Thursday, April 30, 2009

It's the day of the show, y'all....

We open tonight in Lafayette.  We had a good dress rehearsal last night, and I think it should be lots of fun tonight.  Here's a rundown of my schedule:

4:00 early dinner
4:30 pace around the house
5:00 continue pacing/vocalizing
6:30 arrive at the theatre for wig/makeup call
7:00 get nervous
7:10 get really nervous
7:20 wonder why I thought this was a a good career idea 
7:30 curtain - remember why it was a good idea
10:30 Miller Time

This was a crazy, intense 2 weeks.  I don't necessarily recommend trying to do Figaro in such a short amount of time, but I think we have a good show on our hands.  There's nothing to do now but enjoy it.  


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

...So would you call yourself a baritone or a bass-baritone? Episode I

It's been six days since my last post- sorry to disappoint my readership of one, but this gig has been a little nutso.  

So, baritone vs. bass-baritone is a question I've been asked numerous times over the course of my career, and it has no clear answer, as I sing repertoire in both areas.  I'm surely going to make things even more confusing after this stint of doing both Rossini's and Mozart's Figaro.  Even though plenty of baritones have had both roles in their repertoire (Thomas Allen and Hermann Prey come to mind), it seems that these days the voice types are so compartmentalized there is no room for overlap. 

Mostly when people ask me what kind of rep I sing I respond "whatever people are foolish enough to hire me to sing" and leave it at that, but it can cause some problems.  For instance, walking into an audition with "Se vuol ballare" and "Largo al factotum" on my list probably won't impress the auditioners.  It will probably make them think I have no idea what voice type I am.  I'd like to think that versatility in this regard is an asset- I mean, did the term bass-baritone even exist when Mozart and Rossini wrote these pieces?  I think not.  

But I digress- the reason I'm ranting about this is because as we approach opening of Nozze, I'm reminded why Mozart Figaros tend to lean a little more on the basso side.  Being that most of the role lays in my middle voice, it is easy to get away with murder.  For instance- not fully supporting, or trying to sing it without warming up.  I realized that the hard way halfway through our Wandelprobe the other night.  We were in the big E-flat battle royale in the Act II finale, and I realized that was the first time I had properly supported a tone all evening.  And by that time, I was vocally tired from not supporting my middle, and, well there you go.  Mozart shouldn't be or sound heavy, and that's how I was singing it.  Shame on me.  

So, kids,  guess the moral of the story is: warm up and support your middle voice!  You will be much happier.  Oh, and don't do drugs.  

I had a little moment of panic when I was warming up the other day.  I was practicing the E naturals in "Non piu andrai" (of which there are several), and was thinking that they seemed awfully difficult.  I was starting to think I wouldn't be able to get through the show when I realized my cheap pitch pipe was broken and was I was trying to sing the whole aria up a step.  Dumb.  

So until I figure out what voice type I truly am (who knows? bassitone, maybe? as long as I'm not a bare-ass!),


Thursday, April 23, 2009


We are in a work-through of acts I and II right now. Although the whole opera has been staged, it is all in 'roughed in' mode, and we (I) have a lot of work to do to fill in all the moment to moment stuff. The last time I did Figaro in English, my director was fond of saying 'blocking doesn't tell the story.' That has stuck with me over the years. The only way to tell the story is to be clear about your character's intentions and thoughts.

Blah blah. Mostly what I'm feeling tonight is the fact that we haven't had a day off since we got here and my brain has turned into mush (or, more appropriately, grits).

Amazingly, however, I managed to remember about 80 percent of my dance moves when we rehearsed Act III this afternoon. Not that I brought any grace to it, but hey, we've got six weeks 'til we open, right?

I love this music. Gotta go to make my Act II Finale entrance!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I'm the Dance Captain

...DC for short.

It has been an intense week here in Lafayette. We are in the midst of a two-week staging process, which is dangerously short for Figaro. Add crawfish into the mix, and, well, you've got a busy week.

