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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Auditions (2023 version)


Well, it's been a ride. The Pre-Covid days are long gone. Covid shutdowns came and went (fingers crossed) but a few things from that pivot have stuck: namely video audition submissions. But In-Person Auditions are back and going strong again so I thought I'd edit my regular auditions blog for 2023.  
Here it is:

It's that time of year, a time that ramps up the anxiety and stress levels for many young singers:

Audition application and audition season has commenced!

All around North America, singers in undergraduate and graduate programs are finishing up their auditions for their schools' opera programs, hoping to get cast in a production, scenes program or opera classes. In addition, those singers who want to move beyond the pay-to-sing programs are feeling the avalanche of deadlines fast Glimmerglass, Merola, Canadian Opera Company, Santa Fe, Central City, etc. with their requisite YAP tracker accounts spouting reminders and checklists. As for the singers fresh out of school, the desperation factor starts to creep into place -- will this be my last audition season? What happens if I don't get any auditions? How am I going to pay for all the application fees, travel and hotel expenses?

Life was simpler ten to fifteen years ago. Really.

Time was when deadlines for summer programs were mid to late October (imagine!), not end of August. There's a huge difference between the two, especially for singers just starting a new grad program and/or starting in studying with a new teacher in a new city.

And yet, every year I get requests for recommendation letters as well as requests for "what should I sing for my 5 arias" from students I barely know.

I've often thought that first year masters students shouldn't try to do summer program auditions during their initial semester at a new school with new coaches and teachers. Maybe a better idea would be to FOCUS ON THAT FIRST SEMESTER. Work on technical issues, get the hard courses out of the way, get to know the city in a casual fashion, make friends, hear symphony concerts, etc.  These are things one can't really do while preparing an audition packet (especially if there are new arias in it) or flying in and out to take summer program auditions from October to December.  I know everyone feels rushed to be a success, but there are lots and lots of singers who make it without pushing themselves onto such a fast track.

Perhaps an even better idea might be to either take the summer "off" from singing, get a job or an internship, maybe focus on reading literature or researching new arias, visit museums, take in outdoor events/plays/symphonies, visit the Glimmerglasses of North America to see what the level actually is out there. Travel and explore!

But I don't think anyone will listen to my sage advice, so I'll put down my thoughts on AUDITIONS that I post most every fall, albeit with some modifications for 2023.


1) A successful audition is a complicated thing. It has more to do with the day, who/what the panel is looking for and why, the needs of a given season, whether the panel's blood sugar is normal, if their attention span is fixed or waning, and/or their personal taste in practically everything. In short, little to do with the singer's talent. The sooner one accepts this, the better. It helps to remove the JUDGEMENT happening constantly inside one's mind.

2) Attitude counts for a lot. How a singer walks in the door, how they communicate with the panel and the pianist, the body language signals before singing, between arias, and at the close of the audition. It is vital that a singer present themselves in a heightened (I don't want to say exaggerated) version of whoever they want to "be" at an audition. You can't just quietly enter a room, whisper your aria to the panel, sing like Renee, exit like a mouse and expect that your Renee-esque tones will win the day.  Most auditions nowadays take into account personalities and how a singer might fit in to a group of other singers. If there is a worry about confidence in how a singer presents themselves (and I mean their "self" as opposed to presenting a character from an opera), then there can easily be a worry about how that singer might function in a group of drama-filled opera singers all living and eating together for 6 to 12 weeks.

3) The panel has no imagination. Okay, maybe they have a little. But mostly, not much. This means the singer's imagination needs to come into play in a big, big way. You need to know who you are singing to and why you need to sing to them. You need to know if it's day or night, inside or outside, in a furnished room or a courtyard. Are there other people in the scene that the aria takes place in? You simply can not just stand there and make pretty tones. Not any more, my friends. There must be a strong connection to the text, a huge musical mind at work making decisions and taking stands in multiple areas (ornamentation is just one example.) And if someone is telling you that it's the voice, and only the voice, that'll get you into a young artist program, then they are telling you what we all want to believe is true, but actually isn't true. An opera singer has always been, and will always be, a human being who acts with their voice. So work on the human being part, the acting part, as well as the singing part. Work on it before the audition. You can't think for a moment that your gestures will just appear and make sense, or that fixating on the wall behind the panel will make anyone in the room think you're an operatic Viola Davis or Robert Downey, Jr. They work on their characters before the camera shoots, and so should you. Actors live in a broad, imaginative world, and so should you.

4) What you wear is less important nowadays. Pants on a soprano? Fine. Jeans on a tenor? Fine. Culottes on a bass? Fine. Glasses? If you need them absolutely! Formal dress or tux? Perhaps think that one over... Think about how you'll define yourself as a human being to a set of strangers who may never have met you. Define yourself boldly in order to make an impression -- do everything you can to not look like all those other people in the lobby waiting to sing. Color is important, absolutely. So is bling. Remember, the panel is made up of human beings who have been looking at hundreds of singers. It's impossible to remember everyone, particularly if twelve baritones all singing Malatesta's aria show up in a dark navy suit, with polished shoes, a blue shirt and variable ties to match. If your repertoire doesn't separate you from the pack, then your acting and singing skills need to come into play along with the rest of your "package" - which includes what you look like when you walk in the door. And if anyone tells you not to wear a dress above the knee, or to make sure you're wearing a tie, smile and ignore their advice. North Americans are WAY too uptight about how someone dresses for an opera audition and it's finally, finally changing with the younger generation of leaders. The Europeans got this totally right years ago: jeans, a smart shirt, maybe a leather jacket, and cool sneakers are all it takes for most auditions over there.

5) This is YOUR time slot. Use it, invest in the moment and enjoy sharing your talents. A ten-minute audition slot is not the time to fix your technique, make dramatic discoveries, or improvise some ornaments for your Rameau aria. The audition is about YOU. Share yourself, how you are at the PRESENT moment - not how you might be five years from now. If you have someone telling you you'll be the next great Tosca, well how lovely, but don't go taking "Vissi d'arte" around to auditions if you're some young 20ish soprano who really should be singing "V'adoro pupile". Sing the lightest literature possible. Take a step back, fach-wise; especially if you're being cast in school productions in heavier, or even, dramatic roles. This happens a lot -- getting confused over "what" you are because at your school you have the biggest voice, so you get cast as the Countess or Fiordiligi, but you really are a Susanna or Despina out there in the real world. For mezzo's, it's even trickier. Of course you're not a character mezzo, you're a high lyric soprano who just hasn't figured out her top, but you get cast as Miss Pinkerton instead of Laetitia... And then there are the tenors needing to walk around as lyric baritones while their voices evolve... Just be who you are. Every audition is only a snapshot of the singer you are at that moment, and this changes so quickly and dramatically. Be flexible in your early 20s. You don't have to present your future-illustrious-international career's best five arias during the fall of your senior year at college to an AGMA apprenticeship program. But you do have to present some version of YOURSELF, and be confident about it regardless of the fact that the arias might just be stepping stones to other arias in later years.

