2016 Greater Colorado Tour the “remake” | Day Three
Happy dawn readers! I can’t wish you a good morning because I’m not sure it’s actually morning yet. I think we beat the sunrise. It’s early and… it snowed again. It still snowing and the roads look dicey. But, we have a performance to do, so we get up and start getting ready. Emily and Danielle take on the breakfast preparations and soon the guys arrive. The menu is eggs, bacon and avocado toast and as much coffee and tea as we can ingest. While they eat, I check our drive and travel conditions. It’s not looking any better on my computer screen than it does outside. After breakfast, some people start grabbing bags and loading the cars while others handle the dishes and I do final checks on the condos and make sure we’re leaving them in good shape. One last sweep to make sure we’re not forgetting any of our stuff and we pile into the cars, return our keys and then head down the mountain. We make a quick pit stop for gas since we’re heading into the backcountry this morning – we want to make sure we have an ample supply.
As soon as I get onto the road we’ll be taking, I know we’re in for a rough go. It’s icy and snow packed. I grip the steering wheel, take it slow and down the road we go. I check my mirrors every few seconds to make sure that Charles and Will are OK as they follow in the Denali. My car is eerily quiet. We’re tired. I could use some chatter to relieve the stress of the drive, but I know they all need to rest if they can, so I just keep going, slow and steady. The roads get worse, not better. Now we’re in a canyon and the roads are full of s-curves and steep drop offs. I can’t even see where the road ends and the drop offs begin. This is not fun. It is beautiful out here though. At least I think it is. I don’t let myself look away from the road long enough to really take anything in. Ben isn’t even taking pictures on this drive. That’s a sure sign he’s tired. We make it. Behind schedule, but safely, we find ourselves in Oak Creek, Colorado. We head to the middle school and begin loading in. It’s tricky as there’s a lot of snow to work around and the ground is nothing but ice. We only have 45-minutes until the show begins. Again, we pull together and everyone does their part. We get the set up in minutes and pretty soon, I’m talking to the teachers and planning how things will go as the Young Artists get into costume and Alaina works with our contacts to get the keyboard set up. After a fight call and a sound check, the students begin to come in and take their seats. It’s a full house, 6th – 8th grade.
As I watch them enter, I overhear a couple of conversations. One girl is telling her friend that this is stupid and she doesn’t want to be here. Another group of boys is remarking that opera isn’t their thing, but they haven’t actually seen one, they just know. I smile at then but the girl glares back at me and crosses her arms over her chest. Charles thinks it must be personal and I notice that she smiles at him. Well, of course she does – he’s a handsome thing our Charles. OK – this should be interesting. I go backstage and prep the Young Artists for what I expect is going to be a challenging audience. Ben says that’s fine – they’ll just melt their faces off with their performance. Game on. We’ll show them just what opera is and see what they think then. With a cue from the music teacher, I go out on stage and start the introduction. I say good morning and barely get a response. I decide to challenge them back a little and see what happens. I ask them how many of them think they like opera. About 5 hands go up. I ask how many of them have decided that opera isn’t really their thing. Most of the hands go up. Then I ask how many of them have ever seen an opera. 3 hands go up. I then talk about how you can’t really make a decision about something until you experience it yourself. I tell them that because of how opera is portrayed by the media and in TV and movies, people think it’s a big woman in a horned helmet, standing on stage screaming. That’s not opera but they’re about to see what opera really is. I go over the plot and let them know that it’s going to get intense and then tell them they’ll have a chance to ask us questions after the show. I cover behavior expectations and then ask them to silence their cell phones. I end by telling them how excited we are to be there and with that, I take my exit and Charles begins the performance. I can tell that some of the students are interested, some excited and a large percentage would rather be anywhere but here. You know what? It’s fine. We’re giving them the chance to experience opera; real, high quality opera. How they feel about what they’re about to see is up to them. While we want everyone to love it, in reality that’s not going to happen and we know it. It’s part of what makes what we’re doing so vital. Without an experience like this, most students will simply decide they don’t like opera based on an opinion that someone or something else has formed for them and they’ll never even have the chance to see it for themselves. Not all days go as well as yesterday and we don’t always get the response from our audiences that we hope for, but that’s OK. We’re still glad we’re here and that we have this chance.
