Opening Night in Toronto

IMG_3699Tonight is the opening of our double bill of “A Florentine Tragedy” and “Gianni Schicchi” here in Toronto. It is also my debut with the Canadian Opera Company. This is just the first of four productions I’m scheduled to appear in here in Ontario. We’ve had a challenging but, I believe, rewarding experience getting these shows and the concepts up and running. Finally that time has arrived. The picture shows me with the soprano, Gun-Brit Barkmin who plays the role of Bianca in “Florentine Tragedy”. This picture dominates the scenery during our performance. Scary, huh? I am singing the role of Simone, her husband. Essentially, the opera’s plot concerns a love triangle between these two characters and a tenor (of course), Prince Guido Bardi, played by Michael Koenig. The music is very expressive. Alexander Zemlinsky piled layer upon layer of orchestral ideas on top of our text. There is not a moment when someone sings with the other at the same time---all solo lines. It is very much a show about three individual characters, their lives, their struggles, their ambitions, and desires. OH, and it has one of the great endings in all opera.“Gianni Schicchi” is so different from start to finish. This is a real ensemble opera and is, as always, a riot to rehearse and perform. The conflict is one that audiences just love seeing played out for them on the stage. There is little doubt that I consider this comic gem a real masterpiece. Oh, how fun it is to sing a comic opera---I can’t remember the last time that I hoped for laughs intentionally onstage. Such wonderful tunes engulf this opera and I never get tired of hearing them. I first sang in this opera (the role of the old man, another Simone) back when I was a junior at Millikin University. I sang the title role for the first time in graduate school at Wichita State University. I haven’t sung this role since 1993 when I sang the role for the first time as a professional in Spoleto, Italy. It’s great to be back with Maestro Schicchi, the crazy Donati Family, my lovely daughter Lauretta, and all the other strange folks of Firenze. And thanks to all who have brought these shows together---Maestro Andrew Davis in the pit, Catherine Malfitano, our wonderful Stage Director, all of the music and diction coaches, the orchestra, and the great assistant directors and stage managers. We couldn’t begin to do this without you. It’s going to be a fun run.

Open Sesame

The final dress rehearsal is behind us and we’re ready to open the double-bill in Toronto. Here is a link to a preview of the production(s).

COC Radio - Double Bill Montage

When I was first asked about the possibility of singing this engagement (back in 2008), I was excited about the opportunity to sing a new role (Simone in “A Florentine Tragedy”) and thrilled to re-visit one of the all-time fun characters in opera (the title role in “Gianni Schicchi”). However, I’m not sure I realized what a vocal challenge it would be. I probably spend no more time singing in these two shows as I do as Wotan in “Die Walkure” or as the Dutchman. However, the difference in style is so gear wrenching. Changing the language flow from German to Italian in the middle of the night also sometimes hits you hard. The orchestrations are incredibly different and, even though these pieces were written at nearly the exact same time, the musical language is quite varied. What a challenge!!!

I’m really looking forward to being back on stage Thursday evening (The Four Seasons Center Theater here in Toronto is one of the most beautiful modern theaters out there---No, it IS the most beautiful modern theater out there). If the response of our partial final dress rehearsal guests is any indication, I think our opening night audience will have a great and varied evening of opera theater. What a wonderful group of singing actors and actresses! What a fine Maestro in the pit! And how nice to have an updated production that really tells the stories. Let’s do it!

OH, and thankfully, the snow forecast for Toronto this week, bypassed the city. Yahoo!!!!!!


A New Look

Call it “Spring Cleaning” or simply “Out with the old and in with the new”. Whatever the case, my website has finally been updated and spruced up a bit. Hopefully it has a clearer interface and is less cluttered in appearance--I HATE CLUTTER.

We are down to just two rehearsals before opening night of our double-bill here in Toronto. What a challenging assignment this engagement is! I’m greatly looking forward to our premiere (and to allergy season getting finished). With the very warm winter/early spring, and the trees bursting forth in their return to foliation, the pollen counts are high and a bit of a nuisance for all of us--but especially for singers. Sometimes, we singers are a bit too sensitive to how we’re feeling--every itch, tickle, and sneeze---but we just have to learn through experience that there are ways to get through this time of year. Otherwise, there would be no opera in the Spring or Fall (and, with me being highly allergic to mold and mildew, the rest of the year would be taken out as well).

