OR: In which I make a fool of myself in front of Joyce DiDonato… twice.
Last night* marked the beginning of Houston Grand Opera’s winter season as well as the mid-season return of our favorite Bravo TV reject reality hit, Joseph Roberts: Party Crasher (or perhaps you know it by it’s working title, Who the Hell is He and What the Hell is He Doing Here?)
For their 2011 inaugural opener HGO put on a spectacularly moving production of Jake Heggie/Terrance McNally’s Dead Man Walking, based on the true-life story of Sister Helen Prejean. Yes, it’s based on the same story as the movie. Pro: the male protagonists name is JOSEPH!!! Con: Oh yeah, he’s kiiiiind of a rapist and murderer.
As with my last two outings to the Wortham Center (here and here), I was joined by my dear friend, Jennifer, under the auspices of the Patty Q. Whalen Charitable Arts Foundation. As if the insanely talented created side of the show weren’t enough, let’s just take a second to break down the cast list, shall we?:
Joyce DiDonato (Sister Helen Prejean): The delightfully down-to-earth mezzo (aren’t they all) who famously broke her fibia during a performance of Il Barbieri di Siviglia and finished the night on crutches—THEN went on to finish the run in a frickin’ wheel chair. You know the last person who bade her “break a leg” feels like a reeeaaal ass. And, as I’m always up for some fellow blog promotion, check hers out here! Also, if you’re in the Fort Worth area on February 8th, she’s giving a recital at the Bass Performance Hall. GO SEE HER!!!
Geeez, sistah must really have something against her understudies. YOU’RE IRREPLACEABLE, JOYCE, TAKE THE NIGHT OFF!
Frederica von Stade (Mrs. Patrick de Rocher ): Or Flicka as she is so often referred to, is a multiple (6!!) Grammy award winner, an officer of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (France’s highest honor in the Arts), and fans of a little known sports game known as the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics might remember her as a featured performer during the opening ceremonies. Most often regarded as the 20th century’s Cherubino, she is also a fierce advocate for new works. In fact, she originally created the role of Mrs. Rocher at the premier ten years ago and has chosen this role in Houston as her farewell to the operatic stage, marking the end of a decades spanning career. I have already mentioned previously that her performance in Montiverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (also at HGO) is in my top handful of things I have seen live.
From neither Figaro or Dead Man… showing us that mezzo’s have all the fun. Also, I’m pretty sure the character this is based on is a customer at our store. Her name is Chantal. And she is fabulous.
Measha Brueggergosman (Sister Rose): The only other time that I have seen her live was in Ann Arbor a couple of years ago when she performed a concert of William Bolcom songs with the composer at the piano. (A perk of having him on faculty at UM at the time!) . Like, Flicka, Measha has also performed at an Olympic opening ceremonies (Vancouver 2010)! Oh and Jan, she was a guest judge on an episode of Canada’s Project Runway. She gave the designers one stipulation: “I like to perform barefoot, so make sure the gown is absolutely floor length.” If I remember correctly, every one of them made one that showed her feet and diva was not pleased
Philip Cutlip (Joseph de Rocher): I didn’t realize until reading the program after the performance that I have also seen him perform before. My friend, Jamison, was the pianist for Toledo Opera a while back and Mr. Cutlip played Tarquinius in their performance of Britten’s The Rape of Lucrecia. SO GOOD! I had never seen that show before and at the moment it’s my favorite Britten piece.
During intermission I went to get a much needed coffee and ran into Stephanie unexpectedly, which was a nice surprise!
As the final bows were being held I thought to myself at one point: “these have been going on for longer than I expected, all the singers are onstage—oh, who’s that coming on from stage left? Hmmm, now who’s this guy? And this woman would be…?”
Naturally the first thing I did while leaving was text Stephanie:
Me: Was that Jake Heggie onstage?
Stephanie: Yeah, and Terrance McNally. And then Sister Helen.
The Composer, the librettist, two original cast members, the conductor of the premier!!!
