Friday, August 11, 2006
The Young American Artists
We accept about 500 applications for the Young American Artists Program, which we narrow down to a number of singers we will hear in person. This year we accepted 27 singers and one pianist as an apprentice coach. Once the Young Artists arrive they begin rehearsing for the mainstage productions. Their responsibilities in each production vary between singing chorus, singing a role, or covering one. Every Young Artist is responsible for covering at least one role. They learn the music and also observe the principal artist in rehearsals. The Young Artists get an opportunity to sing the roles with staging in front of their colleagues and friends in a cover run. This allows them to get through the show once and make sure that they are comfortable with the staging in the event that they have to go on. This summer has already been quite eventful for covers. Hannah Sharene Penn went on as Rosina a few weeks ago, and Christian Reinert went on as Števa just the other day. They both did incredible jobs, and we couldn’t be happier. Many of these singers will get work as covers before they have mainstage roles so it is very important that we give them the proper training and experience as they begin their careers as singers.
Once the shows are up and running our attention turns to auditions. We bring in orchestra managers, artistic staff from opera companies, artist managers, and conductors to hear the Young Artists. This year we are bringing in about 45 people. By the end of the summer many of the Young Artists will have management, or have managers that are keeping an eye on them. It is wonderful exposure for them. We also do an opera scenes concert as a thank you to
The biggest event of this summer has been the world premiere of Stephen Hartke’s The Greater Good. We have six Young Artists in that cast, which is almost half of the roles. It is wonderful for them to get the opportunity to premiere a role in a new work at a company like this one. I think it also speaks to the program’s strength that for a piece of that level of difficulty we can put our Young Artists in those roles. This is certainly one of the few summer programs that offer mainstage roles to young singers. Many programs offer a lot of chorus and covering experience, but not roles. It is a very busy fourteen weeks that these singers have here, but I think my Co-Director Timothy Hoekman and I have done our best to make sure that they are getting the proper training and exposure to become successful singers.
1. Elaine Alvarez, member of the Young American Artist Program, premieres the role of La Comtesse de Bréville in The Greater Good.
Running in Repertory
Abigail Rodd: Techincal Director
At most opera houses each production runs consecutively, without overlap, so you just deal with one show at a time. At Glimmerglass all of the shows run at the same time, so our biggest challenge is storage space. We have to fill the stage four times and find a place to store everything when it isn’t being used. The storage space that we have is actually smaller than the stage. I’ve worked at theaters that run a more standard season, such as New Hartford. There we wouldn’t start building for a show until the previous one had gone onstage because the shows ran consecutively, not in rotation. Once the show onstage was done it went into the trash. We saved some items that we thought could be reused, but we didn’t have to worry about storage at all. Here, the place we store the sets is also the place that we build them. This means that as the productions are being created we have to leave enough room for construction. It’s like one of those puzzles with a bunch of movable squares and one empty slot. You have to keep juggling things around.
This year there are a lot of set pieces hanging up in the flies, which means that we aren’t quite as cramped for space in the scene shop and storage trailers. However, to get things to fly in and out, without hitting other things that are hanging up there, we have to use breasting lines to tie back set pieces for whichever show is not running that night. All of these flies have to be untied and retied as we transition between shows each day. The snow effect in The Greater Good is a perfect example of this. It is a one foot-square snow roller. The line sets are positioned in a way that prevents things upstage and downstage of it from flying in and out. This doesn’t cause a problem during Greater Good, but it would cause problems if it were left that way when running Pirates of Penzance. When we change the set out from Greater Good we have to take it to the grid and place other things underneath it so they can fly in and out unobstructed.
When you first think about the mechanics of building all of this stuff, finding a place to store it, and changing between the shows quickly it seems completely ludicrous. However, we make it work every year. We even made it work this year, when it was raining every day so we couldn’t work or store things outside. There was also a week when we were losing power at three o’clock every day because of the storms. Now that the carpenters and set painters are gone things become much easier. We don’t have to worry about leaving space for them to work. The tough part is when we’re running two shows and building the other two. Thankfully, we’ve gotten through that part of the season.
