A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, opera a cappella now available at Albany Records

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Wherever you go, I wish you well...

We did our final performance at Mandan High School. Although not especially well attended it was great to see the enthusiastic audience reaction and gratifying to see some folks like Caroline S. who had been at the performance in Watford City.

With a name like Mandan, I naively expected it to be a more native crowd, but it wasn't.

We now scatter. Thanks to everyone who made this tour possible--FM Opera, the cast and crew, the North Dakota Council, the local presenters and housers. The tour has given me confidence in the viability of this new version of CORPS OF DISCOVERY.

Blogging will be more occasional for a bit, but check back from time to time.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Earth Lodge and Fort Mandan

Yesterday we went to see the Earth Lodge at the Knife River Indian Village and did a preview performance at the Fort Mandan replica near Washburn.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Seedy Neighborhood

North Dakota produces and consumes a lot of sunflower seeds. This convenience store display shows you their popularity!

Watford City

An exhilarating performance in Watford City to a large and enthusiastic crowd! The audience could not have been more receptive or appreciative. Watford City is a vibrant, hospitable little town with much civic pride in evidence.

Our sponsored said we even won over some skeptical cowboys and ranchers.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit

Watford City is near the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Our casual hike became an exercise in team building as we saw our trail get muddier and muddier. Our little Corps was stopped by four buffalo which refused to leave the road or the trail.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Watford City

We are in Watford City. I hear the population here is under 2000. They are wonderfully excited about the production tonight at the High School. Watford City is in the heart of the Lewis and Clark area--in fact Lewis got shot in the butt by Cruzatte only a few miles north of here, so when that section of the show gets done tonight, they are sure to get a kick out of it.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Performance at ND Art Museum in Grand Forks

Performance in Grand Forks at the North Dakota Art Museum on the Campus of North Dakota State University. The set fit right in at the gallery. We had a chance to eat at a restaurant in East Grand Forks which was flooded in 1997.

The crowd was very quiet during the show--either refusing to or afraid to applaud. But they were very enthusiastic at the end. The acoustics of the gallery were wonderfully liquid.

The museum had a very modern exhibit--with Mapplethorpe, Hockney, Serrano in evidence.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Lake Effect

On our day off between performances, I had the chance to visit Cormorant Lake in Minnesota where one of our cast members, Janice Aiken, has a family home. Local residents flock to the lakes like Southerners flock to the beaches. Hopefully the midwestern sense of egalitarianism and fair play will allow shabby shacks and double wides to continue to exist alongside upscale vacation homes. This sense of economic diversity is gone from Florida's Gulf Coast.

Off to Grand Forks

Tomorrow, CORPS plays in Grand Forks at the North Dakota Museum of Art. The challenge will be to adapt the production to an art gallery space where there is no backstage area.

Here is an article about the show in the Grand Forks Herald.

Off to a good start

The opening night performance went well and was enthusiastically received by the audience. For the first time that I can recall, the audience didn't clap until the last note of music was over. The one challenge of the evening was that midway through the first act, it started to hail. The racket briefly drowned out Sacagawea's lullaby.

This morning's Fargo Forum has a great review.

Next performance is 7pm Sunday in Grand Forks at the North Dakota Museum of Art.

Friday, May 18, 2007

MPR Piece on CORPS by Dan Gunderson

This audio piece has some nice audio clips too.

Rowing, towing we keep going up the wild Missouri

Elementary Praise and Criticism for CORPS OF DISCOVERY

Earlier this week we went to a lovely elementary school and did some excerpts of CORPS OF DISCOVERY. Here are some pictures from the thank yous along with one disgruntled critic...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Spiral Staircase backstage at Weld Hall

Not a perfect picture (try to ignore shirt...) but this looks down the spiral staircase in the turret backstage at Weld Hall, where we are doing CORPS. Perhaps you can see why it inspired a ghost story.

Hopefully the ghost is happy. Dress rehearsal went well--fair winds for Lewis and Clark.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

FM Opera at the Black Building

FM Opera's offices are in the Black Building in downtown Fargo. There is a curious, French-quarter-ey courtyard with some shops, but also these fantastic deco elevator doors.

Final Dress is tonight

Our first dress, last night, was the first time we really ran the show and it went smoothly. The cast is rising to the challenge of being in the moment for their roles while thinking ahead for the scene changes. The costumes and wigs were added and look good, if a little fresh for having come off a three year wilderness trip.

In this new version, CORPS OF DISCOVERY has a forty minute first act and a sixty minute second act. The role of Sacagawea is proportionally larger than it was.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Hear It Now Interview

The "Hear It Now" Interview is now available on the Prairie Public Radio site. The host, Merrill Piepkorn, did a fine and enthusiastic job with the interview.



