Wednesday, December 29, 2010

ramón del valle-inclán

"the artist can see the world from three different positions. he can look upwards, as if on his knees before it, and present an idealized, reverent picture of reality; he can confront it standing on the same level, which will lead to a realistic approach; or he can see the world from above - and from this distant vantage point it will appear ridiculous and absurd, for it will be seen as through the eyes of a dead man who looks back on life."

to be (funny) or not to be

i've never felt like a funny guy...what do i mean by that? in my personal life i think i'm funny, or at least i think i'm lighthearted, i try to be. and, as i've just read and ionesco points out, laughter is the one escape from the absurdity of man's condition. and yet, in my work on stage, i've also tended towards the serious, not having much use, or to be more honest, not feeling at home and/or edified by comedy. and yet, not i'm faced with a difficult problem for me...aureliano in palmira.

this is an early rossini opera seria. the libretto is definitely seria, and it has strong political parallels to today, dealing with cultural clashes of east and west and cultural imperalism, and all the things i love to deal with. but, rossini hadn't quite found the mature voice he later would in works like, this is classic 21 year old rossini, like barbiere, infact even lifting a lot of the that music. it is funny music, and i don't know if that is because contemporary sentiment has made it that way or rossini wrote it that way, but it verges towards a sort of om-pah-pah formalism that is funny. well, that takes me into the land of satire, or absurdity, maybe farce. and then i feel a bit lost - how do i move in that direction (where the music seems to want to go) and still retain my own voice, my own clarity that i value so much. i'm not is turning over and over in my brain and no distillation has made it out yet. help...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

new names in a new year

i finally got around to changing the address for this blog today. it has been a slow divorce process from aot. i don't think anyone, least of all me, knows what is going to happen to that little company that couldn't. i'm not sad so much as exilerated at its unraveling. it was good run, with some good art, that allowed me to create, to learn, to grow. but now that it is gone, or soon to be gone, i realize that it had become a cruch for putting energies elsewhere than on me. so...onto the future.

it was difficult finding a new name. so many were already taken that it made me consider the sense in even having a blog, but since i don't think anyone reads this, it is most certainly more for me than for anyone else. Finally I landed on "intricate imperfect various things", which is a small extract from my favorite e.e. cummings sonnet:

if i have made, my lady, intricate
imperfect various things chiefly which wrong
your eyes (frailer than most deep dreams are frail)
songs less firm than your body's whitest song
upon my mind - if i have failed to snare
the glance too shy - if through my singing slips
the very skillful strangeness of your smile
the keen primeval silence of your hair

- let the world say "his most wise music stole
nothing from death" -
you only will create
(who are so perfectly alive) my shame
lady whose profound and fragile lips
the sweet small clumsy feet of april came

into the ragged meadow of my soul.

it also i think happens to be an ideal title for a blog that seems to have no consistent direction or theme, and is so terribly flawed at its core, and hopelessly so i'm afraid.

it is a season of newnesses. lately i've been reading on the theatre of the absurd, which because of its lyricism draws me. but, it has put a lot of things int disarray artistically. i'm totally confused about questions of style and meaning and importance and all those things mentors would say to not think about and just make the art, but it seems when push comes to shove i have to solve, at least to some extent, some of those questions. particularly with this "aureliano in palmira". it is a real problem for me...a work with serious libretto and goofy music and what? what? what? i don't know...yet.

i don't make resolutions for new years, but this year i might. i really want to be more honest, more me. how is it possible for that to be so difficult? it should be the easiest thing in the world right? and yet, i feel that i have such a hard time being me, to the point that i'm not sure i even really know who that person is. in fact, i feel that what defines me most is being afraid of being a word "afraid". maybe i can fix that this year. again, i don't know...yet.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mountain Mamma

Here I am in Virginia at the home of my folks. I came in for American Opera Theater's "Butterfly" and "Harawi", which have been cancelled. the tickets were already purchased and it was a chance to be home for Thanksgiving I came anyway. I haven't been home to Christiansburg in a long time, actually, and it is as beautiful as ever no matter how much changes, the essence still remains. I'm also supposed to be using this time as a chance to dig in "La Voix Humaine", a piece for which I'm gaining a great deal of respect and with which I'm stumped for answer, and also to start work on "Two Caravans", and opera to be based on the awarding winning novel of the same title. It is a funny and poignant look at the horrors of immigration in the UK.

I have to admit I haven't started on any of that. I've piled myself down with book I should have read long ago and never got to: "Pensees" of Pascal, "The Consolation" of Boethius, "Inferno" of Dante, "Orlando" of Virginia Wolfe, and poems of John Donne. It is also COAA time, and we are chosing singers and making offers. I have yet to actually be there for the auditions, so I work remotely with Sophie to choose numbers and particulars. This year we are going to run a similar program in Lucca. It is called Accademia Europea Dell'Opera, note the acronym please (a prize to whoever can tell me what it is). The program will be half North Americans and half Europeans, and so we are making the N.A. offers now.

Busy times and I can shake the feeling that I'm being lazy and not getting much done. Argh!!!!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

More signing

The first is a poem without translation, the second with. Very beautiful...I suggest watching it without first.

Opera Signs

Today I'm wrestling with something new...something I've never thought about and am not sure if it could or will go anywhere. I'm wondering about the use of gesture in opera. Anyone who has seen my work knows that I use gesture a lot, I find the body an expressive tool. I was reading this morning about poetics, and something the struck me in this article was insertion of the absurd (in a literal sense, ie. something that is intentionally non-logical within the given context) into a poem creates a level of concentration in the reader/listener. Could it not be the same on the stage? That the use of gesture is an absurdist element that focuses the audience member?

