Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
I love opera–especially up close and personal. That’s why I was one of the first to buy tickets for the Oregon Maritime Museum Sept. 20 Willamette cruise on the paddle-wheel steamer Portland. Four Portland Opera singers, soprano Katrina Galka, tenor Ian José Ramirez, mezzo Laura Beckel Thoreson and baritone Alexander Elliott would be aboard, performing selections from the up-coming season. I mean, who could resist songs from Showboat on the steamboat?
My friend Ruth came with me; she loves opera as much as I do. Our husbands would have enjoyed it, but they had prior commitments. The Portland cast off from the river wall near the USS Oregon mast in Waterfront Park at 9:00 AM.
The singing was to be outside, under an awning on the upper deck. The weather could not have been more perfect: bright sun, balmy temperature. Not confident of the outdoor acoustics for the unamplified performers, Ruth and I sat directly in front of the singers, ably accompanied by new rehearsal pianist David ~~. It was quite a thrill to be sooo close to Alex Elliot singing the Toreador song from Carmen. We’re pretty sure we were the only passengers who came along because of the singing, other than opera staff. But I think everyone pulled up a chair, sat down and enjoyed the music.
The cruise lasted until nearly 1:00 PM; both breakfast and lunch were provided. After the second set of songs, Mark Tiarks announced that the daughter of one of the passengers had confided that it was her mother’s birthday. The quartet sang “Happy Birthday.”
“This is ideal,” I whispered to Ruth, “I get to hear them sing the song, as though it were for me, but not be embarrassed by everyone looking at me.” It was my birthday, too, and a perfect way to celebrate.
In an effort to attract adults and get more mileage out of their remodeled cafe, Theory Eatery, OMSI recently launched a series called OMSI After Dark, enticing grownups to “treat yourself to childfree, brain-building science fun.” We missed the pirate evening last spring, at which the cast of Pirates of Penzance were well received. So Gary and I figured that drinking songs from various operas should be fun at the Brewfest last Wednesday. Dozens of brewers had tables all over the museum, serving generous samples in exchange for one of the ten round wooden tokens we got, along with our glasses, as part of the price of admission. The event flyer did not say when or where the singing would be, but we spotted a couple of Opera staff members and learned that it was scheduled in the Auditorium, at 7:30 PM.
The Auditorium is in the Planetarium wing. It was packed: four tables of brewer reps served samples along each side wall. A highly-amplified DJ blasted pop music from the stage; conversation was at top volume. The DJ packed up his gear around 7:20, and left. Katrina, Ian, Alex and David went on stage. I think Mark made a few introductory remarks, but we couldn’t hear what he said. We stood at the edge of the stage and could barely catch the melody of “Beviam’ ” from Traviata, the cheer of the champagne song from Fledermaus, or the rousing “Drink! Drink! Drink” from Sigmund Romberg’s Student Prince. The folks in the auditorium were there to drink beer, not to be entertained. Too bad.
But Sunday was yet another beautiful day: we walked up to listen to Nick Fox direct an open chorus rehearsal at Director Park. More than 100 people were there–to listen. A few children played in the water. Nick led the chorus through selections from three of next season’s operas. He had a microphone and explained to the audience which specific elements he wanted the chorus to work on in each piece.
I thought the folks who’d been on the steamboat should have been there yesterday, since several people on board had remarked that they’d like to hear “Ol’ Man River.”
Long-time chorus bass Andre Flynn sang it, with the rest of the chorus backing him up. Nick Fox explained afterward that the chorus must sound like the flow of a river. It’s very important that they do NOT take a breath at the same time. Then they demonstrated the remarkable difference in effect. He was exactly right. The song was choppy and stilted when they all took a breath at the end of each phrase. But when they interleaved their breathing, the music, indeed, flowed like water. Beautiful music AND new insight into how it works, what a radical idea!