When I visited Ontario last week to review the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, I tweeted that I was in town. Seconds later I was reading a direct message from Sandra Mogensen, a Stratford-based pianist and opera coach:
Very exciting in the past week or so–working on “The Letter” w/Rog after reading so much about it in “About Last Night.” (Mittfuls o’ notes!)
It took a moment for the coin to drop, but then I laughed out loud: “Rog” is Roger Honeywell, the tenor who’s creating the role of Geoff Hammond, the faithless lover who gets shot in The Letter. (“Mittfuls o’ notes” refers to the fact that the piano-vocal score of the opera, like most two-handed reductions of a piece of music originally written for full orchestra, is hard to play.)
I’d never met Roger and had no idea that he lived in Stratford. Now, thanks to Twitter, I was in touch with his coach, and a day later I was sitting in the living room of his house, which was a two-minute drive from the hotel where Mrs. T and I were staying. Not at all surprisingly, he turned out to be a great guy, forthright and funny, and the two of us talked shop for a couple of hours while his delightful wife fed us homemade chocolate candy. (The three of us also caught a bat that flew into the house midway through my visit. “I’ll help–I’m a full-service librettist,” I obligingly informed my hostess.) I learned in the course of the conversation that Roger had been a professional actor before he took up opera singing, a credential that I expect will serve him very well when he gets up on stage with Patricia Racette, the star of The Letter and one of the finest singing actresses I know.
I don’t believe in omens, but if I did, I’m sure I would have concluded on the spot that meeting Roger in so serendipitous a manner filled the bill. Truth to tell, though, the creation of The Letter has felt like one long string of omenesque occurrences. Hardly anything has gone wrong since the Santa Fe Opera commissioned Paul Moravec and me to turn Somerset Maugham’s play into an opera, and now that the first performance is six short weeks away, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to believe that things are continuing to go so smoothly. Yesterday the company e-mailed me the proofs of the ten-page section of the 2009-10 program booklet that will be devoted to The Letter, and I was thrilled–stunned, really–by how beautifully it was designed. I keep expecting something terrible to happen as the premiere draws near, theater being what it is, but so far, everything is going fabulously, improbably well.
As for Sandra, she popped by my hotel the next morning to present me with her latest CD, a collection of solo pieces and song transcriptions by Edvard Grieg. I haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet, but I’ll be surprised if it’s anything other than gorgeous. These days everyone connected with The Letter seems to be on a lucky streak. May it last!