David Cangelosi's Opera Blog:



A Day In My Life

I have been asked on occasion to write a few articles for our trade publication: The AGMAzine.  Below is a copy of the article which has (or will) recently appeared.  This may be a good way to kick off the year 2014…since I have rehearsal later this morning to start the post holiday season!

A day in the life of an opera singer has many permutations depending upon the time of year, or where in the performance calendar one happens to be.  On this particular day in late September, I have only begun my daily processionals into the opera house by a week or so… in this case, the Lyric Opera of Chicago.  As a multi-decade principal artist of this august organization, I have by now seen almost every post, from General and Artistic Director right down to the fine doormen and service staff, change hands.  There is an old saying:  “Hang around long enough and you will become part of the establishment”.   I know just about everyone here, and everyone knows me (for better or worse, in the case of the latter).  But make no mistake, in the dynamic environment of a major international opera company; some things are always changing, while others never do.

I am up early on this day (6:00 a.m.) since the schedule indicates that I’ll be rehearsing some of my big scenes today.  Those paper rehearsal slips located in our artist mailboxes in the rehearsal department, have now become a thing of the past.  I head to my iPad to look at the new online schedule that we now receive daily via email while the morning coffee percolates.  A quick glance through my emails, then it’s right to that schedule.  Yes, I remembered correctly, an 11:00 a.m. start… and I had better warm up my voice this morning!  A few sips of half-caff coffee as the WGN Morning News plays in the background.  Can’t stand the damned iPad keyboard when I must write an email to my manager/agent about a free time period that I would like filled on my calendar; so it’s up and out of my comfortable lounge chair and into my office to get my laptop.  I write that snarky email, read it over and over again, send it off to my agent, and then perseverate over it for the next 20 minutes.  “Why won’t they hire me?” I ask myself.  “Am I too old?” “Have I gotten too expensive?” “Do I not sing well anymore?” “Did I do something wrong?” …wait a minute… “I have never even sung there, how could I have done anything wrong!?” I finally tell myself.  Look at the clock; I’m going to be late for my 7:15 a.m. spin class at the gym.  Out of the chair, into my gear and out the front door.  Leave the gym by 8:15 and back home by 8:25.  Pour another cup of coffee and take a quick look at MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” before heading into the shower.  Lip trills while shampooing gives me confidence… ”lots of resonance in here”, I say to myself.

It’s 9:15, but I wait until 9:30 to sit at my piano and start the vocal exercises.  Easy does it at first.  Computer ‘ding’ tells me I have email.  I glance through the junk correspondence and focus like a laser-beam on the reply from my agent.  He promises to call Houston again… (yeah, yeah, that’s what they all say.)  I want to be out of the house by 10:15 but thankfully I have a contract in quadruplicate that I must sign for a future engagement before I depart… one copy for me, one for AGMA, one for my agent, and one for the company.  “Well, at least I have somewhere to work in the future” I tell myself.  Envelope, stamp, return address? ‘Check!’ Got ‘em all; and into the outgoing mail on my way out.

I enter the Stage Door, and there he is, security doorman extraordinaire Mr. Holliday (one of the great things that hasn’t changed)!!  “How ya feelin’???” he says with a smile, and comes around to give me a hug.  “You know, just trying to stay busy my man”, I reply.  Into the building and say hello to Gabby and Sal in the rehearsal department (two new members of our Lyric Opera family).  “You have mail in your box, Mr Cangelosi!”…“Please, call me David… ”  How nice, an invitation to the opening night party for the Madame Butterfly cast.  No time to deal with that, as I must rush up to the music library on the 6th floor.  Wendy, the Librarian, helps me pull several scores that I need for current and future reference.  I duck into one of the practice rooms for five more minutes of warm-up, then on to rehearsal room 200 right on time! 

It is the start of a four-hour rehearsal with so many familiar faces in the stage management staff, with hugs all around almost every morning.  Everyone is in a good mood (Maestro Armiliato, James Valenti, Amanda Echalaz, Christopher Purves, Mary Ann McCormick,  just to name a few), including our wonderful understudy/cover cast; and I think how lucky I am to be working with such great colleagues.  A break after 90 minutes sends most of us to the washrooms, or the coffee pot.  Hello to John Coleman in the elevator and Lucy from wardrobe in the hallway, a hug to Marina whom I have just seen for the first time since arriving back, a schedule clarification from Ben, a favor to ask of Josie and Amy in the rehearsal department, a shout out to ‘Junior’, Mack, and Charlie (stage-hands)… all on the way to the coffee pot.  DAMN, no one has made any fresh coffee!!!  Stage manager Caroline Moores calls over the system-wide intercom (in her ever elegant English accent): “The Butterfly staging rehearsal will resume in 5 minutes, all principals and maestri to Room 200 please.”  (Didn’t really need coffee anyway, I tell myself.)

Back in the rehearsal room:

I am surrounded by delightful people, stunning vocal talent, fabulous pianists, and outstanding conductors, directors, and choreographers.  We laugh as we make mistakes, compliment each other as we work, ask for a costume piece or prop that we have forgotten, lumber up the raked stage, trip up a stair, or lose our balance slightly on a ramp.  The set is new, and we are getting our bearings.  “I love this job”, I sigh to myself.  “Thank you Lord”, I whisper in virtual silence, as we all attempt to stay relevant.  We check our cell phones for emails, sneak out a text message to our friends and loved ones, or look at photos on these hand held marvels and wonder what we did before they existed as a ‘palm accessory’.

We finish our work after 4 hours (but we usually rehearse for 6); there is more to do, but I am done for the day at the opera house.  I stop by the FedEx Office to make a few copies of items I need, then head home.  I live two short blocks away, by design.  Sometimes we have 2-3 hours of break in between rehearsal periods, and commuting long distances in between became too much for me about 10 years ago.  Because I’m so close, no matter the circumstance, I never have to worry about being late and can always run home in between rehearsals or for lunch.

