Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Links for August 29, 2005

(with apologies to MC at TSR)

Think Denk: Residential Evening
“end-of-summer sadness”

Les Histoires des moi: Never boring
this is much like a post that I have been wanting to write, about other skills we bring to the table as singers that may seem unrelated but end up being incredibly valuable

TSR: Overheard in Los Alamos
that’s not cool

aworks: Dr. Atomic/getting ready
collection of links to the buzz in the blogosphere re: this new work (see also TSR post above)

Bookish Gardener: Carnival of Music
as before, links to music-themed posts around the blogosphere

The Dilettante Traveler: Four States
travels with ACB

Saturday, August 27, 2005


It is always easier to pack when you are leaving a place you’ve visited than when you are leaving home. Here, all I have to do is gather all my things and put them in the car. None of this: “Should I take these pants or these? Will I need these shoes? What books and scores and CDs will I want?”

It is very refreshing.

The final Ainadmar was last night, and closing night of the season is tonight (Turandot). There will be a small party at the opera, where many hugs and kisses will be given and received, phone numbers and email addresses will be exchanged, and promises to keep in touch will be made. I have made some wonderful new friends here, but I will especially miss JH, who I knew years ago as JP. She and I were at UGA together in undergrad, back before either of us really knew we wanted to be opera singers. We were acquaintances, but not friends: I was hanging out with the “townies” and she was in the marching band. (I never miss a chance to tease her about her euphonium-playing days…) But this summer we have found in each other a true friend, and I will miss her terribly. We dream of singing Sophie and Octavian together someday…

Tomorrow I’ll say good-bye to Pam (and Madison & Matisse) and to this beautiful house which has been my retreat all summer. I will miss watching the many birds dine at the feeder outside my window. I’ll miss the comfy lounge chairs by the lily-covered koi pond, the perfect place to unwind from a long day. I won’t have to miss the great coffeemaker, as Pam has given one to Erik and me as a housewarming present! And I will miss Pam’s sweet and gentle nature; a more generous and open person you’d be hard pressed to find. She is also starting a new phase of life here in Santa Fe, and I wish her great luck.

Well, even though packing to leave is easier than packing to come, I must get to it. More from on the road with The Dilettante Traveler!

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Carnival of Music

For the past few weeks (or has it been months now?), a new meme of sorts has been appearing on blogs of all kinds. The Carnival of Music, created by John at texasbestgrok, is a weekly roundup of music links from around the blogosphere. The posts don’t have to be from music blogs; many of them are thoughts on music from non-music bloggers, which is very cool. Every Monday, a new blogger hosts the Carnival, presenting in their own way a list of music related links from around the blogosphere. Not all of the hosts are music bloggers; in fact many of them aren’t. Next week we are hosted by a gardener who loves to read and knows her whiskey…

This week’s host is Musicircus, yet another blog to add to my Bloglines feeds. (It’s exciting to be finding so many great music blogs recently; reading them is a great way to procrastinate… ) Lots of great links to follow there, many of which I was thinking of mentioning here. But now I can just pass you along!

I hope to host sometime in the coming weeks, once I get home and get settled. Ah, to be settled… At one point in the past few weeks, I thought I might only get to be home for a month, then be on the road for, essentially, the next year. It seems that is not going to be the case, and I am glad for it. Sometimes a great opportunity comes along at the wrong time, making it a much less-great opportunity. It’s always hard to pass on work, but I’m learning to trust my instinct. Maybe more on this later, but maybe not. A new colleague and friend is encouraging me to focus on the positives in my path, rather than the negatives. And while these opportunities were positive in one sense, they were not right for me, so it is better to let them go.

The time will come for a full year of traveling, but I have more work to do before that day. That is what you’ll be reading about here in the months to come: the work, not the passed opportunities. Let’s move forward.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


The first scene program has come and gone, and now that my family has all done the same, I have some time to sit and write about it all. It’s a Barber night tonight, so I’ve been home all evening, enjoying the time and space to putz around and procrastinate writing the many blog entries I have backlogged!

