Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Christmas Day Wrap-Up

Here is a little post on Christmas Day to talk about the "Messiah" experience, which is now finally finished (that’s seven performances over the course of three weeks). I had hoped to be able to blog throughout the entire process, but that did not become a reality as the show came to fruition. In all honesty I feel as if I have been running on not much more than adrenaline for the past two weeks.

Ultimately I think it would be fair to declare the piece a success. Baltimore audiences were big and enthusiastic (this happening at the last minute after weeks of depressingly low sales). The final show was just the perfect way to go out on - a full house that stood and applauded enthusiastically and with longevity. The orchestra played their best (ever) this past weekend and the soloists were dynamite.

It has been interesting coming through this "Messiah" after the "Acis" experience. I think the two works are similar in their ingenuity and artistic excellence. "Acis" was very different in that its intended effect was clear. The audience knew how they were to react and they were encouraged to respond as such. "Messiah" is a challenging piece. It is unexpected, unfamiliar. It jars people’s expectations of a piece they know so well. I don't think it leads the viewer to a specific and intended place. That is the result of art which wants the audience to bring their own historic consciousness to the performance - to respond to images with subjective meaning as opposed to dishing out objective meaning to them on a plate. There is no ultimate communal arrival point, and that makes for a final product where the audience is left to think for themselves. I have to admit that it isn't as satisfying for the performers, but I think it makes the work more important. It definitely differentiates AOT from other more traditional companies.

Being both conductor and director is an unusual, though not unprecedented, experience. Conducting on stage leads to the even more difficult situation of not being able to see the work in real time. From the video clips I have seen and from the photos, I think this turned out exactly as intended. I am immensely proud of the piece and the company for putting it up (and for the level of artistry). As one Baltimore musicologist said to us this weekend, it is a tremendously courageous piece. It pushes dramatic boundaries, defies the "law" which has fallen away in many arts, but somehow remains in opera, saying things must make sense (refer to the Post review which says "the work doesn't always make cogent sense", high praise indeed as far as I'm concerned), and challenges the tyranny of narrative.

I am now in rural Virginia and enjoying time with family before returning to Spain. I hope I'm not speaking too soon, but it looks like with this, the most expensive AOT production yet, we might have actually turned a profit. Now that is what I call a Christmas present.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A response (albeit brief) to the now famous Ionarts Review

It seems that too often lately these blogs are prefaced by saying that they will be short. This one I'm afraid is no exception. I am running out the door for a day of advertising, lunches, and rehearsals. We also have our donor holiday party on Thursday and I am trying to find where I have mislaid my piano skills. All that said, I did want to write a bit of a response to the Ionarts review of "Messiah" and the controversy that arose since.

I know, I know....never reply to a review. This should be no exception, but self control has never been my forte:

First the title "The M-word...S & M". This is fun for some I suppose. Would that it were an accurate representation of the show it would warrant praise for its wit, even if the rest of the article provided a rounded and representative overview of the show...but alas no. This reviewer, as do many of the other contributors to the debate, makes AOT's "Messiah" sound like an "s & m sex fest". The review even says that the angel (I'm trying not to be a spoiler, really) is “ravaged” and that she wears a “skin-tight” outfit. All of this, I must be frank, is blatantly untrue. I don't want to say that the reviewer lied, but... More disturbing is that the review fails to mention the rest of the show (which does beg the question as to whether the reviewer stayed through the entire piece). The violence in this piece is indicated by the text. It is a necessary part of the story and, with that in mind, it is in fact quite a small part of the whole picture. This violence is the pathway to redemption and this reviewer in his overview (for it was much more overview than review) he stops short, giving the reader the impression that violence is the overriding aesthetic of the piece.

I read Ionarts daily. I think it serves admirably a great mission in the DC area. I must gush and say that I love this blog. I also believe that reviewers can write what they please. And, I encourage the audience to take from each performance whatever they will. That said, the reviewer has a responsibility to his readers to present a fair picture of what they will experience upon attending the show or concert being reviewed. Though I definitely question this reviewers abilities in judging the voice (based on this and other reviews), that is subjective opinion and I can only grumble that Ionarts certainly has reviewers with better ears. This production, to any observer, contained violence (sexual or not) in an isolated way where indicated by the text. It was tempered by a clear larger message (to which the entire third part was dedicated). Journalistic integrity should have compelled this reviewer to understand the power of his media and to present a comprehensive, even if critical, review.

As to the sexual side of things...I do encourage the audience to take whatever they will from these performances. It was, however, completely clear that no sexual inuendo was intended by the staging. I think that because our victim is a woman, in certain minds that violence automatically takes on a sexual color. It would be disingenuous of me to encourage free interpretation and then to be upset that some audience members interpreted a sexual overtone. My only complaint is that this review made it sound that the sexuality was overt. He intentionally exaggerated what was at most a scene open to multiple interpretations, and made it sound as if the sexual violence was clear and unavoidable. His use of "ravaged" has a very precise meaning and was obviously not what happened on the stage. This scene might have elicited sexual thoughts for some people. I insist that this has more to do with what is going on in the audience's heads than what is going on on the stage. I also think that this is absolutely fine. It is perfectly understandable why violence against women could be read as sexual. It often is, and the media that surrounds us often depicts it as such. Making that connection does not say anything unhealthy or unnatural. Still, since the staging in this production clearly did not imply sexual violence, and since the angel in our production is "broken with a rod of iron" and not "ravaged" in any way, I feel this reviewer perverted the truth to come up with a cute title and self-aggrandizing article.

Be critical, that is your job. But don't be so at the cost of presenting a true reflection of what you saw. That is also your job. Simply having a musical background is not sufficient to be a critic. Criticism is an art and a skill. Only the most innately talented individuals should practice it without some study of journalism, writing, or at the very least journalistic ethics. It does a disservice to the entire profession, and is no doubt part of why arts criticism is languishing in the United States. It is most important to recognize that what one writes in the public forum has real consequences, and that is why the reviewer has a responsibility to be accurate and fair.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007


Coming up for air between performances of "Messiah". I have lots to say about the experience and the reception of the piece both in Washington, DC and in Blacksburg, VA. For now I am about to run out the door to try and advertise some in Baltimore (BMA shows the 22nd and 23rd - the piece is getting lots of buzz, the soloists are fantastic, the orchestra is "ear-teasingly pungent" so says the post - not sure what it means - so it is not to be missed). I will write more later but here are some images that I think turned out great (and I will post more later as well).

Friday, December 7, 2007

MESSIAH and beyond...

A real fast post...

Fellow blogger and AD John Bowen keeps a great set of posts on running Opera Vivente. During "Alcina" tech week and performances blogs dropped of and I thought to myself "Not now! This is the best time to let us know was is going on". Now that I am in the middle of "Messiah" tech and with our first performance tonight I completely understand. I don't even have time to write here all the things that have been keeping me from writing to you, but hopefully tomorrow. I will say that the production is going great. The singers are fantastic as is the orchestra (with yours truly at the podium for the first time). The theatrical experience is unlike opera or theater or anything else. It really should not be missed, and I will add to that, that these DC performances are the ones to catch (the tech at the Gonda is much more sophisticated).

I am really writing because I promised to announce here first our season for next year. I am just barely making it since it will be announced publically tonight. It is all subject to change but here goes:

September (Washington)
Francesco Cavalli

September (Baltimore)

December (Washington)
Phillip Glass

May (Washington)
G. F. Handel

Plus two tentative Ignoti Dei Concerts:

Music of the Jesuits
(Charpentier, Zipoli, Rossi) with Emily Noel

Vivaldi Opera Arias
with Sherezade Panthaki
More to come on all of these, but I have to go get in the zone...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Goodbye to things we love...

Just a short note because I am in Warsaw at the moment and my computer has decided to put all the commands in Polish...not one of my languages.

Influencial conductor Craig Smith has died at age 60. He was the silent partner in so many things I love. He was the conductor for Peter Sellar's Da Ponte operas and "Giulio Cesare". He was also conductor for the Bach cantata project with Lorraine Hunt before she tragically died last summer. He founded Emmanuel Music in Boston, though not a period group the first Bach cantatas I saw performed live. He also conducted to Mark Morris. Most importantly, he gave Lorraine Hunt a musical start as a violist in his orchestra. The article can be read in full here.

Also, the blog Operatically Inclined is no longer. This was Clayton Koonce's blog which I read everyday. It is amazing how we take things for granted that we miss so much when they are gone. This blog was a fantastic way of keeping up on Baltimore/Washington events. Hopefully some version of if will return eventually.

