Thursday, September 1, 2011


its amazing to me how some of the world can still be so disconnected...i can't imagine what it must be like in places more remote than sardinia where i am now (which isn't remote at all actually in the big picture). still...finding internet has been a problem and hence the lack of posts.

i'm in the final throws of finishing a production of rigoletto here. its my first verdi, and i have to admit i've fallen hard for mr joe green. its so strange to me how i can start a production with a certain level of apathy, the head fills with other thoughts of other places and other things, but without fail i am sucked into the work at hand (moral of the lesson....focus always on the work and the rest will be what it is). it is good to have the ol'crew back together here, members of the aot company, and we are doing a good work indeed. we've turned rigoletto a bit on its head...the man that loses his identity and become a clown (rather than the typical opposite reading of the text) through his quest for revenge (how thing that line is between revenge and justice...but yet how wide). and...there is something tremendously special with our little cara nome, but i can't reveal it just yet. i'll post a video when its available.

i'm back to amsterdam on monday and eager to begin work at the opera studio nederland. we have an exciting season planned...don giovanni, figaro, boheme, and more. it is going to be busy and gratifying. i have also started work to do, in ernest, on griselda which will be in baltimore in february. it is a very tricky piece, both historically and dramaturgically, and even musically.

focus onthe work, focus onthe work, focus onthe work....

Saturday, August 13, 2011

my how time flies

the problem with a blog is that those times when one has the most to say tend to be the times one has the least amount of free time in which to write.

such with the case with my embarrassing lack of blogging over the last several month. first came "aureliano in palmira" in the festival della valle d'itria in martina franca. it was an overwhelming experience, in both good and bad ways. in the end i think we made it work, but it was the toughest child to deliver, with lots of factors working against it. in the end the piece was extremely powerful, and exploration of the cascading repercussions of the decisions leaders make, particularly those leading to the current crises in syria. the final images were of that very struggle, on a day when hundreds were killed in protests there. that work connected so deeply with why i do opera, and contrasted so sharply with the way the production was made (in a way so deeply unartistic for my tastes, so focused on ego and pride and trivialities) that it caused a real crises for me. i left feeling numb and unsure about a satisfying future in this profession.

that followed by a production of don giovanni with students in milan in six days. and yet, i was more proud of that then anything i've ever done. the students were so willing to give, to work, to try, to open themselves to something truly unconventional. it was a wonderful experience and i was moved my their utter commitment and energy. on the heels of that was dialogues of the carmelites, in what i hope is just the beginning of a long relationship with the piece. it was too much for italian audiences, but we knew it would be. i didn't get the first act quite write (neither did poulenc if i must be honest), but the second half was magical, deeply sad, moving. i was very proud of it and of the bravery of the young singers. now i'm in sardinia where we've just opened "riders to the sea", another very heavy work, but one in which i've found such beauty. it is truly captivating when this woman can finally say that she no longer fears, neither life nor death, and that she has found absolute peace. the production is off next week to the netherlands and i begin work on rigoletto.

in the meantime i'm learning the ropes of the my new position at the studio, where the members for this season will arrive next week. lots to do there, and my thoughts are now turning towards next season's projects, "where the wild things are/l'enfant et les sortileges" and "griselda". peter sellars' production just got an interesting review in the times. i'm sorry i couldn't see it.

i fly back to amsterdam finally tomorrow and look forward to an exciting week...during which i will hopefully write more!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

la serenissima

in venice (and after having my computer stolen) i have very little access to the internet world. that's fine, or would be fine, but i have a huge rossini project to start in a week and a half and i'm feeling a bit isolated. its so lovely though to be back in venice. we lived here eight years ago, and now to come back feeling like a really more settled european, and person in general, feels great. to know these streets by heart is heartening, and there is so much to see and breath in. i love it here, i don't think i'd want to return to live, but for a long long visit it would be nice.

in the meantime things are moving ahead with plans for next year's crop at the studio. i'll be instituting monthly performances, feeling strongly that singers learns best by doing. i have some great projects and important collaborations planned. at the same time we are all waiting with baited breath for the new "kunst" plan to come down from the hague. it is going to be scary, but art has a way of always surprising. the kabinet has said they want to stress quality over everything, and for us its important that they new they cannot be supportive of quality in opera if they cut the pool from which young singers spring.

more later about rossini, but now to each some tiramisu and to enjoy a bike ride!

