Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Playlist (in chronological order)

Elektra, by Richard Strauss
When: Thursday, May 15, 2008, 7:30pm
Where: Kennedy Center Opera House, Washington, DC
What: Opera, 1 act
Who: Washington National Opera
Cast highlights: Susan Bullock, Christine Goerke, Irina Mishura, Robert Cantrell, Daniel Sumegi

While Elektra is only about an hour long, it has more intensity packed into it than most three-hour operas! I mean, it was intense, in every sense of the word - the music, the plot, the characters, the scenery… Intense. I enjoyed getting to see it, but I must say, it was not my favorite. The orchestra frequently overpowered the singers (understandably so, since it is written for a huge orchestra), and while I appreciate the modern-style costumes and scenery being symbolic of the tormented mind of the main character, it was just plain not pretty. And I like my opera pretty. Maybe that’s uncultured of me, but it’s the truth. I like to watch sets and costumes and characters that are pretty.

El Niño by John Adams
When: Sunday, May 18, 2008, 7:30pm
Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington, DC
What: Oratorio (sacred text)
Who: The Choral Arts Society of Washington
Cast highlights: Sharla Nafziger, Leslie Mutchler, Christopheren Nomura, Brian Cummings, Paul Flight, Steven Rickards, Children's Chorus of Washington

My sister Nancy and I went to this concert together. It is a modern work, so naturally there were a lot of parts I liked, and a lot I didn't. The text of El Niño is a collection of writings/scripture about the birth of Christ, but it is more focused on birth in general, specifically from the woman's perspective. I actually really enjoyed the text. It consisted of a choir, soloists, orchestra, and a large screen over the stage with scenes to help depict the message the music. After a few minutes I mostly quit paying attention to the screen. It was a lot of modern dance and pictures which I didn't entirely understand, so it was more of a distraction than anything else for me.

Tamerlano, by George Frideric Handel
When: Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Where: Kennedy Center Opera House, Washington, DC
What: Opera, 3 acts
Who: Washington National Opera
Cast highlights: Sarah Coburn, Patricia Bardon, Plácido Domingo, David Daniels

I still get excited just thinking about Tamerlano. It was absolutely, hands-down the best opera I have ever seen. I can’t even express how much I loved it! The cast, production, and music were all top of the line. Sarah Coburn completely stole the show with her beautiful, pure, natural, effortless soprano sound. She and Patricia Bardon (a mezzo-soprano playing a male role) performed a gorgeous duet in the 3rd act that absolutely turned my insides to mush. The rest of the audience apparently felt the same way, because I have never witnessed such a long applause at the end of a number mid-act. Of course Plácido Domingo was fabulous. I have never seen anyone die so beautifully! I even enjoyed listening to David Daniels, the countertenor. Normally I have a hard time with countertenors. I acknowledge that it takes a huge amount of talent for a male to sing as high as a mezzo soprano, but lets be honest, it’s just a little weird. But David Daniels was fabulous. He made it sound natural and effortless, which is not always the case with a countertenor. Seriously, I can’t think of a thing I didn’t like about Tamerlano.

It was completely sold out, but I managed to snag a "standing room only" ticket. I stood in the back next to a railing, where I had to crouch down to see the supertitles over the stage, for over three hours. It reminded me very much of an Aggie football game, where all the students stand the entire game. You only get to sit down during half-time (or intermission in this case), and it feels so good. But the fact of the matter is that even though you're tired and your feet are killing you, what you are witnessing is so exciting that you are completely on a high by the time its over. Yes, thats how good Tamerlano was. I would stand through it again any day.

Selections from Giacomo Puccini's La Bohéme
When: Thursday, May 29, 2008, 7:30pm
Where: Kennedy Center Opera House, Washington, DC
What: Open Orchestra Rehearsal
Who: Washington National Opera
Cast highlights: WNO Young Artists Aundi Marie Moore, Elizabeth Andrews Roberts, Yingxi Zhang, Oleksandr Pushniak

This was very cool. The opera decided to open up this rehearsal to its season ticket holders to give them an inside look at the rehearsal process. The conductor, Riccardo Frizza, was mic-ed so that we could hear everything going on. They began with just the orchestra and conductor rehearsing, and then brought in the singers and added them. One of my favorite parts was when the conductor turned to the audience and said in his thick Italian accent "the problem with singers is that they are always acting, and they forget to pay attention to the baton." Maybe you had to be there, but it was really funny the way he said it. After the one-hour rehearsal they opened up for questions with the singers, conductor, and WNO's Artistic Director. I kept quiet so that the subscribers could ask questions (I can ask questions whenever I want to). Most of the questions were directed at the singers. When asked how long it takes to learn a new role, Elizabeth Andrews Roberts replied that when you are a young aspiring singer like them, if someone asks you if you can perform tomorrow, the answer is always "yes."

