Wednesday, February 28, 2007


While I’m waiting to hear if I can go out to have drinks for my birthday or if I need to stay home and rest for the George London Finals tomorrow, I thought I’d distract myself by finally writing about the summer. Through a most unorthodox – but not really that unusual – turn of events, I will be a Filene Young Artist at Wolf Trap!

As I made pretty clear a few weeks ago, I didn’t audition for Wolf Trap this year. But I sang a good audition for them in 2005 (Kim Witman is the voice behind the table in the first anecdote in my “Average Audition” post), and KPW and I have kept in touch over the past couple of years. When she learned that my summer plans had fallen through, she let me know of their own unusual situation.

After they’d made invitations for the summer, WTOC had several returning singers, including a soprano, withdraw from their contracts, each for their own good reasons. The handful of other sopranos that they had on their shortlist after the auditions in December had all been informed that they weren’t in the final group, released from their “holds,” and they went on to accept other summer gigs. So Kim and her crew went back to the drawing board, so to speak, informing some initially rejected singers that they might be considered again – and inviting me to come down to Vienna and audition. I took a day trip to DC, sang four arias (the most I’ve sung in any audition), and was later offered the spot!

A friend of mine said, when the first gig fell through, “There must be something better out there for you this summer.” I agreed, of course, because you always agree when someone says that when trying to cheer you up, but inside I was thinking, “What can there be, this late in the game?” And here it is, quite possibly the perfect summer scenario for me at this stage of my career. I still don’t quite understand how it came to me, or why, but I’m going to take the opportunity and run with it. It’s unexpected, and unusual, but here it is.

I have heard so many wonderful things about Wolf Trap – the attitude of support and collegiality that is fostered there, the level of artistry of the singers and staff, the beauty of the surrounding area – and it is seen as the height of “young artist programs.” People look at WTOC and say “Who’s singing there this year?” It’s like a barometer of the up-and-coming singers. Does that make sense? As Kim says in her post today, “an entire generation of singers began their careers” at Wolf Trap. She lists Nathan Gunn, Dawn Upshaw, Mary Dunleavy, and Eric Owens, and the rest of the list of alumni is thrilling. And now, since a professional gig I’d pinned my hopes on didn’t pan out, I get the chance to join them. What a ride.

While I’ve been typing this, I’ve learned that calls went out for the finals, and I didn’t make the cut. Oh, well. Win some, lose some, as this post now fully relates!

Now I have no reason not to stay up until 2am watching Season Two of Grey’s Anatomy

Monday, February 26, 2007

Blogroll Update, Winter 07

As always, the full cast of characters is here.

Confessions of a Pioneer Woman – Ever thought you wanted to live on a ranch? Ree’s accounts and gorgeous photos will alternately change and make up your mind! Be forwarned, her husband is pretty much a dreamboat, which doesn’t hurt the case for being a rancher’s wife…

The Determined Dilettante – Elizabeth Vincentelli is the A&E Editor for Time Out New York. She’s currently on vacation, but she’ll be back.

Distracted Dilettante – I’ve linked to her a couple of times, and now here she is in the Blogroll. She’s a singer, and she loves cupcakes.

Iron Tongue of Midnight – Classical music blog of Lisa Hirsch, San Francisco-based music critic and writer.

The Quotidian – Lisa Bielawa, currently composer-in-residence with Boston Modern Orchestra Project and a regular brunch date of mine! The blog chronciles the creation of (among other things) “Chance Encounter,” a work “for migrating ensembles and soprano.” You’ll have to read to figure out what that means.

Score Desk – the next hot young opera blogger.

A Singer’s Life – Only blogging since September, the young woman writing this blog has amassed dozens of informative posts. Expect many references to ASL in the future!

The Soup-a-Sonic – In pursuit of good music – and good soup!

Sunday, February 25, 2007


Note to self: Don’t come home and dive into an intense hour of singing after eating a huge brunch, no matter how inspired you might be after reading this month’s Opera News. Just don’t.

