Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dr. Atomic

I felt I should weigh in momentarily on the “big event” happening in San Francisco this weekend. John Adams’ newest opera, Doctor Atomic, opens on Saturday, recounting the hours before the first test of the atomic bomb that would end World War II. Oppenheimer and other Los Alamos physicists await the test at the facility, while the women in their lives wait at home, worrying and wondering how the world is about to change. After seeing firsthand what Peter Sellars can do with emotionally and politically charged topics, I have no doubt that this opera will be a profound experience for all who are lucky enough to see it.

Over a fabulous brunch with MC in Santa Fe last month, we talked about why this particular premiere is garnering so much attention. (Music blogs have been abuzz for months now.) We decided that the combination of subject matter, anticipation to see what John Adams will write next, Peter Sellar’s involvement (he wrote the libretto as well as directed), and a few last-minute high-profile cast changes all serve to create an intriguing project that has everyone wishing they could be there Satuday night.

Now that I think about it, there are two other opera premieres that are in the spotlight right now: Margaret Garner at Michigan Opera Theater this past May (and An American Tragedy at the Met in December (not to mention Ainadamar this summer). (Margaret Garner is being staged this season by both Opera Carolina and the Opera Company of Philadalphia, providing the crucial "second" performances for a new work. Composers often say that it's easy to get new works performed once; it's getting them programmed again that's the struggle.) Could this be a sign of a renewed interest in new opera, and, therefore, in opera in general? Exciting times…

For more detailed coverage on this important new work, visit these sites.
*The San Francisco Opera’s Dr. Atomic site
*A great collection of Dr. Atomic Links at aworks.
*Alex Ross has put together a fabulous photojournal at The Rest is Noise. Pick up a copy of this week’s New Yorker for his article on the opera, written on an ironing board in a hotel in San Francisco…
*Thoughts from TSR during his New Mexico visit.
*Preview and links to articles at Ionarts
I know there are more. If you have something to add, leave it in comments and I’ll put it in.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Something New

This year, something new is happening: companies are contacting ME, asking me to audition. It feels so strange. I’m sure it has everything to do with my summer at Santa Fe, but sometimes being able to divine the reason for something does little to dispel its mystique.

Every singer dreams of the day when she can stop auditioning. In reality, that day never truly comes, or, if it does, it comes for a very select few. But it is nice to be reaching a point where my name and voice and, hopefully, reputation as a good colleague are starting to do some of the legwork for me. Notice I said “be reaching,” not “have reached;” we never get to the point where we can stop actively promoting ourselves. But I’m beginning to see that the job gets a little easier with more (good) experience under the belt. And, it’s important to remember that these are only requests for auditions! I still have to convince them to offer me a job

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Friends, friends, everywhere

It’s been a busy week of lunches, coffees,and dinners with friends; coachings; teaching; and recovering from our housewarming party last weekend. (Having a karaoke machine in our basement all the time is a dangerous thing! My One True Karaoke Song? “Stand By Your Man,” no contest. Well, or maybe “Crazy for You.”) It was a spectacular party, though, if I may say so, and the house really feels like home now. Nothing like having about 70 people stop by for a hug and a drink and great food to make you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that you are Home.Also been practicing a lot. I think I’m going to be able to line up a management audition while I’m in NYC in October, so some of the new arias that needed to be ready by December just got bumped to the top of the stack. Also have some more music to learn for next week’s concert. Something was added last minute, and while it’s something I’ll never perform again, it’s a chance to sing more great music with friends, so I’m going to do it.

I don’t think I’ve written about that yet, my friends coming to town next week. This summer, a couple of the guys at Santa Fe saw me reviewing my Mozart Requiem score in the cantina, and we got to talking. They both expressed interest, so I said that I would pass their names along to the conductor. I told them that he had men that he used pretty regularly and that he would probably already have the concert planned, but that I’d plug them, just the same. I did, and about two weeks later, they both got calls offering them the job! No audition, no tape, just “Would you like to come to Seattle and sing?” How cool is that?! The conductor and I talked the other day, and he said people have been asking him if he’s heard the two men (SH & RA). He says, “No, but I figure anyone Anne-Carolyn would recommend must be ok, both as a singer and as a person.” That made me feel great, knowing that he trusts me and my opinions. I’m sure the fact that they were both Apprentices at SFO told him that they were going to be of a certain level, but to hire someone without hearing them is a big risk. These guys are fabulous, though, so I know it will pay off for all involved. If you’re in town, come check it out!