(I'm not proofreading this because I am anxious to see some Warsovian sights)

Friday, November 16, 2007

tra La La La

Just a short entry to let you know that tonight I going to be seeing "Amjad", the new work by the Candadian dance company La La La Human Steps and their director Edouard Lock. This is an absolutely fantastic group on the cutting edge of dance, blending the precision of classicism with the nuance of post-modernism. They created the dances for "Les Boreades" directed by Robert Carson at the Opera National de Paris a few years back (this production toured to America to BAM, the same theater where we will be producing a very different "David et Jonathas" in May). It was controversial, because their movement was not at all, or atleast not directly, connected to Ramaeu's score. It was fantastic though, and I must admit that for me Carson's suggestion that this allowed the music to be heard more was quite true. I will give a full report tomorrow. I am incidently also looking forward to drinks afterward with M. Lock - I am a great admirer of his and one thing being the Artistic Director of AOT gets me is the occasional social interaction with folks like Lock.

Oh, in other news, AOT has been asked to submit a proposal to the Utrecht Festival to present an opera in 2009. Fingers crossed...

Monday, November 12, 2007

Remember that...

I am writing just a tiny entry to let you all know I have not forgotten or abandoned the blog. The last few days have seen a momentary break from company business and time for me to focus on one other not so insignifigant issue...practicing conducting. I spend so much time on this blog talking about the running of AOT, that one might get the impression that I don't get around to the creative aspects. Well, with "Messiah" I will be conducting. I have served as a co-music director with our fantastic harpsichordist Adam Pearl for the past several shows, but when tech-week rolls around, my role shifts and Adam takes over the actual direction of the orchestra. This time I am in the pit and it causes one to learn the score in a vastly different way. More than anything else, one has to build up the stamina to maintain energy and concentration for the entire length of this epic work (which is long, but not nearly as long as most people think). All that to say that these past several days, while not writing on the blog, I have had my head stuck in my "Messiah" music score (I have a second I use of the staging) working to know it as intimately as I possibly can.

(The issue of having a conductor for these works for which a conductor was never intended, is a completely seperate issue the merits a post here. The idea of a conductor turns many purists off, yet at the same time those ensembles which use conductors almost ALWAYS acheive a more unified sound and cohesive musical set of ideas. I promise to post my own opinions on this very soon!)

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Peas in a pod

So, most of the last several days have been spent copying DVDs of "Messiah" (remember we did a workshop performance in August). These DVDs have to ship out to the cast so that they can review what we did over the summer. At the same time I am tweaking the production. One nice thing about doing work so long ago is that at its premier, "Messiah" will basically have the refinement of a revival. There are still details to be worked out that we didn't even consider this summer, namely costumes and sets. This production will look less like a "production" than any other AOT piece (make no mistake, it is fully staged, but part of the aesthetic is to avoid versimilitude), but that doesn't mean that the decisions of costumes aren't all intentional. It becomes a real tricky game when making choices that reflect character, while at the same time looking completely unworthy of notice. It is subtle work and I enjoy it.

A lot of the past week has been spent getting information to our publicist. We have engaged a really fantastic publicist that is mainly working on "David et Jonathas", but also doing some work on "Messiah". Putting together the information for her to create press-kits has been harder work than you would imagine. One of the most revealing moments was sending details on all AOT productions (from back when we were called Ignoti Dei). How far we have come, but how wonderful to see just how many of our singers are still with us from those first productions. This is important to me. Now, to be fair, we got lucky in that even when we were performing in a church basement, we had singers that would grow into great artists. I'm not sure keeping them all would have been possible had that not been the case. Still, I rejoice in the fact that we are a company. There is real chemisty between many of these singers. When we begin work on a new project it is a group of friends that know each other as artists and as people. These singing actors can anticipate each other musically and dramatically. I am very proud of this. It is something rare today and it goes to the core of AOT's identity. Big name singers, with "appropriate" billing, can lead to great musical moments, and with LOTS of time some chemistry can be manifactured. But, a theater production is about more than this. It is the sum of the parts. Those parts can be immense and combine to make saddly insufficient sums (a visit to many a large company in the DC area, no names, illustrates that). The reverse is also true. Parts that are in and of themselves not household names, can combine, with careful selection and guidance, into immense sums. We at AOT bank and succeed on this philosophy.

One final note for today. My good friend Bernard Gordillo records podcasts for WFIU's national radio program "Harmonia" that looks at early music (same on WETA and WBJC for not carrying this...not surprised though). Bernard's podcasts track new early music recordings and it would be a great way for those of you music lovers to keep an eye on what recordings might be worth investing in. You can find it here.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

From fleamarket to opera - from morning to night

Yesterday morning I walked to the largest and most charming flea-market I have ever imagined. This market is quite near to my apartment and was recently pointed out to me by a friend, quite a brilliant scholar studying here and with wonderfully noble ambitions for constructing a new educational paradigm in the States (which certainly could use it). This place was packed full of the most wonderful antiques you have ever imagined. Old books and films (literally film still on the reel from say the 1920s) were strewn on a football field sized sheet. The furniture was most amazing and then all the clocks, the lamps, and just things. Really wonderful and jam packed.

I thought for sure that would be the highlight of the day. But no! I got an invite to the final dress rehearsal of the new production at Liceu by General Manager Joan Matabosch. I thought it would be fairly closed, but apparently they sell tickets to this and it was sold-out (to gush a bit I got to sit in a reserved VIP section...I don't know what someone told Joan, but I hope no one untells him!). They are doing a double-bill of Janacek's "Diaries of one who disappeared" and Bartok's "Bluebeard's Castle". The production was by an avant-guard theatre group called La Fura dels Baus. They have recently gotten into opera. I have seen two of their productions prior to this (the Berlioz "Faust" for Salzburg and a new opera VERY loosely based on "Don Quixote" set centuries in the future for Liceu). These piece were, like many theater turned opera people (like Julie Taymor, though I must admit some are succesful like Adrien Nobel) high on the visual, but without substance behind it (I confess to thinking her Magic Flute pretty and not much more). La Fura productions of opera have seemed gimmicky to me. This however, was absolutely transfixing and transforming.

The Janacek did not win me over to either the piece or the production. But the Bartok...Goodness! It is by far the best production of this incredible piece I have ever seen. It featured Williard White, who as an actor has the natural emptiness the piece demands (unfortunately not what Falstaff demands...), and Katarina Dalayman, who had the just about the perfect anxiety and urgency in her voice. But it was the production! Almost nothing on stage, all with projections. I can't describe it, so amazing. One thing I will say, in the final scene the scrims (there were maybe ten of them projected on in various configurations from both front and back and side, sometimes simultaneously) went up and a great sheet of rain poured down onto the stage. Onto this sheet of rain, I want to say that again, ONTO THIS SHEET OF RAIN the image of Mr. White was projected in huge scale, through which Ms. Dalayman walked to her death. Fantastic! I will provide here a link to photos (I can't seem to save them here - the fourth on is the scene I secribe above) and a video of VERY short clips from earlier La Fura work, with a little touch of "Faust" thrown in at the end.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007



7-9 at Georgetown University's Gonda Theatre

(202) 687 ARTS

10 at Virginia Tech -Lyric Theater

22-23 at Baltimore Museum of Arts

(202) 470 2608

(this beautiful graphic work by our brilliant and talented lighting designer Kel Millionie)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Festival d'Opera de Butaxaca

Every Fall here in Barcelona a festival of what they call "pocket operas" is put on. This is sort of anyother term for chamber opera, but there is included in it an implication of opera performed in a non-traditional space (though the production I'm going to talk about is not an example of this). The type of works they include in the festival are very similar to AOT productions, so you can understand my interest.

Tonight I went to the "little theater" of the National Theater of Catalunya. The word was a new opera titled "Salo d'Anubis o L'Academia de Lili & Dante". It was written by festival director Toni Rumbau and Catalan composer Joan Albert Amargos. The opera was in Catalan, which I don't by any means speak, but which is close enought between French and Spanish so I could understood almost all of it. The conceit was that of a magic show in which a man (actually a planted tenor) from the audience is selected and throughout the shows shrinks (well actually he is cut in half, and then decapatated, etc) into death. He learns to accept death as part of life and the show ends with he and his wife performing the opening monologue, but not as the magician and his assistant.

The space at the National Theater was really charming (would be great for baroque opera) and it was all and all a nice evening. The singers were quite good (soprano Monica Luezas, mezzo Marta Valero, tenor Toni Comas, and baritone Marc Canturri). The band was also quite sensitive at playing a score that was both interesting and fit the piece well. Most of the all the effect were well produced and it was a pleasure and adventure to watch.

It was a nice break from hard-core "Messiah" work to which now I must return.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Tonal Vision's New Trailer

Tonal Vision, the Baltimore video and audio engineers that are our exclusive videographers, just released the trailer for their DVD of "Ground". It is a profoundly difficult show to put into words and perhaps equally difficult to put into 2.5 minutes of video. Still, I think they have done some beautiful work. I wish I could put the entire DVD up here, because they did a really ravishing job with it.

