Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Charleston, Post 6 - Nrityagram Dance Ensemble

Yesterday was another free day, so in the afternoon I went to see the Nrityagram Dance Ensemble perform a show called Sacred Space. It was amazing. The unity of the ensemble was unreal, and their precision was unbelievable. From the first movement you could just relax, knowing that you were watching dancers who absolutely knew what they were doing. Every part of their bodies is considered - hands, toes, facial expressions. And since they were wearing bells everywhere, the dance was part of the music, and far more connected to the sound than I usually feel is the case at dance performances. The only thing I've seen to compare, in terms of music and dance being one and the same, was here at Spoleto last year, when I saw Savion Glover. The difference was that Glover, a tap-dancer, concentrated all his energy into his feet, and the dancers of Nrityagram concentrated on everything. It was really beautiful, artistic, impressive dancing.

In the evening I went out to dinner with a few friends, and picked up some of the world's best pralines at a candy shop on the way. I never had pralines before - I had no idea I liked them. But these are amazing, and I think I've found a new food obsession! We also saw the artistic director of the chamber music program having dinner in the same restaurant, so we sent him a drink, and he came over and talked to us for a bit. I'd never sent someone a drink before, but it's fun! Now I'll have to actually get to some of the chamber music performances, or I'll feel guilty. The difficulty is getting myself to a performance at 11 am, which is when the chamber music is. That may not sound like much, but when your opera gets done at 11:30, and you get home at midnight, and nobody goes to bed for at least an hour, it can be difficult to get up before noon.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Charleston, Post 5 - Pickles! and reviews

I neglected in my last post to mention the most important thing about the Spoleto Festival opening, namely - the Pickle Ceremony! Before opening night, the assistant electrician of every show rigs up a pickle with some wires and a power cord. The entire cast assembles in the green room about 10 minutes before curtain, and after the lights are turned off, everyone starts a slow chant of "Pi-ckle! Pi-ckle!" Then the assistant electrician throws the switch, and if the pickle glows, then that means good luck for the festival. Naturally, both pickles did indeed glow. There was one at Don Giovanni at the preview, and one at Romeo et Juliette on the actual festival opening night. (That pickle was artistically decorated with a white veil and a knife in its little pickle heart.)

Today was our first day off since the Festival started, meaning we finally had time to attend some of the other shows. (As a Spoleto Festival member, I can show my badge and get in free to any show that's not sold-out.) In the afternoon I saw the Paul Taylor dance company, which was just fabulous. It was beautiful, and one of my favorite things about it was that there was so much joy in some of the pieces. Often it feels like artists feel compelled to only present dark things, but the first piece of choreography especially, set to Handel, was just pure happiness. And the second piece, set to early American jazz, was very funny, with incredibly original ways of moving. I enjoyed the abstract pieces the most, because that was where I felt the choreography really explored shapes and new ways of moving.

In the evening I went with some other Westminster Choir folks to try and see Tristan and Yseult. Owing to being sold out, and some confusion with the ushers, we didn't get to see the first ten or fifteen minutes, but after my friend AG approached the house manager again to see if we could stand in the back, we finally got in. I was sorry to miss the beginning, but glad I decided to stick around and watch it anyways. It was wacky and funny and odd in parts, but it achieved some really heart-rending moments, and the whole show was original and well-done.

Tomorrow is one of the longest days we'll have - rehearsal at 10, call for opera at 1 pm, with the performance at 2, and then call for a different opera at 7:30 and performance at 8. Luckily there's another free day afterwards, which means more shows! I'm either in an opera or planning on watching a show every single night until we go home. Who knows when I'll be able to come back again, after all.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Charleston, Post 4 - Festival Opening

Today is the official opening of the Spoleto Festival. The opening ceremony was at noon down at the Old Exchange Building. Apparently Philip Glass wrote a fanfare for car alarms, but I got there too late to hear it. I'm not too sad about this, as I hear it was highly anti-climactic.

Last night was the preview performance of Don Giovanni (which just means it was a performance before the official opening of the festival) and tonight the festival really gets swinging with the first performance of Romeo et Juliette. This entire past week has been piles of dress rehearsals for both shows - there's always a piano dress/tech and two orchestra dresses for each show. It's exciting that we're finally into performances, because those are much more exciting - having an audience can really transform a performance.

Doing both operas really eats up time - Don Giovanni has seven performances, and Romeo et Juliette has 4, which means that there are very few days off (or more importantly, evenings off) to go see other performances. All performers in the festival get free admission to any performance they want, as long as it's not sold out, and since there are so many performances, very few things are sold out. One of my favorite performers last year, Mike Daisey, is coming back, but I sadly won't be able to see any of his performances as I have performances at all the same times.

The make-up and wig call is in half an hour, so I'll sign off here. (I am wearing a black wig. I look rather like a wax-work person in it, since I'm so pale.) It's hard to know what else to say about the festival - give me help. What should I post about?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Charleston, Post 3 - Water

The theme of this year seems to be water. We were met with a torrential downpour coming into the Charleston airport. The first day rained. In the Gounod opera, Act III ends with us being rained on (after Tybalt and Mercutio die.) And in Don Giovanni, there is an onstage lake that we splash around in, and get totally drenched in. Don Giovanni has a set that truly deserves a lengthy description, another day. For now, suffice it to say there is a pool with a small stream that runs to an onstage lake. On the chorus's first entrance, we run to this pool as fast as we can, jump into it, and then proceed to splash each other. Today was the first day practicing with water, and we sure do get soaking wet! We then proceed to go and sit next to the audience in the aisles, and watch the rest of the act, still soaking wet. At a later point, Don Giovanni also sprays us with champagne. (Hopefully it will be real - don't know yet!)

