Tuesday, January 31, 2006


In the words of my father, this is not an entry I planned on making. My grandfather passed away this weekend. He had a wonderful life, and his passing was relatively fast, but I was still unprepared for the wave of grief that hit me. My mind has been so full of memories for the past few days…

I remember sitting at his feet as a little girl, watching as he blew perfect smoke rings from his fragrant pipe. He stopped smoking many years ago, at the behest of his daughter who was concerned for his health. But about two years ago, I think he recognized that one day, and maybe soon, he would die. His mobility was limited due to a stroke and general weakening of his body. His diet was restricted due to his diabetes (brought on, some say, by his intense love of ice cream…). He could do few of the things that used to bring him joy, like traveling the world and tending his beautiful garden. So he picked up that old pipe again, determined to have something that he could enjoy to the end. I visited last fall; seeing him pack the pipe, smelling the tobacco, and watching the smoke rings – less perfect now, but still there – brought me such joy. I’m sure he felt it, too.

It was from Granddad that I “got my voice.” I visited Ellis Island while on a high school trip to New York City, and found a station where you could research your family name. The elderly volunteer - obviously bored and tired of dealing with these southern high schoolers – entered my family name and talked me through the results in his light Scottish brogue: “Your family most like came from this part of England… the name was most likely given around the 1500s… your family was called ‘Bird’ either because of birdlike features or because of their beautiful singing voices.” Then, as an afterthought: “Do you sing?”

My boyfriend said, “Does she ever!” And the change that came over this man was incredible; all of a sudden he was interested! “Do ya’ really?!” He was so happy to finally see some connection from the past to the present. I thought about the line of Birds, and I knew Granddad was a strong singer, as is my father. It made perfect sense to me that this should be why we have our name. This story is part of the reason that I kept my family name for performing; what a perfect name for a soprano!

The few times I visited Granddad’s church, I remember looking forward to singing the hymns. We were the only family in that little Nebraska church that sang in four-part harmony! We would always sing the melody on the first verse, then pick our parts for the remaining verses. I can still feel that rush of energy down my back when the first few chords were manifested in our voices! It was usually Granddad’s bass, my dad and brother on the tenor line, me with my cousin and maybe aunt singing alto, and mom and Sally strongly carrying the melody. We never talked about it, but there was usually a look exchanged that said, “That was fun!”

Granddad loved music, especially classical, and I think he was happy to know that I was making it my career. He was able to see me perform several times and was always happy to get a cd of my latest recordings. I asked my mom the other night if he had heard about my Met news, and she assured me that he had. If I do get to sing there next year, I will be thinking of Granddad, imagining him up in the Family Circle, watching over me.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What’s next?

This has been a very full week, not only rehearsals and performances and all that goes along with putting on a show, but also so much going on in my head. Big changes are coming in the next year or so, and well, big changes are hard.

With all of the big events of this trip – successful cover rehearsals, securing a management team (who, for now, will stay unnamed on this blog), auditioning for and being (all but) hired by the Met (contract still pending…) – I have really been thinking about my career path. Not only the future, but the past. I realize that, in part, I have gotten to this point based largely on my talent and good luck. Sure, I’ve done some work, and been ambitious, but I know I can work so much harder. And now is the time for hard work!! There are lots of talented people, and luck can run out. Getting a manager and a contract at the Met is not an end-point; it should be only the beginning. I feel like I’m ready now, for the focus and drive that this next phase is going to require.

To that end, I have a list of roles that my manager wants me to learn asap. Not just look at, but really learn. These are roles that he feels I can be hired for right now, and he wants to know that if someone calls him and says, “We need a Sophie next month!” he can recommend me without hesitation and that I will go to the job and make us both look good. After all, as my brother said the other night, “It’s not just you now, 10% is Msr. Manager.” True indeed.

What’s on the list, you ask? Many soubrette roles, a few “coloratura” roles, even a light lyric thing or two. In short, a perfect group of roles to exhibit all my strengths. No more struggling with trying to label myself – I will be Fach-less. If something on my audition rep list doesn’t make sense to an auditor, let them ask me for it so I can show them that it belongs there.