The rest of the day has been filled with "Messiah" marketing, interviews, ad sales, program designing, bio adjusting, etc. Ah, the grease that keeps the wheels of arts turning...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

the "other" blog

I have renewed commitment to keep up both of my blogs. The other has been languishing since May! Originally this blog was to be a place to give updates and plug AOT - also to satisfy curiosity as to what it is like directing a company like AOT (there are very few companies that actually follow the "company" model anymore, even City Opera doesn't seem to be as faithful to it as they once were). My personal blog is meant to be sort of an artistic diary where I can get my thoughts about various projects out and folks can get a fleeting and scary look into how my creative mind works. That said, it is probably most helpful for me - keeping everything stirring in the brain can yield some rather cramped corners. So here you may find the other blog up and running, and hopefully to stay that way!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

All the b,towns in my life

When I lived in Bloomington, people used to call is B,town. As I went to title this entry it occured to me that the three most significant homes that I've known have all been B,towns...Baltimore, Bloomington, and now Barcelona. I returned to the latter yesterday and have hit the ground running (after having quite the confrontation with a pick-pocket in the metro - I guess with all my luggage I really looked like a tourist!). There is lots to be done here though. We have started selling ads for the program book for "Messiah". This is a great way for businesses both to support the arts and to get the word out out themselves to a wide audience. The people that come see our shows are loyal and want to support businesses that support the arts. "Messiah" is sure to attract a particularly wide swath of folks.

Also with "Messiah" are issues of the set. The look of the show is minimal as it is a reflection of medieval liturgical dramas and blurs the distinctions between concert, opera, and ritual. Still, there are some set pieces that need to be created and I have been busy designing and getting those designs off to the right people. We are trying to make sure all our ducks are in a row now since we have so many performances of the show. Also, and I hope I'm not giving too much away here, we have a quite elaborate set of wings to create and have been working with a company on the east-coast that does this sort of work.

We have also begun work on our holiday party - an invitation event that is meant to celebrate this year's accomplishments and look towards the next, and also build support for the company. It looks like it will include great food and drink, several fine performances, and a wonderful time with friends. More to come on that...

I had some great meetings in Washington, DC before leaving to return home. We are trying to develope more of a presence there and to include both Baltimorians and DCites on our board of directors. The next several years see us performing in both locals and I want to make sure that members of both communities are involved. It is wonderful to have a residency at Georgetown where we can perform shows that we have perfected or new pieces of the traditional repertoire that we can introduce. It is also great to have such loyal audiences in Baltimore where we can try our more innovative and unconventional (I know those are two words for the same thing, but it is such the case with us that I just felt I had to reiterate...please indulge me) works. Next year's Baltimore performance will be something quite special in particular!

It is also nearing time for our direct mail campaign and I have been tweaking the letter and working on the images. So many of the things I do as Artistic Director (things that should and will eventually fall to a General Director) are things I never thought I learned, and when I really think about it I should include those as blessings (however unwittingly) that have come from the company. These are things like doing design work, managing budgets, writing grants. I can't say I enjoy these, and that in and of itself is a grave understatement, but I suppose I do appreciate being able to do them.

I must admit that these blog posts are becoming increasingly frustrating. You can't imagine how much is going on behind the scenes for the next season. So much for this season is already done, or not interesting enough to write about. I fear the above may have already bored you to tears. Still, I can't announce the season yet, though I will say the blog readers will be among the first to know. Once I do, within a month or so, then I will have lots to say about casting, orchestra, concept, all the good stuff.

I will leave you with a couple of links to the Times:

The first is a great review for our friends at Opera Lafayette! (this despite my well known opinion of baroque dance...)

The second is an article on the horrors being committed to the "cover" system at the Met (I must say this Algna character sounds increasingly dreadful...and I'm afraid the voice just isn't good enough to make up for it)

The third is a an article on the incomparable Adrian Noble's production of "Macbeth". Particularly wonderful are his comments on verse, and the comments of Ms. Guleghina in the final paragraph (remember you heard me say this first!).

And finally a pictoral hint at "Messiah" (this is really THE event of the season...don't miss it)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

In Baltimore, but only for an hour...

Well, that isn't quite true, but only for a day. I have been in the US for about a week, but most of it has been spent in Tennessee with a family matter. I haven't seen a lot of this part of my family for twenty years or so. It is a most mysterious and magical thing to come face to face with one's roots. I came to Baltimore yesterday for a meeting with our executive committee and today have a meeting with some wonderful supporters from DC. Alas tomorrow I am back on a plane and off to Spain agian, but soon enough I will be back to the US for "Messiah" prep.

There are a lot of things in the mix here at AOT and I can't quite talk about any of them. In the coming weeks I will be announcing the new season. It includes some of our most popular past productions, and two new productions. The first will be a something very different and very important. The second will be a Baltimore production. I like have the opportunity to perform some of our more unique productions in Baltimore, this gem of a city that wants to experience the unusual and the cutting edge. This production will be all of these things. I just got off the phone with the fantastic mezzo-soprano who will take the lead in this production. She just returned from singing a Hoffman in Romania and the stories she tells are gripping and horrifying.

Soon we will be in high gear for "Messiah" publicity and also putting together a Holiday Spectacular event to thank our loyal audiences and to meet new friends. All these things will weigh heavily as I fly back to Barcelona, and I have to say I will look forward to my return in November to this side of the pond.

Thursday, October 11, 2007


A short post from Virginia to let all you readers know that our performance of "David et Jonathas" at the BAM is now confirmed. Unfortunately it won't be in the Harvey Theater as originally planned, but in the Opera House. The accoustics there are fantastic and I don't worry about the sound, even in such a large space. It seats quite a bit more than the Harvey, so here is to selling all those extra seats. We are currently engaging a publicist to do just that (more on that later). Still, the Harvey is an amazing space and I look forward to performing there at some point.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

I will soon become back to the States for some family business and I might be a little out of commission for a week or so, though I will try my hardest not to be. I did want to mention that I has a really fantastic meeting just a couple days ago with Joan Matabosch who is the head of the Liceu Opera. He was a terribly nice person and spent a lot of time with me, showing me around the house, and chatting. They are doing a mixed season of old traditional productions, but some exciting new ones as well, including Carsen's "Tanhausser", and Willy Dexter's "Death in Venice", and Bieito's "Don Giovanni". The Carsen is an revival, but the Britten is new and should be terrific (he did a very powerful "Peter Grimes" in London not too long ago). I look forward to that very much since this work is sadly not done in the US (not yet anyway...). Bieito, as some of you might know, is the Catalan director who's "Abduction" caused all the fuss in regietheater of late. He is a pretty adventurous guy, but I understand that he is brilliant with singers and I look forward to seeing his "Giovanni".

Last night I went into the country to the home of some friends here, two brothers - a violinist and gambist (both playing a lot here). The house was full of wonderful old books, 12th century instruments, and about 100 rabbits (no exageration). There was wonderful food and laughter. A perfect evening. Today we take our friend in from Paris to Parc Guell. This is the fantastical park designed by Gaudi that is truly something to behold!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The worth of a singer

I thought some of you out there might find it interesting to know how much some singers are paid for their performances. I have recently been in touch with a certain singer, who shall remain nameless, who is off some repute and certainly of considerable talent. Now this singer is probably not someone the average joe or even average opera lover knows by name. He does a lot of new music and has been in the premiers of some contemporary operas of note. He also does quite a bit of early music, though not really with period groups. He is indeed fantastic and known in certain circles, but not widly known (as he should be). His fee for one performance is $10,000. This is on the European model where singers are paid per performance and not for the rehearsal period. (Incidently, $10,000 isn't THAT much for a singer - Anne-Sofie von Otter can command $90,000 for one evening and I shudder to think what some of the media darling singers like good ol'Renee can charge). The project for which I contacted this singer, which also will remain nameless for now, is quite exciting and we might just be able to find the funds. Still, the idea of starving artist is perhaps a bit exaggerated.

Barcelona continues to amuse and amaze. Yesterday was a day for practicalities...ie buying a rug. Today, however, a wonderful violinist from Paris is coming to visit for a few days. We are going to enjoy playing music together and plotting about making some productions here in Europe. I am also meeting this week with Xavier-Diaz who, if you google him, is a plucker for Jordi Savall's many groups and with whom I hope to collaborate on a project of some sort.

Here is a picture of what I see when I walk out my front door:

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Promises, promises

Okay, now that things are a little more settled a really do intend to get back on the blog-wagon. I haven't fallen of the wagon exactly, have been working quite hard considering, just not a lot of access to the internet. We have been promised a Wifi connection, but on Spanish time that could be anywhere from 1-4 weeks. Still waiting...Dan has been able to find wireless on our balcony, but none for me alas. I have found a connection here at ESMUC (the Catalan national conservatory) and so here I am, burning music and writing on the blog finally. (The conservatory is in the same building where the symphony performs and looks out over the beautiful neo-classical national theater)

I have recently been juggling programing ideas around for next year. Yes, I thought I had the next three seasons set, but things never go quite as one plans. I have found a fantastic work to possible trade in for next year (a work that no one does, but that won't break the bank). I have also been working on a fourth production for next year that will be performed in Baltimore. I am almost ready to announce this one because it is such a fantastic concept (not to give it away, but I'm in the perfect, almost perfect, place to do research...hint, hint).

