Flexibility and Efficiency: Blogging VOX, Day 2

[Ed. Note: This is the second installment of Julian Wachner’s backstage blog for the 2010 New York City Opera VOX readings at NYU’s Skirball Center. Click here to read his first post.—FJO]


There’s really nothing like the energy of backstage at an opera company: so many people with so many discreet jobs all working together to make the production run smoothly. It’s fascinating how in two weeks the ten mini-production and musician teams formed a family-like atmosphere. It felt like we had all been working together forever and for many of us the experience will end too soon. At the panel discussion an audience member asked about New York City Opera extending and expanding VOX. Let’s hope that happens.

Last night was truly amazing: orchestral playing was top notch, the singing artists sang and interpreted beautifully, and the audience was right there with all of us, loving every minute of these five very different works.

Personally, conducting two very different works one right after the other was an exercise in flexibility and efficiency, and I have to say that all of my work with the Feldenkrais method made this possible without hurting myself. Both With Blood, With Ink and Zolle require extremely physical, almost athletic conducting – the former in a Puccini-esque manner with extreme rubato, tempo shifts (of a “traditionally romantic” nature), and constant support of a rich legato tone from the strings and singers alike. For Zolle, I found it crucial to become part of the opera, as the physicality required of the singing lead Hai-Ting Chinn, and the nature of the score made a prosaic presentation of conducting gesture seem ridiculous. So physically, I directed my body be the technically correct and interpretively conscious conductor that I am trained to be, but added a level of aesthetic sensitivity to the gesture to match Hai-Ting’s character and Du Yun’s score. It felt like I was walking into this imaginary sound world Du Yun had created and that I myself was communing with the spirit of the dead girl (the main character of the work)…quite an incredible experience…and Feldenkrais helped me deliver all of the brutal, primitive gestures with proximal support from my center – so my skeleton was supported through my pelvis. How awesome to deliver intensity without tension. Still, I sweated through two sets of clothes…but at least I’m not sore this morning.

Today I get to be just a composer…my Evangeline Revisited gets its reading at 2:00. I am so happy with my four singers and I must just mention here that Amanda Pabyan is a total rock star maneuvering all of my 7/16, 9/16, and 24/16 measures with a rhythmic sense that is rare in even the highest level of instrumentalist, to say nothing of a singing actor!!! She is amazing. Daniel Bubeck (of El Niño fame…) as the countertenor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is singing beautifully as well; this is a very special voice. And the delicious Krysty Swann and fantastic Kerri Marcinki are performing the femme Shawnee and Evangeline with a true dedication and personal interpretation. As a composer, I couldn’t ask for a better team of singers; here’s a shout out to thank John Beeson and Cory Lippiello for their expert casting!

Well off to meet my friend Danny Pelzig for breakfast in Chelsea; we’ll be back with a post Saturday note soon….

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