That isn't really what I'm wrestling against, but rather the notion of the use of sign-language in opera. I can't even tell you what I mean by that. I'm sure it isn't a literal use of ASL or ISL or BSL or any SL. Opera is an art form for the hearing, it can't be argued otherwise, so the gestures used have to communicate with a hearing audience. And yet an essential element of signed linguistics, and especially of signed poetry, is neoglism, or the creation of new words. Essentially meaning that the contemporary state of sign language is such that new signs have to be created all the time, it is common practice. And, in looking at signed poetry, signs are al the time adapted to make them more beautiful or flowing within the poetic context and/or experience. So surely I could develope a gestural language to move in and out of sync with the textual language of a production. But how...I don't know yet. That is what I'm working on.

In the meantime I found this video. It is some highschool performance, and of a terrible song from a terrible musical. BUT, the gestures are beautiful, I almost would go further and say stunning. And though I don't know ASL, after some research into the common signs for many of these words, this pair of students have made heavy use of neoglism to create an art that is between dance and signing. I find it compelling and encouraging.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Die Soldaten

I went last night to the general rehearsal of Zimmerman's "Die Soldaten" at the Netherlands Opera. I've wanted to see the piece for a long time. It is one of those giants of the 20th Century, both famous and infamous, but never done because of how difficult it is and how large are the forces. There is a fairly famous production that Mortier started first in Germany and then brought to the Lincoln Center Festival at the Park Avenue Armory. There is also a filmed version by Graham Vick (or David Poutney...I tend to get the two confused).

This production was by WIlly Decker, who I sincerely believe is one of the great directors of our time. That was a curious experience for me. First things first, I found the score extremely compelling, sometimes horrifying, provoking a physical reaction in my gut...both disgust and terribly remorse. The piece is, to over-simplify, based on a 18th century play and is about the fall of a young woman at the hands of herself, but also a group of soldiers. The themes are the horrifying psychological and spiritual costs of war. Deckers The singing was remarkable (particularly the soprano singing Marie), and the orchestra deserved the largest ovation that it, indeed, received at the end of the night. Decker's production was perfect. It was thoughtful, remarkably well executed, in tune with the music, never boring. And yet, absolutely soulness. I felt watching it guilty for falling into cultural stereotypes, but it was just what we've come to think about German culture. Everything was in its place, everything "right", but without any humanity. Clearly this is what Decker was going for, and that I respect, it was not by accident. Still, I longed for a piece that would ultimately move me, and this definitely did not. A piece like this should be moving, I should come out changed and speachless, but I found the whole directing style made it so easy for me as an audience member to disconnect, to remove myself from Zimmerman's equation. Decker wanted to alienate, but for me it made me long to be invited into the conversation.

It was a good wake up call to something I had always felt, but never articulated. In finding one's own style that is important. I took a lot from Decker, the cleaness, the precision of the execution, the connection to music and ritual (which I've long gravitated towards), but I ultimately reject his post-WWII emotional void. I want to make art that asks the audience to consider themselves part of the message, part of the experience wholly. I guess that is the way of things...stepping on the shoulders of a great man like Willy Decker, to reach ever closer to new ways to communicate eternal truths.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Back in Business (and ain't it grand)

Wow...we FINALLY got internet at home! What a concept. I know I probably now seem like the bad boyfriend saying "I swear honey, it will be different this time" but, I swear it will be different this time.

Here are some photos from Opera York's "La Boheme" that I was proud to have directed (but sad not to be able to see). In any event, I hear it was a great success and I was so touched be the cast and total team there. I look forward to growing the concept and the detail of the piece of the rest of my life.

Friday, October 8, 2010

O Canada!

So the involuntary pause continued for some time. We still have no internet at home (crazy Dutch system). I'm finally here in Canada though, and able to have plenty of internet access to write on the ol'blog. It was an interesting flight over. I sat between a wonderfully talkative Mormon kid (it has to be said...he was only 22) on his way to pick up his fiance to be, and a wonderfully talkative Budhist women returning from the Plum Village Monastary in France (a place I've always wanted to go).

Now, here I am for a wonderful weekend with Sophie-Louise Roland, hopefully productive as well. It is Thanksgiving weekend here in London Ontario and I'm looking forward to lots of Canadian family time (with Todd, Eleonore, Anabelle, and Denise as well of course). BUT, then its off to Toronto to begin work on Opera York's new "La Boheme". I have to isn't a show I EVER thought I'd want to direct. I always loved it, but didn't see myself in it. I take it all back. I think it is an absolutely perfect, timeless, and extremely human piece. I'll write more about what I have in mind for it in the coming posts, but I'm very excited  It will be simple, direct, honest. I have never met the cast, the conductor, anyone from the company. It is going to be a real adventure for me. Can't wait...