Also not to give anything away, but Gerard Mortier (who might just be the savior of opera in American) recently announced his plans for his first season at City Opera which will be 2009-2010. It just so happens that his theatrical coup is my theatrical coup (and I flatter myself to say great minds think alike). That has made for a recent mess of our plans and I have been searching for a replacement. Now, however, I am considering going ahead with the original plans...we'll see.

Finally I have been looking at a number of opportunity to out of town shows and some potential performances in New York. Of course we make our New York debut in May with "David et Jonathas", but we would like to continue performing there. I am looking at one piece in particular work that has been performed in the US for quite a while and is extremely controversial. The happenings in this country and through-out the world in the last five years make this an important time to remount it. It is an stunning work that has the potential to create a dialougue on peace. Unfortunately, sometime the hardest messages to hear are the most needed.

Today I am going to walk to the sea to see what wisdom it might shed on these thoughts.

And, still looking for some project here in Barcelona. Check out this festival which looks pretty cool Festival d'Opera Butxaca

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

From Debussy´s mouth to my ears...a little clarity on my birthday.

¨Only the man who says half of what he intends allows me to graft my vision on to his: the man who invents characters whose story and origins come from no particular time, no particular palce: the man who does not depotically impose upon me a ¨scene which must be drawn¨, but allows me to be free from time to time to have more art than he and who allows me to complete his work. But let him not fear! I shall not puruse the falsehoods of lyric theatre, where the music insolently predominates, where poetry is relegated to the background, suffocated by a musical clothing which is too heavy...Each part must be painted in cameo, one must be content with grisaille...I long for poems which do not condemn me to perpetrate acts which are long and heavy. I need poems which give me mobile scenes, varied in both site and character├▒ where the characters do not discuss but rather are compelled to undergo life and destiny¨.

This articulates, and imagine my joy at happening upon it, my thoughts on what I require from the operas I direct. As the day of the director lengthens this statement of artistic longing comes full circle. What I want are works of music and text that are similarly elastic to the poems Debussy desired. And, like his promise to the poet, I shall not puruse the falsehoods of lyric theatre. Truth to oneself is finally the only artistic truth, enigmatic and unmeasurable. The art, the music, the work is served by only Truth. It the Work (capitalization intentional) is honest the work is served.

Incidentally, you might be wondering why I don´t write more about Spain and Barcelona since I have just moved here. In all honesty it is as simple as this...I have yet to find affordable batteries for my camera and so much of this magical place can only be shared with images.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Barcelona, Birthdays, and Bullfights, oh my!

So things are starting, very slowly let me assure you, to grow into a sort of routine here in Spain. We do not have internet at home yet, but we do have a large modern library close by, complete with a farmer's market and supermarket on the ground floor. The apartment is humble, but by walking out my door I stand less than 50 yards from the Sagrada Familia (Gaudi's still unfinished masterpiece, slated to be completed in 2020...I won't hold my breath). Also I am finally coming up for air and starting to return to the company matters at hand.

Our first performance in the Gonda Theatre was a real learning experience and is creating some possible changes in our 2008-2009 season. I am also cleaning up the financial...I hesitate to say mess, but...matters of "Ground". Also "Messiah" isn't that far away and there are three choruses to organize, let alone the cast and orchestra. Somewhere in there I need to get time to really dig into the score myself.

Tomorrow is my birthday and we are going to celebrate by going to the bullfight on Sunday. Now before all of you animal rights folks get upset at me, I completely agree. I am not going for sport, but for research. I must admit I am a little excited though. It all has to do with a not-so-little known opera I'm pondering over. Click here to read a commentary along similar lines by Sally Potter, that fantastic director of "Orlando" (a gorgeous film) who is now directing a production of unsaid opera at the ENO.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


In Barcelona...found an apartment right beside the Sagrada Familia (what a view)...without internet for the next several weeks (everything moves on Spanish time here, go figure)...have to use the compueter in the public library (for only 15 minutes at a time). More to come, promise.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


I am moving to Spain today (Barcelona), so blogs might be a little scarce as we get resettled there. I had a wonderful meeting with Matthew Epstein of Columbia Artists yesterday. I never fail to be excited by this business. More to come soon, and I promise to keep it in English.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

the Times they are a'changin

bad pun I know...

So Ground closes today and I will write more about all that. For now here is an article from the Times which I think is very astute (of course I would find it more astute if it mentioned anything outside of New York...like, say, AOT).

Monday, September 3, 2007

Hitting the ground running

We started restaging "Ground" yesterday it was an unpredictable experience. The music rehearsal was Saturday and went fine. Both Brian and Elizabeth (Brian Cummings, countertenor and Elizabeth Baber, soprano) have fantastic voices for the repertoire and both are really strong intuitive musicians. This is my first experience re-mounting a piece and I didn't know exactly what to expect. We had spent some time looking at the DVD and I knew I wanted to change some things. More than particulars I wanted to draw performances from both singers that were more organic.

I think last June (2006) when we premiered the work (you can watch clips of that performance here people were struck, and clearly moved, by the ingenuity of the structure, Kel Millionie's simple yet striking design, the immediacy of the music, and the strong vocal and physical performances of the cast. I don't think we really had enough time to explore the deeper emotions present in the drama and the effect was a relationship that felt cute, but not necessarily substantive.

Yesterday morning was rough - the piece opens with two Monteverdi madrigals which are the hardest stagings in the piece. I think we were all frustrated at trying just to put it back on its feet, let alone correct the awkwardness that was most in these two pieces even more than elsewhere in the show. I can't say I quite understand how it happened, but by the time we arrived at yesterday evening's run of the piece things had worked themselves out and how. Somehow these two performances were giving heartfelt performances that seemed very much organic. The chemistry between them was palpable and they both looked much more comfortable. Also, the gestures which are so important to my approach to staging, had been taken over by the performers and became natural extensions of the character's emotional state.

Needless to say I am pleased by all this and am hoping today goes equally as well as we rework the second half and run through the entire thing this evening.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Little Apple

Back in Baltimore after about twenty hours of driving in the last two days I will be thrown into "Ground" rehearsals today (did I mention that even though I know all of you have bought your "Ground" tickets you should still make sure to tell all your friends to come...tickets make excellent gifts and "Ground" is perfect for non-opera fans...or is that opera non-fans...hmmmm).

We will start with musical rehearsals today and then start staging tomorrow. It is alot to do because we open on Friday!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Big Apple

Im entering my third day in New York, and this will be a day of rest. Yesterday I had a terrific coffee with the director of the Institute for Living Judasim which is coproducing our New York performances of David et Jonathas. Then I got a tour through the spaces at BAM. The Harvey Theater is a masterpiece. For those of you who haven't been there, it was reclaimed for theater in the 80s originally for a Peter Brook production (and it has his footprint all over it). In a masterstroke they left the interior bare, meaning exposed walls, no attempt at renovation. Instead they installed arena style seating and made it into an almost ancient temple to theater. Really something. The other space is the Opera House. It is gorgeous of course and the acoustics are so good that filling the space is music doesn't frighten me...filling it will people on the other hand, now that is frightening. It is something for us to consider more. I am hoping for the Harvey, but we will know soon if we have to go the the OH. Thoughts anyone?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

And onto....

We had our workshop performance of Messiah yesterday and I'm very pleased with both the performers and with the feedback from the audience. This was a scary endeavor for me, and as the work crystallized this week it only became more so. This work goes in the direction of something rather new, certainly unconventional, and for which I have been aiming for some time. Getting so attached would make a less than positive reaction from our test audience something hard to swallow. Also, because it is a sincere attempt to use Handel's work for make something meaningful while still being respectful of the brilliance of the score (and texts), it would have hurt a great deal had the audience found the performance gratuitous.

I made sure to invite folks that I thought would be honest and some that I knew would be tough sells. I think it worked. The audience had to imagine a visual language that will be an important component, as it is in all AOT productions (lights, but also in this case a whole chorus), but I think they responded to the work and didn't find it too obtuse. Clayton Koonce of Operatically Inclined summed up his thoughts eloquently on his blog post for yesterday. Our wonderful bass David Newman also wrote about his unique experience staging this piece that he has sung so many times. We made a video of the rehearsal to revisit as performance time gets closer, and also took lots of photos which I hope to post soon. It has been a long week of very intense rehearsals. I must say it is nice not to have to go into production week at the end and to have this break.

That isn't really going to happen however. I leave tomorrow to visit friends in NY (Joe Gladstone who is a terrfic, really the ideal, stage-manager and his talented wife Lydia who is an actress). While there I have meetings with the folks at BAM, the DIA Foundation, The Institute for Living Judaism, and the 7th Regiment Armory which is the new hot space in NY, very cool. Then it is back to Baltimore to start getting "Ground" together for performances next week. Have I mentioned that you should all buy your tickets?

