Opera

Small Archiving Project [Pt 1]

As many of you know, last year I inherited a small archiving project of and relating to New Orleans opera in the mid-1900’s. As of two days ago, this “project”, which has consisted of a giant box of mildew-scented newspaper clippings, has come to life. (Immediately I feel a rush of “GAH!” as I realize I have no clue where to start.) I have yet to take an archiving course, although I hope to at some point, even if it has to be a DIS. Regardless, I need to invest in some texts or friendly conversation with those “in the know” regarding the methodology.  So… I have a giant box of old newspaper clippings. Now what?

I suppose I should talk about the clippings for a moment. I inherited the box from a music library in New Orleans which didn’t harbor the means/resources to give it the time of day. It had been given to the library as part of an estate and I can only assume this is because the owner was getting on in years or perhaps passed away. So here I am.

…no clue who the “owner” was (i.e. who assembled the box of clippings), or their relationship to the articles they clipped. The articles themselves range from 1930-1984, and they discuss two particular opera stars from New Orleans who rose through the ranks toward the Met, then came back home  [to New Orleans] during their final years (from what I can see thus far). It’s not simply a survey of opera in New Orleans via media clips. It’s an intimate portrait of two particular people, as if a mother was saving every newspaper clipping of her rising star children.

This is going be like the board game “Clue” for the next few weeks.  Step one was to pull them out of the box and glance them over. I’m about halfway done with this step (there’s a few hundred articles and they’re frail – give me a break!), and I have been taking notes as I peruse them: particular questions I’ll need to answer, people/places/dates that keep popping up, etc. Once I’m done with this, I suppose I’ll continue picking through and asking questions as I put them together chronologically.  Then it gets tricky. I can further split them up via location, musician, opera, role, or even critic. After that I’m not quite sure which direction to take. I know there’s a story to tell here. I just have to unravel it.

Of course these clippings can likely all be found in digital  [or other] archives, and perhaps I won’t come to any conclusions at all with this small project of mine, but it gives me something to do for the next month and I need to brush up on the 20th century opera scene in New Orleans anyway. For now, back to playing Clue

Der fliegende Holländer

Last night we saw Wagner’s opera, The Flying Dutchman. The story itself is about a ship captain who is condemned to the seas until judgment day. He’s only allowed off the ship once every 7 years to search for a wife who will be faithful to him even on his deathbed, and so the opera begins at one of these 7-year points.

It was originally written to air with no intermission. It’s not his lengthiest of operas, but with the current state of ADHD-audiences, it’s no wonder why it’s usually performed in III acts with an intermission between the first and second.

Wagner worked on the story in 1840, composed the libretto & orchestration in 1841, and the premiere took off in 1843 with Wagner himself conducting in Dresden. I’d love to find out some information on how it was received at that first performance…

*Notably, the Dutchman is Wagner’s earliest opera to be performed at Bayreuth.

So – last night’s performance was done well. I had not seen the production before, and so I don’t have one to compare it to. I wasn’t impressed with the modern screen in front of the on-stage cast that colored the stage with night-scenes in outrageous pinks and purples. It was a little much, and it distracted the audience (myself and those I was with at least) from what was going on. The set behind it was lovely, and it would have been nice to see it instead of squinting to gaze through the screen.

The pit orchestra was fabulous of course – and not at all because I knew most of the players. The tubist (okay so he’s my private instructor) had a full Wagner sound, and seemed to understand the nuances of everything that was happening on stage and putting every note into context. Perhaps I’m taking previous knowledge from seeing him practice sometimes and knowing how his mind works – that the music does become a story for him, and he tries to make it come alive. It’s what makes him different to me. The notes don’t matter unless they mean something. The conductor was wonderful as well, and I had never seen him before so I need to do a bit of asking around to find out more about him.

All of the voices were well-cast, although the Dutchman himself didn’t have as much of a vocal presence as Senta (the woman he wants), Erik (her boyfriend), her father, or the helmsman.

I love the Petrucci library. You can see the entire Dutchman vocal score here if you’d like.

Anyway, it was a lovely experience and a lovely production. It was also Kd’s first opera, so I’m glad it was a Wagner.

On another note, our conversation in the car this morning went something like this:

Kd: “I don’t like this piece. It’s too childish.”
Dani: “It’s called “Children’s March”.”
Kd: “Okay but I don’t like it.”
Dani: “Honey, my goal in life is to force-feed you Percy Grainger until you love it. That’s how I learned”.