Monday, June 29, 2009

Reviews 101

If you believe the good ones, you gotta believe the bad ones.  That's the rule about reviews.  It's best not to put stock in any of them.  If you can use one to help sell a ticket or get a job, then great. The sad truth is that half the time the reviewers don't even know what they are listening to, and when they do, it's a matter of personal opinion.

Case in point:

From the Times Argus, June 21, 2009, Jim Lowe:
Despite his occasional but irritating embellishments to Mozart's sublime lines, Wilkowske's singing was full of the ease and warmth that makes this character so lovable.
From the Eagle, Dan Wolfe:
 I was so delighted to hear Andrew Wilkowske, the Figaro, ornament the return of the A section of his arias. I had never heard it done in other than the soprano parts in Mozart's operas, and it was wonderful.
....and that's why you don't put stock in reviews.  

I had a review in Opera News once (resume,resume) for Papageno in Magic Flute that said I was 'bulky and graceless in brown and white lederhosen' but then went on to say that I was a 'lusty-voiced fellow.'  OK, so he was basically reviewing my costume in the first part, and calling me fat, and hey, it's Papageno we're talking about here?  Should he be lithe and winsome?  I think not.  Plus, he left out the fact that the audience thought I was hilarious.  
Speaking of reviews, I watched "Amadeus" for the hundredth time the other day.  Here is what Peter Shaffer says (via Salieri) about Le Nozze di Figaro, while the gorgeous "Contessa, perdono" scene is playing out on stage:

The restored 3rd act was bold, brilliant.  The fourth....was astounding. I saw a woman  disguised in her maid's clothes hear her husband speak the first tender words he has offered her in years, simply because he thinks she is someone else. I heard the music of true forgiveness filling the theatre, conferring on all who sat there perfect absolution. God was singing through this little man, to all the world. Unstoppable. 

I concur.  

Please take a moment and read the latest on the Skylight mess form Milwaukee arts critic Tom Strini's blog.  Also take a listen to Charlie Sykes, a local radio personality lambaste the Skylight for their poor decision making.  AW.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Virginia is for lovers

Ok, I guess I lied.  No rehearsal today.  Just a costume fitting.  I heard we are supposed to start rehearsals tomorrow, but as of yet I have seen no schedule.  Hey man, I just work here.  If you need me, I'll be enjoying the cheese plate at C and O.  

On the flight here, I realized that I have to come to terms with something:  I love the music of my youth.  That is to say, 80's hair metal.  I think I just need to embrace it and not apologize for it.  The rock writer and Fargoan Chuck Klosterman (author of Fargo Rock City- my brother thinks I should be the Chuck Klosterman of opera) says that writing about 80's metal is better than listening to 80's metal.  I am here to disagree with you Chuck.  (ok, he was talking specifically about Mötley Crüe, so maybe I'll grant him that).  

On my flight, I listened to "Hair Nation" on the in-flight Sirius radio.  I've mentioned before how I'm often irritated on travel days and try not to make any calls or emails that I will regret later.  "Hair Nation" turned my day around.  Not only did I forget how much I enjoy this music, but I forgot how much knowledge I have of the bands.  For instance, "Hysteria" by Def Leppard came on, and I immediately named off the members in my head: Joe Elliot (megamullet), Rick Savage (Aqua Net), Phil Collen (not the pop singer), Rick Allen (one arm), and Steve Clark (dead).  Steve was replaced by Vivian Campbell, who played rhythm guitar on Whitesnake's eponymous album in the mid 80's (the lead guitarist was Adrian Vandenberg - yes, Whitesnake had two guitarists with girls' names at one point).  I also enjoyed some Poison, Kix, King's X, Y & T, Krokus, Ozzy, and Kiss. Thank you Hair Nation.  You made one less weary traveler...."cuz I know what it means, to walk along the lonely street of dreams! Here I go again on my own!!!"  

My point is this....Ok, I don't know what my point is.  All I know is that I never took the time to memorize these guys' names, or the names of the songs, or the album titles.  It's just all there.  Some people remember baseball stats, some people are opera nuts (It would probably help my career if I was one of those), and some people can track the entire lineup history of Kiss and its subsidiaries including, but not limited to, Frehley's Comet, Vinnie Vincent Invasion, and Slaughter.  I've made my peace with my love of this genre.  That's why I bought the new Chickenfoot cd today.  Joe Satriani, anyone?  Come on!!!

