Thursday, August 31, 2006

Variety is the Spice of a Road Trip

I thought the playlist from today’s leg of my road trip was notable:

Metallica, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the Dixie Chicks, the original cast recording of Wicked, Christina Aguilera, part of The Cloud Atlas, and All Things Considered.

I covered heavy metal, indie rock, country, musical theatre, R&B, books, and NPR. Not bad! And not exactly what your average "guy on the street" would imagine an opera singers listens to, huh?!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Packing up

I’m spending this last day in Santa Fe wrapping up some applications, getting packed, and clearing various viruses off of my computer. Grrr…

So, until I have the time and compunction to sit and write in more detail about the end of the summer, here’s another tidbits entry.

• There was a great “thought for the day” at vilaine fille yesterday. I count myself among the lucky few.

• Another thought, imbedded in an article about Santa Fe Opera in The Villager this week: “The summer season is the time when young singers gain experience while experienced singers stretch.” I think I’m somewhere in the middle, gaining experience and stretching. A good place to be.

• A high school classmate of mine, Dorian Missick, is going to be a featured actor on a new series on ABC, Six Degrees. He played my father in our production of Tartuffe, way back in 1994. Go watch it, and keep Dorian in a job!!

• One of the applications I’m working on is for health insurance through the Freelancers’ Union. As far as I know, this is a NYC-only organization, but if you’re a freelancer or contract worker in the city, it’s a great place to get insurance. Very affordable, and they seem to have good coverage and good doctors.

(Finding insurance... One of the many hurdles I will face in the coming months in New York. I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about this aspect of my life, the hurdles old and new, because I think my experiences could be insightful. There are hurdles, believe me!! Just because I don’t write about them doesn’t mean they haven’t been around until now. But with a change in my living situation, maybe I can also change what I write about. Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this blog into a “Debbie Downer” brain-drain page! Maybe just a slight shift in coverage. Stay tuned.)

• A good friend and trusted colleague had this to say upon hearing me sing this summer: “I can hear the growth from last year, but it’s interesting: you’re not a coloratura, but you’re not a soubrette, and you’re not really a lyric, either.” Hearing that from him was almost the last little bit of validation that I needed, or non-validation, maybe, to embrace my Fach-less-ness. I’ll sing what I sing best, regardless of the descriptives usually attached to the role.

I think that’s all for now. I can no longer avoid putting my clothes in a suitcase. But, as always, it’s easier to pack up when leaving than when going: no major decisions to make, ‘cuz everything has to go!!

More from Boulder in a few days.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Last week

Just a quick note to say that my folks are in town, along with my grandmother, for a few days. They didn't get to see the Scenes Program on Sunday, but they saw Cendrillon last night and loved it. I believe my grandmother might have said something along the lines of "I didn't know opera could be so much fun!" Only when we're lucky!

The scene itself went beautifully. I was very nervous, since even in the dress rehearsal I had missed an entrance or two. Lots of counting going on in that scene! But when the time came, everybody hit their marks, and we presented a great scene. At the end of the duet, Sophie and Octavian sing "Den will ich nie vergessen, bis an meinen Tod." "I will never forget this, not until my death." As the words and beautiful melody left my throat, joining with PM's, I told myself that I really wouldn't. I won't forget that moment. It is a moment for returning to in a rocker on the porch, fifty years from now, for saying "Remember when...?"

I left the stage feeling a bit like I'd been interrupted, though: I wanted to keep going, to do the rest of the opera! Someday, though, and hopefully soon.

Things are winding down here, with everyone getting ready for the next phase of their lives. We run the gammut: returning to school, taking time off to "see what's out there," starting or returning to a year-long young artist program, making the move or returning to the Big City, or simply going home to continue the work of building a career. Nothing simple about that, actually.

I'll be spending this last week organizing and polishing rep for auditions (they are already starting to come in for the fall), doing some writing (lots to catch up on here!), finishing up the yoga classes I already paid for, packing and cleaning, and generally relaxing and enjoying this lovely house before I start the insanity of moving to and living in New York.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sophie & Octavian

 "Den will ich nie vergessen, bis an meinen Tod." Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Make it so.

