Thursday, May 29, 2014

2014 Greater Colorado Tour – day 11

Good morning readers! This is it… the last day of tour. Today’s blog will be a teeny bit shorter due to the itinerary… and blogger fatigue. I guess you could call today a day off; we won’t be performing, but spending the day driving back to Denver. Yes, for us, at this stage of the game, that qualifies as a day off.

Everyone gets up and has breakfast on their own schedule today. We set a time to meet up last night before we all turned in. It was greeted with groans, but they’re all here and basically on time. We load the passenger beastie one final time and hit the road. We found out last night that Independence Pass is open (as of today) so we’re taking that route. It saves us whopping 20-minutes on our drive. I snap a few final pics of the view and the beautiful Columbines that are outside our hotel and we bid goodbye to Carbondale. What a fantastic place to end our tour!

We pass through Basalt and make our way to Aspen. The car is quiet; everyone is tired including the driver. Brett is my co-pilot this morning and does his best to program tunes to keep me awake. He settles on the soundtrack from Frozen (yes readers, even I can’t resist Let It Go). We’ll soon find out that this soundtrack proves to be oddly accurate. The valley here is unbelievably green and it’s definitely warmer than the higher elevations we’ve been visiting lately. As we make our way into Aspen, the mountains have just a touch of snow.

We make the turn that will take us to the start of Independence Pass; Ben is in the lead. We pass beautiful cabins and meadows with ponds full of frogs and begin to climb. The road is a bit narrow here and there, but not unlike others we’ve been on this trip. We come to a spot to pull off and we get out to stretch our legs and take a few photos.
Jared resumes his duties of co-pilot (I think I wore Brett out) and on we go. We go just a few hundred feet and things begin to change rapidly and dramatically. A sign says “road narrows.” No joke – is this a two lane road?! We come to a curve and another car is coming from the other direction. I have to drive on the edge of a cliff in order to make enough room for them to pass. Jared has quite the vantage point; by the end of the turn, he’s almost in my lap. Up and up we go. You know the term “white-knuckle?” Turns out, that’s a real thing. As the road gets even steeper and the turns sharper, I am demonstrating that phrase perfectly. When that no longer helps me, I begin to express feelings about the drive facially. Brett has the best seat in the house as he watches my display in the rearview mirror.

The drive is truly nail biting, but the view… indescribable.
We make it to the summit and it seems that the road was steeper than any of us realized. We’ve crossed over to Antarctica. At least that’s what it looks like. There is so much snow that you feel like you’re in a standing at the top of the world. We spend some time looking around and I watch as the 6 monkeys that I’ve brought with me tromp around in thigh-deep snow. Taylor is wearing flip flops, Colleen has very fashionable boots on while Louise is sporting ballet flats and Brett is wearing shorts and a wind breaker. Clearly we came prepared. Taylor and I have the Young Artists pose by the sign to take one final group shot. “Yeah Tour!”
They flash their best smiles. Then I say “Last day of tour,” expecting another pose. Well… I got one.
Seems we’re all ready to go home and have a little private time.

We manage to get everyone down the snow covered peak safely (opera men; strong like ox) and I take the chance to get a picture with me and the gents.
It’s rare and my opportunity to prove I was actually on this tour and not blogging from the comfort of my lounge chair. Louise, our resident artist, uses the time to leave her mark, literally. She carves “Opera Colorado” into the snow bank; creative lass!
Louise begins to hop which is a sign that the cold has set in and it’s time to go. There are other signs as well; Brett’s legs are blue, Colleen’s boots are frozen, Ben has a touch of snow blindness and Taylor has lost feeling in his feet. Jared…? He’s in heaven. This is a Florida boy who loves the snow. He also loves sharing snow with others. After I have removed Jared’s wintery gift from my shirt, we get back into the cars and continue onward.

The snow on each side of the road is higher than the beastie. While the others are admiring the view and Taylor is alternating between clapping for avalanches and thawing his toes, I notice that we aren’t climbing any more. No – we’re going down. And quickly. This is an adventure that I hadn’t planned on today; Alpine driving. The road literally skirts the side of the mountain. We continue to descend; there’s been so much snow that there’s some pretty substantial road damage that we have to navigate. Did you know that baritones can pass as sopranos when frightened by sheer drop-offs? News to me too. By the time we get to the bottom and make a pit stop, Jared actually has to pry my hand off of the steering wheel. The drive is much less stressful at this point, but I have something else on my mind. I have a promise to fulfill.

This particular promise is a year and a half in the making. For those of you who read last year’s tour blog, you may remember the now infamous hot dog incident of 2013. I promised Jared a visit to the Coney Island hot dog stand in Bailey Colorado. I was unable to deliver this promise as the establishment was closed. It was a dark, dark, day. Jared sulked in the back seat and grudgingly ate Twlizzer Bites, but I knew he wouldn’t forget. I’d have to make good eventually.  We make our way to Bailey and I bite my nails – what if they’re closed…? I have Twizzler Bites on standby, just in case. To my delight, and immense relief (because hungry Jared + cranky Jared = no fun), they’re open and we make our final stop of tour.

We order and sit outside to enjoy our last few moments in the mountains.
It’s a lovely setting with a river, a water wheel and hail the size of marbles. Yes, there’s nothing like it. Eating hot dogs in a hail storm. Colleen documents the weather and the fulfilled promise on video while the rest of us dodge the nasty little ice rockets. Taylor plays bus boy and we all pile back into our seats, ready to make the final approach into Denver. Jared, now sated and happy, will take this final stretch so I can sit back and reflect.

We’ve been gone for 11 days. We’ve traveled more than 1400 miles. We’ve seen some of the most beautiful scenery in all of America. That’s great – but it’s not why we came. We’ve brought opera to students and adults in 8 different communities; some for the very first time; all who have no regular access to it. We’ve worked with students who could be the next generation of performers. We’ve shared Opera Colorado’s mission. We’ve made lasting connections with people through an art form that tells a story through song.

It’s been quite a journey. It always is. Sure, we’re tired; but we’re also feeling pretty great about what we’ve done. This is a privilege and we all know it. I think that’s why we want people to experience it – opera changes you.

Now though, it’s time to put tour aside and focus on the Young Artists’ last week on contract with Opera Colorado. Our work isn’t done yet. I, for one, hope it never will be.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. Until next year readers,


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

2014 Greater Colorado Tour – day 10

Disclaimer – busy day, LOTS to blog about.

The human brain is a funny thing. Sometimes the mere suggestion of something makes the brain construct a reality based on that suggestion. You know like when someone like Taylor Baldwin tells you that the hotel you’re staying in is haunted? Your brain will then spend the night in ghost hunter mode, waiting for something to happen. It’s a psychological fact. At least it is if you have my brain. After spending most of last night listening with my eyes (not a typo), I did manage to get a few hours of sleep. I say good morning to Colleen and Louise and then begin to get ready. By the time Jared and Brett knock on my door to go downstairs for breakfast, I’m almost fully-functioning. I ask the gents if they had anything strange happen in the night and it turns out, we did have some odd occurrences. Nothing scary – just laughter in the hallway, knocking on their walls, their bathroom door got locked from the other side and my shoe (that was under the other one) fell off the dresser onto the floor. Paranormal? Not sure. Possibly Baldwin related.

At breakfast, Ben and Taylor pop up looking oddly tired. Seems that they were up later than they anticipated last night. Hmmm… After further investigation, their lack of energy is due to a late night at a local hang out, not trickery or hauntings. Ben, Taylor and Louise went out after the rest of us turned in and played pool, chatted and made a new friend who was born in South America but considers himself Ukrainian. He apparently liked Louise a lot – he thought she looked well fed. This comment caused Taylor to self-appointed himself as her brother. Their new friend wasn’t such a big fan of Ben’s attire however and thought his western shirt made him look constipated. Now, mind you, I am getting all of this information second hand, at breakfast. Part of me believes it’s all an elaborate ruse to get me off the scent of their part in my sleepless night; the other part of me is too busy laughing.

