Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Home? On the Road?

I’m definitely feeling more settled here now, finding the routine and letting myself relax into the reality of life here. And, in truth, the reality is pretty nice! A beautiful home for these three months, lots of quiet and space, and the only thing I “have” to do is a job I love with great colleagues. It kind of feels like vacation!

Yesterday I bought a few of my “creature comforts” to make it feel more like home: a French press for my morning coffee and some Hendrick’s and Knob Creek for my nightcaps. (M.C-, wish you were here to break in the Hendrick’s with me!) My box of books and music arrived yesterday via USPS media mail, so I have more of those little things that make it feel like I live here.

There are different ideas about how to settle in on these long gigs. Some people prefer, as I do, to get nested and really feel at home. At least, I think that’s what I prefer; I’ve never tried it any other way. Other people like to maintain a sense of “just visiting,” maybe by keeping their clothes in the suitcase or by not recreating their home routines on the road. I’d guess that these folks are more likely to have somewhere that really feels like Home to them, a house or apartment to which they always return, so it makes sense. I, on the other hand, don’t have that place, at least currently. I make myself at home where ever I’m working.

I tend to be healthier on the road, more well-balanced. Maybe it’s having a kitchen all to myself, but I buy better groceries, eat breakfast and pack a lunch, carry healthy snacks (most of the time). I often start my days on the road with some yoga, something I could never get into the habit of in my shoebox of an apartment in NYC. I read more, I waste less time on the internet, I spend less money. I think I might even talk to my family more.

Maybe I need to rethink my idea of Home rather than my idea of On the Road…

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Too Much

I told PK, the director of Volpone, the just about the only thing I didn’t do wrong today was not sleep through my alarm. And, well, maybe it would have been a better day if I had…

I very often make these very intricate plans, plans that could totally bomb if one element is out of place. And, usually, things work out pretty well, a recent success being the trip over to Red Hook to meet with Nadia. In a manner of speaking, I guess the past six weeks have been one big intricate plan. That recital took a LOT of mental focus, lots of planning, lots of energy, and it came off. But not without weeks of mile-long To DO lists; rehearsing; worrying about money for Bhakti; and learning a beautiful, challenging, written-just-for-me work that needed to have a killer premiere. Ask anyone who came out for a late dinner after the recital, and they will tell you that I was a complete blob. I had nothing left.

But, five days later, I had to pack up for three months and relocate for a very important gig. A gig with some very hard music of its own, with which I hadn’t spent nearly enough time. (I can say that now, since we’ve had the first rehearsal and I don’t think I embarrassed myself. My “boss” reads this blog, after all!) I was so nervous, and felt time rapidly slipping through my fingers. I started packing for the summer at 8pm the night before my 11am train, packing for a time and then sitting with the score and my keyboard, then back to packing.

(And, imagine on top of all of this, that I might have met someone a few weeks ago with whom I would want to spend lots and lots of time, but couldn’t because of all of the above. A stress of a different kind...)

I’ve said several times today that I’m surprised, looking back, that things didn’t fall apart any earlier. I guess it was a matter of being able to control things, which I was largely able to do – until today. Today I could control nothing, and, therefore, finally had the “I’m exhausted and frustrated” breakdown that those of you who know me in Real Life would have recognized. This is often followed by the “Now I’m just embarrassed” phase, which usually involves finding the best hugger I can and holding on until I can truly laugh about the tears. Good hugs today from JP (I didn’t even need to ask her; she just saw me and said, “Oh, you look like you need a hug!”) and JJ. Many thanks…

So… the day. I’ll try to keep it short.

The Goal: Get to Franconia on the Metro, meet up with the Seller at the DMV, make the exchange, get registered, and get back for my costume fitting at 11. Return the rental car after the fitting. Celebrate my powers of organization and planning.

(Ok, first of all: What was I thinking??!! Saturday morning at the DMV?! Not an in-and-out endeavor.)

