Oh dear! It's quite dusty in here ... hold on a minute, let me get the lights .. and what IS that smell? It seems so one's been in here for quite some time. Well, let's just remedy that, shall we?
Sorry for the long absence. Things got rather hairy for a while. In fact, they are still pretty hairy, and not a shaving kit in sight. A quick catchup:
My last report was from Portland, where I was enjoying taking part in a fantastic production of The Pirates of Penzance. Sadly, it didn't get much press, but if you're of a mind, you can read a review here.
This show taught me a lot about what kind of artist I want to be, and there was another sort of learning experience attached. I woke up the day before the pentultimate show with terrible drainage, a bad cough, and ... DUM DUM DUM, laryngitis. I'll spare you all the details of my panic, the scramble to the doctor, the steaming, the babying of the vocal cords, and so on ... suffice it to say that I ended up having to sing the last TWO performances on laryngitis, not knowing from note to note what was going to come out.
For the first time in my career, I asked for an announcement to be made. Chris Mattaliano and the whole Portland Opera staff could not have been kinder or more supportive throughout the whole thing, and even the audience was kindly indulgent. My colleagues were great, too. (Dan Okulitch, singing the Pirate King, poked and admonished me for singing the ensemble stuff where there were no solo lines ... I was on automatic by that time, just relieved to have made it through the show)! It was terrifying, but with all that support, I got through just fine. Needless to say, it was very sad to say goodbye to such a great cast and a great show.
However, it was nice to be home for a little while. There was a brief trip to New York to coach and to see All the Way, Robert Schenkken's brilliant Tony award-winning play about LBJ and the Civil Rights Movement, directed by none other than Bill Rauch (artistic director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where All the Way originated, and our wonderful stage director for Pirates), and starring the magnificent Bryan Cranston and a fantastic cast. Truly one of the greatest theatrical experiences of my life.
Back in Texas, I had a few weeks to enjoy some domesticity and prepare for Spotlight on Opera, the summer training program for singers which I founded and have run for the past eight years. It's quite a valuable tool for a singer to sit on the other side of the audition table, and I'm quite sure that doing this has made me a better performer and (one hopes) colleague. This was our eighth season, and it was possibly one of the best. We had 32 singers and 12 faculty, and over four weeks in June and July, enjoyed master classes with Shawn Marie Jeffery of ADA Artists Management (my manager), bass-baritone Edward J. Crafts (my first Wotan!), and bass Matthew Trevino; classes in English and Italian diction, The Business of Singing, stagecraft and acting, yoga, and a lot more. We gave two concerts, including our now traditional annual death-by-aria event at the Whole Foods flagship store in downtown Austin, and another at the beautiful Stone House Vineyards in Spicewood; two massive opera excerpts programs; and two performances each of Le nozze di Figaro and The Crucible. I directed The Crucible and enjoyed every moment of it; I've loved the play since our next door neighbor Mrs. Foresman took me to see it at age 10; and a few years ago I got to sing the role of Tituba at Opera Boston, with the composer in attendance. It's been on my list of shows to produce at Spotlight ever since.
Needless to say, administering and teaching at and stage directing a program like this takes an ENORMOUS amount of time and mental real estate. So, when, on July 12, with my program running until the 20th, I got a phone call from Josh Major at the Pine Mountain Music Festival asking whether I could learn a one woman opera for performances beginning August 29 ... well, let's just say it takes a certain amount of insanity to say yes to something like that, and I happen to qualify.
25 Things That An Opera Singer Will Intimately Understand: at some point, some contract is going to be canceled and money you were planning on getting is no longer headed for your bank account. There is very little you can do about this. (In fact, our Met artists are facing an entire season of cancellation --- but that's a whole 'nother story). I had a gig that was to take place directly after Spotlight and it went up in smoke, halving my summer income. Poof! You're welcome. I had been contacted about the Pine Mountain gig, but they couldn't wait for me to get a release from Dilettante Grand Opera, so the job went to another artist ... who canceled for personal reasons 10 days before rehearsals were to start. So they called me again, and boy was I glad they did. I was excited to visit the beautiful and isolated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, especially since it's about 30 degrees cooler than Texas this time of year, and I get to work with one of my very favorite conductors and human type people, Maestro Joey Mechavich.
There was just one little fly in the ointment ... the work in question, Lee Hoiby's The Italian Lesson, is not standard repertoire; I had never heard a note of it and never sung any Hoiby; the score has to be special ordered and --- and this is important when you need to cram a piece --- there is no full recording of it.
So I called Glendower, got a score in two days (it's manuscript and NOT easy to read, yaaaay, just what you want when you're learning a piece in a very short time), and booked a repetiteur to teach me the part. Every free moment, I studied this score. I didn't even go to my own cast party, because I had to be up at 4 a.m. to catch a plane the next day. And every day since I've arrived here in the beautiful Upper Peninsula, (where it's a good 30 degrees cooler than Texas --- sob) I've spent most of my time in a dark, stuffy high school auditorium bashing through music and staging with Mo Joe and the lovely human being Josh Major, the artistic director of the festival and the stage director for the show.
It has been, to say the least, an interesting experience. This is certainly not the way I'm accustomed to preparing music. It's both stressful and taxing, and I have to just keep saying to myself that it's going to happen because it has to happen. Even working eight hours a day, it's terrifying, because the learning and memorization and staging are all happening at the same time. I have to let go, trust the pianist and trust myself --- my training, my musicianship, my acting skills. This is a HUGE role. Yes, the whole thing is only about 40 minutes long with the cuts we've made, but I am on stage and singing every minute, and Mrs. Clancy is ... well, let's just say she's chatty.
However. It's a fantastic work, it suits me very well, and I like it a lot. I am very grateful to have this opportunity to do something new in a different way, in a friendly, comfortable, and supportive place. And did I mention how pretty it is?
Every day I walk along the trail that follows the Lake Superior canal, enjoying the beautiful wildflowers and thimbleberries while I work on memorization and burn a few calories. I've even gotten to see a bit of the area: Joey took me to a fabulous restaurant in Eagle River, right on the banks of Lake Superior. Fantastic beer and whiskey list, and barbecue that --- though it pains me to say it -- rivals Franklin.
As I write this, it's T-2. My show opens on Tuesday. Whatever else it turns out to be, it's an adventure. A hairy, hairy adventure. Wouldn't trade this life for anything.