Another opera season successfully completed. Now we all go our separate ways, and with a few exceptions we will be away from each other for about six months. And although we all make sure we have full musical lives in our off season, opera is our home. It is our thing. We take real pride in our skill (and stamina!). The off season is our time for renewal and growth, but there is no resting on our laurels – while we will have earned a break after many long rehearsals and performances, careful planning is required to manage such a long off season. In addition to the obvious financial challenges of being unpaid for half of our year, there is also the issue of managing preparation for the upcoming season. Right now that means trying to figure out what Les Troyens will be like (it’s long! And it’s Berlioz!) and practicing for that…and of course we will start our next Ring cycle with Das Rheingold. Those of us who have done Der Ring des Nibelungen before know that once that train leaves the station, it’s a long, long ride until the last notes of the last Götterdämmerung sound. Planning.
This makes twenty-five opera seasons for me, and I have to tell you, I had no idea at the time that I would find such a fulfilling musical home here at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Some of that is my discovery of opera as a great love of my life, but it is also due to the strength of my orchestra. I am not kidding when I point out what a fine group of people my colleagues are. Here is what I find so special about this orchestra: You could not hope to find a smarter, funnier, more talented, warmer group of people. In spite of the stress of constant performing and rehearsing, the fatigue and the annoyances, to me we always feel like a group.
We practically live together at the opera house during the season, and like any family, we can bug the beejeebers out of each other. But the acceptance we show of each other is remarkable. Here we have Republicans and Democrats talking politics without shouting and insulting each other. People of differing religions – and those with no religion – showing respect. Serious conversations, sharing of life experiences, and so, so much laughter. A birthday cake almost every service, often baked by someone in our group. A Music Director who throws a party for us at the end of every season, and orchestra players who knock themselves out to provide really inventive and funny entertainment for each one. We are a group of musicians with an enormous level of mutual respect and trust, both musically and personally. This is no small thing, especially these days. It feels good. It makes us strong.
During the off season, I will work and socialize with some of my amazing colleagues in other settings. Those I do not see until September will be missed. I will play some great orchestral repertoire with other wonderful groups, and perhaps some chamber music. I will get some rest, learn some notes, build some technique (it’s never too late!), finally clean my house and catch up with projects. I will enjoy my break.
When I come back to the opera house in September, it will feel like coming home again.