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.