Monday, January 29, 2007

Oh, my heart!

My phone just rang, and the caller id displayed what is now a familiar sight: Met Switchboard. My thought process went like this: “They must be calling with tomorrow’s schedule. No, there’s no rehearsal tomorrow. Oh my god! Tonight’s opening night! Is Jano sick??!!!! Am I going to be making my Met debut tonight??!!”

Of course, it was just the Artistic Liaison calling to find out where I’ll be covering from tonight. But, oh man, is my heart pounding!!

Since tonight is a live radio broadcast, I have to cover from inside the theater. Other nights I’ll be able to cover from home, since I live so close (I have to be within 20 minutes of the theater, on Manhattan), but tonight I’ll take Elixir and my libretto book and do some studying in the cafeteria.

If you want to listen to the broadcast, go here and scroll to the bottom. (You’ll need Real Player; there’s a link to download it if you don’t have it.) If you’re not familiar with the opera, read the synopsis first, then just sit back and enjoy the gorgeous music and exemplary singing.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

A little aesthetic blog maintenance

I spent some time this morning changing my blog template over to the new Blogger Beta setup. I mostly did it to tidy up my Archives list; having 32 months worth of archived posts was making for a very long and unsightly list! I love this new drop-down menu (see the bottom of the sidebar to the left); much cleaner.

But, of course, I couldn’t stop there! I put in my Blogroll and went back through all my archives and pulled out my favorite posts. Talk about a walk down memory lane… I also added a little color, but couldn’t bring myself to change the major design of the template. It’s been like this for three years, and, well, I like it. So, you’re stuck with it for now!

I’m trying to go back through old posts and get labels put on all of them, specifically the subjects I think people might actually care to read about, like Met and technique. Any other labels you’d care to have archived?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Beware Explosive Consonants

Today was my second day of cover staging rehearsal, in which the alternate cast gets a chance to move through the blocking we’ve been watching our counterparts do for a couple of weeks (or days, as the case may be). It’s a very casual rehearsal, and lots of fun, most likely because we don’t really feel any of the pressure that comes with being “the star.” Or even with being the shepherd boy!

(This isn’t to say that the principals don’t have fun in their rehearsals! They certainly do, but the atmosphere is noticeably different in cover staging. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they’re rehearsing on the Met stage these days, and we’re in a small studio on the fifth floor…)

Today we worked on Act III, which is when my character rushes in, breaking up a somber wedding, to announce that the ice-cutters have found a dead baby in the river. (Yikes! That’s opera for you! For a full synopsis of Jenufa, go here.) Jano being a young boy (we’re aiming for ten or so, although I’d be a very tall 10-year-old!), he is scared and excited, and so all of his words come out in a big rush. It’s quite a tounge-twisting phrase, not to mention a rhythmically difficult moment. I’ve been running this moment over and over in my head for months now, making sure I have every syllable down pat so that I can commit myself to the drama of the moment.

It is often the case that when you run a scene for the first time, you learn something important about how to “play”it - where to look, when to move or when to stay still, how to focus your energy, etc. Today, I learned where to point my mouth when saying the word pupinu.

Pronounced just the way it looks, it is the Czech word for “bonnet.” Jano is describing the red bonnet that the baby was wearing, which tips Jenufa off to the fact that it is, likely, her child, as she knit a red bonnet for him.

Put your hand in front of your mouth and say pupinu. You should feel two puffs of air hit your hand. Now, imagine that you are singing this word instead of saying it, which requires exponentially more air than speaking. Add to that the excitement and fear of a ten-year-old boy, and, well, you get a LOT of air coming out on those p’s! So much air, in fact, that when I sing the word right to Jenufa, her eyes will bug out and her hair will be blown back from her face as if she had walked in front of a fan on high speed!

Fortunately, there was no spit to accompany the air (a hazard which I’m sure will appear in a future post somewhere along the line…), but it was still enough to make both KH, the Jenufa cover, and me burst into giggles, all the while trying to “stay in the scene.” The look on her face is one I will not soon forget!

I only got to run the scene one more time, but before I did, I spent a few moments planning out when I would be singing to Jenufa and when I would be facing out. In those facing-out moments, I’m both ACB connecting with the conductor and Jano seeing the baby in my mind’s eye.

