Thursday, February 18, 2010

Winter Food and Auditions

Winter brings just a few things I like, the most important of which is winter stews and long-cooking roasts.  I didn't enjoy slogging through the slush of melting snow to flip the car over to the other side of the street, but I rewarded myself with a trip to the grocery store to see what could be had for dinner, and was rewarded with a pair of nice lamb shanks.  A couple of handfuls of root vegetables (a big meaty parsnip, a turnip and a couple of potatoes), plus the mushrooms I have in the fridge and some of our "bone-bag" stock*, and there's dinner!  It won't take as long as it's taking to write this as it will to brown the shanks in our big cast-iron pot, add the stock and vegetables and throw it in the oven (400 deg. for 40 minutes or so, then drop it down to 250 for 2 - 3 hours more).  When Karen gets home, it's a one-pot dish that cost me 15 minutes for well-under $10, and earns me lots of smiles.

*I know, I've got to explain the "bone bag"!  We keep a great big ziplock gallon bag in the freezer with whatever bones (chicken, beef, lamb, WHATEVER) get left at the end of a meal.  Every 2 - 3 weeks, the cast iron pot gets filled with water and the bones, and slow cooks on the stove for at least 24 hours, preferably longer, at the lowest setting the burner can handle.  It can go into ice cube trays for smaller portions, and a few cubes in anything we're cooking makes a quick dinner into a small bit of heaven.

Since we're right in the middle of auditions for the summer program, our lives get hijacked over the weekends and we find ourselves eating out or eating late a lot.  Now I LOVE to eat out, but I get so much more therapeutic bang-for-the-buck by cooking for us at home.  And no 300-400% mark-up on the wine!

Speaking of restaurants, I just had a flashback of one of the best meals in recent memory, over the holidays at Blue Hill Restaurant in Greenwich Village.  "Farm to table" philosophy dominates, with fresh ingredients, simple but elegant preparations.  I should have written down the entire meal in a food-diary right then, like Karen and I did on our delayed honeymoon to Bavaria a few years ago, but since their menu changes often, you'll probably never see the same thing twice.  Don't miss a chance to check out this wonderful place....the decor is extremely understated (but elegant), and the service is friendly, unobtrusive and unpretentious.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Anna Bolena "wrap-up"

Just a few thoughts about dell'Arte Opera's just completed production of Anna Bolena, the idea of artistic 'post-partem' and what it feels like to be looking almost a full year in advance...

The challenge of presenting such a challenging work as AB ranks for me up there with things that look far more complicated on the page, like Ariadne auf Naxos or Little Women.  The difference here is that style is everything, and bel canto style just isn't really much a part of any standard curriculum, whether in schools or vocal studios or even coaching studios.  Most of the time, a singer brings us an aria and we just try and get them through that piece and the singer misses out on the basic stylistic elements that can apply across the board to other repertoire.  This week, getting back to a few private coaching sessions, it was refreshing (and hopefully useful) to find myself using the working style that helped the cast and covers through such a huge piece as AB without an aneurysm.  For a long time I've prided myself on correcting details as broader concepts, but it's just too easy to fall into the trap of fixing things fast and moving on.  It may push the singer out the door with those 3 minutes of aria sounding more accurate, but it doesn't make them a better artist. I have to congratulate each of the cast members of AB, because they went with the idea: each one of them not only sang their roles well, but also came out on the other side with stronger process, and much better knowledge of the style. 

We all suffer once in awhile from artistic 'post-partem.'  Sometimes, we miss the people, sometimes the characters, and sometimes just the whole intensity of a particular project.  This particular time, it's the principal cast that I miss, since watching each of them grow has been such a joy.  They all have other projects to move on to, as do I, but the process is the thing, and I'm as grateful to them for the journey as I secretly hope they are to me.

This particular time, however, there's not much time to be gloomy about the end of the production.  Auditions for our summer program start next weekend, and we're already getting our proverbial ducks in a row for the next winter production (Konigskinder).  Searching for the right venue, meeting with the director and prospective costume designer, seeking co-producers...  It's exciting to have a solid plan for dell'Arte for a year in advance, but also a little overwhelming.  I'm reminded again of my New Year's Resolution: Ask for and Accept Help!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Traditions and Rituals

Traditions (rituals) are such an important way of keeping grounded, on so many levels.  They tell us what season it is, they remind us what's ahead and how we must prepare for the journey, and they help us process what has happened.  Our New Year's Day party, and all the preparation we go through to clean house and cook for guests remind us how lucky we are to have a nice home, and how important our friends are to us.  A trip to Chinatown the day before to shop (fresh, inexpensive seafood and lovely produce) are capped by purchasing one of those wonderful roast ducks you see hanging in the window. 

