Wolf Trap Opera 2005

Follow the Director of the Wolf Trap Opera Company as she chronicles a summer in the life of one of America's best young artist training programs.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Ciao for now!

Finally, back to an audioblog for the last posting - see below. Thanks for coming along for the ride!

- Kim

Transcript of audio post:

This was supposed to be an audioblog, but it didn’t happen. It was somehow too hard to distill and inflect things so they came out the way I wanted. So I ended up writing my way through the summer. And here I am, a week late, trying to summarize. The Cinderella performance was Saturday night – very, very happy with that. Very successful on a lot of different levels – singers inhabiting those roles both musically and dramatically in a way that belied the fact that there was no set behind them.

As far as summarizing the whole summer, it’s very tempting to do it “by the numbers”… We did 19 performances in 9 weeks, there were 16 singers with us, we had more than 50 staff and crew members, and well over 100 local choristers and orchestral musicians – all of which come together to make us a company for three months.

I’m as guilty as the next person at wanting to crunch numbers and represent things tidily, but that’s not really how any of it will be remembered.

This summer will be remember as the season we tackled Sondheim without microphones and lived to tell the tale.

It was the summer that Don Giovanni returned to The Barns after 13 years away, with a lot of personal bests in that production.

It was the Cenerentola performance last Saturday with a standing ovation – kind of like being at a rock concert.

It was a season of adrenaline as we did improv for the children at the Theatre-in-the-Woods.
This was the summer that Steve Blier was so happy with both of his concerts that he’s wondering how he’s going to top them next year. (I’m sure he will.)

This was the season that we took our collaboration with the National Symphony to a new level in lots of different ways, and that bodes well for the future.

We introduced lots of new people to Wolf Trap Opera this summer, through that NSO concert particularly, but also through our annual recital for Wolf Trap donors.
It was a sold-out Barns season, and a terribly hard sell for the large theatre. Lots of good things, but also lots of anger and sadness on my part at having to change the nature of the Cinderella production.

But we’re so very proud of this company of artists. It’s a very youthful place on every level – I’m almost always the oldest person around, and most of our staff are within the first decade of their careers. Our singers are in their mid-late twenties, and there are lots of college-age crew and staff members.

Here at the end of the summer there’s lots of fatigue. I can count on one hand the number of days since mid-May that weren’t consumed in one way or another with the opera. It goes with the territory. It’s a dense season, and it’s a small staff. There’s lots of frustration when our resources don’t meet the goals we’d like to set, but there are saving graces, too. The great thing about music is that it exists in time, and if you’re going to give yourself over to it, that process excludes a lot of negative energy. And that’s when it pays you back. During the performances, no matter how tired you are, you’re re-energized. The music, while it’s happening, makes this lasting impression and overrides everything else. And you do it again. It’s like childbirth. You don’t remember the bad parts, and you jump back in.

Anyway, we’re already in 2006 in a lot of ways. The chamber music series starts in 6 weeks, and we have one of our well-known alumni, Alan Held, coming back to sing on that series in February. The first draft of the 2006 budget is done, we’re working on schedule permutations for next summer, the audition application is up on the website and all of the travel for the audition tour is booked,

I have absolutely no idea if we’re going to blog again. People have been trying to talk me into it, but it’s a challenge. I hope you enjoyed the ride if you were following us. It was actually gratifying to learn how many people were reading.

Go to the opera, take a friend to the opera, and check back with us in late winter to see what will be on the boards for 2006. I hope to see you next summer – ciao!

Season summary continued...

this is an audio post - click to play

Season summary

this is an audio post - click to play

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Good Ol' Gioachino

My audition tour colleague is an unlikely Rossini fan. He's an American pianist born in Germany, and one would expect his tastes to run to Wagner and Strauss. And indeed they do. (He’s taking a sabbatical from Wolf Trap this summer to work on the “Ring” at Seattle Opera.) But he’s an unabashedly rabid Rossini fan. Every time someone sings a Rossini aria (and does it well…) during our audition tour, he’s in heaven. I came late to bel canto and opera buffa, and I wasn’t aways a big fan. But I’ve been a convert for quite a while now. No matter how tough things get, Rossini’s music does something to you. Gets inside your body and your psyche, scrambles the signals, and makes it (almost) impossible to be cranky.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Feel Like Talking Back?

Tonight’s recital (“Where the Boys Are”) was sold out months ago, and the capacity audience was captivated by these songs running the gamut from Sir Arthur Sullivan and William Bolcom to Joni Michell and Cy Coleman. Fears of alientating the audience with controversial material were unfounded.

Had a few post-performance conversations about the blog, oddly enough. Realized that it might be a good idea to solicit questions/comments. If you’re reading this, and you feel the urge to talk back, please do so. Anything from asking a question that’s been raised in your mind to taking issue with something I’ve said to simply telling me that you’re reading (and why you’re reading), I’d love to hear from you. Send a message to wtoc@wolftrap.org and put “Kim’s blog” in the subject line.

Saying goodbye to another 5 singers and 1 staff member tonight. Summer is indeed winding down.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Someone Actually Is Reading This...

All of a sudden, people are telling me how much they enjoy the blog. Just when I was getting comfortable, thinking that no one is reading it, I find out that I’d better watch what I say.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Naming of Things

Finally getting to spend some time in Cenerentola staging rehearsals. What fabulous voices, and how lucky we are.

Yet, from an marketing standpoint, it’s a conundrum.

A bit of a recap: Cinderella began life as a two-performance fully produced opera in our large outdoor venue (the Filene Center), with rented sets and costumes. About two months ago we turned Cinderella into a single performance concert staging. (See the June 30 entry if you want more background on the decision.) You wouldn’t know it, though from the rehearsals. Looks pretty much fully staged. Just with no walls, drops, flats, stairs, etc. But with plenty of props, costumes, lights, and more energy and dramatic integrity than many “staged” performances I’ve seen.

I’m afraid that, in the spirit of truth-in-advertising, we’ve further hurt our sales potential. The audience will undoubtedly perceive this as a “real” opera production, even though the orchestra is onstage. And I’m certain that there are folks out there who would truly enjoy this performance but won’t attend because they’re put off by the “in Concert” description. We’ve decided to err on the side of understatement, but in doing so, may have misrepresented ourselves.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Launching the "Boys"

Steve Blier is back, working with his largest Wolf Trap recital cast ever – 6 singers. Today is a landmark birthday for one of our folks, and we had a little celebration. August fatigue is setting in all around, but Steve infused us with some new energy and adrenaline.

Some cutting edge subject material in this program (“Where the Boys Are”). A little anxiety about how the audience will receive it. Admittedly, Northern Virginia is a bit more conservative than New York City. Somehow I’m not worried. Maybe I’m naïve, but Steve has built such a wonderful rapport and trust with our audience that I believe they’d accept almost anything he has the generosity to offer.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Saturday Off

A company day off that falls on a weekend is a rare and marvelous thing. Too often, the weekly day off falls in the middle of the week, and because the rest of the world is still chugging along, we have to staff the office. Not so today. And, as if the gods knew that we needed it, the weather was stunning.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Times Have Changed

After having sunk into the depths of almost writing Giovanni supertitle translations right up until the dress rehearsal, I’m reforming. Finished the first draft of Cenerentola today. Actually have a week to edit and tweak.