I hope to get all of my older blog entries re-entered onto this website---that might take a bit of time. But, hang with me….I hope to keep this blog more up to date. Read More...

A Room With A View

Just eight days remain until opening night here in Toronto of the double bill “A Florentine Tragedy” and “Gianni Schicchi”. This has been a difficult rehearsal period but one that has gone well and I’m excited to get the show up and running. It would be hard to come up with a double bill with a more contrasting set of styles, moods, orchestrations, musical language, and well, actual language as well (“Tragedy” is in German--”Schicchi”, of course, is in Italian). Jumping between the roles of Simone in “Tragedy” and Schicchi himself is jarring in many ways and getting the tongue to trip along easily on both sides of the intermission is a challenge--one that I’m enjoying. “Tragedy” is dark and troubling--but quite powerful as well. “Schicchi” is mostly sunshine, fun, and breezy. Oh, it’s nice to return to comedy.

The main thread of connection between these two pieces is that they are both set in one of the most beautiful cities on earth, Firenze (Florence), Italy. Especially in “Schicchi”, the city itself is a major “character” in the piece. References are made to the city in “Tragedy” as well but the story really could take place in most any city in the world. Both operas, in our production, have been moved forward in time to different time periods of the 20th century. I like the transitions very much as we present “Tragedy” in a more art-deco setting. “Schicchi” is being set somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s. Loads of fun!!! But it is interesting to think that no matter what time period you’d move the operas to in the last 500 years, the city of Florence would still look very much the same.

I’ve been to this jewel of a locale a few times and am astounded by the beauty, history, and culture that this Tuscan city possesses. It is a wealth of riches that has been handed down century after century. I can’t wait to get back there someday. For now, I’ll just have to visit it onstage and bring a little of the sun of this spectacular region to the stage of the COC via two great operas.

Easter in Toronto

It’s been nearly 6 weeks since I’ve updated my blog but, rest assured, my broken foot and I are doing fine. I’m now in Toronto rehearsing the double bill of “A Florentine Tragedy” and “Gianni Schicchi” which is set to open later this month at COC (Canadian Opera Company). To say that these last few weeks have been a challenge would be an understatement.

Way back in February, I wrote about a bone breaking in my foot during a performance of “Rusalka” at Covent Garden in London. I was able, by the grace of God and with the help of my colleagues, to finish that run without missing a performance. I’m not sure if the audience realized I was performing with the injury--so much was handled just fine with me crawling and slithering through the role. However, wearing a cast on one’s foot is not the most fun way to get through an operatic performance.

I flew home in mid-March for about 10 days and saw my own doctor in Pennsylvania. I was then outfitted for an air-boot which has been SO helpful during these last 3 weeks. I can now walk around and even rehearse (something I wouldn’t have been able to do had I remained in the cast). The time at home was, of course, not long enough. I made it up to Toronto 2 weeks ago and have been actively rehearsing ever since. This is a VERY challenging assignment as I rehearse and perform two lead roles at the same time. There isn’t a lot of down time or many chances to get your wits refreshed. It is all coming together. We had a run of “Schicchi” last night which went well. “Tragedy” has plenty of more time to come together as well. Once again, I’m enjoying my colleagues and hope to get to know the city of Toronto more in the coming weeks.

This time of year is one of my favorites as we celebrate Spring and new birth. Most important, as I write this, it is Holy Saturday and we anxiously await tomorrow’s great Easter celebration. I’ve written before, in past years, how important these days are to me. Due to the rehearsal schedule, I was unable to get to Holy Thursday Mass but did attend Good Friday services yesterday at the PACKED St. Michael’s Cathedral here in Toronto. People were standing 4-5 deep in the back of the church. How I wish I was able to get to Easter Vigil Mass tonight, hear the “Exultet”, welcome the new members of our Church, and celebrate light coming back into the world. But, even though I will be in Canada and rehearsing two shows that take place in Florence, Italy, my heart and mind will be overflowing with awe, love, and praise for our Risen Lord whose triumph in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago changed history and eternity. HAPPY EASTER!!!