All in all, I am very happy with the end result of the “Lucia experiment.” It feels like a great fit vocally and dramatically, and I’ve had several of my coaches here say that I will end up in this rep (and this role) in a few years. For now, it’s a little big, but it’s a great role to put on my “Five Year Plan.” I can start looking at it now, learning the first act aria, then the duets, and then s-l-o-w-l-y start working on the mad scene. I shouldn’t offer the aria (“Regnava nel silenzio”) at auditions for a year or two, but I can work on the role on my own and with coaches, “just for fun.”

What I think I loved best about this scene program, though, was that it was a showcase for all the Apprentices at Santa Fe Opera. I don’t think I’ve mentioned anything about the army of technical apprentices that keep things running here. For all the technical areas of the opera – stage management, costumes, wigs and makeup, lighting, audio/visual (think monitors, not miking: although we are miked for Ainadmar, that’s a special circumstance), sets and scenery – there are dozens of college students who indenture themselves for the summer! Seriously, they are some of the hardest working people I’ve met. Imagine having about five weeks to get two large operas up and running, and then two weeks after that having another opening every week for three weeks. That’s a lot of sewing, building, painting, and light focusing. Here’s the understatement of the summer, from the description of the Tech Apprentice program: “The production of The Santa Fe Opera season is rigorous, personally and professionally demanding and physically taxing.” Ha! These kids easily work 12-16 hour days six days a week, all summer. It’s amazing.

They get their chances to shine, though, in the scenes. The costumes, sets, lights, and stage management are all orchestrated and operated by the tech apprentices. My costumers were both undergraduates, 20- and 21-years-old, who have spent the summer hiding behind sewing machines. Can you imagine what it must be like to have the costume vault of the Santa Fe Opera at your fingertips at that age?! Emily was the designer for my scene, which meant she worked together with the director (Thaddeus Strassberger, the assistant director for Peter Grimes) to put together a “look” for the entire scene (six singers and about a dozen supers). Lucia di Lammermoor is based on a Sir Walter Scott novel, so the overall feel of the scene was to be very gothic.

The idea for my dress? Something you might have found on the Paris couture runways circa 1985, and not at all unlike what we saw this year at the Christian Dior show. (Is anyone else sensing a Galliano theme? Eeee!) Emily and Thad imagined that Lucia put up a real fight when they tried to get her into her wedding dress, so it got torn and dirty. You can tell that there’s a really beautiful dress there, but some things are just not quite right… I couldn’t believe my eyes when I had my first fitting: layers and layers of lace and ruffles and velvet and a corset to die for. And it only got better with each additional fitting. By show time, we had this:
Yowza!! What a dress. (And I NEVER thought I’d, um, look like that in a corset!) It was amazing. And heavy and a bit unwieldy, but I loved it. I’m also loving that hair color; I think I might go for a darker red when I get home. Here's a detail shot:

Oh, yeah, and I sang a little bit, too… I learned many lessons about bel canto singing that I’m now in the process of applying to my other rep (Norina, Adina, even Zerlina). My biggest hurdle was the sustained D at the end of the scene, but I feel like I managed it pretty well. I was very happy with the sustained D-flat at the end of the sextet, but what a difference a half step makes! A stagecraft lesson I learned was that I can’t get into my acting as physically when I’m singing as I can when I’m just acting. My breathing got a little high (in my shoulders rather than my ribs) as I threw myself around the stage. (In the performance, it only looked like the tenor was doing the throwing. In the dress rehearsal? He really did. Not fun!) Something to work on in the future, and I know I will have a future with this role. Stay tuned…

Monday, August 15, 2005

Home stretch

Just a quick note to say that all is well. The Lucia scene went very well last night (more on that later, I promise), and this morning I have a real sense that I should be packing my bags and heading home. But I still have Turandots and Ainadamars and one final Peter Grimes to sing in the next two weeks… Then a quick jaunt to New York for an audition on the 30th and back again to start the real journey home to Seattle. Estimated day of arrival: September 3rd.

I’ve had a lot of family and friends in town this weekend, many of whom are staying over through the week. Posting will likely continue to be sporadic until the end of the week, although Erik may comment on his short visit.

Very tired today…

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Oh my!

Thank you all for your notes of support, including my “mystery poster!” In case you haven’t read the comments, Anonymous informed me that the “tour groups” in the balcony were not tour groups at all, but, rather, major donors! One more case in point that you never know who is watching or listening, so always be ready to show your best side. (Thanks, also, to CD for his congrats and compliment; I’ve always held Dessay as the model of the intelligent soprano, sight-reading skills notwithstanding! I’m honored to be mentioned in the same post!)