And let me assure you that during one of those facing-out moments, I was seeing that red bonnet, the Ĩervenou pupinu, and not even remotely looking at Jenufa! Let’s hope I can remember that little detail should I ever have to go on in performance. I think I would die a little if my plosive consonants messed up Ms. Mattila’s wig…

Monday, January 22, 2007

Coming and going

Gigs – and potential gigs – come and go, I’m learning.

I learned a tough lesson this fall, when the company that had a hold on my schedule for summer 2007 “decided to go with another artist.” Lesson learned? A hold does not a contract assure…

I was disappointed, of course, but my manager was assured that the company continues to “consider [me] for future seasons.” I did a few auditions for summer companies, but I think that by winter, most companies are fairly well cast for the upcoming summer. What I wish I had done was gone ahead and applied for the handful of programs that I would still be interested in doing at this stage of the game, programs like Ravinia or Wolf Trap. But I took a nibble of interest for granted, something that I won’t do again! I might not even mention these holds here anymore, and will certainly do my best to keep them to myself among friends and family. Until the offer is official, mum’s got to be the word…

There are a couple of opportunities in the works for the summer, not the least of which is that potential immersion program in Italy. I got information today about an audition for a very (VERY) exciting contemporary music project, and while I know I’m trying to get my opera career moving along, singing is singing! And this project is really top-notch and unlike anything I’ve done to this point. It’s an invite-only audition, so I’ve already passed one of the usual hurdles, and even just doing the audition would be a good networking opportunity.

But, again, it’s just an audition… and an audition equals a contract even less that a hold on my schedule does!

It’s also been hard over the past two months or so to watch gigs be offered to me and have to pass them up. I know, tough place to be in, but I have to constantly tell myself that these opportunities won’t stop popping up. That the companies and foundations and people will keep calling, and that somehow when they are told I’m unavailable it will make them want me more, not less. In some cases that will (hopefully) be true, and I’m sure that in others it won’t. Let’s just hope that there are more cases of the former…

Newbie Moment #11

At the Met today: As I walked through the gate at the guard’s desk, I stopped and said, “Can you tell me where the Auditorium is?”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I figured it out. You see, on the rehearsal schedule for today, all the covers (myself included) were listed in a separate block from the rest of the Jenufa cast. They were all called to a rehearsal on the Main Stage, with the full complement of music staff (conductors, pianists, coaches) which has been at our rehearsals in the rehearsal studio. We covers were called to a rehearsal in the Auditorium, and there was no music staff listed. I wondered, “What are we going to do at this rehearsal, and where the heck is the Auditorium? Is that a smaller hall somewhere?”

Oh, my. Of course, what I figured out in that split second when the guard gave me the “you’re new here, aren’t you?” look, was that we covers were called to sit in the house and watch the rehearsal taking place on stage.

As my friend SH said one fall day in Seattle, upon observing my very rudimentarily carved pumpkin, “It’s a good thing you can sing.”

So, yes, today I watched the rehearsal from Orchestra Row J (those chandeliers overhead are so shiny!), as I will tomorrow and most likely all mornings this week. When we get to April and tech week of Trittico, I’ll go into more detail about how tech week is structured here, although it’s pretty much the same as elsewhere, except…

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Living with it

For an audition last week, I added an aria to my usual audition program. I was still getting over my cold, and my top notes weren’t as free as I wanted them, so I thought I would rework the audition pattern a little bit. I took a look at the audition notice email from my manager, which listed the operas that the company was looking to cast; what else could I offer that they might be interested in?

The only thing that I thought I might be considered for, besides the usual high-note roles, was Zerlina, the peasant girl in Don Giovanni. Her first aria, “Batti, batti, o bel Masetto,” was the first opera aria I ever worked on, back at the University of Georgia circa 1997. It’s Mozart, so it’s not easy, but it’s a good place to start at age 21. These days, the role is often cast with a mezzo, as there are two other (higher) soprano roles in the opera, so I haven’t offered it in a while. But I sang through it, figured it would do for the day, and tossed the book in my bag.

