Be HIP and Slow Down

I’ve been enthusiastically following the posts and comments on the discussion of Historically Informed Performance (I do love that it’s called HIP… I need someone working on some awe-inspiring abbreviations for me…). Thanks to Brian Dickie for bringing this up, then following up. And hats off to Tim Nelson for his thoughtful and detailed explanation.

There’s little I could add to this discussion, except to give a bit of perspective as to why we make the choices we do. Wolf Trap has taken a range of approaches to its past productions of operas by Monteverdi, Cavalli and Handel. In recent years we have gravitated toward using pit musicians who specialize in historically informed (“authentic”) performance practice. Why?

Since we only do 3 productions a year, we reconstitute our orchestra on an as-needed basis. Happily, the majority of our musicians return each summer, but there’s always fluidity in the ranks due to competing gigs, vacations, and the vagaries of instrumentation for any particular summer. When we produce operas from the 17th and early 18th-century, we’re always looking to include the expertise and sensibility of colleagues who have detailed knowledge of those traditions. And that usually means turning to pit musicians who spend at least a portion of their professional lives playing this “early” music.

But we deliberately work with coaches and conductors who have at least one foot firmly planted in the operatic mainstream, for we don’t intend to turn our singers into Baroque specialists in 4 weeks. We want to approach a Handel opera with both respect for historically informed performance practice and a desire not to fall into the “earlier-than-thou” camp. (Sorry – I don’t mean to offend. But there’s a fringe of the early music movement that we don’t dare approach.) Not surprisingly, this mixing of specialists and “generalists” has the potential to be problematic, but we’ve always found it refreshing. It makes for lively and inclusive music-making. I’m sure this approach isn’t for everyone, but it works for us.

There’s more on this, and if you’re interested, I will point you to this entry written two years ago as we were making decisions for the 2006 Orpheus by Telemann.

Stop. Now.

My daily routine has gotten out of control in these last weeks. If I didn’t keep reminding myself that life was no doubt harder in the 18th century than in the 21st, I’d romanticize turning back the clock.

Rather, I am declaring this Leap Day a mini-vacation. Not from work, but from a low level of free-floating anxiety that is threatening to escalate. I am (so far, but it’s only 8am…) convincing myself that there’s no need to hurry and little reason to be anxious. Plenty of time to breathe from the belly instead of the clavicles. And no time at all for obnoxious people, a few of whom have recently crept into my life.

So yesterday’s post on the Slow Down Now Blog was just the ticket. Have a look.

More Friday Links

Someone you know doing college/conservatory auditions? Check out this post, as well as its related links. Not geared toward singers in particular, but full of useful information.

Thinking about putting your organization on YouTube? Start here.

Did you enjoy the recent “How Does An Opera Company Change Its Light Bulbs” post? If so, go here for the Italian version :)

Big news in the opera YAP world here: Juilliard and Met Meld Opera Training in the NY Times.

Leap, then Look.

Happy Leap Birthday to two of my favorite people, GAR and ACB.

And Happy Leap Day, from one my favorite indulgences, Storypeople.

I’m a good jumper, he said, but I’m not
so good at landing.
Maybe you
stay closer
to the ground
then, I said
& he shook his head
& said the ground
was the whole problem
in the first place.

One Comment

Timothy Nelson

And I think Wolftrap should VERY much be thanked for leading the American opera community in including HIP musicians in their programming. Especially as a training program for young singers, many of whom will go off to Europe to sing, a good handle on style is an important tool to have in their bag-o-tricks today. I will forever be grateful to Kim and to Wolftrap for allowing me to participate in my first period instrument production, the “Dardanus” of 2003!

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