Joyeux Noël et au revoir à Paris

It has been a very long engagement in Paris. We had our first rehearsal on October 15 and this afternoon we sang our 9th and final performance of “Fidelio”. This was an extremely successful run of this great opera--an opera I always enjoy performing. It’s time, however, for it to be over and for us to move on. It’s always hard to say good-bye to cast members who you have worked so closely with for several weeks. We become almost like a family as we have to support each other in many ways on and off the stage. However, there is nothing like being with your own real family and I can’t wait to get back to Pennsylvania tomorrow. I haven’t been able to join in the Christmas preparations or concerts this year so I’ll try and just enjoy these few special days that remain leading up to this Holy day. If all goes well, I will sing at church services on Christmas Eve as well.

My flight is scheduled to leave Paris tomorrow morning but with the weather being a bit rough on the east coast, everything may be delayed. If excitement could fuel an airplane, we’d be there in record time. Paris has been a good home away from home these many weeks but getting home to the real thing is far more inviting. I don’t know how much writing I’ll be doing over these next couple of weeks but rest assured that updates will be coming again after the first of the year. The next stop is Geneva, Switzerland in early January for “Salome”. It will be, once again, a long engagement with another new production. However, it’s the last job for me away from the United States for awhile. I’m looking forward to getting to work.

I wish you all a very Merry and Blessed Christmas.

Interesting perfromance

Tonight was one of those very interesting performances that make it fun to be on stage. Unfortunately, our bass who sings Rocco, was ill, and, since they don’t employ covers here in Paris, another bass had to be flown in. He arrived at the airport at 5:30. Curtain time was 7:30. By the time he got to the theater, he only had time for a brief look at the set and a quick discussion on SOME of the staging and tempi. He was thrown into a costume and make-up and off we went. And you know what, we had a blast improvising our scenes. He did an outstanding job especially as he had not done this production (we only premiered it 23 days ago). He may have to sing the final performance on Sunday which would surely seem, after tonight, like a breeze to him.

I’ve been in a few of these performances over the years where a singer has to jump in (I’ve had to do it myself once or twice too---but I’ve usually had a bit of rehearsal before hand). It can be nerve wracking. On the other hand, it can provide a great energy that carries you through very nicely.

I’ve always enjoyed improvising. One of my favorite performances happened here in Paris back in 2003. We were doing a production of “Don Giovanni” and I was singing the role of Leporello. Six performances were scheduled however we only ended up singing two performances as they had been rehearsed. Two more performances were cancelled due to labor strikes. The final performance was also struck by some of the some of the unions but this time it was decided that the performance would be allowed to continue---minus sets and lighting. We used basic work lights and the normal black curtains that hang around the stage. The cast completely improvised every entrance and exit and all the acting in between. It worked beautifully and we had a great time. And you know what? It was one of the best received performances I’ve ever been in as the audience went crazy for the work that we put together that night. I’ll never forget it. Many times, I don’t think directors “trust” the singers enough to be fine actors. When we are given a bit more “free reign”, some wondrous things can occur. That’s what happened back in 2003---and once again tonight.

Days off and Millikin "Vespers"

After what was a very busy week last week, we’ve now had 4 days off and it’s time to get back on the stage (which will happen tomorrow). The performances have continued to go well but I’m glad we had a bit of a break, even if it wasn’t long enough to allow me to zip home to the States. I’ve done my customary great deal of walking in the city and just relaxed. There are other projects to prepare as well. I usually try to work a few months ahead on music so that I’m in good shape when the next job starts. I am anxiously looking forward to Christmas with the family and am getting my mind around “Salome” once again for Geneva, Switzerland which comes early in 2009.

The picture above was taken at the 50th anniversary of “Vespers” at my alma mater, Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, earlier this month. Every year, the music department at Millikin presents an extraordinary series of concerts before Christmas which utilizes the combined strength of the various choral and instrumental organizations. It is indeed a treasured holiday musical feast for the community. In this picture you can see Dr. Brad Holmes, the current Director of Choral Activities at Millikin (an incredible musician and friend), and one of the dearest ladies I’ve ever known, Mrs. Kay Hoffland. She and her husband, Mr. Richard Hoffland, began the celebration of “Vespers” a half century ago and established a tradition of choral singing that has influenced so many singers around the world. I learned so much in my vocal studies at Millikin---how to sing, act, etc. But it was singing under the direction of Mr. Hoffland where I first began to LOVE to sing. What a huge influence Mr. and Mrs. Hoffland have had upon my life---and that influence is still felt in every performance I sing to this day.

From what I understand, the concerts this year were once again a grand success. Mrs. Hoffland even played the piano on a few numbers including a piece with the youth choir that is seen on stage in this picture.

I have sung on nearly every major operatic stage with the finest conductors and with incredible colleagues. I have performed with many of the best orchestras and in the world’s finest cities. However, I’ve always said that there has never been, in my life, a greater musical experience than singing in the Millikin Choir under the direction of Richard Hoffland. I can’t imagine that experience can ever be surpassed and I am grateful for every memory of that time floods my mind. Go Big Blue!

Perforamances continue

Last night was performance #3 of “Fidelio” here in Paris. Tomorrow will bring the fourth performance. That’s not an ideal situation for opera singers. Usually, for an opera like “Fidelio”, we like to have two free days between performances. If it’s a long Wagner opera, we prefer three days off. Voices and muscles used in performance need a bit of time to “recover” after intense performances. Also, as we are using our voices and bodies to sing over large orchestras in big auditoriums without amplification, it is necessary to have some time to rest. Still, all should be fine for these close together performances. There is only one other time period during this run when we have shows this close together.

There are nine performances during this run which also is quite a few for the opera stage. Even though I’m enjoying the show and my colleagues very much, I’m looking forward to heading home for Christmas at the end of the month.

My wife and children have put up our Christmas tree and I’m sure are slowly getting it decorated. The activities that fill the calendar during December have started and things are hectic on the home front. I’m really not sure if we’d want it any other way.

Someone turned out the lights

Okay, we’re at that time of year in Northern Europe when it seems somebody forgot to pay the utility bill. It is very grey and dark this time of year and with rain in Paris, you really yearn to be somewhere in the South Pacific. I think I’m beginning to grow mold.

All is going well on the opera front. I’ve diverted my mind away from music a bit the last couple of days by watching tons of football. The Illinois High School Championships have been this weekend---Pennsylvania’s will be in a few weeks. It is so great to watch these young men play their hearts out---and you don’t get many commercials over the internet. I’ve seen some amazing talent on the gridiron this weekend and have enjoyed these games even more than college and pro games.

I missed the Thanksgiving celebration back home this week but did enjoy being with friends here in Paris. Somehow, however, a club sandwich in a restaurant isn’t the same thing as turkey and all the fixins’ back in the States.