Dillworth is a litle town near Moorhead. Janice Aiken, our "Lost Her Moccasins" grew up there. It's a little place, a railroad town. As you can see, it's still a pretty serious rail terminal. We had cheese- burgers at the HiHo...

What does this have to do with CORPS OF DISCOVERY or Opera? Not much except it is always interesting to see how folks come to opera from different backgrounds. Janice came from a high school class of under fifty and says she quit the cheerleading squad to be in a Fargo Moorhead Opera show. Sounds to me like she had her priorities straight.

Tech Hell

This evening we had our "tech" rehearsal. Since the fourteen cast members serve as the fourteen stagehands in this production, they have to move the scenery and set the props.

Everyone always hates tech rehearsal, but it is a necessary evil and tonight's rehearsal went smoothly. We even got out a little early.

So maybe it wasn't tech hell, just tech purgatory.

Hugh Moffatt, CORPS librettist

Check out the activities of Hugh Moffatt, the CORPS librettist. Here we are after a show this fall at the Bluebird in Nashville. Hugh is 2nd from the left. Also pictured are Bill Haymes and John Peppard with yours truly.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Rehearsal bon mots

Today our director, David Walsh, staged the Christmas scene at Fort Clatsop and mistakenly referred to the "Virginia Ham" that they are longing to eat instead of boiled elk as "Virgin Ham."

Synopsis of Corps of Discovery (ND version)

Hugh Moffatt and I have created a new, compact version of CORPS OF DISCOVERY for this North Dakota tour. Here is the synopsis of this version which requires exactly nine men and five women.

Act I

As the opera begins, two enlisted men in the Corps, George Shannon and John Potts are introduced to patrons at a bar in St. Louis. This bar setting provides the framework for the storytelling of the first act. It is fall 1806, a short time after the Corps has returned from its three year journey. Shannon excitedly tries to explain the wonderful adventure, but it is the older, more serious Potts who focuses the narrative. He describes the difficult journey up the Missouri--pulling the keelboat upriver under dangerous conditions. At a campsite for the evening, Lewis encourages the men to keep detailed journals of their trip, so that President Jefferson and the world can learn what lies up river. Shannon and Potts then describe the death and burial of their comrade, Sergeant Floyd. Floyd's cousin, Pryor, vows to continue the journey. Floyd's death makes them ponder their lot in life--what each of them hope to get out of the journey. They ask York, slave to William Clark, what he hopes for and ask him, doesn't he hope to be free? York can't help but harbor some hope, but before he goes too far for himself, he shuts down and says he needs to see to Captain Clark.

Back in the bar, the patrons ask about the Indians. Potts describes New Year's Day in 1805 spent with the Mandan and Hidatsa when they sang and danced with the Indians. Shannon's most striking memory of that time was the birth of Baptiste Charbonneau, born to Sacagawea and her husband. The baby came with them on the trip and even through all the hardship and adventure, Shannon remembers how having a family with them kept the whole expedition strong. Potts counters that the wonderous adventure is what motivated him and that now that they are back in St. Louis, he wants to go back out into the wilderness again. He remembers the day they left Fort Mandan for the unknown west. Lewis gives the speech from that day in the Spring of 1805 and the Corps sets out.

Act II

The trip to the Pacific is told, but through a different storytelling framework. As the act begins, we see the female members of Sacagawea's Hidatsa family group working on drying their squash crop. It is August 1806 and the Corps has just returned to their village. The women excitedly anticipate the reunion with Sacagawea. Lewis is brought in. A few days earlier, he was accidentally shot in the butt by Pierre Cruzatte. The Corps tease Cruzatte, who says it must have been an Indian. Clark asks Sacagawea and Charbonneau for permission to take their child, Baptiste, with him downriver to St. Louis in order to raise him with his son, complete with a Western education. Sacagawea says she needs some time to decide. Lewis praises Clark--Jefferson wants them to bring some native children to raise "in civilization." It makes them ponder their own futures. While Clark seems to have a lady in mind for marriage, Lewis' future is murkier. He must struggle to finish the journals for publication.

We move back to the squash garden. Sacagawea is reunited with her family but she is quiet. Some of the women have noticed a change in her and feel she has gotten arrogant. She says she is weighing the decision to send her son with Clark. Furthermore, she has seen a vision from Grandmother Who Never Dies, showing that this is indeed the future. She says that Clark truly cares about the boy. Some of her family can't believe this. She goes on to describe a time on the trail when she was very sick and Clark cared for both her and the baby. She got well; they moved on and she describes being reunited with the Shoshone, the tribe of her birth. Indeed, her brother has become the Shoshone's chief. We then see the crucial scene near the Rockies when Lewis negotiates with the Shoshone for horses which can carry them over the mountains. We proceed on to the difficult passage through the mountains, when the Corps struggled and nearly lost itself searching for the way through. Sacagawea then recalls the arrival on the Pacific ocean and the crucial time when Lewis and Clark allowed the Corps to vote on the possible location for winter camp. She describes a strange gift giving ritual celebrated by the men called Christmas.

