Sunday, July 09, 2006


Stephen's Favorite Operas

Stephen Hartke: Composer

I’ve been going to the opera for a long time, and definitely have my favorites. Although I don’t keep scores in front of me while I’m sitting in the theater, I’m always listening very carefully and thinking about which pieces work and which ones don’t. I love the intimacy and the directness of Monteverdi. Sometimes when I’m feeling really cranky I’ll say that the last great opera was Orfeo. Purcell’s music is an influence for me as well. He has such an energetic way of handling the English language. Verdi is a composer who has had more influence on me than most would think. When I was about eleven years old I fell in love with his Requiem and used to play it at the piano all of the time. Every once in a while I’ll go back and listen to it and think “Oh my god, I’ve been doing that in my music!” I’ll always go to see a Verdi opera because I find the construction so masterful. Another composer I encountered at a very young age was Mozart. When I was thirteen I was understudying the third genie in The Magic Flute for two years. It was an incredible experience watching the principals work in the rehearsals and coachings. I would always have to sit in the green room doing my homework waiting to see if the guy I was covering was going to keel over.

The first act of Puccini’s Bohème is very near perfection and was in my mind when I was working on this opera. His handling of realistic continuity in that opera was something that I wanted in my own. I do think of what I’m doing in The Greater Good as a kind of neo-verismo. His seemingly casual way of handling all of those very different characters and their interactions is something that I really admire. The Girl of the Golden West, which I saw here for the first time, is another really incredible opera. The second act is certainly one of Puccini’s greatest achievements. Wagner is so overwhelmingly impressive; I can’t believe what he’s doing. At the same time, he irritates me. He’s such a psychological terrorist. He forces you to remember all of those tunes until you think that you love them. The whole time you’re thinking, “No! No! Stop manipulating my brain like that!”

1. The piano reduction for The Greater Good, with Stephen Hartke in the background.


The First Time on the Stage (The Carriage Part 2)

Michael Shell: Assistant Director

There are two main goals we’re trying to accomplish with this first onstage rehearsal. The first is dealing with the functionality of the carriage. Most of the first act takes place in it so there is a lot to be worked out. We had the interior piece for the carraige in staging rehearsals, but not the exterior. All of the choreography for the carriage has to be adjusted now that we’re working on the actual stage with both pieces. In staging rehearsals we only had the interior section of the coarriage. The other goal of this rehearsal time is to give Chris Akerlind (Lighting Designer) and Mark Wendland (Set Designer) another chance to look at what is going on onstage. Although not all of the lights are focused, it will give Chris some time to better conceptualize what he’s panning to do with the lighting. There are a lot of effects to suggest snow on some parts of the stage and not on others and so forth. We won’t have a full crew for our afternoon time on the stage, so we can get a few looks at how things will be, but we won’t be able to run anything. For the evening rehearsal we’ll have the members of the cast that appear in the first forty-five minutes of the show. This will give both them and us a glimpse at how things will be in the theater before we go back into the rehearsal space.

photos (from left to right):
1. David Schweizer (director) explains the carriage to the cast and members of the company using a model.
2. The carriage is prepped for the cast's first time on the stage.


Working with the Carriage

Kathryn Koch: Stage Manager

In many ways a stage manager is the air traffic controller for the show. We oversee all elements of the production from scheduling to calling entrances, scenic elements, and lighting. Essentially I am responsible for running the show and making sure everything happens when it is supposed to. I call the show from a console, with monitors in front of me to see what is going on onstage. My assistant stage managers work in the wings, making sure that the singers don’t miss their entrances, that they’re wearing the right costumes, and so on.

In this production, the characters have to spend a long amount of time riding in a carriage. The set piece that has been created to represent the carriage is quite an amazing contraption. Before we came into the rehearsal hall we spent a lot of time with a miniature scale model of the carriage working out every single movement. This process is called “paper teching.” We mapped out where it goes, how long it takes to get there, what it does once it’s there, and how long it stays there. We treated that model like our bible so that when staging rehearsals began we would know what to expect.

We have the interior section of the carriage for staging rehearsals, which take place in a rehearsal space in Cherry Valley. Until we are on stage, this is what we’ll use to block all of the carriage’s movement. This allows the singers to become comfortable with the carriage and a way for us to fine-tune the preparations made earlier on. It is definitely the main set-piece of the show, with a lot of stage time. Because of this, the set designer Mark Wendland had to create something that would keep the audience engaged. The carriage is an exceptionally flexible and multi-functional piece of machinery, but I don’t want to give away exactly what it does…

1. Kathryn Koch calling the carriage movements during a staging rehearsal in Cherry Valley.

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