Grimes and Birds

I first sang the role of Balstrode, in “Peter Grimes”, in a 1994 production at The Metropolitan Opera. I wasn’t scheduled to sing this run at The Met. However, one of my opera heroes, Thomas Stewart, became ill and the Met scrambled to find anyone who knew the role to jump in. I was in the process of learning the role in order to sing it for the first time, in Vancouver, a few weeks later. With very short notice, I quickly crammed the role into my head and showed up at The Met for 2-3 rehearsals (that’s all!!!). I was then thrown into a wonderful production with a great cast. I hoped I wouldn’t drown--after all, it’s an opera with the sea as a main character. It turned out to be a great experience and a fine success.

A few weeks later, we began our rehearsals for the new production in Vancouver where I had a proper rehearsal period. Since then, I’ve gone on to sing the role in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. as well as at La Scala in Milan, Italy. The role served as my debut with this fabled company. What an experience it was to hear the La Scala Chorus sing “Old Joe has gone Fishing”.

I am THRILLED to be a part of the production that we will open on Saturday night, October 5, here in Toronto at The Canadian Opera Company. Over the last 18 months, this company has become sort of an opera “home” for me. The productions have been interesting and there is a strong collegial atmosphere in our work. This production is haunting, as Grimes should be---powerful, well sung, wonderfully acted, and mesmerizing. It has been directed incredibly well--and the conducting, well, it doesn’t get any better! The audiences are in for a treat. And wow, does the orchestra play well--and the chorus? Excellent! I am honored to be working with this cast in what has truly become one of my favorite operas.

Benjamin Britten, who was born 100 years ago (a huge Britten celebration continues around the world), was (is) one of my favorite composers. NOBODY has set the English language better in opera. I have sung several of his operas--in addition to “Grimes”, I’ve sung “The Rape of Lucretia”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, and, for my Metropolitan Opera debut, “Billy Budd”. Britten sets text in a way that makes it possible to be understood even in large opera houses. He uses the orchestra to create great characters and set moods. He immerses the text and the music in a way that makes my job much easier. And, his characters are so real! I’ve loved playing each Britten character that has come my way.

But there is one thing about productions of “Grimes” that truly thrills me. The cast has to work together so closely and the soloists get to interact with the chorus so heavily. It truly is an ensemble opera. No, my role, although tricky, is not the hardest in my repertoire. But there isn’t a production of this opera that I haven’t been overjoyed to be in. I’ve never turned down singing this role--and I can’t imagine I ever would. It is a joy to come to each rehearsal and a LOT of fun. This is a very disturbing opera in some respects. However, the cast always finds a way to live through it--largely, because we share the experience together and feed off each other so well. This is certainly the case here in Toronto--just as it was in San Francisco, Washington, and Milan. And, concerts of this opera await for me in St. Louis and at Carnegie Hall this Fall with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. I’m looking forward to each moment with this incredible score.

It’s almost opening night and nearly time to hit the high seas here in Toronto. I wish all the best to my colleagues, cast, orchestra and chorus. We are doing something very special! Let’s enjoy it!

OH--and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that, once again, my Cardinals are in the post season playoffs. In fact, as I write this, they’ve taken a nice lead in their first game of the Divisional Series. Let’s go Redbirds!

And, that’s not a bad way to spend a week---with seagulls and cardinals.