The role of Orpheus is played Clarinetist Wesley Christensen rather than sung. We caught up with him to talk about how he is balancing playing the clarinet with the demands of staging a lead role in the opera.
What is the typical role of a clarinetist in an opera?
Typically a clarinetist's role in an opera is to play in the pit orchestra. However, in this opera the clarinetist is the lead character, which requires being on stage, acting, dancing, and performing the music from memory.
At times I have found it difficult finding a way to interact with the characters and physical surroundings on stage while at the same time maintaining focus on the music. Acting while playing can be a challenge, because you can not speak or communicate through hand gestures or facial expressions. Running while playing is very difficult, I've tried it, and I wouldn't recommend it.
While demanding, I have also found this to be a very rewarding experience. This role pushes the boundaries of the clarinet and what is possible for an instrumentalist. I've learned to not just play the notes but to sing them and in that way I feel that the music that I'm playing is my voice flowing through the clarinet. This opera offers a new way for an instrumentalist to interact with the audience. I'm not just playing a concerto on stage standing in one spot, I'm moving around, interacting with others, and conveying a story.
How did you get started playing the Clarinet?
When I was 10 years old I ventured into the attic and found a funny looking black box. I opened it and found something that had strange metal keys. It turned out to be my mom's clarinet that she used in high school. I started taking lesson at school and immediately fell in love with it. I've been playing ever since.
What do you do when you are not playing Orpheus?
I live in Waterbury, VT. I am a freelance clarinetist in the area and I am on the faculty of the Monteverdi Music School in Montpelier, VT.