September 17, 2012


Today is our first day off since I've been in Houston directing Rossini's Otello, or Faux-tello as we've started calling it since it's not very related to the original Shakespeare. The whole opera would be staged right now, but one of the comprimario singers was away at a wedding this weekend, so I have to block him in during our first run-through tomorrow night. Also, one of the chorus women has not been to any of the rehearsals yet, so hopefully she'll figure out what's going on during the run-through with some help from her fellow chorus members.

Staging this opera has been a blast. My singers are all incredible to work with, and they've taken the basic forms that I've given them and added so much wonderful characterization and intention to them. They are also all really great singers, so getting to listen to them during this rehearsal process has been such a joy.

My first rehearsal with the chorus was very scary, because I've never directed a chorus before. I started with the first scene of the opera, which is just the chorus men. I was telling them what I had in mind, and that I wanted them to look like human beings instead of a "chorus" on stage. When I said something about them moving around during one part, one of the chorus men said, "I'm sorry, but you asked us to move when we're singing. Is that ok?" Enrique, the conductor, jumped right in and said, "Yes, we are going to be trying some new things this year. It's going to be ok to move and sing at the same time. I know you've never done that before, but we are always trying to improve things." I had to try so hard not to laugh! The chorus seemed pretty happy to actually move around a bit and not just stand there staring at the conductor.

When I had the full chorus for the first time, despite being prepared and knowing what I wanted, it was very difficult trying to fit them all on the stage. I had some basic talks with my set designer before I arrived, but when I saw the set for the first time I was totally shocked. The set design is going to be the same for all four opera this year, so I had no say in what it looked like. I was told that there would be two walls with doors in the back corners, and a balcony that would go into the baptistry at the back of the stage (it's a converted church). Turns out, the balcony is about 8'x8' and it protrudes onto the stage, with two huge pillars in the front, and the angled walls with doors come out of the pillars. All in all, about 1/3 of my stage is unusable. I had planned things out for a much larger space, and no balcony! I ended up having to move a few chorus members to the balcony, and find new places for the ones on the stage so they could all fit. Not as easy as it sounds!

The staging rehearsals have all gone very well. Most of what I came up with before arriving looks quite good on stage. Obviously, there have been some parts that I've had to redo, but most everything has gone as planned. I've also been pretty good at figuring out the correct amount of time that each scene needs to be staged, and I've done a very good job at not wasting the singers' or chorus members' time by calling them too early or having them sit around too long. As a singer, I've always been so annoyed when I have to sit at a rehearsal doing nothing, so I wanted to be as accurate as I could when I scheduled rehearsals. I'm very organized in general, so it wasn't too hard to figure out (not sure why it's so hard for other directors to do!).

Now that it's basically staged, I think the opera looks terrific. I'll be very surprised if the audiences aren't totally thrilled with the production and the singing. I'm sure they'll be a little confused when it comes to the story, since it's not very Otello-like, and it might take them a bit of time to get used to the modern costumes and concept, but I really don't think there's much they can complain about with this opera. And they're going to LOVE the murder scene at the end. I wasn't sure how it would look when I came up with it in my mind, but now that I've seen it on stage, it is really exciting. Desdemona is on the bed, Otello comes at her, she turns over to escape, he grabs her legs and pulls her down, gets on top of her, pulls her hair to get her head up, and slits her throat. Fun stuff!

I'm staying in a beautiful, year-old garage apartment three blocks from the theater. My host family also is letting me borrow an old car for my time here, which has made my life so much easier. My apartment has a couple perks besides the car - I have a DVR so I can record TV shows, which is really terrific, and they left some bbq ribs and brisket in the freezer that Byron made on the smoker (yes, I've been given permission to eat them!). I had some of the ribs and they are awesome. I'll probably start on the brisket this week. :-)

You know, I was so worried before I came here, but I have loved every bit of this job. Being the one in charge is something that I really enjoy, and even though rehearsals take a lot of energy, the time just flies by (so much that I keep forgetting to give the pianist breaks!). Next Saturday is the first dress rehearsal, and I can't wait to see it all in costume! I'll try to post some pictures once I have them so you can see what everything looks like.

