Saturday, April 25

musical memories

So, a little background.

Back in 1995, when I was a college student, I spent a summer interning at Glimmerglass Opera. I was on the stage crew, along with 6 other interns. Glimmerglass is a professional summer company that runs in rep, meaning that every day they do a different opera. The summer I was there we did 4 operas, all appealing to very different tastes: Don Giovanni (Mozart), Paul Bunyan (obscure 20th century Britten), Yeomen of the Guard (Gilbert & Sullivan) and Tamerlano (Baroque/Handel).

This experience was huge: it confirmed that I wanted to spent my life doing theater. Everything there was exciting, new and big.

And I also formed a very important friendship with Joanna (aka Jojo, though at the beginning of the summer she was still Joanna). She and I were the only women in a group of rowdy and somewhat lewd college boys. (To be fair, there were some women on the crew, but they were not interns and therefore had more responsibility than us.) Neither of us were particularly rowdy. Joanna had recently moved to the US, having transferred from a French university the year before. She had listened to all of the operas before she got there that summer, and during the operas she would let out a little sigh or coo every once in a while, when the music was particularly good.

She was also rather outgoing, and became friendly with some of Tamerlano cast. I remember us having breakfast with one of them at a coffee shop in downtown Cooperstown, and another time the soprano invited the crew (through Joanna, of course) to the house where she was staying for brunch.

Since we both were staying at the same residence, had similar work hours, and had only one car between us, we frequently went to work together or came home for lunch together or went grocery shopping together. Basically, we were inseparable.

The operas. In the case of this blog post, there is only one opera worth discussing: Tamerlano. I don't think I was at all familiar with Baroque opera before that summer, but I was blown away by it. So soft and lilting, so unexpectedly beautiful. As a crew member on Tamerlano, I spent the duration of the opera behind a very tall gold folding screen with 2 other crew members. At certain musical cues (once each act, I think), we moved the screen. Otherwise, we played cards or napped. On stage. I am serious.

There were two musical parts that we would wake up for and listen to intently. One was David Daniels' aria. The other was the show finale. I've found a YouTube clip of some other singers singing the finale and strangely they are wearing the same costumes as our production. (Looking at the credits, it has the same director, Jonathan Miller)It's not very long, and it is beautiful. Listen!

That fall, I went to study in Italy. My college had a very intensive, immersive junior year abroad program in Florence, where I studied art history and Italian language. It was very hard, especially going from Glimmerglass (where had I finally found people who loved the same things as I did) to a country where I barely spoke the language and didn't know anyone. How I got through that year is another post (and I did get through it, and loved it), but I have to stick to my story. Joanna (who had by then been nicknamed Jojo) sent me a ton of letters. Along with being a great friend, she knew about culture shock and she knew Europe; she understood what I was going through. And she sent me things, tapes of music she'd gotten out of the library: Purcell (Dido and Aeneas) and Bach (St Matthew Passion), to be exact. And I listened to them on my walkman, laying in on my bed writing letters or walking the Sede for class. The music was so surprisingly different from Handel (unfortunately I have little music education and have no way to discuss this. I can just tell you that is very modern to me.)

Years passed, and I stopped listening to my cassette tapes. I met Christopher, and was surprised when one day he put on the St Matthew Passion. Apparently when he was in a chorus in DC they sang it, and he loved it. He plays it regularly, and I always think of all of these things when he does.

A few weeks ago he sent me an email while I was at work. A staged version of the St Matthew Passion is being done at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and he wanted to get tickets. He had been listening to the director, Jonathan Miller, on the radio and it sounded really exciting. Jonathan Miller! The same guy who directed Tamerlano! St Matthew Passion! Needless to say, we got tickets to see it, and went last night.

It was beautiful. I guess the piece is usually performed as a choral work, very staid. Miller made it a little more dramatic, separating the two choruses and orchestras so that they each faced each other in a loose sort of circle, leaving the center open as a performing space and for the conductor. Musicians would enter the stage for solos as well, and everyone was in street clothes.

I found a YouTube clip of an older version of the production, and it just doesn't do it justice because I think the spacing is so important. I suppose you can hear the music though. It's interesting to me how connected I feel to this music. Listening to it last night brought back so many memories of different times in my life. Times that are pretty far in the past...


t does wool said...

beautiful piece...soothing for me this morning, your blog changes!!

Hilary said...

What beautiful reminiscing...thank you for sharing.

thorvalda said...

I'm at work and shouldn't be here.. but couldn't stop reading your post. Thanks for sharing!
I like the new look of your blog!

Mary Jane said...

what a great post!