Friday, September 29, 2006

Technique in Action

Like I said, I’m going to leave reviews of the three operas I saw this week to other folks. I have opinions, of course, but I realized that these singers are, essentially, my peers. Sure, most of them are a few steps above me on the ladder, but regardless, it’s probably best not to critique my colleagues.

That said… (You knew I wasn’t going to leave it at that, didn’t you?!) The one thing I’ll say is this. Every one of the voices that moved me this week had one thing in common: They were seamless. From top to bottom and all the notes in between, there wasn’t a hitch in the voice. I think this is a real mark of a top professional, finding the ways to make the weaker parts of your voice (and we all have them) blend in with your “money notes.” I can't think of a role that stays on the money notes all the time, not even the trick-pony role of the Queen of the Night. We have to sing all the notess!

I was struck by how rangy almost all of the lead roles were this week. Mezzos and baritones had high notes, sopranos and tenors had low ones. And in my opinion, a strong, well-produced low note coming out of a soprano, be she a spinto or a light coloratura, is pretty darned impressive. (Same goes for the other voices, natch.) We assume, rightly or wrongly, that the soprano will have killer high notes; it should be a given. But if you really want to wow them? Get your low notes and all those pesky passaggio notes (the ones between registers) solid and smooth and lined up.

One other thought. At one of the operas, I was sitting close enough to see the singers’ technique in more detail, rather than just hearing it. Again, the thing in common: they really opened up and let ‘er rip. Their throats were so open and free of tension and the voices just soared out. I told my voice students (and the folks in the choir at my parents’ church) to imagine that their throats were as wide as their shoulders as a way to get them to free up any neck tension. Watching these singers, I felt as if their necks really were as wide as their shoulders! And the sound was wonderful…

Next week I’ll see Boheme at City Opera and hopefully I’ll make it to Idomeneo at the Met in the next couple of weeks. I’m also dying to see The Fantasticks and A Chorus Line and Wicked and …

But for now: sleep.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

This fall is different.

For the first time in about four years, I’m not up to my larynx in summer program applications and all the letters of recommendation, resumes, bios, headshots, etc., that go along with them. Two reasons for this, the most obvious of which is that I have management this year, so I’m not the one doing the hustling. Every so often, I’ll get an email from the office, telling me that I have an audition with Company X, that I’m maybe under consideration for a role, and when and where to show up. I confirm, and then call JD to see if she can play for me. Easy as pie, and I don’t miss the stress of audition hunting one bit. Most of these auditions are for mainstage roles for the 07-08 season or a few years farther out.

Another reason I’m not hustling for a summer program is that I have a hold on my schedule for next summer!** You know the drill: I can’t say more than that until an official offer has been made. But needless to say, I’m excited. It’s a great opportunity and would definitely be a fun gig. Details as they are made available!

(My friend AC told me last week that she hates it when I do this! Sorry! Consider it part of the mystery and suspense of a developing career. I’m certainly on pins and needles on a regular basis, and maybe this is my way of sharing that element of things with you. If nothing else, it’ll keep you coming back to find out the details! “Tune in next time, when our heroine gets a gig with an A-level house!”)

** I think I’ve explained before, but a “hold” pretty much means that a company has expressed interest in booking me but isn’t ready to make a firm offer. They have told my manager the potential dates, and they are essentially “penciled in” on my schedule. So the company has rights of first refusal on my time for that period. If another offer for the same time period comes along, my manager will go back to company A and ask them to “fish or cut bait,” so to speak. So, in this case, a hold is a good thing!


I’ve updated the full Blogroll, so go check it out. Here are the newest additions:

Juggling with one hand - Weston Hurt, baritone
OperaDaddy – often hysterical writings on singing, parenting, living
singin’rin - Rinat Shaham, mezzo
twang twang - Heather Radice, harpist. Heather wrote a beautiful post a few weeks ago about “amateurs.” A quote: Get on with it. Live. Do your best. Make others happy. Is that amateurish? Supremely professional? What's the difference? Now go read the rest.
Vissi d’amore - Finding her voice

Happy reading!


Tonight’s strangest moment was not seeing my friend onstage at the Met, or running into several colleagues of varying levels, or walking around backstage knowing that in a few months I’ll know that maze inside and out.

The strangest moment came at the very end of the night. I said goodnight to RL (who sang wonderfully, totally exposed and very poised), who was off to the opening night party, and left via the Artists’ Entrance in the basement. I had a smile on my face, as I often do these days, and I’ve found that people often smile back; this was no exception. I passed a few folks and we exchanged smiles, but then I walked past three people and one of them said, “Are you Ms. So-and-so?”

