No good deed…..

With the ‘sting’ of the recent home invasion still smarting and annoying me, one has to believe that at one point things will balance themselves out with the universe….right??  Wrong!!!  Please read the text of an email I sent to the head of the housing department here at the Santa Fe Opera (on an unrelated issue) for an unbelievable story that happened just hours before the time of this entry:

That’s nothing Jeanne, and perhaps you are right about just getting a drink…but get this:  Robin and I found a wallet today in the parking lot of Whole Foods; it was chock full of credentials, credit cards, social security card, drivers license, etc, etc, etc….the whole ball of wax.  Knowing what it is like to have been stripped of these things through theft, we thought it would be a good balance of ‘universal karma’ to track down this person and get this ever important article into their hands.

Well we found her, via telephone, and informed her of the wallet she wasn’t even aware that she had lost…she immediately said she couldn’t give us a reward, and we said we didn’t want one; but rather, wanted to just do a good deed because of the misfortune we recently suffered ourselves.  We even drove to her home to give it to her as she did not have transportation to get to us!

She took the wallet quick enough…with hardly a word of thanks to either of us!  And by the way, the woman who couldn’t give us a reward (and we really DID NOT want one) had just deposited $10,000 into Wells Fargo bank!!!  We saw the receipt when we were looking for a telephone number where we could reach her.  Go figure.  I guess the saying “No good deed goes unpunished” is not too far from being true.

What a real, real set of disappointments this summer when it comes to expecting just simple human decency.  But to be fair; others, such as yourself, and Tom’s neighbors HAVE been wonderful.  Incidently, I took Richard and Judith to dinner last week to thank them for their support the day of the theft….

Das Lied von der Erde, July 25th, Santa Fe

After attending Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde, part of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival’s summer season, I felt compelled to write about it…so moving was the entire event. I hesitated momentarily because I felt that perhaps I couldn’t be completely objective as I am currently working with Paul Groves in The Tales of Hoffmann here at the Santa Fe Opera, and have worked with Susan Graham over the course of the last many years in the business.  However, I must admit that while my interactions with Mr. Groves and Ms. Graham have been both social and professional, they have at the same time never been those that could be described as “buddy-buddy” or too interpersonal by any means.  Therefore, I do feel that there exists enough professional and personal  detachment that I can fairly “review” what I witnessed this evening (Sunday July 25, 2010).

The Chamber players assembled for this event were nothing short of phenomenal.  They were ably led by the wonderfully understated David Zinman at the podium, as they executed the Schoenberg edition/reduction/arrangement of Mahler’s rather massive orchestration with ease and assurance. (Special mention must be made of the first-violin, pianist, and oboist.)

(In order of vocal appearance:) While Paul Groves was slightly concerned about his vocal health on this day, there was precious little evidence of any discomfort or reduced vocal capacity during the one hour and fifteen minute program. His is a ‘sure’ voice that rarely, if ever, disappoints; even under the most grueling of circumstances.  Easy high notes and a flexible middle voice are Groves’ strong suit; desirable vocal gifts which can often be obliterated by the intrepid forces of Mahler’s full orchestration.

Groves’ close friend and artistic partner of the day was the celebrated Susan Graham, who is proudly announced in the program as ‘Artist in Residence’ for this summer by the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival. Ms. Graham, who sang ‘Das Lied‘ for the first time today was in exquisite vocal form; her honeyed tones easily carrying over the reduced orchestration, allowing her ample opportunity to infuse the rich poetic text with clarity of emotion.  I must further admit that while I am no expert on Mahler, or Das Lied von der Erde, I feel that after this many years in the performance end of the business, I have the right to a few conclusions….that is to say, I know excellent singing and musicianship when I hear it; and it was in full evidence today with this very fine performance.

