My Top Ten Posts!
Sunday, December 26, 2010
The following lists stem from my experiences with Opera during the past year, no other criteria was used. I've tried to be funny and honest. Hard to do, eh?!
PJH's BEST Opera Experiences of 2010:
10) "Hänsel und Gretel", Opera McGill: A very simple premise (children's own artwork) caused audience members to weep with joy. Garry and his dopplegänger caused critics to practically pee their pants!
9) The Dance of the Blessed Spirits from "Orpheus", Opera Memphis: Orchestra and Dancers were beautiful, as were the lights cues! Michael Ching and his vision (unique to opera) will be sorely missed down in the land of incredible BBQ.
8) "The Rake's Progress", Opera McGill: Amazing work from Mo Wachner, the chorus and terrific student performances, including Nick Shadow's demise -- Sly at his most sly and riveting.
7) Tinervia's Tarquinias' aria during Opera McGill's "Death by Aria": one of the most musical moments I've been a part of in a long while. Being musical used to be important, now it's a rare event.
6) Otto's Nemorino in "Elixir of Love", Wichita Grand Opera: His American debut in the middle of Kansas was sung impeccably well. He was also a joy to direct -- in my broken German and Italian and his English. I loved working with all of the cast members, young artists, and choristers.
5) Boheme rehearsals during the fall, Opera McGill: Such a joy to work with such amazing casts! The January 2011 performances are not to be missed.
4) Jill Gardner's Tosca, Boston Lyric Opera: Conducted by Bisantz, directed by Lefkowich, cast by Russell -- they kept the faith.
3) "The Pirates of Penzance", Janiec Opera Company at Brevard: Simply hysterical! Go cast, go orchestra, go Gately.
2) Ingrid's amazing, amazing memorized performance of our staged "Pierrot Lunaire" for MusiMars: She's fearless. The Ensemble was also FIERCE!
1) "TnT", Opera McGill: from my crazy idea to do the choreography in retrograde (skillfully done by Jana, Nico, and Garry) to the production design, to both casts' wonderful portrayals, to Mo JdS's abilities at the piano; it was such a joy to walk into rehearsal each day!
PJH's WORST Opera Experiences of 2010
10) Losing 1 of only 4 soldiers in Wichita's "Elixir" after I'd staged the four into the show: It wasn't a soldier's chorus, it was a trio...
9) Sitting through a horrid "Prendi" during Brevard auditions this December: We knew at "PREEEEEEEE-" (sung fortissimo) that she'd be a "no".
8) Renee's "Dark Hope". Aptly named.
7) Some of the tempi I've had to listen to this year: Why ignore the human beings actually doing the singing onstage?! I've found it sometimes helps to actually listen and respond. Just sayin'...
6) Mabel's Dolly Parton wig in "Pirates of Penzance": I simply couldn't see Mary's face to find her lips to see her words because all I could see was hair - EVERYWHERE!
5) My terrible upbeat at the encore of "Modern Major General"; luckily the orchestra remembered what we had rehearsed!
4) Me losing my place in the midst of Armine's Komponist in "Death by Aria"; I had to resort to playing it by ear; memo for 2011 - must get new glasses!
3) Aperghis' "Sextuor" -- the score, not the performance (go McGill ladies!) in MusiMars; total pile of terribleness...
2) Speaking of the remarkable MusiMars 2010: the Stockhausen "Inori" -- the score and the mimes. Mimes and modern music -- such a bad idea. I didn't get it, and don't want to get it, frankly. Emperor's New Clothes if you ask me!
1) Missing "A Quiet Place" at NYCO this fall: I didn't get myself to a performance and really regret missing it. Perhaps City Opera will reprise it next season?!
That's the best/worst I can do. Happy New Year Everyone!
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Secondly, please excuse the overuse of exclamation marks...
I thought I might post a list of audition "thoughts" from the road as David Gately and I travel around the U.S. hearing young singers on our annual December tour for Janiec Opera Company. These are simply my own, and are being expressed mostly to try to bring a bit of humor to this process.
1) A rare commodity: pianists who know the repertoire.
2) There are too many sopranos pursuing opera. They are like salmon swimming upstream to spawn or like stars in the evening sky (take your pick on the metaphor…)
3) The more Dr. So-And-So’s listed on a singer’s resume under voice teacher, director or conductor the less impressed I seemed to be with the audition.
4) I know who wrote “Come scoglio”, you don’t have to tell me it’s by Mozart.
5) There are so few men auditioning anymore that each seems like he could be the next Nathan Gunn.
6) New look to try: Cowboy boots with a suit and tie. Each one of the guys with this look got put onto the Yes list.
7) Monica’s Waltz is a terrible aria - to sing and to listen to.
8) So far almost 75% of our ladies wore black dresses, more than half of those in black dresses also chose a pearl necklace of some sort.
9) Mediocrity is the new illusion: Don’t do anything special or out of the ordinary. Generic is the way to go. That way, nothing is communicated that engages anyone on any aesthetic level. It’s safe and incredibly boring and won’t get you noticed at all.
10) It is actually easy to standout from the others: Sing anything fantastically well and know what you’re singing about. Extra points for JOY!
Thursday, November 18, 2010
A sad state! I'd been seeing this sort of "throw-it-together" opera for awhile now... Everywhere: close at home, far from home, at opera companies with big budgets and at companies with small budgets. It was getting kinda depressing.
