Tag Archives: uao

Poetry Break

I am currently working on the supertitles for Union Avenue Opera’s 20th anniversary season. For those unfamiliar, supertitles are the live version of subtitles. The opera’s words/English translations are projected above or next to the stage so the audience can more specifically understand what’s going on during the performance. Creating PowerPoint presentations of these lengthy libretti (the words of an opera) can be tedious, but sometimes I get to do Google searches to inform my titles.  Today’s search started because Blanche and Mitch are quoting something in the 3rd scene of Act I of A Streetcar Named Desire by  André Previn. “And, if God choose, I shall but love you better after Death.” Sounds familiar, but what is it?

And for a moment, I am transported back to English class and am looking at a poem I’ve heard a million times. Today, however, I’m reading it at my own pace and because I want to read it. Sometimes we all need a poetry break.

How do I love thee?
Snagged from http://www.poets.org/

Say it again

My friend who is pregnant for the first time excitedly told me a few weeks ago that she’s experiencing everything in a new way. I was kind of jealous.  It’s fun to experience life differently.  I think it wards off complacency.  With the coming Spring and my artistic pursuits, though, I guess I shouldn’t be jealous.  As it turns out, I’ve been noticing things too.

Actors and directors are always talking about listening, which is funny because half the time conductors are telling you NOT to listen.  If you do, you’re likely to fall behind the orchestra and the music falls apart and the conductor makes faces.  In non-singing theatre, in order to really engage on stage, you need to be listening to your scene partners and let your lines fall naturally.  Acting 101.  Well, I swear I’ve been listening, but every once in a while, I hear something I’ve heard a million times in a completely new way.  Like a pregnant lady, I guess, without the expectation.

We performed The Glass Menagerie last Friday for about 100 high school students.  I’m playing Laura.  As a few of the lines came out of our mouths, I felt the profundity of them for the first time: “Say, you finished high school?” my Gentleman Caller asked.  “I made bad grades on my final exams,” I said.  “You mean you dropped out?”  I stopped, “I never went back.”  Wham.  Tennessee Williams wants you all to stay in school.  Did you hear that, students?  Oh, I hope they heard it the way I did that day.

I’ve been listening differently, too, in the context of the various projects I’ve been working on simultaneously.  Some Union Avenue Opera folks and I were at an elementary school performing Little Red Riding Hood the other day, and as we started singing, I realized that Little Red’s mother says a lot of the same things that Laura’s mom says in The Glass Menagerie.  Fortunately for her, Little Red makes out better than poor Laura.  And every time the Gentleman Caller tells Laura that “being different is nothing to be ashamed of,” I think of sweet, sweet Ferdinand who discovers the very same thing in UAO’s other children’s opera, Carmen and the Bull.  He makes out better than her, too.

My parents heard my brother sing with the Atlanta Symphony Chorus last weekend.  It was Bach.  They  found it fascinating that Bach would write an aria that lasts 8 minutes, but only has 2 lines of text.  Why sing the same 2 lines over and over again for 8 minutes?

Maybe Bach wants us to sing and hear the same words in a new way each time, too.

See how the glass shines?
The Glass Menagerie at Insight Theatre Company. Photo © John Lamb.

Cinderellas for hire

We’ve performed this show a couple of times now, once at Old Warson Country Club, and once as a house concert for 60 Union Avenue Opera patrons.  Our little story has taken on a life of its own, and we’re ready to share it again and again and again.

What’s not to love about 5 completely different Cinderellas?  One is sassy, the next a little dumb (actually, a lot dumb). There’s the overthinker, the mopey one (she’s French, of course) and let’s not forget the most important–the romantic Cinderella (she had her wedding planned long, long ago).

Oh, sweet Prince, what to do with this bevy of beautiful maidens?


There’s a quote of Martha Graham’s in “The Art of Possibility” that I wrote down a while ago.  It sits in my stage make-up box.  I read it before every performance.

There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.  And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.  The world will not have it.  It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions.  It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.

I sat down earlier today to write a brief synopsis of “Carmen and the Bull,” a little children’s opera that I created for Union Avenue Opera’s educational programs with Springboard St. Louis.  In the middle of writing the summary, it occurred to me that the heart of that quote was all over my silly made-up opera lyrics.  Little Ferdinand and his new friends spend a lot of time understanding and fully appreciating what it is to be unique…and, though they use other words, they are definitely “keeping the channel open.”

Maybe not so silly after all.  Thanks, Martha.

Carmen and the Bull
Okay, maybe a little silly

Turning heads

I spent a few days earlier this week visiting dear Chicagoland friends.  We had the week off in between Pirates of Penzance performances, and there was a newborn baby to see.  Friends are a strong lure, but a baby, well, she has pull.  After a couple of days with the new parents and child, I can honestly say that no one turns heads like a stretching, yawning, sleeping 8-pound girl.

