Happy New Year/Looking back/Looking ahead

I’m a bit late with my New Year’s greetings but they are as heartfelt as always. May 2017 be a year of great blessing, full of wonderful music, and a time of peace and joy. We can use all the peace we can get!

As I write this, I’m in Vienna, Austria for performances of “Salome”. This is the fourth time I’ve visited Vienna just for this fabulous production which dates back to the early 1970’s (Leonie Rysanek was the first Salome in this production). I first performed in this production during the 2001-2002 season. Since then, I’ve returned to work with 3 different sopranos. It is so interesting to see how different each revival has been due to the different protagonists involved. I’m scheduled to be back here in November for more performances of this production. I know that my soprano will be one that I’ve worked with already. Can’t wait!!!

Vienna is one of the most beautiful and easiest to be in cities in the world. The opera company is one of the dream companies. They put on so many performances each season of approximately 50 different operas. No other company has that kind of output. Yes, revivals are put together very quickly. But this helps add to the excitement. I can vividly recall my debut with the company in “Das Rheingold” (2001). I had only 3 days of rehearsal before having to come on stage as Wotan. When the curtain ascended, all I remember seeing was the phenomenal Vienna Philharmonic staring up at me and seemingly saying, “Let’s see what you’ve got, kid”. Scared me to death. But, it was a great experience and a wonderful debut.

I always remember those days when I’m rehearsing here...and I’ve learned how to think on my feet very quickly due to experiences like that. The audiences here are some of the most educated (regarding opera) anywhere in the world. You have to be on your toes and ready for anything. Most of the time, things run smoothly. It is a difficult, at times, theater to sing in. The orchestra sits much higher and is more exposed than in most other opera houses. This can lead to balance issues. But, they are one of the finest orchestras anywhere and play so incredibly. A singer has to be careful to not get too caught up in the music making and remember that there is theater involved as well.

I always spend my last post of the year looking back at the performances of the preceding 12 months. As I’m late to do this for 2016, I’ll let my first post of 2017 handle the festivities. I like to pick one performance of the previous year as my favorite. Sometimes, it’s hard to make a pick---this year, it wasn’t too difficult. It was a year full of Wagner. I sang The Wanderer in “Siegfried’ in Toronto, all three Wotans in the incredible Ring Cycles in Washington, a concert as The Wanderer in Boston, concerts at Wolf Trap, Bluebeard in Portland, Maine, and Orest in “Elektra” in Barcelona. The “Elektra” run was one of the most consistent runs of opera that I’ve ever been a part of. Each performance was solid and enthusiastically received. However, the performance of “Die Walk
üre” on May 2 (First Cycle) will always stand out in my mind as one of the greatest nights in my career. It is my 2016 favorite.

That night, my great friend, Christine Goerke, jumped into the role of Br
ünnhilde on short notice for our opening cycle. We had got the cycle rolling a few nights earlier with “Das Rheingold”. But, when the curtain rose on act 2 of “Die Walküre”, the act when Wotan and Brünnhilde first appear together, I knew we were all in for a special night. The energy was incredible. The emotion was overwhelming. The critical acclaim was enormous, and the response from the audience was like nothing I’ve ever heard in the Kennedy Center. One critic wrote that the second act scene between father and daughter “forever colored my understanding of the opera”. You hope to bring your own interpretations to performances and have an impact that will be remembered. It’s a strong performance when the audience feels that way--and the performers as well.

I was fortunate, in those cycles in DC, to have four different Brünnhildes, including the dress rehearsals. Due to an injury to one of the sopranos, the understudy had to go on during our final dress. For the three cycles, we then had three different sopranos play the warrior maiden. I so enjoyed the spontaneity that this brought...the new energy...again, I had to be a quick thinker and on my toes. I LOVE performing that way. And, I think the audience knows when they are seeing something special as well. We create art together--from both sides of the pit.

And, at this time, I look ahead to what 2017 brings. The energy of performing will continue to be sharpened and polished on the state as well as in the studio and classroom. After these performances of “Salome” here in Vienna, I’ll sing a concert with the Wichita Symphony of opera highlights (including Wagner and Puccini). I’ll sing with the Washington Concert Opera (first time since 1989) in “Leonore” (the predecessor to “Fidelio”). I’ll also sing one of my favorite roles with one of my favorite orchestras---“Der Fliegender Holl
änder” with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. I”ll return to Vienna later in the year for performances of “Elektra” and “Salome”. And, I am very excited to be returning to the Cleveland Symphony for a VERY exciting project--one I can’t announce just yet. That one is going to have me traveling a bit with the orchestra--truly one of the world’s finest who will be celebrating their centennial. It’s going to be an exciting year.

BUT, it doesn’t all take place in the opera house or on a concert stage. Recently, I’ve been named as the Director of Opera at Wichita State University. I’ll take over those duties in the Fall. However, I am already actively making plans for our coming season(s). This is a job that I’ve sort of hoped to have for a very long time---since my days as a student at WSU over 30 years ago. I’ll be wearing a lot of hats in 2017---opera singer/concert artist/voice teacher/opera director---and, oh, did I forget...HUSBAND AND DAD. I didn’t forget at all--those are my two most important jobs. But, all of this will require a lot of fast thinking on my feet--just like in the performances here in Vienna. It’s good that I wear comfortable shoes.

Go Shockers!!!