Friday, April 22, 2011

Baroque Festival in San Miguel de Allende

Many thanks to Melissa Givens for the following report and pics from last month's Baroque festival in San Miguel de Allende, at which quite a few Ars Lyrica regulars (myself included) had a great time! The pics are from our San Miguel production of Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas." - Matthew

Melissa writes:

Kinga and Matthew asked me to tell you a little bit about our recent trip to Mexico for the Baroque Music Festival in San Miguel de Allende. The very short version is that it was an amazing week or so of hard work and rewarding performances, and lots of great camaraderie!

For many of us, this was our first time to participate in the Festival and also our first time in Mexico. I traveled down and back with Matthew, Gerrod, and Lynelle Rowley, and the fun began as soon as we met up at IAH on Sunday afternoon (good company will do that)! There is no airport in San Miguel, so we flew into the Guanajuato/León airport and were met by a van and driver.

I have lived in Houston for over 20 years and have made my share of complaints about driving here. Let me tell you, I was cured of that by our 1.5 hour trip to San Miguel! Remember, this is mountain country and we arrived after dark. The road was narrow, with one lane in each direction and full of twists— and there wasn’t a lot of road lighting. Our driver barreled up and down the hills at breakneck speed. At one point a truck in the oncoming lane veered just a bit too far over and clipped our van at around 80 mph. The driver gamely drove on, only stopping at the next wide spot to survey the damage. Fortunately, the side-view mirror was the only casualty— unless you count our nerves.

Once we arrived in San Miguel, after discovering that a stop sign isn’t even viewed as a suggestion, we were deposited with our hosts. Mine was a lovely American retiree named Roberta, who lived in a gated complex of villas with stunning roof-top terraces. It was a wonderful place to call home during my stay.

Rehearsals began bright and early Monday. We had been warned by Festival alums that the pace of things was, shall we say, slower and more fluid, and this was certainly in evidence. The Dido rehearsals were scheduled in the theater where the show was to be performed, except it was yet bereft of a stage. So, going with the flow, Our Fearless Leader, Tara Faircloth, took us to the adjacent outdoor amphitheater that would be our rehearsal space until Wednesday.

The cast was evenly split between American (Baritone Michael Kelly, one of our team of dream colleagues, joined us there) and Mexican principals, and the wonderfully prepared and enthusiastic chorus was from Mexico City. The Second Witch, Linda Gutierrez, had recently been a winner in a Mexican opera reality show/competition. The Sailor was a sweet tenor from Monterrey named Enrique Guzmán, who wants to study opera in Houston. Our technical crew was split between Mexico City and Monterrey. The sets and costumes also came from those two cities and were delayed by a) the overturning of one truck (thankfully, no casualties) and 2) the banning of the remaining truck from the small, narrow streets of San Miguel. This would require the acquisition of a smaller truck to ferry the cargo from the outskirts of town to the Obraje Theater.

Much hilarity ensued as the production progressed and some of it was even intentional! Despite any challenges we encountered, the production was quite the success and very well received. Our Assistant Director, Rafael Felix, was a great guy who hosts a classical music internet talk show. He did a live-streaming interview with me from the lobby of his hotel. Tara Faircloth is a truly amazing director and was hugely instrumental in making the show beautiful and believable. The band was, of course, fabulous, and Matthew kept the whole thing moving and musical.

Meanwhile, the chamber music concert rehearsals were humming along, but only while there was daylight! The chapel of the Obraje was a beautiful, clean space. It had one of the most remarkable bathrooms I have ever seen, but it did not have electricity for most of the week. That and the game of musical harpsichords again required the gang to go with the flow, but these amazingly talented and professional musicians made it work and then some.

In a week of surprises, the biggest was revealed on Tuesday. Our Wednesday “Mostly Monteverdi” concert was not to be held in the Felipe Neri church as we believed, but outside, in the cloister! This is one of those things that seems ideal in theory, but proved to be rather a challenge in practice. We were fortunate to have clear, beautiful weather (save for a pop-up storm Monday afternoon), but as the sun went down, so did the temperatures, while the wind picked up. The net effect on the audience was fairly minimal, but it did make for some unintended drama on the stage (which was also being built as we arrived!) with flying scores.

We rehearsed through most of the other Festival concerts, and my interview with Rafael kept me from making the “Age of Magnificence” concert that our musicians gave, but I heard that it was as spectacular as I knew it would be.

When we weren’t rehearsing or performing, we did our best to improve the local economy, shopping, taking over restaurants and bars, meeting in small groups in and around the central park area (the Jardin), and having a memorable gathering at the home of Michael Leopold’s hosts on our last night in San Miguel. As they had been unable to attend the opera, we (Michael, Gerrod, Lynelle, and myself, with the occasional vocal continuo stylings of Matthew Dirst) presented an impromptu, 25-minute, highly expurgated version of Dido and Aeneas. It was more fun than I can tell you and quite a shame that it went unrecorded and lost to posterity! Or perhaps not...

Our San Miguel experience ended with an equally wild van ride back to the Guanajuato/León airport, only this time the drama was heightened by an empty gas tank. The van originated in Mexico City earlier Tuesday morning and needed a fill-up to get to León. Because he was running late, the driver skipped the last gas station in San Miguel, planning instead to stop at a station on the way. We eyed each other skeptically as the trip got underway. Our skepticism grew as the gas station at the half-way point was closed. As the indicator moved past E, skepticism evolved into not-quite-panic as the little towns we passed failed to yield a gas station. We were certainly on fumes as we finally got to a station just outside of León, getting us to the airport with minutes to spare for Michael’s flight.

All in all, it was a wonderful experience and I think we are all hoping to return for next year’s Festival.

I was also asked to give you an update on my life outside of Ars Lyrica. I am thisclose to finishing my doctoral degree at UH Moores School of Music and will graduate in December. Next week, I will be one of the soloists in Brahm’s Ein Deutsches Requiem with the Houston Civic Symphony under conductor Brian Runnels. Teaching voice at Houston Baptist University (I am also the area coordinator) continues to be a joy in my life and we are in the midst of end of year concerts and recitals and heading into voice juries. Our Opera Workshop just finished a run of a sterling production of scenes from Leonard Bernstein’s stage works, and this week, we are hosting renowned composer Morten Lauridsen. He is working with our select choir, Schola Cantorum, which is performing his Lux Aeterna with the First Presbyterian Church Chancel Choir on Good Friday.

Schola is also preparing to be the resident choir for the Summer Classical Music Festival in Eisenstadt, Austria. It will be the first time many of them travel out of the country. I am helping them raise funds for the trip by presenting a benefit recital on Monday, May 9 at 7:30 in Belin Chapel at the HBU Morris Cultural Arts Center. I will be singing songs and arias from the late 19th century to the modern era. I hope you can join me and help support our choir. Tickets are free, with a suggested donation of $15.