Steven Blier on the NYFOS@Caramoor Residency: Day 2, March 8
Today was the first time we got into the hall, after a morning spent doing musical work in two rehearsal spaces (boys with Mikey, girls with me). It felt kind of a bit roguish, going off with just half the cast to do private work. But it was a very good use of our time. And tomorrow I get the boys in the morning, while Mikey puts the girls through their paces.
The cause of the delay, of course, was the renovation and reconfiguration of the Music Room. (The workmen are still working there every day from 6 am till 2 in the afternoon.) We are going to perform the concert on the floor of the hall, rather than on its adorable, tiny stage where we have always done our shows at Caramoor. Getting to the piano used to involve one of the more terrifying moments of my wheelchair life, since I had to navigate an unusually steep ramp, equally fearsome in both directions. And I always needed a team of traffic directors making semaphore gestures to help me go up and down safely. Now Caramoor has finally removed the old chairs and risers from the Music Room and put the piano on the floor near a beautiful alcove full of antiquities. They will seat the audience in three sections around the playing area.
When I saw the space the way they had arranged it, I had a quiet meltdown. It was not at all what I was expecting. My fantasy was a spacious, dramatic rectangle with chairs on three sides. This was the way I had it at Wolf Trap. But they had put the piano along the long wall, and the chairs were in a sweet semi-circle, leaving only a small playing area in between the piano and the first row. It looked like traditional recital seating, only with a bigger distance between the singer and Row A of the audience. I have learned not to shoot my mouth off in situations like this, and found a way to let the very accommodating staff at Caramoor know that this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. “Show us what you want,” said Tim Coffey (who has become one of our new Caramoor heroes). So we all got to work moving furniture around and fashioned something closer to the thrust-stage idea I had in mind. Alex, the guy from Box Office, came down to see what we were doing and modified it (“You see, we’ve sold these two rows of seats so you can’t take them away…” “Yeah, but these other seats we made are better…?” “Oh yes, you’re right, no doubt. But as I mentioned, we’ve sold these seats, you see…”). By the time we left, it seemed that everyone was reasonably happy.
The sound in the hall without the risers, old chairs, and carpeting is astoundingly good. The voices carry beautifully and fill the space with light. The words are clear too—really excellent acoustics. Only one of our cast members (Abi Levis) had done a show with me (at Wolf Trap) with the audience on three sides of the playing area, so the others did a lot of singing while roaming around, testing out the idea of a song recital where they weren’t glued to the crook of the piano. Miraculously, the various pianists were able to stay with them beat for beat.
Day One is where you see the potential, the glories to come. Day Two is where you see what the issues are, as you get a sense of how far you might be able to go in one week of intensive rehearsals. The cast has stunning voices and a lot of education and experience. So it’s a question of panache, clarity, verbal delivery, timing, color, depth of feeling—all the things one might classify under the heading “Style”. Exactly how to say the word “bitter” in an English song written in 1904. How to take an unmarked tempo liberty in a French song without getting sentimental. How to keep the integrity of a word in Spanish that is set incorrectly, with the strong musical beat on the weak syllable. How to make a high note thrilling, not just respectable. How to sing a vocalise with irony. Essentially, how to go from black-and-white photorealism to color and romance.
4 o’clock is tea-time every day. Pictured: Galeano Salas and Liv Redpath, overheard discussing vocal technique. Something about bringing the head voice down to the middle register, while keeping forward placement. Or not. I was busy with my tea. But I actually heard Galeano, a man utterly lacking in pretensions, refer to his voice as “the instrument.” I love singers.