And then I took a flight from Plattsburgh, NY, to Boston, MA to see the Boston Lyric Opera production of Puccini's "Tosca'. The reason for my trip was to see old friends who were all involved in the production. The leading lady Jill Gardner, the director David Lefkowich, and the conductor Andrew Bisantz, were all assembled by the artistic administrator of BLO Nicholas Russell for this production. All of us had met at Glimmerglass during our summers there, and now here they were in Boston.
Honestly, I was more interested in seeing everyone than sitting through another opera - particularly when I heard the tenor had become sick and they were bringing in a sub. I also did not know the rest of the cast, and so was getting set for that "same-old" opera I had been seeing at other places around North America.
Well --- OPERA LIVES AGAIN! In spades! The BLO production just blew me away. Starting with Jill's amazing, gutsy, and wonderfully sung portrayal of the title role. I have not seen a singer give such a complete performance -- vocal, musical, and dramatic -- in years. Jill WAS Tosca. I believed every moment and she created such special ones: praying to the Madonna, flirting with her Mario, singing "Vissi d'arte" on Scarpia's temporary cot, stabbing him to death with the scissors (go David Lefkowich!), and her amazingly shocking "leap". You just had to be there to believe it. It was all done with a beautiful connection to the text, attention to Puccini's score, and gorgeous tone. BRAVA!
Supporting her in all of this was the conductor, Andrew Bisantz. I've heard him conduct lots of opera - from Little Women to Manon Lescaut, and was not surprised at how adept he was with this score. I think Puccini might be his forte, as it all seemed to flow effortlessly; sculpting a beautiful performance from orchestra and singers alike, he allowed his leading singers ample freedom to express this tricky score. It's too bad that the Met seems to be hiring young, inexperienced Maestri with big names and big money behind them -- instead of hiring actual conductors who know the scores because they've spent their 10,000 hours actually LEARNING how the buggers go. Note to Gelb...
Not to be missed were all of David Lefkowich's touches. This was not an original production -- rented all the way from Scottish National Opera and arriving via boat. I've only seen David work in original productions, and he flourishes in those. However, the confines presented to him really came to fruition in the 2nd act. It was simply riveting. From Scarpia getting in some good ol' fashioned gut punches on the tenor, to the vivid almost-rape of Tosca, to Scarpia's murder by scissors, I was impressed. No one moves men around onstage in Fedoras better than David Lefkowich!
The rest of the cast was also QUITE good: from Bradley Garvin's channeling of a young Milnes mixed with Hollywood good looks, to the substitute tenor of the day Richard Crawley (who threw himself into the role as if he'd been in rehearsals for weeks), to the supporting roles (T. Stephen Smith's perfect Sacristan to Anton Belov's Angelotti); that sort of deep casting comes from an artistic administrator who knows his business!
So yes, I judged an Aria Contest for Teens - with Miss Boston and her tiara - and there were numerous bottles of champagne and red wine at a dinner filled with old friends from Florida Grand Opera (a surprise). I also had an afternoon with the glorious Ruth Golden, in town to hear the opening night, and was able to see Brevard alumni Nicole Rodin sing in an outreach BLO performance plus have a Starbucks with Margot Rood. Margot's now flourishing in Boston, which is such a great place for singers with small voices...
Just kidding Margot! I'm hoping Boston will figure out what I figured out three years ago -- Margot is one of the most talented singing actors out there. BLO should hire her next...
Next up: Catherine Malfitano's McGill masterclass on November 20; Boheme starts staging at McGill on November 23; Gately and I head off for the Brevard auditions Dec. 4 - 15 (Chicago, Ft.Worth, NYC, Boston). I promise to blog from those auditions!
Thursday, October 14, 2010
It's because I had an idea about this fall's Opera McGill production of said opera. The idea: project illustrations, by kids, for the sets of the opera. Allow the kids to imagine the story of H & G, and with little guidance, let them create forests, angels, gingerbread children, maison de bonbons, etc. with crayons and markers. Then, the illustrations picked would become part of the actual set design, be projected onto the back screen during the show, and the illustrators (and their families) would be invited to a special presentation in November - complete with a cupcake reception hosted by THE WITCH!
We took a team of Hansels and Gretels, had them sing the first act "let's not work, let's dance instead" duet and also the 2nd act prayer. We also asked the kids lots of questions: What's an opera? What do we need to make an opera? What language were they singing in? What was going on while they sang? etc., etc.
Interesting to see how much the students knew about opera, their ideas and preconceived stereotypes (it's LOUD), their reactions to the live performances, and of course to see their illustrations! Some were really, truly amazing!
I'm looking forward to staging the show - starting this Monday - and getting into the mind of a child again. It's a much better place to be!
Other goings on in the Opera McGill world: performances at the Homecoming "Spotlight on Schulich" where we presented quatre extraits from La Boheme. People were stunned by the level of the casts... Two weeks ago we also performed the first annual "Death By Aria" patterned after the DMMO evening of the same name. Each of the singers cast in Opera McGill productions stood up and sang an aria. I played. Brilliantly, I might add, for the sheer number of arias on the program: 30! I felt more connected to Robert Larsen that afternoon than ever before. It's a fun thing to do, and it allowed the students to experience performing an aria in front of a -- standing room only -- audience without being judged by an audition panel or a faculty grading an exam or critics listening with their 20th century ears. This sort of experience is rare and schools should provide more of these types of performance experiences! Plans are underway for another one in the 2nd semester. Plus the party afterwards at our house, hosted by my wife and kids, was a ton of fun.
I've tried to finish watching the second season of ROME, but am only 2/3rds of the way through. I really, really want to do a Poppea and really, really go for it ala ROME. It's the perfect opera for digging into Roman sex scenes, religious rites, bloody murders, stoic suicides, intrigue everywhere, and reclining meals (want to do that some day -- the meal part, not some of the others).
