Monday, July 27, 2009

Movin' on

Thank you all so much for the comments and support you have given me this past week.  It means a lot to me to have such great colleagues and friends!  

Well, our second performance went way better than any of us expected.  We hadn't done the show in over a week, and as I said, we had a different conductor than opening night.  First of all, let me say that it is extremely challenging to do a show without the benefit of momentum.  You have to just jump in headfirst and hope you can get back the show you had.  When I heard the overture start up, I started feeling that opening night adrenaline again (it sort of felt like opening all over again in a way, although without a tech week.....weird), but it definitely took the first scene (if not the first act) to feel like I was doing our show again.  I think we were all in the same boat (orchestra included) and we all dealt with it well.  In a way, it was kind of cool.  Some of the scenes felt maybe a little more spontaneous since we barely remembered what the H we were supposed to be doing.  Our new conductor took over the reigns exceedingly well.  What could have been a scary situation was handled beautifully by him.  His stick is very easy to follow and his retention of our tempi was spot-on.  I went home to Minnesota last week for fun times up north.  Needless to say, between the beer, brats, and playing around in the lake, I felt like I hadn't sung in a year.  oof.  It went fine, vocally speaking, but I gotta keep up the singing this week!

Our next show is not until next Saturday...This is the weirdest schedule in the world.  

There is a great timeline of the entire Skylight debacle here.  Thanks again to Tony Clements for all his diligent blogging of the situation.  

Here is a fun clip of excerpts from the production of Figaro I did in Vermont.  Other than my rotundity and shameless overacting, I think it looks and sounds pretty good.  I'm looking forward to seeing the whole thing.  



Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Marriage of Who?

We have our second performance of Figaro this afternoon at Ashlawn Opera. We haven't done the show in eight days, and we have a different conductor than we did on opening night.

Film at eleven.


Friday, July 24, 2009

Opera imitating Opera

As I sit writing this, there is a public forum (Tom Strini billed it as a 'showdown' in his blog) in Catalano Square in Milwaukee.  I'm told there are over 100 people there to ask questions and to hear Eric Dillner and the new Board president speak.  I have no idea what is being said, but I'm sure it is passionate and emotional, and presumably, not entirely civil. 

As I said earlier, yesterday I withdrew from The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro at Skylight, cutting my Year of Figaro in half.  This was a really difficult decision to make.  I have talked at great length about how I feel about this Skylight situation.  I certainly didn't support the initial decision to fire Bill Theisen, but I also didn't see the new director as the villain that he was being made out to be in the press and blogosphere.  I thought it was an extremely unfortunate decision, but I was still on board to honor my contract, especially since Bill was slated to return to stage direct both productions.  When Bill backed out after the controversial firing of two cast members over Facebook comments, the foundation on which I'd agreed to do these productions was suddenly shaky.  Compromised, even.  In fact, with each passing day, these productions became more and more compromised.  People have commented on my blog and my Facebook congratulating me on being principled and being brave, but I don't know if I agree with that.  If anything, it was about survival.  I felt like a rat on a sinking ship and had to get out of there.  

The fact of the matter is, this kind of crap happens all the time in opera companies.  We've all seen it, and it can get ugly.  The problem is, Skylight isn't an opera company.  It's a community theatre company, and I mean community theatre in the best sense of the word (not Guffman-style!).  That's why people love working there, and that's why people have been fighting this decision tooth and nail since it was made last June.  This is not supposed to happen at Skylight.  Not that SOT is some sort of sacred Utopia- it definitely has its issues.  But resorting to Neo-McCarthyism to fire cast members?  

Bill definitely made the right decision to back out when he did.  I wish I could say that I am principled enough to have made my decision to back out right away, solely in solidarity with Bill.  I'm not.  I struggled with this decision.  I'm not a protester by nature.  I'm a lover, not a fighter, so this whole decision was a bit weird.  

Fear was a big factor- giving up 3 months of work is daunting (and by daunting, I mean arguably stupid, especially in this economy).  Not only because of the money, but because of the huge gaps in my schedule right now.  I might be wrong, but I think that having momentum is huge for how people perceive you and your career.  By imposing these gaps in my schedule, I am somewhat afraid of losing momentum and further work.  

