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Saturday, January 4, 2014

And the 12th Christmas Blog: Opera McGill's 2014-2015 Season!

I've never announced an Opera McGill season via PatricksOperaBlog.

Since I'm being read by so many people from all over the globe, I thought it might be a great way to get the word out. These 12 Blogs of Christmas have been read by over 1,000 people, which is SUPER cool. It's rather a flattering thing to think that over 37,000 people have read my thoughts. THANKS!

Now --- Ukraine, Turkey, Brazil, Britain, Germany, France, Egypt, and North America are you ready?

The plan -- which can easily change based on both the January/February prospective graduate auditions and the fall 2014 season auditions -- is:

November 2014
Our Annual baroque opera production with Maestro Hank Knox and the McGill Baroque Orchestra!
Right now we are looking at a double-bill which will hopefully include a French baroque piece: Rameau's Pygmalion

January 2015
A new adventure into King Arthur's court!
I'm pleased to announce that our January opera will be Camelot!
Jonathan Patterson, (who will be replacing me as director of Opera McGill while I take my first half-sabbatical) and I will co-direct this incredibly moving and exciting piece of musical theatre. Be sure to get your tickets, as I'm sure it will sell out quickly!

February 2015
Black Box Festival 
Title (or titles) To Be Determined

March 2015
To celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the McGill Chamber Orchestra, Boris Brott and I have been planning for over a year now a special collaboration:
Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro conducted by Boris Brott and directed by David Gately!

So next year the Opera McGill students and our audience members will be treated to French baroque opera, one of the great pieces of classic musical theatre, a black box piece sure to exciting, and a brilliantly funny production directed by the brilliant David Gately of Mozart's most brilliant opera!

This season includes my FAVORITE musical and my FAVORITE opera. 

I'm excited and I hope y'all are too!

Thanks for reading these Twelve Blogs of Christmas and I wish you a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Xmas blog #11: Operas and Operettas and Musicals, OH MY!

This whole craze of opera companies producing musicals. What's that about?!

Putting butts in seats? Not quite.

A trend that will fade? Don't think so.

An evolution of the art form? Yes.

I believe that a major generational shift has occurred in opera. No longer are people (either those who produce/perform or those who attend) picking one art form and sticking to it.

Gone are the subscribers of old. Reborn as SINGLE TICKET BUYERS.

Marty and Jenny will get tix to see an Arcade Fire concert, a one-woman show in a Fringe Festival, a symphony concert program that fires something in their imagination, go to the Nutcracker with their nieces, spend a great dinner and date pre-Porgy and Bess, and then have fun at the Lion King on tour. For this imaginary couple, all of the afore-mentioned tickets are seen as CULTURAL events.

No one cares, at least most ticket buyers I speak with, what the definition of singspiel or operetta or Broadway, etc. is. They just want to be entertained. And marketing does count in the game to get people to spend their hard-earned money on live entertainment, btw.

What's my stance on this subject?

Awhile back, someone asked me what the difference between opera and musical theatre was and I answered: "In Opera, there's no tap dancing".

I stand by that statement. It makes Street Scene a musical...

Sadly, many think that operatic works are superior to musical theatre works. Naively, many think that singing operetta is "lighter" than singing opera. (Check out Die Fledermaus' orchestration and compare it with Die Zauberflöte and then tell me which is more operatic...) And truly, truly, very few people in the business (either business mind you) know enough about the OTHER repertoire to make any real judgements about opera or musicals. I'm shocked by those on both sides of this genre aisle who know very, very little about how the other half lives, (i.e. what their core repertoire is) let alone the vast oceans of repertoire that exist in opera, operetta, and musical theatre.

In 2014, Glimmerglass, San Francisco Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Vancouver Opera are producing pieces that most would define as musicals.  I'd like to buck that idea and just throw all of them into one genre: OPERA.

For me, opera is simply a story that is told through singing. That means The Messiah, that means "Despite and Still", that means "Widmung", that means Owen Wingrave, that means A New Moon, that means Oklahoma!, and that means Next To Normal.

It's just the style of singing that changes.

