Friday, August 31, 2007

Remember this?

Fundraising for The Bhakti Project kind of got shelved over the summer, but now that I’m back in NYC the project is rapidly re-approaching front and center. There’s quite a fight in my head these days for prime real estate! Susanna, Barbarina, cover assignments, TBP, audition rep... the list goes on. But tonight: back to Bhakti.

Brainstorming was kicked into gear a bit tonight as I was visiting the Fractured Atlas site to check up on some things (notably, my account balance…). I came across this Wall Street Journal article, referenced on the FA blog: A New Generation Reinvents Philanthropy. The article focuses on social networking sites and charities like and, and having just started a Facebook Group for The Bhakti Project, this all sounded very familiar. (I’m also “friends” with on Facebook and have made three loans through this exciting micro-financing organization. I think I learned about Kiva from RC at one of our “Girls’ Night” parties this summer!)

I was inspired to create the Facebook group when I was “friended” by someone who has already made a couple of donations to TBP. I thought, “Hey, if he’s here, maybe there are other people who would like to get involved and keep tabs on the project via Facebook.” (Hmmm. I wonder about keeping a running list of donors on the Facebook page. I’ll have to run some polls…) Sure enough, in two days of existence, there are 61 members of the group, including some people who are not my “friends” in real life!

My goal for this project has always been to bring together lots of small donors, “every day” folks who can donate $50, $100, $250, or even just the price of a recital ticket. Larger gifts are beyond welcome, of course, and almost 50% of my current donations came from one donor. (You know who you are – thank you!) But I’ve always seen this as being a sort of “music commission of the people” sort of thing.

I’ve been trying and trying to figure out how to give public credit to my TBP donors, because part of the fun of helping to pay for something is to get your name put on it, right? Think of all those chairs at the symphony. I just had an idea that might work: When this cd gets recorded (Phase Three of the fundraising), I will list all the donors, all of the folks who literally made the project possible, in the booklet. So next year sometime (??), when our cd is released, you can share it with your friends and say, “I helped fund this art!” They don’t even have to know that your contribution cost less than your weekly coffee habit…

I’ve recently had two colleagues ask to talk with me about my fund-raising “strategy” as they are embarking on projects of their own. I’ll admit that there wasn’t much of a strategy in the early days, aside from “from where ever it is right now.” But things are cooking again, so to speak, and I can feel my passion about the project stirring up again. It’s the music, yes, but also the fund-raising. This is a new idea, this could change some things, this could bring the joy of creating new music to hundreds of people. Come join me! Let’s bring micro-financing to new music.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Source

It was a beautifully cool morning in NYC, perfect for running errands and crossing things off lists. Today: coffee from Gregory’s, a quiche and some fruit from the farmer’s market on that triangle by Juilliard and Lincoln Center, a book and an orange pocket calendar at Barnes and Noble, and new dishtowels (et al…) from BB&B. On the way home, I stopped in at Kashkaval and picked up my much-missed French Roast beans; I made do with Trader Joe’s over the summer, but I’m so happy to have that little brown bag on my counter once more!

The book I picked up at B&N? The source material for The Marriage of Figaro: a play, by the same name, written by Beaumarchais in 1778. (The prequel, The Barber of Seville, was premiered in 1775.) The play was banned by the monarchy because of it’s unfavorable view of said same, and so it wasn’t premiered until 1784; Mozart’s opera came along just two years later.

I am only through Act I, but I am already amazed at how literally Da Ponte translated the play into the libretto from the opera! Some of these lines are direct quotes, many of them. What I’m reading is an English translation of the original French, and these English lines match up word for word with many of my Italian into English lines. It’s fascinating to imagine Da Ponte reading this play, translating it, cutting and pasting a bit, and then handing it to Mozart. I guess that process hasn’t change much over the centuries, huh?

