Sunday, September 30, 2007

Hot Links

To go with the updated Blogroll, here are some links I’ve been collecting over the past few weeks months, but am just now getting around to sharing. Old news, maybe to some, but good stuff.

From someone who sees a lot of bad audition attire, a spot-on post about what to wear. This is a MUST READ for anyone who will sing an audition this year. I whole-heartedly second everything she has to say, and will add this: color, color, COLOR!! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the hall at an audition and felt like I was at a funeral. I know it travels well, but so does purple. And green. This goes for men, too. A blue suit can be amazing with a colored shirt and accent tie vs. a white shirt and lighter blue tie. Be bold!

From the Collaborative Pianist, tips on memorizing music. I like Nos. 8 (“use the Force”), 10 (analyze the piece harmonically), 11 (memorize dynamics), and all the tips for singers, especially 17 (memorize the orchestral interludes); seems like a no-brainer, but once again, it’s those “obvious” things that make the difference.

Also from CP: Houston Symphony trading cards! Who was I talking with about this, saying that singers need these? Doesn’t this have “new Met” written all over it?! Can you imagine what Stephen Costello’s rookie card will go for in a few years? (Editor’s note: Regular readers know that I don’t generally comment on my colleagues, I don’t do “reviews” or critiques, but that was a debut I was thrilled to watch. We haven’t met, but kudos to you, SC.)

James Roe shares a moment of joy from the Mostly Mozart festival. Sweet.

Blogroll Update, Fall '07

Full list here, new additions in the sidebar. Enjoy.

Music & Opera links:

Little Ms. Bossy - a very funny and sweet opera director, sharing her life in Houston

NewMusicBox - “web magazine” from the American Music Center

Nico Muhly - the young composer shares his musings.

Northwest Artists - some of my Seattle colleagues.

Opera Now! - weekly (mostly) podcasts about all that’s hot in the world of opera. When you gonna have me on, Micheal? (You can also subscribe to the podcasts via iTunes.)

Rahree - An opera admin dishes on opera (duh), books, music, and the Steelers.

Zeigarnika - returning to singing, exploring the road. (Check out this great description of the blog title. Very interesting!)

Other Good Stuff:

20x200 - Buy art. - Having a bad day? Go here and LOL. This site, along with ichcb and cuteoverload have turned many a frown upside down!

Perfect Pantry - what a food writer keeps in her larder.

Friday, September 28, 2007


So. How’s the language going, you’re asking? Well, after a great coaching last week, the things that everyone else I’ve worked on this with finally clicked into place. I’ve been getting the same notes over the past few months, you see – brighter vowels, shorter final consonants, find the direction of the phrase – but sometimes I guess I need to hear things a few times, and practice them often, before they become automatic.

CL’s most valuable piece of advice for me was to make the verbs my focus in the recit. Obvious, right? Why would I stress the word “che” (that) when the word “diedi” (gave) is so much more essential to the meaning of the sentence? When focusing on the verbs, the natural flow of the language comes out and all those little notes and rhythms fall naturally into place. Easy! (It really does feel easier this way; I felt so labored before I figured this one out.)

Another note I’m still working on is final syllables. Make a longer vowel on the first syllable, give a good double consonant if there is one (as do most of the words I have this issue with), and just barely touch the final syllable. This one isn’t quite organic yet, but I’m practicing. If you see me walking down 9th Ave mumbling to myself, I’m working on my final syllables…

I got to sing my aria yesterday since we worked through Acts III and IV in cover staging rehearsal. (An aria! Alone on stage!! Pinch me!!!) We’ve also blocked the recits, which is giving me time to play with my physical characterization of Barbarina. She’s supposed to be young, and, well, I’m kind of on the tall side. Since I don’t automatically look like a child due to my size, I’m trying to make her exceptionally awkward. Gangly, fidgety, but! She still has to be sweet and attractive enough that Cherubino and even the Count want to spend time alone with her… So maybe my Barbarina isn’t 12 or 13; maybe she’s 14 or 15. Hmmm, tall, gangly, awkward yet flirty 14-year-olds… add seriously frizzed out hair and you’ve pretty much got me in junior high!

I’m having fun working with KL and the rest of the cover cast. Some of them will carry over into the November cast, so we’re all in this boat for the long haul. Great people.

Today: Macbeth musical rehearsal. It will be fun to see MG again; can’t wait to sit and listen to this wonderful opera for a few hours. Then Figaro final dress tonight! Should be an exciting evening…

Thursday, September 27, 2007


In the past week or so there have been a few unexpected and lovely surprises come my way.