Tonight brought a magnificent Don Quixote by the Bolshoi Ballet and Orchestra. A landmark event at Wolf Trap. Back in the day, we were a stop for many touring ballet companies, opera companies, and symphony orchestras. Times have changed, and almost no one can afford to tour any more. But for two nights this week, it’s like old times.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


Our music library is just about a year old, but it’s one of the best things about our home in the Center for Education. I was desperate for something like this 20 years ago. Scores, recordings, reference books, biographies, historical programs, trade magazines. It’s a small room, but it’s packed with the building blocks of a career. The staff and singers spend hours in there, and it never ceases making me smile.

Monday, August 01, 2005


It’s a relief to start staging rehearsals for Cenerentola. Mostly because 99% of the work I’ve done on it this summer has fallen on the negative side of the ledger, and at last we’re creating instead of tearing down. Our conductor and director have stuck with us in this revised scenario, and we’re in their debt. And the cast is a breath of fresh air. Hard for me to leave the rehearsal room and go back to my office.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Saying Goodbye

Three singers finished their work with us this weekend and headed for home. I love those summers when we can keep most of the company on through the final opera, but the only way to do that is to program a finale to the season that involves a huge cast – Magic Flute, Falstaff, Tales of Hoffmann… you get the idea. Not so this year.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

"I am in need of music that would flow"

Our season often starts with our “death by aria” concert for the Wolf Trap Associates. (That’s not really the title. But you get the idea.) This is the first time it has ever happened this late in the summer. And it was a surprisingly atypical event. In early June, the performers don’t know one another well, and there’s always an element of jockeying for position, of worrying about whether you’re good enough. But after 2 operas, 2 concerts, and a stint in the woods, they’ve become great friends. And the relaxed atmosphere pervaded the whole afternoon. I got a chance to play the piano again (after a desperate get-my-chops-back-in-a-hurry series of practice sessions), and a good time was had by all.

The program: “Largo al factotum” (Il barbiere di Siviglia), “Amour, viens aider ma faiblesse" (Samson et Dalila), “Signore, ascolta” (Turandot), “Pronta io son » (Don Pasquale), “Wie schön ist doch die Musik (Die schweigsame Frau), “Heimliche Aufforderung" (Strauss), "Un soave non so che” (La cenerentola, of course), Magician’s Aria (The Consul), “Sonnet (1928)” (DeBlasio), “New York Lights” (A View from the Bridge), Black Max (Bolcom: Cabaret Songs), “Sweeter than Roses" (Purcell), “Dich, theure Halle" (Tannhäuser), JNNY (Sellars), and a surprise reunion of our certifiably crazy Instant Opera cast. This time, the adult version of opera improv. A brain surgeon and Brittany Spears, the latter of whom gave birth onstage. You had to be there.

By request, the Elizabeth Bishop sonnet set to music by Chris DeBlasio:

Sonnet (1928)

I am in need of music that would flow
Over my fretful, feeling fingertips,
Over my bitter-tainted, trembling lips,
With melody, deep, clear, and liquid-slow.
Oh, for the healing swaying, old and low,
Of some song sung to rest the tired dead,
A song to fall like water on my head,
And over quivering limbs, dream flushed to glow!

There is a magic made by melody:
A spell of rest, and quiet breath, and cool
Heart, that sinks through fading colors deep
To the subaqueous stillness of the sea,
And floats forever in a moon-green pool,
Held in the arms of rhythm and of sleep.

Friday, July 29, 2005


Another bout of illness in the Giovanni cast; this time a bit less severe vocally, but still traumatic in its own way. It’s so hard to spend weeks and months refining something and then have your “instrument” rebel. The sobering thing is that it’s unavoidable. Most singers are surprisingly hardy people. But there’s no way to get through a decades-long career without having to sing while “indisposed.” Very very tough to do it at the beginning of a career, but it’s a skill. And the only way to learn it is on the job.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Audition Tour Prep

Nailing down the audition dates for the fall. Probably 12 days in 7 cities. Typically about 350 singers. 700 arias. The cycle starts all over again.

Although it seems as if we’re looking ahead before we’ve even finished this season, we actually operate way behind the typical scenario. Most companies have known for many months what their 2006 seasons will comprise. Although we’re laying the groundwork for the singer auditions in November, we won’t know what our 2006 repertoire will be until the very end of 2005. That leaves a painfully small window of opportunity for our artistic teams; by the time we hire directors and designers, there’s often less than 3 months before plans and renderings are due. But we persist, because waiting until we hear this year’s “crop” of singers before choosing our repertoire means that we have the chance to hire the best people without having to worry how their voice types and talents will shoehorn into predetermined repertoire.

But I digress. Seven cities this fall, including, for the first time since 2001, Seattle, WA. (The regular stops are Philadelphia, New York, Cincinnati, Chicago, Houston, and Vienna, VA.) The application will go up on the website in about 2 weeks, and the first completed forms will arrive by the beginning of September. And so it goes. I’m already being asked if I’m going to do an audition blog again. The idea of it makes me tired, frankly. (I’m not doing such a hot job at getting these postings up in a timely fashion…) But maybe I’ll have a renewed sense of vigor and purpose and a delusional burst of energy and goodwill. Let’s hope not.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


Normally, this is the quickest turn-around of the season. There’s no “buffer” of time between the 2nd and 3rd operas – it’s the only way to cram everything into 12 weeks. It means that singers who work on both operas (in this case, the three who are in both Giovanni and Cenerentola) rehearse the new opera between performances of the old one. But because Cenerentola has morphed into a concert staging, we’re starting rehearsals a bit late, and this week has turned into a mini respite. Lots of artist releases granted for out-of-town travel, with singers and staff taking advantage of this 4-day period to make a quick trip home, take a voice lesson, or just get out of town. Easy to reach your saturation point working a 6-day week all summer… especially in late July and August when it seems absolutely everyone else in Washington has headed for the beach or the mountains.

Doing preliminary coachings for Cenerentola and Where the Boys Are (recital), but otherwise, pretty quiet. As delicious as this downtime is, we only have it because of the downscaling of Cenerentola. And that makes it just a little less sweet.

Sunday, July 24, 2005


All of my matinee audience predictions have come to naught this summer. And I couldn’t be happier to be wrong. Great audience today! And again, marvelous work from all involved. To have these young singers deliver Italian recitative in such a vivid, detailed, and in-depth fashion is a real gift. From them, and from our music and language staff.

The weather cooperated, and our annual company picnic at my house tonight was magnificent. My hard-working and talented daughter (yes, I’m prejudiced) catered the whole thing, the weather was stunning (dry, upper-70’s, in Washington in July?) and the mood was relaxed. (An unintended side benefit of our revised Cinderella rehearsal schedule is that everyone has an easy few days ahead of them this week.)

