Thursday, November 30, 2006

A small milestone

In the continuing effort to keep my resume to one page, as we are strongly encouraged to do, tonight I took my last school role off the list.

That feels pretty good!

All the remaining are either training program roles (Tytania, Noemie) or professional credits, however small the paycheck might have been! Each role listed is truly representative of my voice, past, present, and future, with no “out of Fach” roles simply there for filler. (Not that I’ve really done any out of Fach roles…)

But there are still things missing.

Namely, leading roles with orchestra. I really only have one, when it comes down to it – Tytania. And that wasn’t a professional gig. I have tons of concert work, at high levels, and more booked for the future. But opera roles have been slow in coming. My path to this stage of my career has been through concert work, so it makes sense, I suppose, but I’m ready to shift the percentage. Someone asked me recently if I was afraid of being put in the box of “new music concert singer,” and, frankly, the idea hadn’t crossed my mind. But I can see the trend on my resume. I know I will always sing concerts; my voice is well-suited for that repertoire. And I love bringing new music to life. But somewhere along the way in the past five years, I became on opera singer.

I’m doing my best to be patient, but I’ll admit to a few anxious moments during this audition season. A few weeks ago, I learned that a job I wanted went to another soprano (one I know personally; all the jobs I don’t get go to other sopranos…). I got seriously bummed out, even though on that same day I sang two great auditions AND booked a series of concerts for May, 2008. I had to work hard to get myself out of the funk, reminding myself that the wheels were set in motion for me, that I have a great team working on my behalf, that I am singing better than ever, that the jobs will come. They will. Won’t they?!

I believe that they will. My managers fielded an inquiry as to my availability for a great role (a leading role with orchestra…) – but it’s fairly last minute and I’m booked. Is it wrong to confess that, even though I’m booked at THE MET, I was disappointed? I am so ready to get on that stage as a principal artist, delving into a character and a plot, taking the audience along with me on the journey through the story, singing the arias and duets and ensembles of the leading lady.

I’m ready, Coach. Put me in!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Always good to double check

I was just reviewing the cut list* for my upcoming Messiah concerts. Turns out they are including a section that has always been cut in my experience, which means I have a new solo to learn! It is the beautiful “If God be for us, who can be against us,” and I will enjoy learning it – and singing it! Handel’s music fits my voice very well; I’m about to add one or two of Cleopatra’s arias to my audition repertoire, I think…

PBO will be performing two concerts of the complete Messiah and then two performances of highlights paired with the Bach Magnificat. I haven’t performed the Magnificat before, so for that piece I’m learning a solo aria, a gorgeous SSA trio, and, since we’re performing the E-flat version, a duet for soprano and baritone. Lots of new music, lots of wonderful music.

I’m starting to get very excited about these concerts, for several reasons. Mostly, I realized today that I haven’t performed in almost three months! I have enjoyed the break, and I needed it, certainly. I couldn’t have gotten as settled as I am here in NYC if I’d been scurrying about performing, and my voice needed a rest, too. I’ve been going through a bit of a growth spurt vocally, and I’ve needed these months to fine tune things with my teacher, get some new rep up on its feet, and gear up for the next phase. But I am ready to get back to work!

Another reason I’m excited is that Stephen Stubbs will be conducting. Mr. Stubbs is a very prominent member of the international early music community, running the Boston Early Music Festival for years and recently moving (back) to Seattle, where he’ll be involved with several of the areas early music groups. Digging around a bit, I found that bio linked above on the website of the new Seattle Academy of Baroque Opera, his latest endeavor, it seems. How exciting for Seattle!

I’m always looking to learn more about a specific style of singing (singing styles generally being based on a time period), and this will be a wonderful opportunity to learn from a master. I’ll be nervous when I sing for him the first time, afraid that I will do something stylistically that will make him run screaming from the room! Of course I realize that chance is small, but I am completely open to the likelihood that he’ll have an idea or two that will make my performances more accurate. Learning on the job, so to speak.

* With a large work like the Messiah, groups will often cut out one or more movements to keep the running time down. There are cuts that have become traditional over the years, but it’s always good to double check!