We come back to the squash garden and Sacagawea's situation. Again, one of her family members, doubts that she can have received visions from the spirits. Sacagawea proudly asserts that she has learned about herself. She has become a woman who belongs to no one and she has learned to be free. The women are now in awe of her and ask her about the future. She describes how her son Baptiste will move away across the ocean, consort with royalty, and be his own man.

The Corps is readying to leave the Mandan villages. On Clark's instruction, York comes to ask Sacagawea what will she do about her son? They say their farewells--York intends to ask for his freedom some day. Clark arrives and Sacagawea tells him that she will send her son to St. Louis, but not right away. Clark accepts this and they say goodbye with respect and deepest friendship.
The Corps floats away downriver and Sacagawea watches them go. We hear the chants of the native women alternating with the river song of the Corps. The Corps floats away downriver and Sacagawea watches them go. We hear the chants of the native women alternating with the river song of the Corps.

The opera ends with a Mozart-like finale with all assembled. It is a plea for us, like the Corps, to work together.

Lewis, Sakakawea, and Clark pose for the press

Flood Gauge at Fargo

The northward flowing Red River is flood prone. Here is the flood gauge near downtown Fargo. You can see the marking for 1997 right near the top when floods seriously damaged Grand Forks and Fargo. Fargo has a lovely walk along atop the levee next to the river.

Sergeant Pryor gets too much sun

Chris Hunt, who plays Sergeant Pryor gets sun and wind at his day job outdoors. He is actually planning to commute 400 miles to/from the performance in Watford City with two other cast members.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hoist the Sail

Lois Rhomberg, the set designer, has created a sail for the scene in Act I when the CORPS are moving calmly up the Missouri. It's technically challenging but should look impressive when "unfurled."

Much of the challenge of CORPS is to do much storytelling with as little scenery as possible.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Act I is almost staged

A two week rehearsal period is fairly compact, especially since some of the cast members have day jobs and the entire company is only available during the evenings. We have almost finished Act I. The set is actually fairly elaborate--have teepee will travel--and will look beautiful, although it makes for very complicated staging. I keep finding further ways to simplify the score. History and theatre aren't the same thing!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Fargo has a charming and laid back downtown

FM Opera has assembled a terrific cast for CORPS, including:

David Hamilton (FM Artistic Director) as Lewis
Mark Walters as Clark
Shana Blake Hill as Sacagawea
Marc Schreiner as George Shannon
Jeff Keele as John Potts

All fourteen cast members are strong and well prepared and the staging rehearsals, led by the director David Walsh are moving along nicely.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Weld Hall and its ghost

We went to see Weld Hall on the Minnesota State University Moorhead campus. This intimate hall will host the CORPS premiere on the 18th. One of staff members was so helpful that I complimented him on it and he commented on the fact that he was raised in Western North Dakota, where a person's word was his bond and that kind of thing was still part of they way people worked up here. Can we clone this guy?

Weld Hall has a very steep metal spiral staircase backstage--it is how you get down to the dressing room level. Apparently there is a ghost story associated with it--the story goes that a theather techie fell down the staircase and broke both his legs and neck. His ghost has been seen dancing on the stage, minus his legs.
My little Lewis and Clark expedition hit a sandbar yesterday on the road between Sioux Falls, SD, and Fargo Moorhead. No doubt on the expedition, the blacksmith John Shields would have fixed this up right away. Or perhaps it would have been Lewis himself, with his extensive knowledge of science and medicine. I ended up two hours late to rehearsal--never travel on a rehearsal day!

This lends new meaning to the lyric in CORPS OF DISCOVERY--"Rowing towing we keep going up the wild Missouri."

Sunday, May 6, 2007

I have gone to Fargo Moorhead Opera where they are doing the fourth full production of my Lewis and Clark opera, CORPS OF DISCOVERY. The opportunity to create a smaller version of this opera and to tour it to some places on the Lewis and Clark trail was irresistable. The first rehearsal was today and the cast was great--completely exceeded my expectations. Shame on me.

This is from an old Opera Memphis photo and shows the costumer spray painting the costume onto the Commendatore (character in DON GIOVANNI). Somehow this photo exemplifies the original spirit of regional opera.