Friday, February 29, 2008

Opera to Go! Midland Tour - Thursday

Opera to Go!’s west Texas tour came to an end in San Antonio. After a very chilly dinner on the river walk, we all went to bed. Thursday morning was an early show at St. Mary’s Hall. There in a beautiful campus designed by O’Neil Ford we performed for about 200 kids. Coker Novosad was our gracious host and announcer. “This is Chuck”, he said, “and he makes these operas for kids. This is a cool show. What’s really cool is that Chuck works with my Dad (Chris Novosad) and he came all this was to do this show for us.” Later at lunch, Coker suggested that “The Magic Flute” should be a video game. “There could be a place where you play the game, or you could watch the opera, or the other choice would be the main menu.”

Over a wonderful lunch of salad and pasta, Coker, asked: “Hey Chuck do think I could write an opera?” Of course, I answered. It would be the best opera ever.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Opera to Go! Midland Tour - Wednesday

Another chilly morning greeted us on our 3rd day in the bustling metropolis of Midland. Armed with a breakfast of Texas-shaped waffles and several cups of coffee, we headed back to Carver for our 9 A.M. show (not all that early for OTG). The kids were just as responsive as yesterday. The Q&A sessions after each show are definitely one of the highlights of performing with this group. We have heard it all from ‘My uncle’s name is Brian’ to ‘Dancing!’ to ‘I liked the part where he fell down.’ But today we had a particularly thoughtful question from a young girl who asked if we had always wanted to be singers. Reminded me of the conversation we had in the van just 3 days prior. On our way back to the hotel, we were all determined to snap some shots of the prairie dogs we had seen just around the corner from the school yesterday. They are pretty darn cute but I hear they are a menace to the local cat population.

For lunch we settled on a Whole Foods-esque cafĂ© that featured all natural sandwiches, wraps, burgers and delicious smoothies. It’s tricky to get 9 people to all agree, but this group is fairly easy going. I had made a bit of a stink about not eating at any chain restaurants. It’s just something about driving 8 hours to eat at a place that is 10 minutes from home. I think we were all quite sated despite a stowaway jalapeno in my wrap. While Youngha and Cecy might relish in wasabi, Tabasco and jalapenos, my taste buds are wimps!

After lunch we had our final show in Midland which was a bit farther away than the first two locations. We may or may not have made a couple of u-turns on the way ;). Our fearless leader unfortunately did not have a GPS device to pilot the way. Once there, the band teacher delighted with some Midland humor. Apparently The Magic Flute is the sequel to The Voodoo Euphonium. Har har har. And all this time I thought it was the prequel to The Spastic Piccolo. My bad. The show went well and Katherine nailed her stratospheric coloratura (despite suffering from some serious congestion). One young girl asked Hannah if it was fun playing the princess and I had to resist answering the question myself. I have donned a dress for OTG more than once – Princess Esperanza in Mary Carol Warwick's The Princess and the Pea sprang to mind.

Immediately after the show it was off to San Antonio with just a little drooling on my Texas flag pillow. We glimpsed a road runner that was too quick for any photos. No doubt a coyote was in hot pursuit. Kade claims to have seen a boar. This trip was all about the Texas wildlife. 5 hours and several pieces of beef jerky later, we pulled into our hotel right on the river walk. It’s remarkable considering the city is under siege by musicians for the TMEA conference. Despite the falling temperature we ate outside at Casa Rio (we were all too hungry to wait for a table inside). We warmed ourselves by taking ridiculous pictures of each other and laughing hysterically. Thank goodness for digital cameras. Then it was off to a decently early bedtime. Have to be up again in the morning for our final performance of Flute. After performing in Abduction and Flute in the HGO chorus and Flute on the road, I’m about Mozart-ed out! Lying in my bed that night I was thinking how interesting it is that with HGO we will rehearse a show for 2 months and then perform 5 or 6 times over 2 weeks. Whereas with OTG, we rehearse a show for 2 weeks and then perform it many times over 2-3 months. It is simultaneously a challenge to keep the show fresh and an opportunity to really explore our characters and the music. I know we all look forward to taking the show on the road again - after we get some well-deserved rest. Maybe next time we’ll go to Cabo!


Friday, February 15, 2008

Opera to Go! Midland Tour - Tuesday

One of the exciting aspects of being a performer in HGO’s Opera to Go! is putting our show up in unique places every day. This week we are on the road, taking our technological, forty-five minute version of The Magic Flute to Midland, TX.

