Saturday, March 13, 2010

Something you should know...

Lots to say about Idomeneo, but not possible yet.

I've just read a story on by Scott Cantrell, the music critic from the Dallas Star who about a week ago wrote a scathing review on the Met's new Attila. A few days after, a comment was posted online that came from one of the cast members of the opera, none other than Sam Ramey, who made a cameo appearance as Pope Leo, basically blaming the stage direction (or lack of) for the production's inadequacies. I did not see the production, but I can say that there have been may times in my career when I wanted to make that very comment to a reviewer. Now there seems to be a controversy brewing as to whether or not a singer should be allowed to speak out and voice his or her opinion (especially before the completion of the run of performances has finished) about the production team or conductor. I'm not sure that it is a good idea or not. But, I do think it is time for singers to have equal footing when it comes to having a say about what goes onstage. We have more and more become little more than puppets that are basically forced to "do as we are told" when it comes to costuming, stage direction, tempi (too slow or too fast), vocal production, etc. Then when the critiques come out, we are many times blamed for things that are completely beyond our control.

How could any of this be "beyond our control," you say? Here's why.

When I arrive for a rehearsal period, I have no idea what the stage director, costumer or conductor have in mind. It is only during that 3 to 6 week period that these ideas are "revealed". At that point, it is too late for you to say "no" to the contract, especially if you want to get paid! We get paid to sing and not to rehearse. (Yes, there are theatres who pay for rehearsals, but they are very few and a rehearsal fee or per diem normally just pays for the expenses you may incur while living in the city you're in.) So, unless you are raking in money from other sources, you don't walk out of a contract. You have already signed on to sing the role and as per the contract have agreed to abide by the management's conditions. Hopefully, one is able to collaborate with both stage director and conductor and I must say that more often than not, that is the case. There have been very few instances in my career that I have been totally at odds with a stage director or conductor, so I have been very fortunate in that regard.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is, if we have no say in how the production looks, please don't blame us. We literally are just "the messengers". I have made it a point in my career that even if I don't agree with a stage director on his or her concept, I will do everything in my power to "sell it" and I know that most of my colleagues do the same. And during the run of that show, I will defend that concept as best I can.

So here's my wish for all critics: Please don't forget about what the art form is and hopefully will continue to be. Opera should be first and foremost about singing. So if and when there is a production you don't care for, please try and judge us fairly without going too much into the production's drawbacks. We would also be extremely grateful if you could try and give us as much copy as the production. Too often the singers become just a footnote of a review. Wouldn't it be nice to put us back at the forefront where we belong?

More on Idomeneo on Monday.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Staging complete

Yes, that's right. Last night, we completed the staging of Idomeneo and not a minute too soon. This evening is our first rehearsal with the orchestra "al l'Italiana" meaning we have the orchestra in the pit and the choir and soloists sitting on the stage. Some countries call it a "sitzprobe" or a "sitting rehearsal" but tonight, I imagine it will be a combination of things, perhaps a "wandelprobe" meaning you can do your basic movements around the stage (wandering rehearsal), trying to take the proper positions on the stage when you sing.

Anyway, More tomorrow on how that goes.

By the way, the set and all of the effects are amazing! It is a very technically difficult show, but I must say that all of the effects add a lot. Not distracting, but enhancing. Looking forward to it now. See how things can change in the course of a month?

Till later.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

On stage!

Hey there everyone!

Well, it's now 16 days till we open Idomeneo and today, we got our first shot at the actual scenery on the actual stage! This is where it gets both exciting and a bit tedious at the same time. Of course exciting because everything is new and you are able to realize the actual playing space and the actual distance to the conductor from where you have to stand on the first entrance (44 meters...) and really what it is all going to look like come dress rehearsal time. Tedious, because everyone is in the same boat with everything being a new experience and new feeling. Entrances take longer because there is more ground to cover, walls that you used in the rehearsal are not usable now because leaning on them makes you invisible to half the auditorium, there is carpet on the floor which completely changes the sound from the rehearsal room and many other things. But overall, it was a very positive day. I can speak for my fellow cast members that we are very much looking forward to putting it all together with the orchestra starting next week.