After breakfast, we walk around the main floor of the hotel and stop to look in the gift shop. They have some neat items. Brett is particularly fond of an artisan soap; the scent is called “Grumpy Old Man.” Not quite sure how one goes about capturing that aroma, but apparently this company has figured it out. Brett decides to head up to his room to get ready and Jared and I decide to walk into town and look around. It’s another beautiful day and the red mountain against the blue sky is stunning.
It’s more humid today, so I’m betting we get rain later. We walk across the bridge towards downtown, avoiding cross walk lights that don’t work, hoards of bees and a walkway over the street that seems to be made of Jell-O. Seriously – it wobbled when you stepped on it and you could see straight through it to the street below. Having safely navigated the perils, we look around mainstreet Glenwood Springs.  In a store window, Jared sees a poster. Cool, he says – someone is doing the Barber of Seville. Oh, wait he says… that’s us! It’s a poster for our performance in Carbondale later tonight. They’ve put them all over town and in surrounding burgs as well. I am very impressed with Jared’s powers of observation.

We make our way into a store to look around and I lock on to something that I know Jared has been wanting for some time. A very stylish fedora. I make him try it on and it’s a perfect fit.
Jared reciprocates my fashion find by making one of his own. Readers, many of you may not be aware of this, but my name is a little tricky to pronounce; first and last. This frequently leads to some pretty funny takes on how to say it. One in particular has caught on with this group and become a nickname of sorts – Cherry Cupcake. In this store, Jared somehow finds cupcake earrings. They are a must have and soon we’re both sporting our lucky finds. We walk around town for a bit longer and then begin the perilous journey across the Jell-O bridge again to get back to the hotel.  We meet up with Brett, who is very engrossed in his book (he’s reading Game of Thrones) and show him our purchases. Colleen and Louise are the next to arrive in the lobby; they’ve been shopping too. Soon, we’re reunited with Ben and Taylor and we get to the business of loading the cars so we can get back on the road. We’re headed to Carbondale today. We’ve got a workshop in the afternoon with students and then a performance for the community in the evening.

It’s a pretty quick drive and other than a conversation about sandwich spreads, it is fairly uneventful. Taylor, Brett and Jared were discussing food and their various likes and dislikes. The subject of sandwich spreads came up. Taylor said something about liking hamas on his. Brett questioned this, asked for clarification as to whether he meant hummus (a spread concocted from chickpeas) or Hamas (a Sunni Muslim Palestinian extremist group). It’s an important educational moment for Taylor. It’s also a really good thing that Jared is driving this morning. After post-haunting fatigue and now this, I’m not sure I could have kept us on the road. We arrive in Carbondale and make our way to the hotel so we can check-in.

We get into our rooms and get settled. It’s lunch time, so Brett and Jared want to head to the mainstreet area and check it out, while the other’s want to rest for a bit and get something to eat later. Since this is the first time Opera Colorado has ever been to Carbondale, I’m eager to look around and learn more about the community; I decide to join Brett and Jared. We hop in the beasty and head into town. It’s not far and we know immediately that we’re in our kind of place. The mainstreet area is small, but full of restaurants, shops and… art. There are signs of an artistic community everywhere. Sculptures, chalk art, public art installations; really interesting and eclectic. We grab something to eat and then take a little time to look around. Brett and Jared force me to go into a lovely antique store. Brett and Jared are not allowed to make me go into stores any more. I pack my purchases into the car and just as we leave to get back to the hotel, it starts to rain.

We collect the other members of our group and then head over the performing arts center where we’ll be performing and holding the workshop. We meet up with our contacts (who are all amazing and welcome us with open arms) and we’re led to the performance space. While Taylor figures out the piano situation (they weren’t aware we needed one…), the Young Artists begin load-in. I go to meet the youth theater director and get set up in the workshop space. I’ll be leading a workshop for students ages 8-18 on performance skills. This group of students had to sign up to be able to attend so they’re all kids that love theater and music. I find out as I’m talking to their director that the workshop is completely full – hooray! I go back to get the rest of our group. They’ve completed set up and we’re ready for the workshop.

We’ve got every age in the spectrum represented, even one that is younger than the 8 year-old cut off; she’s 6. I talk with her mom and tell her they’re welcome to stay and play a few of the games, but that as class goes on, it may get too intense for her. I begin the workshop with introductions and then we play an ice-breaker to help the students get to know each other and us. I want them to take risks today, so it’s important to make time for this kind of activity at the beginning of the class. We go around the room and each person says their name and does a movement that represents something that they like. We have students who like to sing, dance, read and play sports. I encourage each of them and cheer them on. The Young Artists and Taylor are participating too and the students are already laughing at their antics. It’s going well... until we get to a young man named Tyler. Tyler is very bright. He’s a theater kid and, for anyone who has been in theater, you know what that means. Tyler says his name, then stops. I ask him what he likes to do and he says, “sleep.” In encourage him to do a movement to show us that. Tyler proceeds to fall to the floor and “sleep.” Readers… I consider myself to be an articulate, moderately intelligent, fairly expressive person. What follows next will not back any of this up… There he is, Tyler, lying on the floor and I open my mouth and say, very enthusiastically… “OK – let’s all sleep with Tyler!” I didn’t mean it that way. I certainly didn’t hear it that way. It’s a very good thing I was focused on the students and didn’t look back at the Young Artists. Jared, Taylor and Brett almost needed medical attention from holding back their laughter.

Blissfully oblivious, I continue on with the workshop. We do warm up exercises and move to playing improv games. I ask for three of the Young Artists to do a game with me so that the students understand what I’m asking for. The game is called “Sculptor/Sculpture,” Taylor and Brett are statues and Ben is the sculptor. They act out a scene but can only move when Ben puts them into different positions. I’d admit, I was a little nervous about where this might go, but what they did was spectacular. They morphed seamlessly from ballet dancers to monkey impersonators to people who like warm hugs. The students are now completely open to what I ask them to do and having a blast. Before I know it, we’re more than halfway through our time. I move on to Shakespeare. Some of the students are involved in an upcoming production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and I believe that you can learn things from studying Shakespeare that you can’t learn in other forms of theater. I have cards with Shakespearian insults printed on them and each person has a turn to read one and then someone responds with their card when it fits, acting out each one through vocal expression and physical characterization.

It’s amazing how kids “get” Shakespeare when given the chance. The activity is more successful that I had even hoped and the students are loving it. One young man in the class has severe dyslexia and also a pronounced stutter. I partner with him and he gets up to read his card – flawlessly and not a bauble to be heard! I’m beaming. Next we have little Ruby, who at 6, gets up and reads her Shakespeare card without any help. Now I’m walking on air. Then, we have Emmett, who does not read his card. No… Emmett has memorized his insult and even choreographed movements. We’re all cheering for him and the other students by the time the game is done. Louise helps with another activity on expression and sings Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man from Showboat. I stand back and watch their faces as they listen to her – it’s one of my favorite things to do because their expressions are unguarded and completely priceless.
Unbelievably, we’re out of time and I use the last 8-minutes of class for a question and answer session. What a fabulous afternoon – we are so glad we could work with the students and share a bit of what we know. Keep up the amazing work young ladies and gentlemen!

With the workshop completed, we make a quick dash back to the hotel to grab a few things for tonight and then we make out way back to the mainstreet area for dinner. On the way, Taylor sees a dog in a backyard and calls out, “Puppy!” Unbeknownst to Taylor, the dog’s owner is also in the yard and as the dog begins to bark uncontrollably, he gives Taylor a look that expresses displeasure. Taylor responds, “Sorry, I like dogs.” Everyone decides on their own cuisine tonight. I decide to go for Thai food as do Brett and Jared. Taylor, Colleen, Louise and Ben opt for pizza.  As they walk around town, they see signs of the Barber of Seville everywhere; and not just posters. This town has really gotten into this. They have some chalkboard art and there are even gold combs hung on sculptures.
We find out later that the performing arts center hid a pair of tickets on one of the combs and whoever found it got the tickets. Colleen, Louise and Ben frolic around the area and bond while posing with statues. They cement said bond in the aptly named Friendship Park.