“No,” I replied, “I’m not. Sorry.” Smiled, and continued walking.

Then he said, “No, wait: you’re Ms. Bird.”

And I stopped in my tracks!

“Yes, you’re Ms. Bird. I saw your picture in here. You’ll be making your debut in Trittico, right?”

Holy cow!! Recognized from a headshot in a season program on a night when I’m not even singing and when my new haircut is tousled and unkempt, far from the sleek look in my headshot. That’s a good memory, and obviously someone for whom opera is a passion. Maybe he reads The Concert! (If so, hello, and thanks for a great, if slightly unexpected, encounter!)

One of his friends had a camera and asked to take my picture. “We’ll have it with us opening night of Trittico, so you can sign it.” Wow. I can’t imagine how dazed I must look in that photo!!

More on Gioconda tomorrow (how often am I going to say that?), but now to bed. Walking home, recounting the story to CT the DT on the phone, I felt a bit like I had a post-performance high to come down from. Maybe the day will come when being recognized becomes tedious and annoying, but for now, I love it!

OT to boston_soprano: I’ll get right on that post about pitch charts! Ms. Shelton first introduced them to me on a 12-tone piece, so I know they work!

Good night, all.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


So, instead of staying home tonight and writing about the weekend and last night's opera extravaganza, I'm going to the Met again! This time I'll be seeing my friend and colleague, RL, in his debut!

Then Thursday I'll see Semele at NYCO. Three operas in one week! I'll leave the reviews to others (mostly); I'll just talk about what people were wearing!

(PS Speaking of clothes, I got a new haircut today that makes me feel like I need a new wardrobe. Ever get one of those? H&M here I come!)

Monday, September 25, 2006


More thoughts tomorrow, but for now I'll just say that it was awesome. Thousands of people in Times Square, and all of them watching an opera, even if it was only as they walked through. And it was quiet! Well, quiet for Times Square.

Totally cool.

You know what else was cool? Picking up the program and seeing my name - spelled correctly! - on the roster. Yeah, that's cool.

Friday, September 22, 2006

I can taste it…

In my lesson today, MO and I were working through the exercises. (He has a series of seven that I’m working on memorizing, so I can jot shorthand notes: #3, d-flat “ee” round. Translation: In exercise #3 (123453531), key of d-flat, round the “ee” vowel a bit at the end.)

When we got to #7 (1358531, sustaining the top note), my high notes were really cranking. Whatever the exercise, I tend to stop whenever I feel or hear something that I don’t understand or that doesn’t feel as solid as I know it can, and ask him how we fix it. Today, I stopped after running the exercise in a key where I felt the top note was a bit straight-toned. Not completely, it had some spin, but not as much as I knew it could. So I stopped, asked if he heard it to, what caused it, blah blah. Then I said, “So was that the E?” (That pesky E…)

And he replied, “Nope. That was an F.”


The key before I stopped, which would have been the E, was vibrant, spinning, loose. Zerbinetta, here I come!

I haven’t sung since last Friday’s audition, just taking some time to get settled, unpack, decompress from a pretty stressful month. MO says I should take a week off more often, and if this is the result, I agree!

New York Moments

Walking into the Social Security office, getting your form, and borrowing a pen from the security guard. When that one doesn’t work, asking for a different pen. While the security guard is taking care of other folks, hearing a voice from the waiting room chairs: “Anne-Carolyn, do you need a pen?” Turning around to see none other than Lucy Shelton sitting in there and holding up a pen.

We had an hour or to sit together and catch up (she’d been waiting about an hour, I waited about an hour after she left). She is on faculty at Tanglewood, and in 2004 she coached me on two really hard contemporary pieces, sections of Bernard Rands Canti Lunatici and Luigi Dallapiccola’s Four Songs of Antonio Machado, my first foray into 12-tone music. Her gifts extend beyond her musical abilities into the realm of teaching and guiding young singers, and I am still using tools she taught me. I was happy to tell her about my life AT (After Tanglewood), and happy to learn that she lives here and I’ll be sure to bump into her again from time-to-time. (This reminds me of a few other people who live here, teachers and mentors, that I would like to “bump into.” Maybe I’ll make some calls…) Lucy and I will likely see each other again at this concert.

After we’d talked for a while, she reached into her bag and pulled out one of her famous “pitch charts” (they should be famous, if they’re not), and started lightly whistling under her breath as she reviewed some outrageously difficult piece of music for an upcoming concert. (I’ve been planning a post on these charts for almost two years now; maybe I’ll finally get around to it. It is, hands down, the best system I have seen for learning atonal music.) We’re always working, even when waiting at Social Security! (Ok, I wasn’t working. I was reading Dune. But I’m on a break!)