I have the worse case of heartburn I’ve had in months. Ouch!!

What was so inspiring? Here are some quotes:

Emily Pulley on rhetoric: “Professor Como said that the basis of good rhetoric – you know, the kind we never hear anymore – is to be a reliable source, speak the truth and love your audience. And something in my mind clicked. That’s the kind of singer I want to be.”

Diana Damrau on Aithra: “I’m looking forward not only to sing this but to play this role!” Opera can also be about the words!!

From a review of LHL’s Neruda Songs: “[Regardless of] the music on offer…, the mezzo could create for her listeners the illusion of complete spontaneity; she made every word and every not her own, performing with the commitment and pride of an artist who was delivering a piece that had been written just for her.”

Also, I’m sure I’m not the only singer who “does the math” about other singer’s ages when reading biographical articles. We all wonder how we’re doing, whether we’re on a track to achieve the same level of success by the same age. Of course, we know that each track is different, everyone gets to their peak at a different time, blah blah blah, but we can’t help but compare. I was inspired by doing the math on Emily Pulley, who reveals that she will turn 40 this year; she made her Met debut in a small role in 1993 (she was also a Met Competition winner that year), so at age 26. In the last 14 years, she has slowly worked her way from that small role to a full plate of roles at top houses and a reputation for success in American opera. We younger singers very easily forget that success isn’t handed to us right out of grad school, or right after a summer at a top YAP, or even after signing our first Met contract. It’s a long time coming. We work now to achieve later, if that makes any sense.

After all this, plus a few pages of Song of the Lark, I was ready to come home and get down to business! But my poor overstuffed belly didn’t appreciate getting pushed around by my overzealous diaphragm and abs, and now I have heartburn. So it’s armchair work for the rest of the night: L’elisir translations and diction work. Also very important steps towards achieving that success, but not quite as viscerally fulfilling as singing scales and arpeggios…

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Via The Distracted Dilettante, it's the birthday of Edna St. Vincent Millay!

the concert is named after one of her poems, as I explained in the inaugural post. (Boy, does that seem like a lifetime ago...) In honor of her day, here is another favorite.


I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not have ventured forth alone
At dusk along this unfrequented road.

I am waylaid by Beauty! Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

On the “Piano”

If I had a piano, I’d have several stacks of music piled on it these days, things I’m learning or revisiting for upcoming events. I haven’t done an entry like this in a while, so I thought it might be worth a look. Here’s what’s “on the piano” these days.

For a last-minute audition tomorrow for a recital foundation:

Rorem, “In a Gondola”
Schubert, “Gretchen am Spinnrade”
Bellini, “Per pieta, bell’ idol mio”
Poulenc, “Violon”
Rachmaninoff, “Zdes xhorosho”

These are all songs I’ve sung before, nothing new, but I’m having to spend a little extra time with “Gretchen,” making sure the words are in there. I’ve been asked in the comments to explain how I memorize words, and in order to really know that I have them, I have to write them over and over and over again. That’s really the only way for me! And I think when I learned “Gretchen,” I didn’t really go through the process. I crammed it. So now, when I look at it again, it’s not on autopilot like it should be. More on the memorization process soon.

For an opera competition next week:

standard audition repertoire
plus the new addition of Juliette’s first act aria, “Je veux vivre.” (Another “big girl” role making it’s way into my rep.

For the Oratorio Society Competition:
Come unto Him, Messiah, Handel
Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, Cantata 51, Bach
Laudate dominum, Vesperae solennes, Mozart
Lua descolorida, La Pasion segun San Marcos, Golijov
Carmina Burana, Orff

The requirements for this competition are one aria from Messiah, three arias from contrasting works, and all the solos from one complete oratorio. I feel like this is a good program, showing a little bit of everything. I really hope they ask for the Golijov…

For the rest of the season at the Met:

Suor Angelica and Il tabarro
L’elisir d’amore

For the summer:

an opera (How’s that for vague?!)

