"This business is so much about being in the right place at the right time," notes Vergennes tenor Wayne Hobbes. For him, the right place and time looks like Covent Gardens, London's Royal Opera House, in 1984 - or rather, this May, when he understudies the role of Syme in the world premiere of the operatic adaptation of George Orwell's classic novel. New York Philharmonic Musical Director Lorin Maazel composed the opera, and will conduct.
A Vermont native, Hobbes studied at Tanglewood while in high school, then moved on to Boston University's College of Fine Arts, where he graduated with a degree in vocal performance. He studied singing in Italy and performed a bit in Germany and Austria before returning to his home state in 1999.
Since coming back, Hobbes has been a fairly big fish in the relatively small pond of Green Mountains classical music. He directs the Stowe-based Vermont Gay Men's Chorus, and has been a regular voice with the Vermont Mozart Festival, the Montpelier Chamber Orchestra and the Stowe Theater Guild.
Hobbes' first big break came last spring, when he placed second among 730 competitors in an amateur talent contest organized by the Boston Pops. His prize: a chance to sing at Symphony Hall. But being named second-best amateur in Boston pales in comparison with the professional prestige of landing a gig with Maazel. As Hobbes puts it, "Having been contracted by Royal Covent Gardens carries a certain weight in the industry."
His ship came in via Vermont. The tenor was performing in the Mozart Festival's H.M.S. Pinafore with Sarah Cullins, a local soprano who had worked with Maazel's assistant, Douglas Beck. Beck was searching for singers to record the maestro's new work. Through Cullins' connection, Hobbes was hired to help record the first act of 1984. Maazel liked Hobbes' work so much that when the Royal Opera House couldn't find a local singer to serve as a standby "cover" for one of the roles, the conductor-composer recommended Hobbes.
Symes' part is "very virtuoso," says Hobbes. "It's not very long, but the vocal demands are very difficult" - extremely high notes with very fast rhythmic and melodic passages, and "Sprechstimme," which are half-sung, half-spoken, "almost like rap," according to Hobbes. In Orwell's dystopia, Symes is one of the bad guys: a party member and the main driver behind the "new speak" being enforced by the government. "It's really a lot of fun to do," Hobbes says of portraying the character's loathsome persona. "How often do we get to be like this? In the second act I'm killed by Big Brother."
In one passage, Hobbes will sing, Sir, did you go see the prisoners hang yesterday? It was a good hanging. It spoils it when they tie their feet together. I like to see them kicking. I like to see their tongues sticking right out and blue, a quite bright blue. Or won't sing, depending on how the health of the role's principal performer holds out.
As a cover, Hobbes is basically being paid to learn the part, be prepared to sing it, and possibly never utter a single note. The odds favor him getting some stage time, though. In Maazel's last world premiere in London, six of the covers got to step in, Hobbes says. "There's a very good chance that I may get to sing. Even if I don't, this could be a very large door-opener for other things. Lorin Maazel knows who I am and respects my work. That can't hurt."
Film fans who gravitate towards the indie and off-beat have been worrying about the future of Waterfront Video. Protracted negotiations between the City of Burlington and April Cornell over moving the interior designer's headquarters to Battery Street have raised the question of where - and if - Waterfront might find a new home. The answer: It's not being wiped out altogether, just washed away... to Shelburne Road.
Owner William Folmar recently signed a lease for the former Alpha Graphics space in the strip mall where Burlington meets South Burlington. The storefront has plenty of parking, good drive-by visibility, and just 100 fewer square feet than Waterfront's current location. It's also just down the street from Blockbuster. "We don't care," Folmar says. "They might." He hopes to be moved in by the end of March.
Some Waterfront customers have complained about the move away from downtown. Folmar's answer to them: "Would they rather have us over at that new place, or not exist at all?" Before you get pissy, consider what Higher Ground did for a former Denny's in Winooski.