My Musical Career | Part Sixty-Six

The DMMO Years – The 2003 Season

The 2002 summer festival was blockbuster, with three big productions back-to-back. Normally, one would expect that after such a season, the programming would be more conservative, especially with the expenses of the previous festival in mind. However, that was not the case with the 2003 Festival season, another season that included an off-season production. The company had a couple of off-season productions under its belt by this time, the most recent being Puccini’s La Boheme for the 2001 season.  This season was going to be a little different. Instead of having the off-season production in January 2003, as sort of the lead-off production, it was decided to have it in December, especially in keeping with the Christmas season and the fact that the opera chosen was Menotti’s classic Amahl and the Night Visitors. I’ll write more about this production in sequence, towards the end of this blogpost.

Before I get into the repertory of the summer festival itself, let me talk about a few changes to my personal situation. I mentioned the fact that I had been able to get access to a set of Light Mark XIs to use for my free-lancing (of which the DMMO season was a major portion.) I would be using these drums for the 2003 summer season, but I wouldn’t be transporting them in my Safari. That blessed vehicle gave up the ghost in the spring of 2002 – even before the 2002 summer festival, and if memory serves me correctly, I drove out to Indianola in a 1993 Pontiac Transport, and my friend Jim Holland followed me in a van with the drums. (The Safari’s demise and how I got the Transport – and my subsequent adventures in Savannah, GA during the fall of 2002 and early 2003 will be the subject of a separate blog post.) The Pontiac was a hit-and-miss vehicle. I bought it privately, and while it took me where I needed to go, it was flea-bitten from the get-go. More on that elsewhere. Also, the orchestra was, as of the 2002 season, back in Kresge Hall, which had been completely renovated during the summer of 2001. Room 130 was my summer home for a season or two until I moved into Room 100 for the rest of my tenure. The renovation was quite successful, as the rooms were much brighter and cleaner, with new beds!


The 2003 season brought some personnel changes to the orchestra. Actually, those changes started with the 2000 season, when John Hancock, then principal Horn and personnel manager, retired, and was succeeded as Personnel Manager by Ed Benyas, who was our principal oboe at the time. Ed served as personnel manager for three seasons, and by the 2003 season, he had moved on to a position with Southern Illinois State University Carbondale, where he served with distinction until 2023. The company appointed Mark Dorr, our principal percussionist, as the new personnel manager, and he has served in that role ever since. It was an excellent choice. A new principal oboe and other personnel changes happened that season, although I am sorry that I did not keep my program books for each season as it would have been easy to jog my memory. For the most part, the changes were positive, and the company continued to grow in accordingly.

The Repertoire

The mainstage repertoire for the 2003 Summer Festival season consisted of three operas: Verdi’s Falstaff; Gounod’s Faust; and Robert Ward’s The Crucible. The off-season production was Gian-Carlo Menotti’s Amahl and The Night Visitors. This production was done in December of 2003, and it being a smaller and more intimate staging, was performed at the Hoyt Sherman Place Auditorium, rather than the much larger Civic Center. I’ll write more about Amahl later in this blog post.

Verdi: Falstaff

I was very familiar with two of the three mainstage operas, but Verdi’s Falstaff was not one of them. I had heard about the opera but was not familiar with this masterpiece. This is the very last opera written by the Italian master, and I looked forward to getting to know it. Unlike the Verdi operas that I was familiar with through playing (Il Trovatore and La Traviata) or listening to (Aida and Otello), Falstaff was and is very much different. Its texture seems to me very much lighter and more musically complex than the earlier operas, and with Arrigo Boito’s libretto being based on being based on Shakespeare’s  The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry IV Parts One and Two, the comedic elements (which are many) are well-served by Verdi’s lighter textures.  The vocal writing is typical of the master at his best, and it is hard to believe that this is the work of an eighty-year-old veteran composer. The music is so fresh, and even though the timpani part is not among Verdi’s most extensive, the music makes up for it, and what there is of it is a lot of fun. It must be stated here that during the early years of my tenure with the company, some of our mainstage productions were sung in English translation. These were mainly those works that were comedic e.g. The Barber of Seville, Orpheus in The Underworld, and Il Trittico, or were written in English such as Barber’s Vanessa, Britten’s Peter Grimes, etc. Operas such as La Boheme, Turandot, Salome, La Traviata, Faust, and Falstaff were performed in the original language. The company was making a transition to supertitles and having most of the repertory sung in the original language, and this process was largely completed by the time I retired from the orchestra in 2016.
The cast for this production was exceptional:  As Falstaff, we had David Malis, and Jane Redding as Nanetta, Evelyn de la Rosa as Alice Ford, Anne Larsen as Dame Quickly and Gwendolyn Jones as Meg Page, among others. It was a happy production, and a very atmospheric one as I recall.  As a matter of fact, the whole summer festival was, in retrospect, a happy one. The production was extremely well-received.