Selfishness was also a factor.  Doing Barber and Marriage in a cycle is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Tom Strini even said so!  Plus, I've never sung Figaro in Barber of Seville before.  This was going to be my first one, and it couldn't have been at a better company.  Funnily enough, I have sung Bartolo (the old man) before.  10 years ago.  At Skylight.

Plus, I leave dear dear friends in the lurch by pulling out of these shows.  Friends who are honoring their contracts and will turn in compelling, top notch performances, and will do so in a completely professional manner.  If I have one regret about this, it is that I won't be sharing the stage with those amazing people this year.  

After thinking hard about it and having long talks with my own Board of Directors (Me, my amazing sage-like wife, my agent, my parents, my dear Milwaukee artist friends) I decided that if my backing out had some positive impact by way of making a statement to the Board (and I was in extremely good company- I think I was the 24th or 25th person to resign in protest), then great; if the Board chooses to stay the course (and they have- Bill is still out, even after 25+ resignations), then maybe it's not a place I want to spend three months away from my family.  With these kinds of decisions, I usually go with my prodigious gut, and it told me I would be happier as an unemployed Dad than I would be working for a company under extreme duress.  

I've been commenting about all this Skylight stuff since mid-June when it all hit the fan.  Since then, the powers-that-be have had every chance to make things right with the Milwaukee arts community.  They have chosen time and again to stay their course, sever ties with the people that have made up the history of the company, and go it alone.  I wish them the best.  Good game, Skylight.  We had some fun, didn't we?

My Dad, who is a brilliant observer of humanity, had this to say about this whole ugly mess: It's a case of opera imitating opera.  I concur.  

I have a few more weeks of Ashlawn Figaro to go.  I didn't anticipate this being my last one, and now I'm going to have to go and change the name of my blog to A Half-Year of Figaro or I'm So Dumb I Backed Out Of Two Contracts.  Thanks for all the comments.  A man of Principles?  Not really.  Just tired of doing gigs I don't want to do.  

In the meantime, I think I'll call up my friend Jamie Johns and see if he wants to do a recital.  I'm thinking...September or early October?


Thursday, July 23, 2009

6 months of Figaro?

I cut my Year of Figaro short today by withdrawing from the Skylight's productions of Barber and Marriage.  This was an excruciatingly hard decision to make.  Details to follow.  


more info about all things Skylight here

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Last night's stats

Opening: one word slip, otherwise good
Se vuol ballare: better than the dress rehearsal, breath was under me, top F's felt good
Non piu andrai: my shameless cadenza was slightly more shameless than usual, but otherwise was fine
Aprite: not as good as the dress rehearsal
Finale II: funny
Finale IV: funny

0 assists
0 errors

Mozart gets credit for the win (at least I would think so)

It was a pretty tight show, and it was great to finally have an audience. They seemed to be with us for most of the night and they were lots of fun to play to, especially in the act IV aria. I threw in a it where I sing part of the aria to Shelby, our lovely harpsichordist (and by harpsichord I mean electric keyboard-oof). Extra shameless.

Vocally speaking, last night went very smoothly. I think I've either made peace with this English translation or I am just finally learning how to sing this role. I had to do a tv interview before the show (resume) so I didn't quite get to warm up the way I wanted to. There were a few iffy moments, but mostly I felt pretty good about it.

I'm currently sitting in Dulles International Airport waiting to fly home and see my family. More bloggo the month (my new nickname- it's like Jabba the Hutt) to come soon.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Another Openin'

We open Figaro tonight.  I've been sitting around the house, waiting all day.  I hate that.  I should really get a hobby or something.  The nerves are starting already.  Just part of the process.  

After tonight's performance, we have 9 days until the next one.  Crazy, no? Well, at Ashlawn, they used to do 10 performances, all outdoors.  Now, since they have moved into the historic Paramount Theatre, they have cut the number of performances, but kept the same basic schedule, leaving us with 4 shows spread out over 3 weeks.  Interesting.  

I'm looking forward to tonight.  A Year of Figaro will be pretty quiet this next week.  I'm heading home to see my girls!  

Here's something to tide my faithful readership over.  My Susanna, Ashley Logan, and I were stopped on the street the other day for the local weekly paper's question of the week.  We had some really astute answers.  Enjoy!


Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's like, how many babies, you know, fit in the tire? You know, that old joke.

Our final dress was last night.  We all took a big step forward, and I think we are poised to take another big step forward on opening night.  There were about 20 kids in the audience who couldn't have cared less about what we were doing.  They started a coughing competition during 'Deh Vieni' and got annoyed when I started singing to them and pointing at them in 'Aprite.'  Note to self: kids don't like being pointed at.  

Having sung this role three times in as many months, I've learned a thing or two.  Last night I was still a little vocally fried after having sung the whole opera twice on Monday.  My approach in these times of crisis has shifted radically as of late.  Whereas before I would just continue to bluster and try to vocally act my way through, getting by on charm, this time I brought it all in.  What does that mean, you ask?  Um....I don't know.  I just brought it in.  I was a little more contained.  My vocal attacks were a little less aggressive, perhaps, but the volume and resonance were not diminished.  In fact, they were probably enhanced.  In a weird way, it feels like I'm singing in instead of singing out (this isn't inward singing a la Tenacious D- I mastered that years ago!).  

I'm rambling and not making sense.  The long and short of it is I'm yelling less and singing more.  And that ain't a bad thing.  At all.  It feels good, in fact.  And I think it bodes well for my upcoming foray into Rossini's Figaro.  


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How did we get here?

How did it get to be the day of the final dress?  It never fails to surprise me how the entire rehearsal period gets gobbled up so quickly and we suddenly find ourselves in a dark theatre with an orchestra (who sound great, btw), costumes (very slimming....thank God!), and a set (no comment).  One of my favorite people in the world always says (usually during tech week), "well, don't worry, we have six weeks 'til we open."  It's sort of a running joke, but it is shocking how the imminent opening night can sneak up on you.  

We had our final tech (sort of a misnomer- most of the actual props and set pieces arrived at our dress) on Sunday evening, which was preceded by a fandango rehearsal.  Monday we had our sitz, and an orchestra dress.  The good news is no one died.  We were all pretty wiped after such a marathon, and I don't know that I would choose to ever have that kind of schedule again but, all things considered, it went down pretty well (just like the beer I had cha!)

The sitz was a blast.  The orchestra sounded great, and we were all having a good time.  It is such fun music to sing, and by now I'm feeling really comfortable vocally (I better be after all this time, right?).  It was fun just making music together- like we were some sort of all-Mozart garage band or something.  Our conductor used to play in a rock band, and even though he is a highly trained classical musician, he still brings a relaxed, jam session feel to the rehearsals.  I love it.  There's a great sense of give and take, and he's totally in the moment and spontaneous.  He also plays Foreigner songs on the piano during breaks, so that's pretty cool too.  

The dress was, well....we were all tired.  All of us.  Orch, conductor, cast, ensemble.  It went fine, but we were all making amateur mistakes, dropping lines,  wandering around the stage like McCain at a debate (sorry- not very topical reference).  It was a little rough.  It's just not an opera you ever want to do twice in one day.  Ever.  Again.  We have a lot of work to do tonight, but, I think we're in fine shape and well-rested.  

I fully meant to mark the dress rehearsal, but damn if it's not hard to sing out when there's an orchestra playing.  It just doesn't feel right to mark- it's not natural.  Plus there's the fact that I am terrible at marking.  I usually feel more tired after marking than when I am singing, and so I ended up singing most of the dress after having sung a full sitz.  It wasn't the smartest thing I've ever done, but I'm happy to report that it was actually kind of easy.  It was really encouraging, especially since I was feeling fatigued after doing it only once in Lafayette earlier this season. 

This is a sort of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants interpretation of Figaro this time around, which, in the world Beaumarchais created (and lived in!!) is totally OK I think.  

I'll leave you with a quote from Shakespeare in Love (don't judge me) that couldn't be more appropriate.  

Henslowe: Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business.  The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster.
Fennyman: So what do we do?
Henslowe: Nothing.  Strangely enough, it all turns out well.
Fennyman: How?
Henslowe: I don't know.  It's a mystery.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

If Mozart were alive today, he would be playing in Metallica

I'm just sayin'.

