Catching up and Retiring

I’ve been so remiss in getting posts made to this journal but am happy to take a bit of time tonight to catch everyone up on what’s been happening over the last few months. Perhaps I got a bit fatigued with the hectic Spring and early Summer. Perhaps I just got a bit lazy when things calmed down. Most of all, I’m grateful that my favorite “nudge” in Chicago has said, “Hey, it’s been awhile since you made a post to your online journal”. Thanks, T-Rex.

So, here goes...

Since I last wrote, I’ve had performances in Vienna, Miami, and just outside Washington, D.C. (Wolf Trap). So much travel has occurred but I’ve been very happy to have had the last few months mostly at home as I’ve been teaching and directing at Wichita State. We have an outstanding group of students this year. And, on top of that, our enrollment has skyrocketed--especially in the Opera Program. Next week, we will open “Street Scene” in a semi-staged performance. What a wonderful piece...full of heart, humor, drama, and real life. The piece, although written in 1946, is as relevant now as it was all those many decades ago.

Lots of travel is coming over the next month or so. Lots of challenges await. But, I know that I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without the influence of a lot of people. I’d like to mention some incredible influences who have greatly touched me. Last week, I travelled to New Haven, CT, where I’ve travelled nearly every year since 2002, to once again present a master class and to give private coaching sessions to the students at Yale Opera. During this entire time period (and for so many years before), Yale Opera has been Directed by Doris Yarick-Cross. Her husband, Richard, has been on the voice faculty during this time and has been my own voice teacher for over 30 years. During my trip to Connecticut last week, it was announced to me that they have decided to retire. This is an end of an era at Yale. The lives they have touched, the singers they have guided, the influence they have had on so many (and upon the opera world)....there is no way to measure it all. There support has been felt in so many ways. Their knowledge has been passed along. And their spirit will always fill the halls of this great institution. I am most grateful and send them my deepest thanks...and so much love.

Another great influence has also decided to retire. Kim Pensinger-Witman has decided to retire from her position as Vice President of Opera and Classical Programming at Wolf Trap. Kim came to Wolf Trap shortly before my arrival there in 1987. She started as a coach/accompanist and worked her up to be one of the most important women in the opera business. She has nurtured so many careers. She has discovered and fostered talent. She has accompanied me in recital and encouraged my career for a very long time. I am grateful for all she has given to this business, the long hours she has sacrificed, and the incredible work she has done.

These are giants who are retiring. Their shoes will be hard to fill. There is so much talent on the horizon. May we always have people who are willing to shape and encourage that talent and continue to bring beauty to our world.

Busiest months of my career

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the past couple of months have been the most busy of my career. Holding down multiple jobs (singer, teacher, director, guest clinician) can sometimes all come together at one time to make an overwhelming experience. However, all has come out well on the other side. Over the last several weeks, I directed “Le Nozze di Figaro” in a very fine production, with outstanding young singing actors, at Wichita State University. In the very same week that we were finishing the rehearsals and opening that run of performances, I was commuting daily back and forth between Wichita and Cleveland where I was singing Kurwenal in “Tristan und Isolde” with the amazing Cleveland Orchestra. They are truly one of the world’s greatest orchestras. What great performances those evenings brought!!!

At the same time I was handling all of those duties, I was learning a new opera (to me). “Der Freisch
ütz” has now brought me to Vienna where we are well into our second week of rehearsals. I am playing the role of the another bad guy, Kaspar. So far, this looks to be a VERY interesting production. But, learning a new opera on top of everything else was taxing on the mind. It’s nice, now, to be able to concentrate only one hat that I’m wearing rather than juggling three at once.

I love being in Vienna. It is such a beautiful and historic city. Culture abounds on nearly every corner. The only drawback is that the pollen is horrendous at this time of year, but,
This too shall pass. I have never been one who has needed a lot of time off each year. Keeping busy has never been a problem. However, I do have to admit that I’m looking forward to a little rest and relaxation with my family this summer. After the past few months, it will be most welcome.

Singing while Sick

I am so grateful...for great teachers (Thank you Wesley Snyder, George Gibson and Richard Cross) who taught me well and built upon God given talents, to foster a vocal technic that can sustain a singer in so many circumstances. I have been under the weather for about 10 days. I thought I was improving before flying to Munich but got so dehydrated on the flight. Things got worse, quick! On Monday, I really felt bad...on Tuesday, I wasn't able to completely finish a rehearsal due to the bug. I felt a little better yesterday but surely wasn't completely out of the woods. Last night, I coughed off and on all night and was very worried what kind of shape my voice would be in for tonight's performance. Alas, when this kind of thing happens, you have to rely on your gifts and what you've been taught. They haven't failed me in nearly 32 years as a professional singer (I've only had to cancel one performance). Tonight's performance of "The Cunning Little Vixen" was a great performance of this wonderful opera with Franz Welser-Most on the podium with the Bayerische Rundfunk Orchestra. I am indeed most grateful!!! My voice held up very well. Singers, it's all about technic. Don't skimp on it. Ever!!!! Know your technic. Know how you do what you do and what makes you do it even better. On to tomorrow night..and then home on Saturday.

