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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Goodbye Brevard!

This is my farewell letter to Brevard, it's wonderful Music Center and the Janiec Opera Company that resides among the symphony concerts, chamber recitals, and myriads of other fantastic musical experiences that await young musicians from all over North America!

I leave with a heavy heart. I'd rather return, but feel that it is time for me to take a vacation next summer from OPERA. I've worked every single summer in the world of opera since 1984 (that's 29 summers and that's a lot kids!) and would like to have a summer vacation as an adult.

*Note: the following paragraph sums up my summers from 1984 to the present; feel free to skip...

I first started working in opera at Des Moines Metro Opera in 1984 as a "house staff". Doug Duncan, then the managing director, asked me during a lesson I was playing for Bev Thiele if I wanted to work for the opera 'cause - in his words - "you dress nicely and aren't stupid."  Really important advice in opera: dress nicely and don't be stupid! 1984-1988 I spent at DMMO, then in 1989 I went to Santa Fe with my then girlfriend and got hired as an usher. I saw every performance that summer - which featured Tatiana Troyanos, Flicka, Susan Graham (wow what a mezzo roster that summer!) as well as productions of Traviata (with Sheri Grennawald), Rosenkav, A Night at the Chinese Opera, Cosi fan tutte, and Cherubin. I learned quite an awful lot about the business, about opera, and about how to get Crosby a good gin&tonic from the South Bar. 1990 was back at DMMO, then came 1991 when I went to work at Hal Leonard pubishing - finishing the G. Schirmer Anthologies, recording for the first time, and learning first hand about ugliness. 1992 and 1993 were BLISS: playing 15 shows for Donald Palumbo at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. I've never learned so much from one person. I wish I could still be there in a room listening to him work with his chorus! 1994 & 1995 started my conducting years at Ash Lawn, then back to DMMO in 1996 to conduct a cover performance of Albert Herring and say goodbye to working in Iowa, it seems. 1997: hmmmm... what happened that summer? Oh yes, conducting an Elixir outdoors for Pittsburgh Opera and starting my job as the music administrator and head coach for Pittsburgh's young artist program. Then off it was to Tulsa Opera! 1998, 1999 and then again from 2002-2005 I ran the YAP at Glimmerglass during its absolute zenith. Fantastic performances by David Daniels, Lisa Saffer, and tons of great young artists too numerous to mention (standout performance of all time: Josh Hopkin's "Kennst du das Land" in LITTLE WOMEN. Freaking AMAAAAZING!). I had two summers as music director of Opera Festival of New Jersey, where I got to conduct a terrible opera: Frank Lewin's "Burning Bright" and masterpieces like "Magic Flute" (with Joe Kaiser as Papageno!), Il Prigioniero (with my wife onstage) and one of my all-time favourite operas: Bluebeard's Castle. Two summers I'll never forget! 2006 was down in Miami getting ready to open up the 500 million dollar performing arts center and closing down the Miami Dade Auditorium. There were two summers back at Ash Lawn (a fun Boheme and a terrific Camelot) before starting my five year run here at Brevard in 2008. PHEW!

Back to Brevard --

Five years in Brevard -- what does that mean? It means productions of Magic Flute, The Mikado, Little Women, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi, The Tales of Hoffmann, Hello Dolly!, The Pirates of Penzance, TinTypes, Le Nozze di Figaro, Fledermaus, Alcina, La Traviata, The Elixir of Love, Hansel und Gretel, Three Penny Opera, The Barber of Seville, La Boheme, HMS Pinafore, and Dialogues of the Carmelites (that's 20 operas!) PLUS 6 scenes programs and countless aria concerts and run outs to donor parties. Oh, and Opera Auditions Class at 9am during the week with our amazing students!

Over the 5 summers, we've had close to 40 students each season, that's close to 200 students. Many have gone on to sing at Santa Fe, Central City, the Merola program at San Francisco Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago's young artist program, Juilliard School, DMMO, etc., etc., etc. Of these 200 students, close to 20% of them have been McGill University students. I think that's significant.

I don't know if BMC has realized it or not, but McGill students have accounted for about 40 students during the past five years, and that translates into six figures of tuition bucks. With my leaving BMC, I do worry about the opera company's connection to the academic world. Previous to David Gately (who is also resigning), David Effron recruited extensively from Indiana University (in fact, many considered Brevard a mini-IU during some summers). Who will be the academic connection to the opera program once I'm gone?