Life is a Dream, Santa Fe Opera 2010

Opening night of Lewis Spratlan’s Pulitzer Prize winning opera, Life is a Dream, was somewhat of a subdued affair. Unseasonably cold and wet weather loomed, as did a sense of trepidation, in my opinion, as to how the opera would be received. In a world where Nobel Prize Awards, Academy Awards, Emmy Awards, a dizzying array of Music Awards, along with TV Land Awards, People’s Choice Awards, Hispanic TV Awards, BET Awards, Opera News Awards, and “Congratulations, You Learned How To Tie Your Shoes” Awards, have dominated the political, entertainment, and humanitarian landscape for the last 10-15 years; one simply cannot rely on an “award distinction” as providing any kind of a legitimate stamp of credibility.  Thus was the case with Life is a Dream.

To be sure, the Santa Fe Opera threw its considerable artistic weight behind this work; providing it, and the audience, with a first rate production and first rate talent to boot.  With its sort of “Requiem for Methuselah”  setting, one felt as if the world had pressed onward and centuries had passed, and yet time had also stood still in essence, as stories and allegories had yet to be told and revealed.  Roger Honeywell received the lion’s share of the vocal nourishment, and dispatched the difficult, high-tessitura role with great aplomb, and in rare moments, a bit of difficulty. His worthy colleagues included James Maddelena, John Cheek, and Keith Jameson most notably.

The problem, however, was the composition itself.  Its atonal, jagged, and angular musical structure left little for the listener to grab hold of.  A rather weak Act I, (both musically and dramatically) was ameliorated somewhat by a very strong Act II, while Act III walked us backward once again. The fiendishly difficult orchestral AND vocal score kept Leonard Slatkin busy all night, as his head was understandably buried nose first into the score while managing to still give relevant cues to the fine Santa Fe Opera Orchestra. It was clear to me that Mr. Slatkin had truly studied/worked on this score, and it showed, despite the management issues he faced in the pit. (Mastering such a score is a different issue altogether; and is probably not worth Mr. Slatkin’s already heavily scheduled time.)

It is my opinion that this work, whose story reaches back some 400 years in Spanish literary history, will likely not receive much play outside of this summer’s venue; but what a thrill it must have been for Mr. Spratlan, who has been waiting in the wings some 32 years to take a bow that destiny had somehow seemed to promise him. It was thrilling for me as an audience member to witness this; as a man who felt he had something to say, and something to give, finally achieved the moment of which he had surely been dreaming.

Hoffmann, Santa Fe Opera….Finally onstage!!

Not really sure what I am seemingly complaining about in the title of this post. We rehearsed Hoffmann at the ‘Santa Fe Opera standard’ of 3 weeks or so. But it was nothing short of amazing what Christopher Alden has done in that short amount of time for such a large scale work.  And this, the expanded Michael Kaye critical edition, being done for the first time in the States; and the first time in its storied 53 years that Santa Fe Opera has mounted any production of Hoffmann.  By all initial accounts, it was a rousing success, despite the many obstacles we faced (see earlier posts).  Hats off to our wonderful cast for working so hard and staying with it right through the opening last night.  It should be a spectacular run.

While we all complained in the dressing room about the difficulty of singing last night….it WAS dry despite a bit of humidity provided by a brief rain shower….and we shuddered when the wind blew and billowed our silken table drapes about the stage early on (which could have been a negative harbinger of things to come), we pressed on with necessary abandon.  Even the fact that a packed house (always a good thing) absorbed much of the sound we were sending out into the audience (leaving little to return to us onstage) worried us bit; I think we can all say with certainty that it was a great night in the theater.  The standing ovation from the opening night audience, and their more than generous applause for each character at bows, led us all to believe that we had accomplished something worthwhile.  Christopher Alden, no stranger to “boos” from audiences past, was warmly received along with his design team at the curtain calls.  This led some of us to jokingly conjecture that Mr. Alden may have been cursing himself for now entering the “mainstream” when it comes to his directing choices…which were, as I have said in earlier posts, rather brilliant in my opinion.  I have my doubts, however, as to whether this production will receive any real critical acclaim, as its somewhat abstract presentation and nuanced implications may not translate across the footlights.  We will see.  Standouts among the cast were Kate Lindsey, with her perfectly sung/portrayed Nicklausse, and Wayne Tigges, who triumphed as a last minute replacement for the “Four Villains” (roles which were vacated by Gidon Saks–see earlier blog posting).