I’ve had two more potential jobs come my way. Neither of them are sure things yet - in fact, one is just a potential audition - but when/if details firm up, I will certainly share. They both involve large periods of time away from home, so I think Erik and I would be redefining our definition of “home” if either or both jobs came to pass. More on that as it becomes relevant. Regardless of whether I get the jobs, it has been intensely satisfying (gratifying, validating, encouraging – pick your adjective!) to have such an immediate response to my audition. I have a meeting sometime later this week with one more audition attendee; I’m not sure if it’s a meeting to discuss the audition in general or something specific that might come of it, but I’m happy to talk with him in any case.

It seems that I just might, after all, get some opera credits on my resume this year…

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Back at the Ranch

A couple things from life back at home in Seattle:

Seattlest is blogging their experience viewing The Ring at Seattle Opera. So far, reviews of Das Rheingold, Die Walkure, and Siegfried have been posted. I wish I could see this amazing production!

On a sadder note, the "little Austrian man" has left us. Hans Wolf, of the spectacular accent, silk scarves, and unbelievable zest for life (and operetta!), died last week. He was planning this fall's production of La Perichole - which will, of course, still go on - from his hospital bed. He was proof that having a passion for something will keep you young! I couldn't believe that he was 90 when I met him; I would have thought he was in his late 70's, at the most. A precious man with a wonderful life story (his obit says he was an interpreter in WWII; rumor has it that he might have been a spy for the US Army...), a great love for Viennese operetta, and unflagging support for young singers. His hearing was starting to go, though, towards the end; he said to me once, "You have a young spinto voice, don't you?" No, Hans, I most certainly don't, but I will sing tomorrow's Turandot chorus as if I did, singing loud enough for you to hear me. We will miss you, darling man.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Well, it worked

I am now a firm believer in the expression “less is more.” Before Friday, I would never have believed that I could make more people interested in me by singing an unflashy lyric aria that doesn’t go above an A than by singing a showy coloratura piece with high C’s and D’s to spare. But it’s true.

I sang at 11:30 Friday morning, a good time – not too early, but not too close to lunchtime (the auditors may start to lose focus as their blood sugar levels drop!). I was pleased to be scheduled behind SA – a baritone whose voice I adore – who sang “Avant de quitter ces lieu,” Valentin’s gorgeous aria from Gounod’s Faust. I was put into a fairly tranquil state of mind as I prepared to go on for my spot. Sitting just off stage, I watched him as I quieted my breathing. When he finished, I half expected to hear applause (as I had expected after hearing several other colleagues, as well). That’s what happens when these showpieces are sung in the opera, but in an audition, they just say “thank you,” and you smile and walk off. I think the lack of applause is made stranger in this case by the fact that these auditions were on the theatre stage and not in a small room somewhere. Anyway…

When I walked onstage, I saw about 100 people scattered throughout the theatre, including a few small tour groups up in the balcony. I was happy to see that most of the auditors were fairly far back in the house, which meant they wouldn’t be able to see my hands shaking! (In performance, my hands rarely, if ever, shake. In context of an opera or concert, my nerves just don’t show up. But in an audition, the adrenaline surge can make me a little jittery. Never so much that it affects my voice, but my hands develop vibrato!) I announced my name and my aria in a nice clear voice, speaking slowly – thanks Trish for all those trial runs in aria class! Then I sang. It’s a wonderful piece about fairies in the forest and all the magic one can find there. Easy to sing something like that here in Santa Fe… I had been planning to take the final phrase in one breath (Boy, oh, boy! Everyone has a strong opinion on how to sing that phrase!), but ended up breathing anyway. No big deal; that’s not the kind of thing that would raise any eyebrows, just a personal thing that I wanted to accomplish.

