've witnessed. But it will have to wait for a day (week? month?) that is requiring less of me than this midseason whirlwind.


Yesterday was spent listening to the audio from the first three performances so we could have a short list of things to address during our post-performance patch session today. Fortunately, the list was manageable - largely full of scene change music that in live performance is compromised by unavoidable bumps and bangs. We also polished off a few scenes that needed to be sung from a more stable stage position (read: rather than being sung while running at breakneck speed through doors and up ladders).

Now, Soundmirror will mix and master a composite recording from the live performances and the patch session, and we'll resume the big discussion about record label. But first, we turn our attention to Chabrier's charming L'Etoile, which begins rehearsal tomorrow morning.

Hump Week!

7 down, 7 to go. Good thing, too. I came to work with my clothes on inside-out the other day.

Another Kind of Instant Opera

Carmen in concert on Thursday night. (Photos by Carol Pratt)

With the National Symphony Orchestra, guest artists, chorus, World Children's Choir.

More exhausting than it had any right to be, but more rewarding, too.

Diva and divo (WTOC alums Denyce Graves as Carmen and Simon O'Neill as Jose) were on site for about 3 days, both a bit jet-lagged but happy to be here. I've known Denyce since she was a young artist and I was a staff coach, so it was lovely to catch up again. Simon was here more recently, but his career is really taking off. Bringing both of them on gave us a chance to do something like Carmen - a piece that has great roles for our regular company members, but requires more vocal maturity and heft in its two lead roles.

I was a bit unsure as to how the mixture of young artists and experienced guests would work (it's been over 20 years since we did anything like it), but aside from the first few awkward minutes, it was perfectly fine. Everyone had a job to do and did it well.

Actually, that is the key to these crazy projects. Just a few days from page to stage, and there's no time to coddle or coax. So the success lies in surrounding yourself with people who know their jobs cold and can turn on a dime. Conductor, singers, stage managers, coaches, director (yes, even a concert staging needs a good director), chorus (grownups and children)... the list could go on.

The whole really is bigger than the sum of its parts. Thus it is with a traditional production, but in that case, everyone involved can watch the coming together in a gradual, predictable fashion. With these quickies, the big picture only appears at the single performance, suddenly and belatedly. Fully formed and sprung from the head of Zeus.

And for some reason the administrative burden (oops... rather... administrative contribution) is greater than in a typical production period. So it feels pretty overwhelming to a small staff like ours. It didn't help that the heat on our only day of rehearsal in the theatre was crushing. And I'm not doing so well with heat this year...

Denyce did a Q&A session with guests and young artists as part of Wolf Trap's master class series. We captured some audio, and I need to check it to see if it's usable and editable as a podcast. If the quality is decent and Denyce gives permission, I'll try to get it posted.