Friday, September 24, 2010

Involuntary Pause

I'm not out of commission for lack of ideas or time. We don't have internet in our brand new apartment in Amsterdam, so it has been hard to post. I've actually been VERY productive the last couple days, working on my blocking for an upcoming "La Boheme" with Opera York in Toronto. I've always thought "Boheme" (I used to go see it EVERY Christmas in New York) was perfect, but not one I would ever stage. Actually, though, I've found it quite wonderful to work on and have a great concept which I hope to share soon. What a fantastically perfect piece, absolutely without any problems. I love it. Other than that I'm preparing two competitions, one for Opera America based on John Adams "The Flowering Tree" and one for Opera Europa based on "I Capuleti ei Montecchi"...both I have to say rather inspired. Dan (husband) is off in Cremona this week looking for a new violin, so I've been on my own and working hard. I just got offered a new "Voix Humaine" which is a wonderful piece, with the Dutch National Opera Academy, and have lots of AOT things on the burner. Busy time...but then again they all same busy these days. I hope we'll have internet and I can write more soon. After the competition deadlines I'll post photos of Ryan Winneinger's (my beloved designer) stage designs, and info on the concepts. Great stuff...I think...I hope.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Back in Action

So yeah...took a LONG break from blogging this Summer. I needed a chance to refigure what I wanted to do with this blog and also was busier than I've ever been with projects all over the world. First things first! The blog is doing now what I like to think about as "expanding". In reality, I'm feeling that it might be a little easier for me to write regularly on the blog if I felt like I could write about everything I'm up to, and not just the AOT projects. Making the blog exclusively for AOT was fine when I didn't have much else going on, but now I find myself pulled from project to project - dream to dream - and was frustrated that I couldn't write just about what was going on in my mind. If I'm going to give to the blog I think the blog should give back to me. I mean, using the blog as a place to air out ideas and think outloud could really help me develope concepts and communicate with myself (and since giving up journaling several years ago...I'm in desperate need of self-communication). So, I'm still going to keep readers abreast of AOT activities, but I'm going to open the blog up to writing about a whole lot more.

And second of all...what have I been up to? Well right after the "Giulio Cesare" in London I returned to the Netherlands where I staged Peter Maxwell Davies opera "The Lighthouse" for the Nationale Reisopera to open the 2010 Grachtenfestival. I left right from those performances to Sardinia where I staged my old "Dido+Aeneas", which just gets more refined everytime, and premier a new piece called "Butterfly" based on the Puccini, but much more about her fragile psychology than all the Asian trappings. Maybe I'll find time to expound on all that in the weeks to come. But for now here are some photos and video of all that stuff.

John Molloy, center with Kris Belligh and Richard Rowe

Sarah Barnes as Cio-Cio San
Sophie-Louise Roland as Suzuki

Brian Arreola as Pinkerton

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Vlog 3 [a trilogy]

I'm in a great COAA masterclass given by Eric Melear, and taking a moment to post a vlog entry I made last night. I got carried away a bit and did an extra long vlog, but I've split it up into three parts.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


I'm in London Ontario teaching about 13 hour days at the University of Western Ontario. AOT finished its 2009-2010 season with a great success in "Jephtha"...sold out houses of enthusiastic crowds, all standing ovations. Now I'm onto work for "Giulio Cesare" which opens in Canada in about one month. I'm keeping a blog on that production work and you can find me there during this little hiatus. I'll try to update AOT news hear, but mostly I'll be writing on "Giulio Cesare" (as you know, my favorite opera) for the most part.

Find the "Giulio Cesare" blog HERE

Monday, March 29, 2010


I write a little more on my "other blog" about "Giulio Cesare" here.

Trying something new...

As most of you readers can figure out, I'm not the best at keeping the blog as up-to-date as I would like. I'm also not the slickest kid on the block when it comes to technology. BUT, I'm going to try something new. Orchestra London, with whom I'm directing a production of Handel's "Giulio Cesare" this summer, has asked me to document the process via video blogs, or rather VLOGS (which I can't decide if I love or hate as a piece of terminology). I spent hours, that hopefully won't have to be repeated next time, yesterday figuring out how to do this, and I made my first one which I'm going to post here. If the process goes well, it is something I'd like to continue and do more often on this blog for AOT pieces (I will incidentally cross-post all my "Cesare" video here since "Cesare" is in Baltimore's future as well...though I'm not telling...).

Maybe I'll figure out podcasts one day!

Sunday, March 28, 2010


Ok, I'm super busy and STILL want to contribute to this post. I have so many things to write about, from my trip to the American Cemetary in Normandy (a profoundly moving experience), to Afghanistan, to the "Lighthouse"...tons. But in the meantime here is a fantastic short video by Patsy Rodenburg on why we do theater.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Addendum to the last post:

I thought the Synopsis for "Intermezzo" might be interesting to some of you...sounds like great drama huh?

Setting: Vienna and Grundlsee during a 1920’s winter

The conductor Robert Storch is about to conduct a concert one night. Christine, his wife, feels under-appreciated and dislikes the fact that his work keeps him away during the evenings. Christine goes to a winter resort and meets Baron Lummer, with whom she enjoys a flirtation. Baron Lummer is revealed as a destitute nobleman in search of a loan. At one point, Christine receives a letter apparently addressed to her husband, and opens it. It turns out to be a love letter to him from a young lady, Mitzi Meyer. Christine is furious and intends then to divorce Storch.

Robert and his friends, including the conductor Stroh, play cards one evening, and talk about Christine’s mercurial personality. Christine has mailed a letter to Robert to say that she is leaving him. She visits a notary to try to obtain a divorce. However, the notary suspects that her real motivation is her relationship with Baron Lummer. Stroh and Storch eventually figure out that Mitzi Meyer had confused their names, and actually intended the love letter for Stroh. Christine is apprised of this situation, and she and Storch reconcile.

