Howdy from Houston (and Chicago)!
By the time this is posted OperaQ's new Otello will have opened and I'll be getting ready for my own opening night of Johann Strauss's Fledermaus here in Houston Texas. This is my third show with Houston Grand Opera, since I directed The Barber of Seville here in 2006 and Rigoletto in 2009. It's nice to be back with this very friendly and excellent company, but I'm really missing Brisbane, and it's been a very strange feeling to be so far away in the build-up and opening of Otello. I can't wait to see the performances next week when I get back and hear the singers again, having last heard them in day 3 of rehearsal.
In between stage rehearsals last weekend I took the opportunity of flying up to Chicago to see the Houston Grand Opera/Lyric Opera of Chicago production of Madame Butterfly. I have to admit it was also a chance to catch up with a few Australian friends and be a tourist in this amazing city I'd heard so much about. And I wasn't disappointed - what a wonderful city! Within a couple of hours of arriving I was in my seat at the extraordinary 3,563-seat Art Nouveau/Art Deco Civic Opera House, one of Chicago's historic landmarks and among the world's most beautiful buildings, built in 1929. Wow. Three balconies, lavish decoration, great acoustic, wonderful atmosphere... and I admit to having a bout of extreme foyer envy - we simply don't have anything like it in Brisbane (although Toowoomba's Empire Theatre has something of its style, if not its scale). When the theatre is such a gorgeous place to be, no wonder there were about 800 people just for the pre-show talk, and a completely full house for the matinee.
The production of Madame Butterfly was also gorgeous; quasi-traditional, elegant and very moving - created by British director Michael Grandage. I was delighted to see and hear baritone Christopher Purves as the Consul Sharpless, who will sing Walt Disney in Brisbane next year in Philip Glass's The Perfect American, and to report that his performance was, for me, a true highlight: beautifully sung, brilliantly acted. After the show I wandered back to the hotel along the river, marveling at Chicago's magnificent architecture, wishing Brisbane had preserved at least one of its old theatres - there's really something special about seeing opera framed by an old-fashioned proscenium arch, but even the most run-down foyers had so much atmosphere for audiences who love gathering to socialise before and after shows.
Houston's Wortham Theatre is another story altogether - it's a huge, 80's style theatre made for Grand Opera. In fact my 17-year-old art deco Opera Australia production of Fledermaus looks a bit like a television set within the Wortham's massive proscenium arch. Luckily my wonderful singers easily put out enough energy to reach out to the back of the auditorium. For the last few weeks I've been working with a terrific cast including some genuine American opera royalty - mezzo soprano Susan Graham is playing Orlovsky (how's that for luxury casting?), Anthony Dean Griffey is my Alfredo, and Laura Claycomb is Adele. Wendy Bryn Harmer who's singing Rosalinde sang Freia in the Metropolitan Opera's Ring Cycle but is also a fabulous comedienne, and Liam Bonner, my debonair Eisenstein is a former HGO Studio artist now on the brink of much bigger things, like Billy Budd for LA Opera.
I'm just about to leave for the General Rehearsal, which is open to an invited audience. I'm excited to see what my first American audience will make of this show, set in Manhattan, created in Perth 17 years ago and seen on so many Australian stages and in Montreal, where it now lives. It will be great to have some laughs (hopefully) and to run the show, finally, on stage. A nice bonus to look forward to is that Kirsten Chavez, our lovely Carmen from last year will be there, so we'll catch up at interval! That's opera - it's such a world of intersecting pathways, a great big meeting place.
See you all back in Brisbane next week! Can't wait to get home.