But back to the memories: Such wonderful performances! Ultimately, one looks back and remembers all the good stuff and none of the battles lost. Certainly there were many terrific performances. Too many to choose, but the highlights, for me, were Lara Ciekiewicz stopping time during "Ach ich fühls", Liliana Piazza stopping the show as Katisha while Jonathan Patterson kept me in stitches as Ko Ko, the wonderful orchestral playing in Suor Angelica's interlude, my viola section dressing as Pirates and David Gately's ABSOLUTELY hysterical staging of Pirates, Veronique Coutu and Von Stade singing a Cosi duet together with Maestro Lockhart, Reggie's Germont last summer, the Alcina trees with Melinda bringing tears to audience's eyes, and that wonderful Brigadoon-like evening in the mansion up in the forest where Beth Burrier and tons of students created a fantastic evening cabaret of musical theatre numbers - ending in everyone crying; plus countless others!

This summer has been filled with wonderful performances as well. Our Barber of Seville production barely made it to the theatre on time (paint was probably still drying on the set during the opening night), but David Gately's legendary staging along with the students terrific singing brought the house to its feet. Dialogues of the Carmelites was a re-staging of a production I did a few years back at McGill (like Alcina last year) and it really created an emotional reaction in our audiences. It's had the most performances of any Brevard opera ever - 5 - and playing each of these shows really fulfilled me artistically in ways unexpected. It was also nice to work so closely with my wife as she did her Voice Whisperer thing and helped transform many of the students' voices and performances. HMS Pinafore opened and closed to huge applause. Dean Anthony gave  the show -- and I have to admit I think it's one of the dumbest things in the rep -- life and a comic soul that I'm sure most productions fail to achieve. La Boheme closed out this season with moving performances from the entire cast. I think the students have learned a lot, made some new, and maybe, life-long friends, and experienced opera-making at a professional level.

The program that David, Dean, Elizabeth, and I created over the years was unique and, sadly, unnoticed by some of the higher ups at Brevard. Yes, they see some of the shows (BMC's artistic director has been seen at only a few and the artistic administrators tend not to see any, or perhaps only see the beginning of a rehearsal or performance and then try to sneak out unnoticed...), but what they totally missed out on is the transformations that happened during just two months due to the one-on-one coachings (musical, vocal, and dramatic coachings happen here through out the summers) the students experience.  But one of the most important aspects of our program was that it was ABOUT THE STUDENTS, NOT ABOUT US. This is what the program will lose when David, Elizabeth, and I leave. It makes me sad, but it also makes me realize how fleeting these sorts of programs are and how much they depend upon the PEOPLE who create, teach, and nurture from within the program. I worry the focus for BMC is now on selling tickets to pretty productions of, sadly, inappropriate repertoire for young voices. I hear rumor of a Falstaff for next season and that is, to put it bluntly, quite a stupid idea.

Back to the good memories: In addition to the many memorable performances, we had hundreds of hours of staging in severe heat and humidity as well as hundreds of hours spent coaching amazing students in - the word would be: terrible - acoustical circumstances (two coaching spaces are massive echo chambers where the decibels hit 100+ regularly). We've also experienced sickness, last minute crazy scheduling, dodging wasps, smelly clothes, rain, hail, lightning storms, cold foggy mornings, and bats & bugs during late night techs in the WPA.

And what have I learned? I've grown as a coach, that's for sure. I've learned to let things go that were out of my control. I reconnected to myself artistically as a stage director. I've seen the genius of my wife's teaching create fundamental changes in young voices. I've developed a theory about FEAR, OPERA, and AMERICAN MUSICAL THEATRE which I'll be blogging about extensively this fall. Finally, I've realized that I'm human and I need to feed myself some silence in order to reinvest in my artistry.

It's time to move on, take a summer off, and think about the future -- a future that lives in Montreal and a future that I'm really excited about!

Best of luck to BMC and the JOC next year! A parting word of advice: An Artistic Administrator should not be an artist who administrates, but rather an administrator who focuses on the artistic vision of others. I'll say no more...