What happened next still boggles the mind. Instead of the voice saying “thank you,” I heard “Brava.” And then another voice: “Brava.” Then the “thank you” came, I said “thank you,” gave a smile, and walked off stage. How about that?! I told myself that the accolades came, most likely, from the tour groups in the balcony, but I was pleased with the response, nonetheless. Backstage, I thanked my wonderful accompanist and quickly changed out of my dress so I could go sit in the back of the hall and watch my colleagues. (Oh, that’s another thing that happened at the end of my aria. I saw about a dozen pairs of arms raise up in the back row of the theatre and “clap” silently in support and praise. How fabulous! Folks who sang on Thursday or earlier in the day on Friday came back to give support and encouragement. This is a great group of people, and I’m happy to be their peer.) As I snuck into a seat in the back row, a friend said, “Way to go! You got a “brava” from Matthew Epstein!” So apparently it wasn’t the tour groups! Wow. I was more than a little shocked.

That kind of immediate feeback continued throughout the day, as my coaches and teachers from the summer shared with me some of the comments they’d overheard (or been told directly) from members of the panel. Nina was especially pleased, and I thanked her for showing me the power of simply singing beautifully. I spoke with Mr. Epstein for a few minutes at lunch, and he was very encouraging. He had ideas for other rep (some lighter Handel arias, Annchen, Marzelline, and Sophie) that I hadn’t considered, and agreed that “Sul fil” was a better audition choice than “Caro nome!” I also talked with Robert Gilder at lunch, a London based agent who operates a NYC office as well. He has lots of ties to Seattle, in fact, he left immediately after the auditions to go see The Ring. He said he would mention me to Speight Jenkins, and that next time he’s in Seattle, we could get together and talk a bit, maybe work on some rep. Amazing.

But the biggest proof that this audition went well? I have a new gig penciled into my calendar for December 2006…

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Muscle memory

One more thought on Ainadamar: The opera opens with a fairly long overture, much of which is electronic. In this production, the cast walks onstage and into position in half light, the lights go down, and the overture starts. There is no movement until the singing starts four or five minutes later.

In the previous production, I had a big dance solo during the overture. The dance itself wasn’t hard, and Osvaldo loved it. It was through this dance that I first discovered “duende,” although I didn’t know it at the time. The trouble was, the electronics in the overture are rhythmic yet formless, lacking a definite beat (in a dancer’s sense, anyway). It starts with countinuous sounds – running water, galloping hoofbeats, echoing trumpets – overlapping and finally being taken over by the clack of an intense flamenco rhythm. After making my way on stage (wearing my giant figurative horsehead mask), I vamped a menacing crouch step while waiting for the first rimshot to break through the atmospherice sounds of the electronic tape. On that sound, I had to start my dance, which moved forward – again with no clear beats – like a runaway horse, if you will. (Ouch.) My heart, which was already pounding with adrenaline, jumped out of my chest every night, helping to propel me forward.

So imagine my body’s reaction when I heard the overture again. Standing still, in the dark, my heart leaped again at that all-too-familiar rimshot. I had to laugh! Even now, having heard the overture five or six times with the new staging, my body remembers the moves and wants to dance.

House Auditions

Last night after getting out of costume and makeup, I walked out through the back hallway on my way to the parking lot. I stopped to hug a few folks, and then I noticed that there was an abnormally large group backstage. (Usually, access is limited after a show, to assure the performers as much privacy as they’d like.) And this group was not your average crowd of opera fans. There were lots of good-looking, well-groomed men in suits, many of them milling around the stars of the evening, Kelley (Lorca) and Jessica (Nuria); Dawn hadn’t yet emerged from her dressing room. And these weren’t your average suits, either; think more hip, artsy New York suits over stiff, boardroom New York suits. Lots of color, great fabrics, and even better hair.

Who are they, you ask? This handsome group is the reason many young singers dream of coming to Santa Fe Opera. General Directors, Artistic Administrators and artist managers from companies across the country are in Santa Fe this week to check out the young talent. Today and tomorrow, each Apprentice Singer will have a five minute timeslot in which to sing one (extremely well-prepared) aria for this group. It’s an incredible opportunity to get your name, face, and voice in front of the people you hope will hire you someday. But it’s five minutes. One shot to make the best impression possible. No pressure, right?! Everyone has a bad day now and then; we’re all hoping that it’s not today or tomorrow!

I will be singing tomorrow, as will all the cast members of Ainadamar. It’s nice to have a day to ease the voice back into opera mode after singing in the quasi-flemenco, straight tone style of Osvaldo’s music. My voice, being naturally light and with a higher placement than a lot of the other women, makes the move fairly easily. But the darker lyric sopranos and the mezzos really feel the effects. The scheduling office was very understanding, and put all of us in tomorrow’s session.

