By Cherity Koepke, Director of Education & Community Engagement
Good morning readers. We’re afforded a rare luxury on tour this morning; sleeping past 7:00 AM. Everyone is on their own until the master class. I take the opportunity to get some work done. I even have time to chat with Erin Wenzel, our amazing Director of Development and text with Katie Preissner, our incredible Director of Production; even though I’m on the road, the administrative part of what I do still needs my time and attention. After finishing my morning “to do” list, I head over to the Gunnison Arts Center and meet with their staff. Over coffee, we talk about the arts and their place in society. They show me some of the work that they’re doing in Gunnison and I talk about what Opera Colorado is doing. I leave some of our materials for this season and next. For me, tour is not only about bringing opera to Colorado communities, it’s about bringing Colorado communities to us too.
I drive back to the hotel to change and pick up the others before heading to Western State Colorado University for the master class. I’m just in time for the testing of the fire alarms – a lot of testing. Ears ringing – I meet the Young Artists and Parisa in the lobby. Before we can head to the cars, they have to tell me a story. Apparently a few of them walked into town to get coffee this morning and while they were having a conversation amongst themselves (about music), a woman came up to them and asked if they were with the opera. (We’ve been here two days and we have a reputation…) Omar said yes and they started talking. She said one of her kids was at the performance we did for the elementary school and came home raving about opera. Her older child started asking about it and they spent the night watching opera clips and learning more about the art form. How cool is that?! It’s an awesome thing to think that we had a hand in inspiring that kind of family interaction and interest in opera. They are going to try to come tonight – I hope they do.
We head over to Quigley Hall – which has been newly renovated and is gorgeous. We’re so excited that we get to perform in this space tonight! I meet up with Heather, the Director of Choral Activities and Voice at the college and we get ready for the master class. We’ll have three students to work with. One tenor, one soprano and one bass baritone. I will work with each person and to keep things from becoming overwhelming for the students, the guys will work with the male singers and the ladies will work with the female singer. Teaching a master class is its own skill set and something I’ve worked years to develop. I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of most master classes. I think they are too often about the person teaching and not about the students who are there to learn. It has to be about THEM.
First up, we have the tenor who sings a piece from Mendelssohn’s Elijah. Omar works with him first, then Charles and Ryan join him and I finish up. The soprano sings Mein herr marquis and Danielle and Allison tag team the first part of her session. Parisa then heads up and I take it home. Lastly, we have the bass baritone who I’ve worked with before. Today’s he’s singing Se vuol ballare. He’s made progress since last year which is great to hear. Ryan and Charles take up most of this session and I spend a few minutes at the end working with him dramatically. We take the last few minutes of the class to answer questions from the audience. Everyone seems to have taken shy pills today, because there are no questions. So, Heather asks us to tell them a bit about our training. We do and that seems to be enough for the questions to start coming. We talk about the industry, the time we spend practicing and what it’s like to go on and pursue a master’s degree. We spend a few more minutes with students who come up to talk with us one on one.
Master class done, it’s time to load in and set up for tonight’s performance of The Elixir of Love. As road manager, Charles leads this process. Everyone has their specific jobs and Charles is a great leader, but sometimes even he needs a break. At least I think that’s why he’s lying on the floor at the moment… Either that or he’s broken. Set up complete, I take a minute to focus the lights (the best that I can with a system that I don’t know). I have to admit; the set looks fabulous on stage.
Danielle and Ryan head back to the hotel for a break and the rest of us hang out while Charles records an aria he needs to submit for an audition. When we finish, the Young Artists decide to go back to the hotel as well while Parisa and I make the agonizing decision… to go shopping. Yes, that’s right readers, we’re actually taking an honest to goodness break for a bit. With an earnest vow to supervise each other, we hit the shops on main street. The earnestness lasted about 5-minutes into our first store. Then the supervising may have become more like enabling – – but we each found something we loved and got some much needed down time. We even meet a local celebrity; Wayne has been building giant snowmen in Gunnison for over 50 years. Look him up.