The comraderie this season has been pretty extreme. These young professionals seems to truly enjoy one another’s company. Not an easy feat in a business full of outsized egos. Our Giovanni director actually said that he was considering sowing a few seeds of discontent in order to create a little drama in his cast. (Of course, he was just kidding!)

I prefer to believe (in my naïve, humanistic, Pollyannish way) that this is the natural state of people who are engaged in productive work with colleagues who also care deeply about their work, and who don’t feel threatened by the environment or the task at hand. (OK, don't gag... I warned you…)

Anyway, we’ve reached the top of the season’s hill, and it gets easier from here on out. (Well, maybe not easier, but at least there are fewer projects ahead.) Two more Giovanni performances, two recitals, and finally, Cinderella!

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Swan Song in the Woods

A great week of bringing opera to the kids. Probably about a thousand of them all together. Lots of enthusiastic feedback. (Today’s 6-person story included a rapper/narrator singing Rossini, (I never would’ve believed it if I hadn’t seen it), a jailor, a prisoner, an evil landlord, a genie, and a fortune teller.)

We had set out to do two things; 1) bring the best things about opera to kids in a way that they couldn’t resist, and 2) do it in a way that engaged our own artists and gave them a chance to grow. Hard to imagine that we seem to have scored on both counts. Especially on the latter. Our six singers were challenged and intrigued in their work with Jim Doyle of Comedy Sportz, and they have new confidence about their abilities to weather any unexpected storm onstage.

Hope to bring this project back next summer, but it all depends on schedule, artist availability and budget. Would really love to take it into the schools in the winter, but that would require a significant infusion of cash. But, who knows…!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Don Giovanni!

What a marvelous opening. It’s gratifying to allow our young singers to sink into these bread-and-butter roles, but it’s intimidating at the same time. To quote from director Ned Canty’s 4,000-word (!) initial email to the cast: “Finding the right tone and the human truth in the piece is like tap-dancing along a high wire, with a pit full of alligators on one side, a pool of magma on the other, and a frothing mass of critics poised at the other end, holding a pair of wire clippers, a wild-eyed look on their faces. Worst of all, we are competing with the audience's platonic ideal production, complete with CD quality sound, a cast composed of all of their personal favorites, and production that conveniently blurs over all the difficulties of the piece.”

To bring this piece to an audience in the so-intimate-it-feels-naked-sometimes atmosphere of The Barns is a scary and exhilarating thing. But to have them respond as they did this evening is well worth the risk. Everyone did their absolute best work, and that is itself is payoff enough for me.

I gave my first Giovanni pre-show talk at 7:00pm tonight, and I think I finished planning it at 6:55. Months ago (on paper), combining tech week, the writing of supertitles, preparation of the pre-show, and playing Instant Opera performances seemed reasonable. As my kids would say… NOT!!! I’ve been in more than a little over my head. I hope to survive, but if I don’t feel at least a little regret, I’m afraid I’ll push the envelope even further next time.

P.S. In the woods, Mariah Carey and Batman went sledding every day, until a bear came to eat Nemo.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Cinderella Falls into a Pond

Once upon a time in a house, Cinderella and Manny Ramirez went to a pond until Captain Hook came to marry the princess. The mezzo-soprano Manny Ramirez was a big hit with most of the audience. Who says trouser roles stretch the imagination, anyway…

Day off rehearsal for Giovanni cast, and they need it. Terre Jones (Wolf Trap Foundation President & CEO) treated all of the young artists to lunch, and they had the day to rest and renew. Crews working hard in the theatre and costume shop to get ready for tomorrow’s opening.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"The Uninvited Guest" times two

One of the best things about this week in the woods is getting to drive the electric golf cart. Simple pleasures.

Today’s improv challenge: Once upon a time in a castle, a knight and a king played poker until a donkey came to eat the cards and ruin the game. Today’s improv opera “The Uninvited Guest”* is a natural companion to our other big event of the day…

…the dress rehearsal of Giovanni. Exceeding expectations, but still hard on everyone involved. Technical challenges to be solved, weary minds, bodies and voices to be rested.

*The kids’ uninvited guest was a donkey. Mozart’s was a walking, talking statue. :)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Wizard’s Pool

First foray into the woods. Theatre-in-the-Woods, that is. Load-in at 7:30am. Didn't get home from last night's tech rehearsal until 12:30. Ouch.

We finally had a chance to try out our improv project on real children, and we lived to tell the tale! Today’s “mad lib” format netted the following challenge: Once upon a time in a castle, a wizard and a janitor swam every day until a mean lifeguard came to drown the wizard.

The tale that unfolded during the improvised recitative was faithful to the suggested storyline, with the exception of the death of the wizard, who, of course, came back to life. (The audience chose a happy ending, thank goodness. Opera traditions notwithstanding, we've learned it’s not wise to kill off characters when the average patron age is 7.)

Somehow, we managed to fit in excerpts from Cenerentola’s aria “Una volta c’era un re”, Monostatos’ rage aria, Juliette’s waltz, and the Count’s aria from Marriage of Figaro. The kids were a great audience, and we left feeling that we had won a huge victory! They were very excited to learn about bravo/brava/bravi – showered us with much cheering throughout the performance.

Back in the real opera world, we’re in the theatre for orchestra tech of Giovanni. It’s been so gratifying to work on this masterpiece that we’ve forgotten how long it is, and how utterly exhausting it can be. Just so beautifully dense. Makes the minutes and hours fly by for the audience, but takes its toll on the performers. Just no place you can coast.

Again, didn’t get through the whole show. Budgetary restrictions are tough on an opera as long as this one. This means we’re going into the dress rehearsal not having been straight through the opera since last Friday. Not optimal, but then again, not at all uncommon in the ‘real world.’

Monday, July 18, 2005

Sitz in the rehearsal room

Giovanni Sitzprobe, this time not in the theatre, but in the rehearsal room. It’s a trade-off. The Sitz in the theatre gives us an extra rehearsal to acclimate to the performance space, but it brings with it the typical difficulties in pit-to-stage coordination. A Sitz in the rehearsal room is more luxurious on a purely musical level; it actually allows the players to hear the singers, and, if it all works as it should, all parties come away from it with a greater understanding of the whole. Didn’t quite get through the show, though, in spite of marvelously efficient work by our conductor.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Perfido! Briccone! Scellerato!

The !*&%(^ supertitles* aren’t done yet! Every year I say I’m going to write them in the spring when things are calm. But the spring passes, and summer shifts into high gear, and somehow the calm period never comes. There no reason on earth why I put them off this long, but I did. Grrrrr.

Giovanni contains more colorful Italian insults than almost any other opera I can think of. It’s a particular challenge to find good equivalents for its long list of epithets. The English language (or at least the portion that has come down to us here in the 21st century) seems to have a paucity of strong, non-vulgar, non-comical insults.