I recently learned who will be directing the opera, and it’s someone I’ve wanted to work with for a while now. We’re both excited for the opportunity, and knowing he would be there made this experience even more appealing! I think we’ll have a lot of fun.

Back to Gretchen and her spinning wheel…

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Every singer has their own system for learning their staging. Some people write directly into the score, some on sticky notes or paper, and some don’t write down anything, trusting their memories or the director/assistant director/stage manager to remember for them. Some write down every nuance flick of the wrist, some include nuanced dramatic motivation, and some just write “sit/stand/walk.” It doesn’t really matter, in truth, how we learn it, just so long as we learn it well enough to make the same moves at every run-through. The nuances can change, but if your costar is expecting you to cross at a certain time, it’s good to get it right!

My system is an amalgam of things that I was taught in school and that I have observed over the years in practice. As I’ve mentioned before, I learned the basics of stagecraft from my Jr. High drama teacher, Ms. Stettler. I remember taking a test in which I had to fill in the diagram of the areas of the stage, using their abbreviations: USL (upstage-left), DS (downstage), C (center, where we all like to be), and so on. (Here’s a good diagram, although they use Corner # for USL/USR/etc..) I still use the abbreviations today; they’re part of the shorthand I’ve developed, I guess.

A few years ago, an artist I was working with suggested using sticky-notes to write blocking. This is a great idea, to my way of thinking, for three reasons. One, it keeps your music clean, so you can actually read the music. Two, blocking often gets changed several times throughout the rehearsal process, and the constant erasing can damage your score. This way you can just pull out a new sticky note and start over! And, lastly, you always hope to perform an opera more than once, in more than one production. If your score is filled with notes from your last production, there’s no place for your new blocking. But you can get a new color of sticky note and start afresh. (I just pulled my Midsummer score off the shelf and took a look at the sticky notes from that production. Even when I perform the role again, I’ll keep those notes as reminders of that wonderful experience!)

So, here’s a picture of a page in my Jenufa score:

and one in my Helena score:

(Click to enlarge.)

On most of my notes, I draw a diagram of the stage, usually just a three-sided box. The Jenufa note is a good example of this; I’ve even drawn in the big rock that was jutting up through the stage. In this diagram, I’ll write letters to represent the other characters (i.e., J for Jenufa) and an “x” for me. Arrows indicate movement, and numbers in circles correspond with numbers I’ve written into the score to indicate when I should move to or arrive at a certain spot. Of courses, now that I look again, there are none of those in that picture! But there’s an arrow, and a diagram of the stage, and a bit of “dramatic intention,” so hopefully you get the idea.

You can see numbers on the Helena note, along with their corresponding spots in the music. “M” in the direction for #3 is Menelas, the tenor, and the small stage diagram at the bottom shows the positions we all end up in by the end of the next page. This system is not an exact science, as you can see, because in this example, the x’s are chorus members, not my character. There are no arrows on this sticky-note, either, mostly likely because there is A LOT of movement in this scene! Arrows would get confusing. Arrows are good for simple, clean movements, like Jano’s exit up there on the pink note.

Is this clear at all?! Questions?

That’s about it, really, for my system. I use these notes to review before a rehearsal and refer to them before I sit to do any visualizing. I had to step into a couple of rehearsals last week (Elf #2 is also singing Jano; she had days off or days when she would have gone into overtime, so they called me in), and I was always grateful to have something to review before getting up on my feet.

Stuff like dramatic intention, character development, subtle prop work, stage “business, etc., rarely makes it onto my sticky-notes. That sort of detail is “living,” so to speak; it changes depending on the moment, so I hate to pin it down. Sometimes something works so well I’ll do it every time, but the little moves that make a character look real onstage can’t really be diagramed. Diana Damrau, who is singing Aithra in this production of Helena, is a master at bringing a character to life through subtle details, and I am enjoying watching her work. Maybe I’ll end up incorporating some of her “system” into mine!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I set out with the best of intentions this evening, carrying my new yoga bag (a Christmas gift from my sister) through the snow flurries to my 6:30 yoga class. Only, guess what? The class started at 6:00. D’oh! “The best laid plans…”

Instead of asanas, I wandered a bit and found another blues-buster, one favored by at least two of my readers: CUPCAKES!!

