Opera Blog, part 5

Thursday afternoon. We ran through the opera last night. Let’s just say: 1. We made it without having to stop. 2. Mistakes were made. But mistakes are always made. It is live music, and it is never perfect.

An interesting daily pattern is emerging. We rehearse on our own in the morning at our house. We are reading through student compositions on Saturday, as we frequently do at university residencies. We have another week next month in Buffalo, also with a reading of student pieces. So we have lots of reading to do (we call it reading, though you might call it playing through).

In the afternoon and early evening, we work on the opera.

In the later evening, we return to the house and watch DVD’s of rock bands. The first night was devoted to Yes and Gentle Giant. Last night was The Who. Tonight, more The Who (Tommy, complete), and tomorrow will be Led Zeppelin. Different worlds from our own, yet really similar. The level of execution in those bands is extraordinary. We heard an interview with Roger Daltry in which he was asked why The Who would destroy their instruments at the end of the concert. Answer: it was theater, it was what the fans expected. Same reason orchestras wear tuxedos (and don’t destroy their instruments). These bands were trying to develop a following, just as the Meridian Arts Ensemble is doing, or the New York Philharmonic.

Back to Lotus Lives (our opera). A lot of rehearsing is really a process of familiarization. If we know the music, know what is coming up, anticipate every change of tempo and mood, know who we are playing with and who not, we will be equipped to give a good performance. So, even though we are ostensibly rehearsing this or that number in the opera, we are really essentially memorizing the piece. To give a frightening example of this, I have performed Phantom of the Opera hundreds of times. At every turn of the page, I know exactly what is coming on the next page (4 bars of rest, then play middle C whole note muted mezzo forte with an accent, say). I can play the show with absolute comfort, just because I always know what to expect. In Lotus Lives, we are building expectations for ourselves. Right now, we’re still not sure what is coming next.

This afternoon, we are rehearsing the skit that is a small section of the opera. We all (the brass players) have lines, which is terrifying. The director is coming, and we hope he’ll make us not feel like morons.

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