*Supertitles are the English translations that appear above the stage in most opera performances. Some people hate them, most love them. The downside is that they split your attention between the real people onstage and the screen above the stage. The payoff is that they exponentially enrich our understanding of the drama.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

"Master Class"

Yes, in quotations. Because it’s not, really, strictly speaking, a “Master Class”. The training of most young singers includes a few run-ins with something called a Master Class, in which a famous singer humiliates students in front of a paying audience while pretending to impart the musical wisdom of the ages.

Sorry, that was a little harsh. Truly, it’s not often that bad, and often the system does work. I know some colleagues who do wonderful master classes.

Today’s seminar, though, was a bit different. Three of our singers were on the panel, and four high school and college-age singers were the students. It was a chance for the younger singers to perform in front of an encouraging and well-meaning audience, and then to get some advice and feedback from the panel. We do this primarily because our folks remember so vividly what it was like to be 17, and they are great at offering advice about things like college, finding a voice teacher, choosing a summer apprentice program, and deciding if you really want to be a singer. The perenially surprising thing is that our singers love this more than anyone else in the room, and they’re always bursting with good will and encouragement.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Designer run-through

Finally. Straight through Giovanni. Again blessed with a remarkable cast. We always feel fairly secure about the vocal chops of our young artists – there’s a range of ability to be sure, but in general, they wouldn’t have gotten this far in the business if they didn’t have solid instruments and techniques. The sheer depth of the musicality is always a crap shoot, though. Hard to discern whether the brilliant performances we hear in audition will successfully translate into full-length featured roles. But the singers and artistic team have really dug deep, and the pay-off is exciting.

Never a summer goes by without begging the indulgences of our favorite ENT. This season’s first (and with any luck, last) episode with vocal indisposition has been weathered. It takes so little for illness, allergy or fatigue to make a dent in voices that are performing the equivalent of vocal high-wire acts every day. The good news is that youth is kind, and young voices heal quickly. The bad news is that early-career singers don’t yet have a lot of experience with weathering these storms. When is a little bit of hoarseness a passing summer allergy or cold, and when is it a career-altering crisis? Fortunately, we’re almost always dealing with the former scenario, and after a few days of panic, the mechanism returns to normal.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Back to my roots

Blogging falling into serious neglect these days. Because “Instant Opera” is a brand-new project, one that we are developing as we go along, I’ve put myself in the cast. Have enjoyed it thoroughly, but it’s made this week an endurance test.

I am astonished daily by the enthusiasm with which our artists have thrown themselves into this improv business. It’s hardly second nature to any of us, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about whether or not we’d be able to meet this challenge. For me, it’s a bit of a return to my roots. I was a registered music therapist in a former life, and playing theatre games with my drama therapist colleague and our psychiatric patients was part of my early training. This has to be easier than that!!

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The Magic of Murder & Mayhem

It’s not a sane thing to keep trying to exceed expectations (ours and the audience’s), but I think we may have done it once more. An exhausting but rewarding night at the Filene Center with 10 of our singers, the Washington Chorus and the National Symphony Orchestra. Didn’t hurt that the weather was stunning – more like late May than July.

Semi-staging is a crazy-making thing. No one really knows what it is until it’s over. When you work on a full production, the basic goal is much easier to share. But this goal is harder to pin down. How do you work with a minimum amount of furniture and props, bring the scenes to life within the limitations of an 8-foot-deep downstage rectangle that's periodically shared with violin bows, and do it all in concert dress? Thank goodness we’ve now had a few years’ experience with this format. Doesn’t make the process simpler, but it does make it easier to recognize the free-floating anxiety that inevitably accompanies its birth. Our apprentice director Peter Kozma and coach Bruce Stasyna did a phenomenal job of shepherding this concert and turning it into an evening whose success surprised everyone but me. I’m not cocky by nature, but I was sure that the aggregate talent lavished on this project (singers, staff, musicians, crew) would crystallize into something we’d be proud of.

The moments of sheer grand opera brawn (Tosca, Aida, Trovatore) were flanked by almost transcendental moments (Hansel & Gretel, Butterfly) and thank-god-it’s-actually-funny gestures (Carmen, Mikado). The audience was responsive and supportive. And these singers who handled themselves like absolute pros have an average age of 26.

As requested, attached are the lyrics for Mikado song... Click here

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Instant Opera Kick-off!

Nothing like doing something you’ve never done before to ramp up the energy and anxiety. Today was our first session for our new program for kids – “Instant Opera!”. Based on an interactive model developed at Cincinnati Conservatory and then used at San Francisco Opera Center, this new venture of ours will take the stage at the Children’s Theatre-in-the-Woods at Wolf Trap in less than two weeks. (Gulp…)

In a small-world scenario, we are working with Jim Doyle of Comedy Sportz. Our administrative intern’s sister is a member of the DC Comedy Sportz troupe, and she led us to Jim. We then found out that in his student days, Jim stage managed opera at Yale and worked under two of the stage directors at Wolf Trap this summer. Ours truly is a small business.

This afternoon Jim put 6 of our singers (and me, since I had the crazy idea to put myself onstage for this project) through some introductory improv exercises. Sobering and invigorating at the same time. We were looking for an “outreach” vehicle that would allow us to take opera to kids, represent the most fascinating parts of our art form at their best, and at the same time engage, challenge and energize our singers. And I think this is it. You’ll hear more about this in the coming week, I’m sure.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Kennedy Center "field trip"

We multi-task furiously in the middle of our season, and I feel very out of touch with Giovanni these days. We’re into our second week of stagings, but the looming NSO concert on Saturday night has consumed most of our administrative attentions. I say a little prayer of thanks that the Giovanni team is such a strong one, and that they won’t mind a bit of neglect.

Off to the Kennedy Center this morning for the orchestra rehearsal of “Murder…Mayhem”. No matter how many times we do this, I love watching the reactions of our singers as they enter the Concert Hall. We take this collaboration with the National Symphony Orchestra for granted sometimes (and we shouldn’t, of course), but the adrenaline hit that results from this first rehearsal is never diminished.

The singers handle it well, even though standing on the edge of the stage and singing Verdi with the entire NSO inches away is a little humbling. Even the most sanguine of them need to be reminded that this music was meant to be done with singers on the stage and a moderate-sized orchestra tucked away in a pit. Once we get to the Filene Center, amplification will smooth out the differences in placement and orchestration, and we’ll get to enjoy the voices as well as the luxurious orchestral sound. But for now, the name of the game is not to get sucked into thinking that you can compete with the entire NSO in a decibel game. That’s a pretty quick route to stripping the vocal gears and having nothing left for the concert.

A little flurry of excitement surrounding the updated “I’ve Got a Little List” lyrics. This is, of course, The Kennedy Center, and although our lyrics were created in a spirit of equal opportunity (meaning that absolutely everyone is insulted so no one should be offended), one wonders if it’s appropriate to say these things out loud on this stage. After being assured that this is a closed rehearsal, we settle in. Of course, during the introduction, a tour group walked into the back of the Concert Hall. Those folks will just have an interesting tourist story to tell when they get home.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Murder... Mayhem... Juicy chunks of great opera!

