26 June 2012

The Wedding of the Century

All-star production: Dr. Stephen Gentle officiates.
Photo by Jim Carnahan.

Contemporary society is changing so fast! As he welcomed us to the wedding of Steven Bryant and Darren Woods on Sunday, Dr. Stephen W. Gentle of the Disciples of Christ admitted that he’d “never done anything like this before,” then paused. “It’s the first time in my 27-year career that I’ve officiated at the marriage of a couple who have been together for 32 years.”

He grinned, and we cheered. Darren and Steven have indeed been together a long time, and in Opera World they’re something of a hallowed institution unto themselves. You can’t say that by an exchange of vows on Sunday they made their relationship official, or even much different from what it was on Saturday — though because the ceremony was performed in Schroon Lake, New York, it certainly is legal now. Maybe when something is so right, so tested and true, people just need to acknowledge it, and so Darren and Steven did.

Of course, attending the wedding meant missing Pride in New York. Darren scoffed when I pointed this out. “This is a Pride Parade,” he said, almost like Miles Gloriosus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and in the event the turnout was exceptional, great throngs of people who were as proud as they were joyful.

Steven W. Bryant and Darren K. Woods: The official portrait.
Photo by Ellen Appel.

The date was significant, just two days before the anniversary of Darren and Steven’s first meeting, on this very ground: the Seagle Music Colony, where the boys were students, and where Darren is now artistic director and Steven supervises wigs and makeup for the annual productions of opera and musicals.* No other day would do.

Moreover, I knew I’d see at least two gleaming torsos, even if there were no go-go boys (and there weren’t) on this Pride Day: Steven is launching a line of men’s formalwear accessories, gorgeous and brilliantly colored ties, vests, and cummerbunds.** Sure enough, both grooms were decked out in eye-catching finery.

I also knew the music would be spectacular, and it was. A chorus made up of this year’s Seagle kids lined the stage of the Oscar Seagle Theater, under the direction of Tony Kostecki, in numbers by Vaughn-Williams and Daniel Pinkham. And the evening’s other selections together constitute one of the most radiant highlights of my listening year.

Soprano Ava Pine, herself a Seagle alumna, delivered a melting, shimmering account of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer 1915 — which just happens to be the year that the Colony was founded — with Tyson Deaton on piano, for all the world as if he were at the head of a full orchestra. Ava and Tyson returned at the end for “Let the Bright Seraphim,” from Handel’s Samson, which Ava ornamented with more fireworks than any other Pride celebration in history has known.

And a little later in the evening, bass-baritone Daniel Okulitch sang a tender setting of Browning’s “Grow Old with Me,” written by Jake Heggie as an anniversary present for another terrific couple from Opera World, baritone Robert Orth and his wife.

Ava has amused Darren, possibly by mentioning that I’m still angling to join them in Daughter of the Regiment
at Fort Worth Opera next season.
Photo by Daniel Okulitch.

Thereafter, we set about partying, and we took this as seriously as you would expect from a group of conscientious, professional, artistically minded folks — who were over the Adirondack moon with happiness. What struck me almost immediately was that the party was as important as the ceremony: a celebration of a community that has been brought together by the love of these two men.

So many of the people here are dear to me, and dearer by the minute, and that’s pretty much because Darren and Steven willed it so. Darren talks often about the families we’re born into and the families we choose for ourselves: add it all up, and Darren’s family is vast. On Sunday I looked up and realized that I’m part of it, too.

I’m not alone: every person present must feel the same way. What an extraordinary achievement!

Lucky WVM with Ava Pine, Janice Hall, and Daniel Okulitch.
Trivia note: I have interviewed each of these phenomenal singers both for this blog and for features in Opera News. (Ava for her profile in the June 2012 issue, Janice for a profile of Darren a few years ago, and Dan for a preview of Shore’s The Fly in Paris.)
I believe Kurt Howard took this picture, using Dan’s camera.

I thought back to the afternoon, when I arrived early and barged into Darren and Steven’s house, though they had better things to do (ya think?) than look after me. Cool and collected before the Big Event, Darren observed — with a note of wonder, if not surprise — the enthusiastic reactions he’d received from everyone in and around Schroon Lake. Even people who weren’t attending the wedding knew about it and happily supported it. Everybody got into the spirit, notably including Dr. Gentle, whose speeches during the ceremony revealed a sense of humor that chimed perfectly with Darren’s and Steven’s.

All of this may have surprised Darren, but it’s no surprise to me. The guys have been part of the Schroon Lake community since 1980, and all the moreso since 1996, when Darren took over as general director at Seagle, which, as the Colony’s slogan puts it, has been “Bringing Music to the Adirondacks Since 1915,” no small thing. It only stands to reason that Darren and Steven would make friends with their neighbors, the way they’ve made me their friend, the way they’ve made their other friends my friends.

The next day, as he drove us to New York through relentlessly pounding rain and a brief hailstorm, tenor Scott Scully grumbled, “This is what happens when you let the gays marry.” He was kidding, of course.*** Scott knows, as I do, that what really happens when you let gays marry — even when you merely let them live together in peace and love for 32 years — is that you strengthen the fabric of society. Simply stated, we’re all better off because Steven Bryant and Darren Woods are married.

Anybody who tells you different, is full of beans.

Scott Scully and WVM.
Photo by Daniel Okulitch.

Darren and Steven suggested that, in lieu of presents, their friends make contributions to Fort Worth Opera or to the Seagle Colony. I’ve spoken often about Fort Worth Opera (and I believe I’ve even mentioned that I’ll make my company debut there in 2013). The Seagle Colony is notable not only for its history — it is the oldest summer singer-training program in the country — but also for its approach.

The Colony provides young artists with a safe environment to try new things. The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to learn and to grow. Darren has no patience for those audience members who show no patience toward his kids; he’s been known to eject forcibly folks who came in with a bad attitude. I underscore, however, that this is no amateur hour, and many of the most impressive young American artists you’ll hear these days are Seagle alumni.

Over the years, the Colony has also become an important proving ground for new work, as well as new voices. It’s a remarkable place, and worthy of your support, as well as mine.

Jonathan Blalock (Lázaro) and Wes Mason (Reinaldo Arenas) in Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls at Seagle, 2008.
Both singers graduated from the workshop to the world premiere,
at Fort Worth Opera two years later.
Photo by Ellen Appel.

*NOTE: I believe that Steven will be in charge of wigs and makeup for the Fort Worth Opera Festival of Ariadne auf Naxos next May. So if I don’t look pretty when I take the stage as the Haushofmeister — you’ll have to blame him, not me.

**I expect we’ll have more to say about Steven’s formalwear designs when the business is closer to commencing full operations.

***Scully is also an excellent driver. Navigating the monsoons in Houston turned out to be just the training he needed to get us home on Monday.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: It’s through the good grace of Joyce Castle that I met Darren and Steven in the first place. Joyce was unable to attend the wedding, since she’s in Central City, Colorado, preparing for opening night of Oklahoma! (a work that deserves its exclamation point more than ever before, now that she’s playing Aunt Eller); she’ll also reprise her legendary interpretation of the title role in Menotti’s The Medium with Central City Opera for two sold-out performances later in the summer. As the ceremony began on Sunday, however, I sent a silent message to the Universe: “I’m representing Joyce. Amen.”

1 comment:

Majormarginal said...

It is an honor to have been at the wedding.

Ned Richards

Brother in law.