I'm having a delightful time in Charlottesville so far. I've done exactly 8 minutes of singing for the company so far, at a donor concert the other night.  My host and her gentleman friend are wonderful, thoughtful people and I have enjoyed some great conversations with them already. It is commonplace for Joseph Campbell, Benjamin Britten, and Sartre to pop up in conversation.  It is a great place to be.  I'm reminded of the famous quote, "It is better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt."  

More madness to follow.

Figaro post-mortem, Green Mountain Opera Festival

Hello, faithful readership.  Performance #2 of Nozze at the Barre Opera House went quite well.  I don't know how it happened, but the audience was just as exuberant (if not more so) at the Sunday Matinee then it was at the opening.  The artistic director, Taras, said that the audience in the area is very opera savvy, and it was obvious.  They followed every silly plot point, laughed at every joke, bravo'd each aria, and generally loved our show.  I want this crowd at every show I do.  This did not have the feel of a second show.  The tempi, the intensity, the hotdish (as my voice teacher, The Cajun, might say) all remained intact. It was a great way to go out.  

So, how was this 2nd go-round with the Big Fig?  In a word....Awesome.  In two words.....Intensely Gratifying.  I don't want to take anything away from any of my past Figaro colleagues, because each production has been unique and wonderful in its own way.  But the experience in Vermont was, well, special.  In a way that you can't predict nor plan for, but just smacks you in the face with its singularity.  More about that in a minute.  Let's get back to me (enough about me, what did you think of my performance?).

Let's start with the vocal issues.  On the last go-round, I talked at length about the vocal challenges I faced during our performances.  I felt most of those melt away this time.  As I have said, I made a few adjustments in my singing that helped me get more bang for my buck, vocally speaking.  It cost me less, I got less vocally tired, I was able to use more vocal colors, and I was able to 'play' more.  All I basically did was stop darkening my middle voice.  Something I guess I really didn't realize I was doing until I was faced with vocal fatigue during the last run of Figaro.  It became apparent to me that that is what was causing the fatigue- darkening.  It sounds big and dark and is immediately gratifying, but it definitely comes at a cost.  A cost that is totally do-able if you are singing a comprimario role, but as a lead character, I saw my resources dwindling rapidly each night.  Anyhow, on out second performance, I tried to ease up a little, especially in the ensembles (something I should do anyway- no one's going to hear me squawk down there, even under the best of circumstances), and I noticed two things.  First, I was less tired, and second, the 'steeliness' of my middle voice went away.  I tried to incorporate that into the whole of my singing as I prepared for the Vermont gig, and I think I was successful.

I know I was successful.  From day one at Green Mountain, I felt a lot more ease in my singing- even through the mucus I was dealing with.  That was my first clue that I was on the right path. The top felt easier, the middle felt great, and I was able to get through the whole performance without feeling like I had depleted all my resources.  There were still some lingering issues.  I believe I mentioned being worried about "Aprite" at the end of the show.  Funnily enough, during our second performance, I had an epiphany about that too.  I was vocalizing during the intermission and realized I still had a lot of voice left (this was a good feeling.  However, I did the same thing on opening, and still felt a little off-kilter during Aprite.).  I was bound and determined to get it right this time around.  As I was vocalizing, I realized that the reason I was getting into trouble during the aria was because I was just plain-old singing too loud. doy, Wilkowske.  I brought the overdrive down from 11, and instantly felt the buoyancy and breath energy return.  I walked out for Act IV and sang an easy "Aprite" and finale, and felt like I had completely turned a corner.  

As for the character of Figaro, I think I made some strides and discoveries, but mostly I felt like I was allowed and encouraged to do my best- by Taras, by our director and conductor, and especially by the cast.  On day one, at our first sing-through, I realized the caliber of the cast and immediately had to step up my game.  I think everybody had that reaction.  My father-in-law likes to make this analogy: a log can only burn so well on its own.  To burn to its fullest, it has to be leaning up against another.  This was a group of highly flammable people who, when leaning on each other, made an extraordinary inferno.  It was an honor to be a part of this cast.  It was one of those experiences I will take with me forever, one that will help me through the shows that maybe aren't so artistically fulfilling (we all have them; you know which ones I mean).  Thanks go to Ellen, Jacques, and especially Taras who brought us all together and I think brought out the best in us.  At the risk of being maudlin, I'd like to share something our director told us after we closed (Ellen, I hope that this is ok!!)