Finally got to see a run-through of the July 9 NSO concert. Great stuff - Carmen, Rigoletto, Lucia... Because young voices aren't a good fit with full-length grand opera roles, we don't often get to indulge in Verdi and Puccini. But in these concerts we include choice chunks of the meaty stuff.

Conductor Emil de Cou came up with the "Murder & Mayhem" title, and it allowed us to put together an evening of greatest hits from operas with extreme plots. (As I'm fond of saying; Is there any other kind?) It remains to be seen if the title (which was designed, of course, to catch attention) did its job. I read last week that the NY Philharmonic just did a concert called "A Little Nighmare Music", and the conductor allowed that he was worried about the kind of patron who would attend a concert with that name :)

Hard to represent these events in a brief soundbyte or inch of ad space. But the audience members who've taken them in for the last 7 years are overwhelmingly enthusiastic. We have 10 of our artists on this one concert, and that in itself is an embarrassment of riches. Put it together with the National Symphony Orchestra and the Washington Chorus, and you have one of the highlights of the summer.

Just about time for a few fireworks (on the television....) - more than a little tired - now I know why they call this a long weekend...

Saturday, July 02, 2005

If you don't like the weather...

... wait a few minutes? Is that the adage? With a minor adjustment, it probably applies to any small arts organization.

There are two full-time and one part-time employees administering the Wolf Trap Opera Company year-round, and that means that every day brings a new challenge. The "off" season is a whirlwind of non-production related tasks from budgets to grant applications, from advertising copy to box office issues - not to mention the 3-month-long job of screening and auditioning young artists who apply for the next summer's company. Summer adds a few hundred seasonal employees (artists, staff, crew, orchestra, chorus, apprentices, interns etc) with their myriad needs and attendant problems (schedules, payroll, housing, transportation... I'm getting tired thinking about it...).

But the positive side of all of this is that for someone with a short attention span, it's a great job! Just about the time you think you couldn't possibly stand it for another minute, it's time to do something else. I wonder if they teach that in arts administration courses...

Friday, July 01, 2005

Opera at the improv

It's July, and time to start working on "Instant Opera!", our first appearances at Wolf Trap's Children's Theatre-in-the-Woods (http://www.wolftrap.org/performances/woods.html) since the late 1980's. The old format (in which I participated as a pianist) involved taking staged one-act operas to the "TITW". The average attendee is probably about 7 years old, and the one-acts, while a great experience in many ways, were problematic. We've been looking for a way to return to the Children's TITW with a vehicle that would engage the children and challenge our artists, and now we have it.

We're taking a format called Interactive Opera to the TITW in mid-July. Our kick-off meeting today (me and 6 of our singers) was energizing and frightening. It's sobering to think that in a few weeks, we'll be doing daily performances of this improv-based program in front of hundreds of children. And we all know that kids are the toughest audience of all. More later!

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Cinderella lives!

We've been anxiously awaiting this day, for it marks a turning point. The last 2 weeks have been full of the difficult work of changing our upcoming Cenerentola production into a concert staging. Ticket exchanges and refunds, donor notifications, disheartening calls to artists and staff. Today we began to rebuild. Director Garnett Bruce returned from Europe, and the effort turned in a positive direction. Cinderella in Concert.

Boheme in Concert last summer was a huge hit. We desperately missed the impact of a full scenic production, but surprisingly (at least to us), many of the audience members didn't. So, in the face of a programmatic change brought on by budget realities, we begin to build a new world for Cinderella. One in which the imaginations of the artists reach directly to the hearts and souls of the audience with the help of a few costumes and props. I'm tempted to go on and on, but this isn't the place or time. What's important is that the negative work is done, and now we can do what we do best.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's all about the clothes

Full disclosure would require that I admit I know almost nothing about costumes. It's one of those areas where I pray that I hire the best designers for the job, for it would be disastrous were I to meddle with their work. Timm Burrow did a fabulous job on Sweeney, and now Beth Clancy (new to us this season) has brought us stunning sketches for Giovanni. Clothes that help singers redefine themselves onstage - costumes that bring new depth to their characterizations and new resolve to their confidence - well, that's a miracle.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Palate cleansing

That's what they say about Mozart. And all of those seemingly extreme metaphors are right. A cleansing of the palate. A refreshing spring shower. As much as I love all various and wonderful kinds of music, when you've been away from Mozart for a while, you have to admit that the coming home is pretty sweet.

It's such a treat to have Giovanni back where he belongs at The Barns. (Too long to go into here, but our larger venue, the Filene Center, is typically host to any of our operas that fall into the "Top Ten".) And unspeakably satisfying to hear it done by these particular voices.

The first day of rehearsal is full of optimism, trepidation, enthusiasm, fear, relief and anxiety. Like the first day at a new job. Only for a professional singer, the first day at a new job happens about every 6 weeks. (As a stage manager friend of mine reminded me, though, that means that if you can't tolerate your coworkers at least you don't have to wait for one of them to retire or quit!) We chose, as many companies do, to sing through most of the full opera on the first day. Exhausting, but illuminating. It helps the artistic team get to know the singers, and it makes clear the work that needs to be done. Word is that our (partial) run-through was a great success, though. (I have to take it on faith, for I spent the day in an organizational strategic planning session. Necessary and valuable, but, dare I say, not nearly as fulfilling as the Mozart would've been!)

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Movin' on to Mozart

Final Sweeney. Great audience for my pre-show talk and for the show itself. Arrival of the rest of the summer’s company, chomping at the bit to start rehearsals tomorrow for Giovanni and the Murder & Mayhem NSO concert. Lots of transportation excitement; everyone finally arrived safely and delivered to local housing assignments. Lovely cast party. On to the next chapter in less than 12 hours.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A grown-up concert

Steve called it a “grown-up” concert. Tonight’s Latest Word recital. (See posts from earlier in the week for details). Complete with singers whose musical maturity exceeded our expectations and surprised even themselves, and an audience that was willing to dig deep and concentrate fully. The program presented some logistical challenges, performed as it was on the Sweeney Todd set. (Our theatre is too small to strike the set – no place to put it! – and tonight was the only possible date for this concert.) And the material was a little more demanding than usual, both for the artists and the audience. All great ingredients in a recipe for administrative panic. But no matter; it was intimate, unassuming, and quietly rewarding.

Photo by Danielle Chappell

Friday, June 24, 2005

The world of audience feedback

Bernstein and Gershwin with the NSO in the morning (gotta love those West Side Story dances!), and more Sondheim at night.

