Monday, November 25, 2013

In Conversation with Susan Graham

     I'll keep this post brief because the video speaks for itself. Last Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by Opera America at The National Opera Center. I hadn't been to their fancy headquarters since I moved out here, and I was thoroughly impressed. There are still many aspects of the center that I have yet to explore, but I definitely plan on numerous future visits.

    The event itself was part of a series entitled "Conversations," and I am looking forward to the next installment on March 20th which will feature tenor Lawrence Brownlee. Check it out!

     It is always so inspiring to learn more about the development of beloved operatic artists, and Susan Graham was such a joyful and sincere person. She clearly has a great passion for music as well as support for young singers. It's encouraging to hear that opera stars like her were also 25, broke, and loving life in NYC. Hopefully I absorbed some of her determination and charm. I highly encourage all of you to watch the video below and soak up some knowledge as well as inspiration.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Learning to Explore New Ideas with an Old Favorite

     This past Thursday I had the pleasure of participating in an unique experience courtesy of Vital Opera. Their Artist Development Workshop presented scenes from Le nozze di Figaro, but the event turned out to be much more than that.

     As an audience member, it was strange initially to watch a sort of public rehearsal, but after the first couple scenes, the format had won me over. The ensemble of singers was so courageous and willing to experiment in front of a skeptical  crowd, and their enthusiasm and acceptance was infectious.

     Now I'm not going to pretend that I absolutely loved every moment of the experience because I didn't. Le nozze di Figaro is one of my absolute favorite operas, and often I get annoyed if a performance doesn't live up to my standards. I found myself falling into this trend a lot during the workshop, but I had to just keep reminding myself that this wasn't supposed to be a finished product. I had no qualms whatsoever about the singers' abilities themselves. Every role was well sung and performed. It was a talented group, and they worked well together for how little time they'd been rehearsing together.

    In the end, it was the discussion after the scenes that had the greatest impact upon me personally. There were a few points made that struck me the most, and I'd like to expound upon them briefly for you here:

1. Rules of "The Room"

     One of the very first things the director of Vital Opera, Kelvin Chan, did at this event was share with the audience the "Room Rules" that the ensemble had created during their rehearsal process. I don't remember every single rule, but the main goal seemed to be to create an environment in which the cast members would feel secure and open minded enough to experiment as performers.
     This concept of  "the Room" where each person was invested in not only his/her own explorations but also those of fellow cast mates was refreshing. It seems like something that should be more fundamental and not so surprising to me as a performer, but it is all too easy to forget. I applaud the singers in this workshop for their willingness to accept these rules with complete trust and enthusiasm. Their performances were all the stronger for this open minded attitude, and I hope that I can apply these concepts in my own career.

2. The conundrum

     Once the ideal scenario of "the Room" has been experienced, the more difficult question arises: How does one carry these concepts into environments that may not be so encouraging or supportive?  There is really no simple answer to this, but it is worth pondering.
     All too often as performers we find ourselves in environments that do not allow us to experiment. Sometimes it is because of a director with a very specific vision. Sometimes it is because of a competitive atmosphere between singers. Sometimes the issue lies in our own heads because of difficult music, staging that makes us uncomfortable, non-musical stress, or the ever present fear of failure. Whatever the reason, it holds us back from taking risks, and that is a crucial element of performing. I like to think that being aware of the need to foster creativity is half the battle, and when I am preparing a role and rehearsing in the future, I hope that I may be able to infuse some of Vital Opera's vitality into my own process.

3. Stock characters and preconceptions

     The biggest moment of self-awareness that I experienced that night, however, was related to the idea of stock characters and conventions. Now, as I mentioned earlier, Le nozze di Figaro is a very beloved opera to me, and I can get annoyed when I don't think Mozart's creation is getting properly displayed. My friends have experienced this after numerous recitals when I insist on playing recordings for them to contrast whichever aria has just been butchered according to my opinion.
     As I watched Vital Opera's workshop, I often found myself having adverse reactions to various experimentations. They would try some extreme alteration in a characterization, and while I knew it was simply to explore a new perspective, I would immediately dislike it. They stated many times that the process involved asking a lot of questions about a character without committing to any answer or decision. The perfectionist control freak in me was not pleased, crying out, "No! They're doing it wrong! Bartolo would never do that! The Count isn't like that at all!"
     It wasn't until the discussion turned to stock characters and preconceptions that I started to recognize my hang ups. I generally like to think of myself as open minded about stagings and such, so why was I so horrified by a simple exercise in character development? Maybe I wasn't as open to change as I thought I was. What was the possible harm in trying something new? Who was to say what was right or wrong with a choice in character portrayal? I had set myself up as an authority where I had no right, and while I am still sensitive about upholding the works I cherish, I am determined to be more accepting of new ideas in an old favorite. Art of any kind is up to interpretation. I don't have to agree with every choice made in an opera production, but I will respect the rights of singers, directors, and designers to make their own choices and try to glean what I can from their perspective.

     By the end of the night, I had learned much more than I anticipated, and I want to thank Vital Opera for welcoming their audience members to participate in their workshop and for nurturing such an energetic and open environment of artistic growth. The opera world needs more experiences like this, and I look forward to this company's future work.

     And just for fun, here's a clip from The Met's 1999 production of Le nozze di Figaro:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Blogger Guilt and Giving New Opera a Chance

     I have been overwhelmed with blog related guilt lately. I know I've been neglecting my duties here, and I'm sorry. As life in NYC progresses forward, I've been trying to lay low a little more and save money. That in combination with the decline in temperature makes it seem much more appealing to curl up on the couch and watch Doctor Who instead of venturing out to explore the city.

     The few adventures that I have had recently I have not done the best job of documenting. I simply don't remember to take pictures of events in my life! I promise I will remedy this issue in the future. In the meantime, I'd like to share a bit about one of my recent little outings with you.

     While my friend Becky was in town for an audition, she was kind enough to let me tag along with her to an event hosted by the New York Opera Alliance. It was fascinating to get a taste of so many local opera companies which I expected but also to get a sample of many new operas which was a pleasant surprise. I don't have time to talk in depth about all the amazing companies that are putting on so many exciting new works in the NYC area, but I will focus on a few of my favorite discoveries.

1. The Indie Opera Podcast

     I was fascinated just by their promo video, and anyone who makes fun of Beethoven's Fidelio like that has won me over.

2. The Dwarf

     This was one of the few humorous scenes of the modern opera medly. Man, new operas are depressing! This quirky, fun show being produced by Vertical Player Repertory is definitely on my to do list.

3. Dog Days

Dog Days from Beth Morrison Projects on Vimeo.

     This new opera, written by composer David T. Little, and produced by Beth Morrison Projects looks totally gut wrenching and captivating. I really wish it was still being performed right now!

     If nothing else, attending this event has reaffirmed that there is so much exciting growth in the opera genre happening at this very moment. New works never cease to amaze and intrigue me, and while I may not have been a fan of every piece of music we heard that afternoon, every scene got me to think critically about the art form and what the future may hold for it. My curiosity will never cease, and for all you aspiring opera composers out there: Keep it coming! I want to see more!