6) Prepare 5 to 15 arias for the audition season. Come on. Learn more than 5 arias. People who are pursuing other careers in the arts (just think about the hundreds of songs your musical theatre singer counter-parts have in their current rep!) make it a vital part of their training to learn AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE about their chosen fields. Walk into an audition and present the required 3-5 arias you had to put down in YAPTracker but then have a rep sheet with those plus "Additional Arias". It is a terrible, terrible thing that young singers - and the people who teach, train, and hire them - think that learning an aria should take months and months OR that having more than five arias running around your head is somehow difficult or confusing to both singer and panel. My thoughts on these arias? 
    1) Two contrasting baroque arias (one fast, one slow) 
    2) Two contrasting Mozart arias (either tempo or dramatic situation) 
    3) One aria by Rossini, Bellini, or Donizetti (or a composer like them) 
    4) A German, Czech, Russian, Polish, or Spanish aria of some sort 
    5) An aria from a verismo opera 
    6) An aria in French (either baroque or 19th century)
    7) Two contrasting 20th century arias 
    8) Two contrasting musical theatre arias (literally tens of thousands to choose from!)
    9) An aria from G&S or Offenbach or Lehar or Strauss, Jr.
    10) An aria from an opera written since 2000, preferably by a woman and/or a BIPOC composer!
For those who were counting, that's 14 musical pieces. If most are about 4 minutes long, then we're talking about an hour's worth of repertoire. Make a commitment to learn literature, to explore beyond the Anthologies and canonic composers. The above 10 categories can easily fill the needed "5" for any young artist program and then you'll have extra arias to have wiggle room if you need to vary one or two, or offer a piece of musical theatre, or add a couple extra arias that represent a company's upcoming season. But if you walk around with barely 5, you are limiting your opportunities. I know singers who can learn an aria in a day, and rather well. How long does it really take to learn an aria? If you don't learn quickly, figure out how. Then use every coaching, every masterclass opportunity, every studio class opportunity (heck, sing for friends!) to role out these pieces and get feedback. A 2023 update: If you aren't someone who thinks they should audition with baroque arias, or have problems with bel canto or verismo rep, that's okay. Eliminate those categories. If you have strengths like contemporary music or musical theatre, then perhaps augment those categories with a few more choices. If you believe that opera rep needs to be more diverse, then make sure your own audition rep is diverse. This is not a prescriptive "rule", it's a nudge to go out there and learn more repertoire!

7) Don't wear an all black anything to an audition. 2023 update: This really is my only non-negotiable piece of advice, and particular to me (so go ahead and ignore it if you look wonderful in all black). There was one audition season at Glimmerglass when we saw over a dozen sopranos in one day wearing a black dress with a set of pearls. It was impossible to keep them straight.

8) Keep an audition journal. Go crazy -- keep a journal everyday. Write down how the audition went, later write down if you got the contract or not, or any kind of feedback given. Describe the venue's acoustic or the pianists' abilities. A journal can really be a wonderful thing!

9) Figure out how to breathe in stressful situations. One of the first things that can evaporate in an audition is the BREATH. Getting it past your collarbone, for instance, can sometimes be a challenge during an important audition. Work on breathing outside of an audition. Ask your voice teacher about the breath. Their answers might surprise you. Seek out places to practice breathing: swimming pools, yoga, mediation, hiking up steep inclines, walking... Before your audition, have a breathing plan. Make space and time to center yourself outside of the room with your breath. Breathe in the audition room, too! Breathe between arias. Breathe!

10) Try, as best as you can, to not place too much importance on any audition. Even at the Met finals, if you listen to what many of the winners say, they'll talk about how they tried to make it "just" another opportunity to sing. If you walk into a room thinking that your whole future career (and therefore life) depends on the outcome, you are setting yourself up for failure. How about a "I don't care what you think" attitude? If you're walking into an audition believing that what the panel thinks of you is more important than what you think of yourself, then you should turn around and walk away.

A Bonus Thought: Remember that what you do -- singing opera -- is something quite special. It's something that billions of other human beings on this planet can not do. It's a crazy, joyous thing to put yourself into the head-space of an 18th century peasant or a Greek God or a famous character from Shakespeare. Who gets to do that and try to make a living at it? It's a transcendental experience to channel the genius of a Mozart, Rossini, Stravinsky, or Saariaho. While you sing their music, they live again. Their minds come alive once more from beyond the grave through your vocal cords, face, and body. Most people can't even imagine what that must be like!  So live it! Do it!

And learn an aria or two...

Best of luck to all of you out there!

Monday, October 31, 2022

Updated: Fantastic OPERA Beasts, and Where to Find Them!

 Updated from my original 2016 post.

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good!”

I read those words over a decade ago and loved them, for it sounded like my personal mantra that I’d been secretly saying to myself my entire life!

The title of this blog is “Fantastic Opera Beasts and Where To Find Them” inspired by the film Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them.

The latest, and let it be said the most adult, evolution of the Wizarding World by author J. K. Rowling, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them hit the movie screens years ago. I took my family to see it and was yet again amazed and surprised by the film’s imaginative span and Rowling’s seemingly endless ability to morph, create, recreate, and exponentially expand the Harry Potter Universe.

If you are one of those who have not read the books, or seen the films, then perhaps this blog isn’t going to make much sense. I’ll try to refrain from getting too nerdy, but apologies ahead of time. If you want to skip down into the REAL blog about singing and magic, it’s about eight paragraphs further. (I’ve put asterisks and bolded the header so you can skip quickly to it!)

Rowling’s books, her play (the international hit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), the billion-dollar Potter film series, and now this new series of films, attest to her ability to roll out big stories peopled with wizards, magical creatures, elves, goblins, muggles, nomajs (the American version of muggles), giants and a hippogriff or two all interacting on multiple levels of narrative story, allegory, and deeply emotional and political themes. Fantastic Beasts… is probably the most obvious of all of her output when it comes to the creation of an allegory that is very focused on real human history. Her output as a creative force is operatic on many fronts.