The range of patron responses to our little crossover experiment at The Barns is falling into four categories. 1) Love Sweeney and enjoyed the show; 2) Love Sweeney and hate what we’ve done with it; 3) Not fond of Sweeney but nevertheless captivated by our artists’ performances; and 4) No use for either the piece or our production.
None of this is surprising, but what is interesting is exactly who falls into which categories. There are musical theatre mavens who feel that we’ve done an injustice, but then there are those who think this “unplugged” Sweeney is one of the most powerful they’ve seen. There are longstanding and knowledgeable opera connoisseurs who surprise themselves by being drawn in by the power of this piece and the strength of these performances; conversely there are opera fans who feel betrayed by the presence of such a “fringe” work on our season calendar. It’s tempting to think that you can please everyone, but it’s not an option in the opera world, populated as it is by people with larger-than-life opinions.

Photo by Carol Pratt

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Opera-free zone

No opera today. Large doses of symphonic pops (Marvin Hamlisch and the NSO – rehearsal in the morning and show in the evening) and a dress rehearsal / work-through of the Latest Word concert. Great stuff on the latter. I’m a sucker for poetry (even though I’m not exactly knowledgeable), and getting to revisit Coleridge, Auden, Agee, Cummings and Keats through the musical lenses of some great living composers is a real treat.

One of our young artists made a brief guest appearance on the symphonic pops program (in Sondheim’s “Getting Married Today”… it seems to be all about Sondheim in a very strange way these days…). She was a real pro in that most difficult of professional situations – sitting around for hours and hours and having approximately 16 measures of music in which to acquit yourself.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

High risk, high reward

Lots of work being done this week to prepare for Saturday evening’s Latest Word concert. Steven Blier’s been here since Sunday, and four of our singers have been digging into 2 hours worth of the best of the song literature from the last couple of decades. Rorem, Bolcom, Corigliano, Guettel, Musto, Gordon, Moravec and more. Tough but rewarding. Two things that are scarily often directly proportional.

Interesting Sweeney audience tonight. This is the “added” performance. We had originally scheduled four, but added a fifth after those quickly sold out. As a result, most of tonight’s audience was new to us – folks who had heard we were doing Sweeney but who don’t usually come to The Barns. In the best of all possible worlds, a good opportunity for audience-building. They certainly seemed to eat it up, but will they ever come back for something more mainstream

Photo by Carol Pratt

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Reviews came out today. We don’t pay a whole lot of attention to them. And for sure, we try to counsel our young artists not to read them during the run of the production. Good or bad, they rarely have a beneficial effect on a young singer’s current performance or general development. The Post sent their theatre critic (rather than a music critic) to cover us, and I wasn’t sure we’d escape a bloodletting… But a general skimming of all of the press shows that we did OK. Now to keep copies of the reviews out of the dressing room corridor all week. Well-meaning staff, cast, and crew often post them, especially when they’re positive.

Also interesting to gauge how colleagues react to press. Good notices are usually cause for far too much rejoicing. (From a marketing standpoint, that's probably not true, for good reviews sell tickets. But from an artistic viewpoint, we can't get too invested in what the press thinks.) Response to bad reviews is even more entertaining, for folks start whispering and tiptoeing around like someone died...

Of course, we wouldn’t stay in business long if every review declared us worthless. It’s important to have public validation that can be used to generate interest and support for the company. But it’s hard to explain that getting good press doesn’t make us proud; our pride comes from our own assessment of the our work and its value. And we’re always our own worst critics.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Cinderella in Concert

There will undoubtedly be more on this later, but finally, a brief explanation on my gloom-and-doom postings from the last few days. I’ll post a slightly more detailed and satisfying account in a short while, but for now, here’s the official notice:

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the Thursday, August 18 performance of Rossini’s Cinderella has been cancelled.
On Saturday, August 20, the Wolf Trap Opera Company will present a concert staging of Cinderella with costumes, props, and onstage orchestra.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Matinee audiences

Second Sweeney performance. Matinee. Sunday afternoons are prone to what I call “buffet coma” – all those folks who chow down at the brunch buffet and then come to the theatre to sleep. The cast was understandably optimistic after Friday’s opening, so I tried to damp audience response expectations for this afternoon. I needn’t have done so, for this crowd was rapt and responsive. Great feedback. And if I say so myself (and I don’t do so very often, being a perfectionist), it was a compelling show. Singers really growing into their roles. Just finished an instant message conversation with our production stage manager – she says the cast was really “stoked” after today’s show. I say great, just as long as “stoked” doesn’t turn into “cocky” :)

Steve Blier arrived this evening, and rehearsals are underway for next Saturday’s recital “The Latest Word.” Great material. The best stuff from opera, theatre, and song composers from the last couple of decades. Sondheim is in there, as is Guettel (The Light in the Piazza), Bolcom (The Wedding, View from the Bridge) and many others. Four of our singers (two doing double duty from Sweeney; two others who will go into Giovanni rehearsals next week) perform the songs, Steve presides at the piano and gives us a glimpse into the music with his comments between the songs. A more engaging, brilliant, and discerning colleague you won’t find.

Photo by Carol Pratt

Saturday, June 18, 2005

More bad news

Stayed up most of last night drafting some correspondence. A difficult situation about to emerge. Still can’t write about it here. But sadly, will be able to soon.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Opening night

Opening night. But first I had to get through my pre-show talk. For several years now, I’ve been doing free pre-show “Inside Opera” talks for any ticket-holders who want to show up an hour early. In a perverse way, I love doing it. Maybe it’s because I was never an “insider” myself, having come to this business only in my late 20’s. (It seems that everyone I meet in the opera world started listening to the Met broadcasts when they were four…). Anyway, I enjoy telling audiences about what went into the show they’re about to see. Unfortunately, this week has been so difficult on many levels that I was sorely under-prepared. But thanks to my total immersion in this production, and to the amount of chutzpah I’ve learned to summon up in these instances, it went very well.

As did the show. When we travel across the country and hear these young (average mid-20’s) singers, it’s tempting to fantasize about perfect casts. But real life gets in the way, and although all of the singers we bring here are terrific, the casting puzzle doesn’t always fit together just perfectly. But somehow this time I think we lucked out. You could disagree, but it’s a fact that these folks exceeded expectation. It wasn’t an easy rehearsal period, and on top of that, there was the elephant in the room – the fact that we are operating here on the fringe of our repertoire, and anytime you do that, you take more risks than usual. But the first show was touching, witting, and terrifying, and a quantum leap from the rehearsals earlier in the week. The full house brought the remaining acoustical bugaboos into focus, and the resultant totally “unplugged” performance had a powerful visceral impact.

Photo by Carol Pratt

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A turning point

Company day off. Also payday. I spent the day in the office, ostensibly to hand out paychecks and work with our press photographer to select rehearsal photos to send to the media, but also to crunch some numbers. A very depressing day, very likely leading up to a difficult decision. If it magically works itself out, you’ll never know what I’m talking about. If not, it’ll unfortunately be blog material by next week.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Invited dress rehearsal

Nice to have an audience. Friends of the musicians, staff & crew, Foundation donors, volunteers & employees, and the Sweeney Todd cast from the local high school! Nerves on the stage; some things surprisingly hard, other things paying off nicely. The stage/pit balance coming into focus more and more each day – also improved by having bodies in the house to soak up the sound that tends to bounce off of all that wood. (That’s what you get for performing in a barn…)

We’ve been running and tweaking the show straight for 7 days now, and the crew has been working both day and night. Fatigue is showing, and tomorrow’s day off is critical. One accident onstage leading to an emergency room visit after the rehearsal (broken finger). Otherwise, not much the worse for wear.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Orchestra Tech

A return to the staging. With the added complication of the orchestra in the pit. No more pretending that you can turn upstage and still be heard. A rude re-awakening. But adjustments are made, and we get one step closer. Although we have one more rehearsal tomorrow night, it’s a dress rehearsal with an invited audience, and there’s a feeling of urgency to get the remaining details ironed out.