Late last week: An email from a friend complimenting me on a picture in Opera News. I went to check it out at the Met store (since my copy had yet to arrive), expecting to see a Volpone review, although I couldn’t figure why they’d use a picture of me for that. Turns out it wasn’t a review, but rather a nice blurb in the front of the magazine about Long Road Home, the Parkinson’s’ Benefit CD we recorded last summer in Santa Fe. It’s available now from the US, so no need to pay international shipping. Remember, a good chunk of these profits go to Parkinson’s’ research, so pick up a few copies and spread the love.

Sunday: I attended a performance of William Bolcom and Joan Morris performing the entire canon of Bolcom’s cabaret songs, the guest of a certain librettist and playwright. We attended a party afterwards at the Chelsea Hotel, and I got to sit on the floor and listen to composers talk and singers sing and people laugh. The most special moment came, though, when I got to thank Mr. Bolcom for “Waitin’.” It’s a perfect page of music, to my mind, and a song that holds a very special place in my heart. What a gift to be able to let him know that, to thank him for enriching my life with his music.

Monday: A delightful lunch with a patron, who had asked to meet with me in order to give me a gift/grant from his foundation. The Julian Autrey Song Foundation has presented several young singers in recital over the past few years, among them my friends Jesse Blumberg and Matthew Worth, and Joseph Kaiser, who makes his Met debut this season. Recently, the Foundation has started extending grants, as well, and I am now a grateful recipient. The money comes with no spending stipulations; it is simply a “support” grant, a gift of patronage. Thank you, JASF!

Wednesday: Tagging along on a shopping trip with KG, visiting from Seattle, I was only looking for a new fall dress, an autumnal version of what I’ve been living in for the past few months. I found one, within my budget, even: a luscious LaROK jersey knit in a dark khaki, drapy and flowy. The unexpected thing came in the form of a stunning Badgley Mishka gown that KG “made” me try on! She reminded me of my May concerts in Atlanta, and this dress will be perfect: a deep, rich teal with darker undertones; “mermaid” style skirt with a small train; halter neck with incredible details on the bodice: pleats, beads… It’s amazing. I don’t have anything like it in my current “gown wardrobe,” not in color or style or quality.

And, of course, it was on sale for about 30% of full price! Remember that unexpected grant? Uh-huh. A perfect use for it! I came home and promptly emailed my patron to tell him of my find, and he was glad to hear it. I wouldn’t have bought the gown without the grant, and a gown like this definitely makes me feel “legit,” like a “diva” in every good sense of the word. Pictures to come!

I’d better write up a blurb about Figaro rehearsals before I go to bed or I’m going to get skinned! Stay tuned…

Not dead

Hey, sorry for the radio silence! All is well; very well, in fact, just haven't been in a writing mood. I'll try to get some rehearsal thoughts jotted down tonight(off to cover rehearsal of Act IV in a few minutes). I've also been busy with concerts, lunches, and one spectacular shopping experience. There's a new gown in the closet! Lots to report.

Maybe tonight after Grey's Anatomy...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

FriPod: Every

1. Every day a little death, Sondheim’s A Little Night Music, original cast recording
2. Time Heals Everything, Bernadette Peters, Sondheim, Etc.
3. Everything, Ben Harper, Diamonds on the Inside
4. Everything is Broken, Bob Dylan, The Essential Bob Dylan
5. At the Bottom of Everything, Bright Eyes, I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning
6. Sunshine and Clouds (And Everything Proud), Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, CYHSY
7. Everything’s Different Now, The Innocence Mission, Glow
8. Every Hour Here, The Innocence Mission, Umbrella
9. Every Ghetto Every City, Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
10. Everything is Everything, Lauryn Hill, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill
11. Every valley shall be exalted, Handel’s Messiah, Martin Pearlman conducting Boston Baroque, Bruce Fowler, tenor
12. Everywhere, Pink Martini, Hey Eugene!
13. Everybody Hurts, R.E.M., Automatic for the People

And four albums:
Everything All the Time, Band of Horses
August & Everything After, Counting Crows
Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We, The Cranberries
I Love Everybody, Lyle Lovett

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Italian Job

Before I write about my Barbarina coaching this week, I guess I should finally blog about how I’ve been working on the Italian, see as how I’ve been saying I would do that for, oh, weeks! So, here’s what I’m doing:

I’m a fairly visual learner, so the more different ways I can get the text in front of me, the better. I started by (re-)reading the opera plot synopsis in my Grove Dictionary of Opera to make sure I had the order of events right in my head. Reading the original play helped with this, too, especially since so much of the Italian is translated almost word for word from the French (which meant that both English translations were almost identical).