Other moments of note this week:

Seeing KB, a wig & makeup artist from Santa Fe on the corner of the Lincoln Center Plaza. (She is apartment hunting, poor thing.) We exchanged the usual surprised and excited hug, at which one of her friends commented, “How many people do you know in New York City?!” That is the way of this city, isn’t it? I’ve run into four friends or acquaintances on the street in the past week. A true “NY moment,” that unexpected encounter. (I later ran into her boss, who I met in Santa Fe, when we were both out to dinner. This is just one big small town.)

Hearing another singer in my building, or maybe in the building adjacent (we share a common “alley” out our back windows). I don’t think she’s an opera singer, sounds more like a legit music theater voice.

Hearing another woman through the back windows two nights ago scream: “OH MY GOD!!! I JUST SAW A MOUSE!!” Sigh. Yes, we do not live alone in these tiny, old apartments. I chuckled to myself, thinking about what a fact of life in NYC that is, and how even if we don’t see evidence of them, they are still probably around. And then I thought, “You can be logical about it all you want, but you KNOW you’d be screaming and jumping on a chair, too, if you saw one!”

This morning, sitting at my computer, hearing the bustling of street noise. All of a sudden a soft steady pitch joined in with the bustle, and I thought, “Wow, that car needs some attention.” When another pitch joined in with the first, a higher one, I again shrugged it off, assuming it was some cleaner or machine outside. Only when it persisted and started to get louder did I realize what it was: my new teapot!

I’m having my first cup of coffee at home this morning, a real step towards living here and not visiting. A teapot, a French press, freshly ground beans, and a new carton of half-and-half. My morning coffee, in New York.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Don't forget!

... to watch Six Degrees on ABC tonight. Keep Dorian on the air and in a job!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

On the job

I'm writing from my two-day-a-week "job" - babysitting my 15-month old nephew while my sister-in-law does an internship (finishing up a degree in urban development and planning). James is napping, so I thought I'd write a quick post.

The WNO audition went very well. It wasn't on the stage afterall (and, no, Domingo wasn't there!), but in a rehearsal room. The stage was covered with set pieces for Bluebeard's Castle and Gianni Schicchi, which opened this weekend. I sang Nanetta and then they asked for Tornami, and I was happy with both. Tornami has given me dramatic fits for a while now, as is often the case (for me, and I'm sure I'm not alone) with da capo arias [ABA' form]. But I did some work on it this summer, and intensified the B section (also slowed it down), which makes going back to A a lot easier. Some new gestures came out, as they often do for me in performance, which can help make an aria fresher and more "in the moment." Not sure where they come from, but I'm always happy when they show up.

With that audition out of the way, I'm finally getting settled into my apartment. I'm picking up that bookcase I wanted this evening (found one on Craigslist - thanks for the tip!), and getting a chair and desk this weekend. I've been cleaning like a madwoman. It's not at all a reflection of AP's housekeeping skills; he is very good, but whenever I move into a new place I pretty much scour it from top to bottom. Then, whatever messes I make I know are mine! Tonight I'll get all my clothes put away and most of my books unpacked, which will clear up some physical space which will in turn clear up some mental space...

Music to learn, auditions to prep. You know the drill!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


I made it! I sent out an email to my family last night with a quick over-view of my first few days here in NYC. Rather than rewrite it all, I present a slightly edited version for The Concert:

I made it to NY on Sunday afternoon, as expected, after only getting "detoured" once through New Jersey. I drove by the apartment, and then took another huge detour across the island, trying to turn around and get back! Broadway had a huge outdoor show that afternoon, so all kinds of roads were closed. But when I got back to my neighborhood, I found a parking place right in front of the building! Perfect.

My roommate, AP, and his friend, D, helped me unload a bit, and then the Brooklyn Birds showed up to help, too. It was so nice to see their faces! It is such a blessing to have family here. AP & D went off to a music festival in the park, and the Birds went home, leaving me to gather my wits about me in this new place.

My room is small, but I think it will be very livable. Once I get some storage - shelves or a dresser - and a small desk, it will be comfortable. The kitchen and bathroom are both nice, with room for all my things. AP didn't have many dishes, so he was happy to have me put out the china! Something nice for everyday.

