By Cherity Koepke, Director of Education & Community Engagement
Good morning readers. Wait, let me check my clock. Is it morning? Yes – hard to tell since it’s still dark outside. We have to be up very early today in order to get to the school for a 9:00 AM show. Yes, that’s right. Opera at 9:00AM. Everyone is cordial at breakfast, but we’re not exactly chatty. We didn’t get any snow overnight, nothing at all really. Not even rain. It’s flurrying at the moment, but I can see blue sky on the horizon. Too bad – we need the moisture.
We’re moving slowly this morning, but we kick it into gear and head over to Steamboat Middle School where we’ll be performing The Elixir of Love for the 6th grade students. It’s such an advantage that we were able to set up last night. Otherwise we would have had to be here quite a bit earlier. Thankfully, Charles and Ryan’s bar surgery was a success and the patient has recovered. We set the bar in its place on stage and everyone gets into costume. While that’s happening, one of the teachers comes in and tells me that they have some students who have skits to perform. He wants to know when, during our performance, they could get some time to perform those skits. Huh? I let him know that it would be best if happened after our performance and say we’ll close the curtains so that they can do their skits while we start taking down the set. We’re on a tight time frame to get out of the space before lunch, but we’ll make it work.
A few minutes later, we get to meet Beth face to face – finally! Beth Blaskovich is the Director of Administration and Development for Opera Steamboat. She’s another reason that this collaboration is such a success and we’re grateful for all her hard work. Just as we finish the sound check, the students begin to enter. Everyone gets into their places, the principal gets the students quieted down and I start the show. I go through my typical introduction and make sure the students meet Parisa and Beth. Then, with the first chords, we’re at it again. I can tell that the Young Artists are tired, but they summon the energy to give a great performance. The students are a wonderful audience; respectful and responsive. After bows, I go out and run the Q&A, which is a quick one today due to the school’s schedule. We’re asked: How long did it take you to put this opera together, How many times have you performed this show, How long have you been singing and then I get asked if I wrote this show. Well… yes and no. I certainly didn’t write the music. That was Donizetti. But I did write the words along with Brett Sprague when we translated it from the original Italian into English. We’re about to start working on abridging Rossini’s Cinderella for next season. I thank everyone for coming and then we close the curtain so that the student’s skits can take place. That’s after we move the piano, which is no small feat. It has no wheels. Parisa and I did it yesterday when we were setting up and I’m surprised that neither of us developed a hernia. Today Ryan and Omar help, but it’s still tough.
Behind the curtain, we get out of costume and start the load out process. A student comes backstage, hands me some papers and thanks us for coming. I look at the stack and see that there are drawings. I look closer and realize that the kids have done a compare and contrast project on the differences between opera: stereotype vs. opera: reality. Kids aren’t the only ones who may hold on to stereotypes where opera is concerned, so this project is more important than I think they may realize. Breaking down those barriers when they’re young. You know, the ones that say opera is for snobs or the only the rich or that it’s boring and pointless – that’s another reason we do this; why we believe in taking opera into schools and letting kids experience it for themselves. It’s why we go out into the community and give people a chance to connect with opera. Once people see what it’s really all about, they quickly realize that those stereotypes… they just aren’t true. And I am now getting off of my soapbox (at least for this blog). I pull both cars around so we can start the packing process (I made two trips. I’m good but not superhuman). People are always surprised when they see just how much stuff we carry with us. Two whole shows in one car – it’s impressive. I snap a picture for proof that it is, in fact, possible.
We head back to the house for lunch and so that everyone can rest. We have a big Arias & Ensembles performance tonight, but thankfully we have a few hours of down time. We sit and have lunch together and watch videos of baby animals. Then Omar shares a few of his new headshots with Parisa and me. They are fantastic. Ryan decides to get started on dinner. He’s the chef tonight. The rest of us go to our place of choice and rest, read, work – whatever. I head up to my room to catch up on some emails and then spend some time with the libretto that Parisa and I wrote. Now that the words are there, I put it to music and get the sheet music set so that the kids can begin working with it next week.
After taking time to repack my suitcase in preparation for tomorrow, I head back downstairs. Allison is making a salad for dinner and Ryan is on the next step of his dinner prep. We have to eat earlier than we normally would tonight so that we can get over the performance venue and have some time in the space before the audience begins to arrive. Parisa decides to take the shuttle that runs through town so she can get to the space early and practice. Ryan goes for a run before dinner, but in this altitude it’s a shorter distance, otherwise he says he’d pass out.
Charles and I talk about going back and listening to the things you recorded as a younger singer and how cool it is to be able to hear your own progress. We also discuss world events, but I’ll leave those out of this blog. Ryan is very excited on how dinner is turning out. It smells yummy and that’s usually a good sign. Danielle returns from her walk. It’s nice to see her getting out before bedtime. She’s also become very attached to a specific leather chair in the living room. I won’t be at all surprised if I go out to the car in the morning and find it there, waiting to be packed.
