Why a blog

After some years working around I decided that it's time to share some experiences I've done in this period and, why not, try to reach artists that are new in the business with some advice from a conductor's point of view with humility, care, passion and dedication for the art form that opera is. On the other hand it's not going to be only a professional tool but a free conversation about different subjects and, according to my mood, I'll post in english and in italian as well. I hope you all enjoy this idea and come with me on this journey!!!

Friday, November 23, 2012

Don Giovanni Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University

Welcome to this blog entry that means a lot to me: I usually talk without filters here and this time it's very hard for me to put "on paper" all the emotions that overwhelmed me not only during the process but especially at the end so I'll try my best to write down everything. Probably who was involved in this experience will read more through the lines of this entry only because we shared the same things but I still hope it will be an enjoyable reading.

I feel the need to start this entry telling a big THANK YOU to JoAnn Kulesza, wonderful colleague from whom I've learned a lot during this process,  and the entire voice department including coaches for the marvelous job they have done preparing the singers for this Don Giovanni.

The Don Giovanni project started in June when I met the director, Roger Brunyate while I was in Vermont conducting La Boheme and we started talking about the concept involving the set designer Luke Cantarella and exploring the different possibilities. This gave me the opportunity to start working on the score highlighting the aspects we wanted to pop up during the process and I found in this group of artists a wonderful team.

October 1st: this has been my first encounter with Peabody Institute .
First time to work with the cast: since day 1 I saw a huge potential in this group and I already could sense how far we could go all together and the goal to aim for. Right away we got a very good feeling working together but I warned them I wasn't there on vacation and we had in front of us weeks of hard work and I was not going to spend time showering everybody with superficial compliments before the work was done first because Don Giovanni  is a huge masterpiece that scares professional singers and second because my standards are very high.

Then the real rehearsal period started on October 17th and as it always happens the "first day at school" was a situation in which we were learned about each other: for sure I tried to make everybody comfortable in making mistakes as part of the learning process  allowing them to explore their limits and challenging them showing they were able to do it.

This Don Giovanni had a lot of meanings to me and to all the people involved: on my part it was my first ever DG and according to my schedule the only production of my season. I don't know if these are the reasons or if there is something deeper into it but I approached this masterpiece with a big humility and religious respect feeling every time I was opening my score the bless to be able to work on something so sublime under every aspect.
Talking about "first time" of course for the majority of the cast members was the first DG but not only: I discovered that Mary Trotter had never played the harpsichord in a performance and Celeste Marie Johnson had never played an opera from top to bottom and guess what: they did it brilliantly!
On the other hand this was Roger Brunyate last production at Peabody after he served for 30 years as Head of the Opera Department: I have to tell you all the work this man has done in these decades and his legacy will stay forever: I never found a group of artists so supportive of each other, no fake compliments but genuine interest in helping each other and I think this has been instilled by Roger's attitude to work all together in harmony so I thank him deeply to have brought this kind of mind set to the school and surrounded himself with very valid member in the staff.

I'm very grateful for the relationship we established among each others during the coaching sessions and rehearsals: everybody got that I was going to work hard but in a healthy and fun environment with good laughs supporting everybody and bringing out from each of them everything they have inside, and believe me there was/is a lot there! Apart from this aspect I underlined the importance to be a good colleague because if you are one the other person will benefit of it and they got it!


During my day off I offered to coach individually the singers and according to their schedule, they show up and we worked finding details in the music and interpretation connecting the two things and bringing to life what Mozart wrote, or at least trying to serve his genius.

All the singers have been very receptive and eager to learn and I have to say during the entire period I noticed in some of them a true transformation changing their way and trying stuff: I was and still am blown away.

Here is the list of "my heroes" and some consideration about them below:

Don Giovanni: Jeffrey Gates
Leporello: Jeff Martin
Donna Anna: Huanhuan Ma
Donna Elvira: Alexandra Razskazoff
Don Ottavio: Halim Shon
Zerlina: Janna Critz
Masetto: Seonghyeon Park
Commendatore: Alex Rosen

Harpsichord: Mary Trotter

Director: Roger Brunyate
Assistant Director: Sarah Hayashi

Assistant Conductor: Stephen Mulligan

Music Staff: JoAnn Kulesza
                    Mary Trotter
                    Celeste Marie Johnson
                    John Wilson
                    Yunkyung Choo


Jeffrey Gates: he brought such warm voice and nobility to the title role and the use of the language in the recitativi underlined the intentions and the depth of his caracter.