I arrive home by 4:00 p.m., but my workday hasn’t finished.  Seated in my study chair… the one that faces away from the television, I crack open that score of Cunning Little Vixen.  Czech isn’t my best language, and I struggle mightily trying to put the text to the rhythm.  I’ll be singing it with the Cleveland Orchestra in the Spring, and it’s got to be perfect.  That’s what a lot of folks simply don’t understand; we work at home in silence, or at our pianos for hours on end, and do not get paid for it… that’s just part of our profession.  I grow weary, frustrated, and angry because the text just won’t come out!!  C’mon David, c’mon!!!  I slam the score shut and curse my lot…

I make a light dinner, pay a few bills online, check in on the news of the day, FaceTime my fiancée, and call my parents.  But still I see that score sitting on the piano… it taunts me.  I hate you, you ‘Cunning Little Vixen’; I can bear you no more today.  The phone rings at 6:30 p.m. (7:30 in New York), I recognize the number.  It’s him.  “Yes John”, I answer without saying hello.  “Daaaviiiid, Houston just hired you for back-to-backs in 2015… what do you think? ”

“I love you John… and thanks for this.”
I guess I CAN study that Janacek score for another 45 minutes before ‘calling it a day’ after all… .

 djc
1/5/14

The Age of Envy

This article below was excellent. Mr. Reich’s appearance last weekend on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” has proven yet again that his ‘broken record, same old, one-note, sour tune’ still resonates with tin-ear followers. I have spent 35 years in show business in an attempt to bring joy to a world with my meager talents, live life, and be a good citizen…and to do so as a working artist.

Thankfully, there have been grand men and women, and the dreaded, hated, reviled “corporation” that have made this possible to a large extent. I also gainfully employ some of my artist friends to help pass-on the procedurally conservative ‘artist’s skills’ to the next generation at an annual symposium in Montgomery, Alabama. A generous real estate developer flies us to the event in his private jet…because he WANTS this for his community, and to help salvage our budget.

Why??? Precisely because many of our young aspiring artists are from the more economically challenged sector of his community. All students attend for free, thanks to the donations of other like minded philanthropists.

Take a lesson from the Barack Obama play-book Mr. Reich:
“We must do this in a balanced manner.”

The President, of course, was talking about deficit reduction (another subject altogether). But I’m talking about sating a spiritual hunger…which also has it’s noble place in a civilized society…

Charitable giving must also be done in a ‘balanced manner’, and at the sole discretion and directive of the donor themselves.
djc

 

The Age of Envy
The most embarrassing sin produces the worst politics.
By Kevin D. Williamson
Of the seven deadly sins, envy may not be the wickedest, but it is the most embarrassing. To be possessed by envy is to admit a humiliating personal inadequacy: We do not envy others those attainments that we think we too might achieve, but those we despair of ever possessing. Wrath, greed, pride, lust — all assume a certain self-possession. Sloth and gluttony are practically standard issue in times of plenty such as these. Wrath and pride are the sins of great (but not good) men. Envy is the affliction of the insignificant. It is the small man’s sin.

Which brings us to Robert Reich, who, having practically made a cult of envy, has taken to abusing the well-off for their acts of charity. Professor Reich, a ward of the taxpayers of California (at $246,199.84 per annum) and a federal ward before that, is persistently unhappy about how other people use their money, and he scoffs that America’s rich philanthropists are phony and self-serving, investing too much in opera and ballet and fancy colleges, and too little in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. He particularly resents the fact that our tax code encourages such giving, with deductions that reduced federal revenue by some $39 billion last year — federal revenue that could have gone toward employing men such as Robert Reich.

This calls to mind Edmund Spenser’s description of Envy personified: “He hated all good works and virtuous deeds / And him no less, that any like did use / And who with gracious bread the hungry feeds / His alms for want of faith he doth accuse.”

Professor Reich being Professor Reich, you can guess how his argument unfolds. (If you have read one Robert Reich column, which is one too many, you have read them all.) He writes: “As the tax year draws to a close, the charitable tax deduction beckons. America’s wealthy are its largest beneficiaries. According to the Congressional Budget Office, $33 billion of last year’s $39 billion in total charitable deductions went to the richest 20 percent of Americans, of whom the richest 1 percent reaped the lion’s share.” It goes without saying that he makes no attempt to compare the apportionment of charitable tax deductions with charitable donations — that would only complicate things and invite an unpleasant encounter with reality.

For a sense of perspective, consider that that $39 billion in tax deductions was associated with $316 billion in charitable donations. Our innumerate class warriors dismiss philanthropy as a complicated tax dodge for the rich, but in fact tax deductions amount to about 12 percent of total charitable donations, meaning that our wily robber barons have figured out a way of beating the taxman by . . . giving away far more money than they receive in related tax benefits. Even if Professor Reich got his way on tax rates and they went up to 90 percent at the top, you still don’t come out ahead by giving away money.

Beyond stealing altar offerings from the almighty god of revenue, our philanthropists offend Professor Reich’s sensibilities in another way: They don’t give to the sort of enterprises he wants them to give to. “A large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America’s wealthy are for donations to culture palaces — operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters — where they spend their leisure time hobnobbing with other wealthy benefactors. . . . These aren’t really charities as most people understand the term. They’re often investments in the life-styles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have as well. Increasingly, being rich in America means not having to come across anyone who’s not.” Unsurprisingly, Progressive America’s favorite non-economist-who-plays-an-economist-on-TV does not bother to document what he means by “a large share.” Giving to art-and-culture organizations amounted to just over $14 billion in 2012, or about 4.5 percent of charitable contributions, far less than was given to health, human-services, or public-benefit organizations. There are a fair number of single organizations that run into the billions per year, including YMCA ($6.24 billion), Goodwill Industries ($5 billion), Catholic Charities ($4.4 billion), and the Red Cross ($3.12 billion).

Professor Reich is writing in a very old tradition, one that is especially familiar to Catholics: Why spend money on beauty when there is necessity? Protestants have a long and rich tradition of abusing the Catholic Church for its supposed wealth — why not auction off the Sistine Chapel and give the money to the poor? The egalitarian liberal’s equivalent: Why incentivize donations to Princeton when we could be spending that money on food stamps? I like to imagine Robert Reich at the Nativity: “Gold? Frankincense? Myrrh? Try something useful!”

Why should we, things being as awful as they are, encourage such frivolities as take place at Lincoln Center?