City Opera Announces:

So...their 2010-2011 Season

I have to admit I'm a bit surprised and perplexed. Once again it is only 5 shows, but that doesn't bother me (in fact, 5 shows is the perfect number as AOT watchers will soon learn...nudge-nudge wink-wink). And, it is the same pattern as this year (I think, the Times wasn't completely clear on this), 1 new production and 4 old productions. That is disappointing, but understandable with the money problems these days. And, the 1 new production is by Christopher Alden, which is a big disappointment; not because he isn't good (his "Don Giovanni" was a big success there, so clearly people like him), but if they are only to offer 1 new production, it should be a different perspective (I think that is the job of a cultural institution like City Opera). And, from a company that had, I thought, clearly articulated their goal to offer extremes of the repertoire (early and later), it is an incredibly conservative and, dear I say it, "bourgeois" season. Get this:

"A Quite Place" - Leonard Bernstein (Christopher Alden production)
"Intermezzo" - Richard Strauss
"Elixer of Love" - Donizetti (Jonathan Miller production)
"La Machine de l'Etre"/"Erwartung"/"Neither" - Zorn/Shoenberg/Feldman
"Seance on a Wet Afternoon" - Stephen Schwartz


First of all, the Bernstein. Actually this is a great, or at least an interesting piece. It is based on the shorter opera, and gem of a piece, "Trouble in Tahiti", but expands upon the domestic story to also include a grown-up gay son, and digs more deeply into their lives and relationships. It is great music that deserves to be explored further and, though theatrically it is mundane and soap-opera style, this is an understandable choice. What I don't get it why Christopher Alden? Personally I think Christopher Alden is the lesser of the two Alden brothers (his brother David Alden is more active in the European scene and, even though he is the definition of an enfant terrible, his production are brilliant and thoughtful). Christopher Alden's work tends to just be strange and provocative for the sake of provoking. Most of all, there just isn't any dramaturgical work or actual directing of singers there. This can work I think for contemporary opera, or works with less cultural specificity like Handel, typically unstaged works like Bach oratorios, and some would argue Mozart (though I thought his "Don Giovanni" was be kind). "A Quiet Place" is uber-specific, it is melodrama, and I can't imagine why choose Chris Alden for it....

The next two, "Intermezzo" and "Elixer of Love" are the most strange. "Intermezzo" is the weakest of all the Strauss operas from that period (perhaps because he wrote the libretto himself...and a poet he was not). Put alongside "Rosenkavalier" or "Capriccio" it just can't hold up. Some great music, but not drama worth watching (though I do prefer it to "Arabella"). Then "Elixer"...well, "Elixer" is just drivel. It is tuneful, but makes "Barber of Seville" look like a Shakespearian play, so little depth it has. It is just so fluffy as to make me hard pressed to jusitfy its existence. Furthermore, Jonathan Miller, though an immensely gifted director, is about as conservative as they come. Which brings me to a larger point about these two productions. These are shows one could easily see at the Met, 200 feet from City Opera, in better productions with better singers. That is the nature of the beast. I thought the whole point was that City Opera finally realized, now that the Met is showing signs of a pulse and bringing in productions that are interesting to watch, they need to produce operas you can't see at the Met. Why would anyone go to see Donizetti or Strauss at City Opera if they could see them at the Met? Jonathan Miller may be talented, but he is a Met style director, not a City Opera that is differentiating itself enough to survive.

Okay, the triple bill is interesting contemporary music. I'll return to that. And then "Seance on a Wet Afternoon". This is a new opera by Stephen Schwartz, the composer of many brilliant musical theater pieces including "Godspell", "Pippen", and "Wicked", and also of the Disney score to "Pocohantas". He is not, however, an opera composer. And, having heard this piece in Santa Barbara, let me say it again, he is NOT an opera composer. Unlike the Berstein that opens the season, I don't think this is fit for the stage of City Opera. Which brings me to the contemporary music question. City Opera, and I know this from Ed Yim, the talented creative force in the Artistic Administration there, was going to make contemporary music a focus of theirs. So, what is contemporary here? Bernstein...yes, okay, but not really. I had been thinking of Messiaen or Ligeti or even Adams...but Bernstein? Great music, but not challenging at all. And Stephen Schwartz? Same and even more so. So the only truly contemporary music is the triple-bill, but they can't even give an entire program to a challenging contemporary opera?

The other focus of City Opera (we were told this is where George Steel's true passion was) was going to be early music. The earliest thing here is Donizetti!!!! No Handel, not even Mozart. This season, I have to say, is playing it SO safe as to be utterly boring. It makes me so nostalgic for the days when we thought, or tricked ourselves into hoping, that Mortier was going to take over. Ah..."St. Francois"..."Einstein on the Beach"..."Brokeback Mountain"..."Rappresentatione di Animo e di Corpo"..I think with this sort of uber-conservative programming, they are putting the noose around their necks. And, I have to say, the AOT season for next year looks MUCH more interesting than this. Can't wait to tell you all about that.

I'm probably not making any friends here...I LOVE City Opera. I want them to do more than survive, and I think they more potential than the Met to produce interesting and important work. I respect and admire George Steel, and his is not a job I would want. I just don't understand these choices...I think they are drinking the cool-aid of cultural lowest-common-denominator. It doesn't seem like George Steel or Ed Yim, who I know gravitate more towards works of depth and profound strength. This seems like a dangerous path for City Opera to go down, but I hope they can make it work.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Check this out....

It isn't clear if this will be for an AOT production yet, but here is what wunderkind designer Ryan Wineinger is working on for my upcoming Giulio Cesare with Orchestra London in London, Ontario (though it does have its own Thames).