I then picked up my Nico Castel Mozart Libretti book and read through the opera. These books are invaluable. Every line of the opera is laid out with a word for word translation and an IPA transcription, along with interesting side notes and tidbits. As I read, I treat it as a language exercise, paying close attention to words that appear often, verb forms, pronouns, etc.. This is rather slow going, but I’m reading for detail in this case, language detail, as opposed to general story. Since I haven’t officially studied Italian, this is part of my class. If there are words whose interpretations or conjugations I question or don’t understand, I look them up in my It-Eng dictionary and/or 501 Italian Verbs book.

Next – and this is the fun part for the former secretary in me – I find a copy of the libretto online and cut and paste it into a Word document. After playing with the formatting a bit and getting my tabs worked out (dork!), I type the translation, again paying attention to the language. I’m not just typing English words at 70wpm; I’m watching each word and it’s Italian counterpart, making them match up in my mind. I do this for the entire opera, not just my parts (of course, there isn’t much in Nozze that doesn’t involve Susanna!).

When I’m finished, it looks like this: (Click to enlarge.)These documents (one for each act, printed and stapled) are then carried around with me and read and read and read. When I’m home, I read them aloud. The information has been processed several times through my filters, through my brain, so it feels different than reading Castel’s translation or someone else’s. It’s mine, I relate to it, so it sticks better. At least, that’s my theory.

And now I’m in the middle of writing all of this into my score. Again, it’s not brainless writing, it’s processing exactly which English words match with which Italian words and what they are all coming together to say. It sounds tedious, but I’m kind of loving it. I can feel my learning curve getting shorter (steeper?).

So here’s my summary, very briefly, of how I’m learning all this Italian:
1. Read plot synopsis.
2. Read source material.
3. Read libretto translation in Castel libretto book.
4. Copy libretto into Word document, type in translation from Castel, continuing language analysis.
5. Read it over and over and over again! Aloud, preferably.
6. Write the translation into the score, word for word, not poetic.

As you see, there is nary a mention of singing or music in this process. The notes will come easily, especially since so many of the ensembles are familiar to me. The text needs my focus for these first few months. Then, once it has started to settle, it’ll be a matter of singing it over and over and over again instead of reading it aloud. I’ve learned some great tools in my coachings that will help the recit settle (I’m already feeling it with Barbarina, a command of the language), but more on that later.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Two more

** I talked with a couple of colleagues this week about how we spend our days. Specifically, how hard it is to explain to someone who only understands the “9-5” concept of a job.

One of the guys put it this way: “I figure I have three things I need to do everyday to keep my career on track: maintain my appearance, maintain my voice, and learn new music.” So, that means: work out, practice, study. If you get up at a “normal hour,” you can have all of these things finished before lunch! Depending, of course, on how much new music you have to learn…

I would add some element of “the business” to this equation – emails, phone calls, dealing with materials and contracts and websites, writing my blog – but otherwise I agree. As I’m getting more serious about working out (two “runs” and two yoga classes in the past week!), I can see myself creating a schedule for my “days off” that incorporates these four elements.

** Today I had a friend call me “the hardest working girl,” in terms of my rapidly-filling-up season. Maybe it’s because of all the free time that the above schedule allows, or maybe it’s because I just love my job, but I always feel like I could be – should be – working harder. Like I’m not really doing what I’m supposed to be doing, and someday I’m going to show up for a gig and they’re going to say “How dare you show up so unprepared?” and I’ll get fired and my career will be over.

Ok, that’s maybe a bit melodramatic, but I’ve had the thought! I mentioned this to a mentor this summer, and he shared that another singer had expressed a similar fear about starting a new program, afraid the she would show up and get “found out,” that she didn’t really belong there. My mentor was surprised to learn that she felt this way, as she seemed very confident – and ready! He went on to tell me of an article that talked about the psychology of successful people, and many of them share this fear. Why is that?

I can only think that it really does have something to do with loving what we do. It’s fun, I enjoy it, I love the people I work with and the projects I get to be involved in. How can something I love so much be work? I must not being doing something right, ‘cuz “work” is supposed to be a drag, right?