Yes, I wrote "some" on purpose.
Must run, have to write a thousand letters of recommendation that no one will read and are a total waste of time. When in the world will this NONSENSE END?!?!?!
Keep singing loud, fast and high!
Monday, September 13, 2010
As terrible as my hay fever is (and only a few seasons ago I was boasting that I had "cured" my hay fever by diligently eating yogurt every morning the three months leading up to September...) this cold I've caught from my hacking wife and coughing children is MUCH worse. I don't know if it's because I'm trying to maintain a working, coaching, teaching schedule, or if it's because my mother in law and father in law are visiting from Iowa and that puts me on a blow-up bed in the dining room, or if it's because there's a bit more stress than usual around the world, but I feel TERRIBLE!
Yes, that's a whine. A big man WHINE. Nobody really whines like a married man who's sick. I do it really well -- big sighs, whining the "where's the Advil?" or the "where's the decaf tea?" or the "can you make me some toast while you're at it?" are all part of my repertoire. So is the ability to ignore the dog at 2am when he wakes suddenly and has to pee. Somehow, I can sleep through that, but not through the dripping faucet in the kitchen. Hmmmm...
Singers can whine a lot, too. When I worked at Glimmerglass I called it the B&M - Bitch and Moan. It usually came from singers whose self-esteem was not as big as their egos, or who had a screwed up passagio, or someone who was not getting any "bites" from the managers who came through auditioning singers, or frankly just a bitchy singer who felt the need to strike out at other humans simply because they felt like it. It didn't happen all that often, but I saw it there, and have seen it elsewhere throughout my 25+ years working in the biz. It's becoming rarer in the opera world, but I do find it still - particularly among the very young just starting out.
This need to make others feel bad is an interesting thing. Why does it happen among artists who get to work on such AMAZING music and text? Shouldn't the act of making music be an antidote to negativity? Where is the joy in singing - literally?
A more important question for someone pursuing a career as a singer might be: Why would other collaborators work with difficult singers who B&M? The answer is that they don't - not any more! This sort of behavior spells immediate failure in a career. There simply is no room for it and it leads to not getting cast, not having a career, and wasting a lot of money on lessons and coachings.
Today on FB, Marc a singer here in Montreal, posted a quote from Gandhi that I had forgotten:
"Keep your thoughts positive because your thoughts become your words. Keep your words positive because your words become your behaviors. Keep your behaviors positive because your behaviors become your habits. Keep your habits positive because your habits become your values. Keep your values positive because your values become your destiny."
It's so true.
And your thoughts become sounds when you sing... Some of us can hear those thoughts in your voice...
Too bad none of you can hear my whiny tone as I ask my wife for "some more honey, Honey?!"
Sunday, August 29, 2010
As Opera McGill auditions are this Monday and Tuesday, I thought I'd post it again.
What do I look and listen for at an audition? I'll first tell you what I DON'T look/listen for:
1) Being correct: couldn't care less if you miss a note or drop pieces of text.
2) Coordination with your pianist: I'm much more interested in the music YOU are making!
3) Singing in tune (I know that's a surprising statement, but frankly most singers sing out of tune in some way, shape or form -- why does everyone get so freaking obsessive about this?!)
4) Ornaments: what ever I hear I'm going to want to change anyway, so why worry about it?
5) What you're wearing (many of my students will tell you this is not so, but I only comment on it to them later because I know SO many in the business pay attention to this really unimportant factor).
What I DO look/listen for:
1) A human being making music with their voice
2) Singing sentences that have meaning both textually, dramatically, and vocally
3) Did I mention the making music thing?
4) Character choices - both physical and vocal
5) Good shoes (I know, I shouldn't but I notice) This means no super high heels and no sandals.
6) A singer's physicality
7) Size of Voice
8) Repertoire -- is the singer singing rep that is appropriate for their technique/age/fach etc.
9) Range -- as in high and low and at what extremes the singer is comfortable
10) Range -- stylistically speaking how comfortable/adept with Baroque/Classical/19th/20th/Musical Theatre rep and how many arias are being presented.
That's it, not much! I do tend to judge the aural before the first page gets turned and then take in the visual as the audition progresses.
With all of that said, one of the things singers forget is that the panel wants you to be incredible so that we can cast you! It's not a jury or an examination. There are no grades and there are few hard and stead-fast rules, frankly. Move around, don't move around; gesture, don't gesture; wear a suit, don't wear a suit. All of that doesn't matter with me. I want to hear someone trying to make CHOICES and loving their moment commiserating with the great composers.
If any of the McGill students are reading this -- remember to take a good breath before you walk in the room. I'm looking forward to hearing everyone!
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
"Multiple Intelligences" explained: Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor of education and psychology, created a theory of multiple intelligences. He identified these as Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Body-Kinesthetic, Spatial, Musical, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. I believe that Prof. Gardner’s theory represents the seven aspects of training that students undertake to sing opera successfully.
I thought I'd discuss these "intelligences" on this blog, as I've been thinking a lot about what my students at McGill need to learn and work towards, operatically speaking, over the coming school year. Professor Gardner's theory has influenced my mode of thinking about opera, and particularly the training and processes that go into creating a young opera singer and an opera production. This idea of taking the various aspects of music, singing, acting, and moving in opera and focusing on them individually based on Professor Gardner's ideas, is a theory of mine that I've not read about elsewhere, but I've shared in a variety of ways (most recently last semester at McGill in a presentation that's available to see online at: http://podcasts.mcgill.ca/music/ (I must admit it's a long lecture captured on some crude video, but the core of what I'm talking about is there, and boy does Philippe sound terrific!)
I thought I'd discuss each one in a separate blog, here goes: #1 Intelligence -- MUSICAL!
Why of course, you need some musical intelligence to sing opera (although many are surprisingly deficient in this intelligence!). We're talking about the capacity to think in music, to be able to hear and recognize patterns and manipulate physically (as in with the voice, or with your fingers on a keyboard, etc.) or mentally (as in remembering a musical phrase, hearing music in your head, or composing music from your imagination). Sometimes this intelligence is called "talent". Mine was called, by my sainted mother, "your God given talent"! (Usually expressed after a phrase like "you're not practicing, don't you know you are wasting YOUR GOD GIVEN TALENT!") Talent is tricky -- there are those with lots of "talent" (and what does that mean exactly?!) who do not work, yet still progress, as well as lots with less "talent" who work harder than most and progress farther, etc. Musical intelligence is something more, for me, akin to cooking without a recipe -- you need to have skills and imagination to get it to turn out right.
Training this intelligence seems to be THE focus of music schools and music teachers all around the world. Musicians need to learn to speak and decipher a new language made up of black dots and lines and symbols on white paper. This is done through learning to "read" music, later in theory classes and in solfege classes (which I don't get for us English folk -- why train musicians to translate the names of the scale into "fa" and "re"? We know it's "F" and "D"... but that's another blog!), and then in other classes that start to define what "style" might be or "form".
The other training, and much more important, that singers have to do is BUILD THEIR INSTRUMENT. Outside of those terrific double-reeders (who learn to make their reeds), what musician do you know has had to physically BUILD their instrument? Do pianists? Violinists? No, only singers work on creating their instrument as well as playing their instrument. And on top of that, it's an instrument they can't really touch or see -- they can feel it and hear it only. That's a tough assignment! Many times, the musical intelligence of the singer goes hand in hand with their vocal intelligence -- what their voice can or can not do -- but sometimes it's just the opposite. This is also tricky and can pose great challenges: the "smart" singer who gets in their own way, or has a "talent" deemed less than others because their instrument sounds like a Kawai upright instead of a Steinway grand; yet the singer with the Steinway in their throat can barely read music, let alone hold onto the tune if it turns to harmony, etc. These are all issues that many of us recognize, and have seen derail young singers.
Once a singer is moving forward in their vocal and musical intelligences, it's time to crack a score and learn an opera aria or role. Now much more is at play -- how to go about learning a vast array of information that goes beyond musical (as in the text, character, etc.). Lots of singers have their problems with learning scores -- some actually find it surprising that they have to LEARN music all the time, for the rest of their natural lives. If this is a bother, or a chore, or something that you can't do, find something else to do with your life! Studying, learning, rehearsing is what the life of a musician is about -- it's not about the day of the show, y'all ! No applause greets your practice room exit or greets you in an audition or rehearsal. Applause is not the reward, neither is it the performance, at least in my book. (Yet, another idea for a blog!)
Once a singer gets to an opera score, there's TEXT and that's the 2nd multiple intelligence: Linguistic. See where this is headed?!
That one's next...
Friday, July 30, 2010
Glad it's over, though.
The orchestra ended up playing the piece extremely well. It was comprised solely of students, except for the concert master (an amazing Timothy Christie) and a trombonist who subbed in for an ill student. My viola section showed up for one rehearsal with eye patches and bandanas, so I referred all of my viola notes to the Pirate section. I had a good feeling from them, and aside from the usual blips that one hears from ALL orchestras, their performance was splendid. The cast was great too. I had to talk to them about not listening to the orchestra and then singing behind because of said listening (it's an evil little loop that so few conductors understand); frankly I wonder what anyone is teaching young singers nowadays in their schools when it comes to singing with orchestras in pits...
A lovely time was had by all, including the sold-out audience of almost 1900 people.
Time to move on. Time to focus on the November 2010 Black Box Festival at McGill (I'm now thinking about doing a VERY German opera...), La Boheme, Imeneo, the outreach programs to start up in Montreal, plus the new-yet-not-done-when-will-it-be-done website (ACK!), the in-laws coming in September, and putting the Montreal West house together (as in UNpacking all those bloody boxes.)
Plus I have to finish "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius". So far, it is just that.
Monday, July 19, 2010
Tell me. Write in, weigh in.
I've heard a number of young singers over the years worry if they are singing in the appropriate "style"; i.e. singing Britten in the style of Britten, singing Mozart in the style of Mozart, etc. Typically this worry causes them to sing in no style, or worse, something akin to "correctness" that functions as words&music sung where/when/how the composer wanted them. This results in that lovely mediocre performance where nothing is wrong, but sadly -- nothing is right. Lots of people I meet like that sort of thing.
"Style" is defined by Merrian-Webster as "a distinctive manner of expression." It can also be defined as "the state of being poplular." I think the two are linked when it comes to music.
Style, in music, changes over the years. As well, how musicians view a certain time periods' "style" also changes with the years. Remember Raymond Leppard? His 1962 production of Monteverdi's "L'incoronazione di Poppea" set the whole baroque opera craze in motion. Yet, many of my close and most-respected friends in the Early Music wing of this business can't abide the mention of his name. This is mostly due to the fact that his score has fallen massively out of fashion.