Photos (from top to bottom):
1. A view of the set shop, one of the storage locations for the sets and props of the productions.
2. Set pieces from The Barber of Seville, The Greater Good, and The Pirates of Penzance sit side by side.
Sunday, July 30, 2006
Junked Set Wars
One of the most entertaining events of the season doesn’t take place onstage, and many patrons have no idea that it exists. Every year, after the shows are built, the properties and carpentry departments face off in Junked Set Wars. Any materials left over from building the sets are fair game for the competition. A new challenge is devised every year and is announced to the teams the morning of the competition. Frantic planning, strategizing and building then begins. An esteemed panel of national and international judges assembles to award the prizes at the end of the competition. One is given for accomplishing the objective of the challenge, and the other for superior aesthetics and style. This year the judges were: John Conklin (associate artistic director), Robert Wierzel (lighting designer, Jenufa), Isabella Bywater (set and costume designer, Jenufa), and Jonathan Miller (director, Jenufa)
This year the goal was to transport twenty water balloons across the pond in front of Glimmerglass’ Alice Bush Opera Theater in five minutes. To complicate things, two riggers were put into the middle of the pond as pirates, trying to capture the balloons before they made it across. It so happened that this year both the carps and the props teams devised the same method of a basket attached to a pulley system, so it came down to whose construction was better. Baskets flew over the pond as the pirate riggers hurled cables at them trying to stop the balloons from reaching their destination. After a harrowing five minutes of yelling, cheering, and the occasional hurling of balloons at the opposing team, the final count was taken and the panel of distinguished judges made their rulings. The carpenters won the award for transporting the most balloons across and the props team won the award for superior aesthetics and style. A third award was given to the riggers for excellence in piracy.
Photos (from top to bottom):
1. David Benetello (Assistant Techincal Director) prepares for the carnage of Junked Set Wars.
2. The distinguished panel of judges confers about the rules of this year’s competition with Matt Kirby-Smith (production manager) and Abigail Rodd (techincal director).
3. The contraptions built for the challenge with the props team on the left and the carpenters on the right.
4. The company staff cheers on the teams.
Preparing the Covers
Michael Shell: Assistant Director
In a festival setting like Glimmerglass, covers are very important. All of these shows run for a little over a month, so the likelihood of one of the principals becoming ill is higher than at a standard opera house. They have to know their music, where they’re going onstage, and what else is happening around them. Although they haven’t had as much rehearsal time with the roles as the principals have, they need to develop a close connection with the character that they are portraying as well.
As assistant director, it is my job to teach the covers their blocking and help them find their characters. This has been a challenge with The Greater Good because not only is the music difficult, but the blocking came out of such individual choices that David Schweitzer (director) guided the singers to make during the rehearsal process. It isn’t simply, “walk over here and stand there for five bars and then cross to stage left.” The moves are always very character driven, so it is challenging to teach that in the very few rehearsals that I have.
We have a total of seven rehearsals with the covers, the second coach/accompanist, and the assistant conductor. This culminates in what is called a cover run. This is a run with an invited audience of other members of the company so that the covers get a chance to see how it feels to run through the show from beginning to end. This is done at the rehearsal space with most of the props, rehearsal costumes, and some mock-ups of set pieces. The carriage, which is so central to the show, will not be used in the cover run because it has already been moved over to the theater for performances. Still, it is the only opportunity that the covers get to dig their teeth into the show. If they end up going on for one of the principals they will have never been on stage in costume before. It is a very challenging thing to do, especially with a piece as difficult as this one, so it is important that I prepare them as best I can.
Photos (from left to right):
1. Michael Shell (assistant director) watches as the covers for The Greater Good run a scene during rehearsal.
2. Michael Shell works with Holli Harrison (cover for Boule de Suif) and Elise Quagliata (cover for Mme. Carré-Lamadon) during a cover rehearsal.
Friday, July 28, 2006
The Wigs for "The Greater Good"
Charles G. Lapointe: Hair and Makeup Designer
I’m very lucky to have four exceptionally good people working for me. This meant that we could build all of the wigs for The Greater Good in about a week. When you are able to custom build a wig for someone it looks much more natural because it fits their head perfectly. That can make the difference between something looking like a wig, or looking like the singer’s real hair. To build a wig we begin by doing a head wrap on the actor. This means prepping them in a wig cap, covering it with tape, drawing out their hair line, and then removing that from their head. We then construct a netted fabric in the shape of their head, select suitable hair, and ventilate it into the netting. Ventilating is the process of tying the pieces of hair to the netting. It’s called ventilating because in the 18th century wigs were primarily built with felt, which didn’t breathe a lot. Louis XIV brought high fashion into wigs at that time. Someone invented a wire mesh material to tie the pieces of hair to, which was much more comfortable than felt. This was called a ventilated wig and from then on the process has been called ventilating.