Lots of exciting things happening...don't miss any of it!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

For Unto Us

Rehearsals for Messiah are almost over. Today is the last day and we will perform a workshop performance of the work for our board and some guests. I feel these performers having given completely of their talents and worked so wonderfully to create this piece from scratch. It has been a great experience to be involved in something that is almost like creating a new play or musical. Of course, we are more hesitant before we make cuts to Handel's score (though there are some) and we don't add any new numbers (even though Handel probably would have), but none of us, and the singers even more so, knew what this was going to be about or be like in performance. It has been a week of very organic work and the piece really has grown on its own terms. I didn't quite realize how little I understood of what it would become even. I am anxious to hear the thoughts of the small audience today. It is a piece that will require a lot of the audience - active understanding I call it. This isn't passive opera. After today I will have photos. We are also making a video and perhaps eventually I can post clips on here.

In other news I had a great meeting yesterday with the tech people at Georgetown to talk about the move in process for Ground. They are very nice and flexible over there and it is a perfect sized space for us with every technical capability for which we could hope. The also told me, though I refuse to ask how many, that we have sold some tickets and even season passes. BUY YOUR GROUND TICKETS NOW AND PLEASE TELL EVERYONE ELSE TO AS WELL. Ground, being an unknown work and our first show of the season is a tough sell. It is worth every penny and more though. A very unique and extremely moving show. It is also great for folks without a lot of opera experience so bring all your friends and family. You won't regret it!


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On its Feets...all ten of them

Messiah is all staged and the cast has really impressed me with their openess and willingness to adapt to a new take on this work. They have really taken to this style of staging, which is unconventional at the least, and I'm very pleased with the result that is starting to take shape. Today we even had strangers asking to sit in on the rehearsal. The challenge with staging something this quickly is that it becomes easier for the staging to disappear from the memory. The next several days will be dedicated to getting it really natural and organic to the performers. Saturday morning we will have a private workshop performance of the piece. There isn't any other new to report on...that keeps me pretty constantly busy. I hope to blog some soon on Ground.

Over the Hump

Part II is under our belts...well, all except that little unknown final chorus. We will do that this morning. Yesterday was the toughest part (the reason for no blog entry), but it got onto its feet wonderfully. Today we will finish the entire work and start fixing problem spots in preperation for several days of runs. I hope to have some photos up soon!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Part The First

Comfort Ye - His Yoke is Easy is blocked...and I'm very pleased with things as well as anxious to see how the rest will turn out. Tomorrow is a crucial day. That second part is long and dramatically taxing. Wish me luck.


Last evening we started staging - beginning with "Comfort Ye" and "Ev'ry Valley". It think it went extremely well. Today as we get into choruses...that will be the tell-tale sign. This is an adventure for us all.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Day 2

I am writing blog land during the dinner break on day two of Messiah rehearsals. Thus far today has only been for musical rehearsals (and a lunch I made for the solists). Most of the solists haven't sung the choruses in many years, if ever, and in our production they are singing some of the choruses by themselves and some with the larger chorus. So today was for going over the choruses and it wasn't without its bumps. I'm sure once we get into staging these ensemble pieces will really become three dimensional.

This gets to a larger issue which has been arising. The soloists have been rehearsing their recitatives and arias with me and have been coming in sounding fantastic...too fantastic. The diction is perfect, and colors are rich, the rhythm is precise. Thats just the problem. Since it is a dramatic story, now staged, I want a sound the is more personal, less perfect. That begs the question "why do we sing opera one way and oratorio another". At least in Handel I have to say that I don't think this distinction makes sense. Certainly is "Messiah" should be more dramatic the same would go for the less overtly religious oratorios. Clearly I'm simplifying, but Handel turned to opera for largely financial reason, not because his aesthetic changed. Thought the writing in Messiah is different than a lot of the operatic writing, the same cannot be said for other oratorios. I just can't accept that Handel imagine his singers, mostly the same he had hired for opera, would change their performance practice to perform these works unstaged. Hmm...

Bed time.

First day of Messiah musical rehearsals down and the full cast arrives tomorrow. I'm pooped. More to come soon.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Heather Mac Donald is a Moron

More to come later on this subject, but if you want a preview picture of why right wing politics is antithetical to the arts google this woman - she exemplifies ignorant backwards thinking which fosters, at best, remediation in the arts. Read the whole bundle of self-indulgent garbage here.

When I wrote the above title earlier today, I must admit I assumed that upon rereading her article for the unscrupulous City Journal, I would reconsider the strength of the title I have appropriated to her. In reality I now find it to be a quite polite description of this woman who clearly has little artistic sensitivity, journalistic integrity, understanding of the past, or vision for the future.

Why am I so incensed by her dribble? This is a good question. I could stomach the neo-con creation of a war based on lies and the absolutely ludicrous assertion that a) America's brand of "democracy" is possible in the near future in Iraq and that b) that "democracy" would magically spread throughout the middle-east. I could stomach the neo-con's ignorant claims that abstinence only programs reduce sex and that not offering protection for STDs would reduce the number of said diseases. I could stomach the neo-con's defense of liberty out of one side of the mouth and invasion of privacy out of the other. I have even narrowly stomached the neo-con abuse of civil rights for political gains, economic relief only for those that don't need it (haven't we proven Reganomics doesn't work), and their blatant bigotry for the urban poor, non-subserviant women, gays, Blacks, Hispanics (that aren't rich Cubans who can swing Florida), and basically anyone that doesn't fit their WASPy little universe. I suppose all of this stomaching was a result of the insulation that is art. However, Ms. Mac Donald's blatantly neo-con approach to the arts is far beyond stomachings. It is an uninformed sermon against art which isn't polite by someone who clearly exudes everything that antithetical to art in the United States today. It has a thin veneer of scholarship which reveals her purely superficial understanding of the subject. It is as if Fox News has gotten into the opera business.

(I realize I'm not being as diplomatic as some of my more prudent colleagues. Luckily for me I have youth on my side, and that gives me the courage to say to Ms. Mac Donald what needs to be said: "you would do well to keep your small-minded conservative bigotry on your side of the fence and in a realm that you somewhat understand".)

Ms. Mac Donald's thesis takes as self-evident a flawed principle. Believe it or not, Mozart is dead. There is no obligation to Mozart or Verdi or Puccini or Strauss or their poetic compatriots. No such obligation exists. Her persistence and consequent assumption, that the reader take this as fact, that one must align one's self with the original artistic or aesthetic intentions of the composer, is ridiculous. Directors need not be afraid, and her assertion that directors wishing to substitute or suggest additional meanings in a work should write their own opera is pure idiocy. The director should be a creative artist.

Her defense of Stephen Wadsworth, one of the least interesting or memorable (and yes, a traditional director can still be interesting and memorable, and even compelling) directors working today, a questionable level of discretion in her taste. Her appreciation for Wadsworth’s curatorial approach to directing reveals her limited understanding of the subject. Opera is not stagnate as Ms. Mac Donald would suggest. She pines for the Enlightenment, but not enlightenment itself. For her it is merely a historical happening, an annotation in a history book. A truly enlightened thinker of today would know that all art should be a living organic experience. Opera is not meant to be hung on a wall and looked at on one's way to the museum cafe. Clearly Ms. Mac Donald is the type of audience member that goes to the opera to be seen at the opera or to say "I went to the opera", but she is also the type of audience member that will never really get opera.

The director has no obligation to the composer, and though he is wise to consider the music, his dance goes both in and out of synch with the composer's notes and even with the text itself – what is literal, what is metaphorical, what is ironic, what is sincere. Neo-con’s don’t see this degree of subtlety in their black and white world. The director isn't creating Mozart's "La Nozze di Figaro", he is creating his "La Nozze di Figaro" and there is nothing wrong with that, on the contrary that is art moving forward just as humanity does. Ms. Mac Donald longs for productions which say nothing, but rather are still inoffensive memories of another time. That is fine, there is a place for that. That isn't art. The singing will no doubt be artful, as will the designs hopefully. That sort of directing, however, is superfluous.

I have not been fortunate enough to see all the productions to which Ms. Mac Donald alludes, nor I suspect has she. That said, I would caution the reader of her article to not form judgments based on her descriptions. She has cleverly left out the contexts of many of the examples she sites, not offering their true functional role in the operas. Like many neo-cons she comes dangerously close to mischaracterization in her tirade. For example, her jealous distaste for Peter Sellars results in an unfair portrayal of his work to her reader. While she states the no regietheater proponent can bare a happy ending, she conveniently fails to mention that the final of Sellar's "Figaro" is filled with joy in a dance choreographed by Mark Morris, in fact the whole opera is playful and witty. Mark Morris is quite the regietheater director himself. Ms. Mac Donald, in her seemingly divine (because it certainly isn’t logical) judgment of the Met's offerings, states that nothing in Gelb's first season suggests he will tarnish the geriatric house's reputation for producing thoroughly uninteresting work to audiences that don't know better. She must have decided the Morris/Gluck "Orfeo" wasn't offensive enough to qualify (or, as I suspect, she was too busy to take the work in).