Here’s what I’ve learned from the source so far:

• Barbarina’s name was originally Fanchette, and she’s described by Beaumarchais as “a young girl about 12 years old (!) and very naïve.” Hmm. I don’t think Mozart and Da Ponte chose to go with that. She may be young (I’m thinking 15?), but she’s far from naïve in the opera! Although… hmm… something to play with, to think about. I’ll have to wait to really form an opinion until I actually get to her part in the play! (Side note: Anna Gottlieb was 12 when she premiered Barbarina (!), and she was 17 when she sang the first Pamina.)
• Susanna is often called “Suzie!” Love it.
• Beaumarchais describes Susanna thusly: “she is a resourceful, intelligent, and lively young woman, but she has none of the almost brazen gaiety characteristic of some of our young actresses who play maidservants.” So, in other words, she’s not “cute.” Thank god. (This is obvious from Mozart’s writing, too.)
• The romantic banter between Figaro and Susanna in the opening scene is so charming I almost couldn’t stand it!
• Figaro on Susanna: “Dear charming girl! For ever laughing, blooming, full of gaiety and wit, loving and wholly delightful! And yet prudent.”

As I read the rest of the play, I will continue to take notes like this. Mrs. Stettler, my much-referenced jr. high drama teacher, taught us to be aware of things that were said about our characters, especially when he or she isn’t around. The combination of how the character presents herself and how she is perceived by others help to build a more complete characterization than just her words alone.

More on this as I read. I’m also planning to spell out my method (thus far) for getting into the language. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

I am not the only one

Women all over the blogosphere are stoked for the arrival of football season! This post at GFY made me so happy...



Taking a break from getting settled back into my little hobbit hole (what a difference a window fan/AC unit makes!) to clear up some Figaro confusion.

Just as the 06-07 season was my Year of Golijov, this season is going to be the Year of Figaro. Two different productions, two roles, and in an arrangement which I couldn’t have set out more perfectly. Here it is in black and white:

October: cover Barbarina in the Met’s Le Nozze di Figaro
November: sing Barbarina in same production (also a show on Dec. 1)
February: sing Susanna in Opera Grand Rapid’s Le Nozze di Figaro

Cover, observe, sing, observe some more, sing. Fantastic! I’ll get to start slowly, with Barbarina’s four or five pages of recit and two-page aria, which feels like an appetizer (an “amuse bouche,” even?) for the whole role of Susanna.

I know the assistant conductor for the Met Figaro, and I intend to ask him if I can sit in on rehearsals for which I’m not called so I can immerse myself in the music. I figure the more I can hear of the recit and the different ways the singers approach it, the better. I’ll be observing two different Susannas, and I’m excited to take notes on things like characterization and musical choices, but also to watch their methods for getting through this enormous role. How do they pace themselves? When do they “rest” and when do they go all out? The opportunity to observe this role close up for three months before I perform it myself is invaluable.

So, there you have it. I’m sorry I didn’t get this spelled out before tickets went on sale. I know some folks have tickets for the October run; hopefully you’ll find the production enjoyable enough to come back and see it again in November!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Colleagues, Part II - Family

YL and I had our last coffee today and we talked about my earlier entry. (Her order, by the way, well-known by all who love her: triple grand breve cappuccino. Chiara always says that one of the things you should know about your good friends is how they take their coffee…) We agreed that not only are these good colleagues our friends, but they are our family.

Many of us are single, and even those of us who are partnered are unsure how children will fit into their lives. Will we have the time and stability in our careers to devote to being the kinds of parents we would hope to be? And our extended families – parents, siblings – are usually spread around the country, so we often have to miss major holidays with them, especially during the busy December holiday gig season. On paper, it looks like we’re Alone.

This year will be like that for me; I’m committed to the Met through January, which means no Thanksgiving in Georgia, no Christmas in Colorado. No Messiah’s on the books, either. But these days, I am lucky enough to count some of my dearest friends in New York City. I have family here, too, but even if the Brooklyn Birds are away for the holidays, I won’t be alone. I won’t ever be alone (unless I want to be…), because my Opera Family will take me in. And I will be as loved there as I would be on Harwich Street or Tara Way.