It’s true that I observed heads turning all the time in Italy last month.  Italian men don’t apologize for turning and looking, much to the delight of the married-with-children women on our choir trip, but it’s not like that here in the States (except in locales that I don’t frequent.)

And yes, heads turn with (mostly) great precision on UAO’s set of Pirates.  Even if a chorus member turns his head at the wrong time, he must do so with conviction.  A crisp head-turn on the wrong beat is better than a slow and sloppy one at the right time.  There’s not time for apologies.

The only time I see heads boldly turn stateside, and not involving jazz squares, is when there’s a newborn involved.  I saw it on the L, in a busy restaurant downtown, at a coffee shop in Oak Park, on a bench by the Chicago river.  No apology necessary for staring and smiling at a baby girl who’s been kicking outside the womb for a mere 6 weeks.

Occasionally when I’m away midweek, I feel like I need to have an excuse for why I’m not at home and working.  Everyone else is, so shouldn’t I?  Never mind that I am working all weekend and that I miss important events during the year because I have nighttime rehearsals, Christmas Eve services, and non-negotiable performance dates.  Yet, thanks in part to all of the hardworking professionals around me, I feel like I should be at home and working.

This week, however, that little baby taught me to let go of the apologies, turn my head with conviction, and enjoy the free time on a Monday and Tuesday that lets me stop and stare and smile.

The maidens who fear pirates, right before a big head-turn.
Photo by Ron Lindsey

Reading, writing and art

This morning, I took a break from contemplating the ups and downs of the operatic rehearsal process, and popped on-line.  I quickly found myself reading the New York Times Magazine article about David Mitchell.  How I ended up there, I’m not sure.  My book club read his “Cloud Atlas” many, many months ago, and it sparked a good conversation.  This morning, the author’s name caught my eye.

I love that reading inspires writing.  Mitchell suggests that all the reading he did as a kid made him a writer.  Reading about him made me want to finally finish a post that I started writing a couple of weeks ago.  It’s akin to wanting to hit a practice room after attending a great performance, I figure.

The bit that suddenly jumped off my computer screen (and made me happy to have read the entire article instead of the first couple of pages) was Mitchell’s quote,

“I’m interested in human mud because, as you age, your life gets muddier. As an artist I think you realize that’s where art is art. I can only say it in very simple terms because it’s a very simple thing: art is about people, it’s not about experimentation.”

I admit that I had been dragging my feet on posting a post-Italy trip post because I couldn’t quite find my way into it.  I had all of these ideas about art reflecting life, and life reflecting art, and art reflecting art, but then David Mitchell had to announce that I was making things too complicated.  Art is about people.

The Caravaggio exhibit at the Pitti Palace in Florence then, is that about people?

A couple of weeks ago, I was standing in that exhibit, in the Medici’s old house, listening to a lot of strangers commenting to each other in various languages, all looking at the same 17th century artwork.  Yes, art is about bringing people together.

This particular exhibit highlights the aptly labeled “caravaggeschi,” the artists who were greatly influenced by the one great artist (who was, I can’t help but emphasize, influenced by other great artists).  Yes, art is also about the people who create it.

The paintings themselves are clearly of people: Biblical scenes, political figures, pretty faces…I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw Caravaggio’s Tooth Puller.  Definitely about people.

My favorite part about that painting appeared the next day in the Santa Maria Novella train station.  I was guarding backpacks and suitcases while my travel buddy grabbed some provisions.  Guarding backpacks and suitcases in a busy train station affords ample time for people watching (art!), which is half the fun of traveling.  A little girl walked back and forth with her mom, panino in hand, then mouth, then hand, then mouth.  Suddenly, she yelped something of an Italian barbaric yelp, and before a second had passed, her mother’s hand, armed with a napkin, took the place of that panino and pulled out a tooth.  The girl was jumping at that point.  No grimace of Caravaggio’s Tooth Pull-ed, but a holey smile of straight up happiness.

Art reflecting life?  Life reflecting art?

Sunday night, some friends hosted a fundraiser for Union Avenue Opera on a rooftop downtown.  Yes, there was some singing in English, Italian and French.  There were flimsy swords, impromptu dance moves, scary pirates, sirens blaring, winds a-blowing, dogs barking, and napkins flying.  Most importantly though, the roof was filled with a lot of people having a good time.  How artistic.

Pirates on Deck!

Scary pirates in collared shirts. Frightened damsels in dresses.
Photo by Dana Stone, UAO administrator extraordinaire.