Friday, June 29, 2007

Please remember to tip your servers

After last night’s (thrilling, beautiful) Carmen performance (I was so proud of all my colleagues up there!), a “few” of us headed over to our favorite hangout, Clyde’s. It’s a fantastic old restaurant up on a hill with some gorgeous art-deco decorations and a beautiful old bar; for those of you in NYC, think PJ Clark’s but without the checkered tablecloths. It also has some awesomely bad “art-deco-inspired” murals on the walls, probably done in the ‘70s. The bartenders are friendly, make great drinks, and are very good at keeping unsavory characters away. We’ve gotten to know several of them by name and they know us (and our preference in bourbon…) – it’s our Cheers!

I say a “few” of us, because it ended up being just about the entire group of Filene Young Artists and the Studio singers and spouses and friends… it was insane. And, of course, we got there at 11:58 for a kitchen that closes at midnight. What did the lovely staff of Clyde’s do for us? They kept the kitchen open for another 45 minutes, taking care that all the burgers and wings and fries and crab cakes got into our bellies.

I’ve never worked in the restaurant business, but many singers and actors make their living there between gigs. It’s a tough and often thankless job! I’m sure no one at Clyde’s will read this, but I want to say thanks to them anyway. All of us are grateful for your going the extra mile last night; I hope it showed up in the tips…

Thursday, June 28, 2007


Via La Cieca, this news about Beverly Sills, "gravely ill with cancer." All our love and good wishes are with you, Ms. Sills, not to mention our gratitude for your sharing your gifts with us.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dresses, dresses, everywhere

(This started out as a comment in response to Mme A’s questions in the comments of the last two Volpone posts, but it got a bit long-winded for the comments’ section… So, pardon us while we talk fashion for a bit…)

Mme A, I prefer to live in dresses in the summer (I can’t stand sticky clothes in the heat!), so come spring, I'm constantly on the lookout for cute things. This spring in New York I scored some incredible pieces, including this kelly green number. I swear it was delivered to the wrong store: it is of exceptional quality but I found it in a cheap teeny (as in teenager-y) boutique near NYU! Truly the score of the century.

My closet these days is filled about 50/50 with clothes from boutiques and clothes from places like Ross or Filene’s Basement. It’s tempting to tell everyone just how much of a bargain I got when they compliment a dress, but I’m trying to get over that! If they want to think I paid $200 for that fabulous green dress, let them! I do have two non-wrap dresses from butter by nadia (in addition to the two Signature Wrap dresses Nadia gave us for the recital); those weren’t cheap (although they were inexpensive – there’s a difference!), but they were worth it.

(Side note: I wore my dark purple wrap dress for the “Death by Aria” concert on Saturday, and by the time I went home, I’d wrapped it three different ways! Empire waist with sleeves for the concert, dropped waist and sleeveless for dinner after, and then strapless, just to show that it could be done! [All the changes made in the bathroom, of course; no public demonstrations…] The women with me were astounded, and I hope I drummed up a bit more business for Nadia.)

As for dressing up for the Sitz, I'm not sure where that started. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that we wear “work clothes” for rehearsals, meaning, things we can get down and dirty in. In a show like Volpone, there was a lot of running around, falling down, and bruising of legs in rehearsals, so we didn’t often feel “pretty.” (I still often wore a dress, but added shorts underneath for modesty and a long rehearsal skirt over top to help get used to doing the crazy moves in costume. That got hot…) But when all we have to do is sit (or stand) and sing, it feels nice to dress it up a bit.

Anyone else? Any ideas on why we dress up for the Sitzprobe?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Before & After

The Wig:
The Pincurl Hair:(with conductor, Sara Jobin, and John Musto, our composer, who I believe was seranading us with "Knock Three Times." I can not tell you why...)

Last night went pretty well, all in all. I think we're all happy to have opening behind us. Now we can relax and get back to playing, to having fun and finding the groove.

Friday, June 22, 2007


I had a conversation the other night with one of the Wolf Trap Studio artists about online presence and privacy, particularly Facebook. This is an element of “career development” that is still very new, so it’s probably not yet covered in any kind of “Completing the Singer” type course in school, should you be lucky enough to have such a class. (At Juilliard, this class covers things like taxes, publicity materials, personal appearance, etc.. Useful stuff, and I hope they’ll add a section on “teh internets” here pretty soon…) In light of that conversation, I thought I’d share a bit of my strategy, if you can call it that, for trying to maintain a sense of online privacy.

