Stabat Mater/Mount Indefatigable

Climbing mountains has prepared me to sing Rossini’s Stabat Mater.

If you know me, you also know I’m a rock climber. My usual outings are sport climbs on single pitch at mountain approaches, boulder fields, or in the gym. Rarely do I summit tall peaks. But on October 27th, my friend Matt took me to hike Mount Indefatigable in Kananaskis Park near Canmore/Banff.

It’s a 1000 metre ascent with snow beginning at the 500m level. We came prepared with poles, gaiters, and cold weather gear. ‘No trad gear, “just” a hike…

The ascent began at Upper Kananaskis Lake where the temperature was around 15 degrees Celsius. The trail was beautiful with small creeks traversing it from the early snowfall run-off. Emerging from the tree line, we encountered the possibility of avalanche. Though I have usually stayed away from avalanche conditions, I was glad to be with an experienced friend as a guide.  The snow was waist deep, save for patches of scree. Though we wanted to walk on the rocks, they were far more unstable than the snow because of the ice mortared amid them. We had to be careful.

The summit was a ridge about 2 feet wide. At least, that was the width safely traversable, but it appeared to be much wider because of the snow drift on the East side of the ridge. Not knowing where the ridge ended made me nervous to walk on any part of it. We had to stay in a super focused path. If things became too dicey, we had a rope to tie between the two of us so that if one of us spilled over the edge, the other could jump over the opposite side to break his fall.

This week I will sing the tenor solo in Rossini’s Stabat Mater for the first time. I’ve had both nervous and elated feelings about it; nervous, because the aria is a high tessitura and calls for a high D flat in the cadenza, and elated, because when I can sing it comfortably it is such a thrill! Though I’ve sung scads of high C’s in public, just one more semitone seems like adding another cliff to the mountain.

Just like traversing the summit of Mt. Indefatigable with a narrow passage, I feel the approach to singing the Stabat Mater is equally narrow. One insecure footstep could send me plummeting down a precipitous slope.

The key to both climbing and singing, I found, was achieving consistent balance. To do this, I first I stepped in all the same places that my guide stepped. I trusted his experience and knew that I would be safe if I followed him; much like following my teacher or listening closely to the recordings of other successful tenors. Second, I learned that if I stood up straight and avoided the temptation to hunch, squat or rely too heavily on my poles, my boots could grip the rock, snow and ice easier. Third, I found it essential to be grateful for each step; keep my awareness focused on the present and avoid thoughts of falling/failure.

‘And so it is with the voice. If I maintain a “tall” column of air in the body and keep it resonating in my bones, the passagio is super simple and the high D flat is a piece of cake. Balance is key.

Finally, I had to remind myself that it is exhilarating! Along with compassion and hard work, adventure is my core belief! I mean, look at this place! God must hang out here occasionally.

I’m so happy and grateful to live where I do and to do what I do. I’m grateful for Matt taking me up Mt. Indefatigable and I look forward to ascending many more mountains!


L’elisir d’amore review

Because there was no review published of my last performance, I have taken upon myself to write my own. This might seem vain and awkward, but those two words pretty much sum up my entire performance career thus far, so I’m going to roll with them.

In any case, these performances were amazing. I guess that’s the real reason I want to write my own review. I am tooting my own horn and I don’t care if it’s kosher or not. “Toot!!!”

“On Friday, October 6th and again on October 8th, Opera Idaho put on the comic opera by bel canto composer, Gaetano Donizetti, L’elisir d’amore (The Love Potion), written in 1832 and sung in Italian with English super-titles. This was the first of six productions which the regional opera company will produce in this 2017-18 season.

Though Donizetti wrote over sixty operas during his career, L’elisir remains one of the handful of staple favorites by the composer regularly produced in modern opera repertories. It’s an audience favorite thanks to the tight comic scenes mixed with soaring melodies conveying deep emotion.

Many have said that this opera resembles, in more than one way, the Barber of Seville by Goacchino Rossini, which was written sixteen years previous. They may be more correct than they realize. Every composer of note had a “shoulder to stand on;” borrowing from either contemporaries, or from mavericks of the past. Nevertheless, for a time-crunch of six weeks in which to compose the opera, Donizetti did well to borrow formulae from his predecessor.

On Friday night, the Egyptian Theatre on 7th Avenue and Main Street was buzzing with positive energy. Stage Director, Andrew Nienaber updated the opera to resemble a 1940’s jazz club, simply called “Simplot” (humorously, or not, named after the most major patroness of Opera Idaho, Ester Simplot).

In a fund-raising effort, Opera Idaho had sold premium seats, two to a table, on stage to the tune of $250 per seat. Those who acquired them had an experience like no other, enjoying local wine, while being up close and personal with the artists, and occasionally interacting with them as though patrons of “the Simplot Club.”

Adina, played by Soprano, Cecilia Violetta Lopez, is the owner of the club. She is wily, intelligent, capricious and in control of the establishment. She takes turns entertaining the guests at the “microphone” and refilling their drinks. Nemorino, is a custodian and is first to appear on scene. He is played by Tenor, Thomas Glenn. During the overture, he appears mopping the floor and cracking jokes (in Italian) with the audience, until the other characters appear and he retreats to the sides. He is madly in love with Adina.

