Tuesday, October 28, 2008

"Dumb blonde"

A note for everyone who has told me that Yum-Yum is "really just a dumb blonde:" Let me point out that she is, in fact, "right at the top of the school and has three prizes."

There is a difference between stupid and simple or naive. And besides, it's not nice to laugh at stupid people.

More on this later, as you can imagine...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Singing with a cough

(Here’s another entry written en route to the desert last week. Things have been a bit unsettled around here, so I’ll get to current events in a little bit...)

Another trick I employed during Giovanni tech week (and performances) was my “cough drop trick.” It’s hardly original, I’m sure, but it always seems to catch some folks off guard.

I came up with this trick in 2006 when I was singing Ainadamar performances in NYC. I had the typical winter cold (I used the get them pretty regularly, and they would really stick around. Why I don’t any more is for another post...), and it had started to settled in my chest as a pesky unproductive and uncontrollable cough. I will never forget the moment... We were in the middle of Lorca’s gorgeous “statue aria,” when the stage was quiet and darkly lit, except for a light following Kelly. We “Granada Girls” were all grouped behind Dawn, with me just over her right shoulder. Kelly came up to her, and as she did, we were all brought into the light as they shared a wonderful quiet moment. And then it hit me. My chest started to spasm, and I needed nothing more than to just cough, loud and long. But I absolutely could. not. I held it in, eyes watering and body shaking, for what felt like five minutes but was probably only 45 seconds, until we all broke away and spread to all corners of the stage.

I should say here that this was a production where once we were onstage, we were on until the end; we walked on at the “places” call and walked off after the bows. There were no real “exits,” just small entry points upstage left and right. Our staging for the end of the aria fortunately led me in a big circle around the stage, ending up right by the USR exit! It was still dark on stage, so I slipped out, praying that my mic was off, and I coughed and coughed. The poor stage manager was so confused and concerned, knowing that she wasn’t supposed to see any of us for another 30 minutes! I drank some water, dried my eyes, and surreptitiously slipped back onstage. Only one of my castmates, and no one in the house - not even the front of house stage manager! - had noticed. “Crisis” avoided.

But we had two more performances to get through, and my cough wasn’t going away over night. How could I make sure this didn’t happen again? I might not be so lucky the next time. I had no pockets on my sleeveless costume, so nowhere to stash a cough drop... or was there? Cough drops are sticky, after all. So, before each show, I stuck a cough drop to my skin just under the shoulder strap of my dress. Whenever I wasn’t singing, I would turn upstage and, as gently as possible, pull the cough drop off and, yes, pop it into my mouth. Now, I know, I know... this is kind of gross! And it hurt!! But I never coughed onstage again.

I had to use this trick again during Giovanni, and the stage crew was endlessly amused watching me fussing with my cough drop in the wings just before I’d go on. But I also had an unexpected ally in my Masetto. (No, he did NOT help with the cough drops!) He knew I was struggling during the dress rehearsal, and he had seen me turning upstage more than once to cough and grab a “Ricola moment.” During the trio with Giovanni just before the party scene, our blocking brought us all far stage right. When Giovanni passed me to Masetto, DC whispered in my ear “Go off” and pushed me into the wings! I was a bit confused, but not nearly as much as - you guessed it - the stage manager! I got some water from the table and started to relax, thinking “Thanks, DC; good thinking! Now I’ve got about five minutes to settle myself before we all go back on for the party scene.” Except... I still had to finish the trio! The SM got my attention, and I got to the stage just in time to stomp past Masetto in a huff and take Giovanni’s hand to go to the party. When we all exited (together, as staged) on the other side of the stage, DC and I started laughing while poor Giovanni said, “What happened?! What was that all about?” Quick thinking from a concerned colleague saved me from another on stage coughing fit, and got everyone’s adrenaline pumping a little bit!

I’m sure this won’t be the last time I use this trick. I just hope I never have a cough while I’m in a costume with a high neckline...

Thursday, October 23, 2008


During the Giovanni tech week, I did a lot of marking, relatively speaking. I rarely mark when I’m feeling healthy, preferring to work the role into my voice during rehearsal, playing with the phrasing and colors as I develop the character. I always mark the first time through a new staging, since the important thing at that time is the “chess game” of staging (where I go and when I go there). Many of my colleagues mark on and off throughout the rehearsal process, and some never mark at all. It’s an individual thing, all part of knowing your own process and limits and stamina.

But not all marking is created equally. I remember being visited in opera class in grad school by a singer who was about ten years ahead of us in the business, and I still remember what she said about marking: it’s all about energy. If you are marking to save your voice, as I was during tech week, it is crucial that you don’t mark on your energy level. A severe drop in energy can completely change the way a scene works, both from the perspective of director’s table and from that of your colleagues on stage. Keep your face engaged, stay focused on the text and on telling the story.