I warned JD of the new addition, and since it’s an aria we’ve played through once or twice over the years, she was her usual cool-as-a-cucumber self. We decided to start the audition with Nannetta instead of Baby Doe (see above re: that morning’s high notes), and it went well enough. The Man Behind the Table must have been picking up on my mind waves, because instead of the usual “What else did you bring?” he said, “Do have any Zerlina with you?” Score!

The aria starts with a short recitative (the talky bits of an opera that help propel the action), and as I was in the middle of it, I thought, “Wow, this Italian is really IN; I know these words!” Since I’ve been singing this aria in some capacity for ten years, living with it, there’s nothing new about it. I know it so well that it is automatic, as if I were thinking the words for the first time at the moment they were coming out of my mouth. It felt really, really good.

As I’m spending time with other Italian roles these days, I’m realizing that I don’t have ten years to let these roles settle! I have to find the way to get the words into my body, into my mouth and my voice, so that they are automatic. So that they come from my soul as I am “inhabited” by Lucia, Adina, Rosina. (ACD and I saw the same interview with Peter O’Toole on Charlie Rose; “inhabited” is a word I stole from him and his description of the preparation process. Go read ACD’s post for more from this inspiring interview.) This is especially tricky with the recit sections, where I can’t rely on the lyricism of the music to carry the words. The words need to come first, and they need to come without thinking.

Of course, this all applies with French, German, et al, as well, but Italian is the language I have studied the least. This is starting to feel like a problem as I’m looking at more and more bel canto rep. Since my summer gig fell through (hmm, I still haven’t talked about that, have I?), maybe I’ll go to Italy for an intensive language course. And shopping…

Comments on comments

There were a few things that came up in the comments of my last post that I’d been wanting to address anyway, so here’s rather disjointed post covering a variety of topics!

Re: practice rooms at the Met. Yes, I knew they were an option, and I thought about it, But in the time it would have taken to get to the house, find the rooms in the labyrinth, figure out which ones I was allowed to use, etc., I don’t think I would have saved any more time. Someday soon, when I don’t have any impending duties, I’ll figure out the lay of that land so that next time I can just go straight there.

Re: warm-ups/vocalizes/ “a day in my voice.” This is a huge topic, and a hard one to pin down. Some days I can sing for hours with no warm-up at all, some days I rely heavily on the numbered exercises that I’ve been given by my teacher, and some days I just play around with vocalizes from past teachers or books or colleagues. I’ve only recently – with Mark, my current teacher – had any kind of warm-up system or series of exercises. Before now, I had never had a routine, per se, that I relied upon to prepare me for singing. I see myself needing more stamina in the upcoming years, as I (hopefully) start rehearsing and performing bigger roles, so I’m in the process of developing a routine, paces through which I can take myself in order to know that I’ll be ready for a big night. More on this as it develops…

Re: visualization. I think I first read about visualization as a performance tool in the context of sports. An athlete (a high jumper, maybe?) was injured, but wanted to compete in an upcoming competition. Every day, she would sit with her broken leg (or whatever) and see herself in her mind’s eye performing her jumps perfectly. She would feel the air as she moved through it, smell the chalk (rosin?), feel the pole in her hands, hear the sounds of her shoes on the track and the spring of the pole as she lets go, feel herself landing on the mat having cleared the bar. When the time came to actually move her body through the feat, her mind knew what to expect, knew what to do, and she was successful. I don’t remember if she won, but that’s not really the point. I’m fairly certain I read about this in a high school biology class, and the concept stuck. I later read a similar story of a cellist who used visualization to maintain his proficiency during months on “injured reserve.”

A couple of years ago, it came up again as I was talking with WT, a baritone who said he had visualized every aspect of his debut with a large company. He was a cover for a lead, and at night after rehearsals, he would lie in his bed and do just what the athlete above did. You know in movies, when sometimes they show you the scene from the perspective of a certain character, as if you were looking through his eyes? That’s what this is. WT saw his colleagues, the stage, the conductor, all from the vantage point of the character. He said he even imagined the smells of the stage: perspiration, dust, etc.. So when the call came to go on, he knew he was ready.

I hope that makes some sense… ask again if I can make something any clearer…

Ariadne: Learning staging/blocking is going to get its own post, complete with pictures. Stay tuned!

