My arrival at Indiana University, with its eight fully-staged productions a year, jump-started my interest in opera as an 18-year-old. Meeting and working with Margaret Harshaw cemented it, and I knew I wanted to work in that realm at least some of the time. But I also fear boredom and was reluctant to pursue a full-time job in an opera house because I didn’t want to do the same thing every day for the rest of my life.
This completely destroyed any real career trajectory I may have had in the opera world, but I still found it rewarding enough to learn over 60 complete operas, and scenes from dozens of others. I have always had a special affinity for the German repertoire, particularly Richard Strauss, Wagner, Korngold and Zemlinsky, but have great fondness for Czech and Spanish opera, too.
Over the years, I have been hired to prepare over 40 productions in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. Some professional and musical highlights:
Ariadne auf Naxos (R. Strauss), Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, Lisbon.
My first professional opera job was an Ariadne auf Naxos in Germany, and it’s the opera I’ve been hired to play more often than any other. (Runner-up: Salome.) It’s also, overall, my favorite Strauss opera. But as a free-lancer, one rarely gets to work with the kind of cast I got to work with in Lisbon in 1996: Anna Tomowa-Sintow was the luminous Ariadne, and Sumi Jo was the best Zerbinetta I’ve ever heard. (Oddly, I’ve worked with Sumi Jo three times… as a free-lancer. Go figure.)
Les Troyens (Berlioz), Teatro Nacional de São Carlos, Lisbon.
This is one amazing opera. I’m not sure I’ve ever had so much fun playing an opera score. Difficult for all involved, but more than worth the effort – an experience I’d love to have again sometime. Deborah Voigt was the big name in the cast, and it led, indirectly, to a recital I played with her a year later.
Wozzeck (Berg), Dallas Opera.
What a magnificent work to immerse oneself in for a month or so – a magnificence that defies description. Having this opera under my belt stood me in very good stead, since for the next few years, roughly three-quarters of the cover cast of the Metropolitan Opera’s Wozzeck would coach it with me privately.
Neues vom Tage (Hindemith), Oper der Bühnen der Stadt Köln.
Köln needed a pianist at the last moment to play rehearsals for their Wiederaufnahme of Gunther Krämer’s marvelous production of the original version of Hindemith’s Neues vom Tage (the one banned by the Hitler regime because of its bathtub scene), and I was delighted to do it. A great cast, including the legendary Karen Armstrong, and a truly excellent conductor named Johannes Stert, with whom I hope to have the chance to work again some day.
María del Carmen (Granados), Wexford Festival, Ireland.
Okay, the opera isn’t Granados’ best effort, especially when one compares it to Goyescas (which I have only prepared for concert performance). But it got me to Wexford, a festival that specializes in just the kind of off-the-beaten-path repertoire I love. And I got to work with the Spanish conductor Max Bragado-Darman, an excellent musician and consummate professional.
Otello (Rossini), Caramoor Festival.
With my passion for German opera, people find it odd that I love Rossini so much. But I do – especially his opera seria. Since I have yet to have the chance to work on a production of my dream Rossini opera, Guillaume Tell, this one takes pride of place as the most fun I’ve ever had working on a Rossini (indeed, any Italian) opera. There is a lot of fantastic music in this show, demanding real vocal fireworks. As a bonus, all involved were enthusiastic and well-prepared (that’s something that is, sadly, no longer a given in this business).
Ring Cycle (Wagner), Seattle.
It’s the Wagner Ring – need I say more? Unfortunately, I was something of a last-moment “extra” hire and wasn’t needed for subsequent productions, but it was great to be doing all that Wagner for a summer with a lot of people that love that music as much as I do.