2016 Greater Colorado Tour the “remake” | Day Two

Snow. Pizza… a fire… s’mores… a game. Lyrics. Wait, lyrics? Oh, no. I didn’t, did I? Yes. I did. I wrote yesterday’s blog as lyrics to the Gilligan’s Island theme song.  Wow. That’s what I woke up thinking today. It’s a little fuzzy. I’ve decided to plead a case of extreme brain fatigue and leave it at that.

Good morning readers! We have snow – a lot of snow and it’s still coming down. The visibility is better than yesterday though, so that’s a step in the right direction. I can hear rustling downstairs, so it must be time to get up and start the day. We’re staying in two condos graciously provided for us by the awesome people at Emerald City Opera. The guys have one and the ladies are residing in the other. Emily and Danielle are up and ready to make breakfast. We decide on pancakes and Emily and I get to work in the kitchen. Alaina soon joins us looking very groggy – she has sore abs from laughing so much during last night’s game. The ladies are pretty much half way through our breakfast by the time the gents join us. Will and Charles first followed a few minutes later by Ben. Eggs and bacon are added to the menu and soon everyone is waking up, conversing and getting ready for our performance of Carmen later this afternoon.

Narnia Colorado 2There’s no fire for ambiance this morning, but due to the poor ventilation in the kitchen, we do have some nice smoke filtering throughout the condo. Emily hits the ceiling fan and I open the door and within a few minutes we can see each other again. Emily is very quick this morning – she’s had an entire kettle of hot tea. We have a caffeinated little firefly – flitting around from one task to the next. While she flits, I put together the repertoire for tonight’s Arias & Ensembles performance. This will be exciting. We’ve been in rehearsals for a couple of weeks on a bunch of new pieces and we get to perform them for the first time tonight.  Rep list done, program planned, I get everyone moving. Some of the group make lunches for themselves while Charles goes on the hunt for Tupperware for said lunches. He manages to procure a bowl with a lid and Danielle makes that work. I grab lunch for myself and then we head out the door, load up the cars and hit the road. Danielle manages to squeeze into the car in the garage so she doesn’t mess up her Carmen hair. It was impressive – just inches of wiggle room to work with and not a curl out of place.

driving to Clark CO
A Snowy Drive to Clark

We don’t have a very long drive to the school where we’re performing but the weather is making it slower than anticipated. I’m glad that I always pad the schedule a little and we have some time to play with. The drive is absolutely gorgeous – it looks like something from Narnia as you leave the wardrobe. At least that’s what Alaina says. The GPS isn’t working, so Will acts as my navigator again. I’m telling you – male Siri. The man’s got skills. I comment that I’m surprised we haven’t seen any deer or elk and voilà – as we come around the bend in the road, there they are. A huge herd of elk in a field covered in snow. It was like someone called in an order and had them delivered. It couldn’t have been more picturesque. Well done Colorado. We enter Clark, Colorado and know this because the sign told us so. It also told us that the elevation is 7,260 and the population is “?”. Not kidding. I love mountain towns! We pass the Clark General Store and we all want to stop, but we have a school to perform for. Later. We’ll stop later. Safely skating potholes the size of small lakes (which basically meant we drove right through the middle of them and turned the vehicles into bouncy castles for a bit), we make it to the school right on schedule. After meeting our contacts and being welcomed with genuine excitement, the Young Artists begin the task of loading in and setting up while I talk through the logistics of the day. It’s now that several things come to light quickly.

a school with a fireplace
The School Fireplace

One – this school is cool. It has a fireplace in the performance area and the set will be framed by antlers that are placed around the room. Very mountain-towny. Two, this is not a high school. This is a charter school, grades K-8 and all are planning on coming to the performance. Uh oh. I will never discourage anyone from seeing an opera. Never. But my job as the director is also to make sure we’re performing appropriate work for appropriate ages. Call me crazy, but I don’t see Carmen as appropriate for kindergarteners.  I talk with the staff and come up with a plan while the Young Artists finish setting up and dine on their pre-prepared lunches. After that I hold an impromptu company meeting and tell everyone that we have a bit of a situation. I walk them through the show and what they need to change, tone down or adapt. It’s another example of having to think on my feet and have them be willing to do the same.  Somehow, we’ll make it work. I will go out before the performance begins and talk with the students and make sure they are prepared for what they’re about to see and I’ve prepped the teachers of the younger ages to have them leave if things get too intense for them. I’ll admit – this is not ideal and I’m nervous about how they will react, but we’re going ahead as planned. If I have to, I’ll stop the performance if things get too rough and settle the students down before we go on. We’ll see. Everyone is on their toes and ready; we won’t pass up a chance to bring opera to people.

