Interview with Robert Wood, Photo-Op Conductor

Today we bring you an interview with Photo-Op’s conductor, Robert Wood.  Robert is also UrbanArias’ Executive and artistic director.  He shares his particular take on Photo-Op, as well as a sneak-peak for what’s to come…

From your perspective, what is Photo-Op about?

I think Photo-Op is a commentary on modern presidential campaigning. It’s about how running for president can totally alter who you are – your persona, your judgment, your moral compass.

What are the particular challenges of this piece, musically?

Photo-Op is very complex, although it may not sound that way on a first hearing. Most of the challenges are rhythmical – Conrad Cummings loves syncopation and loves presenting material multiple times with slight rhythmical alterations. It’s very hard to memorize!

What made you decide to pick this particular piece for Urban Arias?

I really like Conrad’s music, and when he showed me Photo-Op in 2010, I thought, “we need to do that in 2012, it would be perfect in an election year. The libretto is only two pages long, and sounds like a Da-Da version of stump speeches – it’s funny and also a little sad that so little has changed in American politics since it was written in 1989.

How does working with a small ensemble of singers and instrumentalists differ from working on larger works?

In small works, you need to cast singers and engage players very carefully. When there are only two singers and four players involved, one weak link, or unenthusiastic performer, can pull the whole show down. In a larger piece, if someone in a small role or a player without a lot of solos isn’t great, the audience won’t notice as much because that person is not a fifth of the whole opera.

What do you think Urban Arias brings to the DC/VA arts scene?

No one else is doing what UrbanArias does: producing only short operas that were written within the last 40 years and casting them with nationally-known artists. I think we bring very high-quality opera to the area, which embraces the avant-garde in other artistic media, and which is turning out to embrace us as well. I also think we’re an excellent addition to the rich complement of opera that exists in the DC area already – Washington National Opera, Washington Concert Opera, Opera Lafayette, the In Series, to name a few – each of us brings a specific take, or a specific kind of repertory to the area, and I think audiences enjoy that.

What do you hope the audience takes away from their experience?

I hope that opera lovers find that they enjoy new work and that they hear and appreciate singers they may not already know; and I hope that newcomers to the art form leave the theater thinking that opera is much more approachable and interesting than they may have thought it was.

What can we expect to see from UrbanArias in the future?

More short new operas! We’re producing the world premiere of Gergory Spears’ Paul’s Case next April; it’s based on a very compelling and intense story by Willa Cather. We’re also going to continue giving programs of “opera shorts” and “opera improv” – we will be at Strathmore Mansion with our program “Blind Dates,” which was such a hit at IOTA Club and Cafe, on March 22 next year.

Photo-Op opens on Saturday, September 8th at Artisphere in Arlington.  Performances continue on Sept. 9th, 14th, and 15th.  Tickets are $22, or $17 for students and seniors.  You may purchase them on the Artisphere ticketing website.

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