Monday, October 11, 2010
Monday morning I entered that hallway and as I started my commute through the building, I laughed aloud. Yes, I was THAT excited to go to work. Crazy, right?!? Why? We started production on the project I've been looking forward to since spring, Peter Grimes. As an opera coach, so much of what we do is about preparation. First there are the hours of personal preparation: studying the orchestration, adjusting the piano reduction to be accurate and orchestral, learning to play it, translating the text (bless Grimes for only have bits of bizarre English), learning the vocal lines, and basically stamping your soul with the specific piece of music. And then there's the coaching and preparation that's done with the singers themselves.
Then production begins and preparation is put into practice.
On Day 1, I played for the first staging session we had and it was completely surreal. I sat at the piano in RR1 and played the Prologue for a conductor whose brilliance never ceases to amaze me and for a cast of world-renowned, talented singers. And it was all I could do to keep from grinning the entire time. Because almost two years ago I was in that exact room, sitting at a piano almost identically positioned and playing the Prologue to Peter Grimes while singing all the parts. Auditioning for the HGO Studio.
Needless to say, when I left Monday evening I was still completely ecstatic. Amazed at the talent that converges in a rehearsal room, awed by the genius of a masterful composer, and 100% overwhelmed because I'm blessed enough to be a part of it. And while I didn't laugh on my commute out, I walked through the tunnel that night profoundly satisfied and so happy I thought I might burst. At which point a quick skip seemed perfectly appropriate.
Thursday, August 12, 2010
I also have to say on a personal, and rather selfish note, the singers that are going to be seen on the stage this season are the world’s best of the best. The tenors alone, are all idols of mine. There is only one tenor that I have personally seen perform live. As for the rest of the tenors... I have all of their albums, and watch them on youtube all the time. Anthony Dean Griffey, who will perform the role of Peter Grimes, was in the first professional production of an opera I had ever seen. It was my junior year in college at University of Houston, and Joseph Evans, a faculty member at UH, came up to me and told me that a tenor, who he was in a cast with at HGO in a production of Floyd’s Of Mice and Men, reminded him of me. This was completely interesting to me, because I felt like I hadn’t found another tenor who sounded like me. I thought maybe if I saw him in action and he was similar to me vocally then surely I could learn a lot about my self and my development as an artist.
I had been a part of the HGO Chorus in productions before going to see this production, but oddly enough, I had never actually been to see a production at HGO. The only view I had of the Brown Theater was from the stage into the house. I got a ticket and experienced something I had never even thought to imagine! Everything about the production, the orchestra, the singers, the acting… EVERYTHING was amazing. It was my first show, and it is still my all time favorite opera, so far. There are tons of operas I love, but Of Mice and Men, found a place deep inside of me that no show since has reached. It’s a lot like having a favorite movie that all of your friends dislike, but somehow amidst the dissing of that movie you hold tight to the truth of the places it took you while you watched it.
Anthony Dean Griffey was a large part of the impact that production and the opera had on me. It was actually the defining moment, if I had to pick a particular point in time, that I decided I wanted to be on that stage, doing what he did. He embodied the character of Lennie in such a real and truthful way, and I remember, after the curtain descended on the final cutoff, looking down at my hands and some how they were different, I was different. It was a realization that in that single experience I was changed, and I saw everything in a new and exciting way. It was a moment, considered to be late in life by a most, that I had been introduced to the audience view of an opera. Of Mice and Men was my very first opera to see. It was in the dark velvet chamber of the Brown Theater that I discovered my calling, and my purpose, and my love. I’m learning the role Peter Grimes, and I’m so excited that I will get to sit in the audience to see another Anthony Dean Griffey performance.P.S. – I saw my first musical here at Wolf Trap this year (CATS), and I have yet to attend a (pop) concert, but hoping to change that soon.
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Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Once I got over myself, I got to thinking about the similarities between Wolf Trap and HGO Studio. I’ve often been asked whether there’s an official link between the two programs – the answer is a clear no, but the question raises some interesting issues.
HGO Studio only operates September-May – and therefore HGO Studio Artists are only paid for that nine-month period, even when they’re returning for the next season. It’s a definite part of our philosophy that performance experience is a valuable training opportunity – so while HGO is not performing over the summer months, we encourage our Studio Artists to go out to the places which are. They need to ply their trade in other places, learn other systems, make other contacts, and experience different worlds.
There are many summer jobs out there for young opera singers – Aspen, Chautauqua, Glimmerglass, Merola, Ravinia, Santa Fe, St Louis, Tanglewood – and those are just the first ones to spring to mind. Each is very different – some places are geared more to training than performance; at others, there’s very little formal training but you’re on stage every night for months singing in the chorus. Some give recital opportunities; some concentrate on opera. Each has huge strength. So, when there are so many choices out there, why is it that there’s a perceived connection between us and Wolf Trap? Why is it that four of this year’s 11 Studio Artists have chosen to head there this coming summer?
