Saturday, October 31, 2009

Tweetie Bird

Just a quick note about Twitter: I've been really enjoying the ability to jot out a quick thought here and there via Twitter. I don't always have time these days to sit down and write a big thoughtful post, but I've had little things to share. Twitter has really fit that bill. It's becoming a good complement to the blog, I think.

If you don't already follow theconcert, please do! If you're not on Twitter, you can add theconcert to your RSS feed and get the latest blips and blurbs through your feed reader.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Audition Lessons

So... Monday’s audition will probably go down in my version of my history as the worst. ever.

I can not begin to tell you all the “lessons” I learned. But, since that’s kind of the whole point of this blog, I guess I’ll try. On the subway on the way home, I thought, “WHY did I mention this audition on the blog?! Now I have to tell them all about it!” It’s one I’ll never forget, but one that’s been surprisingly easy to leave behind.

Lesson #1: Sing what you have been preparing for!! If you’ve been preparing a new aria and you have a low-stress audition opportunity in which to debut that aria, do not be swayed by the fact that you might also be considered for a role in a crazy, sexy, rarely produced show.

I got so excited by this obscure sexy role that I let a chance to rock my new rep pass me by. Sure, in the coaching room two hours beforehand, both arias sounded great, but when I got into the audition, other factors (see Lessons #2 & #3) came into play, and I lost my focus. Badly. I should have presented *my rep* first and foremost, and let them see me and the other sopranos and then make whatever casting decision they will. As it was, I feel like I wasted their time, whereas if I’d just come in and nailed “Come scoglio,” I might have gotten a job.

Lesson #2: Know who your pianist is going to be, even if you are scheduled fairly last-minute for an audition. And if you are not 100% certain that they can play your difficult rep, DON’T OFFER IT.

I spent way too much energy while singing worrying about what was happening at the keyboard, wondering if we were going to make it. I wasn’t performing. I was thinking, and worrying, and I’m sure it showed all over my face.

Lesson #3: I can sing high notes after low notes, but not vice versa.

In the coaching room we ran through Fiordiligi first, to test my memory and make sure my tempo in the second section was set. Then we sang through the last half of Zerb, mostly just for kicks. The high notes were really there, and I was stoked. But when I got to the audition, I was so excited to sing the Strauss (see #1) that I started with it. When it didn’t go nearly as well as I wanted (although the E was pretty good!), I got tense, and when I got tense, my larynx raised, and I can’t sing Fiordiligi’s sexy low notes with a raised larynx. FAIL.

It was not fun. It was the only time in my auditioning career that I felt like running off the stage in the middle of singing. But we ended with the usual “thank you, thank YOU” and I went home. Disappointed in myself, but grateful that it was a small-house international audition and not a US house with colleagues of mine behind the table. And then...

I got home to a voice mail which led to a phone call about a potential job this weekend: a colleague was ill, and I might be needed to step in and sing a performance if she wasn’t better by opening. All of a sudden, the terrible audition is a thing of the past! We are moving forward here, people! No time to sulk; life, and opera, goes on.

The company ended up not needing me*, but the effect was as big as if I’d done the gig. I was reminded that all things, good and bad, pass. That audition was over and I couldn’t do anything about it, so I might as well move on. The rest of week was filled with other reminders that I am more than one bad audition. Great rehearsals, job possiblities, good singing, and most importantly: putting more auditions on the calendar.

There is always something to learn (or to be reminded of) in this business; we are never done. And there is always another audition.

*This is a good thing. While it would be a great adventure for me to step in last-minute, that sort of thing is very stressful on a cast and company, not to mention the poor sick singer who did all that work in rehearsal. Remember, we only get paid for performances, not rehearsals. I was happy for her and for the company that they got to present the show they rehearsed. Toi toi, all!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Bet'cha didn't see THIS coming

I can’t believe I’m doing this, especially after the latest installment of Vocal Identity Crisis 2009, but I have an audition tomorrow, and I think I’m going to offer... Zerbinetta.

What the... ?!?

I’ll write more tomorrow after the fact. I’m not 100% sure yet that I’m going to offer it, but the audition is pretty specific and I feel like Zerb would best show the goods needed for this role. However, I haven’t sung it in about a year! I know I still know it - it’s easily the one piece I’ve spent the most time on that has never really seen the light of day. It has seen an audition or two, and I know I rock it, but I rock it for different reasons than most “Zerbinettas.” My German is good, my acting is good, my musicianship is good, my E-flat is... ok. But I can’t think about that now!! (And besides, this role doesn’t have an E-flat...)

Tonight I recover from my flight - lots of water and a healthy dinner - and get a good night’s sleep, then wake up tomorrow and see if the voice is there. I feel much more “in the driver’s seat” after my crisis and resolution this weekend, so I’m kind of excited to see what happens tomorrow.

