Q & A: Timothy Myers About His Debut at Minnesota Opera and the World-Premiere of ‘The Fix’By Jennifer Pyron
World-renowned conductor Timothy Myers is coming off his debut with the Minnesota Opera this past Saturday night for the world premiere of “The Fix,” a new work composed by Joel Puckett with libretto by Eric Simonson.
This is just the latest world premiere for the maestro, who has given operas birth with such companies as the Washington National Opera, the Houston Grand Opera, Fort Worth, and Opera Africa, among others.
Myers recently took time to speak with OperaWire about the experience of taking on a world premiere and why he is excited about his collaboration with the Minnesota Opera.
OperaWire: What excites you most about interpreting “The Fix” during its world premiere run?
Timothy Myers: For me, ‘The Fix” does what a great piece of art does: it provides a lens, a variety of lenses, through which you can view humanity. While on the outside it is an opera about baseball, it’s really an opera about people. And it’s an opera about the disadvantage, classism, justice or injustice. In this, baseball is a vehicle that lays open who we are as people and as humanity.
The great things about it and the flaws about it. The devastating and inspiring aspects. It really is an exploration of emotions and ideas. Baseball fan or not, this story is relatable to anyone. This is the telling of a human story.
OW: What can listeners expect to hear and feel in direct regards to the music? And what musically has resonated most with you?
TM: The physical production, the scenery and the costumes, has been created by an incredible design team that has staged a visual feast. What is most terrific is that it all hinges on the music that Puckett has created and there are fascinating parts in the score that translate the story over the course of several years.
He ingeniously uses jazz idioms in certain scenes and as the story’s timeline progresses, so do the idioms. In earlier scenes the music features popular jazz at that time in Chicago, where as in later scenes what is considered popular and who was popular, shifts. One can track the passage of time musically and stylistically through what Puckett has written.
OW: So is this considered a jazz opera, which is becoming increasingly common these days?
TM: This is not a jazz based opera. Puckett has a really broad base of influence that has amalgamated into a really unique voice, which is very exciting for a composer that is writing his first opera. To be so developed in his craft and secure in his own voice – to articulate all of this as strongly as he does. And so, one will hear a lot of music to which one can immediately relate.
For example, Americana style and Jazz-based style of lush orchestration: there are parts that just lift off to the Heavens. It really is incredible. Even during the seedy scenes that portray deals-going-down at the back room of a club, there is sort of this incredibly rhythmic vibe oriented in a jazz structure. The way that Puckett blends all of the musical voices together to work as one voice is quite remarkable.
OW: While working so directly on this production, especially the performers, can you explain what you have discovered along the way? What has the sense of community behind the scenes been like?
TM: It’s a terrific cast that Minnesota Opera put together and it has become a strong team because we have all been working on this for a long time.
Puckett and Simonson first met about this project five years ago. The first workshop was approximately 18 months ago which eventually developed into an orchestral workshop and eventually the production period.
While we did not have all of the final cast at the beginnings of these workshops, we had a lot of it. For example, Joshua Dennis, who sings “Shoeless” Joe Jackson has been involved since the beginning and this is very helpful because the piece is actually being developed specifically for specific artists.
OW: What was the relationship that Puckett had with the artists?
TM: Puckett was extraordinarily open to input from the artists. And through all of these things, you promote a team environment that then translates into the cast, the design team and all of the staff.
For example, Kelly Markgraf, who sings Ring Lardner has a couple of substantial arias that were custom fit to him. Puckett had written arias, that through the process of these workshops he and Markgraf could put their heads together and determine what worked best by tweaking minor things.
There is an incredible sense of community built through this piece and credit first and foremost goes towards Minnesota Opera for putting together such a great group, which isn’t an easy thing to do. And I know this myself, having been in artistic leadership positions: you can put together a group that looks good on paper and you think will work great together, but until it actually happens there’s a part of me that always asks, is the chemistry going to be there? Because sometimes it doesn’t happen.
OW: Can you elaborate a bit on Minnesota Opera’s ability to bring together this kind of synergy?
TM: It is amazing and it is inspiring. I am currently on the early side of my career and to be involved with a company who is really moving the needle is profound.
There is a specific process, for which they develop these pieces which is very involved. And very much guided in the best way. [Retiring Artistic Director Dale Johnson] has this incredible ability to guide and suggest and ask the hard questions when the hard questions need to be asked. But he also allows the creators to do their work, without feeling like he is breathing down their backs. And this is huge. Being part of such an incredibly inspiring team at Minnesota Opera is an incredible honor.