Well, I got a call while lounging at home with a few weeks off. I was just getting over the cold my neices gave me during their trip to see us at Easter. I thought I was going to finally finish the library and get all my scores up after years of digging through boxes. Ha ha ha.
On the phone was Pål Moe, a casting consultant I knew from his time at the Paris Opera, asking if I might be able to come to Glyndebourne to fill in for their Zerbinetta in Ariadne auf Naxos. Their Zerbinetta (a friend of mine) had cancelled because of horrible reflux that her doctor couldn’t guarantee would get better before THREE MONTHS. After querying my husband, a call to my friend to see what the story was really (she was on the mend, but didn’t want to risk not being able to sing at 100%) and juggling dates around with Bregenz and San Francisco Symphony, I said yes. There were some dates in the middle where I would have to be absent from Glyndebourne, but it looked like they would work if SFSO let me come a little bit late into their rehearsals. And we still had to see HOW MANY shows I could do with Glyndebourne once rehearsals for Bregenz started.
So I packed my life up in two days and headed off to Glyndebourne. I showed up 10 days into the new production’s rehearsals and was thrown directly into singing, dancing, running around… Here I am, in front of the sheep, drinking a tea…
My colleagues were amazingly helpful, and the director and conductor were wonderful. And I’m not just saying that!! ;-)
There are two major food groups of stage directors, with sub-categories:
I) “TELL YOU WHERE TO GO” School of theater direction: This includes directors that don’t know the show – who A) rely on you to both stage it and make suggestions (annoying) or B) tell you to do random stuff and then tell you you’re a bad actor when it looks stupid. It also includes directors who have done their homework and A) tell you where to go to make a pretty picture – you figure out what your emotional journey is and why you’re going from one location to another, or B) want you to do exactly what they want and only that (Robert Wilson, etc…). These last guys can leave you wondering why you’re doing this, and feeling like a cog in a machine. Many time, “weird concept” opera stagings are in this category.
II) “TELL YOU WHAT YOU FEEL/THINK” School of theater direction: This can include directors who tell you what they want from you emotionally and then get YOU to figure out where you want to go. This can be a pain in the butt, as you have to come up with everything and then they will get the credit in the end for the fabulous theatricality and commitment of the artists. Uh, yes, that’s because you did come up with the show. Conversely, you can get directors who tell you what exactly they want you to do and why (emotions and rationale). They want you to do what they want but give you the freedom to put your spin on it or give your input. This last category are my favorites. They can be bad actors but rely on you to interpret what they tell you into something credible. Or sometimes you want to just slap a skirt on him and have him do it, because there’s no way you could be that good an actor. Ever. Or sometimes they’re in between.
Our director, Katharina Thoma was the best of all worlds – she could explain clearly what she wanted, her concept made absolute sense, her ideas were clear, her physicalization of the role when she showed you what she wanted was obvious, and she could always give you a physical idea to start from, and you could take it from there because she gave you a great idea of what she wanted. She also has a musical background, so she understood that the music has its own life and its own timeline, and had planned out musical cues for everything. Not only did the text work brilliantly within her clever concept, but she had planned the music in her concept from the start, as well. In short, the best of all worlds!! She’s not well-known (yet!) but I see a bright future for this very talented director. Hopefully I’ll get to work with her again soon.
Vladimir Jurowsky is simply brilliant! I have never met a conductor who was so on-board for the theater-making part of the equation. He was making suggestions that, instead of just being his fixed idea of what he wanted musically, were actually in order to further the dramatic idea of what Katharina wanted from the staging!! Wow. I know it sounds like that should always be the case, but most of the time we are lucky to get a director who “puts up with” the staging but has his/her own already fixed musical idea of how the piece needs to go. And Jurowsky’s insight into the score is astounding. This goes without saying that he is easy to follow: the most basic of all things about the conductor, but something that is not always a given!
I had sung for him last year at the urging of my friend Mischa in Moscow. He helped set it up, and Vladimir heard me on Mischa’s suggestion. When I sang for Vladimir, I felt rather thick-corded, as my period was juuuuust about to start. This was one of those one-period-in-20 where my cords felt thick from hormones the day beforehand. And I my only chance was to sing for him that day, of course. So I went ahead and did the audition in London, while he was here conducting, and I sang a few things for him and we had a nice chat about repertoire. Some pieces he had suggested seemed rather big for me, in my estimation, but I figured that was just because I was singing on thick cords for him in a small room. I wonder what he thinks now that he’s worked with me… Thank goodness I had sung for him, because then he knew me enough to take me for this gig!
Glyndebourne wanted me to cancel my concerts in May with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, but I really couldn’t. Besides it being on the books for a long time and my really wanting to sing that piece again, as a principle, I don’t cancel things for other opportunities, and I certainly didn’t think it was fair to blow off my long-time champion Michael Tilson-Thomas (and the SFSO) just because I got another last-minute offer. So we asked if I could come in one day late (arriving on the 8th to do rehearsals that day) so that I could do the Sitzprobe for Ariadne at Glyndebourne on the 7th of May.
A few days into our rehearsal period, I still didn’t know how many shows I could sing. We needed to get releases for me from rehearsals in Bregenz to be able to do any shows after June 10th, when my rehearsals in Bregenz started for Magic Flute. It will be my first Queen of the Night. But the negotiation (directly between administrators at Glyndebourne and Bregenz who knew each other well) was going slowly. I got a forwarded email from my agent that San Francisco Symphony could let me come in on the 8th, so I went ahead and bought myself a business-class ticket so that I would be in good shape when I got to San Francisco and good shape coming back. A few days later, we figured out that Bregenz needed me to be there for rehearsals all the time later in our run here at Glyndebourne, so I couldn’t do the last three shows. However, I could do 11 shows and go back and forth for rehearsals in Bregenz after the seventh show.
Then ten days later, we got the devastating message from San Francisco that actually the administrator had misunderstood my agent’s version of the dates, and my agent had misunderstood the administrator’s email as a “yes” although it was obvious (now, looking back and reading carefully his response) that he was confused about the dates. So it was NOT ok for me to come a day late. And actually, they were expecting me on the 6th! So they started to change around the entire schedule there in San Francisco so that I could do PART of the Sitzprobe here for Ariadne, fly there, and then rush straight into a rehearsal once I got to the other side of the world on a plane. (The time change is WITH you going over, AGAINST you coming back to Europe.) It was not ideal for anyone and discombobulated MTT’s plans as well as gave short shrift to Glyndebourne, as then, they’d have to do all my parts in the first half of the day instead of running the opera with the orchestra, as is custom in a Sitzprobe. Jurowsky – who is now officially my hero of the year – decided that he could use his orchestra reading rehearsal on the Sunday before, and call a few key colleagues in (Tanzmeister, Componist, the four Commedians) and do an early Sitzprobe just for me. !!! Then, I could leave on the 6th (our day off, anyway) and miss the Sitz on the 7th, which my cover (the lovely Uliana Aleksyuk) would sing. Whew! What stress…
So, off I went to San Francisco! (another blog entry!)
Returning, I left San Francisco on Sunday and got off the plane in London Monday morning, and was driven directly to Glyndebourne, where I started to get into makeup and hair for the pre-dress rehearsal! I’m officially insane! I somehow got through the pre-dress and had a well-deserved DAY OFF! Whew!