Bel Canto, West Texas Style

Elixir of LoveOpera Pacific’s production of Donizetti’s Elixir of Love opened last night.

Or should I say, will open tomorrow. Last night was technically a preview, but to me the preview performance always seems like opening night since it’s the first time we run the full show in front of a live audience.

The production was looking a bit dodgy a week ago, but we’re running on all cylinders now and Elixir was very well received by the audience on Monday. I do believe this is the most interesting production we’ve done this season.

Elixir of LoveSadly, it does not seems to be selling very well, which is a shame because the concept is fresh and accessible. Rather than being set in a rural village, the production takes place in a west Texas diner in the 1950s. Nemorino is a mechanic, Adina owns the diner, Belcore is a sergeant in the U.S. Army, and Dr. Dulcamara rides into town in a ’56 Ford Fairlane.

Me? I’m the fry cook in Adina’s diner, doling out the greasy food and keeping the hungry masses fed.

It’s a living.

If this Elixir is half as much fun to watch as it is to perform, the notices should be excellent. Speaking of which, the Orange County Register has an interview with our director.

“It begs a question to a certain extent,” Parry says, “why do a relocation, why update, why change these things from originals? I think that it’s sort of like when you present something on the wall of the Louvre. If you present something as a museum piece, it’s beautiful and it has a lot of value, but it’s something that an audience, a spectator, can leave at arm’s length. You know, it’s on the wall, it’s something of a different time, of a different place, of somewhere other than what we know. So we as an audience become a little bit uninvolved, we’re appreciating as spectators.

“Whereas if we bring it into the 1950s, that is something that the audience has either lived through or has some cultural references about – and into America, again where an audience is familiar with a lot of the signs and signals. It becomes a piece that we can interact with, that we can involve ourselves with in a more personal way. And so we’re no longer spectators.”

The diner itself is a bit of a grungy place, as you’d expect, and features a pair of counters with stools and a cash register. The set revolves to reveal a porch with a couch, newspaper stand, a Coke machine and gas pumps around the side. Around the back another scene is set in front of a public restroom, with a payphone nearby.

“It’s not just decor,” Parry says, “… but in a sense they are things that we have a cultural resonance with.” The idea is to make the characters and situations more immediate for a modern audience.

Read the rest of the interview here.

Irvine World News

Ah, the poor old Irvine World News.  This is the Rodney Dangerfield of newsprint, a hometown paper which is printed once a week.

Irvine World News articleIt gets little respect, probably because they give it away for free.  “You get what you pay for” and all that.  Plus, it really does confine itself to the world of Irvine.  That fact alone makes the paper worthless to most of Orange County, I’d think.  They don’t care about the happenings in Irvine any more than I care about the minutia of life in Brea.

More often than not, the World News is “delivered” to my house by a paperboy who throws it onto the ground behind — or more often, underneath — my car.  The issue typically remains hidden there until it’s crushed by the tires of my Eclipse.

Like I said, little respect.

Even so, the paper published an article about me in today’s issue.  Opera Pacific has been making an effort to better publicize our productions, and as part of this push they’re trying to highlight members of the company.  I guess they found me interesting because of the aviation angle.

Anyway, I’ve got a PDF file available if you’re interested in reading it.

Samson, Delilah, and Student Pilots

Oh yeah, I have a web site.

Sort of forgot about that for the past few weeks.

It’s understandable. I’ve either been out at the airport trying to keep my students from wreaking havoc on the runway, or in rehearsals for Samson et Delilah at Opera Pacific. Typically I’m flying from 9 am to 5 pm and then in rehearsal from 7 pm to 10 pm. Thankfully, the show will be over by the end of February and I’ll be able to return to some semblance of normalcy.

Tweety on the Hemet airport runway at sunsetThe flying has been interesting. It’s been so long since I was a student pilot that I forgot how every little thing needs to be taught and explained. Over time, so much of what goes on in the cockpit becomes second nature, and like driving a car with a manual transmission, you perform relatively complex tasks without even thinking about them. The other thing that takes a lot of getting used to is the fact that I don’t really fly much. I’m up there instructing, but the student is the one on the controls. It’s one of the less appealing aspects of working as a CFI.

I’ve got about ten students right now. Some are primary students learning how to fly for the first time. A couple are “refreshers” for pilots are certificated but haven’t flown in a while. One is a commercial applicant, and another is just finishing his instrument rating.

When not occupied with students, I’ve been getting checked out to instruct in as many of Sunrise’s airplanes as possible. The fleet is pretty diverse:

  • C152
  • C172P
  • C172R/S
  • C1172RG
  • Citabria
  • Decathlon
  • DA-20 Eclipse
  • DA-40 Diamond Star
  • Cirrus SR-20
  • Cirrus SR-22
  • Pitts S-2B
  • Extra 300L

Each aircraft requires in depth study of the POH, completion of a detailed aircraft checkout form, and at least one flight with a check pilot for that model. I’m also completing the standardization process for teaching instrument, commercial, and aerobatic courses. That’s a whole other ordeal, complete with DVDs to watch, forms to fill out, questions to answer, etc.

