Friday, July 30, 2004

A singer who dances

In last year's opera, you may recall, I was dancing more than singing. This year, too, while my singing part is substanial, I am dancing quite a bit. The concept behind my costume (and together with Oberon) was Fred & Ginger. When they learned that Jose (Oberon) and I could both dance, they blocked a lot of beautiful ballroom style dancing. I'm having a ball (ha ha), but my coach said something to me yesterday that has stuck in my mind.

"I want you to be a singer who dances, not a dancer who sings."

She has known me for three years now, and she can tell when I go on autopilot with my singing. As this is essentially my first full opera role, I am having trouble concentrating on the singing part. The acting and dancing (the roles in which I have spent most of my stage time) seem to occupy more of my attention on stage, and, to her eyes, it shows. So my new focus for the week is how to let the music - the heart of opera - tell the story. To trust the composer, trust the orchestra, trust my voice alone to move the audience. I have enough training in acting and dance that I will never leave those skills offstage, but singing needs to be first.

I was drawn to opera precisely because it is a synthesis of all the arts - dance, music, drama, visual art, poetry. But I am not an actor, poet, or dancer. I am an opera singer.


Going back to cooking for one has been a strange adjustment. Especially since I'm not really cooking, just microwaving. I looked at my purchases on the conveyor belt at the grocery store yesterday, and realized that I was buying food like someone who doesn't know how to cook: frozen dinners and breakfast things (organic and vegetarian, but frozen nonetheless), snack bars, dried fruits, salad makings, boxes of rice and beans or couscous. It looked like the shopping of someone who wants to be healthy but doesn't have the time/inclination/talent to cook her own food!

I've always entertained myself in line at the store with speculations about people's lives based on their purchases. I see lots of young women buying food such as I have been for the past few weeks. I imagine them to have good jobs, live alone or with a friend, and spend their weekends at the clubs or on group dates kayaking at the arboretum. I often want to introduce myself to the people I see buying fresh fish and vegetables, good wines and cheeses, and a decadent torte from the bakery; they are obviously about to throw a great party, and could I come?

Then there are the bachelors. Erik gave the best example of this category from his recent shopping excursion: Three men in line (one of whom was my temporary bachelor), each with a six pack of beer and some form of prepared dinner, i.e., frozen pizza or hot foods from the deli counter. There were no repeats; each man had his own choice of beer and dinner - but that was all they were buying. No vegetables, either, I might point out! But, honestly, how much fun is it to cook up a bunch of asparagus or broccoli and then eat it alone in front of the tv? Yeah, not very. Food is social, both the eating and preparing of it, and as much as I have enjoyed living away from the dorm, I look forward to sharing food with my friends and family again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

no internet

So I'm at an internet cafe in Pittsfield, trying desparately to restablish connection with the internet!  What a mess...  My phone stopped working as my modem, so I can't connect at home any more.  Then I decided to come here and pay for internet access.  (Turns out, if you have your own set up, it's only a $2 connection fee; if you use their computers, it's $2 for 20 minutes.  Grrrr....)  I have two entries that I've written in the past few days, and all I want to do is upload them.  But, alas, I skipped over the page where I was supposed to enter the encryption password - and I can NOT find it again.  I can't even find the page that allows me to change networks.  So I'm paying out the nose to use their computer, and I am beyond frustrated.

And tired.  Today will be the sixth day in a row of 6 or more hours of rehearsal, and I'm about at the end of my rope.  The opera is great, but I don't know where I'm going to find the energy for this afternoon's dress rehearsal.  I also don't know why we call it a rehearsal - we will have a full house.  Tickets were cheaper for this performance, since it is officially a rehearsal, but with 700 people in the house, it will hardly feel like it.  Maybe that's where I'll get the energy, from the audience.  Wish me luck.

I have tomorrow morning off, so I'll be back here again, giving my device another try at connecting to the network.  I don't have any singing to do tomorrow, thank god, just a Russian diction masterclass in the afternoon.  So I will sleep in, eat a good breakfast, and try to have a restful day.  I miss all of you so much.  Spending a day with you would most certainly get me back on track.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004


The opera is staged! From this point out, we're in tech week, which in opera also includes adding the element of the orchestra. So today we have what is called a Sitzprobe, a fancy German word for sitting down and singing through the opera with the orchestra. We will be in chairs on the stage, so we can hear what the orchestra will sound like from that perspective, but we won't be doing any blocking or dancing. (Hmm, have I mentioned the dancing that I'm doing this year? I'll get to that...)

All in all, the opera is in wonderful shape. A few things to get ironed out still (like the pie fight!), but on the whole it is a beautiful show. Mark and Elizabeth decided this week that they will be able to come up that weekend, so I'm off this morning to get one more ticket. Only one, since they will have Sylvia, but I think they're going to take turns - one sits inside for one act, the other hangs out on the grounds with Sylvia, then they switch at intermission. The Taylors and Erik will, of course, be here, too; he'll stay through Wednesday of the next week. That means he'll get to sit in on a rehearsal of my end of the summer projects (one coached by Dawn) and see a concert that will involve all the Vocal Fellows (folk songs of Great Britain and the US). We might even have some time to go swimming or take a bike ride through this beautiful country. Regardless, I'll be glad to have him - and everybody else! - here. This "9-5 plus overtime" lifestyle is hard without my support staff, especially my Vice President. That's a hard job to telecommute; face time is essential...

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Bryn Terfel

Last Tuesday, Welsh baritone Bryn Terfel gave a recital in Ozawa Hall with Malcolm Martineau on piano. Bryn (yes, we're on first name basis) is a big star, so the house was sold out. Seats had been set up on the stage, in a half circle behind the piano. (Fellows are usually seated in empty seats for concerts here; the house managers planned ahead, though, since they knew there would be no empty seats.) At first I was disappointed; who wants to sit behind a superstar while they sing? Well, it was a lesson in great performing. Bryn and Malcom were aware of the audience being all around them, and reacted accordingly. At several points, Bryn turned his back to the front of the house, placed his hand on the semi-closed lid of the piano, and sang right to us. It was almost like an old fashioned "salon" style performance. Intimate, personal, inspiring.

Another advantage of being so close to him, even though we were behind (it was actually more like a 3/4 view), was that we could really see how he sings. How he uses his breath, his body, his face, to communicate the texts and music. We heard every word of his almost entirely English-language program. Phylis, our voice teacher here, would have been proud!

Then last night he gave the opposite of an intimate voice and piano recital - a performance of excerpts from Wagner's Die Meistersinger von Nürmberg with the BSO at the Shed for an audience of 20,000 people. But, through the magic of being a Tanglewood Fellow, I found myself on the second row. This time I was able to fully appreciate the enormity of his voice, as well as study the way he handled the concert. How was it the same in his eyes? How was it different? I was equally moved by both his performances, with the same question coming to mind both nights - Do I have what I takes to do that?

Tanglewood Moments

Tanglewood is the kind of place where ghosts appear. Where the past, present and future of classical music exist simultaneously. We are performing our opera in the same theater that held the US premiere of Britten's Peter Grimes, argued by some to be his greatest work. Leonard Berstein wrote Candide in the little red house just off the road from the main grounds. The number of world class artists who have spent time on these hills, many as Fellow like myself, is humbling.

And many of them come back, often and unexpectedly. Yesterday we had the annual Sponsor's Luncheon, where each Fellow is introduced to his Sponsor. (Each Fellowship is funded by a $250K endowment, the interest of which covers the $15K annual fee.) Afterwards, I was standing with a small group of singers; several of us had (at the urging of the caterers!) taken the potted begonias that were the centerpiece at our table. We noticed a decidedly Sponsor-looking couple walking by, also with begonias in their hands, and started a conversation about the flowers. The gentleman then said, "Are you all in 'the Dream?'" We said that we were, and made casual introductions of our roles. We had been chatting about the production when, all of a sudden, the faces of two of the guys went from polite interest to complete awe. They had read this man's name tag, and he was Benjamin Luxon, one of the greatest lyric baritones of the past 40 years. Being a singer who rarely listens to classical music, I didn't recognize his name, but I knew from Alex and Stefan's reaction that he was opera royalty! He and his wife were so gracious, inviting us to come spend our "free time" at their home nearby.

They also attended the afternoon rehearsal of the opera. Before leaving, Mr. Luxon pulled me aside and gave me a few tips. (Afterall, while he didn't premiere a roll in this opera, he did work with many original cast memebers and Britten himself. I figure his advice is worth taking to heart!) When he urged me to take more time with the musical "sighs" at the end of my scene in Act II, I told him I was afraid of being gauche. "Oh, be gauche! Be gauche, be gauche," he said. So I have permission! We'll see how far I can take it next time before my coaches reign me in.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Different than last year

I've been thinking about how this year at Tanglewood is different than last summer. Besides the obvious - living in my own apartment and not the dorm, having a car, singing an opera that was written 40 years ago instead of 40 days ago - there is the fallout from the obvious.