I had lunch with Mark (my brother) on Monday, then dinner with my friend MP. After dinner we went out to Brooklyn to watch the football game with Mark, which I think might become a regular Monday night event! (I watched the Giants-Colts game on Sunday night as I unpacked. AP commented that he had never had a roommate who watched sports, and he assumed that with a woman, he was safe! Ha!)

On the way home from Brooklyn, MP and I could see the blue lights from the WTC memorial shining up so high into the clear night. (Seriously, how far into the atmosphere did they shine?) It was pretty amazing to arrive in the city the day before this anniversary. It is still here, still alive and kicking! And it is now my home.

Yesterday I walked around the neighborhood some more - so many restaurants!! I'm going to try not to repeat any for a while, in order to avoid getting into a rut too soon. Then I practiced, in preparation for Friday's audition in DC. Singing in here is very much like singing in a grad school practice room! I introduced myself to my nearest neighbors in the building, warning them about the "noise," and they seemed more than fine with it.

And so begins my life in the city! I have another dinner planned for tomorrow night, a voice lesson tomorrow afternoon, a meeting with my pianist on Thursday to sing through my arias, Friday I'll be in DC, and Saturday night I'm having drinks with some Santa Fe friends. It's a whirl! Next week I'll start babysitting my nephew on Tuesdays and Thursdays (my “job” for the fall, a perfect arrangement for all involved), and I think having a bit of framework to my routine will be good.

**end of email**

As I work on this update, AP, a conductor, is working in his room/office with JF, a composer & violinist from our Tanglewood days. AP is about to head over to London for some concerts (a new Steve Reich piece!), and JF is helping him prepare by working through the string parts, playing through passages as AP gives the instructions/style comments/phrasing ideas that he will present to the orchestra. By doing this, AP gets to see in advance how well he can get his ideas across to the players. I think it’s fantastic, and a perfect picture of my life here, surrounded by musicians who are working and creating on a very high level. Inspiring.

This afternoon I have a short lesson with Mark Oswald, just touching base and making sure “la voce” is lined up before my audition for Washington National on Friday. (eek!) Lessons at Lincoln Center, coachings in Queens, football in Brooklyn and at the bar across the street, a manicure at the shop a block over, shopping at the green grocer around the corner… these are the things that, slowly but surely, will make this city my home.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Il Trittico - coming soon to a theater near you

I was thrilled to hear yesterday that the Met will be presenting live video simulcasts of six of the Saturday matinee performances this season. I think this is just the kind of thing opera needs to infuse it with some new blood! Use the technology, by all means, I say.

I first heard this general news from my sister-in-law, so I went to find more information. Did I go to the source, the Met, or to the secondary source, the New York Times? No, I went to! And it was there that I learned that Il Trittico, the opera (or evening of operas, rather) in which I have two small roles (don't blink!), will be one of the operas simulcast!

Oh. My. God.

To think that my family and friends around the country could go to a movie theater and watch me onstage at the Met... well, now, those are two things I never thought would happen! Opera live in movie theaters, and me at the Met.

What a world.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Next leg – Boulder to NYC via Athens, GA

Another hurdle cleared in preparation for life in New York City!

I sold my car, or, rather, made an agreement to sell my car upon my arrival in the city. I got my full asking price, which was a bit unexpected; maybe I could have asked for more! With the money from the sale, I think I’ll be able to live this fall without having to get temporary office work. That means I’ll be able to take my time adapting to the city, focus on prepping for (and giving) auditions, and start work on my roles for next year. I am very grateful for this luxury!

Tomorrow morning I hit the road, heading east. My goal for tomorrow is to make it at least as far as Kansas City, farther if possible. KC is ten hours from here, which is probably all I can handle driving alone, diverse listening material or otherwise! My car is extremely well-packed, and with room to spare. Good thing, ‘cuz I don’t have a lot of room for extra stuff in my apartment!

Have a talked about my apartment yet? I have a room with a colleague (and friend of a fellow blogger!) in a great apartment in Hell’s Kitchen. My room is teeny tiny: 8x8! Fortunately, there is a built-in loft bed, and the ceiling is 9-ft, so the space under the loft is almost 6ft. Tall enough for me to stand up straight underneath when getting dressed! That counts for something. I have the perfect storage solution in mind for books and clothes, which I will acquire on a trip to IKEA in Elizabeth, NJ, next Monday. Hopefully I’ll find something that resembles a small desk and a comfy chair as well.

I think that’s it for moving news right now. Now it’s bedtime.

Oh, but before I go, here’s an indicator that I have moved up to a new level, career-wise. When I sing for companies now, sometimes the auditions will be on their stages. Just me, a piano (and pianist), a few adjudicators, and a lot of empty seats. Gulp!
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