Now some of this is due to the fact that so much has now been learned, written, and understood about early music that we no longer need someone like Mo. Leppard to "translate" a baroque score for us -- with all those confusing numbers and little-to-no actual musical notation being put down for us non-Early heathens who can't figure out figured bass.
I grew up on Leppard's "Poppea" and certainly enjoyed IMMENSELY his rendition of Cavalli's "La Calisto" that was presented in 1989 at the Santa Fe Opera with Tatiana Troyanos and James Bowman (and a young Joanne Kolymejic singing Juno as well as a young Elizabeth Koch singing a Furie in the chorus, complete with electronic lights catching her costume on fire one night!) Now, was it stylistically correct? For 1989, barely. For 2010, not really. I would label it "romantic baroque" now. Particularly Troyanos' full-throated (and gorgeous) voice blossoming next to Bowman's thrilling counter-tenor. It's a performance that made me LOVE baroque opera and music, inspired me to investigate it further. It was EFFECTIVE. However, now it would not be considered CORRECT.
So what is the correct style of singing Mozart? What is the correct style of singing Donizetti? Really, these are important questions.
If the answers are about appoggiaturas, or about trills starting from above, or about cadential ornaments, then I'd venture to say one is searching for pieces of the style -- like buttons on fashionable pants that come and go with the winds of the runways of Paris. These are arbitrary rules and/or collections of rules that one uses to dissect art or music. I find them useful, but not the point.
It's much more interesting to try to get into the head of the composer. To get into the time period in which they were writing. To know and understand who the singers were, (and perhaps what their voices were like), that were in the ears of the composers as they were writing. It's also much more interesting to think about what sort of individual style YOU might have that could connect into another composer's sensibilities.
And, if that fails...worry less about style. Think more about being an effective communicator of music, text, character, vocal line, and emotional subtext. That would be my advice.
Thursday, July 15, 2010
As the conductor, staging rehearsals are a time of patience, a time to focus on the full score, a time to wave your hands at people not paying any attention to you because they're trying to remember where the director wants them to go, or what the choreography is, or simply focusing on their lines or a prop. For whatever reason, the past few rehearsals have been on numbers in the show either written in 2/4 or 6/8 or a quick 4/4; i.e. all numbers where the conductor is going to conduct "In 2" (down, up, down, up, repeat...) It's a rather simple pattern, something that one normally doesn't focus on. In fact, I've taught it to my 8 year old son, and he's been doing a rather good job waving his hands during the rehearsals!
However, conducting in two -- day after day -- has been difficult for me. Not only is each "2" slightly faster or slower than the other, but the repeated injury occurring to my right shoulder has now resulted in the need for a massage. Remember, please, that I don't conduct all that often anymore -- I spend my time at McGill directing shows, not conducting them. It's like a marathon runner not running all year and then jumping into a race (this race being conducting from 10am to 10pm).
I'm really not complaining, but it has been an adjustment on my getting-older body, shoulder and arm. It's something I'm not all that proud of having to worry about, let alone complain about.
It'll all be over rather soon, however. We start running the show (and there are numbers in 3 and in 4!!) later today. This Sunday there is an aria concert which I'm playing on, then Monday morning I have my first orchestra reading.
We open (as in an open dress rehearsal that they sell tickets to) a week from Tonight!
down, up, down, up, down, up...
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Being stuck with a cold hasn't helped either. It started in the first week and simply won't let go of me. I tried sleep, tried lots of liquids, tried over-the-counter meds, tried beer, tried starving it, etc. Nothing has worked. If anyone has any great ideas for getting rid of a summer cold - please send them my way!
In it's first three weeks, Janiec Opera Company has produced the musical "TinTypes", taken part in the von Stade concert, and performed a rather large scenes program off in Hendersonville. The scenes program went quite well, considering that the students were cast on just the second day of the program and had little time to prepare the scenes. But as many of us know, if you have two weeks, it'll take two weeks; if you have two months, it'll take two months. That's a good lesson for all.
But it does beg the question: When is something ready (as in ready to perform)?
When it's perfect? No, nothing's ever perfect.
When it's almost perfect? Well, if you're measuring against something that doesn't exist, then how can you know you're "almost" to it?
When someone in authority (a coach, conductor, or director) says it's ready? No, how should they know when something outside of themselves is ready?
It's a difficult question to answer. Perhaps we shouldn't be looking for "ready", perhaps we should be looking for something that's ready to be shared that has as much information in it as possible. Information like text and character, vocal colors and line, physical gestures and content, musical thoughts and subtextual emotions. Stuff like that is great to share. One doesn't have to be "ready" to share these things. One has to be WILLING to share these things.
It's a choice, really.
Wanting to share all that important information, by entertaining an audience (I tire of my colleagues who don't get that we're ENTERTAINERS!), is what motivates me to be "ready".
The quote from Maryanne Williamson comes to mind as well: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?' Actually, who are you not to be?"
Pirates starts staging this Friday. Can't wait...
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
That's a lot of activity. I have to say, that once again, my theory of preparedness has proven true. Those singers who've come in REALLY prepared are waltzing through these first weeks with very little stress, and are learning things about themselves, their voices, the music, etc. Those that didn't are already looking a bit tired because they're learning that there's no time to learn their scenes music when they're still trying to memorize their chorus music.
Elizabeth is working hard every day -- 8 to 9 students a day, which is tricky but she loves it! The boys are having LOADS of fun with Lily -- today they're all back at a waterfall (there are over a 100 named falls in the area) in the Pisgah National Forest. It's a great watering hole that they can swim in.