Monday, June 6, 2011

artistic director opera studio nederlands

this past week i was appointed the new artistic director of the netherlands opera studio, this country's premier training institution for young emerging opera singers. it is a huge leap for me that still allows me to work freelance as a director, but to also have a real impact on the future of the art form and those that make it. i start officially in september, but will start the planning for full and exciting season now. it is very exciting and very big news!!!! yipee...

Friday, May 27, 2011

and some big big news...

which i can in any way reveal yet...sorry! but by this time next week, watch out!

a date with nikos

these past three days i've been in brainstorming sessions for "aureliano in palmira" with choreographer nikos lagousakos. the concept for this production deals with the repercussions choices, choices of power over personal, love over greater good. in particular it will deal with the modern socio-political crisis in the mid-east, especially syria, and how the areas colonial and native past led and continues to lead to its present. we're doing this with the addition of a danced character, the older version of our central zenobia, looking back and judging her own most pivotal choice. the chorus then, which already has an enhanced role in this opera compared to rossini's other operas, become a greek chorus, the tool of zenobia's own self-trial. nikos will be working with both the dancer luis frank and our chorus to develope a physical language. our sessions have been intense, mapping out the entire production, and exciting.

my great love is movement in space, the body in motion. i'm not trained in any way as a dancer, but i see the physical body on stage as an instrument of expression. my style of directing has long incorporated a stylized use of gesture, rejecting naturalism at moments to opt for physical expression. i'm over the moon to now have a dancer to work with to refine this language and find new ways to connect it with narrative.

Monday, May 23, 2011

yipee a triumph

dido and aeneas opened this past weekend in rotterdam. it was great fun with a wonderful group of artists. i have to say that the show looked beautiful, much because of my incredible lighting designer marc heinz. we were really able to create something that felt simple, sparse, empty, and yet was very full in sensitivity and beauty. also my incredible assistant alison wong allowed for a level of detail the production has never had before. i was very proud. and we got a wonderful review in the volkskrant today! here it is:

The Rotterdam Operadagen Festival began with an exceptionally successful Dido and Aeneas. On the Theater Square, a giant apple refers to the forbidden fruit - and with a small jump - paradise lost, the theme of the festival. Within the confines of the theater the motto is shaped of Henry Purcell's opera about heroes who conquer the world but ultimately prove to be only men, in all their vulnerability.

In the room of the royal widow, Dido sits under a single light. Anonymous men and women walk mechanically back and forth across the stage, putting chairs down and picking them up again as an infinite repetition of a liveliness which has lost all meaning in light of Dido's sorrow. A dead tree stump is the only decoration in the sober image. Subtly, it is featured alongside Dido, as a finished companion. The queen has her mantle exchanged for a robe. At a kitchen table, she sits quietly suffering.

The American designer and director Timothy Nelson brings the show close to the public. From the audience you can see the musicians of the Flemish ensemble Scherzi Musicali, the gamba, recorder and theorbo, playing. You can almost touch Rosanne van Sandwijk (Dido) and Olivier Berten (Aeneas). Nelson's merit is that he does not let the drama choke on one dimensional grief. Anno 2011 Dido swigs her antidepressants like Russians their vodka. After use, she throws the bottle over her shoulder. As Aeneas, her adored hero, enters in a dull gray suit, the contrast between Dido's text and his appearance works to be somewhat laughable.

The 17th-century Purcell, as a psychologist avant la lettre, meticulously recorded the various voices in the head of a woman who, after losing her loved one, sinks into her grief, which also has a dark side. Musical director Nicolas Achten has enough shades with a chorus of four voices and a small ensemble to provide warm weathered colors.

Rosanne van Sandwijk sets Dido's suffering subtly, with small gestures and nuances in a voice that seeks out her role nicely. Her dark side is a bit under emphasized, but the end is crushingly beautiful. Dido lets her robe slip from her shoulders and vulnerably sings her lamentation barefoot in a white shirt. Slowly she steps off the stage and walks into the hall. Down the aisle she disappears and dissolves into nothingness.

