The bus stop. It's a place I often find myself spending time as an Adler Fellow. I currently live in the Inner Richmond area, which is a good forty minutes from the opera house, but you can't beat the rent or the myriad of multicultural cuisine just steps from your door. Every morning, I wait for the 38 bus with my fellow passengers in silence, and it never ceases to shock me when someone speaks to me. "How strange!" I think to myself, and wonder what it is about me or my demeanor that invites conversation. What gives people the courage to strike up a chat? Such is the subject matter of LOVE/HATE
, a modern love story about two people who meet at...you guessed it...the bus stop. And just as life imitates art, art often imitates life.
Having never taken part in the world premiere of an opera, I was initially daunted by the task of taking part in the creation of a totally new piece. After all, this piece is several years in the making, and is the brainchild of librettist Rob Bailis and composer Jack Perla. The score is difficult (but so rewarding when you get it right!) and is heavily influenced by Jack's jazz background, but also has glorious, purely operatic sections that echo Britten and Puccini. It is truly unlike anything I've heard before, but there is something so distinctly San Francisco sounding about it; just as the score of Eugene Onegin takes you straight to the Russian countryside, LOVE/HATE
puts you directly in Dolores Park or walking through Nob Hill in the fog.
[Below: Graham Smith (Stage Director), Laura Krumm and Mark Morash during rehearsal.]
With that said, I had absolutely no idea what to expect in this process, and every possible scenario flashed through my head before we began rehearsing, including flashes of an angry composer throwing the score at us and a librettist crying softly in the corner. Upon our first meeting, however, it became very clear that both Rob and Jack were incredibly flexible on just about everything, which was such a relief for all of us. Since Jack had no clue what kind of singers he was going to have for this production (Laura Krumm and myself were Merolini at the time), there was no way of knowing what was going to suit us vocally. Mr. Perla mentioned he had originally thought of the part of George as a lighter baritone, and Ao Li has more of a full, rich lyric sound. And as for me, the thought of singing a high C on the word "retrograde" was so daunting, I immediately asked if I could somehow take it down a step. Jack did me one better—he took it down a fourth. What a relief. I still cannot believe how accommodating Jack has been throughout this process—so flexible, so eager to make us comfortable. I can't imagine anyone has been as fortunate in this process as we have been. Having an open dialogue between the composer and the singers in a world premiere situation has to be the single most important factor in making the opera successful.
Without revealing too much of the plot, the opera is a series of vignettes that focus on the past relationships of the two lead characters, George and Laura, and a relationship between the two of them that may or may not happen. Their fear of connecting, their emotional baggage, and their shy personalities are all hindering their connection, and they find themselves at the same bus stop every day, unable to get past their issues. The emotional journey that all of our characters embark upon has left me utterly in awe of my cast mates. Ao Li, who spent countless hours translating the score and makes sure he understands every word; Thomas Glenn, whose high notes appear effortless along with his dynamite presence onstage; and Laura Krumm, whose transformation into her character—someone so different from herself, is mind-boggling. And that's not even mentioning their beautiful voices. I feel so fortunate to be around such talent, and to have the opportunity to be part of such a unique production. I can't think of a better way to start my Adler Fellowship than to take our audiences on this journey with us. In fact, the next time I'm at a bus stop, I may even start a conversation of my own. [Above: Ao Li, David Hanlon (Conductor) and Bob Mollicone (Pianist).]
ODC Theater, in association with San Francisco Opera Center, presents the world premiere of LOVE/HATE by Jack Perla and Rob Bailis; April 12, 14, 15, 2012 at ODC Theater. For more info and to purchase tickets please visit ODC Theater