Opera, the genre, is vast and huge; very much like Rowling’s universe. Actually, opera is bigger, by far, than the Wizarding World because the repertoire spans over 400 years, and it’s written and sung in practically every language known to Earth (and beyond, we have operas in Klingon and in languages from Middle-Earth). Opera is very dense and complex, particularly in the information that’s passed from the stage to the audience via the singers, the designers, and everyone else involved in a production. If a song could be said to be written in a few gigabytes, a song cycle would be a dozen gigabytes, symphonies would be hundreds of gigabytes. But operas are written in terrabytes. Hundreds of terrabytes comprise Wagner’s Ring Cycle alone. If you don’t know about TBs, it’s a huge, HUGE amount of data. 

It is not possible to simply sit down and take in everything that is an opera in one exposure. However, the thing that makes opera magical is that one CAN sit down and get so very much in one sitting, and that information is so very different from human to human. Each and every person who watches any opera walks away with a different experience. If one goes to a great opera like La bohéme and sits with 3,000 others, each will have a different experience, a different take. Each of the players in the orchestra and the singers onstage will also have a different and unique experience. No opera is ever, ever, ever the same from night to night. The variations are boundless. Like going to a Michelin-starred restaurant named La Boheme, you’re sure to get a fantastic meal, but the ingredients in each of those same dishes is absolutely different than the night before and the chefs putting the meals together are oftentimes different humans night to night. Not to mention the wine choices affecting the food tastes, where you’re sat, the others in the dining room, etc. Opera proves the point that we are all interconnected in a vast array of brilliant shining lights.

J.K. Rowling gets that idea, and gets it in spades. Fantastic Beasts… is no exception. And it started me thinking.

My first thought went to another English creative force: Benjamin Britten. His output was riddled (yes, riddled) with works about the Outsider. Peter GrimesAlbert HerringOwen WingraveDeath in Venice, to name the obvious examples, are operas where society and the audience peer into the life of a man who is not like the rest of the other characters. Again, connections to Britten’s personal life as being a closeted gay man in Great Britain who was able to move around in society quite easily — even with his secret being common knowledge as it was never spoken about in what was called “polite society” — come to mind. Britten was an outsider living in the midst of a society that chose to not see the real him, or his inner secret. An outsider composing operas about outsiders that became wildly popular with audiences, even more so since his death.

Rowling’s Outsider is the wizard Newt Scamander. He arrives by sea to the United States in 1926 via Ellis Island with just his suitcase, seemingly yet another immigrant trying to follow the American dream. He is befriended, in what is clearly the lower east side of Manhattan, by three characters: Tina and Queenie Goldstein, magical sisters, and a baker, Jacob Kowalski. Connecting Newt to these three very specific types of characters in a story that is all about the magical community trying to hide itself from the rest of the “non-magics” (nomajs) seems to me to be a clear nod at what was going on in parts of Europe and in America during this time of terrible anti-semitism and the rise of fascism throughout the world. Jews started to hide the fact that they were Jews (not something new, by any means — just read up on what Mahler went through in his life) in order to move freely throughout society, academia, and business. A few years later, as the world seems to regularly forget, Jews’ very lives were at stake and millions killed. In the 1920s and 1930s, the danger was very real, at least to those who were aware and who could clearly see and understand the political rhetoric.

There are many evils in this new movie. The biggest threat is the unseen Grindelwald, the wizarding world’s Hitler. Grindelwald’s M.O. is that he believes the laws keeping Nomajs and wizards apart keeps the magical community from becoming the dominant power in the world. He dreams of a wizarding war (set to take place during the WW2 years) that will finally allow wizards to rule the world. But the movie plot actually entails trying to defeat a more devastating evil. It is an evil that can destroy cities and kill children: Child Wizards Repressing Their Magic.

Really? Repression as a destructive force? YES.

So — when a magical child tries to hide and/or repress their natural abilities, their magical talent, their literal magic, a horrible thing occurs: an “Obscurus” forms. This is a magical parasite that develops over time; basically if one doesn’t perform spells, the magic turns inwards and eats the child-wizard, turning them into a huge destructive black mass/cloud that rips apart streets and skyscrapers alike. Once this happens, the child dies (the film says usually by the age of 10). How terrifying! It is up to the Hogwarts' educated hero, Newt, and his band of three friends, to save New York City’s lower east side. They do that, as well as exposing who Grindelwald is pretending to be.

**Okay, so how does all of this relate to singing?**

I have believed for many decades that singers are magical. Let’s face it, all musicians are. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that we are the only special people on the globe — far from it. In fact, I think there are many different types of wizarding communities among us: poets, architects, software designers, composers, mothers; basically anyone who creates.

Singers are a special community of musical wizards. We even train singers and musicians at special schools with specialists who teach and coach using enchantments, craft, potions, divination, and other magical arts. (I even teach at a school that some think actually looks like Hogwarts!) To get into these special schools, your talent must be evaluated in a mystical gathering called an “audition” by a coven of like-minded creatures who invite or deny entrance. Our mystical ancient maestros wave their magical batons into space and music happens out of thin air. We look into ancient books and read/speak an ancient language that most non-musicians (our version of Muggles) can sometimes only recognize as “music," but actually have no idea what the secrets inherent in those scores actually are, or how to read them, let alone realize them. Some of us are born into musical families, but many are also born into Muggle families who have no idea what makes us so darn strange and amazing. 

To perform an operatic score requires a great deal of this specialized, magical training but an even greater amount of actual magic is required.

Just to sing, to phonate pitches and then control their duration, dynamics, shape, and color, is a magical spell that first requires one’s imagination. We imagine the notes and our brains somehow — and this really still is a mystery — create sounds that get organized by our throats, lungs, tongues, and lips into poetry that is carried out into the world via simple vibrations. Where before there is only silence, after a musician magics the air with their imaginative intentions, there is music. 

They do this with the most invisible of elemental forces: AIR. Breathe in silence, breathe out Mozart. This is an amazing thing that way too few singers admit, let alone realize.  We acknowledge far too often that other creative artists seem special in their own abilities — from creating sculptures out of dirt to building virtual dreamscapes out of binary electrical exchanges — but seldom really think to ourselves how special we are.

But Rowling also gives us a warning about thinking we are the only kind of special. This idea of thinking you are especially special can turn an ego to the dark side; the Trumpsters call people like us elitists due to our extensive educations. Well, we are, in a certain sense, elitist. However, there is a danger when an elitist mistakes Elitism for Puritanism. In classical music we have many different types of Puritans, or purists as we actually call them. I liken purists on the far right and far left to the followers of Voldemort - his DeathEaters - in Rowling’s world. They see their versions of the world in black and white, in right and wrong, in oppressors and the oppressed. There is no room for imagination, for innovation, for change, or for freedom to express new ideas or old ideas. Only the political decisions of a few, or the words written in someone’s holy scripture, or the ideas of a demagogue, are important. The individual dies in order to make sure that the purebloods, or today’s puritanical evangelicals or the purely politically correct, have their say in who is or is not allowed to think, to believe, or to express themselves freely. 

