Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Opera Journal

Before we headed out to Aida last night, I realized that I was going to be adding a new opera to my “list” of works I’ve seen. I’d never actually written them all down, though, so this morning I’ve been going through my memory (and opera company archive websites), and I think I’ve come up with most of them: 67! Not bad, I think.

Do any of you do this? Maury? JSU? What’s your “number?”

Here’s my list, to be updated as time goes by. I’ve put a star by works in which I’ve also performed in some capacity. (Ugh: the formatting is a mess; stay tuned...)

Adams The Death of Klinghoffer
Ades The Tempest
Barber Antony and Cleopatra
Beethoven Fidelio
Bernstein Candide*
Bizet Carmen
Blow Venus & Adonis*
Britten Midsummer Night’s Dream*
Peter Grimes*
Albert Herring
The Turn of the Screw
Charpentier Louise*
Donizetti Don Pasquale
La Fille du Regiment
Lucia di Lammermoor
L’elisir d’amore*
Glass Satyagraha
Gluck Iphigenie en Tauride
Golijov Ainadamar*
Handel Agrippina
Heggie The End of the Affair
Humperdinck Hansel und Gretel*
Janacek Jenufa
Katya Kabanova
Levy Mourning Becomes Electra
Martin y Soler Una Cosa Rara
Massenet Manon
Menotti Amahl & the Night Visitors
Mozart Die Zauberflote*
Abduction from the Seraglio
Cosi fan Tutti
Lucio Silla
Le Nozze di Figaro*
Don Giovanni*
The Impresario*
Offenbach Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Ponchielli La Gioconda
Prokofiev War and Peace
Puccini Turandot*
La Boheme
The Girl of the Golden West
Madama Butterfly
Suor Angelica*
Il tabarro*
Gianni Schicchi
Ravel L’heure espagnol
L’enfant et les sortileges
Rossini Il barbiere di Siviglia*
L’italiana in Algiers
Strauss, J Die Fledermaus
Strauss, R Ariadne auf Naxos*
Die Aegyptische Helena
Sullivan The Mikado*
The Pirates of Penzance
Tchaikovsky Eugene Onegin
Ullmann Der Kaiser von Atlantis*
Verdi La Traviata
Don Carlo
Wagner Die Walkure
Tristan und Isolde

A singer who acts

Last night B and I went to the final dress rehearsal of Aida, and I can not tell you what an incredible revelation it was for me.

There is a lot of talk around NYC and around the blogosphere these days about traditions in opera and new productions and the vices and virtues of each. I don’t really want to weigh in on that aspect (especially considering that much of the buzz is centered around my current place of employment), but last night was my first real exposure to “grand opera,” and it was amazing.

It sounds strange to say this about an opera that boasted 200 extras and five horses and ballet dancers and lavish costumes, but there was something so pure about what I saw on stage last night. The singing was spectacular! The principal artists used their voices and talents to serve the music, and in the end I was moved to tears. People started applauding before the curtain closed or the music ended, but I could only sit there, stunned by how I was feeling.

I felt like I had really seen “an opera.” Not a movie, or even a play. The music - and , therefore, the singing - was the most important thing on that stage last night. As someone who came to opera through my love of theater, I’m embarrassed to say that I think I forget that sometimes.

This is not to say there was no acting last night; far from it! But the singers’ energies were so focused. They weren’t flailing about onstage trying to show us how upset or happy they were; they just sang. They had a quietness of body* that I find elusive at times.

I worry that with a part like Marguerite, a character who is tormented by the devil while praying in church and who sings an intense trio (at the end of the night) after losing her mind, my body will get so wrapped up in the emotion of the moment that my singing is impaired. I need to remember what I saw last night, and how moved I was by the end of it. The music will move the audience, will make them feel tense and scared and relieved and sad. I am merely a vessel.

