Friday, July 14, 2006


Orchestra Rehearsals

Katherine Hannauer: Principal Second Violin

Because we’re working on something completely new, right from the start the learning process is different. I can’t just go to the library and check out a recording of this piece. It’s a clean slate for everyone. An added challenge is that we got the music for the second act only a few weeks before the rehearsal period started, and we have the other three operas to learn, too! The first step was to go through the part and get all of the notes under my fingers. At the same time I would find areas that I knew I really had to count carefully, places I’d have to keep an eye on the conductor, and passages that I needed to spend more practice time on. Because it is a new piece, I didn’t really know how my part fit in with the broader picture.

Coming into the first orchestra rehearsal, I finally had a chance to start working out how my part fit into the score. Even now, it is an incomplete picture because we haven’t had the singers yet. They’re doing staging rehearsals while Stewart Robertson (music director/conductor) rehearses us. So far we’ve had three orchestra rehearsals, totaling about eight hours. We’ve gotten a lot of great work done, but it is a very accelerated process. You have to be a quick study to make something like this work. Stylistically, there are challenges that you wouldn’t encounter in music of more familiar composers. You’ll be in a fast tempo, changing meters every bar or so, switching between arco and pizzicato, and then suddenly you realize you missed a dynamic marking. It takes a while to get a hang of because it is not as instinctive. If I sit down to play Mozart, I’ve been doing that all of my life. I know what he sounds like. Learning the language of this score has been such an interesting process. Working with a living composer is great, because there is no guesswork – if you have a question, he’s right there! With a piece as challenging as this one it would have been great to have another rehearsal, but I think due to budgetary reasons it’s not possible. I think the orchestra is starting to get a handle on Hartke’s sound at this point, but it won’t really come together until the sitzprobe, a music rehearsal with the singers and orchestra, tomorrow. Fortunately we have two of those for this production, which will really help with getting the music solid.

1. The orchestra in rehearsal for The Greater Good with Maestro Stewart Robertson
2. Violinist Katherine Hannauer


Inspirations for the Costume Design

David Zinn: Costume Designer

Very early on David Schweizer (director) and Mark Wendland (set designer) had an idea that this world should be black in the first act and white in the second. From that I knew we would see these people first in darkness, and then as silhouettes. When I started working on it only the music for the first act had been finished. The story had been worked out, but I usually begin with the music, so it was difficult. We knew that we wanted these character studies, and that there would be a very minimal set. In terms of clothing, we wanted to keep the story in its original period: occupied France around the year 1869.

I had a sense of Stephen’s music for this opera from hearing the first act. There is a kind of neurotic, obsessive quality to the music. I wanted to capture that in the costumes with a sense of detail and decoration. 1869, for women’s clothing, is a very strange period. You’re in this odd place between Gone with the Wind hoop skirts and bustles. It’s a very unpleasant amalgamation. The look is very sculptural and awkward, which works great for depicting these displaced aristocratic people.

What you’re seeing is period costumes that, in a literary sense, deconstruct themselves. The layers of the clothing contradict each other and they don’t really resolve. They’re not torn apart in any way, but they sort of double back on themselves. Each outfit is its own neurotic creation. This makes the costumes theatrical in a way that is very important when designing for opera. If I were designing these costumes for a film the details could be much smaller because the camera could zoom in on them and focus your attention in specific places. By exaggerating or theatricalizing a few details in the costumes I can draw attention to them in the way that a close up shot could in a movie. The singers should, hopefully, still seem like real people wearing real clothing. Despite the fact that details have been exaggerated, they are based in a real world.

photos (from left to right):
1. David Zinn's black and white sketches for the stable boys.
2. David Zinn's color rendering for the Countess.

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