World-renowned opera singers drew rave reviews, and the piano that accompanied them in open-air performances over the weekend along the Colorado River came off Monday unscathed but for a single scratch.
Late Monday afternoon the 560-pound ebony grand piano was carried back upriver in a covered jet boat and loaded into a small truck, bringing to an end the musical phase of an unusual "whitewater opera expedition" in Canyonlands National Park.The expedition, the first of its kind in Canyonlands, was to end Thursday night. Tag-A-Long co-owners Bob Jones and Paul Kiskanen were already being prodded to stage another opera next year.
David McDade, accompanist and musical assistant with the Portland Opera, said that the piano rivaled the singers in the beauty of its performance onshore and off - despite the scratch and a missing string.
The $18,800 Steinway Model-M was provided through Daynes Music Co. in Salt Lake City for an opera concert in a canyon alcove Saturday and light musical presentation Sunday on rafts as part of Steinway's 135th anniversary celebration.
The expedition also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the river outfitting firm in charge of the venture, Tag-A-Long Expeditions in Moab. In addition, it was also a fund-raiser for the Utah Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Portland Opera and the Opera of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
"I thought the concerts went better than anyone might have thought, considering the circumstances," said McDade, Portland Opera accompanist and musical assistant.
"I really thought it was great, and I especially want to commend the Steinway person for the wonderful job he did. The piano
retty much stayed in tune, which is remarkable since they carried it out in the middle of nowhere, in the heat of day and cold of night - all conditions that make it hard for a piano to stay in tune," McDade said.
Kerwin Ipsen, traffic manager at Daynes Music, came along to tend to the piano, constantly wiping off dust, keeping it covered, and even sleeping beside it in the jet boat.
He said he was able to find only a small nick in the hood from the two days of use. McDade said the only problem he encountered with it was a stuck damper, because of sand.
For the first performance late Saturday afternoon, the piano sat on a sand-covered platform in The Grotto, an alcove shadowed by towering red-rock walls about 20 miles downriver from Moab.
The piano was then boated downstream some 30 miles to a site called The Wall, below The Loop section of the river. For the Sunday night performance it floated on a large raft, secured by rope to wedges and petons pounded into a 200-foot rock wall by a professional mountain climber.
Audience members watched performances from nine classic musicals by lantern while sitting on five 22-foot-long rafts tied to the stage. Afterward some of the opera performers joined a group singing familiar tunes around the campfire.
Mezzo-soprano Alyce Rogers of Portland, dressed for raft performance in a simple cotton skirt, shirt and tennis shoes, said, "I was not prepared for how magical it would be, because of the wind and the cold in the afternoon.
"But the wind died and it was warm and with the lights against the rock wall and with the Steinway sitting there, it really turned out magical. It's just been a bit of magic in my life. I feel very blessed."
Nearly 100 people turned out the first night for opera numbers drawn from such classics as "Faust," "Carmen," "Aida," "Rigoletto," "Hamlet," "Turnadot" and "Hansel and Gretel."
All the singers agreed with Richard Fredricks, leading baritone for the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera, that their singing was inspired by the splendor of the surroundings.
Tenor Augusto Paglialunga, a professor of voice and artist-in-residence at the Creative Art Center in Morgantown, W.Va., said it was one of the most spectacular and wonderful experiences of his life.
"To sing in that cave and look out and see this beautiful creation of God's, it inspired one to let the voice be part of that creation and try to measure up to that beauty," he said.
"The sound of the voices just ricocheting from the walls of the canyon was just beyond words, beyond description."
At one point, soprano Pamela South interrupted an aria to empty sand from her silver pumps, then fling them aside to cheering from the audience. It was one of numerous expressions of humor and enthusiasm that erupted spontaneously between audience and performers both nights.
Niskanen, a Portland businessman and co-owner of Tag-A-Long, called it "a happening."
"More took place than what was planned," he said. "Absolutely the biggest highlight was the ambience, the feeling created in the first concert in The Grotto.
"I felt the whole moment by the end was magical. It was as if everybody was a single instrument; they were all there on the last note. It was symbiotic."
Tag-A-Long reported no mishaps among performers and passengers who continued on Monday and Tuesday through the rapids of Cataract Canyon.
"The passengers just said it was great, fantastic - a little cold on Monday, but it was sunny today," office manager Tommye Paddock said Tuesday.
Media representatives returned Monday with the piano, leaving behind a downpour that sent waterfalls over the cliffs at a campsite 55 miles downriver from Moab.
Harvey Wickware, superintendent of Canyonlands, rated the show "super colossal." He said he is no opera aficionado, but enjoyed it immensely because of the contrasts between nature and the musical production.
Wickware said that a year ago when Tag-A-Long approached him about permitting the event, he had misgivings because of possible impacts. Ultimately though he concluded it fits in with the National Park Service "Art in the Parks" program.