Our recent destructive history teaches us this — the McCarthy years, the tragedies of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the nightmare of the Stalinist regime. All three political ideologies sought to control culture by defining what it was and what it wasn’t. Millions died, thousands of lives were ruined, careers were destroyed and lost. Yet these nightmares came about not from evil, but from an attempt to make things safe for the People, to make everyone more comfortable and to create a more cohesive society where everyone would live in greater peace and prosperity. Sound familiar?

Musicians run into these puritans from time to time. The passionate musicologists, the early music specialists, the editors of critical editions, the connoisseurs of old opera recordings, the critics either holding to an older aesthetic against updates or to younger critics shocked to find that opera contains historical elements of sexism and racism. Opera is an art form that is big enough to accommodate many different opinions. But it is not an art form that works in, or under, any ideology that tries to repress artistic ideas. Let’s hold a seance and ask Shostakovich his thoughts on this subject, shall we? 

We shouldn’t hide ourselves from those who don’t get us. We need to engage everyone and anyone who’ll listen. Otherwise, our bubble shrinks and we’re left with no audience at all — magical or muggle.

Opera lives not just for us specialists and lovers of opera, but also for the casual listener, the regular opera-goer, or the film director who needs to give an Evil-British-Spy something to listen to while he drives his Porsche to go kill some innocent, good-looking person.

During the training of these magical singers, there is now a risk involved. That risk is to be too safe, i.e. to not actualize their individual “noise” (as I call the sound one makes while singing) for fear that that “noise” might be too unique, perhaps a bit ugly, or out of tune, or a bit out of control. 

To not be safe seems crazy. Crazy. I remember thinking that the teachers at Hogwarts were insane to just expect the first years to know how to do things, but especially none of them seemed to anticipate injuries. From the first flying lesson on their brooms to Hagrid’s putting Harry on the Hippogriff (what was he thinking?!) these teachers dared to allow their students to experience the magic firsthand, regardless of the outcome. Seamus, in the book series, kept blowing things up with his wand during his initial attempts at spells. Harry freely admitted he’s not a great wizard, he’s just lucky (plus he had great instincts and trusted those instincts throughout all seven books). Young singers need to make contact with the magic firsthand as well. They need to be allowed to blow sounds up, turn the bird purple instead of red, say the spell backwards and in the wrong order, put the wrong type of eye of newt into a potion, but especially they need to learn to trust their instincts and be courageous. Seldom do the children at Hogwarts die in the classrooms (that’s a whole other topic…), and as I am fond of saying, opera seldom kills those who study it!

Fantastic Beasts… shows all of us in the magical/musical community the danger of repressing our talents. Trying to hide our sound, our ideas, our creative forces can result in an obscuring state, which eventually implodes into a destructive monster, both within and without. Failure certainly occurs if we obscure our talents by not sharing them, if we obscure our ideas by worrying whether they will be deemed acceptable by others. If we repress our literal voices in order to make safe sounds, or sing correctly, or make artistic choices based on the notion of non-offence or choices that are denying the truth of the piece, we risk destroying ourselves. We risk destroying the art itself. The magic dies.

How is Music Magic? Music stops time, moves it forward and backwards. The sound of music, of voices joined together, can incite violence or passionate love, it can nurture the minds of babies, calm a lost soul, ease the pain of someone’s grief, wipe away the anxiety of tomorrow — at least for a brief time while the spell lasts.  Music can heal; science is proving this right now. Music vibrates on the quantum level, in the music of the spheres, and can exist in our brains alone. Right now, I’m hearing strains of Mozart’s great Die Zauberflöte wafting around in my head. Is it real? Yes, it’s happening in my head (Dumbledore taught us this truth at King’s Cross Station in one of my favorite moments from “Deathly Hallows”). 

Opera is an art form that needs all the other arts in order to create it. It needs an audience of wizards and muggles. But mostly, it demands a vast imagination from all those involved.

And that is the biggest danger of all, as humans can imagine heaven and hell equally well.  

Therefore, let’s all be careful, let’s watch out for each other, courageously stand up for ideas and freedoms. To defend yourself, and others, against the Dark Arts first takes the wisdom to perceive the difference between truths and lies. As the year of 2022 ends, all of us must redouble our efforts in order to seek actual truth and look past the hashtags and the 140 character social media postings. Life is beyond complicated and no issue is black or white. Those who think otherwise are dabbling in the Dark Arts and us musical magicians need to arm ourselves. But more importantly, we need to seek each other out in order to join forces.

For Fantastic Beasts… also shows that the 1920s wizarding world sat upon a precipice: whether to hide themselves further, go to war, deny their magic, or figure out a different path forward. If only our current world knew which choice might win out in the coming decade. 

Who will be our magical leaders in the years to come? Who will help our musical wizarding community navigate the treacherous waters rising around us? Is Grindelwald hiding in our midst? These new voices making themselves heard, are they misguided Muggles sensing that our art is old-fashioned, wrong, or boring simply because they don’t understand it? Will new audiences walk into our theatres and be able to see beyond the superficialities of opera and truly listen with their eyes and see with their ears? (Yes, you read that one right.) 

Or maybe there’s a new generation of magical musicians waiting to step forward to help divine a new and better future for all that includes every part of our exceptionally strange operatic Art? Opera has dangerous, wonderful and truly magical spells that allow us to think deeper than we’d like, feel stronger than we knew possible, love the strange and familiar, question our very nature, but especially allow us to recognize the humanity that lives in each and every one of us. I know there are many Newts out there, and hope that they open up their suitcases pretty soon.

Mischief Managed.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Don Giovanni: The Monster

    Mozart's score for "Don Giovanni" is arguably his most sophisticated, emotional, and forward-looking opera. There are moments of such Germanic emotionalism underscored by his wonderful canvas of chromaticism and Sturm und Drang elements that foreshadow Beethoven, von Weber, Bellini, Berlioz, Verdi, and of course, Wagner. Da Ponte's libretto is also one of his best, mixing dark drama with many moments of giocoso (playfulness). Mozart even labeled it a dramma giocoso when it premiered in Prague at the National Theatre of Bohemia in 1787 (later entering it into his catalogue as an opera buffa.) The blending of comedy, melodrama, and supernatural elements is also a forerunner of the 19th century Gothic fiction by Mary Shelley, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, and Bram Stoker.