A question, though: If spending on art, music, and culture is self-serving when private citizens do it, what is it when government does it? Essential, necessary, crucial — of course. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs by itself spends some $150 million a year on precisely that sort of thing. The state spends dozens of millions more. A good deal of that money goes to subsidizing theater, including big-ticket theater. In my role as a theater critic, I am constantly surprised by how many shows selling tickets for north of $100 are publicly subsidized. It isn’t huge money — without public support for the Manhattan Theater Club, that $120 ticket to see Laurie Metcalf in The Other Place (excellent, be sorry if you missed it) might have been $125 instead. But it adds up: a few dozen millions from the state, a hundred million from the city, a billion and a half from Washington.

Try cutting a piece of that and you’ll hear howls about how vital every farthing spent in the service of culture is. Unless you’re David Koch, in which case it’s “Thanks for giving the New York ballet a nice place to perform, now please die.” I wonder how many New York balletomanes know that the David Koch in the David Koch Theater is that David Koch. Perhaps it is the urge to put one’s name on things that so offends Professor Reich and his colleagues at the Richard and Rhoda Goldman School of Public Policy.

Or he might contend that government spending on arts and culture does go to important causes, such as bringing us interviews with Robert Reich on NPR and subsidizing screenings of his dopey documentary film.

At its root, this is not about tax revenue or the woeful state of the federal cash-flow statement. This is about envy and its cousin, covetousness. Progressives know that they will always enjoy disproportionate influence in the public sector, but they are vexed that there exist large streams of money that are, for the moment, utterly outside their control. They convince others — and themselves, probably — that they are driven by compassion, but they are in fact driven by envy: Note Barack Obama’s insistence that tax rates on the wealthy should be raised even if doing so produced no fiscal benefit — it’s just “the right thing to do,” he said, necessary “for purposes of fairness.” The battle hymn of “Nobody needs that much money!” has a silent harmony line: “And I get to decide how much is enough!”

Prayerful people bargaining with God over lottery numbers no doubt imagine that they would do some worthy things with that money, on top of buying a Ferrari. Progressives imagine all the wonderful things they could do with other people’s money, and no doubt some of them are well-intentioned. But envy poisons whatever good intentions they have, which is how men such as Professor Reich come to write resentful indictments of people who are, remember, giving away billions of dollars of their own money. He’d prefer their money be given away by him, or by bureaucracies under the tutelage of men such as himself. As the moral philosopher Hannibal Lecter put it: “He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet? Do we seek out things to covet? No. We begin by coveting what we see every day.”

Megan McArdle once observed that in our public discourse, “very rich” is defined as “just above the level a top-notch journalist in a two-earner couple could be expected to pull down.” There is no envy like the envy of a $250,000 man in a world of $250 million men, as Robert Duvall’s crusty newspaper editor explains to a financially frustrated employee in The Paper: “The people we cover — we move in their world, but it is their world. We don’t get the money — never have, never will.” But being in that world, they learn to covet, which helps explain why Professor Reich’s old boss, Bill Clinton, ended up with $50-odd million in the bank after a lifetime of public service.

Americans gave away $316 billion in 2012, and will give away as much or more this year, and Professor Reich composed 731 words to explain the problems related to that. He should have composed two words, especially relevant to this season:

“Thank you.”

An Interview with David Cangelosi

A very nice young man who is studying our craft, and starting his career, was given an assignment at school recently.  His charge was to seek out a professional colleague and interview them.  His questions were so good, and his intentions so sincere, that I decided to post the interview to my blog.  Thank you Scott Gates for stopping by my dressing room that afternoon.  It was a great pleasure to have met you!!  Best of luck as you pursue your career!
djc


An interview with David Cangelosi

 

SG – What is your educational background?

DJC – I received an undergraduate degree in Vocal Performance at Baldwin Wallace College in Cleveland, Ohio.  I am from a suburb of Cleveland so I was able to do some prep work at the Cleveland Institute of Music but did not get a degree there.  After a few years of being a nightclub entertainer and performer, and some musical theater work, I went to get my Master’s Degree at Boston University.

SG – What was your first exposure to opera once you decided to pursue music as a career?

DJC – I have to credit it to my junior year in high school around 1982 or 1983.  Our English teacher made us watch the opening night television broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera.  We were studying Shakespeare and the broadcast was Otello.  The cast included Placido Domingo and Sherrill Milnes, with James Levine conducting.  Watching this made me say, “Hey, that is really spectacular stuff.  I wonder if I could ever do that.  I wonder if I could ever be on that stage, or a big stage.”  There were no microphones or artificial enhancements and that was fascinating.  The power of the voice reaching that many people in a hall was something I could only dream about doing.

SG – Who are your musical influences?

DJC – My earliest influences in classical music are from the early experiences of the Cleveland Orchestra when I was in grade school.  I was around to see George Szell, Lorin  Maazel, and then Christoph von Dohnányi.  But also, in my teenage years, being a part of the Cleveland Orchestra Festival Chorus under Robert Page.  He was a man of extreme charisma, very musically apt and bright, with a great sense of humor and a powerful demeanor.  He was the real thing and took an interest in younger people, so I had access to a great guy who made sure I was heading in the right direction.  I was also blessed, which is very rare these days, to have had outstanding public school teachers.  In junior-high I really fell in love with the ‘voice’, and my high school music director is the one that turned me on to the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.

SG – You mentioned going back to school for a Master’s at Boston University.  What repertoire were you singing?

DJC – I was singing baritone repertoire at the time and then went to the Aspen Music Festival one summer and a teacher from Juilliard had suspicions that I might be a tenor.  I had heard this before, and he began steering me in the direction of singing ‘tenor’ repertoire.  This began a long process, which is not unusual for young baritones switching to tenor.  It is a procedurally conservative change that has to be administered over the course of 3-6 years.

SG – So when you finished the transition to tenor, what were you singing?