How lucky am I?!

Don’t know where I heard it first, but “friends are the family you choose.” Choose well, and you will never be Alone.


(*This one’s for you, Joe!)

If we’re lucky, we singers leave a gig planning and scheming and dreaming of doing shows together in the future. Many of us Wolf Trapper’s are already working together this coming season, since lots of the group are in the Houston Opera program and several of us are at the Met or NYCO. KL will be “my” Cherubino, Barbarina’s major crush, in the November performances of Figaro, and she and I are very excited to work together.

But for those of us who don’t have gigs together on the books, we daydream. A Figaro with LB as Count? JL as my Romeo or Edgardo? BG as Tamino or the Duke? FS as Octavian? A Vanessa (??) with SC as Erika? The list goes on and on, and doesn’t even begin to include the hopes of working with the pianists, conductors, and directors that we’ve met here, too.

It gets a bit harder with the sopranos, but, yes, there are sopranos who like each other enough to hope to work together again! RC and I are currently walking in the same Fach, so we’ll often be considered for the same roles. The only way we’ll likely work together again in the near future is if we’re double cast or one is covering the other, or if we’re both doing shows within a repertory company. But we can dream! Maybe we’ll both be here again next summer…

Regardless, we have all forged some strong friendships, and I’m learning more on every gig that it is these friendships that get us through the tough parts of this business. Imagine if you had to change your work environment completely every six weeks. New co-workers, new location, new everything. But, the longer you work, the more often you get cast with folks you’ve worked with before, and if those people are true friends? A new job can feel like a homecoming.

But not only that. A true friendship between singers shows in their work onstage. I was amazed by the level of tenderness that was evident between LB’s Papageno and RC’s Pamina. The two of them are fast friends in “real life,” and their care and love for each other was evident in the way their characters treated one another. There was nothing false about the friendship on stage, nothing forced or “acted.” It was a real treat to watch.

Thank you, friends! It has been a wonderful summer, full of special times. I’m honored to know you, and I can’t wait to walk the boards with you again – soon!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Week in Re/Preview

This has been – and will continue to be – a busy week! Here’s a Hump Day recap and look ahead.

Monday: all day Italian coaching with FG, Wolf Trap’s Italian coach and astute reader of The Concert. And when I say “all day,” I mean all. day. Oy! My brain was fried by 5pm. Even with a fabulous lunch (a “family style” feast of pasta with lemon and herbs from the garden, cheese, roasted summer veggies, a glass of wine AND a pre-lunch cocktail, all lovingly prepared by FG) and a dip in the pool, it was a tough day. She pulled no punches, repeatedly (but gently) reminding me to
- keep my “ee” vowel skinny
- keep my “ah” vowel bright
- keep my r’s and l’s crisp, not lazy
- remember to speak through the conversation, not just to the end of my line. Duh. I know this; why is it so much harder in Italian?!

Tuesday: photo shoot!! I finally went in for some new headshots. I’m gathering opinions (shot 139 seems to be a favorite…) and will likely have my choices made by early next week. The photographer is an old friend, Alexander Vasiljev, aka Sasha, who has been my makeup artist through three summers now: both summers at Tanglewood (the first Ainadamar and Midsummer Night’s Dream) and here for Volpone. I loved having someone who knows me behind the camera, someone who could make me smile my real smile. He just won a major photography competition, too, for his nature photography. Congrats, Sasha!

Wednesday: High Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. What a gorgeous church! I went to hear Charles sing with the professional choir there, and as he promised, the music was fantastic. (What was that final piece, Charles? Love it.) I dragged KG along to see all the beautiful mosaics, and they did not disappoint. Incredible detail, such vibrant colors. Our Lady of Siluva was one of many breath-taking chapels, but our favorite might have to be Our Lady of China. (Follow the link and scroll down.)