Stay tuned for more about the marathon Tech/Sitz/Orch Dress/Photo Shoot.  


Monday, July 13, 2009

Survival tip #327

How does one get through a morning photo shoot, afternoon sitzprobe, and evening orchestra dress, after teching until midnight the night before? After years of research, here is my method:

Ham and cheese omelet
Home fries
Toast (required)

Go forth and conquer.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

More tech stuff

Huge comments after my last post!  I guess that's what happens when you are the Opera America Blog of the Month (if you haven't noticed, I'm going to be milking that for all its worth....more than its worth actually).  God mikes, headsets, and director/actor translation are all worth their weight in gold as far as I am concerned.  I don't like yelling.  Have I mentioned that?  Unless it's being done by Chris Farley, I can do without it.  

There's a lot of non-Figaro stuff to talk about.  First of all, this Skylight stuff is amazing.  Someone should be writing an opera about it, or at the very least, an NBC movie of the week.  So on July 9, the Skylight Board announced that they had spoken to Bill Theisen about returning to the Skylight as Artistic Director for next season.  Can you imagine?  Would you want to go back to a place that had just fired you without warning?  And how do they suddenly have the money to re-hire him?  Bill released a statement the next day that he couldn't return as AD under the current circumstances, that there has been a breach of trust, and that he doesn't think he could perform his duties as AD the way things are right now.   I can't say that I blame him.  So now what's going to happen?  Are they going to look for a new Artistic Director, or go with their original plan and have no Arts leadership?  I encourage you to read Tom Strini's blog, ArtsySchmartsy, and Tony Clements' blog if you are at all interested in this saga.  These guys are way more engrained in the Milwaukee arts community, and have done some darn good reporting on it.  Plus, on Tony's blog, there's this great letter to the Skylight board from an ex-board member saying that artists only exist because they (i.e. the board and the donors) have hired them to perform a service.  In other words we, as artists, are employees, and should just shut up and sing.  

Meanwhile, my other artistic home, The Minnesota Opera just put out a statement that, in a nasty fiscal year, they finished the season in the black and their capacity is up 5 1/2% from last year.  This is also the season they started their Opera Works project, an initiative to champion new works in the opera house (they are already over halfway to their $7 million goal for Opera Works).  Say what you will about Minnesota, but they have a keen artistic vision, and they have stuck with it in hard times.  Hell, they have renewed their commitment to their vision, and the audiences and donors have answered in kind.  

I'm not saying that Skylight and MN Op are anything alike.  They aren't, really.  But if you are running an arts organization, I think you have to have an artistic vision, and you have to have arts leadership to see it through. And when times get sucky, you can't just bail on it- the leadership or the vision.   

Ok, enough already- I'll get off my soapbox.  Running a company is damn hard, and I'm glad it's not my job.  

Back to the big Fig....We have another tech tonight.  I'm going to try not to look mad.  We rehearse until midnight tonight, then have a sitz AND an orchestra dress tomorrow.  Whee!  I think we are in good shape.  There are some eggy moments here and there, but I think they will tighten up at our dresses.  The english feels a lot more comfy this time around than it did in Lafayette (still sounds awkward though- that can't be helped I'm afraid).

More award-winning material to come later.


Friday, July 10, 2009


Currently in a tech/spacing rehearsal at the Paramount theatre in downtown Charlottesville. This is the kind of up-to-the-minute live blogging you've come to expect from Opera America's Blog of the Month. Later this afternoon we are fixing some trouble spots and having a costume parade. Yeah, that's right. A costume parade. It sounds so festive, right? Like we should be sitting on a float and throwing hard candies at little kids. I don't remember the last show I was in that had a costume parade.

Ahhhhh, tech rehearsal. You can just feel the good will slowly drift out to a sea of snappy, snarky bitchiness. I usually remain mute during most tech rehearsals because I don't want to add to the general chaos, and am thus perceived to be angry. I also don't deal well with yelling, so when the director tells us to hold, my blood pressure instantly increases. That's where speaking quietly on a god mike can be a godsend. But when there isn't a mike, the yelling makes me go crazy. I know it's only so the director can be heard, but still I can't take it.

