Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Audience Factor

On Monday evening we had our final dress rehearsal for Houston Grand Opera's Beatrice and Benedict. It was great fun! FINALLY we had a small audience to play to, and what a difference it makes to a piece like this - it begs for an audience to participate in the frolicking and merry-making, etc. Since day one there has been a wonderful atmosphere with this particular team: a wonderful cast full of energy and humor, a great directing team with wonderful insight and a deft hand at timing the comedy, fabulous musical values under the baton of an energetic and positive maestro and now a receptive audience that arrives ready to lighten their mood and get carried away for a few hours! Woo HOO!

I ADORE the rehearsal process (provided it's stimulating, challenging and productive...) for it's a place of exploration and discovery, as well as often building friendships and a family atmosphere, so it can be a tiny bit melancholic to bring that process to a close. But then the audience arrives, and the work we have done takes on a life of its own, energy infuses the stage, and we're off! I decided a number of years ago to always aim to ENJOY myself on the stage, for this life, this process, this career is so demanding, draining and tough, that if the pay-off of the performance isn't there, it simply isn't worth it to me. So to finally have the audience jump into the equation is a thrilling moment, and we all enjoyed the final rehearsal immensely. I have a feeling the opening night audience is going to enjoy themselves a lot.

So I took the opportunity to capture the above photo of Ailish Tynan, who sings the role of Hero, relaxing in her costume between acts. Yes, there are some big dresses in this show! But little did I know that my dresser and my dear friend, Larissa, was capturing my capturing of Ailish on her cell-phone! I suppose no-one is safe!!!!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Becoming Beatrice

I'll admit it - this role of Beatrice has been WAY down on my radar screen, and I was finding it quite difficult to find the motivation to dive into this. To be quite honest, if you compare it with Octavian, Alcina, Ariodante, Romèo, Elvira - well, those roles spoke SO loudly to me, like black holes they pulled me into their vortex and didn't let go!!! Beatrice? Not quite so much ... I welcomed the opportunity to procrastinate and avoid learning what seemed to be a rather glorified operetta, with seemingly little to offer artistically. Well, shows you what I know! I arrived in Houston ready to hate the piece and the process. ("Where's the DRAMA?!?!?!" I asked, having been so spoiled with those iconic, heart-wrenching roles of the first paragraph! "Where's the DEPTH?!?!?") Well, ok - there really isn't any drama, it's true. And the depth is there, but it's definitely not the deep end of the pool. BUT, it's sunshine! It's a spring breeze! It's panna cotta! And it's been a joy to jump into - thanks to a fabulous atmosphere, cast and team!

Our conductor, Michael Hofstetter will be making his US debut with this piece, and he's a real discovery for me. He has a beautiful sense of the French style and has a wonderful sense of humor, freshness and enthusiasm that I just appreciate more and more. The longer I am doing this career, the more I gravitate to those people who unapologetically love what they do!The production's effervescent quality fits the music perfectly, and our cast is just a complete and total joy. It hardly feels as if we're working, as the atmosphere is so light and easy. I had no idea how much I needed a production like this, for it costs me nothing (in terms of vocal power, stage energy, relentless concentration) - and instead, I feel as if I get to dress up and just go PLAY for a few hours, tripping along without a care in the world. It's as if the "Opera Career Doctor" knew the exact, perfect prescription I needed!! The other beautiful thing about this experience, is the dialogue in this piece. It is taken expressly from the Shakespeare, which means that I don't mind TOO terribly much singing this piece in English - for it brings it back to its theatrical origins. (Although, I can't lie: I do miss the ease of the French as Berlioz perhaps intended, however I'll make up for that in February!) But we sit around a table for hours at a time working on ONE PAGE of dialogue - and I've found it exhilarating!

As a singer I never get to make choices about beats and inflection - the composer has made all the choices for me, as he has chosen the dynamics, the stress, the articulation, etc. This is a new world for me having this kind of freedom! But it's a bit unnerving at first to feel so COMPLETELY insecure in how to utter a line without the net of music underneath me. It's alarming how naked that feels! Thankfully, we have a real pro among us, the wonderful Charles Krohn, who is putting us all to shame with his ease of delivery and expertise.Hopefully we'll catch up a bit by the opening night! But it's funny how you can be so sure about one thing, and in a matter of moments, be proven completely wrong. Happily, I can say I was terribly wrong and am enjoying this Shakespeare/Berlioz cocktail of sun, smiles and sass!

Photos courtesy of Joyce DiDonato

Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Paper Chase...continued

The search for the 1937 London Times for Previn's world premiere of Brief Encounter in the Spring has been successful!

With the actual paper found the fun part begins. Scans for this project proved to be a very difficult task because the paper is such a large format and much larger than those printed today (46 cm wide and 60 cm high). This problem was solved by the good Pieter Collier of scanning smaller parts of the paper at the original location, emailing them to me here in Houston where I piece them together and then print them on a large format printer fitted with actual newsprint paper. What you will see on the stage will look and act like a real newspaper because, well, it was created much like an actual newspaper is made. It will fold and move like an newspaper because of the weight and qualities of the newsprint. Although I doubt that anyone in the audience will realize that they are looking at an actual reproduction of a 1937 London Times paper with its date, headlines, photos and advertisements…but the fun is in the details…just a part of what makes grand opera "grand".