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.