Sunday, March 29, 2009

Plot Tweeting

Do you tweet? Have you wondered what all the fuss is about?

No matter the answer, here's a fun way to check out Twitter. Go to and enter #operaplot into the search box. You'll be hooked into a recent craze/competition, the goal of which is to reduce an opera plot into 140 characters (the limits of a tweet.)

If you don't twitter, just enter your ~120-character* opera plot for the WTOC 2009 operas (Cosi fan tutte, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria and La boheme) into the comments section of this blog. I'll tweet it for you, and I'll pick the best one to include on the face page of the blog throughout the summer. [*120 characters leaves 10 characters for the search "tag" (#operaplot) and 10 characters for your name, if you'd like it included!]

ogiovetti and gsandow sort of rule this game, but there have been entertaining entries from far and wide. (The "@" symbol identifies a Twitter screen name.)

So far, I've seen this:

You can't tell those are your BFs? Seriously? Oh no! Don't do it with the other one! Wait. Maybe you want it like this? Huh. [by arbakr]


They're all the same, those women. Can't resist a good looking bloke. Not a faithful bone in their body. Everyone's at it. [by higgis]


A bunch of bohemians. Is that a cold hand? Cough, cough. Forsake love. Cough, cough. Regain love. Cough, cough. Dead. [by hchan]


Seamstress pals around with bohemians in a December-May affair. Receives muff as parting gift. [by ogiovetti]

Mozart's Cosi, Monteverdi's Ulisse and Puccini's Boheme in 120 characters each. You can do it.

Friday, March 27, 2009

On Sale!

Wordle: WTOC 2009 Rep

Tickets on sale tomorrow (3/28) at 10am!

See previous post for rep details.
Start here (Barns) and here (Filene Center) to get tickets.
Write me with questions.

The backlog of work is killing me, in a very unkind and inappropriate way for March. Thoughtful (or what passes for thoughtful) blogging will resume next week with pre-production posts on this summer's operas. In the meantime, some Friday linkage. (All of which I had hoped to comment on in some detail but had to do triage...)

What's your superpower? I think I know mine now.

A truly terrific description on the intersection of art and life Beats all of those music-as-medicine prescriptions.

My boss talks about this fabulous stuff we do. Go Terre.

A thoughtful look at the value of a music degree. An unsung perspective.

Just in case our instrument rental budget falls short this summer. :)

Monday, March 23, 2009

Mozart, Monteverdi & Puccini

WTOC 2009 season just announced! See below, and go here for details on the Wolf Trap website.

Così fan tutte
The School for Lovers
The Barns at Wolf Trap (New Production)
June 26, 28(m), 30

“A thousand times a day, women change their affections.
Some call it vice, others call it a habit.
To me it seems a necessity of the heart.
The lover who finds himself deceived should blame no one but himself.”

(Don Alfonso)

On a dare, two men test the faithfulness of the women they plan to marry. Their jaded colleague believes that women all are alike, and none of them can be trusted. (Così fan tutte translates clunkily, but it means something like “All Women Act the Same.”) He makes a bet with his friends, and they set about a plan to test their fiancées.

Così disappeared from opera stages for over 100 years because it was considered too shocking. It’s hard for us to imagine how a Mozart opera could be so scandalous, but the premise of Così undermines our basic beliefs about trust and relationships.

Our production examines the curiosity that can lead us to mistrust our loved ones. Is it possible to shake doubt after beginning to check up on someone behind her back? How do we act once we have learned something never intended for us? What do we say when we think we are alone versus when we are with others? Are we truly able to forgive infidelity?

The script (libretto) for Così is masterful, but it skews firmly on the sarcastic, cynical side of the topic. Mozart’s music takes a story line that could easily become snarky or simply pedestrian and imbues it with things that we feel deep in our souls. He makes us laugh, he lets our hearts ache, and he shows us how fragile our connections are.

The orchestral overture to Così has been called the musical equivalent of good gossip. It sets the stage for a story played out against the adrenaline, hormones, and naïveté of youth. We meet Fiordiligi and Dorabella, two sisters happily engaged to (respectively) Guglielmo and Ferrando. Their beaus are convinced by their friend Alfonso that they should enter into an experiment to test their fiancées’ faithfulness. The final member of the story, the girls’ maid Despina, is made a willing but incompletely informed accomplice to the whole thing.

Will the ladies cheat on their men? (I’ll bet you already have your suspicions.) And if they do succumb, what then?

Artistic Team
Conductor – Timothy A. Myers
Director – Eric Einhorn
Scenic Design – Erhard Rom
Costume Design – Mattie Ullrich
Lighting Design – Robert H. Grimes
Hair & Makeup – Elsen Associates

Despina – Alicia Gianni
Fiordiligi – Rena Harms
Dorabella – Jamie Van Eyck
Ferrando – David Portillo
Guglielmo – Matthew Hanscom
Alfonso – Carlos Monzón

The Return of Ulysses
Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
The Barns at Wolf Trap (New Production)
July 24, 26(m), 28

“Turn toward home, Ulysses.
Penelope waits for you.
She sighs, and she suffers in silence.
Turn toward home, Ulysses!”

