Today was the first music rehearsal of Where Angels Fear to Tread. The conductor, assistant conductor, head of music staff, artistic administrator, and the entire cast were present and primed for the first time through together. But I entered the rehearsal hall with a bit of nervous apprehension; it was I who scheduled this opera. I have caused Opera San José to take on a world premiere, and producing a world premiere is a task that looms large with inherent responsibilities. Some of the world’s most beloved operas began with less than fortunate first productions because of a bumbling administration. If the management of La Fenice can make a fiasco of La traviata, what gives me such confidence? But as the rehearsal progressed, and as I heard these singers stand up and deliver with aplomb and naturalness, despite the difficulties of an entirely unheard score, as I listened to the conductor talk through how he will communicate the tempo, the expressive retards, the insistent pushing through without hesitation, and watched the signers, all eyes and ears, following with such intensity, I knew the work was in the best of musical hands. Then we got to the first large ensemble.
It was as all the leads joined in a section of personal reminiscence recalling the beauty of the sunset as seen from the medieval city wall “with all of Italy behind you” that my eyes suddenly grew moist as I remembered my first conversation with Irene about this opera.
Though Irene never once lobbied for an opera or a singer to be scheduled in my first season as general director, she was very insistent (and I mean very) that I hear all of Where Angels Fear to Tread. She knew I was trying to find the right four operas to set the tone of a new directorship, and before I had committed she made certain that I was fully aware of this specific work. Not because it would be a premiere, Irene didn’t think much of bringing new works out at Opera San José; she thought it impractical. No, she wanted me aware of this opera because she found it powerful. I, too, find it powerful. All of us who have been working on it have found it powerful.
As it turned out, Irene’s last conversation was with Laurie Warner, our board president. In the hospital during a sudden and isolated hour of lucidity, Irene woke up and discussed with Laurie what she did and did not want as a memorial service. She was very clear that Opera San José was not to attempt any kind of memorial until Where Angels Fear to Tread had closed. No one was to be distracted from the production of this world premiere; a memorial of any kind must wait.
Mark Weiser and Roger Brunyate created it for the world, but Irene directed their newborn into our hands. We receive it with the respect a new work of art deserves; we have chosen the creative team with great care and cast it with perceptive and capable artists. Today’s rehearsal, the first music rehearsal, was very significant for me; it gave me confidence that we are equal to the task Irene gave us. Where Angels Fear to Tread is Irene’s last gift to Opera San José.