I never ended up hearing back from her so I walked Jennifer and Catherine out and headed back to the lobby for a quick bathroom break before my return to the west side. (Now, you’re going to have to stay with me for the next part, as it’s about to get a bit socially circuitous). Lo and behold I ran into a familiar face out of the corner of my eye in the form of an acquaintance I had made through a friend in Ann Arbor. Logan, a voice student at the University of North Texas, had come down to see the show with an invitation from Jake Heggie, who was concomitantly working on a recital with the students at UNT. With him were some friends Jamie, Laura and Keegan, the latter of which I knew I had met before but couldn’t quite place. Turns out they were going to crash the after party… and we all know how I have absolutely NO qualms about participating in a little social subterfuge.
SO!! Off to the soiree, greeted by white tuxedo clad waiters brandishing silver trays of vino vino vino, ladies dressed to the twelves, etc. I was lucky enough to run into Mrs. Brueggergosman and wasted no time in extolling my love for her. As it was just the beginning of the evening I didn’t really feel comfortable asking for a photo op, so I’ll just post the picture I nabbed with her at Hill in Ann Arbor.
Apparently 3 years ago I knew I would need to be wearing the same scarf and similar shirt for a future blog post’s continuity. DAMN YOU STRIPED TIE!
Dinner time was accompanied by announcements from the general director acknowledging everyone from the singers to the stage crew.
At one point in the evening I ran into Logan and the gang again, and upon seeing Keegan again I couldn’t help but say:
Me: Yeah sooooo, how the hell is it that I know you? I’ve been wracking my brain all night and just can’t place it.
Keegan: Wait, did you used to work at the Express in Waco?
Me: Ummmm yes.
Keegan: I’m pretty sure I’ve been to a party at your house.
Me: Yeah… probably.
Turns out we had a couple of mutual (non music, oddly enough) friends while at Baylor. I’d say this was surprising, but as my mother always says: “You could be in any city in the world and probably know someone in a 50 mile radius.”
I also enjoyed getting to chat longer with Catherine and Michael, both members of the HGO young artist studio and both of whom I had met at Stephanie’s ugly sweater party. Michael performed the role of the police officer in the show and Catherine covering the role of Sister Helen (not that Joyce is letting anyone on that stage but herself!)
Stars, all of ‘em!
Logan came over later to say Jake wanted to introduce him to Joyce, so naturally I clung onto his coattails with all the force of Charlie Sheen refusing to go to rehab, and of course she was gracious and charming and completely down to earth. In fact, she was talking about her newest CD, Diva/Divo, and I interrupted her:
Me: Oh my God you should put it out on record… please!
Joyce: Right, it’s releasing Tuesday.
Me: Yeah yeah, but I mean on, like an album.
Joyce: That’s what I’m saying, the CD comes out Tuesday.
Me: Vinyl, I mean vinyl. That would make me really happy.
Joyce: Oh, that … would be cool.
Blurry, I know, but it’s not like I can go up to her later on at the party and say something like “Hey Joyce… so that picture we took earlier—you look fantastic by the way—but it’s really blurry. Is it horrible for me to ask for another one?” OR COULD I!!!!!!!!
As the night was winding down more and more people were heading out. I happened to be near the exit as Sister Helen was leaving and would have kicked myself if I didn’t at least introduce myself. It is of course always exciting to meet famous opera singers but I was so honored to even just get to say hello to Sister Helen! I did manage to restrain myself from asking for a picture at 1:00 in the morning… I do at least have some modicum of decorum.
And, for one more parting shot, a group of us waiting for the valet:
Jamie, Joseph, Logan, Laura
As a bit of a post script, the next day I was off to Dallas to meet Benjamin for the first time and I stopped in the Woodlands to have coffee with Mallory at a Starbucks on i-45. As I was leaving I heard a car honking at me and it was Logan, Keegan, Jamie and Laura. WTF!? Stop following me!!!
Artist: Jake Heggie/ Album: Dead Man Walking
Matt and Joanie, this is just for you:
Did you hear a folk singer had to be put to death this past weekend? Yeah… had to use an acoustic chair.
* I actually worked on this the day after the show but was waiting on some pictures I knew I would want to use. Well… that, and I was hoping Chantal would make an appearance at the store and I could get a picture with her as proof. IT WILL HAPPEN!