All of this comment-commenting gives me an idea. Since I’ve been getting a fair number of questions from readers recently, I think I’m going to start a new “feature:” The Question of the Week. If you have questions – about a singing career in general (training, logistics, rep, etc.), about opera as an art form (I’ll probably refer to you someone else!) or about my experience (generally speaking) – send me an email or leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer one or two a week. (I first had this idea a few months ago, inspired by a series of questions sent to me by a young baritone I met at a masterclass. Now seems like a good time to get it going…)

Monday, January 15, 2007

That was close

What a day!

Before I get to the rehearsal itself – which went very well – let me explain how close I came to not getting there at all.

My plan for the day was to head up to Yonkers (about an hour away) and visit with B&N, my hosts from Santa Fe who are here visiting their grandchildren. I’d get up there around 11, have lunch, and then head back into Manhattan, going to the Met to sit in on the 3 o’clock rehearsal. The schedule said they’d be rehearsing Act I in the morning and afternoon, so I thought this would be good. I wasn’t required at either rehearsal, just some safety net watching on my part.

So I got up early (after going to bed early, which I never do, another little detail that made today a good day!), dressed in rehearsal clothes since I’d be going to rehearsal in the afternoon, put my music in my bag, and headed out the door at 9:45. I decided to catch the subway at the Lincoln Center stop, rather than deal with Columbus Circle construction, and I stopped on the way to get my morning coffee. Down into the subway, onto the train, I settled into my seat and took out my iPod. The Decemberists begin their story of the Crane Wife when I thought to take out my phone and check the time…

One missed call?! From the MET SWITCHBOARD!!!

I just about dropped my coffee all over the man next to me, who heard me gasp and gave me a worried glance. I quickly pack up my iPod, pick up my bags, and wait an eternal 45 seconds for the train to pull into the next station. As soon as I was above ground (at 79th), I checked the message, and sure enough: “Hello, this message is for Ms. Bird. Ms. “Jano” is sick today and we need you to come sing the 11:00 rehearsal.”

It was 10:10. That was a close one!

After calling the rehearsal department and confirming, I called B&N and told them about the change of plans, called my parents to share the excitement, and hopped in a cab. I was 25 blocks from my apartment, and while I was technically ready for rehearsal, I needed to warm up. If I could get home in five minutes, I could have 25 minutes to warm-up (and post!) and still get to the opera house in plenty of time.

More important that warming up, though, was the time I spent visualizing my staging. I’d done a bit of this since observing the first rehearsal, but this morning I did an intense, focused mental run-through of my scene, sitting in my chair with my eyes closed. I saw my entrance, Jenufa (Karita Mattila! She is even more beautiful in person.), the conductor and his baton – all from the perspective of being on stage. So when I actually did the scene, my mind felt like it had been there already.

This is an important skill to develop, one that was shared with me by another singer a few years ago. Today was the first time I’ve really put it into practice, and, wow, what a difference it made, I’m sure of it. When we watch rehearsals, we are almost always sitting in the front, watching from the audience perspective. So when we get up on our feet, things can feel like they’re reversed or like they exist on a totally different plane. And even when we do all the rehearsing up on our feet, being able to review things mentally can only help solidify them in our memory. Canadienne, any visualization stories? Anybody else?

So this, together with the musical coaching, made for a rehearsal that went smoothly and calmly. Of course, after I sang my first line, my heart was pounding through my chest! The director came over and said, “Hello, and who are you?” We’d met very briefly on the first day, but I wasn’t surprised he didn’t remember! Sprawled out on the floor like a ten-year-old boy, I shook his hand and re-introduced myself. Ms. Mattila turned and said, “Oh, have you not done this before?” A good sign!

(It was her first day, too, since her cover worked the rehearsals last week. But since she has done this production before, she was relearning the staging, rather than starting from scratch. Had she been totally new to the production, she would have been there from the beginning.)

My scene is short, and we ran it twice, so all in all I think I sang for about 15 minutes of the rehearsal today. At the break, CI, who I knew from Santa Fe and who was playing the piano for the rehearsal, congratulated me and told me that the conductor was “very happy.” Another good sign! Who knows how much word of my work in this rehearsal will get passed on, but I’m pleased with my first showing.