And isn't that true for ANY opera? You certainly don't sing Carmen in the same way you tackle Rinaldo or Little Women. These are stylistically different pieces, just like Manon and Manon Lescaut or Roméo et Juliette and West Side Story. Opera folk hate it when their art form is stereotyped into the "fat lady singing loudly with horns on". Opera lovers discern the differences between Fidelio or Faust or Figaro and really don't like it when non-opera lovers describe it all as "sounding the same." Same goes for musical theatre lovers -- it's not all belting like Ethel, or screaming out Rent tunes. Same for recital goers -- not all Schubert songs are strophic and easily learned and easily sung because they have an octave range.

I bet I might have made a few of you upset on that last remark.

Let's get over ourselves and move on.  Not all operas are great, or written by geniuses. Not all musicals are trashy or simplistic. Not all operettas are funny or easy to sing. Every genre, every type of repertoire has its subtleties and lumping one idea or bias onto an entire genre is, in a word, dumb.

The art is changing (actually, it's changed kids, catch up!) There are new works that defy these old genre classifications: "Myths and Hymns" by Guettel, which is a song cycle but also a musical; some of the newest operas are, well, barely "operatic" in the old sense of the word  (Machover's "Death and the Powers"), and many cross bridges between song, opera and musical (Ricky Ian Gordon's work"Orpheus and Euridice: A Song Cycle in Two Acts" which takes place in a swimming pool and one of the lead characters is a clarinet.)

I know that this blog will fall on some ironically deaf ears for the most part.

Too many want easy answers, or are simply uneasy with change.

We shouldn't box people, and shouldn't box works of art. Let them all stand on equal ground. The great works will not be diminished by the lesser. There's nothing to be scared of...

And I challenge anyone to tell me that the subtleties and challenges of singing an honest, moving rendition of "Being Alive" doesn't match up to doing the same with "Vissi d'arte" or "Morgen" or "Vilya". The chills are the same for me.

Diva 1: Patti Lupone "Being Alive" live at Carnegie Hall

Diva 2: Maria Callas "Vissi d'arte"

Diva 3: Arleen Auger "Morgen"

Diva 4: Renata Tebaldi "Vilja lied"

I remember playing classes for the great director Frank Corsaro at The Juilliard School back in the early 90s. He held a weekly class for the JOC singers that was sometimes tough to get through. Lots of method acting techniques, which included lots of tears. But one of his other "methods" was simply brilliant and made a lasting impression on me: he would ask the singers to bring in a piece of musical theatre that corresponded to one of their arias and then perform them back-to-back without a break. He felt very strongly that American singers needed to learn to act their arias with the same immediacy that came when they sang a piece in their own language, and for Frank that meant not just in English, but the American musical theatre language. One day a young dramatic soprano walked in with "Can't help lovin' that man" and followed it with "Du bist der Lenz". It was Brilliant with a capital "B"! There were so many connections between the two pieces. One informed the other.

Gosh, just think what might happen if all singers were encouraged to make connections between art songs, arias, and pieces from musical theatre! Then they'd be working along the same lines as our current great singers of the early 21st century: Renee Fleming, Stephanie Blythe, Audra McDonald, Nathan Gunn, and Deb Voigt.

Gunn and the NY Phil

A great singer sings their stories honestly, true to the text and vocal line, with just their vocal chords and a ton of humanity shining through, like a beacon.

If someone is out there telling you your beacon should only shine for opera, make sure you understand what their definition of opera is and ask them why you should be limiting yourself to one person's definition of an art form that defies definition.

And make sure YOU understand that it's 2014 and the world is a mighty different place than it was twenty years ago.

I leave you with two thoughts:

Move On from "Sunday in the Park..."
Bernadette and Mandy

Things Change, Jo from "Little Women"
Joyce singing Adamo

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Xmas Blog #10: Wishes and Resolutions for 2014

2014 is round the corner. Time for those New Year Resolutions.

It looks like there will be two outside professional gigs down in the states in 2014. That's exciting. A year from now I could very well be far, far away from both Montreal and Iowa. It looks like this summer will be a summer for an actual family vacation.

Last summer "off" from opera wasn't really off. I played a bunch of performances of La Voix Humaine for the fabulous OperaFive (go Rachel and Aria!) in the Ottawa Fringe Festival. We earned the critics choice award for best of Fringe and I received accolades in the press like "Patrick Hansen was perfect." (How does one put that in their bio?!) And, if you've been reading my blogs this year, the second half of the summer was spent recovering from a hernia repair surgery.

