Classical Music Buzz > Wolf Trap Opera Company
Wolf Trap Opera Company
Kim Pensinger
The Future of Opera
139 Entries
Blogging continues at www.wolftrapopera.org/blog.  

See you there!
4 years ago | |
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I've been largely absent since the large blogorama season announce push a few weeks ago - my apologies.  But fear not, it's all for a good cause.  Not only are we pushing through mountains of paperwork to get the summer season fully prepared, contracted and documented, I am in the process of migrating this blog and the WTOC Hotspot to one location!  (Oh, and I'm trying to unearth my piano chops and learn Bastianello & Lucrezia...

Check back here in March for directions to to our new location!
4 years ago | |
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Tickets go on sale to the general public on March 13.For advance sales and priority handling, become a Wolf Trap member.
For show dates, casts, and other performance info, start here.

In celebration of the announcement of WTOC’s 2010 season, I am doing guest posts and interviews in various locations across the blogosphere. Find out more about us that you ever wanted to know by clicking through!

Participating blogs are listed below - links will become active throughout the day on February 9.



Overview is at Technology in the Arts. 

Where and How We Do What We Do

Focus on Repertoire
Marketing and Fundraising
Our Young Artists and their Careers
Interview Fun
WTOC Colleagues
4 years ago | |
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Thanks to our Best Opera Recording nomination for Volpone, we were in the slightly surreal and truly wonderful position of being able to attend last Sunday's GRAMMY festivities in LA, and I'd be remiss if I didn't file some sort of report.  So...

Wolfie Goes to LA!


80% of Success...

Yes, the classical music industry is marginalized, along with over 90% of the rest of the GRAMMY categories.  We joined our colleagues in jazz, R&B, country, world music and many other genres at the pre-telecast ceremony on Sunday afternoon.  Some of the bigger pop music names who were prepping for the evening telecast were unavoidably absent in the afternoon, but some of them (Taylor Swift, most notably) managed to make an appearance. 

And yes, it was Woody Allen who said that "80% of success is just showing up."  In such a scenario, we probably would've taken home the statue, for almost none of the other classical music nominees were there.  The winners sure weren't.  It's no secret that our part of the industry has a complicated relationship with the GRAMMYs, though.  We decided to attend because it really was an honor for us to be nominated, and we wanted to acknowledge that.  (And we figured there was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience to be had in the process :))  But after seeing how alone we were, we figured that the whole thing should work on a "must-be-present-to-win" premise, kind of like a door prize.  That way, if those folks from London and the Mariinsky and the Hague and the Netherlands couldn't show up, we'd get lucky!


And I Thought We Were a Niche Market...

It's amazing (even for someone like me who works for a presenting organization that covers many many genres) how many different kinds of music there are out there.  Electronica, gospel, alternative, R&B, rap, country, new age, jazz, Latin, Americana, traditional folk, Hawaiian, Native American, children's music, reggae, zydeco and more.  And the long tail is growing every day, even as the public face of the GRAMMYs (via the telecast) gets more and more mainstream.


Pink as Deus Ex Macchina

Speaking of the telecast, I thought that Pink's performance felt a lot like the early days of opera must have.  The atmosphere at the Staples Center that night bore a lot of similarities to what we know of 18th-century opera.  Lots of people socializing during the boring parts, only paying attention when the famous acts are on stage, watching highly sexualized performances by big name stars, some of which fly in from the sky and make the audience gasp.  Sadly, the GRAMMY folks don't agree, because the two tips of the hat given to opera that night were in the form of a stereotype-reinforcing setup to the rap number and a weird presenting assignment to Placido.


The WT Contingent, Post-Ceremony

Behind... er... Above the Scenes
or
In the Gallery with No Peanuts

Attending as representatives of the record label (Wolf Trap Recordings), we were lowest of the low on the totem pole.  We sat in the nosebleed section of the arena, which had its pros and cons.

On the plus side, we had a bird's-eye view of scene shifts and changeovers (during the commercial breaks), and it was comforting in a Schadenfreude sort of way to see that the big boys screw things up occasionally, too.

On the other hand, if you have to sit for 7.5 hours of ceremonies with only one 30-minute break (1:00-4:15 and 4:45-8:30), someone should at least be going up and down the aisles with peanuts and hot dogs...


While It Was Snowing Back Home...


...we enjoyed the always-generous hospitality of friends in Malibu, with long walks on the beach in sunny 70-degree skies.

And now that our 15 minutes of fame are over, we're back at our desks, getting ready to announce our summer season next week - see you then!
4 years ago | |
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Quick post from my phone to congratulate the LSO and our Billy Budd colleagues on the Grammy win.