Last year I was friends with everybody; this year I only know the singers. Singers are funny people, in that they like to talk about singing 90% of the time. That gets old to me real fast... So I've been seeking out some conductors and composers and the occasional woodwind player for a bit of conversational variety. Last night, in fact, I had a beer and a great convo with our conductor, Stefan Asbury, about creating music/art of your own culture in foreign countries. Stefan is British, so he knows whereof he speaks (seeing as how Midsummer was written by an Englishman). He also has the ability to consume large amounts of beer and still be perfectly lucid. Impressive, I tell you.

The reason I was friends with everybody last year was because I saw them all the time. This summer I'm much more solitary, which is weird. Granted, at home in Seattle I am often alone, but being alone at one's home and alone away from home are very different. I get along with all the singers, but I miss my intimate friendships. I miss being able to cry at some random beautiful thing and having three other people start crying with me! (You know who you are...) Here, people just say, "There she goes again!"

Another thing that's different this year is my position in the pecking order. I have seniority this time around. I'm not the only one, but I'm in that group; I'm a "re-invite." That's cool. And another thing that I haven't experienced before is having my colleagues look up to me technically, to ask me technic questions and to express admiration. That is beyond cool! It makes me work a bit harder, too, I think, in order to keep meeting or exceeding their expectations.

The most important difference between this year and last? Costumes. No more Dancing-Bullfighting-Horseheaded-Elvis for me! This year I am a dream in white satin, a la Ginger Rogers. I have my second fitting tomorrow; I'll try to get a picture. I have a sheer cape that is trimmed with ostrich feathers at both the neck and bottom. White satin Robert Fox shoes, and a corset/bustier type foundation garment that is the same design worn by all the women in this year's The Stepford Wives. Rumor has it that my costume alone cost over $5000. Woohoo! A platinum blonde fngerwave wig wll round out the look. I can't wait. As my friend Amanda would say, "I get to be the pretty pretty princess!" But I'll find out tomorrow if I can actually sing in that corset...

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The Changeling Boy

In both of my Act I scenes in the opera, I am accompanied by a little boy. His name is Ryder Stanton, and he is eight years old. I will also have a total of 22 fairies attending me at all times, four of which act as my "honor guard" and have solo singing. Needless to say, I've been nervous about working with that many children. Kids can either be the most professional people in the cast, or the least, depending on their personalities and the leadership under which they are working. Well, we lucked out! I've worked with eight of the fairies (my four soloists and their understudies) and Ryder so far, and each one of them is prepared, disciplined and excited to be in the show. But not so excited that they get distracted; they take their work very seriously, talking about it on breaks and making suggestions to the choreographer. In fact, they came up with most of the movements for their big song and dance scene at the end of Act I! I am looking forward to working with all of them this weekend.

Ryder, my little pet, is a doll. He plays the little "changeling boy" - a child that has been stolen from the humans and secretly exchanged with a fairy - that Oberon and Tytania are fighting over. We have a great time riding in on the various platforms of the set, pretending that we're scared of falling off. (Ok, so I'm not pretending...) He comes from a family of children that have acted in Tanglewood operas for the past few years, and his family is so supportive. Ryder was only three when all four of his older siblings has small parts in Tanglewood's Falstaff, so this is his first time on the stage. But I'm sure it won't be his last.

First Concert

I just realized that it's been almost a week since my last post! Yikes. Where to start? I am feeling much better; the cold progressed quickly, with each "stage" lasting about a day. It was a cold after all, and not allergies; but now we're all starting to react to the mold and mothballs in the theater! You know how singers are; if it's not one thing, it's another! But we cope...

Sunday's concert went fine. The songs were by Luigi Dallapiccola, one of the champions of 12-tone / serial music. As a singer, if you don't have perfect pitch (which I don't), learning music like this can be extremely hard. It is essentially like learning a whole new musical language, and I had a month to do it! Three out of four of the songs went great. But the first one was gave me the most trouble, both in rehearsal and in performance. Fortunately, as these songs are not staples of the vocal repertoire, no one in the audience (except my coach) could tell when I completely flubbed the first two lines!! I was so flustered that I had to fight the impulse to stop and start over. But, my accompanist was right there with me and we made it through together. We finished strong, and people only had good things to say afterwards. I am grateful, though, that I am planning to sing these again on my March recital in Seattle; I'll get a second chance...

