Monday, March 30, 2015

2015 Greater Colorado Tour – The Prequel…

Readers… Guess what? It’s blog time! Yes, that’s right – the blogs from Opera Colorado’s Greater Colorado Tour 2015 are about to begin. I know. You’ve been waiting all year, right? Well… you’re wait is over… almost. This blog is a bit of a teaser. A prequel if you will. We’re taking a short jaunt to Gunnison for a couple of days; prepping for the more extensive experience. The longer tour happens in May. We had a small window of time before rehearsals begin for this little opera we’re doing. You may have heard of it… The Magic Flute? Anyone?  Madama Butterfly was a huge hit this past fall and we’ve been performing non-stop with our touring productions Hansel and Gretel and Romeo & Juliet, Arias & Ensembles, not to mention the premiere of the abridged concert reading of The Scarlet Letter. We are busy! So busy in fact, that our mini-tour has outgrown its time frame. We’re not just headed to Gunnison, but to Alamosa, Estes Park and Ft. Collins too. So many locations are asking for us that the 2-weeks in May booked before we knew it and we had to find additional dates to take opera to Colorado!

Let me introduce you to our group this year; the Opera Colorado Young Artists. You’ll be getting to know them as the blogs from tour progress. The incredibly talented line up is as follows: Leah Bobbey (soprano), Katherine Sanford (mezzo soprano), Brett Sprague (tenor), Andrew Paulson (baritone), Daniel DeVicente (bass baritone) and Allan Armstrong, our accompanist. Oh, and there’s me – your blogger and cruise director, Cherity Koepke.

There are two words to sum up how mini-tour day 1 begins. Epic. Fail. Is there some sort of national convention in town that I am unaware of? Or are the masses descending on Denver for St. Patrick’s Day? What? There must be something happening because the amount of traffic I encounter on my way to pick up the group is mind-numbing. Knowing I had to travel roughly 18 miles and knowing I would encounter Monday morning traffic, I left my house at 6:40AM. No accidents, no traffic arrests… no breaking for geese crossing the highway… I arrive at the pick-up location at 8:00AM – 30-minutes behind schedule.

I roll to a stop and am greeted by 6 smiling faces. Well… not really. There are 6 faces and they do greet me cordially, but they’re not actually smiling. This is not a morning group. We quickly jump into action and Leah, packer extraordinaire, gets everything loaded into the vehicles. In 5-minutes flat, we’re on the road and back on schedule. We’re making good time... for about 2-minutes. Then we encounter more traffic. Next year, I might look into renting a small hovercraft. Frustration continues to mount. By the time we get out of town and into the mountains, we’re behind schedule and we’ve lost 2 members of the traveling party. Nothing underhanded; nothing done out of frustration. They’re fine. Daniel and Allan are in his car as he has to leave tonight to get to a wedding and then rejoin us tomorrow. They took a wrong turn. They’ll meet us in Gunnison.

Finally, we’re actually moving down the road. Brett and Leah are with me in the rental tank (biggest Suburban I’ve ever seen) and Andrew is driving the Yukon with Katherine as his co-pilot. The Yukon… yes, readers, it’s still with us. It’s still running… I’ve decided not to talk about it in hopes that the vehicle will play nice on this trip. The candy cane cage is strapped to the top. We think that it might lend some additional aerodynamics. We get questions about it every time we stop. People think it’s a sled, or a highly decorative cattle guard. We climb higher in elevation and the scenery gets more beautiful with every turn. The Rocky Mountains are covered in snow and the sky is blue. We’re all feeling a bit better. That lasts for about 5 miles until we pass the first of 3 consecutive, unfortunate animals off to the side of the road… formerly known as skunks. Blah. My eyes actually start to water. Leah announces that the smell doesn’t bother her. Brett responds that his body hurts. Conversation in my vehicle… quite stimulating.