    But it has a problem, a big problem.

    For most of its life as a performed opera for the public, audiences have historically been entertained by the story of Don Giovanni, loosely based on the myth of Don Juan as well as the real-life Casanova, as a simple tale of the rake-seducer of women who ends up being punished for his libertine life by being taken directly down to Hell by the supernatural figure of the Stone Guest who he has invited to dinner and who enters in during the act two finale with some of the most famous music ever written. Many women who are patrons and opera lovers of a certain age have told me that they find the idea of a grand seducer quite a positive figure to love/hate onstage. For others, they wonder why the show is done anymore. 

    Why? Because Don Giovanni seduces women, sleeps with them, and then dumps them so that he can find a new lover. This was a libertine notion, and certainly not foreign to the Europeans who first saw the opera as it spread across the world and gained in popularity. According to Giovanni's servant, Leporello, he has done this not just hundreds of times, but over a thousand times; all over Europe. Reading a translation of Leporello's aria "Madamina..." is like reading a horror story of tricked women, many of whom were most likely taken against their will or at least slept with him under false pretensions (promises of marriage in particular). The loss of a woman's honor was a huge, massive and often completely devastating loss to her and her family.

    So why was it such a popular opera, given that the first thing that happens is a chase scene where Giovanni's latest conquest is following him out of her house late at night as he is fleeing masked? This is a scene that has, over the recent years especially, become quite complicated to stage. Did Anna ask him up? Did he break in to force himself on her? What happened right before the opera's curtain goes up? There's nothing in the libretto, only later do we get Anna's story where she tells her fiancé that a man she did not know appeared in her room, tried to force himself on her, and then finally tried to get away because she was screaming. We also meet one of his spurned women, Donna Elvira, who has chased him to Seville to either exact revenge, or plead with him to renounce his life and return to her. During the course of the opera we witness another seduction, that of the peasant (and recently married) Zerlina whom he later attacks in his castle. In act two, Giovanni sings a serenade under a window in order to get a woman to let him in. Is this his modus operandi? Serenade women with a mandolin and then take their virginity? And how is that anything to applaud or think might be something to turn into a beautiful moment onstage? Giovanni himself talks about how wonderful a night he's had "hunting young girls".

    Giovanni is a monster.

    So as the stage director for a "Giovanni" production, what am I to do with not just his character, but the whole piece? The music is too fantastic to jettison this opera from the repertoire but the subject matter is way too traumatic to put on the stage, especially with students who are very aware of #MeToo, the PTSD involved in sexual harassment and assault, let alone the trauma of presenting this onstage to others.

    So I've taken Giovanni the monster and made him an actual monster in my production, one who lives in a completely fictional world of vampires.

    This idea came to me ten years ago when I was mounting a semi-staged production at McGill. I explored the idea, it was somewhat successful, and then I put it away. However, once we decided to produce it again at McGill, it was clear I needed to address the issues that made the piece untenable to many of my students. 

    If one looks at the libretto, one finds a large number of references to blood. Anna sees the pool of blood around her murdered father, the Commendatore. Anna demands of her fiancé that they kill the offender and make his blood flow. Elvira shows up demanding vengeance of a kind that can only happen by Giovanni being killed. Giovanni talks about hunting young women. Leporello talks about a "flush of blood" during the act two finale. 

    And what is this assault Giovanni makes? It is to murder a woman's honor, something so awful for so many centuries, that a part of their self dies too. During the Gothic era, when vampire tales became extremely popular, it was clear that the metaphor for a vampire being invited into the house by his victims, biting and sucking their blood in the bedroom, and then flying away as a bat or running away as a wolf into the night, was mostly about sex. Vampires have been sexualized ever since they changed from the eastern European nosferatu monster who lives in cemeteries into a dapper, sexy, gentlemanly Count Draculas who seduce women and then kills them. This sexy vampire character is now all over present-day media, books, film, and tv - from Anne Rice's "Interview with a Vampire" to those many angsty-teenage stories of High School heartthrob vampires found all over the world.

    It then transforms the piece to remove the sexual assault and replace it with actual assault where a literal, supernatural predator is out there hunting women to kill them. It makes clear that everything Giovanni is doing is terrible and monstrous. There is no room for "oh, but his serenade in Act Two is so melodic and lovely" because he's under that window trying to get a woman to invite him in so he can kill her.

    In order to adjust the opera for this concept, I have placed it in the Victorian, Gothic period of the 1880s in Bohemia so that the supernatural elements can seem more at home. Giovanni lives in an abandoned castle falling apart next to a grave yard. Donna Elvira is a 19th century Buffy-the-vampire-slayer who arrives in town hunting Giovanni, loaded with weapons to kill him. She shows up with a crossbow, a bag of stakes, a crucifix, garlic, holy water, a knife, and a pistol with lots of silver bullets. She is here to kill him. The Commendatore dies not by a sword fight, but by shooting five bullets into Giovanni's body as he walks toward him, unaffected, and them is attacked in the classic vampire way - he is drained of blood and dies. For me, the move into the fictional world of the vampire works quite well for this particular character since he shows up as the invited Stone Guest - a supernatural figure. In the world of a vampire, if you are bitten you might end up UnDead. So the Commendatore's reappearance at the end of the opera is just another vampire seeking revenge on his maker.

    There are many other implications with this concept. One of the biggest is how I treat the serenade at the top of Act Two. No longer is it "cringy" watching a potential rapist try to get invited in while we all listen to this gorgeous serenade sung by a lovely baritone. I show it now as part of his supernatural powers. Vampires were known to be able to hypnotize, so I show another woman (the owner of a tavern next to the other building) coming under Giovanni's "spell" (his voice), and being pulled toward him against her will. We clearly understand he is there to kill, and so he does; just as the accompaniment to his serenade ends he attacks her and she dies. Will there be applause after that aria I wonder? Should there ever be applause after that aria when one thinks about its implications?

    Other transformations: Instead of a big feast of food at a table in the act two finale, we see dead bodies lying around as servants bring in peasants for Giovanni to feast on. He drinks their blood and even talks about what great wine he is being served. We see his voracious appetite for death on display as happy orchestral music is played from various operas known to audiences at the time. But perhaps the biggest change for a character in this concept is Leporello.

    How complicit is Leporello in the original libretto? Is he forced to do his master's bidding? There are a few times when it is clear that Leporello tries to emulate his master's behaviour (resulting in getting slapped at Zerlina's wedding by one of her friends). He so often starts a scene by saying he's going to leave his master because he is fed up with his life and his master's morals. Yet he doesn't. He is strangely tied to Giovanni. In my vampire-Giovanni world, Leporello is a Renfield type of character who is caught under the vampire's spell.