Back at the car, Colleen is good luck – or should I say, Colleen has good luck shared with her.
Yep, a feathered friend deposited its contents upon her. That’s supposed to be good luck… right? She’s get cleaned up and we head back to the theater. We have just enough time for the artists to warm up with Taylor before the audience begins to arrive, almost an hour before curtain. We’re sequestered in the green room and everyone gets into costume and makeup. Grandpa Baldwin gives Master Sprague a lesson on how to tie a bow tie while I sew buttons and hooks onto costumes in need of repair. You have to know how to do it all in this business.

It’s while I’m sewing that I realize something profound. After two years of this production, this will be our final show for a public audience. We have one more next week, but it’s at Children’s Hospital and a very different experience. This is it. Barber of Seville has been the most successful and well-received touring production we’ve ever done. It’s been the production that has come the closest to the vision that lived in my head as I was designing it too. I’m feeling a bit misty. I think Jared is nostalgic too – he’s spent the past two year performing in the show and it’s strange to think that it’s coming to a close. It’s time… everyone takes their places and we wait. One of the sponsors makes an introduction and I go out and welcome our audience and tell them a bit about the production. I go out to take my seat as Taylor plays the first chord.

I haven’t watched the show in its entirety for a while. I’ve seen bits and pieces, but I’m usually trying to multi-task so I inevitably miss potions of it. Not tonight. The Young Artists asked me to sit and watch tonight; to enjoy the show. I do. Even after two years, this production still makes me laugh, due in large part to the talent, chemistry and antics of the Young Artists.  The audience is enjoying every moment. At the end of the performance, the finale, there’s a surprise. Now I know why they wanted me to watch. Jared has procured some of the unused confetti from Carmen and the artists throw it into the air on the final note. The audience cheers enthusiastically and I join in. What a perfect way to end this productions’ run. Bows taken, I go out to begin the Q&A.

The Q&A is different from others. Typically most of the questions are for the Young Artists; tonight they are about Opera Colorado, the production and the Young Artist residency. I have to field a lot of the questions, but I am thrilled by the community’s interest. After the last question, I say a sincere thank you to the audience and let them know why tonight was such a special evening. To our surprise, that triggers a standing ovation. Our evening isn’t over yet – the sponsors of tonight’s performance have also set up a reception and we’re led down to a lounge area where we rejoin the audience. We’re treated to an assortment of food and beverages and we all divide ourselves among the crowd, talking to as many people as we can. The response is overwhelming. Everyone tells us how much they enjoyed the show and makes us promise to come back next year. One of the sponsors tells me that we have fulfilled a dream of hers to have real opera in Carbondale. Another woman tells me that this was her first opera; she didn’t expect to like it, but now she thinks she’s hooked! Talking with our main contact, she’s over the moon and tells me we have to start planning next year – they want us back. For a first time visit to a community, this is exactly what I want to hear and I am thrilled that we’ve made a new connection.

I have to break up the ongoing conversations and get the Young Artists out of costume and makeup. It’s already late and we still have to break down the set and load out. Taylor is a champ and he begins to load out while we take the set down. The confetti was a fabulous touch, but it now proves to be a huge pain. Sweeping it up is almost impossible, but Jared, Brett and Taylor are relentless and get the job done. We’re told several times by staff just to leave it and they will get to it tomorrow, but that’s not how we roll. We don’t leave a mess for other people to clean up. We’re told again, for probably the fifth time today, that we’re “easy.” We really to try to be low maintenance; people that are easy to work with.

Just as load out reaches its peak, the rain begins to fall. By the time we get everything and ourselves into the beasties, it’s really coming down. We’re all tired, but it’s been a wonderful day and a great way to end the performing part of tour. We have one more day tomorrow, but it’s all driving. There’s not much time to catch our breath though. This weekend, Ben is headed to Santa Fe for some initial chorus rehearsals (he’s in their program for a second season). Colleen, Louise, Brett, Jared and Taylor will be performing at the Downtown Denver Arts Festival.  Follow that with a fully-booked week and we’ve got a lot still to do. We make it back to the hotel and everyone turns in. As I turn off my light and settle in for the night, I smile. What a crazy, wonderful business this is.

Nighty-night readers (one more blog to go),


Thursday, May 22, 2014

2014 Greater Colorado Tour – day 9

I awake with the birdies this morning. The sky is blue with puffy white clouds. I greet the day with a stretch and [Groan]… No one told me that facials and a mini-massage have aftershocks, or side effects, or expiration dates – or whatever this is. My skin looks great, but I have sore places on my body that I didn’t know my body had places. I have to get up and moving though because we don’t have another leisurely morning. We’ve got a drive ahead of us to get to Frisco for an early afternoon performance of Barber.
Taylor has already been up for a while. I offer to make him breakfast. He says thank you, but he simply won’t allow it. He’s the independent kind and has his own schedule.

Jared’s the next one up followed shortly thereafter by Brett.  I make coffee while they stagger around. Once everyone is a bit more bright-eyed, I decide to go ahead and make breakfast. I love cooking for people, so it’s really not a chore. It’s eggs and bacon again and some Irish oatmeal. After eating, I have to work on yesterday’s blog and get it finished – I was so wiped out last night, I fell asleep before it was done. The guys switch between relaxing, reading and getting packed up. Colleen, Ben and Louise arrive and take their turn in the kitchen for breakfast. The entire cabin now smells like bacon, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I head outside for a bit to breathe in some fresh mountain air.

The river is even higher today and clouds are building over the mountains. It looks like we may get some rain later. Still, it’s a beautiful view. I don’t stay outside long as I have to get packed up myself. Louise volunteers to do the breakfast dishes and Taylor helps her while Brett and Jared get the car packed. Ben and Colleen head down to the lodge to get their things and check out. The rest of us follow and we say goodbye to our cabin, the lodge and the hot springs/spa  – it’s really been a wonderful haven for us the past few days. At the lodge, I go in to check us out of the cabin while everyone else finishes loading the cars. The young woman who helps me sees my email address and asks about Opera Colorado. Do I work for them? Am I a singer? Etc. Etc. I answer her questions and I can sense there’s more that she wants to say. I ask her if she’s a fan of opera and she gives me a huge smile. Turns out, she’s not only a fan, she’s about to start college in the fall, studying to be an opera singer. She’s been saving for it for almost 2 years. I spend the next few minutes talking to her and answering some of her questions about this career. I give her my card and tell her to contact me if there’s anything I can do to help as she takes her first steps. What a great way to start the day!

I rejoin the others and we head out – Jared is driving this morning and Ben is following us in the other beasty.
We make the correct turn after two tries (thanks lady on the GPS who has apparently been talking to Taylor’s Siri) and head up a really steep incline. There’s a sheer drop off on my side of the car. Thankfully, this doesn’t last too long and we come onto a high plain that overlooks the entire valley. There’s a ranch that raises miniature horses and I comment that they must grow well up here. The road that we’re on takes us into Buena Vista and from there we head towards Leadville before we join up with I-70. The drive is beautiful.
We get some rain on the way but nothing major.

We’ve made it to Frisco and we head straight to the school. It’s now that I notice “it” has happened. Tour lag.  This happens every year around this same time; about 7 to 8 days in. You reach a point of mental decline and physical fatigue. I can see it on everyone. There’s not a lot of talking and people are moving slower than usual. We’ve got a performance to do though, so I go in to the school to check in and find out where we unload. We get to the right spot and we have 3 young ladies waiting for us to show us the way. I greet them and they immediately offer to help us carry things into the theater. I’m caught off guard – this usually doesn’t happen and I tend to be picky with who touches our stuff. But the eager looks on their faces are really sincere so I ask if they would like to help carry in the costumes. They get so excited they actually jump.