Thursday: road trip to NYC with YL. Install an air conditioner in the window across from my tiny room so I don’t roast up in the loft in these last days of summer. Then a date!

Friday: audition, then head back to VA for the weekend. My friends will be putting on the final WTOC performances – Magic Flute – and I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I heard a run-through last week, and the singing is out of this world.

Saturday: Flute performance (yay!) and final after party (boo!).

Sunday: more pre-season NFL while writing translations into my Figaro score, then one last dinner with my amazing hosts. They’re splitting time between VA and NYC these days, so we already have plans for a monthly dinner – and they’ll be coming to see Figaro for CH’s birthday!

I’ll putz around here for the weekend, trying to wrap up selling my car and spending more time with Susanna. Then on Monday or Tuesday, my time here is done!

“Where has the time all gone to?” Indeed.

Monday, August 13, 2007

My Sweet Manhattan Home Town

I think it’s safe to say that Saturday’s recital will, as I texted some friends after the show, go down in my memory as one of my most special evenings of music. It was one of those nights where, even though there were small flubs onstage, there was a perfect convergence of spirit and music, of musicians and friends. I consider myself privileged to be surrounded by such a wonderful group of performers (this is true of all my WTOC colleagues; more on this soon). Generous with each other onstage and with the audience, and in possession of beautiful voices and stellar musicianship, they are sweet and true friends I will miss dearly – until our next collaboration!

That was the general atmosphere on Saturday: it was something special, and we all felt it. Several audience members said it was the best concert they’d seen in a long time, with LB even going so far as to say it was the best concert he’d seen “ever ever ever EVER!” Both in the audience and on the stage, there were a lot of laughs and not a few tears. In short, we did our jobs - and created something special in the doing.

But of course, there were a few individual things that will stand out in my memory as unique moments onstage, not the least of which was the moment my dress threatened to give me the reputation of Wolf Trap’s Janet Jackson. Wardrobe malfunction!!

I wore my dark purple Nadia Tarr dress, the famous wrap dress that has been touted here ad nauseum. It was twisted (but not tied) into a sleeveless configuration, with the ties meeting in a loose twisty knot in front. About a third of the way through the first verse of “Another 100 People,” I felt that my very active breathing - a necessity for this very fast and very low quasi-belted song - was beginning to loosen the knot! And sure enough, two deep rib-expanding breaths later… undone!

It was at this moment that I truly understood the brain’s immense capacity for multi-tasking. Not only did my hands manage to catch the ties as they fell, but I was able to retie the knot and give a knowing “oops!” smile to the audience – all without missing a beat, quite literally. Not only that, but it was the best version, the most ensemble-y together, that Steve and I had ever done. I still don’t know how I did it, how I managed not to fall on my face in that, my most difficult of pieces. I can only think of one of the opera maxim’s I’ve picked up along the way: “That’s why we rehearse.”

(My host, who was in the audience, said that it just looked like the sash of the dress had come undone. Not such a big deal, right? But all my girlfriends in attendance knew the mechanics of the dress, and knew that it could have been, shall we say, quite the show had I missed those ties!)

Something else about going into “auto-pilot” while dealing with the dress: I reverted back to my original interpretation of the song, rather than telling the story that Steve (and others who know Company better than I do) had worked to get out of me. “Another 100 People” is sung by a woman who is in love with the hustle and bustle of the millions of people in NYC, who is amazed at how folks manage to find each other there, and who relishes her encounters, even the missed ones. I’m not there yet. I’m still a bit overwhelmed, unsure of my place in the bustle, nervous that it will only be missed connections and “will you pick me up or do I meet you there or shall we let it go?” I’ve only lived there a year…

