Week 14: On Dido and Aeneas, the Casino, and a difficult week.

          First of all, I would like to thank everyone who made the launching of my website a great success. Thanks to all of you, www.ThomasLaVoy.com saw 1,500 hits in the first 24 hours! Traffic has slowed considerably since then, but I'm glad the first push drew such an enthusiastic audience.

John Hudson, Conductor of  Dido and Aeneas

John Hudson, Conductor of Dido and Aeneas

          On the Saturday following my last post I had the opportunity to see many of my friends and colleagues perform Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at Cowdray Hall in the heart of Aberdeen. It pains me to admit that I'm not generally an “opera person,” a secret that I've spent five years trying to hide from my closest friends, many of whom are either opera admirers or operatic singers themselves. However I am delighted to say that Saturday's performance both transfixed and converted me, such was the level of artistry and musicianship exhibited by the performers. Conductor John Hudson put an extraordinary amount of time and energy into preparing for this event, and in partnership with director Sarah LeBrocq was able to produce a fabulous musical and visual experience for all.

          There were very few things that I took issue with in the production as a whole, and they were such small annoyances (spotlights not being entirely centered, a missed note in the orchestra or chorus here or there, etc.) that focusing on them would detract from this generally incredible production. This was a student show after all, small issues are to be expected and systematically ignored on the date of the performance. The orchestra and chorus were effective in their adherence to Baroque performance practice, due in part I am sure to both John's leadership and the instruction that the students receive at the University. Three standouts from the orchestra who I felt were especially exceptional were Leader Ruth Potts (in the good ol' U.S. of A we would call her Concertmaster or Concertmistress instead of Leader), harpsichordist Ed Jones, and Peter Davis on Cello.

The full team. Great production!

The full team. Great production!

          Occupying the title roles of Dido and Aeneas were Emily Harrison and Niall Anderson, both of whom commanded the stage and sang masterfully. The final aria of the opera, When I am laid in earth, is absolutely heart-wrenching when in the right singers hands, and Emily was certainly responsible for more than a few wet eyes in Cowdray Hall on Saturday (guilty!). Lucy Hole, whose soaring soprano voice one can't help but fall in love with, was stunning and hilarious in the role of Belinda, particularly in her performance of Thanks to these lonesome vales. Sporting an enormously powerful voice and an evil demeanor in the role of the Sorceress Giselle was Savia Iakovou, a gifted young singer to keep one's eye on as her voice continues to grow and develop in the coming years.

Truly a remarkable performance, congratulations to everyone involved!

          Unfortunately, the buzz that Dido and Aeneas had given me only lasted through the night... and then it stopped abruptly Sunday morning. There is a magical place in Aberdeen that the music students often frequent, full of many-colored lights and seemingly endless quantities of Prosecco. I'm speaking, of course, about the Casino, and this is where we all went on Saturday evening to celebrate the success of the opera. Now, I want to be very clear that I don't gamble at all as a personal rule; I feel it would be wrong of me to do so given the generosity of my sponsors, and I also just find it to be a waste. We generally go to the Casino because it has a fabulous bar and a good space for socializing; occasionally someone will put down a few quid on roulette, but nothing serious.

The famous lights of the Casino...

The famous lights of the Casino...

          The only real trouble with the Casino (as it is in all casinos given the lack of clocks and virtually non-existent closing times) is that it is very easy to lose track of the time. It isn't unusual to walk out at the end of an evening to see the sky getting lighter, suddenly realizing that one has to be up in a few hours. This is precisely what happened on Saturday evening, so when I finally got home I made sure to set my alarms for 8:00 am. I woke up at noon, panicking, having slept straight through a total of seven alarms; three on my phone, three on my ipod, and one on the alarm clock on my desk. To have three electronic demons screaming “YOU'RE LATE!” when you awake is a terrible experience.

          If there is one thing I hate more than anything it is the feeling of shame that accompanies missing something important. And so, the next day I was sure to ask the specific time and location of an evening rehearsal for a wedding that I will be singing in next weekend. I put a reminder in my phone and made the forty minute walk down to St. Andrews to arrive at 8:00 pm. When I arrived the doors were locked and I was greeted by an understandably angry Teddy Jones, who asked me why I hadn't arrived when the rehearsal began at 7:00 pm. Somehow I had mixed everything up and put the wrong time as a reminder.

          My greatest struggle here in Scotland has without a doubt been my relationship with time. Missing two important gigs back to back is of course not what I'd call a great start to the week, but I find that time and productivity have also shifted for me in general since arriving here. Even though I technically have less structured things to do as a PhD student, I find it much more difficult to keep everything straight than when I was an undergrad with a regular schedule. I often get lost in my work for hours at a time, resurfacing just in time to realize that a rehearsal starts in fifteen minutes. Given the fact that it takes twenty minutes to walk to the University, I've developed a reputation for being five minutes late for everything, a reputation which I truly despise and am keep to get rid of as soon as possible.

          When I was living in the United States, the most naturally productive time for me to do my work was between the hours of 2:00 pm and 10:00 pm. Oddly enough, the most naturally productive time for me here is between the hours of 7:00 pm and 3:00 am. Given the five hour time difference, I'm still working at the same time that I was in the States, even though I should have adjusted to British time by now. This is very frustrating for me, because each time I stay up until 3:00 am composing I run the risk of waking up late and further feeding this self-perpetuating sleep cycle.

          In spite of all of this, the week has brightened considerably as it has progressed. Chapel Choir had the great honor of singing an evensong service with James O'Donnell (conductor of the choir at Westminster Abbey in London!), and my piece for the Dunedin Consort reading session next Friday has been printed, bound, and shipped. This short piece, My True Being for six voices with poetry by the legendary Rabindranath Tagore, is dedicated to my Aunt Ruth and Uncle Stan, who have supported my musical ambitions from the very beginning all those years ago, and to Dr. Thomas Huffman and his family. Work on the Chamber Choir tour piece continues and I should be done with it very soon.

          And now I really must get myself down to St. Andrews, or Teddy Jones will have to strap on his TDS and give me a walloping.

Until next time,

Thomas LaVoy

Culture shock of the week: Forgetting that it isn't customary to have your groceries bagged for you at the supermarket, thereby causing a pileup in the checkout lane. First world problems, I know...

Music of the week: When I am laid in earth  from Dido and Aeneas.

Thomas LaVoyComment