August 25, 2012

Almost in Houston (again)

I am a week and a half away from my first rehearsal in Houston of Rossini's Otello, and I'm a combination of excited and nervous. I have been working on Otello like crazy the second half of the summer. When I've directed before, staging has always come easily for me. However, full length operas are a lot different than individual scenes and the 45-minute opera I directed at USC. There are so many repetitive sections (this is Rossini, after all), and it's hard figuring out what to do with all of them. I really want the opera to be interesting all the time, but I feel pretty limited at times! I think I have come up with a pretty good-looking opera - now I have to see it on stage with actual singers instead of my imagination.

In addition to the staging part, I've also come up with daily schedules, written synopses for the website and the program, sent introductory emails to the cast and chorus, and written a director's note for the program. And whenever I think everything's done, something else pops up (like singers emailing me with conflicts, ugh!). My next project is making an outline for what I'm going to say at our first cast meeting - I have to go through the detailed concept of the opera, character analyses, talk to the chorus about what I expect from them, and go through some basic cast rules and regulations (when to wear stage shoes, when to sing out, etc.). I haven't started my list yet, but I don't want to forget anything important.

Like I said, I'm excited but nervous. I think everything is going to be great, but I'm worried about singers with egos who don't want to do what I tell them, and staging taking too long and having to redo the entire schedule, and finding time to go to the grocery store and cook, among other things. I'm also worried about staging the chorus well (I've never worked with chorus before), and about whether my staging will look good at all and not be super boring. I'm excited because I don't think too many of my worries are going to come through, and I can't wait to step into the role of director at a real company. I will be sure to give updates if I have any energy left after rehearsing daily from noon-11pm. :-)

In other excellent news, I auditioned for New York City Opera for the cover of the Maid in Thomas Adès' 1995 opera, Powder Her Face. It's an extremely difficult leading role that I sang during my doctorate at USC with the composer conducting. I auditioned on a Friday, and was offered the cover the following Monday! At my audition, I started with Madame Mao's aria from Nixon in China, and the general manager of the company said "Wow!" the second I was finished singing. I wish all auditions were like that! I'm thrilled to get my foot in the door at NYCO since they do a lot of modern music, which I love to sing. I'll be rehearsing in January and February, with the shows in February.

But first, off to start a new adventure in Houston. I'll keep you posted!

May 1, 2012

Slight change of direction

Another audition season came and went, and while my agent got great feedback on my singing, no jobs have come my way yet. Apparently, a couple of the European companies I auditioned for are thinking of using me in the future, so I suppose I'll just have to be patient.

In the meantime, another opportunity presented itself and I just couldn't say no. As you know, I sang Marie in Daughter of the Regiment at Opera in the Heights in Houston. I had a marvelous time working with the conductor, Enrique Carreón-Robledo, but the direction left a bit to be desired. I had mentioned in an email to Enrique that if he were ever looking for a director, I might be interested, since I have a doctoral minor in opera directing. Never in a million years did I think he would take me up on my offer, but at the end of March, he called to ask if I would direct the company's season opener, Rossini's Otello. After I got over my initial shock, I started researching to see if this was an opera I thought I could take on (I had originally told him that I would feel more comfortable directing a comedy, and Otello is about as serious as it gets). I found out that Rossini's version is rarely done because it strays so much from Shakespeare's storyline (and five of the leads are tenors - who wants to deal with that?!). Verdi's Otello is much more common at opera houses - it sticks to the plot. Apparently, directors stay away from the Rossini also, because the music is highly repetitive and difficult to work with. I decided that even though I was petrified, this was an opportunity that I could not turn down. I have been working on my concept ever since.

Opera in the Heights is used to doing very traditionally staged operas. When I accepted the job, I first checked with Enrique to make sure that it would be all right if I chose to update the opera. After reading my concept, which keeps the location in Venice but moves the time period from the 16th century to 1985, he warned me that the conservative audience and critics might not fully appreciate it, even though he thought my idea was fabulous. However, he said that if I want to move forward, then he will be behind me all the way. I am 100% behind my vision, and I can't wait to put it on its feet in September. I hope that the audience will overcome its fear of modernized opera, and my professional directorial debut will be a success.

I'll keep you updated!