Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Spoleto USA and a great stand partner

Over the past several weeks, while hella frisch has been on a hiatus, I have been in Charleston, South Carolina at the Spoleto Festival USA. Since it would be a shame for this chunk of my life to disappear into the unblogged past, especially with all the digital photos I took there, I thought I would revive hella frisch with some belated reports from Spoleto.

One of the first people I met at Spoleto, and certainly the one I spent the most time sitting next to, was my stand partner, Jessica G., pictured below:

Jessica and me at the Dock St. Theatre, pre-Respighi Posted by Hello

Jessica is from Ann Arbor, Michigan and just graduated from NEC, where she studied with the same teacher I did, Donald Palma. Maybe because we both studied with the same guy, or maybe just because she's a very sensitive and talented bass player, it was very easy playing with Jessica. We played two operas together, Respighi's La bella dormente nel bosco and Mozart's Don Giovanni, and the last week of the festival we also played Mozart Symphony no. 40.

Both productions were pretty unusual and very successful, judging from audience reaction. We couldn't see much of the Respighi from our corner of the pit, but every time we performed it we got to hear all kinds of gasps and delighted squeals from the audience, which probably had more to do with the elegant manipulations of Basil Twist's puppeteers than with the artistry of the bass playing. Still, we held it together pretty well, I thought.

Don Giovanni was another thing entirely this year, and it was exciting to be part of such an innovative production. I imagine this must have been a racy and ground-breaking work for its first audiences in 1780's Prague, a whole new mixture of tragedy and comedy, light and dark music, nobility and common folk. The stage director in Spoleto, Gunter Kramer, created a new performance space in an old auditorium in Charleston, the Memminger Auditorium, that brought the audience into the action of the opera, allowing Don Giovanni and Leporello to weave through the seats, interact, even make a pass at a couple women in the audience at one point.

The orchestra got more than our usual share of the spotlight as well, seated right in the middle of the set. It's hard to describe all of the funny and fascinating features of this production, and all of the ingenious methods that our conductor Emmanuel Villaume used to keep it running smoothly. For anyone who will be in Charleston next summer, though, you'll be able to see it in person, since they will be mounting the whole production again for next year's Spoleto Festival.

To read more about Spoleto on the official website, click here. There were several interesting reviews of Spoleto productions, including in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Those papers published their reviews on Tuesday, June 7th, and they are no longer available free online. You can still read the reviews published by the City Paper, Charleston's free weekly, of the Respighi or Don Giovanni.

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