I'm working this month with Opera Southwest, playing piano for their rehearsal process. Our endeavor is Bless Me, Ultima, a new opera by Héctor Armienta; the source novel is a classic of New Mexican literature. Since I have more experience in the trenches with music theater, the question often presents itself: do we really need to sing *everything*? Wouldn't it make sense to talk through some of this setup business, making our introductions, getting people from room to room, and save the singing for when the pitchforks and torches come out? But having my hands and ears inside this new work, feeling my way through it with a crew of professionals who live and breathe in this style, I'm starting to realize that singing everything is the whole game of it. That's the challenge. We're not starting from naturalism and dovetailing with artifice—we're starting from artifice and striving toward naturalism. The one's bread, the other's the jam. It's a question of ratios.
Anyway, as with music theater, I like the intensity of the process. And more than music theater, I like the demands this playing makes on my concentration. Rolling through a whole act of music with the singers, no stopping, no sitting and reading a novel through long scenes of spoken exposition about witches (though a person can only admire Cyd Charisse's waxen stare in the movie version), with all the changes and shifts of the score, that's a good challenge.
Because people make too many sports metaphors about concert performance and not enough about opera, here's one: in rehearsal, the conductor is the pitcher, and the répétiteur (my job) is the catcher. Between the two, you've got to try and control the diamond.
10 Best of 2014
January: Wyoming and the Open
February: New Mexico and the Holes
Notes on The Accounts