The water is clear and fresh, as is the air. The people are smiling and all happy to be here. Lots to learn and work on for everyone. I'm actually enjoying working on Pirates and am looking forward to the rehearsals - which won't start for two more weeks.
Gotta run to a massage at Elements Spa -- one of THE great reasons to be here at Brevard!
Thursday, June 10, 2010
She's the "talented" member of the family, as in our family, because she actually is -- plus that's how I refer to her when I describe her to my colleagues, friends, strangers, and students. I mean it, with deepest sincerity! I've also arrived at this description from a rather objective place (those who know me, understand that my judgement about talent has nothing to do with whether I like, dislike, love, or hate a person!), that being from our first meeting in 1983 until now - 27 years later.
Most of my early career was spent being her pianist. I got most of my gigs by virtue of playing for her and getting some notice, which would lead to more gigs. When I was at Juilliard, I was the boyfriend of the soprano singing "Vanessa" while Richard Bradshaw conducted. When I was playing at Lyric Opera of Chicago, and we'd go to opening night parties for operas she was singing in, I was her husband ("and what do YOU do?" the patrons would ask me...) Back in our undergraduate degree, she sang Antonia, Gretel, Drusilla, and Mimi, plus won 4 NATS in a row, got a full-ride to MSM, etc. She was the big deal there (along with a number of other great singers!) and I was happy to play for her. I learned a great deal of rep - to this day I still hear her voice in certain arias like "Dove sono" and "Donde lieta". The level at which she made music, operatically speaking, was way beyond my abilities. A rather large number of people would cry when she sang, because the colors and sounds of her voice, plus her ability to turn a phrase into a living experience, was so intense. In a word, beautiful.
I'll stop gushing now. The interesting turn of events, which led me into conducting at places like Memphis and Tulsa, then later running the Glimmerglass young artist program, also led to a turning in how people (both insiders and outsiders) viewed the two of us. No longer were patrons asking me what I did, they were turning to Elizabeth and coyly asking her "what do YOU do dear?"! She became the wife of the Director of this, or the wife of the Director of that. She did it with grace and always a smile - even after we'd had kids and the real answer was "I'm a really tired Mommy who's up late tonight after watching an opera and now eating a meal at midnight with rich people who don't really want to know what I do?"!
During this time, she stopped singing. One of her last performances was also one of my last professional conducting experiences: she sang the Mother in Dallapiccola's "Il prigioniero" in a double-bill with Bartok's Bluebeard's Castle. She got great reviews in little papers like the NYTimes and such. That was also the summer we got pregnant with our youngest son. One kid works, but two kids is really hard to make work and still sing (unless you're famous and have loads of nanny's!) However, she started teaching - and THAT is what she's extremely talented at.
I'm a good coach - better than many if I may be so bold - but her ear is amazing! Whether it's developing an understanding of how to teach a technique that works for Belting (as in musical theatre) as well as Opera (yet a different kind of belting!), she's evolved into a voice teacher who enables singers to craft a technique that works within them and works for them. After seeing some amazing changes happen - after a few lessons - with so many singers now, it's clear to me that she's the one that should be out there teaching full time.
I think this because I hear such wonderful singing coming from so many of her current and former students. Sara Milonovich comes to mind. Buy her CD of folk/bluegrass music and you'll be rather impressed. Download Aaron Tveit singing "There's a World" from Next to Normal and you'll hear someone who has total technical control over his voix mix. Go hear Veronique Coutu sing with Frederica von Stade on June 25th in Brevard and you'll hear someone who sounds so much like Elizabeth when she was 29 years old it's frightening! These are just a small number of former students who blossomed with her.
About the Voice Whisperer thing. If you've seen the Dog Whisperer in action, then just transfer that to a voice teacher and imagine Elizabeth with a student. With a sense of calmness and ease - and initially just a few exercises and suggestions - she moves a singer's voice into a more flexible, freer place which allows them to breathe and sing with less tension and more expressiveness. I've played the lessons, heard them from the other room, and seen the results - some of which are so shocking and transformative I can't believe it's the same voice! She does it all with humility, a sense of humor, and an earnestness that the work is important, but not brain surgery.
I write this, as a bit of a public display of affection, but also as a warning. If and when the time arrives and she decides to teach full-time, I'll be the first to pack up our bags and follow her. I played for Marlena for two years and LOVED it. I can do the same for Liz!
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
So, I'm seeing lots of dye jobs running around Montreal. I have to say, they kinda remind me of the circus clowns I saw as a child in Omaha! Perhaps the penchant for loving clowns, which runs a bit amok here, is the subconscious reason for these ladies (of ALL ages mind you) to move to so unnatural a color? Forgive me, colour? Just a random thought for the beginning of June...
I've got the detailed La Boheme staging schedule done (I can tell you what we're doing at 4:30 the first Wednesday of January!), the Black Box festival schedule done (even though I'm not sure exactly what we're doing...), the Imeneo schedule done (that one's tricky and will be a huge challenge.), and the classes for opera all scheduled.
The only time I've seen it and worked on it was at Glimmerglass. It had a GREAT cast: Michael Maniaci, John Tessier, Amanda Pabyan, Meghan Monaghan, and Craig Philips. They sang it brilliantly, but the production was, how shall I say, less than Glimmer's best. Alden chose to do his distorted world view - as in physical distortion = emotional pain - and it failed, for me, almost as much as the horrid double-bill where the natives attacked the clown... I'm hoping to return to the story and see what it brings. The characters are interesting, but really -- the music is just sublime; some of the best Handel wrote. As far as what I'll do with it as a director, I'm not in the groove yet - no big ideas, just local ones. I've got a few months before anything has to be decided.