Thanksgiving, 2017

Once again, it is Thanksgiving of my favorite holidays. It is a time to give thanks to our great God for great sustenance and provision. It is a day to rejoice over the blessings we have received. It is a day to gather with family and share in the bounty that has been blessed to us. It is a day to remember loved ones, those with us and those that have passed. It is a day to take stock of our lives and realize that we too must give to others just as we have been so greatly given to. May we act on all of these things during this great day and throughout the coming year.

I once heard it said that Thanksgiving is the first leg of a triumvirate of holidays. It starts off the triune season of holidays in America. After this, we start preparing for the great Feast of Christmas and then head towards New Year’s. Days are now shortening, new light will come, we advance towards Spring and new life. The earth is falling asleep for rests. But, soon, it will be quickened and life will spring forth once again. And we rejoice.

I am away from home this Thanksgiving as I am performing, once again, in “Salome” at the Vienna State Opera. I have done this production many times since 2002 and always enjoy being a part of it. I am grateful (thankful) to be asked back so often and look forward to coming back to Vienna once again in 2018 for a new production of “Der Freisch
ütz”. I am thankful for these past 5 weeks which have seen me travel to Europe three times. I was here in Vienna for performances of “The Cunning Little Vixen” at the incredible Musikverein with The Cleveland Orchestra. Those were career highlight concerts. We also performed a concert in Luxembourg of the opera. I’m thankful for that one as well.

I am thankful for my students at Wichita State University and for all my colleagues. In early November, I directed my first opera, “L’Elisir d’Amore” since being named the Director of Opera at my alma mater. I look forward to many productions ahead including “Le Nozze di Figaro” this coming April.

I am thankful for my wonderful family. We have had a difficult year in losing my brother in July. We have great concerns about the well being of others who are dear to us. We also had dear friends come and go. But we have much to rejoice in as well...good health and the wedding of one of our sons in May. The challenges of life can be learned from again and again. We are thankful.

I have so many dear friends...I am thankful for each one of you. You support me when support is needed and lift me up when I am most down. I do pray that I am doing the same for you.

But, most of all, I am just thankful to God for life and being able to live it abundantly. I am thankful for all of HIs blessings and guidance. He is the foundation of my Thanksgiving for all things all things present...and in all things yet to come.

Give Thanks!

Cunning in Cleveland

It’s great to be back in Cleveland to work with the MAGNIFICENT Cleveland Orchestra. I have worked with these extraordinary musicians several times over the last decade. It is always inspiring to create art with such talented musicians and with a wonderful conductor. Over the next week, we will be reviving the amazing production of “The Cunning Little Vixen” that we premiered here back in 2014. Recently, PBS television did a feature on this production and its impact towards “Reimagining Opera”. The is a unique production that tells the story so well. I’m happy that we will also be presenting this in Vienna and Luxembourg next month. Don’t miss it.

As a midwesterner, I’m always proud of the great music heritage that exists in these great central orchestras. The tradition is fostered and cherished. This is the 100th anniversary of The Cleveland Orchestra and we are honored that this production is kicking off the celebration. I know that there are some that are surprised when they hear that The Cleveland Orchestra is one of “The Big Five”...but, it certainly is...and deserves that reputation. Many think that this orchestra is our nation’s finest. I won’t go into arguing one way or the other...all I know is that performing with this orchestra, in Severance Hall, is truly always one of my favorite engagements.

It has been a hectic last few months as the school year began 5 weeks ago at Wichita State University. We have several new and very talented young singers in our midst. We are rehearsing “L’Elisir d’Amore” for concert presentations on November 9 and 11. This work is so much fun. I’m greatly enjoying every moment of the rehearsals and look forward to the performances. We will have an Opera Scenes program in February and a full production of “Le Nozze di Figaro” in April. This is such a special opera to me as it was the first opera in which I was cast 40 years ago. I can’t wait to begin rehearsals on this masterpiece and revisiting an old friend.

So, these performances here in Cleveland commence my 32nd year as singing professional. The operas at WSU are bringing my career full circle in some ways. And I look forward to the new circles and directions to come. I hope you have an outstanding season of music in your heart.