Obviously, this blog is the place to start. This is pretty easy, since everything I write about here is “on topic,” mostly. Loosely related to my career sometimes, but fairly on topic! I’m not going to write about or post pictures of my vacation or a night on the town. That said, I still use initials rather than names and don’t give any substantial clues about where I reside. People who know me or who are in the business can often decipher the initials, and it’s fun to get an email along the lines of “I didn’t know you were working with PDQ!” When I tell people that I mentioned them here but only used their initials, they’ll often say, “Oh, you can use my name; I don’t care,” but better safe than sorry. It can be disconcerting to do a Google search and find your name somewhere you weren’t expecting.

Speaking of Google searches, this is something I do regularly, maybe once every couple of months. It’s a good tool to see where I show up online, and also where I don’t. Social networking sites, like MySpace, can show up in searches, and when I figured that out, I thought it might be time to change my social online presence.

I recently deleted my Friendster and personal MySpace accounts, choosing to focus instead on Facebook for keeping in touch with friends. In a job like this one where you have a new batch of colleagues every three months or less, it’s hard to keep in touch with your new “best friends.” Social networking sites have turned into an opera singers’ favorite communication tool! (I still maintain my MySpace Music page, but more for publicity and less for keeping in touch with friends.)

Why Facebook? First, I find their user interface to be simple and elegant. I hope it stays that way as the site grows in membership. It is easy to communicate with my friends (seems like a given, but it isn’t!), and I love their photo applications; it’s easy to upload photos and you can label the people pictured. But the biggest reason I chose Facebook is that it has excellent Privacy options.

There are several people who are my “friends” on Facebook who I either don’t know in real life (blog friends or friends of friends), or whom I knew ten years ago, or who I’m still getting to know today. For these friends, I have chosen to show them what Facebook calls a Limited Profile, and here’s the best part: I get to choose exactly which elements I want included (or excluded). I’ve chosen to keep things like my education and work history public, but my favorite music and movies private; my performance photos public, but pictures from parties private; my Friends list public, but the comments “wall” private. I currently have about 1/5 of my Friends on a Limited Profile; as I get to know someone better, I’ll let them in a bit more.

Every person building a career should think about this kind of thing: what their potential employer could find “out there” about them. But even more then that, as performers in the public eye (albeit a small public with classical music, compared to others), we should try to keep the line between our private and public selves well-established. I think I really recognized the importance of this after the TONY article was published and I got a few emails asking me out!

This post feels a bit rambly, but I hope it’s interesting and gives food for thought. Public persona, but private life. That’s the goal, and one I’m going to hold on to. With a little help from my Facebook friends!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Pre-Volpone miscellany

So, that wasn’t too bad. I was pretty stressed out before the run-through started, because the more I thought about the character and the show, the less I understood this new idea and how to implement it. But, with some great colleagues (couldn’t’ve done it without you, JJ) and more guidance from PK, I think I’m back to having a cohesive character. She still feels very new to me, which is kind of fun in the way that exploring a new character is always fun. Hopefully she’ll feel a bit more cemented before opening night, though!

I have no idea whether or not the healing scene is going to cause the same amount of rip-roaring laughter, but we should have a few new folks at the first dress rehearsal tonight, so I’ll get a chance to see. Celia is much less maniac and frenetic that she used to be, so I think I’ll be able to stay more centered, regardless of the audience’s reaction.

Last night we had our Sitzprobe, which is always one of my favorite rehearsals. To move from the percussive support of the piano to the enveloping support of the orchestra is always a wonderful transition! A bit unsettling at times, as it can be a challenge to hear the timbre (sound quality) of the clarinet or violin that is doubling my line after weeks of hearing it in the piano. But, we make it. And this orchestration is fantastic; some really beautiful and thrilling moments. Head over to Kim’s blog for a photo (that’s me in the red dress) and her thoughts on the rehearsal; as the General Director, she has a lot more to think about than I do!

