Friday, June 30, 2006

Photo Friday: Happiness Is...

 ...relaxing on a beautiful lawn under the Santa Fe sun, with good friends and colleagues, on a break from rehearsing an opera we love. Posted by Picasa

Photo Friday

I’ve decided to start participating in Photo Friday, a weekly themed photo entry. I know it doesn’t have anything to do with singing (although sometimes it might), but I’ve been enjoying taking pictures recently and thought this would be a fun way to share them. Let me know if you like the addition!

[Due to my dial-up connection, all photo entries will be separate posts. See above for this week’s photo.]

Edited to add: Maybe I will try to keep all my photos in line with the PF theme AND related to singing... an extra challenge...


Tonight is Opening Night! Carmen tonight, and Magic Flute tomorrow. Both shows are in great shape, ready for the energy that the audience brings. Someone asked me if I was excited about tonight, and I am, but only because I know that the real excitement will arrive when I hear the downbeat and wait in the wings. At this moment, I’ve been home from rehearsal (four hours of Cendrillon) for an hour or so, had my dinner, and am now preparing to go back to the theatre, a routine I’ve been through every night this week. So right now it just feels like “another day at the office,” if you will. But! It will feel different soon enough…

I wear a wig (two different wigs, actually) for Carmen, and I’m looking forward to attending this evening’s afterparty with my wavy, bouncy pin-curl hair. It won’t be a long party, though, as I have another full afternoon of Cendrillon tomorrow. We’ve staged the entire thing, and now it’s time for detail work and repetition. Monday we’ll do a full run-through in the rehearsal space, and then on Tuesday we’ll get to be on the stage with the set!

In other news, we were all assigned our scenes for the Showcase yesterday. This year I’ll be singing (drum roll, please…) Sophie in Rosenkavalier! We’ll be doing the opening of Act II, which includes the famous (and breathtakingly beautiful) “Presentation of the Rose” duet. It’s a nice long scene, from the opening bars of Act II through the sweet conversation between Octavian and Sophie, right up to (but not including) the entrance of the Baron. A sweet friend from grad school and Tanglewood, PM, will be my Octavian, and I am thrilled!

The other assignments are great, too, and include scenes from operas old and new: Mitradite, Barber of Seville, A View from the Bridge, Dead Man Walking, Arabella, Clemenza di Tito, Eugene Onegin, La Rondine, Billy Budd, Pelleas et Melisande, and several others I can’t remember off the top of my head. These will be some amazing nights of singing.

And with Cendrillon almost on its feet, I can start digging into that gorgeous Strauss…

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Oh! Look!

Singing is all about muscle memory. What it feels like in your throat when you sing something “correctly,” how to kick in your support muscles, etc. For this reason, partly, it takes a while – years, even – for an aria to really feel settled. The Voice has to become intimately familiar with the twists and turns, ins and outs of a piece before it can stop thinking analytically and just sing.

I was reminded of this last week when I brought “Qui la voce,” an aria from Bellini’s I Puritani, to one of my lessons with Mark. I’ve been singing this for about 15 months now, I suppose, when it was recommended to me by a former teacher after he heard me sing the Queen of the Night. I sang it in a recital last fall, I think, and have put it back in my “working arias” folder for the summer.

For those of you who don’t know the piece, it is structured in typical bel canto style with a slow opening half (the cavatina) and an up-tempo second half (the caballeta) which is often repeated and embellished, sometimes at the composers instruction, with the repeat and changes written in, and sometimes at the performer’s “discretion.” (Historically, discretion is optional; it’s really about showing off!) The tempo of each half generally reflects the mood. In the opening of “Qui la voce.” Elvira is sad and questioning the disappearance of the “sweet voice” who called to her (and who she now thinks ran off with the Queen); in the cabaletta, she sings longingly and excitedly about the joy she will feel when he returns. [This whole structure is reminiscent of the baroque da capo aria, in ABA’ form, with the B section generally having a substantially different mood. These sudden changes in atmosphere can make for some tricky dramatic justification!]