This gets at the biggest untruth in the article. She fails to mention that director led productions do not always contain violence or drugs or even sex. No, Ms. Mac Donald has conveniently decided that regietheater means simply offensive opera. This is born out of her myopic approach to the topic and neo-con steeped tradition of spinning everything. She doesn't mention directors like Robert Carson or Laurent Pelly or David McVicars, directors that are most certainly the driving force behind their continental productions, but who do not fill their production with gratuity or the negativity and aversion to charming wit that Ms. Mac Donald coyly associates with all director driven opera (audience in Chicago can witness this first hand when Mc Vicar’s “Giulio Cesare” comes this season). She also allows the reader to have the impression that all Sellar’s productions are full of violence and sex, not mentioning the wildly popular Sellar’s productions of “Giulio Cesare”, “Nixon in China”, or “El Nino”, not to mention Sellar’s “Theodora” which is profoundly and absolutely loyal to Handel’s narrative. It does depict some violence, but should we be afraid of ever depicting the violence we find all around us on the stage? Should opera only be idyllic depictions of an imagined past on only superficial violence?

She also spins her story to read as if audiences are fleeing from European houses. This is not true. Opera in Europe is more popular than ever and houses are filled with young people. They no longer see an antiquated art form, a stodgy museum piece, they see breathing art that speaks to them. She even goes so far as the paint a picture of audiences coerced into finally enjoying these productions, as if the German houses refused to stop remounting the production until audiences were brainwashed - as if it is inconceivable that audiences needed time to grow into the work. This isn't unlike the premier of "Le Sacre du Printemps" or many a Mahler symphony. Would Ms. Mac Donald suggest the Stravinsky's popularity or public affection for Mahler 8 is somehow compelled against their will? In fact, it is opera in the United States that suffers. Sure the Met is full because it is so popular to be seen at the Met or to say "I went to the Met", but companies around the country struggle with interesting audiences with their dated and only-sleep-worthy productions. Ms. Mac Donald rails against the San Francisco Opera which is one of the few companies selling seats and doing important work (take their production of the Messian "St. Francois" for instance).

Ms. Mac Donald also rails against the appointment of Gerard Mortier as General Director of New York City Opera. This is born out of her clear aversion to anything Continental (large C intentional). Though Mortier is Belgian, Ms. Mac Donald certainly would throw him out with the freedom fries. In fact, Mortier's appointment is one of the few promising things that has happened in opera in the United States in a long time. Finally someone that understands opera is about more than the park-and-bark style for which Mac Donald pines. Finally someone that understands opera isn't about the music or the text or the sets or the lights or even the direction. It is about production. Ms. Mac Donald ignorantly enlists Wagner (Richard or course) into her camp. What she doesn't get is that the type of work Mortier does is what really exemplifies Wagner's ideal situation of a complete production in every respect under one unifying concept. Finally there is someone that can challenge the Met, with its vast resources, to create work which is beautiful and not just pretty.

Even Ms. Mac Donald’s "fears" for the coming season at the Met are ludicrous. Her terror of what Patrice Chereau might bring to the Met is laughable. His Bayreuth production is widely considered the Ring masterpiece of the 20th century and he is revered by audiences and critics alike. That she would prefer the Met's old Schenk production is telling in and of itself, the only thing more laughable than that production being Ms. Mac Donald’s presumed defense of it. She thinks that Luc Bondy throws up red flags, a director who’s "Hercules" at BAM was considered not compelling enough. Ms. Mac Donald only seems to have reverence for polite opera that doesn't get in the way either to move or provoke (God please not another Zambella productions...how many times can we chew Zeffirelli's cud?).

What is far more distasteful than the productions that Ms. Mac Donald rails against is her own thinly veiled bigotry. Through the words of this article she clearly sneers at everyone from gays to Muslims to people that have sex (oh, those neo-cons love pass judgments on the bedroom). She balks at the idea of houses hiring prostitutes and German officials rubbing shoulders with prostitutes. I guess she would prefer prostitutes stay working in the streets where they belong and no doubt deserve to be. What is most frightening or entertaining depending on how one looks at it, is her horror at the idea of subsidized arts programs, never mind that almost all the works she refers to were the product of subsidized economic arts cultures. Perhaps subsidies do make for extreme risk taking in the arts. Maybe that is what allowed Wagner to write "Tristan" and Mozart to write "Figaro", works that from her inoculated Manhattan existence Ms. Mac Donald fails to recognize are in fact quite revolutionary and anything, but polite. And, for someone who complains of a lack of wit in these riegetheater productions, Ms. Mac Donald can't even find the wit herself in the Met's newest art acquisition. I imagine the wit of regietheater productions simply goes over her head.

Ms. Mac Donald doesn't have a true historical context for understanding these works, and she doesn't have sufficient vision, openness, or compassion to understand these productions. A lack of vision, openness, and compassion: precisely the problem with almost all neo-con positions. It is narrow minded artistic bigots like Heather Mac Donald that are in fact destroying art for the American public. History has shown us time and time again the those like Ms. Mac Donald matter little in the larger context. They will not be remembered, they will not impede progress. It has always been the pleasure of artists from Bach to Wagner to Sellars to rise above the tininess of the Mac Donald’s of the world.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

And hopefully the last one...

Emperor that is! I must admit it was a real challenge to get through Tan Dun "The First Emperor" last night. I didn't have high hopes, and the hopes a did have were certainly not met. Tan Dun's score was not without some beautiful moments, but generally lacked the ingenuity and brilliance of his earlier works and really seemed to sell out to the lowest common denominator. The piece itself had all the human triviality an banality of a "Don Carlo" or "Roberto Devereux" (bothy of which I love), but non of the musical or dramatic witicism to make up for it (and thats why). All and all an plot not worth watching.

Elizabeth Futral sang quite lovely with what see was given to do. Most impressive was Paul Groves. Neither of these could make up for Pladido Domingo. The voice isn't what I would look for, but it is still strong (completely inappropriate for this music though). What was terrible was his attempt at acting. It must be said that the director takes ultimate responsibility for that, but this was classic externalized non-emotion that the Met has perfected...art worn on the sleeve and certainly not felt in any meaningful way. If those loyal, lovely, and large audiences at the Met had any idea what they were missing, I'm sure things would change there in a hurry. I imagine with Mortier across the plaza that just might happen.

I must add to this that the lighting design by Duane Schuler and set design by Fan Yue were awe inspiring and quite beautiful. Had the rest of the production lived up to the visual design perhaps this would have been more than simply another Met "shock and awe" campaign, but alas director Zhang Yimou failed to impress. It is clear that the Met put together names like Dun, Yimou, and Domingo, failing to think about whether any of them were qualified for the particular project.

Bigger isn't better...better is better.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Back logged musings...

Still recovering from my all too recent computer crash, I have come up for a bit of blogging air. I have been juggleing several projects at once this past week. Besides rebuilding AOT's electronic infrastructure, I have been working with odds and ends each show for the coming year and beyond.

First comes "Ground". This is our very unique and moving piece which will open our season at Georgetown the weekend of September 7th-9th. It is a piece we've mounted before so the pre-work for it is different than normal. I can count on the splendid musicians (soprano Elizabeth Baber, countertenor Brian Cummings, and Ignoti Dei members Danial Boothe, Daniel Rippe, and Charles Weaver) to come with their music and staging relearned. There aren't many costumes and props that need to be replaced either. The real trick is going to be getting the word out. This isn't the first time we've performed in DC, but it is our first performance in Georgetown. The last time we performed in DC we also had the resources of the Washington Early Music Festival. So, the larget job right now is making sure we get the word out about this production. The one thing we have on our side is that this piece was rated on of the top ten performing arts events of 2006 by Ionarts. Georgetown is being very helpful in getting word out to their mailing list, and we hope to collaborate with the Institutio di Cultura as well. It is a challenge because "Ground" doesn't have the instant name recognition that some like, say, "La Boheme" does. That said, I know that we can get the Gonda Theater full of people that are tired or uninterested in the obtuse productions of larger area companies and want to see and innovative and moving work that engages and transforms. (Just a note, opening night of "Ground" will include a reception to innaugurate our residency at Georgetown and everyon is invited!).

Next comes "Messiah". Things are a bit far out to be focused on marketing (though plans are in the works to get the word out in both Baltimore and Washington DC). The staging concepts are in place, the costumes are ordered, rehearsal space is organized, and right now I am working on the musical side of things. Soon it will be time to get the string parts out to our concert mistress for bowings and before I can do that I need to carefully mark dynamics, tempi, articulations, and other expression marks. Often times people forget the with early opera, at least when one uses authentic sources, the scores are largely devoid of expression marks. Too often early music ensembles just "play the chart" which results and perhaps tight, but not terribly vivid performances. Another common trend is to leave scores empty of markings and to have the expression come out of the rehearsal process. This is a beautiful utopian idea, but can make for some hairy and non-unified artistic ideas. Also, being wearing producer shoes in addition to artistic ones, I know that this required a lot more rehearsal time. I will be conducting our performances of "Messiah" and am pouring through the score now, marking the musical decisions I've made. Lastly I am organizing the myriad of choirs we will be collaborating with: in Georgetown we will work with the university's chamber choir and in Baltimore the chamber choir of the Handel Choir of Baltimore. We have been invited to perform an additional performance at Virginia Tech, and there we will collaborate with the Virginia Tech Chamber Singers and their director Brian Gendron (Brian will also be working with us on "David et Jonathas" and in the formation of a resident choir for AOT!).

