So here I am at the end of a six year run of 50, YES FIFTY!, operas.
Obviously I need to blog about this...
I didn't set out to do this many operas, it was really accidental. I left Florida Grand Opera in July of 2007 for a job running the opera program at McGill University as well as associating myself in the summers with the Janiec Opera Company of Brevard Music Center. I had NO idea I'd be sitting in an art gallery apartment in Fargo, North Dakota blogging about 50 operas six years later after opening a Le Nozze di Figaro (#50) last night.
What in the hell was I thinking?! How did this happen?
It was really easy, actually. I happen to include musicals in this, so for those of you with literal minds -- okay it wasn't 50 OPERAS, but then again I'd argue what's the diff?! The math is simple: 23 shows with Opera McGill (the best program and certainly the most prolific in Canada), 19 shows with Janiec Opera Company, and 8 shows in various cities in the U.S.
The rep? Everything from Monteverdi's Poppea to Musto's Volpone. A few duplicates: two Nozzes, three Bohemes, two Flutes; a bunch of Handel: Imeneo, Agrippina, Alcina (two of those); some one acts; one massive scenes program with orchestra; three semi-staged concerts; a few musicals... Did I direct 50 operas? NO. I either produced, directed, conducted, cast, and/or coached 50 operas. I actually directed 26 of them and conducted 7 of them. Still, that's a lot. There was a two years period where I was doing practically one opera a month...
Did I have favorites? Absolutely. Read on for my "Best Of" list.
Did I learn ANYTHING from this experience? Of course.
I learned that the show is as good as the cast on day one. What I mean is that no matter how fantastic the director or conductor is, what makes the show fantastic is a fantastic cast. Casting is EVERYTHING. The rest is facilitating the cast in such a way as to allow them to shine.
I learned that there are super talented singers out there completely clueless about just how talented they are. Really! The majority of the singers I worked with these last six years were, for the most part, extremely talented. Yet only a few really knew deep down that they were talented. So many suffered from a modesty that kept them from truly shining. Or perhaps it was more that they suffered from a strange disease that compelled them to seek the public spotlight without believing they DESERVED that public spotlight. Only a few singers really stepped up and sang like they knew they could, or knew they SHOULD.
I learned that there are awful people in the opera world who have small minds, no imaginations, hate singers, are massively judgmental, have crazy internal demons that drive them to act non-professionally, are alcoholics on an extreme level, are super narcissistic, and have egos that are massively over-inflated.
I learned that there are extremely gorgeous, lovely, compassionate people in the opera world who go to extremes to support it, love singers, love opera, are crazy smart, have wicked wit that could cause me to laugh so hard I'd come close to peeing myself, and are inspired by the art form and those who live and create within it.
I learned that the most organized director wins. Hands down. Organic Shmanic... Not knowing what you're going to do with a piece, as a director, is total bullshit. The singers know the piece, as does the conductor and pianist. Directors who don't have a plan should be THROWN OUT OF THE REHEARSAL! So should anyone else who doesn't know what they are doing!
I learned that upper administration can make or break a production. If only Dorothy's house could drop on a certain witch...
I learned I don't like to travel. Airports and airport security make me nervous. I don't like lines. I don't like getting up at the crack of dawn to make a flight. I do like thoe airport massage kiosks, though!
I learned I like rehearsing more than I like performing. A confession: directors work less than conductors. Directors don't perform. Directors can always blame things on lighting, costumes, props, etc. Conductors get the glory cause they deserve it.
I learned to trust singers who showed courage during rehearsal and who weren't afraid to disagree with me.
I learned that most singers have great ideas in their heads, but seldom share them with others. The successful ones aren't so passive when dealing with conductors or directors.
I learned that assholea sometimes win the day. I do know, however, that assholea don't win in the end cause others eventually figure out that they are assholes. You know who you are...
I learned that friends in this business should be treasured, yet it's hard to treasure them once you've moved on to the next gig.
I learned that the world of opera is teeeeeeeeeeny tiny. Six degrees of separation? More like two degrees.
I learned that I love to work with young singers. Why? Because they evolve dynamically! One day they're a mess, as in they can't sing and walk at the same time. A few weeks later and they're either eating up the stage or winning some major competition.
I learned that repertoire teaches the voice good and bad things, but mostly good.
I learned that most young singers do no sing enough, do not sing with enough passion, and are usually too afraid to make choices about their art. No matter how great the voice, passion can not be taught. Passion can only be nurtured and allowed to shine. Substituting a great teacher's or coach's passion for your own will ultimately leave you sounding hollow. Find your own passion, let it grow, and then share it with others. It'll be better than someone else's.