Gounod: Faust

I was no stranger to Gounod’s Faust. I had performed it way back in 1978, during my first summer season with the Lake George Opera Festival, which was held at the Queensbury High School in Glens Falls, New York at the time. The production was staged by Cynthia Auerbach and conducted by Imre Pallo. I fell in love with it at the time and when I found out that it was to be programmed for the 2003 Summer Festival, I was ecstatic. Not only does it have a great timpani part, but there is a lot of music that is just plain fun to play. The Soldier’s Chorus is one – although as Mark was back to being a one-person percussion section and had just taken over the role of Personnel Manager as well, I was again seconded to handle some of the parts that he couldn’t handle easily – mostly bass drum and cymbals – played together – using a cymbal mount on the bass drum. Mark had everything ready for me. There was never any worry about having the necessary instruments to hand, He was and is a thoroughly professional musician and great to work with. Also, the is the Act II Waltz, which is so exuberant. I could not help playing that with a huge grin on my face – and Dr. Larsen must have noticed it because he confessed to me during the run of performances that he felt the same way – and I remember looking up at him during the Waltz and noticing that he, too, had a big grin on his face while conducting it.  We had a fantastic cast with Theodore Green as Faust; Peter Volpe as Mephistopheles; Jennifer Davis Jones as Marguerite and Dennis Jesse as Valentin. I had the Light timpani for this season, and it was a huge difference playing the opera on these excellent instruments from my Lake George Opera experience back in 1978. Then, the company borrowed a pair of the old Ludwig drums from the Albany Symphony, which were not very good, but I somehow made them work. The Lights, in contrast, were a revelation. I was able to use the full set, but due to the tiny pit at Queensbury High School, I was restricted to the two middle drums, one of which was damaged. At DMMO. With the right instruments, I was able to do the opera justice. It was great fun.

Ward: The Crucible

Robert Ward’s The Crucible was another opera that I was familiar with. My previous experience with the work went clear back to 1971, when the John Brownlee Opera Theater of the Manhattan School of Music, together with the Manhattan Repertoire Orchestra gave a series of performances in the spring of that year. I believe that I have recounted that series of performances in an earlier blog post, so I will forbear going into too much detail but suffice it to say that I found the experience memorable. I played percussion in that performance, and now in the Summer Festival of 2003, I had the opportunity to play the timpani part. The opera is based on the play by Arthur Miller which deals with the Salem Witch Trials. The play is very powerful, and when combined with the music of Robert Ward, it makes an equal, if not more powerful impression.
In addition to being familiar with Ward’s music, I had the pleasure of meeting the composer in Albany when the Albany Symphony performed his Fourth Symphony. We spoke briefly then about the 1971 Crucible performances (he was present at both dress rehearsals and performances), and I was to meet him again after the DMMO Crucible opened. I did not double on percussion for this opera, as the percussion part can be comfortably executed by one player, as I had done in 1971.
The cast was, as was usual with DMMO productions, superb.

It was so good that I include it as a whole:  Betty Parris: Katherine Korsak; Reverend Samuel Parris: Jarrod Nichols; Tituba: Christin-Marie Hill; Abigail Williams: Sarah Jane McMahon; Ann Putnam: Evelyn de la Rosa; Thomas Putnam: Dennis Jesse;
Rebecca Nurse: Rose Taylor; Francis Nurse: Craig Irvin; Giles Corey: Travis Richter; John Proctor: Gary Martin; Reverend John Hale: Ryan Allen; Elizabeth Proctor: Gwendolyn Jones; Mary Warren: Jane Redding; Ezekiel Cheever: Kevin Jacks; Judge Danforth: Brad Creswell; Sarah Good: Elizabeth Bennett;
Ruth Putnam: Jennifer Kerber; and Susanna Walcott as Millinee McCurdy.
It was an intense play and it was an intense opera. One of the lines from the opera is “I spy a puppet!” We in the orchestra heard that line delivered so many times in rehearsals and performances, that it became sort of a motto during the season. Mark Dorr, our principal percussionist and personnel manager used it in introducing one of the season’s chamber music concerts. It got a good laugh!

Post-Season Performance: Menotti: Amahl and The Night Visitors

As I mentioned earlier, the off-season production for 2003 was scheduled in the post-season instead of the pre-season. It was Gian Carlo Menotti’s beloved Amahl and the Night Visitors. As it was based on the story of the Three Wise Men (the Magi), it was thought appropriate to schedule it for three performances on December 19th, 20th, and 21st, 2003. Due to the scale of the set (much more intimate than a normal mainstage production), it was decided to use the Hoyt Sherman Place Auditorium in Des Moines, rather than the larger Civic Center Theater as with previous off-season productions. The orchestra is much smaller as well. I think we performed it with about thirty musicians – Mark and I covered the timpani and percussion parts with ease. I brought three of the Mark XI timpan out – I left the 31 inch back in Illinois as it was easier to take just the upper three. If I remember correctly, our former oboe player and personnel manager took part in these performances and conducted the orchestra in Christmas music during the intermission and just after the performance ended. The cast was excellent, and Dr. Larsen staged and conducted a glorious production, which was well received. The small cast included as follows: Amahl: Adam Dingeman, Jacob Van Patten; His Mother: Layna Chianakas; King Kaspar: Edwin Griffith; King Melchior: David Small; King Balthazar: Patrick Blackwell;
and as The Page: Brandon Hendrickson. It was a lot of fun and a great way to usher in the Christmas season.

Here are links to videos of the operas that were performed during the 2003 season. First, comes Verdi’s Falstaff, followed by Gounod’s Faust, and followed by Ward’s The Crucible. I include Menotti’s Amahl as well. Enjoy!