I saw a bit of the video that will accompany the overture this morning and I must say it is really cool. Tal Harden has done a superb job of editing. It's shaping up to be a very visually stimulating show. The audience will certainly not be bored and of course the singing will be first class.

Tomorrow is a day off.

Pray for some sun. It's now 8 straight days of rain and wind.


More Tuesday or Wednesday.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I wonder how this piece ends?

Hi Everybody. Well, we're here now since 10 February and we've yet to finish the piece. I've been assured that it will be completely staged by tomorrow, so that makes me happy. I just want to get to the end so I know how it turns out!

Seriously, it is a bit frustrating to me staging in this way. We seem to be taking quite a long time to get it all put together. I'm not used to working like this. Normally, we would have been staged and ready to go with the orchestra rehearsals, but on the other hand, I rather like the opportunity to really delve into not only my character, but all the others as well. It's a real collaboration and the stage director is now trusting us more and welcoming suggestions.

I must say though, that we miss our conductor Jeremy, who is off doing something else, somewhere else. He returns next week for our orchestra rehearsals and I assume will stay with us until we open which is on the 16th of next month. One of the assistants has taken over the conducting duties in his place. Having said that, it can sometimes becomes difficult when there is a question regarding musical interpretation when the conductor is not present. No one can really make any concrete decisions so, we sort of do it our own way until he arrives and gives either his seal of approval, or doesn't and suggests his own interpretation. The frustration level can be rather high when one continues to rehearse in one way and then is asked to change an interpretation at a moments notice. Singers are creatures of habit so changing something is never an easy thing for us to do. Anyway, I know it will work out in the always has and it always will.

So, here's a little preview of what to expect...

There will be quite a gruesome scene at the end of Act Two (our Act One as we do the first two acts together). In the finale, a massacre occurs and young children will appear to be shot and die in their parents' arms. This is an addition to the traditional Idomeneo, but in fact remains consistent with the concept of the Stage Director. It is an incredibly shocking scene, but trust me, it all turns out OK in the end. That part, I won't give away.

On the home front, tonight is the Gregory Kunde Chorale's repeat performance of Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem at 7:30 EST at Asbury Methodist Church on East Avenue in downtown Rochester. My assistant Malcolm Merriweather will conduct, Linda Wojciechowski (my wife) will be the soprano and Jan Opalach the baritone. Berri Garver and Gordon Porth will accompany the Chorale in Brahms' own arrangement for Piano Four-Hands.

In bocca al lupo to them.

More to come before the weekend.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More from Brussels

Nice day yesterday. More filming for the Idomeneo overture. I'm getting used to the contemporary idea. Off today, but it is raining and the wind is blowing so hard, I've not been outside at all. Tomorrow we get the chorus back in rehearsals after their week off and we'll do more filming as well.

There was a great article in the Rochester, NY newspaper (Democrat and Chronicle) featuring my wife, Linda. Here's the link:

I'm so proud of her. She is a remarkable woman. Please take a minute to read it.

That's it for now.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

I'm back!

I know, I know. It's the procrastinator in me.

Brussels. I've been here now for about 10 days. Another new Mozart role for me. Idomeneo. I'm so glad I never attempted to tackle this when I was younger. This is an incredible role in every sense. Great arias, great recitatives, and just a fantastic character who runs the whole gamut of emotions.

I'm very lucky to have a wonderful cast as well. Two singers I did not know before I arrived Malena Ernman as Idamante and Ingela Bohnin as Ilia have proved to be great finds. Two Swedish singers who are both superb. Ken Tarver I've known since our Donna del Lago recording in Scotland a few years ago is the same as ever...excellent as Arbace, my chief-of-staff (more on that later) and one of my very favorite artists ever, Alexandrina Pendachanska as Elettra whose voice still continues to amaze and delight.