I'll say it again - during the last "Corriam tutti" you 10 onstage looked at each other as friends - friends who had discovered something easy and wonderfully human here in Vermont.  It was a wonderful thing to watch.
I concur.

Thank you all for an amazing experience on stage and off stage.  I love you all!

But for now, it's back to Figaro.  Back to English.  Back to Ruth and Thomas Martin.  Back to technique.  Back to new cuts.  Back to the Future (is there enough road to hit 88?  Where we're going, we don't need roads!). Rehearsal #1 is tomorrow.


Friday, June 26, 2009

On the passing of a king...

"Thriller" was one of the first albums I ever listened to (that and Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler" in my parents' silver Oldsmobile - the only tape deck we had). I remember watching the "Thriller" video at my cousin Dave's birthday party and being scared of the dark for the next two years. The first time I heard Eddie Van Halen play guitar was on the solo for "Beat it." And of course, wirthout MJ there would be no Weird Al, one of my greatest influences! RIP Michael you crazy bastard. I hope you, Elvis, Jim Morrison and Tupac are all somwhere enjoying fried banana sandwiches, a bottle of whiskey, a spliff, and the bones of the Elephant Man.

Coffee & Cuts in Coach

I'm about to board my flight to DC, en route to Charlottesville, VA for my third Figaro in as many months. As I sit here looking over the latest version of cuts (of which there are many- this could qualify as diet Figaro), I am both sad (sad to go back to English after doing it in the original Italian) and excited (new company, new cast, new maestro). I have a few old friends from grad school in the cast, and I'm really looking forward to that. I'm also looking forward to reconnecting with some old friends and colleagues who are already at Ashlawn working on 'Camelot.'.

I plan on doing a post-mortem on the Green Mountain Figaro, but I will save that for when I have more time and don't have to type it with my thumbs on my phone (my NEW phone- my old one, after a Lazarus-like return from the dead, reverted back to a lifeless pile of silicone and plastic).

My time at home, although much too brief, was magical. There are few things as fulfilling as having a family (not even singing Mozart!), and I will hold this past week in my heart as I travel to Virginia.
Last night Rikki and I cut out a map of Virginia and pasted a picture of me singing on it, right over Charlottesville. Not that Nikki will understand where I am exactly, but now when she asks where I am, her mommy can point to the map and say that I'm singing in Virginia. Plus, she can give me a night-night kiss too.

But I digest...For now, it's DC (via Milwaukee- I'll wave, friends) where my new Susanna has very graciously offered to pick me up, and then the charming Charlottesville. Here's to the new production, safe travels, and good times.



Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Figaro overture: not just a timer for cooking an egg!

We opened last night at the Barre Opera House to what had to have been the most incredible audience ever.  I want to take them with me for every performance I do.  They laughed at every joke, they were energetic, they were with us the whole show.  The quality of the supertitles definitely ups the yuk-yuk factor, but I think that this group of people genuinely were into what we were doing on the stage (not just reading about it!).  That makes such a difference for us!  I wonder if the audience had any inkling that they directly contributed to the quality of the performance with all the energy they gave us.  I guess that would assume that the audience had some sort of collective consciousness, and, well, that's a conversation for a different blog.  I'll just say that it a gratifying experience to be re-introduced to a piece through the eyes of a fresh and engaging audience.  It reminds you of the genius of the piece- that there is a reason it is still being performed after all these years.  In Nozze's case, the overwhelming humanity of the opera is what lasts.  

I was so grateful for Mr. Mozart last night.  My faith in humanity has been on the low side this week. 

First, there is the saga of my phone.  Last Sunday, on my day off, I went to Burlington with some friends for the day.  When I got back, I could not find my phone.  I checked the car, checked my bag, my room, tore the whole inn apart, tore the car apart, and found nothing.  Cut to 24 hours later: i have driven 2 hours round trip up and down a mountain to the Barre Opera House in the pouring down rain. I asked a friend to help me search the car again, and as I walked outside, I saw my phone sitting on the roof of my car.  Where it had been for 24 hours.  In the rain.  On a moving car.  