RC, another friend from Santa Fe, was there, too (covering a big role!), and described feeling what I have felt so often when I’ve seen my friends onstage, making good: “I even got a little teary, watching you up there, nailing it perfectly.” We all train so hard together, for so many years, and when we get to put it together? It’s thrilling, even just to watch.

Another test, another hurdle, passed! Thanks for all your notes today; it’s great to be able to share this with you all!

I'm goin' in....

I got the call!

It's Karita Mattila's first day of rehearsal, and Jano is sick! So here I go...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Crossing Over

Two sports related opera moments from the past few days:

Out with friends, I overheard a tenor talking about “the Mets,” something about “the Mets next weekend.” Of course it’s not even close to baseball season, but I turned around and said, a bit disbelievingly (and excitedly), “Oh, are you a baseball fan?” He and the baritone he was talking to looked at me incredulously and said, “Not those Mets – the Met Council Auditions! As in, the place you’re working? Those Mets!”

Oh. Yeah, right. Those Mets…

Then today, watching Indianopolis miraculously triumph over Baltimore (sorry, Ariadne!), every time I would see “S. McNair” on some statistics blurb, I’d think, “What’s Sylvia doing here?”

Oh, I just crack myself up sometimes! A dork in so many ways...

I promise that I have also been studying and working on updating my bios. More on that tomorrow. After the Seattle-Chicago game…

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

SIS: Self-Imposed Study

Coloratur…aaah has given my study program a title, most likely the same title she gives her own: Self-Imposed Study, or SIS. Yesterday was the first day, and, of course, it got off to a bit of a slow start! But I did it. I sat down with a score (two scores, actually) and my keyboard and delved a bit. (And, yes, I frittered a bit of time away online, but not nearly as much as usual!)

I spent equal time working on music with a deadline (Strauss) and future potential music (Gretel). I think this will likely continue to be the format of my SIS, as I always, hopefully, will have both kinds of music on my plate. Today’s combination will be the Strauss again (“Holy Strange Harmonic Changes, Batman!”) together with Elixir of Love. The latter fits the bill for both current and future, as I have to learn Giannetta (aka, Head Village Girl) for April and I’d like to perform Adina (the lead) someday as well. I know much of the role, but haven’t sung through it since I actually learned what bel canto singing is all about, so it will be fun to go back to it.

But before I get to work, I need to get to the post office. I also spent some time yesterday working on some competition applications, and one of them needs to be postmarked today. Just as the fall is known as “audition season,” spring is kind of “competition season,” with companies and foundations around the country hosting competitions of all sizes and reputations. I can only apply for those which are based in NYC, as I can’t travel out of town very easily while at the Met, but there are three high profile competitions that I know I can participate in. But, just as with applying for apprentice program auditions, there’s always a chance that I won’t be selected to sing in the preliminaries. “Application does not guarantee an audition…” I’m hoping that having a Sullivan Award on my resume will help give me a nudge. We’ll see.

I have an audition tomorrow, so I’ll be laying low tonight, trying to find the hydration balance that is elusive while on decongestants! At least this cold hasn’t turned into a cough, so I feel like I’ll be over it in just a few more days.

Monday, January 08, 2007


I wrote this email to a friend this afternoon, after getting home from my First Day:

So, it was totally nothing big. Just a rehearsal, just a coaching, exactly like every other rehearsal and coaching I've ever had. Except... know what I mean? Except for having an ID card now that says "The Metropolitan Opera, Principal Artist, Anne-Carolyn Bird," except for almost running into Rene Pape on my way out of the building. (HOTT) Just another day at the office!

I’ll add: except for Paul Plishka accidentally interrupting my coaching; except for the miles and miles of corridors, most of which seemed to be filled with racks of costumes; except for the final dress rehearsal of La Traviata going on in the theatre and all the people outside asking MP and me if we had extra tickets, except…

But seriously, about halfway through the rehearsal, I looked around at the tape on the floor and the stage managers and the director and thought, “This is just a variation on a theme that I started in Mrs. Stettler’s Junior High drama classes…” It’s much less scary when you think of it that way.

And, as always, it’s less scary when you’re prepared. My individual coaching went very well, and I was able to sing just fine. Everybody, it seemed, from staff to singers, has some variation of this bug; ‘tis the season. I think I passed, and I hope that any report my coach will take back to the powers-that-be will be a good one.

