Monday, June 30, 2008

Candide Day 1

Friends who are more disciplined and creative than I embark on 30-day projects. I haven't yet had the nerve to start my own, but I am hopping on the bandwagon for this month of July.

July 2008: A Blog Post Each Day

I'm not promising scintillating commentary. But I am pledging a daily snapshot (in words or images) of life at WTOC.

Above, a snapshot from Monday evening's Candide rehearsal with The City Choir of Washington - the first entry in a whirlwind week of Bernstein.


Want to know where creative juices come from? Visit this post on the Stages blog. Really. You have to see this one.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Best of All Possible Weather Forecasts

Since we have a Filene Center performance at the end of this week, I'm re-addicted to the Weather Channel. We've had a steamy week here at the end of June, but a "cold" front is poised to help usher in July. The only thing I know for sure is that I'll be poring over radar maps for the next 7 days.

I know that Voltaire, as well as Bernstein and his army of collaborators, took a satirical approach to the Candide's unquestioning acceptance of his many misfortunes. I suppose my own Pollyanna approach to life aligns far more with Candide's than with his creators. Because I never ceased to be completely sucked in by the genuine (OK, sentimental) moments in this score. Today's dose comes at me a cappella, via this afternoon's rehearsal.

We have learned and understood
Everything that is, is good.
Everything that is, is planned.
Is wisely planned, is right and good.

In this best of all possible worlds. Where, of course, the moon will shine and the breezes will waft next Sunday evening.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Clean Slate

I swung by the Barns midday just to check on StageMan, our intrepid Lighting Design/Production Manager. He wasn't there, but the empty stage was. Everyone needs an empty stage stage. A pause to clear it all out and clean it all up. And start fresh.

Just last week, it looked like this.

And next week it'll look something like this.

But for now it's full of possibility. As was my Thursday until life happened.

I had a wonderfully simple list for today. Two big jobs that should've been accomplishable in 9 hours: finish editing the supertitle script for Alcina and dig into revising the budget and contract for an upcoming project. Need I tell you that I didn't start either one?


Here's a sample of what got in the way.

Who What When & Where
Put 42 people, 2 operas, 1 class, 9 costume fittings, 10 coachings and 1 concert into 5 spaces in 10 hours. It's largely Super Intern's job, but I'm supposed to help problem-solve and proof. It took 5 people 3 hours, and we still made 2 mistakes. Bob Fincheimer is supposed to be writing a computer program that makes this easier. Hurry up, Bob.

Show & Tell
Alcina props. Cool fire tricks, swords, canes and goblets. And Alcina's Wall of Shame.

Candide. Who wears a wireless mike, who hits the mark in front of a wand, and who just has to sing loud. So glad I work in an art form where these things come up infrequently.

Describe That Show in 10 Words or Fewer
Ad copy was due at 3. I swear, I hate marketing. I couldn't sell anything to anyone if my life depended on it.

Picaresque, Indeed
Had to revisit the Bernstein DVD of Candide because I'm perpetually confused about which plot elements of this crazy story are intact in this Scottish Opera concert version. I got completely derailed by staring at 36-year-old Jerry Hadley and wondering what in the world went wrong.

Bum Bum Bum
Tried to conjure up 1994, to remember exactly how the gentlemen in that concert split up the "bum bum's" in the Schoenberg Spiegel song. Gave up. Called Steve.

Bobachino and Bobachina
Tried to brainstorm with Composer JM on voice types for two crazy characters in the next new opera.

Star of Tomorrow. Ugh.
A well-meaning phone call from a publication looking for us to name a WTOC alumnus/alumna with a DC-area connection to be included in a next-generation-of-star-performing-artists piece. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled and flattered to be consulted and included in such an overview. But hand-picking a singer who's going to outshine the rest is like betting on a horse race. And I'm not a betting woman.

The fall audition tour is 5 months away, but already, venues are scarce and flights are horribly expensive. 15 years ago we didn't even set up the audition tour until September. Now June seems too late.

