Berkshire School

In the Spring of each year, for five years now, I've been saying, "I'm through with singing. I'm getting too old. My voice is hoarse at night. I can barely make it up the big hills on my bike anymore. And then, I get the brochure in the mail, and there's always something to draw me back to the BCF. This year it was Jane Glover and the Brahms Requiem.

We didn't leave on Sunday until 2:00 PM, for we spent the morning doing the final installations and clean-up at the apartment. Finally, we are moved in. Saturday, I read the Torah in shul, struggling to learn it as I never had before. It's not just the legs and the voice that are's the short-term memory and recall, as well.

But all those worries are behind us now, and we drove west to the beauty of the Berkshires, the consolation of Brahms, and the majesty of Queen Jane Glover. She had won my heart two years before at the BCF with The Dream of Gerontius, and had charmed Carol and Andy at the City Opera and at BAM in Agrippina and other Handel specilalties.

The Berkshire School is undergoing further growth and development and will continue to be a source of young, conservative, athletic leaders and masters of the universe with all the right values, all of whom can play killer lacrosse, who will be able to lead our nation headlong into class war, environmental catastrophe, and massive retaliation against the terrorists who, for some reason, just don't like us.

Berkshire School

We remembered to bring everything (this is our 17th season, after all), but forgot the camera, so what photos I have for this page are from others, who will get their due credit.

We stayed once more at the Birch Hill Bed and Breakfast, where Michael and Wendy Advocate welcomed us. Business seems a bit slow for them this year during the week, and we have the place to ourselves until the weekend,when the Hirschtritts and Spinats will come up to join us. So Michael rethought his policy of raising our tariff and gave us a weekly rate, rather than jacking up the prices on the weekend. It's a good thing, because it is a lovely place, beautifully furnished, with a pool, and fabulous breakfasts by Wendy. Next year, we hope to see more singers there.

Sunday night, we drove into Great Barrington and saw The Sunshine State, a new film by John Sayles with a cavalcade of stars. Some might say it was a careful, meticulously crafted interweaving of stories about Florida families, redneck and black, facing crises. But I say it needed a good editing, with 45 minutes snipped out of it. It was fun seeing Edie Falco playing a redneck (and doing it well) rather than Carmela Soprano. Three Farklempt Stars.

Monday morning's rehearsal was glorious. The chorus seems older in median age than usual, although there are still plenty of new young singers. There aren't many places we go in Providence where we don't comment that we are the oldest people there. Here we are still young. This is the fourth time I've sung the Brahms, and I know it well, so I can enjoy watching Jane while she conducts, and can concentrate on making my voice blend, rather than trying to learn notes. For a woman who has made her name doing baroque Italian opera, she certainly has her romantic side, and her spirituality and passion are a wonder to share in. She's funny and raunchy, too.

Jane Glover..Jane Glover

The Brahms Requiem is my resurrection piece. It was the piece I sang the second year I came to the BCF, after the first year that was marked by my first harrowing bout of atrial fibrillation. It was the first piece I sang in Providence after my heart surgery in 1996. And so, every time since, when we come to the part where the chorus cries out in joy, "Freude! Freude! Freude!" I break down into tears and sobbing. And I sing with venom, when we come to "Tod, wo is dein Stachel? Hölle wo is dein sieg?" ("Death, where is thy sting? Hell, where is your victory?" Another year of joy and fulfilment. Thank you, God.

Monday afternoon, we drove into Great Barrington, had lunch at Bizen, which serves some of the best sushi around, some of it very exotic, all of it very expensive, delicious, and worth it.

This region of the Berkshires as as beautiful as ever. It is far enough from the pricey, chic Lenox and Tanglewood so that nothing really has changed over the past twenty years. The roads aren't crowded, there are covered bridges, bears, deer, and scenes of beauty so pristine that they take your breath away.

Berkshire scene..Berkshire scenePhotos by David Lewis

Then we went to the old Mahaiwe Theatre, a former opera and vaudeville house which became a movie theatre, and now has been restored to an opera house once more. It's small and cozy, like those in the small towns of Italy, still needs lots of restoration, but it's a treat. We saw Benjamin Britten's Turn of the Screw, adapted from Henry James. It was composed by Britten for a traveling opera company, so it only needs 13 intruments and a cast of six. It was a creepy horror story, rather like the M. Night Shyamalan movies where a boy is possessed by the devil and a caring woman (like Michelle Pfeiffer) tries to save him. It was scary and spooky. The boy soprano was fabulous. Everyone was fabulous. This was an unexpected treat, even it wasn't air conditioned, and it was 92° in the balcony.

Monday evening, there was a faculty concert before dinner. Some members of the faculty are such wonderful singers and such nice people. I't a joy to watch them grow and mature year by year, and to watch them make their names in the musical world at large.

Frank NemhauserFrank Nemhauser Barbara PetersBarbara Peters

Elizabeth RodgersElizabeth Rodgers John Wesley WrightJohn Wesley Wright

One more rehearsal in the evening, and home to bed. I'm in good voice this year, just as I always seem to be up here. This is what I need to retire and save myself for my art.

Tuesday, the rehearsals were once again sublime. Most people know the piece well, and we don't have to work so hard on notes and can focus on nuance, precision, and feeling.

Tuesday evening, June LeBell, a former announcer at WQXR, interviewed Jane Glover. Jane's warm personality, her commitment to music and excellence, and her good humor showed through the vain attempts of June LeBell to focus the interview on herself and her knowledge: "But enough about me, Jane. What do you think of me?" She played a particularly cruel joke on the engineer who was recording the interview and reading a book at the side of the stage, startling him from his reading to his great embarassment.

Jane & JunePhoto by Nancy Wasserman

Jane told us that she finds it much more exciting to rehearse and do a work with a good amateur chorus than with a group of paid professionals because a group like us brings a fervor and passion to the work that the professionals sometimes lose. She also revealed that this was the first time she had conducted the Brahms Requiem. One might say the same thing about conductors. Last year, Joe Colaneri, a New Jersey Italian who is more Verdian than Verdi, and primarily an opera conductor, conducted the Verdi Requiem for the first time. It was thrilling to share his excitement about the piece. So it is with Jane this year.

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