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.


  1. Your link to the glass engine has made my day. So cool! My exposure to Philip Glass is limited - some CDs checked out from the library, an awareness of some of the film scores he's done - but I tend to like him.

  2. isn't it great? I use it all the time now.