Monday, May 16, 2011

in the sky

i had hoped to write often about my experience here at coaa, but it just hasn't happened. the days have been extremely long (about 9am to 11pm) and full of diverse activities...coaching, lecturing, masterclasses, directing, and teaching directing. i have to say this last part has been incredibly rewarding. i don't know of a single other program for young directors like this, where not only are they given large scenes to direct, but where they get to come together several times a week, in a socratic kind of atmosphere, and learn how to direct better. i'm very proud of this aspect of the program, and look forward to growing it in the future. the scenes themselves have been rewarding also, some in particular: pelleas (a warm up to my own much longer version later this month at the Opera Aan Zee festival) is stunning music with staging of pointed simplicity, deadman walking and jephtha are intensely acted by these young singers, and the salve regina is tremendously powerful. there is still another week to go, but i'm off tonight to rotterdam where i have a production of dido and aeneas opening this friday. on the move....

Friday, May 6, 2011

live men walking

i'm sitting here at the end of the first week of coaa watching the students participate in some dramatic exercises with our guest drama coach jack. they are walking, normally, with varied tempi, sometimes following, sometimes changing directions, being public...and having a hard time of it. strange how the most normal things in life are the hardest to recreate on the stage. i find watching classes like this fascinating because it is so foreign to me, and to the way i understand and communicate, and yet we aim toward the same goal with these motives. now jack has them with closed eyes trying to remember details about how other members of the groups are dressed. i would fail this miserably because i'm so in my head. which is exactly the way i direct, trying to get into their heads and getting them to answer questions, ask question, divine and define motivations. neat how many path can lead to the same oasis.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

dead men walking

where opera meets life, hard ugly devastating and hopeful life, that is where i want to live. i'm in the midst of preparing scenes for coaa, and i have nine big ones, and one is the sextet from "dead man walking". it has led me on a really journey today. it is a difficult scene because one must, absolutely so, avoid the temptation to take a side - the scene is so terribly omni-dimensional. and, that is how the issue of the death penalty is. everytime i feel on one side of the issue, i suddenly realize with a pang of great sorrow that i've forgotten the other side. and always in the back of my mind is "what would i do", and i have no idea. its that ambiguity i want to capture in the scene. and this ambiguity:

i have a dear friend that's mother was violently assaulted sexually, and murdered in unspeakable terror. the man is sentenced to die. and this friend will make the trip to beg for his life. her sister will make the trip to beg for his death. the ambiguity of that family dynamic, and even more the inner complexity of a woman losing the source of her life in that way and still wanting the thief that took it away's life....its that, for me unimaginable in a real way, complexity i hope to capture in this scene.

Friday, April 29, 2011

o canada!

i arrived in toronto two days ago and spent a good 15 hours with my beloved assistant alison wong. we were plotting and planning the rehearsal schedule and approach for operadagen rotteram's "dido and aeneas". we had to do this because i'm in london ontario to lead the canadian operatic arts academy, which means i can't get to rotterdam until after alison has started review rehearsals with the singers of scherzi musicali (we staged the piece in march).

now i'm in london with a couple days to prepare my staging of the 10 scenes i'm doing in coaa this year. its always really energizing and, i'll admit it, fun to come do these small chunks. sometimes thats because i get to do rep i wouldn't otherwise direct (today i worked in sondheim's "sunday in the park with george"), and sometimes its because i get to explore works i know i'll live with for the rest of my life and can start building my understanding and relationships (today i did the finale of act 1 of "don giovanni", which i'll direct in milan this summer, and in the past i've down parts of "pelleas" which will fall into a full staging this summer as well). i get three days of this and then we start on monday. over the course of the process i hope i'll be able to offer thoughts on some of these works (particularly "don giovanni", "les dialogue des carmelites", "pelleas et melisande", and "ariodante", which are all on this years course).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

la voix fotographique

i've been running around not looking terribly disimilar from a chicken sans-head, so i haven't been very good about posting. i had three days on the jury of the dutch national opera academy auditions (a hard job narrowing 70 candidates to 12 and then a final 6...and all on camera!!!! i'll write on it next time), interviewing to become the new director of the netherlands opera studio, finishing orchestration on "songs of the fisherman", and getting ready to teach for three weeks in canada (leave tomorrow!). but in the mean time here are photos from my "la voix humaine" with the amazing kristina bitenc and the residentie orkest. voila....