DJC – I transitioned from the Romantic/Lyric Baritone repertoire and was fiddling around with a number of different possibilities in the tenor range including baby heldentenor rep, lyric rep, and a few character rep arias because of my big personality.  But I will be honest with you, there was only one role in the entire tenor rep that really caught me; and this precipitated my entrance into the high-end character rep for good.  My wife at the time had given me a full cassette-tape box recording of the ‘Ring’ cycle for my birthday.  I don’t know why, but I started with Siegfried as opposed to Rheingold, because someone said there was a great part in there for me, and that was Mime.  I started listening to it right at the beginning where the character first appears.  He’s the very first thing you see and hear, and I said, “THAT is the one.  That is the one I want to sing. Whoever that is, whatever that is, that’s what I want.” That was me, because it had heldentenor characteristics to it, and it had wonderful character qualities too. It had interesting text, and you had to have a big personality, so whatever that fach was, that’s where I was going.  That was the final nail in the coffin that made me put everything else aside.

SG  - So you made a clear decision that you wanted to do that.

DJC – It was a clean, clear-cut decision.  It wasn’t a default position, it was “that’s what I want to do, and that is the role I want to do”.  And with it, I found a whole wealth of repertoire in all the other character roles.  I am thankful for it, because to have a signature role of that magnitude is great; meaning Mime.  I have recorded it, performed it all over the world, and it has kept me in this repertoire for all these years.  I just want to keep singing it and get better at it.  I don’t care if it’s a full-length recording, staged version, new or old production, covering it, scenes of it; as long as it can be a part of my life.  I’ve literally been working on that role for 20 years.  There are large sections you can learn which take a long time, and there are all these interjections that take just as long to learn.  There may be harder roles than Mime, but it is one of the top 20 towering roles in all of opera.  The only character that sings more than Mime in Siegfried is Siegfried.

SG – What is your definition of a character tenor?

DJC – Someone that combines winning individualized characterizations with the ability to provide beautiful singing along with modified characterized singing.  In other words, you have to be a really good actor and approach the music with the best of vocal intentions before you can stylize anything.  You want to be remembered as a strong character.  (There are no small roles, just small voices.) There is a huge movement component that can be built into these roles too, but you have to sing them beautifully first.

SG – Is there a tradition of certain character roles that you sing through time, such as a young character tenor building a career?

DJC – Beppe is absolutely something you can start with.  Basilio, Goro, Gastone are all great roles you can get mileage on.  Little Bat is one that a young person sings as well.  Then there are some age appropriate characters such as the Dancing Master, Cassio, Prunier, Tybalt, etc.  You don’t sing Mime until you are 40, not because you can’t, but because of the weight of it.  You might be able to sing it, but the real question is, can you recover enough to sing it again 3 nights later?

SG – What has been your most rewarding moment?

DJC – There were two moments, both while singing Mime.  The first was 2004 in the MET”s legendary Otto Schenk production of Das Rheingold.  Immediately following the performance, my dressing room phone rang.  I never get calls so I assumed it was the wrong number.  I answered just in case someone was lost, and it was James Levine on the line!  “James Levine here.”  I was in shock.  It was very common for him to call Renee, or Placido, and talk about how much he enjoyed a performance…but me? That was a very proud moment because I knew I had done my job and that led me to several other engagements.

The second was the summer of 2011 in San Francisco.  Before doing the full ‘Ring’ cycle, they were performing Siegfried as a standalone in their regular subscription series.  I worked extremely hard on this performance from day one.  I had some requests regarding staging and props, and was very adamant about it because knowing this character so well, I knew it would make a huge difference in the show.  I rarely make demands, but these were things I had to have.  The director gave in and was very thankful for it in the end.  And I’m sorry, but when I came out for my curtain call it was like a bomb went off.  It was so loud you almost couldn’t hear it.  It was so humbling, not a “hey, I’m a big shot” moment.  The kind of applause that is reserved for Wotan or Siegfried was given to me.  It happened every time we performed it.  I was especially proud because my colleagues knew how hard I worked and they all congratulated me instead of having ego issues.  This really wasn’t about the amount or volume of applause; it was more about audience appreciation that was so rewarding.

SG – When did you know that you were successful in this career?

DJC – I think it was in London around 2000 or 2001 when I was doing a film version of Tosca.  It was going to be premiered at the Venice Film Festival.  I was the only American on the project and I remember them flying me back and forth between Chicago and London to do the recording, and then an onsite location in Italy and Germany, and finally a flight to the Venice Film Festival to view the premiere.  While I was going through this whirlwind of getting measured for costumes, being asked my opinions on the film set, and being escorted from my trailer and having eyes on me everywhere; I thought, “This is for real.  This is real.”  My MET debut had already been scheduled, and many other things scheduled into the future, and I realized, “Ok, you’re in.  Recognize you’re in and enjoy it…and be grateful.”

SG  - What are your goals from here forward?

DJC – Thank you for asking.  I am getting to the point where the majority of my career is behind me now, but I hope to have another good 10 years of doing what I do.  I have worked with every major conductor, legends, future legends, stage directors, film directors, and the best coaches in the world; and if there is one thing I want to do from this point forward is pass on the knowledge.  I have a little vocal institute in Alabama where a lot of my friends come down with me to work with the next generation of young singers.  I’m the last of a generation to work with the old-timers who are now almost all gone.  There are many aspects and concepts of this business that I want to teach going forward because one of the worst things an adult can do in any industry is to not pass on your knowledge to the next generation that is interested in learning.

SG – What do you wish you had more of before you started your career?

DJC – More piano as a child and rudimentary work on an instrument, and foreign language study.  I wish I had learned at least one foreign language fluently when I was much younger.   I was already an adult before I was speaking a few languages well; but I should have concentrated on this sooner!

SG – What advice do you give to young singers trying to start a career?

DJC – It is not really about the size of your voice.  It just isn’t.  Natalie Dessay has a smaller voice than most, so would she have a career if that is all that people believed?  It’s about carrying power, not about decibels.  When your voice is developing, back off the decibels and pump up the quality.  Don’t try to get too big too fast.  I’ve been around a long time and have seen so many people come and go who were always “the next big thing.”  Young singers picking up roles that are too big makes them leave a piece of their voice behind in all those instances; and in 5 years they are done.  Everyone wants the new beauty, the young handsome fresh-voiced singer; and companies want to showcase them.  A lot of ego is involved and people think, “If I don’t do it, someone else will.  I’m going to miss my chance.”  Do you want a long career, or do you want to be a rising star and flame out?