Ok, enough exposition. My revelation last week was about bel canto in general, a style into which I am just starting to delve. It requires a lot: true, taffy-like legato; spot-on coloratura and flexibility; a seamless range from top to bottom. In short, it is a combination of all the vocal elements I have been studying. It needs the warmth of my middle voice that I honed in my “lyric” days, the ring of my high notes from my “high coloratura” days, and the sweet legato phrasing of my “soubrette” days.

About eight years ago, opera appeared to me as a synthesis of all the arts I had studied and loved my whole life: theater, dance, literature, music. I really feel like one day I woke up and said, “Oh! Look! Here’s opera! I can continue to be all these artists (dancer, actor, etc.).” Last week, it was as if bel canto appeared to me similarly. “Oh! Here’s bel canto!” It feels like another brick in the foundation of my development and the path of my career has fallen into place.

Other bel canto projects for the summer/year: Adina in L’elisir d’amore and Lucia from Lucia di Lammermoor. I had a taste of that role last summer, which, I imagine, was when the seeds of the revelation were planted. It all comes to light eventually, doesn’t it?

Friday, June 23, 2006

It begins

It has been a crazy few days, as to be expected, and tonight we start our summer of evenings and nights at the theater. I was talking with a friend today about the joy of watching the sunset off the back deck of the theater after getting into costume, waiting for our call to “places” and the thrill of the downbeat while watching a show every bit as spectacular (sometime more so…) then the operas we perform. Then, after the performance, walking back to the car under a clear sky positively filled with stars. Cool enough to need a sweater, even though it topped 90 degrees that afternoon. It doesn’t get much better than that…

It has also been unbelievable dry this summer, more so than last year, and I’m really feeling it. I got pretty dehydrated on Tuesday (but I didn’t faint!), and for the past few days have felt a weird tickle in my throat. When I woke up this morning barely able to talk, I knew that dehydration had really hit me. So today I didn’t sing, I bought a humidifier for my bedside, and I drank water like it was going out of style. The fact that I drank four liters of water (at least) and wasn’t in the ladies’ room every 30 minutes drove home the fact that I was truly parched! Scary.

A few posts and articles of interest:

Chiara has some wonderful thoughts on singing today. I love to hear non-professionals talk about music and singing, since we full-timers can often forget the basic joy of creating music. Of feeling “the noise physically sweep out of your lungs and throat.” A gift.

CT the DT has reached a milestone on her life’s path. I don’t think I realized how scared I was, too, until I heard the relief and joy in her voice when she called me. I

Nicholas Nackley, a colleague of mine from grad school, had a great feature in the Boston Globe last week. It’s always cool to read about my classmates’ successes. I haven’t seen Nick for a few years, but if you see him, asking him about the Barbara Bonney masterclass!

Nick’s profile was related to the premiere of Angels in America by Opera Unlimited in Boston, lead by Gil Rose and starring several colleagues: Tom Meglioranza (read about his experiences at Tomness), Amanda Forsythe, Anne Harley, and Drew Poling (as well as Nick.). It sounds like it was an incredible performance, and I’m so proud to know the people bringing this important work to life.

I’m off to the theater!

Friday, June 16, 2006

Happy Birthday!

A happy 2 year blog birthday to The Concert! Thanks to all who have read and linked and commented. It's been so fun to watch the music blogosphere grow over the past two years, and I'm happy to be a part of it.


More than vowel modification

Before my first lesson with Mark last week, I had two thoughts. One I’ve shared already: that I want to study with him regularly (once a month or so) when I move to NYC this fall. (I guess that’s an announcement…) I’ve been singing largely on instinct for the past three years, as I’ve been without a major teacher, and I feel that it’s time for some more knowledgeable singing. The other was that I should ask Jennifer Black, whose singing I admire, who she studies with. She has been in the Met Lindemann training program this past year, so I figured she had a teacher through them. Well, I asked, and guess who? That’s right. Mark Oswald.