Krissa over at le petit hiboux writes today about getting the perfect job. These lines struck me:

It's difficult for me to believe, but it's what I need, exactly when I need it, just when I was worried I was asking too much. For all my pragmatism (WHAT, it's IN there SOMEWHERE) there's a part of me that still firmly believes that if your goal is worthy, if you have a dream that you deserve and have earned, then what you need will come to you when you need it. The universe will conspire to help you, as Paulo Coehlo would put it.

I have one friend who calls it manifesting and another who calls it “sorcery,” in that it’s not the universe or anything else that brings it to you: it is YOU who brings it, makes it happen, manifests it. Whatever you want to call it, I’m all about it these days. Why not expect the perfect job/apartment/pair of black pants to come along? Make it so. Work hard and expect results. I believe a key to being successful in any area of life or in any career is truly believing that you will be. Easier said than done, however.

I know of so many singers who are afraid to say no to a gig, regardless of whether it is a sideways or even a backwards step. Better to be singing than not singing, right?! Even for free or for insulting pay? Even in unorganized, poorly-planned rehearsal processes? Even surrounded by bitter, unhappy colleagues who will drag you down? No. No way. But as long as singers take those jobs, they will be seen as singers on that level, and will be offered only those jobs.

There comes a (very scary) time when you have to say, “No, this isn’t the right job for me right now.” It might mean going without work for a while, but trust that it will come. That you will manifest the perfect next step, resulting in the perfect job/career/life for you. Why not?

And don’t be afraid to ask for a lot. You might actually get it!

Friday, August 18, 2006

Photo Friday: Friend

 This was an easy one.

This photo is one of a series that someone (SSR?) took at my 30th birthday party. We were totally unaware of the photos being taken, and so there are some really great moments captured, untainted by posing or self-consciousness. I love them.

CT the DT (the raven-haired beauty in the above photo) won't be traveling with me at the end of the summer like she did last year. Thanks to getting thrown from a horse this past May, she spent a few hours (all day) in the ER this week. With an old fracture on her tailbone now starting to give her trouble (I believe that's putting it nicely), she can't see being able to sit in a car for several days and then help carry boxes and bags into a Hell's Kitchen apartment...

I will miss having her along for the trip, but maybe this leg of the journey is one I need to make alone. Friend that she is, she is always with me, even when I need to step out on my own. Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Foreseeable Future

Another great singer has removed herself from public performance. According to a statement on the IMG website, Barbara Bonney “will not be performing for the foreseeable future.” (Read more at Playbill Arts.) I have heard that her health is fine, which is a huge relief, but I cannot imagine a personal grief so great that it could remove her from performing completely. I send her what strength and love and hope I can.

She was, along with Dawn Upshaw, a singer who drew me into this art form. If CD’s could wear out, I would have worn out these lieder/chanson CD’s about five years ago. When I sing these songs now, as when I sing certain Debussy songs that Dawn recorded, I have to very careful not to just regurgitate their interpretations! Ms. Bonney was also a Sophie worth studying.

Imagine how thrilled I was to sing for Ms. Bonney in a masterclass at New England Conservatory in 2002. Somewhere in a box, I have my notes from the class. All I remember without reviewing the notes is that she reprimanded me for touching the piano (“You wouldn’t walk up to Yo-Yo Ma during a duet and place your hand on his cello, would you?”), but praised my German diction. Ha, I found a picture! Ignore the skinny girl with bad posture, and just imagine her joy at singing for one of her idols!

Ms. Bonney was a huge advocate of living in Europe for a while as a young singer, an idea that has recently resurfaced for me. A year or two in Germany, performing twenty performances of roles that will grow to be your “bread and butter” roles, can be an invaluable experience. Who knows if I’d be able to do it now, but I’m looking into it…

I wish Ms. Bonney peace and joy in her time off, and I hope sincerely that it is just that. “Time off,” and not an end.

And on a different note, today we welcome back a diva of a different sort: Trrill is back! Just in time to gear up with all the other opera bloggers for Opening Day of the 206-2007 season. (Is there such a thing? Something like this, perhaps?)

Saturday, August 12, 2006


Today it happened: I felt a good solid vibration on that darned high E! This the note I am waiting for, the note that will finally allow me to consider Zerbinetta truly mine, the note that will make me a Blondchen and not only an Ilia/Susanna. I can taste it!

