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October 16, 2010

The last time I conducted “La boheme” was in 2003, and was my New York City Opera debut.  It was Jim Robinson’s production, and I was taking the last three performances of the run.  The wonderful and talented Jerry Steichen was conducting the first cast, and he had already conducted the production at NYCO in prior seasons.  I remember very fondly how kind he was at the end of his orchestra read (and only orchestra time prior to the dress rehearsal).  He had taken the orchestra through the score, and there were about 5 minutes left.  He said to them– “Ladies and gentlemen, one of my most terrifying experiences was standing in front of you in the pit for a performance of this very opera, having had absolutely no time to rehearse.  Steven Osgood will be conducting several performances of this run, and would you be so kind as to let him just start Act 1 with the few minutes we have remaining?”  And so I got to get up, start Act 1 (terrifying), and get through a couple of pages of the score.  Very calming when the day came to enter the pit, and assail the piece in my house debut!

While we were rehearsing that production, I was also conducting Britten’s “Turn of the Screw” at Juilliard.  I was shuttling back and forth each day– City Opera in the morning, Juilliard in the afternoon, back to City Opera in the evening, Juilliard the next morning for orchestra, then back to “Boheme”….  You get the picture.  For a variety of reasons, I was having to keep a very tight rein on the Britten, imploring the cast to keep the rhythmic drive of the score as taut as possible.  Challenging material to get “just right” and a big learning experience for all of the Juilliard singers and players involved.

I remember getting back to rehearsals for “Boheme” though, and being baffled by how elusive I was finding Puccini to be.  It just didn’t feel natural– the push and pull more jerky than anything else.  It was very troubling, and I kept thinking “Why don’t I seem to understand how Puccini WORKS!  This has never been a problem before!”

Well, “Turn of the Screw” opened, ran, and closed.  And literally the DAY after putting away the Britten score, I felt my arm just relax, let go of the rhythmic drive that it had been pumping into “Turn of the Screw,” and embrace the ebb and flow of “La boheme.”  What a HUGE relief, and important lesson in how deeply the physicality of conducting influences the music-making.  Of course that was almost 8 years ago, and I imagine that the same situation would affect me differently now.  But it is an experience I have carried with me those 8 years, and that has been much on my mind this past couple of weeks.

This afternoon we had our principals run-through– first time through the score from cover to cover with staging.  It had everyone sobbing at the end.  The level of detail that Brian Deedrick has brought to the staging and each of the opera’s wonderful characters is touching on a very deep level, and the work of our very fine cast is exhilarating.  Tomorrow afternoon is the final room run with chorus and supers.  Monday is orchestra reads, and onto the stage in the evening for tech.  Here we go!

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