Load in – here we go again. The space is fantastic today. We’ve got more than enough room. Our contact from the Breckenridge Music Festival is here again today. What a wonderful source of support she’s been over the past 3 days. Thank you Mary Jane Wurster! Set up goes smoothly, but there’s still practically no talking and this is a fairly chatty group. Tour lag. I meet the teacher and the final preparations for the show are finished. We’ve got some costume casualties; Brett is missing a button on his pants and Louise’s skirt has no hook. I pin it as best I can (Louise’s skirt not Brett’s pants) and we wait for all the students to arrive. Looking at all of the Young Artists standing around me, I’m suddenly aware of something. Today is our very last performance in a school. Sure, we have shows left to do, but they’ll all be in community theaters or one at Children’s Hospital next week. This is it – after today, there will be no more school shows with this amazing group of artists all together. I decide to tell them hoping it will help them shake the tour lag. I tell them to enjoy it – they’ve all worked so hard to get here.

We have to hold for about 10-minutes as we wait for the last couple of classes to arrive. As we wait, we’re treated to an impromptu performance by the high school choir. They didn’t know they were going to sing and they’re down about 7 members, but they give it their all. They have a new choir teacher who sang in the Opera Colorado chorus last season so we’re delighted that we get to hear them. We cheer them on with our applause and as they take their seats, we begin the show. I’m introduced by the teacher and I go out to talk to the audience. We’ve got middle school, high school and even some community members here today. It’s a really good size audience. I tell them a bit about what they’re going to see in this production and encourage them to laugh if something is funny or clap when a piece has ended. We begin the show with a big “Bravo!”

I sit backstage. As much as I’d like to watch their final school show, I have to write the blog for day 8 and catch up on some work. I wait for that moment at the beginning of the show, the one that will tell me if we’ve got a responsive audience or not. Wait for it… wait…. Yes! We do! In fact, as the show progresses, they are one of the most responsive audiences we’ve ever had. This is exactly what we needed today. The artists start to feed off of their energy. They’re playing off each other and really having fun. There are a couple of times when the audience laughs so hard; I can’t even hear Taylor playing the piano. As they take their bows, I sneak to the side and watch. These kids didn’t simply enjoy this show – they loved it. There are “bravos” and hoots and cheers. As a director, moments like this are important for me too. As silly as it sounds, it reminds me that I do indeed know what I’m doing. 

As bows end, I go out to begin the Q&A.
Not surprisingly, we get wonderful questions. There’s a young lady in the audience who is a senior and is going to be a music major. She tells us how much she enjoyed the show and what an inspiration we all are for her. Then she asks a question we’ve never gotten before. What was the very first classical piece we ever sang? It’s not hard for any of us to remember what it was and we each answer, most of us started with an Italian piece. When we get to Jared, he says his was actually a German piece. This gives Brett the perfect opportunity to do his accent again and the two of them have the audience in stiches when it’s all said and done. Other questions are about how long we’ve worked together or how long it took us to rehearse this show. It seems like ages ago now… but it was only January when this group met for the first time and we put this show on its feet.  We run out of time for questions so I encourage any of the students who can stay to come up and talk to us individually.

Quite a few do and the Young Artists and Taylor spend time answering questions. I’m not involved in this – why you ask? Because I have to transition from Director to Nurse. Jared has a boo-boo. He tripped on the wet steps yesterday at the spa and scraped up his leg. During today’s performance it got banged up even more. First felled by a hummingbird, now impaired by steps… it never ends. I fetch the first aid kit from the car and come back in time to see two very sweet, well one sweet and one a mix of sweet and odd, interactions. Colleen has been talking to the young lady who will be a music major in the fall. I watch as Colleen gives her some good advice and, more importantly, encouragement and even a hug. I think that young lady’s feeling pretty uplifted right about now and by the look on Colleen’s face, she is too. The other observation comes courtesy of Brett. He has a young lady as him if he could sing her to sleep tonight. Oh my. Brett’s response? He can’t because we’ll be in Glenwood Springs tonight.

I have to stop things so we can get to load out and I can tend to Jared’s leg. He’s a little worse for wear but he’ll be fine. One more injury though and he’s next in line for the bubble wrap. The Young Artists are chatting like crazy now – hopefully tour lag has passed. While they get out of costume I chat with some of our community guests, among them is a couple who saw our recent production of Carmen and loved it. They’ve been subscribers for quite some time and said they really enjoyed the fact that we took a risk and they felt the singing was “of the finest quality.” They are also very complimentary about Barber. She also taught music for years and she is really impressed with what we do with our school programs. I bid them goodbye thank Mary Jane one more time then help with load out. When we all work as a team it goes really quickly which is good because we’re starving. Ben knows a couple places in Frisco’s mainstreet area so we load in the cars to head there.

Readers – a bit of information for you should it ever come up. If you are ever presented with a hungry Taylor Baldwin, feed him. Quickly. Odd things happen when you don’t. Taylor has moved on from avalanche clapping to school bus clapping. As we leave the school, he waves, and claps at the students on the buses (and those walking home) and calls out “Bye. Have a beautiful time!” He then tells us he needs lotion because he has acquired a skin disease on his hands and needs to moisturize before his finger falls off, leaving him with nine. To this, Louise responds from the back of the car… “Oh, my nana had nine fingers!” To which Brett and Taylor think Louise has said her “nana” meaning “banana” has nine fingers which is just weird. This entire conversation could have been avoided if we had stuck to the Baldwin’s feeding schedule.

Happily, we have arrived at mainstreet. Ben guides me into a parking spot with all the flair of an aircraft marshal and I jump out before anything else… interesting happens. We start off by sitting outside, but the weather changes – there’s a storm a brewin’ according to Taylor, so we move inside. We’re all feeling better after the success of today’s performance and now that we’ve eaten, things are more like I’m used to with this group. Ben and Colleen take this opportunity to tell a few stories about me. They paint me in somewhat of an “airhead” light so I choose to invoke bloggers prerogative and not repeat them. As we’re leaving, I see a sign posted by the handicap accessible restroom which reads “Handicapped accessible entrance located downstairs.” Hmmm… somehow that doesn’t seem right.

Dodging raindrops, we load back into the cars and head to Glenwood Springs where we’re spending the night. In the co-pilot seat, Brett literally falls asleep on the job of wildlife and rock watcher. It’s OK, he tired and Jared is watching over things from the backseat. Colleen naps and Taylor, now fed, has gone quiet. Louise and Ben are in the other car, which I can’t see, so I assume they’re fine.  Jared plays a techno song and commands Brett to wake and do an improvised dance, which he does and, as he was seated, it was quite impressive. Jared laughs so hard he sounds like a Wagnerian soprano.

We make it to our lodging, Hotel Colorado.
It’s on the National Historic Register and I’m really excited to check it out. I love history and the period this was built is one of my favorite eras. To make it even better, I was able to get us a discount on the rooms once they found out that we were on tour, performing for local communities. We unload our bags and while Ben and I park the beasties, the others get everything into our rooms. The hotel is gorgeous. After getting settled, I go down the hall to the gent’s room to let them know I am going to walk around and check things out. Taylor, who has livened up considerably, informs me that the hotel is haunted.
I am no longer excited to stay here. His room is right on the other side of mine, so I tell him if I scream, he’d better come running.