On another note, I had one of those auditions today, where the folks behind the table say really nice things to you that make you think you got the gig. I’ve learned by now that said comments mean no such thing, but they are indicators of making an impression. So, whether I’ll be cast in a really fun and exciting role in April 2008 is yet to be seen, but I know that I made a good impression with a good company. Not a bad day at work.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The MetBlog

I just came upon the blog at the Met's fancy new website! Simply called MetBlog, it is currently a joint effort by various people involved in the new Tan Dun opera, The First Emperor. I had to do a little digging to find out who some of the posters are, but it seems there is a wide range of departments represented. Suzanne Mentzer (didn't have to search for her!), a mezzo performing in the opera (can't find her role); Steven Osgood, an assistant conductor; and stage directors Peter McClintock and Eric Einhorn. I'd love to hear from some orchestra members, too.

Maybe they'll be interested in the writings of a lowly Young Lover/First Novice?

Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, all! Hope you had a lovely day of food and football and family.

My parents are here in NYC for the week (the power of grandchildren!), and they braved the rain to take in the big parade while E and I worked on dinner. I did most of my cooking at my apartment in Manhattan on Wednesday night, then carried everything over to Brooklyn. Let me tell you, food is heavy!! I had a squash casserole (classic southern dish), veggie-sausage and apple dressing, a pecan pie, and a chocolate-pumpkin cheesecake – all still warm! – carefully set into a laundry basket. Then I had a bag full of cheeses, olives, other hors d’oeuvres, and two bottles of wine. All in all, I think it was about 50 pounds of stuff! I only had to walk two (Avenue) blocks to the subway, but my arms were aching the next day! Nothing got even slightly damaged in transit, though, and everything tasted as good as it looked. E made the turkey (her first!), a really yummy cranberry sauce, roasted winter veggies, Brussels sprouts, green beans, and a pumpkin pie. It was quite possibly a perfect Thanksgiving meal.

We all said our “thanks” before dishing up, and as always, family topped the list. We missed having S&S, my sister and bro-in-law, and sent them lots of love on the phone. In addition to family, I really am most thankful for music, that it is both my vocation and my avocation, something I would do passionately even if it were just a hobby.

I was reminded on Thanksgiving how much music is central to my family, both now and as I was growing up. What triggered the thought was putting on “The Sound of Music” LP (yes, a record!) during the last hour of dinner preparation and everybody singing along. It was awesome! Sylvia got out her marionette horse puppet during the lonely goatherd song, and even little 16-month-old James got in on the action. He went around all night and the next day singing the opening pitches of “Do, a Deer” in perfect intervals. A budding singer?

I might not have grown up in a “classical music” house, but I was surrounded by music. Simon & Garfunkel, Anne Murray, ABBA, John Denver, the list goes on. Lots of church music, of course, with a few chestnuts like the Brandenburg concerti and Amahl and the Night Visitors thrown in for good measure. The overarching theme to my musical upbringing, I suppose, is that music is for communicating; I credit my folk music background for my love of singing in English (and my good English diction! No supertitles at coffee shop openmikes..). Music is something to share, and it is joyful!

And for that, I am Thankful.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


A good surprise: Opening my letter from the Sullivan Foundation to discover that the amount of my encouragement award is almost twice what I was expecting! Hallelujah. A voice lesson and a few rep coachings are on the horizon (remember that Czech stuff? Yeah, me too…), plus paying for my recording and accompanists for all my auditions. I may not be paying application fees this year, but I’m taking my pianist with me whenever possible. At $35 a pop, it adds up – but it is worth it! I will also use some of the money for new headshots, probably in January. Rent just went up, so this will help smooth that transition, as well as refill the savings account a bit.

A bad surprise: I also learned this week that now two very important people in my life, Friends and Mentors (each are both to me) are facing breast cancer. There is nothing that makes one feel more helpless than knowing that your loved ones are suffering in a way that you can do nothing to alleviate. Not much more to say about this... Well, not anything that I would want printed in a public forum…

The trip to Boston (actually the South Shore; I never made it into the city…) was wonderful – oh, to live by the ocean again – and included another surprise, of sorts. The groundwork is being laid for some potentially awesome work. Something completely different, but fun and challenging. Details to come…

This week’s auditions: Opera Company of Philadelphia (I’m making a day trip to Philly for this one), Canadian Opera Company, and Bard Summerscape Festival.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Yesterday was a good day

Lots of good things on my mind and in my life yesterday, the gorgeous weather not the least of them. A surprise talk with a couple of friends I’d been missing, an upcoming weekend in Boston, ending therapy and feeling wonderful about my life, career, and relationships. I talked to my mom for a while last night, and we must have talked for half an hour before the fact that I was awarded an Encouragement Award from the Sullivan Foundation came up! It was nearly eclipsed by all the other good things.