**Warning!** From here I will digress into a technique post, as I do from time to time. Read on at your own risk. Singers, feel free to ask if something doesn’t make sense. Laymen, please pardon the interruption!

I had my second lesson with Kathy Kaun, another visiting voice teacher here this summer. In our first lesson, she helped me reign in the breath with which I was starting each phrase. I’d taken a common bit of technical advice – “Start each phrase with breath.” – a bit too far and my attack was getting sloppy, especially on phrases starting with vowels. It is just like driving a standard transmission. Too much gas/air at once, the car/phrase lurches to a start. Not enough, and it falters. If you ease into the phrase too slowly, like letting out the clutch overly carefully, the phrase doesn’t take off with enough “pep.” Somewhere in the middle is the balance, and I’m starting to find that.

With just a bit more consciousness, I can engage my support muscles a bit more to help guide the beginning (and middle, and end) of the phrase. I could feel and hear the difference immediately, so much so that with in ten minutes I was the one stopping myself and saying, “Nope, let me start that phrase again.” When I did the recording session on Sunday, I kept this idea in the front of my mind, and only asked to retake two or three phrases in order to get the breath out of the beginning.

In today’s lesson, we worked on “Tornami a vagheggiar,” the Italian aria that I think will replace Oscar on my audition list. It shows more, including Baroque style and ornamentation. As Diane Richardson said, “Anyone hearing you sing this will know that you can sing Oscar.” We worked on getting the middle voice as flexible as the upper voice (keep the vowels bright; don’t sing with as much warmth and heft as I do in that part of my voice in other rep), and then started talking about my highest notes. I go up to an E-flat in one of the ornaments, and she encouraged me to lift my palate a bit more. When I did, I was amazed at how much more “present” the note felt. Even though it is in a fast, passing phrase, there was no doubt that I “had” that note.

When KP, at the piano, started noodling around with Durch Z√§rtlichkeit, the next song in the book, I said, “Ok, can we try this idea on the E’s at the end of DZ?” We skipped all the lyric, middle-voice stuff at the beginning of the aria and went right for the prize, two ascending phrases, one which peaks on a C# and the second on E. It wasn’t there right away, but when Kathy suggested treating the three repeated E’s as one whole note that I gently “bump,” things got better. Then we took out the “bump” entirely, and just sang it as a whole note, and, darn it if it didn’t just float right out! I still have work to do before it’s consistent, I think, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is “destined to be mine!”

The other major technical addition this summer (my lessons with Mark Oswald notwithstanding) came through a coaching with Craig Rutenberg. (The bio I found isn’t quite up-to-date: This fall, Mr. Rutenberg will be returning to his post as Director of Music Administration at the Met, a position he held several years ago.) We worked on “Qui la voce,” and when I got to the big note at the end (and E-flat), it wasn’t quite as present as I wanted it to be. I couldn’t hold it as long as I knew I should! If I’ve done my job right in the aria, the audience is wanting a big finish; it would be not only disappointing but could almost be viscerally painful if I let them down. (Someone recently compared it to being a good lover, an adult but incredibly apt analogy.)

Craig assured me that I could sing the note, that I could hold it as long as I wanted to, as long as I really got my support going underneath. I won’t use his expression here, but let’s just say he helped me tune in to and turn on the absolutely lowest support. I think of it now as singing from my root chakra, the energy center at the base of the spine that roots us to the ground. From that solid foundation comes the enormous column of air and energy that feeds the highest notes. Talk about using the whole body to sing!

We accessed this support by bending forward over a chair back, feeling the top of the chair pressing into my lower abdominals, inhaling a good deep breath by engaging the muscles of the lower back, and letting ‘er rip! I just about blew the top of my head off.

Craig’s other tip goes hand in hand with Kathy’s advice to keep my middle voice lighter (in certain rep). When singing, put your thumb behind your top front teeth and “sing to it like a microphone.” All this does (all, ha!) is keep your voice focused in the mask, the primary resonance center. It’s also one of Mark’s principals, that the mask should always be involved, so this is another easy technique tip to incorporate into my bag of tricks. Mark is very open with his students about gaining knowledge from other teachers; I imagine I will spend some time with him this fall going over all of this ideas and making sure we’re on the same page. Often, it’s merely a matter of discovering the words and phrases in one teacher’s language that explain the same concept from another teacher.