The Metro is undergoing weekend maintenance, so we’re stuck underground for half an hour, starting the lateness. The man I bought the car from is slow (not old, just slow) and condescending (“Don’t forget to change the oil every 3000 miles.”) The car itself is decidedly more beat-up than he let on, but it runs. We decide to skip the DMV after seeing the massive line, but only after I can convince him that I will send his tags back to him asap. When I get in the car, I discover that I left my good map in the rental, but I have general directions back to WT. Call and say I’ll be a few minutes late. No problem.

Then, as soon as I hit 70mph on the Interstate – the Check Engine light turns on. You have got to be kidding me. It stays on for the next hour as I’m driving in circles around Vienna, wondering franticly why the roads aren’t going where I think they’re supposed to. I HATE being lost!! I learned how to read a map at a very early age. I always got carsick on our family road trips, so I’d end up in the passenger seat with my Dad driving, and if you’re going to sit there you have to know how to navigate. I love maps, and can find my way just about anywhere if I have one. But today, no map. Lost, hungry, and afraid that I’d bought a total lemon. (The Check Engine light didn’t come back on when I start the car again, but I’ll be investigating…)

Finally, I give up, and LAM comes to rescue me. We meet in a parking lot and I follow her back to campus. By this time I have missed my costume fitting (another thing I hate being: Late), but they were able to move someone ahead and get some work done, rescheduling me for later.

In addition to not having my map, I also hadn’t had any of my usual snacks with me, so I was starving. For some reason I was craving a Snickers (can’t remember the last time I had one), so I buy one, but before I take it out I decide to also get a bottle of water (from the same machine). The bottle falls down – and lands in such a way as to jam the door closed.

I stood there staring at it, head against the glass, thinking, “This should be funny. I should be laughing by this point.” But it was all I could do not to burst into those loud, crazy, quasi-laughing sobs! It was the final blow, the one that makes you realize on days like this that there is nothing you can do. You are Double-O-C, as my brother and I used to say. Out Of Control.

It also makes you realize that when your idea of a “terrible day” involves being lost (with a cellphone), missing an appointment, and not being able to get your Snickers, your life is actually pretty damn good.


The well-oiled machine that was My Life for the past few months finally hit hitch today. I'm fine, really; no one is hurt, I still have my job. But I am exhausted. I don't think I was really aware of it until today, but I think I've been under a lot of stress recently!! And today I broke.

I'll write it all out tonight, because, really, a day this bad is rather funny when it's all out in black and white. But for now, a cool shower and a nap. A real nap - not one where I lie there with my eyes closed for fifteen minutes reciting lyrics or thinking about what I have to do when I get up. Deep sleep with a gentle fan blowing overhead and birds chirping outside my window.

I'm not even going to set my alarm.

Friday, May 25, 2007

WTOC blog

Just a reminder that Kim Witman, the Director of Wolf Trap Opera, keeps a blog about life in opera from the other side of the stage. Well, from the administration side, anyway. There's definitely more than one "other side of the stage!"

She has some pictures up of our first day yesterday. Note the looks - and body language! - of intense concentration and not a little fear!

Today is already much better, as we spent the morning doing some intense ensemble work. The tonality shifts rapidly in this piece, and the chords are often very complex - it ain't Mozart! Think jazz. Jazz meets Stravinsky. And I think I heard a little Bach in there today, and, well, I guess there is some Mozart, too! If you come see it, listen for the Don Giovanni reference. Let's just say it is Hard. BUt I can already tell that we're going to have a blast. The cast is very strong; great voices, all, and comic timing is already apparent.

More music rehearsals this afternoon and tomorrow morning, then staging Scene 1 tomorrow afternoon!

Also tomorrow morning, I finally pick up my summer wheels: a green '94 Ford Taurus, purchased for cheap off Craigslist. Fingers crossed that it's in as good a shape as I expect it to be...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


(**Edited: Hmm, ok, every time I try to upload the pictures, I crash my internet connection. I'll have to see what I can do about that. For now, use your imaginations! **Edited again: Got it!)

My view:
Sky! With a moon and stars in it at night!!

My neighbors:
I've been singing Cole Porter's "Heaven" all evening...

