Excellent music-making, committed and visionary artistic direction, wonderful colleagues, and reconnecting with the Midwest are only some of the reasons I'm so glad I spent last summer at the unforgettable Des Moines Metro Opera. Here are some top takeaways from my 2022 summer residency conducting Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at DMMO:
1. Re-discover the charm of small towns
As you may know, I am a walker and a scooter-er, not a driver. But going by foot or analog wheel gives me a chance to explore where I am inch by inch, at a human pace, soaking in my temporary home-away-from-home one step at a time. During my two months in Indianola, I discovered the local diner which served meatloaf on a Sunday (always the mark of an honest Midwest diner). I sampled the delicious ice-cream from a popular road-side mom and pop joint. I watched local fireworks and got properly excited about it. I got my hair cut at a local salon, and bought a piece of jewelry from the quiet glassmaker boutique on the square. Conversations with the shopkeepers were simple and honest, as they often are in these parts. There are no crowds, no heavy trucks, no low-flying planes, no competing conversations. Like lemon sorbet for the senses, small-town rhythm cleans your sensorial palette. You can follow one thread of life at a time, to multiple petits plaisirs.
2. Get back in touch with nature
The quiet ease of a promenade by dusk, passing sweet houses on tree-lined streets and smelling cut grass, barbecues, and evening dew is good for the soul. I watched great storms gather and unleash their pent-up water, winds, and ice from an old porch.
One evening, I discovered a beautiful local park which would become such an important renewing resource for me. It had everything you would want in an oasis and more - assorted flowerbeds, kindly trees, a shady gazebo, a sparkling fountain - even a book-borrowing nook! And the fireflies - they never ceased to amaze me. I savored strands of A Midsummer Night's Dream weaving through my mind as the sun set and those fireflies began their evening dance. A kind of paradise in the middle of Iowa.
3. Take the time to have talks
During our 2-month residency we all had to take great precautions to keep ourselves as healthy and COVID-free as possible. Of course it could not be entirely avoided, and the consequences were severe, including cancelled shows. Nevertheless, we wanted to come together, congregate in small groups to reconnect, meet counterparts from a parallel production, reminisce about pre-COVID times together. And so we did - with a cocktail in hand, over a home-cooked meal, around an outdoor picnic table, on an ice-cream run. They were great moments of shared humanity, which needed time to blossom.
And the thing about sharing your time with others is that you get more in return: more energy, more thoughts, more laughs, more connections. You also get less: less solitude, less loneliness, less fear. It's a great win-lose situation for everyone!
4. Enjoy your fellow artists' fire
I can't tell you how many times I smiled, sputtered, and guffawed while watching our brilliant cast bring Britten's Shakespearian masterpiece to life. The energy, passion, and boldness of these fine artists was a pure pleasure to witness every day. Our ever-elegant director, Chas Rader-Schieber and his assistant Isaac Lerner were a delight to work with, and my supportive dream team of William Hobbs and Elden Little was top flight. Every single person on this show brought their A game, and every single person on stage, in the pit, and behind the scenes was essential in making this beautiful show. To me, that's a miracle and something to be honored.
So thank you, Des Moines Metro Opera, for an epic musical summer of 2022, and for so many important lessons learned. Bravi tutti to everyone making such a gem shine. Special kudos to the truly incredible duo of Michael Egel and David Neely who, in my opinion, make this festival home to some of the most honest and compelling music-making in North America.