It was soaking wet, of course, so I took it apart and set it out to dry for a few days.  Much to my surprise, it started right up.  I was in utter shock and disbelief.  This is a miracle phone, right?  Unfortunately, the next day the 'p' button and the speaker phone button stopped working, and the day after that, all the buttons stopped working.  So I basically have a high-tech hockey puck.  Whatever- I have insurance on the phone, so no biggie, just incredibly annoying.  Mostly it just made my angry with myself.  

Next, I have had the worst week in customer service that I have ever had in my life, and have found myself yelling at lots of people over the phone, making demands and threats.  That's not my preferred modus operandi, and I have found it most unpleasant.  

Lastly, and most importantly, this business in Milwaukee has really been hard to deal with this week.  It's great that we have the technology to be connected across great distances, and it has enabled me to feel somewhat present, but it has also filled me with helplessness, watching my friends and colleagues go through this painful journey while I can only read about it on Facebook and the blogosphere.  I love the Skylight so much, and this whole situation has been weighing heavy on my mind and my heart.  I mean, I'm slated to spend three months of my life there in the next year, and I don't know what company I'm going to be working for.  It's like you went away to college and when you come back for Christmas your Mom and Dad have split up, Mom is dating some graphic designer named Kip, your brother is in jail and your room has been rented out.  Oh yeah, and your house is on fire too.  

Anyway, I'm sure I'll have more to say about that later, but what I'm getting at is this:  This stupid little job I have is a wonderful gift.  When I got into costume last night, I left my dressing room and walked the stage.  When the overture started, something strange happened: a smile formed on my lips and my heart lightened.  The anger, frustration, and sadness that was in my heart was replaced with this overwhelming sense of gratitude that I get to sing this opera with these people for this company at this time.  For three hours, I can be someone else.  Someone who can instantly cook up a solution to the snags he gets into.  Someone who sings amazing music.  Someone who is awesome. It was nice to be slapped in the face with a reminder of what a gift this whole dang thing is.  And I accepted the gift last night.  And I pictured my friend Jamie in the audience with his ridiculous ponytail laughing at all my stupid jokes.  

We have one more shot tomorrow afternoon, then I'm coming home to my girls.  


PS- have you noticed the "currently drinking" sidebar on my blog homepage?  Thanks for the idea Mazer.

Friday, June 19, 2009

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

Tonight's the big night.  We are opening Nozze tonight at the Barre Opera House in Barre, Vermont with the Green Mountain Opera Festival.  

It has been a fun journey putting this together, and I look forward to telling this story this weekend.  The action takes place over the course of one day, but it is a lot of life to live in three hours.  

So who is this guy Figaro?  What does he want? Does he get it? These are questions I ask every time I start rehearsing a new production, and I ask them again as we put it together, and yet again when I am putting on my costume.  I'm not sure I know the answers completely (I mean how could I? Do any of us really know that info about ourselves? Maybe you do.  I don't).  What I do know is that the Big Fig spends an awful lot of the opera just trying to get married.  In every appearance up to the wedding scene he unveils a new scheme to accomplish this goal.  He is madly in love with Susanna.  He has to be, right?  She is the only one in the opera who is smarter than he is, and she is his partner in every way.  I feel like the conflict he faces in the opera is reconciling the two sides of his nature; the one that loves and cares for Susanna unequivocally (the sensitive-new-age Figaro), and the hot-headed guy who sees deception everywhere, even in his bride-to-be (frat boy Figaro?).  The former side is an alternative to the Count, and the latter is his doppelgänger.  I think in a lot of ways this opera (at least for Fig) is about his evolution and self-realization;  when he puts his doubts aside and unequivocally accepts Susanna as his partner, he becomes ready to be her husband, and he is redeemed by her love.  The virtue of forgiveness and the redemption of the men in this opera by the women in this opera is an overarching theme.  I think it eclipses the class conflict theme (more dominant in the play) by about a zillion percent.  

In acting class you talk about where your character's center is- their head, heart, lower, etc. I picture Figaro's center is in Susanna, and the opera is about how he finds his center.

And the music is pretty good too.  But I digest....

This has been a very gratifying experience as an artist.  I didn't expect this tiny, tucked-away company in the middle of Vermont to be such a rich environment, with the kind of artistic give and take that at once energizes and recharges our spirits.  I guess that's high-falutin' blogspeak for awesomeness.  Hats off to the artistic director Taras Kulish, our director Ellen Schlaefer, the Maestro Jacques LaCombe, and the intensely talented cast and crew.  

