New and Old Roles

The past few weeks have been beyond hectic. Just over two weeks ago, I was thrilled to return to the Washington Concert Opera for the first time since 1989. Although my face is seen regularly in Washington, D.C., it has been way too long since I’ve performed with this organization. The performance was of Beethoven’s “Leonore”. Now, I’ve sung the opera “Fidelio” over 100 times. However, this was the first time I performed in the predecessor to Beethoven’s great opera. It was extremely interesting to see how the opera evolved from the original version to the opera we’ve come to know so well. One had to be careful not to get the versions backwards in your mind when trying to sing the music that was familiar but not all together the same. I so enjoyed this event and being back in Foggy Bottom.

I came home to Wichita and immediately dove into continued music rehearsals for our Spring Opera, Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito” at Wichita State University. This was the first time I have been so heavily involved on the production side of a creation. Rehearsals began in January and the students worked VERY hard these past two months. The results were astounding. We wrapped up the run yesterday. I have to admit, it was strange for me to see my name listed in the program but not on the cast page. And, as of this Fall, that will be the case more and more as I am taking over as the Director of Opera at Wichita State. I look forward to programming interesting productions and challenging the students. I look forward to both staged and non-staged productions...all with the intent of helping to educate our young singers, train them both musically and dramatically, and entertain the audiences of Wichita and beyond.

We at WSU owe so much gratitude to Marie King, our current Director of Opera who has held the position since 1997. Before her, my mentor, Dr. George Gibson, held the position for nearly 30 years. Taking on the position, that has only been held by two extraordinary directors over the past half century, is a daunting task. Our program has turned out some outstanding singing actors including Sam Ramey, Joyce DiDonato, and so many others (and I’ve been known to perform a bit as well). The challenge is huge...but I’m very excited about all that lies ahead.

Tonight, I updated the “Calendar” section on my website. I am thrilled to share the information regarding the performances this Fall with The Cleveland Orchestra. As part of their 100th Anniversary Season, they have decided to bring back some of their favorite programs of the past century. I am so happy that they have decided to revive our “Cunning Little Vixen” production from 2014. What a GREAT spectacle it is!!! And, to top it off, we will take the production to Vienna and Luxembourg.

I’ve added a few other items to the schedule as well...I’m so happy and blessed to be able to continue in these various roles. Educator, Director, and Singer....and full time Shocker fan!!!

Singing at Home

This weekend, I’m singing two concerts with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra and the Wichita Symphony Orchestra Chorus at Century 2 here in Wichita (of course). On the program is quite a bit of Wagner but also some Puccini, Bizet, Borodin, and Verdi. It’s a huge, meaty, and thrilling concert full of repertoire that tickles the ears and ignites the soul. It is also dog gone difficult to sing.

I am absolutely thrilled with how wonderful the Wichita Symphony, under the baton of Music Director, Maestro Daniel Hege, are playing this great music. What a wonderful full sound. And the chorus has blazed through their great choruses as well (under the direction of Dr. Michael Hanawalt, my colleague at Wichita State University.

So many in the orchestra are colleagues of mine at WSU. It has been great to see them dive into this music--much of it new to them. Several of the pieces we are presenting in Wichita are being programmed for the first time in Wichita. I am greatly enjoying bringing a bit of what I do on the road to the audiences here in Wichita. And, I have to say, it is wonderful to only have to commute around 20 minutes from our house to the concert hall.

This city, the arts in this city, its’ musicians, and its’ incredible talent, mean so much to me. As you know, I received my Masters Degree from WSU. I have, over the last nearly 35 years, stayed in contact with the university during my performing career and always enjoyed every trip back to Kansas for a recital, concert, or master class. But, nearly 3 years ago, we decided to make Wichita our home once again. I don’t know that I fully expected to see such professionalism in my colleagues...such a dedication to their craft. Our faculty is young, vibrant, and incredibly talented. They are helping to enrich the lives of their students, their orchestral members, and the entire South Central Kansas region. This is a QUALITY orchestra of great skill. I am honored to have sung with them last night and look forward to our second concert in just a few hours.