Dinner time and it’s delicious. Most of the talk around the table is food related. We also decide to leave a little earlier so we can fill up the cars tonight. That will help our schedule tomorrow when we drive back to Denver. Plates are quickly cleared and everyone starts getting ready. No costumes tonight; that means we have to get ourselves dolled up. The house is starting to fill with the sounds of people singing, so I know we’re getting closer to show time. I can set my watch by when singers start to warm up. I take a final glance in the mirror, call it as good as it’s going to get and then head downstairs. Everyone looks quite nice. We clean up pretty good.
We hop into the cars and drive to the filling station. Ryan feels very special – he gets to sit in the front seat since Parisa took the shuttle earlier. Putting gas into a car in a dress and heels is not very glamorous. This fill up is fairly unique though. Opera Steamboat has arranged for us to go to a specific station and fill up at no cost to us. That never happens. We are very grateful. Tanks filled, we head over to the Bud Werner Memorial Library for the performance. Beth is there to greet us as well as a few other people, whose names I can’t seem to recall. We have 30-minutes in the space to do a sound check and touch on any pieces that need it. Parisa is also here and being her fierce self; playing the heck of the pieces for tonight’s program… and in three inch heels no less. Omar volunteers to serve as her page turner for the more difficult pieces.
House opens and we duck into a side room so the audience can enter and take their seats. The pre performance jitters are kicking in. Yes, we still get them. Thankfully, the waiting passes quickly and it’s time to take our places. Beth opens the program and talks to the audience about Opera Steamboat’s new name, the partnership with Opera Colorado and what we’ve been doing this week. There’s a general sense of surprise that we take fully staged performances into schools and then genuine enthusiasm from the audience. Danielle, Charles and I note that we see some familiar faces in the audience – we have some repeat guests from last year. One of them is a young man we met when we performed in 2016. He was a new opera fan then and the fact that he came back and brought his grandma with him this year is wonderful to see.
Beth turns the program over to me and I talk for a bit about how the past four days have gone and how happy we are that we’re partnering to bring opera to the communities in Routt County. Then I introduce the first piece, but not really. Charles is singing the Largo first and I like to catch the audience by surprise. It’s one of those arias that people know, but have rarely heard performed live. It gets a huge ovation. Over the next hour, we present pieces from opera and musical theater. We highlight Lucia and I invite and encourage people to come join us in Denver. We also have a piece from La boheme so I talk about next year’s season as well. As the program continues, the audience is more and more engaged. By the time we finish the last piece, they jump to their feet – standing ovation. We start the Q&A. This time, the questions come freely. One question I’ve never gotten before in all the years I’ve been doing this. It was two parts: “What got you into opera (that part we get a lot)?” and “What were the reactions from your friends and family?” That part I’ve never been asked before. We’re all pretty lucky. We’ve had the support of our families and friends for the most part, but we’ve each come up against plenty of people who told us we couldn’t or shouldn’t.
We also find out something incredible from Beth. She tells everyone that the school in Oak Creek was so inspired by our performance of Carmen last year that they turned their theater program into a musical theater program. Amazing. I wrap up the Q&A by sincerely thanking Andres, Beth and Opera Steamboat. I also give a shout out to The Porches, where we’ve been housed. I thank the audience as well. The enthusiasm that they’ve shown tonight has been tremendous. When we move to talking to people one on one, it honestly becomes overwhelming. It’s quite something to stand and look at someone who has tears in their eyes and can’t speak because they are so moved by what they just experienced. Or to talk to someone who brought their mother who is suffering from Alzheimer’s because she loves music and they were able to enjoy a special evening together. What we do can be incredibly emotional and powerful.
The crowd thins and I am able to thank Beth face to face for all her work. I tell her when they’re ready to talk about next year, to let me know. We’re moving full speed ahead. We say goodnight and head to the cars. Ryan and I both break our sunglasses, why we had them at night I have no idea, and then there is a group consensus that a toast to a successful week is needed and so are some adult beverages. At the house, everyone gets into comfy clothes and plays a couple of games. Except Omar. He plays games yes, but in his suit. It’s quite adorable actually. I blog nearby and though I may not have been participating – it was entertaining to listen to nonetheless. Ryan is doing voices, Omar doesn’t like the buzzer, Allison is changing teams mid-game, Charles is apparently creating a new language and Parisa has the giggles. Danielle just wants to open her wine. It gets intense and I start seeing people’s true colors shine through. Catch Phrase can be cutthroat. You would think their voices would be unable to do that much screaming after performing two shows today. They’re enjoying their last night on tour.
Soon it’s time to turn in. It’s been a very long day. We drive back to Denver in the morning. It will be nice to get back and we’re all feeling pretty good about what we’ve been able to do this week. I’ve said it before and I know I’ll say it for as long as I have the good fortune to do what I do. This… is a privilege. It’s a ton of work, yes. It’s challenging and at times frustrating. But, to be responsible for introducing people to opera or show it to them in a way they haven’t experienced before, that’s an honor.
So, that’s it readers. This is the last blog – at least for now. Thanks for following along on our journey. Thank you for all the emails, messages and texts that you’ve sent me letting me know you enjoy them and to keep at it. I’ll be back in May for our Greater Annual Tour. I hope you’ll join us for more stories from the road.