My heart is in Milwaukee this morning celebrating 50 years of the Skylight.  Let's hope it has 50 more.  


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Our final dress was last night.  We had a small student audience, which was nice.  It's great to get some energy back from the audience (especially when I'm singing directly to them during my act IV aria).  I think we are in good shape.  This has been a really special experience for me, and I am full of gratitude for this cast, this company, this production.  I'm looking forward to making some good music and some good komedy laughs this weekend.  On the technical tip, I felt much better about last night than our first orchestra dress.  I've come to realize (and embrace) the fact that I'm just plain tired in Act IV and Aprite is a damn hard aria to sing.  I will keep fighting the good fight, but I'm going to stop obsessing about it and just enjoy it.  I've learned a few things during this process, and that's a good thing.  More on that later. 

Here is a fun video about our production from a local arts blog.  This is where I first heard the "opera singers as mythical creatures" idea.  Also, my friend Adriana invokes the great Jack Tripper (reinforcing my "what would John Ritter do?" character-building technique).  

PS- I look like Chris Farley.  Time to go back to the gym I guess.  Or maybe lay off the Vermont maple syrup.  

The media firestorm in Milwaukee continues over the firing of Bill Theisen.  There is some intelligent discourse happening here:

I'm proud of my friends in Milwaukee who are taking ownership of their theatre community and making their voices heard, especially Jamie Johns.  The Skylight has been an artistic home for me for the last 10 years, and they have always welcomed me into the fold as though I were a local artist.  I sincerely hope they can work through this debacle.  


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Un scandolo, un disordine....

After our orchestra dress last night, I tuned into Facebook to learn some depressing news.  The Artistic Director of Skylight, the stage director of two of my Year-of-Figaro productions, and my friend, Bill Theisen was suddenly ousted from the Skylight Opera.  Details are sketchy right now, but this is a potentially self-destructive  and definitely short-sighted move by the Skylight board and managing director.  I am deeply concerned for the future of this beloved company.  You can read more about it here .  I look forward to learning more about the circumstances surrounding this decision.  If you are a friend of Skylight, please make your opinion known.  

In these rough economic times, it is hard to keep a toehold as an employed artist.  Personally, I think sticking to your guns as an artist is the only way to get through this mess.  That goes for organizations as well as individuals, and I think chucking your artistic vision, and your artistic visionary, are not reasonable compromises.  I hope that as we learn more about the situation at Skylight, we find that their decision making process was grounded by the artistic vision that has defined that company for so long, and not by temporary financial setbacks.  

As for current Figaro activities, our first dress was, well, a first dress.  There were a lot of new things thrown into the mix; costumes, new acoustic, orchestra.  It takes awhile to find your sea legs.  I was concerned mainly about getting through the piece vocally, using the Lafayette dress rehearsals and run as a measuring stick.  I am happy to say that generally speaking I am singing this role with more ease and finesse than last time, but there are still some lingering issues.  I sort of peter out in Act IV, right where I need to have the most gas.  I'm going to try some different things tonight.  The good news is that, all troubles aside, I don't feel fatigued at the end of the opera.  This tells me that I can fix it.  Here's hoping.  

The show held together pretty well with all the new elements in place.  This music never gets old for me.  Orch dress # 2 tonight.  I'll be back with more (and less politically charged) rantings later.  


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sitzproben und Geleegehirne

We had our Sitz yesterday at the historic Round Barn.  It was great to finally be with the orchestra- they are really good players, and our Maestro really commands this piece in a wonderful way.  It's great to work with a conductor who is so easy to read- tempi, articulation, phrasing are all communicated beautifully in his stick technique.  It was a good rehearsal.  I generally felt pretty good about my singing.  I felt like I sang it well, was able to deliver the text the way I wanted to, and it didn't cost me a lot vocally (at least compared to the last time I did it).  There are still a few funny moments- like a stupid D natural on an open E vowel- that trip me up  here and there.  I think it's still the whole middle voice thing coming back to haunt me.  Having said that, it all feels a lot easier to sing and it makes me happy.  It's such a physical role, and it's amazing how much easier it is to sing when you're note running around the stage, sharpening a sword, shaving Cherubino, moving furniture, etc.  It was nice to get a chance to remind myself how I want to sing this music as we move onto stage and deal with all kinds of other issues.  