The List: Olympia, Sophie (Werther and Rosenkavalier), Echo & Naide (Zerbinetta is on a different list…), Zerlina, Blondchen, Nannetta, Oscar, Marie (Daughter of the Regiment), and a bit of Gilbert & Sullivan: Mabel and Yum-Yum.

That should keep me busy! I’ve compiled a list of the scores I don’t own, so if you’re wondering what to get me for my 30th birthday next month, I have a few ideas…

We made several role lists, my manager and I. The Priority List is above. Then we have “Useful immediately, but wait to learn until hired;” roles like Baby Doe and Zerbinetta are here, things that I, an emerging artist, probably won’t be hired for in the next two years. Once I’ve learned the Priority Roles, I’ll move on to these. Next is a list of Future Roles: Gilda, Anne Trulove, some bel canto.; Msr. Manager feels that my voice needs to develop a bit more heft before getting into these roles. Finally there’s the “Forget about it” list: operas that are so rarely performed that I don’t need to spend time on the roles until I have a contract to sing one of them. Eurydice (both Gluck’s and Offenbach’s), Hero and Ophelia, and a handful of lesser-performed Mozart operas, among others.

How exciting to have something specific to work on that isn’t connected to an upcoming gig, and how motivating to have someone expecting results! I look forward to mapping out my studies for the next few months…

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Plug: Rorem in Seattle

If you're looking for something to do this weekend or next, please consider supporting new opera in Seattle! (Considering, of course, whether you live in Seattle...) The Black Box Opera Theater is presenting two one-act operas by Ned Rorem, Three Sisters Who Are Not Sisters and Bertha, at the Ethnic Cultural Center. Tickets and information about the shows through Brown Paper Tickets.

More Golijov links

With an article in Newsday this week and one in the Economist last week, Osvaldo Golijov has officially reached the mainstream. (And by "mainstream," I mean the non-music world. I don't, of course, mean "middle-America." If only.)

If you are in New York City (or nearby) and you haven’t gotten your tickets for the Lincoln Center Passion of Osvaldo Golijov, you’d better hurry.

Update 1/23: Even before this article hit doorsteps on Sunday morning, all three performances of Ainadamar were completely sold out.

A Hold

Well, in what is quite possible the fastest turn-around from an audition in the history of auditions, the Met has asked my manager to "put a hold" on my schedule for several months next season. Aaaayyy!

What does that mean, exactly? At this point, it means that they are thinking of hiring me in some capacity – most likely covers, but maybe a very small role – for two operas in the 2006-2007 season. I know which ones, but don’t want to post here until I have the details. (They will be having a production meeting sometime in the next week or so to put the finishing touches on casting, and then I’ll know for sure.) Regardless, I could be in NY for almost four months in 2007 – working at THE MET!! Holy cow.

I got the call from my manager yesterday between rehearsals. I was planning on spending the hour-long dinner break studying my Ainadamar score and making sure I knew my blocking; last night’s rehearsal was a costumed run-through on the set and I would be singing Nuria. I was pretty nervous, because there were a few things that I missed musically at the Sitzprobe (there is some really hard music in this opera!), and I didn’t want to mess up again. But when I got that call, any hope of studying went right out the window!! I spent the hour talking with Erik and other family members, doing a fair amount of crying and laughing and saying “Can you believe it?” I made it to the theatre in time to get into costume and do some last minute cramming, but my mind was completely scattered. Fortunately, it turned out to be a very relaxed rehearsal, with even a bit of practical joking, so the fact that I didn’t get everything exactly right wasn’t a big deal.

I learned last night that the role of a cover, when stepping into a staging rehearsal, is not to give your most dramatic or musically moving performance ever. Your role is to give as much consistency to the production as you can so that the other performers don’t have to think about you. They can go about their staging – and their dramatic and musical performances – and try to get the most out of the rehearsal. Your job is to make their job easy. Of course, if you can manage to give a killer performance at the same time? All the better. I don’t know if I did that, exactly, but I did have the conductor ask me to sing for him again sometime soon, some of “my” music. So I did something right.

