Monthly Archives: April 2013

Paul’s Case Makes a Case for Small Opera

I started to write a formal review of the opera I saw over the weekend, with everything a reviewer should say about the music, the staging, the singing and acting, and then I stopped and deleted it because if that’s what you want then you can read the Washington Post.

Paul's Case

What I really want to say is what I’m starting to find so appealing about compact opera.

The opera was Paul’s Case, the latest production from DC opera start-up Urban Arias, whose slogan is “Opera.  Short.  New.”  I had seen one of their earlier productions which, frankly, left me less than impressed, but I’m glad I gave the company a second chance, becuase this world premier opera by Gregory Spears proved just how big opera can get when you keep it small.

Here are some things that I liked about Paul’s Case:

  • The way it was staged on a sort of runway through the center of Artisphere’s black box theater, with the audience seated on either side added a dimension of Hunger Games style voyeurism.  You see the faces of your fellow audience members across the room as you all watch the title character burn hot and fast and, ultimately, up.
  • Three women play three of Paul’s teachers, as well as three maids in the Waldorf Astoria, and also a sort of Greek chorus setting the stage, commenting on the action, and creating the train whistle effect which is integral to the story.  They are  a sort of jury in Act 1, then accessory to the crime and perhaps even executioner in Act 2.
  • The singing was very good, but not at the expense of anything else.
  • The sparse set which included just a few pieces of furniture and a series of industrial looking lamps which hung low over the performers heads lent a sense of practical frugality which contrasted with Paul’s longing for a life of art, beauty and pleasure.  And, I expect, kept Urban Aria’s budget small which brings me to my final point:

In a world where there is sadly too little arts funding to go around, opera companies should be following Urban Arias lead in doing more with less.  By choosing to perform new works, they are helping to perpetuate what too many journalists keep calling a dated or dying art.  They are providing a service to the community by keeping ticket prices low.  They are employing young, and up and coming performers.

And one more thing, it’s something I’ve noticed every time I’ve attended a performance of this kind, the small audience was utterly engaged.  People don’t buy tickets to an event like this so that they can be noticed by the Washington elite, or to impress  their new girlfriends.  They don’t show up because they feel like they ought to like Verdi in order to be respected by their fellow intellectuals.

People who come to shows like the ones being produced by Urban Arias do so because they love art.  They want to see what new idea is being presented and how, and they might love it and they might hate it or they might find it sort of lukewarm, but they are there and they are watching and listening with their whole minds and they are discussing it over drinks afterward.

Isn’t that the sort of audience we really want?

The Album I Can’t Stop Listening To

Ok, as usual, I’m a little late to the party on this one.  I recently discovered that there is more to the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ouvre than the popular Thrift Shop.  I seriously can’t stop listening to their album The Heist.

Now, my knowledge of hip hop (I don’t even know if it’s supposed to be hyphenated or not?) goes just an inch beyond none, so I can’t really speak to the quality of the album or Macklemore’s rapping skills.  What I like about it is the way it paints a picture of the life of the struggling artist that I, as a struggling artist myslef, find wonderfully relatable and encouraging.  Even the very tongue-in-cheek Thrift Shop fits into this theme, as it addresses trying to look hip and edgy and current with very little money to spend.

The album opens with 10 Thousand Hours, an almost religious invocation whose titular hook references the concept popularized by Malcom Gladwell that it takes 10,000 hours of dilligent practice to master a skill.  Macklemore brags that after years of working toward his dream he finally has the priveledge of doing what he loves for a living, finally getting an “iTunes check,” and “payin’ rent.”

10 Thousand Hours moves right into a relentless, fast-driving anthem about the thrill of performing.  Mackemore’s lightning-fast rapping about letting “the stage lights shine on down,” and “giving it back to the people, spread it across the country,” and then the hook comes in:

“And we go back; this is the moment;
Tonight is the night; we’ll fight till its over.
So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us.”

That song makes me want to dance until I collapse.

There is a track about the strain the pursuit of success as a performer can put on a relationship, a track about refusing to compromise your art for money, a couple very candid tracks about dealing with addiction.

Then there’s Jimmy Levine, a tense, high-energy epic, reminiscent of Eminem’s Lose Yourself.  It tells the story of breaking into the office of a record label in order to demand an audience with the president.  It declares “All I ever dreamt about was makin’ it.  They ain’t givin it, I’m takin’ it.”  It ends with a little twist that I won’t spoil.

I listen to this album and I think, Yes!  I can put in my 10,000 hours, and I can make the sacrifices I need to make in order to achieve the life I want.  Macklemore dreamed of being a rapper.  He and Ryan Lewis independently produced an album that, as of this writing, has sold over 600,000 copies.

I dream of being an opera singer, and making my living on singing.  I dream of traveling from opera house to opera house, portraying heroines like Tosca, Norma, Minnie, Aida, maybe even Isolde or Sieglinde or Brunnhilde.  The Heist makes me feel like I’m just 7,000 or so hours away from that.

I’m back!

Oh dear.   It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything, hasn’t it?

I’ve been busy.  I was cast in a local production of Puccini’s Il Tabarro, and learning the role of Giorgetta and rehearsing for the show took up quite a bit of my time.  Here’s an exerpt from one of my performances:

And now I’m working with some friends on a concert of opera scenes and arias.  But stay tuned!  I’ve got lots of ideas for blog posts.  In the meanwhile, here’s a post I contributed to a blog I share with a few friends on our exploration of instrumental music.