Cavalleria Rusticana by Pietro Mascagni
When: Friday, May 30, 2008, 7:30pm
Where: Kennedy Center Opera House, Washington, DC
What: Opera, 1 act, in concert (no sets/costumes, orchestra on the stage)
Who: Washington National Opera
Cast highlights: Salvatore Licitra, Dolora Zajick, Madeleine Gray, Gordon Hawkins, Leslie Mutchler

This was a wonderful production. The cast did a great job of acting out the parts even though they were not in costume. I have a confession, though. I went straight to the opera after work and didn't get a good dinner. About half way through I found myself unable to focus on anything besides what I would grab to eat on the way home. Wendy's or Chick-fil-A? Chic-fil-A won't be open this late, so I'll have to go to Wendy's. I want french fries, but I have to get some real food too! No, I'm not in the mood for a sandwich. Chicken nuggets?... It was very sad indeed.

Eugene Onegin, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
When: Thursday, June 12, 2008, 7:00pm
Where: Kennedy Center Concert Hall, Washington, DC
What: Opera, 3 acts, in concert (no sets/costumes, orchestra on the stage)
Who: National Symphony Orchestra
Cast highlights: Irina Mataeva, Sergei Leiferkus, Daniil Shtoda, Irina Tchistjakova, Ekaterina Semenchuk

I really didn't know what to expect with this one, but I was pleasantly surprised! It was a wonderful opera in every way from the music to the plot to the performers. Who knew Russian could sound so pretty? I would really like to see the full production of this opera some day.

Now do you understand why I've been so busy? It should be slowing down for the rest of the summer because our season is now over as well as The National Symphony Orchestra's.

Did I mention that I didn't pay a cent for any of these? My internship totally rocks.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Opera Ball

When: Friday, June 6, 2008 10:00pm
What: Washington National Opera's 2008 Opera Ball
Where: The French Ambassador's Residence, Washington, DC

Oh how wonderful it was! Opera Ball is Washington National Opera's biggest event of the year, and has been called the best party of the year in DC. There were many comments last night that this was the best Opera Ball ever.

Nancy diligently worked her circle and found this beautiful dress that I borrowed from a girl in her ward who wore it to Prom last year. I got a lot of compliments about it. One of the "official" photographers actually requested a picture of me - just me in my gorgeous dress! HOW COOL!

From the luminares along the driveway and silhouettes in the windows as you walked up to the house, to the crystal chandeliers hanging from the trees in the back yard, it was beautiful in every way. Dinners were held before the Ball at 22 different Ambassadors' homes, and then everyone came to the Ball for desserts and dancing:

There were a lot of important people there from Ambassadors to Congressman to crazy left-wing political candidates. My favorite people were the ones dressed in opera costumes. They were so beautiful and fun!

This one was my favorite:

You should have seen the guys in wigs, tights, and heels getting jiggy on the dance floor to 80's music at the end of the night!

She ran away when she saw I was trying to get a picture (why?!), but can you see that her gown and head piece have lights?!

For the first hour I was assigned to hang out near the steps going down off the balcony to the service trailer and make sure no guests went down there. For the second hour I was assigned to "warm" the Empire Room. Now that was fun! Why? Because I was right next to this amazing spread prepared by the French Ambassador's chefs:

Yes, that is a little cup of creme brulet (sp?). Yes, that is gold leafing on the chocolate!

Near the end of the night, after most of the guests were gone and most of the staff were relieved from their posts, the dance floor was filled with staff members and costumed supers going nuts on the dance floor. I have to be honest, I had some prom flashbacks, but it was pretty fun seeing all the people I work with - including some that are pretty high up in the company - letting loose like that! I think the open bar might have had something to do with it...

