From the Director’s Desk: The Casting Puzzle
A blog series offering perspectives from various members of On Site Opera’s leadership team
“The Casting Puzzle”
by Eric Einhorn, General & Artistic Director
Creating a site-specific opera production truly does take a village! There are dozens of people involved in innumerable tasks designed to produce a thrilling operatic event, many of whom exist behind the scenes. If I had to deputize operatic village ambassadors – those people with whom audiences have the most direct connection – they would be the singers. The incredible singing artists we hire for each of our productions fits into the glorious puzzle that is producing opera. What most people don’t realize, however, is that the opera industry is comprised of a complex series of interlocking puzzles…and the pieces don’t always fit together.
I have had the pleasure of collaborating with our music director Geoff McDonald in building amazing casts for our productions. We spend weeks and months carefully assembling the perfect combination of artists to bring our productions to life. When I, or any producer, contract an artist to perform in a show, the presumption is that the artist is now locked into participating in the show. Most of the time, this remains the case from contracting through closing night. Often, though, pieces of the greater opera puzzle create seemingly-irreconcilable conflicts. These conflicts can arise from performer health or personal issues, unforeseen scheduling errors, or better paying opportunities (an accepted part of the freelance nature of opera singers). I have been confronted with many of these conflicts more than once…twice within the last two weeks alone! Often, my colleagues at other companies and I scramble to replace singers who have withdrawn one month to one hour before the performance. Luckily, this complexity is a known-quantity in the opera industry, and many artists have translated an ability to jump in quickly into a production-saving enterprise.
For all of the potential stress, though, unexpected cast changes often lead to incredible performances! There are, of course, the stories of young Leonard Bernstein and Shirley MacLaine who jumped into performances with little or no rehearsal…and the rest is history. In more recent history, On Site’s production of Milhaud’s Guilty Mother was impacted by unexpected cast changes. Within six weeks of the start of rehearsal, three artists had to withdraw due to personal or health reasons. Finding three new artists to perform in a rare (and difficult!) 20th-century French opera gave me a few more gray hairs in the weeks leading up to the first rehearsal. Thanks to several artist puzzles that fit together with On Site’s puzzle, we were able to welcome Amy Owens, Marcus DeLoach, and Adam Cannedy to the On Site family. Critics and audiences, while mixed about Milhaud’s work, were unanimous in their love of these artists.
So the next time you join us for a site-specific production, I invite you to consider each member of the cast and crew in the production. Each of them represents their own complex operatic puzzle that, at least for that performance, has a piece that fits into our own fantastic puzzle.