Classic arts powerhouse Hidden Valley Music Seminars – long standing but little known – starts to celebrate a half century with La Boheme.
Thursday, August 30, 2012
Despite its long existence in a pastoral field off Carmel Valley Road, backdropped by the Santa Lucia foothills and surrounded by white oak trees, music training and performance center Hidden Valley Music Seminars, for many local residents, has been precisely that: hidden.
The 10-acre campus comprises 20 double-occupancy dorm rooms, a 300-seat theater, commercial kitchen, dining room, offices, dance studio, practice gazebos, gardens, decks and lounges. It’s all to accommodate a 35-year stream of top-level music professionals and the promising young musicians from around the world that they train in as many as 12 yearly master classes. The master teachers have included principal musicians from the Cleveland Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic, who perform in a summer concert series, the Masters’ Festival, as part of their residency.
Executive Director Peter Meckel founded Hidden Valley on May 2, 1963. It resided from 1963-66 in the Angeles National Forest, ‘67-’71 at Robert Louis Stevenson School and York School, and since 1972 in Carmel Valley. When he first saw the location of Hidden Valley’s current home, Meckel says he stood looking down into the field and said, “This is where Hidden Valley must be.”
Hidden Valley has since seen a prestigious pedigree of talent that’s passed through, including Rhodes scholars. Despite that, many still ask, “What is Hidden Valley?”
“For 50 years I’ve been trying tell people who we are and what we do,” Meckel says. “We’ve tried very hard to integrate into our local community. It’s highly respected and loved in the music world [but] it’s hard to be a prophet in your own town.”
That effort may have gotten easier since last summer when Hidden Valley, as well as Henry Miller Memorial Library, hosted the two-week inaugural Philip Glass Days and Nights Festival, which lifted the facility into a higher public profile. But this year, Days and Nights opted to go with a smaller incarnation elsewhere (see cover story, p. 18).
“The things Philip has done have been very important and made explorations in the way music is composed,” Meckel says. “We wish [the festival] well.”
That left Meckel and his crew of 15 regular staff with a two-week vacuum to fill. They did. This Monday, they are staging a two-week full production of Giacomo Puccini’s classic opera La Boheme to kick off their year-long 50th birthday celebrations.
“We chose [La Boheme] because it’s such an important work for people who haven’t been exposed, necessarily, to opera,” Meckel says. “It’s a wonderfully accessible piece, very melodic, great story people will recognize. It has fun, comedy, drama, heart-wrenching pathos.”
Based on a novel by Henri Murger, La Boheme is a quintessential Italian opera that premiered in 1896, its music composed by the Steven Spielberg of opera, maestro Giacomo Puccini. It’s an emotion-laden story about young bohemians living in desperate material poverty but vigorous creative and love lives in the Latin Quarter of 1840s Paris. (The storyline was borrowed in Jonathan Larson’s Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway musical Rent and in Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 musical film Moulin Rouge!)
Hidden Valley’s two-hour production is translated to English, and directed and designed by Hidden Valley Opera Ensemble founding member Robert Darling, conducted by the Glimmerglass Opera music director emeritus and Grammy-nominated Stewart Robertson, lit by David Moodey from the Metropolitan Opera (he did their recent monumental Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner, and the Days and Nights Festival), and is sung by accomplished young opera singers from a pool of potentially hundreds. For the nine-piece orchestra and handful of singers, there is no electronic amplification.
“The idea of intimacy is terribly important,” Robertson says. “The audience will be up close. The orchestra will sound quite rich and full – an experience [audiences] might not get with a bigger cast, orchestra or set, in a 2,000-3,000-seat house where they’re removed from the drama.”
The redwood theater building, originally built in 1965 as a church theater (though many mistakenly think it was, at one time, a barn) is 60 feet by 60 feet in diameter, with a 40-foot ceiling suspended by concrete buttresses and walls that support the roof from the outside. The floor is suspended to deter dancers’ shin splints.
“It allows big sound to be contained and, instead of being overpowering, it’s just powerful,” Meckel says. “It’s enough cubic feet to engage it. The warmth of the wood and the height of roof and suspended floor combine to make it a really wonderful space acoustically. It’s so simple.”
La Boheme is just the opening salvo in the year-long 50th commemoration. Also in the works are commissions of new music by jazz composer Charles Loos and local saxophone master George Young, and benefit concerts by major classical music artists. They’ve made provisions for Meckel’s departure in several years. This year they made the final payment, donated by an anonymous benefactor, to purchase the property upon which they’ve resided since 1972 – an apt correlation to their bigger mission: preparing for a rewarding, healthy future for the arts.
LA BOHEME is performed 7pm Monday, 2:30pm Wednesday and 8pm Friday and Saturday, through Sept. 15, at Hidden Valley Music Seminars, 88 W. Carmel Valley Road, Carmel Valley. $55/adult; $35/under 18. 659-3115, www.HiddenValleyMusic.org