But that will likely change tomorrow - we hit the deck running with a musical run-through of Volpone tomorrow afternoon!! I am quite nervous. I still don't feel like I understand all of Musto's musical language, and I'm scared to have to sing this together with the full cast before getting any coaching time. I thought about trying to get down here a day early and get in for some coaching, but I barely made it after the recital as it were.

This has been a tight turn-around, these past few weeks. Met debut, recital, Wolf Trap. On more than one occasion I've felt like my head was not attached to my body...

I'm feeling that way a bit now, so time to take a shower and test out my new bed. More tomorrow, if I can stay on top of the spotty internet...

Sunday, May 20, 2007


The recital was wonderful! It was well received, and all the risks we took paid off. Judd's piece was a hit, as I suspected, and everyone is excited to hear more. I’ll spend some time later in the week talking through the experience, but for now, Steve’s review does a wonderful job of presenting some of the more non-standard elements of the recital. Thanks for the kind words, Steve! Glad you were there.

We raised a little money, and thanks to all who have donated so far via the $15 Pledge Challenge! I’ll be dropping focus on The Bhakti Project for a while, so this will be the last solicitation until things pick up again in the fall, when we turn our eye to the recording project. Thanks for your support!

How I wish, wish, wish I could take a week off!! To just sit on the couch and read books and watch movies or go out to leisurely dinners… But, alas, as is the nature of things, I’ve been off and running on the next projects before the recital was even over.

Remember Wolf Trap? Yeah, me, too. I leave on Wednesday, so I’m busy for the next few days packing, making sure I know my role, and looking for a car. (I’ll be buying a used car rather than renting all summer. I’ve had good luck with this in the past; here’s hoping the Car Karma continues!)

I’ll be back probably at the end of the week, once I’m settled in my summer home. Be good to each other until I get back!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Programming, challenges

For those of you who can’t make the recital tomorrow, here’s a sneak-peek at the program. (I guess it’s technically a sneak-peek even if you can make the recital!) As is often the case with these things, Jocelyn and I switched a bit of the order around today at the dress rehearsal, which made me happy that I put off getting the copies made!

I have some light: Songs of Spirit

from Hermit Songs, Samuel Barber:
St. Ita’s Vision
The Heavenly Banquet
The Desire for Hermitage

Mary, did you know?, Lowry & Green
Breathe on me, Breath of God, Hatch & Jackson
w/ Amanda Crider, Cameron Smith, & David Giuliano
Suzanne, Leonard Cohen
Waitin’, William Bolcom


Action de grâce Olivier Messiaen
Hillula, World Premiere, Judd Greenstein


from Mirabai Songs, John Harbison:
It’s true, I went to the market
All I was doing was breathing
Why Mira can’t go back to her old house
Don’t go

Songs, Sergei Rachamninoff
Ja ne prarok
Zdes xhorosho
Fso xhotchet pet

All together, it’s about 65 minutes including the two small pauses. We’re not calling them intermissions, because, well, they’re not really; they’re just breaks. Each one has part of the drama of the program tied to it, but I can’t say more than that until we go live!

Donations for The Bhakti Project continue to come in, and I’m finally starting to believe that we’ll make this happen! Today we got our first repeat gift, ear-marked as it were for the wine reception. Thank you, SK! We’ll raise a glass to you. My sweet friend LW gave a small donation yesterday because she isn’t able to make the recital, and the gesture gave me an idea…

I’d like to issue a “pledge challenge,” taking a page from public television. If you are sorry that you can’t attend tomorrow’s recital, whether because you don’t live in New York or because you’re currently out of town or because you have rehearsal or because it’s raining like crazy, please consider donating the cost of a ticket – just $15. That may not seem like much in the donation-sense of things, but trust me! It will add up!

This site gets about 240 unique visitors a day, and if 2/3 of you gave $15, we would easily meet Phase One of our fund-raising: recital costs. If 300 more of you gave $15, we could meet Phase Two, which covers the commission fee for Judd Greenstein. We’ll deal with Phase Three, the recording, over the summer and into the fall.

