Monday, March 8, 2010

The Seagle Performance

Tomorrow begins our mini-tour of Yale alumni events: I'm accompanying three singers from the Yale School of Music performing four arias, tomorrow at NYU's Tisch center, Wednesday in Los Angeles hosted by the LA Opera in a rehearsal room in the Chandler Pavilion, and Thursday in San Francisco at the University Club. Should be fun!

And yesterday I attended for the first time a Met Auditions semifinal; the finals, with orchestra, are next weekend. It was exhausting, but really no longer than, say, Meistersinger.... 25 singers, 2 arias each (piano accompaniment) — you do the math! It's very exciting to listen to all this young vocal talent, and as always everyone in the audience is somewhat mystified that the judges did not choose one or two obvious winners. Such are competitions.


The Seagle Music Colony is in Schroon Lake, NY. When you first visit the town you notice it is full of Christian camps. Seagle is not that. It is attended by young singers who have auditioned for the privilege of taking part in 6 or so productions fully staged in a converted barn seating 175. It has a unique and delightful atmosphere, as can only be created by so much concentrated youthful energy. One of Darren Woods’ brilliant ideas was to add a “post season” after the production and support staff go home, inviting a few of the singers to remain and bringing in a few “veterans” for workshops of operas in progress, with the composer in attendance.

The summer Before Night Falls was done in workshop there were a total of about 14-16 singers learning two full new operas and one act of another, the two complete ones off-book and fully blocked. And most were in at least two if not all three shows. They would always be rehearsing one show or another; and between sessions they’d be signed up to help the kitchen set up or clean up. All without a hint of hysteria.

Toward the end a gaggle of visitors descended upon the colony; these were the folks who work at Fort Worth Opera coming up to watch the workshop performances (and incidentally to escape the high Texan summer). The nice PR person (Diane) was there and a photographer (Ellen) and suddenly on the afternoon before the performance I found myself in the middle of a photo shoot! Not a minute of fading summer sunlight to waste! Ellen was terrific, Diane tugging at my jacket sleeves to straighten out my shirt.... and these pictures turned out so well I’ve been using them on my website and in publicity materials too.

The performances were open to the public, and the houses were full. A few opera “worthies” even showed up. By this time in my career I have mastered what I think of as “performance Zen” — I know there isn’t a damn thing I can do, and it’s all in the performers’ hands. What I could do I’ve done in rehearsal, and now it’s in the hands of the gods. And I felt very confident in my performers, as it happened, which is a very Good Thing. Not just Wes, but the music director, the pianists, the stage hands, the entire ensemble — all inspired my confidence. Of course I knew some things would go wrong, but that’s in the nature of things.

As it turned out there were no major problems — only the very end was musically off, which annoyed only me (the composer, of course!) since it seems that everyone else found it unobjectionable. The work got from the audience what I would call an in-your-dreams kind of reception, as did Wes, who did a truly sensational job. The crowd went wild for him, and he was visibly moved. He is a very special person, and his is one career I can’t wait to see take off.

Most moving for me was one musician friend's reaction; he had been one of the readers of the libretto when I was shopping it around. He came up to me and with real emotion asked me to forgive him for not “getting it” when he had read the libretto! My goodness! He wasn’t by any means the only one who didn’t “get it,” and I don’t blame any of them, because an opera is not easy to imagine from just the libretto, and sometimes even from the piano-vocal. And anyway, I was trying to do things in this opera that are a little unusual and risky. I had had a real struggle getting my work “out there” and getting people to see and hear what I was seeing and hearing, and finally, finally, I had achieved it!

I had originally no hope of a production any sooner than 2012, or earliest 2011 — planning opera seasons takes time. Darren was quite excited and pleased and said “It’s stunning! We have to put this on!” He slated it tentatively for 2011. Not too long thereafter I got word that the company decided to move it up to 2010!! Amazing! It would be fifteen years from the time I signed the agreement with the Arenas Estate to the premiere. In Texas, where I’d never yet been!

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