Won’t this be fun!! Stay tuned... :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Deep Breath

Sometimes it feels like I will never know how to sing.

I’m having an unusually difficult singing day today, and for no apparent reason. But maybe it’s a good day to try to write it out, to see if I can get to the heart of things...

This rep shift... whooboy!! There is nothing worse for a singer’s development than for someone to tell you “Wow, your voice is really getting big!” or “You voice is so much richer than it used to be!” The power of suggestion is very strong, and no matter how present you are in your singing, it is way too easy to start singing bigger and darker and richer the more people tell you that they hear those things. Make sense?

So I’ve added new arias - and new roles - this year, and I’ve been finding myself getting repeatedly tied up in knots. I can sing my new pieces just fine, but then when I pull out a Debussy song for the December recital or an older “lighter” aria, I find that I have zero nuance. No control, no float. Like my voice is a Mac truck. Not. Fun. And more than not fun, very frustrating and discouraging! Things I am not used to feeling when I sing...

Singing has always been easy for me. Maybe not cool to say that, but it’s true. I’ve had good teachers who haven’t gotten in the way of my voice’s natural development, and my reliance on text and acting has always lead me right. But now I’m getting in my way... I’m trying to sing with a voice that is not (yet) my own.

Yes, my voice IS bigger and warmer and all those things people are hearing, but it is still my bright, clear, pliant instrument. That hasn’t gone away. It’s not as if I woke up one morning a year ago and had an entirely new instrument! It’s just growing up, maturing. (Add “fine wine” metaphor here...) If I let go of my easy high notes or flexible tone in sacrifice to this bigger, warmer voice, I will lose. Lose facets of my voice, lose years of longevity, lose confidence. This is not a sacrifice I am willing to make.

So... how do I proceed?

I get back to regular voice lessons.
I haven’t had one in about a year and a half, and self-diagnosing is always a bad idea, whether it’s looking up “abdominal pain” on the internet at 2am or trying to move into a new Fach. I’m going to take some lessons with a soprano; all of my post-undergrad teachers have been men or mezzos, two summers with Phyllis Curtain notwithstanding. I’m excited about this change, and curious to see what it will be like to get back into “the shop.”

In my practicing, I keep it light but keep it connected. Avoid pushing. If I tire easily, something is not lined up correctly, so stop and reassess. Start my sessions with warmups and familiar pieces in order to remind my voice how it works. Then sing the new stuff with that same voice. If I jump into the deep end, I’ll only be fighting my resonance and placement, rather than working with it.

I stay aware of my body. Don’t look down (deep in concentration) when starting a phrase; keep the face lifted. Don’t curve the shoulders (another “thinking, working” posture); let the torso be buoyant. Practice in front of a mirror in order to keep those damn concentration wrinkles OFF of my forehead!!

In my performance, I just do what I do. If I bring this kind of mental activity onto the stage with me, I won’t be able to be in the moment with the music or my colleagues or the audience. I’m not falling apart; I can still sing. In those moments of performance, I need to just trust that and enjoy doing what I do. (Also, I’m not singing Marguerite tomorrow; I can sing 1st Alms Collector very well right now!)

Ok, I feel better. I can do this. I can work through this transition. It’s scary to feel like I don’t know where I’m going, but I need to remember that I’m the one in control here. Slow and steady and all those good things... and deep breaths.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mid-Fall Miscellany

A few things that are rattling around in my brain today:

* I was recently reminded of the responsibility we have as artists to bring JOY into people’s lives. But the reminder didn’t come through a recital or performance or anything opera-related at all; instead, it came through the group Improv Everywhere. Someone posted their Grocery Store Musical on Facebook, and after watching that I spent a good hour going through their past “missions.” The High-Five Escalator and Rob! made me smile so much my face hurt, and I imagine there are hours more smiles on the site.

Their “mission statement claims that they cause “scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” How cool is that?! I’ve signed up to be an agent... Stay tuned!

* I chopped off all my hair! Well, six inches of it, anyway. It was time for a change, I guess, and I was tired of wrestling with it to get my long locks in pin curls. This should be much easier in that department. I’m still figuring out how to maintain my inner (and outer, I suppose) rocker attitude with a cut that many people are calling “cute,” but I’ll come up with something. When in doubt, add eyeliner..

* I have lots of thoughts about Maury’s latest post (and not only because he mentions again how much he likes Hillula). His idea of getting pop singers to give masterclasses to opera singers is brilliant, and reminds me of a conversation I had with a young student a few years ago. We were talking about music, and he mentioned that he loved Feist or Death Cab or some other wordy indie rocker. He then sheepishly “admitted” that he often sang along with the music, and that he knew he should stop and should only sing “correctly” all the time. I begged him not to do that! Good pop singers like Regina Spektor and Feist and Andrew Bird and John Legend are good because they communicate. The use the myriad colors of their voices to talk to you, to make you feel something. Maury is right: they “connect bodily with their music.” It’s not about the pretty sounds they’re making; it’s about the music. Would that more opera singers would do the same. More on this later, I think.