Jeff Martin: Leporello has been a natural role for him: sung very well with great comic pacing highlighting the giocoso aspect without falling in the trap to become a caricature.

Huanhuan Ma: she brought such elegance and class singing and acting the role of Donna Anna, a role that rarely has the sympathy of the audience.

Alexandra Razskazoff: Alex brought to the role fierce and driven temper delivering performances that have been very intense and made everybody realize she a "stage animal"with singing and acting skills serving the music and staging.

Halim Shon: Don Ottavio is always a difficult role to display but Halim brought on the stage a sense of calm and nobility that a man of honor has and in his 2 arias he created a peaceful atmosphere through the melodies that Mozart painted and he enjoyed and make enjoy the audience every bar of that music.

Janna Critz: she worked hard and succeed showing the nuances of Zerlina threatened by DG and being in love with Masetto and what she accomplished in this run is remarkable.

Seonghyeon Park: he brought the temper and vocal quality to describe the jealous possessive peasant Masetto and I have to say also the acrobatic skills when he was beaten by DG ;)

Alex Rosen: despite the very young age he impersonated the role of Commendatore in a very believable way sung with charisma and weight in his voice.

I could spend tons of gigabytes talking about the singers individually but I can tell that you'll hear of them in the future. I felt lucky to have an ensemble of this quality, perfectly casted.  

Not only the principals but the cover cast did a terrific job not only during the rehearsal process but in  their own performance, being very supportive of their colleagues cheering them up, suggesting staging and prompting if it was necessary. And in all this a big help came from the Assistant Director Sarah Hayashi (aka Mizuko Woods, her alter ego!) that showed great personality and hard work helping Roger during the entire rehearsal time, "making everything pretty" ( ;) ).

Peabody Symphony Orchestra: what a pleasure to work with this extremely talented MUSICIANS!!!! Correct musicians not just players. I'm conscious of the difficulties to play opera if you are not used to and especially it can be very tiring if for 3 and half hours you find yourself putting down and picking up your instruments while not playing during the recitativo  but this ensemble showed not only technical skills but passion and commitment.
During rehearsal I interpolate a lot of descriptions of what was happening in the story when we were playing and the need to breath with the singers, the need to listen to each other in the pit and listen to the stage, and the fact that mistakes can happen not only because it's a live performance but because we are human with no one is going to be punished for it: it happens! At the end the main difficulty for a piece like this is to keep the focus and level of attention full steam on for a long time.....but they got all of the above and incredibly well!!!! 

Time was running fast (time flies when you have fun) and  because of school schedule we never had time to run the show top to bottom until.....the final dress: sounds scary doesn't it? ;) My only concern was that we had to run a marathon having been trained for 100m and even if I knew that it was possible there was no guarantee about it and counting only on the youth it wasn't an option: so my purpose for final dress was to build up the stamina needed in the pit and on stage to run a marathon with every resources I had and the result was encouraging looking forward to the performances. 

And here we are at opening night with only one real run through under the belt: I felt so confident about that evening because of the work everybody has put during rehearsals both stage and pit and I was sure it was going to be something special and surprisingly amazing and I was happy that I saw it correctly: everybody rose to the occasion  (and I'm sure they surprised themselves as well) and delivered an A class performance rewarded by the audience standing ovation at the curtain call.

The second and last show was even better: the orchestra sounded magnificently and the cast just made that Sunday afternoon something that for sure will stay with me as one of my best memories. What made me very happy for this second performance, especially under the educational point of view, was that I empowered the orchestra and stage to make the piece their piece: I tried to not interfere with their desire of expression, "driving the car", yes but without micromanaging, making it a chamber music moment long 3 and half hours where everybody was collaborating: exhilarating experience!!!!

It's hard to describe, as I said at the beginning, all the emotions that overflew during this process and during the performances, maybe it's something that I want to conserve jealously or maybe it's just something that it was needed just to be witnessed in person while it was happening so I hope everybody got a picture of this Don Giovanni through my words.

I'm very grateful for this experience and grateful that Peabody Institute brought me in to collaborate on this gigantic masterpiece that Don Giovanni is: it's unbelievable to think what we achieved and I'm very proud of the work we all have done together, working as a team and enjoying every moment.

What else can I say: I LOVE YOU ALL!!!!!!

Ciao,

Leo










2 comments:

Jeffrey Martin said...

WE LOVED YOU TOO. What a tremendous experience it was to work with you.


Love,
Your Leporello

Christa said...

Gorgeous!