Sunday, March 7, 2010

At and Not-At the Opera

In the midst of everything else I have watched a lot of opera this week(end). I never did report of the DNO's "Il Prigioniero" and "Bluebeard's Castle" last week, and then this weekend I've watched DVD's of "Tamerlano", "Dido and Aeneas", "Castor et Paloux", and "Don Giovanni". Not enough to give a full report of each, but I'll give my general thoughts...of course I watch everything through the guise of a director, so that is my main interest.

The DNO, unforunately, was the only live viewing out of all of these. "Il Prigioniero" is an amazing piece from the 1940s by Luigi Dallapiccola. It tells the story of a prisoner of the Spanish inquisition that is given hope by is warden that "this" will all be over soon. Then the warden leaves the door to his cell open and the prisoner, taking it as a sign, decides to escape. We see him make his way through the chambers of the inquisition till he finally breaks into fresh air, and the arms of the warden...who is turns out is the grand inquisitor. You can guess how it ends, but the message is that the cruelest from of torture is hope. I have always wanted to see this live, and it was thrilling. The production, by Peter Stein, had a very nice design, with coup-de-theatre at the end (even though, at the final dress, there were stil LOTS of technical problems...Heins Mulder, Artistic Director of the DNO, tells me this is because they programmed just way too many pieces this year and there isn't enough time for rehearsal). All in all, it was OK, not great. "Bluebeard's Castle", by Bartok, is one of my favorite pieces and I reported on the breathtaking production in Barcelona two years ago. This one, however, felt strangely like a highschool musical, and I won't say much beyond that. The brass in the house, however, was shattering (literally to the ears, and figuratively to the imagination).

Yesterday I started with the "Tamerlano" of Graham Vick with Paul Mcreesh conducting the orchestra of the Teatro Real in Madrid, staring Placido Domingo (this is not the same production of "Tamerlano" Domingo did two years ago at WNO). It was pretty terrible, VERY boring. Domingo's singing was good but tired, and the orchestra had tuning problems that made it hard to even concentrate on the style issues. It was all very spare and decadent at the same time, and afterward I felt a bit sick and dirty.

Then on Pierre Audi's "Castor et Paloux" or Rameau. This is an amazing piece with tremendous music. I don't like Audi's directing, in fact I don't think he does direct. He is more of a window dresser creating pretty pictures and, at the very least, there is absolutely no dramaturgy going on. It was basically the same here, but the set was glorious (a sort of 3-D representation of the Gemini constellation) and the dancing was superb, as was the lighting. I couldn't help liking it...though it got old fast. The costume were a little space agey for my taste.

I ended last night on an up note, Peter Brook's "Don Giovanni". There was absolutely no concept. There was no set. There were no props. It was the type of spare that isn't just for appearances, but really is getting to the basics of theater. The fact remains that Brook doesn't need any of that. He is just a great director. His direction was seamless, ever bit of action and dialogue made sense, there was always a reaction, and things had an energy and a dynamism that I loved.

This morning I watched the choreographer Wayne McGregor's "Dido and Aeneas" from the ROH. "Dido" is the first piece I ever directed, and it is appearing on next year's season following a string of performances this summer in it is something I have a lot of opinions about. This was visually beautiful. It was spare, but the piece is so direct that that worked for me. The dancing was fantastic, he is more than a gifted choreographer. A director, however, he is NOT. Why is it that company's think that just because someone can direct a movie, or paint a picture, or design clothes, or choreograph dancers they can direct opera. Do we really have so little respect for our genre that we think people with no training in opera can just jump in and do a good job (for heaven's sake! now Mark Morris is directing regularly, as well as conducting, Issac Mizrahi is directing at Opera Theater of Saint Louis, William Kentridge is directing at the MET,...ugh). These are great artists, but they haven't trained as directors, let alone opera directors. this production, it showed. The concepts, dramaturgy, and especially performances were utterly lacking.

Now...I'm off to work on my own projects. This week is dedicated to "Jephtha"!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

"The Prisoner" indeed...

I was going to write today about going to see "Il Prigionero" and "Bluebeard's Castle" yesterday at the Netherlands Opera, directed by Peter Stein. I'm not going to because something much more disturbing than luke-warm stage direction has happened here in the Netherlands.

Yesterday Dutch MP Geert Wilders won a larger share of the vote here than ever. I don't understand, I'm really at a loss. In American it has become popular now to throw around analogies of Nazi Germany, and compare political figures to Hitler. Honestly it has started to lose its meaning. This man, however, really, in tangible and literal ways, embodies the beliefs and policies of Hitler and the early Nazi party. He over-compensates for weak mental faculties and several disturbed psychology with hate speech against the Islamic world that for some inexplicable reason is resonating with the people of Holland. He wants a permanent ban on all mosques that preach in arabic, and a five year ban (surely we can't trust it would end after five years...) on the builidng of any mosque of Islamic school. He wants a ban on all immigration from non-Western countries, and all Muslim immigrants returned to their native countries. But, most striking, he wants the first clause of the Dutch constitution changed to indicate the superiority of Western, Christian, and Jewish cultures over Islamic culture, which he calls retarded. This rhetoric and his demeanor come closer to Hitler than anything witnessed since that time. And he is winning, people love him here (he was the 2009 politician of the year!). He is so clearly not mentally equipped with context, intelligence, compassion, or even stability, and yet...

I don't know. I'm very sad and very frustrated today.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Bit Gratuitous but...

Okay...yeah, I know...but...