(Ulysses’ wife Penelope)

The world used to be different. Men would go off to war and be missing for twenty years. Women would wait – patient and unknowing – in the hope that their husbands would return. Life would never be the same, of course, but hope was all they had. Men and women realized that their fates were not their own, and they looked to someone more powerful than themselves to help them through.

Perhaps the world isn’t that different at all. We still hope against hope when the stakes are high, and love sometimes is enough. And the feeling of not being in control of our own destiny is as timeless as the story of Ulysses.

In Homer’s Odyssey, Ulysses fought in the Trojan Wars and survived a trip home so harrowing that it coined a new word in the English language. Monteverdi’s opera begins near the end of Ulysses’ story – his homecoming – and in doing so, it shines a light on his wife Penelope, who has waited patiently and faithfully for twenty years.

All Baroque opera included obligatory appearances by gods and goddesses, and Ulisse is no different. The goddess of wisdom makes it possible for Ulysses to go back home undetected – to see that Penelope has waited for him, and to drive away the men who are trying to move in on both his wife and his property. The gods of love, fortune and time warn us that life is fragile and that to believe in the power of men is folly. The messy and vital life of Penelope’s household is filled out by a large cast of (over 20) characters – confidantes, young lovers, drunkards, and opportunists.

At 358 years old, Ulisse is one of the earliest operas ever written. Yet its message remains potent with every telling. Monteverdi’s music is hypnotic and somewhat exotic. The typical opera orchestra of violins, cellos, clarinets and horns is replaced by a striking combination of lutes, harpsichords, viols and recorders. Put aside your expectations and stereotypes and hear the story of Ulysses and Penelope.

Artistic Team
Conductor - Gary Thor Wedow
Director – James Marvel
Scenic Design – Eric Allgeier
Costume Design – Andrea Huelse
Lighting Design – Robert H. Grimes
Hair & Makeup – Elsen Associates

The Gods
Minerva – Ava Pine
Fortuna/Giunone – Alicia Gianni
Tempo/Nettuno – Nicholas Masters
Amor – Hana Park
Giove – Daniel Billings

The Mortals
Ulisse – Dominic Armstrong
Penelope – Jamie Barton
Telemaco – Chad Sloan
Melanto – Jamie Van Eyck
Eumete – Paul Appleby
Eurimaco/Pisandro – David Portillo
Ericlea – Rena Harms
Anfinomo – Matthew Hanscom
Antinoo – Carlos Monzón
Iro – Diego Torre

La bohème
A concert staging with the National Symphony Orchestra
Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts
August 7

“Though I am poor, I squander songs of love like a wealthy man.
My dreams, hopes, and fantasies make me rich as a millionaire.
But all of my jewels are nothing next to your two beautiful eyes.”


Rodolfo and Mimì love each other with abandon. She loves him so much that she hides her illness to protect him from worry. And he loves her so completely that he’s willing to give her up so she can find her way to a life that might cure her. Marcello and Musetta love each other in their own dramatic and roller-coaster way – one of those relationships that is entertaining on the stage and pure hell in real life. But they both have hearts of gold.

The musical Rent introduced a new generation to the crushingly beautiful story of young love that is La bohème. It started as a series of short stories published in a French magazine – a romantic look at what it was like to be a struggling artist in the Latin Quarter of Paris. The stories were turned into a play, which was picked up by the team of Puccini and his librettists as the subject material for their opera.

Many of us long for a brief taste of the freedom that we attribute to starving artists – freedom from the obligations of adulthood and society, and the ability to create music, paintings, novels, and poems that inspire. F. Scott Fitzgerald said that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time… [to] be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.” The beauty of Bohème is that it draws us into the headiness of that freedom while reminding us that poverty often walks hand-in-hand with death and loss.

Puccini’s music is unabashedly lush and descriptive. The potency of these young peoples’ dreams and desires comes across the footlights in their words, their actions, and the gloriously unfettered phrases of their singing. With the National Symphony Orchestra onstage, and our own cast of gloriously talented singers down front, Bohème will be an unforgettable night of young love and beautiful music.

Artistic Team
Conductor – Stephen Lord
Director – Kevin Newbury
Projection Design – S. Katy Tucker
Scenic Design – Cameron Anderson
Costume Design – Jessica Jahn
Lighting Design – Mark Stanley
Hair & Makeup – Elsen Associates

Musetta – Ava Pine
Mimi – Hana Park
Rodolfo – Diego Torre
Schaunard – Matthew Hanscom
Marcello – Daniel Billings
Colline – Carlos Monzón
Benoit/Alcindoro – Nicholas Masters

Recitals with Steven Blier

Steven is a musical marvel and a treasured colleague. For over 15 years he has taken our artists to places they never knew they could go, and he has led them in spinning out memorable and compelling evenings for Wolf Trap patrons. Tickets sell out quickly for these single performances.

Road Trip!
A Coast-to-Coast Musical Tour of America
The Barns at Wolf Trap
June 6

A coast-to-coast musical tour of America. This gasoline-free road trip will stop in New England, New York, the Shenandoah Mountains, the Wild West, and will culminate —naturally — in Hollywood!

