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 KuĊĦej. 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!