As expected, it’s rocky. There are some good responses to the more comedic moments of the show, but as it gets more intense, the students start to get uncomfortable. The group that I’m sitting the closest too starts getting rowdy and making inappropriate comments so I go out into the audience and stand by them. That quiets them down. There’s one young man in the audience with special needs and the fight scene really upsets him and he screams which makes the other students laugh, which upsets him even more. I go sit next to him. Maybe it’s my training in child psychology or maybe its instinct, but something kicks in and I ask his teacher if I can hold his hand and he says he’s not sure. The young man is with his para-professional, who is subbing for his usual aid today so he doesn’t know him very well. But, he’s also with his grandma, so I ask her. She says it should be fine. I lean in and talk to him about what’s happening, reassure him that it’s a story and not real and hold his hand. He grips mine back and within a few minutes he’s calmed down and is listening to the singing again. When Emily sings her aria, he absolutely lights up. He connects to her voice in a big way. I take a deep breath and decide to stay next to him for the rest of the show. Through all of it, the Young Artists keep going, focused on what they need to do. Alaina never misses a beat. By the time we get to the finale, things have focused back on the performance I think they’re with us. Bows get a lot of applause and some genuine “bravos.” I leave my new friend and go back to the stage to talk with the students again while the Young Artists and Alaina catch their breath. The first thing I ask them is what do they think of opera now? The response – – a big round of applause.
I start the Q&A and bring the Young Artists out. We get some good questions; one from a music student is, “What do you think is the most challenging thing that you have to do as an opera singer?” If we’re getting questions like this, we’ve reached them – at least a few of them and we can’t ask for more than that. Will’s answer is that the biggest challenge is what happens in between the music. All of the prep, all of the things that pull your focus away from where it needs to be. Like being sparkly. He is sparkly, our Will. (He was talking about his bullfighter costume and believe me, in context, it made sense and the kids got what he was saying) Ben talks about getting back on track after being sick and big balls of phlegm. (I told you he has a photographic mind) Attractive no, true yes and if kids know anything, they know when adults are being real with them. I end the Q&A so the students can get back to class and we stay on stage for a few more minutes to talk with individual students who come up. There’s a group of kids from the band that shake each of our hands and thank us for coming. Several girls cluster around Danielle and talk to her for a few minutes. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but they walk away smiling and talking about how pretty she is. I spend several minutes talking to one young man about vocal technique. From his energy, it’s clear that this is something he’s interested in and he’s really happy that someone can answer his questions. All in all, we feel the performance, the experience, has been a success. A couple of the Young Artists are feeling a bit raw vocally after last night’s show and a morning performance, so it’s good that this is the end of the singing for today. We thank the teachers and then begin the ever present task of loading out. It goes pretty quickly with all hands on deck and some extra help from our contacts, who have been fabulous while we’ve been here. They tell us how grateful they are that we are willing to travel to the small towns with opera. It’s something they are so happy they could bring to the kids in these small communities. They ask us back next year. Yep – success. We thank them again and hit the road. Well, we hit the road after I take a detour to the school’s maintenance facility. Hey, remember readers, I’m not from here. I’ve got everyone in the group saying it now.