Friday, February 26, 2010

Opera at the Met in 2010-2011

I've known for a while now that Peter Sellars would be directing "Nixon in China" next year at the Met, but I've kept quiet until they announced this week. Peter hasn't revisted the piece in a long time, so I'm very anxious to see how time will change his approach to it. It is the first time he as directed at the Met. He was approached years ago to direct a double-bill of "Bluebeard's Castle" and I think "Il tabarro" (if memory serves). He countered with "Bluebeard" and "Il Prigionera"...Jesse Norman refused to learn the piece and it all fell through. Then he was supposed to direct "Dr Atomic" last season, but they insisted on cuts he was unwilling to make, and it fell through as well. So this is really something...

There is a lot of interesting work planned there at the Met (as well as a lot of crappy old wine in fancy new bottles...but at least they are getting rid of another F.Z. production). But yet another Bartlett Sher production...ugh.

Read all about it here.

Also, read all about Muti's debut at the Met with Verdi's "Atilla" and Pierre Audi's staging (they strangely call him a French director...hmmmm). Audi is not so much a director as a window dresser, so I'm not so sure I would like to see it myself. He is a wonderful window dresser though. Read all about it here. The set sounds amazing.

Trying this new format

Apparently I can email posts to my blog. I'm trying now to see if it works. Everything crossed...

Mums the word.

There are a lot of exciting things going on at the moment...but I can't tell what they are yet. I have three productions next year in Europe, one of which will be a co-production with AOT on one of our season's shows, and one which could mean 30 international performances of an AOT favorite show, but none of which I can talk about yet. I also have AOT's season pinned down, but I can't reveal it yet. It is going to be big and exciting though.

To hold you over here is a video of Adonis Abuyen as Escamillo in AOT's irreverent take on the Toreador Song.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Two Clips from Carmen

Have a meeting today about taking this production to the Nationaltheater Mannheim. Keep fingers crossed....

Card Aria + Duet

Final Scene

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Trailer for "Le Cabaret de Carmen"

Barely two weeks since it closed, here is the trailer video of "Le Cabaret de Carmen" from our friends at tonal vision. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A masked ball...

This week is opera week. I already reported on Flying Dutchman, and last night we saw Verdi's "Il Ballo in Maschera" (The Masked Ball) given in Amsterdam by the National Reisopera. This is The Netherland's "second" company, performing each of their operas in 13 cities around the country. Because of that the design and directorial approaches are different, but the quality no less strong.

I won't write AS much as I did on Dutchman simply because my work load has increased CONSIDERABLY in the last couple days. I've gone from having two operas to direct this Spring, to having five, and that means LOTS of preparation.

In short the production was fantastic. I had quibbles, and there were some cliches, but all-in-all is was a wonderful evening out. I sometimes forget how great this opera is. I think it is Verdi's best piece of drama. Most people feel that award should either go to the late "Otello" or Falstaff", but what I like about "Ballo" is that it is tragic and grotesquely comic all at the same time, making the drama that much more intense. The ensemble writing is beyond belief, and the final act is shattering. LOVE IT! In this production, there were a lot of metaphors used, and that worked for me. I thought the director balanced the comic and tragic perfectly. The costumes were ALL white, and there were some clever story changes that worked for me...the "ballo" became a surprise party (I've ALWAYS hated those), and Oscar remained a girl in love with her boss Ricardo. There was a lot of use of leaves and Ulrica was placed heavy-handedly in almost every scene, but I liked the production. The singing was wonderful (particularly the Oscar whose bright and crystalline voice was the right contrast to the dark and cold voices of the leads), and the orchestra was, by all accounts, perfect.

Afterwards we spent an engaging evening of drinks with both Nicolas Mansfield of the Reisopera and Hein Mulder of the Netherlands Opera. That is interesting because they are both what we would call in the States "Artistic Administrators" of their respective houses. Very smart people indeed.

Tonight I'm back at the Netherlands Opera to see "Nozze di Figaro", and I hear, because they are the only seats available, I'm being given Pierre Audi's seat. Not sure how to feel about that...

Lots of work to accomplish first though!

Monday, February 1, 2010

One of those days...

Its been one of those busy days where a lot of things happened, and at the end you don't feel you've accomplished much. I spent a large portion of the day pouring through the Jephtha score and making final decisions about cuts. Of course Handel operas can be extremely long (yesterday I did cuts for Giulio Cesare which clocks in at almost four hours of music, and I needed it down to 2.5). The oratorios aren't much better; and more, since they were written as concert pieces, a lot of the music is contained within spectacular choruses that don't do much for the action.

I'm a little unsure about large cuts, but in both of these cases outside pressures require the score be cut down. One of the greatest challenges is to still tell the same story without all the music. Baroque purists would urge against cutting da capos, and would prefer that the whole aria be cut instead, the same for internal cuts. the real world, the dramatic world, I need most of those movements in order to tell the story. If I cut half the arias, I cut half the story. So it becomes a painful and long process of making delicate and not across-the-board cuts. Also, in both cases, I'm doing some radical things with the stories, which means the cuts are even more unconventional. It took a long time...

It was an encouraging day in other aspects. I was asked to direct two seperate and innovative new music projects. Both of these have a lot of depth and possibility. I look forward to exploring them further, and talking about them here on the blog once things are a little more clear. One in particular is the wonderful combination of philosophical substance, and marketing "sex" appeal.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Flying Ship of Immigrants

(WARNING: I should probably be more careful about what I write, but count on me for my honest opinion)

I went last night to see my first "Flying Dutchman" live at the Netherlands Opera. It was my first time inside this strange modern opera house that is referred to here as the "stopera" because the building also is the State House for the city of Amsterdam, and they combine "state" and "opera" to get "stopera". It is actually a lovely theater with 1500 seats, but feeling much more cozy. We were happy to be there as the guest of the chorus master Martin Wright for this dress rehearsal.