It all made for a rendition of “Another 100 People” that was much more intense than we had rehearsed, raw, even. As I walked past Steve to leave the stage, he pulled me to him and quietly whispered, “It’s all going to be ok.” My host said that though the audience had no idea what he said to me, it was a very sweet moment. For me, though, it caught me completely by surprise. I had opened myself very wide in singing that song, and that little touch of kindness, of love, cut right to the quick. I was grateful that I had four numbers before my next appearance onstage…

We all retired to the beautiful home of one of WTOC’s generous donors for the afterparty, and as I refueled at the food table the lady of house came to chat a bit. She said, “you’re the only one who didn’t say where you grew up,” referring to the fact that the other four folks onstage, in their blurbs about New York, had referenced their hometowns. (NYC is Steve’s hometown; small town Texas, Pennsylvania, and Mississippi were also represented). She was right, of course, due in large part to the fact that I don’t really have a “hometown.” Growing up in the military, I moved around every few years and have continued to do so as an adult. I went to school in Georgia and Massachusetts, was a married homeowner in Washington, I have family in Georgia and Colorado, and I’ve worked in six states and internationally in the past two years. But I have family in New York, too, and friends, and this is where I’ll spend most of the upcoming season, so the City is home for me now.

It is home; whether it becomes Home is yet to be seen…

Sunday, August 12, 2007

New York Thoughts

My anecdote from the recital last night:

In my first weeks in New York, I was that fresh-faced girl making eye-contact with strangers on the street. I was stunned by the number of seeking eyes I found looking back at me, as if they were saying “Are you the person I’ve been looking for? The friend? The lover? Will you know me?” Maybe I saw reflected in their eyes what mine were asking.

I still make eye contact with people in New York, although I find myself doing it less and less these days. It gets me into trouble sometimes… but I’m still searching.

I recited this just before we launched into “Another 100 People.” More on the evening – as a whole and in particular – soon. For now, there are pictures over on Kim's blog and a review (!) from the Post.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

FriPod: (Another 100) People

This one is in honor of AC Douglas (with tongue firmly in cheek) and Scott, the FriPod originator, who is taking some time off. I tried to do a NYC theme in honor of the upcoming recital, but only had two tracks, and that’s no fun. So, instead, one for the ”Great Unwashed iPod People”.

1. Freedom for my people, U2, Rattle and Hum
2. Papa Dukie and the Mud People, The Subdudes, Behind the Levee
3. Comfort ye, my people; Messiah, Handel, Martin Pearlman leading Boston Baroque
4. The people that walked in darkness, Messiah, Handel, Martin Pearlman leading Boston Baroque
5. Some People, Bernadette Peters, Sondheim, Etc.
6. Too many people, Billy Pilgrim, Billy Pilgrim
7. People get ready, Eva Cassidy, Songbird

And two albums:
Good News for People Who Like Bad News, Modest Mouse
Automatic for the People, R.E.M.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

I got rhythm

Yesterday’s lesson from our recital rehearsals - maybe even the week’s lesson – was this:

“That’s what he wrote, but that’s not what he meant.”

I don’t remember which song Steve said it about (maybe the Berlin duet), but this idea seems to be an over-arching theme this week. What is rhythmic vs. what is musical? What is accurate vs. what is stylistically right? Fine lines, lots of gray…

A lot of songs on this program aren’t “classical art songs,” so they shouldn’t be sung as such. There’s a freedom implicit in styles like musical theater and jazz that we as classical performers might have trouble wrapping our heads – and voices! – around. The four of us are getting there, but it’s hard to soften years of rigid accuracy overnight. The fact that we get to dance our way through rehearsals is helping! Well, at least I’m dancing… can’t seem to get anyone to join me yet…

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of “rhythmic integrity” and how its definition changes from genre to genre. The rhythms of my Ricky Ian Gordon song are fairly particular, at least on the page, and I spent a good amount of time subdividing the beats and making sure I was getting them exactly right. “One and two ee and-tie and four and” And, well, it sure sounded correct! The notes were right (mostly), but the feeling of the piece was all wrong. We found the same to be true with the Berlin, the Sondheim, the list goes on.