What an exciting time. And to think that I almost didn’t take this gig, doing Ainadamar at Lincoln Center. It just goes to show that you never know what good will come out of situation that may seem to have nothing to offer you. You just never know.

NOTE: I originally posted this using the new Blogger for Word feature, and found two major flaws: it didn't recognize my html tags, and didn't enable the Comments! Thanks to those of you who went the extra mile to let me know and wish me well. =]

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Forgot to mention…

A couple of big things happen today. First, my callback audition at the Met is at 3:00! JD and I met yesterday to go over everything. We decided not to put in Glitter or Zerb; they just don’t fit right now. We’ve added “Quando m’en vo” (from La Boheme) and – drum roll – have decided to start with “Du gai soleil” (Werther) instead of Nannetta. I love this aria more every time I sing it, and today I feel like starting with something a bit more upbeat. It has long lines, too, and ends with the most joyful high-A, so it shows off everything that Nannetta does, plus a bit of unaffected perkiness. I love this character, and I find myself wishing that more companies staged Werther.

Before and after the audition, though, I will be singing today’s rehearsals for Nuria! Jessica has a performance back in LA tomorrow night, so I’m singing today and tomorrow. These days are our first rehearsals with orchestra, including the Sitzprobe; usually all the “big wigs” show up for the Sitz, so it’s a great opportunity for me to show my stuff. Of course, I kept myself awake for an extra hour or so after getting to bed, going over blocking and texts in my head. I did a lot of visualization, trying to see the blocking from the inside (with Nuria’s eyes) rather than the outside (watching Nuria from the ensemble). We’ll see how well it worked at this morning’s staging rehearsal.

Today I am reminded of a conversation I had with my flatmates here in NYC the other day. We were talking about auditions, and one of them commented that she didn’t think she’d get to audition, per se, for the Big Wig at her upcoming summer program. I said, no, probably not officially, but you’ll be working with him. “That’s not the same.” Right, it’s not, but in a lot of ways, it’s better! How nervous do most people get at an audition? Are they that nervous in rehearsals or coachings? Probably (hopefully!) not. Rehearsals and coachings, even performances, are great ways to “audition” without the stress of facing a panel in an unnatural environment.

I’ve always tried to view my auditions as performances, albeit performances for a very small, very critical group of people! Now I see that all of my performances are also auditions. I suppose I’ve known that all along: I’ve gotten several gigs from people who were in the audience of another gig; I didn’t even know I was auditioning.

In these rehearsals today and tomorrow, I’ll be “auditioning” for Peter Sellars, Miguel Harth-Bedoya, Osvaldo Golijov, Dawn Upshaw, plus an array of producers from Lincoln Center and St. Luke’s Orchestra. At my audition this afternoon, I’ll be “performing” for several administrators of the Metropolitan Opera. Not a bad day’s work.

Life minus

Ever wondered what it's like to be married to an opera singer? It's a lot like being married to a gorgeous woman with a beautiful laugh. Of course, AC would fit that description regardless...

Now imagine she took a job on an oil rig for a few weeks. She's out of reach and working a weird schedule. She working with a bunch of talented men and women who at the very least can be described as personalities and many of whom could make a sailor blush or a drag queen cry.

If you're lucky you've gotten good at telling "what's going on in life" into phone conversations that you fit in on the drive to work, a rehearsal break, or before bed or maybe some instant messaging in the evening. Most of important stuff makes it through and you find yourself starting to make a mental laundry list of things to tell between calls. You never remember them all... but you never forget, "I miss you babe."

Sunday, January 15, 2006

A week in New York

After a week of beautiful weather, it snowed last night and the temperatures dropped down into the twenties. Brrrr!! And this is not “let’s go out and play!” snow. This is just enough snow to make everything a mess, with a wind strong enough to stop you in your tracks and cold enough to take your breath away. Not very original descriptions, I know, but accurate! But, it finally feels like January in New York.