Within the first few minutes of my first lesson, Mark mentioned that he had found and read my blog post about lessons last year. (Maybe he’s still reading? Hi, Mark!) He was quick to point out that “it’s more than just vowel modification,” which made me blush a little! Obviously, I knew that, but I was operating on very few data points, if you’ll pardon the geekery. When a teacher comes in as a visitor, working with singers who most likely have established relationships with other teachers, he or she really can’t jump right in with major technique ideas. It must be hard to find a way to get your ideas across in a way that will supplement rather than supplant. This time around, I knew that I wanted to work on a deeper understanding of his “technique” and to start building a more long-term teacher/student relationship. Last summer we worked mainly from repertoire, meaning I would bring an aria to our lesson and we would tweak it. I told Mark before my second lesson that I was interested in some more focused technique work, so we spent one whole lesson going over his vocalizes. I have them all on tape, but my tape recorder has bit the dust. RadioShack to the rescue, I hope.

It’s all about being aware (there’s that word again…) of where each note, each vowel, needs to be sent. There is a ratio of forward and back, up and down, in every note, and sometimes that ratio is drastically different for two notes that are very close together, i.e. c# and d. Tweaking the vowels can help work out this ratio. [Out loud, say the five vowels and feel how the space in your mouth changes. That’s the basic structure we’re playing with here.] It’s all very complex and, as I suspected in last year’s recap, will take some time to get into muscle memory. But I am already more aware of my passaggios (the places in my voice where I “shift gears” from mixed voice to head voice to upper head voice) and how I need to operate as I move through them. Where I need to imagine the sound going as it leaves my throat.

I know all this tech talk is weird, and I hope you’ve stayed with me. Because what happened at the end of my lesson today was evidence that these ideas will work for me. Just before time to quit, KP at the piano was flipping through my book and came to the Silver Aria from The Ballad of Baby Doe. Mark and I worked on it at my first lesson (I’ve had three now), and as we sang through it I could feel my brain processing all the technique ideas. “Ok, here’s a D; think low space on this passaggio note.” There were a few spots, too, where I could feel the gears turning, but things weren’t quit there yet. “The vowel on this C# isn’t quite right.” But instead of just getting frustrated by that note that’s always given me trouble, I understood that I was gaining the tools to fix it.

And then we came to the final phrase, with a high C that has never felt free. C isn’t usually a hard note for me, but this phrase is tricky. Something about the approach or the vowel or the sustain. But today, I knew what to do with that note, where to send it, how to support it, and I nailed it. My eyes even filled with tears, but I thought, “Don’t ruin this note by crying about it!”

I walked out of the lesson feeling like Pippa, with “God in his heaven and all right with the world.” I am a singer, and I have found my teacher.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The next big thing

It’s not a new thing, by any means, but MySpace seems to be making inroads into classical music as well as underage international affairs. It is this later aspect that has kept me away until now, only creating a page in order to be able to view the pages of friends of mine, but being easily persuaded by major media, after reading today’s article in the Boston Herald (is the BH major media?), I’m thinking about joining the party.

This is happening in conjunction with the rise of Perfomania, a social networking site specifically for musicians. I learned about this through my manager, as it is billed, in part, as a way for managers and musicians to work together to get their product “out there.” Video, audio, more photos, etc., than could be presented on the agency’s website.

So who knows? In the next few weeks, there may be two more places in the Web-o-sphere from which you can follow my doings. And see who my friends are…

NIB: To Gregory, et al, regarding Blogroll omissions: It is not an intentional slight! To create the blogroll, I mostly just copied the list off of my sidebar, which had been culled from time to time to make room for new blogs. I’m still reading! I will put things aright and get you on the list. If I’ve left off anyone else, please let me know!

NIB 2: Busy busy busy at the opera, with three shows in rehearsal. I’ll get an update soon. On the agenda today: two hours each of Carmen and Flute rehearsal, a wig fitting, a voice lesson, and an hour-long costume fitting for Cendrillon!! En fin!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Two Deaths

News of two great men passing came my way this morning. While that might not be the greatest way to start a Monday, reflecting on their gifts and great lives isn’t so bad.

