Thursday, August 24, 2017

As The Summer Concludes

Dear Readers,

A quick entry to whet your "what's going on in Joe's singing career" whistle (if you happen to have one).

The response from the workshop of Mitch Bach and Maria Todaro's Les Trois Mousquetaires has been overwhelmingly positive. Looking back, it was a whirl-wind, and quite exciting to be a part of.

In more recent news, I will join the ranks in the choir loft of the Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity this season, for a healthy portion of Greek Orthodox. More updates on bigger events as they come.

I have started a Face Book page www.facebook.com/JoeBrentTenor because it seemed like the thing to do: in an attempt to separate my singing persona from my bass/personal persona... weird.

I am also in the early stages of creating a chamber music series/non-profit. I am following the lead of all of the struggling musicians before me: motto being "make the opportunity."

More soon!
(also: a new website is on its way...)

Thanks for reading
Joe

Monday, July 31, 2017

Breaking the Silence from a Stately Paradise

Greetings Readers,

I am writing to you from the capacious, elegant, and welcoming home of Constance and Bill Bloomfield - in Phoenicia, New York (1100 ft high in the Catskill Mountains).

Today is my 3rd day at the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, singing D'Artagnan in Mitchel Bach's Les Trois Mousquetaires, libretto by Maria Todaro-Otey (based on the Dumas Pere Novel). We are work-shopping Mitch and Maria's masterwork this week for a "premiere" on Saturday.

Un pour tous, et tous pour un! 

Though I have been, many times, to the Catskill Mountains, this week-long Festival will be my first time to the quaint, hidden gem that is Phoenicia. Take a look down Main Street or ride along the Esopus Creek, don't blink! You might miss it.

In time I will happily give you more details about this rich and wonderful experience, but suffice it to say for now: We've got a killer cast and we are treated like royalty:

D ’Artagnan:
Joseph Michael Brent :)

Athos:
John Viscardi

Aramis:
Jason Slayden

Porthos:
Kyle Albertson

Cardinal Richelieu:
Louis Otey

The King:
Oswaldo Iraheta

Duke of Buckingham:
Robert Balonek

Milady:
Sarah Heltzel

Constance Bonacieux:
Megan Weston

The Queen:
Joan-Marie Peitscher

Buovons Ensemble!

Thanks for Reading,
More to come shortly

Joe

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Postmortem

Dear Readers,

Friday, May 26th was my final day as studio artist at the Michigan Opera Theatre. Here I am, 30 years old, two seasons, six main-stage shows, 2 studio shows, and dozens of patron events (they were called Opera Club events) later, packing my things up – once again – headed back home to New York City. In fact, it is now a full week since I stepped foot back into my parent’s home.

While I feel some profound impulse to expatiate, I know that what I have to share is, at best, personal and – more likely – trite. (At this point, most of you reading this entry know my writing quite well; by now you have realized that you’re in for the long haul - a prolix treatise to follow). When caught in the melancholy of nostalgia, I regularly see in myself a thin, often obfuscated boundary between platitude and insight. What I see in myself, rather my plight, floats somewhere between the honesty and self-deprecated musing of – dare I say - James Agee (as I read in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men) and the contradictions espoused by the Underground Man (as I read in Notes from the Underground). I hazard the comparison, maybe it’s a bit self-inflated: I feel that indescribable connection to those books; the connection that one feels when the written word expresses - with so much exactitude and precision - feelings and observations that have never left mute lips, or stubborn fingers, born of inchoate thoughts.

(Was tempted to leave that second paragraph out, after reviewing and editing this blog post - but it is a part of my verbose self. Pay it no heed, it is just my rambling ramblies).

My intention is to, now more than ever, share with you honestly. I don’t mean to imply that this blog entry (or the blog in general) is a selfless offering. No, on the contrary, to organize my thoughts and feelings, and to share them, is cathartic. I hope that maybe, just maybe, there will be something to learn, certainly about me, but more interestingly about the business of being a young opera singer (anything more is far too ambitious). I want to recapitulate my journey as studio artist at Michigan Opera Theatre; to tell you what I learned, what I earned, and punctuate my experience.

