The highlight of 2014 for me was performing in the premiere of Under Milk Wood, an opera. John Metcalfe composed the music to text based upon Dylan Thomas' radio play of the same name. Under Milk Wood has been nominated for a number of awards, including the prestigious World Premier category in the International Opera Awards. This follows on nominations for both Best Opera Production and Best Design/Costume at the Wales Theatre Awards, and a listing as one of the best operas of 2014 by The Guardian.
Working on and performing in Under Milk Wood marked my transition from academia back to performance. In fact, I flew to Wales to begin workshopping Under Milk Wood just hours after my Ph.D. convocation at the University of Toronto in Nov, 2013. Metcalfe (in whose 1996 opera, Kafka's Chimp, I performed at the Banff Centre) believes that musicians perform better--and learn the score more deeply--without the aid of a conductor as interlocutor/interpreter; and personally, this type of chamber music approach to an opera suits me perfectly. I also love working with singers (and what an extraordinary cast we had!). Singers--and the words they sing--always bring me back to the essence of musical phrasing and breathing: something that I find tends to get lost when music is mediated by conductors who try to convey musical interpretations by explaining them through the language of instrumental technique.
Under Milk Wood involved eight singers and five musicians - all onstage together. We became a tight knit merry band, particularly during the last rehearsal, performance and touring period in March/April 2014. All of the musicians performed multiple parts. I played violin, viola and learned how to play a 6-string, bowed Welsh lute (based on an 11th c. design)called a crwth. The crwth's tuning was Bb, Bb, F, F, C, C: the doubled notes tuned in octaves. Of course, I didn't play the crwth in a traditional manner (as a drone instrument with an optional single melody line on the top string). Oh no (when did a living composer make things that simple for their musicians?) I had to figure out how to triple and quadruple stop chords - even on the strings that didn't have a fingerboard beneath them. But that is the kind of challenge that I love.
Kudos to all my colleagues and everyone who helped bring Under Milk Wood to life. Next step: let's bring it to North America!