My initial interaction was with Deborah Shippee, the Costume Director. We had a conversation about the designs and she sent me all of the sketches for the season. From there I talked to the costume designer (David Zinn). We got together and went over the looks for the show. He had very specific ideas for the looks, but allowed me to take care of a lot of the details. I didn’t work with the director, David Schweizer, until the tech rehearsals onstage. Decisions about what hair color to use and how to style the wigs, are primarily mine. I try to stay within the hair color ranges of the singers. It is very difficult to take someone with black hair and make them a platinum blonde. If we do change people’s hair color, then their skin tone has to be taken into account as well. I start to think about what can be done with the makeup to make the hair color look natural. I’ve described all of this in a very clinical way as if there is a process to it. Honestly, I really just go on instinct. I just do it. If I think about it too much I get in my own way. Often times I sit there thinking, “What the hell am I doing?” Then I sit down with the hair and just do it.
In terms of makeup, I’m a non-makeup makeup artist. It’s not really my thing. I’m probably utilitarian at best. There are basic concepts of shadow and light that you follow. We use very little color on the face. Unless they are supposed to look “made up,” like the prostitute Boule de Suif, I want singers’ faces to look completely natural. We start by taking away all of the shapes and contours of the face and them putting them back, a little bigger and bolder so that they can be read from the house. I want the singers to look like themselves up there, as if they’re not wearing makeup.
That natural look is something that my crew and my business partner Tom Watson and I believe in very strongly. From Tom I’ve learned a great deal about this craft. He was a hairdresser and then fell into this business because of his love of opera. Tom is primarily self-taught. All of us who work for the company are as well, for the most part. This gives our work a very naturalistic style. Often times when you go to the theater the wigs look very hard and structured. They look intentional. I want my wigs to look like any second the hair styles could fall out. It should look as if they did their hair themselves. That looseness in design is the main thing that I’ve learned from Tom. It has to look real.
Photos (from left to right):
1. Allison Imoto (Hair and Makeup Intern) preps a wig for The Pirates of Penzance.
2. Molly Weinreb(Hair and Makeup Assistant) builds one of the wigs for The Greater Good.
Saturday, July 22, 2006
How does it end? That is a question opera audiences so rarely get to ask. Tonight, as audiences take their seats and wait for the curtain to rise, they will. Tonight the cast and crew's hard work, energy, and time finally come to fruition. After a week of music rehearsals, weeks of staging rehearsals, hours spent painting sets and building hats, and countless other duties the piece is going onstage in front of an audience for the very first time. Although it is always a special moment when a production takes the stage, this one will be particularly special. Audiences will have the chance to see a work which has never been seen before. We hope that you will join us this summer to be a part of this incredible event. In the next week we will have a few more updates and insights into the creation of The Greater Good, so make sure to check back. We hope that you have enjoyed this look behind the scenes of a world premiere thus far, and look foward to seeing you at the theater!
Beefing Up Boule de Suif
This opera is so much about appetite and sensuality. At that time being overweight could be connected to an idea of sensuality. This lines up so neatly with the story because it exaggerates what is both attractive about Boule de Suif and what ultimately imprisons her. Caroline Worra is the perfect person to play this role, but she is a very lovely figured woman. We knew that we really needed to pad her because that fact that Boule is fat is so central to the story. She needs have a lot of flesh. The important thing was to pick a size that made the point and was believable. It is a real body shape that we felt could blend well with the parts of Caroline’s body we do see. This was difficult because we’re not doing a lot of makeup to make her face fatter, and the suit has to look believable with her face and her hands. It’s also been a great stand-in as we’re working on her costumes. We have it set up on a dressmaker’s dummy in the costume shop, which is sort of weird. It looks very lifelike, and it’s strange when she’s not wearing it. It’s very weird to just stick pins in her boobs.
