Thursday, August 14, 2008

NOTES From Friday, August 1st, 2008

After staying up late to pack up my Fiesta Room at the Bobcat Inn, I slept little and woke up out of sorts at an all too early hour. While my assistant back in the Eastern Time zone, two hours ahead of the New Mexican time zone, was earnest in her desire to get work done on a Friday morning, her early call did nothing to clear my head. An hour later, at 8:30am MST, I was enjoying a fresh cup of Amy’s brewed coffee and more wafting smells of grilled bacon. I kept the breakfast repose light this morning because I have a 10:00am meeting with an agent friend, Ana de Archuleta, at the Tesuque Market, just down the hill from the opera house. Shaded from the bright morning sun, Tesuque maintains its hidden charms as a favorite breakfast or lunch escape for meetings. Following a cup of good joe and a great plate of American Fries, Ana and I wrapped up some quick business and proceeded back up the hill for the second day of the Santa Fe Opera Apprentice Auditions.

Now for a couple of thoughts on last night’s performance of Benjamin Britten’s Billy Budd. Having gathered a strong cast for this production, one of Britten’s most tragically intense opera’s, Santa Fe Opera baited our anticipation as they sought to make their mark on this powerful and complex composition. The cast, led by the lyric baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes, and joined by Richard Stilwell, Timothy Nolen, John Stevens and William Burden, absorbed their roles and created the ensemble necessary to manifest the tension in the relationships that fatefully move the conflict forward. They didn’t perform Britten’s masterful score as much as they became willing partners with the music, losing themselves in the passion and drama, in such a complete manner that pulled the audience into the fray. All onstage, including the accurately prepared men’s chorus, deserved the ovation they received at the end of the performance.

I finished the auditions on Friday a little after one, offered several surprises, particularly with the baritones. I headed back to Santa Fe for lunch with my dear friends, David and Lucy, at the Santa Fe Bar and Grill, which serves a wonderful southwestern Cobb Salad and the best grilled cheese sandwich. If you go, get a table outside, under the shade of the canopy. This keeps you and your guests comfortably cool while enjoying a sun-filled Santa Fe afternoon. I first met David and Lucy when I worked with their son (and now Director of Production of Kentucky Opera) at Opera Theatre St. Louis in the mid-nineties. Beyond his passion for opera, David, the elder, has developed an artist’s eye for photography and is rapidly developing an impressive portfolio of his travels with Lucy and his archival production shots for his beloved Opera Theatre St. Louis. We are fortunate to have him join us in Louisville this fall to photograph the Brown-Forman 2008 Fall Season productions. Although we had minor business/travel arrangements to discuss at lunch, the bulk of our lunch-time conversation consisted of dear friends catching up in a far-off land not overwhelmed with humidity or the Ohio River Valley mold count. David and Lucy also have a residence in St. Louis, with the Mississippi River feeding an equally high mold count for them. No wonder they spend their late summers enjoying the dry mountain air in Santa Fe.

Later in the afternoon, I met up again with my friend, Franco, to set off into the hills above Santa Fe for a much appreciated hike. Another of the rich pleasures of northern New Mexico is the abundance of mountain trails, some rugged and best reserved for the experienced adventurer and some tailor made for a brief escape away and a quiet conversation with a friend. This particular series of trails is just off Bishops Lodge Road overlooking the north side of Santa Fe and Highway 84/285, which heads to Taos, Los Alamos and my favorite hide-a-away, Tesuque. Within minutes we were at the trail head and hiking up to a beautiful overlook of the city, as well as the valley stretching to the south. Both Frank and I were impressed with the solitude offered by the relatively short trek up into the hills while we reflected on the intense vistas of the ever expanding city below us. In a brief hour our sturdy pace led us back to our rental car and we were driving back, refreshed and ready for another night at the opera.

While much could be said about Friday evening’s production of Handel’s Radamisto, controversial it was not. Vocally, one could describe it as stellar fireworks with countertenor David Daniels exceeding all expectation in the title role and supported by a truly exceptional cast of unparalleled vocal beauty. This writer would be remiss toward the tremendous talent in this production if I left unmentioned all onstage rose to challenge Mr. Daniels’ pure artistry in the act one, including: Lucas Pisaroni as Tiridate, Heidi Stober as Tigrane, Laura Claycomb as Polissena, young bass Kevin Murphy as Farasmane and finally, mezzo Deborah Domanski, a sudden replacement in the role of Zenobia. Kudos to all. One final comment about the evening’s event: the stage director of this production has a reputation in the industry for being unconventional, perhaps at times controversial, but certainly, no one would expect to see the usual in his work. That said, I was disappointed in how unemotionally moved I was throughout the first act of this production, neither connecting with the dramatic intent nor repelling from a contentious interpretation. It just wasn’t, and in that, I felt satisfied in having experienced an incredible performance of baroque opera by an exceptional group of artists, and headed out for a nightcap of Woodford on the rocks.

Photo: by Garry Smith, Seattle Opera's Billy Budd

Posted by David

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