We drive back to the hotel and pick up anyone who wants to go to dinner. Danielle, Allison and Ryan will be eating whatever they have in their rooms and Charles is asleep, so he’ll have to fend for himself. Hmmm… maybe he’s still broken. I’ll check on him later. Parisa, Omar and I pick a restaurant and enjoy a yummy meal and some quality time together. We talk about our favorite operas, Omar and Parisa’s weddings (to other people not to each other) and the fact that it’s pretty fabulous to already have the set up for tonight’s show. In what seems like no time, we’re headed back to get into costume and makeup. Charles is just fine; the nap was restorative, I think. The college is doing an archival recording of tonight’s performance so I talk to the sound engineer and ask for a copy. I rarely get the chance to get my hands on a recording of one of our performances. Nancy, the music teacher at the elementary school, comes backstage to say hello and bring us thank you cards from the students. We’re due on stage in a bit, so we’ll have to look at them later – I can’t wait to see what the students have written.
Waiting backstage, Ryan places a phone call. He asks whoever is on the other end of the line what time they close. Happy with that answer, he then asks if they have Shamrock Shakes. Yes, readers, Ryan is calling McDonald’s and it’s mostly for my benefit. Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day and I’m a proud Irish lass. I told them about this time last year when we were on tour and I wanted something to celebrate the holiday. I took a trip to the Golden Arches but they were sold out of the green treats and I was utterly devastated. Ryan is simply ensuring that he doesn’t have a disappointed director on his hands later. It’s very appreciated… and it’s show time.
I head out to do the introduction while everyone else gets into places. I bring out Parisa and we’re off. During tonight’s performance, I sit in the green room and start writing the blog while listening to the show. Yes, I know every note by heart and can tell without even looking if things are going well or if they’re off. Within minutes I can tell that the Young Artists are fighting the altitude. They’re doing well and the show is solid but it’s definitely a battle to get the breath they need. This is where their training and all those hours we spend in rehearsals pay off. Parisa is supporting them every minute. Towards the middle point of the show, things start to sound more settled. I snap a picture of them while they take their bows.
Now it’s time for the Q&A. As seems to be the norm with community performances lately, we have crickets again. This time it takes a bit of prodding from me to get things rolling, but they do, and we spend the next 30-minutes answering questions. Why opera? What’s the longest opera you’ve ever done? What language do you prefer to sing in? Allison tees up our upcoming production of Lucia di Lammermoor beautifully. (Come see it readers – it’s going to be fantastic) At the end, I talk about why the arts are important. What they truly do for us as a community and as people. Why it’s more important than ever that we champion them. Yes, it’s my soapbox and I won’t be stepping off of it anytime soon.
We thank everyone for coming and begin the process of striking the set and loading everything out. I spend some time talking with Heather and we start thinking about our visit next season. I’m delighted to be continuing our relationship with the Gunnison community. When the Young Artists get to a stopping point, we read the thank you cards we got from the elementary school students. They are precious and we love every single picture, note and name. Danielle and her “moves” get a special mention.
Load out continues and in the dark no less. Headlights can make good flood lights when necessary. It goes smoothly. Everyone decrees the need for a treat, so I play chauffeur and we make a late night McDonald’s run. I pass on the Shamrock Shake tonight, but Ryan gets his. I’ll be celebrating tomorrow though, have no doubt. Treats procured, we load back into the cars and Ryan informs everyone that he loves Oreos. Allison is so quiet I actually stop the car and look in the back to make sure I have her. She’s good; happily munching on her snack.
Back at the hotel, we have a quick company meeting to go over tomorrow’s schedule which is going to be tight. We’ve got a long drive and a very tricky set up situation at the school we’re performing at. There’s a real possibility that we won’t be able to use the set for the performance which could create multiple issues. I may have to re-stage portions on the fly. The timeframe could leave us little room for lunch or any kind of a break, but we’ll make it work – we have to. Once everyone knows the plan, we say goodnight and head to our rooms. It’s already close to 11:00 PM and I’ve got a blog to finish and emails to respond to; this is life on tour. Yes – it’s a lot. But if we’re being honest, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Rest well readers,