Arrival in Gunnison
Continuing on our way, we see deer and more amazing scenery and voilĂ , we’re in Gunnison. On time too. We make a quick stop for lunch where we are reunited with Allan and Daniel and then it’s time to head over to the school to get ready for our afternoon performance of Hansel and Gretel.  Brett and I go into the school to check us in and we meet the principal whose enthusiasm for our visit is contagious. We’ve even made the school bulletin. It’s so great to see the community’s support for what we’re doing. We begin the task of loading in, setting up and getting into costume and makeup. There’s always little hiccups during this process – today the backdrop is about 4 inches shorter than normal (how it shrinks in the bag is mystifying) the cage won’t go together without a fight and there are stairs just inches away from where we’ll be performing, so we’ll have to be extra aware. The Young Artists are subdued; their early morning clearly catching up with them. It’s either that or the lack of oxygen to their brains… I catch Brett in a very pensive moment. It’s a great shot. Art really. I call it “Witch in repose.” Everyone is ready just as the students begin coming in to take their seats. The energy is still really low so I go backstage to give a little pep talk. It seems to work because out of the corner of my eye, I see Daniel doing a dance that I can only be described as part Chicken Dance and part Samba. He’s dressed in a floor length sea-green tunic with matching turban too, so the effect is quite remarkable. The fluttery sleeve-action is my favorite part.

"Witch in Repose"
I’m able to quit giggling in time to get ready to do the introduction. As Allan and I wait behind the curtain, we hear the students begin to sing. I peep through the curtain and I see they are singing Do-Re-Mi and doing the sign language that accompanies it. I whisper this to the cast and BAM – that’s it, we have instant motivation. Leah can’t deal with all the cuteness and uses all of her emotion to get ready to sing Gretel. Introduction, curtain open – we we’re off.

Katherine and Leah do a fabulous job with the opening and manage to avoid tumbling down the stairs during their choreographed dance. Andrew does a great job with his scene as the Father, we move on to the forest and Sandman scene, which go well and then, we’re there – it’s time for the Witch to appear. I love to watch the kid’s faces as they see this character for the first time.  It’s not every day you get to see a witch with purple pigtails and a beard! They love it and the energy on stage between Leah, Katherine and Brett is fabulous. The students are laughing and clapping and by the end of the show we hear 200 little voices all shouting “bravo!”

Hansel and Gretel in Gunnison
I go out to start the Q&A and make sure that Allan gets another round of applause. He has to leave now but he’ll rejoin us tomorrow. With one more huge BRAVO, the cast comes out and we take questions from the audience. We never know what we’re going to get – today’s questions are great. How long have you been singing opera? How do you get those costumes? Was there a boy playing a girl? Is the candy real? There are more questions than we have time for, so we thank everyone for coming and we say goodbye. I’ve been doing this for more than 7 years now and it never gets old. As we get out of costume and begin to load out, we can hear the kids talking about the show and singing.

Load out goes pretty smoothly thanks in large part to our exceptional Road Manager Brett and master strategist Andrew. He’s got this packing thing down to a science! We’re loaded up and its time to head to our hotel. We get checked in, unload the cars and everyone decides what they want to do with their free time this evening. Andrew is going to read and go to the gym. Leah and Katherine are going to rest and then hit the pool. Daniel… not sure, he may already be napping. Brett and I decide to drive in to Crested Butte. It’s one of our favorite places in Colorado and neither of us has been there in a several years.

