Monday, July 31, 2006

Ionarts in Santa Fe

Charles Downey and his family are back in Santa Fe for a week at the opera (as well as family visits; a nice mix of business and pleasure). This summer he will be attending and reviewing all five operas, a true member of the "press corps" that is here for the week. He and I talked last summer about the future of music criticism and music blogging, and, frankly, I think this bodes well.

Read his review of The Tempest here; I'll post the others throughout the week. Mrs. Ionarts and Master Ionarts will be along for a show or two, making it a real family affair. I'm most excited for Master Ionarts to see Cendrillon; I haven't really gotten a child's pespective on our magical fairytale. Will it transport him the way it is transporting adults?

Off to my first Rosenkavalier coaching!

UPDATE 8/2: Reviews of Flute and Carmen are up. (I'm the fifth chorus girl from the right in that chorus shot!)

Also, young Master Ionarts is, as it turns out, too young for a three-hour opera that starts at 8:30. He will instead spend the evening with his grandparents, I believe, which will surely be a great enjoyment for all involved. It won't be long, though, before he's in the house, sitting on a couple of cushions and following every detail.

UPDATE 8/5: The Cendrillon review is up, as are Charles's thoughts on his second viewing of the Tempest. Great pictures of Cendrillon!! What a gorgeous show...

Sunday, July 30, 2006


Today we had our “mock” auditions in preparation for next week’s house auditions. This is the big event of the summer, a big part of why so many singers apply to be an Apprentice at Santa Fe Opera (1100 applicants this year; over 700 auditions granted; 42 singers accepted). Directors of opera companies from all over will make a special “scouting” trip to Santa Fe next week, and each of us will get one shot at making a good impression. The directors call it “Death by Aria,” as they hear 42 arias back to back over two days. I call it “sink or swim,” as we only get one chance to show our stuff.

Last year’s audition went very well for me, and up ‘til now I have been very nervous about how to follow up on that. I got two job offers immediately after the audition, one of which I accepted, and the representative from the Metropolitan who heard my house audition arranged for my auditions at that house, based on what she heard that day. How can I top that? I finally realized that I can’t, necessarily; I have to sing next week’s audition as its own entity, not bound to last year.

That said, I still want to show the auditors that I have developed over the year. My resume will help, as it has past and future gigs on it that show I haven’t been sitting on my hands. But the aria I present is important for this, too. Last year I sang Nannetta: floaty, not too high, with the focus on the quality of my voice. This year, I’d like to show a high note or two and show more of my range as an actress. The aria that seems to be the front runner, and the one I tried out at the mock audition today, is the Silver Aria from The Ballad of Baby Doe.

I am feeling confident about it, and the main reason is that last weekend I sang it in a very casual public setting. Vanessie, a local piano bar, hosts Apprentice Nights every summer, at which we sing a fun mix of opera hits and cabaret/show tunes. On Sunday, I sang the Silver Aria, in which Baby Doe is trying to convince a gathering of politicians (all men) that the United States should go with a silver standard, rather than gold. It is a poetic, romantic plea, filled with gorgeous imagery; how many different ways can she say “I love silver!” Singing it in a room crammed with people, making eye contact and moving through the room, I got a real sense of what the aria would feel like in context and staged. Which man is the “sage” and which the laughter, who needs to be sung to twice or three times in order to get my point and who is in the palm of my hand from the opening lines.

Creating this context is my biggest hurdle in an audition. Acting a convincing scene onstage with no partners is a real challenge! (This is the main reason why the Presentation of the Rose is not on my aria list; it needs the dramatic shaping of the interaction between Octavian and Sophie. I’m too uncomfortable singing it alone.) So when I sing on Friday, I will see in my mind’s eye the faces of the crowd at Vanessie’s, just as last year I pulled on the beauty of the land around Santa Fe when singing of Nannetta’s magic glade. Work with what you’ve got!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Photo Page Update

I figured out (all by myself!) how to update the Photos page on my professional site, so go take a look. There are four new photos in the “Backstage” section, including great costume shots of Cendrillon.