I go down to the lobby to look around. It really is beautiful. I find a wonderful outdoor courtyard and decide to sit there and work for a bit. Everyone will meet up at 9:00PM to talk over the next day’s schedule. As I work, my laptop goes dead so I have to move inside. I am so glad I did. As I sit working, an elderly gentleman comes to the piano in the lobby and begins to play.
I know the tune and just instinctively begin to hum. He looks over at me and smiles and motions me to him. I put down my work and walk over and he asks me if I’d like to sing with him. I say no, not wanting to intrude but he begins to play a piece that my grandpa used to sing and I can’t resist. We spend the next few minutes together, connected by a piece of music that is connected to memories. While there wasn’t a single other person in the lobby and no one applauded, this was a moment I will never forget. I thank him for playing and he asks why I’m staying at the hotel. I tell him about tour and he is thrilled. He tells me that music can never be too important in someone’s life because it feeds the soul. He takes his leave by saying “Keep up the good work young woman.”

The group meets up and we go over tomorrow’s schedule. We also go over some other upcoming gigs to get a jump on planning. We say our goodnights and turn in. In my room, I begin to work on the day’s blog. I hear a very strange noise coming from the left of my bed… I can’t place the sound, but it’s definitely something in the room with me. I turn slowly and discover… the radiator.
Those things make quite a racket. Sleeping tonight is going to be… interesting.

Rest well readers,


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014 Greater Colorado Tour – day 8

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood readers! Another song that I have stuck in my head as I wake up this morning. I grew up on Mr. Rodgers and he’s stayed with me over the years. It is a beautiful day and we’ve got the morning to get ready without having to rush.
We’ll drive to Fairplay after breakfast for a performance of Romeo and Juliet at the high school. My cabin mates are looking well-rested. Taylor is up, eats breakfast and is out the door to the hot springs as soon as they open. He’s got a massage appointment and is really looking forward to it. Brett, Jared and I decide to enjoy the cabin and not make the trek down.
It’s actually the best thing we could have done. None of us are feeling great today. Jared’s massage wrecked him and his shoulder is a little more aggravated. Brett is exhausted and we both have headaches. It’s funny – we’ve been so busy lately that I think once our bodies had even a tiny opportunity to rest, they revolted.

The gents tell me audition stories and I have more than my share to throw into the ring. I make us breakfast and teach Brett the wonder of cooking eggs in bacon grease. He’ll never be the same. Taylor returns as we finish breakfast and then Ben, Louise and Colleen arrive from their stay at the lodge. Seems everyone slept pretty well which is good and not always the case when you’re constantly moving around from place to place on tour. Ben makes the second round of breakfast for the ladies and some of us read a folder full of notes from students we’ve performed for. This is one of my favorite things to do – reading what the kids actually thought when they saw an opera. Most of them are positive, many are glowing and some are just downright funny. One says “Thank you. You were epic. So Boss!!!” That’s good, right? There’s one that really catches my attention though (and Louise and Colleen). It reads, “I enjoyed the Barber of Seville. I never saw an opera and this will not be my last. I never had that experience ever in my life. Thank you for that.” I think it’s safe to say we reached that one.

Breakfast dishes done, we load into the cars and begin the drive to Fairplay. Brett plays a few of the tracks from the new Jason Robert Brown musical based on The Bridges of Madison County. I’m intrigued and will have to check it out. We go from that to some other favorites before landing on Disney music again. It will always be a favorite. Other than one wrong turn, we make it to the school without incident. Ben makes the hike into the office and then we drive around to where we can enter to set up. This is a bit confusing as both the middle school and the high school share a campus – plus, as we discover, there is also a preschool. Taylor asks if we’re performing Romeo and Juliet for preschoolers. Now THAT would be something. But no, I don’t think tragic Shakespeare is right for tiny tots. Still unable to find the right door, Louise gets out of the car and proceeds to run, with the grace of a gazelle prancing across the Serengeti, to each door. She is unsuccessful, but very pretty to watch. Taylor now takes on the task and finds his way in through a door around the corner.

Vehicles now parked in the right spot, we load in… again. As we’re loading in, we’re told that we each have to go to the office to sign in, which we do and they take our drivers licenses as some kind of insurance. Load-in is tough and Jared, Brett and I are feeling worse for the wear when it’s over. My headache is turning into a full blown vertigo migraine and Brett is also feeling dizzy.  We’re still at pretty high altitude and I think it’s part of the problem. Colleen, Louise and Ben are right there to take on extra duties and as they say, the show must go on (and that’s not just a saying) so we just keep going. The students begin to arrive and our host from the Breckenridge Music Festival begins her announcements. I know within seconds that we’re in trouble. The students are loud and not from being enthusiastic, they’re just loud. Rambunctious. Rowdy. It’s going to be up to me to get things under control and set behavior expectations. Calling on my arsenal of teacher skills, I go out to talk to the audience. I’ve got things pretty well in hand in about 1-minute. I do some extra talking with this group because I realize that we’ve got some middle school students in the audience and this is not an easy show to watch. It’s very emotional and there’s some tough subject matter. I still think we’re going to have some inappropriate behavior, but that’s part of why we’re here too. Students today aren’t being regularly exposed to the arts; no one is teaching them how they are supposed to behave, so it’s up to us, as an arts organization, to take that on.

The Young Artists are doing their best to make the show engaging and powerful and we are getting responses from the students. The fight scene is tense and I’m on edge watching from the wings as Jared does the move that will stress his shoulder. With Ben’s support, they get though it OK. Brett and Ben’s fight gets some audible gasps from the students, so I know they’re following the story. It’s at this point in the show where the inappropriate really starts to become a problem. During Colleen’s poison aria, the students are talking loudly and calling out comments. As Brett sings his final aria and goes into his dialogue, there’s a moment when I almost go out and stop the show. The comments from the audience have become almost more than I am willing to allow. The teachers are in the room, but not acting on anything they’re hearing as far as I can tell. I decide to just get through it. There’s a portion of the audience who is still listening; is still with us. We owe it to those kids to show them the whole story. I play charades with Ben and Louise backstage and tell them not to wait for the silence after the death scene but just go out as soon as I tell them. The show ends and even the final applause for bows has a level of inappropriateness.

I go out and get things back under control (kids know who they can push and who they can’t). I introduce Taylor and then bring the Young Artists back out for a Q&A. They’ve been through the ringer today. Performers can hear and feel everything their audience does or doesn’t do, so it’s been tough on them. They gave a good performance though and didn’t quit. Surprisingly, we get some thoughtful questions from the students. I take as many as I think we can handle and then end the program. As people begin to get out of costume, when we’re all feeling rather low, a young lady comes backstage. She talks to Louise and apologizes for her classmates’ behavior. Louise handles it with grace and professionalism and tells her that we hope she enjoyed the performance. She says that she loved it; she loves Shakespeare and we made it come alive for her. For the second time today I think – at least we reached one… and one is enough.

Colleen goes to spring us, I mean claim our licenses, while load out happens. The school has had an art show and there is student work up all over the hallways. Some of the pieces are truly outstanding; a couple I’d take home if they were for sale. It’s nice to see that art is represented in some form at the school. Load out done, we take a breather outside and eat some snacks. Everyone is running on empty. Jared’s going to have to drive back because I’m still spinning. We stop at the famous South Park sign and strike some glamour shots and then a few of us grab something to take back to Nathrop for dinner.

Once we reach the lodge/cabin, we all head our own ways. I’ve got an appointment for a facial at the spa and Brett, Louise and Ben will be having a massage later (separately). Jared, Brett and I eat a very quick meal and then head down to the hot springs and spa.
Brett and I check in at the spa and Jared hits the hot tub. Ben, Louise, Colleen and Taylor are eating in the restaurant in the lodge and will join us later. I follow Brett into the locker room, but before I get too far Jared calls out to me. It seems I was about to enter the forbidden zone – the men’s locker room. I give a coy smile and make a quick U-turn and head into the locker room that’s of the more appropriate variety for me. Over the next hour, I am treated to a heavenly experience. I’ve never had a facial like this in my life. I don’t pamper myself very often and this was truly pampering. As I get up to leave, my body has become so relaxed that I’ve lost the ability to fully control my limbs. Now I know what Jared was feeling when he emerged from his massage yesterday.  I make my way, as best I can, out to the sitting area where I see Jared grinning at me. I flop into a chair and mumble incoherent answers to his questions. I have become a marshmallow… and it’s wonderful.