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


I have avoided jumping on the singer bandwagon of "allergies." Seems like that is a common excuse for not singing well, and I just won't let myself. In fact, I generally poo-poo those who do. Well, karma has come pay me my dues! Last night I started to feel a tickle in the back of my throat, and I woke up this morning with my head full of cotton. Whether it is the "allergy" that many other singers are suffering from or just a cold that we're sharing with each other, I've got it.

Fortunately, The Voice is not affected. I've drunk 4 liters of water today, I'm taking Vit C, echinnacea, and Tylenol Cold, andusing Zicam. If this is a cold, it should't stand a chance. And I stand to get ten hours of sleep tonight, so that should help.

Keep your fingers crossed...

Fourth of July

My good friend Paula and I are trying to establish a new Tanglewood Fourth of July tradition - sneaking onto Tanglewood's beach after dark and swimming out to the floating platform with dry towels and bottles of wine held over our heads. We did it last year with our friends Deborah, John and Daniel; this year the crew was Eammon (Paula's boyfriend), Lance, Sarah, and Peter. After an 80-degree day, the lake water is delightful; it's the getting out of the water that hurts! But that's what the towels were for (and the wine!). After a brief swim, we sat on the platform and watched the fireworks going off around the lake. At one point, when the Twd fireworks were going off behind us, I turned towards the lake and saw a solitary sailboat. There was enough breeze for a very easy sail, and they must have had the best view for fireworks. Then it was time to brave the water once more and head home. We all agreed that in addition to being a 4th of July tradition, night swims on the Stockbridge Bowl should be regualr events at Tanglewood. I'll see what I can do about that...

Monday, July 05, 2004

First staging rehearsal today! We are working in the actual theater from the start because the set is one giant staircase. Hard to tape that out on the dorm gym floor. Imagine a scene from one of those old movie musicals with the rows and rows of dancers streaming off a staircase in opposing directions, forming concentric circles on the floor. You know what I'm talking about? It's that kind of staircase. Amazing. I'll post a picture tomorrow.

The director is really great, too; David Kneuss (pronounced like "niece") is his name, and he's worked at T'wood for many years (although not last year, MUCH to my dismay!). He's also Executive Stage Director at the Met, so he's good to know! He seems very organized and efficient, but also open to discussion and exploring with the cast. He has a definite vision, and a great suport team. Those of you who know about last year's experience will know that all this is a welcome difference. Those who don't, well, let's just move on...

My opening scene is the fight scene with Oberon. It's a great scene musically, and David (along with Alisa, our choreographer) has staged a dance of sorts, a stylized tango. It's great. Very sensual and elegant.

Oh! I just remembered that the opera is going to be broadcast on the radio here in Massachusetts. I'll look into seeing if the station has streaming broadcasts on the web, so you all can listen!

Sunday I have a concert in the morning, and I need to go spend some time with the music before I go to bed. It has been raining all day, so the air is muggy; not great for sleeping, but wonderful to listen to. Maybe it will lull me to sleep...

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Ok, so my plan to blog everyday is not working! Hopefully I'll get better as time goes on. I need to think about writing lots of short posts instead of waiting and having three days worth of stuff to talk about!

Today we had our first "sing-through" of Midsummer. What an amazing piece! So funny, and beautfiul. Britten really captured the three worlds that exist in the play - Fairy, Lover, and Rustic. The Rustics (the group of workmen hired to put on a play for the duke's wedding) have some of the greatest music, and the men singing those roles are all outstanding. The four Lovers are also wonderful; the girl singing Helena is absolutely beautiful. This is funny because Helena has a line "I am as ugly as a bear!" We all are imagining the audience bursting out laughing at that point! Maybe they'll put her in ugly makeup, but it take a lot to hide her pretty face. There will be 22 children makng up my fairy court, and Oberon's Puck is played by a local young man. Our music is very ethereal, with lots of harps and shimmering strings. The opera's finaly chorus, in which Oberon and Tytania bless the newly wedded couples makes me cry everytime.

That's enough for one post. More soon!

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