It’s still snowing, but the roads aren’t quite as bad and we’re making much better time. We have to go over either Vail Pass or Gore Pass to get back to the main highway. I asked the teachers back at the school and they said road conditions would be pretty much the same either way, so I choose Gore Pass and make the turn. Within just a few minutes, the roads go from OK, to bad to worse. We’re driving on snow covered sheets of ice and the wind is really fierce. Again, we take it slow, but even then, we’re sliding. Will is driving the Denali and I’m keeping a close eye on how he and Ben are doing. Charles is my navigator, but there’s not much to navigate because you can’t see anything. He’s doing something essential though and that’s talking to me. He’s got great conversation skills and he’s managing to keep the stress of the drive to a minimum. Alaina, Emily and Danielle are all very quiet in the back. This drive up to the summit… not enjoyable. As we get to the top, the roads become almost impassable. Will slides a couple of times, but manages it well. I go off the side of the road once, but quickly regroup; Charles and Alaina laugh it off to help defuse things. We get through it and begin the descent, which isn’t much better. After a grueling hour, we’re back down and the roads get steadily better. I have steering wheel imprints etched in my hands, Charles is growing hoarse from talking to me, the girls are silent but content and Will and Ben are steady in my mirror. We made it and we’re all safe.
Back on the highway, we begin to relax and Charles gets a second wind. He asks us, “If you could go back in time and prevent one thing, what would it be?” That topic takes us awhile. Then he tells us about some of his antics as a little boy (apparently he was a handful) and we share stories from our lives before the lives we’re living now. The roads are almost dry now and we can see the scenery clearly for the first time in two days. Just off the road we see a deer with her two fauns and a few miles later a heard of them. We pull into Silverthorne for a badly needed break and a lunch stop. Charles provides the directions and it’s now that I realize how tired he’s gotten; his navigational skills are slipping. I somehow manage to cut across 3 lanes of traffic in a moment’s notice in order to make our turn. Even more impressively, Will manages the same and does it without climbing into our trunk. We definitely need a break from driving. Over lunch, everyone perks up. We talk about the drive and decide that a stop at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory is in order. While we’re there, the woman working asks us if we’re on Spring Break. We tell her that we’re on tour with Opera Colorado. She’s interested in that – then Alaina tells her we’re really a cover band for the Spice Girls. Yes, that’s believable. Time for chocolate. The next several minutes can’t be blogged about. That kind of bliss transcends words. I do however manage to snap a quick shot of Emily and Will, with their new friend. They share a contented expression. Sweets ingested, we hit a local coffee shop that I know and get some fuel for our drive back to Denver.
As we get back in the cars to leave, the weather closes in again. As we get through the Eisenhower Tunnel, we’re back to less than ideal roads, heavy snow and wind but after what we did earlier today, this seems easy. Charles duels with the radio, trying to get the Bluetooth to connect to the playlist he wants. When he commits to something, he doesn’t give up. He’s committed. He’s relentless. He’s bested. Charles and I spend the remainder of the drive talking sans tunes. Alaina listens to her iPod via headphones, Emily reads her book and Danielle naps. Talked out, Charles pulls out his Scarlet Letter score and studies for a bit. He shares how excited he is to get started. We all are. A world premiere doesn’t happen every day and we get to be a part of it!
Just before 5:00, we reach our final destination and tour comes to a close. Almost. Tomorrow, the Young Artists will drive to Monte Vista and perform Carmen for the community high school. We had to cancel this performance during our tour earlier in March when we were stricken by the plague. Because of schedule conflicts, I can’t go with them for this one day jaunt, so there won’t be a blog, but I have no doubt they’ll offer another quality opera experience to those students. These last three days have been a whirlwind. We’re tired, really tired, but there’s not a lot of time to rest. We have more performances over the next week and we’re in final prep for rehearsals for The Scarlet Letter to begin on the 11th. Chorus rehearsals have already begun. Our days are long and we have a lot to do, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a saying in this career, that you don’t choose opera, opera chooses you. That’s very true in a way because this isn’t just a job to any of us, it’s our passion. It’s what we love and what we believe in. We all feel very grateful that we’ve been given the chance to live this life and that we get to represent Opera Colorado. It’s a privilege and we know it.
So – that’s it readers; the end of this tour blog. But… don’t fret because the best is yet to come. On May 16th, we begin our Greater Colorado Tour and we’ll be on the road for two weeks. I’ll be blogging away, keeping you all up to date with our adventures. Thank you for following us. Knowing that we have people interested in what we’re doing is even more incentive for us to keep going. We hope you’ll join us yet again in May as we take opera to Colorado.