As I finish preparing the orchestra parts for our upcoming production of Anna Bolena, it's useful to imagine each player and their needs for getting through the score.  There was a conducting teacher who once taught me to isolate each player's part and how it would look in front of them to remind me of just how little they really need from me (and how specific that little detail might be).  Humbling, but useful.  The ritual in this case is reading through each part and doing just that.  It's a great way to learn the full score and it's amazing to see how many little details get corrected in the process.  When I get to this final stage of an arrangement prior to the actual printing, it always gives me a little case of the butterflies thinking ahead to the rehearsals and actual production.

Preparing for guests, preparing for orchestra players: cleaning up and looking forward.  A good start to the year ahead.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The gifts I have been given

The gifts I have in this world are amazing.  My wife, our home and our two cats, our friends, the musicians and music I come into contact with every day.  It's hard not to wax sentimental about it all.

And cooking.  Cooking is cheap therapy for me.  I've made the best mac'n cheese I've ever done (probably 12 kinds of cheese, champagne, sour cream, yogurt, bowtie pasta and a drizzle of black truffle infused olive oil).  There's a new chicken dish in the oven already (fennel, apples, stock).  The TWO 5-lb. briskets (root vegetables and lots of dill) are ready to go in when we go to bed.  Karen has made a beautiful vegetable quiche, chocolate sourdough bread pudding (her own invention), and plans a mixed rice dish with mushrooms and a vegetable stock she's been working on for two days, and I'll do okra with tomatoes and black-eyed peas.  And we haven't killed each other in the kitchen!

I hope MANY guests show up tomorrow, because otherwise, we'll have food for a month!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Anna Bolena - no small task

While I wanted my first post to be about the year-long project, I can't neglect the current one: dell'Arte Opera Ensemble's upcoming production of Donizetti's Anna Bolena.  Most of the time when I program a piece, it's because I already love it.  With this project, though, the love has come from the work.  I have to admit, I didn't really know the story or the music very well at all when it got programmed.  It hasn't hurt that we're all learning this incredible piece together....For everyone in the cast it's a new piece.

If you're interested in full cast information, or a libretto or synopsis, visit the dell'Arte website at but suffice to say, everyone is wonderful. It's unfair to single out one person, but I think everyone will be truly 'wowed' by the wonderful Jill Dewsnup in the title role.

Today is props day.  Stage Director Nathaniel Merchant (whom we congratulate on the birth of baby Penelope a couple of weeks ago!) visits storage to pick out everything we need.  At the moment, rehearsals are suspended while cast members visit with family and friends for the holidays, and I'm neck deep in preparing the orchestra parts for printing.  The new orchestration (7 winds, double bass and piano) is designed specifically for the theater and has been a particular obsession since September.  Thankfully, I feel like I was able to retain most of Donizetti's colors.

Performances are Friday, January 29 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, January 31 at 3 p.m.  Tickets, if you're interested are available at

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Just finished watching Julie and Julia and after lots of thinking and talking about starting a blog, and a bit of prodding from my lovely wife, here goes...

The movie, if you don't know it already, follows Julia Child through the years as she is inspired by her love of eating (definitely something we have in common) to learning how to cook (something I love to do) to becoming the author of one of the most important cookbooks ever. The parallel life is follows is of a young woman, Julia, who decides to cook all 500+ recipes in Child's cookbook in the space of a year and blog about them. 365 days....

That's the inspiration for the first post: 365 days. It has been my dream for a long time to produce Humperdinck's "other" opera (besides Hansel and Gretel, for any non-opera person to wander along), otherwise known as Konigskinder, or The Royal children. It was first performed at the Metropolitan Opera right here in New York City, 99 years ago last night, and it hasn't been repeated here in the city in almost that long, though I learned about the piece from working on a beautiful and touching production at Sarasota Opera in 1997.

The other impetus for the blog comes from my resolution for the new year: "Ask for help." So here's the other direct address to anyone reading. Please learn about this amazing work and if you are as moved by it as I was and still am), think about how you'd like to help bring about the 100th anniversary production. Sure, cash donations to dell'Arte Opera Ensemble would be lovely and necessary ( but more meaningful to me would be thinking about how you might bring yourself to the project. Maybe you're a fantastic bassoonist and would like to volunteer to play in the orchestra. Perhaps you're a wonderful seamstress (or that that word?) and want to help stich costumes. Do you know how to make stage snow? Do you speak German and are you great with a powerpoint projector? Someone needs to create a wonderful packet of materials for schools, because I want LOTS of children to see this piece. After all, the piece is about how children provide the greatest resource possible: truth.

I can't wait to share more about Konigskinder, about dell'Arte Opera Ensemble and our other upcoming projects, about my private coaching studio, and once in awhile, maybe just a little bit about cooking. Thanks Julie and Julia.