Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Final Push

Here I am in the guest suite of Branford College at Yale, having worked yesterday with the three young singers from the School of Music on the arias we will be performing on our mini-tour. What a place my alma mater is: so beautiful, so full of talent, so inspiring. It was a pleasure working with these singers, so well prepared, enthusiastic, eager, talented. — And then, after I finished working with them, I went to meet friends at a restaurant I've always wanted to try, having heard so much about it: Ibiza. It was sensational! This isn't a food blog so I wont digress, but I had to mention it!


I was networking like mad, asking friends for advice; meeting with Marc
Scorca, the brilliant leader of Opera America, the trade organization for
all the opera companies in the U.S. and Canada; sending the opera to
directors of opera companies; meeting with the directors of opera companies such as Florida Grand
Opera — which always seemed to be everyone’s “big duh” go-to company, except
that I also realized it was not so very obvious.....(And in fact it is ideal for the opera not to be opening in Miami, where an opera about a Cuban by a Cuban could be taken for a kind of "affirmative action" programming, and its success might be written off as parochial. Of course, I do want BNF to be produced in Miami one day, but because I want it to be a popular as well as an artistic success.)

I ultimately got a consultant on board whom I knew personally and who was well known and trusted by
very many in the opera world. If this person said, take a listen to this,
my work had a much better chance of being listened to than if I had just
sent it “cold.” And still I only had a few tepid bites.

Darren Woods and Joseph Illick — whom I had met many years before when Joe
was an assistant at then Greater Miami Opera, and later as Artistic
Director of the Lake George Opera Festival (where he programmed
“Tobermory”) — were the team leading Forth Worth Opera and had expressed some interest. They met with
me over breakfast one morning in Manhattan, before a full day of auditions
and fund-raising. They set before me a very simple task: tell us, describe
to us, what the audience sees from the beginning to the end of the opera.
Wow! It took me a little while to realize what I was supposed to do — but
I warmed to the task and I could see that by the end that they were very
interested. But still.... they would need to do the opera in workshop. I
said the only thing that would make sense at this point is to run the
opera from beginning to end, and they agreed, but that would mean waiting
one more year til there was a slot open at the Seagle Music Colony in
upstate New York (which Darren also ran).

Next coup: out of the blue, a friend informed me that their family had
just set up a foundation and wished to offer $100,000 toward production of
my opera. WOW!!! Nothing like that had ever happened to me before: that
was dreaming wild! When I notified Darren, he agreed to use part of those
funds to move up the complete workshop, shaving a year off the wait. And
Darren said – “I know who I want to direct the show. Oh, and I have just
the singer for the role of Reinaldo....”

In the summer of 2008, the Seagle Music Colony presented the complete
Before Night Falls, with two pianos, minimal sets, costumes and lighting,
no make-up — but off-book and fully blocked. David Gately was the
director. Wes Mason sang the lead role. Let me tell you about these two.

David was a dream to work with. He clearly was enjoying himself in this
task — admittedly, it’s not every day that a director gets to direct a brand new work. He had set out to observe exactly what I had written in order to see what
worked and what didn’t. I’ll never forget one moment when he stopped a
singer he was directing and said to her, “That’s a dash over the note, not
an accent.” Stunned, I had to peek in the score, and indeed that’s what I had
written! What a treat to have a director who honored the score — the score!! — in his directing. After he’d done staging the opera we had a talk
about things to consider changing, and I was happy to do this, and pleased
that there was really very little to change, a word here and there, cutting a
measure in two or three places, and that was it. (Of course David isn't the only director who honors the score, but one rarely hears about it, but rather the opposite, where it seems a point of honor to go against or ignore musical and librettistic directions. I dreaded having to work with such a director, needless to say....)

Baritone Wes Mason was still an undergraduate. I had to trust
Darren’s judgment, but I must admit to having some reservations. The role
of Reinaldo is huge, a “big sing,” as they say.  But I got e-mails and
calls from Wes that made me realize this was a very serious young man who
was doing all kinds of research into Arenas and Cuba, putting his all into this role, which he took to with uncanny immediacy. Watching him concentrate and cope with everything that was being thrown at him — memorizing this enormous role, blocking, not to mention other roles he’d had to sing that summer at Seagle! This young man is the complete package: gifted, attarctive, charming, hard-working, humble.— I knew by performance night that Wes would be a hit.

So finally, we get to see the whole of BNF, on its legs.....

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