I was surprised how muted such a large orchestra could be, but it allowed the singers to be vastly more expressive. All in all the orchestra sounded fantastic, particularly in the opening of the third act when joined by the tremendous Netherlands Opera Chorus, it was thrilling I have to say. Also thrilling was the decision to perform the entire opera without intermission the way Wagner had intended. It flew by (no punn intended), and was much more exciting this way.

Unfortunately there was the production with which to contend. The director was an Austrian named Martin Kušej. He has apparently done a fantastic Lady Macbeth here, that I wish I had seen. This however...

He had a unit set, which is understandable with no intermissions to change things around, and I actually liked the potential in the set, though the lighting was uninspired. The concept was that the Dutchman's was a ship of dark (as in Arab and black and the occaisional Asian) "others". Senta apparently had a thing for "others", while all the rest of the women were pretentious desperate housewife types, and Erik went around murdering the immigrants. In the final act the crowd tried to attack the ship of immigrants and finally Erik goes mad with hatred for immigrants, and shoots both the Dutchman and Senta.

Now, as you know, I am all for concepts and especially polemical concepts (particularly when they deal with some of the frankly racist policies popping up now in Europe against immigrant communities). But, unfortunately for Kusej, the devil is in the details. One has to stand by their concept completely, and one needs the basic directing chops to see it through. The most obvious problem was that the Dutchman was still a caucasian, which was explained away by saying he was just the captian of a ship of immigrants, but wasn't one himself. Frankly to me that seemed weak, and it smelled like they couldn't find a darker skinned singer to sing the role. Beyond that there was A LOT of just basic bad direction (ie. stand and sing, actors that talk to each other but don't look at each other, and not for any good reason; and scenes that go on and on without any real action). Concepts are great, but what makes the firs generation of concept directors great is that they were also directors. There was basically no direction for the singers here. Also the point was extremely heavily handed. All the white people in bright colors, and all the immigrants in blacks, including Senta who apparently liked immigants so much she already dressed in all black before they arrived.

Finally, the decision to have the Dutchman turn out not to be an immortal ghost, and instead be someone that could be killed by Erik's bullet, proved problematic to say the least. Why didn't the Dutchman just kill himself to begin with? And he dies before Senta, which makes her death completely useless. He is supposed to be redeemed by her death. I'm all for altered endings, but the problem here is that Wagner has shoved the Dutchman's musical theme down the audience's throat for about three hours at this point, with its dissonant final cadence. This is the first time in the opera that the theme arrives in a wonderful consonant harmony (a foreshadowing of Tristan in more than a few ways). SOMETHING has to happen, there has to be some redemption even in death. Here it was anti-climactic at best.

Ah well, the whole thing was worth it a thousand times over to hear Catherine Naglestad as Senta. She was stupendous, and I was blown away. She is probably the second most affecting dramatic soprano I've ever heard live, next to Waltraud Meier. What I loved is how subtle her voice could be in this rep. She sang it almost like bel-canto, with stunning pianos and messa di voce, even the occaisional arresting straight tone. It was absolutely stunning. So, all is well that ends well!

I will be seeing the Reis Opera's "Ballo" in Tuesday, and then at the Netherlands Opera again on Wednesday to see "La Nozze di Figaro" set in an automobile dealership...hmmmm, I need convincing.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Video Trailer of SONGSPIEL

From our talented friends at Tonal Vision, a trailer of the DVD recording of AOT's "Songspiel".

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Photos from Carmen

Check it almost all soldout weekend!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Good problems are problems none-the-less.

It has been an exciting and very stressful week at AOT. In three days we remounted our "Le Cabaret de Carmen". We've done the show several times now, and toured with it. Still, each time it changes a little, and three times isn't as much time as one would hope for those changes. For those of you that saw it last time, it is much darker and dramatically focused this time, and we are thrilled to have Brian Areolla as Don Jose and Adonis Abuyen as Escamillo. Last night was sold-out, and tonight is over-sold (though I think it will be alright). This is a good problem, but until we are sure we can get everyone in, it is a problem none-the-less.

In other news, I've been busy trying to schedule a series of meetings. Folks from the Bregenz Festival surprsied us at performances of "Songspiel" last weekend and have expressed an interest in AOT's work. They are coming to tomorrow's performance of "Carmen" and will hopefully like it just as much. David Poutney, their intendant, is coming to America next week and will meet with me on Wednesday. Problem is, I'm supposed to be at a meeting with the Landstheater of Salzburg in Dusseldorf on Wednesday. I haven't quite figured that out yet...hmmm.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Songspiel reviewed in the Post

It isn't easy to get a good review from Anne Midgette, but I think this is as good as it gets. Check it out here

We are hard at work on Carmen which opens this weekend at our home at the Baltimore Theatre Project. One of the joys of directing opera is that the same production grows over time. Our "Le Cabaret de Carmen" gets more and more refined with each restaging, the vision this time is particularly acute and poignant.