Erik and I spent the morning updating my website. The Photos and Downloads pages have had “Coming Soon!” messages for months now, so we thought it was high time to get something up there. The Photos page was the most time-consuming, so we did that first. I’m extremely happy with how it turned out. We’ll try and get the Downloads page finished tomorrow. It will have PDF’s of my bio and resume, hi-resolution headshots, and about six mp3’s, most from live performances. Finally! Let me know what you think…

Time for more practicing, then off to enjoy the beautiful fall Seattle day. Happy weekend!

Friday, September 16, 2005


In addition to preparing in the general sense for auditions this fall and winter, I have two specific programs I am preparing. This year, I’m making a point of singing in as many competitions as possible, and in October, I have two: the Center for Contemporary Opera’s International Opera Singers Competition and Eugene Opera’s Belle Voci National Competition and Concert.

Competitions differ from regular house auditions in that the repertoire requirements are often more specific. Usually for house auditions, you are asked to bring “your five,” five arias in a variety of styles and languages that show your best skills. I’ll post about “my five” soon; for now, go read about Melissa’s.

The Eugene Opera competition asks for five arias, but I won’t be using my regular audition program. For competitions, especially ones like this that have an Audience Choice award, you need a bit more “flash” in your program. So, my Eugene list looks like this:

*Sul fil d’un soffio etesio, Falstaff - my starter, even for a competition
*Quando m’en vo, La Boheme - talk about Audience Favorite!
*Mein Herr Marquis, Die Fledermaus - another crowd pleaser
*Be Kind & Courteous, Midsummer Night’s Dream - a fun English piece
*Du gai soleil, Werther - perky w/out being obnoxious

I feel like all of my strengths are still there – lyric lines, acting, a few high notes – but there are also the extra elements of flash and crowd pleasing. This is a public competition, so if you live near Eugene, OR, come by and cheer me on!

For the COC competition, the list is a bit longer and more varied: two arias from the standard repertoire, two arias from operas composed after 1950, and three 20th or 21st Century songs. Putting this program together has been so fun! I’ve hard a hard time narrowing down my song choices, but here’s what I have.

Standard Rep:
*Sul fil d’un soffio etesio, Falstaff - (you’ll be seeing a lot of this…)
*Mein Herr Marquis, Die Fledermaus
*Be Kind & Courteous, Midsummer Night’s Dream (Britten, 1960)
*Joy Beyond Measure, Little Women (Mark Adamo, 1998)
*“In a Gondola,” Ned Rorem (1953)
*#3 fr. 4 Songs of Antonio Machado, Luigi Dallapiccola (1948)
*“It’s True, I went to the Market,” fr. Mirabai Songs, John Harbison (1982)

Good stuff, no? For this competition, my good friend from Tanglewood last summer, Jocelyn Dueck, will be playing for me. I hope to have her along for many auditions this year, as she is both a gifted pianist and collaborator and truly one of my favorite people. She’s also fabulously stylish!

Both of these competitions have financial prizes and performance prizes. COC presents a joint recital of the winners at Weill Recital Hall and Eugene Opera offers the winner a role in their upcoming season. Money is very nice, but sponsored performing is better! Hopefully I’ll have good news to report next month…

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Two Things

This morning my ribs hurt. Not my ribs so much as my intercostals. And my lower back. I did a lot of singing yesterday, prepping arias for audition. Sophie (Presesntation of the Rose) and Baby Doe (Silver Aria) particualarly – lots of high, sustained singing. Add to that five hours of teaching, and you have a real vocal workout and test of stamina! I guess my support systems were engaged, because I’m sore.

But, I need to practice more today, because I got this email in my Inbox this morning:

I was given your e-mail address by Brad Woolbright of the Santa Fe Opera. Lenore Rosenberg, the director of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, heard you at their Apprentice auditions last month, and she has asked me to arrange a Met audition for you sometime this fall.



I’m home, sitting on the couch in our living room, which still doesn’t quite feel like our living room, after a lovely dinner prepared by Erik after my first day back at teaching. A good glass of red wine (from a bottle that was a gift from the Port Angeles Symphony last season) and “evening” jazz on KPLU have eased the rough edges of the day.

