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 –



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