November 23, 2009

furlough, days 1-3

day one:

furlough, day 1-3: poop

sleeping in. cleaning stalls in the rain, raking the poo pile (above), letting the mare cavort around the indoor arena. chai latte at home, cat-shaped lap warmers, balancing the checkbook. TV in bed.

day two:

furlough, day 2: morning

coffee and oatmeal. working through a hissy fit from my horse; afterwards, watching her float over ground poles at the trot. working on our manners, our ground tying. an involved video game.

Nub feeds the king

a date.

day three:

Can I come out now?

discovering the cat has figured out how to jump on the kitchen counter. spraying the cat three times in rapid succession after he jumps on the kitchen counter. lining the kitchen counter with double-stick tape. and pots and pans from the cupboard. a solitary mid-morning ride. a bareback walk back to the barn. vacuuming the car. making the grocery list, the christmas list, the to-do list. fishing the cat toys from beneath the furniture. and again. and again.

great vacation so far. I've already forgotten what day of the week it is.

November 17, 2009

post production

Orphée is over now; we closed on Saturday. We are all, I think, grateful to be back to a standard work schedule, and yet the transition is always hard. This show was, for me, the most exciting and satisfying show in four and a half seasons, so its ending been especially bittersweet.

I want to tell you one last thing. Orphée did something very important for me. It proved something that I have long suspected. Let me tell you a brief story. For several years in college I had a very close mentor/student relationship with a professor. We were both musicians and also writers. We spent the vast majority of our friendship engaging in increasingly heated debates about books. If he recommended something to me, I nearly always liked it; but if I recommended something to him, unfailingly he would dismiss it. And it's how he dismissed the things he did not enjoy that so frustrated me. Rather than saying, "It just didn't speak to me," he would say, "The author is an incredible egotist," or "The premise of the book is far too gimmicky," or "It's sloppy and imprecise." The fault always lay in the work itself. The result of this tactic was -- unintentionally, I think -- to make me feel as though the flaw transcended the work and was attributable to me personally. After all, if the book that speaks to you is written by an author who's a complete egotist, then you must be one yourself, right?

Conversely, I always believed that if I didn't like something -- especially a thing which many others enjoyed; take On The Road as an example -- then I must be missing something. It was my problem. Maybe On The Road didn't speak to me because I just like a book with more plot; or maybe I just don't have the right life experience to be able to immerse myself in Sal's life. Somehow, I didn't have the right key to get inside that particular story at the particular moment I read it. But I don't blame Jack Kerouac.

So, Orphée. Because I tend to favor modern opera over Verdi and Puccini, I was excited for the work, and yet I also knew that I had not particularly liked Glass's music on previous hearings. I was desperate to get the most from the experience, since it's not every day that one gets to meet as big and important a name as Philip Glass. I knew I was approaching the opera from a disadvantage, which is why I started so early and worked so hard to find something to appreciate. When I realized I loved it, I was delighted to discover that, in fact, I was right -- I had been missing something! There was nothing wrong with the opera; I just had to find a way in.

This is what I've learned: sometimes appreciation comes in a flash, but other times it's a long, meandering, and occasionally exhausting road. It might seem like a stupid thing to say, but liking the things we already like is easy. Liking the things that don't automatically strike us is much harder. And yet, as I've discovered, when you're successful the end result is much more enjoyable. The reason I am so reluctant to let go of Orphée is that it's been such a wonderful process. Of course I do truly love the opera, but what I am loathe to give up is so much more: it's all the exploring that I (and others like me) have done, the discussions we've had, the endless nights we have spent swapping impressions with one another. Let's just say we didn't do anything like this for Rigoletto.

I wish it were possible for me to devote as much time and love into appreciating all the other operas I prepare for the company. But operas like Boheme and Cosi don't need me; there are thousands of other people to hold them up. No one knew Orphée when we began. It seemed to need an advocate. I'm sad to give the job up for awhile. So, do me a favor. The next time you hear a piece of music and think bleck, I don't like this at all, think of me. And listen to it again.

November 10, 2009

learning the text

I am running the supertext for Orphee, since our normal operator -- our principal accompanist -- is down in the pit playing three keyboards. (Not simultaneously.) I always have a small hand in them: I track down perusal scripts, rent them, format them for our projector, and operate them during tech rehearsals (when our accompanist acts as the substitute orchestra). But it's only once a season or so that I get to run them for performance.

I love running supertext. I jokingly call the booth "my safe place," since I'm so far from the stage and action. If the orchestra has a problem, oh well! I'm up in my safe place. Titles are especially fun when I really like a show, since I'm forced to follow the score and I'm at liberty to bop around and mouth along. I could sing along too but I'd probably drive my stagehand crazy. The downside to running shows I love is that I never get to watch them in the theater, since I have my head buried in the score most of the time. [Running titles during shows I don't like is awful. You're stuck listening even if you'd rather be backstage eating cookies.]

Running the titles is a funny job. Unlike many companies, our supertitles are run by one person, not two. (Typically there is a supertitle operator, and a separate person to cue the operator). So I'm the person who's reading the score as well as the person who's pushing the button. (This is what I call the job. "Pushing the button.") In order to time a title just right, you have to take a certain leap of faith: You have to believe that the singer who's about to sing the line you're about to run is actually going to sing that line. At the right time. Because you have to press the button just before the entrance in order to hit it and not be late.