My goal is to be able to teach anyone who comes in the door in any airplane on the line. The problem is that these checkout flights are not free — I have to pay for them, and the aircraft rental rates vary between $100 and $300 per hour. So far I’ve been working full time at Sunrise for a month and have yet to receive a dollar. The next few paychecks are probably going to be for zero dollars, too, as the money goes to reimburse Sunrise.

And you thought “pay for training” was dead. Ah, aviation…

Speaking of flight instructing, I encountered my old instrument instructor the other day. He’s now flying for West Coast Charters, and stopped in at Sunrise to say hello. I bought him lunch and we got caught up. It made me feel great to see him moving up the ladder, because he was one of the guys caught in the post-9/11 slowdown and spent a long time working a very un-glamourous job as a line guy to make ends meet. I recall going in to Sunrise one day shortly after 9/11 and seeing everyone just sitting around, doing nothing. I asked my instructor how bad things were and he said he’d earned nothing for more than a week. Lord willing, we’ll never have to go through that again.

Anyway, enough about flying. The opera scene is a bit more conventional. Samson is going to be a great show! Opera Pacific has a ballet company on site training for the opera, and the music is exhilerating, if somewhat tough to memorize. Staging rehearsals start tomorrow, by which time we’re technically supposed to have this show memorized. It ain’t gonna happen, but somehow we always squeak by in staging while scrambling to get the libretto stored in (very) short term memory.

Over the years I’ve developed a way of doing this while being able to release the information once the show is over. Some operas I’ll never forget — Carmen, Aida, Rigoletto, Hoffman, Carmina Burana — either because we had enough rehearsal, or have done them multiple times. Others, like the Mozart shows, are completely forgettable.

So that’s the a brief update on things here at the House of Rapp. Once the standardization is done at Sunrise and the opera is over, I hope to have more time to write. And ironically, maybe do a bit of flying myself. I do miss those times when I’d just head out to the airport on a lark and take my plane up for an hour or so to watch the sunset. No students to teach, no clock to watch, no practice area traffic to deal with. Just me and my plane up there in the sky for no particular reason at all.

The Virtual Orchestra

I received an email from a fellow musician that bodes ill for the future of the performing arts. It’s bad enough that the arts have essentially been eliminated in our schools. Must professional theatres go the same way? If major arts facilities don’t understand this issue…. well, I just wonder who’s going to pay $100 (or more) for a ticket to see a show that’s not even played live.

On Tuesday December 21, 2004 the musical show “Oliver” will open at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. This show is traveling with a machine known as the Virtual Orchestra. This machine uses digital sampling to record and replace live musicians in the pit.

This is a very real threat to the future of live music. The Virtual Orchestra jeopardizes every phase of the music business. Last year the Broadway musical theatres in New York City were closed for three days as singers, dancers and stagehands joined with musicians in refusing to work with this device. As a result there is no Virtual Orchestra on Broadway.

On Tuesday December 21, 2004 Local 7 will be distributing leaflets to the opening night audience. To be noticed and taken seriously we must have a large number of people participating. You as a practitioner of the art of making music owe it to yourself, as well as to all musicians who have come before you and who are yet to come, to standup to this attack on our profession.

The Orange County Performing Arts Center by its very name proclaims to be dedicated to the performing arts. To replace musicians with this mechanical device is a betrayal of the purpose for which this magnificent structure was conceived, funded and erected. It cannot be allowed to contribute to the decline of music performance by employing the Virtual Orchestra as a cost saving device without hearing from us.

I’m in Las Vegas until the 21st, so I won’t be able to be there. But “canned” music bothers me, because when I lived in Las Vegas in the late 80’s, the hotels on the Strip decided to save money by replacing live musicians in the orchestra pit with taped music. The musician’s union went on strike at every hotel in town. They stayed on the picket lines for literally years. Eventually they just stopped picketing, the battle lost. And today, there’s not a live orchestra left anywhere on the Strip that I know of.

Updated Colophon

I updated the colophon page to read a little more like a personal narrative and a bit less like a legal brief. The only things it was missing were the double spacing and line numbers.

Hopefully it’s now more entertaining, easier to read, lower in calories, and will cause the reader to buy the world a Coke and teach them to sing in perfect harmony.

I’m all about setting reasonable expectations.

Speaking of harmonies, today is closing night for Turandot. Which is a bit of misnomer since we close with a matinee. Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed this production. It’s been somewhat of a meat market backstage, but that’s what happens when the cast is young and nearly 100 in number. The audiences have given standing ovations every night, rare for an Orange County crowd. I have a feeling the next production (Mozart!) won’t produce the same response from the populi…

And with that, I’m off to the theatre.