The Bohemian Rhapsody:
However, there ARE big ideas running around this head where La Boheme is concerned! Opera McGill produces it this January - full production, big chorus, full orchestration - and we're setting down to design it next week. By "we're" I mean Vincent Lefevre (sets), Ginette Grenier (costumes), and me. Ginette's thinking 1830s. I'll see what she shows and go from there. The other exciting news is the documentary we're going to make surrounding this production - from next week's design meeting to the fall auditions, to the coachings, fittings, stagings, and stage rehearsals. It'll all be put up on Opera McGill's new website - which is being designed over the summer. Look for even more surprises to happen around Montreal before AND after the production!
Thursday, May 20, 2010
"Crunch time?" Yes - because it's all about showing up with music learned. If the music is learned (especially the CHORUS music!), there'll be a great first impression made. That first impression can make or break a singer's reputation and it is a rather lasting impression because of the intensity and short duration of many of these summer programs.
In fact, I believe strongly that one of THE factors to success in the business (particularly if one is moving through the ranks of the various young artist programs) is whether or not a singer shows up with their chorus assignments learned and memorized. This basic, simple notion - to be prepared as requested - shows so much about a singer: their level of professionalism, their work ethic, their musicianship skills, their seriousness about pursuing an opera career, and their time management. I'm not talking about scenes, small roles, or cover assignments - it's the ones who show up with the CHORUS music learned that have, in my experience, gone on to secure management and start their careers.
Lots of great voices, tons of talented aspiring singers, loads of great actors, dozens of six-pack baritones, two actual basses, and a few potential Verdi sopranos are out there right now preparing for their exciting summer programs. Many will be thinking "is it really cold up in New Mexico at night? Do I pack all of my belts? Do I need my suit? What about audition dresses in the summer? Will they like me? Will I meet a soulmate? Will I like the other singers? Will the director be organic or organized? etc." However, the real question should be "have I learned my music - all of it?" or at least "have I learned my chorus part?"
Seriously, this is a HUGE HINT ABOUT SUCCESS. Please don't ignore it. Get off the internet right now and Hie Thee To A PRACTICE ROOM!!
Speaking of, I need to learn how Pirates of Penzance ends... Conducting G&S is not like conducting Bluebeard's Castle -- it's harder!
Thursday, April 29, 2010
There'll be a big announcement next month, on this blog, so stay tuned. I will tell you that Opera McGill will be EVERYWHERE next year - on campus, off campus, on the web. A huge and exciting project is coming together and I'm excited!
Otherwise, next season at McGill looks to be our Wirth Black Box Festival in early November -- evenings of one acts that I will choose after listening to the fall auditions. January of 2011 will bring the wonderful La Boheme, followed by our Baroque opera, Handel's Imeneo (last heard at Glimmerglass in 2002 maybe?). I think that'll be a Canadian premiere -- have to check on that one!
My personal gig list is filling up as well: two Kennedy Center semi-staged concerts (Verdi, then Mahler -- yes, staging Mahler!), a trip to Rome to present a paper titled "Spatial Leitmotifs" for an International Conference on Design (as in industrial, technical, architectural, etc. design), and another gig that has no contract yet so I won't write that one down (it's a superstition.)
This summer I'll be blogging, once again, from Brevard and hope to keep everyone up to date on what's going on DAILY. So look for quick updates and some photos from rehearsals and trips into the mountains. Brevard students - spread the word!
The snow has melted, the sun is out and I'm heading into a McGill graduate student sub-committee.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
It's a crude list, but it was on my mind so here it goes:
Top Ten Things I Love about Montreal:
10) Montreal Botanical Gardens (stunningly beautiful)
9) The Metro: cheap and convenient
8) Art Java and the fast food chains for Indian, Thai and Korean cuisine (YUM!)
7) The Seasons: My boys ice skating outdoors in the Winter on Mount Royal, The best Fall anywhere, and Spring's quick burst
6) McGill University: its campus and students
5) My artistic collaborators Vincent and Ginette
4)The sense that Culture matters to one and all
3) My fellow Expats
2) Marché Atwater: it's bread, butchers, produce, and its proximity to the Canal where we can kayak
1) The Fromage at the Fromagerie at the Marché Atwater (no words can express the joy at the smell !!)
Top Ten Things I do not like about Montreal:
10) The low level of kinesthetic and spatial awareness in the pedestrians of Montreal
9) The monopoly on wine distribution here (and the lack of good Californian wine!)
8) The grocery stores -- too many lines and not enough choice
7)The Breyer's Ice Cream and The Heinz Ketchup -- the recipes are different, the ice cream is tasteless, the ketchup too sweet
6) The No Turn On Red policy on the island of Montreal (imagine how much gas is wasted idling around!)
5) We can't find a pediatrician and the boys haven't been to a real doctor's office in almost three years
4) The fact that everyone wants to correct my pronunciation of "pasta", "been", "against", "Mazda", "project", and "get"
3) Nobody takes responsibility for shoveling the snow off of their sidewalks! (businesses or private citizens)
2) The smokers here -- I can't walk around outside without smelling cigarette smoke (and it smells different than the US cigs.)
1) The drivers in Montreal: simply the worst I've encountered anywhere (and that includes Miami!!!!)
I also believe that one of the oddest things about walking around downtown, is the lack of smiling and acknowledging that I am a human being in the presence of another human being. It's almost like everyone's scared to smile or speak. Maybe the speaking thing has to do with the fear of what language to use -- offense can be made by saying "Hello" instead of "Bonjour". But a smile is UNIVERSAL and rather easy...