* I got to play around with a Sony Webbie HD video recorder this weekend, and oh boy did I love it! If Santa is good to me this year, expect to see some video blogs in the future! Or, now that I think of it, I could just use my Photo Booth on my Mac... I couldn’t go on location like we did this weekend (documenting our search for a tv airing the Giants game), but I could get some thoughts down. What do you think?

* And speaking of movies, a few weeks ago B and I went to a screening of this documentary: BRATS: Our Journey Home. I’ve mentioned my “brattiness” a couple times on the blog; it’s always been part of who I am. But I don’t think I realized how much I identified as a Brat, how much it influenced who I am today. I’m not “from” anywhere, but thanks to this film I’ve realized that I belong.

If you or anyone you know is or was a Brat, do not miss this film. Order a dvd if that’s the only way to see it. You will not be sorry.

* A reminder that if you’d like to be on my mailing list, please sign up by sending me an email. (Go to my Profile and click “Email.”)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

In Room Dining

This week I am technically “on the road” but not for my own gig - I’m visiting B! We continue to be lucky with the timing of our gigs, having yet to go longer than three weeks without face-time. I’m in the middle of a two-week break at the Met, so I’m here in Ohio, doing my studying and role prep at the Marriott instead of in my apartment. Being away from my office and kitchen for ten days is a small price to pay for the luxury of hanging out with my husband, sharing our daily lives in person instead of over the phone.

That said... we both are missing that kitchen! I’ve eaten well when staying in hotels for a few days here and there, (I learned years ago that I could open a ripe avocado with a hotel key card...) but we’re here for a few weeks. Our hotel suite has a mini-fridge and a microwave, so B and I have been getting creative with our cooking, seeing as how a) take-out options are limited in cities that aren’t New York, and b) we are not made of money. Thank god there is a Trader Joe’s nearby, so B was able to stock up on sandwich makings, fruit, pre-cooked rice & lentils, and a few high-quality pre-made meals before I got here. I brought a few things from home when I arrived a week later, including a big microwave-safe bowl and some plastic wrap, and we’ve been brainstorming ever since.

Last night we ate a pork tenderloin and roasted Brussels sprouts - all made in the microwave! Just kidding. Those I made at home on Monday night and carried on the plane. It was delicious! A little microwaved polenta on the side and we ate like kings. The front desk downstairs has free cookies every afternoon, so today we made sure to go grab a couple for tonight’s dessert. Free is good!

I put out an APB on Facebook for my friends’ best “hotel cooking” ideas, and got some great ones: baked potatoes & veggies, wilted spinach salad, a simple chicken soup, even a variation on an Egg McMuffin! Great ideas, all, and we will certainly be using them. Thanks to SH, SS, PDB, LAM, CC, & MP! I also got an incredibly detailed gourmet option from my friend CO; here’s is a sample:
5. Dice one small shallot into the coffee maker. Load two to four sprigs of fresh thyme into the filter basket without a filter, then run 1 cup of cream and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice through the coffee maker together. Season with salt and pepper, and allow the sauce to reduce over the hot plate for 15 to 20 minutes. Just before serving, add 1 tablespoon diced butter and swirl to melt. (Note: Coffee maker will require heavy cleaning afterward.)
Brilliant! You can tell that many of my friends have spent months and months living on the road...

Tonight I went a bit more simply: pasta with salmon and sugar snap peas, which is really just a fancy way to say “mac & cheese with canned salmon and whatever veggie we could find on the side.” The only real trick was draining the pasta, so I got creative with a paper bowl:
Could have used a few more holes, but it got the job done! I had to use two socks as hot pads; that microwave-safe bowl still got pretty damn hot. A box of TJ’s mac&cheese can be dressed up pretty well with some canned salmon, and who doesn’t love fresh sugar snap peas? A sprinkling of pepper from the S&P shakers that B swiped from a room service tray in the hall, and voila! Dinner is served.
Bon appetit!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Fun Theory

A bit of brilliance, via my friend MI:

Love it!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Sidebar pic

I've gotten a couple questions about my current sidebar photo, so I thought I'd explain. I'm not able to post pics in costume from backstage at the Met, so rather than a pic from my current show I thought I'd show me backstage several years ago. Several years ago!