I'd like an ACTUAL vacation. An actual summer off.  We are thinking of spending a bunch of it in Iowa, helping my wife's parents organize their house. We'd also like to see other parts of America, which is very doable on the road between Montreal and Iowa. As Americans, we want our kids to know the great country that is the United States and one of the best ways is to slowly drive through it -- off the interstates -- and literally stop and smell the roses. Maybe a few days in Chicago as well. The best city in the U.S.!

Additionally, 2014 is the last year of my teaching at McGill full time. I'm taking two "half" sabbaticals during the winters of 2015 and 2016. Lots of projects, but mostly those sabbaticals are about the world premiere opera I'm collaborating on. I'll have to make sure everything is as planned as possible so I can depart.  Next year's Opera McGill season gets announced in a forthcoming blog, FYI.

So my New Year Resolutions:

1) Meditate more regularly and increase my sitting time
2) Be more of a presence in my boys' lives
3) Do less. Eat less. Drink less. Worry less. Less is More.
4) Turn 50 with grace and good health.
5) Beard On! (albeit, perhaps in a more trimmed fashion...........)

Monday, December 30, 2013

12 Blogs of Xmas #9: The Year of Shakespeare Videos!


Opera McGill's Year of Shakespeare is getting documented by the immensely talented videographer and editor, Anne Kostalas.

We spend one Saturday a month diving into Shakespeare from many angles. The students of Opera McGill, along with Paul Hopkins (artistic director of Repercussion Theatre and actor/director), Paul Yachnin (Tomlinson professor of Shakespeare studies and the director of IPLAI), and me have been researching, playing, acting, learning, teaching, paraphrasing, singing, blocking, studying, and defining Shakespeare - his sonnets, plays, and the operatic treatments of his text.

The students learn, the students teach. Paul and Paul elucidate eloquently and illuminate illustriously. I drop in funny one liners.

Actually, we are all learning and loving the experience. So far there have been three sessions, one each in September, October, and November. 

You can see the documentaries here: (Don't worry, each is only 8 or so minutes in length)

Look for three more and don't miss out on the Upcoming Productions!

January 29, 30, 31, and February 1, 2014 in Pollack Hall 
Schulich School of Music of McGill University
The two great English geniuses of Shakespeare and Britten for an unforgettable evening!

March 20 and 22, 2014 in Pollack Hall
This is a very special collaboration between Opera McGill and the amazing 
McGill Chamber Orchestra, Boris Brott artistic director
A bel canto masterpiece based on the Verona tale of star-crossed lovers!

Operatic Shakespeare! A Scenes Program
March 21, 2014 in Pollack Hall
The culmination of these Shakespeare Saturday Workshops!
We will be presenting the actual Shakespeare play excerpts followed by their operatic treatments. An original evening that shouldn't be missed by theatre and opera goers alike!

Xmas Blog #8: The Many, Varied Looks of Yours Truly!

I'm tackling the Beard Question. This isn't related to opera, so if you're only reading those sorts of blogs, feel free to pass by on this one!

Why did I grow the beard?
Why am I not shaving the beard?
And why, why, am I not trimming the damned thing?!

Here goes... First a facial retrospective of sorts.

2013 started with a burgeoning handlebar mustache:

And then I moved to a more formal English style stache:

And then the pomade and pompadour coupled with the handlebar mo':

And July the beard began:

And then it became an actual beard:

And finally, inspired by the great writer Ernest Hemmingway, my beard became more epic:

There are lots of opinions on this beard, mind you, and I've heard from everyone. My wife is fine with it. My boys like the mustache but not the beard. My colleagues are split -- some think it's cool (especially the techies), others are not amused, some want it gone. I accept all these opinions.

The fun comments come from total strangers. Those are almost all positive and range from "great beard, dude" to various versions of "epic" and "awesome". I've received free beers at pubs, and free lattes at Starbucks (but I think those have less to do with my beard than by the fact that I spend hundreds of dollars a month there...) A few days ago, while shopping at Kohls here in Burlington, Iowa, a native passed by me and, under her breath, said "Sir, you've got a great haircut. And the beard's amazing." Then she just kept walking as if she hadn't said anything, or was afraid I'd answer her. I wasn't even able to say thanks.