This morning we performed our first show in Midland at the Carver Center, a local school where gifted and talented elementary school students attend twice a week. We arrived to find a surprisingly resonant brick auditorium, which is always a treat for us as singers. Since we perform primarily in schools, we are always adapting to a new acoustic and a new group of children (which varies amazingly in mood from one school to another). Some rooms have a dry acoustic that can make it more difficult for us as singers, and some give us a live, ringing sound that flatters voices but demands a much more detailed and strong approach to diction. In this case, projecting the sound was easy, but in order to make the performance understandable and easy to follow, we really had to heighten the intensity of our diction. The size of the stage can also vary widely, and we have to think about everything from our blocking during the show to watching sightlines so the students cannot see us when we are behind the set. Making adjustments like this are so important for us, as we really want each child to be able to completely understand what we are doing onstage, and to enjoy every aspect of the performance without distraction.

After spending our usual half hour setting up and putting on our costumes, the kids began to file in. Several cast members were still warming up their voices backstage, so our director began by speaking to the children about the exercises that we were singing and explaining why opera singers warm up. Soon the audience was full and we began the performance. I’m happy to report that the kids in Midland are absolutely wonderful, and were among the most attentive that I have ever seen! When we finish a show we always allow some time for questions, and these students did not disappoint, asking about everything from set design to how to sing high notes.

After a quick trip back to the hotel and lunch, we made our way to a second school, Emerson Elementary. Here our audience consisted of a large group of fourth-graders, their teachers, and several members of the local media! As it turns out, Opera to Go! was featured on the evening news, and a story and photo will appear in the local paper on Wednesday. The second show of the day went as well as the first, and the children were extremely responsive.

The evening brought us to the home of a member of Midland Opera Theater’s board. Sue, our amazing host, cooked a delicious dinner for our group and her fellow board members, and it was a great time to connect with opera enthusiasts in another part of our state. For those who have never been to Midland, these people know how to have a good time! The board members were all so friendly and gracious, and we had a great time getting to know them.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Opera to Go! Midland Tour - Monday

[Kade Smith is the program coordinator for HGOco. This is first of a series of guest posts about Opera to Go!'s tour of The Magic Flute.]

Opera to Go! set off on a journey to Midland, TX yesterday to perform our brand new version of The Magic Flute. We all met at the Wortham Center, some of us bright eyed, a few bushy-tailed. Because we needed a cargo van for the OTG sets and a passenger van for the singers, we took two vehicles and therefore had two drivers. Chuck Winkler, our director, decided he would drive the solitary cargo van, while I drove the passenger van.

Our first stop was in Katy, where we picked up our Queen of the Byte/1st Lady, Katherine McDaniel. Seeing the traffic coming the other way at 8:30 in the morning gave us all a new appreciation for those of you who have to make that commute every morning! It was a good idea for us to pick her up, especially since it gave us a chance to stop at Chick Fil-A and get some breakfast (of couse Alejandro Magallon, our Tamino, saw the Taco Cabana next door and couldn’t resist the call of a breakfast burrito!)

We then continued on I-10 to San Antonio, and amid intermittent naps by the cast, discussed our musical heritages. Everyone told when they first started singing (or playing piano, in the case of our pianist Youngha Guk). Many of us have been singing all our lives, and a couple of us discovered opera later on in high school or even college. Alejandro said that he studied astronomy before he decided that he wanted to perform.

Our first important stop past San Antonio was the Buc-ee’s, a Texas favorite known for its smiling cartoon beaver on the logo and great local snacks. We got beef jerky, drinks, more beef jerky, some chips, and even MORE beef jerky! Dennis Arrowsmith, our Sarastro, found a Texas pillow that he had to have. I think the window was a little too hard on his head when he kept falling asleep, so he needed some cushion! I myself got a Buc-ee’s t-shirt, which I’m hoping will help me fit in when we go roller-skating later on today.

The rest of the drive was usual- some good conversation, a few games, lots of western Texas brush. Just so you know how nerdy musicians can be, one of the games we played was to name as many composers as you can from a certain country! I chose France, Brian Speck, our Papageno, chose Germany, Katherine was brave and picked Scandanavia, Alejandro chose Spain, and Cecy Duarte, our Monostatos/Papagena /3rd Lady, chose Italy. Dennis took over England for Youngha when she got tired of the game and he actually woke up for a bit!

