Art Vent Letting the Fresh Air In
November 27, 2011
There’s just one more production of Philip Glass’s Satyagraha at the Met, although it’s being shown in HD practically everywhere. I loved the opera, but can’t imagine that sitting through a simulcast would be anything but tedious. I believe in live music and live opera, especially since reading (in an article I can no longer find) that smaller city opera companies are closing and one of the reasons is the availability of simulcasts. Because opera houses insist on playing the same 18th and 19th century chestnuts over and over (enough with the Marriage of Figaro already!), opera often deserves its stuffy reputation. However no other genre has the possibility of fulfilling all the senses the way opera can, which makes it the ultimate art form. However I believe its possibilities—the synergy of visual art, music, dance and theater—haven’t even begun to be fully explored.
I also have an inside track through my friend, Timothy Breese, a bass-baritone who has sung with the Metropolitan Opera Chorus since 1999. In Satyagraha he’s front and center—tall and handsome, with a brimmed red hat and purple mustache. Through my friendship with Tim I’ve learned what it takes to maintain an operatic voice—mostly relentless daily practice and private coaching—and about the seemingly impossible feat of memorization. To me, the job of the chorus appears in some ways more challenging than that of soloists, as they’re not singing pieces from beginning to end, but continually starting and stopping at various points throughout. This season Tim sang in 23 operas, of which seven were new. When he began working with the chorus, in order to catch up he had to immediately master several at once, on his own, spending 100 hours on Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron alone (one of the most gorgeous productions, both visually and musically, I’ve seen), which he says is probably the most difficult opera for chorus ever written. Tim also ranks Satyagraha among the most challenging.
Photo: Metropolitan Opera, Satyagraha
And Jim Hodges hangs a disco ball over a hole filled with water in a gallery floor and we’re supposed to be impressed…. Whoops! I‘m getting off-topic….
What I was going to say before I so rudely interrupted myself, is that another thing I learned from Tim is the value of persistence.
Three days before Tim first sang in what turned out to be a grueling round of auditions for the Met, he also tried out for what I’ll call the Podunk Dinner Theater. At the Met, he was one of six or seven ultimately selected from a pool of more than 600 hopefuls.
He did not make the Podunk Dinner Theater.
This story, which I relate to students whenever I have the opportunity, was key in the development of my Malcolm Gladwell-esque ITOTKO (It Takes One To Know One) theory, the premise of which is that only excellence recognizes excellence. To elaborate: only someone as smart or accomplished as you is going to recognize how smart and/or accomplished you are. Forget working your way up, because the people you encounter in the low or mid-ranks are not capable of appreciating your gifts. Yet most people, thinking conventionally, would say to themselves, “Wow, I didn’t make the Podunk Dinner Theater, so I can’t possibly audition for the Met.”
This is why it’s important to KEEP GOING NO MATTER WHAT.
It was much more fun, however, when I thought I could make excuses.
Note: This is what Tim said when I asked him what makes Moses und Aron so especially difficult:
"Moses und Aron is completely atonal. The notes were sometimes literally thrown down a stair and then used in the pattern they fell in, backwards, upside down, and in every possible rhythm combination and meter. Heard enough? It's a terrific opera though."