8 April 2007
A Banner Day

Sometimes we are reminded all of a sudden of the vast power that music and theater can hold over us. Yesterday was one of those days—2 rehearsals, one performance and hardly a moment to think about them all, because I was completely under their spell.

A friend invited me to an orchestra technical rehearsal of the LA Phil’s Tristan & Isolde this morning—Act III at the daunting hour of 10 AM. This semi-staged concert version features Peter Sellars’ video images projected on a vertical screen behind the stage. Mr. Sellars spoke briefly but sharply to the hall before the first note was played: “We must have quiet, please”. And from that silence, the acoustic sprung to life with the full resonance the score. As Wagner would have appreciated, the lights in Disney Concert Hall were appropriately dimmed, and the wistful lament of the English horn in the rafters married the image of a distant freighter at sea with a timeless world at peace. Even with singers “marking” their some of their parts, every word was clear, and the orchestra was a vital participant, never overpowering the soloist they were accompanying. The finesse, the restraint, and, above all the musicianship exhibited made every nuance of a score I have long appreciated as immediate and vital as the day it was composed.

Part Two was a work-through of the second half of Porgy & Bess. We have been rehearsing the cast that is new to the production all week, including some artists preparing their roles for the very first time. And the magic moment happened when you saw the stars align and our Porgy linked up a powerful series of emotions and notes to inhabit the character. At the end of the opera, Maestro DeMain stopped and instructed the singer to take more time before starting “Oh, Lawd...I’m on my way”—building the tension. We are breathless to know about the character’s decision to stay in Catfish row or to strike out and find Bess with his faith and courage vigorously renewed. We repeated the finale. Suddenly, there was this silence—just enough to engage and focus me as if Porgy was making this decision for the very first time.

And Part Three was in the unlikely Easter destination of Las Vegas. My friend Erik is now Technical Director for Ka with Cirque du Soleil at the MGM Grand Hotel. For him to leave opera for Las Vegas meant this show was something special. It’s more than that - it’s spectacular. Yet, all the technology exhibited exists to support the artists and acrobats on stage: to help them tell their story, accomplish their physical routines, and transform a proscenium 110’ square into a vivid landscape of light and memory. And again, reminding me of the power of silence. Erik says he knew Ka was actually an opera when all this scenery is asked to do a complete stage transformation involving gigantic winches and turntables in silence while a single performer mesmerizes her audience (this time with a baton routine as challenging and beautiful as any I have ever seen rather than vocal acrobatics). Yet it is this silence again that focused me and captured my attention to the artistry of the moment, and the physical prowess of the performer in front of me.

I have nothing but numb admiration for the millions of dollars of investment in front of me all to engage an audience to take a journey with the character and a story and reflect on a time and place far beyond our everyday time-keeping schedules and errands. My weekend ended with an Easter Morning hike in the Red Canyon with Erik and his wife Tina—a surprisingly accessible wilderness less than 30 minutes from the chaos that is Las Vegas. Rock Cliffs, breezy skies, and the vast landscape and vista of the southwest. We suddenly feel very small against all that nature. But it is our art, our music, our theater that can focus and recreate a moment of wonder and awe and connect us to the wider world. We can transform a moment into a memory without a single word.


Easter morning hike in the Red Canyon, Nevada, April 2007
Photo courtesy of Erik Walstad