Turns out I’m required to be at even fewer rehearsals than I thought, so I am committing myself (publicly, so help me stick to it!) to spending at least three hours (the equivalent of one rehearsal call) on each day I’m not called to the Met at home working on scores. (That was a confusing sentence… sorry.) The list of roles to learn doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter, and the opportunities are only getting greater. Bigger and better and more high profile. So when the call comes, I need to be ready. Today I realized that this spring is not just an opportunity to work at the Met, it’s an chance for me to study. I’m getting paid well for the next 19 weeks, and I’m going to have a lot of free time. I’d better have something to show for it at the end.

So to that end, every Study Day I’ll post here what score/role I’ve pulled off the shelf. Tomorrow will be the first, and I’m thinking Gretel. We’ll see at 11:00, when my Study Call begins. Fun!

Ok, officially nervous

The butterflies are here! It’s 8:30, and I’m showered, dressed, and fed. Now what? My rehearsal starts at 11, so I’m going to leave here around 10. It’s a 15 minute walk to the Met (12 if I hustle; I timed it a couple of months ago…), so that should give me plenty of time to check in, get my ID, get lost on my way to the C-Level Stage, find my way again, and get settled before rehearsal starts. MP, who is working with Met Radio these days, might swing by and “pick me up,” since he walks by my door on his way to the house. It would be great to walk in with somebody who knows his way around. Like a big brother on the first day of high school!

(OT: Another way the Met is like high school? The Season Book! I finally went and bought one, and I’ve spent hours looking through the Artist Roster pages in the back. Everybody has a small b&w photo with their name, hometown, house debut, and current season repertory. Even though it’s listed alphabetically, we all know who the upperclassmen are, who the freshmen are, etc.. And just like all of my HS class pictures (minus whatever year it was I wore that plaid shirt and had the big hair), I totally hate my headshot these days, but more on that in another post.)

The cold I had last week sure has stuck around. I’m feeling much better today, but yesterday I was not so sure. I had that fuzzy-head feeling again, and when I tried to sing I could tell that my vocal cords were unhappy. A little swollen, probably, and suffering from the same post-nasal drip that was causing my sore throat. I had about two-thirds of my normal range – and only the middle; for some reason the high and low end go out first – and that was at about half power. Scary! But I rested all day – watching the playoffs, napping, reviewing music – and managed to get to bed fairly early (for me). I woke up this morning and could tell that things were better. Probably not up to 100%, but better enough that I can sing my half-hour coaching this afternoon and be assured that all of the notes will come out!

Ok, I’ve managed to distract myself for half an hour on this post. Time to go do my makeup and pack up some snacks. It’s still a bit to early to sing full out, but I’ll continue my humming and lip trilling (making sure the breath is hooked in).

Oh! Of course you’re all wondering what I decided to wear! (Of course you are.) I realized this weekend that this first rehearsal is an actual working rehearsal, not a musical work-through or discussion of the production, so “dressing up” is kind of out of the question. If I need to stand in for Jano, I can’t run around like a shepherd boy in a cute dress and kitten heels. So, I’m in my favorite black jeans and a green shirt that has some tuxedo-ish detailing (pleating, mostly; no bow-tie). Functional, stylish, comfortable, me.

Here we go!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Song of the Lark

I’m finally reading Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark, which was recommended to me this summer by my generous hosts in Santa Fe. (B&N are currently en route to Yonkers, where they’ll be visiting their grandchildren – and daughter – for a couple of weeks; I plan to go up and visit for a day, and I am looking forward to seeing them again.) I read a passage last night that made me think, “I should blog about that,” only to come upon another passage a few pages later that made tears well up in my eyes for its direct relevance to my life. I expect that I’ll be posting quite a few quotes as I read the remaining 300 pages…

Here is the first:

In winter this loft room of Thea’s was bitterly cold, but against her mother’s advice – and Tillie’s – she always left her window open a little way. … Thea asked Doctor Archie about the window, and he told her that a girl who sang must always have plenty of fresh air, or her voice would get husky, and that the cold would harden her throat. The important thing, he said, was to keep your feet warm. – The Song of the Lark, Chapter VIII

I concur, Dr. Archie! Give me a cracked window any night of the year, no matter how cold it is outside. I love to feel cool air on my face while I sleep, just so long as the rest of me is warm, my feet especially. Whether it makes my voice stronger or not, I’m not sure, but I do know I sleep better in the cold, and a good night’s sleep is directly related to one’s general health which is directly related to vocal health. Sound enough reasoning to me!

