11 May 2013

The Haushofmeister’s Diary, Part 19: How to Communicate Offstage

Bass Hall by Night.
Photo by WVM.

“It used to seem like forever before that first letter arrived,” Joyce Castle was saying the other day. She was recalling her days as an American in Paris, among other glamorous locations, in the days before e-mail, cell phones, and Facebook revolutionized the ways that opera singers on the road maintain their personal relationships. Nowadays Joyce herself is a conscientious correspondent via e-mail, and I possess proof positive that she knows how to write and send a text message on her telephone.

For my first foray into Opera World, I’ve benefited from ready access to all the up-to-date technological doo-hickies: talking and texting to my boyfriend several times per day, I hardly felt the distance at all, and a four-week separation, which might otherwise have posed problems in a relationship so new, became more a nuisance than a threat. It should be noted, however, that I discovered that my phone got next-to-no reception in my hotel room, obliging me to wander out into the unseasonably chilly North Texas springtime every time I want to talk. So much for up-to-date technology.

With my godmother, Ann Coleman, on opening night.

Beyond the ease with which I’ve kept in touch with New York and France, I’ve been in familiar territory. So many members of the Fort Worth Opera family are folks I’ve known for years, including both singers like Joyce and Ava Pine and behind-the-scenes wizards like Keith Wolfe and Nathan DePoint. Other friends and loved ones live near enough that several were able to attend the opening-night performance of Ariadne auf Naxos. All things considered, this is far and away the longest business trip I’ve taken — and yet it didn’t seem terribly isolating.

I’ve also had the fun of getting to know new friends and colleagues while getting closer to some folks (Caroline Worra and Michael Mayes of Glory Denied, for example) whom I knew only a little before I got here. The question of what comes after — after the Festival closes, after we leave Bass Hall and the college-campus atmosphere of the hotel, and after we fly away home — lingers unspoken.

And here’s Uncle Tim on the front of the Sitzprobe,
but you can see the side of the house.
Left to right: Corrie Donovan, Jeni Houser, Michael Porter, Anthony Reed, Zac Engle, Steven Eddy (standing), Audrey Luna, Marjorie Owens.
Photo by WVM.

By sheer coincidence, one of Opera World’s foremost exponents of electronic communication, Joyce DiDonato, was reflecting on this very question even as we took part in the Fort Worth Opera Festival — and she did so electronically, in a video blog that she periodically records and posts on YouTube. Prepared in answer to a question from an aspiring singer who’s also a fan of Little Joyce,* the video spread rapidly and widely among my singer friends, who found agreement and comfort in her words.

“Loneliness is a big part of this career,” Little Joyce says in the video. “You have a fabulous triumph, or maybe you don’t, but at least you’re singing and you have a high after the show. And you come back to your grungy apartment … and you’re totally alone, and there’s nothing in the refrigerator. Everybody else had [somebody] come visit, and you didn’t. That sense of aloneness is devastating.”

She’s de-vlightful, de-vlovely, de-vlogging:
Joyce DiDonato explains it all for you.

Joyce continues with a bit of advice, on a very hopeful note: “You have to learn how to be by yourself. I actually think that’s a super-incredible, valuable thing to learn. …That’s where you find out what you’re really made of.”

And while you may not see a colleague again for a long time after you’ve shared the intensity of preparing and performing an opera, and in the process established a genuinely meaningful personal bond, “The beautiful thing is, you pick up right off where you left off.” She does, too. I’ve seen her do it.

Tri-coastal: My brother flew in from San Francisco, and Elise flew in from New York for opening night of Ariadne.

In my own experience, I’ve bonded very closely with colleagues on the show Rags and at CBS News. Although many of those relationships fell away over time, it’s gratifying when we run into each other and really do pick up where we left off, just as Little Joyce says. Other relationships have endured pretty darned well, and we keep more regular contact.

Because of Facebook and whatever social media may yet come our way, I can mingle the picking-up and the regular contact. I can see who’s singing what and where, and who had what for dinner. Sometimes I’ll have something to contribute to the conversation, and sometimes I won’t. But each and every one of my Ariadne colleagues shared an improbable once-in-a-lifetime adventure with me; they went out of their way to embrace me. I won’t forget that, and I’m looking forward to cheering them on as they pursue new directions and new triumphs. They’re an astonishing group of artists, and very dear to me, as well.

Audrey Luna, Marjorie Owens, and Steven Eddy.
Publicity photo by Ellen Appel, courtesy of Fort Worth Opera.

*NOTE: Infrequent readers of this blog may not be acquainted with the necessity of referring to Joyce Castle as “Big Joyce” and to Joyce DiDonato as “Little Joyce.” They’re both mezzos, they’re both from Kansas, and we who love them both madly are not going to split hairs over questions of age, so “Joyce Junior” or “Joyce the Younger” aren’t options. Big Joyce is taller than Little Joyce — and there you have it.

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