After today’s concert, I’ll have a week of teaching (happy to only wear one hat for the week) before flying to D.C. next week for a concert of Beethoven’s “Leonore”, the early version of what was to become one of my most performed operas, “Fidelio”. I’ll be performing with the Washington Concert Opera, a company I haven’t performed with since 1989. I’m so looking forward to being back in Foggy Bottom--a place that has been near the center of my career for so many years.

The concerts are challenging and fulfilling, the weather has been gorgeous, and the best time of year, college basketball season, is upon us (and going well for the Shockers). Despite all the discord and angst in our lives, it is great to know that so much can be surpassed by the beauty of music, the dedication and discipline of fine artists and colleagues, and the desire to enrich others through our talents. May that long be the goal and standard.

Happy New Year/Looking back/Looking ahead

I’m a bit late with my New Year’s greetings but they are as heartfelt as always. May 2017 be a year of great blessing, full of wonderful music, and a time of peace and joy. We can use all the peace we can get!

As I write this, I’m in Vienna, Austria for performances of “Salome”. This is the fourth time I’ve visited Vienna just for this fabulous production which dates back to the early 1970’s (Leonie Rysanek was the first Salome in this production). I first performed in this production during the 2001-2002 season. Since then, I’ve returned to work with 3 different sopranos. It is so interesting to see how different each revival has been due to the different protagonists involved. I’m scheduled to be back here in November for more performances of this production. I know that my soprano will be one that I’ve worked with already. Can’t wait!!!

Vienna is one of the most beautiful and easiest to be in cities in the world. The opera company is one of the dream companies. They put on so many performances each season of approximately 50 different operas. No other company has that kind of output. Yes, revivals are put together very quickly. But this helps add to the excitement. I can vividly recall my debut with the company in “Das Rheingold” (2001). I had only 3 days of rehearsal before having to come on stage as Wotan. When the curtain ascended, all I remember seeing was the phenomenal Vienna Philharmonic staring up at me and seemingly saying, “Let’s see what you’ve got, kid”. Scared me to death. But, it was a great experience and a wonderful debut.

I always remember those days when I’m rehearsing here...and I’ve learned how to think on my feet very quickly due to experiences like that. The audiences here are some of the most educated (regarding opera) anywhere in the world. You have to be on your toes and ready for anything. Most of the time, things run smoothly. It is a difficult, at times, theater to sing in. The orchestra sits much higher and is more exposed than in most other opera houses. This can lead to balance issues. But, they are one of the finest orchestras anywhere and play so incredibly. A singer has to be careful to not get too caught up in the music making and remember that there is theater involved as well.

I always spend my last post of the year looking back at the performances of the preceding 12 months. As I’m late to do this for 2016, I’ll let my first post of 2017 handle the festivities. I like to pick one performance of the previous year as my favorite. Sometimes, it’s hard to make a pick---this year, it wasn’t too difficult. It was a year full of Wagner. I sang The Wanderer in “Siegfried’ in Toronto, all three Wotans in the incredible Ring Cycles in Washington, a concert as The Wanderer in Boston, concerts at Wolf Trap, Bluebeard in Portland, Maine, and Orest in “Elektra” in Barcelona. The “Elektra” run was one of the most consistent runs of opera that I’ve ever been a part of. Each performance was solid and enthusiastically received. However, the performance of “Die Walk
üre” on May 2 (First Cycle) will always stand out in my mind as one of the greatest nights in my career. It is my 2016 favorite.

That night, my great friend, Christine Goerke, jumped into the role of Br
ünnhilde on short notice for our opening cycle. We had got the cycle rolling a few nights earlier with “Das Rheingold”. But, when the curtain rose on act 2 of “Die Walküre”, the act when Wotan and Brünnhilde first appear together, I knew we were all in for a special night. The energy was incredible. The emotion was overwhelming. The critical acclaim was enormous, and the response from the audience was like nothing I’ve ever heard in the Kennedy Center. One critic wrote that the second act scene between father and daughter “forever colored my understanding of the opera”. You hope to bring your own interpretations to performances and have an impact that will be remembered. It’s a strong performance when the audience feels that way--and the performers as well.

