Wrapping it up

Tomorrow night, we close our double-bill here in Toronto. It’s been quite a run. As it is with any project, you never know how a project will turn out until it’s finished. Of course, there are some who would say that you shouldn’t take on a project unless you know how it will turn out. In reality, I find that is almost impossible to pull off. I first started working on this double bill, even if only on the surface, way back in 2008 when I accepted the proposal to come to Toronto this season for these performances. Of course, I had sung the title role in “Gianni Schicchi” before. Taking on the first half of the double-bill, “A Florentine Tragedy” was a completely different matter. The score is very intimidating for many reasons. I won’t go into all that detail here but, suffice it to say, putting that difficult piece at the beginning of the night more than doubled the challenge of singing an opera--even two operas--even six operas. Some roles lie perfectly in a singer’s voice from near the beginning of the project. Simone “in Tragedy” didn’t. One always hopes, as a singer, that you’ll continue to grow in your skill and technic. You hope that the blessings you’ve been gifted with will remain with you far into the future. But you don’t know that this will be the case. To say I struggled with getting this piece into my voice would be not entirely accurate---but there were sections that I wondered just how I’d pull off. The role lies quite high and jumps all over the vocal range. There is so much text to enunciate as well. There isn’t a huge plot line that continues throughout the opera---much is carried out through long dialogue that really doesn’t have a lot to do with the story. But, as I said in an interview yesterday, it is in those long dialogues that we discover more and more about the character of Simone. When rehearsals begin, you hope that you are finally at a stage where the vocal challenges and the dramatic efforts can meld together. In our first weeks of staging, it took a lot of coaxing to find a way to make it all mesh. Finally, when we got to opening night (nearly a month ago), I felt that we were on to something. Often, I get that feeling far earlier in a rehearsal period. We now had a show on our hands. However, could I sing two operas in a night, differentiate the characters enough, find the right use of language (including proper foreign language diction), express the various styles, and quite simply, hold up singing so many notes in such a condensed amount of time. Doing these two shows isn’t like singing Wagner. It has been like taking a long Wagner opera and condensing it very compactly into the toughest vocal exercise I think I may ever sing. And you know what, with the results we’ve had, I’d do it all over again.The run has been an enormous success and I’m going to be sorry to put these two roles on the shelf for awhile---for all I know, I may never sing them again. But I’m grateful that indeed the blessings continued, the technic was there, the styles developed, and that this run in Toronto has been one I’ll never forget.After tomorrow night, I get a bit of a break (and OH, how I’m looking forward to that). We will celebrate my second oldest son’s graduation from high school. I’ll be putting finishing touches on “Bluebeard’s Castle” which I’ll sing in San Francisco in a few weeks in concert with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. I’ll also be polishing, once again, “Siegfried” for the performance that approaches in Munich. The thing I’m really looking forward to, however, is just being home with my family and being able to enjoy life again in my own yard with a healed foot. I’ve been home less than 4 weeks since the first of the year. I’m so looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. And a very happy and safe Memorial Day to all. May God bless our veterans---those we’ve lost and those we still cherish having with us.

Yes, this is a challenge

In a few hours, Lord willing, I will have completed one of my most difficult 48 hour stretches as a performer. We had a performance of the double-bill here in Toronto on Friday evening and will now have an early Sunday afternoon matinee. This means that I will have sung 4 operas (2 operas---twice each) in less than 45 hours. I have always trained and lived my career much as an athlete. There are great similarities between being a professional singers and athletes. However, this weekend I feel like the career is more along the lines of competing in a decathlon---and then turning around after the final event and running a marathon. I always enjoy challenges but this one sort of “takes the cake”. Let’s hope it can also “take the gold”.I have been enjoying this run of “A Florentine Tragedy”/“Gianni Schicchi” so much. There are nights, in the middle of the Zemlinsky piece, where I all of a sudden have the panicked thought running through my head, “My goodness, I still have another opera to sing tonight”. But all in all, it’s gone VERY well. I look forward to today’s challenge and the final performances which won’t be until Friday. What in the world will it feel like to sing a performance fully rested?

Listening to memories

Tonight, on a night before a performance, I’m sitting and relaxing while listening to “Billy Budd” from The Metropolitan Opera.
Pasted Graphic
This is a live broadcast of tonight’s opening of their current revival. How great to hear this extraordinary score once again. This opera has meant a great deal to me since I first worked on it in 1989 (23 years ago). I debuted at The Met in the role of Mr. Redburn (The First Lieutenant) on April 17, 1989. What a special night that was for me and for my family! I had no rehearsal on stage before my debut---and it’s a VERY tricky set. I remember being extremely nervous but also remember how supportive all of guys were in the show (there are no women in this opera). It was a great night and quite a success. The cast included Thomas Allen in the title role, Richard Cassily, Jan-Hendrick Rootering, Franz Mazura, and so many other men who have become favored colleagues and friends over the years. I was happy that we revisited the production three years later as well. In that revival, I was promoted to the first cast and had much more stage time. What a tremendous production by John Dexter---simply one of the best productions ever mounted at the Met or elsewhere.

Performance #2

Many singers aren’t thrilled about second performances in a run of a show. I, on the other hand, LOVE them. I don’t like sitting around and waiting on days off. We’ve had a few too many since we opened last Thursday (April 26). The performances are quite spread out here in Toronto, at least early in the run. I’ve been ready to go for a few days and am glad that the 2nd performance is finally here. The second performance, for some, is a let down concerning energy and atmosphere. I welcome that let down---there are fewer nerves to deal with, we’ve already had a run in front of an audience, and surprises are fewer. Now, with being freed of the constraints that come with trying to “stick to the plan”, I find that post-opening night performances are more natural. This is a good thing, to be sure.This is a rather long run (8 performances). At one time, this many performances was more common. It has become a rarity in the last several years. With a double-bill like this, there is good and bad to having such a long run. We’ll have even more time to let the characters breathe and for the show to become even more comfortable. On the other hand, these shows (especially the Zemlinsky opera) are difficult and tiring. I’m just hoping to hold up well when we get to those later performances. Technic--don’t fail me now!!!Spring seems to have finally taken hold in Toronto--but wow, is there pollen in the air!!! For those who suffer from allergies, this is always a difficult time of year. For singers who suffer from allergies, it’s a PAIN. Here’s to hoping there isn’t a lot of sneezing in the house tonight--from the audience, from the pit, or from the stage.