1. Boule de Suif’s fat suit waiting for rehearsal in the costume shop.
Stephen Hartke: Composer
Having now been through the experience of writing and rehearsing this opera, there is little that I would change, musically speaking. It turned out pretty much how I expected it to. At some moments it turned out even better than I thought it would. This is such a big piece and has so many facets to it. There are a few things that I could beat myself up about if I wanted to, but over the years I’ve learned that it’s just not worth it to do that. That is why it took me a long time to write the piece. I had to be sure it was at a place where I could live with it.
The gratifying part of the process has been watching the faces of the singers as they shape the characters to themselves. There are some scenes that are so much more powerful than I predicted. This is a great cast, and their involvement in these characters is incredible. There is a scene where Boule sings about her illegitimate child while the others are playing cards. The range of displeasure that they show towards her makes the scene very chilling. That kind of detail makes moments in this opera more than I could ever have imagined.
Writing this opera has been like being the father of the bride. I’ve nurtured this score for a long time and now it has to go out into the world. I can’t hold its hand any more. I have to let the score go off with the people who have come for her and trust that they will treat her well. I didn’t really have fear or trepidation going into this process, but there is a very emotional response when you hand over that score. Your kid goes off to get married and you have to trust that it will work. You can do nothing other than make sure that you’ve raised a good kid. The piece is completely independent of me now. There’s a kind of emptynest syndrome that sets in. It isn’t my piece anymore.
Every piece I write changes me. It doesn’t just change my music, it changes me. Whenever I finish a piece I get very excited and think, “Now I know how to compose!” Then I begin the next piece and feel like I have to figure it out all over again. I’m starting a piece for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra right now, and I’m a bit distracted at the moment. I’ve been sitting in the orchestra rehearsals for this opera and thinking, “Maybe I should do more of that.” This new piece is for the same orchestral makeup as Bach’s first Brandenburg Concerto. I do find myself listening to what I’ve done with the oboes in this opera and trying to think about what other things I might do in this next piece. I really enjoy hearing the oboes in this orchestra. They have a wonderful sound.
One thing I definitely learned with this piece, somehow, was how to write music quickly. I don’t know if that lesson is going to last or not. I had to get the piece done somehow, so I did. I wrote the second act in seven months. I don’t really know how I did that. A lot of this is because much of the material in the second act is developing things already heard in the first. Still, there were places where I really didn’t know what I was going to do. The old nun’s aria was one of those spots. I had an idea of what it was going to be, but not completely. It ended up taking me around two weeks to finish. That was a big hunk of music to get done in that amount of time. Learning not to beat myself up so much was a lot of the process. As you get older and accumulate more pieces you relax a little more. You realize that not everything hinges on one piece. When you’re young you have only a few works. You get nervous and think, “I hope this is the piece that makes my career!” No single piece makes your career. It is the body of work that does it.
photos (from left to right):
1. David Schweitzer (director) and Stephen Hartke (composer) look over their scores during an early staging rehearsal.
2. Stephen Hartke (composer) talks with Seth Keeton (Cornudet) during a break from rehearsing the aria accompanied by “clanging bowls.”
Reflections on the Rehearsal Process
David Schweitzer: Director
The addition of the orchestra added a huge amount of information for me. The first Sitzprobe was the first time that anybody had heard this piece. Stephen (composer) had heard it in his head, and Stewart (conductor) could understand how it sounded from looking at the score, but for everyone else it was brand new. The way Stephen uses the orchestra is so meticulous and so refined. Every phrase is rife with meaning. With a new piece there is always that inevitable frustration that you only have a handful of rehearsals with the orchestra.
I have snuck into every orchestra rehearsal to get as much knowledge about this piece as possible. It allowed me to know when I could take even further advantage of the sounds in the music. I would go back to the rehearsal hall and put new ideas into the staging. While writing the piece, Stephen would tell me what was going on in the orchestra, but that is completely different from actually hearing the music. Being informed by the orchestral sounds over the last week and a half has certainly given me the challenge of utilizing everything that is there. In the end it should look as if we were as comfortable with this piece as we would have been if we did an older one with recordings.
Stephen has done some really audacious things in this piece. There is sparseness to the orchestra that is very striking. The music rises up and creates excitement from time to time, but for so much of the piece he only uses what he needs. The instrumentation is so beautifully exposed in this piece. It is risky at times. The singing is very exposed as well. There is a very subtle, translucent quality to a lot of what he’s done in this piece. It really places the onus on the singers. They have to have a real stage presence. They can’t just stand there and sing in a sort of generic way. I’m so pleased with these performers. Everyone has been so responsive in rehearsals. It has been a wonderful process.