The students come in and take their seats and, as anticipated, we have first graders right in the front row. That means they will be just feet away from Danielle as she performs Carmen’s death scene. The principal comes backstage to signal that they’re ready to begin and he asks for some quick instructions on how to pronounce my name. He starts things off and his enthusiasm for us being here is clear. He introduces me (he pronounced my name right and we all cheered – it’s a big deal) and I go out to try to set the tone for the performance. I talk to the students about who we are and what we do for a living – they think that’s cool. Then I talk about what they’re going to see and that one of the characters dies at the end. I talk to them about how some scenes will be intense and tell them that’s OK. I also talk about how this is a story about choices and the different roads they can lead us down. Sometimes, when operas are intense like this one, they can teach us lessons that we wouldn’t have learned otherwise or help us see things differently; think about things we maybe haven’t thought about before. I go over behavior expectations and how they can respond to the performance with applause and “bravo.” Then I take my exit and Charles begins the performance. I think they were with me. I only hope I did enough.

successful school showIt’s funny how things turn out. This group of students, 1st grade – 8th grade, with their teachers and some family members in attendance, turn out to be one of the most responsive, respectful and enthusiastic audiences we’ve performed for all season. Yes, there’s uncomfortable laughter in places it shouldn’t be and there are comments of “ewww” and “gross” every time there’s a kiss, but those are honest reactions from kids who are engaged and paying attention.  At the end, during the death scene, Ben pulls out the dagger and threatens Danielle (Jose/Carmen). One little girl in the audience clearly says, “No, don’t kill her!” She’s literally breathing in time with the singers. Right after that, the boy sitting just to her left replies, “Do it!” He’s into it too. During bows, the students and adults are cheering and jumping to their feet. It’s a great feeling. I go out and talk to the students again and give the Young Artists and Alaina a chance to catch their breath. I tell them that we usually don’t perform this show for students as young as they are and how proud I am of them for being such a fabulous audience. Then I bring the Young Artists out and we do a Q&A session. We get amazing questions. Everything from “What are your hobbies?” to “How do you prepare for a show like this?” Danielle even gets asked why her tights have lines up the back of her legs. I set this production of Carmen in the 1940s, so both Danielle and Emily wear seamed stockings per the period look. Someone else asks a question, I can’t even remember what it was now, but I reply with, “Yas.” That is not a typo. That is Will finally getting into my head. He uses and shapes the English language in ways that are not easy to forget. He finally got to me. I end the Q&A with a heartfelt thank you and we begin the process of breaking down the set and getting everything loaded into the Denali. We have helpers to make this task easier today. Several of the students are so excited, they want to be a part of our crew too, so we let them carry some of the lighter items out to the car. Outside, it’s still snowing and parents are arriving to pick up their kids. I watch as one young man runs to his mom and shouts, “Mom can we go to the library tonight?” His mother asks why, clearly perplexed. I gather this is not a regular request from her son. He says “because the opera people came to our school today and they’re singing at the library tonight. It was so cool, I want to go hear them sing again!” Cue me… smile beaming. Everything is loaded and we say thank you to the staff and our contacts. As we walk away, we hear one of the teachers shout, “We love opera!” All the kids around begin clapping and cheering. What a way to end a performance that we were so unsure about. I guess we did enough.

Back on the road, we’re behind schedule. As I reach the Clark General Store, I put on my turn signal and slow down. I ask my passengers if they want to stop and they indicate that they’re good and since we’re running late, they’d rather just head back to Steamboat Springs. I resume my course. Unbeknownst to me, this choice was not supported by the two in the Denali; Charles and Ben. I found out later that my indication of stopping (by way of turn signal and break lights) was met with cheers, but when I cruelly resumed course, they were incensed. So much in fact, that Ben called me a temptress. One does what one can to keep things interesting. The weather gets worse as we get closer to Steamboat and we’re in white out conditions again. This is observed by the ever helpful Alaina who remarks, “Oh look, you can’t tell the ground from the sky.”  Yas…

Narnia Colorado 1
A Snowy Creek

We reach Steamboat and head back to our condos where we have just enough time to get our clothes for tonight’s performance before we have to dash out again to meet someone for dinner. It’s a mad flurry of people gabbing what they need, but Will somehow manages to change clothes. Looking very dapper, he’s ready to go before we’re even done gathering our things. Back in the vehicle, we head down the mountain again. I’m navigating on memory now, but I know that I’m in good hands, not because my memory is good (which it is) but because I have my male Siri by my side. Will, quietly supportive, watches every turn on his GPS to make sure I’m going the right way. I only have to ask for his help once readers – and I’m not from here!

We arrive at the restaurant, a local place that’s known for “Burgers, Bacon and Beer,” and we meet up with our dinner companion, the wonderful Steve Dilts. Steve is the Young Artist Liaison for Opera Colorado and he’s driven up from Denver to have dinner with us and be there for tonight’s performance. He’s an incredible source of support for the Young Artists and we are so happy to have some time with him. Dinner is great, made even better by the company. We’re still riding a high from our earlier performance and I’m taking great delight in the fact that Alaina, a vegetarian, is eating bacon for the second time today. It’s fine. We’ve all decided that bacon is its own food group so no harm, no foul. Steve is especially fascinated by Alaina, declaring that vegetarians are interesting people.  Dinner progresses in a scintillating fashion; the guys are talking about various local brews, Steve shows us pictures of his recent encounter with a dolphin, Charles tell us how he wasn’t an especially clean child but that all changed when he got to high school – and – when I offer my straw to Danielle to pop, she can’t because she’s wearing gloves and talking about a baby mouse in her best Italian accent. Emily pops my straw instead.