    I'm not sure if this concept answers other questions about the morals of the piece when seen through a 2022 lens, but it has been an interesting one to explore with the designers and the student cast members.

    As well, I hope that our audiences enjoy the choices of our music director, Stephen Hargreaves, who has led the students to create the most highly ornamented Don Giovanni I've ever been a part of.

    And remember -- vampires aren't real.


Saturday, July 17, 2021

Paths of Sewanee

Written the morning of July 17, 2021 at the Blue Chair Cafe, Sewanee Tennessee

Paths of Sewanee

The clouds roll by as I step out for a morning walk in Sewanee.
Sleek shiny black skinks greet my bleary eyes as the bird song awakens my ears to their frenzy.
The morning sun waking me hours after waking the birds thrilled to meet another day.
Eating handfuls of wild raspberries growing by the haunted graveyard, crossing the path of Mr. Grumpy Turtle and a nervous, twitching little rabbit; I walk.
From deeper in the wood, movement happens and just as we exchange looks, a young fawn leaps away.
But mostly, and because they permeate Sewanee, it's the trees that silently make their presence known. 
The oaks courageously standing watch over the woods.
The exhalation of the forest spreads a kind of delicious, sweet air that I take in with every other step.
Breathing in the trees.
An exchange of sorts between their ancient wisdom and my ancient knees.
Paths open and close.
The heat of the sun.
All blend together morning after morning.
Then another music starts up, joining the bemused bird choruses of cardinal clicks, chick-a-dee-dee-dees; as the locusts' gnarly sounds rise to join the crickets: Another exchange begins, another complex interplay for the day as a lone tuba warms up on a bench outside, exploring their own paths of sound.
Another kind of sharing.
The singers start their warmups inside stone walls as a meadow of pianists fly across their keyboards in whirls of scales. 
The conductors wave their magic wands of birch in front of eager young magicians creating sounds from air, from metal, from wood, from horsehair.
A magic permeates Sewanee.
Courageous young musicians exploring their own unique paths via our many musical tour guides;
Following the maps of trails created by composers - some from long ago, some forgotten in time, some emerging as saplings from their own thousands of forests strewn across the world.
From under a canopy of green, vistas open before us - of majestic valleys and skies;
From under a canopy of symphonies and arias, real and imagined vistas open before us - visions created from sound that stir the soul.
And more steps are taken, magical and musical.
And more of the forest unfolds along these paths in Sewanee, visited by echoes of Beethoven, Verdi, and Williams; 
Echoing down into Abbo's Alley where children still dance to the music of the trees.

Friday, March 26, 2021

My personal Opera Quest

    At the end of the movie "Eat, Pray, Love", Julia Roberts narrates the point of her journey. (If you haven't seen the movie, it's okay. The "eat" part is a wonderful journey through Rome that will make you crave pasta, the "pray" part is okay but has problems because of a whole crap load of fat-shaming references aimed at Julia (really?!), and the "love" part is my wife's favourite part - mostly because of Julia's love interest embodied by a man who cries, calls his children 'darling' as well as kissing them on the mouth. She sees me in Javier Bardem's character, who I'm nothing like on the outside, but quite the same on the inside.

Anyway -- the point of the journey gets narrated over a lovely musical theme and a montage of her biking to reach her love. This is what is said --

            "The rule of Quest Physics goes something like this: If you're brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting - which can be anything from your house to bitter, old resentments - and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally); and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue; and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher; and if you are prepared most of all to face and forgive some very difficult realities about yourself, then the truth will not be withheld from you. [pause] I can't help but believe it, given my experience."

It's a good quote. And an interesting one when looked at through the operatic lens.

To perform an opera, one needs to rehearse it. During rehearsals - if they are rehearsals with good intentions and solid collaborations - the singers, director, and conductor often search to find the truth of the story, or a phrase, or a moment, or a vocal choice. To find that truth often takes a combination of a few things: 1) Vulnerability, 2) the Courage to Fail, 3) the Courage to Stand by One's Ideas, and 4) Acceptance that one doesn't have all the answers. It's a quest of sorts.

Vulnerability is not weakness. It is the opposite. Those of use who have consistently tried to be honest, open, and vulnerable in our collaborations often face exposing ourselves to criticism. People nowadays seem to want answers, not questions. The vulnerable ones have to ask questions in order to seek answers. And - newsflash - asking questions does not guarantee answers! 

As Hemingway once said, "The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed." I've certainly been feeling quite vulnerable trying to create opera during this pandemic. A few have been quick to point out that I'm not doing everything as easily as I used to pre-pandemic. It's easy to cast critiques my way because I've forgotten to do this, to proof that, to administrate contracts, to return email, to get others onboard, to get decisions made, etc. It's been an impossible job to do, yet I set out on a very specific quest this year -- to produce an unprecedented amount of opera for my students at McGill. This quest has left me feeling exceptionally fragile while at the same time feeling unbelievably proud.

The Courage to Fail is just that. Allowing yourself to see failure as a good thing, a teacher, a learning experience. When one fails - in small ways or in big ones - one can move forward a little bit easier knowing that you know things now, many valuable things, that you've never known before... To put it mildly, I've learned a shitload of new things this year that I never knew I'd ever need to know, want to know, or be able to teach to others who also needed to know,

The Courage to Stand by One's Ideas is a vital part of any quest. How does one question anything or anybody unless you've got a starting place, a home, somewhere that feels familiar and comfortable? Because to stand by your ideas means you're going to have to enter through unfamiliar doors and get into uncomfortable spaces to test yourself, your ideas, your mettle, your resilience. It's been my resilience that's gotten me through these long months. I've discovered an inner strength that was always there externally. My work ethic was always a mix of some strange ability to get up at 6am everyday and push through till midnight day after day after day, juggling multiple projects, without getting fatigued physically. However this year has been about a mental fatigue all of us recognized soon enough: zoom fatigue, the eye fatigue of screen time, email fatigue, and the psychological fatigue of being disconnected from other humans. I've had to discard quite an awful lot of my ideals, which have left a small amount of extremely strong ideals that have become pillars supporting me through this past year.

Acceptance is hardly talked about anymore. "God grant me the strength to accept what I can not change." is a mantra for millions. For many years, my mantra was "Patrick grant me the strength to change what I can not accept." Through sheer force of will, I've managed to change quite a lot in my years on this planet. But this year has made me question the sanity of trying to make changes - in people, in programs, in places - that aren't mine to push onto others. I've accepted that perhaps my next move forward is to stop pushing for change in others and to start pushing for change in my self, but especially my life.