Monday, June 13, 2005


“Sitzprobe” – German for “sitting rehearsal.” After these last two days scurrying around the set, sorting out things with piano accompaniment, it’s time to welcome the orchestra. The singers sit (or sometimes stand) on the stage, and the focus is on incorporating the orchestra into the process. It’s not one of my favorite rehearsals, for it’s always fraught with logistical difficulties. The Barns pit is terribly small (9 feet X 27 feet), and it’s inevitably difficult for all of the musicians to carve out the number of square inches they need to do their job well. Most of them are used to it (no surprise, for they’ve played here before), but it doesn’t make it any more comfortable. So I hold my breath and hope that everyone is feeling calm and flexible. Maybe someday we’ll enjoy a nice fat donation that will help us expand the pit area. (Any Donizetti & Bellini fans out there? A bigger pit would open up all kinds of new repertoire for us…)

The Sweeney orchestra isn’t terribly large (11 strings, 5 woodwinds, 6 brass, 2 percussion, 1 harp & 1 keyboard), but it uses more percussion instruments than the typical opera orchestra. But amazingly, by 7:00 everyone had carved out a niche, and rehearsal began.

My heart in my throat tonight for another reason, too. When we began rehearsals a few weeks ago, there was a flurry of talk about microphones. I had never considered amplification (ours is a small, acoustically friendly space), but I owed it to our artistic staff to take their concerns seriously. After a week of discussions, we decided to abandon the idea of “sound enhancement” (as they call it in the opera business). But I was left with a lingering sense of doubt. I didn’t want to be “right”, I just wanted to have done the right thing.

Well, I’m breathing a bit easier, for the sound is magnificent. We have our share of specific balance problems (mostly in the underscoring and in Mrs. Lovett’s songs, which were written for an amplified “belt” voice), but with some careful rehearsal and some dynamic adjustments, it will all work out. Conductor Jim Lowe is brilliant, and I have no doubt that in a few days it’ll be stunning.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

It's only opera

More technical rehearsal – tonight is Act II. Little by little getting the mechanics in hand. Having a talented and dedicated scenic and costume shop staff makes a huge difference. They work all evening with us in the theatre, then they come back at 8 the next morning to fix everything that didn’t work before that evening’s rehearsal.

Not surprisingly, it gets tense. As I’m fond of saying “It’s only opera!” (as in; it’s not rocket science or cancer research…), but in an environment with so many intense, focused people, it’s often hard for cooler heads to prevail. But they generally do. Something we’re very proud of in this company. It’s important for our singers to keep their perspective, to realize what a rare and valuable thing a good colleague is, and to understand that their own professional lives will actually be more rewarding if they treat everyone in their work environment with respect.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

First technical rehearsal

First technical rehearsal. All about figuring out how the doors open and close, how the rake* complicates the blocking, how those damn chairs get on and off the stage, how all of Mrs. Lovett’s props stay on the pie shop table, how much noise the barber shop door makes, and how the trick razors and chair are behaving.

*I try to avoid using shop talk (just a very little pun there…) with explaining the terms: A stage rake means that there is a gradual rise/incline on the stage floor so that the area the farthest away from the audience (literally, upstage) is higher than the area closest to the audience. In a theatre like ours where the audience floor is flat instead of inclined, it’s pretty much essential in order to see the actors all of the time. (Not to mention the actors being able to see the conductor.)

Friday, June 10, 2005

Designer run-through

Designer run-through tonight. We go from beginning to end in as unbroken a stream as possible, so that our scenic designer, costume designer, lighting designer, and wigs & makeup designers can see the show and best determine how to use the next 5 days of rehearsal in the theatre.

What a marvelous thing to be able to have the entire cast, staff and crew in one comfortable working space. Our rehearsal space (the multi-purpose Education Hall) is a constant joy. Plenty of space, a pleasant and calm environment, and natural light too! (The first dozen years of my career were spent in windowless rehearsal studios, never seeing the light of day.) Anyway, it’s always a shot of adrenaline to take in the whole piece. A little scary, knowing what has to be done to adapt to the stage. But reassuring, seeing and hearing how these particular singers have taken to these roles as if they’d been born to sing them.

While we were waiting to begin, I got word that the touring cast of H.M.S. Pinafore (due to arrive at the Filene Center at 4 for a sound check and a show this evening) was still somewhere en route at 6:30. It all worked out just fine, of course, but we had a good time trying to remember the words to “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore” in case we had to pinch-hit. (Just kidding!)

Photo by Danielle Chappell

Thursday, June 09, 2005

More orchestra

Second orchestra rehearsal. Not quite as smooth as the first. There’s a stretch in Sweeney’s second act that’s a bit thorny from the “road-mapping” perspective. (That is, the notes and the music themselves are not hard, but figuring out exactly what comes next is.) Some old “cuts” from previous productions got in the way.

Finished putting Pirelli into his scenes and did some staging touch-ups with the chorus in the evening. Heading toward the final day in the rehearsal room.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

We’ve achieved Pirelli

Spent my day away from opera, in a day-long session working on the Wolf Trap Foundation’s next strategic plan. Fascinating. (No, really.) But, at the end of the day (literally), I can only think of a few things I’m more grateful for than the opportunity to spend my working life making music.

At 5:00 the business day ended and the rehearsal day began. Pirelli is here!! After a delayed and difficult flight, he arrived to begin rehearsal this evening. I got to sit at the piano for a couple of hours, and that’s always fun. Didn’t call one of our staff pianists in for the rehearsal because today is the company day off for this week, and we do our absolute best not to violate the little free time our company members have.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Orchestra arrives

The days passing in a blur. Already at the first orchestra reading. More of an adventure today than is typical. Most operas have what is called a partitura – a conductor’s score. The conductor works from a master score that literally contains every individual note played by every musician. That way, if something doesn’t go well (human error or mechanical mistake in the printed music), it’s not too daunting to figure out exactly what happened and then fix it. Operettas and musicals usually don’t have a partitura (the conductor works from a slightly glorified version of a piano accompaniment score); therefore, if something doesn’t sound right in an orchestra rehearsal, it can take many valuable (read: expensive!) minutes to search and destroy.
Fortunately, Sweeney has benefited in recent years by opera company productions in which mistakes were corrected and then passed back to the publisher. Since the Lyric Opera of Chicago production, Sweeney’s publisher (Music Theatre International) printed a new and improved set of parts. The result is that we had very little time wasted on basic repairs and could focus more on the music-making.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Giovanni creep

We’re having Giovanni creep. For two weeks, we had the luxury of focusing on one thing. But other projects are looming. The Giovanni schedule is being discussed, rehearsals for the July 9 concert with the National Symphony are beginning, and music is being finalized for Steve Blier’s upcoming recital with 4 of our singers.

