West Edge Opera is proud to feature an array of talented singers from the Bay Area well as from all over the world. For a company the size of West Edge, presenting these visiting artists is only possible thanks to the generosity and hospitality of volunteers willing to open their homes to performers traveling from out of town. With the meteoric costs of lodging in the Bay Area, arts patrons willing to host an artist have a direct impact on West Edge’s ability to put on world class productions, and in the process, become an integral part of that artist’s experience with the company, sometimes forging relationships that last long after the applause dies down.
As a board member of American Bach Soloists, Jim Meehan was used to hosting the occasional artist for the few days leading up to a concert. With the compressed rehearsal schedule of most programs, five or six days was all that was generally needed. But when he agreed to host tenor Derek Chester making his West Edge debut as Macheath in The Threepenny Opera, he had to do the math. With the rehearsal period, and the three weeks of performances, this was going to be a seven week stay! No small commitment! Fortunately, Jim wasn’t going into this blind. Derek had stayed with him for a few days in 2018 while performing with American Bach Soloists. He knew they could get along fine for five days, how hard could another forty-four be?
Jim’s apartment high above Rincon Hill was an idea retreat for Derek, which isn’t always the case for a singer on the road. “It’s a crapshoot sometimes. You don’t know what they expect. Sometimes after a long day of rehearsal you just want to turn your brain off. Jim was able to give me the personal space that I needed when I needed it, but was also very sociable and personable when we were both feeling energized.” They bonded over their shared love of Bach and early music, sometimes playing through scores on Jim’s piano, ordering in Indian food, and discussing a life in music over cocktails. Derek fondly remembers The Brandenburg, a cherry/chocolate variant on a Manhattan named for Bach’s famed Concertos.
Other than the occasional late night saag paneer, Jim’s complex was a good fit for Derek’s well known commitment to fitness. With 24 hour access to the gym and swimming pool, his workout regiment remained uninterrupted, and despite his vegetarian tendencies, Jim kept the fridge stocked with plenty of lean steaks. Derek found himself moved by Jim’s hospitality and generosity, always feeling welcomed and cared for. This was no accident. “It’s important to make them feel comfortable”, Jim says. “These people are amazing, the music they’re able to create… the least I can do is make them comfortable when they’re here”. Derek and Jim are still pals and look forward to catching up when Derek’s in town for West Edge’s production of Eliogabolo, likely over Manhattans and steaks. “I’m keto now”, admits Jim, perhaps inspired by Derek’s stay. “Although I’m still not a bodybuilder. Or a tenor.”
It was a lonely time for West Edge board president Judy Workman. Her husband had recently died, leaving her alone in her home in the Berkeley hills. Her adult children were all out of state. Her next door neighbor had just left for the summer.
It was also a lonely time for performer Tina Mitchell. She was living in NYC while her family was thousands of miles away in her home country of Australia. Now she found herself wandering the Berkeley Hills looking for the house she’d be staying at while playing the title role in Mata Hari. Google maps hadn’t prepared her for how steep this hill was, and she realized that getting to town was not going to be easy as she’d hoped. She had thought her ride had been joking when he warned her to watch out for deer, wild turkeys, and mountain lions, but within five minutes of being dropped off a turkey walked right in front of her, followed almost immediately by a deer. She held her breath, watching for a mountain lion…
Over the weeks that followed, the two women formed a close friendship. Tina was staying in the neighbor’s vacant home, and while the walk downhill to the nearest store would feature panoramic views of the bay, the near vertical hike back up would likely wipe her out. Instead, she would often knock on Judy’s door for eggs or sugar or whatever other cooking supplies she needed. Judy took to driving Tina to rehearsals or to help with other errands, and the two women started having long conversations about their lives into the night, supporting each other through their respective challenges. “After my husband died, having another woman around who I could talk with was just what I needed” Judy confided. Tina agrees. “It’s hard to be away from family during tough times. Judy was there right in the thick of it. She kinda saved me.”
Two years later, the friendship has continued unabated. Tina is now a regular guest at Judy’s home whenever she visits the Bay Area and they already have theater and opera dates planned for Judy’s New York visit this spring. With her family so far away, Tina says, “She’s really become a sort of surrogate mother”.
Anyone who has come to a West Edge performance has heard General Director Mark Streshinsky make reference to “the West Edge Family”. This is not empty rhetoric. Companies rely on a network of performers, directors, volunteers, and audience members to make opera happen. The connections and relationships made extend well outside whatever space we happen to be performing in and follow us throughout our lives. If you’re reading this, you’re part of that family in some way. We’re glad you’re here. We hope you feel at home.