For you see, I've been on an Opera Quest and not known it! I know I'm brave enough to leave behind the familiar and comforting because all of us in opera do this every time we open a new score to learn it, or open up an old score to re-think it. This is how we can re-discover "La Travaita" year after year -- by leaving behind our comfortable, familiar ideas of this masterpiece and diving back into it as a newbie would. I go on truth-seeking journeys every time I coach a singer, or imagine stagings, or raise my hands to conduct a downbeat. That's what all who live in opera days are filled with - lucky us! 

There is no truer statement than everyone we meet on our life's journey is a teacher. And what teachers I have had! I've blogged about a few - my first piano teacher Berneil Hanson, my humanities HS teacher RH Fanders, my master's piano teacher Joanne Baker, and my dear mentor of all things opera: Robert L. Larsen. And because my identity is very tied up into being a teacher, I see them in all of my bits and pieces and in all of my interactions with students. Teaching is also a journey, and the best evolve along that journey. I certainly have.

So the question arises, to follow the EPL quote from above -- have I been willing to face and forgive some difficult realities about myself? Yes - and my next pivot as a person will be in response to those realizations. My ego got some good bruisings this year. I've had to quite humbly admit I'm human and haven't been taking care of myself, my relationships. If I was a garden, I'd be a really cool and fabulous garden with tons of weeds growing and large sections looking quite neglected. Time to dig in, to dig up, to weed out, to replant, and to prune.

The truth has not withheld itself, it's just taken a year of a pandemic to make itself known to me.

And that's ultimately how truth in music happens. After hours and hours of practice, after endless discussions and coachings, after thousands of opinions tossed about - truth appears almost magically. But you need to be open, be honest, and be vulnerable to let truth show itself. And then, the hard part, face the truth, forgive yourself any failings, so that you can celebrate that truth as best you can.

What's the future hold for me? I think perhaps the same thing it did for Julia and Javier -- some private time on a boat far away from others holding the only truth I know: love and family.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Singing in the Darkness

From time to time I think about how I started out in the opera business. I was very naive, very young, but certainly in love with the human voice, the art form, and all of the collaborative elements that poured into creating that operatic sonic thrill.

This happened in Indianola, Iowa. The home of Dr. Robert Larsen and his department of music at Simpson College and Des Moines Metro Opera, for which he was the founding artistic director. Dr. Larsen was an incredibly gifted pianist, an amazing director, an inspiring conductor, and a profoundly tireless professor, mentor, and leader.  We created opera in a very small department that was primarily populated by midwestern kids who'd never seen an opera, let alone knew how it was supposed to sound.  Because of this, we were free to sing it our way, free to make noises we thought were operatic, free to create art and characters (via texts in our own language - all of the opera was performed in English translations, or English operas by Britten and Menotti), free to express ourselves without the world looking on.  In a way, we were singing in a wonderful kind of darkness.

We didn't have a hyperawareness of the world's operatic landscape, unlike today where the light of opera can shine into every crevice of the internet. Working on Puccini's La bohème? There are hundreds of videos and recording to choose from just on Youtube. At Simpson, we had the Freni/Pavarotti LP recording. I loved listening to it when I was preparing to play Bohème for the first time (I was a Sophomore and had only played Hansel and Gretel plus a few scenes before heading into the listening library to take a listen to the whole opera.) I imitated what I heard and listened to my friends in the cast do their best with the challenging music (headed by remarkable singers - the Rodolfo, Mimi, and Musetta ended up working on the Lyric Opera of Chicago stage, as did a few of the younger choristers and myself years later!) It was a great weekend of Puccini; maybe a few hundred people saw it.

I do wish that young singers today had a chance to sing in the same sort of darkness; to be able to experiment, make sounds that don't work, fail sometimes - even in performances, but give it the ol' college try.  Nowadays so much importance is placed on each and every moment that I worry it straightjackets the artist part of the next generation of young singers' talent way too early. They get so worried about doing everything correctly, making no one upset at any of their choices (that thought never occurred to me, since I didn't know there were any "incorrect" choices except making Dr. Larsen unhappy by not knowing my music!), but especially, many are in a constant state of "fixing" something about their talent.

News Flash: Y'all ain't broken. There's nothing to "fix". You need chances to sing, to perform, to work out the wrinkles in your sound, or in your craft, or whatever combination of artisanal/artistic ingredients you need in order to move forward in your career paths.  Perhaps finding a place to work on these things, out of the way, or in non-traditional places/venues might be a better use of time and money? I'm not sure, but I do know that my time in the Indianola "darkness" was exceedingly enlightening, invigorating, and massively educational. I'm fond of saying that my years at Simpson gave me my 10,000 hours of opera, prepared me for doing what I do now professionally, and taught me more than most undergrad, graduate, and post-graduate programs combined.

Dr. Larsen is still living in Indianola, mostly retired I hear. I wonder if he really knows just how special his aesthetic was, how unique he and his students were?  I hope he does. He certainly was a shining operatic light for many. On a personal level, I think of Dr. Larsen as a kind of lighthouse sitting out on the shore of some operatic ocean. Whenever I'm a bit lost at sea, I remember back to those care free days when making music was just something that happened naturally and without very much effort. It reminds me that I can do anything - if I just relax, open the score, and begin.

UPDATE: Dr. Robert L. Larsen passed away on March 21, 2021. His students from all over the world are posting memories on Facebook. His passion for teaching touched tens of thousands of students and opera singers, for those thousands who were lucky enough to learn and/or work with him at Simpson or DMMO went on to become teachers of their own thousands of students, or to create professional careers that reached so very many. He left an indelible mark and I'm forever indebted to him. 

Rest In Peace dear Dr. Larsen!

Monday, November 2, 2020

Galaxy Quest, Schubert, and Mozart

 If you don't know the 1999 movie "Galaxy Quest", then this blog won't make a great deal of sense. I'll take the time to do a fast and furious lowdown on the movie so the the rest of the blog might hopefully resonate.

"Galaxy Quest" is one of those great cult films. A send-up of science fiction space movies - in particular the Star Trek universe and its fandom - it goes beyond simple parody and achieves an enormous humanity due to the smart script and the amazing cast: Alan Rickman, Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tony Shalhoub, to name just the few standouts (the best is Enrico Colantoni as Mathesar). It basically tells the story of a group of aliens (known as the Thermians) who view the telecasts of a sci-fi television series "Galaxy Quest" and think it's an actual documentary of true life. These aliens recreate the ship, make its technology totally work, venerate the crew, and yet the whole time they think it's all real, like actually real Earth history! The fact that these aliens are way more advanced than Earth makes it even funnier that they don't understand how the tv show was just a piece of entertainment, based on actors and screen writers. 