Anne Carson reminds that there is a subtle difference (albeit semiological – but, really, what isn’t) between those experiences that we today describe as bitter-sweet and Sappho’s glukupikron “sweet-bitter.” It was Eros that drove Sappho to utter – for the first time in history, to my knowledge - this contradiction of terms; this special conundrum; the ancient oxymoron. Maybe, like Sappho, here I am, now one week since my departure, feeling a similar sweet-bitterness. Carson postulates that Sappho puts sweet before bitter because - one would imagine – Eros’ sweetness is obvious. Here too, I feel that the “sweetness” in my currently plight is obvious:
·         I was employed at a major opera house in the United States for two years.
·         I added a dozen pieces to my repertoire including 8 roles, one Russian aria, and one Czech aria.
·         I am returning to New York City of all places.
·         I am returning to my friends and family, from whom I have been remote since I graduated from High School
·         I spent two years working with some of the most important names in opera today: David DiChiera, Richard Leech, Kathy Kelly, Carol Vaness, Martina Arroyo, Dean Anthony, Martin Katz, David Daniels, Timothy Cheek, and Stephen Lord, just to name a few (name dropping over).
·         I witnessed (and contributed to) the rise and renaissance of Detroit; from a vast lens encompassing the suffering lowest income bracket, and blight to the highest elected officials.
·         I made friends with some fantastic singers and conductors, in the studio and in productions
·         I had the privilege to meet some fantastic, dedicated patrons. People who will not quit Detroit.

I also have to give a shout-out to the amazing citizens of the city of Detroit who I met while living there. I wish to name some important people: Jim Burda and his berries; Thomas, the elderly man who either lived at the gym or managed to keep, serendipitously, the same erratic gym schedule as I; Patrick at Nancy Whiskey’s; Joe Schubert at Whiskey Parlor; Leslie a.k.a Sassy Pants; Eric, Steve, and Nate at Germack Coffee; Noah and Alex at Duly’s Coney Island; Cato at the security desk. I met some wonderful people. Of course there is the entire staff of administrators, costumers, wig/make, production, the crew, and Detroit Opera house employees who are far too numerous to name.

Michigan Opera Theatre fulfilled its contract. I am a card carrying member of the musician’s union and was employed as an opera singer for two consecutive seasons. That’s hard to beat, truly enviable luck built on the back of hard work and talent.

I know that I have led you to expect a bitter portion to this story. I even wrote several paragraphs that would perfectly balance the narrative I’ve laid, but I am not going to share it (the bitter was in fact the motivator of the blog entry in the first place). I realized, while editing this post, that the darkness of my experience is something more internal. Was everything roses and sweet perfume in Detroit? No, certainly not. I had my share of tears and anger, as well as some very obvious abuse and mistreatment. Were my “bitter” feelings obviously puerile hyperbole? Maybe they were, but they were not invalid. I won’t completely leave you hanging. I just wanted to let you know that as this second shoes falls it will not be as satisfying as you might desire: I feel loss; capitulation; surrender; unfinished; disappointment; some hopelessness; anonymity.

What did I gain and what am I leaving behind?

I learned that the beer in Detroit is not very good (sorry Atwater and Detroit Brewing Company), but Michigan has some fantastic breweries across the state. One of my favorites is North Peak, too good.

I learned that GREAT food it hard to come by in Detroit; good restaurants exists, but the cost of food and going out is outrageously expensive for the median house hold income.  Furthermore, it is my observation that the imbalance between cost of living, availability of jobs, and the transplant business owners seems to be making it difficult, rather than easy, for the Detroit citizens. I am frankly skeptical about the “if you build it they will come” model on which the city seems to be basing its development. There are many there who need the work. Only time will tell, I do know quite literally nothing about politics, finance, and city planning.

I elected to educate myself on Whiskey. I can proudly say that I taught myself to like it and haven’t looked back. While I never made Two James Distillery or the Detroit Distillery regular stopping grounds - I would have liked – the Whiskey Parlor and Joe Schubert became my spot of repose.

I learned that it feels really good not to hear gun shots every weekend (or those random mid-week shootings).

It feels good to have bars, restaurants, and groceries stores open 7 days a week in to the midnight hour. I will not miss the dearth of markets in Detroit.

I said good-bye to my 20’s in Detroit.

