Teaching and Learning

I have often said, “When I stop learning things about singing, that’s when I’ll stop singing”. These past two days have brought this thought firmly into my mind once again. I truly enjoyed teaching the students at Millikin University this week. We tried many different approaches and styles to get desired results. We listened intently to colleagues. We challenged ourselves, felt frustration, rejoiced at triumphs, and agreed to keep striving for all that which is better. And so much learning was accomplished as well. I’m grateful to all the singers who took a chance and sang. Let’s do it again soon!!!

It was great to spend time with old friends, hear the incomparable University Choir sing, visit old sights, and just enjoy being back in the Heartland. I was able to spend time with two of my most important mentors, Jack and Linda Schepper, who were my music teachers oh so many years as a youngster in Washburn, IL. They gave me a foundation and challenges that have continued to lead and inspire me. I was honored that they came to my public master classes. I can only hope to be as fine a teacher as they both are.

I was also able to buzz to just northeast of Peoria to visit my mother and sister on the way back to Chicago. I only wish the hours in Central Illinois would have been longer.

But now, I’m back in Chicago and headed out the door in just a few minutes to teach some of the young artists of the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Let the education continue, once again! And tomorrow, we see how the education continues to be expressed with performance #6 of “Elektra”.

Down to Decatur

After tonight’s 5th performance of “Elektra” in Chicago, I’m headed south to Decatur, Illinois and to my alma mater, Millikin University, where I’ll teach for a few days. I’ve been back to campus often, over the past several years, to work with the students. I truly enjoy these times with the young singers and the faculty. This school is a real gem and means so much to me and my wife (who is also an alum). I hope all of the students just relax and allow the fun to happen. These can be great learning experiences--for the students and for me. And, over the years, I’ve been happy to strongly encourage some of the singers into truly going after singing careers. It is so rewarding to see careers flourish.

I enjoy driving and so look forward to the hours on the road tonight. There sure will be plenty to listen to on the radio as there will be a replay of the 3rd Presidential Debate as well as the 7th game of the St. Louis Cardinal-San Francisco Giant playoff series. Go Cardinals!!! AND, the BEARS are playing here in Chicago tonight as well. My radio dial won’t know where to land first.

"Elektra", Baseball, and Teaching

Tonight, we pass the half way point of our run of “Elektra” at Lyric Opera of Chicago. It has been an amazing run so far and I greatly look forward to these remaining performances. There is an energy onstage unlike any I’ve seen for awhile. The response from the audience after our last performance was something I’ve never heard quite to that extent--and I’m not sure I’ll ever hear again. These are the nights that we long for as singers. Not every performance is a mountain top experience, to be sure. But when you have nights like this, you know they are still possible and so we try as hard as we can to make them exist--for both sides of the lip of the stage. When it comes together well for the performers, orchestra, conductor, etc., and then as well for the audience, magic occurs.

This is a great time of year and for more reasons than just gorgeous natural colors. It is also the baseball post-season. Once again, my St. Louis Cardinals are doing well--far better than was believed would be the case at the beginning of the season. I’m thrilled they made the playoffs. But, being a Cardinal fan, I’ve become accustomed to the Birds being in World Series races and I hope for the same this year. I remember the excitement of last fall when I was in Spain, being awake at 4:00 a.m. to watch the games over the internet, and rejoicing over another World Series Championships. I’m hoping for the same this year--but I’m glad the games will be on at a more civilized time. (I still wish they played the games during the day).

After our next performance, I’ll buzz down to Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois to work with many of the vocal students on campus. I’ve often returned to my alma mater to work with the budding talents and greatly look forward to these days. It is invigorating and educational to me to connect with these young voices. I find that teaching makes me a better singer as well. It will be wonderful to hear the crop of voices on hand and to hopefully provide some guidance and experience that will be helpful to them. We grow, as artists, through experiences just as much as through education. These should be a great few days for us all.

Opening Night is behind us--on with the run

All opening nights are interesting experiences. As performers, we are always excited to get the show in front of an audience and to have the jitters and nerves diminished by just getting onto the stage. This new production of “Elektra” at Lyric Opera of Chicago, however, was so well rehearsed. This gave us a few degrees more of confidence and perhaps one or two less butterflies in the stomach before we had the curtain rise. And what happened after that curtain went up on Saturday night was a WONDERFUL experience. I think, perhaps to many of us, there were more nerves in place simply because the performance was being being “broadcast” live on the internet to people all over the world. More on that later…

“Elektra” is such a difficult opera in so many ways. It is powerful on many levels. I know I have some very long and difficult roles in my repertoire but I can’t imagine any role being harder to sing than the title role. What an incredible performance of this role of roles by our soprano, Christine Goerke! I don’t usually single out colleagues in my blog but I’m making a special exception this time. She amazed me. I have sung this opera so many times and with so many wonderful sopranos. Christine ranks right at the top. My role of Orest is certainly not anywhere near my most difficult of roles. It’s relatively short and not even the most demanding on a vocal level. However, it is a role that I greatly enjoy singing and every second of my role, onstage, is with the title character---listening, urging, reacting, ENJOYING!. Christine made it easy on opening night. She offers so much as a singer and actress. It was an honor to perform with her.

As I said, having the opera broadcast made the evening a bit more intimidating. The increase in the number of performances being “live-streamed” has really brought a huge change to this business over my tenure on the stage. When I began as a professional singer, it was only every now and then that one of your performances would be broadcast. Now, it seems like every run of performances has at least one if not multiple performances being sent over the airwaves. We are going to sing the same way whether the microphones are there or not. However, knowing the mics are there makes things a bit more edgy. In my scene in “Elektra”, much of it is very close to the edge of the stage and dead center. The microphones are literally only feet from your singing. You realize that there is less room for the ambiance of the hall to kick in. You know that every little inhalation of breath might be heard. You are more careful to not shuffle your feet, clear your throat, or make any of the other 1,846 noises a singer tends to make during a performance to just to help them relax. Having said all that, from what I’ve heard of the broadcast recording, I think the “live-stream” came off pretty well. For those of you who heard it, I hope you enjoyed your evening as much as we did.

The opening night of the season is a very special and festive occasion. A grand ball was held afterwards which meant for a late evening for the singers after a performance. Eating late is never a good idea for anyone--especially singers. It takes a few days to recover from such events. But, we’ll have it all together again by Wednesday night and I look forward to once again entering the house of Atreus to render revenge.

Ready for opening night of "Elektra" in Chicago

This is going to be one VERY exciting run of performances. Our final dress is behind us, the cast is ready, the orchestra sounds great, the production is spectacular, and, most important, Richard Strauss created a masterpiece. What an honor to sing this opera in one of my favorite cities and with such an outstanding cast under the direction of Sir David McVicar and with Sir Andrew Davis on the podium. Truly, I don’t think this is a show that the opera fans in Chicago will forget very soon. The opening night performance will be streamed live online. Just click on this link at 6:30 p.m. Central Time and enjoy the show.
98.7 WFMT - Chicago's Classical and Folk Music Radio Streaming Online

For a bit of a preview, you might enjoy this as well:
Elektra - Lyric Opera of Chicago
That link will take you to a Youtube video with a feature on our production. I can’t wait to get back on stage!!!

All else is fine in Chicago. It’s been a wonderful month. And, now that the St. Louis Cardinals are once again in the post-season baseball playoffs, I anticipate a great month ahead!!!! OH, and didn’t the BEARS look great against the Cowboys on Monday night.

Finally, this is political season. Folks, play nice--or else Orest just may have to pay you a visit.