The conductor is Jeremy Rhomer. He is young and full of enthusiasm and I think will do very well. The stage director is Ivo van Hove, a Dutch based theatre director. In my first meeting, I found his concept a bit off-putting as is is my first Idomeneo and I arrived with some pre-conceived ideas of how I wanted to play him. I'm glad to report that I am enjoying more and more his way of working and even looking forward to the outcome of the show.

Without giving too much away just yet, let's just say that instead of taking place in ancient times, the show has been updated to take place in present day. Idomeneo is a returning soldier who re-takes his role as President of his country. And instead of dealing with Neptune the sea god, we are thinking of Neptune as more of a power-brokering terrorist who makes unreasonable demands on Idomeneo. When those demands are not met, the price he and his countrymen pay is quite high.

We've not reached the end of the piece yet in our staging rehearsals, so I'm not sure of how the ending will play out. Let's just say that the production will certainly be a spectacle in the good sense of the word. Special effects, video screens with both live action shots and "flashback" pre-recorded shots will keep the audience completely engaged. I promise to keep you updated.

Next time, I'll talk about what you missed in the last 3-4 months...lots!

Good to be back.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Armida in Amsterdam, days 2 and 3

Well, after a rough start, day two was much, much better.  Everyone was really in top form.  The orchestra seems to really like the music which now days is quite rare and they are a really great band.  All singers at the top of their games.  Haydn would be very happy.  Only a couple of concerns about tempos. They were not quite comfortable yet. Mostly with Armida (Meagan Miller) and me.  Let's hope they resolve themselves.  

So, for the novice at this opera thing, or about any singing with orchestra let me explain what I mean by concerns with tempos.  The tempo is the speed at which the piece you are singing goes.  It can change sometimes during the piece but usually, there is a collaboration between the conductor and singer(s) in the first few rehearsals to establish what the speed(s) will be.  This is one of the most important things that happen in the initial rehearsals.  Once the tempos are established, the singers can get the piece into their bodies and can finally get comfortable singing it.  If perhaps the singer (or even and instrumentalist) feels the piece is too fast or too slow, it effects the way they perform the piece. For example, if the tempo is too fast, the singer may not be able to get enough breath in the places they would normally take breaths, and if it is too slow, they will have the opposite problem, not having enough breath to sustain the needed sound and perhaps will need to take too many breaths.  In either case, it can create a psychological barrier and prevent the performer from doing his or her best. When the tempo is right, it is evident immediately and one will sense a sort of freeness in the performer's persona.  But, when wrong, you'll be able to see the performer becoming uncomfortable right before your very eyes.

So, back to day 2, no complaints really except the day ended up being quite long.  We rehearsed with the orchestra from 9:45- 2:15 and then had a break till 7:30 when we had a "recitative" rehearsal with the continuo players.  Another informative factoid: recitatives are the parts between the "arias" and "ensembles" (where the orchestra plays) which are usually accompanied by a "continuo" group that normally consists of a harpsichord and cello.  It is imperative to have rehearsals with this group separate from the orchestra rehearsals in order to work out the timing and intentions of what is being said.  Think theatre dialogue rehearsal but with a melody, rhythms and a harpsichord and cellist to accompany you.  Anyway, it was a long day.

Now, to today's 3:

We had the other two singers arrive for today's rehearsal; a baritone and soprano who both arrived from Salzburg where they were both involved in a staged production of Armida...convenient, no?  Consequently, a lot of time was spent with them leaving the principals (Armida and I) a bit short-changed today.  We had it in mind to do another "recit" rehearsal this evening, but cancelled it instead due to fatigue on everyone's part. 

So, that leaves us the rest of the day to relax a bit and then pack the bags for our transfer to Amsterdam City Center tomorrow after yet another early morning rehearsal with the orchestra!

I'll be in touch.

All the best,