I started teaching about four years ago. I had submitted my resume to a local “school of music” - a.k.a. a lesson factory in a strip mall - for a spot as a voice teacher, when they contacted me about teaching piano lessons. What?! Are they crazy?! I am NOT a pianist, never was, never will be. But after talking with the man (who was desperate for another piano teacher!), I decided to give it a shot. When you’re talking about teaching 8-year-olds, it’s really just music lessons using the piano as a tool. You’re not trying to create the next Jay Greenberg or Lang Lang; at least I’m not. I figure the goal with piano lessons at this age is to teach music theory and basic piano skills while (hopefully) instilling a love of music-making that will stay with them into adulthood. I was surprised to discover that I loved doing just that. That I love music so much, and love my childhood music memories, that I really was able to help these children love it, too.

I taught lessons at the “school” for about two years. I had come to love teaching enough that I wanted to have a bit more control over my schedule, more importantly, over who I taught. So I started teaching out of my home last fall, many of my students having “defected” from the school to continue studying with me privately. There are a handful of students - well, no, I guess I’m down to one – who have been with me since my first day at the school, and it has been such a joy to watch them grow, as musicians, students, and people. The one student who is still with me won my heart one day in my first month of teaching. She kept asking questions about why music was dictated this way, and “why don’t they do it this way” and “what happens if…” After trying to placate her and give her answers that she could comprehend at that stage, I finally had to say “You know, you’re getting a little ahead of yourself! You’ll have to trust me on this one. Take my word for it for now, and in a few months we’ll get to the details.” She looked sheepish and said, “Yeah, I do that [get ahead of herself] sometimes. This one time, I was playing with my chemistry set, and I did some things way before I was supposed to, and the experiment didn’t work.” She was eight! I just wanted to hug her, she was so cute.

Then there was the little girl who came in for voice lessons, after struggling through piano for a few years. Her mother wanted her to have music lessons, but didn’t want to force it in such a way as to make her hate music (a good mom, in my book), so they had decided to give voice lessons a try. She, the little girl, loved to sing, but had recently started getting teased at school about her voice. A gorgeous child, and very smart, I imagine she is often a target of teasing, well-mannered or otherwise, from her peers. When I asked her to tell me why she wanted to take voice lessons (my first question to every new student), tears streamed down her cheeks and she stared at the ceiling as she talked of her love of music and singing. She didn’t say anything negative, no mention of teasing, but I could sense that she had been wounded. I had intended to take a trial lesson with her and then tell her mother that I didn’t teach voice to children, but I was won over. We’ve been working together for about a year and a half now, and she is really finding her voice, pardon the pun, including singing two songs at her brothers’ music recital. If there was teasing, I didn’t hear anything of it; I only heard how excited she was to share her music with her family. This year we’re adding some piano back into the mix; she’s also learning solfege sight-reading skills. Oh, and in the spring, she saw the Phantom of the Opera movie, and decided that “opera is pretty cool.” We talked a little bit about Phantom being a musical, not an opera, but I didn’t want to get all snobby on her when she was so excited about classical singing! Then this summer, she went to “opera camp,” sponsored by Seattle Opera. She went on a tour of the hall, saw the Rhinemaidens rehearse in their harnesses, and participated in a play version of The Ring. Now she’s a regular opera buff! How cool is that?!

Anyway… All this remiscing is due to the fact that today was the start of my last “semester” of teaching. After December, I won’t be teaching anymore. I’ll be traveling too much for work, and when I’m home I’ll have other projects that I need to be preparing. In fact, I don’t really have time to teach this fall, but I couldn’t leave my students in the lurch. Two weeks ago I gave everyone the option of continuing until December or calling it quits now, and all of them – including six brand-new students – have chosen to continue. I have such relationships with these families; two of my “piano moms” were also my students, which I thought set a wonderful example for their children. They grew to be friends, and their children came to be so dear to me. I will treasure every week I have left with them. I’m happy that my singing career is taking off, but I am sad to be starting an extended “sabatical” from teaching.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

My Season of . . .