I learned that negativity brings me down faster than anything else. My own, or someone else's, it matters not. The best experiences were the ones where there was a sense of FUN in the rehearsal room. The best experiences led to the best shows.
I learned to take the art form seriously, but not myself. I can't stress this enough. Too often I see others doing the exact opposite. Taking yourself too seriously disenchants the process of collaboration, which is essential to creating opera.
I learned that imagination is my secret weapon. Who knew imagination was a rare commodity nowadays?!
I learned that ignoring your family while working in this field is simply too eay to do and the toll is too high. Family first folks...
And finally, I learned I am more Artisanal than Artistic. Craft is essential to creating Art. I think it's the essence of Art, actually. Craft frees an artist to express themselves fully in ways that are unlocked for, unseen, and untouchable. Craft trumps talent. Explore it.
I'm sure I learned other things as well, but the list is already too long!!
So -- drumroll please...
Here's my BEST OF THE 50 LIST!
(Apologies to any who feel I've left them off this list...)
BEST VOCAL MOMENT:
Philippe Sly as Collatinus in THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA (Opera McGill 2009)
I'll never forget Phil -- as a SOPHOMORE! -- bringing us all to tears at the end as he sang "So brief is beauty". Philippe sings at San Francisco Opera now. A stunning voice and musical soul from day one.
Dave Tinervia as Lesbo in AGRIPPINA (Opera McGill 2009)
Words can not express how I loved seeing Dave appear with a disco ball on his head at the end of Act One.
La Boheme (Opera McGill 2011)
A terrific double cast in a terrific opera. Audiences loved it, students got to perform one of the great all-time operas. Timeless production.
Camelot (Ash Lawn Opera 2009)
Peter Clark as Arthur, Katherine Pracht as Guenevere, and Christopher Burchett as Lancelot were SIMPLY THE BEST!
Tom Kosis, stage manager (Fargo-Moorhead Opera 2012 & 2013)
Tom works on Broadway and brings a freshness to opera rehearsal that is vitally missing. If you're an opera company in need of a professional, personable, highly efficient stage manager HIRE HIM!
Obviously they'll be Ginette Grenier's. However picking one production is tricky. I think I'm going to go with Don Giovanni (Opera McGill 2012)
The Rape of Lucretia by Vincent Lefevre. Pieces of Lucretia's statue used to create each scene surrounded by an architectural scaffold. I loved this set and loved working within it.
MOMENT I WAS MOST PROUD OF:
The Tai Chi Trees in Alcina (Opera McGill 2008, then 2011 at Brevard)
Working with Lara Ciekiewicz was a dream. Having 3 freshmen willing to become human trees, learn Tai Chi, and shave their heads for the roles was unlooked for, really. Getting the four of them together to create a memorable moment (sometimes referred to as the Treegasm) during my 1st Handel production in my first year at Opera McGill is something I'll never forget. Interesting side note: both Lara and Melinda sang Alcina (McGill and Brevard productions) and both later spent a summer at Merola.
MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT:
Impossible to pick one, frankly. The ones that stand out:
Alcina circling a globe of light, both in my imagination and then later onstage.
Killing off all the characters in Imeneo at the end of Act One.
The Lesbo disco ball appearance to end Act One of Aggripina.
Christopher Burchett performing Lancelot's miracle.
Katy and Peter dancing to lift their spirits, also Peter's final monologue as Arthur.
The end of Cosi fan tutte -- "Rėvolution"
Rehearsing Pierot with the amazing Ingrid Schmitmussen (who performed it memorized)
The final performance of Lucretia -- David, Aidan, Lili, Nicholas, Philippe, Taylor, Alexandra, Margot -- seeing them give their all.
Emma shooting up as Nerone while singing "Come nube"
Volpone's turntable magic
The Magic Flute, ala Steampunk, umbrella scenes
The Albert Herring Threnody, with umbrellas
Jill Gardner's Musetta at Kennedy Center when she threw her martini (onstage) into the waiter's face. That waiter was me.
Anything I'd do differently?
Absolutely! Not saying what though!
I do look forward to another 50 shows in my future. However, I think it should take ten years, not six. I do know that I've got four shows lined up plus a huge scenes program for next season and that seems just perfect.
Thanks to one and all for anything you've ever done to help me be successful. The biggest thanks has to go to my wife, Elizabeth. She's the talented member of our family, keeps me sane, and inspires me everyday.
Now off to hear the final performance of Figaro in Fargo!