Also, the whole "can we take it from..." conversations that take during tech are CRAZY. Invariably, the director will say "I want to take it from where the Count walks around the desk." The rehearsal pianist will say "what measure is that?" And then the conductor will say, "what are the words there?" - or some such exchange. There shoud be a person whose job it is to liase between all parties, translate, and communicate in a clear, light tone just exactly what the $%@& we are supposed to be doing.

It just occurred to me there is such a person. His name is Alex Farino! Where are you alf?

Gotta get ready for the parade. I hope I don't drop my baton!!!


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Opera America's Blog of the Month!

Yes, that's right kids, A Year of Figaro is the BLog of the Month for Opera America's ArtsLink newsletter. Thanks for reading everybody!


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mr. F

We had a run of Acts I and II today, and I am encouraged.  Sometimes getting the traffic patterns and skeleton of a piece put together can be so clinical and non-artistic that you feel like little chess pieces being pushed around for no reason whatsoever.  Getting the chance to run big sections not only lets you understand the flow of the piece, but gives you an opportunity to just listen and respond to your scene partners.  That happened today.  I felt like I was just talking to my compatriots, and that ain't a bad thing.  With such little time to get an opera like this on its feet, it was a relief to have a decent run. At least we have a toehold now. 

I have been playing Mr. F for nearly three months now (and boy are my arms tired! rim shot).  My characterization has definitely evolved, but that could simply be the uniqueness of each production dictating nuances to the character.  I have to say, though, it is nice to really get to know Mr. F over this long period of time, and know that each time I play him I will find something new for my bag of tricks (aka: steal stuff for future productions).  Or it could be that I've been watching old Three's Company episodes on dvd and have been shamelessly copying John Ritter (at least in my mind).  

I'm not usually a huge astrology guy, but I read mine in the weekly C'Ville paper the other day and I wanted to share it, as it is entirely appropriate and awesome:

Nietzsche's dictum might be useful for you to keep in mind right now Leo: "If it doesn't kill you, it'll make you stronger."  Since I'm very sure that the turbulent waters through which you're navigating will not kill you, I'm looking forward to all the ways this journey will upgrade your confidence and enhance your power.  But there's more to be gained, beyond what Nietzsche formulated.  It's also true that if it doesn't kill you (which it won't), it will make you wilder and kinder and smarter and more beautiful. 

I sure hope so.  

Michael Kaiser, president oh the Kennedy Center, recently wrote a fantastic article in The Huffington Post entitled Arts in Crisis.  It's about how arts organizations need to stick to their guns artistically if they want to remain successful through this economic nightmare.  I found it posted on ArtsySchmartsy's blog and thought it was really timely, considering all that's going on with the Skylight right now (PS- it felt good de-friend Skylight on Facebook.  Am I a bad person?)


Monday, July 6, 2009


Hope my readership had a wonderful Independence Day.  I spent the 4th at Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, where I witnessed the annual naturalization ceremony.  66 people became American citizens on the historic estate.  After they took the oath, they were allowed to come up and say what becoming an American meant to them.  It was incredibly moving.  One little boy who couldn't have been more than about 5 said "I love America.  It's the perfect place to be."  Anyhow, it's really good to be reminded of all the things we take for granted here in America every day.  

Also I couldn't help but be reminded as I was touring Jefferson' home (and wine cellar) that the Declaration of Independence was written a mere 10 years before Le Nozze di Figaro.  Context is good.  

Speaking of context, I have been able to see my colleagues open the Ashlawn season with Camelot.  It's a really nice space, newly renovated, and beautifully ornate.  The acoustic is pretty good, especially considering it used to be a movie theater.  

We are rapidly closing in on tech week here in C'Ville.  It's a bit of a scary notion at this point, but we have a good cast and I think we will pull it together for sure.  It is so odd to go back to English after having done it in Italian.  I find myself translating the Italian and trying to make a line out of it instead of singing the R & T Martin translation.  It's maddening, and I have to laugh because when I was in Lafayette, one of my colleagues was going through the exact same thing.  

The Skylight mess has made it to the NY Times. Also, there is a beautifully written piece here about why everyone is so up in arms.  