I guess when it starts to feel like work, it’s time to take that yoga teacher training course!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Two for One

** Coming out of the subway this morning, as the noise of the train died away I heard a lovely tenor voice singing. I didn’t recognize the music, but it was French and definitely opera. I stopped and turned around; “Was that you? Are you an opera singer?” Sure enough, he was, and as we were walking in the same direction up 8th Avenue we talked a bit. We exchanged names; he asked if I was singing here in the city. I said yes and mentioned the upcoming Barbarina, to which he replied, “Oh, so you’re a real opera singer!” As we parted ways, I thought it was too bad that someone with a voice like his (it really was lovely) didn’t consider himself to also be a “real” opera singer.

But! When I got home, I looked him up – and he’s doing quite well himself! He sings a lot in Europe and Canada (he’s Canadian); does quite a bit of new music, it looks like; and has shared the stage with some great singers. He, too, is a “real” opera singer, whatever that really means! If you’ve found your way here, GG – nice to cross paths! Hope to hear you on a better stage than the subway platform someday!

** Also this morning, at yoga, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a young singer this week about breathing and building one’s support. I think much of my support technique has come from working with a mirror, specifically (and this may be too much information, but I think it’s helpful!), without a shirt on. I think I first started this one evening, years ago, while brushing my teeth; I just inhaled and exhaled while watching “the mechanism” expand and contract. This led to my manipulating the system while observing: isolating sections, keeping the ribcage expanded while only moving the abdominals, using only upper/lower/middle abs, expanding the back, etc. I could really see how my support was working and how my body got the job done.

I eventually tried this same thing while singing (obviously, in the privacy of my home, not at school!). What happens when I engage a phrase? What does it look like? Up-support or down-support for this phrase/these notes? What’s the difference, physically? If you’re an anatomy junkie, like me, this kind of work is fascinating – and helpful! I probably “practice” breathing like this about once a week or so, usually when brushing my teeth…

(And let me say again in regards to your breath and lungs: regardless of whether you are a singer, use it or lose it! Get aerobic exercise. Practice yogic breathing techniques. Our lifestyle today does not allow us to automatically use all of our lungs, so we have to be active about it. Observe how shallowly you are currently breathing! Why breath with only a third of your lungs’ capacity when you could use all of it?)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The “Grind”

I love my job.

It was so great to be back, seeing even more of my friends and getting right back to our fun times in rehearsal. The orchestra was wonderful, of course, and KW and I regularly turned to each other to marvel at Mozart’s genius. There are some really incredible passages in this opera, and some gorgeous singing in this production. Being back was motivating and inspiring, and I've had a great day working on Figaro texts and getting my aria book into shape.

And when I got home yesterday? Good news from the management: the Met has added two more assignments! They are both small, basically one-liners, and one is a cover (French Actress in War and Peace), but one is to sing (Crowned Child Apparition in Macbeth). Yay! And Macbeth is one of the productions being simulcast this year. So back to the movies we go!

Apartment hunting this afternoon, and a bit of bluegrass tonight. Back in the saddle…

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Back to work

Today is my first day of Figaro rehearsal! It’s the second day of actual rehearsal (there was some musical rehearsal yesterday), and yet we’re spending the day today with the orchestra. Yep – Sitzprobe on day 2! I talked with a friend who is singing in this cast (“Sitz with no music rehearsal – fun!”), and we decided that they must figure everyone already knows the show! I’m sure it has more to do with scheduling the orchestra, but the timing is unusual. I’m excited to watch Hei-Kyung Hong and Isabel Bayrakdarian, and I can’t wait to see my cadre of friends who are singing and covering the show.

Again, it feels like the first day of school. I had lunch in the Met cafeteria last week with MP, and the feeling of “new season” was all over. There were lots of big hugs and “how was your summer?” and “welcome back!” When I came in through the stage door, I was greeted by the security guards and receptionists with smiles, and I was happy to see them, too. Coaches, singers, other staff, even the cafeteria staff – we had all returned. Back to work after a “summer holiday.”

I’m only called for the afternoon, which will rehearse Acts III & IV. I’ll be following along with every scene, of course, starting my Susanna Recon Project (yay! new acronym! SRP!), but paying closest attention to tempi and phrasing in Barbarina’s scenes.

Can’t wait!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Evolution of the Headshot

I finally selected my new headshots this week, and I’m very happy with them both. My goal with these new shots was to get something that I thought better represented The Real Me, which is a bit less foofy than my current formal shot and a bit more smiley than the casual one.

But before we get to the new shots (taken and edited by Alexander Vasiljev), let’s take a trip down memory lane and see how my headshot has evolved over the years. (Click to see larger pics.)

Umm, yikes. I’ve kind of got helmet hair, and, wow, is that a boring shot or what? I didn’t know any better, though, and at the time (2000, early grad school) I had no real sense of what my “personal style” was all about. And that in dark sweater, with no contours in my pose, I look kind of, well, thick. Not flattering. I was happy to leave this shot behind!