First, I learned that Gyorgy Ligeti died this morning at age 83. One of my most memorable concert-going experiences - one of those that made me want to stand up and shout and say “YES!! THIS is how music is supposed to be!” – was hearing Pierre Laurent-Aimard play Ligeti’s Etudes at Tanglewood in 2003. His hands were a cartoonish blur at times as seemingly thousands of notes poured out of the piano. It was inspiring.

That same summer, several of my colleagues sang Le Grand Macabre in concert with the Tanglewood Orchestra, Robert Spano on the podium. Another fantastic work. At the end, when the audience was applauding madly, Spano lifted the score off of his stand and held it up to the crowd, as if to say, “Don’t applaud us, applaud this.” And they did.

I also learned this morning that Daniel Steiner, President of New England Conservatory from 1999 through the end of this past school year, died Sunday. The first non-musician to head the school, he brought to NEC his business savvy combined with his great love of music and belief in the futures all the students. He always had a smile for us as we rushed past him in the halls.

There are several NEC graduates here at Santa Fe this summer; at least five apprentices and maybe more, not to mention mainstage artists. Maybe we can all send a card…

Two great men, two great lives. May we learn from their example.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Warm-up Meditation

Today as I was warming up in preparation for my lesson, I recognized an opportunity for meditation. Call it meditation, mindfulness, awareness, or even just focus, the idea of concentrating on the task at hand and not allowing myself to get distracted with thoughts of other things is a major goal for me these days. So instead of walking around my house while warming up, looking at all the “things” around me and letting my mind wander, I sat down on the edge of a chair and just sang.

I focused on my breath, on my belly and diaphragm and lungs, on my open throat. I even used a small breathing meditation that I have picked up recently from my reading of Thich Nhat Hanh (currently, Peace is Every Step). The first two lines go like this:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
When used in conjunction with a vocalize, especially the long ones I was doing today, this creates a nice long smile! And what does smiling do? Relaxes your face. I could feel the difference in my voice and in my mind.

I’m using longer vocalizes here in order to help kick-in my breath support. At this altitude, oxygen is a bit harder to come by, so we all have to work a little harder to maintain support on long phrases. My favorite exercise for checking my support is a series of scales of a ninth – imagine starting at middle C and singing up to the D nine notes above, then back down to C. I cycle through as many vowels as I can on one breath, which at sea level is about six. Up here, I can get five, but only if I really focus that breath!

TNH encourages practicing mindfulness in all our regular activities – washing the dishes, eating, driving. I think practicing is a perfect opportunity as well.

Full Blogroll

Full Blogroll

Bold links are the newest additions; latest update: September 2009.

Coloratur…aaah - fellow blogging soprano
Conservatory Bound - Violinist turned singer
grecchinois - Nicholas Phan, tenor
Operavision - Aprile Millo joins the blogosphere, and we are the better for it.
singin’rin - Rinat Shaham, mezzo
Tomness - Food and Schubert, not always in that order.
Yankeediva - Joyce DiDonato, sharing her journey with us

Chicago Opera Theater - Brain Dickie, General Director
La Cieca -
Little Ms. Bossy - a very funny and sweet opera director, sharing her life in Houston
My Favorite Intermissions - Maury D’Annato, opera fanatic
MetBlog - the New Met
NYC Opera Fanatic - Just what he says
Opera Chic - OC goes to La Scala and you don’t
OperaNow! - weekly (mostly) podcasts about all that’s hot in the world of opera.
Prima la Musica - Soprano adoration from NZ
Rahree - An opera admin dishes on opera (duh), books, music, and the Steelers.
Score Desk – the next hot young opera blogger
Sieglinde’s Diaries - NY-based operagoer’s blog
Unamplified voice - NY opera blogging
Wellsung - Opera Reviews for Four Hands
Wolf Trap Opera Blog - Kim Witman takes us behind the table

