Monday, May 25, 2009

All the men in my life...

Well, COAA (that is the Canadian Operatic Arts Academy for those of you that missed my last blog) is finished. It has been an intense three weeks that culminated this past Saturday and Sunday with a performance of 15 scenes (a marathon performance of large scenes from everything from La Calisto, to Jephtha, to Rusalka, to Rigoletto, to Albert Herring, to Pelleas et Melisande, to everything inbetween). The performance was completed full, had to keep adding seats, and the audience was blown away. Then on Sunday, a repeat of many of the scenes with Orchestra London. Today was a postmortem and the program seems to have been a huge success. There are exciting things in the works for it next year, even bigger and more extensive, but I can reveal those just yet.

And now about those men in my life. They are John Dowland, George Crumb, Francois Couperin, Olivier Messiaen, and last, but not least, Kurt Weill. I'm hard at working with the dramaturgy and staging of the John Dowland cycle AOT will present as part of Baltimore Artscape with Monica Reinagel. The Crumb/Couperin are part of a large and well funded production of several pieces that has lots of video and multimedia, with two of AOT's sopranos, Emily Noel and Rebecca Duren. The production isn't until October, but I need to map out all the elements now so that the video design lab can start creating the technology to make it come to life. The Messiaen is for a staging of his songcycle Harawi that I'm doing in London in September, and of course the Weill is for Songspiel with Sylvia McNair. It is all the way in November, but I have to select the songs, the order, do translations of those not in existence yet, and orchestrate them all for our band.

One the other hand, I can't think of five men I would rather spend this last days in Canada with....

Friday, May 22, 2009

Alice Through the Looking Glass

My thoughts recently have been heavily on the experience of the artists performing opera. Being a director is extremely rewarding, it is a chance to allow the human imagination to run wild. It is also safe emotionally, we get to ask singers to do things we ourselves never have to do, and sometimes we forget what that experience is like. I go out on a limb saying that it is something unique to singers, more than even instrumentalists and actors.

One of the scenes I'm directing here is from Dvorak's "Rusalka", a piece of epic emotional power, and I am thrilled to get a wack at the end of Act II. The scene begins with an aria for Rusalka's father, continues through Rusalka's dramatic second act aria, and ends with the Prince and Princess' duet and the rejection both of Rusalka and the Prince. It is heavy stuff, and I have developed a concept that is even heavier. My four young singers are excellent. Even more, they are brave to go to these places with me, to explore some of humanities darker elements. It is scarey for them.

The other evening in rehearsal, my wonder Rusalka was giving a drop-dead performance, and collapsed during the area sobbing and unable to go on. It was a profound moment. I often talk to the singers about needing to go to far in order to know the right place to play the scene and still be safe. Well, she did, and I was very proud of her. Later, in an email, she told me that she has been lately working on opening up the physical mechanism of the voice, releasing tension. That, she said, has also left her open emotionally, and singing this scene with the concept I have asked for became too much. It is a beautiful and true idea that we sometimes forget, this profound connection for singers between their instrument and their psychology. I am honored to work with such a group of talented and committed young artists. I helps to remind as all why we do this.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I have been out without word again for a long time! My apologies. The production of Venus/Dido was a huge success. It was a revival of AOT's first production, but with five years of experience to improve upon what is already a very inventive, moving concept. I couldn't have been more happy with the experience, and it was so nice to close a show and then have the company in town the next day for my marriage! Dan and I were very happy to share that day with artists who have over the years become great friends, it was so special.

Now for two weeks I have been in Canada for the past two weeks. I am co-Artistic Director of the Canadian Operatic Arts Academy in London Ontario. This is the first year of the three week intensive workshop for young singers, that focuses on all the arts that go into making opera. It is a remarkably busy period....everyday dance at 8:30, then musical rehearsals, then masterclasses that range from vocal work, professional studies, stage combat, and finally staging 16 scenes in the evening. There are 27 vocalists, 4 collaborative pianists, two stage managers, and an assistant director. I am very impressed with the level of the students, fantastically high and a diverse group of voices. It is allowing me to stage some big scenes. I am doing 9 of the scenes and they are from Falstaff, Figaro, Rusalka, Calisto, Jephtha, Pelleas, Ariadne auf Naxos, Rosenkavalier, and Don Pasqaule. Just wonderful! And we have an impressive list of guests that include Stephen Blier, the famous coach and founder of the New York Festival of Song, and Chantal Lambert of Opera de Montreal, and Timothy Vernon of Pacific Opera. A great group and a great program that is already funded and in the works for next year.

That is keeping me busy though. We did have a wonderful gala evening on May 1st. Due to a family emergency Sophie Roland could not join us, but baritone Ryan de Ryke rose to the occaision, and he and I performed an hour long program of cabaret music, including his now infamous rendition of the Toreador's song from our Le Cabaret de Carmen. I am so appreciate to our wonderful board of organizers: Alex Ledbetter, Dana Johns, Jesse Hellman, and Stephen Campbell. Thanks for a wonderful kick off to AOT's new season...more to come on that this weekend I hope!