It took me a while to pick my aria. Imagine looking for one aria that a) will present you in the best light, b) will show off your “specialty,” and c) will give the panel an idea of both what they could hire you for today and where your voice is going and growing. Not an easy task! Nina, who’s opinion I have come to value more and more, felt from the beginning that Nannetta’s aria from Verdi’s Falstaff was going to be the best bet for me. I was unsure, as I hadn’t worked on the piece since undergrad and felt that it still had a lot of “student” habits. I was leaning towards “Caro nome,” which I’m very comfortable with and feel that I can really “sell.” Also, “Caro” shows everything: legato lines, coloratura, high notes, and middle voice. Perfect, right? Well, maybe not.

LOTS of sopranos sing “Caro nome,” and many of them sing it very well. That doesn’t mean that I sing it any less well, but I might need to show another side of me in order to stand out from the pack. (No other soprano is singing “Caro nome” for these auditions; I’m just thinking of the bigger picture.) I was reminded of Nina’s fantastic advice to me: “You will never out-shout anyone (with high notes), you will never out-power anyone (with volume), but you can out-beauty them.” What does Nannetta’s aria show? Beautiful singing. And, after a month of coaching it with several outstanding people here, many (most) of the student habits are gone. If I can avoid being precious (holding on to my sound, rather than just letting the voice flow), I have a chance to really stand out. And this group is knowledgable enough to know that if I sing Nanetta beautifully, if my high A is floated easily, if I am truly comfortable on stage, then chances are I can sing other things as well (including Gilda). I don’t have to show all my cards to win the hand.

The only question left: What to wear?!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Tonight we have the second performance of Ainadamar, which opened strongly on Saturday. Charles at Ionarts gave his opinion (can’t really call it a ‘review,’ since he saw a rehearsal and not a performance), along with a collection of links to other reviews. The New York Times review focuses on Osvaldo’s music, while the LA Times writer gets into the socio-political aspects of the piece.

Two years ago, when someone asked me what Ainadamar was about, I would say that it was about Margarita Xirgu, the actress who helped bring Lorca and his plays to prominence, at the moment of her death. She looks back on her life with the young poet and mourns his grisly death.

Now, there is so much more there, and not just because of the musical reshaping the work has undergone. In Peter’s hands, it has become a piece about Fascism, fear, hope, freedom, and the creation and destruction of beauty. All the elements of the former piece are there; we are still witnessing the last three minutes of Margarita’s life. But they are fleshed out – musically and dramatically – to issue a wake-up call. Margarita, who fled Spain for Latin America on the crest of the fascist wave, regrets her choice (or, at least regrets not being able to convince Lorca to come with her). But more than that, she asks us if we will be willing to stand up to the extremists who threaten those with different religious beliefs, those who strive to open the minds of children, or those whose art or lifestyle challenges their idea of “normal.” (Ainadamar’s Bullfighter, Teacher, and Lorca). This line from the LA Times review says a lot: “It is an opera of unfinished business, on the passing on of the knowledge and experience of one generation to the next.” Thousands died along with Lorca that night in Spain; how many more have to die before we can stand up and say “no more”? May our generation be the one to succeed.

Ainadamar ends with a message of hope – there are students who are following the teachers who will “ask the questions.” We are still talking of Lorca and Margarita and their works and his ideas. I am reminded of a line from The Princess Bride, when Wesley tells Buttercup that “Death can not stop True Love; all it can do is delay it for a little while.” The same is true of oppression and Freedom. Freedom will win in the end, no matter how many generations it takes.

This isn’t a political blog, by any means. But my thoughts have been very political throughout this rehearsal process. How many people do you know who talked about moving to Canada or Europe when President Bush won a second term? I certainly did. (Fest contract, anyone?) But now, looking back at this not-too-distant era of fear and oppression, I am challenged to stay. To find the strength to stand up. To help put an end to the climate of fear that we are encouraged to live in. I know I’m just an opera singer, but I will do my part.

I know that I still haven’t written about the rehearsal process, and I’m not sure that I’ll be able to. You get some idea of what it’s been like through this post. The details – scraped knees, lots of tears, incredible bonding with my castmates, and the like – aren’t important. The change of heart is.
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