 

 

When all else failed…

Now that Labor Day has passed, and many of us in the artistic community have completed summer festival employment and/or vacations; we turn our sights to the main arts season dated 2013/2014…the time expanse that begins in late August/early September 2013 thru April/May 2014.  For most of us, this means that we must align ourselves, by design, with one or more performing arts unions as a matter of course.  For the most part, I like to think that our Unions and the management(s) of the Arts Organizations that hire us work in a symbiotic fashion.  The good sense behind this is the fact that we are all usually headed in the ‘same direction’ artistically, and we don’t dabble in politics.  Every once in awhile, however, we hit a snag along that road and it requires additional hands on-deck to assist us.  Below is an example of what can happen when a Union and an Arts Organization work hand-in-hand to help just one person.  In this case, of course, it was me!  It is also an affirmation to the usefulness of our performing arts Unions, who are too often maligned for taking money from their members, and doing nothing in return.  (For the sake of propriety, I do not identify the specific company or company-players involved.)

As a solo singer in this business, it is sometimes unclear as to exactly how we should handle a contract issue or dispute.  Generally speaking, we attempt to follow a specific chain-of-command, establish a reliable chain-of-custody regarding correspondence, and hopefully resolve any issues amicably between all parties.  Despite our best efforts, and recognizing the myriad of variables that a “problem” produces–regardless of it’s point of origin–we sometimes find ourselves at an impasse. 

A few years ago, I began an inquiry through my manager/agent regarding an extra week of rehearsal that was requested for a major project at one of our most visible and respected opera companies.  I was indeed available for this extra week, wanted no additional rehearsal pay or overall fee, but was expecting a contract revision (a fully executed contract had already been in place) that provided for one week’s worth of living expenses.  This exact same issue occurred a few years earlier with the exact same company, and this is how the issue was handled.  In fact, the offer of an additional week’s worth of expenses was their idea at that time, and it seemed fair to me.   The cost?  About $600-$700.

We began asking for this written addendum some 9-10 months in advance of the start of the rehearsal period.  An addendum was sent out, but no word regarding expenses was in the document.  Luckily we had a reliable email sequence regarding this matter with the Artistic department.  To be fair, the role of an Artistic Administrator in this working environment and economy is a tough one.  They are forever putting out fires, dealing with critical artistic matters, being tugged-on from every direction, and being told to hold-the-line on all expenses/expenditures that come their way.  It is therefore easy to see how my matter could receive low priority when it was queued into their inbox, but I was signing no document until my issue was resolved in writing. 

As the months passed, another major opera company offered me the opportunity to perform an outstanding new role on very short notice.  I was to replace an artist who had to cancel his obligation.  The only problem was that the last week of performances conflicted with the extra week of rehearsal that I was not yet contracted for because the “one week of living expenses“ issue had still not been addressed.  Now, of course, I didn’t even want to obligate myself to this extra week of rehearsal because an additional contract hung in the balance.  When I was no longer available to rehearse, and was not obligated by signature, the company was quick to respond to our 9-10 months of inquiry, and yes…were suddenly willing to discuss additional compensation regarding living expenses.

A tug-of-war ensued; and while I was “in the right” contractually, I simply did not want to be considered a bad colleague.  Neither opera company wanted to give-way, and the original company in question felt they were still ‘”in the right”.   With my agent/manager now tussling with not one, but TWO different opera companies, a capable Artistic Administrator, a General Director, and now the actual Director of the original project…all of whom wanted supremacy over the situation…I stood aside and realized that my reputation and thousands of dollars hung in the balance.  Let’s be clear; I am NOT a power-player singer.  If I were, the situation would have resolved itself quickly.  I am, however, a well-respected, reliable artist who must maintain good relations all of the time.  But I simply did not know where to turn…

So, I tried AGMA.  I emailed Alan Gordon, AGMA’s National Executive Director, late on a Friday night in hopes that he could help sort things out…at least from a contractual perspective.

To my delight and surprise, I received a phone call–on a Saturday morning no less–and Alan and I discussed the matter in full.  He felt that no ‘heavy-handed’ posturing was needed and asked me to allow him access to the matter.  On Monday morning, with one simple email (he Cc’d me on all communications) and one phone call, the problem was resolved.  He simply posited that reasonable people should all be able to work together, and appealed to everyone’s sense of fairness.  Things began to move quickly thereafter.  Alan spoke with the Associate General Director, the Director of ‘project A’ spoke with the General Director of ‘project B’, my agent spoke with both Artistic Administrators; and VOILA, problem solved!

In the end, it was AGMA’s intercession that truly got the ball rolling again.  This is the kind of representation for which we pay dues…both annual and 2%.  Make no mistake, I got my entire 20 years worth of dues investment back a few times over on just that one occasion.  Our head-office can be a powerful tool, to be sure; but it did not take ‘power’ to resolve this situation.  However, a phone call and an email from our National Executive Director was the one component that made all the difference, and there were (hopefully) no residual hard feelings. 

BOTH projects that I was then able to participate in were enormous successes both artistically and personally.  It took some flying back and forth, and some creative rehearsal scheduling, but we did it!  Ultimately however (along with the dedicated assistance of ALL the players), it was AGMA that saved the day. 

Thank You Alan, and Thank You AGMA!!

This is why AGMA is there.  Alan and AGMA staff are well equipped to assist you should the need arise, so do not hesitate to contact them!  Artistic Administrators and company liaisons are also there to help provide  a road map to peace, so please do not hesitate to contact them early on as well!!

Respectfully submitted,

djc
9/3/2013

**The above article is a reprint from the spring issue of AGMAzine for which I was asked to write about just such an experience.**

 

 

 

 

 

Saluting a True ‘Arts Philanthropist’

Yesterday  (July 11 2013), I spent a lovely afternoon at the invitation of the local Wagner Society here in Santa Fe as they paid tribute, via slightly belated birthday party, to a long-time Patron of the Arts.  Edgar Foster Daniels has been supporting the arts (with opera being his particular primary interest) for decades.  He has given millions of dollars to arts organizations of local, regional, and national scope, as well as doing his part ON the stage (and screen) over his many years as an actor and performing artist.