Hump Weekend

As of this Sunday, 7 weeks down, 7 to go in this season of 2008. Never mind that the next 4 weeks are the hardest of the lot. It just helps to know that we're on the downhill side!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Son of Instant Opera

This evening we kicked off the summer's improv festivities with a "blue" version of Instant Opera for Wolf Trap's new Young Professionals patron group. Members of the 2007 cast improvised operas on adult themes (well, it wasn't terribly "adult" - just a few steps removed from the typical SpongeBob plots), and a good time was had by all. (In case you're wondering, I'm not exactly in the young professional demographic. But they let me lurk in the back anyway.)

Jamie Lynn Spears gave birth (funny, but her sister did the same thing in Instant Opera a few years ago...), Bob Dole made a guest appearance, and Liza Minelli and Snoop Dogg took a vacation in Amsterdam.

A Little Lunch Music

Today's lunchtime concert, complete with the inimitable Josh Winograde description:

VIENNA, VA – During the rehearsal process of George Frideric Handel’s Alcina at the Wolf Trap Opera Company, one of the world’s most renowned summer opera festivals, a startling and perverse confirmation of said composer’s obsession with pyrotechnics has emerged. With little to no warning, the magical singers at the brilliant, renowned, phenomenal Opera Company are seen throughout the day transforming themselves into Roman Candles, Whizzbangers, Flowering Fliggins, and, shockingly, even Twisting Twuzzel-Twixers. Occasionally, although less than this journalist would have anticipated, Handel goes “old-school” and has the singers erupt into simple Sparklers and Firecrackers.

“When I first opened the score back in February of this year,” says star soprano Rebekah Camm, “I singed my eyebrows off. I guess I should have known right then and there that Handel was a cold-hearted, low-down, dirty, good-for-nothing pyromaniac. But I was in denial. And now here I am, erupting into Flying Flizzle-Feffers with no warning whatsoever.”

But what are these Humming Hoozie-Whatzits and Tornado Turbo-Tickers? Isn’t it true that they hadn’t even invented fire when Handel was alive? There is no simple answer to these startling questions, but, in a nut-shell: while of course there was no such thing as fire, gunpowder, or the Fourth of July when Handel wrote his flaming masterworks (July was invented centuries later), his propensity for pyromania is evident in his vocal stylings.

Please join us FRIDAY for this lunchtime concert of dangerous, insane, wild, crazy, and DARN-NEAR IMPOSSIBLE vocal fireworks!

And a Farewell to Giuseppe
Outtakes from Un giorno di regno.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Verdi Life Lists & Decibels

I am surprised how many people introduce themselves at the King for a Day performances by telling me about their lifelong quest to see all of Verdi's operas. I'm so glad that these folks found us at The Barns, and even though we're unlikely to have more Giuseppe on our season any time soon, I hope they'll come back.

Turn it Down

The biggest patron topic, next to the operatic bucket list, is volume. As in, patrons asking the house manager to turn down the amplification system. (There is none.)

I'll admit that we worked through a few moments of unbridled decibel-level competition at the beginning of the rehearsal period. But thanks to our artistic team and the sensibilities of our fabulous singers, we have since found a wide range of expression - in volume and timbre - appropriate for each character. So no, it's not a shouting contest. But even though this is early Verdi, it still calls for voices with more heft than do most of the Mozart/Rossini/Handel operas we typically produce.

Yes, there are some moments in Giorno that lift the roof of the barn. It's what Verdi intended, and it adds to the ebullience that is a wonderful defining feature of this production. We programmed this opera because we found an abundance of larger-than-typical voices during last fall's audition tour. Had we produced Giorno with more slender voices, it would have been like an out-of-focus picture. So we allow the sound to expand to fill this vehicle, and we encourage these singers to stretch to the full measure of their wonderfully versatile instruments.


A shout-out to the best graduates of the 2008 crop. We're so proud of you. Keep rocking our world!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The King Has His Day

Photos by Carol Pratt

King for a Day opening night. Lots of laughs, spectacular singing, and a full house. You could do far worse.

It's been an encouraging start to a challenging season, and all I can do is be grateful. Thanks to everyone who built scenery and costumes, made rehearsals run smoothly, created and refined all of the musical and dramatic elements, and brought prodigious talents and goodwill that turned this quirky piece into such an enjoyable night at the opera.