In short, I think the answer is one of ethos. HGO Studio’s stated aim for its Artists is to help them develop their individuality as performers – to become inspired and inspirational artists as well as highly-trained musicians. Wolf Trap responds to the fact the HGO Artists have something to say – remember the WT panel has to be inspired enough in an audition to want to program an opera for the person in front of them! You’ve got to make a unique impression for that to happen – it’s a rather different audition mindset than “we need ten tenors for the chorus of Tosca”.
So I am excitedly making my travel plans for the Summer, to try to take in all three Wolf Trap productions – Zaide, Midsummer Night’s Dream and Il turco in Italia – to watch Catherine Martin, Nathaniel Peake and Michael Sumuel take center stage and tackle the sort of roles which are still a few years off on the HGO stage (and to catch up with Stephanie Rhodes who will be working on music staff there). I know they will each return to HGO in September different, and better, because of those months working away. For those of you who are interested in opera as theater, music as communication, and Studio Artists as the stars of the future, I encourage you to join me.
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
orchestra. Whether in a musical coaching or staging rehearsal, one of our most important responsibilities is to reflect what the orchestra will sound like when they join the singers towards the last week of rehearsal. To that end, we spend an enormous amount of time doing score and listening work. We spend hours reconciling the orchestra score with the piano arrangement. We'll listen to as many different recordings as we can, comparing and internalizing the sounds of various orchestras.
All of that preparation is vital yet abstract. Ultimately we are
not imitating notes on a page, nor digital music from a speaker, but the
live sound of a great orchestra in a grand hall. Fortunately, as an HGO
Studio member I get to hear the HGO orchestra in many rehearsals and
performances in the Brown Theater. Everything I hear in those sessions
translates into my playing. As I listen in the hall, I ask myself all
sorts of questions."When I hear the string players play pizzicato, is
the plucked sound short or does the hall give it a slow decay? What is
the character of this melody when a single clarinet plays it, as opposed
to the full violin section? In a very busy passage, what instruments
come to the foreground?"
It's good for an actor to research a role through observation.
But even better is to do some musical Method-acting and become part of
what you are observing. I got this chance by playing the celesta in our
performances of Tosca. There's nothing like sitting in the middle of an
orchestra for a run of rehearsals and performances to soak up the
orchestra's many sonorities in the piece. Yet as important as
internalizing the "What" of an orchestra's playing is internalizing the
"How" of that playing. How does an orchestra respond to a conductor? How
do they rely on their section leaders? How does the way that an
orchestra make sound differ from that of a piano? How is music-making
different when you are playing a part as an orchestra player instead of
the whole as a rehearsal pianist? These questions have fascinated me for
the whole process. During the long stretches I have between celesta
passages, I often occupied myself by comparing the different speeds at
which the orchestra would respond to Maestro Summers's beat, depending
on the tempo, character, and instrumentation of the moment. When I
translate my orchestral experience back to the piano, I achieve a more
detailed and colorful sonic palette, and a sense of the warmth and
spaciousness that comes from 71 people making music together.
When I joined the Studio, I was gobsmacked by the quality of the
singers I would be working with in rehearsal. It never gets old
accompanying the likes of Christine Goerke, Patricia Racette, or Laura
Claycomb. But it's just as exceptional an opportunity to make music
within a group as accomplished as the Houston Grand Opera Orchestra.
When I study a new score and ask myself "What would it be like to hear a
world-class orchestra play this? What would it be like to be in a
world-class orchestra playing this?" I'll have had the benefit of
Monday, January 18, 2010
One of the greatest things about being in the HGO studio, among many, is the fact that we have an amazing teacher to work with. Dr. King has taken over right were I left off with my last teacher at CCM and I feel I have grown exponentially as a singer. There is no easy way or easy fix to learn how to sing. It takes time, paentience, dedication and a teacher that will invest in you and believe in your talent. We, the studio members, are lucky enough to have a company back us up along with a teacher who cares about us and keeps us vocally healthy. As singers you are asked to sing roles that are not always what you may think you will sing. In Elixir, for example, I never thought I would have to learn that opera because there wasn’t a mezzo role….but when I received a call from the Studio Director about an opportunity to sing main stage it didn’t take me long to say yes. The role was out of my comfort zone because of the high tessitura but I worked through it, with Dr. King and others, and learned how to sing it. Sometimes we grow the most when faced with a challenge that we were at first not ready for but in the end conquered.
Special thanks to Dr. King for the one of my favorite hours of the week!