An old friend and a new dilemma

A wonderful blast from the past today. Alan Held, of Wolf Trap young artist vintage 1987 & 1988, is in town singing in the Washington National Opera’s Samson & Dalila. He’s coming back to Wolf Trap next winter to sing a recital at The Barns. (Part of our chamber music series.) He came by to talk repertoire for February’s concert and just to visit. We’re fortunate that many of our “alumni” have gone on to international careers – this year alone, Alan’s career took him to Vienna and Paris as well as Chicago and New York – and are still supportive of Wolf Trap. We sat in on a few minutes of Sweeney rehearsal; Alan has spent much of his career in grand opera (Wagner, Strauss), but he was openly jealous about the chance that this year’s young artists have to refine their chops on a true chamber opera in their own native tongue!
I think the Sweeney Todd “sound enhancement” discussion has finally drawn to a close. When we programmed and cast this piece, it never crossed my mind that enhancement (read: amplification) would be necessary or in any way advisable in The Barns. Yes, indeed, other opera companies have amplified this piece, but in theatres many times the size of ours. And yes, small theatres have used microphones for Sweeney, but with voices that aren’t tooled to travel to the back of the house. Anyway, it’s a thorny subject, and because our team was concerned about certain moments having the potential to be covered by the orchestration, we dove into discussion of the possibility. Many many hours and conversations later, we emerged poised to stick with an entirely acoustic production. (That is, if you don’t count the speakers for the factory whistle.) There are some bits of orchestration that will need micro-management in order to bring the whole thing into focus and balance, but we’re ready to tackle it. The result will be well worth it. The potential power of the forced intimacy of this piece in The Barns will be strengthened by the personal, immediate, and intensely physical nature of unamplified voices.

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