Photos by Eleena Fikhman, Wolf Trap Foundation Photography Intern

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Time for Titration

I'm not a superstitious woman.

Therefore, I am saying out loud that this path to King for a Day has been blessedly and somewhat surprisingly devoid of drama. A handful of minor challenges (crazy allergies, a heat wave that has stressed out the old AC unit), but far fewer than we had any right to expect.

About a year ago I read an article about marriage counseling in The New York Times. A therapist said that one of her jobs is 'titrating anxiety' - challenging people enough so that they'll feel the pressure to grow and change but not so much as to send them spinning off in alarm. I reread that sentence a hundred times because it so perfectly articulates the job of producer. And tech week (those few days leading up to opening night) is usually consumed with the task of titrating anxiety. (The scientific analogy* isn't exact, but in a right-brain sort of way, it's just the right image.)

I know we have 3 more days to traverse before King for a Day opens, and I'm sure there are those of you who are shaking your heads right now, knowing that I've jinxed it. I live to prove you wrong. I give thanks for the occasional gift as readily as I complain when the road is hard.

Besides, this music just makes me happy. A little bit of Barber with a tinge of Tell, dollops of Daughter, and the occasional random glimpse of characters who will become people like Alice, Elvira, Alfredo and Falstaff.

Tonight, the Sitzprobe. We've been on the stage, working out technical elements of props, sets, costumes. Now we sit (literally), and revel in the magic of the music.

*Titration: determination of what materials are present in a sample by adding precise amounts of known chemicals and observing the reaction.

(I'm not sure that chemical reactions have anything to do with frozen popsicles, but they sure were fun. Thanks, KM.)

Friday, June 06, 2008

Recital Pics

As I promised, a slideshow of photos from last Saturday's recital with Steven Blier.

All photos by Andi Kling

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Rehearsal Report for 6/4/08

Un giorno di regno Rehearsal Report for Wednesday, June 4, 2008:

Due to inclement weather, the afternoon rehearsal block started 17 minutes later than scheduled. Also, we lost power at approximately 2:50pm, were briefly evacuated to the Lecture Hall during a tornado warning, and then continued on generator power for the duration of the rehearsal.

Yes, my friends, the show does go on :)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Season Opener: Bernstein & Bolcom

A magical Saturday evening at The Barns, with 5 of our singers joining Steven Blier onstage.

2008 is the 90th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birth, and it's also William Bolcom's 70th birthday year. Steve has a deep connection to and history with both of these men and their music, and he was characteristically generous in sharing it with all of us. Of course, the music stands on its own quite well, but the context Steve gives it is unparalleled.

In case you're curious, the complete program:

Leonard Bernstein
My House (from Peter Pan)
Mr. and Mrs. Webb Say Goodnight (from Arias and Barcarolles)
Love Duet (from Arias and Barcarolles)
Piccola Serenata
Storyette H.M. (from Songfest)
Dream with Me (from Peter Pan)
100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man (from Wonderful Town)
A Little Bit in Love (from Wonderful Town)
Seena (from White House Cantata)
Wrong Note Rag (from Wonderful Town)
Spring Will Come Again (from The Skin of Our Teeth)
Ya Got Me (from On the Town)

William Bolcom
Graceful Ghost: Piano Rag
How to Swing Those Obbligatos Around (from I Will Breathe A Mountain)
The Sage (from I Will Breathe A Mountain)
Otherwise (from Briefly it Enters)
If It’s Gold You Got (from McTeague)
Golden Babies (from McTeague)
Drive Me, Driver (from Casino Paradise)
Song of Black Max (from Cabaret Songs Book I)
Waitin‘(from Cabaret Songs Book I)
Blue (from Cabaret Songs Book IV)

And, from the Bolcom/Morris cabaret catalogue:
Humphrey Bogart............................Leiber & Stoller
Yip-I-Addy-I-Ay.............................Flynn & Cobb

Nachspiel (from Bernstein's Arias and Barcarolles)

I'd love to be able to post some audio snippets, and will try to do so if time and energy allow.

Photos by Andi Kling