Today, as always, I think, contemporary composers are being influenced by non-classical genres: RIG, Musto, et al, have jazz; Golijov, klezmer & flamenco; Greenstein, Muhly, et al, pop and rock styles (cough Radiohead cough). These elements color their musics beautifully and make them the exciting modern pieces that we all get jazzed up about (no pun intended). The difficulty comes in how to translate the freedom of those influencing genres onto those five little lines we call the staff. Performers are trained to read the music, to recreate it as written on the page. So composers put down some semblance of the idea on the staff, using 8th’s and 16th’s and ties and dots. Then the difficulty for us performers comes in how to recreate not only the notes on the page but also the stylistic ideas behind the notes. We have to make it “swing.”

This is why I think it’s so important to keep listening to other genres. Anytime I hear a singer say that they don’t listen to pop music (or jazz or indie rock or what have you), I die a little inside. Loosen up! Some day it’s going to be required of you in a “classical” context; will you have anything to pull from?

**Be sure to read DJA's great additions to this conversation in the Comments.**

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Another reminder

And just in case I wasn't already aware of "life going on," I just got an email from my manager - with the first scheduled audition of the season, August 17th.

It begins...

The city so nice…

I returned from my travels* yesterday and I’ve already started what will likely be a daily routine of work for the Blier recital: warm-up, review my words, and spend an hour singing through my songs with EM, our “prep coach.” Blier gets here on Sunday, and then, from what I understand, all hell might break loose. The mantra around here seems to be “Just be comfortable with the music and be ready to be flexible.” It seems that Blier has a habit of turning everything on its head, taking things in directions you hadn’t thought about before. This is what makes his programs so brilliant, but I can imagine that it can be a daunting rehearsal process! I’m excited to see how it all works in practice…

As is often (always?) the case for Blier’s recitals, there are multiple singers, in this case, SMTB. (**Edited to explain: "SMTB" stands for soprano-mezzo-tenor-baritone. This isn't my shorthand for someone with four names...) We each have several solo pieces, a duet or trio or two, and then a few songs that we’ll all sing together. In each of the programs that I have seen (I’ve seen one recital here and several on Blier’s New York Festival of Song series), this creates a wonderful evening of theater, in which the singers work (and play!) together to create a world of music.

The theme of the recital is “Manhattan Diaries,” but I’ve also seen it listed as “Manhattan: The Agony and the Ecstasy.” So much has been written about this wonderful town, my new hometown. Steve will be reading quotes about the city throughout the program, and he has asked us each to write something as well, to try and capture our thoughts and feelings about living and working in New York. Regardless of whether he uses our words, it will be a great exercise. I was back in the city for just two days a couple of weeks ago, and as much as I love it here, I’m excited to go back…

My quarter of the recital includes these numbers, which will be interspersed with the rest of the group:
“The Lordly Hudson,” Ned Rorem
“What shall we remember,” Ricky Ian Gordon
“Slumming on Park Avenue,” from the movie On the Avenue, Irving Berlin, duet with SC
“Way out West,” from Babes in Arms, Rodgers & Hart
“Another Hundred People,” from Company, Stephen Sondheim
“I happen to like New York,” from The New Yorkers, Cole Porter; full ensemble
“Some other time,” from On the Town, music by Bernstein, lyrics by Comden & Green, full ensemble

One aspect of this program that differs from Blier’s others: everything is in English! Easy to memorize, fun to play with. And, I can keep the Foreign Language section of my brain open for Italian! After today’s coaching with EM, I’ll be spending several hours writing translations into my Figaro score; I’m finally ready to see the notes!

* There is still a cloud over me, most definitely. The past few days, despite some wonderful activities, have been kind of hazy, like I haven’t really been awake. (That might also have something to do with how poorly I’ve been sleeping…) But I realize now, more than ever, that I am living my Granddaddy’s dream of making music my life, my living. So, I’m living.
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