The drive doesn’t take long and the scenery… not sure there are words. Snow covered mountains and a little alpine village. We look around town for a bit and I suddenly remember – it’s Spring Break. This epiphany is brought on by watching hordes of teenagers roam around. One particular party that Brett and I watch with interest is enacting a battle with light-up, neon green plastic swords. There was much carnage on the battle field my lords and ladies. And much laughter and eye rolling from us. We grab dinner at the local gem, Secret Stash pizza and then head back to the hotel in Gunnison. The drive in uneventful, which is good because it gets really dark out here! At the hotel we see the ladies who have enjoyed the pool and we meet up with Daniel who also enjoyed the aquatic amenities. Andrew must still be reading. Brett and I work for a bit in the business center before everyone turns in. We’ve got a full day tomorrow. Time to hit the hay!
Katherine teaches a masterclass at Western State 
Day two in Gunnison is a busy one as expected. We teach a masterclass at Western State University in the afternoon where the Young Artists work directly with their vocal undergrads. I chime in as needed; the Young Artists do a great job. They’re supportive and encouraging, but honest, which is something I firmly believe in. After the masterclass, we spend time rehearsing for tonight’s performance. Rehearsals done, on our way back to the car, I comment that I can hear sand hill cranes. They make a distinctive cooing noise. Katherine’s description… they sound like big pigeons. After rehearsals we have a short break, and then head off to grab dinner. Tonight’s restaurant destination… a steakhouse. No, we did not suddenly decide to throw caution (and our paychecks) to the wind. This is one of the few restaurants that was actually open tonight. It’s a good choice, if only for the fact that I got to watch the group try Rocky Mountain Oysters. Now… I get their trepidation. It’s not easy to think of dining on a bull’s nether regions. But, I’m all for being adventurous. Brett has had them before, so he’s easy to convince. Leah is generally pretty brave, so she goes for it. Katherine is harder to convince, but she gives them a try. Daniel is persuaded. Andrew… well, after he and Allan trade comments that makes the buffalo on the wall blush, he gives them a try too. We move on from the dining adventure to Allan playing the role of server and offer freshly cracked black pepper to the table – our waitress gets in on the joke by remarking that this is not Olive Garden. Dinner done, we head back to the hotel to change and then it’s a dash to the performance location.

We park and walk to the recital hall. In the distance, we hear the faint strains of music… is it… yes, it is! It’s steel drum band. We’re hoping we can persuade them to accompany us on our finale from Weekend in the Country. We get set and the audience begins to arrive. It’s a great crowd and every age group is represented from kids to seniors. I start off the program and Andrew takes the stage with Largo – a crowd pleaser for sure. The program goes really well. Brett has learned two Irish tenor pieces in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and they’re a hit. We even manage to use a bottle of Irish whiskey as a prop and it gets a big laugh. After the finale is over and the applause dies down, we begin the Q&A. At first, all of the questions come from the kids in the audience. It seems they saw a performance at their school yesterday… something called Hansel and Gretel. How cool! They came tonight because they were so excited about what we’re doing AND they brought their parents. One young lady asks Katherine why she had short red hair during the performance yesterday and today her hair long and black. I personally get a huge kick out of the fact that Brett doesn’t get a question as to why his hair was in purple pony tails. Apparently that transformation wasn’t quite as noticeable… Once we get the audience warmed up, the questions start to fire. This may seems like a small thing, but being able to connect with your audience like this is such a fabulous opportunity. They’ve just had an experience that they truly enjoyed and now we get to share more about what we do and about Opera Colorado.
Questions rang from “what is it like to do this for a living,” to “how much time do we spend rehearsing” and more. One question was, “Do you remember your very first role?” I do. Kindergarten. Fairy Princess. Complete with tutu and point shoes. Brett jumps in with his response next… “Same.” Now THAT I would have loved to see. We also get asked if any of us are married to which I respond, “Not to each other.” Our Andrew is newly married to the lovely Abby who is also an opera singer. It’s not easy, but they’re making it work.  It’s time to call it a day. We say our goodbyes and offer a sincere thank you for having us and then head back to the hotel.

Readers… I could continue on with more stories of what happened back at the hotel or tales of our trip to Alamosa, Estes Park or Ft. Collins, but that’s it for now. As I said, this is just a little teaser of what’s to come when we hit the road for real in May. I hope you’ll join us on the journey. It’s certain to be an interesting ride!

As you follow us on tour, I’m going to ask something of you too. Readers… “Like” us, “Share” us, “Tweet” or “Comment” – whatever it is that you do in cyber-world. We want people to know what we’re up to and how we’re sharing the wonderful world of opera with everyone we can.  

‘Till May,