We were and are honored to be in such amazing company!

Now, on to the big evening ceremony. Let the fun begin!
4 years ago | |
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We have the great privilege of going to LA for the GRAMMYs this weekend!  The Volpone recording nomination (one of 5 in the category of Best Opera Recording) meant that Wolf Trap, as the record label, was able to get a few tickets for the ceremonies.  (GRAMMYs are for artists on the recording, and even though we commissioned and premiered this work, then produced and distributed it on our label, we're sort of just hangers-on:))  So we're going to go and celebrate.  We're not particularly good at strutting our stuff (we tend to fly under the radar and plug along), but we shall try!

I've always thought that the words "It was just an honor to be nominated" were 1) a way of being gracious when you won or 2) an attempt at not feeling bad because you lost.  But I am here before you now to witness that it is possible to say it and mean it.

I am proud to bursting of our little company and our maiden voyage in the recording world.  And I think that it's amazing - almost inconceivable, actually - that we did it so well on a wing, a prayer, and very little money.  But at the same time, I don't think there's even a remote chance that we will win.  (In case you don't already know, I am the Queen of Low Expectations.  It's a way of life and a title I bear proudly.)

Yes, we did good.  But to believe that we bested the LSO, or Ian Bostridge & Nathan Gunn, or Valery Gergiev, or the Hague Philharmonic etc etc, well, that's more hubris than I can typically muster. 

But see, the thing is that it really doesn't matter. The recognition that comes from this nomination will pay off in so many ways, and I intend to celebrate that.  I want to go to LA and be so proud that someone somewhere thought we belonged with the big boys.  I want to celebrate that we didn't give up on the idiotically rocky road to completion of this project.  There shall be people-watching and beach-walking and general jubilation.

So there.

January is WTOC Alumni Month

Oh, and just in case you were wondering, 2 of the other 4 nominees in our category feature Wolf Trap alumni (Nathan Gunn, Billy Budd; Charles Workman, Marco Polo)!
4 years ago | |
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Special (Merriam-Webster): distinguished by some unusual quality.

Life's a Pitch just finished a week hosting a virtual panel on when and how artists, managers, journalists, presenters and publicists single out musicians for being "special" in their promotion and career-building efforts.  Amanda's summary of the posts by her 4 guest bloggers is here.

I hesitate to spend most of an entire blog post regurgitating other writers' material, but this is worth it.  Great food for thought for musicians, presenters, and music lovers of all stripes.  If you need more motivation to click through, some highlights:

Jonathan Biss (our Wolf Trap Debut Artist from 1997!) writes that "Traditionalism is big in classical music, of course, meaning that there's a lot of knee-jerk "this is the way to do it because this is the way it's always been done." ("It" could be any number of things - from questions of musical style, to programming, to concert attire, and on and on.)  But recently I've heard a lot of the marketing-driven opposite, which seems equally knee-jerk to me: "this has never been done before, and therefore it is relevant and interesting.""

Michael Kondziolka at University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, Michigan says that "yes, hooks are fine and human interest angles (sometimes) riveting...but, never a substitute for convincing music making that reveals some truth or provocation embedded within, some kind of technical accomplishment, or, maybe, some hint at a shared humanity... Actually, the more I think about it, if one can be certain that the players will hit the accomplishment quotient, then human interest hooks are actually welcome in my book.  And we shouldn't be afraid of them or feel that they somehow cheapen the artist's integrity.  (Please.)  Any information sharing or story telling that aids, abets, or heightens a sense of empathy between performer and listener - whether artistic, human, spiritual - has to be a good thing.  Right?  Live concert performances must, after all, traffic in empathy."

Matthew Guerrieri of Soho the Dog weighs in: "On the other hand, I personally find assertions of specialness within the concert presentation itself--spoken explanations, multimedia elements, &c.--to be often more annoying and distracting than anything. I've seen it done well, but only rarely; it's harder than it looks, and it takes just as much (if not more) preparation as the music. If there's absolute commitment on the part of the performer(s), if they really believe in whatever high concept they've come up with, I can happily go along for the ride, even if, in the end, I don't quite buy it."

It all rings so true.  But more than that, what makes me squirm is that it all seems born of desperation.  Is it existential fear that something we all value might be lost in an era that values data and speed above all else?  Is it actual panic because artists and those who promote them are slowing being pushed to the edge of extinction?  Of course, it's both.

We can all tell the difference between an artist who makes connections to his audience (verbal and otherwise) because he is compelled to communicate with every fiber of his being and an artist who does so because a manager or a presenter dictates that it's now part of the required dog-and-pony show. 