The easiest way to do that is simply through the text itself: go for the consonants. It is largely true that most of your singing is done on the vowels. That’s where the sound really moves, where your voice is really engaged, so it stands to reason that this is where you’ll need to take it easy when marking. Consonants, on the other hand, use much less vocal power, even the voiced ones (b,d,g,l,m,n,r,v,z). By focusing your energy in this way, your text will still carry, which means your intentions will be clear to your director and scene partners, and your diction will be easy to follow for your conductor.

I’m on a plane to the desert, where I will greedily soak up the sun and 90 degree weather, healing body and spirit. It’s possible that the shift in weather might hit my system again, but I’ll be ready. There are no high Es (or Ds or even Cs!) in this role, so it shouldn’t be vocally taxing, but just in case, I know how to mark...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Zerlina wrap-up

Singing while sick is never ideal, but sometimes it is inevitable. In this case, it turned out to be an allergy issue, rather than a virus or bacterial infection. I went to see a doctor on the Wednesday of tech week (Friday night opening) and came away with a prescription for antibiotics, just in case, but we both felt that they would be useless. Instead: Sudafed, Mucinex, Tylenol, neti pot... and boxes and boxes of tissures. I spent most of the week in bed, drinking tons of water and trying to eat enough to keep my energy up. B was on a gig about three hours away, so he came down on to see the final dress rehearsal and spend his day off with me. So much fun, hanging out with a miserable sick person on your day off! It was great to have some quiet time together, and of course I valued having his eyes and ears in the audience.

Overall, I was really happy with my Zerlina experience. The allergy/cough didn’t get in the way too much, but the thing that upset me the most was that my middle voice was weakened! During the whole rehearsal period, I’d been so happy with my strong mix-y middle voice (the notes on the staff, especially lower on the staff). But when one has a cough, the vocal cords get slammed together over and over, which causes swelling, which is most noticable in the range of the singing voice that is closest to speech, aka, the middle voice. Damn. I was hoping to be a full-voiced Zerlina, and I was happy with my arias and duets, but in the ensembles I just didn’t feel like I had enough “umph” to cut through. Meh. No great loss, as everyone has said to me “No one ever hears Zerlina at this point anyway.” (pout)But I wanted to be heard always!(/pout)

One thing that I loved about Zerlina was discovering endless ways of interpreting her character. Pure innocent? Opportunistic gold-digger? True? False? Some combination of all of the above? I think I played her differently every night, and I loved it. Now, playing a character differently doesn’t mean that you change your blocking or do other things that might disrupt the flow that your colleagues (onstage and in the pite) have established. It’s all about the language - being comfortable enough with the Italian words to choose different ways to say the line. All that work I did with Susanna's recits last year have paid off!

The easiest scene in which to play with different “line readings” was the scene before “Batti batti.” (Opera 101 Moment: In this scene, Zerlina is trying to make up with Masetto, her fiancee, after she dissed him to spend some quality time with Don Giovanni.) How many different ways can you say “I’m sorry. Yes, I messed up, but I think you might be overreacting?” hehe

All in all, it was a great experience. We felt like we really hit our stride - on closing night! Sometimes, you don’t want a gig to end so soon...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why I love him

Castmate of B: Does your fiancee have dark hair?
B: Well, she’s kind of got dark blonde, light brown hair... why?
CoB: ‘Cuz I saw a woman who looked like a soprano in the elevator today, wondered if it was her.
B: Yeah... she doesn’t really “look like a soprano...”

Rock on!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008


To my dear friends Nick (fellow blogger and tour buddy) and Jeremy (Wolf Trap friend and whiskey buddy), who officially - and legally! - tied the knot last weekend.

Warm wishes and all my love, friends!


It’s probably not a coincidence that on the first cloudy day since my arrival here, I should wake up with a cold. Terrible timing, of course, but it feels minor. With plenty of rest and lots of water and good nasal irrigation or two, I should be right as rain (haha) for Friday’s opening. Here’s to hoping...

I wrote the above paragraph this morning, and had all sorts of intentions to write about Zerlina, but I’ve pretty much been napping all day. I have two more hours before I leave for tonight’s first orchestra dress, so I might get some thoughts up, but I will likely be napping and feeding my cold. But stay tuned, as always.

In other news: I applied for my absentee ballot today! If you’re not going to be in your home voting district on November 4th, it’s not too late to get one and get your vote in. Sure, absentee ballots seem to be the red-headed step-children of elections, but this year I just don’t think anyone can afford to let their vote slip by.

More soon...
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