It’s been pretty easy so far to keep my life integrated with both home stuff and music. I gave myself through the holiday weekend to “labor,” as it were, and get the house settled; then on Tuesday it was back to work. I did some practicing (working on the Mozart Requiem for early October) and some organizing of rep for a few upcoming competitions, along with touching up paint in the dining and living rooms. It was a perfect balance of work and home. My goal is to keep active with my music - arranging and preparing for auditions, learning new rep, etc. – and to avoid any kind of extended downtime. (Last year, for example, I essentially took a month “off,” enjoying being home after being away for two months. When I started requesting auditions, many were full already. I don’t want to let that happen this year.) I have several gigs this fall, though, that are keeping me focused.

Then today, I received confirmation that two big gigs I had hoped for this season are really going to happen! Ainadamar (I know it’s been a while, but remember that?) is being performed in New York in January as part of Lincoln Center’s Golijov Festival, and Osvaldo and Peter requested that they ask the ensemble from Santa Fe to come and participate. I had an email waiting for me this morning from the contemporary music producer for Lincoln Center, asking me to come and sing the three performances there. Woohoo! How fun. Not all of the women in the ensemble are free to come to NYC, but many of us will be there; it will be a wonderful mini-reunion.

The second gig also is Ainadamar! (I’m going to call 05-06 My Season of Golijov.) There is a Deutsche-Grammophon recording being arranged in Atlanta in November, in conjunction with three more performances. These perfs will be conducted by Bob Spano, who just conducted The Ring in Seattle, to much acclaim, and who led the first premiere of Ainadamar at Tanglewood in 2003. It will be great to work with him again; he is the one who really helped me find my duende. He is also conducting the US concerts of the La Pasion tour in February. I’m really starting to get a sense of how one is surrounded by the same people in this business, even though we don’t really live in the same place. It’s fascinating. Of course, Dawn and Kelley and Jessica (and Osvaldo!) will be there, too; what a blast!

I’m giddy! Off to BedBath&Beyond for a bit of domestic grounding. But only a bit…

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Home, but not yet home

I arrived back in Seattle late last night, and boy, does it feel good! Although it’s a bit surreal, seeing this familiar city again after so long. I know it so well, but it seems a bit distant at the moment. It is very strange to be back in a "big city" - so many lights, so many people, so many cars. I had really come to love the quiet darkness of Santa Fe. As we were driving west last night, just about to cross the Cascade Mountains, we could see Venus and Jupiter reflecting the light of the setting sun. I said to Calin, "See those "stars?" They are Venus and Jupiter, and they are beautiful..." As I trailed off, unsure how to finish my sentence, she heard my unvoiced thought: "But not as beautiful as in Santa Fe?" It was true. Hard to believe that the sight of a planet could ever be less beautiful, less awe-inspiring, but last night they seemed so much farther away. They weren't less beautiful, but they were certainly different. Colder, less accessible. It was as if they had gone back up into the heavens, after visiting me "on earth."

But my attention shifted as we drove, my awe being drawn to the beauties of this landscape, my home. Mt. Rainier was "out," silhouetted beautifully by the sunset. As I drove along the familiar stretch of I-90 from Ellensburg to Seattle, even in the dark I was aware of the features we were passing. The strange swampy lake with dozens of tree stumps rising out of it, and the summit with deserted (for now) ski lodges. I know this place, more intimately than any I’ve lived before. And it feels good to be home.

BUT! My house is not yet my home, at least in the sense of being settled and unpacked. Erik moved in (and S&L moved upstairs) in July, and the majority of unpacking and organizing is yet to be done. (Erik wisely knew that I would want to “set up house,” and so he kindly left me work to do. I am NOT being sarcastic about that, either!) As I unpack from the summer, I’ll be finding new places for my things and getting reacquainted with all the things I left behind. Books, clothes, furniture, trinkets and artwork (and husband!). New paint will go on the walls on Monday (Labor Day, appropriately enough), and a housewarming party is scheduled for two weeks from now. Plenty of time to make a house a home!

My only concern is that I will become engrossed in my home-making and neglect my music. This has been an issue, certainly, as I returned home from my past two summers away, but this year feels different. I’m getting better at integrating the two parts of my life (home and work), and my desire to have both at the same time is strong. Today I plan to sing a little bit, most likely just a few gentle warm-ups in the shower, to help get my voice back after four days in an air-conditioned car. Tomorrow I’m already planning to have a short practice session (reviewing audition arias), most likely on a break from unpacking and organizing. Sounds like a perfect day…
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