Think about it? Here’s the link again, provided for you just like the number on your screen: Join the $15 Pledge Challenge!

Off for some final study, then bed. Tomorrow: sleeping in, a good breakfast, getting the programs printed, then folding and stuffing them with pledge cards and envelopes while my toenails dry…

Time Out

If you live in NYC or its environs, you might want to pick up a copy of this week’s TimeOut New York. If you can get past the racy cover, (sorry, Mom! at least that’s not me…) there’s a profile of Yours Truly at the start of the Classical Music section! For those of you not in the area, it should be available online soon; I’ll post a link when it’s up.

**Edited to add: Here it is! Welcome to those of you who have found your way here from the article! Please spend some time over on the sidebar, checking out the Blogroll, archived posts and The Bhakti Project. Come back often!

Steve Smith, who writes for the NY Times as well as TONY and keeps an in-depth “music consumption” blog over at Night After Night, contacted me a few weeks ago about this feature. I alluded to this in the first Met Debut post; the actual interview happened about two weeks later at the swanky TONY offices on 10th Avenue. We talked for about 45 minutes, I suppose, Steve's tape recorder going all the while, although it was shut off for about a minute while the building tested the fire alarm!

We covered so much history of the blog and my career since grad school, plus a bit of personal life and, of course, The Bhakti Project. I was anticipating a small blurb of an article, as I just couldn’t see how he was going to get all that information into two or three column-inches! And, well, turns out he didn’t have to: it’s a full page feature! There is also a big picture, my casual headshot, and can I just say how weird it is to see myself smiling out from the pages of a major magazine? Pretty weird!

I read the article outloud to EN as we rode the subway down to a wine shop in Tribeca, on a mission to get wine for the (FREE!) wine reception after the recital tomorrow. I had to stop about every other paragraph and look up at him dumbfoundedly (is that a word?). I am so impressed with Steve’s presentation of all the information, some of it very sensitive; his writing is thoughtful and kind, and it’s obvious that he’s been a reader of the concert for quite a while.

Thank you, Steve! I’m honored to have my first profile, in conjunction with my first recital in NY, written by you, and with such care.

I have an hour more here at home before I meet Jocelyn at the gallery for our dress rehearsal. It’s all falling into place! I’m not nervous, per se, but I do feel the need to step up to the plate even more now. Heck, all of New York might show up…


Congrats to mlisp, who was my 100,000th visitor yesterday!

There's something kind of cool about the fact that such a momentous number was reached by a visit from someone is a "real life" friend as well as a "computer friend!"

Thanks to all who stop by, whether you come every day or once only, whether I know you in the "real world" or not. Happy that you're here!

FriPod: Mother’s Day Edition

(aka “Better late than never!”)

It’s been a few weeks since I actually had anything in my iTunes library to contribute to FriPod, so I was happy that this week’s topic turned up so much. Even a few “classical” pieces, for once!

1. Mamma Mia, ABBA, Gold
2. Does your Mother Know, ABBA, Voulez-vous
3. Mama Says, Billy Pilgrim, Billy Pilgrim
4. Goodnight to a Mother’s Dream, Nanci Griffith, Flyer
5. Decatur, or, Round of Applause For Your Stepmother!, Sufjan Stevans (who else would have a title like that?!), Come On Feel the Illinoise!
6. Mother, Tori Amos, Little Earthquakes
7. Mothers of the Disappeared, U2, Joshua Tree
8. Senza Mamma, O Bimbo, Tu Sei Morto; from Suor Angelica by Puccini, performed by Victoria de Los Angeles
9-12: Selections from Amahl and the Night Visitors, original cast recording of the NBC Television production:
Oh, Mother, you should go out and see!
Don’t cry, Mother dear
Amahl… Yes, Mother?
I walk, Mother

The first and last two groups of songs (ABBA and Amahl) were regularly on the Bird Family Playlist when I was growing up (I think I knew all the words to the Voulez-vous album by the time I was 10), so there is something fitting about this list!