The second passage requires a bit of background. Thea has been taking piano lessons for years from an old German gentleman, Herr Wunsch; she is also known to possess a lovely singing voice, and she dreams of going to Europe to study music so she can be “a good music teacher.” On her thirteenth birthday, as they walk in the garden under the linden trees (symbol of marriage and femininity), he teaches her a poem: “Im leuchtenden Sommermorgen,” by Heine. His reason behind teaching it to her is to teach her more German so she can learn Lieder (songs) and vice versa. (This poem is most famously set by Robert Schumann, as part of his song cycle, Dichterliebe, “The Loves of a poet.”) After he teaches Thea the words, Herr Wunsch starts to grill her on the poetic meaning. Why the flowers, why is the man sad, what does this mean, why, how, etc.. Thea gets frustrated:

“You are just trying to make me say things. It spoils things to ask questions.”
Wunsch bowed mockingly; his smile was disagreeable. Suddenly his face grew grave, grew fierce, indeed. He pulled himself up from his clumsy stoop and folded his arms. “But it is necessary to know if you know some things. Some things cannot be taught. If you not know in the beginning, you not know in the end. For a singer there must be something in the inside from the beginning. I shall not be long in this place, may-be, and I like to know. Yes” – he ground his heel in the gravel – “yes, when you are barely six, you must know that already. That is the beginning of all things;
der Geist, die Phantasie. It must be in the baby, when it makes its first cry, like der Rhythmus [the steady beat], or it is not to be. You have some voice already, and if in the beginning, when you are with things-to-play, you know that what you will not tell me, then you can learn to sing, may-be. … Something they [the silly American girls] can learn, oh, yes, may-be! But the secret – what makes the rose to red, the sky to blue, the man to love – in der Brust, in der Brust it is, und ohne dieses gibt es keine Kunst, gibt es keine Kunst!” - The Song of the Lark, Chapter XI

What does that mean? “The Secret… is in the breast, in the soul it is, and without this there is no art, there is no Art!”

Wunsch was testing her instincts, delving under the surface to see if she had the heart of an artist. He already knew that she had the talent – and the dedication and drive and discipline. But did she really have the heart, that thing that separates the Talented from the Great?

I was reminded of various music theory or art song literature classes, when the teacher would prod us to find a reason behind the composer’s use of a certain chord or the poet’s choice of a phrase or symbol. How many times did we cry, “Oh, come on! Dissecting the piece like this takes all the poetry out of it! Just let it be beautiful because it is beautiful!”

Did we protest because we didn’t know the answer? Was the teacher testing us, as Wunsch tested Thea, to see who among us had the artist’s heart? Did any of us past the test? We might have gotten A's, but in the grander scheme of things, did we get it? I’ll have to finish the book to know for sure, but I think Thea passed.

Will I?

Memory Lane

Over the past couple of days I’ve been sorting my receipts, getting things in order to file my taxes in early February. I’d do it sooner, but seeing as how I have to wait for about ten forms – W-2s, 1099s, various interest forms – I never get everything I need before February. But getting all of this together brings two pleasures: a trip to the office supply store (accordion files! labels! post-its!) and a trip down memory lane.

As I sorted through my receipts, I got to revisit each purchase:
• Several “business entertainment” dinners with bloggers and colleagues (and some who are both)
• A pitchpipe purchased from a music shop in Porto, with CT the DT and SH
• Makings for closing night gifts for Cendrillon – marzipan-filled pastries shaped into the first letters of everybody’s name. That’s about as “Martha” as I get, and it was fun!
• Lots of sheet music, and all the promise that a new score holds
• Ditto on CDs (anybody know if I can get an itemized receipt from iTunes?)
• Envelopes filled with receipts and train stubs from day trips to DC, Philly, Boston
• Fatter envelopes from my three weeks in NY in January – my first taste of living here – and the pivotal tour of the Pasion segun San Marcos

Who says taxes are boring?