Thursday, April 14, 2011

the child

just a quick post...

today i worked most on entering my song-cycle into a notation software. it is taken infinitely more time to enter it into the computer than it did to recorchestrate it. anyway, that was the bulk of the day. i had a wonderful lunch with the young slovenian soprano kristina bitenc. she just sang my "la voix humaine", and there really isn't praise enough for her integrity and promise as an aritst. i'm completely confident in her future. in the near future she'll be singing blanche in "les dialogues" for me this summer, and "max" next year.

speaking of next year, i've been spending some time lately preparing my concept for "where the wild things are" and also "l'enfant et les sortileges". the former is a logical piece for me, difficult contemporary music with a clear hidden layer of adult meaning. the latter...well, i wasn't sure. i have what i think is a really beautiful concept, uniting the two together into one large piece, in which the two works meet face to face in the final moments. i can't really go too much into detail yet, but i encourage everyone that doesn't know this piece to give it a listen. it is music of terrible, devastating, humbling humanity. it is in no way a children's piece, but rather a tender poem my colette of great depth, expressing the inherent loss and nostalgia, sadness and redemption, of being a human being. so fantastically moving. i can't wait.

for now...its been a long day. tomorrow i'll start in on the fourth movement of "songs of the fisherman", a dance movement with lots of complicated notation issues. i'm aiming for one movement a day, and so far so good.

(incidentally, i'm on the jury for the entrance auditions to the dutch national opera academy. i got the packets today of what singers are is mind numbing how many singers there are, so similar, such tight competition. i'm just in awe of how brave this young people are. the odds are so tough, the reality so cold, and yet here they are. it is a large responsibility to have a hand in guiding them, i intend to give all the energy i have to the process and to being honest, fair, and sensitive)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Back to work...

Back in Amsterdam after a beautiful weekend in Bugges. My husband was leading several performances of the Membra Jesu Nostri of Buxtehude. They were thrilling performances with fine singing and an excellent balance of drama and musical integrity. I often wonder if it is a sickness that I can't hear a piece of music without beginning to think of staging it. Buxtehude...I may have you yet!

But for now, it is back to work. In late May I'll be traveling to the Opera Ann Zee festival in the north of the Netherlands to direct some excerpts from Pelleas et Melisande. Seeing as I'm incapable of looking at any project as merely "directing excerpts", I'm creating a more integrated piece (not unlike what Peter Brook did in his "Impressions of Pelleas"), for the central trio involved. Pelleas is a bewitching work, whose sense of abstraction appeals to me right away. I'm interested in what it means to evoke that word of nostalgia, impressions, vagueness, without any sense of a larger "meaning". I need to work on that some today.

Tomorrow I'll have a meeting to discuss the double casting for next seasons "L'Enfant et les Sortileges". This is always a big discussion and I need to spend some time today looking at the various possible combinations and making some decisions. I also need to be in contact with the choreographer for "Aureliano in Palmira"...a big big work is ahead.

In other news, my good friend Nicolas Mansfield was named as the succeeding intendant of the Nationale Reisopera, to take over in 2013, yesterday. It is very exciting for him and for opera in the Netherlands. A bright future awaits!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

everything changes in a moment

sad news for quite thought for loudest action out of amsterdam today:

6 dead, 11 wounded in mass shooting

new beginnings on old neverendings

today i was supposed to go to enschede to see some costume possibilities for "aureliano in palmira" that michelle cantwell is working on. the work is about the culture clashes of east and west, the consequences of our geo-political actions, the universality of love. because of that i want to set in in way that it connects with out current mid-east realities, but also not accept that as enough - rather find a setting the evokes the former, but also evokes the eternal and the ancient. i'm not making poor michelle's life any easier. anyway, the meeting didn't happen so i have an unexpected free day in amsterdam. the weather is stunning, people are out everywhere, and i'm at my window staring out as a i work. And what am i working on? a guilty little pleasure...