I was fortunate, in those cycles in DC, to have four different Brünnhildes, including the dress rehearsals. Due to an injury to one of the sopranos, the understudy had to go on during our final dress. For the three cycles, we then had three different sopranos play the warrior maiden. I so enjoyed the spontaneity that this brought...the new energy...again, I had to be a quick thinker and on my toes. I LOVE performing that way. And, I think the audience knows when they are seeing something special as well. We create art together--from both sides of the pit.

And, at this time, I look ahead to what 2017 brings. The energy of performing will continue to be sharpened and polished on the state as well as in the studio and classroom. After these performances of “Salome” here in Vienna, I’ll sing a concert with the Wichita Symphony of opera highlights (including Wagner and Puccini). I’ll sing with the Washington Concert Opera (first time since 1989) in “Leonore” (the predecessor to “Fidelio”). I’ll also sing one of my favorite roles with one of my favorite orchestras---“Der Fliegender Holl
änder” with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. I”ll return to Vienna later in the year for performances of “Elektra” and “Salome”. And, I am very excited to be returning to the Cleveland Symphony for a VERY exciting project--one I can’t announce just yet. That one is going to have me traveling a bit with the orchestra--truly one of the world’s finest who will be celebrating their centennial. It’s going to be an exciting year.

BUT, it doesn’t all take place in the opera house or on a concert stage. Recently, I’ve been named as the Director of Opera at Wichita State University. I’ll take over those duties in the Fall. However, I am already actively making plans for our coming season(s). This is a job that I’ve sort of hoped to have for a very long time---since my days as a student at WSU over 30 years ago. I’ll be wearing a lot of hats in 2017---opera singer/concert artist/voice teacher/opera director---and, oh, did I forget...HUSBAND AND DAD. I didn’t forget at all--those are my two most important jobs. But, all of this will require a lot of fast thinking on my feet--just like in the performances here in Vienna. It’s good that I wear comfortable shoes.

Go Shockers!!!

Back again in Barcelona

I can’t believe it has been so long since I’ve made an entry into this journal. In many years, during the summer and early Fall, I have had a long break in order to catch up on life and my career. It seems, in many ways, that I’ve been chasing too many things all at the same time over the past six months. And now, here we are in the early throes of December and the end of the year is quickly approaching. It’s time to look back, at least a bit, at what all has been going on.

As I write this, I’m in Barcelona, Spain once again. I haven’t been here in over three years--it doesn’t seem that it has been that long ago. I’ve spent a lot of time here over the course of my career..it’s one of my favorite cities. The weather has been warm and mostly beautiful (a nice change from the cold and snow that is hitting the midwest). I’m here for performances of “Elektra”. It is an outstanding production by the late Patrice Ch
éreau (his last production before he passed away in 2013). What a strong and wonderful cast!!!! Excellent singing and acting all around. And what a treat to get to perform once again with Franz Mazura who is now 92 years old. Franz was in my Metropolitan Opera debut way back in 1989. I’ve always enjoyed working with him on various projects. He still commands the stage...you can’t take your eyes off of him.

This run of performances goes through December 23rd. I’m looking forward to getting home for the celebration of the great Feast of Christmas. This will be our third Christmas in Wichita, a place that truly has become home for us. With all of the traveling and busy nature of the lat 6 months, each landing back in Kansas has been most welcome. I had several trips to Wolf Trap this summer and did a little performing there amongst all my activities as the Artist in Residence at Wolf Trap Opera. I also had a trip to Miami to teach and perform (along with Christine Goerke) as part of the Wagner Institute at the Miami Music Festival (Boy, was it hot). I’ll be returning to Miami in the summer of 2017 to help lead the program.

I also made my annual trip to Yale in October to work with the singers of Yale Opera. I think the current group of singers in the program are some of the most solid singers I’ve heard there. Excellent! Such amazing talent.

I also had a trip to Portland, Maine to sing “Bluebeard’s Castle” alongside Michelle DeYoung with Robert Moody leading the Portland Symphony Orchestra. What a great night that was! It’s always nice to be back in beautiful Maine.