A number of ‘arts-locals’ (including Bruce Donnell, LeRoy Lehr, and Joe Illick) gathered for lunch which was served in between acts of the Glyndebourne/David McVicar production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger starring Gerald Finley as Hans Sachs.  This is a production which I myself just completed, along with a slew of wonderful colleagues, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago this past winter season.  Armed with anecdotes from this production, as well as a rousing version of Happy Birthday which I was honored to lead, a great afternoon was had by all.

In my brief remarks, I mentioned that I met Mr. Daniels in 1996 at LOC when he sponsored a new production of Menotti’s The Consul.  I have run into him regularly since then in Chicago, Washington D.C., Santa Fe, and New York City.  Mr. Daniels, who turned 80 last month was in good spirits as we discussed the current state of the operatic world and my upcoming Wagner-related engagements thru 2018.  Each guest, in fact, spent a respectful amount of time with him throughout the day.  He loudly admonished the crowd at 3:00 p.m., asking us to stop the verbal tributes, because the last act of Meistersinger was a full two hours in length.  We all laughed, took our seats, and watched a riveting final act; with special kudos going to Mr. Finley and Johannes Martin Kranzle (Sixtus Beckmesser) in this ever so detailed, and thought provoking production.

Many of my colleagues and I have actually earned a living because of Edgar Foster Daniels and others like him.  Mr. Daniels knows the value of the arts, and realizes how vital they are to our society.  As artists, it is ever important to put a quality product onto the stage; but just as important, is to acknowledge the generosity of those who allow us to ply our craft.

To you Mr. Daniels:  Allow me to offer every expression of my esteem and gratitude!

And special thanks to Yoko Arthur and the Host Committee for Saluting a True ‘Arts Philanthropist’.

djc

July 12, 2013

‘The Ring’ will ‘Cycle’ itself anew…

With much media attention, but little celebrated fanfare; the dedicated and hard-working Metropolitan Opera stage crew reportedly disassembled and loaded for transport perhaps the most talked about set in Met history:  “The Machine”.  Its 24 articulating half-diamond shaped planks are to be housed in a warehouse somewhere in upstate New York for an indefinite period of time.  Until now, the most recently “most talked about” set at the Metropolitan Opera (but coming in a distant second place by comparison) was that of the three separate gigantic, and rather beautiful, sets that served as the back-drop for Puccini’s Il Trittico…a production that I sang in twice (Il tabarro) in the last handful of years.  It was considered the largest set(s) to have ever occupied the stage of this august arts facility, requiring some 18 tractor-trailer trucks for transportation.  The difference is that it was believed that the sets from the latter firmly enhanced the underlying music/drama that Puccini so perfectly embedded into his operas.  In the case of “The Machine”, this was less than the majority opinion; with everyone entitled to their own perception.

The effect of “The Machine”, as opined by many, has almost overshadowed the glorious singing, acting, conducting, and instrumental expertise that was so clearly evident and on full display for the past three seasons as the Metropolitan Opera presented Richard Wagner’s time-shifting masterpiece, Der Ring des Nibelungen.  The magnificent casts of singing actors dominated this music-drama in ways that may never be equalled…at least until the next rendering on as major a scale comes down the pike.  Let us never forget that the reason opera companies commission such productions, whether controversial, loved or hated, or otherwise, is because of scores and libretti that scream for such.  I can hardly speak to the cost of this recent Met production (way above my pay-grade), or its impending hiatus from the company’s schedule in the out-years.  All I can say is that I was happy to be a small part of this production, aware of a nod toward history, and to be amongst such talented and gifted colleagues.

Looking ahead:
There isn’t a major musical arts institution that doesn’t dream about bringing The Ring to fruition.  One such organization is currently working on its casting for what may well be the most serious and sublime of ‘Ring’ recordings and presentations in recent times.  I am not at liberty to speak to this matter at this moment; but one thing is for sure…

The Ring will Cycle itself anew…you can count on it!!

djc
5/20/13

 

 

 

Vann Vocal Institute, 2013

March 7-10, 2013 will most certainly go down as a transformative and transitional year for the Vann Vocal Institute in Montgomery, Alabama.  As many now know, my connection to the Capital City goes back some 20 years.  Established in 2007 via gift/bequest from the late Roy D. Vann, the Vann Vocal Institute was created to assist aspiring young vocalists who wish to investigate further, and indeed pursue, the practice of the classical vocal arts.  Each year I bring an impressive faculty with me to help accomplish this task.

Montgomery will welcome its largest and most impressive group of musical professionals to date; 8 in all.  A weekend packed with lectures, coachings, masterclasses, social gatherings, and an Emerging Artists Recital that provides over $1,800 in prize money to four adjudicated participants, will be one of the local arts community’s most highlighted events of the year.  As the Program Director, a post which was offered to me as we established this forum, I take the development of our directive, our faculty, and our participants very seriously.

Originally designed to be an ‘Alabama only’ endeavor, we have now found ourselves experiencing what is known as “The Knock-On” effect.  That is to say, college/university and political officials from neighboring states have ‘knocked on our door’ so many times asking us to provide them with an opportunity to participate, that we simply can no longer refuse them.  As a result of this, we will also be welcoming our largest ‘participating class’ ever…over 80 strong.  Additionally, we will again welcome Beethoven & Co. to the campus of Hungtingdon College.  This is perhaps the South’s leading retailer of music and music books, with a panoply of wares available for purchase to enhance the development of our singers.

It is therefore with the utmost respect that I thank President Cameron West of Huntingdon College for providing his entire campus, music building, and its full performance and meeting facilities yet again.  President West does this as a public service to the community.  I must also thank the complete staff at the Montgomery Symphony who help me administrate this entire affair.  An impressive list of private donors and Foundations that provide funding, accommodations, hospitality, a private jet(!), plus an inexhaustible supply of volunteers, will make this entire event the most successful we have yet experienced.  Special thanks to Mayor Todd Strange, whose support (both politically and personally) has truly given us legs.