This reminds me of what a coach said to me years ago at Tanglewood: “I want you to be a singer who dances, not a dancer who sings.” With the projects I have on the docket this season, maybe it’s time I start shifting from an actor who sings to a singer who acts. A slight difference, to be sure, but after what I experienced last night, I think it is paramount.

So, how to do it? Stay tuned...

*Some people call this “stand and sing.” After what I saw and heard last night, I no longer think S&S is an entirely bad thing...

Friday, September 25, 2009

Early Fall Miscellany

Not sure if it’s this late summer (early fall?) heat wave in NYC or what, but I’ve lost my steam a bit. So here’s a quick teaser post, hopefully to stimulate me to write as well as you to read!

* Opening night of Nozze was just as cool when singing Bridesmaid as when singing Susanna. Maybe even more exciting, because I actually had energy at the end of the night to go have a cocktail with B!
* Coffee today with a composer working on his first opera. Going to talk about the “traditional” delegation of voice types to character types - and all the fun ways to mess with them!
* Hillula, the first Bhakti Project commission, will be returning to NYC this November! Save the Date: Nov. 19th at the awesome Galapagos Art Space.
* Speaking of Bhakti Project, I am mulling over a potential new plan, one that would ideally involve several composers... maybe even a recording this time? Time to start summoning that grant money ”from where ever it is right now.”
* I’m finally getting a mailing list put together! If you’d like to be on it, please send a message to annecarolynbird at me dot com, or go to the Contact page of my website and click the link.
* Working on Suor Angelica (music and text), reading Faust, researching songs for the Astronomy recital, and getting to know Hillula again. Looks like we’re back in full swing!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The French Connection

On Wednesday and Thursday, the covers of the Nozze cast rehearsed to make sure we knew the blocking in case any of us need to go on during the run. We’ll have one more run-through of the show on Monday, and then the show opens! Final dress was yesterday, and it went great. My fellow Bridesmaid and I felt like we finally nailed our little number; it’s harder than you might think, that two page ditty! We settled into the tempo right away and finally got the bounciness and space that the conductor was wanting. It’s great to feel like we’re on top of things before opening night!

During the cover rehearsals, I was happy to be on my feet revisiting Barbarina. As we ran my short little scenes, I was surprised at how easily the recit was flowing! I remembered my stumbling two years ago when I was first trying to get Susanna in my mouth, and was comforted by the realization that maybe Italian recit is like a bicycle: once you learn how to sing it, you’ll never forget.

I’ve now done principal roles in three Italian operas in four productions, including my second time around with Susanna this past March. I can honestly say that I feel completely at home in the language, and as I’m working on new arias and roles in the years to come it will not be an issue. A wonderful place to get to!

But now? Time to start the entire “getting comfortable” process all over again... On to French!

Time to read the play and a few synopses.
Time to spend hours pouring over the Nico Castel libretto translation book and then more hours with the French-English dictionary making up the worksheets that I will carry around in my bag for the next few months.
Time to repeat lines of text over and over again to feel how those French vowels and consonants fit in my mouth.

If you see me mumbling to myself on the subway, I'm not crazy, I'm just studying...

Here we go!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Split Personality

Ok, ok - so I say “I”m back” and then I take ten days off. Lame, I know, but I’ve been kind of at a loss as to how to write about my current working situation.

You see, I’m back at the Met right now, singing a tiny role in Nozze di Figaro and covering Barbarina. It’s been a very strange and, frankly, humbling experience, and I haven’t been sure how to write about it without seeming snobby or ungrateful. I’m still not sure, honestly, but if this blog is about an honest look into my career, I need to try. Bear with me...

It happened like this: when I sang for the Met last winter, they were pretty quick to offer me a great contract with roles and covers that were a clear “step up” from my contract two seasons ago. I was thrilled, obviously, and especially happy to think that they were starting to view me in less of a Solo Bit capacity, and moving me into Supporting territory (even Featured, as in the case of Naiad). Awesome! A step in the right direction.