i began my formative artistic adulthood as a composer. that was 10 years ago, and i haven't composed since. its not that i gave up, or didn't want to do it, but i discovered that the impetus behind all my work was essentially dramatic. whatever i wrote had a dramatic undercurrent motivating it and me, and so i found theater later than most, but as a way to more acutely satisfy the urge that had been pushing me to compose. now the two worlds collide. my good friend brian areolla, a tremendously talented tenor and actor, asked me if i would like to do a project together with him. i jumped at the chance, and after considering several options, i suggested a song-cycle i had finished in 2001 for soprano, but which had never been performed. it is called "songs of the fisherman"...and now i'm hard at work rewriting to to fit a new ensemble and a new voice type. and, i'm loving it. the piece is epic, about 90 minutes, and is 8 songs and four instrumental movements. the whole musical language is in turn inspired by a cello piece i wrote some years earlier. the poetry is by a brilliant friend from college now doing important and captivating work in english medieval studies named andrew albin. it is strikingly truthful poetry, and it has always been a sore point for me that it has never been performed.

and now? well, the project is to mount the song-cycle as a staged work, collaborating with a fantastic dancer and choreographer, and to record it for dvd release, along with the original cello work as well. this experience is particularly exciting because, as a director, i get to turn my typical deconstruction and reconstruction approach in on myself. the original song-cycle essentially explores human solitude, yearning, loneliness. for the staging we want something more directly connected to today. we are going to transform this abstract work into one that traces the emotional experience of being an immigrant, of being an "other". it won't have any political mantra or agenda, but rather just explore what it feels like to be in that condition psychologically. it is really great fun to work again in this way.

on a completely different note, i spent the morning starting to learn "les dialogue des carmelites", which i'm directing in a workshop performance this summer in milan. its strange how my whole year, a year that has been extremely positive for me professionally and personally, has focused, in its work, on death, and more essentially the decision to live or to die. "dido", "la voix humaine", "les dialogues", "don giovanni"...for me all these pieces are about that decision. as camus says, suicide is the most fundamental philosophical question. to face either and both life and death in the face.

Friday, April 8, 2011


its been a long time since my last post and, reading it, things could not be more different today. from the depths of what seemed like an incredibly long winter has arisen the most magnificent spring. there are few places as beautiful at this time of year as amsterdam. the sky is blue, the canals reflect the sunlight, leaves are appearing, and tulips are in everyone's windows. its hard not to find a certain bounce to life on days like this.

"la voix humaine" is over. its always strange when projects that consume so much of your life end, and especially one like this that only has two performances. it was a real experiment for me, and in the end i was extremely proud of it. it was not perfect, but it was deeply honest - one of those moments when you feel "yes, that is exactly what i would want to see, that has what i want all my work to have". of course i was incredibly blessed to have the young kristina bistenc as my "elle". she is a true force of nature and i look forward to continuing to work with her (she will sing blanche in my "dialogues of the carmelites" this summer, and then max in "where the wild things are" next fall. we ended up throwing out the phone entirely. we treated the entire work as a piece of absurdist theater, and using "the myth of sisyphus" as our guide, traced that moment in a person's life when all of reality zooms out, when we realize how small and how alone we are, when we flicker between hope and suicide and decide to live on without illusion. i hope i can put some pictures up - i think it was very beautiful and meaningful. i also hope that it is a work a can continue living with for many years.

in the meantime the journey continues. we've been in oddly disjunct rehearsals for "dido and aeneas" for the operagaden rotterdam. again i'm blessed to have a great musical team with scherzi musical and nicolas achten, and the fantastic dutch mezzo-soprano rosanne van sandwijk in the lead role (she was my sesto in "giulio cesare" last summer and stole the show). connecting with that idea of living with a piece for year...."dido" is that piece for me. it was the first opera i ever directed and have done several times over the last 8 years. it is in many ways my favorite production, but what i really love, what exemplifies the long-view of opera, is that i get to chance to work and mend and rework and remend over years, over a lifetime. this production will be the most "produced" to date, with great detail in the quartet, and with a more evocative setting. the performances aren't until may, but i'm very excited by my wonderful team of artists and designers (especially lighting designer marc heinz and costume designer michelle cantwell).