One thing that I tried to do in rehearsals was create a very positive and supportive environment. When working with a brand new piece, it is important to eliminate any feelings of nervousness or tension. It was my job to create a playing field in which the singers could experiment safely. This allowed them to make their own discoveries within the range of what I was interested in doing with the piece. Then at a certain point in the process I became a little more specific with my intentions. This way of working gives you much more interesting textures out of people. Giving them that space is very important. In a situation like this, where everyone is dealing with something new and unknown, I could have been very specific. I could have dictated every action to the singers. This may have created a level of comfort. What I’ve tried to do, instead, is blend that kind of clarity with a good amount of room for experimentation. I staged the whole opera in a few days, which is something I’m known for doing. However, that is like a first draft. After creating that framework people can free themselves up a bit and really explore their characters. By having everything staged so quickly, the singers are given the illusion that we have more time than we really do. This is, perhaps, slightly manipulative, but the role of a director is manipulative to a certain extent. There isn’t enough time to be completely honest. If I shared everything I thought with them we would need many more weeks of rehearsal. I have to constantly search for strategies to create the illusion that we’ve endless amounts of time with the piece. The final product needs to feel as if the singers’ actions are natural and personal. If it feels as if I’ve placed the actions onto them, it can be spotted immediately. It has to be genuine.
photos (from left to right):
1. Caroline Worra (Boule de Suif), Andrew Wentzel (Le Comte de Breville), and Elaine Alvarez (La Comtesse de Breville) in the final dress rehearsal for The Greater Good.
2. David Schweitzer (director) showing Mark Wendland’s (set designer) set renderings during the company intro the day before staging rehearsals began.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Being Under Lights
Caroline Worra: Soprano (Boule de Suif)
I really love the feeling of having the lights on my face. That is the final touch that tells you that the performance is coming! It helps us to keep our faces up and emote outward. Sometimes when you are working in a rehearsal space with people sitting right in front of you, you act very inwardly. When you are on stage with those lights, there is so much more space and the feeling is much larger. You finally have an opportunity to really emote. At first it is a process of finding where the lighting is hitting on the stage and moving towards those spots that you estimated in staging rehearsals. We’re very lucky that we have Chris Akerlind (lighting designer). He is so good at creating this mysterious would with these strategically placed fields of light. As performers, it is our job to make sure that we are using that light to its full potential. I just feel so beautiful when the lights are shining on me. That is part of the process. You have to feel beautiful, bigger than life so that you can project your character. It is, however, a hard balance between emoting and still projecting a personality that is believable and intimate enough to be real.
1. Caroline Worra (Boule de Suif) and Matthew Worth (Coachman) in scene from Act II.
Lighting As An Interpretive Art
Chris Akerlind: Lighting Designer
Lighting this show is a lot like doing a contemporary dance piece. The set is essentially an open space that has to be carved up into different story-telling zones by the lighting. It has to be done in a way that not only creates an atmosphere, but also has a nice series of contrasting looks as the story moves from place to place. There is something very effortless and very theatrical about an empty space with human beings and their problems in it. I would much rather do this slightly abstract kind of work than a completely literal depiction of the space. There are people in the theater world who still don’t grasp the concept of lighting design as an interpretive art. You’re not included in the process and you are asked to come in at the end and provide what the director requires.
David Schweizer (director), who is much smarter than that, is interested in everyone’s input from the very beginning. I’ve been meeting with David, Mark Wendland (set designer), and David Zinn (costume designer) since sometime in the winter. At that point the set design had still not been finalized. David Schweizer finds it important to get the lighting designer’s input very early on. In the case of this production the question was: How far can we take the idea of darkness? This idea plays out in two very different images in this piece, both a white space and a black space. It is a lovely project for a lighting designer because it goes to an intrinsic series of qualities of light. It illustrates the arc between bright and dark. This is very interesting to me because it becomes an exercise in composing those ideas of darkness and light rather than recreating something that we see naturally every day.