...Which brings me to our piano tech.  All things considered, it was a pretty smooth and painless tech.  When I am in tech, I get into some weird zone.  I just want to get through it with as little mess as possible (don't we all?), and I think some people think I'm pissed off (last night a few people asked me if I was ok because of the concerned look on my face.  I was just trying to assimilate into our new surroundings).  About halfway through the rehearsal, my brain turned to jelly, and I started to get a little slap-happy.  This is pretty normal for a tech, and especially after we had sung a sitz already, it was no big deal. Then Act IV rolls around, and my brain is completely off.  In my recit with Barbarina, I was supposed to say "avea gusto d'udir come il padrone ti die la commissione," and I said, "avea gusto doo deer la commissione tee dah doo blah blah blah blah...."  Poor Barabarina looked at me like, "What the @#$% was that?" I just said, "I'm sorry.  I have no idea what my line is."    That set the tone for the whole act.  And then I told Susanna that I was full of burning sky (ho pieno il ciel di foco).  Ah, well.  That's what techs are for, right?  On the bright side,  it's a beautiful little theatre, and the set looks great.  I think we'll have some fun this week.  


PS- I had lots of great suggestions as to what to call myself as a Mythical Creature.  I really liked Baritonius (thank you Koch), but I think the winner has got to be bass-peryton, which would be a creature combining the characteristics of a stag and a bird, and a lower-voiced male.  I'm assuming that would also include a mane of freshly coiffed hair and vast knowledge of beer.  Hailing from the lost continent of Atlantis, this large winged creature casts the shadow of a man. 

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tutto è tranquillo e placido

We had our final rehearsal room run-through last night.  After a short notes session this morning, we have the rest of the day and tomorrow off.  It's good we're getting a little break.  It's sort of the calm before the storm, because starting Monday we're going to have some late nights.  The opera house is located in a town called Barre (pronounced "Barry") about 45 minutes away.  There's a sitz + tech on Monday, and orchestra dresses Tues and Wed.  So it's good we will start the week rested (actually, we will probably take this time off to stay up way too late, drink too much beer and play too much pool. At least I know I will.  Hey, it's science).

I think we are in good shape with the show.  It is a total joy to sing this piece with such a seasoned group of colleagues.  I feel like I'm in a pretty decent place vocally as well- better off than last time.  We'll see once we get in the actual house with the orchestra, but I think I've made a few adjustments that will allow me to sing this role at less cost than last time.  The challenge I'm encountering is that I have the sensation of less local control when I sing.  That's tricky to get used to.  It's much less micro-managerial (and probably more rewarding to the listener) and also much easier, but when you're used to controlling and manipulating to a certain degree, it's tough to let go.  There are a few coordination issues.  The role lives so much in the middle voice, that suddenly an E flat is a high note (at least in the grand scheme of things), and feels like what an F would feel like in a more baritonal tessitura.  So that's weird.  The plus side is that I'm not darkening the lower middle anymore, so it's about a zillion times easier to sing down there and I don't get super tired halfway through the piece.  Plus, the Dalai Lama told me that when I die, on my deathbed, I will receive total consciousness.  So I got that going for me, which is nice. 

I've also noticed that I'm a tremendous slouch.  Even while wearing my rehearsal shoes (they are really cool period shoes with a chunky heel), I stand like I'm a standing-in-front-of-the-QuickStop-slacker, and not an 18th century valet to a Count.  I'm looking forward to being in costume and the inevitable change in character and posture that will take place.  I'm pretty confident all the earthy, goofy, stupid Ritter-esque crap I am doing will still come through, but it will be filtered through a period costume and stance.  

Yesterday, I gave a short little interview for a local video arts blog.  I'll post it as soon as it is available.  She asked me what did I think Mozart would think of us if he stopped by rehearsal.  The first thing that came to mind was, "well, he would probably say, 'holy crap! what are all those shiny metal boxes careening down the street at an alarming rate?'" That's the kind of highly articulate commentary I bring to the industry.  She also said that one of the local Vermonters (Vermont-ites? Vermont-ians?) said that he thought opera singers are like mythical creatures.  That we are seemingly normal beings, but then unleash these big crazy voices on everyone.  I like that.  Andrew Wilkowske, mythical creature.  It may have to go on my resume.  Hey, it's better than the whole baritone/bass-baritone conundrum.  