(I like this fact, because it shows that I am succeeding in my attempt to find all the other things I am, all the other ways to define myself, aside from singing. Time was, if I’d won an award, that would be the first thing on my mind. It’s still there, but it is surrounded by the rest of my life. Yet another good thing.)

But, back to the award for now! I am very happy with the outcome, especially considering that I didn’t feel I was at 100%. Sure, it would have been nice to win the big grant, but the Encouragement Awards have a nice cash prize attached, and as we know, every little bit helps. Money was starting to get tight, but now I’ll have enough to get the coachings I need to make sure I’m ready to go in January. And pay rent, and eat, and maybe even buy that adorable red dress…

The Encouragement Award is not like a consolation prize; far from it. The email I received sums it up nicely: “Congratulations! The Sullivan judges have decided to give you an Encouragement Award for 2006-07, with the hope that you will return in a future year to sing for us again.” So, they liked what I had to offer, and want to hear more. That’s really all you can hope from auditions of any kind, so I am pleased. Not to mention that even winning the Encouragement Award is another way to get my name and people’s radars. “Oh, I’ve heard about her. Didn’t she just win a Sullivan?” Get them talking, keep your name in their minds. Part of the business.

Oh, and something else good this week: I finally recorded some arias! I was still a bit sick, so my voice got tired really quickly and all the things that are usually easy were very strained, especially my floaty notes. So I don’t think I’ll use much from the session. It was kind of an experiment, anyway, the recording setup. A very successful experiment, though, so I think we’ll do it again (“we” being the recording “engineer,” also a singer, and my pianist, JD).

What I was happy with from the session, however, was the recording of Regnava. It needs to be edited a bit; I did one full take and two takes of the ending. But as soon as I can, I’ll get it up on the web. I’m really, really happy with it, although I still can’t quite believe it’s me…

Off for the weekend! Have a good one where ever you are, and tell your loved ones you love them.

One more blog for the roll - make that two

I thought about including this in the list of new blogs on the Blogroll a few days ago, but left it off because I wasn’t sure how “public” the writer wanted to be. So when he wrote to me yesterday saying “I’ll link to you if you’ll link to me,” I figured it was ok!

Welcome, Nick at grecchinois! I have appreciated his honest emotional writing, and hope to follow in his example. I’m gaining the courage these days to talk about the harder things as they come up, and as the blogging world gains more and more singers who are willing to do the same, like Nick, I think the job gets easier for all of us. Group therapy!

And speaking of therapy, I’ve mentioned a few times here that it’s been a part of my life for a while now. (I’ll defer from making the point, again, about how I want to help take the stigma off of therapy and those who use it…) Today, after four years, I had my last session.

My therapist agreed with my assessment that I’ve reached the goal I set out for myself: living my life in truth and with control. Acting, not reacting. Being honest even when it’s hard, even with myself. It felt a bit like graduation, our last session. But bigger. I’ve graduated into my Life.

** Edited to add another blog I've been reading for a while: Coloratur…aaah. Almost daily posting from a major YAP (young artist program). All of these new blogs are listed in the short blogroll on the sidebar.

Another thought on Les Mis

At one point, while Valjean was speeding through one of his many emotional high points that totally fell flat, I had this thought:

“It can’t be easy, singing this role that so many people know and that so many people have sung before him.”

Then I realized that we do that, too, we opera singers. And violinists and pianists and anyone whose job it is to re-create something, rather than create. It is up to us to find a way to make it new, thrilling, even for the third or fiftieth or thousandth time. Not an easy task, but it can be done.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Well, that was disappointing

The scene: Intermission at the Broadhurst Theatre
MP: (wearing his coat, pulling his bag up onto his shoulder, obviously ready to leave) So, what do you think?
ACB: Well, ok, here’s what I think. While I think Eponine will have some lovely moments in the second half, and Marius and students most certainly will, and Javert and Valjean might, the rest of it seems awfully like a high school musical. And, well, since my dream of Broadway has pretty much been shattered…”
MP: (bursts into sad laughter) So... drinks?