What a week… Ainadamar rehearsals have been going so well that our rehearsal scheduled for tomorrow morning has been cancelled and we only have a three-hour orchestra rehearsal tomorrow. I’m especially glad for that, as my voice is feeling the effects of singing the bright, straight-tonish style that the piece calls for. With my Met call-back audition on Tuesday, I need to try and spend as much timing using my “regular” voice so that it is in top shape. I’m meeting with JD tomorrow (who finally revealed to me that she has a blog!! Once I find it, I’ll post a link. UPDATE: I believe her blog is truly anonymous, so I'm going to keep it that way and not "out" her here. Sorry!) for a run-through of our material. We might be adding Zerbinetta to the mix, or at least putting Glitter back in. It all depends on how my voice is feeling and how much flexibility and control of my extension I have.

This production of Ainadamar is largely a repeat of the Santa Fe production: same set, same director, same staging, and largely the same cast. Peter Sellers is tweaking a few things here and there, refining gestures and dramatic intentions. Half of the women in the ensemble are new to the stage, although all of them have had some connection with Ainadamar in the past: two were covers at Santa Fe, one sang in the Atlanta performances and on the recording, and one sang in the performance (of the old version) with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. It’s a cool convergence!

The biggest change is that we now share the stage with a Spanish flamenco singer, or cantaor. Previously, the role of Lorca’s vigilante killer was sung by an operatic tenor imitating the wild style of flamenco. It was a strange and powerful sound, but nothing prepared me for the voice of Jesus Montoya. This is going to sound weird, but in his voice, I hear all the history of the world. When he spits insults at Lorca, it absolutely cuts me to the quick. So much pain. Since Jesus is not an actor, he is joined onstage by the tenor who sang and acted the role in Santa Fe, Alex Richardson. Alex moves through his old blocking, now acting the strongarm to Jesus’s mouthpiece. With Peter’s guidance, the construct works.

It’s also been a week of fabulous social engagements! If I lived here, it would be so tempting to ditch the budding opera career and just become a socialite! On my calendar this week: a book launch party (where we rubbed elbows with a certain American Idol finalist), an insanely enjoyable caberet show in the Village (where I sang a bit of Sondheim), a 30th-birthday party (at the honoree’s brother’s restaurant) for one of my favorite baritones, brunch with a composer (and partner), dinner with a fellow blogger visiting The City, and drinks in a Prohibition-era office-by-day / high-class-gin-joint by night (these day’s it’s allowed to be a bar all day). And that’s not including the several evenings I stayed home from the Tucker Gala or Sweeney Todd or Candy & Dorothy. God, I love this town.

Hopefully I’ll update more than once in the coming week! Stay tuned.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Once again, into the City

Just a quick note to say I’m here, settled into a great apartment in Chelsea. Only drawback? It’s a 5th floor walk-up! Ouch. My legs will get a great workout these three weeks, what with all the walking I do in the city and all those stairs…

My roommate is also a singer, a mezzo who will be going to Tanglewood this summer. It will be fun to tell stories and let her know what a great time is waiting for her there. So many discoveries. Dawn Upshaw will be on the faculty again this summer, so I’m going to try and introduce them at some point.

Something unexpected with Ainadamar: I’ve been asked to cover the role of Nuria, who is basically the third lead, below Dawn & Kelley’s characters. I’m very excited, even though I highly doubt I’ll be needed. Jessica Rivera, who sang the role at Santa Fe and on the recording, is a beautiful soprano with good habits on- and off-stage; she stays healthy! But I’ll be ready, just in case.

One thing that worries me a bit, though, is that the woman who covered Nuria in Santa Fe, another Apprentice and member of the Ainadamar Ensemble is also here for this production. I want to let her know that I didn’t ask for this cover; in fact, I only discovered it when I saw my name in the Playbill preview! That was a shock. Anyway, I’m trying to decide what to say to my friend in order to create less drama, not more, although there may not be any to begin with! I could just be over-analyzing, as always. Thoughts?

Now I’m off to finally meet face to face with the manager and his team that I have been alluding too for months. Details soon!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A Bird’s-Eye View

A few months ago, you may recall, Hurricanes Katrina & Rita devastated the Gulf States. You couldn’t get away from the news coverage. It’s easy to think that recovery is over and life is back to normal for those people since we never hear anything about it any more. But I’m fairly certain that is far from that truth.