Hearing the music came very late in the game for me. I got a CD in the mail three weeks ago! This was fine, because I have a kind of loose philosophy about how to approach things. There is something interesting about adding a creative ingredient into the process when that person doesn’t have all of the information. In this case that would be me. My ideas were not, initially, wound around the music. This gave a collision of fresh ideas during the stage rehearsals. I only hear the full orchestration of this piece twice before opening night. This can be kind of frightening, but the results are often very interesting. I’ve listened to some of Stephen’s other music, so I had a pretty clear idea of what his sound was. There’s a simplicity and directness to it that I think is reflected in the set and also in the lighting.
The timetable that a lighting designer works on is very different from that of the rest of the team. It all happens at the last minute, during the rehearsals that take place onstage. I use the expression a lot, but there is a quality of improvisation to the process. I like to have some lights in air that I’m allowed to think creatively about. Some lights have to have a clear intention, filling the space in a way that clearly articulates the figure, for example. However, there is a wonderful creative element added when some of lights are assigned an intention a week before the show opens as opposed to a month before. It helps to keep the visual ideas fresh. I think that is what gives my work a kind of liveliness. I refuse to decide what it is going to be until I’m in the thick of the moment. Then you have to work fast but also have a conception of what the whole is. Otherwise you run the risk of an eclectic series of images rather than a solid composition. Glimmerglass is a great place for that kind of work. John Conklin (Associate Artistic Director) makes sure that we are able to keep exploring until the very end.
Photos (from left to right):
1. John David DeHaan sings his Act II aria.
2. Chris Akerlind speaking at the production seminar for The Greater Good.
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
The Musical Colors of "The Greater Good"
The colors that Stephen Hartke (composer) pulls from the orchestra are brilliant, which didn’t surprise me at all when I started receiving the score. It seems like a very natural progression from Stephen’s earlier music. There are so many varying timbres and combinations, from a small chamber group to a fairly lush romantic sound. I hear a bit of his recent symphony (Symphony No. 3) in it as well. He’s pursued a few interesting sonic ideas that are a little bit different. When all of the guests are eating with the tuned bowls, he has created a kind of miniature gamelan orchestra onstage. It is both amusing and very interesting to watch the singers “playing” their bowls with the orchestra. There is another very engaging effect where the string players play above the bridge to evoke a specific event in the piece, but I don’t want to give that one away. I’ll just say that it is highly original.
The makeup of the orchestra is what really gives this piece a unique color. In our initial conversations Stephen said he was very interested in tilting the sonority of the piece in a certain direction. He’s written for four clarinetists instead of two. They play everything from contrabass clarinet to piccolo clarinet. The result is this oily color. Much of the time these clarinets are written clustered in the low register, which gives the orchestra a deep molasses sound. The sound of the piece has a tendency towards the dark and interior. I love it. It is a very striking sonority.
1. Stewart Robertson with Caroline Worra (Boule de Suif) and Matthew Worth (Coachman) at the second Sitzprobe.
The First Time in Costume
It is such a wonderful transformation that happens when you put on your costume for the first time. Most of your character work is done internally, but having those outer layers really helps to add the last details. In the first weeks of staging you’re wearing your own clothes and a rehearsal skirt to get a feeling for what it will be like. Once you have the real costume on, everything is different. This has been especially true with this character because I have to wear a fat suit. It became a lot more difficult to climb into the carriage! There’s also a scene where I have to pass food out to people. Bending over to get things out of the basket was much more challenging with all of that padding in front of me. The red-haired wig made a big difference as well. As a redhead, you act very differently than you do when you’re a blonde! We’ve also been very lucky to have so many rehearsals in our costumes. We’re beginning our final week of rehearsal now. At most companies, the last week is when you would first get your costumes, but we’ve been wearing them for most of last week as well. It helps to have that extra time to adjust and really explore the character.
1. Caroline Worra (Boule de Suif) in the costume designed by David Zinn.
Boule de Suif's Costume
David Zinn: Costume Designer
It is important that Boule de Suif stand out in a subtle way in terms of costuming. The color undertones on her clothing are slightly more vibrant than the others in the carriage. The choices for the cuts in her clothing were important as well - what parts of her she’s revealing compared to what other people are. What I didn’t want to do was put her in a miniskirt or something ridiculous like that. First of all, she’s a courtesan, she’s not a hooker. She needs a kind of dignity. She’s a little bit of the freak at the party, but there have to be enough similarities to make it believable that she is riding in the same coach with these snobbish people. Her exterior has to be such that she can pass in that society. This is done in the details. She has a few more shiny things than the others. She has a jacket that we’ve cut in a slightly more modern way, like a little denim jacket, so that she seems a little more tarty. Like I said before, these things have to be subliminal messages for the audience. I don’t expect them to notice a lot of these choices consciously.