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Cloak and Swagger

Ok, so I mentioned having the Figaro Act III march played as the processional at our wedding, but I slyly left out the recessional.  This is going to substantially up the nerd factor.  It was "The Throne Room" march from the end of the original Star Wars.  You know, there's a long fanfare with the brass and percussion, and then the full symphony orchestra comes in, punctuating the theme.  It then develops into a sweetly Elgar-ian section before Luke, Han (and NOT Chewie!!!) get their medals and the closing credits begin.  

Erika is a very special woman to allow me this sort of frivolity, but let me tell you, it was awesome!  we had a string quartet, organ, timpani, and crash cymbals (and a conductor!).  Nerdy, I know.  

We have finished staging the opera and had our first run-through yesterday.  We've spent the last few days working on the end of the opera, and I have to say, I really enjoy wearing a long flowing cape.  I think I need to start wearing one in real life.  It's very slimming, and you can totally use it as a prop as well.  I'm telling you, the cape is coming back.  

One of my favorite moments is in the Act IV finale when Figaro realized that Susanna is impersonating the Count and he has been duped.  It's awesome music, and there's lots of potential for stage antics.  It's also when Susanna hauls off and (lovingly) slaps Figaro around.  That can often be an eggy moment, but I'm happy to report that we have taken the time to carefully choreograph it into a really funny slap-around.  It should be a funny moment, and it rarely is.  She slaps me, punches me, steps on my foot, tugs my ear, and shoves me off a bench onto the floor.  It's Komedy with a K and it's tons o' fun.  

Figaro can be a tough comedy to play because the humor comes out of the situation, and if you add stuff on top of it, it can get totally schtick-y and lose the humanity that has made it the masterpiece that it is.  But if you go too far in the other direction, it can turn into daytime television.  Striking the balance is the key.  I'm having a blast in this production because we have lots of really great, silly, fun schtick, but all the characters are still real.  I was telling someone the other day that my mantra is usually "What would John Ritter do?," then I trip over a couch and do a spit take at the audience.  I don't see why I can't have it both ways- Three's Company meets Mozart/ Da Ponte.  Why not?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart vs. Wolfgang Van Halen

My brother told me I should have metal-themed titles to increase my readership (he also asked me if my readership of one was named Mel).  

Eddie Van Halen was actually a major musical influence on me.  1984 was the first album I ever bought (It was either that or Weird Al in 3-D),  and listening to Van Halen as a kid had as much to do with me becoming a musician as anything else, including my 8 years of university training. Listening to Van Halen made me want to play guitar, playing guitar made me want to become a 'serious' musician, and being a 'serious' musician made me want to become an opera singer.  Plus, David Lee Roth?  If there's an 80's frontman equivalent of Farinelli, it's got to me him, right?

I've always thought that Opera and hair metal are close relatives: Heavily costumed, lots of makeup and hair, melodramatic, and of course, the soaring vocals, with lots of gratuitous screams (modern day cadenzas).  I may have even gone so far as to perform a medley of metal power ballads for a very select audience (not to be missed- I go seamlessly from "Love Bites" by Def Leppard to "Avant de quitter ces lieux" from Faust).  

There are definitely some metal moments in Nozze.  The one that immediately comes to mind is Antonio's scene in the Act II finale.  One of my favorite parts of the whole show, if you listen to the low strings, they have this rapid-fire triplet figure that could be something directly out of a Metallica song.  Also, the opening riff (!?) of the Count's aria? To me it sounds like the 18th century version of a pick slide.  It's from a different opera, but I've always thought "Un aura amorosa" sounded like a total power ballad.  I add a cadenza in "non più andrai" that is completely gratuitous and might just as well be from a Skid Row song.  It's ok to quote Sebastian Bach in Mozart, right?  



Friday, June 5, 2009

MucusWatch '09: Standoff Continues

Ahh, I really gotta stop talking about this phlegm someday, but it is fun to come up with Mucus-y titles.  I promise, it is getting better each day, so the post-nasal talk will stop soon.   