I have a few onstage shots ready to post, but first I have to pay for them! Professional shots from last summer’s productions (Ainadamar and the Lucia scene), taken by Ken Howard. Maybe it’s the fact that my dad is an amateur photographer, but I feel pretty strongly about giving credits and not using photos without paying for them. I might wait until the end of this summer to see if there are other shots I want to use. Maybe I can work out a bulk discount…

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Learned and Learning

Since Cendrillon opened, I’ve had a very light schedule. I expected this to be nice, but it’s kind of thrown me for a loop! All of a sudden, it’s back to me to organize my time efficiently, to use these empty hours to study. Never a strong suit of mine, I have to admit… But I’m doing my best to change that.

Things I’m learning right now (or learned in the past couple of weeks):
• “Ich harrete des Herrn,” duet from Mendelssohn’s 2nd Symphony
• the finale of Falstaff (singing Nannetta, natch)
(The above are for an outreach concert here next Thursday.)
• Chi il bel sogno (an aria from a role I will never sing, but for a party trick, it’s perfect)
• “Goodbye, goodbye world,” Emily Webb’s monologue from Our Town, in a song setting by Lee Hoiby. Very moving, and great text.
(I learned the two above for a casual concert at a local piano bar that showcases SFO Apprentices every year. I sang them last night, along with Weill’s “The Saga of Jenny,” which is so much fun in that kind of environment. Lots of audience interaction!)
• the Presentation of the Rose, to be performed August 20.
• two arias that are so old they are practically new: Zeffiretti lusinghieri (Idomeneo) and Kommt ein Schlanker Bursch (Der Freischütz); both are options for the fall’s audition program.

Then there are the things that have appeared on my calendar for next season:
• Jano, the chattering shepherd boy in Jenufa
• Giannetta, “head village girl” in Elisir
(Two new covers at the Met!)
• songs for the recital project: Barber, Harbison, Fauré, Holst, Wolf, Greenstein!

And in the middle of all of this study, I continue to search for my rep. My voice keeps growing, maturing, developing new strengths (and weaknesses…). It seems like every year around this time, I look at my audition arias and think, “None of these really work!” I asked my colleagues in the dressing room the other night if they felt that they had “their five” (code for five audition arias) nailed down. Every head around me shook “no,” accompanied by a very concerned and defeated face. I’m not alone!

Most of the women I talked with that night are between 28-32, so our voices are starting to settle. But they all agreed that for the past few years, their voice changed so much from year to year that they almost had to start over with rep every audition season.
This gets frustrating, because you need to really “live” with an aria for a while before it is solidly in your voice and your body (not to mention your mind). Changing arias every year or so in order to find a better “fit” leaves one feeling ungrounded and clueless, in my case, as to where one’s voice is headed.

Several of us are reaching back to arias we learned 8-10 years ago and finding that they now fit really well. For me, the arias I mentioned above are now strong contenders for my audition program. It’s been a struggle for a while now to find the right Mozart aria. I sang the Queen, but I’m not looking to be that kind of coloratura anymore; Blondchen is ok, but those E’s stress me out; Despina doesn’t feel quite right temperamentally. So when I noticed “Zeffiretti” in an aria compilation last week, I thought I should take another look. I first learned this in 1998, and sang it on my Senior recital. Heaven knows what it sounded like then (PG knows… he just listened to said recital! eek!), but now it shows my strengths of line, a solid middle voice, and some float. Hmm, not unlike Nannetta…

“Kommt ein Schlanker” is an old one, too, from early grad school. The right German aria has eluded me for a while. I know that “Presentation” is used all the time as an audition aria for sopranos, but I’m having trouble with it dramatically. It is four minutes of being star-struck by a young man, and, frankly, I find that hard to convey without a young man! (Or, rather, a young mezzo…) It’s one of those stretched out “opera moments” that take special care. Maybe I’ll get comfortable with it by October (the start of audition season), but I don’t think it’s going to be ready for the house audition on August 4.

