Wednesday, July 12, 2006
The Sound of "The Greater Good"
Zachary Schwartzman: Assistant Conductor
We received this score in installments, so we were discovering it bit by bit. When I first looked at it I knew that we would have a big challenge ahead of us. I remember having the same impression when we started working on The Mines of Sulphur two seasons ago. Often the singers have to work to find their pitches, because the harmonic language is complex. The music has a very American sound to it: very rhythmic, and a few parts of the score are jazz-inspired. This is not to say composers from other places in the world don’t incorporate those elements into their music, but a composer like Tan Dun is not likely to be inspired by the same musical sources as Stephen Hartke. Another thing that I noticed early on was the deliberate and intelligent connection between music and drama, the hallmark of great opera. As we received the last parts of the score, the last blocks of the musical architecture fell into place and we could see Mr. Hartke’s over-arching vision. The music unfolds very naturally, but the underlying construction gives the work coherence and shows masterful craftsmanship. I didn’t get a chance to look at the orchestra score until the beginning of June or so, but the cues in the piano/vocal score had led me to suspect that we were dealing with a vibrant and colorful score with an inventive orchestration. Unfortunately I haven’t been to an orchestra rehearsal yet because I’ve been covering for Maestro Robertson in staging rehearsals while he works with the orchestra. I’m dying to hear how it is coming together because I think we’ll hear an orchestral sound which is unique and quite astounding.
It has also been wonderful to have Stephen Hartke here for the rehearsals. To have the composer present while you’re working on a piece is a very rare opportunity. It has taught me something about the way I approach other music. When I’m rehearsing Mozart, I try to follow the score as literally possible because he’s not around to ask questions. I think this is generally a good idea, but having Stephen here has reminded me that opera composers notate with an imagined idea of the theater in their head, but they are ultimately concerned with projecting the drama of the piece to the audience, and are willing to adjust the music to that end. Stephen has been very open to allowing us to interpret this piece and adapt the music to what’s happening on stage. It’s been strange to notice that, with the composer standing right next to me, I actually feel like I have more flexibility than I would if I were conducting Mozart.
1. Zachary Schwartzman (assistant conductor) conducting a staging rehearsal.
Building Hats for "The Greater Good"
Katie M. Smith: Costume Crafts Artisan
Most of the women in The Greater Good wear hats, which become the responsibility of the Costume Crafts department. Each of these hats is built on site from scratch. The first step in the process is to get a combination of research and sketches from the designer. I built Boule de Suif’s hat, so I had David Zinn’s (costume designer) sketches of her costumes, photos of hats from around 1870, and also a few swatches of the fabric that he had chosen for her clothing. It was then my job to convert those drawings into a physical piece of clothing that could be worn by the singer. First I built a mock-up of the hat out of paper, which took about two days. Most of the time was spent arranging the feathers for the hat, which I attached to the paper mock-up. This was used in Caroline’s early costume fittings so David could get an idea of how the hat would look and make a few adjustments. After that, I took it apart to use as a pattern. I used wire and a type of fabric called Buckram to create the structure of the hat. Buckram is a two-ply fabric that has glue embedded in it which allows it to hold its shape very well. This is then mulled so that all of the edges are smoothed and rounded. Next, the hat is covered in fabric and the trim and feathers are attached. I used a combination of dyed ostrich feathers for the brighter colors and iridescent pheasant feathers for the darker ones. The iridescent feathers reflected the fabric David was using on Boule’s dress. There is a color changing fabric being used in her costume that looks different as it moves under the light. These iridescent feathers do the same; they are primarily black, but they give off other colors as you look at them from different angles.
photos (from left to right):
1. Katie working on Boule de Suif's hat.
2. The research for Boule de Suif's hat: David Zinn's sketch, photos of other hats, fabric swatches, and feathers.