Music and Arts
About Last Night - Terry Teachout
Alex Ross, The Rest is Noise - Classical music critic for The New Yorker
Andrew Patner - Chicago-based music journalist
Arts Journal: Music - Headlines from around the world
Aurgasm - Your favorite music you’ve never heard, streaming weekly.
aworks - “new” American classical music
Daniel Felsenfeld - composer, music writer, fellow NEC alum
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society - “music, politics, life in New York” and shiny baubles
Dial M for Musicology - They say they even welcome air-guitarists, so I dig these guys.
Deceptively Simple - Marc.
The Determined Dilettante - TONY Arts & Entertainment editor
eighth blackbird - new music darlings are blogging!
Feast of Music - excellent NYC concert reviews
From Every Corner - SMB in PDX
ionarts - Charles Downey, based in DC but writing about arts around the world
Iron Tongue of Midnight - Lisa Hirsch
Jessica Duchen - Novelist, music journalist; another link long overdue
James Roe - NYC arts insight from the Dir of Helicon
Jessica Duchen - London-based music writer and novelist
Jonathan Biss, pianist - irregular but thoughtful postings about making music.
Music as Weapon? - David, how did I now know you were blogging? Founder & director of Newspeak; check it out.
Musical Perceptions - the original FriPod
NewMusicBox - “web magazine” from the American Music Center
Nico Muhly - the young composer shares his musings.
Night After Night - NY-based music writing
notes from the kelp - composer (and lover of the sea) Alex Shapiro
oboeinsight - Oboes in San Fran
The Quotidian – Lisa Bielawa, BMOP composer-in-residence
The Reverberate Hills - another voice from the San Fran scene
Roger Evans Online - music reviews and thoughts on the state of things in The Biz
Sequenza21 - Contempory Classical Music
sogalitno - a Southern gal in the North
SoHo the Dog - my new favorite music geek
The Standing Room - Singing and Parking in San Francisco
Think Denk - Jeremy Denk, pianist

The 3 F’s: Food, Fashion, Friends
101 Cookbooks - Inspiration
Ampersand - Life, uncensored, now from New Zealand
The Budget Fashionista - Looking great without breaking the bank
Dilettante Traveler - Travel, often and varied
fashionologie - An insider’s view, I think
Orangette - Food writing that reads like poetry
Perfect Pantry - what a food writer keeps in her larder.
Pink of Perfection - La dolce vita
The Sartorialist - On the street in NY & around the world
Zauberwelt - Another old friend, rediscovered through the blogosphere

Reading & Writing
Blurbomat - Behind the scenes at
Confessions of a Pioneer Woman - Calf nuts and cowboys.
David Byrne - ‘nuff said
dooce - She who started it all (well, a lot of it, anyway) - Having a bad day? Go here and LOL.
Huffington Post - recently brought back to my attention - a bit of everything
Stuff White People Like - Funny stuff.
Terminal Degree - Insight into academia
This Fish - now, oddly, in Texas

Art, beauty, photography
bighappyfunhouse - found photographs
form meets function - drool-inducign design
Martinis and Mantras
Melear-o-sphere - photos and thoughts from our photo guru. Oh, he’s a conductor, too.
random thoughts II: a beautiful photo blog
Strange Maps - Maps. Strange ones.
such stuff - My daily dose of beauty
The Year in Pictures - Inspiration and beauty from a NYC photography curator

Et moi: Go to my .Mac site for a while instead.
Twitter - a Tweeting Bird, a most natural thing


Tomorrow I have my first voice lesson of the summer! And, considering that I haven’t had a voice lesson since August, I’m excited. Especially since it’s with Mark Oswald. I had several lessons with Mark last year, and I always left his lessons feel like I was leaving a yoga class. He is centered and calm, two traits that I value highly in my life right now; you can read about my first impressions and work with him from last summer here.

He is going to be “in residence” here for almost three weeks, I think, so I hope to get in with him a few times at least. I’m also hoping to see him regularly this coming year; his is the kind of energy and attitude with which I want to surround myself.

I don’t have much else to say right now. I’m feeling a little heavy, worrying about people in Seattle. Missing my dog. Anxious about relocating for two weeks. (I’ll be staying with some family friends of L, good people that I met last summer who generously opened their home to me.) Feeling very fragile, but doing my best to embrace it. To just be aware.