So here is what I think my audition program will look like this year:

English: a Baby Doe aria, either Silver or Letter
French: Frere, voyez…Du gai soleil (Werther)
Italian: Sul fil d’un soffio etesio (Falstaff)
German: Kommt ein Schlanker Bursch (Freischutz)
Mozart: Zeffiretti lusinghieri (Idomeneo)
One for “the road,” meaning the road ahead, to show where my voice is going: Qui la voce (I Puritani)

Written out, that doesn’t look too bad… I think I can work with that.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Photo Friday: Common (& Phenomenal)

 This week's Photo Friday topic is "Common." Last week's, which I didn't do, was "Phenomenal," and I feel this photo is both. Amazing sunsets are de rigeur here in Santa Fe, as they are in many places around the world. But they are, nonetheless, phenomenal and breathtaking.

This shot was taken last summer from the back steps of the opera house, probably before a performance of Turandot... I remember standing there on most evenings with AR, a New Mexico native, and even he hadn't grown numb to the beauty that appeared in the sky every night! May we never.

As was the case last summer about this time, I have lots to write about but no mental capacity for writing. I'll get a "Highlights" post up soon. My writing energy is at the moment being directed towards a proposal for funding the project I wrote about back in February. It's building steam; now all we need are money and a venue for a premiere!

More soon... Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Cendrillon Preview & Reviews

Here is the Cendrillon preview that ran in the local paper before opening night. The online version has a small slideshow, too, with pictures from a dress rehearsal. They will be enough to give you a small idea of the incredible whimsy and fun of the show!

The first review is in, too, and it's a good one. As others surface, I'll add them to this post.

The Santa Fe New Mexican - "hideously winsome!" (This might be my new favorite quote...)
The Los Alamos Monitor
Opera Today - I probably won't include this quote in my press packet... :)


Well, we made it! The final dress rehearsal was great, and after we made that pesky quick change (with room to spare! I knew we would…), I started to relax and really have fun. I’ve written here before about the importance of joy and playing and having fun in this line of work, and this production of Cendrillon allows – even encourages! – us all to do just that. Every person on that stage, even the stage hands dressed in full costume and makeup, is having a blast. And when we look out at the audience for the final chorus, we can see the smiles on their faces, too, and the joy multiplies. I love it!

Something else I love about performing are those moments on stage, little quirks or comments, that fly completely under the audience’s radar. For example, last night: After the quick change (successful again! I even had time to take a drink of water…), I come onstage without my shoes and gloves. Four dancers are in the scene, acting as our tailors; one of them hands me my gloves, and then two of them lift me up by my armpits and put on my shoes. Not exactly the beautiful lift I dreamed about in my dancing days, but it is funny! Last night, when E handed me my gloves, he said something to me. We even made eye contact, but I had no idea what he said. The words, coming at me in a place and time where there is usually no spoken English, just didn’t compute! The scene continued: I put on my right glove, the shoes went on, and then I started to put on the left glove. At this point I heard E’s voice again, in my mind, and this time I understood him: “It’s two right gloves.” Oops!

Fortunately, the gloves are very flimsy, so I could get the left one on with relative ease. I doubt even the folks in the front row could tell that it was wrong! E and I had a good laugh about it after the show, and my costumers made sure to pin a right and left glove together for next time.

We have another Cendrillon on Wednesday, Flute on Friday, and Salome opens on Saturday. I’m not in that one, but I’ll attend the final dress rehearsal on Thursday. It should be another great show! I’ll post reviews of Cendrillon as they surface.

A teaser: In the past few weeks, there has been talk of future work. Some big steps which, of course, I can’t talk about in detail yet! But bear with me. I only mention it to share the excitement of seeing my calendar booking up farther in advance than I’m used to, and with work that excites me not just because it’s work, but because the Who and the What and the Where are things I only dreamed about. Until now!