After Tuesday’s piano dress, I had the chance to share one of my favorite “tricks of the trade” with one of the young women in the Studio program*: the joys of pin-curl hair!! I arrived at the post-rehearsal notes session with my hair still up in my wig cap, and while PK gave notes I stood in the back taking off the cap and pulling the bobby pins out of my curls. EO was next to me, dealing her own post-wig hair, so I said, “Here’s the trick,” and flipped my hair up and down like a rocker at a concert. When I stood back upright, Voila! Soft wavy curls a là an early-80s Breck commercial. We’ll get the chance to try it again after tonight’s rehearsal, and by Friday she’ll have it mastered! The best hair at the afterparty will be on EO; watch out, ya’ll!

A quiet afternoon here. Some Figaro, some gentle warming up, dinner of some kind… then to the theater at 5:30 for rehearsal!

*Wolf Trap has a new program this season for post-undergraduate students; seven of them have small roles in Volpone.

Sunday, June 17, 2007


Often in the rehearsal process, just when you think you’ve got your character / staging / interpretation nailed down, another element is added to the mix that throws everything out of whack. And sometimes that means completely rethinking what has come before.

At tonight’s rehearsal, I’ll be presenting an almost completely different character than the one I’d grown into over the past couple of weeks. Not entirely different, but different enough that it feels like I’m starting over. The creative direction staff (director, conductor, composer, costumer, etc.) is with me on the change; in fact, I wouldn’t be making the change if it weren’t for them! But, essentially, they’re the Boss. Who knows if this incarnation of Celia will be what audiences see on Friday night; we might go back to what we had last night or come up with something that’s between the two or even find something different altogether! It’s all part of the process…

A very tough part. “Flexibility is the key to airpower,” and all that, but eek!! Time for some visualization and mental focus. I’ll report back…

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Small world

I went to my wig fitting yesterday and was thrilled to discover that the wig and makeup guys are J&S – who did wigs and makeup both summers I was at Tanglewood! When S first came into the room, I did that horribly rude “don’t I know you?” stare for about 30 seconds before jumping up with a “Oh, it’s you!” He, of course, knew I would be there, but he almost didn’t recognize me, either, since my hair has changed so much in the past three years. (Three years!) We hugged, and he sent me back to the makeup station to say hello to J.

We caught up quickly on the past few years (nutshell, anyone?), and then it was business as usual. As S adjusted my wig, he said, “Of course, we’ve worked with your head before, so we had a good idea that this one would work.” Ha! But that statement took us down memory lane… way back to the summer of 2003 when I wore an “Elvis the Bullfighter” wig for the premiere of the original version of Ainadamar, complete with sideburns and masculinizing makeup. Hot. (I also wore a gorgeous, artistic, metallic-looking horse head and danced a few sizeable solos in that production! Hmm, maybe I should finally link to my old LiveJournal entries about that production… but the writing is horrible! I’ll think about it.)

When I got home, I also remembered J&S helping me with A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 2004: platinum wig a la Jean Harlow and white makeup on my face, neck, arms… any skin that showed was painted and powdered. I had to remove it with baby oil in the shower, a process which was tedious and messy but gave me very soft skin!

It felt really good to share my recent career developments with J&S, and I think they enjoyed seeing that one of their “kids” was making good. It’s exciting, too, because I have a possible gig (penciled in on the calendar, no contract yet…) with their regular company, an A-level house. We might get to work together again in 2009! It’s fun to think about this “reunion” aspect of my life on the road, coming into unexpected contact with colleagues and friends who I loved working with, catching up and picking up where we left off. The more places I work, the more this kind of thing will happen, and I’m looking forward to it.

In a totally different sort of small world, this morning I discovered that my host’s father and my grandfather served on the same aircraft carrier in World War II, the USS Hancock. How about that?! They were both onboard in the South Pacific when the carrier was hit by a kamikaze plane, a story I always loved to hear Granddaddy tell. CH, my host, says that he has diaries that his father wrote of the account, so I’m looking forward to learning even more about what must have been an amazing day in the life of these young men.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Day off

It is perfectly chilly here today, and I’m taking full advantage of the day off to spend as much time in my yoga clothes as possible. I’m even wearing a sweater! I have the windows open and a cup of steaming coffee and Mozart playing… it’s pretty darn nice.

I’m not feeling very articulate today, but here are a few tidbits:

Head over to Kim’s blog to see some pictures from the Volpone promo photo shoot we did yesterday. There will be a preview article in the Washington Post this Sunday, so we threw together a shoot to get some photos; hopefully they’ll run one with the article. I love my costume, but I’m very curious to see if I can do all of my staging in the corset and big skirt… “That’s why we rehearse!”