Now, since this is an Opera Blog I'll include a Top Ten List about Singing...
Top Ten Things I've noticed about Young Singers in North America during the past few years:
10) Too much attention on being Correct instead of Effective
9) Little curiosity and/or knowledge about symphonic and piano literature from the 19th century
8) Singing Vertically instead of Horizontally
7) Not enough knowledge about specific technical issues regarding Breath Support
6) Way too judgmental about GREAT singers like Sutherland, Fleming, Ramey, Corelli, Domingo, von Stade (Stop this now!)
5) Way too judgmental about their own singing (give yourselves a break!)
4) "Taking" a coaching instead of bringing something to the studio...
3) Not enough time is being spent in a practice room; instead it's spent on YouTube surfing the drunk Carmen video
2) Taking themselves too seriously, instead of taking the Art seriously
1) The Habits of Recent Singers Who've Moved To The Next Level of Success: They work harder, have a non-generic sound, are really good actors, learn their music quickly and efficiently, and THEY WORK WELL WITH OTHERS!
About Working Well With Others: This means treating everyone around you with respect. The ASMs, the assistant conductors, the rehearsal pianists, the choristers, everyone! It's the most notable trend I'm seeing recently. Negativity is destroying young singers' chances of ever beginning a career, let alone having one. Who wants to recommend or rehire someone who either has a dark cloud over their head or someone who talks badly about their colleagues, their conductors, their teachers, their coaches, etc.?
Done now -- have to start purging things in our Victoria place so that we can move to our Montreal West place!
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wednesday, March 10, 2010
A bigger update:
Memphis’ ORPHEUS: great cast, great company (staff, chorus, production teams), great food, great weather – aside from a few snowflakes. Loved doing it and think that the three versions in one (counter-tenor, tenor, and mezzo) would be a great thing for other companies or programs to do (particularly young artists programs looking for a flexible opera, casting-wise.)
Wichita’s ELIXIR OF LOVE: turned out great – which was a bit of a surprise. Considering I didn’t know I was doing it until a few days before Christmas and I had only a few days to plan things. The small chorus was really eager to do a great job; even my soldier’s trio (don’t ask) turned out looking okay. The cast was charming and I made a number of new friends: a shout out to Emily and Jorge along with the young artists! I saw a flaming Indian – really: a big 30 foot statue on the Arkansas River surrounded every night by huge flaming pots. Don’t know what that’s about… The nice thing about the experience is that I remembered what it was like to work on a great 19th century opera. Loved it, and loved working there, even with all of the eccentricities. It was so nice to work with Otakar Klein – the Nemorino – who really knew the role having sung it all over Europe in Vienna, Bratislava, etc.
McGill’s THE RAKE’S PROGRESS: directed by David Lefkowich and conducted by Julian Wachner was something quite special. It was a terrific production. The cast and chorus did wonders with the score and the design by Vincent, Ginette, and Serge worked well with David’s conception. It’s nice when things work out great without you!
MusiMars: This is a week-long contemporary music festival that takes place at McGill the first week of March. Night after night, huge programs of music by everyone from Stockhausen and Schoenberg to world premiere pieces are performed by students, faculty, and guests. I restaged some AGRIPPINA, staged a conductor’s death in the middle of conducting Kagel’s “Finale”, lit 117 light cues for a bassoon concerto premiere, coordinated a crazy Aperghis piece, and then experienced my first “Pierrot Lunaire”.
The “Pierrot” was the most stimulating experience I’ve had yet as a director. The singer was Ingrid Schmithüsen, who sang it MEMORIZED (!!!) and threw herself into the work. The players were faculty and students from McGill who gave a pretty much note-perfect rendition. Many who’ve heard a number of Pierrots thought that this was close to definitive. I was amazed by the performers and by the piece. Freed to finally stage something based entirely on the subtext and the images created by the text in one’s emotions and imaginations, I became a new director. It was thrilling and I’m still glowing about it!
Right now (literally as I write this) I’m the rehearsal pianist for Opera McGill’s production of Brook’s adaptation of Bizet’s Carmen titled “La Tragedie de Carmen”. Basically all of the tunes, no chorus, and Carmen never shuts up once she starts singing! It’s a great one hour of music and really intense. I’m playing the rehearsals and the performances. François Racine is directing and doing a really cool concept: it’s all done from Jose’s prison cell. Carmen’s dead already and Micaela is a bit out of her mind. Escamillo’s aria is totally a drunken sing along with Pastia. The other half of the double-bill is Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti, that I’m stage directing and a student here, Jordan de Souza, is the pianist on. Rehearsals have been a hoot – I haven’t worked on it since I was in high school back in the 80s! My first professional job as a music director, at Omaha’s Center Stage, was on this piece. I remember I thought it odd that this musical didn’t have any dialogue – later I learned it was considered an opera! I’m taking a very 50s approach (a bit “Mad Men”), but trying to create a number of fantasy sequences. It’ll be a really entertaining evening!
My next big project is Brevard! I’ve never conducted Pirates before, so that’ll be fun. The casts for Brevard are looking FIERCE, and I think it’s going to be our best summer ever! Elizabeth returns to do her incredible work with the students (she's a Voice Whisperer if ever there was one!) and our boys are certainly looking forward to their third summer in the forests of North Carolina. Lots of new, exciting, stuff happening there the summer after next, so look for more news down-the-road.
That’s the update! Next up is planning Opera McGill 10-11: Puccini / Mozart / Handel