The crux of the movie is the intersection of the two sets of characters: the aliens and the actors. The aliens completely misunderstand the reason for the technology (televised, episodic sci-fi entertainment), but make it work in order to save themselves from annihilation. In fact, it works so well because it is entirely based on the lines of dialogue, the set pieces, the spaceship models, and the gestures of the original actors in the series. The actors are at first flabbergasted that the aliens exist and amazed that the tech actually works and is real. They stumble into the narrative of the Thermians trying to survive a war against evil aliens and find their new purpose - motivating the Thermians to help them create a new future while the actors learn to set aside their petty jealousies of the past and work together.

So now we are all up to speed. What the heck does "Galaxy Quest" have to do with Schubert or Mozart?

It occurred to me today that many in classical music are like those "Galaxy Quest" aliens: experts recreating an entertainment they think is actually art, not realizing that the whole raison d'etre was to entertain people. Recreating it without understanding this basic fact (the tv show wasn't real, i.e. art is entertainment), causes a whole cascade of errors to rain down upon both those re-creationists (artists) and their audiences.The aliens are like many of today's opera experts, pedagogues, critics, and aficionados.

Let me explain further. 

Often, young singers (and frankly other classical artists) meet up with mentors, coaches, and teachers who impress upon them the idea that they need to simply express the text and the score as it is on the page and as the composer intended. They are told: Don't put your ideas onto the page - particularly for geniuses like a Schubert or a Mozart - because that might deter from the composer's intent, or god-forbid, ruin an artistic masterpiece. "Who are we to...?" is a common defense from experts, and seems to be asked to make sure we venerate the frigid pages of classical scores.

This happens everywhere, and with such frequency it is difficult to combat.

When a coach tells a singer to always follow the Barenreiter edition's use of rests between parts of sentences in Mozart recitatives. When a masterclass artist tells a singer not to take time on this or that phrase because it's not marked in by Schubert. When a judge tells a singer not to ornament Mozart or take appoggiaturas in Mozart arias. When anyone steps in to restrain anyone trying to make an artistic choice because they either don't approve, or they don't see it on the page, or they might have their tastes offended, that's when I see a problem and think about those Thermians onboard their version of the Galaxy Quest spaceship.

The Thermians are focused on a past that doesn't really exist, but doing it with exquisite accuracy. They can use the technology themselves but need the Actors for their survival. (A good friend of mine after reading a draft of this blog pointed out that there are musicologists in this movie too: the diehard fans of the series whose knowledge of the technical details about the ship literally save the day.) Knowledge of the past is not enough, you need to have the the other pieces to get everything to work: you need the Actors. The entertainers who originally created the roles and made it all seem so real. Singers and musicians are those actors, (who can't live in the fake past because it is a set made out of wood, plastic and flashing lights.) They need the aliens as much as the aliens need the actors. Opera experts need the living artists. The living artists need the researchers (die-hard sci-fi fans) to help supply needed knowledge to understand the alien's current tech based on the past tech. One without the other creates a disconnect in the art itself. But - and here's the important part - they need to be equally valued and both need to realize the intersectionality that exists between entertainment, art, entertainers, artists, and especially the past and present. Making music is an act of re-creation, not an act of paint-by-numbers. The latter is a copy without any life present even though it might be the most accurate of recreations.

I have seen time and time again young singers be encouraged to be some sort of transparent vessel and just sing the notes and the text so as "not to get in the way of the composer." They stand and sing Schubert songs without telling stories, or engaging in those stories in any way that might be seen as "acting" (the big taboo in art song -- acting a song -- is the worst offense for many now teaching young singers.) And we wonder why recitals are no longer popular with the public. They are boring. There's no text, except maybe on a piece of paper in a small font that you can't read in the dimly lit mostly empty recital hall (projected titles in recitals PLEASE). The singers are dressed like they are in some sad recreation of a low-budget "Downton Abbey" episode (why are we still dressing like Edwardians yet yelling for classical music to de-colonize itself? How about starting by stopping this crazy period gown/tux dress codes for recitals?) Singers are being asked to envision a better future for classical music. I would encourage them to toss out their tuxedos and figure new modes of how to bring the incredible wealth of recital music to a contemporary audience.

Our expert "aliens" don't get that Schubert songs (or any songs, just using his as prime example) were not written to be put into recital-museums by gorgeously-gowned automatons who simply sing the notes as written, the text as typed out, and follow the markings that might be in the score. These were pieces of entertainment, not sculptures or paintings that never change once created by the artist. And as entertainment, they were meant to be shared in as many ways as possible by as many different levels of singers (amateur and professional) in absolutely different arenas (from literal arenas, to living rooms in Iowa, to the Australian outback, to student recitals.) It's time to recognize this and stop with the pretension.

And the same with opera - I'll use ornamenting a score as an example. Ornamentation? Yes, by all means. Study Pamina's aria and you'll understand it's Mozart ornamenting his own melody for a 17 year-old Pamina who probably didn't have it in her to do so on the stage, or know that she should take the appoggiaturas so he wrote them all in. Do some research into this and you'll quickly realize that singing Mozart without ornaments is a sad and old-fashioned mode of performance practice. In baroque opera it's totally accepted and expected. But ornaments (defined as any alteration to the score) in operas must happen in Gluck, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, Gounod, Bizet, Meyerbeer, von Weber, Beethoven (yes kids), and well into Puccini (fight me on that and you'll lose.)

It'd be funny if it weren't for the fact that classical music and opera audiences are dying. We need to embrace the notion that we live and work from past entertainments made by professional entertainers like Shakespeare and Mozart. But now the experts have replaced the past with their new version called art. They teach the Kunst as Heilige Kunst, revere it on pedestals, and sadly prevent it from living, breathing and - most importantly of all - evolving so that today's audiences can discover it and hopefully fall in love with it!

So the aliens get points for making the starship actually work. But when they missed that one piece of information - it wasn't real to begin with - they entered into a dramatic situation where their lives and culture faced annihilation by the evil alien. It took the actors coming back into their "world" to save the day, save the universe, and save the aliens. The actors had to drop their own pretensions and recognize that they too faced annihilation unless they embraced their new reality by taking the past and making it work for them again.

It's time for the entertainers among us to save the day.

"By Grabthar's Hammer, by the sons of Warvan, you shall be avenged!" 

- Dr. Lazarus as played by Alexander Dane as played by Alan Rickman