Can you tell we're not as "fresh" looking? Did I mention the dance floor was outside and it was in the 80's?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Ruben is my Home Boy

I signed up a while back to work as a runner for this award show going on at the Kennedy Center this week. I didn't know anything about it, but it paid well. It turned out to be the Bradley Awards, which is one of those "make the world a better place" foundations honoring people whose work fits under their mission. Monday we mostly sat around in between a few minor errands, but today was pretty busy, and pretty dang cool!

Guess who the main entertainer was for the award show? RUBEN STUDDARD!

Each person making a stage appearance was assigned to one of us runners to be in charge of them and make sure they got where they needed to be on stage, etc. No, I wasn't assigned Ruben. I had the CEO of the Foundation, and he's done this enough times to not really need much help. All morning was spent running through the show with us standing in as our people. All afternoon was spent rehearsing certain parts with the actual performers. All evening was the show!

Ruben is really laid back and cool. He is also very talented - each of his numbers were absolutely fabulous. He has a beautiful voice.

I was standing in the wing when Ruben was on stage rehearsing one of his songs this afternoon (which was sounding amazing!). After he finished the song the stage crew started chatting about something and he looked over into the wing. I gave him a big cheesy smile and two animated thumbs up. He did it right back at me! It was so cool!

I am totally friends now with Alvin. Alvin is technically Ruben's Music Director, but they go way back (way before American Idol) and used to play in a band together in Alabama. I asked him if Ruben ever votes on American Idol. He said he definitely watches it, but he doesn't think he votes. He gave me his card (yes, I'm special), so I asked him if he would come to Texas and play at my next birthday party if I asked him to. He said yes... until I added
the "for free" part.

I still think he's persuadable.

I got Ruben's autograph on my program!

Sarah Pfisterer, a Broadway singer, was also there. She is really really nice - a very pleasant person. I really enjoyed getting to know her and all the great people on the crew as well.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

WNO Pays Rent to the Kennedy Center

Oh I have so much to catch up on! The great parody of blogging: lots to blog about = lots going on = no time for blogging! Okay, I'll catch you up on as much as I can in the little bit of time I have tonight. Then I'll write more tomorrow, I hope.

Wednesday the 21st I got to take my first trip out to the Washington National Opera Studio (and, consequently, my first experience riding the metro). This is a big facility all the way on the other side of DC where we have our costume studio, Education Department, and three big stage-sized rehearsal spaces. All employees were invited for a meeting.

Placido was there, and this time we got a picture:

This is all the interns with Placido Domingo, General Director of Washington National Opera. What you don't see is his right hand, which is firmly clutching my left arm. It was actually a little awkward.

It was a very interesting meeting. We just got a new Executive Director a few months ago, and most of the meeting was about his plan to get the company on better ground financially. Here are a couple mind-boggling, important tidbits that most people don't know about Washington National Opera:
  • Opera is by far the most expensive art form. Ticket sales only account for about 40% of our budget. The rest has to be obtained through donations and grants.
  • Because we perform at the Kennedy Center, most people think we are affiliated with them. WE ARE NOT PART OF THE KENNEDY CENTER! We pay the Kennedy Center way more than most people make in a year to rent their space to perform our operas! This is huge! This is the reason we hardly get any support from Capitol Hill - they think they are helping us by helping the Kennedy Center, but we are not benefiting from it at all!
We really need more support. It would be a huge tragedy if our nation's capitol lost its opera for lack of support! I know a lot of people don't understand or like opera, but think about it this way: We all know that it is important for all of us, especially children, to have a creative outlet. Art, music, theater, etc. in many different forms are taught in schools because of its many benefits to human development, and it is expected that most people will zero in on one or two specific modes of creativity to cultivate throughout their lives. Now think about what opera really is - it is a single form of art that contains almost every art form - music, visual art in sets, props, and costumes, theater, poetry, linguistics, etc. Its all there! I really believe that opera is quite possibly the best art form to expose our children to, because through it they can explore so many different modes of creativity and then have many options to choose from as far as their own creative outlets. There is just nothing else like it. And, I know what you're thinking, but there are a lot of children's operas out these days. The most popular is Hansel and Gretel. That is one reason to support opera, even if you don't particularly care for it.

So, if you know anyone who knows anyone important, just do me a favor and pass the message along to them that Washington National Opera not only pays the Kennedy Center to use their opera house, but is really lacking in sufficient support. You might have fun seeing their reaction. :) Because seriously, does anyone else think its absolutely absurd that the National Opera is undersupported?