Back in Bilbao

This past year has been one of tremendous travel and much time on the road. In fact, it was a year ago today when I took off for Vienna (“Salome”) and began this time of spending nearly 3/4 of the year away from home. This week, I flew to Spain and am once again entrenched in the Basque Region city of Bilbao. This is my third trip to this Northern Spain city. It is amazing to see how much it has changed since my last visit. I first appeared here in 2005 in “Don Giovanni” and then returned in 2007 for a double bill of “Bluebeard’s Castle” and “Elektra”. Now, I’m here for “Tristan und Isolde”, my first Wagner opera in this city but my second this year as I was in Barcelona for “Parsifal” this past Winter. The people of Spain have always been so welcoming to me which is so greatly appreciated when you spend so much time away from family. To see how hard the people of Bilbao have worked to beautify their city, transition from one economy to another, and build a strong opera company is greatly encouraging. I’m so very much impressed.

Traveling brings a great amount of challenges to anyone. To an opera singer, the challenges can sometimes seem immense (even when they are not). One has to constantly adjust to changes in climate, environment (including allergens), food, customs, inner-city travel, acoustics, and so many other things on top of just the basic day to day ability to communicate in languages that many not be your specialty. Fortunately, I’ve learned to adapt fairly quickly (This certainly was not always the case.). It’s always nice to return to a city because you’ve developed “favorite” hang-outs, restaurants, churches, etc. You understand how the rehearsal schedule is handled and what to expect within certain theaters. You also can be more in tune with the weather. When you visit a new place (even an old place in a different season of the year than when you last visited) there is often apprehension as you don’t know anything about where you’re staying, how you’ll adjust, and what the “system” may turn out to be. Again, this has become easier in my career but, fortunately, in the past year, I’ve returned to familiar cities and even, in the case of Amsterdam, to a favored dwelling.

Bilbao is not the largest city I visit. It is, however, one of the more beautiful. The hills that surround the city are gorgeous on a sunny day--not that we’ve had much of that since my arrival. The architecture is fascinating and the river that meanders through town is mesmerizing. They have worked so hard in moving this city from an industrial economy to a service oriented economy. The pride in the region is nearly unsurpassed in my experience. The picture, above on the left, shows The Guggenheim Museum which was opened 14 years ago. It is a building designed by Frank Ghery who I had the pleasure in meeting in Los Angeles back in 2004. He also designed the great Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Bandshell in Millennium Park in Chicago. His structures are great works of art and so admired by all who see them. I took this picture out of my bedroom window as I have the pleasure of waking each morning to see it. It’s not a bad way to start the day.

Rehearsals are going well--perhaps a bit slow for me. I’ve done this opera many times (I blogged about this opera back in July when I was in Munich) and am always happy to come back to it. The production, on paper, looks gorgeous (it was staged first in Rome and then in Seville). The Director is Italian as is his assistant. This, too, can be a shock to the system. Artists in different countries have such VARIED dispositions, work ethics, and manners. One has to constantly adjust. The German and American system are very much the same but they are so different than the system that is in place in Italy. Let’s just say that we have differences in style--but I think we’ll have a very fine show.

Since my last posting, we’ve opened and closed a very successful run of “Tosca” in Washington. What a challenge it was to sing my first performances of Baron Scarpia. I have to say, I’m very pleased. I learned so much but truly enjoyed bringing this bad guy to life. I had long placed the role on a pedestal but I’m glad I finally took him down and dusted him off. The performances were extremely dramatic and I found the role to fit my voice so well. The reviews have generally been very good and the audiences were so enthusiastic. I look forward to getting back to Scarpia someday--but for now, I get to hang around in my German repertoire for awhile--not a bad place to visit.

I also enjoyed having most of my family visit me in D.C. for the closing night of “Tosca”. What a treat it was as it is rare that they are able to attend my performances. In fact, this was the first opera performance witnessed by my daughter and one of my sons. My little girl did slip off to sleep twice during the performance (she missed me getting stabbed and seeing Tosca jump) but I think she liked what she saw. One lady, who had no idea the people behind her were in my family, struck up a conversation with my 8 year old. The lady proclaimed “That mean Baron Scarpia is my favorite”. My wife leaned over to my daughter and told her it was okay to talk to the stranger. I hope it was with a sense of pride that my little girl responded, “That’s my Dad”.

I also enjoyed, on that weekend, having a chance to chat with the Guild of the Washington Concert Opera and to present a small talk and question/answer discussion which basically dwelt on my 30 productions in the Washington area (including two with The Washington Concert Opera). It was great to be amongst friends and to share some wonderful memories. We also visited the zoo so that my daughter could see her first elephants and so that we could all gaze at the pandas. The 9 days that I had “off” between getting home from Washington and heading to Bilbao were loaded with activities and household “catch-up” items. So much has to be accomplished when you have the chance and are home and off the road. I’m not sure how my wife stays on top of so many things. When my days of near non-stop travel are over, I think she’ll deserve a medal. For that matter, she already does!!!