BIOS (and Where's Aubrey) in an opera

1. June, 2022 - Getting Ready to Leave; 2. July 2, 2022 - Travel to Villa Emma; 3. July 4, 2022 - First Performance; 4. July 6, 2022 - The Villa; 5. July 9, 2022 - Rehearsing; 6. July 12, 2022 - Second Performance; 7. Creativity at Villa Emma; 8. The Opera - The Space; 9. The Opera - Rehearsal; 10. The Opera - The Performance; To Blame it on Sally Website; To Where's Aubrey Website

1. June, 2022 - Getting Ready to Leave

We definitely didn't see this one coming - performing in an original opera at a villa in northern Italy! We'll be rehearsing the first two weeks of July with a culminating performance (world premier!) on July 13th. I'll be playing dobro (not a traditional opera instrument!) and April will be doing live visual art during the performance. And to top it all off, Gary McGraw (the other half of Where's Aubrey) will be joining us on violin. What have we gotten ourselves into? Time will tell...

We'll be living near the city of Biella in northern Italy.

Detail of guitar with a resonator top - not your typical opera instrument!

Heavy duty guitar case - hopefully this thing will keep the dobro safe.

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2. July 2, 2022 - Travel to Villa Emma

OK, I trust this won't be the most interesting post of this blog, but, I don't want to forget the crazy adventure of getting to our home-base for this project.


  • Unfortunately, three of the team members had major flight complications, including crazy routing (Nashville-->LaGuardia-->Montreal-->Iceland, and more-->Milan), lost luggage (one still doesn't have her check-on bag), and delays in leaving the airport due to these complications.

  • Original departure time from the airport to go to our villa in the mountains, 12 pm. Actual departure time, 4 pm.

  • Running out of time to go to the market to buy supplies for meals, like dinner! Fortunately a neighbor set us up with some basic supplies for the first night and morning.

  • Fitting all of our music gear and luggage in one van.

Music gear and luggage.

My seat with music gear and luggage

My knee. But also — way more interesting and important —
Bea, the most amazing van driver ever!

What went right!

  • The direct flight April and I had from JFK to Milan (though a "red-eye") was on time and went smoothly.

  • We got our luggage, and, my dobro arrived safely and undamaged. Woohoo!

  • We really love the team members we just met for the first time - can't wait to collaborate with these folks!

  • Success in renting a variety of music gear for the upcoming performances.

  • Our amazing van driver, Bea, was patient, funny, knowledgeable, and an excellent troubleshooter. She made a long and stressfull afternoon totally entertaining and enjoyable!

  • A great impromptu performance by Shooka (the opera singer and director of this project) for the proprietors of the rice farm where we bought some supplies for our stay.

Stevie, Dani, Shooka, and April at our
"break from the airport" spot while waiting for luggage.

Shooka singing in an Iranian dialect for the proprietors
of the rice farm where we bought some supplies

Shot from the van on the way to the villa.

Arriving at the villa.

Some views from the villa.

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3. July 4, 2022 - First Performance

For our second full day in Italy, Shooka (opera singer, director of this project) and Mikelle (director of the art residency program) setup a performance in the nearby village of Miagliano. Initially, it was going to be a sequence of three stages located along an old winding tree-shaded canal and a fourth in an amphitheater featuring Shooka, movement artists, and Gary (violin) and Sogol (piano).

To make a very long story somewhat shorter, Shooka wokeup sick (food poisoning we think) and throughout the morning the plan seemed to change by the hour, including such extremes as complete cancellation to me doing a solo set on dobro (something I've never done before). To complicate matters, Gary would barely make it on time to the performance if his flight had no delays, and, he had checked-on my Martin guitar (the one I actually know how to play) — given all of the luggage snafus the group had already experienced, we had very little confidence the guitar would make it to the airport on time.

Despite these fairly consequential unknowns, at the last minute, (literally just a couple hours before the performance), we reinvisioned the plan, including a multi-modal art segment where April would guide audience participation gesture drawings based on movement art inspired by dobro and violin.

In short, it actually worked!

Set 1 - Sogol on classical piano, including a delightful composition by Alkan, Le Festin d'Esope. The performance was amazingly virtuosic and playful. Major highlight.

Set 2 - Gesture drawings based on movement artists responding to improvisations on dobro and violin. We were all performing so it may take a while to track down some photos of the actual performance. The movement artists (Stevie and Sogol) were amazing.

Set 3 - Where's Aubrey set.

The audience was appreciative and a pleasure to play for, though the performance was a far cry from the headline that was advertised, Shooka singing soprano opera!

The old canal where we were supposed to perform

April setting up for the gesture drawings -
extra easels for audience participation

Sogol getting ready to perform

Stevie and Sogol, the movement artists

April's gesture drawing -
based on movement inspired by dobro and violin

Audience participation drawings

April admiring a drawing after the performance

Where's Aubrey

The artists after the performance

Mural in the village of Miagliano

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4. July 6, 2022 - The Villa

Below are a video and some photos of the villa where we're staying. The space is setup to host artists in residence.

