Viswa Subbaraman

Opera and Orchestra Conductor

Filtering by Category: The Skylight Music Theatre


It has been an interesting few weeks. I'm writing this while in Rennes, but I'll devote more time in future blogs to my week conducting in France. I the past few weeks, I closed up my time in Houston, packed up the apartment, and drove the cats to Milwaukee. The move was a completely nightmare (especially if you were to ask Milton Cat). I wanted to write a blog about my time in Houston, but I think it took a few weeks away to be able to sit down and think about it clearly. In many ways, I've called those seven years my crucible. I think that's a fair assessment, but it was also an amazing time. While in Houston I made some amazing friends. There are so many to name. I'm not sure that without Rene Salazar, Joe Carl White, Anne White, Jerome Istin, Scott Sullivan, Natalie Istin, Rick Pal, Tanya Pal, Jeanne Morrissette... Ok.. you get my point. My life would not have been as vibrant without them. (I'm sure there are many people such as Vernon McDonald, Alex Lawler, and oh so many others who are wondering why I didn't name them, but I think I could fill a number of blogs with names of people who were instrumental in my life in Houston). I don't know what the future holds and how often I'll get to see them, but without the people who were in and out of my life during the past few years, I would not be the person I am now.

I got to Houston and stayed because I started an opera company, and I met someone. By the end of my time there, I had lost both, but I had gained so much in return. Opera Vista did 7 world premieres in the time we ran the company. We performed Powder Her Face and received a review in Opera Magazine that I swear I didn't write myself, but it sure seemed that way. I served on steering committees for Houston Young Professionals for the Arts and Asia Society's Young Professionals. I was invited to be a young leader at the Asia Society summit in Jakarta. I spoke at Indiaspora, which in turn lead to an invite to the White House!

In the end, I cried as we pulled out of Houston with 2 cats in carriers and the MINI Cooper filled to the roof with stuff - not because of the crucible it had been but because of the amazing regeneration of the past few years. As we were leaving, I glanced at my Facebook and message after message from friends talking about how sad they were I was leaving popped up, and as my dad said once, "the way I always knew you were an ok person was that you have incredibly high quality friends." He's 100% right, and so many of them are in Houston. I can't thank you all enough for supporting me and supporting Opera Vista. It was an amazing 7 years of my life, and I'm excited about the new adventures we'll have at the Skylight and in Milwaukee, but Houston is always going to have a soft spot in my heart.

I am a lucky guy - in the past month, I'll have been in 3 of my favorite places in the world: Houston, Milwaukee, and Paris. Who could ask for anything more? (Waiting to see who the first person is who comments with "Toyota.")

Inauguration Weekend (Part 4) revised to NYC (Part 2)

Another amazing day! I probably couldn't live in NYC permanently. It's only Tuesday, and I feel like I've done more in 2 days than I have in the past month. I actually caught up on sleep this AM, so see - Viswa does sleep. I then walked to the Century Club where I met with Daron Hagen. Daron has been a huge influence on me. I had the pleasure of conducting "Vera of Las Vegas" with Opera Vista, and Daron served on many a jury for the Vista Competition. I think he probably has forgotten more about musical theater and opera than I know! I met him at the beautiful Century Club for lunch. The lunch lasted many many hours. Talking with Daron is inspiring, educational, humbling, joyful, and collegial all at the same time. We discussed ideas for future collaboration, but more than anything - we are just good friends.

From there I killed some time over tea with Clara Yang and talked about conducting. I also had a nice conversation about a potential collaboration with Raghava KK. (If you don't know him, look up his TED talks). We then headed off to the Manhattan School of music for another round of Masur masterclasses. Seeing him coach the 2nd movement of the Eroica was enlightening and inspiring. At the break I met him back stage and caught up on old stories and life in general. He is still one of the most inspiring people I know.