Now, I’m no food pornographer, but those look pretty good, right? Devil’s Food and Raspberry… yummmmm. A clean house, some exercise, cupcakes, and free episodes of Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty on Life’s not so blue after all. In another attempt to get out of my head, I also, per my mother’s suggestion, found a potential volunteer opportunity in my neighborhood; more on that as it develops.

Here are those bullet points I promised:

• I attended the Friday lunchtime concert of the New York Philharmonic last weekend. It was an interesting mix of a program: a Beethoven piano concerto, selections from Debussy’s “Impressions for Orchestra,” and the US Premiere of a work by Swedish composer Roger Börzt. The Börzt piece opened the concert, with a strident and seemingly endless chord, shimmering in the high strings. It was pushed the limit of uncomfortability (if that’s a word), and the much of the audience was obviously uncomfortable throughout most of the piece. I loved it, however, and I think I showed my age a bit when I grew quickly bored with the Beethoven! Obviously, I love Beethoven, but my tastes lean more and more toward what’s being written today.

• Also on Friday, I had a late lunch with Ariadne, who spent a long weekend taking in as much opera as she could cram into her schedule! It's always fun to meet other bloggers face to face, and this was no exception. Hope you had a wonderful NYC visit!

• Saturday night, KW and I sat in the company box to watch Judith Forst work her magic as Kostelnicka. With apologies to Sieglinde, this was our view: Cool! The sound wasn’t as good there as elsewhere in the house, but the vantage point was worth it. And of course, Forst didn’t disappoint! Someone a few tiers above us ripped up their playbill to throw as confetti at her curtain call, which was totally cool. I turned toward the house to drink in the scene as the audience let the performers know how much they enjoyed the evening. It was one of those “pinch me” moments…

• Last night I went with some friends to watch our friend LC perform in Follies at City Center. She was SOOOO wonderful, and beautiful, and it was absolutely thrilling to see her onstage with stars like Donna Murphy, Christine Baranski, Victoria Clark, and Victor Garber. Remember my shattered illusions of Broadway a few months ago? Well, they’ve been restored. Across the board, the commitment and skill and talent on that stage was awe-inspiring. Victoria Clark’s vocal technique is a dream, and Donna Murphy is beyond sensational. It was a night full of goose bumps and gasps, truly thrilling. The thrills continued as we bumped into star after star backstage and at the cast party: SJP and Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Bernadette Peters, Joel Grey, Barbara Cook, Fred Willard, and the maestro himself: Stephen Sondheim. What a night!!

• (One more note about that: I totally geeked out on Donna Murphy. I told her that I belonged to what I imagined was a small cross-section of her fans who saw her as Fosca in Passion on Broadway and then wore out the CD original cast recording AND who own her Star Trek movie. Dork!!)

Helena rehearsals started this week, and tomorrow I think I’ll get a chance to get up on my feet. I’m covering the same woman in this production that I did in Jenufa, and on days when she has a show in the evening, I’ll likely get to step in for her for at least part of the rehearsal. It sounds like the Elves are going to have a lot of blocking, which means lots of rehearsal… This is also a new production, rather than a revival (like Jenufa) in which the director is working from the blocking book he and the stage managers created when they built the show the first time. (I love that book. It’s an office supply-lover’s dream! Maybe I’ll get a picture…)

That’s all she wrote! Thanks for your words of encouragement; they meant a lot.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Re: those new words

Ainadamar is no longer a Grammy Award-nominated CD: It's a Grammy Winner!!

That's a bit of a boost for the winter doldrums, eh? I've been told that I should get a certificate, which, should I ever have a wall big enough to hang things on, I will proudly frame and display.

Wish I could raise a glass to celebrate with my colleagues on the recording. I imagine we are all spread far and wide at the moment, but today you've all been close to my heart. "Ay, que dia!!"