The other danger is trigger finger. It's so easy to push that button the minute somebody moves to the next phrase, even if the title isn't supposed to change! There's no going back once you've advanced the slide, so then you just have to sit there and squirm until the timing lines up again. The squirming sucks. There's often cursing involved.

I've loved running titles for Orphee. It's given me an opportunity to learn the libretto in a way I wouldn't have if I'd only sat and watched every night. I've gotten to mouth along with French for 7 full runs of the opera so far; nine in total, and that's if you don't include the orchestra readings. Running titles means I'm participating in real-time with the show, something I never do as librarian. It's particularly gratifying when you reach a funny title; I always have a moment when I think, "They're going to laugh!" and then they do.

I've had a particular feeling of investment for every show I've called, and in turn, those are the shows that I'm most fond of in retrospect: The Rape of Lucretia, Magic Flute, Albert Herring, Turn of the Screw. These, not by coincidence, are also the shows I'm likeliest to listen to recreationally. (The only exception to the rule is Nixon in China, which is my #1 opera for around the house).

I've managed to be moved by Orphee every night, despite my great distance from the stage and my inability to watch more than a snippet at a time. There's still so much to say on the subject. Every night, beginning with last Wednesday's final dress, I've found myself thinking how little I want the show to close, and how much I'll miss it when it's over.

November 2, 2009

un poete est plus qu'un homme

hi, blog. I haven't been around here much because we are hard at work on our production of Philip Glass's Orphee, an opera based on the 1949 Cocteau film of the same name. Our company has never done a Glass opera before, and this is only the fourth time the work has been staged since it was published in 1991, so it's an especially big deal.

I'm not sure what I want to tell you about this whole process. Orphee is pretty much the only thing I've thought of for three or four weeks. I'm fascinated. I came into it without much knowledge about Philip Glass, save what I learned in Music History IV. I hadn't liked a single thing I heard. But I was desperate to change my own mind, because Philip Glass is here in Portland. I wanted to get the most from the experience, which I couldn't do if I couldn't find something to connect with in the opera.

So I started listening to the music as I worked on my score. There is no commercial recording, so all I had was an old archive CD from a performance done several years ago. I listened and listened and listened. I pulled up the glass engine and began listening to other works. I pored over things written about him online. Bob came and taught a class about him to our young artists, and I tagged along.

Listen, I'm going to admit something to you. I'm a terrible audience for classical music. With rare exception, I like only what I'm familiar with, which mostly limits me to what I myself have played. I hate having music on as background sound -- primarily because I listen too hard and can't disengage from it -- so I have no way of becoming familiar with new music. I will be the first to admit that it's a ludicrous problem for someone who's a musician of sorts for a living. Hilariously, I'm particularly bad about opera. I have no previous experience with opera outside my time as librarian here, so my knowledge of opera extends only as far as the works we've done. I don't like listening to opera if I have never seen it visually, because it makes me feel ungrounded. (I like to console myself with the idea that Wagner felt the two should not be separated).

But let me deviate from this for a second to tell you two stories: one about oatmeal, and one about scotch. (Bear with me.) I never ate oatmeal as a kid. My mom doesn't like it, so we never had it in the house. In college I got this idea that people generally like oatmeal, so I tried to eat it, but I couldn't stand it. I'd try it, and dislike it, and give up for six months before trying again. I have no idea why I was so determined to like it, except that it's good for you and everybody likes it, and I couldn't think of a reason why I shouldn't as well. So I started eating it anyway, even though I didn't like it. I don't know how long that went on, but at some point, I realized I liked it. Now I eat it all the time.

In graduate school, I got into a conversation with a good friend about the kind of person I was. "You're the kind of girl who needs a pocket knife," he diagnosed. "I feel like the kind of girl who can throw back a glass of whiskey," I replied. "Except I don't like whiskey."
"We can change that," he said. After all, it's just an acquired taste. So whenever we went out (which was a lot: it was grad school, after all), he made me drink a "brown drink." And sure enough, in just a couple of weeks I was converted.

I say all of this to demonstrate how it was, then, that I taught myself to like Orphee. I didn't like it and didn't like it and didn't like it, and then, PRESTO. I liked it. The conversion happened sometime during the orchestra readings. It helped that our assistant conductor and I amused ourselves by singing along (very quietly). And it helps that it's in French, my [rusty] second language. Now I've come full circle: I love it. It's jazzy and fun, unusual, lovely.

Today the composer arrived. He came to the office to work in our rehearsal space for a few hours. By a stroke of luck I had just walked in when my boss went down to meet him, and when she saw how excited I was (I was wiggling) she invited me along. We shook hands. He remarked on the poster for our show, which he liked. In the music studio he was grateful for the space, and when my boss apologized that the piano had not been tuned (it was to be tuned later in the afternoon), he replied, "All I ask for is 1 through 88."

Tonight he'll attend rehearsal -- although it was mounted in Glimmerglass in 2007, he's never seen this production. I'm going to figure out how to ask him if we can high five.