The passage of time will be the final arbiter on this production, and its potential after-life; but suffice it to say that this cast will long be remembered for what transpired on July 17, 2010 at the Santa Fe Opera…for better or for worse.  My compliments to Paul Groves, Erin Wall, Kate Lindsey, Wayne Tigges, Mark Schowalter, and Jill Grove, respectively; wonderful colleagues all!!

An additional personal note: Matthew Epstein (semi-retired CAMI super agent and artistic consultant, former Artistic Director of Lyric Opera of Chicago, and “opera’s biggest fan”) provided a rather comforting presence in the theater throughout the week as we put the finishing touches on the production, and struggled with getting it on the stage and up to performance grade. His patented “bravo’s” which he liberally doles out from the house…but only when deserved…added much to our level of confidence. Mr. Epstein has been a stalwart supporter of mine for the last 15 years; and it was with great respect that I expressed my thanks to him after yesterday’s opening.

Santa Fe Opera, 2010: Hoffmann intrigue and shake-up!!

Well, imagine showing up to your first orchestra dress to discover that one of the main players in your cast has decided to leave the production….after working and rehearsing for almost 4 weeks!!  Well this is exactly what happened as Gidon Saks decided he was not up to the task of singing the ‘Four Villains’ in the Santa Fe Opera’s new production of The Tales of Hoffmann.  There seems to be a confluence of factors involved here: Acid reflux, laryngitis, swollen vocal chords, general dislike of the production, altitude issues; etc, etc, etc.  One never knows the truth behind explanations such as:  “Illness”, “Personal Reasons”, “Scheduling Conflicts”, and the like.  These Press Release Buzz Words are almost always a load of dung and should never be relied upon as being genuine.

I can tell you that from my standpoint that I have never seen a singer who was more suited, compelling, and vocally convincing in a role, (and then pulled out of a production) than Mr. Saks.  Sure, he could grouse about his program bio being not quite right (from day one, no less!); sure, he could be a bit fussy in rehearsals (everyone has their own style); sure, he could publicly complain that there was not enough ‘protein’ served in the Cantina and that its hours of operation were not perfectly suited to the artists’ working hours; sure, he could express discontent with Christopher Alden’s (brilliant) choices of direction; but ultimately he adjusted to everything and was nothing less than mesmerizing in these roles.  And quite frankly, he sang it very, very well; despite being ostentatiously dissatisfied at our sitzprobe….well, I sat in the house when I was not needed on stage and he sounded terrific.

He admits openly to being somewhat insecure.  But aren’t all of us who step on the stage, in a sense, “somewhat insecure”??  Well, no matter, as he has withdrawn.  He further expressed relief at the fact that he didn’t have to perform these roles at what was to be his final rehearsal.  He walked the role last night, while the ever prepared Wayne Tigges (his cover) sang from the orchestra pit.  Mr. Tigges, (somewhat of a takeover specialist) will perform the roles from here on out, much the same way he took over an entire run from Ildebrando d’Arcangelo, as Figaro (Nozze), several years ago after opening night at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.

General Director Charles MacKay, and Artistic Administrator Brad Woolbright put the best face on the situation for the small gathered audience at this rehearsal; but the fact remains that I think this a bad move on the part of Mr. Saks.  He said that he was told by a local ENT to not sing for an entire month, and that the bottom portion of his vocal chords were swollen to twice their size.  And so Gidon, we wish you well.  I, for one, will miss your elegant portrayal of these roles and am simply not convinced over the entire “reasoning” behind your departure.