Baritone, Jason Detwiler is Belcore, the military officer interrupting everything to make a quick marriage with the most attractive candidate he can find. That candidate, to the chagrin of Nemorino, is Adina.
To win her affections, Nemorino buys a love potion from Dr. Dulcamara, played by Bass-baritone Christopher Job who appears as a salesman between sets at the club, selling his (ahem… snake oil) “cure-all products” to the audience to benefit the “War effort.” For $20, Dulcamara sells Nemorino a cheap bottle of expired chianti as Isolde’s love potion and instructs him that after a day, all the women of the community will fall in love with him. Which, eventually, they do, but only because Nemorino’s rich uncle has died leaving his fortune to him.

Ignorant of this incident, both the drunken Nemorino and the somber Adina have worked out their feelings for one another and eventually, Adina breaks and confesses her love to Nemorino. The opera ends with the two in a fond embrace, surprised with the news of impending riches from the deceased uncle. ‘Good choice, Adina.

Conductor, Andrew Anderson led the orchestra admirably. Thanks to succinct comic timing mixed with a secure and steady lyricism from the pit, the evening kept everyone’s perception at the forefront of the action. The chorus, populated by local singers and Opera Idaho’s young artists, sounded completely in sync with a mature sound, also supplying many of the evening’s comic moments (and… choreography!).

All the leads were fantastic. Ms. Lopez filled the role of Adina to bursting; not only singing every note of her crystalline melismas with ringing precision and deep emotion (even shedding what seemed like genuine tears in the last scene), but also interpolating a high E in her final aria. She is a bel canto interpreter extraordinaire.

The same could be said of tenor, Thomas Glenn whose lyric and at times, heroic performance twice stopped the dramatic action of the opera with applause breaks, first for an unexpected but stellar high C in his duet with Belcore, and again following his impassioned aria, “Una furtiva lagrima.”

Equally, deft was Bass-baritone Christopher Job as Dulcamara, who exerted power and a burnished vocal color, punctuated by a raised eyebrow and a wink; a perfect foil to the lovers. And Idaho’s stalwart baritone, Jason Detwiler can make anyone swoon with his strong, broad vocal range and always energetic comedy.

Finally, Jena Carpenter was hilarious as Gianetta, the town gossip.

Of course, one looks to international houses to find the “gold standard” in opera. They can, after all, afford the very best. However, when regional companies with smaller forces attempt a parallel musical quality to please an audience in this fashion, we all feel a strong sense of gratitude for such fine skill. Congratulations to Opera Idaho on a transcendent evening.

L’elisir d’amore, produced by Opera Idaho, will have one last performance, in Pocatello, Idaho on November 4th.”

See below for a clandestine video taken by my wife from the audience of my “Una furtiva…”

L’elisir d’amore – Opera Idaho

Dear Friends,
When I do sing a lead role, I have a habit of risking everything that my mind, body, heart and voice can manage to bring out a performance that will lift others. And all of that is happening now.

In one week, we will open Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore at Opera Idaho.

Although Nemorino is not a role I have particularly wanted to do, it is a role that I have ended up doing well. For this, I am grateful. And as a result of my enthusiasm, I feel rewarded in many ways.

First, I feel fortunate to sing in a tremendous cast including Christopher Job, Jason Detwiler, and Jena Carpenter. I feel it a particular serendipity to sing with my soprano, Cecilia Violetta Lopez. As I said to her last rehearsal, “I feel like we’ve known each other for a very long time.” Her voice is easy and ringing. Her personality is tender and yet, flexible. She is a perfect Adina, and such a relief to be able to sing with.

Second, though the role sits low, my voice has been able to manage the bottle-neck passagio range effortlessly. So much so, that the conductor has had me interpolate two high C’s.

What can I say? When you rock, you rock.

Third, I feel valued by the company. I know they are a small regional company, but it goes a long way when the general director and staff treat you with enough respect to talk to you, let a lone – look at you…

Finally, I can spread my wings. With small roles, the challenge is being able to support your lead colleagues; get in and out on time and make that character work in the storyline. All of this is also true of a lead, but it feels so good to carry that story continuously from scene to scene and project some dynamism. And also, arias and high notes… God, it feels good to sing some frickin’ high notes!!!

Louis Riel

Dear Friends,
It has been a long time since I posted anything. My website has been collecting dust and I feel impelled to finally do something about it. Thanks for waiting five years.

Since my last post, I have repatriated to Canada. Most of you know that I am an American. Well… I am also a Canadian. And though it broke my heart to leave the wonderful city of San Francisco, I must admit that I have adjusted to the country of my youth.

I will write more about that later. For now, I want to mention the production in which I now appear, Louis Riel, based on the historical Canadian figure, written by Canadian composer, Harry Somers. It debuted in the late 1960’s and hasn’t seen any programming since 1976, I believe.

To celebrate Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation, the Canadian Opera Company has revived it with co-productions by the National Centre for the Arts in Ottawa and Festival d’Opéra de Québec.

I feel honored to take part in a cast which includes the likes of Russel Braun, Simone Osborne, Allyson McHardy, and James Westman, (to name a few).

Those who saw the production in Toronto earlier this year, had great things to say. If you’re in Ottawa or Québec City between now and the end of the Summer, please come see it.

I will write more about the production and historical details in further posts.

For now, I’m very happy to be in my country’s capital doing my part to celebrate the 150th.

-Thomas Glenn