Ok, so it didn’t quite go down like that, but it wasn’t far off. What a disappointment. The “new orchestrations?” Obviously a money-saving venture, as the pit was thin and far too electronic to have any of the power of the original version. The tempi were so strict, and so fast, obviously in an attempt to keep the running time under three hours and avoid union overtime fees. No flexibility, no room for any feeling, just rushing from one line to the next. I felt like I was listening to a highlights version on cd. Except with some really shameful singing.

I was amazed at the lack of support, breath control, and intonation. Even with mikes, the lack of vocal technique was incredible. It was like American Idol Does Broadway. And I know it wasn’t just my nostalgia talking. I know enough to let go of my aural impressions of the Original London Cast Recording that I listened to over and over again in junior high and try to make room for a new experience. Just not this one. And that doesn’t mean that I’m not currently downloading said Original London Cast Recording (with Patti LuPone! and Colm Wilkinson! And Rebecca Caine!) off iTunes. I imagine I’ll give it a good listen or five in order to restore this work in my mind’s ear.

Sigh. Maybe a better revival will show up in a few years?

(MP and his boyfriend assure me that there is better Broadway to be seen out there. I’m going to see how many shows I can get them to take me to to make up for this…)

Even more random

Creative funding idea in Seattle. I’ve met Mr. & Mrs. Raisbeck, and they are wonderful patrons of the arts in Seattle. I think this new idea is a great one, and could easily be scaled down to fit companies of all sizes. Everyone loves to chat with “the star,” whether you’re singing at the Met or with a small regional orchestra. We sometimes forget that what we do, as singers, is quite out of the ordinary! People love a bit of a glimpse behind the scenes.

Check out “This Week’s Guests,” in a box on the left of the page on the Late Show with David Letterman site. See anything interesting? That’s right, the entire CAST of the Met’s Barber of Seville is going to the musical guest tomorrow night! I’ve read that there will be the six principals, a small chorus, and 22 orchestra musicians. Fantastic!! This new regime? I’m liking it.

I’ll be taking in two shows this week (neither of which is Barber). Tonight I’ll be seeing my first theatre love, Les Miserables! I admit that I’m a bit excited; hope I can resist the urge to sing along with every single lyric!! I’ll have my earplugs along, too; Broadway is loud! And tomorrow, a bit more uptown, Helene Grimaud’s recital debut at Carnegie Hall. I’m looking forward to the Rachmaninoff, no matter what Charles says…

Happy Birthday (yesterday), Dame Joan!! (Happy birthday yesterday, too, to JD, and today to EB and PM, and Thursday to CT the DT! Love you, ladies! You, too, Joan.)

And a few new blogs:
Desparate Operawife - an college classmate, now married to an opera singer and living in Germany.
notes from the kelp - composer (and lover of the sea) Alex Shapiro
Sieglinde’s Diaries - I’ve been reading for ages! How have I not gotten this on the blogroll yet? Currently rather quiet, a NY-based operagoer’s blog
Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society - “music, politics, life in New York” and shiny baubles

Don’t forget to vote!

I happened to walk home from the subway past my polling location, so rather than going home to change first, I just stopped in. I figured if the line was too long (ha!), I’d go around the corner, change out of my audition clothes and come back in flats. But, of course, no line. Efficiency on the part of the vote organizers or apathy on the part of the voters? Regardless, I was in and out in less than five minutes. I was never asked to show my ID, just to sign the book (directly below the scanned copy of my “motor-voter” signature). This didn’t even register with me until I’d left the building. How easy is it to vote for someone else?! Quite, I would think.

Don’t let anybody else steal your vote. Get out there and do it yourself. And bring your ID, just in case…

Oh, and the audition? Went fine, I think. I had a few weird memory slips, getting a few entrances and cutoffs wrong. I very, very rarely do that kind of thing, so I’m thinking it was just fuzzy-headed cold-medicine stuff. The pianist was wonderful, though, and was right there with me for everything.