One final comment: It is true that it is an extremely difficult task to sing at this altitude.  Just ask Erin Wall who has to gasp for air while wearing costumes that, while beautiful, are very heavy.  Just ask Paul Groves who has to sing all night and move rather considerably–and violently–throughout.  Just ask Kate Lindsey who dances jestingly, is up and down off of tables constantly, and is dragged across the stage several times.  Just ask ME, who has to dance on tables while singing, crawl under tables when not singing, writhe maniacally on the floor at times, walk on and over chairs, and so on.  It is tough for ALL of us as we unashamedly GASP for air on the Santa Fe Opera stage.  Well, we all have had to adapt somehow.  My guess is that Mr. Saks could have done so too.  I suspect that he may be his own worst enemy, and sadly, his own worst critic….

Tales of Hoffmann, 2010 Santa Fe

The first run through of Hoffmann onstage today (July 10) was a bag of mixed emotions.  Less than 24 hours earlier I returned to the home in Santa Fe to which I was assigned, to find it had been broken into and robbed rather thoroughly.  Paul Groves wondered why I hadn’t returned to his house post rehearsal for a birthday celebration of his now two year old daughter–I was dealing with the police!  I feel terrible, especially for the owners of this home.  It was ransacked, with televisions stolen, drawers turned over, etc, etc.  While some of my things were stolen…cash (replaceable), jewelry (replaceable), clothes and luggage (replaceable) the worrisome things taken were my travel wallet (with additional credit/debit cards, passport, and the like),  and back up hard drive for my computer.  Luckily, I was protected with Lifelock, the identity protection service.  Just like the commercial says:  I truly made one phone call; they canceled everything in seconds, and the thieves were not able to use any of my credit/debit cards anywhere!  (Despite their many attempts at doing so.)  I would love to see their faces when they expect a “big score” at the electronics store, gas stations, ATM’s, and find a brick wall instead.  Lifelock even contacted the State Department to invalidate my passport and assist me with replacing it.  No, this is not a commercial for Lifelock, but this is what really happened.  I was moved to another home and got back to business, as my computer, wallet and mobile phone were not stolen, as they were in my possession the day of the robbery.  I don’t have anything really sensitive on my hard drive, but changed all passwords to every secure site, just to be cautious.  If they do peruse my hard drive, I hope they enjoy the many lovely photos of friends and family, and interesting locations where I have been in the world.  It is likely that they will never see such places, or experience such things–they are busy in their own hell, supporting drug habits, I suspect.  What is more likely is that, as petty thieves, they will eventually get caught and see prison walls instead.  Too bad, as I am sure they started life as basically good people…

But back to Hoffmann:  Christopher Alden has done a terrific job on this piece.  He justifies everything we are doing onstage, even though it may look a bit abstract to the audience at times.  It is a bizarre telling of these tales, but then again, aren’t they all???  He exposes the underbelly of the piece but finds moments of light comedy, gentle internal relationships for some of the characters, and is justified in everything he suggests.  That is to say, with one comparable director over the years, Mr. Alden knows EVERY word, both spoken and sung of this entire opera.  (Funny, the last director to do this was also directing Hoffmann {Marc Verzatt} years ago when I first did it.)  While a bit long for a 9 p.m. curtain, the audience will surely be sucked into a world of fascination when we bring this to the stage for next weeks opening.  Despite the upheaval noted above, I hope to have my voice in clear shape, and my mind clear of victim status to deliver on a par with my incredible cast.

Kudos, in fact, to my wonderful cast-mates for their support regarding the break-in, and for their wondrous talent:  Paul Groves, Erin Wall,  Kate Lindsey (really fabulous), and the incomparable Stephen Lord in the pit.  Not to forget Mark Schowalter, and Jill Grove, plus the myriad of uber-talented young artists who are here to begin their hopefully long and successful careers!!!