I love you, Mom! Thanks for helping me love all music!

Friday, May 11, 2007

A day in the life

Today was one of those days, the kind of day that lets me know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am “living the life,” that I am a professional singer. I’m still kind of floating from the sheer joy of it all! Let me see if I can summarize.

Morning spent, as it often is, with coffee and email and, today, finishing the flyer for the recital. This is just a half-sheet of paper with all the pertinent information about the recital: date (May 17), time (7:30), location (Gallerie Icosahedron, 27 N. Moore St), overview of the program (works by Harbison, Barber, Rachmaninoff, Cohen, Dylan, and a world premiere by Judd Greenstein), and a word about the Bhakti Project-sponsored wine (and cheesecake!) reception following the recital. The morning always goes by too quickly, and then it was time to rush off to meet with Jocelyn.

We spent the time working on Hillula, which is, to use Judd’s word, large-scale! It’s about 18-minutes long, and we’ve had it for about a week, with about another week to go. Needless to say, we went rapidly back and forth between feelings of great joy (it’s a gorgeous work) and great stress! We’ll find the middle ground, though, and make sure what we offer on Thursday is on par with the works we’ve been rehearsing for weeks. This is my New York recital debut, and we want to make sure it goes off without a hitch - not to mention giving Hillula the debut it deserves!

So, another step to that end: checking my Russian diction. I left NYU (where we’d been rehearsing) at 2:15, grabbed a burrito to go, and headed up on the 1 to meet DN at 114th. As soon as we sang through the first song, which I’d learned at Tanglewood in 2003, he said, “Did you coach this with Ken Griffiths?” Indeed I did! Turns out all the little diction things Ken grilled into me at Tanglewood are still there, and, as he studied with him, too, DN could recognize them! We sang through the other two songs, and I was given clearance to sing Russian in public. (What a great language!)

Then I had 45 minutes to get down to the Water Taxi at Pier 11, just off Wall Street, to head over for our meeting with Nadia. Her studio is in Red Hook, Brooklyn, which doesn’t have a subway stop very close by, so Jocelyn and I rendezvous-d (is that a word?) amid much confusion at the Pier. We got on the right boat (no running down the gangplank swearing this time, EHR!) and enjoyed a beautiful ride through across the river. It was a gorgeous day, and the breeze felt absolutely divine. I finally got to eat that burrito on the ride over, and then we were in Brooklyn.

If any of you have ever taken the Water Taxi over to the Brooklyn Army Terminal stop, I think you’ll agree with me when I say that it feels like another country! All of a sudden, we were in Italy or France! The old street car, the supermarket café on the water, and the beautiful old studios lining the street. Charming. We walked towards the studio, but couldn’t locate the address, so I called Nadia. When I told her where we were, she said that she was on the next block, and, still on the phone, I indicated to Jocelyn that we needed to walk “that way,” when Nadia said, “No, the other way.” She could see us! We turned around and found the building, but then couldn’t figure out how to get in. A big truck was in the driveway, getting worked on by several handsome young men, one of whom saw us poking around and said, “You must be looking for Nadia!” Brooklyn is charming and friendly!

We found our way upstairs and were soon drowning in luscious fabrics and colors and styles and ….!!! Nadia was so sweet and generous; she’ll be coming to the recital on Thursday, so if you want to meet the genius behind the dress, come on by. I ended up with two “every day” type dresses (pictures forth-coming) and a long blush-colored Signature Wrap dress for the recital; Jocelyn chose a deep red long gown and the shorter style in champagne. It felt like Christmas morning!! J summed it up perfectly as we were walking back to the water taxi: “I’ve never felt that way in a dress!” It is easily the most comfortable, sexiest dress we’ve ever worn. Get yourself one, or get one for the lady in your life. You won’t be sorry!

We had time before the taxi, so we got a snack at the lovely Fairway: fresh, precut mango; some manchego cheese; and a bar of Lindt classic dark chocolate. We sat across from each other as the taxi zoomed farther over to Brooklyn and then back to Manhattan, grinning at each other in amazement.