Luckily I have tomorrow for laundry - it's our first day off! Also for trying to find an optometrist, so I can get contacts - splashing water plus glasses do not combine to create the best vision.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Charleston, Post 2 - The choir

Day 3 of the Westminster Choir's schedule at the Spoleto Festival rehearsals was much like days 1 and 2. Music rehearsal in the morning, 10-12:30. Staging rehearsal for one of the operas, 2-5 pm. Staging rehearsal for one of the operas, 7-10 pm. Sprinkled in between are meetings with the costume shop and the wig shop for fittings.

The Westminster Choir has been a part of Spoleto Festival USA since the festival's founding in 1977. We serve as the opera choir for all the operas at the festival - last year there were three, this year there are two, Gounod's Roméo et Juliette and Mozart's Don Giovanni. The chorus for the Mozart is smaller, only using half the choir, and the full choir is in the Gounod. I am in the half of the choir that is performing in both. In addition, there is one performance of Mozart's Mass in C and two performances of the choir performing shorter works accompanied only with piano (a Bach motet, some of the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes, Barber's Reincarnations, etc.) We have two weeks of rehearsal before the festival to get the two operas staged - it's been three days, and they are almost entirely staged already - only a few scenes remain in each to really nail down. A good thing, too, because we begin orchestra rehearsals on both sets tomorrow.

Physically, staging is fairly exhausting (especially the Mozart, which involves sprinting around an auditorium in bare feet.) Mentally, being at Spoleto is more restful than being in school - after all, I only have to be where people tell me, and then do what other people tell me once I'm there. However, physical exhaustion alone can be overwhelming, and my wig fitting tomorrow is at 9:30 am (yes, I will be wearing a wig for the Gounod!) so it's off to bed for me.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Charleston, Post 1 - Arrival

I made it to Charleston, SC! This is slightly more of an accomplishment than it sounds. We (the Westminster Choir) left yesterday afternoon, and flew into the Charleston airport in the middle of a fairly impressive thunderstorm. While I felt this was less exciting than I would have imagined, we did see some fairly impressive bolts. Once we landed, we had to wait for a while, because the thunderstorm meant it wasn't safe for the airport workers to go and unload our luggage. Then we had to stay in the airport because there was a tornado warning for the airport - several tornados were seen touching down close to the airport, one 1/4 of a mile away. In addition, the chorus was on two planes - the second plane was not allowed to land, but was diverted, and we had to wait for them to arrive.

Once planes were allowed to land and we were allowed to load the bus and leave, we reached our temporary lodgings with no further adventures, but since it was sheeting down rain, very very wet. We're staying in the dorms of the College of Charleston, which are fairly nice - two to a room, with bathroom included, and two rooms to a suite, which has a mini-kitchen and a little area for a couch and TV.

More on what the Westminster Choir is actually doing here in Charleston tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Roseae Feminae

It's approaching that time of year when everything gets the adjective "last." Last night was the last concert of Roseae Feminae, the women's choir I put together a year and a half ago.

It went really well! We had more audience than at any previous concert (meaning double-digits!) and the group sounded really strong. There were a few bobbles, mostly because I got overly enthusiastic in the last month and added too much new repertoire, but concert as a whole was strong and solid. The sound was beautiful, and I was proud that there were many different sounds of the choir, depending on what era of repertoire we were singing. And even better, I feel like we all, me included, were energetic, extroverted, and communicative, something that after last year I knew would be my biggest challenge. I was able to look at specific singers and think, "Wow! They are really delivering the piece! I know they didn't sing like that a year ago."

I'm glad I got to do one more conducting concert after my Master Singers concert - I felt like I was able to continue applying a lot of what I learned several months ago, and continue to make progress.

So thank you to all my Roseae Feminae singers - not only was leading that choir one of the most educational things I did here, but it always reminded me that the reason I do this is not for class credit or a degree or recognition, but love of the job!

P.S. Apparently what I was complaining of in the last entry is not tennis elbow, which affects the outer side of the elbow, but golfer's elbow. This is disappointing, as it's much less fun to claim I have golfer's elbow. However, since my arm feels fine now, I suppose it's irrelevant.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Final Roseae Feminae concert

The final concert of my women's choir, Roseae Feminae, is tomorrow, May 2. I strongly encourage anyone and everyone to come - it will be at 7:30 pm at Christ Congregation (50 Walnut Lane in Princeton, NJ.) The chorus sounds really awesome - I'm very encouraged at how everything always sounds better and better! I know that's what's supposed to happen when you rehearse, but it is nevertheless quite encouraging that it actually does.

However, we just had our dress rehearsal, and I am sorry to report that I am turning into that dreaded being, the over-enthusiastic conductor who runs over time. I kept them 15 minutes past the end of the rehearsal. Luckily they have not been smart enough to form a union yet, or I'd be taken out and thrashed. However, keeping people late is something I really do try not to do - I'm rather ashamed I didn't quite succeed.

Also, I'm getting tennis elbow from conducting too enthusiastically - this happened during my Master Singers concert as well. Suggestions for how to care for tennis elbow (ice? heat?) are welcome.