Then we got an email asking if I would also be available to cover Barbarina and sing a few performances of the soprano Bridesmaid. I was so confused! What happened to my forward progress? I’ve already performed Barbarina, so why would they want me to cover it? How did this offer make sense with the first one?!

At the time, I had a conflicting hold on my schedule for a principal role, so my managers called the holding company to let them know it was time to “fish or cut bait,” as my father would say. They cut bait, sadly, so I was free to accept the additional offer from the Met. (Ironically, the company then called two months later and asked if I was available again. Grr!)

Now, you may be asking why we didn’t just turn down the addendum offer from the Met. I asked that question myself! But the Met is a complicated machine, with MANY working parts that require many other working parts. One of the ways they make sure they have everything covered is to “bundle” contracts like this, particularly with the weekly-salaried singers like me.

In addition, in this financial climate with opera companies cutting productions and fees left and right, how could I turn down six additional weeks of great work? I couldn’t. I was - and am - grateful to be working.

But it has been strange and challenging in so many ways! While it is great to be back in the familiar and memory-laden halls of the Met, it is hard to shift from being the leading lady in other houses to singing a role so small it feels like an afterthought. My ego has had to take a seat for a while... I’m watching rehearsals of the opera I know better than any, watching two roles that I have performed and loved. It’s been hard to turn off the judgmental voice, the one we all have that says “I can do / should be doing that,” and just focus on doing my role in this production, but I’m trying - and succeeding, I hope! One thing’s for sure: it’s given me a new perspective on times when I know Young Artists were watching *me* in rehearsals and probably thinking the same things!

All in all, I’ve had to realize that I’m at a time in my career when sometimes I take the first bow and sometimes the last. Big roles, smaller houses; small roles, bigger houses. It’s all part of the same fabulous art, though, and, in this case, it takes place on the greatest stage in the world.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A year of Figaro

I’m planning to do a full blogroll overhaul and introduction of new blogs, but in case I don’t get to it in the next week or so, here’s one to add:

A Year of Figaro

My friend Andy is singing four productions of Nozze and one of Barbiere this season, and has decided to take us all along for the ride. He is one of my favorite people, funny and charming and talented, and I am so happy he is blogging. It’s tech week for Barbiere, so hop on over and check out his adventures.

He happens to be working at Skylight Opera, which has been in the headlines this summer, as you know. He has some great posts about his experience, and is happy to be working there again on such an exciting project.

Go say hello!

Armchair Line-Judging

When I married B, I had no idea that I would be gaining a new diversion for my “armchair work:” professional tennis!*

The US Open has been on for the past week, and I’ve been using the hours to start marking up my scores. In past years, it’s been a football-watching activity, and that will pick up again starting next week (oh, my poor Broncos...), but for now, it’s me and Oudin and Federer and Marguerite and Micaela.

I haven’t had to mark a score in a while, since my last two roles were repeats**, so I thought I’d run through my prep routine here again. Maybe it’s the wannabe stage manager in me, but I love the colored pencils and whiteout tape and post-its. Here’s the method:
Put tabs into the score marking “my” scenes.
Underline my text. I have never liked highlighters, and I used to just mark the beginning of each stave of music, but I have recently started underlining the whole line. I like to choose a different color for each character I sing, something that I think represents her. So far, Genovieffa is yellow and Marguerite is sky blue.
”Erase” the (usually awful) English version with whiteout tape. TEDIOUS, but so worth it to me. I love the clean look it gives the score, and it gives me plenty of room to...
Write in a word-for-word translation. I still have to go through the French version of this process before I can write in the texts for M&M. And of course, whiteout tape and translations for my scene partners, as well.
Mark dynamics and phrasing. Not sure if I’ve gone through this here, but the general idea is to circle forte marks with red, piano with blue, de/crescendi with green, tempo markings with orange, and accents & phrasings with yellow. I also mark the dynamics of the orchestra (all of them) and of other singers (if they are different than mine) so I can be aware of balance.