Never one to spoil a surprise, a major announcement regarding the future of the Vann Vocal Institute will be made on the evening of March 7, 2013 at our kickoff party/dinner at the home of one of our most ardent supporters.

Stay tuned,
djc

Faculty for the 2013 Vann Vocal Institute:

Alan Held, Bass/Baritone
Kathleen Kim, Coloratura Soprano
Kimberly Jones, Lyric Soprano
Beth Clayton, Mezzo-Soprano
Susan Hult, Vocal Coach
Steven Crawford, Head Vocal Coach
Dale Williams, Masterclass Accompanist
David Cangelosi, Masterclass Instructor, Program Director

 

My First Dollar

Winters in the snow belt of Cleveland, Ohio were brutally cold in the 1970’s.  They were endless, withering, and dumped several feet of snow on the ground due to the dreaded “lake-effect” conditions that haunted cities and towns that were perched along the wide, open swath of Lake Erie.

At one point, the Parma City School District was forced to combine individual schools, and move to half-day sessions in order to conserve heating resources and guarantee a reasonable learning and working environment.  Some of us went to early morning sessions, while others followed in the afternoon.  For the latter, their school day concluded near dark.  Residents of Seven Hills and Parma, Ohio were asked to keep their porch lights on so that the late-day students could walk home safely and in the light… murky as that luminescence was.

My brother Dino delivered our weekly local newspaper, the Parma Sun Post, during the 1970’s.  It was essentially free to the consumer, with paperboys earning chits called “Bonus Bucks” from the local publisher (with which one could purchase essentially worthless junk), along with tips from customers, and an embarrassingly small salary.  The workload was such that my brother soon requested my assistance; or perhaps I should say that I was ‘pressed into service’.  Either way, we shared the same bedroom; and when the alarm clock rang at 4:30 a.m. I had little choice but to rise and greet the day with him, because the Parma Post was to be delivered to a home’s front door (preferably inside the front screen/storm door) by 6:00-7:00 a.m.

In the summer, it wasn’t so bad; we used our bicycles to stream through the neighborhood, handing off papers to each other in a seamless well-oiled fashion as we individually serviced every other house.  We had our large neighborhood memorized, and simply skipped the few houses that opted out of receiving this free offering. In the winter, however, we had to meet this task on foot.  Donning snow boots and deep layers of clothing, we braved the elements after getting a brief lecture on warm dress from our mother before leaving the bedroom area.  No, our parents did NOT help us with this job… they did not drive us around the neighborhood via automobile in order to ensure the deliver of those papers.  By 5:00 a.m. my father was already on his way to work in the industrial “Flats” corridor of downtown Cleveland, with its salt-mines, stone-docks, and sand repositories, on a hellhole known as Whiskey Island.  My mother, who warned my brother that if he wanted this job it would be HIS responsibility, stayed in our house–in bed–but never went back to sleep as we ventured out into the vicious wind and bone chilling freeze…she waited up the entire time until we returned home.  The winter delivery run was the first time I began to join my brother on his paper route.  My recompense??  You guessed it… $1 dollar, paid from my brother to me.

The route in winter, as we trudged through deep snow, took up to 90 minutes.  One especially frigid Thursday morning, my brother promised me a ten-cent tip (one thin shiny dime) if we got the route completed by 6:30 a.m.  This sounded great to me; I would earn an extra 10% for my expedited efforts, plus I would get to go back to sleep for almost one hour and fifteen minutes before having to get up again and ready myself for school!

My brother was a generous and loving soul; he helped everyone, was universally considered to be “happy-go-lucky”, sported a never-ending smile, served all just for the asking, and possessed an animated outgoing personality.  In one of destiny’s unanswerable tragedies, he took his own life at the tender young age of 17.  We worked that paper route at roughly the ages of my 9, and his 11.  So it was actually my brother who helped me earn my first dollar before the age of 10.  That was over 40 years ago.

I must confess that I did not save that ‘hallowed first’.  No sir; I waited until the late spring when the weather turned glorious again, and the Charles Chips man drove through the neighborhood.  Luckily, the Charlie Chip man (as we called him) sold/refilled items other than just Potato Chips and Pretzels; he also sold Candy and Gum.  Therefore, I proudly purchased an impressive bag of multi-colored gumballs!!  The cost?  $.89 cents.  I stared at the $.11 cents change, somehow thinking I was going to get more in return… but math never lies.

And just for the record:

Remember that goal of getting home by 6:30 a.m., and that $.10 cents tip?  Well, the snow and cold was just too much for the both of us and we didn’t make it home until 6:40 a.m.  My brother did not give me a $.10 cents tip that day… he gave me a quarter!  I knew I didn’t deserve it; that was not our deal.  But he gave it to me anyway.  Ultimately, however, he gave me so very, very much more.  You see, I became what I am today, in part, because I have set goals for myself ever since that freezing cold Thursday morning at 3216 Lotus Lane.

djc

…or just a fluke???

On Facebook and Twitter this morning, I posted that second performances are akin to “Low Sunday” in the Catholic Church. That is to say, a letdown compared to all the festivities and poignant lead up to Easter Sunday; or in a way the opening of a new opera production. Now…in no way, shape, or form am I conflating these two very disparate events. I am, however, keenly aware of a phenomenon I have termed “theatrical deflation” (yes, its my own brilliant term!!).  The opening night parties are over, the director has left town, the costume designer is gone, the well dressed swells and donors on opening night are not present in the audience for performance #2, the critics (good or bad) have mostly all weighed in, and we now settle in for a long run of this well worn operatic war-horse. The aforementioned is always a perfect recipe for release.

But this production IS different: it is edgy, unconventional, highly colorful yet dark, frightening while being ‘fantastically foolish’, sexy, fun, and ALWAYS entertaining. The cast that has been compiled is a wonder of fine vocalism, acting, and comedic ability. Inhibitions had to be checked at the door for all soloists, and chorus. We appear in various stages of undress (including virtual nudity for ‘yours truly’) and wild costuming throughout. We are also asked to do some very…let’s say…challenging things throughout the evening.

