Tom Minter's Off The Stoop Blog

a playwright's journey, creating, connecting, and conversing.

Archive for July 2012

A View From The Bridge (1)/…beginnings

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..beginnings are such nerve wracking moments.

But imagine the excitement of Washington National Opera, gathering exceptional artists together to give the sixth production of a work by a major living American composer. Compound the excitement with the knowledge that the composer will be present and that the opera has garnered, at each presentation, adulation, greater stature, and a deepening renown and suddenly, this ‘beginning’ is an event. And it brings WNO’s production team and company talents into an even brighter spotlight.

William Bolcom’s A View From The Bridge has been on WNO’s books for several years. Even so it has been a managed campaign- to wrestle a host of performing schedules into alignment, and then pin the date when costumes, sets, musicians, singers, conductor and director will be available, and, beyond that, present. After all, opera productions do not just happen, or leap, fully directed out of the wings!

This ‘Rehearsal Journal’ is witness to the work of the last weeks, bringing this work to a Washington audience and the Kennedy Center stage.

Though three of the cast members have been with this production from the opera’s premiere, each presentation of the work brings a new and additional team of performers to the ensemble. These performers must be rehearsed, not only in the music of the opera but in its staging, familiarizing themselves with its design, sets and movements.

Frank Galati was the original director of the work, but director Amy Hutchison has nurtured the piece through four of its subsequent productions. She is on her way to D.C. to direct our introduction to the work. However, even before her arrival, the WNO production team is smoothly preparing the way, verifying and binding schedules, while dressing the rehearsal floor with neon tape to indicate the positions and dimensions of the set.

The chorus, too, is hard at work in preparation.

The vast space of the Takoma Park rehearsal studio is stuffed with excitement, as choristers engage with the syncopations and dance rhythms of Bolcom’s work.

..my beginning is at the chorus’ third rehearsal; the work was completely new to them at the start of the week, and already they have memorized two-thirds of the opera.

Ken Weiss, who is acting Chorus Master for this production, may smile easily, but his ear keeps a keen eye on diction. “I’d like to hear more ‘m’ on ‘Man’. Remember the back of the house. I don’t know if I’ll hear it otherwise.”

The chorus responds, singing, “A man works. A man eats, sleeps, raises a family”..

“Yes. Great. Good.” Ken goes back to an earlier point. “Not just the words, the intent. He sings, “..when the tide is right.” Stops. “It’s an eerie moment and eerie experience.”

The chorus falls into his meaning; hushed and articulate, they sing, “..when the tide is right.” Ken smiles.

I hear what he means, what it is he wants the sound to convey: something imminent and foreboding, something..

Dr Joy Schrier has stepped in to fill Ken’s place at the piano.

I have moved forward on my seat to hear her playing Bolcom’s music, listening to the simple, haunting keys the composer has chosen to underpin this first moment of ‘..something’.

I am excited to realize that I will soon be able to meet the man who has created this work, whose piano score not only speaks of his knowledge of creating theatre, but of his clear assimilation of American music’s antecedents.

Tomorrow’s rehearsal will be the first to bring the production team, Maestro John DeMain, William Bolcom, and the principals of the cast together.

I will follow my curiosity and find a moment to speak with the composer, because this American opera pulses with the sound of the real deal.

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Stepping out of the past now.. I want to offer some flavor of this amazing composer.

This is a clip of Bill Bolcom, in a 2009 interview, discussing his Graceful Ghost Rag..

And this is a clip of the music:

Summer discoveries..

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..well, there was the glut of dust bunnies under my books, in the living room.

..there were the carton of ‘good intentions’ and projects itemized for attempt, on my desktop..

-there was the joy of immersion in a particular book: Verdi’s Aida; The History of an Opera, in Letters and Documents, by Hans Busch, which detailed the gestation, creation, collaboration and first years of performance of that seminal opera.

Incredible story.. And an amazing trove of documents, many unseen before the publication of this book; first drafts of the libretto, with Verdi’s markings sculpting the prose into the shape we know the opera; contracts; letters and telegrams- flying between the composer, Verdi, his librettist, Antonio Ghislanzoni, and Giulio Ricordi, Verdi’s cunning publicist, producer and representative –as well as a circus of others, from the Highest in Egypt, to various and sundry scoundrel impresarios; from desperate divas, to decrepit theatres.. The book, needless to say at this point, was spellbinding, and gave full texture to the tapestry of ‘creating’!

Let’s see.. Other summer discoveries..

..there’s the vat of ice cream that shouldn’t be in my freezer in the first place!

..there’s surprise at the somewhat savage commentary on Michael Phelps, and his Olympic performance..

..there’s also little surprise, at the vitriol in the political summer campaigning ..

But then, two days ago, came a true surprise, as I finally attempted one of my summer ‘to-do’ items: filing (oh joy)!

Going through loose stacks of papers, I found a collection of writing that I’d accomplished in 2007 – unjustly fobbed into an anonymous manila envelope.. In its way, the writing resonated greatly with the comprehension of the Verdi book..

I started working for Washington National Opera, in the Marketing department, in 2005; doing small pieces in the Playbill on various operas, and their composers. 2007 proved to be an accomplished year for me in that department. It was the year of WNO’s production of Bill Bolcom’s A View From The Bridge, and I was engaged to create, a first time, on-line ‘Journal’ of the journey, from initial rehearsal to production.

I remember many things: the camaraderie, and professionalism of the cast; I remember my introduction to the composer, Bill Bolcom; I remember my astonishment at the jazz qualities of the score..

Most of all, I remember my wide eyed adventure in being a ‘writer-in-the-room’, witnessing this assembly of talent to stand an opera on its feet..

..but now, rescued from the obscurity of my filing system, the notes from those incredible sessions.. bring the experience vividly back to mind..

So, as the summer lopes into the dog days of August, I think I’ll post these episodes, to pin the memories to these ‘pages’..

To be clear that I’m speaking of that experience, I’ll head my entries with: A View From The Bridgeand the particular ‘episode’ of the experience..

-because, as I’ve realized, chronicles are important, and you never know who’ll come across them in the future..