Ok, all this tech talk has exhausted me! Back to our regularly scheduled program…

Friday, August 11, 2006


Here are a few little things that have been tossing around in my head for a while, mostly of a frivilous nature. There are several “serious,” on-topic posts brewing, too, including this summer’s technical lessons, a comparison between a career in opera and in the military, a brief primer on our union, and a very heady “Principle for a Successful Career,” by request from a reader. As always, stay tuned.

But for now:

I’ve been getting at least a dozen hits a week from people around the world searching for quick-change tips! That, together with folks looking for pin-curl how-to’s, makes me feel like this is turning into quite the tech theater blog! Very funny. Welcome, if any of you have stuck around!

A few new links on the Blogroll:
Fugue State: learning to play the cello (Mom, this one’s for you!)
High & Low Notes: Rich Russell
This Fish, Le petit hiboux: I’m starting to enjoy reading blogs by writers
random thoughts II: a beautiful photo blog

There are a few more that I’m keeping an eye on, waiting to see how content develops.

And, just for fun, via KPW at the Wolf Trap Opera blog, I learned that this blog is worth $16,936.20! Awesome. Anybody want to buy it? I could pay off about half of my students loans with that. Or commission some music and take it on tour. Or live in NYC this fall without having to temp. Or just go shopping…

My blog is worth $16,936.20.
How much is your blog worth?

Happily Ever After

Our Cinderella, Joyce DiDonato, met her Prince Charming three years ago, and, just as in the fairy tale, it was love at first sight. She told me earlier in the summer that it felt like they were “married” from the second day. All that was missing was the official ceremony.

Last week, when a beautiful diamond ring appeared on her hand, we knew it wouldn’t be long before they made it official. Little did we know that they would hit the road on the weekend and get married in Vegas!! They joked about it all summer, and I think the temptation finally became too great to resist.

We had a small “reception” for them after the performance on Wednesday, generously hosted by Joyce’s other Prince Charming, Jennifer. All of the Cendrillon “family” was there, and there was cake and there were toasts and the whole nine-yards. I was so honored to be there!

Read more – and see the wedding photo! – in this article from the local paper. (Ok, can’t quite find the article, but I’ll keep looking.)

Congratulations, Joyce and Leo!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Czech? Check.

My first duty at the Met next season is probably my most difficult: covering Jano the shepherd boy in Jenufa. Written by Leos Janacek, this will be my first experience with the Czech language. I have taken a look at the score, and, wow, lots of words on lots of little notes… Rather daunting!

Since Nico Castel doesn’t (yet?) have a libretto book for Janacek’s operas, I knew I’d have to suss out another source for my initial help with the language. Fortunately, the woman who will be coaching this opera at the Met was on the SFO staff last summer and stopped by this week for a visit. How convenient! I finally saw her yesterday, and she was ready for me. She had heard through the grapevine that I would be covering, and seemed happy for my success and happy to help out. I asked her what resources I should look for to help me prepare, and she offered her services: for a very reasonable fee, she will speak the text onto a tape, give me a word-for-word translation, and write out the IPA (phonetic alphabet). On another tape, she will “plunk out” my melody lines, while singing or speaking the text, I believe, and then play it again with the orchestral reduction underneath. For the entire role! Fantastic. Granted, this is a smallish role, but Jano is a chatterbox! Lots and lots of words in a language I don’t know… I have a feeling that this will be a worthwhile investment.

I’ll write some more in the fall about covering and what it means, how I’ll prepare for it, etc.. But I thought this language study deserved an early mention. Lots of “armchair work” to be done before I sit down at the keyboard!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

All is well

Things went very well at the house audition yesterday, I am happy to report. The folks I talked with afterwards agreed, so I am content to forget about this audition and move on to the next thing! Sure, it wasn’t the big event that last year’s was, but I didn’t tank. Thanks heavens for small mercies, eh?

The “next thing” as of now (other than working on Rosenkavalier) is the recording project I have alluded to a few times. This weekend I will record Schubert’s “Auf dem Strom,” a gorgeous song for high voice (originally tenor), French horn, and piano, as part of a cd program put together by Bill Barnewitz, the principal horn player of the SFO Orchestra. Bill was diagnosed with Parkinson’s about five years ago, and he came up with the idea of doing a world-class recording to be used as a benefit and fundraiser for Parkinson’s research. I jumped at the chance to be involved with such a project.