I said good-bye to Baker’s Piano Bar and Cliff Bell’s.

I said good-bye to my tongue-tie, hello to new vocal freedom.

I say good-bye to the cigar lounge across from the opera house.

I say good-bye to health insurance, but – between you and me – I think I am better off without a disaster like HAP anyway.

Goodbye to late nights in the opera house, getting locked in or sleeping in the studio. Goodbye to singing on the glorious stage at the Detroit Opera House.

Goodbye to riding my bike along the Detroit River and waving to Canada.

Goodbye to Lafayette Plaisance.

I say goodbye to Eastern Market, and buying 90% of my groceries from Michigan growers and farmers.

Goodbye to the strange isolation and my hermitic lifestyle.


Hello to metro-transit system, a bike friendly city, clean streets, and street lights. 

I learned that my opinions and intuitions about music are valid, valuable, supported, artistic, and worth sharing. 

I learned that there will always be push-back, and often from the places you least expect it. 

Maestro Leonardo Vordoni told me I sound like a million bucks; Maestro James Meena told me I was ready to go; Maestro David Abell was confident that I'll be working; Carol Vaness gave me effusive praise; Martin Katz told me it’s fun to work with someone as savvy as you [me] about music, text, character.” If others didn't have anything to say it was because I showed up prepared and ready to work. If my worst fault was saying the right words and singing the right notes at the right time and my tiny comprimario parts were only supportive, and didn't take away from the principal characters, then I believe I earned my paycheck.

I have a lot of growing still to do. Any singer will admit that it is a life long journey of learning and change. 

I believe that the other Michigan Opera Theatre Studio artists and I set up that program to offer the next round of artists quite a valuable and enviable position among the young artist programs around the country. 

ok. rant over.

Thank you for reading.

On ward!

Sincerely
Joe

Friday, April 28, 2017

Late April Update

Dear Readers,

Forgive me for the "radio silence" since the last post.

La Fanciulla del West was a hit.

I am compelled to share a personal anecdote about my experience in MOT's production of The Girl of the Golden West:

As you might recall from my previous post, Mr. Mark Delavan sang the role Jack Rance in this production. It was a real treat to be on stage, and witness him do his work - which is of, if I do say so myself, the highest caliber (it is not universally loved, but whose is? - plus: this is my blog, so... you're stuck with my opinion). It was a joy to see him work; he's one hell of a singer.

I might have embarrassed him (or myself?) by telling him what I am about to share with you all. More than "a joy" and more than "a real treat" it was a dream come true. I'll explain...

I first heard Mark sing in spring of 2005. I was 18 years on, in my final semester of school at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts. During that spring, I was gearing up for college auditions, and singing with The Collegiate Chorale (who has since rebranded as The Master Voice). The Chorale, in its 63rd season, was presenting a concert at Carnegie Hall entitled Shakespeare & Verdi; a tribute and birthday party for the Bard and Joe Green. It was a star studded event: the Chorale was led by the late Robert Bass; excerpts from Shakespeare's works were performed by the late Roger Rees, Dana Ivy, and Richard Easton; the Chorale was featured and bolstered by its Side-by-Side program - of which I was a member for many years; the principal artists were Lando Bartolini, Kallen Esperian, Heidi Grant Murphy, Rodell Aure Rosel, Cynthia Lawrence, and Mark Delevan; the Orchestra of St. Luke's nailed every note of Verid's music. 

Mark was an inspiration. He was at the top of his game, and I had never witnessed anything like that on stage. He made me want to be a Verdi baritone. He made me want to do that! 

A few years later I got tickets to see Andrea Chenier, and who chews the scenery and steals the stage? Mark Delavan! 

In 2009, I moved down to the University of Georgia for my Master and Doctor degrees, and as a result was away from much live opera performance for the majority of those years (save for my own live performing).

In 2013, Dr. Frank Block, II generously included me in a week-long trip to the MET. We saw Rigoletto, Giulio Cesare, and the entire Ring Cycle. One of my favorite baritones was scheduled to sing Wotan for this run: the great Bryn Terfel (side note: I have sung in the chorus behind Mr. Terfel several times, including one of his last Elijah's at Carnegie Hall and his Don Giovanni at the Verbier Festival). For one reason or another he was indisposed and his cover replaced him. Mark?!? Mark Delavan?!? As WOTAN?!?! WHAT A TREAT! 