photos (from left to right):
1. David Zinn’s sketches for Boule de Suif’s costume.
2. David Zinn’s color rendering for Boule’s costume.
Commissioning "The Greater Good"
I’ve known some of Stephen Hartke’s (composer) music for over twenty years, particularly his orchestra piece Pacific Rim. I thought his was a very original voice. Since my first encounter with the work, first hearing it and then conducting it myself, I have been following his music. When it came time to commission a piece for Glimmerglass, I wanted a piece that would satisfy both audiences and musicians alike. In general, I feel that much of contemporary American opera is very conservative in style, and lacks the musical substance that earns respect from musicians. Stephen is a composer whose music has both compositional integrity and a unique style. I had a few conversations with the folks at the Howard Hanson fund at Eastman. They were already awarding Stephen a commission for a new work. It wasn’t quite large enough for an operatic commission, but we decided that we could find funds to make it a suitable amount. One thing led to another and Stephen received the commission.
While Stephen was working on the piece we had a few sessions where he would come out and play what he had written so far. This was not only for myself, because I could read the score, but for my colleagues as well. It was particularly helpful for the design and technical teams. He would try and approximate what he had written for the orchestra on the piano while singing the vocal lines. They were quite entertaining days, actually, since much of the music is for soprano! We began receiving the score in pieces as it was written. The final pages arrived very much at the eleventh hour. We got the last chunk of music towards the end of May, which was only a few weeks away from the initial rehearsals. It was quite a challenge. One surprise was that the piece ended up being about twenty minutes longer than we initially expected. I’m glad, because the work needs to be that long. The shape of the piece is wonderful. However, in terms of budgeting, I had planned orchestra rehearsals for a shorter piece. Financially speaking, it is too late to add another rehearsal at this point. I now have to steal some of the orchestra time from another production to try and accommodate for the extra length of the opera. That is a bit of a trick. This is a very musically complex piece, but I feel like in the last week the cast, the orchestra, and myself are finally finding a level of comfort with it. I almost hesitate to use the word comfort because this piece is a challenge and will remain one, but I think we’ve finally clicked into the groove.
1. Stephen Hartke (composer) and Stewart Robertson (conductor) discuss the music during a break from the first Sitzprobe.
Monday, July 17, 2006
"The Greater Good" in the New York Times!
In case you may have missed it, the New York Times had a full page article about the the premiere of The Greater Good in yesterday's paper!
You can read the article here. If you don't have an account with newyorktimes.com, you'll have to sign up for one. Don't worry, it's free!
The First Sitzprobe
The word Sitzprobe is German; meaning “sitting rehearsal.” It happens once we’ve learned the staging and have become more comfortable with our roles. Typically it takes place in the opera house with the singers seated on stage and the orchestra in the pit. Because this is a summer festival, The Greater Good is not the only show that needs stage time. For this first Sitzprobe we couldn’t rehearse in the opera house, so it was important to remember that the balances will be different in the real space. We sat behind the brass, which was intense. At some points they were just blasting away at us. Thankfully it won’t be like that in performances!
A Sitzprobe is the first time the singers and the orchestra come together. It’s been really satisfying to finally hear all of the colors we’ve been imagining this whole time. Stephen (composer) put so many great indicators in the vocal score telling us what the orchestration was, but hearing it in person is a totally different thing. As a singer, it is much easier to have the orchestra there because the tones sustain more. A piano is a percussive instrument, so you’ll hear the note at first but then it dissipates so quickly. It can be hard to keep afloat sometimes in that situation. Fortunately we have two Sitzprobes for this show. Usually there is only one, but since this is a brand new piece, it will be nice to have a second chance to focus on the music. For the first Sitzprobe we focused on act one, which, according to the Maestro, is much more intricate and complicated than the second act. It makes a lot of sense dramatically because in the first act there are a lot of surprises for the characters. In the second act we sort of settle into this depressive state. You feel everyone’s pulse slowing down. Musically speaking, it is terribly effective.
1. Liam Moran (M. Follenvie) and Dorothy Byrne (Mme. Follenvie) at the first Sitzprobe.