With such a tall order of frivolity that spans from the time of Freud’s Vienna period to the rise of Fascism (Directorial concept), there is little opportunity to lose our resilience. That is why our second performance last night (Tuesday, October 9) was as fresh and exciting as our opening. But we must also thank our audience; those gathered masses who guffawed, scratched their heads, recoiled with fright (for which I personally apologize…if you see the show, you will understand), and delightfully applauded our efforts.  We will wait for performance #3 to answer this question:

Is this for real…or just a fluke???

djc

Expectations and Turning Points: a COC timeline

I am quite often asked by friends and relatives who are not in the performing arts about the process of getting a production to stage.  After all, they are the ones who only see the “final, shiny, right off the assembly line, fresh from the show-room” product that is sure to dazzle.  There is, as many of us know, a long process that precedes that opening night curtain, and each show experiences it own growing pains.  Then finally, sometimes miraculously, a production hits a few turning points just in time for everyone to say, “OK, we really do have a show here!”

Expectations are always high from audiences who pay from $25-$250 per ticket when that production is on-stage at The Met, Paris Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Covent Garden, et al.; or in this case, Canadian Opera Company (COC).  With a new production of Die Fledermaus soon to debut in Toronto (Christopher Alden, dir.), the expectations climb even higher.  COC is a major international house of import, while Mr. Alden carries a delicious reputation for fiercely edgy, thought provoking productions.  Without giving anything away, it is my pleasure to report that audiences will not be disappointed by the production values, or the talent; and the concept will certainly be wonderful fodder for discussion.

As a principal in this cast, it was marvelous to be a part of–and witness firsthand–the turning points that will now allow us all to meet expectations.  I can identify three such moments in a timeline of rapid fire succession.  Before the “colossal-jostle” begins (the moment we actually move from the rehearsal room to the opera house stage, with the real sets, real costumes, and real props), we had to gel this show.  It had been muddled by choppy dialogue flow (common), complicated staging (decision), and a compressed music rehearsal schedule (common).

Then it happens:

Sunday evening (9/16): A full, non-stop ‘rehearsal room’ run thru with full chorus (it goes great–concentration was high…everyone feels confident…and relieved!).
Monday afternoon (9/17): A full day of rehearsal dedicated only to music.  We address musical pitfalls too thorny to confront in staging rehearsals.
Tuesday afternoon (9/18): A dialogue-scenes only staging rehearsal.  No music whatsoever.

Bang, BANG, BANG!!!

Three legs support a stool, but four legs support a chair (and Die Fledermaus is a big chair, despite its designation as “light-opera”!).  Therefore, it was with great anticipation that we entered the large orchestra room at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts today (9/19) for the Sitzprobe (orchestral run-thru with vocalists).

I arrived at the 11:00 a.m. start time, and was warmly greeted by COC Music Director Johannes Debus who is also conducting this production.  A look of worry crossed his face…”You did get the message that I will not be using the singers until after the first break, right?”  “Oh yes”, I replied; “I just enjoy watching this part of the process too.”  Well watch it I have…since the early 1970′s, starting with the Cleveland Orchestra, I have watched great conductors slowly prepare their charges.  I have now witnessed this exercise world-wide, and rest assured, the process has not changed much in hundreds of years.  It is hands-on, thought intensive, attention hoarding, precision oriented work, for both conductor and orchestra musicians alike.  It is punctuated by a constant stop-and-start tempo of operations that is draining just to watch.  Even the verbal communication has a surgical precision attached to it, while still preserving a colloquial feel.  Commentary such as:
Let’s phrase it.
The energy is right, just a bit less brassy.”
Bassoons, please YAWN that line.”
Tympani, more of a definitive shock on that final note.”
“Think Mozart, then exaggerate!”

When words are not convenient, a simple ‘thumbs-up’ to a given section will suffice.

Then there is the pressure-cooker job of the orchestra manager/librarian who is in a constant state of motion as he winds his way (as unobtrusively as possible) through the orchestra.  His task??  Trying to reconcile the individual orchestral part-books against the full orchestral score from the Publisher, and an additional ‘critical edition’ score at his side.  If he hears a discrepancy, it’s up out of his chair and into the fray of trombone slides, and double bass bows to fix the issue with a pencil or quiet explanation.  He is aided by the Assistant Conductor who also identifies errors/misprints, along with the conductor.  Oh yes, he also has to watch the clock!  Since time is money at this juncture, efficiency from the podium is a must…but when it is time to break, it is time to break!!  There are very strict rules that govern rehearsal time.  CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) professionals and Management deal with the unpleasant, reliably frustrating issue of contract negotiations every few years; but when it’s time to get down to business, the professional classical musician is among the most dedicated of any work force…I have witnessed this with my own eyes.  When it is time for a break, believe me, they have earned it!

While the music of Johann Strauss may not be as overwhelming as Wagner, he could indeed pen a melody with as much elegance and empathy as any composer who has ever lived.  Therefore, it takes no less of a musician to do justice to his music.  Perhaps that is why before orchestral rehearsal even begins, you can hear individual players practicing key lines and phrases from their music.  One will witness the tympanist carefully tuning his kettles 4 (with a snappy iPhone tuning app), then silently rechecking the tuning/pitches throughout rehearsal.  In fact, my favorite section of the orchestra is always that of the percussion.  One of my finest music instructors in college once said “You have nothing musically if you don’t have rhythm!”  While all the orchestral forces take their turn at providing rhythmic pulse, it is the basic job of the percussion section to provide this backbone throughout (along with a healthy assist from the double basses).   They do so with tympani and trap sets, bass drums, chimes, bell stands, mounted bells, triangles, spurs, xylophones, wood blocks, and so much more.  Watching them is, at times, akin to a watching a ballet…truly deft.

I often stop and think about what a privilege it is to sing with a full orchestra, and for listeners to hear a full orchestra in bloom.  There may be some times when singers walk into a room with orchestra assembled as if to say “OK, we are here now; let’s get started.”  When in fact, “the starting” started long before the singers ever arrived.  Our vocal cast today was wonderful when it came time to do their part, and our audiences will be delighted as a result of it all.

Expectations and Turning Points; thank goodness we have them.  Or as Maestro Debus put it today after a moment of thought, and quiet pause on the podium:

“OK, number 15 everybody.”

And everyone turned their pages…

djc