On the topic of "special" added-value elements, well, how about this comment at the bottom of Mr. Biss's post?

Comment:
Let's make this really, brutally simple.
The only things we need today to have a "life-altering" musical experience is a good surround sound system, a CD/mp3 player and a Blue Ray DVD system.
Constant concerts by 100s of symphony orchestras or other groups, 90% of which are repeats of trite, old repertoire or newly composed self-indulgent idiocy are economically and artistically unnecessary in a digital recording era. The average US concert hall monstrosity doesn't produce the sound quality in most seats that a car stereo would.
Innovation? Find an equivalent for classical music of what Cirque de soleil has been for the three-ring circus. Until that happens, good luck getting audiences into concert halls.
Chew on that a while. (And let's assume that the comment is legit, rather than satirical. I wouldn't be surprised to hear this from The Man on the Street, but I guess the fact that it appears as a comment on a blog that would appear to be primarily read by "believers" is a little stunning.)

Will we find the equivalent of which the writer speaks?  Should we try?  For if we succeed, the goal is going to shift significantly while we're at it.

Back to the definition at the top of this post (special: distinguished by some unusual quality): as we compete for our part of the pie, we are struggling with what "unusual" means.  Clearly, we (opera, symphony, ballet, even jazz now...) are unusual.  Always have been.  Always will be.  We want to be special, but now we desire that our "unusual" qualities are more and more palatable to the mainstream.  I'm back to my take on Seth Godin's passion-pop gulf, hoping that our ministrations don't take us to the trough of the graph.

[P.S. The fact that I spent the weekend reading The Black Swan has set me up for a rocky Monday at the office.  Sorry to bring you along for the ride!]
4 years ago | |
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Brain Drain.

All sorts of things interfering with blogging.  This week included a trip to New York for preparations for our upcoming workshop of Musto & Campbells Inspector opera.  And the little remaining office time was clouded by fumbling attempts at writing marketing copy for our 2010 shows. (You'd think that struggling with Twitter would have given me some practice at being simultaneously clear, intriguing, detailed, and entertaining in 140 characters.  But it seems to have just made me dumb and inarticulate.)

The other clog comes from struggling to write a post on the recent Pro-Am discussion that's been going on at various places on the interwebs.  I'm fascinated by this subject, and I'm of at least three different minds on it.  I have written and rewritten a blog post on it so many times that I could've filed a dissertation by now.  Sadly, little of it is coherent. 

So, if it intrigues you, here's the pertinent linkage.  Take a few minutes to read and discuss, and I promise I'll be back shortly with some sort of take on it!

Newsweek's Welcome to Amateur Hour

The Mission Paradox on Creating Scarcity
On one hand it is easier then ever for work to be created and if you believe (like I do) that a world with more art is a good thing . . . then that's a good thing. On the other hand, this incredible increase in both the number of artistic producers and the amount of artistic content has made it much more difficult for any individual artist to make a living through their art.

Butts in the Seats on Outsourcing Creativity to the Rich
...as people acquire competence and are willing to perform a task for less money, or have the resources where they don’t care about their losses, starving artists ended up starving more.

Create Equity on Arts and Sustainability
If the only way to earn money is through exposure, and the only way to get exposure is to spend thousands of hours making (and marketing) art that you could otherwise spend earning money, the people who need to earn money now are at a major, perhaps definitive, disadvantage. As a result, over time, you would expect to see more and more people who were lucky enough to have a cushion early in their careers (if not on an ongoing basis) persist to become professional artists, and fewer and fewer who have had to do it completely on their own.


January is Alumni Month

I love productions that contain a critical mass of Trappers.  Last summer's Huguenots at Bard Summerscape came up in a conversation yesterday.  7 alums, representing two decades of WTOC excellence :)


Marguerite de Valois:  Erin Morley
Valentine:  Alexandra Deshorties
Urbain: Marie Lenormand
Count de Nevers: Andrew Schroeder
Marcel: Peter Volpe
Count de Saint-Bris: John Marcus Bindel
Tavannes: Jason Ferrante

And, in the Canadian Opera Company's announcement of their 2010-2011 season, we discovered this fabulous pairing in Cenerentola!

Don Ramiro: Lawrence Brownlee
Angelina: Elizabeth DeShong

We'll stop only at total world domination.
4 years ago | |
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I just got back from hearing dozens of aspiring young singers in the North Carolina district auditions of the Metropolitan Opera National Council.  As is typical, I am equal parts exhausted and energized.

And, as is typical, I had the following post-competition discussion with a number of audience members.

