Monday, November 14, 2005

ASO Part Three

[I reread this the other night, after posting, and realized that there are a lot of style/grammar/format changes that I would like to make. It was obvious to me that I had pieced the post together over several busy days and put it all together backstage with less than my full attention. Rather than change it, though, I'm going to leave it as is, as a reminder of how hard it can be to focus in these situations! Enjoy the bad writing...]

It’s been a wonderful few days of music and family, food and laughs. Busy though, and therefore, little time to post! I made it back to Atlanta with plenty of time to spare before Friday night’s concert. Afterwards, a few of us went to Fuego, an outstanding Spanish tapas restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel. We’ve been going there regularly since our first night here, and by now the waitresses recognize us! The food is good enough to warrant going back nearly every night, and even with another tapas restaurant two blocks down the road, we still keep going to Fuego.

On Friday and Saturday, there was a live band playing: a trio comprised of a Russian flamenco/Brazilian-style guitarist named Sasha, and two percussionists, a Puerto Rican called “Bam-Bam” and a 21-year-old Brazilian hotshot (the adorable Rafael). Bam-Bam is an old friend of Gonzalo, the head percussionist for Ainadamar and all around fabulous musician. It was so fun to watch him get up and jam with the band (only when officially invited, though); even though he’d never worked with them before, the music told them every thing they needed to know in order to work together seamlessly. So cool. Most of the music was more Brazilian than South American (Gonzo is from Venezuela), he was right there. I was even able to persuade him to dance with me a bit. (We had done a bit of salsa dancing in Santa Fe, and I wasn’t about to let him get away from this visit without cutting another rug!)

The performances were also interesting on Friday and Saturday. This is the first opera that I have performed many times and in many different productions. I have performed it now it four productions: the premiere at Tanglewood in 2003, with a student orchestra and Bob Spano; one concert performance with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 2004 (on my birthday!) with Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducting; the revised version at Santa Fe Opera, again with Miguel; and now, here with the Atlanta Symphony and Bob again at the helm. I am getting to see how a piece changes subtly (revisions notwithstanding) with each new orchestra, conductor, or cast. It’s still the same opera, but each production has a slightly different flavor. Hard to describe, but interesting to observe. I’ll be curious to watch the same affect with other operas that I perform frequently.

My vantage point in this production (far upstage, behind the percussion station, on a raised platform) allowed me to really study the orchestra and all the cool things going on. For example, there were snippets of melody (they’d be called “licks” in pop music; not sure if the same term applies for classical…) that I had heard several times before; they were the ones I usually left rehearsals humming. Being able to watch the orchestra, I could see that each of those melodies was passed around the sections, and it wasn’t simply repeated – it was inverted, fragmented, twisted and turned around, creating snakes of sound and rhythm. And such amazing things in the percussion section: a small gong bowed to create bone-chilling shrieks, the same gong half-submerged in a large bowl of water and gently struck with a marimba mallet, intricate “palmas,” or hand-clapping, passages, and the most beautiful marimba duet.

Many people have said that they feel this piece works better as a concert work, a dramatic oratorio, if you will, than it does as a staged opera. I think I agree, if only because the orchestra is so fascinating to watch. This form also allows for a larger chorus, fleshing out the sound of the wailing women in a way that is very powerful. I guess that’s possible in a staged version, too, but in concert, up on risers, the chorus is a bit removed from the action, allowing for a better focus on the heart of the story: Margarita and Lorca.

As I write this, I’m backstage at the evening recording session. And it’s almost time for me to get onstage, so I’ll write about the recording process later. Maybe tomorrow, but maybe not…

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