We do our first run-through on the set tomorrow!

When I need a break from Volpone (hey, it happens…), I’ve started working on my SIS (Self Imposed Study) for the summer: two Italian roles, Nannetta (Falstaff) and Susanna (Nozze di Figaro). It just so happens that the Studio Artists (the younger level of singers here at WTOC this summer) are doing big scenes from each of those operas. I’m hoping to snag some time with their Italian coach after Volpone is up and running… (And she reads the blog! Hi, FG!)

I’ll outline some of my role prep techniques here soon. Since it’s announced in my biography on my management site, I guess I can say that I’ll be singing my first Susanna next season! This is a huge role (the longest in the soprano repertoire), and I have nine months to get it into my voice/body/spirit. I’m excited for the process! What an amazing opera, amazing role. For now, I’ll just say “text, text, text!”

That’s all for now. There should be some news to share in the next few days, too, so stayed tuned!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Physical, too

One specific area that’s been a challenge so far is the above mentioned physical intimacy. Without getting too specific, I’ll just say that my character gets a bit overzealous in her attempts to heal Volpone through the “laying on of virgin hands” and ends up with his head under her skirt. Ahime! My partner, JJ, is wonderful, and it’s been a fun scene to work, but not without its challenges!

When we first blocked the scene we had no one in the room except directors and stage management so we could explore the staging without the added pressure of our colleagues sitting around and sniggering. (Most intimate scenes are staged like this, out of simple respect for the actors. I still remember rehearsing my first stage kiss – as Hope Harcourt in Anything Goes in high school – in a closed rehearsal. We must have gotten something right, because my boyfriend complained that I kissed Billy “just like” I kissed him!)

There was lots of laughing and blushing and “Oh god”-ing in the first few runs that day, but also lots of “You ok with this?” and “What do you need me to do?” Great colleagues and a great rehearsal environment. By the time we left that rehearsal, it was just a series of moves, not unlike a dance routine.

But! Add an audience back in, and all of that can go right out the window! As soon as my friends and colleagues were there, positively shrieking with laughter, I lost my focus. The next two times we ran the scene, on two different days, I ended up laughing so much that I couldn’t stay in character OR sing! Fun, and funny, but frustrating. If I can’t hold it together in front of twenty laughing people, what will I do with 400?

I asked PK if we could run the scene a lot, with people doing lots of things to try and distract me. Throwing Ricola lozenges, laughing, talking, etc.. He said I didn’t need that, that I would be fine, but when I balked at that idea, especially nervous about my laughing, he gave me great advice: if I (ACB) feel myself laughing, consider it my character (Celia) filled with the Spirit! She is performing a “miracle healing,” after all. Brilliant! That’s what a good director can do, fix a problem not with rehearsing, but with talking. With giving his actors more tools.

I went into the next run-through confident that I could keep it together. And I almost did… But it was my turn to get a bit of a joke played on me, since PK and I had orchestrated one on JJ a few days before. There was much laughing, and much breaking of character, but I think it will be for the best in the end. I feel like it needed to “go there” in order for us both to be totally comfortable; we needed to play with it. With something like this, it helps to treat it a bit irreverently in a few rehearsals, so that when those 400 people show up, we can concentrate on giving them the experience of the scene untainted by our own concerns.

Will they be shocked? Maybe. But I guarantee they’re going to laugh.


I know I’m involved with a physical comedy when my legs are covered by ugly purple and green bruises, many of which are of unknown origin. This show is no exception.

More so than in a drama, I’m asked to use my body in extreme physical ways in a comedy: entering from Stage Left and being “thrown” to the ground; running around to evade a lascivious embrace; a knee to the groin, stage-combat-style; or physical intimacy the likes of which could make a nun blush. Oh, and my character in this show? A former nun.

I love comedy for this aspect. It’s the most dance-like of my time onstage, unless I’m actually dancing. I’m learning a lot about physical comedy in this production, thanks in large part to PK’s love of the history of it. At the end of rehearsal the other night, we sat down and watch a YouTube clip of Ferruccio Soleri, a master of Italian commedia dell'arte (Harlequin). Such control over his body! Like a dancer, yes, but more of his intention was focused on being still. Everything still except an arm or a leg, which brought that movement into relief, which made it funny - especially when repeated over and over!

