Monday, June 21, 2010
With good weather this spring, I've gotten more work done on remaking the dry, stone-littered landscape around the house just in May and June than I was able to accomplish in all of last year's near disastrous, perpetually rainy spring and early summer. There have been nine weeks of daily drives into Manchester, NH for Fritz's radiation treatments that, happily, ended just last Thursday, and a road trip to West Chester, PA for a graduation in Fritz's family during which I suddenly found myself face to face with the man who taught me lighting design and other production techniques when I was in college. At ten days short of the half way mark in 2010, it's been a busy, challenging, mainly very happy time.
And now a great project has begun. Intermezzo, the New England Chamber Opera for which I've designed sets and lighting for the last seven years, has begun development of a new one-act opera (a third of what we produce is new work that the company commissions). I was having dinner with the company's founder/director before seeing him in a performance in Boston a couple of months ago and we talked about how things stood. We had a composer, a conductor and an internationally well-known soprano with strong Boston connections had expressed interest in doing something with the company.
Now, he said, we needed a subject for the opera, one that with a strong role for the leading lady and, he added almost parenthetically, it would be nice if it was about Boston in some way.
I put together in my head the vibrant, charismatic soprano (many of whose performances I have seen in a wide variety of roles over the years), Boston, and the need for a strong central character and immediately suggested Isabella Stewart Gardner. His eyes lit up.
Isabella Stewart ("Mrs. Jack") Gardner (1840-1924) was a New York girl from a well-to-do family who married into one of the great Boston families in 1860. John L. "Jack" Gardner was the son of a Gardner and a Peabody. When she arrived in Boston, Isabella began a 65 year career as social rebel, art collector on a grand scale, patron of the arts, world traveler, and proto-feminist by doing a great many things that women just DIDN'T DO in Boston in the 19th century. Google her; it's a great story -- she was a three ring circus all by herself.
The crowning glory of Isabella's career was the construction of a museum in the form of a Venetian Palazzo in the then (1902-03) barren Fenway district of Boston. She hung her massive collection, and invited the public to tour it several days a month. On her death, the museum and its contents passed in trust to the City of Boston and its people. She remains a powerful icon in Boston today, 85 years after her death at the age of 85.
I asked if he'd like me to work up a possible scenario and he gave me the go-ahead. When I got home, I told all of the above to Fritz who immediately put out an idea for the beginning of the opera that was just about perfect. I emailed the scenario we devised to the interested parties. It was liked by all, pending further development, which it is getting. We are now writing actual text.
Fritz and I are officially the librettists for the new opera to be premiered some time next spring!
Chief among the artists in Isabella's vast circle of painters, musicians, writers and performers was the American John Singer Sargent. Sargent had the ability to capture expressions and, particularly, the texture of fabric or light breaking across an arm or face with a few quick, sometimes almost brutal brush strokes. From a short distance, the satin in an evening gown can have the most perfect sheen which, on closer inspection, turns out to be a single slash with the brush that is almost shockingly crude. Yet, it's exactly right. The above portrait of a man in a hooded garment is a good example.
The fuzzy little head with just a hint of its orange bill has been poking up above the rim of the nest over our front door for the past couple of days. Today, a second head joined it. The parent birds have an elaborate routine worked out to tend the nest and lead anyone who approaches it away from the area. Unlike many of the nest scenes in the nature shows, the young in this nest do not sit there screaming for food incessantly. Whether the mother bird is super-competent at keeping them full, or Eastern Phoebes are just very quiet birds, we never hear a sound.
Fritz suggested I set up a ladder inside the house and see if I could peer into the nest to find out how many chicks there were. They're all in the fuzz-ball stage at this point but there seem to be four altogether. We've been having a delightful time watching the little family develop.
With thanks to Joe Jervis of the blog Joe.My.God, this delightful shot of the shapes made by light pouring through a balustrade -- at the Vatican in Rome.
And speaking of animals. Starr in her blatant "I'm ready for my tummy rub now" pose. Sometimes this goes on right on the laptop's keyboard.
A wave off the coast of Alabama. Tony Heyward, BP's CEO with a gift for covering himself with bad publicity, got his wish to get some of his life back by participating in a sailing race in the pristine waters off the coast of England. This is what things looked like along the Gulf Coast of the U.S. from which he was happy to escape.
Isabella Stewart Gardner...what a great concept! I'd love to see it.
The birds are adorable!
No original ideas here, but I'm currently pushing several novels by Hilary Mantel as fit for operatic adaptation - especially the one about the medium of London's north circular, Beyond Black, and possibly her first published novel, the black comedy Every Day is Mother's Day.