Inauguration Weekend (Part 2)

Wow. What a day! Yesterday was the Indiaspora Inaugural Ball. I met my friend Bill Morris in the afternoon for lunch. I hadn't seen him in years. It was nice catching up with a wonderful musician. I headed back to Mike Votta's with the distinct goal of taking a nap. It didn't happen, so I threw my tux on. (And successfully tied my white bow tie all on my own. I haven't been wearing bow ties much. Even when I conduct I tend to wear a longer tie.) I then walked to the metro in my tux. (My skinny tux!) I can't quite explain how many weird looks I got from people because I was wearing a tux on the metro. DC doesn't seem to have the same tolerance for the bizarre as NYC.

As I got off the metro at L'Enfant Plaza, I realized I was turned around and had no clue exactly which direction I was aimed. Who knew the compass and map app in combo would be so useful? I walked over to the Mandarin Oriental where I was going to meet Peggy DeAnda for a drink before the Ball. It's not often one gets to meet friends from Big Spring in DC. I then took my ticket and walked in.

Little did I know what to expect! It was amazing! They had a red carpet with an Indiaspora background. There were photographers and reporters. I was behind Congressman Ami Bera. I think there was a bit of a let down as I walked down the red carpet. The reporters weren't sure who I was. I'm a bit curious what the photo of me on the red carpet looks like. (Especially since I could take up the whole frame since I wasn't sharing my moment in the limelight with a date or anything - perhaps something to work on in the future?)

As I walked in, I spotted MR Rangaswami and went up to say hello. He introduced me to a few people as an opera conductor, which usually sparks some need for explanation as to how an Indian kid ended up in orchestra and opera. After feeling like I was talking about myself too much, I asked the gentleman what he did. He replied, "I'm actually a congressman." (My inner monologue at that moment was "D'oh!"). So I had a nice conversation with Congressman Honda from Silicon Valley. I then turned around and was introduced to Dr. Ami Bera. Congressman Bera! That was pretty neat. He has a great sense of humor.

The night seemed to be one amazing person after the next. Many great Indiaspora friends. I could spend the next 2 pages naming them all, but I have come to really treasure the opportunity to spend time with them and hear their amazing stories. There are so many people doing some great work.

I then turned around and was introduced to Ambassador Nirupama Rao, the ambassador from India! When she heard I was an opera conductor she said, "my favorite opera is *****." My jaw dropped! What were the odds that ***** was the very opera we were contemplating opening the Skylight season with? (I'm forced to edit because the season hasn't been announced, and we really like suspense. We do create drama after all). So then I told her who we had directing, and she said, "***** is such an interesting choice! It sounds like I should come see this production." Here is hoping Milwaukee hosts the Ambassador from India on September 20th. Madame Ambassador, you have an open invitation. (As an aside, it was very cool that she retweeted the picture of us from the ball! Then I saw on her twitter feeds that she had a picture with Zubin Mehta and a picture with me!!! Talk about feeling very cool for 30 seconds…. Now if only I was invited to conduct in Berlin and Vienna. Hint hint).

Later that night I ran into Maneet Chauhan from the Chopped series on the Food network. She asked me how the food was and I realized I hadn't had time to eat. She smiled and walked me back to the kitchen, and we talked for about 30 minutes over some amazing Indian food. A quick plug - Maneet has a new cookbook coming out! you should all look forward to buying it! I asked her about Red Rooster in NYC. (Marcus Samuelsson's restaurant). It looks like I might be going there with Maneet sometime this week. Talk about ridiculous! Going to an amazing chef's restaurant with another amazing chef!

I honestly can't say what the night was like. I was blown away by meeting so many incredible people. The credit has to go to MR Rangaswami. The work he put in to create an event like this is truly monumental. I think Indiaspora is going to blossom into an important place for the exchange of great ideas. I feel honored and humbled to be part of the family!