Third comes "David et Jonathas". It still seems way out there, but that will pass quickly. Right now it is finalizing the orchestra mainly. The orchestra will be one of the best period orchestra's American could offer, featuring some of the strongest players from around the country. This makes for quite a staggering budget, but it is also what elevates AOT above the rest (plus we have been awarded a grant from the Geoffrey C. Hughes Foundation to make it possible). We will make our New York debut at the Brooklyn Museum of Art with this piece and that means a lot of additional considerations. We need to find an alternative to our three tons of sand since we will be traveling with the productions (plus, I don't think Georgetown was TOO excited about the great weight of sand). We have to find a New York publicist to get the word out about the performances. I will be going up in late September to meet with the folks at BAM and with our partner organization, the Institute for Living Judaism. I will also be meeting at that time with Jeffrey Weiss, the talented new director of the DIA Foundation. The cast for this show is set and, since it is a revival production, I will save my stress for atleast a couple of months.

Lastly, there is all the rest...and there is a lot of it. Some of it is fundraising, always fundraising. Some of it is the nitty gritty of running a business (ie contracts, budgets, advertisements, relationship building, etc). And some of it is exciting planning for next season which will include the debut of the American Opera Ballet (headed by brilliant young choreographer Joseph Morrissey who is now dancing with Bayerische Staatsoper (one of the most exciting and provocative companies in the world), another New York performance, collaboration with choreographer Lisa Green-Cudek, a possible collaboration between Peabody and Georgetown, and our first performances of some later opera (including works by Schubert, Rossini, and Crumb...I can't say more yet, but it is VERY exciting and includes, once again, some of the great American interpreters of those composers).

With that its time to start the day. Tonight Tan Dun's "The First Emperor" will be broadcast on PBS. My hopes are not high (the Met with Placido Domingo?) and it wasn't reviewed too favorably. I do like some of Dun's earlier compositions quite a bit. I am looking forward to seeing it though, and it is part of their season for this year as well. It is no doubt be high in the spectacle arena. Like I always say, the only thing better than a good "Turandot" is a bad "Turandot"!

Friday, August 3, 2007


Well, the ol'computer finally went, and do you think I had anything backed up? Thats right, its all gone and very much the disaster. I am trying to salvage what I can from other sources, but it will take months to recreate all that data. Experience is the best teacher...Be patient with coming blogs!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Back in the Blue Ridge

After my trip to Chicago and a quick visit in Baltimore with friend and donors I am back in Virginia. Things are really starting up now. It is that difficult time before a production when things seem rather frightening. There are posters and postercards and press releases and meetings with designers and lighters and costumers. There are contracts and housing arrangements and travel reimbursements and finding a rehearsal space. It isn't the part of the job a love. This time it is all in preparation for "Ground" which opens our 2007-2008 season. Before that though I have to start staging "Messiah". Because it has never been done and is such an important work this is terrifying in itself. The looks I get when I tell people we are doing a staged "Messiah" confirm that it will be an uphill battle. I'm confident in the decision and the work though. The singers are fantastic and the orchestra will be minimal, but precise. I still have one act to stage and then catchings up on the first two acts that I staged in May.

Alas it is late now and I have to be up early in the morning!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Chicago in the original language

I'm in Chicago for a couple of days enjoying some time with friends and looking forward to a meeting tomorrow with Brian Dickie of the Chicago Opera Theater. This is a model company doing fantastic work, both early and later. If you are ever in Chicago check them out at the Harris Theater in Millenium Park.

I particularly enjoyed a slow walk around the Tribune Tower today. Building blocks of some of the worlds most and grand and most humble, but always provocative, buildings are on display here in the walls of the Tower. Pretty fascinating. I had to, of course, make a pilgramige to the Art Institute of Chicago today. They have a wonderful French 19th century collection, but I enjoyed looking at some beautiful Boticelli paintings, Brancusi sculptures, and the Chagals (though "Sunday on the Park" is always impressive). Today I took some extra time to visit the Asian art. It is a small, but moving collection.

Now...on a completely different subject. This is something I've been wanting to write about for a while. It is a subject worthy of a lot of discussion, but I will probably sound too preachy if I do anything, but touch on it...so touch I will. I have become increasingly disappointed with companies that choose to translate operas into English. Why did this practice get started? I haven't written for a while to make sure my gut reaction to this practice is not for the wrong reasons. I realize I run the risk of sounding right off like a snob, but stay with me and you will see that exactly the opposite is the case.

First of all, opera translated shows a disrespect for the music (let alone the poor poet), and a general lack of understanding for the opera as a genre. There are periods of composition where a composer's connection with text was out of balance with his devotion of lyricism. There are indeed some mildly successful translations of Handel's Italian operas (particularly ENO's "Ariodante"). On the other hand there is quite a lot of rep that ABSOLUTELY cannot be translated without destroying the subtle relationship of text to music, without nullifying the genius of the composer. No where is this more true than in early Italian operas or French baroque operas. To translate Monteverdi shows the greatest egotism in the face of the music. Monteverdi did not respond to the poetry in a general sense, but composed each note in a response to each syllable of recitative. There is a sacred bond between the poetry and the line, and the most fundamental pacing of the music is based on the structures inherent in Italian verse (VERY different to English verse). The same is true for Lully, Rameau, Gluck, Mozart, Wagner, Strauss. The list goes on. Ultimately any great composer approaches sung text this way. To translate may leave a lovely tune and even, with luck, convincing poetry, but it robs the audience of entrance into that magic land between the two where the composer inhabits. The sum is greater than the parts, and translating poetry cheapens the genius of the final work.

The response to this of course is that I'm being euridite, that translating opera into English is a way to open opera to a wider audience. This is simply untrue and ultimately leads to the further making of opera obsolete in today's society. Why? This is the dumbing down of opera, similar to the "symphony with a twist" approach to concert music. Dumbing down the work is not the same as revealing its relavence for a contemporary audience, and it certainly isn't the same as helping an audience appreciate the art. In the end the work isn't worth the experience no matter how "accessible" it is made, and the audience senses that it isn't worth investing in something that has to be dumbed down. Also, this approach is laziness. Instead of translating, time, talent, and creativity should be put into making the productions relevant without sacrificing the art. Often times, more often than not, these translated productions are at the best mediocre and, though the audience can more easily keep up with the language, the product itself is far from cathartic. Chances are that if a producer isn't sensitive enough to know that translation cheapens a work, he or she isn't sensitive enough to create a smart and moving production. If one can't make opera in the original language work for a contemporary audience, the answer isn't to trample the work. The answer is to go back to the drawing board, put one's heels in, and really learn the craft of stage direction and opera production - thinking outside of the box. If one isn't willing to do that, it would be better to get out of the kitchen and not dumb down great art.

These works are great for a reason. They carry across time, class, and even language. It is all in the manner of presentation. At AOT we perform in the original language and that is for one simple reason - the works are better when performed this way. At the same time we are committed to making opera relevant for wider 21st century audiences. We do this with innovative approaches and sincere passion for the art. We succeed in our goal. It works. This is testament to the quality of the art and the sheer madness of opera in translation (one only has to think back to last year's beautiful Met "Zauberflote" in a visually stunning production, but an absolutely ridiculous and offensive translation). We should have more faith in our audiences. If we have faith in them they will have faith in us. If we feel like we need to dumb the work down inorder that they might understand it, chances are they will catch on to us fast. Winning them back after this will be infinitely more challenging.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Always just a little longer...

Well...our two hour board meeting last evening turned into a four and a half hour affair. Long, but in all fairness it was a lot of fun and VERY productive. The benefit was a success and we made big plans for the next three seasons for thing in front and behind the scenes.

Today I had the most wonderful tour of the Asian collection at the Walter's Arts Museum by the head of the Friends of the Asian Collection. The Walters is such a jewel of a collection for members of this community and it has recently been made free. The Asian collection is particularly beautiful and, I gather, important. To have it explained and to be guided through it by someone that knows the collection and its context so well made for a remarkable experience. Afterwards we all had an engaging lunch together with two charming fox terriers...what is it about those dogs?