But before I sign off, a shout out to S&L (and CT, too?) back in Seattle, who will be singing back-up for Dianne Schuur next week at Jazz Alley!! Unbelievably cool. Knock ‘em dead, ladies.

Sunday, June 04, 2006


This is the photo that I wanted to include in my post about costumes, but I'm having trouble uploading pictures via Blogger. We'll try it through Picasa, which will be fine, if it works. I'll have to post all my pictures as separate posts, which is kind of lame, but better than nothing!

This is my dress form in the costume shop, currently wearing a muslin mock-up of my Act I Cendrillon costume. Posted by Picasa

Found it!

Turns out, the announcement has been made; I just didn't look hard enough! Go here and notice that the Prince Charming mentioned in the opening paragraph, Kristine Jepson, is different than the one in the cast list, Jennifer Holloway. Jennifer, a classmate of mine from our undergrad days at UGA, was originally scheduled to sing the other step-sister, but got "promoted" when Ms. Jepson withdrew (with SFO's blessings, to take a contract at La Scala).

She's going to be amazing...

Saturday, June 03, 2006


I had fittings for my chorus costumes this week, and T, the costumer in charge of all my costumes, was anxious to get me crossed off the list for Carmen and Flute. More than once, he said, “We’re going to need Ms. Bird in here for so many fittings for Cendrillon, I don’t want to have to take up more time with these costumes!” We rushed to get through my three Carmen outfits in forty-five minutes, and Flute was an easy fit, so… now any time I have to go have a fitting, it will be for Cendrillon!

I won’t post pictures until after opening, but my costumes are hysterical. The cosutme shop is also going to make a rough rehearsal costume so G and I can practice walking. It’s not an A-line skirt, let’s just put it that way!

G and I had our first coaching today, and I can tell that we’re going to have a blast. I’m also glad for the chance to work with CA, a coach on staff that I didn’t really get to work with last year. I have a long list of new things to work on this summer, so I hope to really take advantage of all the talented and knowledgable people on staff.

A day off tomorrow, with yoga in the morning and a party at the opera in the evening. Then we start staging Carmen on Monday!

Friday, June 02, 2006


After a couple of crazy days of trying to find a better housing situation here in Santa Fe, I have settled into a lovely house. I am living alone, which is a wonderful blessing, but I’m walking distance from a dear friend and I have great neighbors. I’m basically house-sitting for a couple who live in Key West for most of the year; it’s not free, but it’s cheaper than my original arrangement and a better situation all around. There is a quirk, of course, and that is that the owners are coming to town for two weeks in late June. I’ll stash some stuff in the small bedroom and find a place to crash for the time. I have some leads, so I’m not worried, and the trade-off makes this feel like a minor inconvenience.

We had our first day of rehearsals yesterday, jumping headlong into Carmen and Flute choruses. I expect to have a coaching for the step-sisters tomorrow. There are lots of great people back this year, and several people that I know from other gigs in the new crop. All in all, it seems like a great group.

It’s definitely a good year to be an Apprentice. I’m not sure if it’s because of the 50th Anniversary season, but the opera is really showcasing the “young talent.” There are so many good roles being sung by apprentices this year: in Magic Flute, the Ladies, Papagena, and the Guards; in Carmen, the qypsy quartet and, I think, the smaller officer part; in Cendrillon, the stepsisters and maybe the Master of Ceremonies; in Salome, all kinds of Slaves, Jews, and Soldiers; and I think there are small roles in the Tempest, too. Great opportunities all around. There is one Apprentice who has been awarded an incredible role, due to the cancellation of the original artist. I haven’t seen anything about in press or publicity stuff from the opera, so I’m keeping a lid on it, but needless to say, it is thrilling. Micaela is also being sung by a young singer, Jennifer Black, who was an Apprentice with me last year. She’s been in the Met’s training program this year, and has a gorgeous voice. Whenever Micaela would sing on my Carmen recording as I studied, I thought, “I can’t wait to get to hear Jennifer sing this!”

So, we’re under way!

Just when I thought...

... I couldn't love her more, Dawn Upshaw takes on new project that further demonstrates what a gutsy artist she is.

So cool.
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