It also looks like I’ll hardly owe anything this year, at least comparatively. I made less money this year, and I had several jobs were taxes were withheld. For 2007 and the future, I’ve started a separate savings account for taxes. Now, whenever I get paid, or even when I’m first told of a future fee, I automatically will cut it by at least 30%, preferably 35%: 10-15% to management, 20% to savings for taxes (which I need to start paying quarterly), and 5% minimum to savings or an IRA.

I’m pretty determined to use these next 19 weeks of excellent pay to get myself on some solid financial ground. I have a budget and a fairly aggressive savings/debt payment plan. Even so, I’ve made sure to give myself some “play money,” otherwise I know I’ll just end up cutting into my savings to buy that dress or go out to dinner!

Like dusting the furniture or polishing brass, getting your finances in order is satisfying because the difference is noticeable, quantifiable. Watch the good numbers get bigger and the bad ones get smaller! No cleaning products (but lots of office products!) required.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Gearing Up

I have a cold.

Not surprising, really, considering all the airplanes and airports and cities I’ve been in in the past few weeks, but irritating nonetheless. Also irritating is the fact that the plumbing’s messed up in the apartment – with leaky sinks and backed up drains and dirty water coming up from the shower floor drain – so I can’t take a long steamy shower to clear out my head. At least the toilet works.

But I have five days and a wake-up before The First Day, so I’m not too worried; plenty of time to get better. I don’t have much singing to do this week, either. I’m prepared for whatever they might ask of me as the cover on the first day of rehearsal, which probably won’t be much, but I’m prepared. Czech is a great language, seems to be right in the middle, aurally, between German and Russian. As long as my L’s stay forward and bright (not the dark, swallowed L of Russian), and I get enough “dj” in that tricky R, I’ll be fine.

I’m spending time now with the Strauss, listening, looking, working out rhythms and words; all that “armchair work” I can do without singing. And I think I’ll take a nap…

I’ve been looking at the Met online rehearsal schedule, and, um, can I just say that I’m a bit dazed by the names I see on that list?!! I mean, everybody knows that the Big Kids work at the Big House, but until I saw it in black and white, it hadn’t quite sunk in that I’ll be in rehearsals, hanging out in the cafeteria, saying hello in the halls, etc., with some of the biggest names in the business. Not to mention watching them in action! Voigt, Damrau, Mattila, Levine, Swenson, Croft, Frittoli, Villazon… the list goes on and on.

Now, I’m not expecting to become bosom buddies with these folks. I'm sure we'll all be cordial, but when I say I’ll be in the cafeteria with them, imagine high school, with the cool seniors at the center table and the freshmen music geeks on the outskirts. That’s kind of what I’m picturing! I just hope I can find the bathroom and that no big bully knocks my books out of my arms.

And, of course, that eternal First Day question: What to wear??!!


Denver is reeling this week, and I’m not talking about the fact that the Broncos aren’t in the playoffs. Darrent Williams, the young cornerback, was killed on New Year’s Eve in what appears to be a random case of club violence and drive-by shooting.

When I watched the Christmas-miracle of a game last week, my dad pointed him out, saying, “I’m really looking forward to watching this guy develop.” He was a talented player, obviously, making some exciting plays, but it was also clear that he was a good man. His smile was big and his good-nature came through from the field to our living room. When I saw the headlines, I was sure they must be talking about another player. But they weren’t. I bet there aren’t many people in Denver who care about the playoffs anymore…

For a beautiful tribute and a Buddhist perspective on murder, please visit Denver-based James at The Buddhist Blog. “May we all be more mindful of our actions that we might not water the seeds of anger and violence in ourselves, others and in our greater world.”

And for something on the other extreme of the human spectrum, my brother shared this story from today’s New York Times: A Man Down, a Train Arriving, and a Stranger Makes a Choice. What a hero! “I don’t feel like I did anything spectacular.” Well, let me assure you, Mr. Autrey, when the majority of stories in the papers are tales of the depravity of humanity, your actions were spectacular.

More from Gothamist: " ain't about being a hero, it's just being able to be here and help the next person."

And now back to your regularly scheduled programming…
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