So why did I grow to my current state of hirsutedness? (Not sure if that's a word...)

It gets touchy-feely from here on.

Around March/April of this year it became clear that my anxiety and stress were reaching new levels that I might not be able to handle. Most of it was medical, some had to do with how hard I'd been pushing myself during the past decade. Meditation was helping, but not really. I was definitely looking at the possibility of medicating myself in order to sleep and not have panic attacks about possible blood poisoning scenarios involving cat scratches. My wife was worried... and annoyed.

Additionally, the handlebar mustache that I had cultivated over the first third of the year had taken over my morning ritual. It was just too much and I was feeling that it was a rather vain thing to do every morning. Waxing a mustache into swirling handlebars takes time, effort, and determination. It was too much. Yet, I really liked having facial hair, not gonna lie.

I'd never grown an actual beard. There was an attempt back in Ithaca during a Christmas break, but it got shaved off as soon as it was time to return to teaching in January.

The summer of 2013, if you've read that blog, was my first summer "off" from opera. No more Brevard, no conducting or directing gigs, just being at home away from the craziness of opera.

Confession: It drove me crazy, not working.

So I wrote a play ("Christmas in Peru"), walked the dog, and waited to get my hernia repair surgery scheduled.

July 1st came, and I decided I was through with shaving. I'm not sure what happened that morning, but I knew that that was that. I was going to let my face evolve to its natural state and see what the bearded face might look like, if given half a chance. I consulted websites and saw that what it really takes to grow a beard is patience. I do have that, in spades.

Plus I meditated more, gave up caring what I looked like, gave up caring that the beard was coming in REALLY grey, and gave up caring (or at least tried to) what others might think of me.

It was an internal transformation that had an external byproduct, my beard. Or it might have been an external transformation that began to impact my internal feelings. (Actors might understand the inside/out vs outside/in reference.)

During the summer, it also became clear that I was experiencing a bit of a spiritual transformation due to my meditating more regularly. Buddhism really suits me, and although I'm an atheist, the Buddhism I've fallen into has given me a great deal of peace. I'm not quite a real Buddhist, if you go by the traditional definition. I can't give up certain things -- like wine or bourbon -- but we will see.

Surprisingly, what happened during my recovery and during the summer, was that as my beard grew my anxiety decreased. I became happier, felt healthier, was much more pleasant to be around, and I SLEPT.

I came to believe, in a very strong way, that as my beard got bigger and transformed my face, I became a stronger person -- spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Sounds silly, but that's how I'd describe it.

My beard represents this new self.

And as I'm not interested in returning to the old "me", I just don't see myself ever going back to being non-bearded.

And yes, I know this comes from the guy who has had SO many different looks over the years. Everything from the Imeneo mohawk to the bald-by-choice to the flat top to the preppy ivy league haircut (just check out the right side of this blog and you can witness a few of those looks.)  My look changes a lot, this I know.

But as someone who has made a career of transforming himself professionally over and over again, I think the different looks make a lot of sense. After all, I've been:

A classical pianist (long flowing locks)
A dancer (hair is not really the point)
An actor (once, my 80s hair was cut down into a 30s nazi look, not popular in the early 80s)
A singer (it's called a wig, though nowadays, guys get their hair chopped any which way for a show)
A rehearsal pianist (no one cares what you look like, just how you play and that you're there on time)
A vocal coach (singers judge -- all the time -- so looks do influence how they think about you)
A music director (you need guns to MD a Broadway show, and I'm not talking weaponry)
A conductor (again, flowing locks)
A director (shaved head, or anything dramatic, is a good way to go)
An arts administrator (business cut, thank you very much)
A producer (just get people paid, they don't care what you look like)
A mentor (the beard is a bonus here)
A professor (again, beard looks good, but the mohawk was rather popular with students on campus!)

Those are just the highlights.

I've read a few places that beards make a man more sensitive to his surroundings, more in touch with his instincts, and even better baseball players. Although I'm not a ball player, I have to say that something seems different in how I "feel" the world now that I'm a bearded guy.