Tonight we are learning the Act III wedding dance. The dance is always challenging, and this one seems to be more complex than I am used to...or, I'm getting older. It is going pretty well, but every time I get to my line 'un biglietto amoroso' all I can do is stand like an oaf and try to come in on time- my suave dancing skills (that's right) go right out the window. Ah well, it's a good thing we have six weeks of staging- ha!

Gotta get back to staging more later...

I'll try to be better about entries- I don't want to disappoint my readership of one!


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

First Day of School

We had our first rehearsals today.  It was great to dive back into the score.  The Maestro paying special attention to the dynamics.  He said that opera is too often done with a "mezzo nothing" dynamic.  I love this- a generic dynamic makes both crescendi and decrescendi less effective.  Granted, I think the reason a lot of us are used to singing everything mezzo nothing is because we have to be heard in a huge house over a big orchestra, and the dynamic nuance goes into the toilet.  We are in a small house (800 seats or so) and have a small band, and I have no doubts that the Maestro can keep everything down to a dull roar so we can actually sing the dynamics Mozart wrote.  It will be a challenge not to sing everything loudly out of habit, but I think there is a lot of great stuff to be found by paying closer attention to the dynamics.  Already it has shown new facets to the character I wouldn't have otherwise discovered.  For instance, we are working at keeping the entire A section of 'se vuol ballare' at a piano, even the top F.  While it is tremendously difficult to sing it that way, it brings out the quiet sarcasm that is at a slow rolling boil in Figaro at this moment.  If he blows his top in the first scene, where do we go?  I think there's a lot to be said for the smaller dynamic.  It's just hard as hell to sing it that way!

Since our Countess is still en route to Louisiana, we jumped into staging the first scenes this evening.  We have a very short rehearsal process, so there is no time to lose. We covered a lot of ground tonight, and I look to tomorrow's musical rehearsals and the amazing Act II finale!  

The first cut is the deepest, according to Cat Stevens, anyway.  It's good to have broken the ice.  Onward.


PS- the food here is amazing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The worst part, the best part

I'm sitting at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport waiting to fly to the first gig of my Figarofest, Lafayette, Louisiana. I'm typing this on my Blackberry, so if I manage to get this posted, it will be a small miracle.

I had to say goodbye to my beautiful wife and 20 month-old daughter this morning. It is always a gut-wrenchingly sad moment to leave your loved ones (as if I need to tell you this). It makes me question this lifestyle every time I do it. Consequently, it makes me irritable for the rest of my travel day. It's never fun to go through the belt/shoes/laptop interpretive dance at the security checkpoint, or to say a last minute hail mary, hoping your luggage will come in below weight, but it's even worse when you have left your home and family and entered the unknown.

That's the rub, though, isn't it? If you want the joy (and it is) of singing for a living, you have to take the lifestyle along with it.

On the upside of this day is the anticipation. New cast, new maestro, new town, new chance to sing this glorious score. It comes at a cost, to be sure, but most things of true value do.

So it's a Summit Maibock at the airport bar and a toast to St. Paul, Lafayette, and Mr. Mozart who is bringing us together. And to my Rikki and Nikki, whom I will carry with me in my heart.


Thursday, April 9, 2009

Be Prepared

I have to start by saying thanks for all the comments!  I had no idea how many of my friends were also bloggers.  It has made for some good reading.  

I have been feverishly preparing for my first Figaro rehearsal, which is next Wednesday in Lafayette, Lousiana.  It has been fun revisiting this score- in a lot of ways, it is like seeing an old friend again. Only this time, it's a friend I'll be living with for a year!  As I mentioned before, I have sung this role before.  Most recently, at the Minnesota Opera in 2007.  However, the production I'm preparing for is in english, and the last time I sang this in english was in 2000.  

It's amazing how muscle memory works.  I'd like to think my technique has evolved a little in the past nine years (I'm sure that there are some of you who would vociferously disagree...Dan!), but I find myself tying myself up in all kinds of knots singing this score, and it has largely to do with the language.  I have had to dissect the words, just like I would do with a new Italian aria and relearn how to sing the english vowels, while integrating my improved technique.  There is also a slight possibility that I am just horribly out of shape (vocally as well as physically), but I refuse to think that way.  That's crazy talk.  