While we wait for the others, Jared and I hit the juice bar where a small miracle occurs. Jared gets me to try tomato juice. Now I have very strong feelings about tomatoes. I believe that, in their raw state, they are larva and not finished forming. This was a huge step for me. Jared and I take our juices outside and sit by the fire.  While we sit there, we reminisce about the last 2 years. Colleen and Taylor join us looking like very relaxed bathing beauties. Colleen tells us am amusing story about a time where she and a friend were digging for bait and her friend got a puncture wound from a garden tool. She tells it better… While we sit and chat, a zombie approaches. Wearing a robe and fresh from his massage, Brett staggers toward us. He looks fabulous. Rumpled, hair all askew and completely relaxed. Ben joins us shortly thereafter, also having enjoyed his massage and then Louise enters, and she’s almost floating. Well done spa – we needed this.

We sit enjoying the pools and outdoor fire until the stars come out. It’s peaceful. It’s bliss. It’s shattered. Someone new enters our party. This someone introduces himself and tells us how much he loves fire. He loves to burn things too – calls himself a bit of a pyro, but not the dangerous kind. By this time, I’m hiding my face in Jared’s shoulder to hide the fact that I’m laughing and he does his best to keep me from saying something inappropriate. Colleen and Taylor are courteous and Brett is still in a daze and looking at the stars. Mr. Pyro tells us he’ll be back soon, so we leave before that happens. Colleen and Louise go for a steam, Taylor heads back to the cabin, Ben takes one last dip in the pool and Jared and Ben say farewell to the sauna. I take a few minutes alone to read and keep a wary eye out for any overly-large flames outside.

Everyone turns in for the evening. Back at ye ole cabin, Taylor reads while Brett, Jared and I spend another evening sitting outside stargazing. The two of them are in rare form tonight and take turns making each other laugh until they are crying. Brett does an impression of an unexpected animated substance who turns into diamonds that has Jared almost falling out of his chair. The subject matter changes to breakfast plans and they make up an impromptu patter song about the morning meal worthy of Gilbert & Sullivan. Yep - Time for bed!

The cabin quiets quickly – it’s been a long day with its share of challenges. I blog about them before turning in. While it would be easy for me to say every performance we do is loved by every audience we perform for, that’s just not the case. Sometimes we have days like today. It’s part of what we do and even though it can be really frustrating, we try and focus on the positive moments and work together to get through the rest. I think again about how important it is that we’re out there, telling people about opera; showing them what it’s all about. We’ll keep at it and reach one person at a time.

Until tomorrow - goodnight readers,


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

2014 Greater Colorado Tour – Day 7

On the road again… I just can’t wait to get on the road again… Ah, Mr. Nelson, those are good lyrics. They ring true for us. After about a day and a half off, we are truly on the road again. Yesterday I traded in the rental Yukon for another Suburban. We’ve got room now, but unbelievably, it’s barely enough. We still had to put one of the prop boxes in the non-set vehicle. Everyone is loaded in; luggage too and we’re off. We’re headed to Leadville today for a performance of Barber at the high school. It will be the highest elevation we’ll be at all season. I, for one, can’t wait to see how this goes.

We’ve got much better weather today – sunny and clear. Last week readers, if you remember, we were driving in snow. Today, we’re able to see the amazing scene open up before us as we crest a hill on I-70. Ah… America… We’ll be staying in Nathrop near natural hot springs for the next two nights and everyone is looking forward to using the amenities, spa and all. It’s on their dime, but they’ve worked really hard and deserve to pamper themselves a bit. Because it’s supposed to be crowded, Jared gets on his phone as we drive to make appointments for those who want them. What results over the next 30-minutes is a comedy sketch waiting to be written as he talks to people who aren’t quite fluent in English (and who I’m almost certain thinks it’s a prank call because of his last name – Guest. “Hello, I’d like to make an appointment for Mr. Guest.”) He finally gets someone on the phone that can help and then each time the information is almost complete, the call drops. Brett pitches in to help and has similar issues. The two of them are now growling in the back seat. Colleen must have really good headphones on because she’s unconcerned with all of the mayhem.

Near Breckenridge we see a serious overhang of snow. It’s an avalanche waiting to happen. I make the mistake of pointing this out to the car and who should happen to be in the car? Mr. happy clapper Baldwin, of course. Taylor seizes the opportunity. Hanging out of the car window, yelling and clapping like crazy – he does his best, but alas, nothing happens. Poor guy, he really gave it his all. As we get higher in elevation, the wind really starts to blow and when you’re driving something the size of a tank, that’s no fun at all. Plus adding to the drag, the top left corner of the roof rack on the new beasty isn’t fully attached to the roof. It creates a lovely squeaking noise and gives the car added lift. By the time we get to Leadville, my hand and arm are numb.

We make a quick stop for lunch before heading to the school for set up. On the way to the school we get a look at the historic downtown area. This was a happening place in the 1900s and the buildings that are still here are beautiful and a reminder of a bygone era. Taking the road we’ve been directed to, we arrive at what I think is the school. Nope, it’s the hospital. Now we arrive at the school. Then we drive around the school. It seems someone forgot to tell us that the entire school is under major construction – we can’t find a way in. I give up and park in a lot and Jared, Brett and I walk to one door after another – all locked up tight with signs that say to enter through the main doors. That’s what we’re trying to do! Jared hikes further up the hill while Brett calls the school. At the same time they both find the way in so I hike down the hill to get the others. By the time I get there, I feel like I’ve run a marathon. Instead of using what breath I have left to talk them through what we’re supposed to do, I become a flight attendant and use hand gestures.

The rest of us pack back into the cars and park just next to the construction zone. I’m feeling especially encouraged that the cars will be safe – there’s only a small amount of rubble and the stairs are almost half intact. We duck and cover and get to the business of loading in. We meet our contacts from the school and the Breckenridge Music Festival, who are both delightful and we figure out how things are going to work. We’ve got a full size stage today – yeah! Taylor has a great piano, however the fact that we’re breathing hard from loading in does not bode well. See… there’s this matter of having to breathe properly to sing opera.

We complete set up and as everyone begins warming up and getting into costume, the audience starts to arrive. We’ve got 6th – 12th graders today. Their teacher goes through her announcements and then I take over. I ask the students how many of them have seen an opera before and out of the entire group, four students raise their hands. Wow – that’s a lot of kids who will have their very first opera experience today. How fabulous! I finish my talk and the show begins. I know right off the bat that it’s going to be a battle to get through this one. Not because the Young Artists aren’t focused; not because they aren’t giving it their all, but because they really can’t breathe. They get through it piece by piece with complete support from Taylor. I haven’t been able to sit and watch a show for quite a while, so I decide to do that today. I sit at the back so I can take it all in and watch how the students respond. They’re really quiet. They are laughing at bits but there’s not a whole lot of noise coming from them at all. It’s not that they’re messing around either. They are entirely focused on the show and taking it all in. For first timers, they’re doing great! The act one finale comes up, which is one of the toughest parts of the show. It’s incredibly physical and a difficult sing too. The artists handle it really well and they begin to play off of each other – I know when I see this that we’re good. The show is solid and the students seem to have enjoyed it. I go up to begin the Q&A and give a shout out to Taylor who really did an admirable job today. Once the Young Artists have grabbed water they join us and we answer questions. They come slowly; the students seem a bit overwhelmed by it all, but once we get a couple, it gets easier. One of the students in honor choir has a birthday today, so we call her up to the stage and sing to her – really – we weren’t trying to embarrass her or anything. Honest.