Jocelyn headed off to a concert, and I walked on farther to catch the A at Chambers Street. On the way, my manager called: more good news for next season! Talk about a cherry on the top of an already wonderful day. The weekend will be busy – and probably stressful – with studying and more recital prep, but the joy of this day will get us through.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Every project needs a logo...

... here's ours!

Thanks to Beth Ragland of bad muffin designs for this beautiful design. Look for it on anything and everything have to do with the Bhakti Project from here on out! Besides the obvious letterhead and postcards/pledgecards, I'm thinking stickers, buttons, t-shirts?

Branding, people; we're branding here!

Like butter

I’m happy to say that I can finally reveal the designer who will be dressing JD and me for the recital: Nadia Tarr, the Brooklyn-based designer of the butter by nadia label. I first saw the Signature Wrap Dress in the window of a boutique near M&E’s house in Park Slope, and I drooled over it for about six months before I finally went in and tried it on. As soon as I did, I knew it was the perfect dress to wear for the Trittico afterparty! A special dress for a special night, right? I splurged and bought it, selecting a plummy satin that was ultimately paired with gold open-toe pumps and a soft pink rose for the (all-too short!) party. (Ok, even though the post-pin-curl hair is terrible, here’s a pic from opening night, pre-rose…)

I was thrilled when Nadia agreed a while back to talk with me about providing us with dresses for the recital. JD wants to buy another one to take on her upcoming Dueck Three concert tour to China, and I want to try on a couple more of the styles in the collection, so she already has us as customers! In fact, we’ll be stopping by her studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn, on Friday night (a preview of Saturday’s sample sale…) to take a gander and do some purchasing. I think I need one of these for summer… And I’m thinking of getting one of the longer “ball gown” style versatile wraps for the recital. Just look at all the ways it can be wrapped! I’m hoping to find a cream or some other soft color – peach? periwinkle? – not too bright for this one, and not black, either.

You can check out the whole collection (and purchase online, too, if you don’t live near enough to Brooklyn…) at I freaked out a bit when I saw that picture of Naomi Watts wearing “my” dress on the homepage! I guess Ms. Tarr is doing very well!! I’m even more excited that she has agreed to collaborate with us. Hopefully JD and I will have some time to take some pictures of us in our dresses sometime before she jets off to China and I leave for Wolf Trap. Soon, maybe we’ll be the ones featured on the website!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Judd just sent out his regular "what’s-up" email with information about his works being performed and premiered (sign up to receive it here), and I was thrilled to see that our collaboration has been given a name! Read his description from the email below:

Finally (for now), there's a big premiere at Gallerie Icosahedron on the 17th: Hillula, my new work for the amazing soprano, Anne-Carolyn Bird. This is a setting of text from the Zohar, a central text of the Jewish Kabbalah, and it was commissioned to be the central part of a concert and recording project that Anne-Carolyn has founded, called The Bhakti Project. This work will be the centerpiece of a program devoted to spiritual music from multiple traditions; I sought out the Zohar as a Jewish text with a tone that was far from that which is typical of most Jewish religious writing. The piece is a celebration of a "wedding" that is also a death, both standing as metaphors for the relationship between people and the Divine. I think that this spirit comes through in the music, and I know that Anne-Carolyn (and Jocelyn Dueck, the amazing pianist who is the third part of this collaboration) will bring even more energy and life into the work, and to the rest of their terrific program. Please come join me for this event!

Isn’t that beautifully exciting?!?!

Judd and I are meeting this evening to talk about progress and go over the work. More from this front soon… For now, please consider making a donation, however small, to help further bring Hillula into the world.


I’m knee deep in all kinds of house-keeping right now:

• the literal, spring-cleaning kind
• organizing the recital and reception
• getting together a funds-requesting mailing for The Bhakti Project; every little bit helps!
• learning Volpone
• starting to think about packing for the summer
• arranging for a car at Wolf Trap
• trying NOT to think about having to find a new apartment when I get back!

Pardon the quiet here for a few more days!
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