Artistic Director of Schwab Vocal Rising Stars and New York Festival of Song, Steven Blier gives insight into the week of rehearsals at Caramoor.
March 9, 2016 – Wednesday is usually the last day of free exploration before the reality of Sunday’s performance starts to assert a kind of Realpolitik. Soon we’ll all start to see where the boundaries of our techniques and stylistic flexibility are, and we’ll cut whatever deals are necessary. But I must say that all the artists are making leaps and bounds in their music, and they tend to retain the important stuff so that Mikey and I can build on yesterday’s work. We’ve had to repeat some specifics (mainly language notes) every day, and I do try to avoid a nagging tone. But there’s no question that the musical shapes and colors are deepening. And everyone seems tireless, belting out gorgeous high phrases from morning till evening.
The big event of the day was the arrival of Alison Moritz in the afternoon. She was slightly delayed and that gave us our last hour of relaxed, free-form rehearsal in the hall as we awaited her. In fact, it took us a long time to get up from the lunch table, where everyone was lingering in a desultory way after we found out that the staging wouldn’t begin till about 4. I was waiting for someone to call the cast to order, seize the day, work on the remaining songs…until I realized that person was, in fact, myself. I am still somewhat unused to being an adult and it’s hard for me to remember that I am in charge of anything. I keep hoping this makes me more charming.
Alison is at the beginning of a very successful career as an opera director and acting teacher, but she did once study singing. I am very aware of this when I work with her, and Mikey noticed it too. She’s great with movement and intention and space and all the technical aspects of the theater, but everything she does, even the most abstract staging, seems based on the currents of the music and the nuance of the words. She can hear when the song goes from minor to major, she can hear the alternation of lyricism and rhythm, she’s aware of a flash of anger in the poem, a flash of sweetness—and she can subtly find ways to physicalize all of them without resorting to what we call “Mickey Mousing” (moving in the exact rhythm of the vocal line, for example). The result was that Mikey and I were able to continue our collaboration with the singers and our pianist Will Kelley while she put the show onstage.
and was mortified that I’d been telling a terrible lie for years.
A panic moment at noon: rehearsing Montsalvatge’s “El lagarto está llorando” with Justin, Galeano sat in as our in-house Spanish coach. I had always thought that “lagarto” meant lizard, and every translation of the song I’d ever seen had it that way. “Oh no,” said Galeano, “‘lagartijo’ is lizard [I already knew that from a story I’d recently studied in my Spanish lessons]. ‘Lagarto’ is crocodile.” I had been using a translation I’d done some 25 years ago, and was mortified that I’d been telling a terrible lie for years. I briefly thought maybe I should join the Republican debates, where at least I’d have plenty of company in the mendacity department. But when I got home I thought, hmm, let’s look this up before panicking. It turns out we were both right: “lagarto” means lizard in Spain, crocodile in Latin America. Lorca was Spanish, Galeano is Latin American. Therefore the song is once again about lizards, ¡gracias a dios!
It was the first moderately warm day of the year and we were all feeling that delicious feeling that spring was on the way. Of course, it could still snow on April 1. But there is nothing like feeling the warmth of the sun on your face. I mean, it hasn’t been anywhere near 70 degrees since Christmas Day!
Pictured above: Will Kelley, beaming; Abi Levis, voguing