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Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009 in Review

A year end review blog -- please forgive the bullets, but I'm just not in the mood to write sentences! Our new Wii is calling me and I must get back to break my personal score in Archery...
When I look back at 2009, I think of the following moments:
  • The Rape of Lucretia at McGill in January of 2009, with a remarkable cast. Designed by Vincent and Ginette with lighting by Serge, I was quite moved by the last 10 minutes of the last performance. For this atheist, the question of "Is this it all?" has been in my mind for most of my life. As voiced by Aidan and answered by David, I must say that Britten wrote a compelling statement. The production caused me a great deal of personal anguish, as I was about to embark on a terrible few months - or as I refer to it: "my semester of misdiagnosis"! The day Lucretia opened, I was told that I might have an inner ear disease that would cause me to eventually go deaf, become bed-ridden, and make me unable to work any job. It was a tough way to end a wonderful production and rehearsal process.
  • Dialogues of the Carmelites, again at McGill AND on the same weekend that we presented La Rondine and a scenes program! Try that I.U. ! The nuns were also the set, as there was no money for anything beyond costumes (again, wonderfully done by Ginette). If I were to do the "big-budget" version of this production, I wouldn't change my idea of using the nuns as the walls, doorways, hallways, and cemetery. Since the convent represented their lives, it was a perfect metaphor for their trials. Confession time: I have to admit that I don't remember staging this opera (done almost a month in advance of the actual production.) I was in and out of doctors' offices and trying various medications to try to get the ringing in my ears to stop, as well as the nausea and dizziness. If my wonderful wife, Elizabeth, hadn't been around to help out, I would have cancelled it. In the end, this was a great performance of a great opera and I certainly had fun playing that score again!
  • Musical Theatre Workshop - another one of my "experiments" at Opera McGill. Students signed up to work on MT repertoire once a week. Lots of students made some amazing breakthroughs and also revealed their hidden talents. Highlights: JCJ singing "Giants in the Sky", Margot singing ANYTHING, Lily going for the big belt in "The miller's son", and Barbara getting Horton to notice her!
  • Schulich School of Music teaching award. It was a great way to end a trying semester -- thanks to Meg, Lara, Aidan, and Philippe for nominating me and writing such incredible letters of recommendation. It was the most moving moment in my teaching career and boy I wish my parents would have been alive to know their teaching legacy lives on.
  • The end to the ringing: Although I was losing my sanity during January, February and March because of the ringing in my ears, by the time May came, the ringing had ceased and I was able to drive again, use the Metro, and not worry that I'd end up a 45 yr. old invalid. It seems the various doctors in Montreal did NOT know what was wrong with me! Thanks to Dr. G for getting me to an ENT who got me on a simple nasal spray regimen.
  • Camelot at Ash Lawn Summer Festival. What a GREAT show! With a GREAT cast and production crew! I was really worried about directing a musical, particularly working the book scenes that were quite long, involved, and Shakespearian in conception. But the casting was fantastic and Peter, Katy, and Christopher were a dream love triangle (backed up by the wonderful Corey and Christian). I had tons of fun working with Maestro Toan, and thank the gods that Mr. Laroche was an apprentice that summer, as he ended up in practically every scene!
  • Brevard: So I showed up late and almost missed the UNCUT (not my idea!) Hoffmann. Lots of roles for lots of singers, but really not my favorite opera. Offenbach is massively overrated, in my humble opinion! But the set and costumes were rather impressive, as was the conducting by Maestro Larkin. We followed it with Hello Dolly, that was cast almost entirely with McGill students: Do I need to write about Ms. Piazza stopping the show practically every time she sang a number? Or about Nico and Margot stealing every scene they were in? Or what about DMD and his matinee idol looks and dancing? It was a TERRIFIC show with literally hundreds of costumes. Amazing that it all happened in two weeks! (Go David Gately.) Followed quickly by a scenes program that was directed by David, Dean, and me while the three of us were trying to rehearse a Puccini double-bill. Truth to tell: I agreed to conduct the double-bill the night before the first rehearsal was slated to begin. The conductor had cancelled last minute. It was fun to wave my arms again, with a wonderful cast and orchestra. Going into it, I was mostly worried about the Suor Angelica, but ended up loving conducting it much more than Gianni Schicchi. An extremely moving opera, and once again the religious ideas behind it really seemed to speak directly to me in surprising ways. My Catholic past perhaps?
  • Vacation in Iowa: The best thing about my life is that I can take my family to Burlington, Iowa and get away from everything. My wife has a bazillion cousins in town and I am blessed with two wonderful parents-in-law. They are still in love with each other after 58 years together, embrace my need to cook 24/7 while I'm in their house, and are the most accepting, patient people I know. If you want to know how to be happy and content without HBO, Twitter, new cars, etc., look them up!
  • Agrippina: a production that totally exceeded my expectations. Once again the design team put so much together and made the concept of "Dirty, Sexy, Opera" really work. The onstage dog, Colin, was the best actor I've ever worked with (had to write that!) Asking cast members to shoot up with heroin, snort cocaine, take their clothes off, drink lots of cocktails, while singing REALLY long Italian recitatives and arias by Handel, was such fun. SUCH fun! Once again, collaborating with Mo. Knox was a dream. The Nerone was sung by a coloratura mezzo named Emma Parkinson. Any artistic admins or agents reading this blog should look her up and get her signed. Her "Come nube" was the best thing I've heard sung live in 2009, aside from Aaron Tveit's performance as Gabe on Broadway in "Next to Normal". He is FIERCE, so is she.
  • Kennedy Center: Thanks to Julian Wachner, I was invited to direct his "Essential Puccini" concert at the Kennedy Center in mid-November. What an AMAZING experience, with a terrific chorus singing Act Two of Boheme and the large sections of Turandot. Jill Gardner's Musetta was the best I've seen (that includes one recent version with PR), but her rendition of "O mio babbino caro" was the best I've heard - ever. Seriously, someone hire her to sing the Trittico now. Carl Tanner and Othalie Graham were fantastic as Calaf and Turandot -- both sending thrilling high C's into the sold-out audience. There was a children's chorus of 80, yes EIGHTY CHILDREN, that I had to stage. All of it conducted with great aplomb by Mo. Wachner. He should conduct more Puccini...
  • Brevard 2010 auditions -- I'll have to blog about this sometime, but here are the stats: Over 90 sopranos, most presenting themselves in a black dress (sleeveless and above the knee), sang for us looking to be cast in about 9 roles. Wow. We had 25% more applicants this year, which is good. The singing, for the most part, would best be described as pushed and jumpy. More later!
  • Looking forward to 2010: Orfeo for Opera Memphis, a whole BUNCH of craziness the first week of March for the contemporary music festival MUSIMARS in Montreal (directing a Pierrot Lunaire, an Aperghis one-act, a new piece for bassoon, four celli, and three double-basses, and Kagel's "Finale" where the conductor has a heart-attack and dies on the podium!), then musical direction at McGill for Brook's adaptation of Carmen and staging Bernstein's Trouble in Tahiti. The summer at Brevard looks fun: Fledermaus, Le Nozze di Figaro, two scenes programs, a run-out musical called Tintypes, and a Pirates of Penzance, which I'm conducting. That's a lot of opera. I'll look forward to being in Burlington in August, grilling food on my in-law's barbeque!
Best to everyone out there in this weird world of blogging. Hope everyone has a Happy New Year. Tomorrow, I get to celebrate the 18th Anniversary of being the luckiest man on Earth for having married my wife. She's actually the TALENTED member of our family!