The events of 2013 played a significant role: somehow the seeds of the future were planted then. I sang Hoffman in Les Contes d'Hoffmann at the Martina Arroyo Foundation's Prelude to Performance summer program. During my time there I took a master class with Mr. Richard Leech, and had two follow up lessons. This information will be important later, hope you're taking notes ;).

I graduated with my Doctorate in the fall of 2014. Some of you might remember that I was commuting between Athens and New York for much of that period. After submitting my Document, I drove to New York and planned to be home for the foreseeable future. Back home I strung enough work together to get by, specifically with the help of the Chorale (who, at that point, had rebranded to become The Master Voices) to bolster its numbers in two performances: the first was the "Defiant Requiem, a poignant multimedia tribute to Schächter, who along with most of his choir died in captivity, was created by the conductor Murry Sidlin, incorporating Verdi’s" requiem (quotation from the NYT). The second was The Road of Promise, an oratorio adapted from The Eternal Road by Ed Harsh, (U.S. debut at Carnegie Hall). The Road also featured a star studded cast: the actor Ron Rifkin, Anthony Dean Griffey, Philip Cutlip,  Justin Hopkins, Megan Marino, Lauren Michelle, and ... you guested it  Mark Delavan.

That summer, while working at the Orans family's Quisisana (a musical resort on Lake Kezar, in Lovell, Maine) I received a call from Mr. Leech, who remembered my work at Martina Arroyo's program fondly. He offered me the tenor position at the Michigan Opera Theatre in its inaugural season of the MOT Studio; an offer I couldn't refuse. 

Fast forward two years and the story comes full circle: I am nearing the end of my second year as Michigan Opera Theatre studio artist, and there he is again! Almost exactly 12 years to the day to finally be in a staged production with Mark. I had to finish high school, get two degrees as a double bassists, a doctorate in voice, and move to Detroit for two years: it was a dream come true.

That is my Mark Delavan story. Now you know... 

Since Fanciulla work has been good. Things have slowed down here a bit. Dr. David DiChiera's master work Cyrano will be the final production of the year. I am not cast in the opera, and as result will be performing for donors and public events over the next 4 weeks. 

Exciting new for the summer is on its way, stay tuned.

As ever,
Sincerely your,
Joe

Friday, March 31, 2017

La Fanciulla del West at Michigan Opera Theare

Dear Readers,

Tomorrow night, April 1st [no it's not a practical joke], we open Puccini's The Girl of the Golden West. It's quite a show, and if you're in the Detroit metro area please come to check out the magic.

The casts are absolutely worth the travel, and you'll be sorry you missed this one! Meagan Miller
sings Minnie on April 1, 5, 8; Melissa Citro sings Minnie on April 9; The ever impressive and astounding Mark Delavan sings Jack Rance; Rafael Davila sings the tenor Dick Johnson on April 1, 5, 8; Jeff Gwaltney sings Dick Johnson on the 9th. The cast rounds out with a gaggle of talent of Studio Artists and visiting comprimari: Brent Michael Smith as Ashby; Jeff Byrnes as Sonora; Harry Greenleaf as the minstrel Jake Wallace; I sing the role of Trin; Hadleigh Adams as Bello; Jonathan Blalock as Harry; Benjamin Robinson as Joe; Briana Elyse Hunter as Wowkle; Mr. Dennis Petersen
sings Nick; John McCullough as Sid; Nick Davis as Happy; Dominik Belavy as Larkens; Glenn Healy pulling double duty as Billy Jackrabbit; Jesús Vicente Murillo as Jose Castro.

It's a packed stage; a spectacle not to be missed.

This Chicago lyric opera set, with costumes by Minnesota opera is directed by Mario Corradi and conducted by Maestro Stephen Lord (newly appointed principal conductor of Michigan Opera Theatre).

More soon!
Thanks for reading,
Joe

Sunday, March 19, 2017

8 weeks later

Dear Readers,

I've been absent. . .

. . .I've been busy!

