Librettist’s Performance Journal: Wednesday

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

I was up early and on a plane by 7, laying over in Detroit and arriving in Hartford just before 4. After dropping my luggage off at my hotel (which has terrific staff but tries way too hard to be chic and swank but is poorly designed), I went to the performance venue. There had been a mix-up on the times performers were supposed to arrive so we got started late, but the delay gave me time to meet people in the production, most of them for the first time outside of online. Jessica and I caught up and I got to go up on stage and look at the set in detail—cosplayer genius and singer Jillian Swanson had sourced “lovely, glowing radium” that is going to look outstanding in the dark. The set has a raised dock for the beach, while the stage level itself is the water; off to one side is the lab where some of the flashbacks/memories take place. The costumes were all spot-on. I went over pronunciation of a few things with singers. A professional photographer, whose name I didn’t get, was shooting the rehearsal. The instrumentalists were all terrific.

The rehearsal began with Trigger. Kristy Chambrelli created an entirely new staging of it for this production, and it’s very effective. Jennifer Sgroe does a fantastic job with the role. I think many people think that domestic abuse—physical, psychological, emotional—remains rare. It isn’t. This piece should become a staple of the repertoire.

Charity Clark sounded great in the Four Songs for Lady Macbeth. She’s perfectly mournful and proud in the “Shout Dirge for Lady Macbeth,” which opens the set and is the only one of the four songs that draws on the historical Lady M rather than Shakespeare’s version. The narrator in the “Shout Dirge” is trying to set the record straight, correcting Shakespeare’s account of the Queen of Scots. The second song, “Song of the House Martin,” is a jazzy and sly bit: the martin who builds its nest in the castle rafters asks Lady M if she has not heard it singing throughout, as she wends her way to destruction. “Can you hear me in your great hall/Where you welcome home your husband/And build a plan on dagger points?” The martin can be sympathetic or sarcastic, and in this case sarcasm and irony drip from its tongue. Charity and the HICO clarinetist, Alex (whose last name I will get later—sorry!) dirty it up into a mocking litany. “Lady, Maid, Invocation” is probably my own favorite of the four poems: Lady M’s maid is sick of having to “give her all the soap” and watch her mistress wander around at night. Charity conjures up the desire for power, combined with some wariness, as she asks the spirits to deliver her from her dread employer. In the final song, Charity managed to convey both pathos and sympathy for Lady Macbeth in the “Cradle Carol for Lady Macbeth.” The text draws on the Coventry Carol as well as Shakespeare and the music is in the Locrian mode; Charity made it gloriously heart-wrenching.

Marie Curie ran from the top with several breaks for comments and re-sets. A few singers are coming in early in places, perhaps due to the balance in the room. I don’t know what it sounds like onstage, but the room is high and wide, and sometimes the piano gets a bit swallowed up under the rest of the ensemble. There were a few other changes—Young Marie’s first entrance being one—and some other adjustments. The tempos for both Four Songs and Marie Curie were on the slow side, which saps energy and drama out of a number of places, but that will be addressed tonight. I had a few notes for Kristy about the way some of the text is being sung, and she will work with the singers to make changes on these.

Overall I was really pleased with the singers’ work. Mark Womack as Pierre has created a compelling and personable role, balancing Pierre’s seriousness and excitement completely. Lizzy Hayes, who came in late to the production when we had to split the role of Marie into two, is a perfect young Marie, full of pride and excitement and straight-forwardness and a sense of self. Claudia Rosenthal has created an Irene who is also ideal: she manages the demands of the role—first trying to placate her mother and entice her into relaxing and enjoying a break from work and then, finally, breaking down emotionally while chronicling her fears that radium is killing them—with real emotional power. Older Marie is sung by Susan Yankee; last night the role seemed much angrier and crueler than I intended, and Susan and Kristy agreed to soften Marie for tonight and the performance. But Susan’s singing is clear and her acting is strong.

Jessica and I meet for dinner Thursday night to talk about notes for the rehearsal and then it’s the full dress.