Patron: It must've been such a difficult job to decide how to pick the winners.
Kim: Indeed, it was - they were a talented bunch!
Patron:  I made my own list of winners, and I only have one question.
Kim: Yes?
Patron: What were you thinking?

OK, paraphrased, but you get the idea.  It happens again and again, and it never surprises me.  And it's usually not confrontational but is born of true curiosity about the judging panel process.

Most of these MONC spectators are seasoned opera-goers and true lovers of the voice. And as such, they usually have pretty good taste.  They know when something is out of kilter, and they know when they are truly engaged and excited by a voice.  The kicker is that sometimes we don't choose some of the singers for whom the audience had the most enthusiasm.  Why?

It's too complicated a question to answer in an exhaustive fashion, but in short, we're looking for singers whose profile (as demonstrated on this particular day at this particular moment) indicates that they possess the particular tools to distinguish themselves within their particular voice type.  Being a compelling performer is part of it, to be sure.  But having the vocal equipment and potential to rise above the norm as a coloratura soprano or lyric tenor or basso profondo or dramatic mezzo, etc. (random examples) is what matters.  If you can't nail the exact requirements for whichever voice type you seem to be best suited (highest and lowest notes, ability to project in certain registers, flexibility and agility of the voice, etc), you will have a difficult time getting hired.

We have to take this into consideration, for the Met is looking for career potential.  But singers in their 20's are so often (rightly so) in development and/or transition, and many of them don't yet know what they "are" - which box they best fit inside.  (Of course, some of the best singers of all time didn't fit in a box at all, but you'll have a hard time selling that concept if you're a 20-something opera singer in America...)  And every single person that comes into contact with young singers has a different opinion.  It's a recipe for extreme confusion.  Nevertheless, in order to figure out which singers should advance, panels have to grapple with the implications of it.

So, if you're in the audience for one of these events, and your scorecard doesn't line up with the panel's, don't despair. 

First of all, you might be right and they might be wrong.  We do our level best, on the basis of decades of experience, but we are not infallible. 

Second, the judges may have had the same positive gut reaction as you, but were responding to details of the voice and its development that would indicate that it might not be optimal yet to send a particular singer on to the next level of the competition.

Fortunately, there are many opportunities for young singers to be heard - in various competitions, in auditions for young artist programs, in performance in conservatory and university.   Even the most amazing singers don't always win, and everyone has off days.  But over time, talent will out. 
4 years ago | |
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If you haven't yet read Byron Janis's recent article in the Wall Street Journal, go here.


I am at my happiest when sight-reading music, but never really bothered to articulate why.  I suspected that it had a good deal to do with being too lazy to practice.  So I felt completely understood (and vindicated!) when I read this paragraph:

Thinking is creativity's worst enemy. When I first sight-read a score, everything seems so right, so natural. The notes seem to be playing themselves and the music flows. Why? Because I am not thinking. Inspiration has been my guide—the adventure of a first time. Then comes familiarization, the learning process where, until the piece is well in hand, thinking is allowed. After that, interpretation—choices must be made, but you are finally free to feel and use your creative instincts. And, at last, creation—how do I make the music sound as it did when I didn't know it? The great poet Yeats spoke of this dilemma so beautifully in his poem "Adam's Curse":

Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Before the heart can remember, the mind must forget. And, when I least expect to, I will suddenly start playing that piece, again without thinking, as I did in the beginning when I first sight-read it. That is when it happens—I have finally discovered my "moment's thought."

 Actually, we are thinking when we are in this particular frame of mind.  But it has so little to do with the way our minds usually churn that we don't recognize it.


What Mr. Janis has to say about the unscientific nature of tempi reminded me how much I adored fellow pianist Jeremy Denk's recent blog entry: Whose Brahms?  (This link is longer and of a very different nature, but is particularly rewarding for the data geeks among us.)

He says that "tempo is more dangerous than an illusion, it is a kind of myth promulgated by all sorts of fascist types in order to destroy the natural and beautiful cycles of PDT [Perceived Desired Tempo] that are native to the human freedom instinct. The next time a conductor asks me “why are you moving so much faster here?,” referring to some passage X of a concerto, I will simply say “natural variability of sunspots,” and when the conductor says “that’s ridiculous,” I will say “you can’t prove to me it’s NOT sunspots.” I’m sure this will go over very well."

Tempo is so intertwined with heartbeat and breathing that to will it to be scientific is not only delusional, it's cruel.  The tension between the hard cold data of music (frequency, amplitude, waveform) and how it emerges from our bodies and our minds is the essence of why we care about art at all.


Heading to North Carolina in the morning to judge Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.  Have a great weekend!
4 years ago | |
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