(Read about the recording sessions (from my limited perspective) here, here, and here.)

Kind of Blue

When both my mother and my surrogate-Santa Fe-mother inquire within 24 hours of each other as to why I’ve been so quiet lately, I guess the gig’s up!

I haven’t been hiding intentionally. Just nursing yet another cold and a case of the winter doldrums. January was filled with warm weather and the thrill of starting work at the Met. February has so far brought cold weather the likes of which I haven’t seen since Boston six years ago; the day-to-day routine of a job, amazing and flexible though the job may be; the fourth or fifth head cold since my arrival in NYC; and some weirdness in the social scene. In short, it’s been kind of a drag. A friend who was born and raised here warns me that the next couple of weeks, as the weather stays cold, are going to be even harder, but that by the end of the month, things will start to look up. Um, thanks for the warning? Very encouraging.

In what is very likely a case of the chicken and the egg, I haven’t been to yoga since Christmas, haven’t been meditating, and haven’t been eating well. Hmmm… anybody have a guess as to why I’m in the dumps? And yet, the cycle continues and I haven’t been able to kick myself in the pants and get out of it. Which means I’m not studying as much, not learning as much music, not practicing as much. And getting more frustrated about it as a result. But I should be reaching critical mass here pretty soon, so expect lots of posts about productivity in the near future. (Insert emoticon for annoyed sarcasm here...)

I’ve also been thinking a bit more about my blog and its role in my life. It might have aided in getting me a job, but it also might have played a hand in losing a friendship. I’m not 100% clear on either count, but I believe the concert was likely involved in some way, however small, in both. I’m not sure what that means as to the future of the blog, but it’s on my mind.

So, that’s that. I’ll put up another lame bullet points post this afternoon to catch you up on some of what’s been going on. I have a bunch of other posts in the pipeline, too, about staging and learning roles and an upcoming recital. See above about when to expect those.

Monday, February 05, 2007

We interrupt...

An off-topic post, just to say:

I love The Shins.


Friday, February 02, 2007

This week

Sorry to be quiet all week, it’s been kind of crazy around here. To make it up to you, here are some bullet points!

• I have summer employment! More on that exciting opportunity and it’s unorthodox development later… once I sign something.

• Opening Night was wonderful. I sat in the artists’ cafeteria trying to get more translations written into my Elixir score. I think I maybe got ten pages done! That’s something, right? KW and I “held court” at a table and chit-chatted our way through the evening, entertaining other singers and friends as they came through the café throughout the evening. We learned all too late of the opening night reception, for which neither of us was attired, so after our characters’ last words were sung in Act III, we headed home. But rest assured that opening night of Helena will have us both dressed to the nines and ready to drink champagne on the Grand Tier!

• There are three radio broadcasts of Jenufa, so I’ll be in house for those performances (likely in the café with KW again). Tonight I’m attending the performance, actually sitting in the auditorium (with a date, who is nervous about being left all alone, should I suddenly be called to the stage!).

• I’ll also be in the house for the performance on the 10th, since Judith Forst will be singing Kostenlicka that night. You may recall that she was my mother in Cendrillon last summer, and let me assure you: she is every bit as gripping and terrifying as Kostenlicka as she was hysterical as the Stepmother! Watching her in our cover staging rehearsal was a lesson in commitment and dramatic focus. KW and I will be sitting in the company box for that performance, gripping each other’s arms until the blood flow to our hands is cut off.

• I had my first coaching for Helena on Wednesday, and it was fine. Not great, but fine. I’m singing the middle line of three or four voices, and that’s really hard! KW admits that her line – the top – is “easy” since it’s always the melody. It’s Strauss, so it’s not easy by any means, but I’ll agree that it’s easier than mine! Once we start rehearsing with all of the voices, I think I’ll feel much more comfortable; trying to hear how my part fits in with just the piano reduction is tough. Hopefully we’ll start those music prep rehearsals this week or next.

• That’s all for now! Time to get dressed, but what to wear when you want to look nice and it’s wintry-mixing outside? No easy answer…
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