Tomorrow morning I leave at 7am for Chicago...yuck!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Earth Angel

Yesterday was a big day. I went to Philadelphia to see a man about an angel (how many times can one say that?). I was visiting with the folks at Pierre's Costumes, one of the most important costumers in the country, about constructing one of our costumes for "Messiah". This is something new for me. We do most of our costuming in house. In this instance and technical needs of the costume were beyond anything we could do. I can't go too into details without giving parts of the show, but it needs to do some wild things and it was certainly the most expensive costume we've ever had built. After that I had a wonderful chat with Tempesta di Mare artistic director who lives in south Philadelphia (this chat ended with a walk through the Italian market there...something I always enjoy).

I returned last night just in time for the AOT summer benefit that was held at the Elm in Baltimore colorful Hamden neighborhood. To-be-expected last minute surprises aside, it was a really wonderful time. The highlight of course were performances by soprano Bonnie McNaughton (particularly brilliant Greig songs!) and by pianist Roberto Vela (also our newest board member). There were friend new and old, wonderful food and drink, music and conversation. I think it was a definite success for AOT and we will try to do something similar in December.

Tonight is our Summer board meeting and I'm excited to get going on some of our newest projects. I will report dutifully tomorrow. As for today, I'm in going to enjoy some time with family.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Trouble in Tahiti

I forgot to mention, there is a production of Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti" this weekend in Baltimore for Artscape. I won't be able to make it because I will already be headed to Chicago. It is a great little piece though that doesn't get done nearly enough. I don't know how the production will be, but it should be worth checking out. On the surface it can seem like a funny little portrayal of the American dream, but if one digs enough it is a poignant and sensitive picture of love and relationships as they mature and try to be one. It should definitely make a nice break from the heat at Artscape.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Back in B,more!

So long without much to write and then, sure enough, it all comes at once. Earlier in the summer I taught Indiana University's opera workshop with 22 young singers. That kept me busy, but after that activity didn't exactly grind to a halt, but at least reallocated itself. This is a slow time for AOT this year and the only activity lately has been visiting with the folks at Virginia Tech who have invited us to perform "Messiah" there on December 10th (we will be performing it at Georgetown December 7-9 and at the Baltimore Museum of Art December 21-23 through a collaboration with the Handel Choir of Baltimore). After the incomprehensible events there this past April, it is impossible not to let thoughts of the shooting enter into work on "Messiah", a piece that for AOT is about suffering, redemption, and forgiveness. They showed us the theater we will be performing in and it is a beautifully restored cinema.

I drove a large part of the day to arrive in Baltimore late this evening for our summer benefit which will be happening tomorrow night. If you haven't got you tickets yet there is still time (more information is available here). This is a perfect way to enjoy fantastic food and drink, a vibrant recital program, conversation with art lovers from around the area, kick off Artscape 2007, and help support one of the most innovative and exciting presenters of opera in America (remember the NY Times calls us "the future of opera"). I hope to see many of you there.

Also in Baltimore this weekend is a board meeting where we will welcome new members and brainstorm on the next three years of AOT (the length of our initial residency at Georgetown). There are lots of things in the works, including the creation of a ballet component to AOT, a choral component to AOT, additional performances by Ignoti Dei, and some really adventuresome programming. Usually I approach board meetings with a slightly nervous sickness, but I'm excited for this one. There is so much going on and we are developing a really wonderful group of committed volunteers.

Besides the board meeting I will also be using my time in the Baltimore/Washington area to meet with our costume designers in Philadelphia, our choreographer for an as-of-yet undisclosed project for next season, meet with our talented lighting designer (and so much more) Kel Millionie, and hopefully spend some off-time with friends in the area. Early Sunday morning I'm off to Chicago to meet with the folks at Chicago Opera Theater. This is a fantastic model company that program similar to us and does striking and important work. I'm looking forward to meeting their General Manager Brian Dickie.

And all that this weekend! Then it will slow down until August when the singers arrive to stage "Messiah". I'm excited about this group of singers, many of whom are the top American interpreters of this rep. It is a piece to stage only with great care and respect for the work, and I'm very cautious about it all. After that I'll be meeting with folks in New York about future plans for AOT and finally the first show of the 2007-2008 season will have arrived.

This is the work that needs to be done, and it is thrilling to be a part of so much creativity and talent. I hope to see many of you tomorrow evening, and don't forget to get you season tickets (available here).

Friday, June 15, 2007

Not lost in space...

Here is just a little post to let you know I have not been lost to the outer regions of space. I am currently teaching an opera workshop at Indiana University and have limited access to computers (which is making staging Messiah must more of a reality). I always enjoy these opportunities to stage selected scenes from larger works. It is a great chance to experiement and to make artistic choices which work for scenes, but wouldn't work for the entire show. I am enjoying the low-pressure creative environment.

Be on the look out for our summer cocktail fundraiser. It will be Thursday July 19th and will open the 2007 Artscape. Details will be available on the website, but I know it will include a wonderful recital by AOT favorite soprano Bonnie McNaughton and pianist Roberto Velo, performing selected romantic pieces and Latin-American piano works. It will be a great chance to enjoy fine music, a summer evening of drinks and food, and supporting AOT's exciting 2007-2008 season!

Monday, June 4, 2007

Come One, Come All!

Not a lot to post about lately (in the personal world I have been packing up the house and preparing to move to temporary sheltor while I teach the IU Summer Opera Workshop and then move more permanently to Barcelona, Spain).

Today is different, however. Tickets for the new season go on sale today and, though I don't expect a rush of the box office right away, it would be great to see some tickets sell. They can be purchased here. Because of our new relationship with Georgetown University this is the first time we have been able to offer a complete season and the sell tickets far in advance for multiple shows. As a repertory company we want to include usually one revived show in each season. Because this wonderful residency came on so fast, this season will feature to revived productions and one new. I'm sure you have all seen my recording recommendations on the side that correspond to our season, but I will go over it one more time just incase (this is similar to what will be in our soon to be released season brochure, but it can serve as a special preview for blog readers).


We will open our 2007-2008 season with a work that combines the ancient and the modern. Ground is an intimate performance piece that weaves intoxicating ostinato-bass compositions of the Italian 17th century into the story of a life-cycle for soprano and counter-tenor. With meaning conveyed through gesture, movement and video projections, this innovative theater piece touches the heart with its directness and simplicity. Audiences greeted the 2006 performances with uniform enthusiasm and AOT brings back the same musicians for its 2007 revival. Though strikingly new in its multimedia aesthetic and dramatic perspective, the themes of Ground are eternal and human, and its effect is timeless. Named one of the top-ten arts events of 2006 in the Washington DC Metro area, Ionarts calls Ground "a visually intriguing and musically lovely work...not like anything else you're likely to experience".

Davis Center, Georgetown University September 7-9

At the center piece of this season is America's first staged Messiah. What is unquestionably Handel's masterpiece comes to life upon the stage in a production capturing the essence of the work. The combined forces of AOT, Ignoti Dei Orchestra, and a vibrant and talented young cast come together to explore the human side of Handel's iconic score. Performed by five soloists, choir, and in its original 1742 orchestration for strings and trumpet, AOT peers through Messiah to look at the questions of being human at the beginning of the new millennium.

The score is electrifying, the libretto a masterpiece of rhetoric construction, and together they are considered by many to be divine. The vibrancy and power of this work exist in its inherent drama. In the spirit of that drama the creative team of AOT meets Handel's Messiah on its own terms, and the staged production is the result of an organic process of allowing the work to speak for itself. Musical sensitivity, dramatic innovation, artistic precision; the cornerstones of AOT are realized in one of the great pillars of western culture.

Davis Center, Georgetown University December 7-9
Lyric Theater, Virginia Teach December 10
Baltimore Museum of Art December 21-23

David et Jonathas

We complete our 2007-2008 season with Charpentier's remarkable 1688 opera David et Jonathan. This work, the largest in the AOT repertoire, is a breathtaking masterpiece of the French baroque and strikingly contemporary in its themes. Work-shopped in AOT's 2005 young artist program, this production will be the first professional staging of the opera in the Americas. David et Jonathas explores the relationship between three timeless figures and probes the nature of man's relationship with the universe. In profoundly beautiful music Charpentier creates a heartbreaking portrayal unlike any of its day. Of the 2005 workshop the Baltimore Sun said the opera "set to music of immense beauty, couldn't be more straight-to-the-heart...as noble as anything by Wagner, as emotionally wrenching as anything by Puccini." For this final production of the season, AOT is joined by the enlarged Ignoti Dei orchestra and chorus.

TBA, Baltimore May 1 (Benefit Concert Performance)
Davis Center, Georgetown University May 2-4
TBA, New York May 9-10

It is the Georgetown tickets which go on sale today, but information on other performances will be available as we get closer (you can join AOT's mailing list, both traditional and electronic, on our website). The most exciting thing about these tickets though is that season tickets are available at a substantial discount to our already affordable ticket prices. Please support us by coming to our exciting productions for a whole season and encourage your friends to do the same. These seasons passes make great presents or group activities. The easiest and most rewarding way to support the arts is to take part in them!

In other news, I found this terrific article yesterday in the Onion and just had to share it...