Thursday, July 13, 2006


There are certain elements of theater life that I have enjoyed despite (or because of?) their oddity or tedium. I recognized the first one in college theatre productions – tech rehearsals. We would have to stay at the theater for hours, late into the night, doing a “cue to cue,” a technical rehearsal in which the performers move through the blocking, starting and stopping while the tech crew focuses lights, adjusts sets, etc.. It was a process that most of my colleagues found incredibly boring, and I’m sure I did, too, at times. But I remember standing in my spot on stage watching the activity around me and knowing that it was all part of the process. That the long night was a crucial factor to opening night success. (It also often ended with a late night trip to Waffle House…)

These days, at this level, the performers aren’t used at tech rehearsals. Members of the running crew or stage management take our places – standing, sitting, running around, or lying down in our stead while we sleep in our little beds (or, while we’re supposed to be sleeping…). I observed a bit of an Ainadamar tech rehearsal last summer. They were focusing the last 20 minutes of the opera, which Dawn Upshaw spent flat on her back, and sure enough, there was Jodie on the ground, taking Dawn’s place. I complimented her the next day on her mastery of the blocking! As much as I wouldn’t want to stay up until 4am doing cue-to-cue rehearsals here in Santa Fe, I sometimes miss that aspect of amateur theatre.

My other favorite quirk, however, would never work with a stand-in. “Quick changes” are costume changes that need to be made in far less time than one would prefer! If you have an elaborate costume or a wig to change, five minutes might constitute a quick change, or you can be dealing with a matter of seconds. In Carmen, there are about a dozen choristers who have 90 seconds to change from gypsies to fancy town folk, complete with wigs, hats, shoes, and clothes. Backstage is a sight! Talk about organized chaos. But we make it every time, with room to spare.

That’s one of the things I love about quick changes. You always start thinking, “What? 90 seconds? No way.” And maybe you miss the first one or two (only in rehearsal; that’s why we rehearse…), but by closing night you practically have time for a cocktail! It’s a little victory every night, one that the audience generally takes for granted. A little secret.

In Cendrillon, I have about 60 seconds to get out of my opening costume and into my ball gown. Everyone knew this would be a tight one from the very beginning, so the costume department devised the perfect solution. Both dresses have one big zipper down the back so, in theory, the change should go like this: run off stage, meet my dressers (C & S), unzip, drop the first dress, arms in the second, kick off my shoes, zip up, run onstage. I love it!

But, of course, that’s just the theory. In reality we’ve had a bit of trouble! Monday was the first dress rehearsal, and somehow, even though I had tried the dress on three days earlier, the ball gown was too small. Before you make any snide comments about all the enchiladas I’ve been eating, when I tried it on last, it was missing several layers at the waist. Through the baffling physics of costumery, when the waistband was finished, it got smaller. (I don’t get it either, but believe me, it’s true!) So even though we had enough time for the change, the back zipper couldn’t make it all the way up. After three attempts at the change, we ended up just sending me on with the dress unzipped. It was a challenge for me to exicute the intricate blocking while trying to hold up my dress - and keep singing! Rather hysterical, I have to say!

Last night, they had adjusted the fit, but there was trouble with the zipper itself. In order for this costume idea to work, they had to find separating zippers long enough for the entire length of the dress, about 60 inches. They ordered YKK “zipper by the yard,” but until it arrived, they improvised by ripping the zipper out of a child’s sleeping bag and installing it into the dress! Ingenuity at work, I tell you. The sleeping bag zipper couldn’t handle all the fabric sewed to and around it; it just didn’t have the heft. So for the scene last night, I made it on to stage in time, but was totally unzipped in the back. Another lesson in thinking on my feet! It wasn’t falling off of me though, since we at least got the hook and eye at the top done up.

For tomorrow’s final dress, I am completely confident that we will make it with time to spare. And if we don’t? Well, that’s why we rehearse.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Never before…

Never before in the history of Santa Fe Opera have these words been spoken:

“Due to the humidity, there is a slight warp in the floor, so please be aware as you walk on the stage.”