Viswa - Asia Tour 2012 (Part 4)

So on December 23, I flew back to Mumbai to take a morning meeting on the 24th with Shyam Benegal and Raghava KK. It was a quick trip north. I went from the meeting back to the airport and flew from Mumbai to Coimbatore. My uncle met me at the Coimbatore airport and we jumped on a bus to Salem. (These aren't necessarily famous Indian cities, which should give you an idea of where all I'm traveling). I was wrong about the taxis Indian cities showing us that miracles exist. It's regional buses in BFE India that prove miracles exist. This Coimbatore to Salem bus is an education. (I'm typing this on my phone while on the bus). Indians take using their horns to a whole new level. There is not a driving instant that doesn't seem to be made just a bit better by slamming on the horn. This bus driver could be measured by when he is NOT hitting the horn. It would be easier to calculate.

So, I got on the bus and there is a speaker literally tied to a luggage rack with jute rope that is playing the best of Indian film music from the 70s and well… 70s. I think I recognize the music from my parents' playlist. Even then there are guys with their headphones in playing their music loud enough to where I can hear it clearly. On top of that we have 2 people who decided to forgo the entire pretense of headphones. Between the multitude of music and the car horn, I feel like had Ives been Indian, he would have been proud.

Then we have the drunk guy at the back door of the bus who asked everyone to move, proceeded to take his sandals, use them as pillows, lie down in the aisle and go to sleep. Unfortunately, as the bus got more full, he kept getting accidentally stepped on. He would wake up and yell at the guy who stepped on him, roll over and go back to sleep.

We reached Sankari. I hadn't been to Sankari in over 15 years. My uncle had been the head of marketing (after working his way up through the ranks) at the India Cements factory. We used to go there every other summer. When we first started going, there wasn't even a train station. The train would slow down in the middle of these sugar cane fields, and we would literally jump off a moving train. A lot has changed, but much around the factory has stayed the same. (Though now it is my cousin who works there as my uncle is retired). My cousin, by the way, is sporting a seriously Tamil Cinema mustache.

The next day, we jumped back on a bus and headed to Salem to see my aunt, uncle, and another cousin. It was a nice trip to Salem, though the mosquitos are still ridiculous. I think you could hit them with a baseball bat and they might even fight back. That night it was back on the bus to Sankari. I was able to spend the day hanging out with my "nieces" (my cousin's daughters), then it was off to the night train to Chennai.

I used to love taking these night trains, but of course, much like the discussions of the snake infestations in Sankari freaked me out, the discussions of people in the AC cars being robbed freaked me out. Also, supposedly the blankets they hand you for the journey can at times be infested with insects. (I used to have such a sense of adventure - I feel like stories like these and the fact that they freak me out are showing me that I'm getting soft. Though I'll elaborate on the snake story in a second and that may vindicate me).

I made it to Madras at 5:30 AM and proceeded to make my way to the prepaid autorikshaw stand. (In India, be sure to use as many prepaid autos and taxis as possible. They really do work on hosing you - I speak Tamil and STILL got hosed). As I was walking to the prepaid stand, I was accosted by the usual auto drivers who were trying to get me to use their vehicles. My favorite was the guy who said he would take me to my destination for Rs. 150. He was saving me money because the prepaid asked for a fee. Yeah - the prepaid fee is 3 rupees and the prepaid fee was Rs. 111. Ironically the guy who took me only had a 10 Rupee note to be able to make change, and I ended up having to pay him Rs. 140. Oh well. They always find a way to cheat you.

So the snake story - the first place I ever saw a cobra in the wild was at the India Cements compound when I was younger, so I know there are snakes on the grounds. My aunt tells me that they recently brought snake handlers in to clear the grounds and caught around 40 dangerous snakes. Great. That inspires confidence. Well, a day before I got there, a poisonous snake was captured on top of someone's bureau in their house and its mate was caught in a suitcase near by. This was AFTER the big snake hunt. Then while we were in Salem, a snake fell on my cousin's wife while she was in the car port. Anyone else hearing Samuel L. Jackson's voice?

Mr. Subbaraman Goes to Washington (Part 2)

After slogging away and sacrificing to build Opera Vista with no sense of where my life was going, my father’s son was invited to the White House. How can you put those feelings in words? I feel about as blessed as one person could feel.

Read More