Our little concert last night went reasonably well.  The Largo.  Hmm....It is a tough nut to crack, that one.  There are times when it goes great and is so much fun to sing, and then there are times when I can't catch my breath and I feel like a snake is going to crawl out of my larynx and spit venom on my face.  Last night was one of those times.  I got through it, though, and was able to throw in all my hammy goodness and hit all the high notes, but I'm looking for a little more ease.  Is that too much to ask?  It is?  Damn.

Today it's back to Nozze.  I feel better enough to actually want to practice, so I worked on the fourth act aria.  It was cut when we did Figaro in Louisiana, so it's been awhile since I performed "Aprite."  It is such a dense aria.  I forgot how much good stuff is crammed in there.  The balancing act will be to bring enough variety and color to it without letting the 'voice acting' upend the singing.  I've had that happen before, and then all of the sudden the E flats seem like Gs- not a fun feeling. 

It's a great scene.  It's the one time where Figaro speaks directly to the audience.  I love this moment.  Barbarina tells him that she was supposed to return the pin to Susanna.  Susanna?  For all that has gone wrong this day, the one person that has been on Fig's side was Susanna.  And now this?  His whole world gets turned upside-down in an instant.  I know some people think that Mozart did a disservice to Beaumarchais in this scene by removing the politics out of Figaro's monologue (Act V in the play).  He launches into a diatribe about how all the Count had to do to get his rank and position was to choose his parents carefully.  Figaro, on the other hand,  has had to show more skill and brainpower just to stay alive.  It's a scathing speech, and makes perfect sense in the play.  I don't miss it in the opera.  Maybe at the end of all these Figaros I will change my mind, but I feel like what is interesting about this opera is the relationships between Fig and Susanna, The Countess and Count, and of course the Count and Susanna.  Figaro's hatred for the Count at that moment is implicit, as is his wit and skill.  He lives it on stage.  I don't think he needs to sing about it.  Am I wrong?  Probably.  

Gotta run.  I'm rehearsing getting married tonight.  No one likes wedding rehearsals.  Rikki and I actually had the Act III Marcia played as the processional at our Nozze.  Yes, I'm a big nerd.  


Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Year of Mucus?

This blog seems to be more about the state of my post-nasal drip than my brilliant insights into the psyche of Figaro.  I am definitely on the mend, but still have a little crud.  Just as I started to feel better, I got hit with a fresh wave of Vermont pollen and it started all over again.  Now half the cast and the Maestro have the sniffles and are coughing up junk.  Delightful.  At least it's happening now and not the day we open, right?  

I have a little preview of Rossini's Figaro tonight.  We are giving a gala concert to open the season here at Green Mountain Opera, and I'm singing the Largo as well as "Dunque io son."  I was mildly terrified to have to sing these with phlegmy cords, but I figure if I can do it feeling crummy, then I can do it anytime.  Bring on the ham and eggs (is there such a thing as negative subtlety?  If so, I think it's highly appropriate for Figaro). 

Figaro.  I have been doing some reading up on the Big Fig and Beaumarchais, hoping to impress my readership of one (I've been informed that it is really a readership of three now! Progress), and I have found that the name Figaro may mean 'son of Caron' (fils- Caron), as in Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais.  Now the name simply means barber in french, having taken on the iconic character's profession.  

Speaking of being a barber, I love allusions to The Barber of Seville while doing Nozze.  I have often sung the big Act II recit while prettying up the Countess' hair, but in this production I get to give Cherubino a shave during "Non più andrai," which is not only a lot of fun, but helps fill out what can be a challenging moment.  It's easy to be Johnny one-note during that aria, manhandling Cherubino over and over and indicating the laundry list of things he will encounter in the military.  The whole shaving scene adds a new shape and a lot of fun.  Plus I get to play Figaro as Sweeney Todd for a brief moment.  "Finalmente! Il mio braccio destro è completo ancora!!!!!"

Here is a picture from our photo shoot.  I love this costume- Robina D'Arcy Fox did a beautiful job on all of our clothes.  And they feel like clothes, not a costume.  I'm sorry to gush about it, but it is pretty amazing.  

I'm going to close with one of my new favorite quotes as I've been re-reading
 the play of The Marriage of Figaro.  

Figaro: You have no idea how much I love you.

Suzanne: When are you going to stop bothering me by going on about it from morning to night?

Figaro: [winking] When I can prove it to you from night until morning.