I’ll soon have an insider’s view into the recovery effort, though, as my father is leaving in a couple of weeks for a stint as a volunteer coordinator somewhere in that area. He plans to blog about his experience, which I think is awesome, and I asked if I could mention it here. He has finally agreed, and so, here’s my first plug. His reasons for blogging are very similar to mine: to keep his friends and family aware of his activities and to serve as a window into this important time and place that seems already to be nearly forgotten. (Obviously, my blog is not about an important time and place, but you get the idea…)

For an insider’s view into how the recovery effort is going, point your browser to A Bird’s-Eye View. He still doesn’t have details, like exactly where he’ll be staying, as things change pretty quickly down there. But “The Rev,” as he is affectionately called, plans to blog as regularly as circumstances will allow. A retired USAF Lt. Col and now a Presbyterian minister, my father has a unique skill set that will come in handy as he works to help get people’s lives back together.
I’ll have the link on my sidebar for the duration of his visit, but link to it yourself and stop by regularly. Pass it along to others who will enjoy it, or who need a reminder of what that check to the Red Cross was actually for.

Two words

I have two words for myself: bel canto.

God, this stuff feels good to sing! And for some reason I can ring a high E-flat for days (well, not days) at the end of “Qui la voce” but not “Glitter and be Gay.” Go figure.

More repertoire hammerings are underway. I’m sure that my impending meeting with management is causing it. I don’t want to be wishy-washy with my Fach and the knowledge of my voice. At last week’s audition, one of the auditors said, after my first aria, “Do you consider yourself a Lyric or a Lyric Coloratura? ‘Cuz I hear you more as a lyric but most of what you have here is mostly LC.” I admitted that I was in transition, so he asked for my most LC piece (“Mein Herr Marquis;” no Glitter that day…) with a “Let’s see how you do with this.” I did ok, I think, but probably not as good as the Nannetta.

What’s going one? One year ago, I was embracing my inner Queen of the Night and grappling with high notes. I was looking for something special about my voice that would set me apart. I had high notes (sometimes) and a good tone up there, so that must be it! High notes must be my strength. Ok, here goes…

And then this summer I discovered that the true strength of my voice is line, especially high, floaty lines. I’m less comfortable with the pointillist coloratura lines of Zerbinetta then I am with the long, high lines of Sophie. I still can’t get my head around Despina, but my voice likes her better than Blondchen. Then there are Ilia, Norina, Adina, Zerlina, Gilda, and let’s not forget Nannetta. What do they have in common? You could work a high D or two into some of the Donizetti, but most of those roles don't go above a high C.

I think 2006 is going to be the year of embracing my inner soubrette… And, please god, let this be the last identity crisis! I’m getting too old for this…

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

With my siren song, of course

Welcome to the person who came to The Concert by Googling the term "how does the ACB trap people!"


Monday, January 02, 2006

Happy New Year

For the first time in about five years, I didn’t perform on New Year’s Eve. It was a choice, too, which made it feel even better. I knew I’d have a crazy fall and a December full of performances, so I decided that I wanted NYE to be a night I just got to hang out with my friends and not have to “be on.” It was wonderful.

My fabulous friend, CT the DT, hosted us all at her beautiful home with a view of the Space Needle. Every year at midnight (for we often go there after my performances), we pile onto the porch to watch the fireworks and sing “Auld Lang Syne.” (We even know all the words!) This year, there were “specialty cocktails” in addition to the champagne, so it was a festive time all around! Erik and IT manned the bar; they even wore their waiter costumes! Just kidding. They both looked quite dashing. There was some dancing, some accordian playing, some cigar smoking, and lots of laughing. A wonderful way to ring in 2006.

My goals in 2006:
• Read more (please send suggestions!).
• Get our personal and my business finances in better order, knowing exactly where the money goes and getting the debt payed OFF.
• Secure management and use it as a tool to get my name, face, and voice in front of more A- and B-level houses.
• Learn two roles I am not currently booked to perform: Nannetta and Sophie (Rosenkavalier).

Here’s to clean slates and blank calendars!
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