Since my previous post I have performed for the Michigan Opera Theatre in Naples and Sarasota, Florida; Grosse Pointe, Detroit on Valentine's Day; at the Macomb Center for the Arts in Clinton Township, Michigan; two performance of Mark Adamo's Little Women (featuring a cast with an embarrassment of talent - and much is needed for Mr. Adamo's challenging work). 

AND... we are just ending our first week of staging rehearsals for La Fanciulla Del West. I am playing the character Trin, a miner. 


There is really so much to share... because I did not write much about Little Women, let me say this: it was my first opera (and Theodore "Laurie" Lawrence my first featured role) since having my frenotomy last November. The show went very well; audiences seemed please. 

Mr. Adamo was present for the two final dress rehearsals and the opening night of the show. The show was a spotlight on the MOT Studio: Briana Hunter as Jo; Angela Theis as Beth; Jeff Byrnes as John Brooke; Brent Michael Smith as Prof. Bhaer. Admirably filling out the remaining roles were Clodagh Earls as Amy; Laura Krumm as Meg; Diane Schoff as Aunt Cecelia; Lisa Agazzi as Alma March; Mark Gardner as Gideon March; and Branden Hood as Mr. Dashwood.

The ensemble was lead by Maestro Suzanne Acton, and directed by the methodical and thoughtful Lawrence "larry" Edelson.

I will try to get more info to you sooner.

Thank you so kindly for reading!
All the very best,
Joe

PS I just finished reading William Berger's work on Puccini "Puccini without excuses," It is masterful... I feel an innate impulse to share some of William Berger's empassioned testimony in support of opera: "I do not hold with those who believe that Opera is a dying art form. The same things have been said about Opera almost since its invention. Opera was said to be doomed when the castrati disappeared in the 18th century, when the Napoleonic Wars shut down the conservatories in the early 19th century, when tonality was redefined in the 20th century, and so on. Movies, television, radio, and the internet were each supposed to nail the coffin lid shut, and all of those media have become part of the Opera story. If Opera were mortal, it would have died by now... I believe Opera is the most important art form. It is not the most important because, as is always said, it's subsumes every other art form (which happens to be true), but because at its very best it has the ability to probe deeper into the human experience than any other art form. There are never any easy answers in Opera, and it promotes critical thinking. This is why fans are always said to be so passionate. While I can celebrate the high-profile of opera in America today, I wish it were even higher, much higher." - W. Berger "Puccini without excuses"

I wish I could share the entire book with you all. I encourage you to borrow it from your local library and indulge.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

One thing leads to another

Dear Readers,

I have been epistolarily silent this last week, and - for those of you who are close to me know -vocally silent because I contracted pneumonia. It could, of course, be worse. I, fortunately, have not been hospitalized, and I elected to recover at home. I've been taking a plethora of medicines. With each new obstacle (ie. frenotomy, and pneumonia) I find myself feeling more and more callow. I've been taking azithromycin, prednisone, antihistamines (cetirizine and diphenhydramine), elderberry extract, vitamins C; D; B12, guaifenesin, phenylephrine, dextromethorphan, and plenty of acetaminophen. I have been hydrating, resting, and eating plenty of soup. I've been sequestered in my home, trying to limit contact with my colleagues; in efforts to prioritize their health.

Recovery has been a challenge: my roommate has also been sick. He and his girlfriend are smokers, who smoke in the apartment. I bought Lysol disinfectant spray and two containers of antibacterial moist tissue wipes, but I am the only person who uses them. My roommate keeps the apartment fairly cold, particularly at night.

Today is my last day of antibiotic treatment; just in time, because things are about to heat up here in Michigan. We have concerts in Florida, Detroit, and the beginning of our rehearsal period for Little Women approaching.

Good news to share:
In my off time I have finished reading Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy's The Ethical Slut, which is a fantastic and engaging read. I have decided to revisit Melville's Moby Dick. I also have Getting the Love you Want, Seta, Oceano Mare, Overtones, a book of temperaments, and 1984 (in English and Italian) on the back burner of my reading list.

I've also chosen to explore my culinary interests. I've made several pizzas, pastas, and soups from scratch.

I've also become an expert Instagram user.

I wish that there was more to tell, and of it better news to share.

Until things are on track again...
Warmest regards
Joe