10 April 2013

The Haushofmeister’s Diary, Part 3

German-language Consultant: Mr. Mark Twain.
Photo by WVM©

The difference between practicing by oneself in New York and practicing by oneself in Fort Worth is that, when one strolls along loudly declaiming German texts to oneself, one is more likely to get strange looks from passersby in Fort Worth. In New York, this is, after all, as close to normal behavior as we get.

But I was gratified on my morning constitutional along the Trinity River to find that great expert on the Awful German Language, Mr. Mark Twain, waiting on a park bench to console me. We had a long talk, Mr. Twain and I.

Of greater practical benefit have been my coaching sessions with the conductor of Ariadne auf Naxos, Joe Illick, the music director of Fort Worth Opera. This has made me feel almost like a real singer: he sits at the piano, the score before him, and he offers suggestions on my pronunciation and phrasing. Thus assisted, I am hopeful of crossing the perilous gap between having memorized my lines (which I’d done already) and actually speaking them during rehearsal — and maybe even, if I’m lucky, during a performance.

First costume fitting. I’ll wear a wig,
and stockings instead of gym socks.
No glasses. But you get the idea.
Photo by Kurt Howard, Fort Worth Opera.

Blocking rehearsals have posed other challenges: is my physical coordination sufficient to permit me to walk and speak German at the same time? Also, it’s one thing to practice on one’s own, and another entirely to practice with people who are singing, and with Emily Urbanek on piano and Maestro Joe conducting. (At least, I think that’s why he waves his arms: I’m very new to this.)

Fortunately, Stephen Lusmann, who plays the Musiklehrer (the Composer’s music teacher), is an excellent scene partner — as well as the only character with whom I have any significant interaction. The Haushofmeister lives in his own little world, high above all the crazy artistes and acrobats who surround him.

Our stage director, David Gately, paces us as briskly and efficiently as if he himself were a Haushofmeister and we his servants. Which, in a very real sense, we are. He’s got a tremendous sense of fun, and I’m especially looking forward to seeing the opera’s second half, when the commedia dell’arte characters cut loose.

My esteemed scene partner, Stephen Lusmann.

I must say that I’m enjoying the moments when I’m offstage, when I can just listen and watch and admire. I’d never heard our Ariadne before, but Marjorie Owens is a marvel. She produces this big, creamy soprano sound, shaping phrases almost like clay on a potter’s wheel, fully in majestic command of the universe, and all the while she’s got this delectable smile on her face. I predict that, some day, I’ll be bragging to somebody’s grandchildren that I worked with her once.

I had heard our Zerbinetta, soprano Audrey Luna, in Thomas Adès’ The Tempest at the Met. At intermission, young Kevin pointed to her biography in the program and said, “Hey, Ariel is going to be in your opera.” This was an epiphany for me: I knew right then that I would have to take this thing very, very seriously. The woman has notes only Jesus can hear, and she looks and moves like a dancer — like a Degas dancer, in fact, when she’s wearing her rehearsal skirt.

It’s fascinating for this non-musician to follow the score as my colleagues (if I may presume to call them that) rehearse. Zerbinetta’s got so many notes that I can hardly see them on the page. Yet there Audrey goes, zipping through them more easily than I can speak.

Jesus is listening: Audrey Luna as Ariel.
Photo by Ken Howard for the Metropolitan Opera.

I’ve poked my nose into the rehearsals for Daughter of the Regiment and had the fun of seeing Fort Worth Opera’s general director, Darren Keith Woods, as he prepares to make his return to the stage: he’s playing the Marquise’s faithful valet, Hortensius. The Marquise is my beloved Joyce Castle, and the two of them are hilarious.

Even though I’m in only the Prologue of Ariadne and surely, surely I could squeeze in a supernumerary rehearsal or two, there’s been no progress in my quest to sneak onstage during Daughter. But there are other rewards: I’ve discovered that the director of this production, Dottie Danner, co-starred in New Faces of 1968, the show in which Madeline Kahn made her Broadway debut. (Obviously Dottie was 12 at the time.)

Worlds collide, and as Dottie and I made this discovery, Joyce sat back and smiled as if to say, “You see what happens when you hang out with me?” I never doubted, dear Diva.

Yes, the legendary Joyce Castle and I are both on the artists’ roster this season. Who’d have thunk it?


Kara said...

These posts are lovely, Bill! You make me feel like I'm right there with you. Thank you and keep 'em coming!!!

Anonymous said...

I would so enjoy seeing you onstage one of these days. And I am most impressed with the sheer range of your interests. (Who knows - perhaps even what we find on this blog does not do justice to the full range.)

-- Rick

William V. Madison said...

Thanks! Rick, as I say, this is the first time I've acted onstage in 30 years -- but who knows? Maybe some daring producer will see me and whisk me off to a new career!