My Musical Career | Part Sixty-Eight

The DMMO Years – The 2004 Summer Season

Having taken a break from writing about my years with the DMMO Summer Festival with the last post which was entitled “Have Drums Will Travel” and which dealt with how I was able to get established materially as a freelance musician – particularly regarding transporting my equipment and myself to the various venues, it is now time to resume talking about my opera experiences. We pick up with the 2004 Summer Festival. It was a very colorful season if memory serves me. The three mainstage productions were: Puccini: Madama Butterfly; Rossini’s La Cenerentola; and Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos. The productions were all very well done and executed, the casts of each first rate. Even though the timpani parts of each opera were not as challenging as those in the previous two seasons, they were challenging enough to keep one at the top of their game. I also had the Light drums for this season, and it was always fun to play on top-of-the-line equipment.

With regards to transporting the instruments, my friend Jim Holland came to my aid again with his company van and handled the transportation of the instruments to and from Indianola, as I was temporarily without a large enough vehicle to handle the transportation myself. I had disposed of the accursed Pontiac Transport, and we purchased a small KIA sedan as a stopgap until we could afford a minivan. The KIA was big enough to transport my household items, mallets, and small percussion, so I loaded up and later hooked up with Jim and the drums and we convoyed out to Indianola. I must say how grateful I am to him for all that he has done for me over the years. Without his help, I would never have had the type of freelance career that I had. His friendship and help is truly one for the ages. Speaking of my household items, the 2004 Summer Festival season was the first in which I was ensconced in Room 100 of Kresge Hall. In prior seasons, I had been housed in Barker Hall (1998) and Kresge (1999-2001), a fraternity dorm (2001), and in room 130 of Kresge, which was located in the section of the hall that faces C Street. Room 100 was located at the end of the dormitory facing the courtyard and was easily accessible for loading and out as it was on the ground floor. It was only a matter of a few steps from where I temporarily parked my car to Room 100, and that, and the fact that I was next to the laundry was to make dorm life a lot easier during the remainder of my tenure. The assignment of Room 100 was made possible by the fact that two of my colleagues had resigned from the festival due to obtaining other employment. I had lucked out as I had enough seniority by the summer of 2004 to merit a dorm upgrade.

The Operas

Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly” led off the mainstage productions. Conducted and staged by Dr. Larsen, the company’s founding artistic director (as were all productions up until the end of the 2009 Festival season), the production featured Derek Taylor, Travis Richter, Janara Kellerman, Dennis Jesse, and Jiyeun Cholee among others.  The opera was sung in Italian, and I believe there were subtitles in English, although they were not yet the norm as they are today. The policy of the DMMO at that time was to perform most operas in English, except such operas that would benefit more by being sung in the original language. Madama Butterfly fit this profile, as did the 2003 Faust, the 2002 Turandot and Salome, the 1999 Trovatore, and the 1998 Fidelio. The opera was no stranger to me, as I had performed it as a member of the Lake George Opera Orchestra back in the day, and was quite familiar with it. The timpani part is not extensive, but it is dramatic enough to make it interesting. The most difficult portion is to play the repeated sixteenth-note open fifths in the final act and to keep them steady, a difficult enough task in a passage that has more than a bit of rubato in it. The six performances were each of extremely high quality and were a great success for the public.

Rossini’s “La Cenerentola” was the next production on the schedule, and if memory serves, we gave five performances, all of which were sung in English using the Ruth and Thomas Martin translation. The cast featured Andrew Costello, David Ward, Noel Graves-Williams, and Gwendolyn Jones, among others. An excellent production from all viewpoints, it also was greatly appreciated by the public. I was no stranger to this opera either, having had a taste of it during my Lake George Opera tenure. Back in the day, the conductor of the production, a schoolmate of mine from Manhattan School of Music, George Manahan, wished to use only the bass drum in the production, as the new “urtext” edition indicated. That would have left me out in the cold, as I only received pay for services that I played. Not wishing to be left financially high and dry (especially since I was not informed of George’s wishes before the orchestral rehearsals) I was able to make the point that the timpani parts could be played lightly and “with discretion” and would not detract from the performance. George agreed to try it out, and he turned out to be satisfied and I was allowed to play. Luckily at DMMO, Dr. Larsen had no such scruples, and I enjoyed revisiting the opera and playing it “discreetly.”

Richard Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos” was given four performances, and it was a bit of a hybrid production when it came to the languages in which it was sung. The Prologue was sung in English (it is a considerable work in itself), and the opera itself was sung in both English and German. I had the chance to see the piano dress rehearsals and can confirm that it was an excellent production both visually and musically. The cast included Bruce Brown, Richard L. Richards, Gwendolyn Jones, Jane Redding, Lisa Lindstrom, Scott Wichael, and Brandon Hendrickson.
The opera is scored for a 37-piece chamber orchestra with intricate string writing. The timpani part, while nowhere near as complex as Salome or Elektra requires delicacy and musicianship. There is a scene in the Prologue in which Strauss used the timpani on C and G soloistically and ceremonially. I had taken part in a performance of this scene with piano a couple of seasons previously with the Apprentices in one of their Sunday afternoon performances (with piano), so I was not unfamiliar with the opera. As a matter of fact, I had attended the final performance of the opera in its 1980 production, so I had some familiarity with the overall conception of the opera. It was well received and I for one enjoyed playing it. Having the Light drums to hand made things a lot easier.
The Artist’s Apprentice Concert (now called the Stars of Tomorrow) introduced in 1998 and paused in 2002, had restarted in 2003, and the season culminated with the 2004 version. I will devote a short blog post to these concerts but suffice it to say that the 2004 concert was a nice exclamation point on a successful festival season.

Here is a link to Puccini’s “Madama Butterfly”:

Here is Rossini’s “La Cenerentola”:

And finally, Richard Strauss’s “Ariadne auf Naxos”: