As regular readers of Cindy Warner's SF Opera Examiner dispatches should know by now, Cindy was kind enough to invite me as a guest for an event to meet the 2009 artists who will be performing this summer under the auspices of the Merola Opera Program. Each of these artists was subjected to a brief interview; and Cindy did an excellent job of capturing their observations (along with providing a photograph of the "interrogation process"). These interviews were followed by informal conversation over food. I am not much of a conversationalist; but I did want to make a point of letting Eleazar Rodriguez know that I had seen (and enjoyed) several of his performances of opera scenes at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
However, given my personal theoretical interests in the nature of performance and the nature of communication that takes place both during a performance and in preparing for one, my real interest at this event was directed towards those selected to serve as apprentice coaches. I was particularly fortunate to get to chat with Miaomiao Wang, since her own "interrogation" involved questions about Chinese opera (or, as she corrected Sherri Greenawald, Beijing Opera), which bears far less resemblance to Western opera than a plate of Shanghai dumplings does to one of ravioli. Wang was still coming up to speed with her English, but I thoroughly enjoyed talking with her about her experiences in accompanying art song. As far as I am concerned, any pianist who has worked with recital singers to prepare Robert Schumann's two major song cycles, "Frauenliebe und Leben" (Opus 42) and "Dichterliebe" (Opus 48), is more than adequately prepared to take on the encounter between music and drama necessary to pull off an effective opera performance. My regret is that, since she does all of her work "behind the scenes," I shall not have the opportunity to see directly how she exercises her skills.
As Cindy reported, Stephanie Rhodes was given a better opportunity for "shop talk" in her interview and used that opportunity to talk about the materials with which she works, including both full orchestral scores and recordings of performances with full orchestra. All this resonated very nicely with my own thoughts about the relationship between notes and music, although I knew better than to belabor her with any of the Chomskyan theory to which I have subjected my readers! I did, however, inquire as to what her performance preferences were when not coaching opera and was not surprised to hear that, like so many other pianists, she aspired to perform Sergei Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto. If her ear for Rachmaninoff's orchestration is as keen as it is for the opera repertoire, then she has the makings of a soloist who will be fully and effectively engaged with her "accompanying voices."
As a product of too many music teachers too fond of saying "There are those who like music and those who like opera," I was more than delighted to encounter so much "musical intelligence" at this encounter with the "Merolini." This bodes well just as much for the future of opera as it does for the future of music. (It also puts my head in an interesting place as I am about to go over to the Conservatory for a Master Class to be conducted this afternoon by Kiri Te Kanawa!)