And, on an unrelated note, the non-operatic part of our operation is ramping up, too. The first National Symphony Orchestra concert is in 3 weeks. And tomorrow we get to find out who our pianist will be for next year’s Debut Artist concert at The Barns – s/he will be the Silver Medalist Winner of the Van Cliburn Competition which ends tomorrow evening. We’ve been following the competition on their website – have been reading the blogs there too, and I’ve determined that I’m not nearly catty enough. We’ll have to remedy that.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

An old friend and a new dilemma

A wonderful blast from the past today. Alan Held, of Wolf Trap young artist vintage 1987 & 1988, is in town singing in the Washington National Opera’s Samson & Dalila. He’s coming back to Wolf Trap next winter to sing a recital at The Barns. (Part of our chamber music series.) He came by to talk repertoire for February’s concert and just to visit. We’re fortunate that many of our “alumni” have gone on to international careers – this year alone, Alan’s career took him to Vienna and Paris as well as Chicago and New York – and are still supportive of Wolf Trap. We sat in on a few minutes of Sweeney rehearsal; Alan has spent much of his career in grand opera (Wagner, Strauss), but he was openly jealous about the chance that this year’s young artists have to refine their chops on a true chamber opera in their own native tongue!

I think the Sweeney Todd “sound enhancement” discussion has finally drawn to a close. When we programmed and cast this piece, it never crossed my mind that enhancement (read: amplification) would be necessary or in any way advisable in The Barns. Yes, indeed, other opera companies have amplified this piece, but in theatres many times the size of ours. And yes, small theatres have used microphones for Sweeney, but with voices that aren’t tooled to travel to the back of the house. Anyway, it’s a thorny subject, and because our team was concerned about certain moments having the potential to be covered by the orchestration, we dove into discussion of the possibility. Many many hours and conversations later, we emerged poised to stick with an entirely acoustic production. (That is, if you don’t count the speakers for the factory whistle.) There are some bits of orchestration that will need micro-management in order to bring the whole thing into focus and balance, but we’re ready to tackle it. The result will be well worth it. The potential power of the forced intimacy of this piece in The Barns will be strengthened by the personal, immediate, and intensely physical nature of unamplified voices.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Pirelli! da King of da Barbers, da Barber of Kings!

this is an audio post - click to playOne of our own Wolf Trap Opera alumni comes back to make a guest appearance as Pirelli in Sweeney Todd... We finished preliminary blocking of the entire show this morning! (That is, except for Pirelli’s scenes, as he doesn’t arrive until next week.) ... Load-in began today and the set is arriving from the warehouse... Enjoyed a much-needed day off yesterday after 7 days in a row. Thinking much more clearly now. And it’ll be even better tomorrow after yoga class! (Our very own Mrs. Lovett is a fabulous Kundalini yoga teacher.)
Transcript of audio post
It’s Tuesday, May 31. Able to think a little big more clearly today after a day off. We work pretty much a 6-day week –we get one day off a week, and it sort of rotates through the week. We started last Monday and went 7 days straight, and by yesterday, we were really feeling it.
Having time off helped, and the other thing that helped is that we have achieved Pirelli. It took about a week. We’re bringing back a friend. What happens here is that because we’re a young artist program, you can only come here twice as a performer because we have to keep the revolving door going, making these opportunities available to new singers. So after two seasons maximum ,our singers move on with their careers. Occasionally, though we have a chance to bring an “old” friend back as a guest. One of our tenors who was with is in 2003 & 2004 has just enough time off in his schedule – he’s actually in Europe right now doing a series of auditions in Austria, Germany, and the U.K. A big load off my mind.

We finished blocking this morning, in pretty much 7 days, and that’s really pretty quick. Now we get to start over again at the top, make some more decisions, refine things. Overall in pretty good shape. Load-in (when we bring the scenic elements from the shop to the theatre) and finishing the build.

We rehearse here at the Center for Education, our relatively new facility here on site. Our rehearsal room is within spitting distance of the theatre – incredibly different from when we used to rehearse several miles away. We’re right next door, and it’s simple to borrow pieces of furniture or props when we need them.

So, things are starting to speed up.

We start tomorrow morning with yoga – our Mrs. Lovett is great Kundalini yoga teacher. Not a typical combination – Mrs. Lovett and yoga, that is – and we’re fortunate that she said she wants to keep practicing herself, and she’s happy to give us classes and keep us limber and focused. I’m all for it.

We get to turn the calendar over to June tomrorow - that nice little shot of adrenaline that tells us we’re on our way. One of the great things about being in a business like this – you can only micromanage things for so long. Eventually the curtain has to go up.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Day 6

this is an audio post - click to playMeant to start at the very beginning last Monday but was sidelined. Mostly by the need for a last-minute tenor replacement. Never a dull moment! But here we are, in rehearsal for the first show of the 2005 season, Sweeney Todd. Check the audio posts for a brief look backstage every day (or as often as I can possibly get to it!). And we're off!
Transcript of audio post
It’s Day 6. Wolf Trap Opera Company 2005. This is the audio blog that was supposed to start on Day 1, but we got just a little sidelines this week by a couple of thing, the first being tenors, and the second, microphones. But more about that later. First, a little context.

We do lots of different things at WT. We do lots of retro things, we do lots of cutting edge things. And the opera company is probably a little bit of both. Very often pretty old-fashioned, but then again very often about the newest things under the sun. So here we are, blogging our way across the summer season, taking you behind the scenes. We’ll tell you everything that we feel we can get away with. If you’re an opera fan, this might be your chance to see how things get put together. If you’re not, well, we hope you’ll learn that this is a fascinating place to be. We’re all about young professionals. The average age of our singers, our coaches, our stage mangers is mid-late 20’s. It’s an exhilarating place, and it comes together every summer for about three months.

So, I’m going to try to blog every day for a few minutes – it’s hard to find the time, and I’m sure it’s hard for you to find the time to listen. We are in rehearsal, as I said, Day 6. Sweeney Todd – the first thing we start rehearsing. Other things will be layered on later, but Sweeney is our first project. We started on Monday, and it’s now Saturday evening already. Rehearsals are over, and I’m keeping a promise to myself to get this blog started. As I said, it’s surprisingly this week, alittle bit about microphones, andit’s about tenors.

The reason it’s about tenors is that we began rehearsals one tenor shy of a cast. Pirelli has mononucleosis. These things happen. Our erstwhile Pirelli is at home recuperating, and he will join us later in the summer for other projects. Meanwhile, we have precious little time to sort this out. More tomorrow, Day 7.