The Fall semester at Wichita State University has been exhausting in some respects but so rewarding in others. We quickly kicked off the year with auditions for our Fall opera, “B
éatrice et Bénédict”. I have been teaching a bit of an overloaded studio as well. And, this Fall, WSU hosted the Regional National Association of Teachers of Singing convention and auditions. I helped serve as a Co-Registrar which required a lot of time and energy. I was pleased that my students did so well in the auditions. Multiple other auditions, performances, and recitals have filled the calendar in Wichita...and on it goes.

Things will get even more hectic at WSU in the future. Beginning in the Fall of 2017, I will be heading up the Opera program. I’ve got a lot of ideas and hopes for the program. It will be a challenge (but lots of fun) to see all of that unfold.

Challenges and busy days are all fine...but they don’t mean much if you don’t have a purpose for it all. So what is my purpose? I ask myself this kind of question often. I will always try to do the best that I can with the talents I’ve been given to enrich others. Only with that goal can I find that I’m fulfilled as an artist, teacher, and man. OH, I will never say that music is the most important thing in my life. Faith and Family come far before a career as a musician. For me, it has happily always been this way. One must always keep what is important at the forefront and then everything else will find its order in the sorting of life. When the activities become too numerous, the stress of a singing engagement a bit heavy, the fatigue from travel a bit overbearing, and the doubts as to what the importance of it all become troubling, I have to remember that I have been blessed with certain talents and abilities that allow me to “just do it” and the perseverance (and stubbornness) to not give up. I’m thankful for that. Without this, I wouldn’t be fulfilled. Success would not have occurred in any area of my life. One must not give in to the things that keep us from being our best...from best serving others...from best serving ourselves...and, most important, from serving our Great God. Sometimes, it just takes awhile, and the right attitude, to get it all done...but with perseverance, much can be attained. Just look at the Chicago Cubs...it took 108 years...but, obviously, as was shown once again...perseverance, patience, and determination were rewarded---abundantly!

GO SHOCKERS!!!

Such an Honor

What an honor it is for me to be back at Wolf Trap and to be the Artist in Residence for the 2016 Wolf Trap Opera Company. I have had a LONG affiliation with Wolf Trap (dating back to 1987) and always enjoy my return trips to the beautiful Wolf Trap Park for the Performing Arts in Northern Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C.

This year, the unbelievably dedicated and gifted Senior Director of the program, Kim Witman (who has been affiliated with the company even longer) has assembled a remarkable group of Filene Young Artists and outstanding studio artists as well. This month, I have had the pleasure of teaching/coaching these young singers, watch them rehearse, and even perform with them a bit. A few weeks ago, the young artists gave outstanding performances of Britten’s “The Rape of Lucretia”. The studio artists have been giving concerts as well as performing various opera scenes.

Remaining to be performed is a wonderful treat for the audiences---Florian Leopold Gassman’s “
L’Opera Seria” (you won’t see this one at your local opera company very often) and Puccini’s masterpiece “La Boheme”. There is also a concert this coming Friday night with these great singers, the National Symphony Orchestra, and yours truly. It will be a concert of American compositions and patriotic music in the Filene Center. Don’t miss out on these performances.

I have always found the Wolf Trap Opera Program to be one of the finest, if not THE finest, young artist training programs in the country. The singers are given real performance opportunities and have the chance to work with outstanding conductors and directors. They are nourished and nurtured and deliver so much to the audiences at such a critical point in their careers. I am grateful for this company, for Mrs. Katherine Shouse (who founded Wolf Trap so long ago) and all who support this great organization. The company gave me my start and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Today, the young artists presented an “Aria Jukebox” concert where audience members voted on which aria, out of a choice of 4 or 5, that they wished to hear each singer perform. The results were outstanding. With short notice as to which aria they would sing, each young artist sang superbly and with great communication, artistic style, and well developed voice. These are the voices of the future of opera. These are the voices that will continue to foster our 400+ year old art form. We are in good hands. Don’t miss them and also your chance to be able to say, a few years down the road, that you remember hearing this or that singer when they were just starting out. You’ll be glad that you did.