January 21-23 8PM
January 24 5PM
45 W. Preston Street, Baltimore

Friday, January 15, 2010

Songspiel with a twist

One of the things I love about opera, is that a production changes over time with each new staging of it. In the Baltimore premier of "Songspiel" we didn't have percussion in the band because of how live the accoustic is at Baltimore Theatre Project. After the last night of the performance one of the volunteers, a guy named Shodekeh, started laying out the most amazing beatbox beat. Suddenly AOT's fearless soprano Rebecca Duren began the opening song from "Songspiel"...the rest is history. For this DC revival of the show we've incorporated the amazing talents of Shodekeh into the performance to create something never done before in opera. Here is a video the Rebecca and Shodekeh made today, jamming back stage. It is a teaser for this new and improved production playing this weekend only at Georgetown University. You should definitely check it out - you won't see anything like it anywhere else I am pretty positive.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In Virginia

Surprise of surprises! I was able to make all my stand-by flights yesterday, and here I am in Virginia to pick up the sets to Songspiel. Sylvia McNair has already arrived in Washington, DC where she is rehearsing today with Eileen Cornett and my assistant Alison Wong (who is an amazing lifesaver). Tomorrow morning I will depart very early indeed, so as to arrive in DC with the costumes, properties, and sets, in time for a morning rehearsal. Today it is lots of prep work and details galore.

The flight in over Charlotte Douglas International Airport last night was stunning and made one think about the larger questions in life. Which was a great relief after eight hours of transatlantic flying while thinking about "Fledermaus". For me, my most creative hours are always when fying or driving or in the train. That is when I have had my most screwball ideas...Acis and Galatea as a circus, Messiah as an opera, Carmen with a tango band. But, sometimes its nice to just look out the window and consider the bigger and less specific concepts of life.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The best laid plans

So, I missed yesterday. So much for resolutions. It was a busy day. I had a long with Kitty de Geus, a fantastic young soprano here in the Netherlands, someone who is going to go very far indeed, but facing the same problem as many young artists...being too good too soon and always told to wait. It can be frustrating.

Then I had a wonderful evening meeting with Carsten Schmidt. He is an acclaimed pianist, and harpsichordist, and now condutor, that teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, and founded the Staunton Music Festival. We have been talking about some plans with this great little festival. Often times they perform at the Blackfriar's Theater, a replica of the Globe Theater built by the American Shakespeare Center, and they provide an excellent resource to that community. Carsten is an experienced and intelligent musician and I look forward to continuing work with him.

Today is the day of preparation for returning to the States tomorrow...I HOPE. Might not get on the flight, and might have to wait until Monday, which would really squeeze things for Songspiel. All well...we shall see. It is a cold day in Amsterdam, and set to snow. That isn't going to help things either.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Almost forgot!

Thats right...a blog a day. Last evening I had a delightful meeting with Nicholas Mansfield, the Artistic Administrator of the National Reisopera (Touring Opera) of the Netherlands. This a great company that takes their shows all on tour throughout the country. Most of them, I should say...they are mounting a new ring that is too big to tour and will only be at their new home in Enschede. He was off today to see the Boheme in London and for auditions. A wonderful man doing exciting and important work here in the Netherlands.

Today I've been setting the season for next year. I can't say too much yet, except that it looks to be an extended season, offering four fully staged productions instead of three. And, that AOT will be in residence at the Baltimore Theatre Project. It was one of the first spaces we ever performed in and, though a great opera performing space in Baltimore is a BIG problem, we are happy to finally have a home in the cultural center of Baltimore. Next season will include an array of groundbreaking musical dramatic pieces, and there will be something for everyone. I wish I could devulge now, but alas.

Now back to work on the budget for next year...something else entirely!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Off and going...

Yes, I know. I've taken a small break from the blog (not so small actually). The Fall was a crazy time...AOT's first international performances in September, Annunciation+Visitation in October, and the Songspiel in November. By the time I got home to Amsterdam, I needed a break.

Since then, however, I've been gearing back up for December, which has two AOT productions back to back, both revivals, but still a lot of work. The first is "Songspiel with Sylvia McNair", this time in Washington, DC at Georgetown University. It completes our three year residency there. The week after we'll revive our acclaimed "Le Cabaret de Carmen" at our home at the Baltimore Theatre Project. More about that in a later post...

There is a lot of work to be done for those fronts, but there is also planning for the coming year. Jephtha, a new production of Handel's epic final work, is coming up in April with Handel Choir of Baltimore. We will perform this in a non-traditional church space, so there is extra planning and crafting to be done. Again AOT has been invited to Sardinia this Summer, and we will be producing two productions. The first will be a piece that combines Purcell's "Dido + Aeneas" with Bernstein's "Trouble in Tahiti" with one plot. We'll then produce it in Baltimore as part of next year's expanded season. The other production in Sardinia will be a version of "Pelleas et Melisande" that I'm creating. We'll hold off on producing it in Baltimore a little bit because of Opera Vivente's production of the Peter Brook "Impressions of Pelleas" this Spring (I hope you all have your tickets!!!!).

Then there are the other things in life. I'm working on a new Giulio Cesare for production in Canada this Summer, and will return as Artistic Director of the Canadian Operatic Arts Academy, so there will be a lot to do in terms of choosing and casting scenes. Because the level there is so high, and with an international faculty from City Opera, La Scala, Houston Grand Opera, Opera de Montreal, and other places, we get to do large scenes from large rep (Strauss, Janacek, Wagner, and others). AOT is in talk with the Nationaltheater Mannheim to produce "Carmen" in Germany next year, and I'm off to Dusseldorf straight from Baltimore to discuss production in the Landstheater of Salzburg. In the meantime Sophie is working on new co-productions with Italian houses. AND, there is planning next season, which is almost done.

I promise to re-energize this blog though. A post a day for me, that is the New years resolution, however optimistic.

Happy 2010!