The translation we are using is the beloved Ruth and Thomas Martin, fabled in story and song.  I'm not going to trash R&T or discuss the pros and cons of singing an opera in english vs. original language;  many more eloquent writers than I have done so, and at great length.  I'll just say that, as absurd as opera is under the best of circumstances (and it is), it is doubly absurd in translation.  Hey, I love singing in english.  I love the immediacy of communicating in one's native tongue.  But in translation, the syntax gets all jacked up in order to fit the english words what the composer has already set.  And the rhyme schemes?  Hilarious, usually.  Granted, the people who write these translations have an impossible task.  But when I stop and think about the whole cast of Figaro singing "All day long we were tormented, angry, foolish, and excited" at the top of their lungs, it makes me giggle.  And there's a line in Barber where Figaro says over and over, "I hear a tinkle, it must be money!"  I saw a Barber once where, during the Largo, Figaro sang "I am the king of lather and foam!!!!"  

But my all time favorite has to be in Act III of Nozze, where Figaro walks in and says, "Hey Susanna, what's up?"

I've done a lot of opera in translation, and I totally think that it can work that way.  The R&T Martin isn't bad.  It's just ridiculous.  But now that I think about it, if I was really fluent in Italian, it would probably sound just as silly.  Hey man, that's opera.  


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A novice blogger's manifesto, or Welcome to my

Well, here we are.  I sort of have mixed feelings about blogs.  I mean, it sort of presupposes that anyone cares about what I have to say.  I've never blogged - I have rarely even kept a journal.  But I sort of have a unique opportunity here that seemed too good to let slip by.  You see, over the next 11 months (from April '09 to February '10), I will be playing the role of Figaro - the factotum, the big fig, everyone's favorite barber!  I am playing the razor-wielding and razor-witted Figaro in 4 productions of Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro and 1 production of Rossini's The Barber of Seville.  This character will take me to Louisiana, Vermont, Virginia, and Milwaukee (twice).  Some productions will be in Italian, some in English, and all will be fully staged with orchestra and all the trimmings.  

I thought this might be a good time to try my hand at a blog because, for no other reason, I might like to look someday and remember what my Figarofest was like, and, like I said, I don't want this experience to just slip by.  Hey Bill Shakespeare, why not just write it down in a journal, you ask?  Well, that's a good question.  I don't know.  Am I a closet exhibitionist?  I don't think so.  I just like the idea of sharing this experience with other singers, friends, or the random passer-by...I don't know, jeez, do I need a reason to start a blog?  Yoda has a blog, for pete's sake!

I've sung Mozart's Figaro before, but this will be my first time tackling the famous Rossini opera and the infamous "Largo al factotum" on stage.  It is somewhat daunting to think about spending most of a year with one character.  Will it be monotonous? Will it be thrilling?  Yes.  Yes.  I don't know.  All I can do is be open to the experience and enjoy the ride.  The Marriage of Figaro is my favorite opera, so I really can't imagine a better predicament to be in.  

Here is what I want to accomplish.  I am going to write about my experiences telling the story of Figaro, including the challenges (of which there will be many), the benefits (of which there will be even more), and how my thoughts about Figaro evolve and are enriched over the course of a year.  A year of Figaro.  I'm going to try to stick to my experiences only - I'm not going to use this blog as a forum for venting or airing out dirty laundry.  I'm going to try to be honest and candid - if I'm not, why even bother with a blog at all?  And most of all, I'm going to try to actually make regular blog entries!!!! As I said, I'm not practiced in the art of journaling.  

So, welcome.  I'll end with a quote from Mr. Mozart himself:
"To talk well and eloquently is a very great art, but an equally great one is to know when to stop."

So I will.

Oh, and I lied about not having blogged before.  I kept one for a few weeks in 2006 under the moniker JackHanSolo (don't ask!) and had a readership of one.  If you can find it, enjoy.  It's pretty silly.