Friday, July 3, 2009

Credit where credit's due

At the end of my last post, I signed off with 'Peace and bacon grease.'  This phrase was coined by the delightful Kathleen Mangiameli, soprano extraordinaire and accomplished jingle composer. When she first used the phrase 'Peace and bacon grease,' I warned her that I was going to appropriate it as my own (which I have- that's what I do- I'm a ripoff artist).  Seeing it broadcast publicly to my readership of 8 was jarring for her and to make amends I am humbly asking her forgiveness and properly crediting her turn of phrase.....bossy.

Peace without cease
Peace and Cochise
Peace and Edwin Meese
Peace and Judas Priest
Peace and polar fleece


Thursday, July 2, 2009

You may choose a ready guide in some celestial voice

Well, I'm going on a week here in Charlottesville, and I've made nary a comment about it in the blogosphere.  We finally have our full cast contingent (better late than never I guess, eh?), and have staged many key scenes.  Just getting started is the hardest thing I think- the first scene always is tricky.  We're all still finding our sea legs and getting to know each other, and have to jump in the deep end.   

We have another great group of people here, and I look forward to the work.  Anyone who has worked here knows the inherent challenges involved with doing so.  I don't want this blog to become a forum for those challenges per se, so I will keep them to a mimimum....I'm being cryptic aren't I?  I'll tell you all about it after a beer sometime.  

My last entry got tons of comments- thanks for reading!  One of them hit the mark so well I'd like to repeat it here (hope that's ok!!!! I'll leave it anonymous for now):

After years of reading reviews not only of my productions but other operas, plays, and art exhibitions I've come to the conclusion that there is nothing so wonderful that someone in the world won't hate it and there is nothing so horrible that someone in the world won't love it.  That's why I think it is important to trust your own instincts, do your very best, always be true to yourself, and respect your colleagues, the author/composer, and the audience.

I concur.  Well said my friend.  This is the ideal we should all live by.  It's still hard to not get rattled by a bad review, though.  Human Nature I guess.  When you're dealing with something so personal as your art (especially when your instrument is located inside your body), it's hard not to take each criticism personally.  

I have been posting links to stories about the firing of Bill Theisen at Skylight Opera for the last few weeks.   I just found out last night that Bill is going to direct most of the season next year (including my final two Figaros....Figari?), and I have to say, I am quite relieved.  I have been thinking about this whole situation for weeks now, and it is hard to know what the right thing to do is.  I don't agree with the decision that the Board and Mr. Dillner have made, and I have made my opinion known, publicly and privately.  But what do I do?  Do I withdraw from the 09-10 season as a show of support for Bill?  If I do withdraw to make a statement, what statement am I actually making?  Is it the right statement?  Furthermore, If I withdraw, The Skylight has two months to find another baritone who is willing to sing Barber who has no stake in the recent goings-on at the Skylight (and no doubt there are plenty).  Is it a stronger statement to honor my contract?  Dedicate my performance to the now-defunct positions of Artistic Director and Company Manager?  As a singer who has had contracts dissolve a month before rehearsals were to begin (Hello? Opera Pacific?), is it in bad form to drop a contract so close to the start date? If I quit in protest, what is it that I'm protesting? The firing of Bill or the elimination of the Artistic Director and Company Manager positions?  Or both?

These are the questions I've been asking myself.  I was leaning toward honoring my contract anyway because, selfishly, when will I ever get the chance to sing Figaro in Barber and Nozze at the same company in the course of one season?  I thank Bill for making the decision for me- if he's directing, I'm there.  no questions asked.  It's still going to be weird though.  

For the present, though, it's putting another marriage together in Seville.  I don't have a car here in Virginia, so I'm fairly confident I will sweat enough to fit into my costume (even after eating the amazing dumplings at Marco & Luca).  It's a great town and a great cast.  Completely different than last time, and that's a good thing.  There is no point trying to re-create what I had last time.  This is a different cast, a different concept, a different set, different costumes (I gushed about the last costume I had, and automatically thought this one wouldn't be as good- WRONG!), and, I guess what I'm trying to say is, a different feel.  I would be short-changing this production if I gave a performance from a past one.  Does that make sense?  I feel what I'm trying to say can best be summed up with a line from Goonies: "Its their time.  Their time! Up there.  Down here, it's our time.  Our time down here."

Peace and bacon grease.