Following the ode to Happy Birthday in F minor, we thank everyone and its back to the never ending task of getting everything back out into the beasties. Other than some broken nails, we do OK and we’re evacuating the danger zone before the construction workers leave for the day. We decide to drive up to the Matchless Mine before we leave.
As people in the opera business, we can’t miss a chance to see a sight that’s connected to a famous local story – that just has to do with opera. This was the homestead where Horace Tabor and Baby Doe lived. Baby Doe actually died here. We know the story; some of us have sung it. Colleen sang the role of Baby Doe last year and Jared is learning the score now (no readers, he is not singing the role of Baby Doe). Knowing the story and actually seeing it are two very different things. Colleen does a great job of recounting the actual events for us.
Unfortunately, the site isn’t open for tours yet, but at least we got to visit it. What an incredibly hard life that has to have been.

Before we leave, we make a plan to run by the grocery store to get supplies for breakfast for the next couple of days before we head to our lodging. Our lodging in Nathrop is a good central location, but it’s not really close to anything. Unless we want to spend our time driving about 30-40 minutes every time we want to eat, we need to plan ahead. Jared is driving and I’m co-piloting again, my arm and hand no longer numb but not in tip-top shape either. I learned several things on our trip to the grocery store. Thing #1: Jared does not quite understand the principal of turning off the vehicle engine before exiting the vehicle. Thing #2: Opera singers are the loudest people in any space they inhabit. You wouldn’t think getting eggs and bacon would require a lot of volume, but it does.

Supplies purchased – we load into the vehicles and head down the road towards Nathrop. Louise naps in the back seat while Taylor, Brett, Jared and I listen to an on demand performance of Anna Russell. She really was fabulous. The scenery here is very different. There are snow covered peaks yes, but there are also really cool rock formations.
We begin to see deer again. There are people rafting on the river (which Brett and Taylor really want to do – which is fine as long as the proper amount of bubble wrap is in place upon their persons). We take the turn to Nathrop and make it to our lodging. Jared gets another lesson in turning off the engine before exiting the beasty (seriously). We all go into the main lodge to check-in and make a reservation for dinner. Then we split up to head to our respective lodging. Colleen, Louise and Ben are in the lodge and Taylor, Brett, Jared and I are in a cabin up the hill.

The cabin is lovely and looks out over the river. We get things in from the car and have just enough time to get settled before we have to head back to meet the others for dinner.The menu looks good and we place our order. We’ve got about 1 hour and a half before Jared has his spa appointment so we should be good on time – or not. The service is slow, really slow, and by the time our orders arrive, Jared has 15-minutes to eat. He gets things boxed and leaves the rest of us to dine together. Louise tells stories of some of her childhood friends and a very amusing story about Andrea Bocelli. I’m not sure which is funnier. The stories themselves or watching Louise try to tell them while she’s laughing.

After dinner, everyone is on their own to do whatever they choose. Most of us head to the hot springs. I decide to sit by the pool and read for a while and then work on the blog. Jared emerges from his spa appointment and looks dazed. His hair is a delightful mix of punk Mohawk and mullet but he’s looking very relaxed. When everyone is sufficiently pruney from the water, most of them head inside to the steam rooms. I stay outside and continue working on the blog – this lasts for about 10-minutes before I’m invaded by hoards of teenagers. Now, as a teacher, I can handle teenagers. But my patience apparently runs thin in a specific circumstance - I can’t handle teenagers, in swimsuits, with raging hormones, who are unsupervised. Wow. I move inside and meet up with Jared and Brett. We head back to the cabin and get comfy. Taylor joins us and he teaches me the proper way to dismantle a pineapple.

Jared, Brett and I go outside for a bit of stargazing. Sitting in rocking chairs, looking at the starts in the mountains. How fabulous is this? When we’re all blue and my teeth are chattering, we decide to call it a night. Day 1 of week 2 has been busy and there’s more to come. Time to get a good night’s sleep and recharge for another day of opera on tour.

Night-night readers,


Monday, May 19, 2014

2014 Greater Colorado Tour – days 5 / 6

The sun is up. We’re rising, but none of us are exactly rising and shining this morning. We’re up early so that we can get ready, pack the cars and eat breakfast before heading to Paonia. With this many people under one roof, the shower schedule is somewhat of a challenge, but we manage. There’s not much time to enjoy the back deck today but I take a few minutes to look out at the valley. There’s been a change overnight. There’s some minor flooding and the river is higher than it was yesterday. The sun shining on the water makes for a beautiful sight and I snap a quick picture before heading out to meet the others.
The guys have the cars packed and the ladies have organized everything, so we’re in good shape. We say goodbye to the cabin; it’s been such a wonderful place to stay, and we head into Lake City for breakfast.

The restaurant we were planning on is closed, so we head to the local coffee shop next to the theater. Its owner is a fabulous guy and he recognizes us as soon as we walk in. We get some questions about the performance last night and people say how much they enjoyed the evening, which is always nice to hear. We sit and eat; people watch on mainstreet and, more importantly, drink coffee. Lake City is a dog friendly town – everywhere you look, residents are walking their dogs this morning. Some are taking them for a drive – or is it the dog doing the driving…?
You can find pretty much anything is this town!

Breakfast done, it’s time to head out of town. We stop to refuel the beasty and the rental Yukon. While I wait for the tank to fill, I clean up the inside of the car. I take the trash over to the garbage can and am thwarted by the bear proof contraption. Ben has to help me and even at that, it’s a bit of a battle. There’s a sign that reads “Garbage kills bears.” I think these local members of the Ursus americanus species are safe. We head off towards Paonia. The soundtrack for this drive – classics from the 1930’s and 40’s. We’re an eclectic group.

We’re heading through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. As we pass a curve, there are deer crossing the road right in front of us. It’s a beautiful drive and we take time to stop for a few photos along the way. As we get close to the summit, we stop at a lookout.

 The wind is really blowing as you can tell by the girl’s hair. Poor Louise was almost blown off her feet. Not really, she sort misjudged the fence…
It’s at this point that I stand back and watch as the Young Artists and Taylor get their first look at a grand Colorado vista. It’s also here that Brett and Jared dodge a bee; Brett brings out his best karate moves. Suddenly, I hear singing. I turn to locate the source of the sound and find Colleen providing musical support to Louise who is experiencing the wonder that is a National Park loo. Ben says the facilities are OK as these types of things go, but you do need to be careful – small children could fall in there.

We make it the rest of the way through the Black Canyon and enter the final turn that will take us into the valley where Paonia sits. As we do, Taylor opens his arms in a gesture reminiscent of Evita Peron and says, “Ah… America.” Alas, this beautiful sentiment fades as soon as he sees a snow covered peak just to our left. Let the avalanche clapping begin.
We pass through several small towns that are filled with farms, cattle ranches and orchards. It’s incredibly green here and there are tons of baby animals. Cows, horses, goats, yaks – wait… yaks? Yes indeed. Apparently you can grow those out here too.
Before I know it, we’re in Paonia. We park on mainstreet in front of the Blue Sage Theater and walk around for a bit before we head to a local deli for lunch. The food takes longer to get to us than we anticipated and by the time we all have our orders, we’ve got less than 15-minutes before we’re supposed to be at the theater for set up.

Finishing as quickly as we can, we head over to the Blue Sage. We meet up with Annette, our contact, and begin to load in. This process can take up to an hour, but here it only takes us about 20-minutes. Why you ask? Have we simply become so accustomed to this that we can now break the land speed record? No – it’s because we can’t use most of our set. The stage is too small, which was a surprise. We’ll be doing two performances of Romeo and Juliet with no cake, no tomb and now, no set. As we bring in the pieces we can use and the costumes and props, we also try and navigate a very cramped backstage area.
Often, the perception that people have of the lifestyle of an artist isn’t quite what the reality is. Still, it’s a backstage area which we don’t always have, so we’ll make it work.