at the same time preparing for a big summer....aureliano in palimira in martina franca (such a beautiful and inspiring town in the south of italy - i was there for meetings last month and it is stunning), then "dialogues des carmelites" and "don giovanni" for the academy in milan (a great way to learn and try out ideas on new piece, but also to focus on the integrity of the performances, with no reliance on gimmicks of sets and props and costumes), and then "riders to the sea" for the granchtenfestival in a new production that will combine it with britten's third (and last) string quartet, and rigoletto in sardinia. i've also begun work on "where the wild things are" and "l'enfant et les sortileges" which isn't until next year, but it is a touring production that needs careful planning well in advance. i've had the most exciting concept for that double-bill, simple and original, that i'm dying to share, but i guess i should hold on a bit.

the house is full of scores, full of music, just the way i like it. life is good and the sun is shining.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

insert clever title here

i haven't blogged in several days. there is a general feeling of malaise over things right now. part of that is amsterdam's spurious relationship with sunlight. i do love it here, but with the sun not appearing until 9am and disappearing at 4pm, it makes it hard to do anything.

of course there is also the tragedy in times like that making art, and even more blogging about it, seems a bit trivial. i had a wonderful lunch with nicholas mansfield yesterday (artistic administrator of the nationale reisopera) and he said he felt we was good at his job because he realized that what he did (what we do) isn't that important in the big scheme of things. it was a strange thing to hear, one is so used to hearing artists expound on the ultimate importance of art, even if the causality to explain that importance is hidden in enigmatic ways. i'm not sure i agree with him, i do think making opera is deeply important, but i also struggle to understand how it stands up against politics, when politics has the power to so change the lives of people that will never see an opera.

anyway, didn't feel much like writing, and felt very angry about the mechanization of politics, of action, of journalism, of media. it all seems like such a performance now. a great curtain of irony has descended, nothing is true, words have no meaning, everything is now reading between the lines.

that thought connects with the work i've been doing lately on absurdism and poulenc's "la voix humaine". i never quite realized how much until this week. i have a suspicion, however true or not, that poulenc was directly influenced by camus in writing it. i thinke even cocteau did not entirely intend it as a melodramatic naturalistic work. i think there is an entirely different reading, an absurdist reading, to the piece. ultimately, and i haven't quite figured out how to put this into words, i think it is about man's seperation from the fantasy of life, how the viel of ojective "meaning" falls away, how painful and necessary that process is, how alone man then realizes he is, and ultimately about the decision to live or die. camus says that the central philosophical question of life is suicide, and i think "la voix humaine" is also about this question. at least for me.

mostly i've been reading and constructing that idea. i also have to go to milan next week and present a concept for rossini's "aureliano in palmira", which i have in my head, but need to figure out how to articulate effectively on paper and orally.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

how to get restarted...

i'm finding it difficult to restart after the holidays. yesterday was, in some terms, very productive...but it all ended up revolving around releases, interviews, blah, blah, blah. anne midgette did a nice piece in the post (here) about the end of that enterprise, and "lost in the stars" was saved for our final production may (now i need to get cracking on it!).

but now on to all the other projects. i'm wrapped on in "aureliano in palmira", which will probably be the biggest project i've ever done. it will also be new territory for me (pseudo-comedy...political satire). i have to admit the music is really growing on me. i go to milan in a couple weeks to meet with the conductor and the designer. that is also a new and exciting experience. but at the same time i have gonzales cantata opening in a month. i did it last year at bard, but need to relearn it. it is a tremendous piece and i hope to post more about it. i had forgotten how much i like it...witty, funny, poignant, smart...everything opera should be. but no rest for weary, right on the heels of that is la voix humaine which needs a lot of work. it is late cocteau, so post surealist, but i want to find a way to return to some of the absurdist elements and escape the typical damaged woman melodrama. we'll see... (that seems to be my moto lately).

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I do find a guilty pleasure in the order of numbers...

Just to announce a fantastic, if slightly blurry, New Years Eve 2010 with the divine soprano Rebecca Duren vising us in little ol'Amsterdam. We made visits to Mankind, the house of Max von Egmond and Jean Francois Beauchais, and finally to Sandy Olivers court, where we rang in the new year on the Rembrandt Plien. Somehow finding our way home and crashing to a very late morning. Now I think a little vondel in the vondelpark.