My favorite look, before beard, was the shaved head. In all honesty, I knew I didn't look all that great but I loved not having to do ANYTHING to my hair, not having to worry about what I looked like. It was my wife's least favorite look, I think (although she didn't like the flat top, either!)

If the beard goes, it'll have to be to raise money or something like that (serious offers only!) And if it gets shaved, then I think I'll just shave the whole nine yards and commit myself to a year of living like, and looking like, a Buddhist monk!

Life is short, yet very impermanent; just like ourselves, inside and out. If you're out there contemplating a change to your lifestyle, or your look. Go ahead! Open that window and look out of it to see the world anew, and to see how the world looks back on you!

Namaste dudes!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Xmas Blog #7: Operatic Creation

Creating a new opera production is exciting. It's awesome fun. It's tiring as hell but at the same time, quite invigorating.

Creating isn't what a lot of folk think it is. One doesn't sit at a desk thinking deep thoughts and wait for an inspirational "AHA" and then start creating. In my line of work, as stage director and producer, creating means moving in and out of what could be described as procrastinated, pragmatic, imaginative bursts of work.

It comes as a surprise to me that many of my colleagues (and certainly most of my friends and neighbors) don't know - or understand - that a stage director "creates" the staging they see in a production. Many have described to me what they think I do. It goes something like "so you tell people where to go onstage?".

Sure. That's what us stage directors do. Traffic cops. You go here, you go there, watch out for the pedestrians of the chorus...   Not quite.

There are a few who don't understand that when I say it takes me many, many hours to stage an opera that that means those hours are spent in PREPARATION to the staging rehearsals. Then there's the actual hours of staging with the cast members. That takes about 100 hours, depending on the schedule. That doesn't include any time spent learning the opera, translating the text, researching the period or source materials, collaborating with the designers, making any cuts, planning the schedules, etc.

Some people even think that the singers themselves decide what they'll be doing onstage. I imagine rehearsals like that:

Mimi -- So, I'll walk in the door with my unlit candle and walk over toward you and then faint...
Rodolfo -- Okay, just don't get too close.
Mimi -- Okay, then you'll help me to the bed?
Rodolfo -- Sure, fine, whatever.

Imagine the Act Two chorus of same show deciding where they should be. It'd be chaos!

So, there's planning involved. It's a big dialogue between you and the composer and the librettist that happens in your head. Usually two of the three are dead. That's actually a lot of fun, commiserating with those dead guys!

But what about those "bursts" I mentioned?

Bursts is an apt description, I think. I read somewhere that creative people are at the same time lazy and energetic. True of me. I'll rest up, not do anything, waiting, storing up my energy. And then, out of the blue I'll start in on the work and six hours later I'll notice I've not had anything to eat or drink and my bladder is making itself known to my consciousness. Time literally flies!

I procrastinate as well. I don't procrastinate on the thinking about the staging. In fact, my mind is almost always on a show when I'm in this mode. I think about it making ice cream, shopping at Target, watching Netflix, at the movie theatre, where ever I might be. Some part of my mind is contemplating either a specific scene or an image. But I wait and wait until the energy arises and then I start work -- crack open the score and put pencil to paper.

My imagination is balanced by my pragmatic nature. I let my imagination go wild, even beyond what I could possibly do. If I want Tytania to go to sleep, then she should levitate up into a tree while snow falls. That's the image. Now, how do I get that to happen on the actual stage? Sometimes it's important to not even see the actual staging, but to replace it with flights of fancy. I describe my wishes - to myself and others - sometimes as "in the Disney animated version, such and such would happen". But I don't have Disney money and opera isn't CGI animated by Peter Jackson's minions. That would be nice, though.

So I move in and out of my fantasies and season them with my pragmatic sensibilities.

Currently, while writing this blog, I'm definitely in the PROCRASTINATION mode concerning the prep and staging I need to do for the upcoming A Midsummer Night's Dream rehearsals that start in just a FEW DAYS!!  I've finished staging Act One, and am currently in the midst of Act Two. Editing this blog (which was actually written, like all the Christmas blogs about a week ago) is a big help to my work process. It's actually a break from thinking about Midsummer. Now that this one's basically good to publish, I'll get a fresh glass of water and start in again. At least, that's the plan.

If I get through Act Two, tonight will be spent seeing THE HOBBIT!!