Unfortunately Covid is upon us. Three of the performers have it (including Shooka), but so far, April, Gary, Sogol, and I are testing negative and feeling great. Fortunately there's plenty of space here and we keep the huge windows and doors open, and, mainly stay outside. Fingers crossed...

This afternoon the four healthy ones will prep for a performance scheduled for this coming Sunday (7/10). And, later this afternoon, Matt (keyboards) will arrive. Time will tell whether we'll actually be able to do the opera on the 13th as scheduled. I'll post an update in a day or two... (For those of you wondering, our party in NH on the 16th will happen. Even if April and I get stranded here, we have a sound guy coming this year and the show will go on, with our without us! And, we'll do everything possible to be there!)

~3 minute video that gives a sense of the villa and surroundings

Some shots outside the villa:

Some interior spaces:

Some views:

The insane clock tower that announces the time two times every hour,
separated by about two minutes,
neither actually on the hour!

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5. July 9, 2022 - Rehearsing

The last few days we've finally had some time to collaborate and rehearse — not the opera yet (Shooka is still recovering, but, feeling much better!), but in preparation for our performance on Sunday.

Matt (keyboards), April (visual art), Sogol (keyboards, movement), Gary (violin, mandolin), and I (guitar, dobro) are figuring out ways to weave our modes of art together in order to create interactively rather than just perform what we already know how to do.

The most interesting sessions have been round robins of improvisation during which we "pass the torch" — someone begins by improvising for anywhere from a few seconds to about a minute, then chooses the next voice by looking at one of the other artists, and so on. Ideally, each artist responds to the previous. Super-fun and very challenging! A few pictures and video clips below might give a sense of this exploration.

What a gift to be surrouned by such creative and talented people willing to give weeks of their lives to explore art — into the unknown...

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6. July 12, 2022 - Second Performance

On Sunday, July 10th, five of us performed for an audience of about fifty people in the courtyard of the priest in a small village about ten minutes up the river valley from Rialmoso. Pictures and compilation video below. Super-fun collaboration!

The text we prepared to describe our performance:

The Italian translation:

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7. Creativity at Villa Emma

At the risk of repeating myself, what a treat to be surrounded by such creative people! These clips may give a sense for what it was like.

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8. The Opera - The Space

On Friday, July 8th, April, Gary, and I travelled to Casa Regis in the village of Mosso to check out the performance space for the opera on the 13th. The building was pretty incredible — a Renaissance era structure that had been used in the past as a doctor's residence (and space for recovering patients?) as well as a convent. Now it's a center for the arts.

It's a challenge to capture in picture or video, and, it was a challenge to imagine how we would setup for the performance since there was no one single space big enought to accommodate the artists and the audience. More improvisation required!

This link will take you to the Casa Regis page with more images of the space.

Gary and April discussing the space with Mikelle, the director of the Casa Regis Center for Culture and Contemporary Art

The hallway at Casa Regis where much of the dancing took place

One of April's pieces in a doorway at Casa Regis

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9. The Opera - Rehearsal

On the morning of Sunday, July 10th, we finally had a chance to walk through the story, the score, and the dynamic arc of the opera that we would perform on the 13th. Then we rehearsed on Monday the 11th at Villa Emma and Tuesday the 12th at Casa Regis, the performance space.

It was quite a challenge to pull this all together in a few days, especially for me since I don't read music quickly! (Matt and Gary anchored the music section!) Fortunately, much of the score was a "graphic score" with mood and dynamics indicated by graphics rather than traditional music notation. Plenty of images with examples below - the score itself is a work of art!

Shooka walking us through the score on the morning of the 10th

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10. The Opera - The Performance

It was really incredible to have the performance come together on such a tight schedule. The painting, movement artists, and live audience certainly brought a lot of energy to the musicians. Spettacolare!

We don't yet have much footage from the performance, though there was a videographer and there are plans to produce an edited documentary about the event. I'll add a link when it becomes available!

In the meantime, below are some pics and a video clip from the day of the performance.

The Billing

Paintings made by the movement artists during the performance
(this photo and the next three taken by Matt Savage - thanks Matt!)

Painting made by April and the movement artists during the performance

Matt and Sogol after the performance

Shooka after the performance

Afterwards, we had dinner at a restaurant in a religious sanctuary in the mountains watching the full moon rise over the river valley. We befriended the staff at the establishment and played music and drank wine well past midnight. Sometimes, life really is good.

The "Sanctuary"

Watching the moonrise with some German tourists we met

Doesn't get much better than this...

Some links to blog posts by Gary McGraw:

Making music near Biella

Creating a new art form

Trip to Rosazza

Do not abandon art in Italy

Art and creativity bloom at Villa Emma

How many paradises?

Performing in Campiglia Cervo

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To Blame it on Sally Website