I restage the parts of the show that need it and we re-work the fight scene so that Jared can protect his shoulder which is a little worse today. Time for costumes and makeup – and with less than 5-minutes to spare, the students arrive. Our first performance of Romeo and Juliet today is for local high school students. The students are on a really tight schedule so, at the last moment, I decide to cut the prologue so that we can be sure they will see the whole story before they have to catch their buses. They are a quiet audience, but respectful. For more than 90% of these students, this is the very first live opera experience they’ve ever had. The show goes well, but I can tell the Young Artists are tired. I go out to start the Q&A and just as I say “does anyone have any questions for us?” the teacher gets up and tells me they have to leave. OK – no Q&A then. Some of the students say thank you as they leave. It’s a bit of a letdown to end a performance like this, but hopefully we reached a few of them. We reset for the top of the show and I give some notes on things that I want to do differently for this evening’s performance.

After that, we go to check into our rooms. We’re staying the night in Paonia at a Bed & Breakfast.
We arrive at a beautiful little farm complete with chickens, a barn and hoards of frogs by the river. We unload our gear and each of us heads to our rooms to get settled. Some people take a walk, some take a nap. I decide to enjoy the setting and head outside to read. We’ve got no cell service out here and the internet is spotty, so it’s a chance to unplug for a bit. The resident dog, named Paco, keeps me company.
He does this by, what I can only call, grumbling at me until I turn my chair so I can see him and occasionally throw a stick for him. Jared, Brett and Taylor join me and together we play with Paco and watch in fascination as he breaks his sticks, which are actually huge pieces of bark or wood, into splinters. Doggie dentist anyone?

It’s time to head back to town for dinner. We meet up with Annette and walk to the restaurant. It’s a lovely place with a beautiful courtyard garden. We’re seated and everyone orders. They have a local apple cider on the menu so I order one. When it arrives I take a huge drink – and – wow, not what I was expecting. This apple cider is of the hard variety, meaning it contains alcohol, which I am not allowed to contain. I pass it on to Brett and order something a little more boring. Dinner is delicious and I’m hearing yummy noises from the guys who are eating braised lamb shanks. It must be good because all that’s left on their plates is the bone, which I think they would have gnawed at if our hosts weren’t present.

Dinner time is over and we head to the theater to get ready for the evening performance. We’re doing another combo program tonight: A&E / Romeo and Juliet. It’s a sold out house and the place is packed. Everyone is really tired. We start the performance more than 10-minutes late, which just adds to it. I go out and begin the program and introduce the first piece; I’ve chosen Spamalot again. Jared decides to liven things up and falls out of his chair. He told this to Louise, but did not inform those of us who were backstage, this resulting in all of us jumping and wondering if that little torpedo of a hummingbird had made reappearance. He’s fine, it was part of the act and it’s an act that the audience is eating up. They are incredibly responsive and the first half of the program is going over beautifully. Jared takes the stage to sing Stars from Les Mis. It’s a piece I gave him two years ago and tonight is the final time he’ll sing it as an Opera Colorado Young Artist. It’s one of my favorite pieces and he surprises me and dedicates the performance to me. My makeup is wrecked, but it was totally worth it. The audience is calling out Bravos by the time he finishes.

The first half of the evening ends with the Tonight quintet from West Side Story. It’s a difficult piece, but really impressive and packs a punch this evening. We’re into intermission and everyone scrambles to get into costume. Intermission ends and I go out to talk about Romeo and Juliet before Ben enters and begins the show. This show is challenging and sometimes we’ll do a performance and the audiences doesn’t quite go with us. Then, there are nights that happen once or twice a year… nights when the stars seem to align and there’s a magic in the theater that you can feel. Nights like tonight. What takes place on that stage over the next hour is hard to describe. The Young Artists’ performances are spot on; real, powerful and vulnerable at the same time. The audience is incredible, giving so much energy back to the artists that they become part of the story. By the time we get to the fight scene, you can hear a pin drop. There are audible gasps when Jared is stabbed as Mercutio. By the time we get to the death scene, you can hear people sniffing and some openly crying. Brett and Colleen take my breath away with their final dialogue. When bows begin, the applause is instant and enthusiastic.

I go out to start the Q&A and then bring everyone else out after they’ve had a chance to catch their breath. Remember how I said a Q&A session with adults usually lasts about 15-minnutes? Lake City went to 30 – this audience, almost 40-minutes. The questions they ask are remarkable. Things like “Who was your inspiration?” “What was that moment when you knew opera was for you?” “What was your favorite part of the performance?” even “Can you tell us more about Opera Colorado?” I have never been prouder of the Young Artists. Their answers are thoughtful, honest and insightful. They are absolutely charming. We make sure to thank the audience and tell them how amazing they’ve been. They gave us exactly what we needed tonight – an enthusiastic response. At the end of the Q&A, an elderly gentleman tells us that while we thank them for being a great audience, he wants to make sure we know just what a priceless gift we have given to their community. His words make all of us a little misty.

Following the performance, we head to the small reception and greet the audience. There are so many people coming up to us with praise for the performance, it’s a little hard to take it all in. Many people still have tears in their eyes. One gentleman who is on the board of the Blue Sage can’t even tell us how he feels about the experience; he’s still too emotional. This is what opera does best – tells stories that move people in unimaginable ways. What an amazing night it’s been. As the reception dies down, we get to the task of loading out. It’s a quicker process than usual since we don’t have the full set. Still, we don’t get back to our rooms until after 11:00pm. We’re all still riding an emotional high after that performance so we head to our rooms to relax.

I start writing the blog, but exhaustion sets in and I decide to call it a night. Turning off the light, I let the frogs sing me to sleep. This would explain why I dreamt of singing frogs…

And… camera fade into the next morning. We’re up in stages again as we enjoy the B&B and wait for breakfast. You didn’t really think we would miss breakfast now did you? This group? Some of us find out way outside (all of us find our way to the coffee and tea) and sit enjoying the beautiful weather. It’s clear, sunny and warm. There’s a new doggie to play with this morning – her name is Cooper and she’s an eleven year-old black lab. She’s quite spry for eleven and we take turns throwing a stick for her. Our hostess calls us in for breakfast – literally. She stands in the front door and hollers, “Food’s ready, come and get it!” We do. We sit at a large table together and enjoy a wonderful, farm fresh breakfast.

After this, it’s time to hit the road. We’re heading back to Denver for what’s left of the weekend before we leave again on Monday for the second week of tour. The drive is gorgeous

 – but nature intervenes again, disrupting things in the car. A bee flies in the window and into my hair. I screech and shake it out doing my best not to drive us off the road. I think it’s flown back out the window; thank goodness because Jared and Brett are highly allergic to bee stings. About 10-minutes down the road, the bee is back. (What is it with these aggressive small creatures?!) It’s crawled into the vent in the front of the car. I pull over and Taylor, with the grace of a samurai warrior, smashes said bee with his Romeo and Juliet score. All that clapping has paid off; he’s got reflexes like lightening.

Bee scare over, we continue on our drive. We pause in Glenwood Springs for a quick pit stop and there we discover a delightfully furry surprise. No, Brett has no found his bear, it’s labradoodle puppies! There are three little bundles and we take some time to play with them before we head back to the road; Colleen said it made the whole trip worth it. Puppies will do that. Jared takes over for me and I get to be co-pilot for a while. The drive goes without any new incidents. We make another pit stop and we get some rain, but it’s pretty uneventful. That’s great news, because we passed a really bad wreck near the Eisenhower tunnel.

And… just like that, we’re back in Denver. We’ve decided that we really do need a bigger rental Yukon, so we transfer all the sets, props and costumes into the beasty and I take the rental Yukon. I will exchange it for a second beasty tomorrow. That had better solve the problem, because next on the list is a small bus. We bid each other goodbye (for about a day and a half) and I head home. Whew – what a week! Opera on the road is a lot of work, a lot of fun and completely inspiring. I can’t wait to see what week two holds.

‘Till then readers –