The Pursuit of Love
The Barns at Wolf Trap
August 1

An evening of songs, duets, and ensembles glorifying the pursuit—and attainment—of love.

WTOC Class of 2009

Photos and bios of our 15 Filene Young Artists and 12 Studio Artists will be available on the Wolf Trap website soon!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Living and Singing on Interest

I've thought about this a lot over the last few months. It started with a concert I played in January, in collaboration with WTOC alums Keith Phares and Patricia Risley. It had been about ten years since I'd worked with either of them, and it was such a pleasure to reconnect. As professional singers who are parents of 5-month-old twins, Keith and Patricia are becoming experts at time management and coordination. But the thing that impressed me the most was seeing them do high level vocal and musical work in the face of sleep deprivation, fragmented attention, and waning energy. How do they do it? They have learned to sing and perform on the interest rather than the principal.

This is a description I use in its inverse form when describing young singers who are operating full throttle, without a strong technical foundation and a secure frame of reference. "Singing on the principal rather than the interest" - taking withdrawals from the vocal savings account and depleting the foundation of the technique. As we see in life, in finance, and in singing; this soft of chipping away at meagre resources can only lead one place. And too often, that's where we see young singers - (to drive home the metaphor one final time) - in vocal bankruptcy. Going for broke, all guns blazing until the voice is in shreds.

But if you spend your formative years shoring up the foundation - plugging up the holes in the technique, learning efficient and effective music-reading, language acquisition and memorization strategies - when real life throws you curves, you can still sing on your interest rather than your principal. It doesn't matter if those challenges are wonderful (e.g., twin babies:)) or otherwise (illness, difficult relationships, travel traumas) - what you can be sure of is that real life will intervene.

That's what it means to sing on your interest.

I've also been thinking a lot about living on interest instead of principal, for this is something to which I aspire. I'm sure that many of you join me in my current trap (no pun intended) - being so depleted that you resort to chipping away at your personal stores of energy, creativity, collegiality and good humor until it's pretty much gone. It's increasingly difficult and then inevitably impossible to do your best work that way. Duh.

It's kind of like the starvation response your body goes through when you try to lose weight by trying to stop eating. (Yeah, I've been there.) You start to cling to every little scrap, and the machine (body or mind) grinds to a halt.

How to fix this? We know the answer in our guts, but there's a lot of distracting noise in our heads. The self-help books have addressed this for years - sharpen the saw, refuel the gas tanks, etc - and neither the problem nor the solution is news any more. Could we be so stupid as to not understand how this works? Well, no. But the guilt overwhelms common sense.

No matter if you're an artist, a desk jockey, or anything in between - give yourself permission to include regular (dare I say daily?) reinvigoration in your work ethic. Silence. Slowness. Clarity. The machine doesn't work so well without them.

Can you tell that this rant precedes a vacation? Just a 3-day break (preceded by a gig), but it's a start. I'll be in Orlando at the end of this week playing for Sing for Hope at a benefit for the Children's Miracle Network. Then 3 days at the beach (my first time in about 5 years).

Meanwhile, step away from the computer, shut down the Facebook and the Twitter, allow some trivial tasks to remain undone (and accept the heat for it in a Zenlike fashion:)), and consider the big picture.

“Nothing can be more useful to a man than the determination not to be hurried.”

- Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, March 05, 2009

March Bookshelf

I have great and grandiose literary plans. Early spring may be my only realy chance to read until next year, so I'm wasting no time.

Already underway:

Geoff Colvin's Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else. (Short answer? Deliberate practice.) Paired with Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. (Gist? Success is at the intersection of opportunity, talent, and hard work.) There are some revelations in the intersection of these two books. I'll let you know what they are if my brain doesn't explode by the time I finish them.

The Cambridge Companion to Monteverdi. She hinted broadly.

Annie Lamott's Traveling Mercies - re-reading for my April book club meeting. A perfect read for this time of year, and almost potent enough to lift me from my current funk.

Almost done with Nassim Taleb's Fooled by Randomness and ready to start on The Black Swan. Among Taleb's "top life tips": 1. Skepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be skeptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic. 6. Learn to fail with pride, and do so fast and cleanly. Maximize trial and error — by mastering the error part.

Send other suggestions my way. As you can tell, I'm a little light on fiction.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

WTOC 2009 Tickets

We're a few weeks away from our season announce (and the lifting of my blog embargo on 2009 rep details). As is always the case in the late winter, we're working furiously on projects about which I can't write. Ergo, lack of substance. Well, at least a plausible excuse for it...

Anyone will be able to buy tickets starting Saturday, March 28, but Wolf Trap members are already purchasing tickets for our summer operas and all other performances that have been booked to date.

Annual membership support provides critical resources for all pieces of Wolf Trap’s mission, including the Wolf Trap Opera Company - without our donors, we simply wouldn't exist. (Thank you thank you thank you thank you.) But being a member also gives you a chance at the best seats for the summer! If you want to check it out, go here.