The next step, another casual shot, taken about two years later. First off, you can tell it’s a better photo, better lighting, printing, photographer, everything. Much more polished, grown-up. I still really like this shot, but it feels a little cold to me. Maybe it’s ‘cuz I’m not really smiling. And, besides, my hair is never that straight anymore, never that controlled!

This one I hate. People seem to love it, but I think I just look like I’m playing dress-up, like I’m Cinderella on her way to the ball, about to be discovered for the peasant girl that she is. This is what I thought an opera singer was supposed to look like – gown, sparklies, tendrils. In truth, it’s not that far off from what I look like these days when I’m all dolled up for a concert, minus the tendrils, so I can’t put my finger on what exactly I don’t like about it.

My main beef with both of those shots is that they just don’t “feel like me.” I’ve talked about that veneer that I felt I used to have? It’s shining brightly in these pictures. Again, happy to leave that behind…
How ‘bout this? That looks like me, feels like me, don’t you think?

And this one, too. There’s a bit of sass in this one, I like that, something in my eyes that says “I have a secret!” The sparklies in this shot are family antiques, recently given to me by my father's mother; they belonged to her great aunt (right, Mom?), so that makes them from my great-great-great aunt. (The necklace in the first shot was a gift from my sister, and is one of my favorite pieces. And, of course, the dresses in both shots are butter by Nadia!)

Both shots, to my mind, capture the singer that might walk into an audition or a rehearsal, hint at the performer that will be onstage, and truly represent the everyday ACB. (I have both shots in black & white, too, for print usage; color is better for online.)

Thanks, Sasha! Now I feel like I need a new website…

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Sweetest Voice

We lost another great one today, Luciano Pavarotti.

The opera world has been watching his struggle with cancer over the past year or so, and while we are so glad he's not suffering anymore, it's hard not to wish that a voice like that could have stayed. That it could always be with us, young and vibrant and singing.

I never heard Pavarotti live, but I remember sitting on the floor of my college apartment, listening to "Una furtiva lagrima" and thinking, "That is the sweetest voice I've ever heard."

Thank you, Maestro, for sharing your gift with all of us.

Opera Chic has a lovely series of tributes.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Love Songs

So, believe it or not, there are other gigs on my horizon besides various Nozze productions or presentations of the Bhakti Project. And I got music today for one that I am extremely excited about: Brahms’ Liebeslieder waltzes!

This collection of short love songs (Liebes Lieder) for four voices (SMTB in various groupings) and piano duet are so much fun to sing, and I’ll be performing them with some great people. I even get two short duets with PM, a friend from grad school who I’ve had the joy of working with on several gigs now. Small ensemble singing like this is so much fun! There’s just something awesome about fine-tuning the harmonies (and discovering the harmonics) with four voices, working to blend the parts together in a way that you can’t quite when you’re dealing with a full choir or chorus.

My first real exposure to Brahms was at UGA, when we sang the Neue Liebeslieder (the “sequel,” so to speak) in concert choir. I’m still friends with one of my choir mates (I think he was singing bass then?), and we’ve talked about how much fun that concert was. We had a great conductor, and it just became one of those evenings you love to remember. I think it might have been her last concert with us, and we all sang with love in our hearts, both for her and for the music. Even after I saw the Mark Morris Company dance to these songs at Tanglewood, my strongest association is still that concert in UGA’s Hugh Hodgsen Concert Hall. I can probably even tell you where exactly I stood on stage…

(This was probably also around the time I heard Nadia Salerno-Sonnenberg perform the Brahms Violin Sonata No. 3 in d minor, which blew my mind. I remember thinking, “He could not have been happy when he wrote that.” I know now that you don’t have to be sad to write sad music, but that stormy third Sonata will always be musical heartbreak to me. Of course, I had just broken up with a boyfriend when I first heard it, so my own heartbreak probably colored it a bit…)

Anyway… Information on this performance will be forthcoming. It’s the inaugural concert of a new festival, and I want to wait until they issue their first press release before I start blabbing about it here (but keep your browsers pointed to this page for future information!). I will say that it’s going to be in NYC in early November (1&2), so if you’re here and you love Brahms, mark your calendar!

There is other music on the concert, too, but I’ll wait to talk about that until the press release. Some new material for me, some favorites, just as a good program should be. More things for the stack “on the piano…” I’m overdue for one of those posts, aren’t I? Stay tuned…
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...