When Dawn Wolski left her South Hill home en route to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture on Saturday afternoon, it appeared that life was imitating art. The sky was hazy and smoky. The air quality was hazardous.
However, the general and artistic director of Inland Northwest Opera braved the elements and made the trek to help stage an operatic performance in connection with the Pompeii exhibit, which closed Sunday.
Pompeii was an ancient Italian city that was buried under volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. The irony for Wolski is that it was safer viewing the Pompeii artifacts than strolling outside the museum.
Wolski was fine, but she had to make sure that her singer, Brandon Michael, wouldn’t be outdoors for long due to potential vocal issues.
“This kind of smoke swells your vocal cords, and it burns your throat,” Wolski said. Michael was fine, and he nailed his rendition of “Ombra di nube” (youtube.com/watch?v=lZU4n84Is8w). Under Gov. Jay Inslee’s mandate, performances in front of crowds are prohibited due to the novel coronavirus.
The show went on without an audience. The performance never would have happened without a pair of married board members, Frank Velazquez, who is on the MAC board, and Mary Velazquez, who is set to join the INO board. The couple had a conversation during the summer about adding music as part of the “Pompeii” exhibit.
Wolski and MAC executive director Wes Jessup loved the idea and connected last week to try to assemble a vocal tip of the cap to the storied city. “This is about keeping the village together and keeping the arts alive,” Wolski said. “Fortunately, we were able to put all of this together quickly.”
Pulling off the after-hours venture was a considerable feat. Strict social distancing was in play. Every person was at least 15 feet from each other. Masks were worn by everyone, including Michael. When the Hayden-based tenor rehearsed, he was sporting a face cover.
“Singing with a mask is the worst,” Michael said. “It made it very difficult trying to rehearse since the mask stops air from coming in and going out. In order to make that kind of sound, you have to be taking in a certain quantity of air, and a certain quantity must exit.
“But singing inside the MAC was fun. It’s the first indoor performance I’ve had since March. I’m grateful since a lot of singers aren’t singing at all right now.”
Michael and Spokane-based pianist Archie Chen had to complete the piece quickly due to the situation. The tandem, which had never met, needed just three takes to deliver a satisfying version of “Ombra di nube.”
Director/photographer Don Hamilton of Hamilton Studio and his team, editor Hannah Sander and audio engineer Nick Palmieri, captured the performance and delivered the finished product by the next day.
“I was happy the collaboration worked out,” Jessup said. “I thought the aria was really fitting the spirit of what we were doing with Pompeii. It’s been a strange and tough year for the museum.”
The “Pompeii” exhibit opened in February but was shuttered in mid-March due to the pandemic. The MAC opened in late August with a 25% capacity and was sold out nearly every day it was open, Jessup said.
“It was great to open the doors, and people responded,” Jessup said. “We had over 5,300 visitors (since reopening). There was obviously a pent-up desire to get back into the museum.”
It’s not going to be easy for Jessup to say goodbye to the “Pompeii” exhibit. “We have to break it down now, and it’s tough since I loved it,” Jessup said. “I particularly loved the two sculptures, Diana the Huntress, the Goddess of Hunting, and Togatus, the man in the toga holding the papyrus.”
Next up for the MAC is a contemporary exhibit, “Pop Power From Warhol to Koons: Masterworks From the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation,” which commences Oct. 3, and a World War II art exhibit, “American Inheritance: Unpacking World War II,” slated to start Oct. 10.
Expect more opera at the MAC. “Dawn and I were emailing each other this morning,” Jessup said.
“We were asking each other when is the next collaboration. I would love to do another soon. The acoustics were way better than I thought they would be. It’ll be fun to do it again.”
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