As with the language/translation process, I use these multiple trips through the score to get familiar with the opera. How do the scenes unfold? Where do the most vocally intense scenes fall? When exactly does my character lose her mind? The idea being that before I do any actual singing, I’m working with a fairly detailed knowledge of the score. The OCD teacher’s pet in me loves the “busy work,” and the “in the moment” artist loves the preparation that allows for spontaneity. Win-win!

Of course these activities will be much harder when we’re up in the grandstand watching Serena and Rafa tomorrow night! Watch for us on ESPN2...

I’ve even picked up a racket a time or two, and have dreams of being able to play tennis with B into our golden years. I still haven’t bought a tennis skirt, but so far I love it! Next up, some real lessons...

** Should I do a recap of the “year of silence?” Or should we just move on from here?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


For those of you who read The Concert on a feeder, you may want to pop over to the blog and check out the new look. I figured five years was long enough for the old design, and, besides, who doesn’t love a new outfit for fall?

It’s not terribly exciting, but I hope to change the main photo more often, maybe from whatever show I’m working on at the time. I’ll give you two guesses what the current pic is from... Shouldn’t be too difficult!

There are also a few sound clips up, finally, on my website: Mostly songs for now; I keep promising new arias for a demo, and with the new rep this season maybe I’ll finally get around to it.

I am also planning to overhaul the Blogroll (please send your new faves!) and Favorite Posts list. Maybe some better organization of the Archives, too... we’ll see.

Oh, and by the way?

I’m back.

On the “piano”

In an attempt to focus myself and organize my study, as well as catch you all up on what’s going on and coming up, I thought I’d run through all the music that is stacked on my imaginary piano. (B asked if I was going to rename these posts “On the Current Project Shelf,” since that’s what we have here in Brooklyn, but it just doesn’t have the same ring...)

In order of appearance (details of the gigs to be found here):

Parts scores: small score excerpts from the Met for my small covers this fall: 1st Bridesmaid (Nozze), Young Lover (Il tabarro) (yes, I’m covering my debut role; yes, it’s weird, but the rest of the season is worth it!).

Suor Angelica: Two roles to learn in this one, Alms Collector to perform and Suor Genovieffa to cover. For those of you who have seen the Met’s new Trittico, either live or on a broadcast, you might remember a donkey onstage during Angelica. Well, I get to bring him on! He’s the basket carrier for the Alms Sisters, and I remember him being so sweet (if a bit stinky...). I don’t technically get to lead him on; there is a handler for that, but I’ll for sure get to pet him!

I’m more excited about the singing aspect of the Genovieffa role. The character is so sweet and has some really gorgeous lines, including a bit about how much she misses being a shepherdess. I hope to get to show a bit more of my range with this role for those folks at the Met who might be noticing those sorts of things.

Micaela and Marguerite: These two roles are the farthest away, but pose the biggest challenge many ways: first roles in French, first serious roles, new styles of music... I am starting me detailed process of score-marking and text exploration; I think you can expect to hear about Marguerite as much as you heard about Susanna. For those of you who missed it, imagine a play-by-play of how I learn and embody a BIG new role! Hope you’ll find it interesting...

Finally a **Request for assistance:** I’m brainstorming a recital program! My father is a member of an amateur astronomy group in Boulder, CO, and I have agreed to do a fund-raising recital for them in December. I’m in the “hunting and gathering” stage of organizing, collecting as many ideas for repertoire as I can. The theme? It’s a stretch: the sky! Anything to do with the stars or the sky or the moon or night or the planets... Got a favorite? Send it along! I’ll post a list of my collection soon and we can brainstorm more together.

That’s all for now! More to come.

PS Almost forgot: Tons of new arias! This will likely be covered in it's own post, but, briefly: Come scoglio, Margie's Jewel Aria, Micaela's "Je dis que rien ne m'epouvante," the aforementioned Juliette Poison aria, and - hold on to your hats - Violetta's Act I cavatina/cabaletta! Here we go!!
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