This is the first "backstage experience" that I can remember. I was eight years old, dancing with the children's corps at the Chicago City Ballet. The only thing I remember about being onstage is that I couldn't wear my glasses, so everything was very blurry. But backstage was a different story! I loved putting on my makeup with my fellow "mothbeetles" - blue eyes and pink cheeks and lips, very glamorous - and watching the "big girls" doing their own hair. Of course I loved watching the ballerinas, too, in awe of their long legs and beautiful arms.

It was the beginning of a life-long love of being in a theater, and I am grateful that my parents gave me that experience.

In the Night

I think everybody knows how much I love programming a recital, and this astronomy program has been no exception. I keep calling it “the astronomy recital” because it is for an astronomy group, but it is obviously more of a night-themed program, and I’m loving how it is shaping up.

There are practical as well as artistic elements to consider this time around. Since the program is in Boulder and Jocelyn is unable to travel with me this time, I will be using two wonderful local pianists. We’re still figuring out how to divide up the program, and I’m trying to select music that we already know or will have a fairly easy time putting together. B will also be singing a few pieces! I’m still on the lookout for a good night-themed duet, so keep those ideas coming. (I’m using several of the ideas that I’ve gotten from comments and on Twitter! Thanks for your help!)

On the (much more enjoyable) artistic side, I’ve divided the program into four sets, each with 3-4 songs and an aria that center on a theme. The first half of the program will focus on things in the sky - Stars & Planets and The Moon - while the second half deals with the less tangible aspects of “the night” - Seduction & Romance and Dreams.

That last set theme was the last to make itself clear to me, and in truth, that didn’t happen until I received a comment on my last post. I had asked for help with determining this last set via a Twitter post, asking if maybe “dreams or dreaming” would work. I knew I was thinking something about the way we dream when we look at the sky as well as the dreams we dream when we sleep, but this reader summed it up perfectly:

I like the dreams theme. Not referring to the dreams one has while sleeping but the dreams one has while looking at the night sky. The vast expanse of sky, the limitless boundaries for the imagination to explore, the incomprehensible beauty, the possibility of finding something new. Maybe I'm being naively romantic but I think that's what astronomers dream about every time they look up - as maybe the rest of us do too. Astronomers may talk about "Star e4.632056" and all sorts of technical stuff but I'd bet underneath that they're all hopeless dreamers.

I mentioned Nacht und Traume the other day because when it ends with:

"They listen with delight,
cry out when day awakens;
Come back, Holy Night!
Sweet dreams,come back!"

I thought that might sum up the feelings of astronomers everywhere. Listening to the night sky, disappointed when the sun rises, and wishing the stars would remain above so they could continue looking up and dreaming.

Pretty cool, right? I got chills when I read it, realizing that s/he said exactly what I wanted to express in this final set. I am thrilled to have had such wonderful help with this program! Thank you, twelvethoughts, where ever you may be...

I feel like I have most of the program set, but I’m still hunting for the right aria for the Seduction & Romance set. It could for be soprano or bass-baritone, or maybe an opera duet, but it has to be sexy! Should be an obvious choice out there somewhere, but I’m drawing a blank. Send me your ideas! I won’t be sharing the final program until close to the recital date (mid-December), but it will be worth the wait...

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Baby steps

I’ve got a lot of free time these days. A lot. Now that Nozze is up and running, and we haven’t yet started Angelica, my days are pretty much free until the end of the month. And nothing prevents me from getting work done like free time!

I don’t know what it is, but I sure am productive when I am forced to structure my work time around rehearsals and appointments and such. Then, when my days free up and I think “I’ve got plenty of time to work on my projects!” I don’t get a thing done! Please tell me I’m not the only one...

Today I was determined not to get to 6pm and realize I’d accomplished nothing with my day except a trip to the gym and several laps around my internet entertainment course. In the past, I’ve started the day with a general statement like “Today I’m going to work on my recital program.” And, sure enough, I don’t crack a score or research a single song.

(Maybe it’s the naming of broad goals that freaks me out. A few weeks ago, when I told B that I wanted to lose five pounds in the next three weeks, I promptly stopped going to the gym. Not helpful, Bird! Once I forgot about the weight goal, once I was only thinking about getting exercise cuz I feel better when I do, I was back at the gym, enjoying my workouts. What does it mean?!)

So this morning tried a different approach and set small goals for my day:
*work for (at least) 30 minutes on Hillula, getting reacquainted with the score
*work for (at least) an hour on programming rep for the Astronomy recital
*work for (at least) 30 minutes on arias

Here is it, 6:00, and I’ve accomplished 2 out of 3! (I’ll get to those arias before dinner, though, I’m sure of it.) And it wasn’t drudgery, either; I spent more than the allotted time on each task. I love my work, and I’m always puzzled why I don’t jump out of bed ready to hit the books. Whatever the reason, I seem to have discovered something today about how to address my free time, and I’m excited to observe the results!
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