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Memories of a really classy puppet show

I am finally coming back down to Earth after a flurry of wonderful activities over the last three weeks, including celebrating my 30th wedding anniversary in Maui, helping to launch (and also singing in) the first annual Arizona Bach Festival, and then appearing with fellow Phoenix Chorale singer Erik Gustafson in a “puppet opera” with The Phoenix Symphony. I have experienced an emotional array including bliss, passion, ecstasy, delight, euphoria, and elation–not necessarily in that order!

The puppetry provided by Basil Twist and his troupe for “Master Peter’s Puppet Show” was a combination of “stick puppets” (for the puppet show within a puppet show) and life-sized (or even larger) puppets, with the large ones operated by one or more puppeteers dressed in black and wearing hoods, influenced by the Bunraku-style puppetry of Japan. In this production, the symphony and singers were on the stage, just in front of the elevated puppet theater, with the singers placed on the side of the stage nearest the puppets whose voices they were supplying. In my case, my “alter ego,” Don Quixote, came off the puppet stage and stood by me for a moment on his way down to the front of the stage for the final moments of the production, making an obvious connection for the audience between the puppet and his voice (me).

I had a bunch of “fans” out in Symphony Hall on Saturday–specifically, my entire family–including my brother and parents (who flew in from California), my grown children (Ryan and Erika), and my wife Jody, who had just driven back from seminary classes in California an hour before the performance. They’re all musicians, from amateur to professional, and so I was very happy to have all of them there for the performance. To add to the evening’s fun, we all rode the Valley METRO light rail to and from Symphony Hall, sharing the ride home with a bunch of supercross race fans from an event at Chase Field.

This project included both hard work (rapid, exclamatory, and dramatic vocal lines in Spanish) and a LOT of fun, especially spending time with Erik G and Yulia van Doren, my fellow singers, and conductor Michael Christie, whose wonderful manner in both rehearsals and performances is genuine, respectful, artistic and yet practical, and who is also very nice to have lunch or drinks with. Erik and I have sung together often, with his Evangelist portrayals complementing my singing of the words of Jesus in Bach’s passions, as soloists in Handel’s Messiah, and at High Holy Days at a Jewish temple.

The concerts were part of the second annual Target World Music Festival, and the first half included an interesting combination of works with a Latin-American theme, including some extended alternation of orchestral textures with Andean folk music played by Tahuantinsuyo, a group that utilizes authentic Andean instruments of various sizes. They had the audience clapping enthusiastically in time with their final piece of the first half as they danced through the audience.

In closing, I’d like to thank the dedicated staff (both administrative and musical) of The Phoenix Symphony–truly a class act–for making this an excellent experience, but also thank the representatives of the Phoenix Chorale who attended rehearsals and performances, and who were very supportive of “their singers.”

With lots of love,
David Topping, Bass-Baritone (aka “Don Quixote” or “DQ” for short)

click here for more pictures from Saturday Night’s performance