Dinner consumed, it’s time to head to the performance venue and get ready for the Arias & Ensembles. On the drive, everyone is regretting their dinner choices, especially because so many of tonight’s pieces are intimate duets. There was an awful lot of bacon… and garlic. Copious amounts of mints and gum are consumed and we arrive at the library. The crisp snowy mountain air is filled with the smell of… rotting eggs? Alaina blames Will. Readers, he’s an innocent man. We are right next to the hot springs and while they are wonderful, they are also pungent. We quickly make our way inside. Once I locate someone to unlock the space for us, we get busy getting changed and warming up. Its controlled chaos at this point and I have to take a minute to just stand back and watch. We meet up with Jack Dysart, from Emerald City Opera and Andres Cladera, from not only Emerald City Opera but Opera Colorado too. I am so thankful to both of these gentlemen for working with me to bring us up to Steamboat Springs. While they greet guests as they arrive, we run through a few of the new pieces and then I cut things off so the audience can begin to take their seats.  It’s a fabulous turnout, quite a bit more than I was expecting for our first foray with an event of this nature for the community of Steamboat. Steve Dilts is also here to offer his support, which means more than I think he may realize.

Andres opens the program and thanks our sponsors – we thank you too – and then hands things off to me. I make sure to thank everyone as well, making special mention of Jack, Andres and Steve and then I introduce the first piece; Will singing the “Toreador aria”. I know within the first few minutes of the piece that this is going to be a great show. Yes, Will is performing well, he kills this aria, but it’s the audience that really grabs my attention. For the second time today, we have an audience that is thrilled that we’re here and they’re responding in kind. By the time Will finishes his aria, they are literally shouting “bravo” and I have to take a minute for them to quiet down before I can move the program on to the next piece. It continues like that for the rest of the evening. They laugh at my jokes, respond with interest to the informative portions of my remarks and on and on.  The Young Artists are clearly feeding off of the energy they’re getting from the audience. Each piece has a flair all its own. Emily turns back into a firefly – this time with less flitting and more spitfire in her during the trio “I’ve decided to marry you.” Danielle and Will share a lovely duet from Elmer Gantry, Ben knocks “Lonely House” out of the park and Alaina is skillfully bringing the piano to life. Charles however, is the one that delivers the knockout punch for the evening. During the duet he sings with Emily from Three Decembers, he just lets the emotion of the piece carry him into another world. It was a moment where he stepped outside of himself and was completely authentic in his character. Emily saw this and responded in kind making the piece poignant and heartbreaking. I watched, incredibly proud. As a director, you hope that you can get your artists to go to those places, but it’s terribly challenging. When it happens, there’s a part of you that’s experiencing it with them. Charles did it tonight and boy did it pack a wallop. The audience was in tears when the piece ended. So was I.  The power of opera; this is good stuff. Two pieces later, Charles turns into the Pirate King with an accent that is part Scottish and part drunken sailor and then in the trio with Emily and Danielle, he nearly falls flat on his face during some staging that goes awry. Will, Ben and I, being the supportive colleagues we are, did our very best not to laugh, I swear. Charles has had quite the night. Everyone has.

I make sure to take some time to talk about The Scarlet Letter and the excitement in the room grows yet again. After the finale, the audience leaps (yes, they actually leapt) to their feet, cheering.  I even get to take a bow tonight. Andres thanks us for a wonderful evening and I have everyone do a very quick set of introductions and we end the performance. We spend the next 30-minutes talking to audience members who come up to us to share how much they enjoyed the show.

Feeling fabulous but tired, we change back into our street clothes and bid Jack, Andres and Steve goodnight. On the way out to the car, I listen to a very happy group of people chattering about the concert, the performance of Carmen earlier today and the fact that the air outside still stinks. It’s not currently snowing, but it’s cold. We pile into the car and head for our lodging. I manage to make the drive back without asking Will for help even once. In the dark and everything. Will is very proud. We stagger upstairs, put on comfy clothing, which is basically pajama attire, now more of a tranquil butterfly than a firefly, Emily makes tea, the guys build a fire and I go through the plan for tomorrow. Then I go over the plan for Friday, then Saturday, then Sunday. Holy schmoly, we are busy! After that, plans are made to indoctrinate Danielle into the highly exclusive club of people who have experienced the joys of Jiffy Pop. Will is going to be her guide since she’s a novice. Sadly, I will have to miss the delight on her face as the popping happens. I bid everyone goodnight and head upstairs to blog about the day, catch up on emails and work for a bit. While I go about the business of recounting the day, I can hear Charles proving valuable insight on how fast you have to shake the pan for maximum kernel popping. While enjoying the popcorn, they sit around and discuss speaking in Italian, the guys fight with a fire that doesn’t want to burn and gradually, it gets quiet. Everyone is tired. It’s been long but wonderful day. Tomorrow we have a very early morning in order to get packed up and head out to our morning performance of Carmen before making the drive back to Denver.

So readers, that’s it for today. Long blog for a long day – a day full of opera. Thanks for joining us on the journey.

Until tomorrow,

Cherity

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