We arrived in Midland last night just in time for dinner. At the hotel we met our Pamina/ 2nd Lady, Hannah Nelson, who flew in from Minnesota- no, South Dakota (an inside joke) where she had been singing in a concert this weekend. Our dinner, again in true west Texas style was- can you guess? Barbecue. It was delicious! After dinner we came back to the hotel to get rested for our shows today.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Starting a Family

Now before you start rumors that I'm pregnant, I'm only letting you know that we've started rehearsals in earnest for Last Acts. I’ve been slow to write about the first few days, as we all find our pace for the initial rehearsals. We’ve had the customary music read-throughs, which are leaps and bounds ahead of normal premieres thanks to the cast singing the workshop in December. We’ve sketched out the staging for Act I and have a clear idea of how to build this family and how they’ll interact with each other.

But remember that HGO is also hosting Concert of Arias this week, with which our conductor Patrick Summers is heavily involved and that Jake and Flicka are hosting and judging tomorrow. And, oh yeah – Magic Flute has had performances every other day since last Friday, in which Kristin (a third of our cast, mind you) is singing First Lady.

Plus it’s a “world premiere,” loosely defined in several ways:
  • The first public performance of a musical piece or play
  • That’s what it sounds like with piano?
  • No, you should have Version E with the two added pages, minus the cut we made yesterday, and your line should now read, “These shoes rule.”
  • You want the pianos where?
Now, I’m 90% joking, of course, but when you’re creating something from scratch, it has a whole host of challenges that your typical Mozart opera doesn’t have. Yet, these are exactly what make it rewarding. The atmosphere of good will and collaboration in the room is palpable and with it comes a refreshing level of patience, flexibility and curiosity. Thankfully so, as there are many logistics to solve (where DO those pianos go?) and even more family issues to sort through in Act II.

Cocktail Party Tip #2
I’m sure Kristin would love to tell you about the socks she’s wearing in this picture. They were a gift from Flicka and Jake and reference the duet Kristin sings with Keith in Act II. I wonder if Keith got his own pair….

Saturday, February 2, 2008


Today is a red-letter day at HGO, one that comes every year and yet is newly special and thrilling each time. Today, the semifinalists of the McCollum competition arrive, the singers we chose on our long audition tour last November (remember that multi-week blogging hiatus?). In the coming week, they'll compete for prize money, and some will be asked to join us in our Studio next season. The competition is exciting, of course - all that energy, daring, and skill brought to bear - but there's a deeper process at work as we try to discern who will be a good addition to our company. Is this the voice we want, is this person hungry to learn? The singers are trying to discern this as well: are we the community they wish to join for several years, are we the teachers, the colleagues? Do they respond to our process? Could Houston be home for a while? We don't simply hand out checks at the end of the week, but we ask a few people to change their lives in order to join us.

In and around this week, so much more is happening, and all of it feels emotonally and artistically large. We will close our fine ABDUCTION tomorrow and say goodbye to a cast of beautiful singers; what pleasure they have brought to us! FLUTE will continue throughout the week, simple and profound, with another lovely cast featuring our current Studio so auspiciously. For me, these performances turn bittersweet as I realize how soon we will say goodbye to some of these artists who are truly a part of the HGO family. And on Monday, we begin to rehearse the world premiere of Jake Heggie's LAST ACTS, creating a brand new opera on our stage.

The moment is big, so many things new, so many things beginning, all of it tinged with a taste of farewell. And I know I'm not alone in feeling grateful, grateful for these people, grateful for a life in which we have the opportunity (the responsibility!) to create, to communicate, to use the words and music of Mozart or Heggie to tell stories about human life.

The picture accompanying this entry is Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's; her voice also accompanies the writing of this entry. The above musings led me to play the recording of her solo Bach cantatas this morning. If you don't already own this, improve your life and get it! She was one of the most direct, honest, raw communicators I ever had the pleasure to know and hear. She left us too soon and left so much beauty behind. The picture is taken from her Metropolitan Opera performances of Didon in Berlioz' LES TROYENS, on which I assisted. I will never forget her in those performances, always immediate, new, and real.

What a gift, to be part of a community of performers and listeners who together make this work.