Unlike auditions for companies, who are generally casting two or threes years out, competition auditions usually get results back to you within a matter of days. So I imagine I’ll hear something this week. Last year, they gave seven prizes of $7500 and three Encouragement Awards of $2000. They’ll hear about eighty singers this year, so that’s a one-in-eight chance of winning a prize. Here’s to hoping that the odds fall in my favor!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Random, Nov. 6

(I think this might be a new entry format, a la my highlights entries and vilaine fille’s “Pensee d'[insert date here].” I have stuff to say, but can’t put it in any real cohesive “paragraph form.” So here you go. Snipits and sentence fragments and non sequiters...)

My box of gowns, winter coats, and boots arrived today. Good thing, too, because winter is coming! Everyone keeps telling me that winters in NY aren’t as harsh as winters in Boston, and I hope that’s true. I might have survived two (relatively mild) Boston winters, but I’ve been in Seattle for four winters, so I’ve kind of forgotten how to deal with the “wintry mix” and slush and bitter, bitter wind. At least I’ve given up trying to tame my hair these days, so I don’t have to worry about trying to keep it straight and sleek. Bring on the hats and scarves and wind and snow! (Well, maybe not just yet…)

Where does one keep her gowns in an apartment with one short closet? **Edited to answer: folded in a duffel bag on the top shelf. I have two hanging that can be used in a pinch; I’ll have to plan ahead and send any other gown I want to wear to the cleaners.

Another strange blog/real world conundrum: dates who discover the blog before the actual first date! (He was very kind and chose not to read much of it, or listen to sound clips, before we met… but it still made me think about my online profile. It’s pretty high…)

I’ve been battling my second cold of the season for about ten days now. I sang two auditions through it last week, and they both were fine. But this morning things shifted a bit and my voice wasn’t working as well as it has been, so I had to cancel, or rather, reschedule, an audition. I’ll sing tomorrow for the Sullivan Awards, rather than today, assuming, of course, that my voice is back. It wasn’t totally gone, just unwieldy. I always say that this is why we have technique, to help us through times like this. But when I had to focus entirely on my technique in order to get a decent sound, rather than muscle memory taking care of the actual singing while I acted and tried to “make music,” I knew it was a no-go. We’ll see how tomorrow goes...

I didn’t do this. But I know who did…

I’ve also been meaning to plug my MySpace Music site. I have a personal site there, but I think it might go the way of all things soon. I’ll focus on the music networking aspects of the site, rather than the personal (See above comment about online profile…). So come on over, if you’re a MySpacer; I'll be cross-posting entries from this blog to the MySpace blog system, too.

Another site to plug: If you live in NY or Chicago and are an indie rock fan (and read my blog – guess that’s probably a pretty small cross section…), this is the site for you. My brother is the lead developer (which I think mean he deals with all the tech stuff), and it is quickly becoming the source for indie rock info in NYC and Chicago.

Guess that’s it for now. Time for more steam, Nyquil, cough drops and sleep.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Music Geek Fun

Via Red Black Window, here is a fun break-down of Bobby McFerrin's "Don't Worry, Be Happy." All of the parts are on separate tracks, and you can select one or several or all and follow along with the score. For all of us who sang along with the various harmony lines back in 1980-whatever, this is a lot of fun!

When I showed it to my roommate, he then passed along an even cooler music geek site: John Whitney's music algorithms. I don't pretend to understand the math behind the music, but these are very, very cool. Hypnotic and visually beautiful, they demonstrate the fine line between math and music. How much like the Ligeti Etudes do these sound?!

AP and I then talked about Reich's Clapping Music, which also makes an appearance over at TSR today. I was unfamiliar with the algorithmic nature of that piece, so AP explained it to me: two performers clap a pattern, starting together, for 12 (?) repetitions, then one of them shifts the pattern back a beat.

Which made me think of one of my favorite party tricks: singing "Take me out to the Ballgame" shifted back a word. (I told you, geek!)

Start the music in the same place, but start on the second word. "Me out to the ballgame, take..." etc. It is maddening to figure it out for the first time, but once you get it? Very cool. My favorite part is ending on the leading tone... And, of course, there are endless variations. Start on the second word, which is a bit easier, actually. "Out to the ballgame, take me..." And on and on.

Happy geekery!
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