Humidity? What is that??!!

Seriously, though, it has been humid here for the past few days. Wet and cool, and rather disconcerting. What happened to the dibilitating dryness of three weeks ago? The land and people are happy for all the rain, as am I, truth be told, but I don’t like leaving the stage after a frantic scene drenched in sweat. I feel like I’m in the Berkshires again! Ok, maybe not quite that bad, but it’s weird.

The next week looks like this:
Tonight: Carmen
Tomorrow: the Ballet (plus a “picnic dans la foret” with the cast and crew of Cendrillon)
Monday: Cendrillon piano dress rehearsal
Tuesday: Cendrillon 1st Orchestra dress
Wednesday: Magic Flute
Thursday: Cendrillon final orchestra dress
Friday: Carmen
Saturday: Cendrillon Opening Night!!

Time for resting whenever possible, drinking lots of water, yoga, eating my veggies, all that good stuff. The show is in great shape, so I want to make sure that I am, too!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Photo Friday: Summer

Nothing to do with singing, this one... Just a little bit of summer perfection.

Happy Summer Eating! Posted by Picasa

Thursday, July 06, 2006


I made a discovery today at rehearsal. I can sing in a 9:30am rehearsal after a short night of sleep after a performance of Carmen after a long day of rehearsals. After several long days, actually. The singing comes pretty easily, as long as I don’t push it. Just let the voice come out with whatever it has to give me at the time.

What I can’t do is let go of my focus during all the physical comedy that I am doing in this role! My shoes for the ball scenes are 3 ½ inch red stilettos, shoes that I am absolutely in love with, but they take A LOT of concentration. I wore them for about three hours yesterday, taking them off whenever possible, but the effect was the same. My feet don’t hurt, believe it or not, but my body is aching from all the extra effort those shoes require. Keeping balanced, walking with smaller steps, not to mention all the funny posing and running around I do when I’m in character. It’s a workout. And I was really feeling the cumulative effects of all this physical exertion this morning.

I’d been missing little things all morning – a turn of the head, being just a fraction late to get to my spot, etc. Things that told me I was really tired and not as “sharp” as I need to be in a rehearsal. About an hour into the rehearsal, we were working out the details of a complex exit, one involving chairs and screaming and running back and forth and opening doors. All in those fabulous heels… And so, at one point, when I turned to grab my chair and run out the door, I bit the dust. Hard.

Even before Dan, our stage manager, could say the magic words that press “Pause” in a rehearsal, I heard them in my own head: “Hold, please.” I knew I was ok, but my tired body was asking me to “hold, please.” Please, go back to bed!

I knew I was ok because I knew that I fell well. If you spend enough time on stage, you will eventually have to fall down, and I’ve been on stage in some capacity for over 20 years, if you can believe that. Somewhere along the line, someone taught me how to fall. (Maybe Ms. Stettler, my jr. high drama teacher; I could write an entire post about all the things she taught me…) Now, even when it’s an accident, I fall on the right parts of my body (the softer ones), avoiding injury even when toppling off of 3 ½ inch stilettos.

I got a good nap this afternoon and have only a quiet dinner planned for this evening. So with some rest and only three hours of rehearsal tomorrow, I think I’ll be able to focus.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Lorraine Hunt Lieberson died yesterday, at home here in Santa Fe. I knew she was ill, and was hoping against hope that she would recover. I was so looking forward to hiding in the theater during rehearsals for the Mark Morris Orfeo at the Met next season...

I heard her sing three years ago at Tanglewood, Debussy's sensual "Chanson de Bilitis," and even with some rather silly staging, I was blown away. Talk of her musicality is on everyone's lips right now, but I was bowled over by the sheer beauty of her voice.

In the past few years, I have appreciated the blogosphere's tributes to the many great musicians and artists who have passed on. I read the articles and recollections and reminiscences with great interest, celebrating the person's life with joy and being grateful for their gifts to those of us still here.

But this time I don't want to read anything. I just want her to not be dead.
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