March 18, 2012

I don't even know how to tell you my feelings about galileo. today, I got to the office at 11, in order to snap photos for the blog during the morning's scene shift rehearsal. we haven't even gotten to tech and I already know most of the score by heart. at 2, there was a run of the piece; I was on-hand to take notes for our conductor, anne.

anne is a hard personality to describe. very kind, very pleasant but also all business. she knows exactly what she wants in the music and manages to ask for it without being demanding -- like the nicest tyrant you've ever met. she's petite and blonde and type A without it being the slightest bit annoying. she smiles a lot. she gives praise where it's due, and is never mean or scary in rehearsal. I loved her utterly during our production of orphée, and by now, having worked so hard with her on this piece, I feel certain I would run in front of a bus for her.

before rehearsal she turned to me and told me what she wanted in my note-taking. "just give me scene, measure number, the word, and the character who sings it," she instructed. we begin, and the notes fly one after the other. note-taking requires a different kind of concentration on the music. as she dictates them to me, conducting all the while, I begin to understand what she's listening for, and can sometimes begin pre-emptively writing the note before she's had a chance to tell it to me. "Cardinal 1: make sure to hold that note all the way to beat 4." "Galileo: don't forget to enunciate the final consonant on 'waited' so it doesn't sound like 'wait.'"

when we finish the show, I have teared up again. leading up to the start of rehearsals, we found the ending to be utterly cheesy and awful, but now that it's staged, it's incredibly moving. anne turns to me and says, "would you mind separating the notes out by singer and giving the list to each of them? and a copy for me, plus a list of whatever I said we needed to rehearse tomorrow?" I nod, and then she pays me the highest possible compliment: "I wish I could take you with me to all my opera productions!" she says. "you have the greatest and most variable set of skills."

the thing about galileo that makes it so special to me is that everything has come together to create an environment where I am inspired to be my absolute best self. pieces like this, so rarely performed, are exciting to me, for reasons I think I've already talked about. the endless weeks of editing the score -- they were mind-numbing and exhausting, but they were also important. the changes we make to the parts and to the score will matter. we'll produce the first commercial recording of this piece, and if we do it right, more people will want to perform it. right now, I'm an expert on this opera -- one of the few in the whole world. I almost know it by heart. I know the score better than I've known any score in years.

and I have such unflappable respect for anne that I am willing to do backflips in order to please her; I feel about her the same way she apparently feels about me, that I wish I could have her as my conductor always. I don't want her to ever catch me not knowing what I'm doing, so I make sure to always know. in orchestra rehearsal yesterday, I had to pull out the master list of patches I programmed into the synthesizer (because yes, I taught myself how to program the synthesizer, and stayed at the office on midnight thursday to finish it); when she saw it, anne gasped and said, "oh jess, this is outrageous, this is so much work." in the car tonight, as I drove her back to her hotel, she admitted to me that she's terrified of synthesizers, having had a number of bad experiences with them, including an entire rehearsal in london that was lost to having a poorly programmed instrument. there are so few conductors I have worked with who manage to be both excellent at their jobs and also so utterly friendly. how can I not do my best work for such a person?

and then there is the music itself, which I was not sure I'd like but which I love completely, which I cannot stop listening to or singing in my head, which makes me choke up every time I hear certain passages. it continues to be a surprise to me that music that seems to just motor along of its own accord can, in fact, contain moments of such devastating beauty. the libretto, which at first we found a little sophomoric, also floors me again and again. and the singers are singing the absolute shit out of it; every voice is beautiful. the direction is exquisite; the show, still a fledgling, is intense and dramatic, touching and beautiful, and imbued throughout with a profound and very earnest sense of wonder and joyfulness. a celebration of the process of scientific discovery, learning for learning's sake.

how bittersweet it is already to be here, though, because I am painfully aware that I cannot be my best self forever; this pace is unsustainable. I am tired beyond all imagination, and often it feels like it's only my passion -- for the piece and the cast and the conductor and my coworkers -- that's keeping me going. I had six cups of coffee today. it means that maybe you can't always live up to your absolute best. and of course, being at this level in rehearsal has meant accepting piles of laundry heaped in the bedroom, and dishes in the sink; it's meant giving up time with my horse. even things like responding to personal emails have fallen by the wayside. what does it mean, then, that you so often have to settle for 80%? I don't know. it makes me a little sad. except I'm too excited, and possibly delirious, to allow myself to be sad.

I haven't even started running titles yet! there is so far to go. please, let's not end it.

the world was made so perfectly; we only need to look. and when we look, we learn all of god's perfection, his deep perfection. our looking is like love, like praise: praise for this world, this lovely world our god has made.
- from scene 8: lamps

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