After this clip, we watched another classic: Bugs Bunny. Did you know that Bugs is patterned after Harlequin? I sure didn’t, but watching the cartoon with that knowledge, I could see the incredible connection, and Bugs became funnier than ever.

One of the leads in Volpone is being staged much like Harlequin/Bugs, but all of us have elements of commedia in our physicality. PK said “The key to physical comedy is stillness with intention.” Just as Soleri economized his movement to achieve the greatest comedic effect, so PK is trying to get us to focus our movements. Stylize, I guess, but all physical comedy is stylized. Manic movements contrasted with sharp stillness. It’s challenging, but I love the way I’m learning another way to use my body onstage.

I know I’m not getting the Big Picture of this across very well in this post, so I may ask PK to pop in as a guest blogger and share a bit more of the concept. Stay tuned…

Friday, June 08, 2007


Ordering dinner at the counter at a vegetarian restaurant here in Vienna, looking over into the cold case to choose my drink and seeing Thum’s Up! cola, which I hadn’t seen or tasted since I was in India fourteen years ago. Drinking it with dinner, I could smell so many other things from that summer: the strands of jasmine in the markets and taxicabs, the sweat of our bodies working in the summer heat, the crisp air of the air conditioned sari shops, the dirt and the animals in the street. Not at all unpleasant, these olfactory memories.

I also remembered how good that cola tasted after weeks of drinking water that was still hot from boiling or weak kool-aid made from said hot water. Carbonation! Sugar! To us American teenagers, it was a little bit of heaven. (That summer, I also had chai tea for the first time; I felt very hip when, about a year later, it appeared at Starbucks and other coffee shops here at home. “Oh yeah, I had that in India…”)

As I left the restaurant after dinner, the owner ran out after me with another bottle. “A gift,” he said, and encouraged me to keep it on the shelf in my refrigerator, unopened, so that I could see it every day and remember.

Two notable summers find their connection – 1993, age 17, building a church in India; 2007, age 31, singing an opera in Virginia – both times thrilled to see a Thum’s Up!

(Thanks to EN for the photographic evidence!)

Monday, June 04, 2007

Doing vs. Being

Last week, I went to my first couple of Bikram yoga classes, persuaded by YL, one of our pianist-coaches. For those unfamiliar, Bikram-style yoga is practiced in a heated room, usually about 105º F; it is very aerobic, and suffice to say you sweat like crazy. It’s very Westernized yoga, to my way of thinking, in that just about every spiritual element is removed, and it is very goal-oriented. The instructor stands at the front of the room, like an aerobics instructor, urging class members to push and go and do.

It was interesting, and I’m glad I went. If nothing else, it kick-started me back into my own practice – the only way to get over those sore muscles is to stretch them out again!

The classes also gave me an insight into performing, believe it or not, or, at least, into the type of performer I enjoy watching and working with. As I looked around the room in the Bikram class (easy to do, since there is a mirror along the front wall, another thing you’d never see in a more Eastern tradition), I could quickly pick out the people who were eager to show what they can do. They had looks of determination on their faces, striving to achieve the most, the best, the hardest; looking to prove they can do it, and hoping to get a word of praise from the instructor. They were Doing.

Then there were those who were only there for themselves, working with their bodies. Some were struggling, some were not, but all of these people had a more gentle and peaceful air. Calm. Being. I enjoyed being class with them. I had to work harder to keep my focus off of the Doing people, which distracted me from my own attempts at Being (while literally dripping with sweat and willing my low blood pressure not to get any lower!).

When I talked to YL about this on the way home, she knew just what I meant and immediately understood the parallel to performing. Some singers get out there and Do whatever they can to make an impression, whereas others just Be. (I know that’s the wrong conjugation, but bear with me…)

Saturday night we had our first WTOC performance, the Steve Blier-led Berlin Night Life recital. (Pictures and a sound-clip over at Kim’s WTOC blog.) Seeing my colleagues on the stage, as well as observing them in our Volpone rehearsals, I realized joyfully that everyone here falls into the Being category! These singers love their work, and when they walk out onstage you can see them just opening themselves to the audience. They seem to do nothing differently in front of an audience of 400 than they would for an audience of 5. It was as if each one of them said:

“Here I Am. Here is the music, the story; I hope you enjoy yourself, because I sure am…”
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