Bill has secured donations of time, money, and services from several musicians here this summer. Singers, both Apprentice and Principal, orchestra members, and pianists will be donating our musicianship; the Opera is donating facilities and services; everything from the liner notes to recording and reproduction costs for the final CD will be donated.

It’s funny how easily one will agree to work for free when the project is worthwhile. And, really, I will be rewarded for this work, as we all will, in knowing that we have helped to make a difference. That’s sounds a bit “Pollyannaish,” but it’s true, isn’t it? Read some of Bill’s words from a speech he gave to the Wisconsin Regional Parkinson's Association, and you will see why we are so eager to join him:

… My sister-in-law and I spoke earlier today about this event tonight. She told me to “shake a leg.” I choose to laugh at things like that. …
… The irony is that I require some very fine motor skills to play the horn. Playing the horn is a bit like spitting a 90 mile-per-hour fast ball through a life saver; tremors do nothing to make this any easier. …
… I am not in any way a willing Parkinson’s patient, yet in some strange way, I am more aware of life’s value. I am still Bill Barnewitz, father, husband, friend, musician, and dog lover, among many other things that now include Parkinson’s patient. I love every concert I play, no matter what it is or how it goes. I practice my horn more than ever. I am driven to do this with a passion only surpassed by my love for my family. I see and feel more deeply the love I receive from family and friends. I get strength and support from them in ways I always have but now I attempt to not take that love for granted. … this disease will not define me.
… So when the time comes to put my horn in the case for the last time, I am OK with that. The Chinese have it right: In that language, the symbols are the same for the words “crisis” and “opportunity.”

How's that for inspiring?

Another reward is, quite simply, the opportunity to sing this music. Ah, how refreshing Schubert feels after a summer of opera! The intimacy, the phrasing, the drama, the descriptive writing for all three voices… It is sublime. I’ve tried to find the right analogy to describe how wondrous it feels to sing this. Maybe food: imagine eating only Italian food for two months. Or maybe French is a better cuisine to imagine – rich, heavy, complex. Delicious but almost overwhelming in large doses. Then, one day, you are served something different. It could be anything, really: fresh Mediterranean fare, savory Japanese sushi, or classic American “home cooking.” What matters is that it is so different, it feels so new, so fresh. You still love those French meals, but your palate has been cleansed. It’s fantastic.

And now I’m hungry…

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tomorrow and tomorrow…

So, tomorrow’s the big audition. (“It’s the day of the show, y’all.”) And tonight was the fourth Cendrillon performance. And I’m singing on a recording this weekend (more on that soon). And yet somehow in the past three days, I developed tonsillitis!

It’s the strangest infection I’ve ever gotten, as I have no other symptoms besides big, Technicolor tonsils. No fever, no body aches, and, most thankfully, no affect on my voice. I saw a doctor yesterday and we mounted a major attack: antibiotics, acupuncture, some yin qiao powder to be drunk in a tea, zinc lozenges, Airborne, lots of water, etc..

I sang a good show tonight, and I feel confident that I will sing well tomorrow. It’s been very strange, this sickness. Just enough to keep me on my toes, I guess, keep me focused. Tomorrow will be fun: I have new shoes! I bought some lovely plum-colored slingbacks with a small heel to wear with my perfect brown dress. It’s a new audition outfit, but it has all the essential elements – simplicity, perfect fit, easy to sing in – and none of the detractors – busy prints, distracting jewelry, sloppy tailoring. It’s not black, which is nice, and the purple shoes will add just a bit of whimsy!

Also tomorrow, dinner and dishing with Charles from Ionarts. I think I’m meeting Mrs. Ionarts, too; hope she isn’t bored by shop talk!

Off to bed! A full report tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Carol Vaness is the Marschallin

Great article in this past weekend’s Seattle Times about Carol Vaness, who sings her first Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier at Seattle Opera, starting this Saturday.

My favorite quote: "In this role, I can't maintain my slightly childish behavior," she says. "The Marschallin may be the kind of woman who appreciates a young lover, but she is all grown up. I've had to grow up, too."

Ah, the things we can learn from the characters we play…
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...