Thomas Lawrence Toscano
Resilience and Determination
HOW TO PRODUCE A CONTEMPORARY OPERA, NO MATTER WHAT!
The year 2005 was a landmark year for me, I traveled across to Sicily 4 times that year and premiered two of my works, as well as one of Philip's. During that year I conducted my 13 Canzoni Siciliane and Caccia Al Lupo ( The Wolf Hunt) based on the play by Giovanni Verga. Some of you know Giovanni Verga as the Italian writer who brought realism to Italian Literature, other's know him as the author of Cavalleria Rusticana which later gained worldwide fame as the opera of the same name. Little known to most people, this opera although no explicitly stated in the short story, play nor the opera in fact had 3 of Vizzini's real places as the setting that Verga used. Further, the famous peasant costumes are all copies of photograph's that Verga made of the townspeople of Vizzini. The Tavern, the Church, the Warehouse and the Farmacia all still exist and all can be viewed by Giovanni Verga's apartment on the square.
Now, you all remember the story that explained the realities leading up to the creation of the Music Festival in my Grandparents town, as told in the Post - Miracles and Ministers...The result of all of that brings us to this story. In January of 2005, I spent my birthday in Vizzini, I became highly essential on arrival in this small mountain top town, because, it had snowed! An event that had not occurred in 30 years. Many people did not know how to drive in show, so I was constantly advising those who needed help. They all learned quickly that 2nd gear is your friend in up hill icy conditions ;-)!
During the frigid trip to Sicilia ( which I loved of course) I toured the town for a proper place to perform Caccia Al Lupo and discovered this tiny piazza which was closed to traffic.
The stage being found, provisions were then made to turn this into a stage and concert venue. We had 6 months to make this all happen.
The Stage! This structure is indeed an old, old church that had lain in disrepair since WWII. The church doors, which you see in this picture, opened to an empty space surrounded by
the church structure, with a lawn inside ( it was all that well kept). The acoustics were quite adequate and there was space for approximately 150 people.
IF YOU WANT TO MAKE GOD LAUGH TELL HIM/HER YOUR PLANS!
So, the original plan was 3 American singers, a Sicilian ensemble and all other aspects taken care of from local resources. The opening reality was of course the marvelous concert and historic event with the appearance of Philip Glass and Giovanni Sollima. Three singers and myself left New York, flew to Manchester to change planes and then flew to Catania, we were all picked up at the Catania airport and brought to Vizzini. All was great until the first day of rehearsal. Lo and behold, the two American male singers were not prepared. They did not know their music, especially the Baritone. Both left NYC, reputable singers, all was assured that they knew their parts and some short initial rehearsals found them prepared and learning quickly. This all came to a halt in Siciliy. The problem with the singer the least prepared instigated (apparently) the Tenor to bail, turn tail and walk away. So, here were Grace Valdez, Mezzo and myself, conductor, ready and raring to go missing two thirds of the cast.
Immediately word was put out of for two singers and two young singers were found. Salvo Fresta, Tenor and Marco Fillippo Romano Baritone. Both are quite active singers today. But, at that time 10 years ago they were both at the beginning of their careers. They worked like demon's to learn the music, and 11 days after we started the opera went up on stage.
The night of the premiere, many pieces came together. The press had their time to take pictures and make some short clips. Their were dignitaries and guests invited to participate and the electricity in the air was quite palpable. There were press from all over Italy and everything seemed to be ready.
So, with lots of enthusiasm and excitement the original idea to put on the full production, was adjusted to do a concert performance, given that Marco and Salvo valiantly learned the roles, best they could in 11 days. Anything can happen in live performance, as I'm sure many of you know and that night was no exception. Interestingly enough, during the first 3 or 4 minutes of the opening performance, the lights went on and off 11 times. This is because, a well meaning person stepped in where they didn't belong and interfered with our lighting. The lights were, all on the same circuit. It was a miracle that the instrumentalists kept going.
It's a very dramatic work and they all did a wonderful job of both singing their parts and portraying the gut wrenching tension that occurs. It's an opera that takes place in one small room of a two room stone hut in the pastures surrounding Vizzini.
The audience loved the work and the realities that surrounded it. Yes, there were many guests in the audience and also there were many Vizzinese as well, point being, there were no secrets. Basically, everyone knew what had happened, and it only added to the excitement of the evening. We did our run over the weekend and I can assure you it all came to an end much too soon.
Grace, Marco and Salvo have wonderful lives for themselves 10 years later. The memories of that night will never leave me. They all worked very hard and we were all quite lively at the after parties which were held at the Cunziria down off the mountain.
So, the next time you find yourself with major surprises to your plans, remember, resilience and dedication can be the difference between disappointment and the fulfillment of your dreams. Thanks for being here. Thomas